Lightnin’ Hopkins Gets Your Head Tore Up

In the summer of 1960, Dallas, Texas journalist Grover Lewis went to Houston’s Third Ward in search of Bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. Lewis found him in an old ’54 Dodge. The resulting essay, published in the Village Voice in 1968, is a small masterpiece of personal music writing, offering a snapshot of artistic endurance, 1960s race relations, and the daily life of one of the pivotal figures in the ’60s Blues revival. It’s also a shining example of how to blend first-person interiority with reporting in a way that shows the effect music can have on our lives. Lewis isn’t as well known as his New Journalism counterparts Gay Talese and Tom Wolfe, but he’s just as good. You can read the essay in the book Splendor in the Short Grass: The Grover Lewis Reader:

The head-tearing up process, which was enacted in a succession of piss-smelling little beer parlors, wore on for days, at the end of which I knew considerably more about sour mash whiskey than I had counted on. But in the end, I also knew considerably more about myself, and the South (and that knowledge ultimately freed me to leave it forever), and my own forebears, who, like Hopkins in his young manhood, had been sharecroppers Somewhere along in there, too, in those feverish, rushing days and nights of sweet, raw whiskey fumes and mournful guitar cadenzas ─ even as we shyly began to feel each other out over the clattering racket of the Dodge’s hoarse engine ─ I realized with a dawning sense of wonder that the quest I’d initiated in looking for Lightnin’ had begun long before.

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