100 Years of Robert Johnson

[This item appeared in April at the Holler If You Hear Me website: www.hollerif.blogspot.comĀ  I added a little here.]

Somebody asked if Robert Johnson ever got to Chicago. I looked for the fact in a few places and then realized that what I was going to get was somebody’s version but that it was more complicated than anybody’s version. I’m not sure I have a version, certainly not one I’m married to, but if I did, the following is what it would be.

There is no truth about hardly anything about Robert Johnson’s travels. There are lots of stories. One is that he got as far north as Detroit and maybe even did a radio broadcast there.

If we could get our friend Greg Aldering to use his telescope for a beneficial human purpose in addition to the mere discovery of how new universes are formed, that broadcast is still out there, some minuscule distance–less than a thousandth of a parsec–out there, and you could hear it. If it exists. [See note 1 below]

In a certain sense, the Robert Johnson of our post-rock folklore never existed, and will always exist. The guy those mythologists found didn’t smell unwashed or have bad breath and his back didn’t ache and his fingers never scabbed and his shoes had soles and he was unhappy existentially but if he had another nickel he could get his ashes hauled so it was pretty close to happiness. And you can hear that. If you want to. If you want, you can hear something else, too.

One of those Robert Johnsons was in Chicago. Another one of them didn’t get there ’til Johnny Shines did. And another not until Steven Lavere or whoever it is bought the copyrights. And another one, maybe further back, maybe more recent, never left the Delta–he left Mississippi, because you only have to cross the river to do that. But did he leave it riding in a Terraplane or did he swim it alongside Stagolee during the ’27 flood or a weekend before he died? [See Note 2] That’s worth knowing too and you have just as much chance of being certain of the answer.

It’s the same as figuring out a simple construct like “Homer was blind.” He was? To what?

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Note 1: The link at the beginning of this paragraph is good for information but the mind-blower is Greg’s recent talk in Berkeley here. It’s exhilarating to see science made this plain and this much fun. It’s as good as hearing Jimmy LaFave sing “It’s Not Dark Yet.”

Note 2: I wrote this after long meditating upon Weston Carr’s fingers, which are so long and supple they remind me of that great photo of Johnson you can see at the Terraplane link. They’re almost as mindblowing as the fact that the ’27 flood has now been exceeded. The New Dust Bowl can’t be far behind. Not that it’s an achievement to boast about.

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