Tonight at the bus stop at Geneva and Naples, I let out the sort of loud hooting laugh that I do when I really can't help it. Immediately I looked around and noticed a pretty young Asian girl to my left, and I felt slightly embarrassed (NOTE: NOT BECAUSE I WANTED TO MAKE IT WITH HER. SHE IS LIKE SEVENTEEN OR SOMETHING). But then I saw that she was safely ensconced in iPodland, and had most likely not heard me. I returned to the book that had inspired the maniacal cackle in the first place. After a moment, I caught movement from the corner of my eye. I glanced back at the girl to find her doing a sort of awkward shuffling, bouncing sort of hip hop kind of dance (I suppose, like I said, she's like seventeen, and that age group falls well without the bounds of my knowledge of terpsichorean taxonomy). She has a huge black purse under one arm and a heavy blue plaid backpack, so it can't be said that her dancing was entirely graceful, but it seemed fairly rhythmic, and certainly enthusiastic. And it was all of the sudden this beautiful moment, where I don't care if she hears my stupid laugh and she doesn't care if I see her (let's be fair) goofy dancing. And then the bus comes.
There once was a man named John Pinchback who was a marvelously gifted calligrapher. He never studied the art, and was never aware of his talent for as long as he lived. He was indifferently read, but a meticulous speller. He worked as a mechanic at a muffler specialist, and rarely had occasion to write more than a receipt. However, when the time came to write a tag for a Christmas gift, or to knock off a flier for a garage sale, to draw a simple map for a lost stranger, or to leave a note for the babysitter, his lettering was a marvel of composition, perfectly balanced, with each stroke evincing an effortless awareness of the overall sense of what was being written. Each letter vibrated with a holographic richness, each ascender and descender conveying the sum expression of the word it formed. Despite the fact that his artistic training was limited to one high school shop class, and that his media were never more refined than a Sharpie or a ball-point pen, his calligraphy could have stood up in a comparison with any of the great Zen or Confucian masters. He has been dead for fifteen years. Outside of fragments in the possession of his family, his only extant work is a hastily scrawled "Wet Paint" sign that is folded into quarters, housed in a sun-yellowed paperback copy of J. P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man on a shelf at the Purple Heart store in Tyler, TX.
Scholars of the American Delta Blues are notoriously as fickle in their allegiances as a high school lunch room. The discovery of a stack of warped 78 rpm records by an obscure songster will be fêted in the obscure mimeographed journals that are the lifesblood of the field. Cassette tapes will be traded, and thousands of words will unfold in contrarian letters and in heated posts on internet forums. Sooner or later, the most marketable of these forgotten artists filter in to the mainstream. With luck, an expensive boxed set of that artist's works will eventually follow, usually with a fulsome essay or two by one of the critical eminenses grises of the blues field. Adulation and Grammy to follow. After a few years of this, there will in invariably a backlash, and the artist will be found to be derivative of some newly-discovered predecessor, their songs trite, their former critical praise rooted in some complex form of racism that takes ten years of calculus and a very sharp knife to understand.
This tendency may have reached its pinnacle in the recent lionization of Blind Pat Morita Jones. Jones may or may not have been a native of Greasetrap, Mississippi, born around 1895 (there is a burgeoning literature devoted singly to the issue of his birthdate. Some scholars believe him to have been born at least six centuries previous to this date). He was apparently the master of a sort of homemade ukelele fabricated from a cigar box and, according to Lomax, the femur of Leadbelly's uncle Rex. This is all highly speculative. In the thousands of hours of interviews done by various folklorists with his putative contemporaries, no one so much as mentions him in passing. There is no birth certificate or gravesite. And in spite of the best efforts of several anthropology faculties, no descendants have been uncovered.
There are no extant recordings of Jones' work. Some authorities believe that he at one point had a record contract, or at least had heard of one. Two years ago there was a moment of delirious academic excitement when Dr. Ted Bissup of the University of Toronto claimed to have evidence that the notorious "lost" Comanche singles (CR 105-108), always listed in the contemporary catalogs with a blank where the artist and title information should be, were in fact Blind Pat Morita Jones recordings. This theory remained current until the discovery of a test pressing of CR-107, which proved to be a pornographic recording geared towards the nascent rubber fetishist niche market, far-sighted marketing well in line with what this writer described in The Comanche Story: The Story of Comanche Records (Tulpa Press, 2007). Nevertheless, Arthur Q. Lomax (no relation) is hard at work on a boxed set of the Complete Blind Pat Morita Jones. The theory at work there is that any of the handful of structures still standing that may have been roadhouses where Jones may or may not have played (see "Is You is or Is You Ain't Mama Joon's Saloon," Delta Blues News and Review June 2002) contain in their very walls some acoustic artifact of the theoretical performance or performances, in that the soundwaves emitted necessarily caused infinitessimal changes in the structure of the building. At the time of this writing, there is no information available concerning the technology that will be used to reconstruct Jones' music from the decades of layers that these phenomena have been overlaid by other acoustic evernt, or even if such technology is at all possible.
In related work, Dr. Denis Donadieu is currently engaged in a tentative reconstruction of Blind Pat Morita Jones' lyrics, based on a subtractive analysis of back numbers of Colliers magazine, the dimensions of contemporary McCormick harvester blades, and a computer-generated composite model of the performers who might have been Jones' inspirations. A sample verse:
Baby [...] [...] [...]treefrog[...] Well pemmican wine[...] [...]mm-hmmm.
As you can see, there are more exciting developments to come.