Nick's Reviews > I Say Me For A Parable: The Oral Autobiography Of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman
I Say Me For A Parable: The Oral Autobiography Of Mance Lipscomb, Texas Bluesman
by Mance Lipscomb
by Mance Lipscomb
Oct 30, 2010
Read in October, 2010
Mance Lipscomb was an East Texas black man who thought of himself as a farmer (he was surprised, on being discovered by the white blues enthusiasts in the sixties, to be informed he was a "sharecropper") and musician. He was singular among bluesmen--he stayed at home in East Texas (except when he decided to work--not play, but work--in Houston), and he remained faithful to his wife. He was content to play what he called "Saturday night suppers", despite dodging the occasional bullet. And he had a remarkable story to tell, growing up during Jim Crow, witnessing lynchings (in what is a riveting, difficult-to-read part of the book), and for a time acquiring the improbable protection of Frank Hamer, a white lawman who made Navasota a relatively safe place for black people. (Hamer later became famous for his successful hunt of Bonnie and Clyde). In addition, Lipscomb had vivid stories of the long and devoted marriage to his wife Elnora, conflicts with the white bosses, and his work in a lumber mill in Houston, where he was injured and forced to embark on a tortuous quest for worker's compensation. The apparent choice of the editor to transcribe everything as it was said into the microphone is a problem. Writing "farmer" as "fawmer", however close to the original pronunciation, does the reader a disservice (one that is repeated with a number of other words, making for a difficult read), and one could do well without such details as Lipscomb engaging in what we would now call sexual harassment of the stewardesses once he was discovered and started playing the folk and blues circuit. And Lipscomb's success does the narrative no favors; one longs for Stephen Calt's account of how disorienting it was for Skip James to find himself a blues saint after a lifetime of unbearably hardscrabble Mississippi. Of course, Calt's book is called "I'd Rather be the Devil", a suitable name for the music that inspired rock and roll, not "I Say Me for a Parable."
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