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I told a white fellow once, "If you were black for one Saturday night and on Beale Street, never would you want to be white again" - Rufus Thomas

Author Topic: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas  (Read 16621 times)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #30 on: April 16, 2014, 02:27:47 PM »
JohnM,
Very good point, and one that occupies the greyest of grey areas in the ethical spectrum. There are many precedents. Kafka's friend ignoring his instructions to destroy all his works at his death (thank god!) .
Ruskin burning Turners that he felt reflected poorly on the artist, including some erotica,  Clement Greenberg's vandalization of sculptures by David Smith by stripping off the paint Smith had chosen to paint them with. Probably many more.
While I sympathize with the position you detail, my feelings about this are complicated. When an artist CHOOSES to make their work part of the public landscape, by for example releasing a recording,  it seems to me that they are knowingly and willingly sacrificing some right to privacy. Does the artist get to determine the parameters of that privacy? In theory they should be able to do so, but as we know those parameters are rarely observed or respected, and this is something every artist also knows or finds out. So I don't think we need to be completely hands off when it comes to people like L.V. in spite of their desire to sink into obscurity. If part of the function of art is to present a goal for others to aspire to, and I think this must be the case, then there is a certain responsibility of availability attending being an artist.
Researchers into the work of artists however have absolutely NO RIGHT to assume ownership of the material or information they collect and to determine its fate. They are conduits pure and simple and need to respectfully collect the data that interests them and allow it to become accessible to the public in an efficient and timely manner. As you can tell I have zero sympathy for McCormick's assumption of artistic temperament. Its not HIS to have!
Also we have no way of knowing how the L.V. of long ago would respond to a world in which Lesbians were no longer in the closet, but had a fair degree of social acceptance, and her music was being discovered, admired, loved and imitated by hoards of young folks. She may very well have embraced that situation. Its hard to imagine why she wouldn't have. As far as the Church being an inhibiting factor, we know it was for Rube Lacy and Thom Dorsey and some others, but wasn't for Gary Davis, Robert Wilkins and many others, so who knows?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #31 on: April 16, 2014, 04:33:30 PM »
Researchers into the work of artists however have absolutely NO RIGHT to assume ownership of the material or information they collect and to determine its fate. They are conduits pure and simple and need to respectfully collect the data that interests them and allow it to become accessible to the public in an efficient and timely manner. As you can tell I have zero sympathy for McCormick's assumption of artistic temperament. Its not HIS to have!

That certainly is an interesting perspective. So, researchers have no right to their own work, regardless of how many hours and dollars they spent acquiring said research. What's stopping you from breaking into Paul Swinton's house so we can all assert our "right" to his Blind Lemon research?

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #32 on: April 16, 2014, 05:01:05 PM »
Let me try to come at the question of what right Sullivan, Love and the NYT might have to McCormick's work about LV Thomas from a technical rather than a moral perspective, although I'll say a little about that too. The technical is natural to me; I'm a lawyer, I work on startups and although I'm not an intellectual property lawyer by training or practice, I end up dealing with IP issues frequently.

I think that McCormick certainly could have had rights in his research on Thomas, but to perfect those rights, he probably would have had to have copyrighted his work. The universe of things that a person can have rights in is much broader than artistic creations, inventions and the like--after all, most non-fiction works are copyrighted. McCormick is not a stupid or naive guy; he probably did copyright his work, if not by filing then by putting a copyright stamp on the document. Moreover, the NYT is neither stupid nor naive, and it also has what lawyers call prudential considerations--it's not in the business of stealing others' intellectual property when its own lifeblood is its IP. So I can't imagine that the NYT published McCormick's work, or work derived from it, without his permission.

Further, I feel certain that the NYT would only have published the video and images of McCormick with his consent. And I can't imagine he would give his consent if he understood that the video and images would be part of an article that contained purloined material from his archives.

Now, once you reach those conclusions, I think you don't need to think about the moral issues regarding the specific subject matter of the article and their publication, as regards McCormick, right?

Now, the question regarding whether Thomas would have wanted the information about her to become public, is a different story. Clearly, it's a question she can no longer answer, having passed, and not being here to answer it, the capacity to answer passes, as any asset might, to her heirs. Not having descendants, it's probably not clear who her real heirs are, and she didn't leave a literary executor as Kafka did. But I gather from the article that enough of her family spoke with the reporters, and were keen to get her story out, that we can conclude that their will was that the newspaper do so, and that this is sufficient substitute for her will at this late date. I suspect this is not the greatest of answers, and that it will probably not satisfy all, but I think it's probably the best answer one can give.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #33 on: April 16, 2014, 05:11:39 PM »
@Gilgamesh
I don't know where he lives >:D
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #34 on: April 16, 2014, 07:18:42 PM »
I think "excommunicated" is perhaps a little strong. It's Sullivan's contact with Mack McCormick's daughter that causes the end of communication, not theft of research, and even then Sullivan says "He wrote me a letter saying thanks for trying". I also think this particular case is somewhat trickier than a B&E at any given researcher's house, if only because we don't know all the circumstances. Plus much of the information the article fleshed out was not Mack's work, but uncovered by Sullivan and Rose later based on leads he gave Sullivan, or it was material Mack McCormick specifically gave to Sullivan. If a reporter is handed information, odds are they will report it if it's deemed to be of interest.

The interview with Sullivan that Stuart posted a link to addresses the questions being brought up about expectations of privacy. "Unfortunately for her it kind of doesn't matter. The music she made was so good that it has importance in American culture." It's perhaps a little cold, but I have to agree. Once you are a figure of any kind of historical importance, then the public's interest and the whims of publishers will determine what gets shared. One can assume Thomas Jefferson wouldn't have been thrilled with researchers uncovering his relationship with Sally Hemings, nor would she. But I think the response would be the same: "Unfortunately for them, it doesn't matter."

That interview with Sullivan also expands on how the people from Mount Pleasant Church got involved in the search as well. This is not just one person working to uncover what happened to her, but her church community eager to learn more about her, and share information about her. Likewise the video in the original article featuring the family members -- this was a great part of the multimedia presentation for me, seeing those relatives remember her and helping to present a portrait of a complex woman.

Kokomo O, the only reason I'm not expressing certainty that McCormick gave permission is that it is not stated explicitly. I suspect like you that the most likely answer is he gave some kind of consent. If not, then maybe they'll have a lawsuit on their hands soon enough. Though that would take money.

Last thing, it's interesting to read Sullivan's hope that the article may help uncover more information about Geeshie Wiley, but also generate interest among organizations with the resources to help Mack McCormick do something about preserving and curating his archives.

(If anyone does run into Paul Swinton, please tell him we really want to see that Lemon book, but legally. ;-) )

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #35 on: April 16, 2014, 11:45:08 PM »

This may be completely peripheral but there is currently a series on UK TV about hoarders. Sometimes it's rubbish that they hoard, throwing nothing away and live in squalor but usually it's genuine collectables that overwhelm their lives and homes.

The pattern is often the same. These people state that they want and need help but find constant, often ingenious, ways of frustrating the helpers.

At the end of the process they express gratitude for their new life but frequently slide back into their old ways.

I'm in awe of this research and grateful to the author and his assistants. No doubt selfishly I hope for more.

Offline BluesdownSouth

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #36 on: April 17, 2014, 06:38:51 AM »
I tried to sit on the sidelines for as long as I could on this. But after reading many of the responses to this incident and becoming quite amazed at the responses to the article, thought it necessary to point out just a few things. And to ask a few questions that, I believe, aren't being asked.

First, it is quite obvious that Ms. Rose was a plant sent more than likely from the writer of the article, considering they both have ties to Mississippi and this http://www.oxfordamerican.org.
So why are we not asking about the long term deception? And why was she fired? More than likely because McCormick began to catch on to what was happening.

Second, as pointed out by a writer who wrote a article previously on McCormick says: ?Yes, the new John Jer. Sullivan @NYTmag story is amazing,? Michael Hall, a senior editor for Texas Monthly, wrote on Twitter, ?but there?s nothing ?quasi? (his word) abt the theft that led to its amazingness.? And the writer plainly admits that Mack was not in on it all here: http://observer.com/2014/04/the-story-behind-john-jeremiah-sullivans-times-cover-story/

Also, when it comes to copyright - copyright is on the document at time of creation. You do not need an arbitrary symbol to say something has a copyright. But this theft actually goes beyond legal ramifications in my mind as it, instead of opening the door to McCormick having more trust, this does the opposite. And if (the writer) or we are truly concerned about this archive why would he risk spoiling the whole of the work on two utterly obscure (to the general public) musicians when, if done correctly, all could be preserved.

Which brings me to this: what was the need to bring this out now? Could he not, if he was concerned about the so-called "monster", work behind the scenes on both securing its safety and the additional research pertaining to the two blues artists? After all, this was not material on Thomas that the world was needing right this moment. After McCormick died, he could have released the information and that extra time would have meant nothing in the scheme of things.

This is something we should all be concerned with. And I truly hope that the writer of this article did not sacrifice the whole of the archive for a sliver of recognition for himself.

Offline eric

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #37 on: April 17, 2014, 12:34:33 PM »
« Last Edit: April 17, 2014, 02:06:09 PM by Eric Hubbard »
--
Eric

Offline wreid75

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #38 on: April 17, 2014, 01:52:35 PM »
I can see both sides of the debate.  For those that love the history of the people, their lives, their stories, the complexity of personalities, for those of us who want to put a person and a life to the music that was written, his quasi-theft is justified.  Imagine if everything we now know about classical composers, even the obscure; historical figures in history, politicians, ancient philosophers, and poets were lost because the one person who had the knowledge didn't share it until all the people who could verify the facts were dead (though this did certainly happen.)  Imagine Van Goghs life being lost.  He was obscure in his life and if he were black this could have easily happened to him.

For those of us how only care about the music and don't really care about who the person was and believes that their lives should be completely private, losing this knowledge isn't a big deal.  Who's right is it of us to want to know those details anyway.   Mack and other researchers have no obligation to share their knowledge, not with us, not with anyone.  It is their knowledge and if history dies with them well so be it.  It would have been lost anyway without the researcher.  Those of us that feel like this hate what Mr. Sulllivan has done we hate how he took advantage of an old man, no matter how complicated or cantankerous he or she may be.

I am glad that Vincents brother shared the life of Van Gogh with the world. I am glad that the amazing Arabic mathematicians that researched and developed advanced mathematics and the geniuses like Nikola Tesla who research and develop scientific breakthroughs didn't die before sharing it with the world.  Am I glad that even though L.V. and Geeshie are seen by some as utterly obscure musicians that their story mattered to a couple of people.  But like Bluesdownsouth I hope a match isn't lit to the whole kit and kaboodle and all other research is lost. 

But before I condemn the two researchers further I will acknowledge that I have done nothing more than write one letter to Mack.  I didn't quit school and go to Texas.  I haven't tried to develop a relationship with Mack and travel to Houston to try to do things "the right way" and to my knowledge no one else has either.  A website has been up for years where Mack has openly asked people to help him with it.  I have failed to do more than write a letter pleading with him to ensure his research ends up in good hands.  They have done more than I and more than anyone I know to try and open Mack's Pandoras box.  LV and Geeshie were able to escape and for that I am grateful.

Now we have to hope that Macks daughter isn't so jaded against the research that she feels consumed too much of his time that it ends up in a trash heap.  If you think something like this can't happen think again.  For some of us it would be a tragedy of Maoist proportions.  To others of us, at least we have the music.  But is that all that really matters?

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #39 on: April 17, 2014, 04:11:04 PM »

Also, when it comes to copyright - copyright is on the document at time of creation. You do not need an arbitrary symbol to say something has a copyright. But this theft actually goes beyond legal ramifications in my mind as it, instead of opening the door to McCormick having more trust, this does the opposite. And if (the writer) or we are truly concerned about this archive why would he risk spoiling the whole of the work on two utterly obscure (to the general public) musicians when, if done correctly, all could be preserved.

Astute observation. I had similar fears myself. The writer built up some trust with McCormick, apparently a rare privilege, then betrayed that trust by going behind his back to contact his daughter. What a stupid, selfish thing to do. If the L.V. Thomas interview was used without McCormick's permission, which it apparently was, that was yet another betrayal of trust. Because of this behavior, I seriously doubt McCormick will be open to another writer visiting him again, to everybody's loss.

Offline Fkeller

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #40 on: April 17, 2014, 07:03:02 PM »
With all respect to the salient observations about this story and its writing--as well as the caveat that I don't know all the facts nor the back story--I will point out that the man is a reporter and felt obligated to track down any and all leads.  I don't know if he broke trust or not--no comment there, maybe yes, maybe no.  But with regard to Mack's daughter, I don't recall reading Mack ever saying she was off limits (if he did, I've forgotten and apologize) and I have to at least respect the journalistic intent to track down any and all leads.  The story itself was about the entirety of this situation:  the existence of the Monster, the conflicted man who created it, its current state and the tantalizingly near treasures it may hold.  As much as it makes me wonder about the ethics of obtaining and releasing the documents about L. V., etc. (and tracking her down), it's not the entire story. 

At any rate, I enjoyed reading it and I've enjoyed reading its response in this community.  Thanks!

Offline Randy Meadows

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #41 on: April 17, 2014, 07:22:43 PM »
The original collector of the information has the ownership rights.
ie. Interviews, research, notes...etc.

I've been shown some amazing items from different collectors that aren't public but it is because it is that collector's livelihood and hard work and reputation that would be violated. I personally think, based on my understanding of the events in the article that the transmission of the photos was the violation to Mack McCormick.

The detective work, however, between the two writers, was creative and was a great piece of work!



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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #42 on: April 17, 2014, 10:02:42 PM »
Once again I have to assert that all that belongs to McCormick is the expectation of some reasonable recompense for his time spent researching. He has NOT as far as I know created ORIGINAL MATERIAL! He has merely compiled information about other people who did. Holding it for ransom to the highest bidder, or hoarding it due to some manifestation of mental illness is not a sustainable position in my view. I think concerns about the safety of this archive are real and that if he does not willingly donate or sell it to a responsible (and fireproof) organization, the court should appoint a guardian to insure its safety and transference to a place of safe keeping. Surely the history voluntarily GIVEN him by the artists, and their acquaintances, is of more importance than his claim of a right as to its disposition. They are the ones who willingly participated, usually with the hope and understanding that their story would be told. To prevent its telling is a betrayal of the means by which it was obtained. VERY distasteful!


Jonas Salk, inventor of the Salk Polio vaccine which saved countless lives, gave away his discovery (read years & years of hard work and hard research) free, that's right..no patent, no royalties..just free.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2014, 10:48:29 PM by Mr.OMuck »
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline BluesdownSouth

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #43 on: April 18, 2014, 06:40:30 AM »
I think what we all can agree on is this: that the material that McCormick collected is of significant importance and should be preserved. I'm also guessing and hoping that this most recent article is not the first time most here would be hearing McCormick's name. That is why I am surprised that here this *new* guy comes along who admits that what he has done is "quasi- theft" and yet we do not, as a community, rally around the man who we know has done great work and was there when it was happening. Since when did we become OK with not asking questions and just say, "great article." And thanks for those few that have here.

And for those unfamiliar with Mack's work, please see Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Henry Thomas, and this:http://www.texasmonthly.com/content/mack-mccormick-still-has-blues. Of which, this is just a simple overview:

"After McCormick's decades in the field, he has amassed one of the most extensive private archives of Texas musical history in existence. He has hours of unreleased tapes, perhaps twenty albums' worth of field and studio recordings by Hopkins, piano players Robert Shaw and Grey Ghost, Lipscomb, zydeco bands, and the polka-playing Baca Band. He took pictures everywhere he went and owns some 10,000 negatives, many of famous artists and many more of the army of unknowns he rescued from oblivion. Then there are his notebooks, which are like the Dead Sea Scrolls, holding thousands of pages of field notes and interviews testifying to the amazing diversity of Texas music, not just blues. Maybe the most important thing McCormick did was to document the lives and music of a broad group of some of the American century's most-influential musicians, people like Lipscomb, Thomas, Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, and Blind Willie Johnson. Much of the archive sits in storage in Houston, much more at a place McCormick owns in the mountains of Mexico. And it's in danger. The pages are fading, the tapes need restoring, and McCormick is sufficiently hoary to worry about dying suddenly with no home for it all. As Strachwitz says, "It would be a horrible tragedy if all his stuff disappeared."

This is not to say that there should be a witch-hunt but we must ask the simple question of whether pulling this small bit of info on just 2 artists (for his benefit or interest) was worth the cost of everything. There is ample evidence that the writer of the article had been looking into Wiley for years and if we are to assume that Ms. Rose was sent by him, no wonder she had photographs of this exact material out of the mountain of documents.

And this: "I?d always dreamed of doing blues research like this, the way they did it back in the ?50s, the way Mack had done it. I knew what he meant now when he said that what he did wasn?t research, it was search," I think is one of the keys. But, sorry, you are not doing blues research the way Mack did. You took from what Mack did and instead of doing your piggybacking in secret and wait until either he was gone or the rest of all of his hard work was secured, you couldn't wait to go to the NY Times. And without as much as a credit at the end of the piece to the man himself, the one who provided you everything, without which you would still be lost in Mississippi somewhere.

So, I conclude: in this day and age and with crowdsourcing, etc and from the small circle from which Mack still does have faith in - let us prove that we do respect the ones that brought us original work - like Mack. The same way we respect the Lomax's. Because Mack has done it. On the ground. And think about all those recordings he has in addition to the wealth of biographical information. All of this could bring a hundred Thomas and Wiley stories and most of all, respect to the man who spent much of the prime of his life collecting it.

Offline Slack

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #44 on: April 18, 2014, 07:34:25 AM »
Quote
That is why I am surprised that here this *new* guy comes along who admits that what he has done is "quasi- theft" and yet we do not, as a community, rally around the man who we know has done great work and was there when it was happening. Since when did we become OK with not asking questions and just say, "great article." And thanks for those few that have here.

I think the "great article" comments are perfectly understandable and show the CB community's hunger for new information on the artists and music they love.  The big picture issues, e.g. copyright ownership, quasi-theft etc, are not nearly as attractive and take a while to sink in.  Let folks at least enjoy a minute of glory. It was a great article.

I think the larger worry is not if some *new* guy is going to offend Mack (by contacting his daughter, or quasi theft, whatever) so that he never gives up "the monster" - because it is clear to me, after 50 years of waiting, that he is not going to give it up no matter how much "egg walking" everyone does - the larger danger is that this old man, with whatever mental problems he has, is going to forget he left his oven on one night and burn the whole place down.

Rally around Mack?  IMO, 'the monster' is Mack's power and reason for being, The Smithsonian, crowdsource funding - whatever you want to fantasize about - apparently will not budge him.  He is holding an important part of American culture hostage.  I agree with O'Muck -- it's not his to hold.  It belongs to all of us.  So culturally rich and important, that IMO, contacting his daughter was a reasonable tact.

None of us experienced Sullivan's interaction with Mack. But Sullivan has made a calculation based on this experience.   
« Last Edit: April 18, 2014, 07:36:40 AM by Slack »

 


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