RARA-AVIS: Re: The Blues, Fetishisation and John Shannon

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 19 Apr 2000

Someone wrote:

>You're right, but I'd classify only original black blues as hardboiled,
>since it was born out of violence and attempts to be a man. The white
>blues has just been a little too, well, cozy for me. They play too well
>to be truly incorporated into the bad hardboiled world.

I beg to differ. Playing the race card is just silly, especially when it comes to art. Listen to some of the work of Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash, none of whom are usually cited for their playing (or, God knows, their singing), and tell me that ain't the real folk blues. Hard and tough as hell, and they didn't just play it--they wrote it.

The logic that says only blacks can play the blues, hardboiled or otherwise, would be like saying Europeans wouldn't know the blues if it pissed on their legs. No matter how noble or well-meaning the intentions, romanticizing or mythologizing an ethnic group is just the flip side of racism.

But this musical hardboiled thing has been done to death here before, anyway. Codifying what is or isn't hardboiled by some arcane, outdated requirements (shoes? fedoras? gender? setting? race? nationality? the writer's former occupation?) is nothing but
"fetishisation," as Jim Sinclair termed it.

To narrowly define a literary genre, especially one which relies so much on attitude and spirit and feel as the hardboiled genre, is to strangle it.

And speaking of attitude and all that, let me say "YES!" to whoever recommended John Shannon. This guy writes. His surreal take on L.A., coupled with a sort of bruised romanticism that's reminiscent of Ross Macdonald and Stephen Greenleaf (and that's a good thing), is some of the best new stuff I've read in years. Compelling, literate, and sometimes heart-breaking. His new one, THE POISON SKY is just out in paperback. Check it out.

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.colba.net/~kvnsmith/thrillingdetective/

An A&E Mystery.com Site of the Week

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