Many years ago, I spent a few cold January days in Stockholm, Sweden. Gray, eerie and beautiful, the city appeared to be skating on an endless sheet of Baltic ice. Around 2 p.m. the gray sky dissolved into purple haze; within an hour the night was painted so
black that not even a bad moon would dare to rise.
That night, I braved the cold to check out “Stampen,” a little blues bar I had noticed at the edge of town. I figured that a tiny dive in this non-bluesy town would be pretty tame during the dead of winter.
And tame it seemed. A faded poster of Muddy Waters. A tiny dance floor. An over-amplified, below average white band slogging through toothless 12-bars and tail-dragging shuffles.
A skinny, threadbare but harmless looking fellow was dancing with himself, carefully avoiding an uncovered hole that opened to a subterranean room. Seconds after my overpriced beer arrived, he two-stepped over to my table and yelled, “F— AMERICANS!”
I raised my glass and smiled cheerfully, pretending not to understand English.
The shabby ambassador repeated his warm greeting and then shuffled away, captivated by the band that played the blues so poorly that they needed sheet music. Minutes later, Drunken Jack Flash jumped back with more creative F-word conjugations. Tangled up in his own shade of blue, he bounced around the killing floor like a big boss man.
And the band played on, doing their best to bring it on home. They strangled a slow tune as he spun across the floor, shaking his money maker, trying in vain to get his mojo working.
But he didn’t give peace a chance for long. “AMERICA STOLE THE BLUES FROM SWEDEN!” he shouted as if born under a bad sign.
Sweden: the birthplace of the boogaloo. Learn something new every day.
“YOU HAVE NO REAL BLUES IN AMERICA!!” he barked at me, messing with the kid like a howling wolf.
“I’m from Canada,” I lied, rambling on in my mind. “It’s like Sweden, without the blues.” At this point there was no reason to wait for the midnight hour. When he drifted away to shake his wang dang doodle, I grabbed the key to the highway.
“YOU HAD TO COME TO SWEDEN TO HEAR THE REAL BLUES!!” the ice man yelled, following me out into the sub-zero like a ball and chain.
At the crossroads, this harmless Nordic hell hound was still on my trail. “SWEDEN IS THE TRUE HOME OF THE BLUES!!”
For him it was the gospel truth.