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Posts Tagged ‘William Eggleston’

A Gun and a Guitar

February 7, 2014 | by

Jerry McGill: Sun Records artist, Memphis fixture, and “crazy sonofabitch.”

Jerry McGill

Photo: Randall Lyon, Jim Lancaster

Jerry McGill by the numbers, hazy as they may be: He cut one 45 for Sun Records (the rockabilly “Lovestruck,” with a backing band that included Charlie Rich). Years later, in the backseat of a limousine in Memphis, he cowrote one more song with Waylon Jennings. Shot at least three bullet holes into the ceiling of the Sam Phillips Recording Studio, where they still remain. Racked up nearly a hundred arrests. Assumed six aliases. Disappeared for twenty-five years—and ultimately reemerged, at the behest of filmmaker Paul Duane, to collaborate on Very Extremely Dangerous, a documentary about the tornadic trajectory of his life. In January, Dangerous was shown at Brooklyn’s Wythe Hotel, accompanied by a reading from Memphis writer-producer Robert Gordon, whose films will screen this month.

Flash back forty years, to the dimly lit bars, back rooms, and late Delta nights traversed by William Eggleston with his Sony Porta Pak, an early video camera. “It was back when everyone liked quaaludes. ‘Let’s get down,’ ” narrates Eggleston in his cinema verité of that era, 1974’s Stranded in Canton. His voice trails off into the sound of a shot fired and then Jerry McGill’s face jumps into the frame, wild and practically translucent. McGill has the looks of Mick Jagger, the constitution of Keith Richards, and the heart, it would seem, of a snake. His eyes masked in sunglasses, he grins in the dark, lunges, thrusts the barrel of his gun to the head of another man, and holds it there.

That scene still haunts. Rachel Kushner, in a portfolio of her visual inspiration for The Flamethrowers published in the Winter 2012 issue of The Paris Review, included a still of McGill from the film. The same screen capture accompanied McGill’s death notice in the Memphis Commercial Appeal last spring. It was seeing that gunplay scene and reading about McGill’s exploits in Gordon’s It Came from Memphis that inspired Duane to seek out the elusive, felonious musician.

In the midseventies demimonde of Memphis, things had a way of becoming totally and suddenly unhinged, and McGill was frequently the author of their unhinging. As Waylon’s vagabond and oft-arrested rhythm guitarist—prone to performing in disguise when the alias he then toured under, Curtis Buck, did not offer sufficient protection—McGill arguably out-outlawed the Country Outlaw himself. “Curtis Buck was a crazy sonofabitch and he ran around with me,” Jennings writes in Waylon: An Autobiography. “While I was singing, he’d go find the girls, and if we needed drugs, he’d go find the dope.” When Duane and Gordon teamed up to document McGill, it was a devil’s handshake deal: knowingly, if not entirely willingly, they submitted to the volatile ways of their subject. True, McGill had just been diagnosed with cancer and professed a desire to revitalize his music career. But altering his violent ways was not part of the program. Read More »

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How William Eggleston Would Photograph a Baseball Game

May 1, 2013 | by

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Photo: Leah Sobsey/leahsobsey.com

I am at war with the obvious. —William Eggleston

Not long ago, I wrote about the formal and spiritual affinities between baseball and the genre of music called power pop. Both observe an “unwavering, repetitive adherence to form” while pushing hard against strict, self-imposed formal limits, thus “mak[ing] music out of a very precise, narrow, angular geometry.”

Then, on April 8, the day before the Durham Bulls’ inaugural home game of the season, Bull City Summer’s first guest photographer, Alec Soth, gave a talk at the North Carolina Museum of Art, where his show “Wanderlust” is currently on view. He began by showing a slide, not of his own work, but of Flowers for Lucia by the photographer William Eggleston. Eggleston “hangs over me,” Soth confessed, before showing a picture he made of Eggleston himself.

These disparate elements—power pop and Eggleston—came together for me just a few hours after Soth’s talk, when the documentary film, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, about the seminal power-pop band, closed Durham’s annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. (Eggleston appears in the documentary, so ravaged and slurred by years of hard living that the filmmakers resort to subtitling their interview with him in order to make him intelligible.) To make a nakedly baseball-centric comparison, you could say that Big Star was a can’t-miss major-league prospect that somehow missed: led by the late Alex Chilton, the band should have found international fame but barely got out of Memphis, the Triple-A city it called home. Read More »

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Pronoun Trouble

January 17, 2012 | by

Elizabeth Bishop, "Cabin with Porthole."

Elizabeth Bishop was a painter as well as a poet, and the paintings that she left to her partner Alice Methfessel, who died in 2009, are now being sold. I’ve been to see the paintings a couple of times: last winter in the office of James S. Jaffe Rare Books, and a few weeks ago in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

The paintings are quiet. Some are domestic still lifes, including pansies in a wicker basket, a candelabra on a table, a tea set, and a doll-like lover asleep in bed. Others feature  vernacular architecture: a Greenwich Village apartment building of ivy-covered brick, a wooden church in Key West, a county courthouse grand in the way of the nineteenth-century South. Most are in watercolor and gouache on vellum paper, whose delicate translucence no reproduction quite captures; lines are sometimes drawn in ink or pencil. Bishop didn’t have a steady or a precise hand, but her eye for color was fine, and she understood how to make the most of patterns, such as the radiations of a palm leaf, the stripes of a comforter cover, or the palings of a fence. She also had a Walker Evans–ish appreciation of the way that words, when they appear in the world as things, can seem both monumental and silly. The county courthouse is childishly labeled as such on a gable. On a street near a cemetery, each of five tombstones leaning against a shack reads “FOR SALE.”

The choice of subject and the modesty of style suggest that the paintings were for Bishop a personal matter. She usually signed them, when she signed them at all, with her initials or just her first name. Read More »

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William Eggleston: For Now

November 16, 2010 | by

William Eggleston, 1970. Photographer unknown.

William Eggleston’s color photographs are among the most widely viewed, and widely admired, in the medium. But I wanted to survey Eggleston’s unseen, unpublished work—his B-sides, bootlegs, unreleased tracks—and to that end I made five trips to Memphis in the course of a year, rummaging through roughly 35,000 digital scans archived by the Eggleston Artistic Trust. The intention was to come up with a book of images rescued from near oblivion. The resulting selection—necessarily partial, narrow, subjective—favors pictures of people, many of them the photographer’s blood relatives and close friends, a few of which appear below. When I reviewed an early layout with Bill, he was pleased to be confronted with images he’d clean forgotten about, and he provided considered commentary.

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