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...I can think that, well... my voice will change, I'll be John Hurt on this song, I'll be Skip James on that one, I'll be Tommy McClennan on that one. How many voices you got? They're going one style, one kind of sound from their area, and singing in their voice - Jerry Ricks, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: McTell Book  (Read 22863 times)

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Offline blueshome

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #90 on: July 18, 2009, 01:26:18 PM »
My only response to Waxwing's rant is to say that I have enjoyed the book as a stand-alone read without bringing my own expectations and prejudices to the party - so much so that I have just finished re-reading it for the 2nd time. Rather this than S.Calt.



Offline Stuart

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #91 on: July 18, 2009, 04:07:56 PM »
If you are looking for the Joe Friday treatment ("Just the facts, Ma'am"), this isn't it. I guess the title ("In Search of...") should tip us off, but it is nevertheless somewhat misleading. I enjoyed the book, but I can certainly understand VSOP's and John C's disappointment and negative reactions. My suggestion for stateside Weenies would be to wait until it is published in the U.S. and then try to get it through your local library. That way you can read it without shelling out any $$ for something that may not be to your liking. And of course if you decide after reading it that it really is a book that you want to add to your collection, you can always buy a copy.

Offline maddoggirl

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #92 on: July 19, 2009, 03:30:04 AM »
In his defence, I think Gray tells us all there is know. Yes, he adds a lot more, which might meet with mixed reception (although I thoroughly enjoyed it). However, some naysayers seem to think that he's somehow robbing them of factual information in favour of over-florid descriptions of Atlanta. Okay, sometimes it's a little over the top, but it doesn't do the solidly-researched core of the narrative any harm. If he did just give us the bare bones facts the book would be a) devoid of any cultural frame of reference and b) written on the back of a coaster  ;)
rambling about movies, from 1930 on up at http://resilientlittlemuscle.blogspot.com/

Offline uncle bud

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #93 on: July 19, 2009, 06:37:49 AM »
Well the book obviously evokes strong negative opinions in some people. I'm surprised at the criticism of the writing though. 97% of blues writing is about as entertaining as a good, slow bloodletting. I have a couple shelves of the stuff and while I can say that a number of the books are essential, very few are actually readable. For several years, I was wondering why I was no longer the voracious reader I used to be, and I finally realized it was because all I'd been reading was books about the blues. Once I switched to something else that involved decent writing, I could read once again. Gray is clearly a much better writer than most who have attempted such books. I'll forgive him some overly florid moments for keeping me awake and truly entertained.

As for deer leaping ineffably, perhaps it's not the mot juste, but as a lifelong urban dweller where deer only appear on plates, I can say that every time I see an actual deer actually leap in front of me in that effortless, spring-loaded way they have, I think "well there's one of the great moments of the universe". I realize that for lots of people living closer to wooded territory that's more likely to be "the deer are in the f***ing garden and crapping in the driveway again", but hey, I sympathize with those who find deer ineffable.
« Last Edit: July 19, 2009, 06:39:00 AM by uncle bud »

Offline oddenda

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #94 on: July 19, 2009, 06:53:36 PM »
Bud -

          You've made a salient point... the guy can WRITE! I found the book hard to put down, and not because it was too bulky, either!! AND the information's there, too.

Peter B.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #95 on: July 20, 2009, 05:49:14 AM »
Well the book obviously evokes strong negative opinions in some people. I'm surprised at the criticism of the writing though. 97% of blues writing is about as entertaining as a good, slow bloodletting. I have a couple shelves of the stuff and while I can say that a number of the books are essential, very few are actually readable.
You and me both.  :)

Over the years blues biographies have tended to be researched using an artist?s discography as a starting point and adding ?flesh? to that (Wolf or Little Walter for example). Given that discography usually provides an adequate underlying chronological ?picture? of  an artist, this approach is understandable.

Muddy Waters had two biographies written about him within five years of one another. The first was from Sandra Tooze, and little more than an annotation of Phil Wight?s published MW discography with lots of quotes from the great and good of  the blues and rock world. The second came from Robert Gordon who took a more ?Michael Gray? approach to his subject trying to get an understanding of his subject?s culture, environment etc. Many hated Gordon?s work, but it?s gone through various reprints which the Tooze never has, so guess that speaks for itself.

But I digress. Getting back to McTell, no doubt before long there will a David Evans/Larry Cohn view of McTell which, hopefully, will please those unhappy with Gray's approach.

Offline TonyGilroy

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #96 on: July 20, 2009, 05:57:48 AM »
It is of course a matter of personal opinion but mine is that this is one of the very best books ever written about the blues or any aspect of it.

A 20 page pamphlet would cover the known facts but this book simply left me engrossed as it wandered into every possible aspect of McTell's life and times and his family history whilst focusing on the journey Grey made in trying to discover all this.

He's a serious and very readable writer and I thought he did a first class job.

But that of course is just my opinion.

Offline waxwing

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #97 on: July 20, 2009, 06:51:34 PM »
I'm glad my post has caused so much positive feedback for the book.

Unfortunately I came to it not already in possession of a file on Willie, containing all known info, and was actually looking more for his biography. My mistake.

Also, rather than compare the writing to other blues writers, I was comparing to actual writers. Lately I've been doing a Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett retrospective. Now those guys knew how to set the scene and advance the plot, without losing the beat.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #98 on: July 21, 2009, 06:19:26 AM »
The book contains most of what is known about McTell, and until David Evans shares the rest, which probably won't be a whole lot more, that's all we'll get unfortunately. If you've got Red River Blues, some liner notes, and this book, you've got what everyone else has got.

I was also basing my evaluation on actual writers. Not necessarily the great writers in history, but say perhaps not being surprised seeing an excerpt in the Atlantic or New Yorker or something. Chandler and Hammett are highly stylized, their prose steeped in writerly affectation. This book is quite different, of course, though still lots of writerly affectation, which in this case is obviously not to everyone's taste, as is the case with someone like Chandler (I like him fine). Gray's book was called a "great rambling shaggy dog of a biography" in review and I think that's a fair description.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2009, 06:33:42 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #99 on: July 21, 2009, 07:15:44 AM »
Forget the biography! Somewhere in a basement in Atlanta or surrounding areas is a roll of super 8 home movie film from the forties or early fifties with two minutes of a small man sitting on a street corner playing a huge Stella Twelve string and singing. I have no proof of this and have never even heard a rumor to this effect, but I can smell it! I KNOW ITS THERE!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline doctorpep

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #100 on: July 23, 2009, 08:14:52 PM »
Mr. O'Muck, the day I see that piece of footage will be the day that Denny's produces edible food.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline doctorpep

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #101 on: July 23, 2009, 08:22:02 PM »
In all seriousness, at least half of the book was hard to get through, though it was well-written and mindblowing in terms of the details involved. Even more shocking was the racial dynamic involved. Sure, we've all been told that Blues is about whites oppressing blacks down south, but this is quite an oversimplification of things. When we read that McTell was born while his white grandfather sat in his home several hundred feet away, it really makes us think (or perhaps I'm speaking for just us Americans). Actually, it's been at least a year since I've read the (British edition of the) book, so I hope I'm getting my facts right. I liked how Gray also related McTell's neighborhood to Martin Luther King, Jr., and how he exposed what a tragic and disgusting place Milledgeville (spelling?) was, but, again, simply stated that it was a product of its time; far from imperfect and riddled with racism.
Once the actual life of Blind Willie was discussed, things became much more interesting. The biography of the man could not have been written on the back of a coaster! Gray did an excellent job! Not to get off topic, but just look at how many shitty Clapton and Hendrix biographies there are, even with all the information, video footage and audio we have of the two of them. Now, imagine trying to write the biography of a man born around 1901.
Gray also came across as a gentle and refined man in a recent Bob Dylan dvd which discussed Blind Willie.
"There ain't no Heaven, ain't no burning Hell. Where I go when I die, can't nobody tell."

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Offline Stuart

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Offline LB

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Reading the McTell book by Gray -- jury still out (Travelin Shoes)
« Reply #103 on: February 07, 2011, 03:19:49 PM »
Highly praised book and I am enjoying it even though I'm slaving through endless data, civil war history speckled with some interesting McTell stories. Especially the Decatur last recordings details. I can really picture myself in all these streets and home places but I'm still beginning to get that old feeling I get when people outside of the south visit, write or document it. And I'm not a racist redneck cracker with a complex. Well I might be a redneck... I just mean that it always degrades into comments and clever snotty jabs about the food, backwards people, ignorance, racism, civil war and the blood of blacks is what made the dirt red, not clay .. (burp, taste, swallow) Who cares if Thompson Ga doesn't have a damned Tea shoppe or a salad bar?

So I'm going to take a deep breath and hope the rest of the book develops into something more than genealogy, civil war history and Mississippi burning. I'm pretty confident the author will save the situation at this 1/2 way point but I'd love to hear other viewpoints on the book and the different approach this author is taking. Pretty much a NON musical history of a great musician.

« Last Edit: February 07, 2011, 03:20:52 PM by LittleBrother »

Offline Johnm

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Re: McTell Book
« Reply #104 on: February 07, 2011, 03:52:25 PM »
Hi Little Brother,
I just moved your post about the Michael Gray McTell book over here since there was a long-standing thread on that very topic.
All best,
Johnm

 


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