As you know, I have been in a rather sour state about digital culture in the past couple of months. I didn’t come to New York City with the express intention of taking the cure for that state, but I got it nonetheless. The first treatment was the opening night of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. Five solid hours of (mostly) blues played with both acoustic instruments and vintage electric guitars pumped through tube amps, that mimicked the glorious Marshall’s and Fenders of the time when I was on the road.
There were moments that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Eric Clapton, Andy Fairweather and Vince Gill sitting down on acoustic guitars, trading incredible licks. A shuffle blues with Robert Cray, Jimmy Vaughn, Gary Clarke Jr, BB King and Eric that just was extraordinary. That BB King can still swing at 88 is incredible. And Jimmy Vaughn played a solo that had Eric grinning from ear to ear in admiration. And then there was a whole new generation of players like Doyle Bramhall, Citizen Cope, Gary Clark Jr and a 13 year old named Quinn Sullivan who just blew us away. In the end, the Allman Brothers played the classic shuffle, Statesboro Blues with Taj Mahal and Los Lobos. What a gorgeous cultural stew celebrating this most American of art forms.
What is so important about the Blues is that it is a relatively structured form of 12 bars, but one that allows for the most ecstatic improvisation (think Jimmy Hendrix) possible. What was so therapeutic was that the night confirmed that the art form is alive and well–a deep relief from a frightfully inauthentic cultural period.
This morningI went up to the Gagosian Gallery, where my acquaintance Ed Ruscha has an amazing show of small books, curated by Bob Monk. Ruscha started making small books in 1962 with “Twentysix Gasoline Stations”. He continued to make these small editions of everyday sights like swimming pools, parking lots and even a wonderful “Royal Road Test” in which he and two collaborators fiendishly documented throwing a Royal typewriter out the window of his vintage Oldsmobile on a desert highway. As clever as Ed’s books are, what is really amazing is the mini industry of copycat projects from conceptual artists all over the world. What Ruscha’s show poses is the same question I had from the night before. Why in an age of digital appropriation would you go back to making art that was proudly analogue? Why would you return to books when the Whitney Museum is filled with Video screens. Why make simple blues music when you could avail yourself of all the samples and beats from Pro-tools? These are important questions and I think they represent some sort of counter movement, what Marcuse would have called a Great Refusal.
Long live Books and The Blues.