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The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sat Apr 12, 2014 7:20 pm
by Adam Blake
Thanks to Ted for finding this, fascinating article with music attached.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014 ... d=fb-share

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Tue Apr 15, 2014 8:43 pm
by Chris P
I haven't watched this yet, but I thought Duck Baker's views on it may be of interest:

Several people have sent me links to this article about two legendary early blues women, and asked for my opinion. I first heard about it a few days ago when Ted Gioia, who is mentioned at one point, was talking about it on his page. And people are going to be talking about this article for a very long time, because it contains a lot of stuff that is really revelatory. I do have some minor issues with it but they are unimportant in the face of what the author has to tell us. Among those amazing things I am only going to underline one here, and that is that we now have a significant blues performer on record as saying that there was blues in Texas as early as 1903 or so, when she began to learn to play. This of course badly undermines the popular myth that it was born in the Mississippi Delta, though there never has been very much evidence to support such an idea, anyway.
That brings me to my little list of complaints. First. it’s impossible to read this without having mixed feelings about the way the author and his accomplice, Caitlin Rose Love, dealt with Mack McCormick, but Sullivan himself is quite forthright about that can of worms, and even after stating our misgivings, we have to say that had they not acted as they did, they would not have been able to do all the important follow-up work that they did to fill out the picture. And even if McCormick's work were made known at a later date, we would have lost much of the detail they added.
I also have problems with the style. Sullivan writes well but I find his prose overwrought. I prefer writers who put the facts before us to those who go all poetic allatime, that’s just me, I guess. Plainly Sullivan doesn’t see it that way, and the fact that he would go out of his way to praise Peter Guranick’s very fluffy and disappointing “Searching for Robert Johnson” is telling. Likewise he cites the less-than-useless Greil Marcus on a few occasions, something guaranteed to bring down the tone of any article. And he duly genuflects before the alter of John Lomax, and even those of us who have come to expect such a gesture in articles like this may be surprised at the way it is perfumed here. The idea that there were only a tiny handful of people who knew about the importance of blues records in the 1930’s is weird to start with (for one thing, it seems to be saying that the black people buying the records didn’t know the music was important), and crediting Lomax in this regard while ignoring people like John Hammond and John Work is puzzling. And applying phrases like "the most prominent of those great ethnomusicologists" to Lomax will always make some of us cringe. For far too long has the history of blues been the history of blues writers, and only a certain ones, at that. At least Paul Oliver gets some props, though.
Anyway, all of that is for the people who asked for my opinion, but my opinion isn’t very important, and these negatives are even less important. Having something of the true story of these two women is so far beyond what anyone could have hoped for, no lover of blues or American musical history can possibly be less than delighted with it. How perfect the details turn out to be!

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 2:56 pm
by Adam Blake
Moan moan, whinge whinge, some people are never happy. There's a large number of blues "purists" over on Facebook doing the same thing. I suspect that good old-fashioned male jealousy is playing a not inconsiderable part. For myself, speaking as one who loves the blues and has been exasperated at the attitude of "purists" for at least 35 years, I thought it was an absolute pleasure from beginning to end - but then I am one of those strange people who thinks the blues ought not to be just the province and property of a few old white men.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:15 pm
by AndyM
The critique quoted at length above calls Greil Marcus "less-than-useless", and thus is not the writing of a sane man.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 6:07 am
by Rob Hall
Personally, I have a low opinion of the works of Greil Marcus. Do you count yourself as a fan Andy?

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:03 am
by will vine
It feels to me like there's a Coen Brothers movie developing in this thread. Even if they did no more than steal the title The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie they'd probably be on their way to an Oscar....(I'm not their biggest fan - didn't think much of Inside Llewyn Davis).

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 7:05 am
by AndyM
Rob Hall wrote:Personally, I have a low opinion of the works of Greil Marcus. Do you count yourself as a fan Andy?


I think he's unbearably pretentious at times, very insightful at others, but most of all always stimulating to read.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 10:31 am
by Rob Hall
AndyM wrote:
Rob Hall wrote:Personally, I have a low opinion of the works of Greil Marcus. Do you count yourself as a fan Andy?


I think he's unbearably pretentious at times, very insightful at others, but most of all always stimulating to read.

Mmm... ok. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I think he's deeply conservative and his prose style makes him a very difficult read.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 11:48 am
by Adam Blake
The only thing Greil Marcus ever wrote that I liked was his introduction to Lester Bangs's posthumous anthology "Psychotic Reactions And Carburettor Dung". Possibly because he was Lester's friend and possibly because he knew he was writing about writing that was so much more passionate and heart searingly honest than his could ever be, he really rose to the occasion. Otherwise, I find him cold cold cold. And pretetentious. But to describe him as "less than useless" is just plain silly and spiteful. Clever boys at their worst.

(Charlie once rendered him speechless. When Marcus was a guest on his show, ostensibly to promote his book on Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone", Charlie produced an unspeakably rare 7" white label promo of the track split across two sides that Marcus knew nothing about. Beautifully understated and very stylishly done.)

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:15 pm
by Chris P
Adam Blake wrote: "less than useless" is just plain silly and spiteful. Clever boys at their worst.


Allow Duck his views will you Adam, that bonnet is very fetching on you but there's something sharper than honey gathering going on in there

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:33 pm
by Adam Blake
I do allow him his view, as long as you and he allow me mine, which is that describing Marcus like that is silly and spiteful. Perhaps Mr Duck has personal reasons for devaluing his critique in such a way. I certainly can't be bothered to defend Marcus, besides, he hardly needs defending while so many clever people think the sun shines from his bottom.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 4:26 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Funny that after the forum existing all these years this is the first time Marcus has ever been discussed here (to my knowledge). I recall him as a guest on one of Charlie's last BBC London shows - he was a real prima donna: where it was normal for the guest to come on at 8.30 he insisted on coming on right at 8pm (when show started) and as a ping pong guest played pretty much nothing but Dylan and horrible indie stuff like PJ Harvey. He was in town to promote his LIke A Rolling Stone book which might just be the worst thing he has ever written - my then girlfriend was given a copy so I read it: about 40,000 words long and Greil had enough ideas for about 3-4000 word essay. After that he just waffled in the most pompous manner possible. I've never picked up anything by him since. As a teen I was impressed by Mystery Train and imagine it might still have a few insights but never feel the need to open it up. I tried both Invisible Republic and another later book on the US and found both, for the most part, a waste of time. Greil has obviously learnt from the art theorist way of writing where you invent links and make assumptions and baffle 'em with bullshit. Not "worse than useless". But pretty close. And unbearably pretentious - I'm surprised Andy finds any writer so full of himself of interest. Duck's critique of the often-brilliant NYT essay was more succinct than anything Greil has written in decades.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Mon Apr 28, 2014 2:02 am
by Hugh Weldon
Garth

Funny that after the forum existing all these years this is the first time Marcus has ever been discussed here (to my knowledge).


A quick search shows he has been discussed a lot Garth. Most of it is fairly negative. I feel no need to return to it, but vaguely recall speaking up for Lipstick Traces once and getting a Greil-bashing response from your good self.

While searching I was mildly embarrassed at the pomposity of some of the things I used to write here - have folks realised the forum is now approaching its tenth birthday? Shouldn't the long-haulers and survivors have a party or something?

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Mon Apr 28, 2014 11:59 am
by Garth Cartwright
Hugh, my girlfriend says my memory is fading with age and this proves she's right... Agreed, we should have a party sometime: my suggestion would be May 25 at the Ritzy's Upstairs Bar when the delightful Nikki Akinjinmi will sing covers and originals. I discussed with Nikki inviting Buffy down for the event so might as well invite the rest of y'all.

Re: The Ballad Of Geeshie and Elvie

PostPosted: Mon Apr 28, 2014 2:31 pm
by Hugh Weldon
Sounds like a great idea! Doesn't need to be a large scale thing. Nikki singing a few songs would be perfect.