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Standin' at the crossroads
July 26, 2006 12:00 AM   Subscribe

After nearly 70 years, blues legend Robert Johnson's guitar has recently surfaced. It's up for sale, but you may need to sell your soul to afford it. Maybe Legba will lend you the purchse price. [more]
posted by madamjujujive (119 comments total)

 
If you can't spring for $6 million, here are a few cheaper ways to tap into the Robert Johnson legacy this summer:

A few of contemporaries and original practitioners of acoustic Delta blues will perform a Tribute to Robert Johnson in Fairfield CT on September 16. Performers include Robert Lockwood Jr.(age 91), David “Honeyboy” Edwards (age - 91), Rocky “Jellyroll” Lawrence & Steven “Blindlemon” McLean.


Stellar blues troubadour Rory Block will be performing four dates with members of the Robert Johnson family in a "blues meets gospel" tour this August to coincide with the release of her new cd, The Lady and Mr. Johnson. Block recently located the Johnson descendants after learning about Johnson's son, Claud, who surfaced after 60 years to claim the Johnson estate.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:06 AM on July 26, 2006


He died in 1938, apparently succumbing to pneumonia after drinking whiskey that had been spiked with strychnine by the jealous husband of an illicit lover.

Wow.
posted by delmoi at 12:17 AM on July 26, 2006


$6 million will buy you a couple of Stradivarius instruments, with terrific provenance, and amazing playing characteristics. It's an insane asking price for a cheap guitar whose only intrinsic value would be the ironclad provenance it apparently lacks.

Some rock and roller with more money than sense is gonna buy some serious hoodoo, and this thing will show up in Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with a big donor card displayed prominently. That's what Big Money is for...
posted by paulsc at 12:20 AM on July 26, 2006


Is anybody convinced? My understanding of provenance is that it is the history of how the object changed hands between then and now. I'm not seeing any evidence at all on the site, except that they have a guitar that looks the same. How did they get it?
posted by LarryC at 5:58 AM on July 26, 2006


If the only "historical record" is the old photograph, what's to keep someone from buying just any old Gibson L1, then add the distinguishing characteristics by copying them from the photo? Not that a guitar that age would be easy to find, but still.
posted by clevershark at 6:07 AM on July 26, 2006


Here's his wikipedia link.

Robert Johnson was supposedly trained by a guitarist named Ike Johnson (no recordings of him and no relation) and that's how he got so good, by praticing with Ike pretty much all day for a while. Before that he was a terrible player who kept following the big stars of the time (Son House and others) and keep waiting to play with them. They'd like him on stage for a song for a song and then throw him off he was so bad.

He then disappeared for a while, trained with Ike and came back and blew everyone away.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:09 AM on July 26, 2006


The crowd over at ther International Guitar Seminars have been all over this one, basically saying that there were a lot of similar old Gibsons made that are widely available, just as a lot of suckers are born every minute.

Robert Johnson was a great musician, but the industry that has grown up around his name is almost ridiculous - Keith Richards and Eric Clapton nick your riffs and thus a generation of aging blues-rockers will forever worship your discarded guitar strings.

Elijah Wald's Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues is a good place to start placing Robert Johnson in perspective. Basically, Johnson was the first of the Delta blues guys to learn his repetoire and technique by listening to records of other Blues musicians, like Kokomo Arnold and Charley Paton. He was younger than they, and the myth about the crossroads probably comes from the older guys trying to explain how this young upstart suddenly shows up with such powerful technique.

Had he lived he probably would have gone up to Chicago and gone electric, like Muddy Waters - who was the same age as Johnson.

I'm more of a Charlie Paton fan myself.
posted by zaelic at 6:10 AM on July 26, 2006


I was looking at this site yesterday. The ONLY bona fides they offer is its similarity to the guitar in the picture. There's no indication as to where the current owner aquired it, no actual, you know, provenance. I call bullshit.
I'm putting my checkbook away.
posted by Floydd at 6:15 AM on July 26, 2006


it belongs to the Smithsonian, no question. it's a treasure of the American people, it's unfair to leave it in a private collector's hands
posted by matteo at 6:17 AM on July 26, 2006


and thanks for the post, as always
posted by matteo at 6:17 AM on July 26, 2006


belongs at the Smithsonian
posted by matteo at 6:18 AM on July 26, 2006


Block recently located the Johnson descendants after learning about Johnson's son, Claud, who surfaced after 60 years to claim the Johnson estate.

see also
posted by matteo at 6:25 AM on July 26, 2006


Pish posh on this. Everyone knows what happened to Robert Johnson's guitar.
posted by lodurr at 6:26 AM on July 26, 2006


That's gotta be the most shady and unprofessional artifact auction site I've ever seen. It's basically a business that mostly sells autographs of famous people.

If that's really Johnson's guitar, and especially if they're putting a $6,000,000 price tag on it, then anyone legit would have it appraised and verified by actual experts. Saying it looks like the one in the photo is laughable.

They might as well have said the face of the Virgin Mary appears in the grain and pitched it to that Golden Palace casino place.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:16 AM on July 26, 2006


I've been doing a lot of reading as well as the obligatory listening to Robert Johnson over the last couple of years and nothing surprises me now. The cult that has been built around the man is really quite remarkable. They're showing "Robert Johnson's" guitar like it's a fragment of the true cross -In blues circles RJ may be almost as revered as Jesus, and the provenance of this guitar is just about as bona fide.
posted by ob at 7:31 AM on July 26, 2006


If I could afford it, I'd buy it. If anyone is interested in Blues memorabilia, I have a Lightnin' Hopkins guitar pick.
posted by dios at 7:31 AM on July 26, 2006


Having said all that, if it was legit (and that's the real question here) and I had the money, I'd probably buy it.
posted by ob at 7:34 AM on July 26, 2006


it belongs to the Smithsonian, no question.

If it's real, sure, but I'm not convinced.
posted by jonmc at 7:41 AM on July 26, 2006


What did Robert Johnson leave behind that is really important? His music.

I have a taco shell imprinted with the holy face of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, absolutely authentic and only $350,000 to the first bidder.
posted by zaelic at 7:42 AM on July 26, 2006


Some rock and roller with more money than sense

Paging Mr. Clapton...Mr. Clapton, please pick up the white courtesy phone.
posted by Optamystic at 7:42 AM on July 26, 2006


Bah, any one can sell his soul to the devil, but only Led Zeppelin's guitarist could buy his house.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:55 AM on July 26, 2006


What did Robert Johnson leave behind that is really important? His music.

of course. but keeping his guitar (if it indeed it is his actual guitar, as jon mentions) at the Smithsonian would underscore the fact that, once again, a descendant of a slave rightly belongs in the American Pantheon with the other giants, so many of them white. anything that helps repeating that, without blacks, American culture would be something infinitely poorer is, I believe, very desirable. for Americans of all races

and by the way, when is Ray Charles going to get his face on a dollar bill?
posted by matteo at 7:58 AM on July 26, 2006


Paging Mr. Clapton...Mr. Clapton, please pick up the white courtesy phone.

Eh, give the Claptons, Becks, Richards, et al their due on this matter. Without them, most of us would have never heard of Robert Johnson, and for that alone, they deserve some thanks.
posted by jonmc at 8:10 AM on July 26, 2006


What did Robert Johnson leave behind that is really important? His music.

of course. but keeping his guitar (if it indeed it is his actual guitar, as jon mentions) at the Smithsonian would underscore the fact that, once again, a descendant of a slave rightly belongs in the American Pantheon with the other giants, so many of them white. anything that helps repeating that, without blacks, American culture would be something infinitely poorer is, I believe, very desirable. for Americans of all races

and by the way, when is Ray Charles going to get his face on a dollar bill?
posted by matteo at 10:58 AM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]



On this topic, I noticed in the Smithsonian the other day tha the Ray Charles exhibit is subtitled "The Genius". Just that, not American Genius or Blues Genius, just Genius.

About 40 feet away is the Manhattan Project exhibit. No one there is identified as a genius.

Ray Charles isn't a genius. He's not even in the same league as John Coltrane or Miles Davis (who do not have their own exhibits, incidentally). He is to music what John Grisham is to literature.

I wish there was a word for the idea of taking something that's popular but not extraordinary and sort of base or low-class and trying to elevate it's status to that of art. I wish there was a word for that, because it seems to be happening an awful lot lately.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:19 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, are you out of your fucking mind?

Ray Charles more or less created the music we know today as soul and crafted numers classic records in the process. Take nothing away from John Coltrane, whom I love, but we're talking two very different genres, here. Or are you one of those people who judges genius by degree of difficulty? or 'respectability?'

I wish there was a word for the idea of taking something that's popular but not extraordinary and sort of base or low-class

Ah, the latter, I guess. I thought rock and roll destroyed those false standards. Anyways, "The Genius," was a nickname Ray Charles used after Sinatra reffered to him as "The Only Genius In The Business."
posted by jonmc at 8:25 AM on July 26, 2006


(ducks reflexively for Pastabagel's sake)

I also find the recent attention given to Ray Charles to be a little odd - ditto Johnny Cash - but there's no doubt that these are HUGE figures in music. I just finished watching No Direction Home, in which Dylan speaks of Johnny Cash in almost religious tones. And Donald Fagen just put out an album featuring a song that all but sanctifies Ray Charles.

The point being that a biopic, a timely death, and a magazine cover or two can account for heightened awareness in the public eye, but that ought not discount the genuine artistic impact that these guys made.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:33 AM on July 26, 2006


Anybody who besmirches Ray Charles and/or Johnny Cash should be shot. (Oh, and this auction? Totally bogus.)
posted by keswick at 8:48 AM on July 26, 2006


Ray Charles isn't a genius. He's not even in the same league as John Coltrane or Miles Davis (who do not have their own exhibits, incidentally). He is to music what John Grisham is to literature.

he pretty much invented soul music by mixing gospel style singing with rhythm and blues ... that's a whole genre of music launched by ray charles

that puts him in the same league as coltrane and davis, period ... all people who created musical genres ... whatever you may think of those genres, it's an objective criteria

I wish there was a word for the idea of taking something that's popular but not extraordinary and sort of base or low-class and trying to elevate it's status to that of art.

i don't know that there is a word for that ... there is a word for those who describe people like ray charles in those terms ... "snob"
posted by pyramid termite at 8:57 AM on July 26, 2006


keswick - I'm going to indulge in a little defensiveness here - not sure if your comment is directed at me or not - I just want to make clear that I fully understand that Johnny Cash and Ray Charles had PROFOUND effects on Music and are geniuses, artists, whatever superlative you want to apply, in the truest sense of the word(s). I'm all for appreciating music from a historical perspective. That said, I chose these two examples for my post because they both are lacking for me, for different reasons - Ray Charles sounds dated, and I just don't get Johnny Cash. It's just a personal disconnect. I certainly don't besmirch them. I wish I "got" it. I just don't.

So don't shoot me, kay?

ditto on the auction - something smells funny
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:58 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel: I would have loved to have seen you pose that question to Tom Dowd, who not only worked as a recording engineer on Ray Charles sessions (and later set up the sound system for Ray's studio--free of charge, I believe) at Atlantic, but also worked on the Manhattan Project. Unfortunately, Dowd died after a battle with cancer in 2002, and is thus not around to educate you.
posted by raysmj at 9:06 AM on July 26, 2006


jonmc - I know how influential Ray Charles was/is. But it's one thing for him to use the nickname "Genius" for show business purposes and another thing entirely for the institution that's supposed to preserve our cultural heritage to use it. Because unless I already knew about the origins of the nickname, my obvious conclusion is that the institution is endorsing him with that description.

Ah, the latter, I guess. I thought rock and roll destroyed those false standards.

Rock and roll is primarily responsible for the phenomenon I'm describing, but it's spread everywhere else.

Let's put it this way. Are we to expect a Smithsonian exhibit in 30 years about Metallica? Or Madonna? What about Van Halen? He changed the way the electric guitar is played. Should kids learn about Metallica in their textbooks? Keep in mind that everything you say about Ray Charles's music and his contribution can be said about Metallica.

These are pop culture products. Their music certainly is, or will be, classic in its time, but I think there's a problem if we elevate them beyond what they are, which probably something like modern folk music. (I know it's not "folk music" in the genre sense, but it is "folk" in the sense of music for ordinary folk).

I just finished watching No Direction Home, in which Dylan speaks of Johnny Cash in almost religious tones. And Donald Fagen just put out an album featuring a song that all but sanctifies Ray Charles

This is the corollary to the phenomenon I described above. Here, the modern pop artists pay homage to their predecessors in the way that Dave Matthews and John Mayer are probably going to pay homage to Dylan and Fagen in a decade or two. If you elevate Charles to the status of icon, then you too will be an icon if you reach the same level of success.

It's hard to talk about this because I don't know the words, so in a way I feel like I'm fumbling in the dark a little.

These guys appear to be huge figures in music because they are huge figures in the type of mass production, lowest common denominator music that everyone listens to. It's not being a snob (you should see my record collection), but we should acknoweldge that some things are not art, or are not "great", the way other things are. And it's not just a matter of opinion.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:09 AM on July 26, 2006


a descendant of a slave rightly belongs in the American Pantheon with the other giants, so many of them white. anything that helps repeating that, without blacks, American culture would be something infinitely poorer is

You act as if america is unaware of robert johnson. With such limited recordings, and with only two pictures of him known to exist, it's amazing how revered Johnson is. Any american music list has johnson at or near the top. He's already in the pantheon. You just haven't noticed.
posted by justgary at 9:10 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel: On one hand, I can sort of agree with what you're saying and on the other hand I think you're a terrible snob.
posted by keswick at 9:16 AM on July 26, 2006


Let's put it this way. Are we to expect a Smithsonian exhibit in 30 years about Metallica? Or Madonna? What about Van Halen? He changed the way the electric guitar is played. Should kids learn about Metallica in their textbooks? Keep in mind that everything you say about Ray Charles's music and his contribution can be said about Metallica.

I'm fine with all of that.

These are pop culture products.

*GASP*

but we should acknoweldge that some things are not art, or are not "great", the way other things are

So, what..stuff approved by European critics and eggheads is art, but stuff enjoyed by ordinary people isn't? help me out here, otherwise it simply sounds like (sorry, but for once it's appropriate, folks) elitist contempt for the masses.

These guys appear to be huge figures in music because they are huge figures in the type of mass production, lowest common denominator music that everyone listens to.

I know, it's only rock and roll, but I like it.

(dude, your speech is late, the barbarians aren't at the gate, we've trampled over it. sorry 'bout that)
posted by jonmc at 9:16 AM on July 26, 2006


If you elevate Charles to the status of icon, then you too will be an icon if you reach the same level of success.

Huh? I don't get it. Paul Rodgers wrote a song about the Beatles - "Shooting Star" - doesn't make him a pop icon. A successful pop singer, yes - but even that has more to do with the quality of the song, not the topic.

I think the beef here is this - that Ray Charles and Johnny Cash are huge figures in pop music because of the QUALITY and ARTISTRY of their work - period. Given the nature of the field, that means that they were also the object of great marketing efforts, etc - but that's not DESPITE the depth of their art - rather it's because of it.

NOT a big Paul Rodgers fan
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:17 AM on July 26, 2006


NOT a big Paul Rodgers fan

He was one of the three or four best vocalists in his genre and era. And 'All Right Now,' is the best cock-rock song of all time.
posted by jonmc at 9:20 AM on July 26, 2006


The man is NOT without his merits, I agree - I just didn't want people to think that I consider him on par with Johnny Cash or Ray Charles.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel: I would have loved to have seen you pose that question to Tom Dowd, who not only worked as a recording engineer on Ray Charles sessions (and later set up the sound system for Ray's studio--free of charge, I believe) at Atlantic, but also worked on the Manhattan Project. Unfortunately, Dowd died after a battle with cancer in 2002, and is thus not around to educate you.
posted by raysmj at 12:06 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


What a great analogy, and a great example of the kind of thing I was talking about. Dowd was an army engineer who didn't even know he was working on the manhattan project until 1945. When I referred to people working on the Manhattan project, I meant the theoretical physicists, obviously, not the technicians.

But I wish he was here, because I would love to hear him explain to me and the Smithsonian how Bohr, Feynman, Fermi, et al. are not geniuses but Ray Charles is.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:23 AM on July 26, 2006


Did Elvis Costello join MeFi or something?
posted by Devils Slide at 9:26 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, you seem to have a sense that art must be either expensive or unpopular in order to be art. What makes that true?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:26 AM on July 26, 2006


Neither Robert Johnson, Ray Charles, nor Johnny Cash are "geniuses" in the common uses of the term. There is one way that I could stomach personally referring to them with that word, but it's not a way in which they're the direct object of it.*

They are all enormously influential. Mostly, though, they're influencial and important by virtue of two things:
  1. what they inspire others to do
  2. the "psychic energy" (admiration, respect, etc.) that people invest in them
Neither of these things have anything inherently to do with the person being lionized. They both have a lot to do with the story that people tell about those people.

Most of these "geniuses" aren't "genius" in the sense of doing anything really astonishingly wonderful or original, but rather, primarily, because they're in the right place at the right time to get noticed in the right way. Often of course there's more to it: Ray was a great producer; Johnny was a great spirit; etc.

A good biopic doesn't lose sight [sic] of the fact that success is not equivalent to moral worth. But we could posit a corrolary of Truffaut's Maxim** and observe that it's nearly impossible to make a biopic that doesn't glamorize its subject, because the act of making a movie about someone is, to at least some degree, inherently glamorizing.

I think this is important, and especially relevant to this thread because of who, and what, it's about. This thread is really not concerned with Robert Johnson, but rather, with the cult of Robert Johnson. That's true of most Robert Johnson fandom, too. Johnson emerges in the late 30s as a major delta blues artist, but it's only as the legend of the "crossroads" grows and he becomes a center of attention for white kids that he gets "recognized" as a legend.

I'll reiterate that nothing I'm saying has anything to do with Johnson's skills or talents -- postively, or negatively. He was what he was, and I'm arguing that the reason "he" is "important" is not his talent but his legend. As I understand it, Johnson's real role in the popularization of delta blues was not as an actual innovator, but primarily as a resonant symbol for a lot of the core conceits of the genre: Life is pain, then you hurt some more; I [drink / drug / screw around / go to church / strike a deal with the Devil] to avoid pain; etc. Johnson's the great archetype of the bluesman. He doesn't really do anything that others weren't doing at the same time. What he does is syncretize, and maybe he does that a little better, but in no sense does he invent that syncretization.


--
*I could stand to hear it said that they were visited by genius, or that they flirted with genius, or some other formulation that harks back to the term as referring to a spirit.

**Roughly: "It is impossible to make an anti-war film, because the act of making a film about war inherently glamorizes it."
posted by lodurr at 9:32 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Did Elvis Costello join MeFi or something?

Far be it from me to defend Mr. McManus for a reprehensible statement, but I would just mention that he's spent a lot of time in the ensuing years trying to live that down.

(And by the way, it was Stephen Stills who slugged him, not Bonnie Bramlett. Though in the version Elvis told in a Rolling Stone interview, she was right there behind Stills. Oh, and in that version, Elvis definitely deserved it.)
posted by lodurr at 9:35 AM on July 26, 2006


(dude, your speech is late, the barbarians aren't at the gate, we've trampled over it. sorry 'bout that)
posted by jonmc at 12:16 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


Sigh. So, no one can question whether pop music is art without being accused of being a snob, with the implied understanding that the person doing the questioning would be embarrased to be labelled by that term? Ok, fine, whatever.

Let's put it this way. Are we to expect a Smithsonian exhibit in 30 years about Metallica?....

I'm fine with all of that.


Glad to hear it. Finally we can agree that the best of civilization's culture should be created and determined by the 18-34 demographic.

I'll start circulating the petition to bring back Fonzie's jacket and Archie Bunker's chair. While we're at it, maybe we should start funding archaeological excavations of ancient greek brothels, because they are just as relevant to understanding western civilization as the parthenon.

Why don't we just turn over the museums to the entertainment industry and render the entire concept of culture meaningless?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:42 AM on July 26, 2006


pastabagel: Oh, please.
posted by raysmj at 9:42 AM on July 26, 2006


While we're at it, maybe we should start funding archaeological excavations of ancient greek brothels, because they are just as relevant to understanding western civilization as the parthenon.

Is this sarcasm or sincerity? Because it seems obvious to me that they are just as relevant.
posted by keswick at 9:44 AM on July 26, 2006


Neither Robert Johnson, Ray Charles, nor Johnny Cash are "geniuses" in the common uses of the term. There is one way that I could stomach personally referring to them with that word, but it's not a way in which they're the direct object of it.

Interesting distinction. Who is responsible for his/her gifts? By that argument, is Einstein responsible for his deductive powers?

For me, in all of these cases, the actors had an insight or a vision that resonated with others. Maybe genius is the wrong term, but I definitely think that it emanated from the individuals we are discussing.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:45 AM on July 26, 2006


No one at the Smithsonian is going to deny that Bohr is a genius. Cool down, dude. And props for trying to belittle Tom Dowd, who started to work at the Manhattan Project at age 16.
posted by raysmj at 9:46 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, you seem to have a sense that art must be either expensive or unpopular in order to be art. What makes that true?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:26 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


I said neither, and didn't even imply it. In fact I can prove the opposite is true.

Beethoven is art, can we all agree on that? Vanilla Ice is not. I think we can agree on that too. Vanilla Ice's CD cost more when it came out than a Beethoven symphony.

And Beethoven was popular when he was alive, and he still is today - you've all heard his music even if you don't know he wrote it.

Most stuff that is clearly dreck, Waterworld, Beyonce, etc. is usually more expensive to produce and to consume than the stuff that you assume snobs consider art (funny how everyone thinks all culture snobs agree on what music is art). Furthermore, the art stuff only seems more obscure because there are no billion dollar corporations promoting it in every mass media outlet imaginable.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:50 AM on July 26, 2006


Did Elvis Costello join MeFi or something?

Where's Bonnie Bramlett when we need her? (caveat: big fan of both Elvis Costello and Delaney & Bonnie)

I'll start circulating the petition to bring back Fonzie's jacket and Archie Bunker's chair.

And I'll sign it. Norman Lear is probably the only genius in television.

Look, Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart and countless others in the 'high art' pantheon worked within their era's version of the entertainment industry. This silly division was created after the fact by people with a need to feel superior to the masses, plain & simple.

maybe we should start funding archaeological excavations of ancient greek brothels, because they are just as relevant to understanding western civilization as the parthenon.

Go for it. Fucking is as important as art, my friend, especially since an awful lot of art is about fucking.
posted by jonmc at 9:52 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, the art stuff only seems more obscure because there are no billion dollar corporations promoting it in every mass media outlet imaginable.

That's not always true. I think the Beatles' music is "art stuff", and it benefited enormously (and still does) from huge promotions.

I would think that corporations were only willing to pour money into something they believe will return their investment, because it's popular. One of the reasons things are popular is because they are GOOD - they have artistic merit. Sometimes things are popular because of less substantial reasons (such as, in my opinion, most American movies). But just because the system is cynically manipulated ALOT of the time doesn't mean that it is incapable of working.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:56 AM on July 26, 2006


While we're at it, maybe we should start funding archaeological excavations of ancient greek brothels, because they are just as relevant to understanding western civilization as the parthenon.

Is this sarcasm or sincerity? Because it seems obvious to me that they are just as relevant.
posted by keswick at 12:44 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


Well, it was sarcasm. What makes greek brothels relevant? That greeks had sex? We knew that. That they had prostitutes? We knew that too. Every culture in the history of the planet had both. Not every culture had a parthenon. Hmm. Why is that?

You know, now that we're talking, every culture in the world had its folk music, its stories, its art but not all produced Beethovens, Dostoyevskys, or Michelangelos.

Maybe this is the operative question. Why?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:59 AM on July 26, 2006


Atlantic Records was, at the time Ray Charles recorded there, not a large corporation, but an independent label, in actuality a small business.
posted by raysmj at 10:03 AM on July 26, 2006


Well, pastabagel, maybe they all HAVE produced Beethovens, Dostoyevskys, etc - but they SEEM less larger-than-life to you because the deities you mention come from YOUR culture.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:04 AM on July 26, 2006


Go for it. Fucking is as important as art, my friend, especially since an awful lot of art is about fucking.
posted by jonmc at 12:52 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


And yet so much of what you identified as high art (Shakespeare, Dickens, Mozart) is not about sex. It may be about love, but that's not the same thing.

Who was it that said art is static and art that isn't static, i.e. that is kinetic and that moves or urges you on the basis of desire isn't really art? That seems applicable here.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:04 AM on July 26, 2006


And its financier was a Turkish dentist!
posted by raysmj at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2006


You know, now that we're talking, every culture in the world had its folk music

I don't even believe in the concept of 'folk music,' simply because I don't believe in the concept of 'folk.' But truth be told, popular music is basically indigenous music without regard for locality, since in a mass media era (that we've been living in for over a century, now) locality has steadily been becoming less and less relevant.

Dostoyevsky wrote Crime & Punishment, Ray Charles did 'What'd I Say.' Both are excellent works that express something real very well. Whether you like either one is a matter of taste, ultimately.
posted by jonmc at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2006


Yeah, no other cultures have constructed magnificient temples to their gods.
posted by keswick at 10:06 AM on July 26, 2006


Atlantic Records was, at the time Ray Charles recorded there, not a large corporation, but an independent label, in actuality a small business.
posted by raysmj at 1:03 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


I was speaking about the industry now, in response to a person's post about what costs more.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:06 AM on July 26, 2006


Who was it that said art is static and art that isn't static, i.e. that is kinetic and that moves or urges you on the basis of desire isn't really art? That seems applicable here.

That is an utter crock of shit. Desire is part of being human, a BIG part of being human, and what is art but the expression of the human condition?

Put down the weighty tomes, crack a beer, put some James Brown on the box, and go out and get laid, my friend.
posted by jonmc at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2006


At the risk of offending the Jazz Police roaming this thread, I'd like to venture an opinion: What Coltrane did, artistically, was much more narrow in its focus than what Ray Charles did artistically. Of course Coltrane was a great and passionate player, and he did further, to some extent, the language of jazz. He has certainly been a big influence on any number of jazz saxophone players. But his achievements in his very specialized field of music simply cannot be compared to those of Ray Charles, who essentially invented soul music almost singlehandedly. You can't really even say Coltrane was the "inventor" of free jazz, as that crown would probably have to be placed on Ornette Coleman's head.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:10 AM on July 26, 2006


What makes greek brothels relevant? That greeks had sex? We knew that. That they had prostitutes? We knew that too. Every culture in the history of the planet had both. Not every culture had a parthenon. Hmm. Why is that?

It's an interesting question, but not because "parthenons" are rare. The functional equivalent of a parthenon is quite common; architectural realizations on a par with the Athenian parthenon are less common, but by no means rare. What's unusual about the Athenian parthenon is, again, not anything inherent to it -- it's a decent application of state of practice in architecture and construction at that time, but it was by no means state of the art even then.

What's unusual about the parthenon is it's place in our collective "myth of culture". It's been preserved all this time because we tell such wondrous stories about the "Glory that was Greece" (by which we mostly mean Periclean Athens).

Nietzsche once said something to the effect that the true student of pyschology would study not aberrant individuals, but normal individuals. I'd say the same thing about brothels. We know they had brothels, sure; what did they do in them? Not a trivial question; what people actually do in brothels at any point in history probably tells you a lot about what their obsessions are, as a culture. What people do in brothels differs in Texas, NYC, Paris, and St Petersburg -- at least, I strongly suspect it does. And if it doesn't, well, then, that's a very important datum.

Consider this: If the Romans had McDonalds restaurants, would we want to excavate them? I would say that the answer is clearly 'yes', because if you could learn as much from a Roman Mickey D's as you could from a modern American (or, more to the point, Parisian) Mickey D's, then it's a no-brainer: Dig that sucker up. It seems clear to me that we could learn at least as much about culture from brothels as we can from fast food restaurants. (OK, well, maybe not quite as much...)
posted by lodurr at 10:34 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


There's a humorous exchange from the court record that established Claud as Robert Johnson's heir:

...what happened when he met up with 17-year-old Virgie Mae Smith on her way to school.

In the end, the crucial testimony came from Virgie Mae's closest friend, Eula Mae Williams, an 80-year-old midwife with pure white hair, who recalled an evening walk she took with her fiance and Virgie Mae and Robert Johnson.

To the shock of the assembled lawyers, who had to pause during questioning because they were laughing so hard, she described how both couples made love standing up in the pine forest, watching each other the whole time.

She was questioned by Victor McTeer, an attorney from Greenville who was representing Carrie Thompson's relatives as they contested Claud's claim to the estate.

Q: Well, let me, let me share something with you, because I'm really curious about this. Maybe I have a more limited experience. But you're saying to me that you were watching them make love?

A: M-hm.

Q: While you were making love?

A: M-hm.

Q: You don't think that's at all odd?

A: Say what?

Q: Have you ever done that before or since?

A: Yes.

Q: Watch other people make love?

A: Yes, I have done it before. Yes, I've done it after I married. Yes.

Q: You watched other people make love?

A: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

Q: Other than ... other than Mr. Johnson and Virgie Cain [her married name].

A: Right.

Q: Really?

A: You haven't?

Q: No. Really haven't.

A: I'm sorry for you.


http://www.robertjohnsonbluesfoundation.org/latimes.html
posted by wsg at 10:39 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, you seem to keep coming back to the word "genius" as if Ray Charles annointed himsef as such. I highly doubt that even he would call himself that.

And for you to not allow Nilla' his art is to highly underrate the collective stupidity of pop-music consumers of the future. I picture bronze busts of Mr. Van Winkle adorning highway offramps by the year 2200. You read it here first.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:42 AM on July 26, 2006


Ray Charles is a business now. Somebody that thought he was cool convinced a movie producer that they could make lots of $$ with a movie about him. Now he is a genius in the Smithsonian. They might as well replace his picture in that exhibit with Jamie Foxx.

It's got nothing to do with Art. It's more like, hey, too bad he's dead. He could make a few funny comments on some VH1 show.

It's the same with the guitar. Oh look. Robert Johnson is so important. We'll remind you of how he is the father of the Delta Blues. By coincidence, we have some memorabilia here...
posted by rex dart, eskimo spy at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2006


Side note: I can't believe I'm sitting here reading Vanilla Ice's Wiki entry....
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:44 AM on July 26, 2006


You know, now that we're talking, every culture in the world had its folk music

I don't even believe in the concept of 'folk music,' simply because I don't believe in the concept of 'folk.' But truth be told, popular music is basically indigenous music without regard for locality, since in a mass media era (that we've been living in for over a century, now) locality has steadily been becoming less and less relevant.

Dostoyevsky wrote Crime & Punishment, Ray Charles did 'What'd I Say.' Both are excellent works that express something real very well. Whether you like either one is a matter of taste, ultimately.
posted by jonmc at 1:05 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


I like both. I'm not talking about what people like, or even what I like. Taste is subjective. I'm talking about contribution, and specifically this trend in popular culture to take what in the grand scheme of things is a small contribution in a niche and elevate it in everyone's minds as a great contribution to American culture. And furthermore, I was talking about it being a deliberate process (e.g. Ray Charles) , rather than something happening organically (Robert Johnson, who was ripped off by every rock guitarist in the 60's).


Yeah, no other cultures have constructed magnificient temples to their gods.
posted by keswick at 1:06 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


Arg. I knew someone was going to turn this into a western culture vs. the world thing. Yes other cultures have done this. But not all of them, and not to the same degree of influence.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:44 AM on July 26, 2006


The "degree of influence" of the Athenians is a retroactive decision. It's not because of what they were -- lots of cultures did similar things -- but because of who identifies themselves as their "children."

The Parthenon has been allowed to stand because it's a part of that foundational myth of European culture. Similarly, the great buddhas of Afghanistan, many great temples throughout the world, were allowed to stand because of the role they played in the foundational myths of their cultures. Many were destroyed for similar reasons.

In other words, the thing that's unique about the Parthenon versus the buildings that didn't last -- like, say, maybe, a gladitorial arena in Bari -- is that it and its legend reinforce what we want to believe about our culture.

We are not unique in continually inventing our own path. It's not a western sin (or, arguably, even a sin). So this isn't a "west versus the world" thing -- it's a "how things work" thing.
posted by lodurr at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2006


"... continually inventing our own past."
posted by lodurr at 11:03 AM on July 26, 2006


Robert Johnson was all "organic?" Like produce? And how did he know to hold his cigarette in his mouth that way? Did everyone do that in the Mississippi Delta, or was he concerned with image? How'd he know how to pose for the camera? Was he a poseur, or was his posing a totally organic thing, something Deltans developed as a culture? Or was he an unschooled dude, a noble savage, who did whatever strange posing thing was requested of him by his would-be social betters?

Did he ever "rip off" conventions from anyone else? Did he listen to the radio? Did he have commercial considerations in mind in recording, and did those who recorded them have such?
posted by raysmj at 11:13 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


The Parthenon of old, meanwhile, was likely painted in colors that would come off as tacky to many out there in the western world today, excepting 75 percent of MySpace denizens and the producers of the Fox News channel. Maybe Rupert Murdoch should buy it.
posted by raysmj at 11:18 AM on July 26, 2006


Speaking of lost treasures... Jessie Mae Hemphill passed away on Saturday, July 22. She was a link to a Black American folk tradition even deeper than Johnsons. Her father, Sid Hemphill, was one of the last great northern Mississppi Black fiddlers and fife and drum band leaders. Jessie was a great singer and guitarist in the Fred McDowell "who needs chord changes, anyway?" mode.

The Mississippi blues tradition is still going strong, but these older artists who were brought up in the tradition were the real lifeblood of the music. And there just ain't many of them left.
posted by zaelic at 11:20 AM on July 26, 2006


This musical-genius threadbitchery made a lot more sense once I realized that Pastabagel must surely be Faze's sockpuppet account.

Back to the subject at hand: if there's a more perfect blues death (scroll down) than Robert Johnson's, I don't want to know about it. As far as the guitar goes, I'm waiting for something that belonged to the one true blues genius, Calhoun Tubbs.
posted by Vervain at 11:21 AM on July 26, 2006


raymsj, I'll preach to your choir: sure, he was a "poseur", he was [self-]schooled in appealing to his audience. Hell, they all were. Dylan spun a fairly impressive litany of lies about himself early in his career, most of which were designed to make him seem more mysterious and interesting. Blues men have been telling tall tales about their exploits [ahem!] and prowess [double-ahem!] since before they existed [neat trick, that].

It doesn't really change much, in the final analysis, to understand all these things. If you care about what these people did, then that's still there after you find their feet of clay.

I, personally, just find it very important for my own understanding -- and I think this is important if you want to understand culture, too -- to see those feet. It's kind of more remarkable, as a phenomenon, when you realize that Johnny or Ray are fronting for this machine that's greater than themselves or, frankly, that petty little thing that is the musci business. Kind of awesome, in a way, though I understand that most people don't feel that way about it. They're free to go on calling all these folks 'genius'.
posted by lodurr at 11:22 AM on July 26, 2006


Did he ever "rip off" conventions from anyone else? Did he listen to the radio? Did he have commercial considerations in mind in recording, and did those who recorded them have such?

Answer: yes, yes, yes, and yes. The man was a musician, made his living as a musician, and did what musicians do to survive. He was, however, particularly gifted ar re-assembling his musical loot into a new and personal creation. Which is how he got paid.
posted by zaelic at 11:23 AM on July 26, 2006


I'm talking about contribution, and specifically this trend in popular culture to take what in the grand scheme of things is a small contribution in a niche and elevate it in everyone's minds as a great contribution to American culture.

fine, let's take away all that pop culture stuff from american culture and tell me, what do we have left? ... a few books, a few paintings, a few works of music and a lot of imitations of european forms that were done better by the europeans

let's face it ... the popular culture that you're dismissing IS our culture ... a culture that has spread worldwide and caused all sorts of changes in the cultures of other societies ... discussing the history of the 20th and 21st centuries without a discussion of the pop culture you think is unimportant would be just like discussing the roman empire without any references to greek science, philosophy, architecture and poetry ... it just can't be done

parthenon? ... the mass media IS our parthenon ... it's our legacy to the world and they've accepted it ... along with all the trashy and ridiculous things that come with it

the whole argument you're making is based on our lack of hindsight when it comes to contemporary events ... meaning that we can certainly tell that a shakespeare or a plato has had centuries of influence ... but we're not able to see what people in the 25th century will be saying about the cultural works of our times

it's just about inevitable that rock music will be discussed by people in the 25th century, if civilization lasts ... i don't see any way one could discuss or understand our culture without looking at it ... i dare say that there's no way they will be able to discuss or even create their OWN culture without realizing this influence

in other words, "roll over beethoven and tell tchaikovsky the news"
posted by pyramid termite at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


How Robert Johnson died is still debated, contrary to Wikipedia's stating that "the fact is that . . . " The Wikipedia people have no frickin' idea.
posted by raysmj at 11:36 AM on July 26, 2006


zaelic: He got paid just for those creations, if he got paid at all? Did he also get paid for performing songs that were jukebox or radio favorites, as well as regional favorites that we now identify as being examples of Delta blues? Or does anyone really know?
posted by raysmj at 11:42 AM on July 26, 2006


i also should add that at one time, the parthenon building greeks were considered to be hopelessly inbred rednecks by the persians ... low culture and all of that
posted by pyramid termite at 11:44 AM on July 26, 2006


I just love how this post about an old guitar that may or may not have belonged to someone famous has evolved into a heated debate over the cultural merits of Ray Charles and the influence of the Greeks on Western civilization.

That is all. Carry on...
posted by TedW at 11:52 AM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, I can't keep up with the bullshit you're spewing, but I suggest you re-read some Shakespeare. Because frankly, there's plenty of fucking going on.

As for the Greeks, why yes, they did have sex. But what they considered "sex" was wildly different than what we thought it was--most obviously, it was between men. Procreative activity between a man and a woman wasn't really thought of as "sex" as much as it was making babies. Complicated subject, no doubt, and I've enjoyed watching you stumble and grasp at straws throughout this post regardless.
posted by bardic at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


it's just about inevitable that rock music will be discussed by people in the 25th century, if civilization lasts ... i don't see any way one could discuss or understand our culture without looking at it ... i dare say that there's no way they will be able to discuss or even create their OWN culture without realizing this influence

in other words, "roll over beethoven and tell tchaikovsky the news"
posted by pyramid termite at 2:26 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


Now we're arguing two different points. I agree completely that you have to listen to this music to understand our time. I just don't think people 500 years from now will be listening to the pop music we are producing today. They will be listening to their own pop music. I can't prove this, and it's likely that some works of pop music will continue to be listened to.

Contrast that with the fact that people do in fact listen to 400 year old works of classical music today.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:03 PM on July 26, 2006



...I suggest you re-read some Shakespeare. Because frankly, there's plenty of fucking going on.

posted by bardic at 2:53 PM EST on July 26 [+fave] [!]


No shit, really? I had no idea. So Romeo and Juliet...?

Or maybe, just maybe, I already knew that, and my point was that the sex although present in the work is not the central focus of the work. By contrast, in most of pop music and in much of Ray Charles music, sex is the point of the work, and most songs don't even attempt to be about anything else.

There's nothing wrong with that, but I notice that most works of art aren't about sex even though they may contain sex. Please try to understand the difference.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, are you Allan Bloom?
posted by jonmc at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2006


Measure for Measure is certainly about sex.

What "labor" do you think is being referred to in Love's Labors Lost?

And, while I can't vouch for this, I've been told a couple of times that "nothing" was also a euphemism/slang term at the time, providing an alternate title for a play: Much Ado about Pussy.
posted by COBRA! at 12:25 PM on July 26, 2006


TedW: Just for you. (I tried to find a video clip, but to no avail, and I was phoning around looking for movers whilst doing so.)
posted by raysmj at 12:26 PM on July 26, 2006


There's some merit to the notion that we (Americans, at least) have a tendency to elevate the significance of mediocre things. Consider the sturm und drang surrounding any airing of American Idol. Consider that news writers (they're most egregious about this in sports news) always have to find some superlative for any subject: "Mel Melvinsson -- the NFL's most-interviewed third string quarterback last week. How has he dealt with his new fame?!"

And it goes for the negative, too: How many depictions were there of candidates decked out like storm troppers or fuhrers? Take your pick -- I saw it done for at least Howard Dean, John Kerry, George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It makes it hard to see what's really important and why. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn't mean shit if Barry Bonds never broke whatever stupid record I think he broke a few weeks ago. (Or not...I don't know...)

In a certain sense, we do a dishonor to people by over-honoring them. If we call Ray Charles a "genius", we're just boxing him up and putting a lable on him -- making him safe for consumption, so to speak. He's more "dangerous", more destabilizing, if he's not a "genius."

All that in context, though, some people do court that fame. That's what Robert Johnson, in both legend and in what we know of actual history, has in common with the nitwits who cower before Simon every week.

Which makes my original comment in this thread that much more apt.
posted by lodurr at 12:29 PM on July 26, 2006


I can't prove this, and it's likely that some works of pop music will continue to be listened to.

And I'd argue that Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and Robert Johnson are likely to be among them. In the same way that there were no doubt many composers and musicians during Mozart's time, who composed and played music of a similar style, the vast majority of whom are not played anymore.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:31 PM on July 26, 2006


Pastabagel, are you Allan Bloom?

Excellent question! I really thought this kind of "the highest thoughts of the highest minds" crap went out decades ago. But keep the faith, baby! Er, I mean: ad astra per aspera!
posted by languagehat at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2006


Romeo and Juliet is kids' stuff (literally) compared to, say, Hamlet or any of the plays with Falstaff, both in action and innuendo.
posted by bardic at 12:33 PM on July 26, 2006


MetaFilter: Your Favorite Band Is Not a Genius

Dylan speaks of Johnny Cash in almost religious tones

for several years, I've had a photo of Johnny Cash hung on the wall above my bed, where people usually keep a picture of Jesus, or of the Virgin Mary. why? because I don't believe in Jesus -- I believe in Mr. Cash
posted by matteo at 12:36 PM on July 26, 2006


They will be listening to their own pop music. I can't prove this, and it's likely that some works of pop music will continue to be listened to.

Contrast that with the fact that people do in fact listen to 400 year old works of classical music today.


Wouldn't that just be the pop music of their day that has survived? Sorry, I don't see any difference here.
posted by InfidelZombie at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2006


pastabagel: ... the sex although present in the work is not the central focus of the work.

It's not the central focus of the work, but when we de-sexualize Shakespeare, we're really doing a disservice to it. It was presented in a sexually open millieu. If you don't look at sexuality, you're missing a lot of the subtext for the original works. It gets a lot more interesting when you think about the sex.
posted by lodurr at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2006


Same with Shakespeare. Shakespeare wasn't "the Bard of Avon," so to speak, until the 19th century.

Back in Elizabethan England, he was popular entertainment (groundlings, anyone?). Brilliant, amazing, masterful popular entertainment, but popular entertainment nonetheless. Stage writers were thought to be one cut (a small one) above actors, and actors a small cut above prostitutes.

But high culture warriors try to pull this false comparison crap all the time. Problem is they're 100% wrong.
posted by bardic at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2006


Let's all crank some Archies and Ramones, eat some Twinkies and watch I Love Lucy!
posted by jonmc at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2006


Re. Matteo: You certainly wouldn't be alone in doing such a thing. Vis Chuck Jones, who I once heard remark: "I feel I must warn you in advance that I long ago gave over whatever reverence one would normally reserve for God to Mark Twain."

(Remarks on receiving a lifetime achievment award from the George Eastman Museum of photography.)

I feel utterly confident that Cash would pray that God forgive you for your idolatry, and would want you to remember him as a very flawed man. But then, you probably also thought those same things.
posted by lodurr at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2006


... eat some Twinkies and watch I Love Lucy!

I was with you up 'til then. Make it Ding-Dongs and Leave It To Beaver, and we're on.
posted by lodurr at 12:53 PM on July 26, 2006


Philistine.
posted by jonmc at 12:57 PM on July 26, 2006


Wouldn't that just be the pop music of their day that has survived? Sorry, I don't see any difference here.

mmm, mmmaaaaybe. Probably not. Sometimes. Chopin and Liszt were "pop stars"; Bach was not. Handel and Haydn were popular, Purcell (as I recall) was not. I think more often than not it's more like the Brian Eno or [insert Christian Music Industry performer] music of its day: The stuff that a certain self-defined elite listened to. In a few cases, time has weeded out the good stuff for us, even when it wasn't well known in its day.

And naturally, some really good stuff got forgotten, too. Ash-heap of history and all that. Regrettable, but unavoidable.
posted by lodurr at 12:58 PM on July 26, 2006


I can't help it, man, Lucy just gives me cold shivers. And I can't stand the little sugar crystals in the Twinkies.

"Hey...did you ever want to see Lucy's tits?" -- Neil Gaiman
posted by lodurr at 1:00 PM on July 26, 2006


Uh, everything that lodurr said, with peaches on top. Thanks for the reading on this rather otherwise dull day.
posted by jokeefe at 1:00 PM on July 26, 2006


Oh, you don't like Lucy, either?
posted by lodurr at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2006


Raysmj: this does fit nicely with the theme of the thread.
posted by TedW at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2006


Ray Charles was a genius!

More Robert Johnson videos on YouTube!

LH Puttgrass signing off and heading for the tub!
posted by First Post at 1:51 PM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


I bought Robert Johnson's soul on eBay.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:07 PM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]


I hear Lance Bass is gay.
posted by jokeefe at 2:43 PM on July 26, 2006


Oh, you don't like Lucy, either?

Ethel was the true love goddess of that show.
posted by jokeefe at 2:44 PM on July 26, 2006


jokeefe: "I hear Lance Bass is gay."

Well, he sucks, at any rate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:46 PM on July 26, 2006


I kind of agree with Pastabagel that Ray was arguably a genius, not a full fledged one. Though I wanted to point there are some who consider Miles Davis and Coltrane albums "nothing but" popular culture commodities as well. Check out Theodore Adorno's writings in The Culture Industry where he argues or rather informs us, if I understand correctly, that for a number of past generations culture has not come from the people so much as it has become enabled to become a choice people can decide to consume. In other words if Mile's albums were released it was because his albums were permitted through the system because they served to perpetuate a culture industry that prevents the masses from actually having culture, without them knowing it. Or something like that... My point being that as you or I scoff at the significance of one artist and recognize the significance of some other artist, somewhere an intellectual is scoffing at us for believing any of it is genius level art.
posted by chowder at 3:26 PM on July 26, 2006


somewhere an intellectual is scoffing at us for believing any of it is genius level art.

and we scoff at him for scoffing when he could be enjoying himself. pbbbbt!
posted by jonmc at 4:55 PM on July 26, 2006


somewhere an intellectual is scoffing at us for believing any of it is genius level art

So, um... Adorno is a genius?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:10 PM on July 26, 2006


i am a genius.
posted by quonsar at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2006


a pop culture icon.
posted by quonsar at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2006


i practically invented delta blues by combining fish and pants.
posted by quonsar at 7:44 PM on July 26, 2006


"Separation penetrates the disappearing person like a pigment and steeps him in gentle radiance."
posted by hortense at 7:50 PM on July 26, 2006


late to the party, but stallar post, mjj
posted by moonbird at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2006


See, I think the fish is the real genius. Or maybe the pants.

Or maybe the fish and the pants together have genius as an emergent property.
posted by lodurr at 8:54 AM on July 27, 2006


Fascinating post, Madamjujujive. I love the blues and blues-inspired music.

It seems Robert Johnson was repeatedly associated with The Devil, supposedly having "sold his soul" to play so well, to succeed or deal with the obstacles he faced in life. Thanks to your "Legba" link above, which apparently was the voodoo deity Robert Johnson appealed to, I did a little research on Papa Legba and the images associated with this African-Caribbean trickster.

What a heartbreaking, poignant and moving story about Claud, Robert Johnson's long abandoned son living in that partially used mansion, looking out at his old, beloved truck. I feel respect for Claud.

Such an interesting thread too.

"To sum up, a blues-compatible nickname might be Blind Lemon Roosevelt, whereas a non blues-compatible nickname would be Pigeon-Toed Seedless Grape Eisenhower." From the "blues death" link posted by Vervain.

Can't You Hear the Wind Howl, Robert Johnson video on YouTube and his influence on Clapton and Richards.

Both of Robert Johnson's graves (yes, he has two graves.) YouTube video.
posted by nickyskye at 12:08 PM on July 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


From Quatermass's post on famous Rock 'n Roll myths, Lord i'm standin' at the crossroad, babe, i believe i'm sinkin' down, a previous comment rephrased:
How do they know Robert Johnson didn't sell his soul to the devil?

How can they prove a negative ?

From The devil you know revealed in 'Delta':

The infamous story goes like this: Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Miss., in order to get "magical" guitar-playing skill. He was a rudimentary player when he disappeared for about six months, but blew everybody away upon his return. House speculated on the devil thing -- possibly in jest -- in the 1965 interview. Although Johnson colleague Johnny Shines had disputed the myth, it caught on and spread like a virus in books, documentaries and movies such as 1986's "Crossroads."

While talking to Wald, a 45-year-old author and musician, by phone from his Cambridge, Mass., home, I own up to writing stories romanticizing this part of Johnson's life and story. Wald laughs. "We all did!" he says. "My position isn't that there's anything wrong with that myth. I mean, cultures need myths. There's something exciting about the Robert Johnson myth. I just think it's important to say it's basically a myth of Rolling Stones fans -- not of black Mississippians."


From an interview with Robert Jr. Lockwood

"Robert came up under people like Son House and Willie Brown, and he matched them, but he also added his own style," Lockwood says. "He got this from listening to players like Le Roy Carr on the piano, and what he did was to translate the right and left hand sounds of a piano to guitar. When people ask me about if I believe all that stuff about the devil, I say 'Hell No!' It is stupid. How can an adult sell his soul to the devil? If it does happen, it happens when you are born."

Son House--an aged alcoholic at the time of his interview and a notoriously poor informant in interviews--made one passing speculation to Samuel Charters and the ball started rolling there. The rumor started in 1965 and was spread by white rock critics. One speculation reified into fact by a series of writers. Every other contemporary of Johnson vehemently denies the rumor. It's a myth.
Another great delta bluesman, Tommy Johnson, of Jackson, Mississippi, did claim to have sold his soul to the devil. Between that blues singing Johnson story, Son House's off hand comment, Sam Charters' indefatigable hawking of the same and people reading too much into the lyrics of the song Standing At The Crossroads came the conflated myth.
posted by y2karl at 10:49 AM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


y2karl, thanks for weighing in - great info, and no post on blues would be complete without you!

nickyskye, thanks for your additins on Pappa Legba, too - fascinating stuff.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:06 PM on August 3, 2006


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