Saturday, September 13, 2008
Hellhound Postscript: Blues Walkin' Like a Man
And so ends one version of the life of Robert Johnson--my 40-year-old script admired by many over the decades, but criticized by some too for sentimentality. (I'd say in defense that I tried to portray a flawed man rather than a myth.) At any rate, Hellhound is now on-line for anyone to examine and decide for him/herself.
Eventually there were other attempts: Alan Greenberg's too-surreal Love In Vain (which appeared as a book but was never filmed), and the silly Crossroads picture, and the Blaxploitation Leadbelly movie (which I egotistically thought might have "borrowed" some ideas from my widely circulating script), and the more recent Johnson docudramas--they all had ideas worth considering, but none of them attempted to create a whole world and a thoroughly imagined life.
I may not have nailed it, but I did struggle to do justice to one amazing Bluesman's poorly documented, Depression-era history, and be as culturally/socially/linguistically accurate as a white man writing a third of a century later might be.
Was Johnson's life tragic? Or was he merely heroic and skillful, pathetic and foolish in equal measure? The two or three known photos of him are finally as confusing as the recorded memories of other musicians and (supposed) friends concerning his musical prowess and his sad early death.
Only the great 29 songs (in 40-some existing takes) and the mystery remain.