The blues music genre at its core is about hardship, oppression, and suffering. But it took Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to sing about that real pain down inside.
Jay Hawkins was a man trapped by the time in which he lived. Trained in classical piano and originally carrying aspirations to be an opera singer, his most famous (and, for most people, only) breakout hit was 1956’s “I Put a Spell on You.” But Hawkins actually recorded a much more sedate and ballad-like version in 1955:
The 1956 version was recorded while Hawkins and his whole band were completely drunk; his record label gave him the name “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins” and the rest is history.
Hawkins was stuck in the schtick of early shock rock. He dressed up in elaborate costumes and performed with prop coffins, snakes, and a skull on a stick. Incredibly, he kept performing for nearly half a century, right up until his death in 1999. Most people could not identify another Hawkins song beyond “I Put a Spell on You”… but there’s at least one more that deserves your attention.
In 1969, Hawkins released a song with the following introduction:
Ladies and gentlemen, most people record songs about love, heartbreak, loneliness, being broke. Nobody’s actually went out and recorded a song about real pain.
The band and I have just returned from the general hospital, where we caught a man in the right position. We name this song “Constipation Blues.”Constipation Blues
You can listen to the whole thing right here:
I personally love how Hawkins has successfully transmuted the cadences of blues singing into physical distress – but then again, I’m easy to please sometimes.
(End note: has anyone else noticed that the song “Let It Go,” from the Disney film Frozen, could actually be about holding in a fart? No, just me? Consider the following lyrics: “The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside. / Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I’ve tried.” “Be the good girl you always have to be. / Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. [pause] Well, now they know.” “Let it go, let it go. / Can’t hold it back anymore.” “I am one with the wind and sky.” “My power flurries through the air into the ground.”)