RE: RARA-AVIS: Blues settings?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 25 Sep 2000

Pat wrote:

"I was stunned by the question about whether or not "white people" listened to blues back in the thirties. I am a born and bred Southerner and can assure you that if you lived in the South, you grew up with the blues. The blues were a part of the culture, and not just the black culture."

This is certainly accurate of the culture. At that time, blues and what is now called country (then called hillbilly) had very blurred lines, if there were lines at all -- Jimmy Rodgers learned to play from a black man (as Hank Williams later did); Howlin' Wolf explained his distinctive howl was actually his attempt to yodel like Rodgers, etc.

However, neither of these musics were of very respectable or even mainstream culture, always thought to be from the wrong side of the tracks. I don't really recall any hillbilly musicians in vintage hardboiled lit, either. Are there even many (I can't think of any, but my knowledge of vintage HB could be a lot better) scenes set in roadhouses or juke joints? They are both more rural and noir/hardboiled is traditionally set in the city. (I know, there are many exceptions and an expanding contemporary movement of country noir.)

Jazz, on the other hand, gained mainstream popularity, eventually respectability. It was also far more urban. Chandler's King in Yellow is the earliest jazz tale I know, but I would guess it was not uncommon. Many later PIs revealed their cool by hanging out in jazz clubs -- Peter Gunn and Johnny Staccato immediately come to mind. And a lot of other PIs had cases involving beatniks, like Johnny Amsterdam ("A square with chin hair").

Speaking of the last, is I Like It Cool, featuring Amsteredam, written by Michael Lawrence, any good? I bought it for the title and the cover.

And Dennis Lynds (AKA Michael Collins) wrote Uptown Downtown: "By day he was a ruthless executive, by night a free-wheeling beatnik. He had the best of both worlds . . . and the perfect woman in each." I really need to read that book.


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