A Blues Memoir
Email this review


A fun behind-the-scenes look at the formation of an interracial blues duo during racially troubled times in New York City. White blues musician Gussow meets Sterling Magee, a.k.a. Mister Satan, while on the rebound from a failed relationship. The two play together on the streets of Harlem, where Gussow, who’d learned his way around a harmonica with the help of mutual friend Nat Riddles, quickly becomes acclimated to the overwhelmingly black neighborhood. However, with racial violence erupting in the neighborhoods of Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, the duo soon finds its lighter half enjoying less latitude uptown. The necessity of taking their show on the road, a necessity precipitated by these unfortunate events, becomes the beginning of a touring and recording career for Satan & Adam, as they bill themselves. They also receive a big push by getting a 48-second cameo in Irish rock band U2’s film Rattle & Hum. In his first book, Gussow shows an English major’s love of words (he’s a doctoral candidate at Princeton), and he can sometimes strain a metaphor to the point of breaking. But for the most part, he’s a fine writer, creating two parallel narratives—one beginning with his meeting Nat Riddles and the other starting earlier, with his first love in high school’so that when the book ends, the entire story is told. Gussow renders Mister Satan as a volatile but lovable character who owes more to the Satan of Milton than of the Bible. Gussow’s Satan is a gnostic prophet who frequently predicts the end of the world, only to be forced to concede that he’s wrong. Gussow learns to take the more peculiar aspects of Mister Satan’s personality in stride and becomes a stronger, more tolerant person in the progress. You don’t need to be a blues fan to love this tale; but if you are, you’ll relate to it that much more (16 pages photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-45022-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1998