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Mister Satan's Apprentice: A Blues Memoir Paperback – March 14, 2000
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Adam Gussow grew up in suburban New York and graduated in 1979 from Princeton, where he is currently a Ph.D. candidate--a fairly typical background for a white blues fan. But Gussow took his obsession with the blues further than most when he started blowing harmonica on the New York City streets in the mid-'80s along with two gifted African American musicians. Nat Riddles, a near-contemporary and fellow harp player, helped Gussow hone his technique (this is the source of many earthy jokes about what else harmonica men do well with their tongues), and Mister Satan, a much older guitar man, imparted life lessons as well. Gussow's funny, impassioned memoir chronicles the growing success of Satan and Adam at blues festivals and on albums while poignantly depicting Nat's battle with leukemia. The author is wildly romantic about the music (described in passages of intense, charging prose) and extremely clear-sighted about the racial tensions simmering in an art form created by blacks but increasingly listened to and played by whites. Alternating sections describing collegiate musical experiences and a love affair that finally broke up in 1984 are less fascinating, but this is a moving tribute to "our American music, the best in the world." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A white harmonica player drops out of grad school at Columbia University and busks his way across New York and Europe. Despite the rising racial tension in 1980s New York, he joins forces with Mr. Satan, a journeyman blues guitarist and gray-bearded street prophet in Harlem; the duo record three albums and tour Europe with Bo Diddley before gradually disbanding. Therein hangs the meat of Gussow's remarkable but highly uneven memoir. The story is riddled with subplots, from Gussow's musical coming of age as an Ivy League misfit to the endless romantic travails that fueled his devotion to the blues and his apprenticeship to a flamboyantly cagey local harp player named Nat Riddles, who taught him the licks and vibrato that helped him gain entr?e into an African American culture he'd long since come to identify with. The book's centerpiece is an account of Gussow's work in the orchestra of a traveling musical production of The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnAa humorous foil to his freewheeling life on the street and the racial prejudices he observes. But the heart of the book is the luminous portrait of Mr. Satan, n? Sterling Magee, whose Technicolor medallions, doomsday proclamations and furious guitar style mask a storied past, including stints with James Brown, Etta James and the Supremes. Gussow's prose style is by turns lyrical and purplishly Kerouac-esque ("America was raw, fragrant, sprawling, jagged, electrical"). And one wishes the story were better distilled: instead, it resembles an endless, meandering busking session, punctuated both by moments of surpassing intensity and stretches of pointless noodling.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
This is an intriguing read even if you are not into music and the blues. EW Wood
Much like his harmonica playing, Gussow deftly weavers in and out, skipping's to some parts of his life, back and forth through the highs and lows of a immensely skilled performing musician. Tension and release.
Adam conveys is angst so clearly when he writes about the complicated loves of his life - including the women he slept with and the mentors he worshiped. Tension and release.
I read this book, over and over again, has an envious bystander. Adam Gussow, with three Ivy League degrees from schools I could never have attended to the blues life he lived with skills I'll never attain, this book was inspirational, educational and proof once again that no one can predict where life will take you but if you follow your heart and work your ass off you may be surprised by where you eventually land.
The attention to detail greatly enhances the reading experience. I found myself relating to Gussow's story on many levels - the bullying, the feeling of loss after the bolting of a 17 year old boy's love interest, that raw and electric sensation one gets when living alone for the first time and struggling to make it work- even when it is a school experience. The sights, sounds and smells of cheap eateries, the sense of living in the Now when living in Europe, the total fear of the virginal musician's performance on stage. Gussow cuts through the scene with stark and honest reality, where a phrase tells the whole story. He captures the language of the black street experience with great precision. Gussow describes his experiences as a white guy in the black Harlem street experience - you have money and your pals don't, the dollar or the cigarette they ask for becomes a ten and a pack, and on and on until you catch on and get more selective about it, or then maybe you just don't give a damn and it's about the moment and the camaraderie, but then it is about friendship and how someone who would have stole you blind in the beginning becomes your staunchest defender. The description of the South of that time period chilled me, that look-over-your shoulder tenseness when you are a Northerner and freshly immersed in the Southern experience for the first time. His description of the gritty and rough Harlem streets places the reader there without sugarcoating or pretense.
But the main emphasis in this book is his relationship with Sterling Magee, a/k/a Mr. Satan, his wild and wise busking partner on the streets of Harlem. Gussow describes his "apprenticeship" with love and care and hurt and joy. Mr. Satan is a father figure, a foil, an enemy, and a friend. Mr. Gussow's slavish devotion to the music and craft of the blues and his instrument, the harmonica, and his friends within that world, is honest and compelling. Gussow's highly personal soul baring moves the reader directly into his life's emotional space, and you understand why. This book is highly recommended.