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Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (Anglais) Broché – 14 décembre 2004

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Revue de presse

“If you read only one book about this one.” (Starred Booklist on Escaping the Delta)

Biographie de l'auteur

Elijah Wald es escritor y músico con veinte años de experiencia reportando sobre los orígenes musicales y sobre la música misma en diferentes regiones del mundo. Fue escritor y asesor para el proyecto de múltiples medios del Instituto Smithsonian llamado The Mississippi: River and Song (El Río Mississippi: el río y su música), y también recibió un premio por la biografía Josh White: Society Blues (Josh White, Blues de la Sociedad). Una sobrevista de su obra se puede conseguir en

Elijah Wald is a writer and musician with twenty years experience covering roots and world music. He was writer and consultant on the Smithsonian multimedia project The Mississippi: River of Song, and is the author of the award-winning biography Josh White: Society Blues.

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Première phrase
THERE HAS PROBABLY BEEN MORE ROMANTIC FOOLISHNESS written about blues in general, and Robert Johnson in particular, than about any other genre or performer of the twentieth century. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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60 internautes sur 66 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Blues and Romantic History 30 mars 2004
Par Robin Friedman - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Many Americans have shown a great interest in "roots" music as part of a highly commendable effort to understand our country's life and culture. Much of this interest has, over the years, focused on the blues of the Mississippi Delta and, in particular, on the recordings of singer and guitarist Robert Johnson (1911 -1938). Johnson was an obscure figure in his day and his life and music remain the stuff of legend. He had two recording dates in 1936 and 1937. His music was rediscovered in the 1960s and since that time the sales of his collected recordings have numbered in the millions.
In "Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues" (2004), Elijah Wald offers a compelling study of the blues and of blues historiography focusing on Robert Johnson. Wald tries to correct what he deems to be the prevailing myths about Johnson: that he was a primitive folk artist caught in the Mississippi Delta who recorded and perfected a local traditional form of blues. Wald finds Johnson an ambitious young singer who had studied the blues forms popular in his day. Johnson, Wald argues, wanted to escape the Mississippi Delta and pattern himself on the urban blues singers, in particular Leroy Carr, emanating from the midwest and Chicago.
Wald finds that Johnson displayed a variety of blues styles in his recordings and that he was largely ignored by black music listeners of his day because Johnson's early efforts to capture an urban blues style were basically copies of more successful singers and because his songs in the Delta blues style lacked appeal to the urban and sophisticated black audience of the time.
Johnson's music only became well-known, Wald argues, with the rise of English rock, and with his rediscovery by a largely white audience. The tastes of black music listeners had moved in a mostly different direction towards soul, funk, rap, disco and did not encompass rural blues singers. The fascination of modern listeners with Johnson, according to Wald, is due to a romantic spirit -- a boredom with the life of the everyday -- and a search for a past full of authentic individuals who knew their own wants and needs and who projected themselves in their art.
Wald's book begins with a history of the blues before Robert Johnson focusing on the commercial character the music had at the outset. He gives a great deal of attention to the Blues queens -- Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey -- and to their smooth-voiced male sucessors, particularly Leroy Carr, as mentioned above, and Lonnie Johnson. These singers profoundly influenced Johnson's music and his ambitions to become a popular entertainer and not a cult figure.
The central part of Wald's book consists of a brief biography of Johnson -- summarizing the various speculations on his life -- and of a song-by-song discussion of his recordings. In this discussion, Wald discusses the music with a great deal of intelligence and understanding. He shows very clearly Johnson's debts to his more commercially sucessful predecessors and explains as well the variety of blues styles Johnson encompassed in his songs.
The final portion of the book carries the story of the blues forward beyond Robert Johnson's death. It shows how the music at first evolved into a combo style, again approaching popular music, which took blues into a different direction from Johnson's recordings. The book concludes with a discussion of Johnson's rediscovery, and the discovery of other Delta blues singers, beginning in the 1960's.
Wald clearly knows his material. For all his criticism of the mythmaking cult over Johnson, Wald's love for this music shines through, as he is the first to admit. Upon reading this book, I spent considerable time relistening to Johnson's music and felt I came away with a better understanding and appreciation of it than I had before. The goal of every book about music should be to encourage its readers to return to (or get to know) the songs, or what have you, themselves. The book meets this goal admirably.
There are few books on the blues that manage to be both scholarly, critical, and inspiring and Wald's book is one of these few. I do not find Wald's thesis as unsusual as he claims it to be, but it certainly will be worth exploring by listeners and readers who do not have a large backround in this music.
In music, a fair and careful historical account will in the long run perform a greater service to the music and the artists than will legends and stereotypes. The Delta singers discussed in this book, Robert Johnson, Son House, Skip James, Charley Patton, were musicians of talent. Understanding their story can only increase the listener's appreciation of the blues.
28 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Up Jumped the Blues 8 août 2004
Par doomsdayer520 - Publié sur
Format: Broché
This is a fascinating study of the history of blues music, as distilled through the life of Robert Johnson. As the book progresses, Wald gives us a much clearer understanding of the man and the music on their own terms, and expertly deconstructs the myths and stereotypes that have been propagated by recent revivalists. Modern white fans have a much different view of Robert Johnson and his contemporaries than they had of themselves. The blues was once mainstream pop music among black audiences in the first half of the 20th century, constantly evolving and striving for sales and popularity, rather than the static and mythologized roots music envisioned by today's purists.

Wald provides convincing evidence that Robert Johnson was far from the troubled loner and brooding genius who single-handedly revolutionized western music in miserable backwoods locations, as current fandom mythology would tell you. Instead, Johnson was a professional entertainer who dreamed of being that era's equivalent of a rock star, as did most other blues musicians of the time. Johnson's music, while certainly compelling, wasn't even that unique or original when seen in the context of its time, as Wald finds evidence that he often simply updated the works of his major influences like Leroy Carr, Son House, or Kokomo Arnold. The blues musicians of the time were also adept at many different pop and mainstream styles, and Johnson was no exception, as Wald shows us through Johnson's decidedly non-Delta songs like "They're Red Hot" or "From Four Till Late." Interestingly, Johnson wasn't even very successful or influential in his own time (the 1930's), and was mostly unknown even in the blues community until he was rediscovered by white revivalists in the 60's.

Wald continues into an examination of how contemporary black audiences and musicians of the time had vastly different views of the music than modern cult purists, and the music of Robert Johnson and his contemporaries can only be truly understood by looking at it in these proper contexts. In the end we find that Johnson was still a genius but was much more human than his modern legends suggest. The same goes for the blues in general. Other reviewers have noted that Wald's writing tends to be overly academic and boring. I concur that he does tend to over-elaborate on his arguments, providing voluminous evidence for points that he already made convincingly long before. That leads to believable research breakthroughs, but a book that is sometimes much more wordy than it needs to be. But other than that minor weakness, this is an outstanding accomplishment of musicology, and will prove fascinating for blues aficionados as well as anyone interested in the history of American music. [~doomsdayer520~]
16 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
great book! 4 mai 2004
Par robert wallace - Publié sur
Format: Broché
I just finished this book, and I have to say that it is the best history of blues I have ever read. It was full of facts, but written in a really readable style -- sort of like a conversation with someone very knowledgable about the subject, more than a lecture. It also made me think about a lot of the music I love in a whole new way.
I have been listening to Robert Johnson's music for years, and after reading Wald's chapters on his recordings I went back over them again. I can't say I agree with every single one of Wald's comments, but I heard so much that I had never noticed before. It really opened up Johnson's music, and made me understand what he was doing, and how he fit into the bigger picture.
I have to admit that I am not as familiar as I should be with some of the other people the book talks about, like Leroy Carr and Dinah Washington, but this made me want to go out and get their records, and learn more. And I guess that's really the point of any book on music.
10 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Beyond just another biographical sketch of Johnson 11 mars 2005
Par Midwest Book Review - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Another book about blues musician Robert Johnson? Yes, and it's worth reading because Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson And The Invention Of The Blues goes beyond just another biographical sketch of Johnson to probe how blues moved beyond its delta roots. There have been other histories of the blues, but this is the first to link Johnson's legacy to the evolution of the genre as a whole, showing how the music was transformed not just by Johnson but by his white listeners, who changed him from an obscure Mississippi guitarist to a legend. If the title sounds familiar, it's because this is a new paperback edition - but wait, there's more: a bonus cd which includes a rare first take of Johnson's 'Traveling Riverside Blues' - the only sing missing from the famous Sony 'complete recordings' set.
9 internautes sur 12 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Strips the myth, leaves the man 4 janvier 2005
Par Mark - Publié sur
Format: Broché
This is, by far, the best book of its Genre.

Robert Johnson's legend has grown over the past 60 years to that of some sort of blues messiah. Wald's very complete, extraordinarily well researched, and very well written discussion cuts through much of the legend and reminds us that Johnson was "just" a man. He did not spring from some cotton field and invent the blues. He did not singlehandedly lay the foundation for Rock and Roll. In his day, he was a rather obscure performer who had an uncanny knack to play any kind of blues style.

HOW he came to be considered the King of the Delta Blues is just as informative, to me at least, as his biography itself. It is a facinating look at American culture and mores.

My favorite part of the book is the song-by-song discussion Wald goes into. His insights are fascinating. It's worth the price of the book to read along as the music is being played in the background.

Even with the legend stripped away, the strength of Johnson's body of work still earns him a spot with the greats of music history.
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