Music

Mister Satan’s Apprentice

by

The life of the musician on
the road is by law supposed to be about geography blurrily shooting past and an endless stream of faces, few of them
remembered. But it’s quite a different experience in Adam Gussow’s Mister Satan’s
Apprentice
, in which the
musician parks himself by the road and the audience keeps moving. Ex­street musician Mister Satan seemingly
remembers everything, all the faces pushing past the kitty, and beautifully captures the voices of a steady flow of characters— from nationalists angry at a white man playing the blues in Harlem to corner pontificators. Everybody from cops to U2 to Ann Douglas walks past and throws something into the hat. Even Malcolm Cowley and Bo Diddley make appearances, for if Gussow and his guitar-playing teacher Mister Satan play the blues, it’s a New York blues, with Dan Lynch’s as the delta, and unexpected juxtapositions, multicultural roots,
and the city’s exploding race
relations all shaping the squall.

The harp-blowing Princeton Ph.D. candidate Gussow hooked up with guitarist Mister Satan in the mid ’80s, forming a roadside attraction that
lasted three records and
uncountable traffic jams. One fine thing about the book is how the strengths and weak spots of this interracial team are
expressed through incident— the parade never stops for Gussow to pontificate. It’s best not to philosophize when in the presence of a true oracle. Mister Satan was an underground blues guitar legend in the ’60s, and when he’s not stomping his foot on a wooden board as he plays, he’s raving about
numerology, the secrets of the squared circle, and how God stands for Growth of Death. His strangely hopeful voice of doom is raised against a
particularly doomy era in New York: the years when Howard Beach and the death of Yusef Hawkins fractured any number of cross-racial alliances. The book doesn’t romanticize such alliances (it has a funny way of fessing up to the Huck and
Jim angle), just makes them
feel as capable of altering one’s
path as any street-corner
commotion.