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Letters to Planet Slade: June ‘09

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Murder Ballads
Secret London

May 1, 2009. Derek McCulloch, author of the Stagger Lee graphic novel, writes: “Wonderful article! I've just passed the URL on to Greil Marcus, who likes to be kept up on all things Stagger Lee.”

Paul Slade replies: You're the first Stagger Lee expert I've had any feedback from, so it's really good to know you enjoyed the piece. Thanks also for mentioning it to Greil Marcus - I'd be just as chuffed as you were if he ever gave my work a plug.

May 4, 2009. David Hirsch, the world's leading Stagger Lee collector, writes: “This is really excellent. Great article and I like the idea of posting the versions people need to hear. Have you thought of posting MP3s?”

Paul Slade replies: I don't own the rights to any of the recorded versions of course, so I've avoided posting any music on the site for that reason. If people are interested, the site gives them all the information they need to track down any particular recording, and I think that's the most important thing.
May 4, 2009. Rick Geary, the writer/artist behind A Treasury of Victorian Murder, writes: “Thanks for the links to your Giants website. It looks great, and the art is reproduced beautifully. Sorry to have been out of touch for so long. The Giants graphic novel idea seems to be at a standstill. Maybe it's all a symptom of the lousy economy. I'll keep trying, though”.

Paul Slade replies: Thanks for that - I'm glad you like the site. I've just read your Dark Horse Blanche collection, by the way (I'd only had the Paris volume before), and I thought it was delightful.
May 14, 2009. Ryan Harris writes: “Found your site via Harmony Central. Very cool stuff. I was particularly interested in the murder ballads. Then I got into the article about Black Swan. All in all I think it's great stuff.
   “The reason I am e-mailing you is because I have a song I remember my mom singing when I was a kid, Ode to Billy Joe by Bobbie Gentry. It's about a murder, I think. Anyway, I thought you might be interested in doing an article on this one as well. I know I'd love to read it.”

Paul Slade replies: I remember Ode to Billy Joe from my childhood too, but I must admit I'd never given the lyrics much thought. Judging by Wikipedia, it's a suicide song rather than a murder one. Without hearing the full, unrecorded version which Wiki mentions it's hard to know for sure, though.
   I'll certainly add it on to my list of songs to investigate further when I get the chance. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at the Wiki entry for yourself, which you'll find here: They've got some interesting stuff.
May 23, 2009. Alan Whittle writes: “I really enjoyed your article about Stagolee. I would like to send you my attempt to revitalise the murder ballad tradition with a song about George Joseph Smith - a UK bad man who drowned people in the bath:
   “PS: Your contact details are a bitch to find. All very well, but when Steven Spielberg passes on your work ‘cos you can't be arsed to talk to anybody....”

Paul Slade replies: So that's why Spielberg hasn't been in touch...
May 25, 2009. Reverend Nicholas Holtam of London's St-Martin-in-the-Fields church writes: “Very many thanks for thinking to send me this. I am grateful to know a bit more about this couple.”

Paul Slade replies: “You're very welcome. Martin and Anna's story (The Giants' Wedding) makes St Martin's one of my favourite London churches, and if I could encourage a few extra people to visit there, I'd be delighted.”
June 25, 2009. Domhnall O'Huigan writes: “Great site, I really enjoyed the articles on the Giants' Wedding and the Treasure Hunt Riots - it's the sort of thing I've been seeking for some time; well written, thought provoking pieces of more than one paragraph in length! Many thanks & keep it up.”

Paul Slade replies: One of the things that got me started writing long essays was reading The New Yorker and seeing just how satisfying that format can be. You can see a selection of their stuff on the magazine's website ( and I do recommend giving it a try. I honestly think it's the best magazine in the world right now.

News from The Old Weird America

I'm particularly chuffed that Gadaya, the mastermind behind this excellent site, thought my Murder Ballads essays were good enough to recommend them to his own readers.
The Old Weird America ( spins off from the classic Harry Smith Anthology of 1952, which introduced a whole generation of American musicians to their forgotten blues, country and folk heritage. If you've any interest at all in pre-war American music and its key performers, then you'll find a wealth of fascinating material on Gadaya's site, and you should definitely check it out.
Gallows Fodder, a Baby Goat and 19 Crows

Planet Slade has also been receiving signals from the internet's many message boards. Various folks with unlikely names like those listed in my headline have all had their say.
Some of these were generated by my own early efforts to promote the site, notably with the Time Out article here:
Much more significant was the fact that someone called Tellurian was kind enough to place a Planet Slade link on a US site called Metafilter. This multiplied June's average daily visitor numbers by a factor of ten (compared to May's), and created a single-day record of 4,728 visits which I may never break.
You'll find a few highlights from the message board comments in this page's right-hand box. Naturally, I've selected only the most flattering remarks to include there, but if you'd like to see the full threads, just click on the appropriate link below.

BBC Radio 2: Folk & Acoustic

Mudcat Cafe

Mojo magazine

Live Journal

Communications From Elsewhere

Harmony Central


The Straight Dope

Zealots' zeitgeist zooms to zenith of zippy zest

On Murder Ballads
“Absolutely fascinating... I suggest folks put the links in favourites.” - Uncle Boko, Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.

“Really interesting stuff.” - Birdmonster, The Straight Dope.

“Brilliant stuff, Paul. Thanks for posting us the link.” - Mel, moderator, BBC Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.

“This kind of thing is fascinating.” - Gallows Fodder, The Straight Dope.

“Fascinating.” - Nick Pilley, Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.

“It's well-written and the content is good.” - Dr Drake, The Straight Dope.

“Excellent stuff. Keep up the good work.” - Brown Gravy Davey, Radio 2 Folk & Acoustic.

“I love reading about historical background of songs. Your site is great.” - Wolfgang, Mudcat.

On Treasure Hunt Riots
“Great Link.” - Girlgenius, Metafilter.

“A bunch of really interesting investigative historical essays.” - Host, Communications From Elsewhere.

“Read this fascinating story.” - 19 Crows, Community Live Journal.

“Fascinating article.” - Benzo8, Metafilter.

“Great story. People should read it.” - Steve Booth, Communications From Elsewhere.

“Wow. Brilliant story. Had never heard it before.” - Alexanderditto, Community Live Journal.

“Great link. Mr Slade is clearly of our ilk.” - Mwhybark, Metafilter.

On Black Swan Blues
“Interesting reading... high quality website.” - Azizi, Mudcat.

“Worth a read.” - Jabney, Harmony Central.

“Fascinating stuff.” - Atsib, Mojo.

“Great stuff.” - Kenny Chaffin, Harmony Central.

“Extremely interesting.” - Johnny Beezer, Mudcat.

“Fascinating stuff.” - Rhino55, Harmony Central.

“An easy read and (an) interesting article - WELL DONE.” - Gargoyle, Mudcat.