Corn Bread When I’m Hungry

Worlds colliding: I recently reviewed William Hogeland’s Declaration for the Boston Globe. I’d never heard of Hogeland before receiving the assignment to review his book, but he’s been Baader-Meinhofing me lately. For one, a week after the review came out in the Globe we ended up at the same Mexican restaurant in Flatbush. I live in the neighborhood. Don’t know about Hogeland.

Even stranger, earlier that day I’d been working on a piece about Jeff Sharlet’s tremendous new essay collection, Sweet Heaven When I Die. The title comes from a song by spooky banjo master Dock Boggs, and Sharlet closes his collection with an essay on Boggs. In his essay, Sharlet mentions an essay that Hogeland wrote about Boggs (and critic Greil Marcus) for The Atlantic back in 1998 called “Corn Bread When I’m Hungry: Dock Boggs and Rock Criticism.”  It’s fantastic. Read it here.

Hogeland’s essay opens thus:

Here’s Dock Boggs, an Appalachian banjo player and singer born in 1898: “Give me corn bread when I’m hungry, good people,/Corn whiskey when I’m dry,/Pretty women a-standing around me,/Sweet heaven when I die.” That’s lucid. Here’s Greil Marcus, Dock Boggs’s best-known interpreter, writing a century later: “But always, the sound the banjo makes pulls away from the singer, discrediting him as a fact, his performance as an event: the sound is spectral, and for seconds at a time a specter is what it turns the singer into. When this happens, to the degree that he has made himself felt before you, it’s as if you can see right through him, as a physical fact, to a nowhere beyond.”

Surely that’s meant to be opaque.

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