Mahler was FAMOUS, well-documented and well-liked in his time. He fell out of favor among
anti-semitic Europeans for a while (mainly the Nazi era, and the post-WWII devastation, less than 20
years) but his works were still being played in the US and elsewhere (by Bruno Walter and other
people who knew Mahler first-hand, among others). His fame was regained and enhanced in the
hi-fi/stereo age through a series of new recordings and then "rediscoveries" of various works. To
compare Mahler to someone like Robert Johnson, for instance, is inaccurate. Mahler was established,
liked, had patrons and was able to compose and conduct in relative comfort during a very productive
musical life. He was a good enough and famous enough conductor to have steady gigs with high-profile
orchestras through his adult life. His music was played and enjoyed in its time and was known in the
world of performed classical music (and was known well enough to be specifically banned by Nazis).
Johnson and other blues-cult-discovery artists were almost unknown in their time, at best enjoying
regional success with one or two records.
Aaron makes a good point about popularity and also that the "Canon" always needs refreshing, but
perspective is important. Robert Johnson (or Skip James or Son House, etc) were fringe figures in
their time, who either died young and poor or ended up unable to make a living playing music in most
of their adulthood. Their importance is not to their contemporary time, it is to later times. Robert
Johnson is not important to 1930s blues or 1930s music or indeed 1930s culture, simply because too
few people heard him or knew about him. However, he is very important to 1960s blues and rock and
thus to 1960s and subsequent pop culture. There's one sticky wicket in my argument -- Son House.
Although he enjoyed little more than regional success in his prime, he taught and/or influenced
people like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf who did enjoy wider than regional success in their time
(mainly because mass-media was better developed and they moved to urban centers with better
communications infrastructure) and were able to make a living (and have relatively long careers) as
musicians. Both men credited Son House as a teacher, yet even while he was being credited, House was
living anonymously as a laborer in Rochester NY nursing a bad drinking problem. His "rebirth" was
due to being "rediscovered" by white blues collector-cultists. House also likely taught Robert
Johnson a good many licks, but House himself couldn't say exactly where or how Johnson evolved from
a clumsy kid jamming with and being "cut" by House and Willie Brown to the young man who returned
later and played rings around all comers. This is where the "Crossroads" devil-deal story arose, but
it's more likely that Johnson holed up somewhere with a sympathetic woman feeding and housing him
and practiced his playing until he was the best around, honing an in-born knack for music. Let's be
honest and say that many of the older blues guys played in a "primative" manner to say the least,
probably because they were more interested in their next drink or their next bedmate than their next
hours-long practice session. That's not to say the end result, at least in their recordings, isn't
entertaining and compelling, but Johnson stands out for his musical skill (which is probably what
caught the ear of other musically-skilled/aware people like John Hammond and Eric Clapton).
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Steven Smolian" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 10:52 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
> Indeed. Like Mahler!
> Steve Smolian
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Aaron Levinson
> Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 10:36 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
> For another perspective, I don't think it's entirely accurate to suggest
> that later generations "distort" history by highlighting an otherwise
> neglected or overlooked figure. In any golden age when so much talent is
> concentrated in a field some figures resonate and become popular while
> others do not. To suggest that popularity is the sole yardstick (or
> contemporary acclaim) leaves a lot of interesting people standing on the
> Sometimes it does take a later generation to shine a little light into the
> corners and discover some one who may have eluded attention in the earlier
> Sent from my iPhone
>> On Sep 22, 2014, at 9:44 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Hi Mike:
>> In fairness to Petrusich, she addresses the issue of obscure Paramount and
> other blues sides being hyped up through the "blues mafia" and associated
> reissuers, so they take on unwarranted prominence in the cultural "canon."
> And, this comes at the expense of blues records that actually WERE popular
> and sold thousands of copies when they were new and different (Bessie Smith,
> Lonnie Smith, others). One of the modern reissuers calls Skip James a
> "freak" who couldn't get a Victor or ARC contract.
>> I think part of this is the same thing driving Avakian and Keepnews/Grauer
> jazz reissues in the late 40s and early 50s, plus the Harry Smith anthology
> -- each new generation collectors (generally but not always social outcasts
> and people not of the mainstream cultural tastes or norms) has to "discover"
> some "neglected gold" and create a fetish around it. There's also an
> underlying ecomic element, especially with the blues records, in fact one
> could call it hucksterism intended to keep prices high and this maintain
> collection values. This is much more pronounced in modern times and with
> blues records vs "jass" records in earlier times, although collectors like
> John Tefteller and Richard Nevins generally reissue at reasonable prices
> records for which they've paid mega-bux. In any case, it's the age-old fact
> of history -- each succeding generation distorts the past context and
> usually the past facts to suit its own perspectives, tastes and prejudices.
> Petrusich also touches on this, but on scratches the surface of the issue.
>> Overall, I found her book to be entertaining enough to read through
> quickly, but lightweight in authority and very short on new facts or
> perspectives. The fact that she really digs the music is a plus as far as
> readability, but not as far as adding anything new to the facts or
> conversation. As always when he's involved, Joe Bussard entertained me the
> most. He is a rare bird anyway, but super-rare in that he's an extrovert in
> a collector-world of introverts. I'm sure other 78 collector-cultists resent
> the attention Joe gets, but they aren't nearly as interesting so they
> shouldn't be surprised.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Biel" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Monday, September 22, 2014 8:49 AM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>>> I kept on expecting Alan Funt to appear.
>>> If this guy had recorded on Paramount -- especially if they had put
>>> this 15 minute piece out on a set of 2-78s, then Amanda Petrusich's
>>> cult of collectors would be going apesh-t over it and fighting to bid
>>> tens of thousands of dollars on it. I'm unimpressed with this and am
>>> unimpressed with most of what her cult is overbidding for.
>>> (Did you really listen to ALL 15 minutes of that crap????)
>>> Mike Biel [log in to unmask]
>>> ------- Original Message --------
>>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>>> From: Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Date: Sun, September 21, 2014 7:56 am
>>> To: [log in to unmask]
>>> Let's be clear, this is the "artiste" discussed in the essay:
>>> If 15 minutes of the same 3 chords with often out of tune humming
>>> along is your thing, then have at it. Many people play acoustic
>>> guitar into a portable home recorder. Very few of those recordings
>>> are worth hearing. Almost none of them are worth canonized as
>>> "undiscovered gold."
>>> I understand the frustration with modern commercialized popular
>>> music, but the modern impulse (often by younger writers with little
>>> historical perspective, writers "born digital" and raised on digital
>>> pop music glop) to "discover" performers from what is glorified as a
>>> "wonderful past," many of whom don't really deserve to be canonized,
>>> is annoying. It seems to be an academic, navel-gazing pursuit.
>>> And, it smacks of ignorance, of not listening to enough
>>> commercially-released music from the same time periods. That sort of
>>> listening will often reveal that there were many excellent examples
>>> in the selected genre, musicians who could actually play and thus
>>> make commercially viable recordings.
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "WS" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Friday, September 19, 2014 6:35 PM
>>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Records Ruin the Landscape
>>>> The link below is an excerpt (published in WIRE magazine) from David
>>>> Grubb's upcoming book called "Records Ruin The Landscape".
>>>> I thought it might be of interest to some ARSCLIST members, as it
>>>> explores the implications of recorded material from an earlier era
>>>> that only finds an audience much later than it was created.