Sunday, September 27, 2009

Invisible Man

"Arrested on charges of unemployment, he was sitting in the witness stand..."

from "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," by Chuck Berry.

For several years now I've had unread copies of "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison sitting in my bookshelves-- first an old used paperback that I started reading several times, and then a nice new trade paperback that I just looked at and felt bad about.

Then, during the last couple of weeks, I read it and loved it.

I actually read it, in part, because of this blogging about Chuck Berry.  I remembered, wrongly, as it turns out, that Michael Lydon had mentioned "Invisible Man" in his liner notes to "Back Home."  I checked them recently and found out I was wrong.  But I thank Mssrs. Lydon and Berry for getting me to the book, anyway.

And when I read the funeral oration for handsome Tod Clifton, I couldn't help but remember why I started reading it in the first place.

"Tod Clifton's one with the ages.  But what's that to do with you in this heat under this veiled sun?  Now he's part of history, and he has received his true freedom.  Didn't they scribble his name on a standardized pad?  His Race: colored!  Religion: unknown, probably born Baptist.  Place of birth: U.S. Some southern town.  Next of kin: unknown.  Address: unknown.  Occupation: unemployed.  Cause of death (be specific): resisting reality in the form of a .38 caliber revolver in the hands of the arresting officer, on forty-second between the library and the subway in the heat of the afternoon, of gunshot wounds received from three bullets, fired at three paces, one bullet entering the right ventricle of the heart , and lodging there, the other severing the spinal ganglia traveling downward to lodge in the pelvis, the other breaking through the back and traveling God knows where."

Chuck Berry never wrote stuff like that, but he made his point, travelling "'cross Mississippi clean," and putting his hero on trial for not having a job.  Later some of the teenagers that Berry taught even read "Invisible Man." 

Even me!

1 comment:

Michael Lydon said...

Hi! I just fund this site! Great! I have some writings on Chuck Berry, maybe you could use them. My email:

That's better than my website mail

I'd love to be in touch. I'm in NYC. Hope to hear from you!

Michael Lydon