Fanatics and Collectors is available now via Few Press.

“J.P. Robinson is a special writer. Picking up on small details to make familiar stories seem brand new, and uncovering forgotten, parallel musical histories, this is a beautiful, concise work.”

Bob Stanley, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Saint Etienne

Featuring: the naked hippy who thought he was Jesus; the trial of Chuck Berry and the teenage Apache girl; the long history of “punk”; the record collectors of the Blitz; the forgotten song that made The Beach Boys cool again; the collector and spy who promoted the first integrated…

A fourteen year old Apache girl testified that Berry raped her fourteen times in two weeks.

Chuck Berry Fan Club membership card (Source: Elvis Echoes of the Past)

“And Janice, how old are you?” the US Attorney asked Janice Escalanti, at the start of Chuck Berry’s trial. “Fourteen years old,” she said, quietly. It was her quietness that first appealed to Berry.

The attorney often had to ask Escalanti to speak louder, to clarify, to repeat what Berry had said to her, word for word. Her answers edged forward in whispered “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.” She didn’t look fourteen, the attorney thought, but the more she talked, the younger she seemed.

Berry looked at Escalanti. She was, he wrote in his autobiography, “the spitting image of a…

When white supremacists bombed Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong And His All-Stars at the Jacob Building, Knoxville, February 1957 (Image: The Knoxville History Project)

Let’s start this story, a story about resonant old songs and old prejudices, of dynamite and jazz, of segregation and schools, where so many of these kinds of stories start, so many stories of American racism, in a small town, with white men carrying guns.

Chilhowee, on a bend in the Little Tennessee River beneath Chilhowee Mountain, was a Cherokee town. Its people sang love songs and war songs, composed or improvised. They sang of violence and memory. In late 1781, as the newly United States were set to win the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, sent…

In 1944, an eighteen year old boy became famous for throwing eggs at Frank Sinatra. Then he disappeared.

Alexander Dorogokupetz (Image: The New York Daily News)

In the queue at the Paramount Theater, Alexander Dorogokupetz carried a small bag containing three eggs. A colossal image of Frank Sinatra loomed over the entrance, with hundreds of women and girls below, in their sweaters and skirts, socks and bow ties. The eggs were the biggest and freshest eggs that Dorogokupetz could find. He planned to throw them at Sinatra.

There was a lot that irritated Dorogokupetz about Sinatra and his fans. In particular, the bow ties frustrated him, those famous bow ties they were famous for wearing. Why, he thought, did people say he looked like Sinatra if…

Aaron Gilbreath recently wrote about the state of longform music writing for Longreads, where he kindly tipped my Jesus Jellett story. Roxane Gay also recently asked on Twitter for recommendations of essays about music, which lead to dozens of great links. In that spirit, here are some of my current favourite pieces of longform music writing, both “classic” and more recent.

I’d love to hear what your favourites are.

Lillian Ross — Dancers in May: I love Lillian Ross. This story about a teacher and her class preparing for a May Day dance competition is beautiful, and a reminder that…

Sources for ‘The Rotten Etymology of Punk’

These are the sources and notes for The Rotten Etymology of Punk.

The full story is here.

As Otto Wise exhaled… The original story about the B’nai B’rith “smoker” appeared in the San Francisco Call, 3rd October 1899. The other information about Otto Wise and Eugene Levy is from the San Francisco Call (10th September 1890, 18th January 1900, 1st November 1900, 8th February 1904), San Francisco Chronicle (16th April 1888, 25th March 1889, 27th July 1889, 21st December 1886, 1st July 1911), Sacramento Record-Union (28th November 1888, 3rd November 1899), and New York World (4th June 1896). The image…

“Punk” has been used to describe music since at least 1899.

(L-R) Eugene Levy, in 1890; B’nai B’rith Hall, San Francisco; Otto Wise, in 1911 (Sources: San Francisco Call, Jewish News of Northern California, San Francisco Chronicle)

As Otto Wise exhaled, one night in the final few months of the nineteenth century, the smoke from his cigar curled towards the ceiling of B’nai B’rith Hall, San Francisco. Wise, a twenty-seven year old attorney, was “director” for that nights’ “smoker” at the fraternal lodge, encouraging attendees to do a turn for the entertainment of the two hundred other guests. After drinks and a light meal, at his insistence, someone sang. Someone else gave a dramatic recitation. The sound of an amateur violinist resonated in the haze. Wise urged another man to dance, to perform a “cakewalk,” he said…

For decades, William Jellett danced at gigs and festivals, and told people he was the Son of God. Then, it seemed, he disappeared.

Jellett at the Reading Festival, 1974 (Source: Vin Miles, UK Rock Festivals)

It was a Saturday evening, St Valentine’s Day 1970, when William Jellett first thought he might be Jesus. He was on the London Underground, travelling back from work, and noticed the headline of the newspaper unfurled opposite him: “Cambridge riots — two policemen beaten up”. There had been student protests the night before, on Friday the 13th.

Feeling “hurt for my brothers,” he later told 19 magazine, he put his head in his hands. He had the…

Yellow Submarine sculpture, Festival Gardens, Liverpool, 1984 (Credit: Tyger Who Came To Tea)

On Facebook recently, a friend of mine asked what my favourite album by the The Beatles was. I answered that it is Revolver.

“But…,” the friend replied, disagreeing, “what about ‘Yellow Submarine’?” He finds the song unlistenable.

This my reply, which is far too long for a Facebook post.

I like “Yellow Submarine” for two reasons.

The first reason is the “charm” it shines on the band’s more avant-garde songs. …

Twitter: @MrJPRobinson

Fanatics and Collectors, a collection of true stories about music by J.P. Robinson, is available now via Few Press.

Here are some stories available online:

The mystery of Jesus, the naked hippie dancer (Medium), in which a man dances at gigs most nights for decades, tells people he is the Son of God, and disappears. As recommended by The Guardian and Longreads, a Most Popular story on Longform and a Most Read on Medium.

The Forgotten Song That Made The Beach Boys Cool Again (Medium), in which a hippie poet tries to make The Beach Boys cool, as Charles Manson’s…

J.P. Robinson

Recommended by Longreads, Digg, The Guardian. Most Popular pick by Longform, Medium. Fanatics and Collectors out now via Few Press. Twitter: @MrJPRobinson

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