Come home Charley Patton
By Ralph Lemon
Wesleyan University Press, 2013
In the final installment of his Geography trilogy, acclaimed modern choreographer, visual artist and author Ralph Lemon documents his artistic process. Come home Charley Patton revolves around a road trip Lemon takes with his daughter as research for his next dance piece, retracing the original Freedom Riders from Washington, DC, to New Orleans. During the journey, Lemon is particularly drawn to how the blues evolved within African-American culture in the Civil Rights Era. He visits surviving friends and relatives of early musicians, including Delta blues pioneer Charley Patton, whose poorly documented life, death and talent resonate with Lemon. He dances, too, performing for audiences in cultural centers, homes and at the site of Emmett Till’s murder.
Sometimes difficult to navigate because of its episodic delivery, Lemon’s book is a collage of memories from childhood, transcripts of correspondence with family, lists, performance notes, diary entries, original caricatures and uncaptioned photographs. At the end, he shares the final stage directions and script from his dance piece Come home Charley Patton. It is a beautiful and strange book, and a reassuring experience for any artist who has struggled in their process and can relate to the moments of self-consciousness and discovery that build to create the final product.