Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Louis ... Live ... at the Smith Corona!

Think that one kind of genius is 'trapped' within its own genius? Think again. Louis Armstrong reportedly purchased his first typewriter in Chicago, in the 1920s, and banged out letters on it, as a means of keeping time with loved ones back home in New Orleans. He crafted memoir, over the years, and articles, too -- rendered, at times, in jive, and through a unique system of punctuation which, according to Thomas Brothers, gives the reader clues as to how the musician would apply emphasis. Brothers is editor of Louis Armstrong in His Own Words: Selected Writings (Oxford UP, 2001) and author of a companion book, on W. W. Norton (2007): Louis Armstrong's New Orleans, said by one critic to be the finest book about Armstrong not written by the man himself. Consider the following excerpt from Selected Writings, the first sentence of a letter that Satchmo sent in 1967 to a marine serving in Vietnam: I'd like to 'step in here for a 'Minute or 'so' to "tell you how much--I 'feel to know that 'you are a 'Jazz fan, and 'Dig' 'that 'Jive--the same as 'we 'do, "yeah." Note the appearance of quotation marks (") outside their traditional function as well as the appearance of apostrophes (') at the front of words. Louis also underlines, capitalizes, and employs long dashes at surprising moments. How to pronounce the word "we" as Louis types it: 'we. Emphasis upon / within / to clarify / to reinvent Emphasis. Armstrong's writings instruct us to scan language for variations of stress -- in reverse of traditional English scansion, or on a separate axis entirely. There may be a 'new scansion' that the man himself invented, thus meriting close study by writer-folk and other creationists. If that's not enough, then read the Dipper's letters for his closing phrases. The man was, indeed, fond of his laxatives, and in closing "Swiss Krissly", for example, he endorsed the cleansing of things in the herbal way.