Here’s a nice quote on definitions from Escaping the Delta by Elijah Ward, p. 4:
“We have all heard variations on a mythic answer: The blues been here since time began/Since the first lyin’ woman met the first cheatin’ man.
Which is indisputably true, if we are talking about heartache rather than music…. However, if we are talking not about a universal emotion, but about the music filed in record stores as “blues””,” matter become both more prosaic and more complicated.”
Precisely. Whether it’s dialects of French and how they are defined or Iran’s drive toward nuclear ascendency, we have to be clear about what we are talking about and not give ground to those who would minimize, maximize, catastrophize, or romanticize. Ward has the tough job of telling baby boomers that the image of the blues brought to them by the Rolling Stones has little bearing on the music itself. Facing down people who want to tell you nonsense like, “Our language has no word for homosexual b/c we don’t have homosexuals” is not easy, but if you are going to have a sensible discussion, you have to shut down the nonsense. As Ward says on the same page, aka loc. cit., “I am not going to enter the meaningless debate over what is or is not blues I have no problem with people using whatever definition they like, as long as they grant that it is not the only one.”