August 11, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
In The Bible Salesman, Clyde Edgerton again asserts himself as one of the true masters of dialogue and dialect in American fiction.
In The Bible Salesman there is a mention of Roy Acuff, and when I think of Roy I usually remember his speaking on the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and friends). A good bit of entertaining talk from the recording studio shows up throughout this album and at the outset of “I Saw The Light,” Roy says, “Let me say this, all of us--watch your timing.” It’s a wonderful snippet, and the song I love most on this album is the banjo duet of “Soldier’s Joy,” performed by John McEuen and Earl Scruggs. It’s a wonderful blend of old-timey and three-finger picking banjo styles. I’ll venture that even if you’re not partial to banjo music, you’ll like this song. It bears repeated playings.
Hank Williams is also mentioned in The Bible Salesman, along with his song, “Why Don’t You Love Me.” I never think of Hank and his classics without thinking of the album, “Hank Wilson’s Back!”, Leon Russell’s masterful tribute to some of country music’s greatest songwriters, recorded in 1973. The arrangements and the instrumentation on the album--steel guitar and piano blends, and Leon’s blues inflected voice—bring an authenticity and energy and a looseness to the tracks that has guaranteed cult status. Sadness and loss (and some camp irony) emerge in “She Thinks I Still Care,” “The Window Up Above,” and “Am I That Easy to Forget.” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is one of Hank William’s most listened-to songs, and Leon does it justice. “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” a traditional classic, here delivers two distinct styles of folk music with the song split down the middle: straight traditional country first, and then pure bluegrass, with slap-happy bass bits at both ends of the song.
It seemed to me when I was very young that church hymns were somehow inhabited by individual lives. So it seems to the main character, Henry, in The Bible Salesman:
Yes, the 23rd Psalm had it’s own life, like some hymns were starting to have for [Henry]. “Love Lifted Me” showed a man sinking into the ocean with his hand up. “The Old Rugged Cross” showed a cross on a hill with rags hanging and a bunch of women kneeling around it, crying. “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” showed Jesus and Henry walking down a dirt road together. “Just As I Am” showed Mrs. Albright’s Yancy walking down the aisle on the right hand side of the church, crying, and then leaning into the arms of Preacher Gibson. “Bringing in the Sheaves” showed these big groups of people, walking across Egypt, bringing in things.
For those who have experienced the old protestant hymns and spirituals in a church setting, I do not have to explain their presence or staying power (regardless of our beliefs). For others, listen to Steel Away, by Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, and find out how some of the best known of these songs can sound through the medium of upright bass and simple jazz piano arrangements—no words, just the tunes. In my Baptist church back in the fifties, we all knew the spirituals but they weren’t played during main church services. We sang them in informal settings because they weren’t quite square enough for Sunday morning. This album includes many of those spirituals, but also includes a long medley of hymns sung in the church sanctuary of my church: “Abide in Me,” “What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” “Just As I Am,” and “Amazing Grace.”
This music preserves the purity of the compositions, delivered with a swing that pleases, and helps us to know that it can pleasantly sooth—outside the walls of a church.
The Bible Salesman is placed mainly in 1950 and while writing the book I got the idea of writing a new novel (in progress) that would be about a garage band—seven white boys—who decide to try to perform James Brown’s Live at the Apollo (1962) note by note and word by word. The song list for that book would have to include that classic album, and would be served well if introduced by Michael Tilson’s Thomas’s fascinating interview with James Brown.
Clyde Edgerton and The Bible Salesman links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)