Psalm 88: Straight, no chaser

‘Will your wonders be known in the dark? (12)

This psalm is the only lament in the Psalter that includes no silver lining, no ray of hope, no statement that it will be OK. The Korahites give it to you straight and strong, no sweetener. Or, as Thelonious Monk would have it in his 1952 12-bar blues inBb, Straight, no chaser. Why not skip it? Because, like singing the blues (see post on Psalm 14), it’s a valid and somehow comforting way to externalise distress and share individual pain.


For other reasons not associated with the psalms, I have been thinking lately of the great American singer Otis Redding (1941-1967).  Dock of the Bay by the ‘King of Soul’ is another song of unrelieved weariness with a ring of truth:

Looks like nothing’s gonna change; everything still remains the same

The words are a blues lamentation, a way of singing out your woes. The music is vaguely like the old twelve-bar blues, but has a unique and recognisable character; I loved playing it with the band. Redding was actually rich and successful by the time he wrote this song. That did not stop him empathising with many others less fortunate who could see no silver lining. And then, Redding died in an aircraft crash a few days after recording this classic. It’s hard to see a silver lining there but for the great legacy in that his music lives on. Indeed, both Dock of the Bay and Psalm 87 have a timeless feeling about them, suggesting that the silver lining is out there somewhere, just not at this moment.

As with Psalm 87, there are few classical settings listed, save for a nice short piece by Orlando de Lassus, Domine Deus salutis meae, quoting verses 2 and 3.

Many readers will recall with pleasure singing the Taizé chant Dans nos obscurités, In our darkness. Listen>>>

Entering Taizé village