Paganini, Orff, Macchio, Banjo
September 27, 2006 11:49 PM   Subscribe

Long before Robert Johnson ever went down to the crossroads, violinist & composer Niccolo Paganini was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical ability. Evidence against this theory: Paganini's 5th Caprice actually prevented the devil from stealing The Karate Kid's soul (the devil settled for stealing Ralph Macchio's career instead). Evidence in favor of this theory: When played on acoustic guitar, the virtuosity in his 24th Caprice really seems supernaturally inspired. For my money, however, the perfect storm of ominous music & stringed instruments comes together in this version of Carmina Burana (mp3 direct download), arranged for solo banjo.
posted by jonson (35 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
For those curious about the details of the Macchio/Devil transaction, further information here. Ry Cooder's playing Ralph's parts, and Steve Vai is the devil's advocate, until the Paganini part, in which Vai plays both roles.
posted by jonson at 11:52 PM on September 27, 2006


If I click on any of these links and play them, am I inviting the Devil into my home?

He was here just last week, and I don't know if I want him back. He drank all my good whisky and my wife is missing. And I still can't get the cigar smoke out of the curtains.
posted by loquacious at 12:01 AM on September 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


Few people know this, but if you take the third Karate Kid movie (after the one in Japan, but before the one with the chick from Boys Don't Cry), and you hack your VCR to play the movie in reverse... it's actually much, much better than watching it the regular way.
posted by jonson at 12:07 AM on September 28, 2006


There was a theory that Paganini suffered from Marfans or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, accounting for his flexibility and gaunt appearance.
posted by scodger at 12:21 AM on September 28, 2006


Wow. Very nice - thanks, jonson!
posted by darkstar at 1:08 AM on September 28, 2006


I was kind of gearing up for a Johnson-referencing Paganini FPP, but it was a sack of shit compared to this. Nice work, jonson, (as always).
posted by bunglin jones at 1:32 AM on September 28, 2006


Steve Vai got pwned by a Telecaster!
posted by bardic at 1:57 AM on September 28, 2006


It's well known that Paganini was no mean guitarist himself. In fact some people think he composed a lot of his violin music on the guitar.

I was kind of hoping that the Youtube link would turn out to be my old flatmate Rudolph, a shaggy-haired metaller who endlessly played that caprice on a Gibson SG.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:14 AM on September 28, 2006


I sold my soul to the Devil and all I got is this lousy t-shirt.
posted by Wolof at 3:26 AM on September 28, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, lovely lovely banjo. That was very nice.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:48 AM on September 28, 2006


Steve Vai got pwned by a Telecaster!

And last November I recall he needed a spanking...
posted by TedW at 4:35 AM on September 28, 2006


the perfect storm of ominous music & stringed instruments comes together in this version of Carmina Burana

Sandy Bull rules.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:06 AM on September 28, 2006


Although Robert Johnson was never known to made such a claim himself and those closest to him all dispute the idea strongly, Crossroads is history for some people like Oliver Stone's JFK is history, too.

Regarding this particular urban legend, the devil is in the details:
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."
The devil you know revealed in 'Delta'

That one Son House interview helped Sam Charters spawn an industry.
"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."
Robert Jr. Lockwood, Robert Johnson's stepson and protege recounts his long and storied musical career.

The great but lesser known Delta blues singer named Johnson, Tommy Johnson, of Jackson, Mississippi, did claim to have sold his soul to the devil. Tommy--yes, maybe, Robert--no. Know your Johnsons.
posted by y2karl at 5:59 AM on September 28, 2006


This is a great post. I have been wondering for a long time what the song Ralph Macchio played in Crossroads was. I kept finding references to Turkish March, but that wasn't right. Now I have it. Time to get some Paganini CDs.

Thanks jonson.
posted by genefinder at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2006


The classic techno remix of O Fortuna by Apotheosis. (whoever made that botched the volume, so you need to turn it up loud to hear it)
posted by empath at 6:46 AM on September 28, 2006


The girl playing the guitar seems like a musical savant to me, not a real musician. There's absolutely no feeling to the performance at all.
posted by empath at 6:57 AM on September 28, 2006


Tommy Johnson, of course, appears as a character in O Brother Where Art Thou moments after having sold his soul to the devil.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:57 AM on September 28, 2006


Youtube comments are a comedy goldmine. Or trashheap. Whichever.
posted by sklero at 7:03 AM on September 28, 2006


wow. I love that movie, but had no idead Tommy was based on a real character. Thanks, Astro Zombie & especially thanks Y2Karl for the backup info!
posted by jonson at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2006


I've seen Robert Lockwood Jr. several times. He's a great guy and will even shoot the shit with you after his set.
posted by sciurus at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2006


[this is good]
posted by the_bone at 7:37 AM on September 28, 2006


pluck those strings, do they not hum.
posted by nervousfritz at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2006


Paganini!!!!

Sorry.... I like Paganini , but I like saying his name even more.

Paganini!!!
posted by edgeways at 8:28 AM on September 28, 2006


Oy. The Paganini Caprices. Those are some damn tricky things. Ten years of violin and viola, and I still only have the chops for about half of them.

As for the lack of feeling, well, it's a shred piece. In many ways, Paganini was the predecessor of Yngwie Malmsteen.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 8:45 AM on September 28, 2006


Another work of classical music associated with visitations by the Devil is Tartini's the Devil's Trill.
posted by jonp72 at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2006


In many ways, Paganini was the predecessor of Yngwie Malmsteen.

Not just Malmsteen, but heavy metal in general. Heavy metal occasionally appropriates ideas from classical music, but only some composers are borrowed, such as Bach, Paganini, or Wagner. You don't hear much Debussy or Erik Satie in heavy metal, for example.
posted by jonp72 at 9:39 AM on September 28, 2006


I named Malmsteen in particular because of his reputation as a wanker with staggeringly good technique but no musical expression.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 9:43 AM on September 28, 2006


I've avoided that movie for years because I didn't want to see Steve Vai beaten by Ralph Macchio, and I'm not about to watch it now.
posted by teleskiving at 10:17 AM on September 28, 2006


Also, the arrangement in Crossroads generally goes by the name "Eugene's Trick Bag" if you're looking for tab.
posted by teleskiving at 10:23 AM on September 28, 2006


I named Malmsteen in particular because of his reputation as a wanker with staggeringly good technique but no musical expression.

Let's not forget Great Kat either, the self-described inventor of "shred classical" music. Paganini has inspired some reasonably non-wanky heavy metal too, though. I'd say Van Halen's "Eruption" is definitely very Paganini-like.
posted by jonp72 at 10:52 AM on September 28, 2006


Great post, thanks.
posted by interrobang at 11:19 AM on September 28, 2006


If you like Paganini, you would really like Octo Paganini!

Well... as long as you're not the king of Belgium.
posted by webnrrd2k at 11:40 AM on September 28, 2006


Word to the wise - folks. Selling your soul to the devil leads to Erectile Dysfunction.
posted by Sparx at 2:49 PM on September 28, 2006


The Paganini was soulless.

Here, listen to John Williams play some Bach instead. (Yeah, that John Williams!)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 PM on September 28, 2006


(Not really, though.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:34 PM on September 28, 2006


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