I'm not much of a fan of Pitchfork. I find a fair amount of what Pitchfork writers like to be pretentious, weak, and suffering from Hipsteria. This review of Scott H Biram's Dirty Old One-Man Band by Stephen M. Duesner to be a perfect example of my gripe. Google his name. I'm not the only one who thinks he's a dick. But I digress.
Pitchfork recently posted a list of their writers favorite books about music and they did a decent job. I was particularly delighted to see Love In Vain - A Vision Of Robert Johnson listed. I read this book years ago and found it to be a unique take on the Johnson story. I'll let Pitchfork' Brandon Soderburg tell you about it:
Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson by Alan Greenberg
Alan Greenberg's Robert Johnson screenplay has never been made into a film, though people have certainly tried. In the late 70s, Mick Jagger backed the project. Throughout the 90s, Martin Scorsese was gonna direct, and in the early 2000s, Diddy was to star in a version. But Love In Vain the film still hasn't happened, leaving only a stand-alone biopic script that reads like a great American novel.
Instead of conveniently conflating history like most dramatized musical biographies, the book focuses on milieu and mood. Greenberg, who went to the Mississippi Delta and chased down friends and enemies of Johnson for research, is very sensitive to the contingencies of vagabond living as he conveys the feeling of what it was like to drunkenly shuffle from one dirty and dangerous jook joint to the next each night. There's a tragic inevitability to the script that's hard to shake.
For cold hard facts about Johnson, there are 50 pages of end notes, wherein Greenberg cites sources, explicates screenwriting decisions (taking note of where he's played with the truth or created composite characters), obsessively breaks down blues traditions, and provides prospective directors some cinematic advice (apparently, Ethiopian tribal music should score Johnson's death). This well-researched, brashly impressionistic screenplay is haunting, but it also happens to be the definitive book of any kind on the gifted, eccentric blues legend. --Brandon Soderberg