Sporting Attire


JELLYROLL MORTON

It seems to be fashion week up in this cucurbite head of mine. I couldn’t let the Aldous Huxley passage below sit there without adding this clip from Jelly Roll Morton’s Library of Congress interview with Alan Lomax. Both Morton and Huxley are reflecting on turn of the century fashion from the vantage point of the 30’s. Both see very different worlds.

There is a wonderful transcription of the Jelly Roll Sessions over at

http://www.doctorjazz.co.uk/locspeech2.html

I’ve copied and pasted it here:

Nert had a burned hand, and he used to wear a kind of stocking over it. He was seemingly simple, to me. I think he was a half-wit. In fact I’m sure that he was.

He would laugh and go on and he wanted to have a some kind of a important — and he wanted to be known as such.

All those boys in New Orleans dressed very well. But they all had the real tight trousers, those days. When they’d get into their trousers, why, they’d fit ‘em like a sausage.

Of course, Bertenards and Wagners were the tailors, and they know’d just how they wanted those clothes and they would fit ‘em that way.

I’m telling you, it was very, very seldom that you really could button the top button of a person’s trousers. They had to leave the, had to leave the trousers’ top buttons open. And they had the suspenders and — of course, they didn’t really need any suspenders because they was so tight fitting. And it was one of the fads that they would take one suspender down, as they would walk along, oh, er, with a walk that they had adopted from the river, which they call shooting the agate.

Well, Nert would come along shooting the agate, and leave his shirt open in the summertime, so you could, er, discern his red flannel undershirt. That was considered a big thing with some of the real illiterate women. If you could shoot a good agate, and had a nice high-class undershirt with a flannel shirt with the, the collar turned up, boy, I’m telling you, you liable to be able to get next to that broad. She’d like that very much.

What . . . How did they walk when they shot the agate?

Well, of course, er, by not being able to walk, I can’t explain it to you. But I tell you, it was a kind of a very mosey walk, with the holding two fingers down of one finger on each hand, the, the front finger next to, er . . . in other words, the index finger. Yeah, like that, you know, and with their arms stiffed out, you know, especially when they would be standing. And if . . . of course, if they was dressed up and you tried to talk to ‘em, they would find the, the nearest post — when, they have a lot of creases in their clothes, or get to a house — and they’d stiffen their arm out and hold theirself so far away, as just as far as their arm would allow, so they wouldn’t get any, er, their clothes soiled. They was very particular about that. Especially . . . Yeah . . .

Especially some of ‘em, er, they wore . . . That’s right, you’ve got the right idea — with that kind of a broken up, er, stand. Especially some of them would wear overalls — er, overall jumpers, with a high-class, er, pair of trousers maybe costin’ fifteen, or eighteen, or twenty dollars during those days. And of course they wore the best of shoes. And not only shoes. They, they would never . . . nobody would wear a Stetson hat. In those days, myself, I thought I would die unless I had a hat with the emblem of a . . . in it named Stetson. And I wou . . . didn’t rest until I got myself a Stetson hat and a pair of Edwin Clapp shoes.

Of course, there was many of ‘em that didn’t wear ready-made shoe . . . shoes at all, during those times. Er, they wore a lot of shoes, er, what they call the St. Louis Flats and the Chicago Flats. These shoes [clears throat] were made, er, with the cork soles on ‘em and no heels and would turn up in the front. A lot of times they would have different designs in the toes of the shoes, er, such as gamblers’ designs, er, such as, er, maybe a club, or a diamond, a heart, or a spade. I have, er, heard later on, that even some of ‘em had made arrangements to have some kind of a electric lightbulbs in their shoes with a battery in their pocket, [laughs] and when they would get around some jane or something that was kind of simple, and thought they could make her — as they call makin ‘em — why, they’d, er, they’d press a button in their pock . . . in their . . . their pocket and light up the . . . the little bitty bulb in the toe of the shoes.

Oh, it is really the fact. And I’ve known it to be fact because it has come . . . that part has come from authentic source. But the others, I have really seen myself to know it’s really original stuff.

Er, these boys were tremendous, and they were great sports. It was nothin’ like spending money that even worried their mind. If they didn’t have it, somebody else had it and would spend it for ‘em.

At the end of the passage sampled here is this note:
On the dust jacket, Alan Lomax has sketched a caricature of a man ‘Shootin’ The Agate’ along with the following text: Truckin’ originated from Shootin’ the Agate.

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