Review: Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, Volume 1

Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, Volume 1
Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, Volume 1 by Akira Hiramoto
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting supernatual reimagining on the life of bluesman Robert Johnson. Seeing that most of his life is undocumented, Hiramoto has taken the legend of Johnson meeting up with the devil and running with it. He also brings in Clyde of Bonnie and Clyde fame, and pairs him with Johnson in a strange, mad partnership that has them caterwauling across the south.

The manga gets nice and spooky during the supernatural bits, but even if you take out the supernatural, there are times when it’s freaky, such as when Johnson gets captured by a bunch of men who’s looking to do a lynching. Among them is a young white boy, who casually says the n-word and treats the upcoming lynching like a day at the circus. And the knowledge that people truly did make festivals out of lynchings truly is chilling.

I would say though that Clyde’s appearance slowly takes over Johnson’s storyline, which is why I liked the second volume less. But as a supernatural imagining, this was pretty good.

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Review: Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Shout, Sister, Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle F. Wald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sister Rosetta Tharpe died in 1973 when I was two years old. 39 years later, I am listening to her for the first time in my life.

Shout Sister Shout is a wonderful account of Tharpe’s life, but also gives insight and history into gospel music as a whole. I have grown up being surrounded by gospel music, but it was always contemporary. In reading this book, the only gospel names I recognized was Thomas Dorsey and Mahalia Jackson, the former because my mother had a record of his, the latter because we learned about her at school. But I never heard oldie gospel tunes on the radio; they’d play R&B from the 50s, but not gospel. (It is the same today of contemporary Christian–no oldies.) I didn’t even know there were different types of gospel.

Tharpe had an amazing life, and she had an AMAZING mother. To be a black single mother and a traveling evangelist? That took guts to do in the 20s and 30s. It’s easy to see where Sister Rosetta got her ambitious spirit from. But what blows my mind is how great a guitarist she was. Some criticism of this book has been that it’s hard to describe Tharpe’s playing in words; it is much better heard and seen. Considering, though, that we live in the age of the internet, it wasn’t hard at all to google her on YouTube and listen along. It makes for a better multimedia experience.

And dare I say that Tharpe and Marie Knight’s version of “Didn’t it Rain” is absolute MAGIC?

Wald does a good job in weaving history and the culture of the times into Tharpe’s narrative. In some ways, it also gave me more insight into what it meant to be a black woman during those times, and how Tharpe worked her way around racism with a loving smile, but also a business savvy to be admired. Her choice to buy a bus so she didn’t have to stoop to the indignity of being turned away from white-only restaurants? Brilliant. And I like how we get this picture of Tharpe who truly believed in her faith, but also whooped it up, so to speak.

Along with this, I was reading the biography of Memphis Minnie, another black female guitarist who played the blues. It was very interesting to compare the two women–while Minnie had no interest in expanding and completely focused on the blues, Tharpe constantly looked to reinventing herself; though she mainly stayed within the gospel genre, she also dipped into the blues and even did folk for a while.

The epilogue did feel like Wald was overstretching a bit, waxing long on the fact that because Tharpe didn’t have a gravestone, it could be considered a metaphor for the fragility of life, yadda yadda yadda. But then again, she mentions how quickly it seems that Tharpe was forgotten after her death, and I do have to agree to that. Rock and roll owes a lot to her legacy. Four guitars out of Five, and I guess I’ll have to wait to get to heaven to tell her she has a new fan.

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Chicon 7 con Report

So I’ve returned from Worldcon, also known as Chicon 7, and I have learned a lot of things:

    • I miss Chicago. I really miss Chicago. I miss riding the el. I miss the mountains of buildings and the valleys of streets. I miss downtown. What I don’t miss? Traffic jams, crazy drivers, drunk bums on the el and $5 for a bottle of juice (no thank you, hotel restaurant. I happen to know there’s a Walgreens right down the street from you. So nyah.)
    • Seeing that I used to work for Blue Cross Blue Shields in the Illinois Center, being at the Hyatt right next door felt very, very surreal. I kept expecting to see the ghost of my college self sitting in the lobby reading books and feeling like a nobody.
    • At Chicon 7, I am happy to say that I did not feel like a nobody.
    • Worldcon is big. Really big. Really, really, really big. Bigger than Oddcon. Bigger than Wiscon. It is that big.
    • I hadn’t signed up to do anything at Worldcon–no panels, no readings. I wanted to experience Worldcon to the full. To that extent, for the most part, I spent most of my time talking to people.
    • I saw a whoooooole lot of people. I saw so many of my writer friends, from Viable Paradise to the Carl Brandon Society. I saw a whole bunch of authors, from famous to just starting out like me. And I saw Neil Gaiman again. He geeked out over the American Gods tshirt I so serendipitously wore that day.
    • I saw my grandmother on her birthday. I also got to see a guy playing a saw with a violin bow. A genuine saw.
    • I saw the Hugos. I saw several Hugos up close. I held a Hugo. I also watched Twitter explode when Ustream cut off the ceremony. That was awesome.
    • I learned there are two types of people who attend cons: those who are fans, and those who create the works for fans. At the cons I’ve been to, I’ve met a lot of the latter, but not much of the former. At Worldcon, I got to meet a fair number of the former, from a group of Christians fans to a black woman from Hyde Park who wanted to meet more black fans.
    • I got to indulge in a little fandom when I went to watch the Gaiman theater perform The Troll and Snow, Glass, Apples as a dramatic reading. I have come to the conclusion that in the end, I’m not so interested in a movie deal. But if a three-person actor troupe come up to me and say they want to do a performance of one of my short stories, I would be thrilled.
    • The parties…oh…the parties…
    • Although I didn’t have a finished book to pitch, I didn’t feel too bad. I saw old friends, made new ones, squee-ed over some writing heroes, and, best of all, made some important networking contacts that will help me in the future.
    • I really enjoyed Worldcon. Don’t think I will go next year. It was cool, but also very, very intense. I’ll look into it maybe a few years from now. But it opened my mind up to attending cons outside of local. Like say, ReaderCon.
    • My takeaway from Worldcon: renewed determination to finish the novel. Some networking thingies to follow up on, and relationships with friends I’ll be cultivating on the Internets.
    • Oh, by the way, Jesus was there. He heartily approved of my attendance and told me to keep up the good work.IMG_20120901_193251

Can’t say no to that.