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Love in Vain

A Vision of Robert Johnson

2012
Author:

Alan Greenberg
Foreword by Martin Scorsese
Introduction by Stanley Crouch

Love in Vain

The classic, deeply researched study and mythological telling of the life, legend, and enduring mystery of Robert Johnson

Love in Vain is Alan Greenberg’s remarkable, highly acclaimed screenplay and is widely considered to be one of the foremost books on legendary blues musician Robert Johnson’s life and legacy and an extraordinary exercise in American mythmaking. It is at once a classic of music writing and a screenplay whose reputation lies firmly in the realm of great American literature.

Love in Vain has accomplished what I have tried to do for a long time: that is, to develop screenplays as a new genre of literature which has its own natural right of existence.

Werner Herzog

Robert Johnson was undoubtedly the most outstanding of the Mississippi Delta blues musicians and also one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but his short life remains steeped in mystery and wrapped in some of the most enduring legends of modern music.

Love in Vain is Alan Greenberg’s remarkable, highly acclaimed, and genre-defying screenplay and is widely considered to be one of the foremost books on Robert Johnson’s life and legacy and an extraordinary exercise in American mythmaking. Newly revised and complete with extensive historical notes on Johnson’s life and the culture of the Mississippi Delta and blues music during the 1930s, Love in Vain is at once a classic of music writing and a screenplay whose reputation lies firmly in the realm of great American literature.

Love in Vain

Alan Greenberg is a writer, film director, film producer, and photographer. He worked on Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 and with Werner Herzog on his classic screenplays Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde, and Heart of Glass. His documentary Land of Look Behind received the Chicago International Film Festival’s Gold Hugo award. He is the author of Every Night the Trees Disappear: Werner Herzog and the Making of “Heart of Glass.”

Stanley Crouch is a columnist, novelist, and essayist and a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He is the author of many books, including Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz.

Martin Scorsese is an Academy Award–winning director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. He was executive producer for the acclaimed seven-part film series The Blues.

Love in Vain

Love in Vain has accomplished what I have tried to do for a long time: that is, to develop screenplays as a new genre of literature which has its own natural right of existence.

Werner Herzog

Reads like a great American novel . . . The definitive book of any kind on the gifted, eccentric blues legend.

Pitchfork

Finally someone has captured the central feel of this master musician and his times, and that man is Alan Greenberg. Take my word for it.

Keith Richards

It may be the best movie you’ll see all year—even if it’s just inside your head.

Entertainment Weekly

It’s about time.

Bob Dylan

Magnificently rendered . . . This is no mere biopic. [Greenberg’s] Johnson is a changeling, flesh-and-blood but mutable and secretive, and he dwells in a world of workaday magic, where his meeting with the devil takes place at the moviehouse in front of a western, and where Charlie Patton’s funeral turns into a ferocious soul-claiming contest between Johnson and the Rev. Sin-Killer Griffin. Greenberg not only evokes Johnson in a way that actually enlarges our view of him, he also depicts the blues world of the time, from Mississippi to Texas, in all its variegated splendor and misery.

Luc Sante, New York Review of Books

The resonances of Robert Johnson’s mysterious life and equally mysterious death continue to echo through American music, from blues to country to rock to soul. Alan Greenberg has thoroughly researched and understood the facts of Robert Johnson’s career, but more importantly he has boldly and brilliantly reimagined the myth. Love in Vain is surreal in the original sense of the word; it transforms the reality of Robert Johnson, his time, his place and his art, into a super-reality—sharp and vivid yet as luminous and elusive as a dream.

Robert Palmer, New York Times

Love in Vain is a blazingly readable screenplay that I recommend without reservation.

Greil Marcus

A great, great screenplay.

David Lynch

Love in Vain is a masterpiece of historical significance.

Memphis Commercial-Appeal

Since facts about Robert Johnson are almost as hard to come by as facts about Shakespeare, Greenberg proposes to give flesh to myth instead . . . he makes it happen, too. Drenched in alcohol and bodily fluids, this is gut-bucket romanticism at its most credible. By imagining the Mississippi Delta's churches, shacks, cotton fields, and (especially) jooks so vividly, Greenberg helps us see and hear why blues buffs are obsessed with all that raunch and suffering transport.

Robert Christgau

A quantum leap of the imagination.

Dave Marsh

Wondrous and vivid.

The Portland Tribune

The really remarkable thing about Love in Vain is the way it plays off the mystery of Robert Johnson rather than attempt to penetrate it in literal terms. The screenplay represents the imaginative embodiment of a world, a world of myth and reality, both prosaic and poetic, a world in which Robert Johnson, or perhaps the idea of Robert Johnson, could spring up. I don’t think this milieu has ever been effectively portrayed before, and I consider it little short of a miracle that Alan Greenberg should have captured it so graphically, so colorfully, so dramatically.

Peter Guralnick

It’s a good story, well told — a screenplay so smoothly executed that it reads like a novel, with a narrative art that’s as captivating on paper as it no doubt would be on film.

Living Blues

In Love in Vain, Johnson meets Satan, signs a Faustian bargain and becomes the greatest Delta blues guitarist and poet—the harbinger of rock’n’roll—trading his soul for the burst of uncanny creativity that left behind barely 30 recorded songs. It’s a mythic tale of the 20th century and still deserves to find a filmmaker in the 21st.

Express Milwaukee

Alan Greenberg's Love in Vain is a brilliant, mesmerizing screenplay about the life and times of Robert Johnson, one of the most important blues men in the history of music.

Blogcritics.org

Alan Greenberg, a writer and film-maker, presents a gripping screenplay about Robert Johnson, the legendary blues guitarist said to have sold his soul to the devil to get so good at playing.

Book News, Inc.

Arguably the most notorious screenplay to never be filmed, Love in Vain is nearly as mythic as its subject, the doomed bluesman Robert Johnson. Greenberg, perhaps unwittingly, has written not a piece of cinema, but a formidable work of experimental literature—something between play and poetry.

American Songwriter

One of the best unproduced screenplays ever written.

Vivoscene

Love in Vain

Acknowledgements
Foreword to the Second Edition
Martin Scorsese
Introduction to the First Edition: Printing the Legend
Stanley Crouch

Love in Vain

Notes
Recordings Used in the Research and Writing of Love in Vain