Some of you may remember Lenka & Michael’s not one but two successful Mysterious Letters Kickstarter projects, in which the incognito (but likely supremely adorable) artists teamed up to send letters to well, everybody on the planet. Writing roughly 300 letters a week, Lenka & Michael are making epically beautiful poetry out of snail mail prose. Our supremely lovely staff member Kendel just received this supremely lovely letter — er, “raft postcard” — from them last night, and you know how we feel about showing off sweet rewards! You can check out more mysterious letters here:
The excellent Minecraft documentary project by 2 Player Productions may be ending soon (less than three days left!), but that hasn’t stopped them from cranking out some killer updates and reward previews. The extent to which they’ve tapped into the passionately obsessive mind of the Minecraft player is downright evil, and with these recent mock-ups of what final rewards will look like, they’ve quite simply crossed a line.
For new and existing backers, you’re faced with a Sisyphean task of trying to choose between the following:
Exhibit A. The Minecraft DVD, a special backer-edition 2-disc set with sweet pixels of cover art and your name in the credits.
Exhibit B. The Creeper wind-up toy, a tantalizing knick-knack you can send creeping across your desk on dubious missions that may or may not portend the destruction of your co-workers.
Exhibit C. The Custom Minecraft Poster, because you want to go to there. Also, some will be signed by Notch. Faint/dying.
Exhibit D. The Box Pig Bank is what piggy banks look like in a world governed by right angles.
Exhibit E. The Pickaxe Plaque, also known as the only time in your life you will be able to have a Real Pickaxe on a plaque signed by the entire staff at Mojang. You will also officially become the coolest person you know for the next 3-5 years, possibly more.
The Minecraft rewards are a force to be reckoned with. Consider yourself warned!
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Memphis filmmaker Lee Gordon has found his muse. Tipped off by Delta bluesman and local Memphis personality Blind Mississippi Morris, Gordon is in the midst of uncovering the untold stories of blues musicians across the country who sustained exploitation and abuse in exchange for what they thought would be recognition. No doubt bits and pieces of these stories have always been shared through song (as we are talkin’ blues here), but singin’ about the loss of a woman rolls off the tongue a whole lot easier than crooning about corruption of the industry that’s pressing your records. After cleaning up at Fuel Film Memphis’ annual pitch competition, Gordon was contacted by numerous blues musicians seeking to become a part of his feature documentary, This Is Why We Still Sing The Blues. So as not to perpetuate the cycle of exploitation, Gordon has in turn decided to share the film’s profits with these musicians. Below he soulfully fields the the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys of still singing the blues.
What drew you to this story? Why did you decide you had to tell it?
The dirt people sweep under the rug is easy to find, but it is also easy to forget when you walk over that rug every day. I’ve seen a lot of blues documentaries, but this issue gets ignored far too often. I sat around one day and asked myself why. I started talking to Blind Mississippi Morris, and he told me stories you wouldn’t believe. It wasn’t until he told me that this abuse still goes on, that I decided I had to expose this and make this film. This is one of those passion projects that I will have to make no matter what happens.
What stage of production are you in now? Who will we see and hear in your film?
We are still in pre-production. The director of photography, Ryan Nichols, has bought the new Red camera (the Scarlet I think?) and is not charging a dime for rental. We’re going to go into full production in the summer. Until then, it’s research, emails, phone calls etc. People have been coming out of the woodwork to talk to me about this project. The grand nephew of Peatie Wheatstraw is involved. Peatie Wheatstraw was a contemporary of Robert Johnson and was actually more popular back then. The reason we don’t know as much about him is because Robert Johnson was a guitar player, and the guitar players influenced the British guitar players that later came here and reintroduced the blues via british rock (Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, etc). I have talked to a ton of people. It’s been fantastic.
I’m still curious how these people get away with ripping off these artists. Sometimes the law is like a kindergarten classroom. If you get to it first, it’s yours. Composition royalties are given to those who put their name on the work first, which to be honest, mostly works. But who owns the song Danny Boy or any of those Irish folk tunes? No one knows who wrote “Mississippi Boll Weevil” but I guarantee you it’s not the person listed. You never hear the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in movies because someone owns that. Have you ever looked to see who writes some of the pop songs on the radio? I’ve seen songs that 10 people have written. Those people will be producers, record company execs, relatives, and all kinds of people that had nothing to do with writing the song. It’s legal to do that for some reason. Then, there are those who don’t understand the law and sign contracts out of ignorance. Lawyers need money whether you win or not. Sometimes they cost more than what you’ll get if you do win. It’s a complex, unfair system and people get lost in it.
You will see all kinds of things in this film. Like the crossroads in Clarksdale, MS. Supposedly that’s where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to learn to play the guitar. Well, I hate to break it to everyone, but that’s not the real crossroads. The real crossroads is one of the things we want to show in the film. It’s a great metaphor for the piece as well. I don’t want to give away too much though…
What about Blind Mississippi Morris? How’d you meet him and what’s his story?
I met Blind Mississippi Morris on another documentary actually, and I just kept in touch with him. He’s a cool guy. Him, his wife Melody, his son Eurice, and I will grab soul food together. He grew up in a very rural area where blues was part of the culture. People often forget that blues music is cultural folk music: his parents played, people in the area played, everyone played. It was just part of life. He had his sight as a child, but one day the lights went off. He vividly remembers the sights of his youth, but tragically, he will likely never see again. Like many of the visually impaired, his other senses took over, and they manifested themselves in the harmonica. This man plays the blues harp like you would not believe. The song you can hear on the trailer, he made up on the spot. He’s just tapping his foot, singing, and playing the reeds.
There are only so many occupations blind people could have while he was growing up. He actually became a car mechanic. He would listen to the car, diagnose the problem, then feel the engine to fix it. It’s strange when a blind man tells you what kind of car is going by without looking at it. He also tells me he can hear when a slot machine is about to pay out. Now that’s one I need to see! Unfortunately, he’s still struggling. He’s struggled his whole life. It’s one thing to learn the conventions of the blues genre, but it’s another to grow up in the indigenous folk culture and live the blues everyday. He’s not a professor at a college, he just lived it. He was there, and he knows the people involved. But with his knowledge, someone should give him tenure at a University.
Tell us about the unique set up of your film financing model. When did you realize giving the musicians ownership was something you wanted to pursue?
I had an epiphany one day. If I make a documentary about the blues and it makes even a single dime, I’ve just exploited these people as well. But how do I combat that? No one pays their subjects in documentaries, otherwise they’d be actors. Do you really think reality shows like survivor are completely real? Of course not. Documentaries are usually ethical in this regard. Plus, they usually lose money rather than make it, which keeps a lot of bad people away. But how do I not be a complete hypocrite? Then, giving them ownership occurred to me. It’s their story, and they should own it. Am I really going to OWN this? That way, if it does make a profit, they get the proceeds AFTER we film. What you get on screen will be their authentic stories without the hypocrisy.
So I’m essentially doing the exact opposite of what usually happens. They’ll be interviewed, and I’ll give them a contract stating that they own a piece of the film rather than me owning a piece of them. I hope I’m not setting a bad precedent for documentaries, but I think this is not only the ethical thing to do but I’m directly righting a wrong.
Tell us a bit about growing up in Memphis as it relates to the film and your career.
Growing up in Memphis was amazing. I grew up in a suburban area (please don’t hold that against me) where I wasn’t exposed to much blues. In high school, some friends and I decided to head to Beale St. even though we couldn’t get in anywhere since we were under 21. It was like another world. Back then, you could walk the street without getting carded. We would see the most amazing musicians sitting in small alleys playing old, crappy guitars, and you would hear the greatest music. I don’t think we ever wished we could get into the bars. These people turned their hats up for tips, hoping that their love for music could get them a bite to eat. I think that’s when I learned how to be an artist. It was so pure. Other jobs were available, but these folks were here scraping by for the love. Now, I can never start with a paycheck. I have to love the material. I recently left a documentary I was producing for ethical reasons. If you can’t sleep at night, you become a zombie, and the world doesn’t need anymore zombies.
What do you think about today’s blues music? Where does the authentic remain?
This is a tough one. I like contemporary blues, but it’s different. Many of the blues artists today don’t grow up in it like Blind Mississippi Morris did. As with any form of music, the conventions change. Top blues music still exists on the radio but it’s mixed with a contemporary pop polish with lots of overdubs and protools work. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this. It’s just different.
There’s the idea of the blues, and then there is the style of music that is the blues. The word is used interchangeably. The music style or genre is a living breathing organism that changes and adapts and will continue to do so. Then, there’s the idea of the blues, this place of hardship and struggle congealed into art and culture. Blind Mississippi Morris lives and breathes the blues, but he also plays it. His particular style of the blues comes from that culture of hardship, so when he’s singing about hardship, he’s thinking back to all sorts of experiences. It’s not the same for every artist.
What’s your all-time favorite blues…record? artist? song? show you’ve seen?
I always prefer live over recordings. The blues is about the moment you’re in. As far as a favorite, sometimes you feel like steak and sometimes you feel like chicken. Sometimes you need some water and sometimes you need a beer. I’ve seen Buddy Guy, BB King live at his own place in Memphis, all sorts of people. The North Mississippi Allstars are really reaching out to a new generation. One of my favorite live shows was at a juke joint called “Wild Bill’s” here in Memphis. It’s a tiny place with no stage, just a small room with a few tables and a place to dance. It’s like you’re in the band’s backyard. You can’t beat a Blind Mississippi Morris show either. He will take you there.
Check out this clip of Gordon and Morris on local Memphis news. At about 6 minutes and 50 seconds in, he takes us all there.