Terry Zwigoff Gets the Blues

Sep 29, 2010

He may be best known for his marvelous movies about misfits, but Terry Zwigoff is also a renowned southern jazz and blues junkie. So it’s a real treat to hear the man gab about music rather than just film, as he did this past Saturday on Fool’s Paradise with Rex, a radio program on Jersey City’s legendary WFMU devoted to R&B, vintage rockabilly, soul, and more (“a three hour sonic excursion to nowhere,” the station’s website promises). Zwigoff called in for an hour-long chat with the host, and the two ended up having a melodious back-and-forth about the director’s 1985 documentary about the country-blues musician Howard Armstrong, Louie Bluie.

It was an entertainingly rarefied discussion (odds are, Zwigoff knows more about Irish fiddles and mandolins than you do), and it touched on everything from the unwillingness of many other documentarians of the blues to show the raunch so intrinsic to many musicians’ lives and art (see Armstrong’s unforgettable hand-drawn book The ABC’s of Pornography—when Zwigoff did, he says, his jaw dropped) to the myopic if trendy view that great southern blues can come only from the Mississippi Delta. There’s even a hint about an Easter egg on the recent Criterion DVD edition of Louie Bluie, which Rex calls “the greatest DVD extra I’ve ever heard.” The whole program is here; there’s about an hour of music first, from Bo Diddley to the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and to get you in the mood right before the interview starts, Armstrong and Ted Bogan’s wonderful “State Street Rag.”