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Contrary to what a lot of people think, the blues is not depressing music - Paul Geremia, Frets interview

Author Topic: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas  (Read 16625 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #60 on: April 19, 2014, 08:57:03 AM »
Wonderful article, what a read!
I would say that there's a bit of revisionist history stating that Geechie & L. V. changed American Music! When an artist is known by less than 1% of the population & whose songs have only been covered by a few souls in the know . . . well, you get the drift. Also, I would argue that they are not necessarily the most mysterious & compelling of the early, unknown blues artists. That sounds like the author's opinion to me. Other than those quibbles, I quite enjoyed this.
Also, I think in terms of importance to the genre & popularity, the recent discoveries made in the life of Blind Blake trump the findings here. Blake is a giant who we should know much more about. G & LV are/were great but they're minor characters that hold more of a niche interest.

I'd agree, Mike, that they are minor figures in terms of influence, and that there's a heavy dash of romanticism in any claims they changed American music. I do think they were pretty much ciphers though, and country blues fans have been very curious to know who they were.

Also, Sullivan notes in his article that his introduction to the music was through the film Crumb. Whenever I talk to people who don't know
country blues music (which I try to avoid doing), they have often heard of Robert Johnson, occasionally Broonzy, John Hurt, even more rarely Patton. But there is another type who know one name besides Johnson, and that's Geeshie Wiley, and that's because of i]Crumb[/i]. When R. Crumb drops the needle on that 78, and Terry Zwigoff lets the entire song play in the film, these people have had the same reaction: what the hell is this? It hits them. So I'd say there are a number of people outside of blues circles who would be curious about the mystery. Still limited to art house documentary viewers, but that's a bigger crowd than the country blues world.  :P
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 08:59:09 AM by uncle bud »

Offline CF

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #61 on: April 19, 2014, 09:11:27 AM »
Phil & Andrew, great points! My intro to Geeshie was the Crumb film as well & the song is indisputably effective & powerful, without a doubt. It's high art, maybe even despite itself.
The reaction the character in another Zwigoff film has to James' DEVIL GOT MY WOMAN may have some root in the reaction he perceived to LAST KIND WORDS in the Crumb film.

I didn't mean to belittle the wonderful work done by McCormick, Sullivan & Love, btw. This is wonderful stuff & so important to our understanding of our favourite artists & music.

How much of all this is due to that wonderful minor IV chord, I wonder?!  >:D
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 09:18:06 AM by cheapfeet »
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #62 on: April 19, 2014, 10:39:38 AM »
Does anyone know how Mack McCormick feels about the article? I haven't seen anything myself. He may be pleased as punch, or quietly enjoying the acknowledgement and admiration of his work -- admiration which runs throughout the article, along with the frustration everyone feels about the work being "trapped". Or he could be hoping that maybe someone with the right resources will finally rescue him from the Monster now that he has been featured in the most prominent newspaper in the world. Or he may be angry as hell and planning a lawsuit. Or dismissive. Or somewhere in between. All I've seen so far is pure speculation.

But the fact remains he handed over much of the information to Sullivan himself freely -- and if Sullivan is to be believed, enjoying the reaction it caused. Sullivan, working for a newspaper, confounds all expectations by reporting the information he was given, quoting excerpts while creating an article with a substantial amount of new research. This is not appropriation or theft. And if it is, round up the journalists, and graduate students writing their theses, and countless authors throughout history.

Mack McCormick does not own the fact of where LV lived nor what her real name was. Sullivan and the Times did not simply take Mack McCormick's notes, publish them as-is, and take credit. And as the New York Observer interview points out, Sullivan had to confirm the LV Thomas interview was real by checking a copy that exists outside of McCormick's archives. Either Alan Govenar or Paul Oliver would presumably have had to share the interview with Sullivan for that to occur. And Sullivan then quotes that material, LV Thomas's words.

This fact really reduces the ethical problems of that original "act of quasi-theft" for me. Now Sullivan and the Times are quoting some notes that Sullivan has also had access to legitimately, not just through surreptitiously taken photos (and do we know any of the circumstances under which the photos were actually taken? - maybe she was taking photos of stuff as she went through things in the archive as part of whatever organizational and documentary process they had worked out, maybe Mack had left these out after looking for them again some time after Sullivan left, etc.).

Where the Times did use Mack's creative work as-is -- the images of the contact sheets that accompany the article -- the photo credit clearly says Mack McCormick.

Is Peter Guralnick -- whose Robert Johnson book also relied on Mack's research and also quotes from it, and uses many more facts from Mack's research than Sullivan does in this piece -- guilty of theft or copyright violation? Both authors acknowledge their debt to McCormick and the importance of his research. At the time of the publication of Guralnick's Searching for Robert Johnson, McCormick's Biography of a Phantom about Johnson had allegedly been completed. Was Guralnick's book theft because Mack intended to publish a Johnson biography soon, or some day?

The only thing that comes close to any kind of theft is those original photos taken of 4 pages of an interview with LV Thomas. Which now that we know they matched the interview with a document from Oliver and Govenar, is basically an ill-gotten lead to a single interview transcript. This is not the theft of a life's work. Nor is it comparable to illegally issuing someone's recordings. Solving the mystery of who LV Thomas was could easily have happened without these pages, because Mack already provided the key information about where she lived, freely. To a writer from the New York Times, an editor of Harper's, not someone posing as anything else.

There is also no indication that this has in any way endangered the possibility that Mack's archives might be shared in further ways some day. It could just as easily increase that possibility, now that the historical value of the archive has been brought to the attention of a much wider audience than ever before. I think it's worth noting that this is also a very sympathetic and honest portrait of Mack, that shows the importance of his work, and stands as an excellent argument for why more needs to be done to save it. Not the only one ever made, but a good one and the most recent and no doubt the most widely read.

As for Sullivan and Caitlin Love having a connection to the Oxford American being obvious evidence that Love was a plant and that this was some long planned scheme, to me it is simply very familiar evidence of how a majority of young people get a break in the publishing business or doing research work. They work as interns or part-time staff or work on a couple small pieces for a journal and get recommended to someone at another publication or office who is looking for someone to do some work. "Yeah, I know a kid, a student who just worked for me over the summer, she's sharp as a tack, she'd be good." Sullivan says he found her through a friend in Arkansas. Quite possibly then that friend had some connection to this respected literary publication. I'd frankly be more surprised if this kind of connection couldn't be proven.



Offline Slack

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #63 on: April 19, 2014, 11:35:52 AM »
Thanks UB for the articulate, well reasoned post - excellent reflections.

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #64 on: April 19, 2014, 12:20:22 PM »
Seconded!

Sent from my HUAWEI MT1-U06 using Tapatalk


Offline Stuart

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #65 on: April 19, 2014, 01:48:34 PM »
My guess is that Mack's permission to use his materials was either explicit or implied. Having worked as a researcher and research assistant at a major university, I am familiar with the rules, thus my earlier post. It was not an indictment of Sullivan or Love, just a statement for those who are perhaps unclear about the rules of the road.

There's a lot of backstory that we have no knowledge of. Perhaps the hint of surreptitiously raiding Mack's treasure trove of materials to help solve the mystery was done to spice it up a bit.

Like the rest of you, I have many questions that probably will never see answers, but some of that's the result of another literary technique that I can't fault Sullivan or his editors for.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 02:06:44 PM by Stuart »

Offline BluesdownSouth

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #66 on: April 19, 2014, 05:23:40 PM »
uncle bud, I appreciate your willingness to offer a thoughtful argument on what I believe to be a serious discussion.

It seems easy to get in the weeds with this, so for me it comes down to the facts, things that we know are true. We know that the most pertinent documents that led, not only to the new discoveries but also, I would argue, to most of the material that made it worth publishing and worth reading, belonged to Mack McCormick. (What Mack gave Sullivan is a transcript of an interview with Leon Benton and some letters, none of which would have been enough to fill-in all the life details in the LV interview). We also know that these documents (the most vital - the LV transcript and notes) were photographed and released without permission. This interview coupled with everything that was gained recently from the interview is what made the piece. Knowing her name was LV and that she lived in Acres Homes along with a few other details makes for some nice starting points and interesting facts but not a NY Times article.

Then, we learn later that the transcript existed outside of Mack's archive but it still did not exist in the public domain. Sullivan would not even know such a transcript existed and to check it if not for the initial theft.

And when it comes to Ms. Love, I completely missed it but he admits it himself that he is the one who sent her:

For some months, I kept in sporadic contact with McCormick, and through a friend in Arkansas, got in touch with a young woman, a 21-year-old undergraduate, curious about the old music, who said she was willing to drop out of school for a year to help Mack. She came complete with the made-up-seeming name of Caitlin Rose Love. With the blessing of her school, she packed her bags and moved to Houston.

With regards to the RJ book, it is well known that Mack gives out some information, as he did with Sullivan, but keeps much to himself. Guralnick did not go to his house and start photographing his material to smuggle out.

I look forward to the upcoming book Alan Govenar is working on, as I think Mack will get the appropriate credit and have his name as a prominent contributor and it will not include any wild, personal imaginings on the man himself.  And I'm as grateful as anyone to know this new information but I am not a utilitarian in any sense and can't agree with taking someone else's work, no matter how much you think it will benefit people, at the cost of being deceitful. And I still believe that, if you are going to do it - do your research and, out of respect, publish once the one you stole from is gone.

And for all our sake, I hope you're right on the archives.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 05:30:16 PM by BluesdownSouth »

Offline wreid75

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #67 on: April 19, 2014, 07:55:48 PM »
Quote
"Researcher" and "Research Assistant" are both recognized occupations. To appropriate the results of their efforts without permission to do so, and/or without fair compensation, is akin to theft of service.

As a research dietitian I can honestly say that the above statement in the scientific community is largely hogwash.  I am happy when I have a proper work sited, which happens less than you might think.  I have been both the researcher and research assistant and the person being sited and never have I been compensated.  No one has been paid for the research that I have sited in the past when publishing my findings or publishing the findings of those I worked for.  It is common knowledge in the scientific community that we want to be acknowledged for what we researched but that is the end of it.  Have people been paid, I guess but it is less than 1%, a lot less.

Quote
A pop-rock drop in to the arcane Blues scene

But what a drop it was.  Last kind words stirs emotions in me on par with Willie Johnsons dark was the knight.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 08:19:31 PM by wreid75 »

Offline wreid75

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #68 on: April 19, 2014, 08:17:04 PM »
Quote
I look forward to the upcoming book Alan Govenar is working on, as I think Mack will get the appropriate credit and have his name as a prominent contributor


how much more credit could he possibly get or be more prominently named as a contributor in that book?  the majority of the article is about Mack, his research (monster), and his relationships with the researchers.  making the article largely about him is as prominent as one can get.

Now all things being fair and equal when it comes to research consider this.  I acknowledge                   beforehand that I do not think one is nearly as important as the other, but if it is okay for one kind of research then it should be for another.

If someone was hording research that would help cured cancer or aids and was being withheld from the populace and scientific community would it be okay then to use his research to help develop the cure against his wishes?  What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  The two are not the same but the rules of the game are.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #69 on: April 19, 2014, 09:44:43 PM »
Hi all,
I don't know how helpful or fruitful it is to engage in a lot of conjectural hand-wringing on Mack McCormick's behalf, worrying about the disposition of his archive in the future in the aftermath of the publication of this article, etc., etc. etc.  If Mack feels sufficiently wronged, he can pursue some kind of legal action.  If not, it's crazy to take whatever the imagined offense was (which, in fact, can not be surmised from the information that is publicly available) harder than Mack does himself.  Wait and see what happens.  The core of information at the heart of the article was sat on for fifty years.  Surely people can wait a few weeks or months until there is actually something to talk about. 

If I may talk about music for a moment (remember that?), I would challenge your characterization of LV Thomas and Geechie Wiley as minor figures, Mike, in comparison to Blake, a giant.  Certainly LV and Geechie recorded only a few sides and never achieved the commercial success and recognition that Blind Blake had, nor the influence on other musicians, but musically, they are every bit his peers, and I think made bigger statements in the Blues.  Blind Blake was a superlative guitarist, unbelievably accomplished, and a really nice singer, but I would consider his musical output to be "Blues Lite" in comparison to "Last Kind Words Blues" or "Motherless Child Blues".  He just never did anything with that kind of gravitas or deep Blues feeling.  He didn't have it in him to sing anything that heavy--and most other musicians don't, either!  Those cuts of that duo belong right up there at the top of the heap, with Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night", Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues", Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues", you name it.
All best,
Johnm



 

       
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 09:59:44 PM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #70 on: April 19, 2014, 11:19:50 PM »
You missed my point. Nb. "cite" vs. "site."

When I get a chance I'm going to re-read all of the material and give it some more thought. Perhaps things were not vetted as thoroughly (and properly) as they should have been. It brings to mind the case of Joshua Lehrer.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 11:30:49 PM by Stuart »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #71 on: April 19, 2014, 11:21:39 PM »
 "Those cuts of that duo belong right up there at the top of the heap, with Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night", Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues", Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues", you name it."

I agree. I love Blake but this stuff is deep, deep, deep.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline wreid75

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #72 on: April 20, 2014, 12:16:58 AM »
Quote
Those cuts of that duo belong right up there at the top of the heap, with Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night", Henry Spaulding's "Cairo Blues", Charlie Patton's "Pony Blues", you name it.

spoken like a gentleman and a scholar.  Nice to see some Spaulding love.

Quote
It brings to mind the case of Joshua Lehrer.

If this is the case it may be very hard to prove.  It would also be a multiperson fraud since multiple people were involved.  I will have to give benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise and if so I will add it to the long and expansive list of things I have been wrong about.

Offline jaycee

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #73 on: April 20, 2014, 12:18:38 AM »
Best article I have read in years
jaycee

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: Elvie (L.V.) Thomas
« Reply #74 on: April 20, 2014, 12:19:00 AM »
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!

Hardly anyone has picked up on this.

Plenty on McCormack's interests (assumed not known) and ours but what were the motives of those who spoke to him and gave (sold?) him ephemera and photos?

Can they have wanted the information to remain buried in his personal archive? I recognise the possibility that they were merely answering the white man's questions but I'd like to think that they'd have some pride in the achievements of these great musicians receiving some recognition.

 


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