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Movie Review: You See Me Laughin’ by Jayson

So it only took me six years to get around to watching this. If you were still into “alternative music” in the mid-late 90s you might have been familiar with Fat Possum Records. If you have no idea, this is a record label that formed around the idea of putting out records by the last surviving Mississippi bluesmen; the guys that were kids when Robert Johnson was selling his soul. This is a documentary about the label during that era.

It’s pretty great. You’ve got a lot of music and some good live footage. The story of the record label itself is pretty simple ‘We liked all these guys and wanted to put out their records before they died.’ It doesn’t come across as really dramatic, but it’s pretty entertaining. It’s a good lesson on how record labels can still be relevant; really without Fat Possum, no one that didn’t live near any of these guys would have heard any of this music , and when they died, their music would have died with them.

The best parts for me were the interviews with the performers themselves. These guys are all amazing individuals. They had lives of crime and poverty that few of their listeners can image. Just a ton of good stories there. Take what RL Burnside said about the man he killed: “I didn’t mean to kill nobody … I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.” Or guys like CeDell Davis, who was crippled with polio at a young age, and developed his own style of blues; complete with his own tuning, using a kitchen knife as a slide. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

It’s a good movie, it’s well worth your time if you have any interest in the blues.

A couple of personal observations… Stuff like this makes it so much harder to take stuff like black metal and the like seriously. “We signs our autographs in blood because its evils.” Forget that, gimme the crippled guy. I’d rather hear T-Model Ford talk about how he killed a guy in a knife fight but never had the blues than someone talk about ‘the ends times.’ I know that stuff means something to someone, but still.

That being said, there is one part of the Fat Possum story that I find pretty bad. In the story of the original Fat Possum blues guys, there’s an arc where the blues, being hot for an 1/8th of a second in 1996 sold them some records. After that, it looks like the popularity of their roster declined, so they started doing these albums where they’d mix this other stuff over them, like some turntable scratching or acid jazz elements, stuff like that. The one Fat Possum guy says ‘they have to create something with “contemporary relevance” to sell records.’  The reason I find this so bad is those records really aren’t very good. The music these guys were playing is stuff that is rightly called timeless and classic. It’s the original American music. RL Burnside ain’t need no scratching, what he was doing was perfect as it was. Forced contemporary relevance automatically results in long-term irrelevance.

Having said that, though, it’s just a hiccup. Fat Possum is still doin’ the best it can.

Preview here should whet your appetite for the rest:

– Jayson

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