Last fall Read and Destroy went on a mini-tour through the Timberland Library system, performing a program of tunes we’d written inspired by Timothy Egan’s “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis”.
The book is a biography of Curtis (1868-1952), who spent decades tirelessly working on his 20 volume series “The North American Indian”. As Wikipedia so conveniently describes:
Curtis’ goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907:The information that is to be gathered … respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.” Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only written recorded history although there is still a rich oral tradition that documents history.
One of the songs I wrote was called “Making Me Beg”. My main inspiration was the fact that Edward Curtis spent his entire life completely devoted to creating a work of art that in the end, he didn’t even own. He traded away all the rights to his own work, simply to get enough funding to actually produce it. A true passion project. Curtis loathed having to spend his time bowing and scraping to wealthy men like J.P. Morgan… men who only see the bottom line, and never the artistic and cultural value of the work. I tried to tap into some of the frustration he must have felt and hopefully some of that comes through in the tune.