“OH WHAT TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE…(What We Should Expect From Critics: Nineteenth Maxim)

…When first we practice to deceive

(Walter Scott, 1808)

“Dolly Parton’s “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy,” released as a single in 1969 and included on Parton’s The RCA Years 1967-1986 (RCA), is best heard on the hard-to-find A Real Live Dolly Parton, a 1970 RCA LP recorded at Sevier County High School, Parton’s alma mater, which also features “Bloody Bones,” a ditty about orphans who burn down their orphanage.”

(Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, “Notes and Discographies,” 2008 edition, p. 360, emphasis mine)

“But Warren Smith (1933-80) had no real affinity for the black rhythms rockabilly took off from (though Smith, in his heart an Appalachian balladeer, can be heard for the quirky delight he was on his Classic Recordings: 1956-59, Bear Family, an ideal Sun retrospective that includes the devastating “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache,” “Ubangi Stomp”–one of the only rockabilly records with the word ‘nigger’ in it–“Black Jack David,” and “So Long I’m Gone.”)”

(Ibid, pp. 368, 369, emphasis mine)

I always wonder. Are they delusional or do they just lie?

I finally got hold of that “hard-to-find” Dolly Parton LP this week, based entirely on Marcus’s recommendation which had been floating around in my head since I read the 1984 edition of Mystery Train. It’s a good album (everything she did in that period was at least good). I didn’t worry too much that the LP’s version of “My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy” was no patch on the studio recording and cut in half to boot, that this clearly wasn’t the best place to hear it. Such things are a legitimate matter of opinion.

But imagine my surprise when, after all these years, “Bloody Bones” which I had never even listened to on YouTube because I wanted to hear it the first time in the full context of Dolly singing it live in front of her home town crowd, turned out to have nothing whatsoever to do with orphans or orphanages or burning anything down. By all means listen, because I could never convey with mere words just how far from the reality Marcus strayed.

While I was reconfirming his account of “Bloody Bones” I read around in the other “Notes” and came across the assertion that Warren Smith, recording for Sam Phillips’ Sun label in the 50’s had actually used the word “nigger” in “Ubangi Stomp” which was his followup to the regional hit “Rock and Roll Ruby” and an obvious attempt to break him nationally.

I’d heard “Ubangi Stomp” a dozen or so times over the years and two or three times very recently and this allegation had me scratching my head. So I listened to the song three more times last night and also looked up the lyrics on the internet.

No one who follows along here will be surprised to learn that Warren Smith did not say “nigger” on “Ubangi Stomp”–a song that is actually about being so caught up by the native music of Africa that the white boy decides to abandon ship and maybe, just maybe, take up with a local girl.

One thing this particular encounter with classic Crit-Illuminati tactics brought to light was a possible reason Marcus, among many others, have treated Bill Clinton like an untouchable hero instead of the snake oil scumbag he so obviously was and remains.

When the reality is too discomforting to confront…make things up.

Unfortunately, per Philip K. Dick, “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Hence the Nineteenth Maxim:

Pay attention and don’t lie. And if you fail to follow this, don’t be surprised to find yourself living in a world you despise.

4 thoughts on ““OH WHAT TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE…(What We Should Expect From Critics: Nineteenth Maxim)

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Marcus never actually listened to the tracks in question and just made the stuff up. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I found out that this wasn’t the first time a music critic pulled this kind of stunt. Rolling Stone magazine has not aged well, IMHO. Way too much hypocrisy. Although to his credit Marcus was a great proponent of The Band.

    • I probably should have mentioned in the piece that Marcus has been questioned pretty heavily in his recent mailbags at his website (which I do follow religiously) about his famous intro to Mystery Train, which has Little Richard saying things on the Dick Cavett Show which modern YouTube clips apparently confirm he did NOT say. (I haven’t watched it but Marcus himself has acknowledged that he must have imagined it.) I cut him some slack on that. In the age before home recording, the internet, etc., it was often hard to verify what you just heard (or thought you heard). I know from personal experience (lol).

      But these are two items that have been in the notes of his most famous book for decades, one of which involves a slander on both Warren Smith and Sam Phillips (who Marcus has often called a hero)….and both of which have always been easily checkable. You do seriously wonder what the thought process is. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t go into “journalism.”

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