I got an idea of the difference in the thought processes between Palmer and Jo/e Average while reading the Q&A in the interview with William Burroughs. I read a question he asked Burroughs and then Burroughs’ response, which was followed by a follow-up question. "How in the world did he come up with the follow-up question?" I wondered. My mind went off on a completely different pathway following Burroughs’ answer, as I firmly believe most people’s minds would have gone off on the same or similar pathway as I had. But not Palmer. There’s no need to repeat the Q&A here, since similar situations occurred several times throughout the book.
The poetry in Palmer’s writing is also striking. Take, for example, the following quote from the article on minimalist composer Terry Riley: “… the music shimmers like light rays bending in a haze.” If I had to use just 10 words to extol Robert Palmer’s writing, these would be my choice. These simple 10 words are as clear and incisive as a razor slicing a jugular. Yet one could write a passionate, 10,000-word treatise, a paean, on their interpretation and meanings.
The articles in the book run the gamut of musical genres, from classical to punk to trance to rock to blues to you-name-it. As a collection of Robert Palmer’s writings for various publications including the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine and many others, it’s a good enough book to use in a graduate school curriculum at a top-rated school. Oh, wait a minute! It already is being used in graduate school curriculum at a top-rated school. No hyperbole, folks, it’s that good. And Blues & Chaos is certainly good enough to build an entire course around.
You don’t believe that? Think what I’m saying is over the top? Listen up. Adam Gussow, an award-winning scholar and memoirist, associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, formerly a Harlem street busker as part of a duo called Mister Satan & Adam, and a recording artist, had this to say: "I was a 23-year old editorial assistant at The Viking Press in 1981 when Robert Palmer's Deep Blues was published by that company, and a so-called 'distribution copy' – a free book – landed on my desk. I played some blues harmonica at that point, but not a whole lot, and I knew little about the music, except that I loved the handful of records I'd managed to acquire: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, Sonny Boy Williamson. Palmer's book blew my mind. It opened a door on another world. It lit a spark in me. Much later, after my life arc had taken me from a career as a professional blues musician into a job teaching the blues at Ole Miss, I discovered just how much Palmer had meant to folks down here in Oxford — as a teacher, colleague, and performer. Deep Blues is still in print, these many years down the road. I'll always treasure my hardcover copy, with the torn cover and underlinings. I regret that I never got the chance to meet Palmer and tell him how much the young man I was appreciates what he did for me." (If you’ve ever seen the U2 film Rattle and Hum, you’ve seen Satan & Adam.) Janice Monti, Chair, Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Dominican University had this to say: