Robert Johnson

Who led the transformation of American popular music, the movement away from the refined formality of the Tin Pan Alley age toward the earthy vernacularism that we associate with the rock era? We think of Dylan, of course, and of Elvis before him, and when we scrunch our brows to remember their predecessors, we tend to come up with the names of figures we have come to think of as canonical: Woody Guthrie in folk music, Robert Johnson in blues.

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In what may be the perfect mix of issue, argument and spokesman, Bob Johnson has spoken out in favor of maintaining the carried interest tax loophole. To understand how rich and cosmically perfect this is, there are a couple things you need to understand. First, what is the carried interest tax loophole? It's a way for private equity managers to legally cheat on their taxes. The deal is that the manager takes most of his compensation in the form of a chunk of the profit on the investment deal he sets up.

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  Yesterday, billionaire businessman and Clinton surrogate Robert Johnson raised the issue of Barack Obama's past drug use. Johnson is a real piece of work. In 2001, when he was falsely insisting that Social Security and the Estate Tax transferred money from African-Americans to whites, I profiled him for TNR. Suffice it to say that, on the list of morally questionable things Johnson has done, his latest comments rank very low. --Jonathan Chait

Ye Olde Rocker

Songs From the Labyrinth - Sting (Deutsche Grammophon) Rock and rollers, as they age, sometimes find themselves outgrowing a music they cannot outlive. Rock, a style invented for teenagers—or, more precisely, one adapted from an older style made originally for adults, the blues—endures as a bluntly, rudely cogent expression of adolescent anxiety, rage, and sexual fantasy. Long live rock and roll! The beat of the drums, loud and bold!

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Love in Vain

Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues By Elijah Wald (Amistad, 342 pp., $24.95) Robert Johnson: Lost and Found By Barry Lee Pearson and Bill McCulloch (University of Illinois Press, 142 pp., $24.95) Martin Scorcese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey Edited by Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren, Christopher John Farley (Amistad, 287 pp., $27.95)   The legend is known to any blues fan: he was an eager kid sitting at the feet of his musical idols, borrowing the guitar he could scarcely play and generally making a nuisance of himself.

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Life in the Stone Age

Louis Menand: Checks, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

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