Yesterday I checked my blog with a search to see if I had ever written here before about that day’s subject, Long John Baldry. I found that I had only mentioned him once in a post from back in 2009. I read the older blog and it made me chuckle. It was titled You Can’t Judge a Book… from a song that Baldry had once covered and had to do with how our preconceptions are often wrong about people. It immediately brought to mind something that had happened over the weekend here at the studio.
My niece, Sarah, brought a friend and her husband to visit the studio from their NYC home. Sarah didn’t share much about her friend outside of saying that they danced together and that she was a filmmaker for one of the large big-name auction houses. I had no idea about what her husband did. That was the extent of my knowledge outside of knowing they had been married the year before in New Orleans. But they arrived and we had a wonderful visit. Both were charming and inquisitive, asking real questions and relating their own experiences in response to my answers. They made me feel comfortable in describing my work and process, not something that a lot of people can do easily. We visited for a couple of hours and they headed back to the city.
During our visit we learned a bit about the friend’s husband. I won’t use their names out of respect for their privacy. He was in the music business in some fashion. He was DJ and had spent a lot of time touring here and abroad. He also was working on soundtracking films. When I asked what sort of music he worked in, he said, in an almost apologetic way, that it was mainly rap and hip-hop. It struck me in a curious way. He went on to explain that it was the music of when and where he grew up, in the neighborhoods of NYC. Again, this was said in an apologetic manner.
I didn’t think much about until after they left and I decided to see if I could find out more about his music. He had a prodigious reputation in the rap genre, with over twenty years in the business as a DJ and producer for a pretty big name rapper. He ran his own newer record company and has released an album of his work only weeks before our meeting. I watched a couple of videos of his work and listened to several songs. I am not an authority on rap in any form but it was powerful stuff.
I was really impressed and thought back to his apologetic description of his work. I understood it then. He didn’t want to be judged and was trying to make it easy for me to not judge him. I mean, here I was, a middle-aged white guy with gray hair out in the country— not exactly a prime candidate for a hip-hop connoisseur. He had surely heard the venom directed toward his musical genre before from people who looked like me.
So, he judged me before I could judge him. I understood that. It’s what I would have done had I been in his place. My only regret is that it robbed me of an opportunity to ask the many questions that I formed in looking up his work after they had left the studio. It would have been fascinating to compare our creative processes, to see how he synthesized his influences. I got the impression from our talk that, though we worked in vastly different environments with disparate influences, we both working on a similar creative rhythm, expressing emotion within the framework of our own personal environments.
Well, the next time we will both know and won’t worry about judging one another. Here’s the original post from back in 2009:
I’ve just put the final details on a couple of paintings that will be part of my solo show at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. The show opens June 12th and I’m scheduled to deliver the work to the gallery a week before so I’m in the final stages of preparation. This is my tenth one-man show at the gallery and before that I did two shows as part of a group of painters from the Corning , NY area that was dubbed the Finger Lakes School.
I particularly remember one moment from the first show with that group. There was a pretty good crowd and several of us from the group mingled, answering questions and such. I had a small break in the conversation and I heard a female voice from behind ask her companion where we were from. Her friend answered that we were from the Finger Lakes region in New York. He said it was a pretty rural area with a lot of wineries and farms.
“Well, you know, they do look like farmers,” she replied.
I think I did a spit take. Over the years I often think back to that lady’s comment and sometimes laugh. Maybe we shouldn’t have all worn our overalls and straw hats that night. It just reminds me how people judge others by that initial glimpse and how often they end up being wrong. Actually, I’ve come to the conclusion that, in the end, I would prefer being mistaken for a farmer than an artist anyhow. Offhand, I can think of more positive attributes for the farmer. So, if you can make it to the opening look for the guy who looks like a farmer…
That brings me to a song, You Can’t Judge a Book, that was originally written by blues great Willie Dixon and made popular by Bo Diddley. My favorite version was from Long John Baldry, one of the pioneers of the British blues/rock movement in the early 60’s and a guy who had real panache, but I couldn’t find a version online. But while searching I came across an interesting jazzy version of the song from Ben Sidran. Give a listen and enjoy…