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100 Years of Robert Johnson


Somebody asked if Robert Johnson ever got to Chicago. I looked for the fact in a few places and then realized that what I was going to get was somebody’s version but that it was more complicated than anybody’s version. I’m not sure I have a version, certainly not one I’m married to, but if I did, this is what it would be.

There is no truth about hardly anything about Robert Johnson’s travels. There are lots of stories. One is that he got as far north as Detroit and maybe even did a radio broadcast there.

If we could get our friend Greg Aldering to use his telescope for a beneficial human purpose in addition to the mere discovery of how new universes are formed, that broadcast is still out there, some minuscule distance–less than a thousandth of a parsec–out there, and you could hear it. If it exists.

In a certain sense, the Robert Johnson of our post-rock folklore never existed, and will always exist. The guy those mythologists found didn’t smell unwashed or have bad breath and his back didn’t ache and his fingers never scabbed and his shoes had soles and he was unhappy existentially but if he had another nickel he could get his ashes hauled so it was pretty close to happiness. And you can hear that. If you want to. If you want, you can hear something else, too.

One of those Robert Johnsons was in Chicago. Another one of them didn’t get there ’til Johnny Shines did. And another not until Steven Lavere or whoever it is bought the copyrights. And another one, maybe further back, maybe more recent, never left the Delta–he left Mississippi, because you only have to cross the river to do that. But did he leave it riding in a Terraplane or did he swim it alongside Stagolee during the ’27 flood or a weekend before he died? That’s worth knowing too and you have just as much chance of being certain of the answer.

It’s the same as figuring out a simple construct like “Homer was blind.” He was? To what?

Dave Marsh (along with Lee Ballinger) edits HREF=””>Rock & Rap Confidential,
one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for
free by emailing: Dave blogs at


Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: Dave blogs at

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