Friday, October 3, 2008

Imaginary music, 2

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 [...]
Well pemmican wine[...]

As you can see, there are more exciting developments to come.

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