Sunday, June 11, 2006

Podcast: American Primitive Vol. 2, I Got a NuGrape, Soda Pop Art

I got a NuGrape nice and fine; The rings around the bottle are genuine; I got the ice cold NuGrape; I got the ice cold NuGrape fine; There’s plenty imitations but there’s none like mine; I got the ice cold NuGrape.

[Was an MP3 here; removed due to storage issues. Sorry.]

The idea that there was a unique mysterious wisdom, or just misterioso, floating around on the foggy marshlands of America – well for my money it goes back to Poe, maybe Irving. But it was out and about outside of literature, in song Americana immemorial no doubt. No matter what I think: this foggy mist of an idea gained a big shot in the arm with Greil Marcus’s Invisible Republic in 1997. Marcus looked at Dylan’s genius, and attributed it in big hunks to his reading of ‘The Old, Weird America’ represented in Black and Appalachian folks songs where mean old train firemen drink your blood like wine, the cuckoo warbles as she flies, and you ask a country house wife to surreptitiously make you a pallet on her floor.

For many years, Harry Smith’s Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music, with its crystalline madman liner notes was bell mark for the Weird America. A Smithsonian re-release includes Marcus liner notes under the heading, waydyaknow, 'The Old, Weird America.’ Certainly, this record set was one of Dylan’s foundation touch points. Dylan described the beautiful archetypal strangeness with effect in his own liner notes for his Jimmie Rodgers tribute LP on his very own Egyptian label.

Rolling weirdness
Marcus’s notions gained currency, and the success – well, success in what passes as the underground these days, anyway – of the re-released Anthology through coal on the chugging Old Weird America world tour. One of the great indicators here is the Revenant label’s American Primitive series. [American Primitive seems to have gained as a coinage for the Old Weird America. In Boston, on Saturday afternoons, we have an American Primitive radio show.]

I take it that Revenant’s archive is a John Fahey archive. He was the central figure/performer at the label running up to his death. Over the years, Fahey’s fantastic blues scholarship and collecting was overshadowed by his mystical and precise guitar work. A monograph on Charlie Patton was one of his greatest contributions to blues studies. This American Primitives series pay homage to the barnstorming musicians of the southern past , but also to Fahey. Fahey appears in the liner notes to American Primitive Volume 2 as writer Scott Blackwood describes meeting up with him in Chicago.

[By the way, Fahey himself appears in the liner notes of the Anthology (Gee, this is turning into an essay on liner notes…), where he pledges to match the Anthology “up against any other single compendium of important information ever assembled. Dead Sea Scrolls? Nah. I’ll take the Anthology.”]

In Chicago for a gig, a scant Fahey is staying in a hotel near where Blind Lemon Jefferson died. We know that give or take a few years Fahey, who is just returning from a long skid row slide, doesn’t have long for terra firma. Blackwell couches the conversation – they stop at a Salvation Army to, like guerillas, insert some recent Fahey 78 recordings in record bins – with reference to Borges and mystery for the sake of amazement. Odd, I know I found Fahey’s Blind Joe Death in a Salvation Army record bin.

NuGrape transubstantiatin’
“Revenant” it seems, means ‘a spirit who returns after a long absence. “Crucial to the Revenant ethos is the notion of the neglected gem.” And so, American Primitive forgoes Blind Willie McTell, Memphis Jug Band, or Scrapper Blackwell, because they have been covered in previous prospecting. So on this Vol 2 we have the Salty Dog Four, Pigmeat Terry, and Two Poor Boys doing Ballin the Jack, Black Sheep Blues and Two White Horses. Alfred Lewis doing what I called BlueFrog Blues. Clarinets over imagined pie-stealing hobo soft foot shuffles. You got the hiss, the high-droning banjos, kazoos, juke joint pianos and harmonica combs moaning low, haunting violins. Did you ever hear churchbell tone?

The voices are not trained. They come as messages from beyond. You sense the location of the recording could be a hotel of the ‘30s, or a crossroads dessert radio station ala Oh Brother. The harmonies are one-ofs.

The point of all this is the kick I got out of the record American Primitive Vol. 2. Coming in for special attention are the NuGrape Twins doing “I Got the Ice Cold NuGrape”

NuGrape. It’s a singsong like a skip rope song. Watch out! It is jingle at heart and will not leave you alone. Odd the way the two guys voices echo a round. It’s got the feel of the medicne show come to town. Its quaint advertiser huckstering. But it is spiritual in that it brings in the promised land – and natural in that little kids are playing in the sand. The basic old modus is at work today at the little league field across from my house… where the ice cream truck now plays digital strains. .. Goal: Gather the children, or better yet, send them to their parents to beg them to open their wallets. I did a cut on this as part of the project to figure out how to go from WMA to MP3. [You see, I am off to Microsoft TechEd in exotic South Boston.] And that is linked to here.
Here's Two Jack's doing I got a NuGrape
American Primitive Vol 2 on Amazon

Also see
On Alan Wilson

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