The Next Chapter

Shining the spotlight on undersung music greats in Lives of the Poets (with Guitars)

Columnist Vish Khanna on Ray Robertson's Lives of the Poets (with Guitars) and the double-edged sword of the undersung genius.
Columnist Vish Khanna (left) talks about how Ray Roberton's Lives of the Poets with Guitars is the ultimate anti-success story. (Vish Khanna)

In Lives of the Poets (with Guitars), Ray Robertson profiles 13 musicians who have been underappreciated in the Western music canon. Each chapter is a summary of their lives and contributions, but, as columnist Vish Khanna explains,  the book as a whole is really an investigation of success. 

This is a chronicle; this is a document of people Robertson doesn't want lost to history. He's taken it upon himself, based on his deep passion for each of them, to make sure that he's captured their lives and also tried to convey why their lives are important.

He did not intend to write some grand overview of music. He chose people who are deeply meaningful to him as a music fan. In some cases they are lesser known, like Willie P. Bennett or Hound Dog Taylor. And others are more a part of music iconography — you have Gene Clark, Ronnie Wood, The Ramones, Little Richard, Graeme Parsons... people who are in the vicinity of being true icons, but not taken as seriously as they should be.

The tension between obscurity and success

My impression of the thread is that he's exploring the tension between obscurity and success, and fans and artists. In particular, what are the psychological implications of obscurity. As an artist, if you're talented and obscure and aware of this, that can have an impact on how you approach your craft. It can either harden you or you can become cold and indifferent. For the fan, obscurity means you become the greatest champion of an artist that ever lived.

Vish Khanna's comments have been edited and condensed.