Nothin' But the Devil, Changed My Baby's Mind
“Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is.”― Saul Bellow
There is a great scene in the film Ghost World that has stuck with me ever since I first saw it back in 2001. The set up: the character Seymour, played by Steve Buscemi, sold one of the main protagonists, a young hipster named Enid Coleslaw, played by Thora Birch, a blues compilation LP. Upon hearing one of the tracks on that record, Devil Got My Woman by Skip James, Enid was hooked…listening to it over and over and over again…picking up that needle as soon as the song was finished, throwing it right back to the beginning…laying back down staring in space taking in the grandeur of the track. She went back to the garage sale where Seymour was selling records wanting another song like it. And Seymour, in a great performance by Buscemi, with holy (unholy?) reverence told Enid: “There are no other records like that.” (you have to see the scene to truly get the feeling of it). It is true: there are no other records like Skip James’ Devil Got My Woman.
Skip James had such an iconic high voice and smooth, yet complicated, finger picking guitar style. Among all those original pre-war blues recording artists, he had one of the most unique sounds-sweet yet dark, mysterious…and deft songwriting skills. Like most of the greats of that era, the lack of record sales…and general inability to live off of his craft…led to his giving up music, disappearing from the public eye. And like many others who lived to see the day, he was rediscovered in the 60s and put back on the stage (there is a great film about his and others’ rediscoveries called Two Trains Runnin’). Dick Waterman, who was so instrumental in helping find the “lost” bluesmen and putting them back on stage and in the studio, was also a photographer who took a picture of Skip as he performed for the first time after being rediscovered, as he breathed his first singing breath at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. It is one of my favorite photos of any musician: there was no one else like Skip James, and seeing him getting his public voice back is magical.
I was lucky enough to license some of the later recordings James did, and reissue them a few years back. Getting to focus on the music as it was mastered and cut onto vinyl was an incredible joy…digging into each of the songs, deep listening to James in his later career, seasoned…older…but still brilliant…it was magical, the stuff that makes us reissuers do what we do.
Happy 120th birthday to Skip James (belated, it was yesterday). There was (and will never be) a voice and style like yours.
Rabbit-hole warning: This Atlas Obscura gem is a deep deep dive into the greatest, creepiest abandoned amusement parks on earth including dozens of photos of most of them. I got sucked into this Vietnamese park (photo above…who could resist the dragon grabbing the building) and took a personal tour of the content that was so damn intriguing…in a horror film kind of way…that zapped a bunch of morning time…and there are so many more like it to check out….
OK—I NEVER knew about this story…the relationship between these two giants. This article was illuminating…a great read.
This is an awesome mixtape to behold of music from Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh. Aquarium Drunkard presents: “…a one hour compilation of assorted Mothersbaugh muzak, from Insomniaks cuts to highlights from 2017’s 45 RPM box set Mutant Flora. Sprinkled in are other rarities, musical pieces composed for some of the musician’s visual art exhibitions." The weirder the better.” Hell yes.
“When a 40-work survey of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s art traveled from Japan to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., a decade ago, the show drew massive crowds and made the artist a star. Earlier this year, a retrospective more than four times that show’s size opened in Vienna at the Albertina Modern to no such fanfare…It’s possible we’re burnt out on Ai’s work by now, which makes sense, considering that there were four separate institutional surveys of his art last year alone. But there is nothing like a retrospective’s ability to offer the fullest possible view of an artist’s career, and whether you like it or not, that makes the Albertina Modern’s retrospective a must-see, even for Ai skeptics.”
“The fraught relationship between privacy and security is at the crux of The Listeners (A History of Wiretapping in the United States by Brian Hochman), which covers the history of eavesdropping from the Civil War to 9/11. Throughout that long history, the threat—real or imagined—of crime almost invariably took priority over civil liberties.”
WARNING: You need to use a translating application to read this article…but it is worth it. Djuna Barnes is a major figure in modern writing…so brave and daring. The reissue of her book in spanish has sparked a new look at her work…which includes a new prologue that supposedly adds a needed gender perspective that was left out by the original prologue-ist (a word?)….Groucho Marx’s friend TS Elliot!
by Miguel Ángel Asturias
To give is to love,
To give prodigiously:
For every drop of water
To return a torrent.
We were made that way,
Made to scatter
Seeds in the furrow
And stars in the ocean.
Woe to him, Lord,
who doesn’t exhaust his supply,
And, on returning, tells you:
“Like an empty satchel
Is my heart.”
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