The Ghost of Blind Willie McTell



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In early 2010, on a crystal clear So Cal winter morning after a week long rain, I went to Whole Foods Market in La Jolla to get some acai to blend with some papaya and banana and coconut water for my morning breakfast. I parked my car and was walking through the parking lot and I could hear something wafting through the slightly chill air. At first, I thought it was my mind retrograding to a time in 1967, when in a small cabin at the bottom of a steep canyon on a babbling Spring Creek about twelve miles from the Penn State campus in central Pennsylvania – tripping on mescaline – a petite tie-died raven haired beauty, sexier than an hallucination, pulled up to my house in her 500cc Norton Atlas Scrambler, engine roaring as a guerrilla through the mist – pulled out from her bike's saddle bag a vinyl disc, opened the creaky screen door, entered—determined – and then gently, placing the vintage record on the turntable, sauntered up close to my naked chest and reaching up to cup my shaggy head in her feathery hands drew my eyes down to her lips and as the scratchy music (the most haunting I would ever hear) started, she paused for effect... then whispered boldly into my pupils now dilated to a thousand times their size – "no one sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell..."

I snapped forward to the present, realizing the music was real. There was a youth, probably still a teenager, but looking slightly older from living on the street, a hat and waistcoat like from the 30's and a guitar circa 1928. He had oversized mirrored aviator shades and was sitting on the curb just to the side of the market entrance and he was doing what since 1967 I thought was impossible. I looked down at him mesmerized. No, I was mistaken. He was not singing AND playing "like" Blind Willie McTell. No. This music was not "like" anything. This was an exact replica, a facsimile, a simulacrum, a digital reproduction. Nothing could be so close to the original and not be real. The ancient 12 string purred precise and haunting. He lit into:

"I gots three womens, one yalla, one
black one brown. I gots three womens, one yalla one black one brown.
One for the morning, one for late at night. One for noon time, treat your
daddy right..."

Chills descended from the top of my head through my toes. Palpable, I could feel my hair standing on end. When he finished I crouched down to him and said, "That was amazing. Who are you?" And facing me, mirrored glasses reflecting myself, he deadpanned with a hint of a southern drawl, " I'm the Ghost of Blind Willie."

He was not a black man and was not a white man. His skin tone was like a mixture of everyman. I asked him his name. "Ain't got no name." He asked me my "profession." I told him artist and then hesitantly "and I blow mouth harp." He said, "I'm an artist too. I paint self- portraits on bankomerica walls, late at night. Ain't got caught yet."

I searched the internet and found someone in a small town in the northwest corner of Washington State who, for a $400 fee, would convert my newly purchased compact digital camera to infrared. I borrowed a small but powerful infrared light source from a friend who made security systems for banks but now concentrates solely on developing the better grow light for the burgeoning "medical marijuana" market

With two accomplices, feeling like Bonny and Clydes, we followed The Ghost in our dark blue Prius on nine different occasions as he attacked the various B of A's, turning them into monumental canvases. Tracking him with the infrared light, visible only through the camera's lens we had shot nine movies when I got a call from a 949 pay phone. It was The Ghost. Would I help him make a QR Code to glue onto B of A walls, he had some new canvases he wanted to attack. His idea, brilliant as always, was to have the QR link to the State of New York lawsuit against Bank of America – all 87 pages, signed by the state's Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo (who would
soon run for Governor of New York and win) — detailing how Bank of America executives defrauded the American public out of 20 billion dollars while pocketing billions for themselves in executive bonuses.

We had the QR's made and shot with The Ghost some more. I asked him if we could mount an exhibition of his work at a gallery at a public school, San Diego State University. He agreed, on condition I not bug him to make any public appearances.