American Songwriter on Love in Vain

By Stephen Deusner
American Songwriter

greenberg_love coverArguably the most notorious screenplay to never be filmed, Love in Vain is nearly as mythic as its subject, the doomed bluesman Robert Johnson. Alan Greenberg wrote the script in the 1970s, and at one point Mick Jagger had plans to produce a film adaptation. So did Martin Scorsese. So did Sean Combs. In book form, it has gone in and out of print over the last few decades, but this new volume should give it some grounding and permanence.

Love in Vain is no mere biopic. Greenberg mixes hearsay and legend with his own exhaustive research to depict the South as slightly removed from reality and to portray Johnson with all insecurities and ambitions intact. At first he’s inscrutable, present in most scenes yet rarely the focus character. It’s only as the story progresses that he becomes fully and almost unbearably human, a tragic figure who seems to live just off the pages of the book.

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