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Have wife, must travel - Lazy Lester, Sticker on converted ammo box harp case

Author Topic: Laughing To Keep From Crying  (Read 2234 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Laughing To Keep From Crying
« on: February 24, 2012, 12:01:14 AM »
An exchange between dj and myself concerning the series of 12 blues paperbacks published by Studio Vista between 1970-71 reminded me of one which failed to get published. For dj and anyone else interested here's the sorry tale as told in Juke Blues 25, Spring 1992 (p.29)


FAMOUS DESK DRAWER MANUSCRIPTS
by Tony Russell
A Continuing Series
Part 5
Laughing To Keep From Crying
by Frank Boom

In 1971-73 I was working as a house editor for November Books, a small London book packaging house that was producing the Blues Paperbacks series, under the general editorship of Paul Oliver, for the English publishers Studio Vista. After two batches of four titles had appeared, a third quartet was planned which would include David Evans's Tommy Johnson and Big Road Blues, Bob Groom's The Blues Revival and a book called Laughing To Keep From Crying.

Tommy Johnson and The Blues Revival duly came out, while Big Road Blues eventually reached publication much later, much larger and under another imprint. Laughing To Keep From Crying took a different course.

Paul Oliver was sent this manuscript by Hans Rookmaaker, the Dutch blues scholar who supervised blues and jazz reissue programmes in the '50s and '60s for Dutch Fontana and Riverside. I believe Rookmaaker had the MS from the author himself. He was a Dutchman too, and his name was Frank Boom. And he wrote his book this is the remarkable part of the story during World War II: indeed, during the German occupation of Holland. Which makes Laughing To Keep From Crying by a long way the first book length study of the blues.

Doubtless there was a band of jazz and blues aficionados in prewar Holland as there was in France and Britain. Certainly there were collectors, for Boom's chief source material was a substantial cache of American blues 78s, and the core of his MS was a mass of extracts from them, from which he drew various conclusions about the content and structural development of the blues and other matters. But since he almost never named the artists whose work he was quoting, and generally cited only one or two stanzas at a time, it wasn't easy to identify those records. One that could be quickly traced, thanks to its unique lyrics, was the Texas singer Hattie Burleson's 'Sadie's Servant Room Blues' on Brunswick even now a considerable rarity, and an extraordinary thing to find in wartime Holland.

Before this discussion of blues lyrics Boom's MS treated such matters as the relationship between blues and other forms of African derived satirical song: for example, certain Caribbean idioms. Here his sources were literary folksong collections and other folkloric works and the MS had many reference numbers presumably keyed to notes identifying those sources. Unfortunately, the notes themselves were missing.

And so was part of the main text. The MS broke off at a point where further discussion was evidently on the way, though one could only guess its content or extent. According to Rookmaaker, this second stage of the book would have involved the collaboration of a man called Poustochkine, also Dutch. The title page of the MS may have named him as co author, and it's even possible that he had contributed in some degree to the part we had.

Despite its incompleteness, November Books decided the MS was worth publishing. But there was much to do: its English (Boom either wrote in English or had his MS translated) was comprehensible but unidiomatic, and I concluded that the entire text would need to be rewritten. I also intended to identify the lyrics and try to trace some of the lost literary references.

But there was one more stone in our passway, and it proved immovable. Both Boom and Poustochkine were dead, and Boom's parents, contacted by Rookmaaker, decided that they could not consent to having their son's work published, despite its intrinsic value and the respect it would lend to his name. I don't think it was because they disapproved of the nature of his studies; I believe they simply wanted to avoid grievous reminders of a son who had died young. As Paul Oliver remembers it, the family finally requested the return of the MS, saying that it was a chapter they wished to see closed.

November Books must have learned about this decision at an awkwardly late stage, because when Tommy Johnson and The Blues Revival were published they earned on their jackets advance notice of Laughing To Keep From Crying (credited to Boom alone). So did the subsequent titles Crying For The Carolines, by Bruce Bastin, and Paul Garon's The Devil's Son In Law. Thanks to these premature advertisements, both Laughing To Keep From Crying and the other unpublished title, Big Road Blues, occasionally turned up in later years as phantom entries in blues bibliographies.

At the point when Laughing To Keep From Crying was shelved, my work in progress amounted to a partial 'translation' of the MS perhaps a chapter or two of the (I think) four or five and probably some identifications of the cited lyrics. I doubt that this material would have been sent to Boom's family, but it appears to have been lost, possibly when November Books went out of business not long afterwards. There were also some photographs I remember one of Boom himself and one of the house where he lived in the '40s and wrote the manuscript but I assume these went back to Holland.

My memory of the book's contents is vague, but I preserve the impression that although much of it was inevitably primitive, since Boom knew virtually nothing about the records and artists he was listening to, some of his guesses about the music were good, in that they would be confirmed or reinforced by later research, and others were, as you might say, wrong in interesting and suggestive ways. His attention to lyric content predated Oliver's Blues Fell This Morning, though it was less sophisticated and informed, and his comparative study of blues and other Afro American forms pointed a route that wouldn't be followed for many years.

Still, this is academic, because it looks as if the MS is irretrievable. Rookmaaker died not long after all this, and very likely Boom's parents are dead also. Unless by some near miracle a copy of the MS should turn up again, this is a book we shall never read.

Tony Russell is Editor of Jazz fm magazine and is guest writer this issue.



Offline dj

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2012, 02:04:37 AM »
What an interesting story, and what a loss to the world of blues scholarship.  Thanks for posting this.

Offline dj

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2012, 07:31:11 AM »
Quote
FAMOUS DESK DRAWER MANUSCRIPTS

The title of the series finally made an impression on my brain.  What an interesting concept for a series of articles.  Unpublished and probably lost research and analysis is as tantalizing as lost recordings.  I see that the one posted was number 5.  Do you know how big the series finally got?   

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2012, 08:43:35 AM »
Series only got to 5. Previous were:

Ronald Foreman Awful Moanin' Blues: Jazz & Race Records 1920-32 (JB21)
Based on a 1968 doctoral dissertation gained at the age of 40.

Mike Leadbitter & Jim O'Neal The Delta Blues Book (JB22)
Halted by unexpected death of Mike in 1974.

Peter Grendysa & Rick Whitesell Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm (JB23)
Started in 1975 completed in 1978 failed to find any publisher up to the challenge!

Fred Cox, John Randolph & John Harris Jug Bands of Louisville (JB24)
Has been discussed here I think.  In 1994 Laurie Wright produced an 80 page booklet containing some biographical/discographical material from manuscript. Pen Bogert has been researching a book on the topic for a mighty long time. Recently discussed at Weenie.





« Last Edit: February 24, 2012, 11:54:56 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #4 on: February 25, 2012, 02:45:36 AM »
I wonder if this (click image to zoom) is destined for desk drawer manuscript status? Work on it commenced 1998 - card received Xmas 2002
« Last Edit: February 25, 2012, 02:49:06 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2012, 03:01:38 AM »
Mike Leadbitter & Jim O'Neal The Delta Blues Book (JB22)
Halted by unexpected death of Mike in 1974.
I've just come across some correspondence Jim O'Neal and I had in 2000 concerning the above.

I have pitched the long "lost" Delta blues book by Mike Leadbitter et al. to Routledge, but so far they aren't convinced of its sales potential. Mike had done a great job of interweaving the stories of the major  performers, towns, radio shows, and record labels of the '40s and '50s, in a way that has not been done in a book-length treatment. Since his death substantial new information has been uncovered, of course, and that's been my  task, to incorporate all this into the framework Mike had created. (Mike had  also enlisted Bob Eagle, Steve LaVere, and Gayle Dean Wardlow as  contributors.) I still vow to get the tome published somehow.  Jim

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2015, 02:39:59 AM »
Hi, new to the forum.  I just wanted to say that, as of today (3/31/15), "Laughing To Keep From Crying," published 1971, is an entry on Amazon.  Of course, it's unavailable.

I'm currently collecting the Blues Paperbacks.  I got hooked by the reprint of John Fahey's "Charley Patton" in the Revenant boxed set when I read the adverts for the others and got intrigued.  Plus I'm an avid bibliophile, collector, and completist, much to my wife's chagrin.  Luckily, the Blues Paperbacks are not too pricey.  It's my understanding that 12 made it to print:

"Charley Patton," John Fahey*
"Blacks, Whites, and Blues," Tony Russell
"Ma Rainey and the Classic Blues Singers," Derrick Stewart-Baxter*
"Savannah Syncopators," Paul Oliver
"Recording the Blues," R. M. W. Dixon and J. Godrich*
"Blues from the Delta," William Ferris, Jr.*
"Deep South Piano," Karl Gert zur Heide
"Memphis Blues," Bengt Olsson
"Tommy Johnson," David Evans*
"The Blues Revival," Bob Groom
"Crying for the Carolines," Bruce Bastin*
"The Devil's Son -in-Law: the Story of Peetie Wheatstraw and His Songs," Paul Garon

I've starred the ones I already own.  As I'm sure most of you know, many of these books were republished and are in print under different imprints, but I, being the obsessive person I am, pay extra for the old Studio Vista editions.  I love the old school, mimeographed feel of them and the cover graphics!  As the OP said, my paperback edition of "Crying for the Carolines" advertises both "Big Road Blues" and "Laughing to Keep from Crying" on the back cover, which sent me down a rabbit hole looking for those books, which brought me to this extremely helpful thread!

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2015, 06:08:31 AM »
Perhaps it should be noted that a few in that series later became full length studies such as the Evans (1981), Ferris (1979), Bastin (1986) and Garon (2003).

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2015, 01:11:17 PM »
Thanks for that info!  I knew that Ferris was in print but I didn't know it had been expanded.  I also know that Evans's "Big Road Blues" is still in print, but "Tommy Johnson" is news to me.

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2015, 11:35:50 AM »
I was just finishing up reading Dixon and Godrich's "Recording the Blues" today and in the back under the acknowledgements they had a track listing for an accompanying record.  Did this title in fact come bundled with a record?  Did all the blues paperbacks come with a record?  I haven't checked my other titles yet (just got home).  Or was this something that made it to print but never really came to fruition?

Offline oddenda

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2015, 08:06:03 PM »
The LP was a one-off in that series of books - it was a Columbia release back in the day (if memory serves me right, not infallibly, though!).LPs and books were not bundled back in the day, sadly (I mean, they were books about MUSIC!!!). Maybe Bunker Hill can correct me on that. There may have been LPs of "Recording the Blues" and"Blacks, Whites, and Blues"... the memory is weak and my LPs are not here in Oz with me! Those titles were the first three issued in the series.

pbl

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2015, 09:26:00 PM »
Well remembered Peter. The initial four were:

Blacks, Whites And Blues CBS 52796
Recording The Blues CBS 52797
Ma Rainey & The Classic Blues Singers CBS 52798
Savannah Syncopators CBS 52799

There were plans for other LPs but November Books, a subsidiary of Studio Vista, "went to the wall" in 1971 and CBS canned the LP project.

Offline iwbiek

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2015, 11:30:25 PM »
Well remembered Peter. The initial four were:

Blacks, Whites And Blues CBS 52796
Recording The Blues CBS 52797
Ma Rainey & The Classic Blues Singers CBS 52798
Savannah Syncopators CBS 52799

There were plans for other LPs but November Books, a subsidiary of Studio Vista, "went to the wall" in 1971 and CBS canned the LP project.

Where in the books can I find those series numbers?  I've been looking.

It might be of interest to some that my copy of Derrick Stewart-Baxter's "Ma Rainey" is autographed, made out to a "Ken," thanking him for "many hours of interesting discussion" and encouragement when he was "in despair" while writing the book (no Ken appears in the acknowledgements).  Anybody know anything about this?  Is Derrick Stewart-Baxter still alive?  Google turns up nothing except pages about the book, mostly from Amazon.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2015, 02:03:06 AM »
Sadly DS-B has long left this mortal coil (1905-1986). I corresponded with him quite a bit in the late 60s/early 70s. He lived in Brighton in a house he named "Fresh Fields".

His real claim to fame was as one of the "founding father's" of Jazz Journal (1948-1973) he had a monthly column named Blues & Views and numerous blues reviews per issue. If it's important I'll unearth one of the obits.

The SBN (Standard Book Number) for the blues paperbacks can be found at the foot of back page for each book -  in the case of Ma Rainey 289 79825.6.


Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Laughing To Keep From Crying
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2015, 02:22:39 AM »
Oddenda... Yes there were Los to accompany the books. I still have them.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2015, 02:25:11 AM by Prof Scratchy »