Unromanticized View of a Bluesman
This book is virtually unique in presenting a side of the "blues culture" very rarely considered. The author became close friends with Skip James, one of the most enigmatic and shady of the Mississippi bluesmen of the 1930's. Besides looking at a life lived in the shadow of the cotton plantation system, it is a psychological study of an emotionally stunted, misogynistic man with violent tendencies. At one point, Calt remarks that if he were black, he'd be like James, and if James were white, he'd be a lot like Calt. This makes the book doubly fascinating, because Calt not only analyzes James with a cold eye, but himself and his original hero-worshipping, oversimplified adoration of early blues legends. James spent segments of his life as a preacher, bootlegger, pimp, roustabout, and farmer in between serious attempts to make a name for himself in the music world. If you're already a fan of Skip James' music, this book will add layers of meaning to his songs. It's a must-read for anyone with even a passing interest in the blues or in African-American culture in the 20th-century deep South. It also gives poignant new meaning to the cliche, "To understand all is to forgive all."