Eli Reed says he’s better than Otis
By DEVIN KING  |  August 5, 2008


Eli “Paperboy” Reed seems dubious about my following him for a few hours before and after his five o’clock Lollapalooza show in Chicago’s Grant Park last Sunday. “I’m not doing anything,” he says, looking up from two girls he’s chatting to as I walk up. I dispel his fears that I’m looking to play Rock Band with an up-and-coming R&B star. If he wants, we can just have a quick chat.

Reed says goodbye quickly and we’re off to his band the True Loves’ dressing room. But we’re inside just long enough to compliment the A/C — God’s gift to August — when he observes we’ve only 20 minutes to snag grub from the buffet. We’re up again and moving.

Actually, Eli Reed seems dubious about my being able to write an interesting article about him at all. While I’m eating lunch with him and the True Loves, he keeps asking, “What’s this article about again?”, his eyebrows raised over rectangular, bank-teller glasses that he eschews during performances. It’s no wonder — pretty much anything written on the guy (a) calls him a Jewish kid from Massachusetts or (b) compares him with any number of soul legends from the ’60s or (c) calls him a Jewish (!) kid (!!) from Massachusetts who likes gospel music (!!R.U.F’NKIDDING?!?!). Yet according to Eli, the Dutch have US writers beat with the compact headline: “Courageous Jew Guy Knows What To Do With Jesus Music.”

“So, what’s this article about again?” I tell him I’ve been thinking about Monterey Pop, the difference between . . .

“Otis! And I’m gonna be Otis! Say this [hands up and swooping for emphasis]: ‘ELI REED SAYS HE’S BETTER THAN OTIS!’ Say that, put that in the article.” The band and I giggle, and for a second I zone out thinking about Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival singing “I’ve Been Loving You.” Shot on 16mm, D.A. Pennebaker’s famous footage of the performance catches Otis from the back during part of this song, the 25-year-old (six months from death) bending and swaying, his body fighting against (reaching out to?) an insistent spotlight that cuts his silhouette and overtakes the frame, blinding the viewer.

“I mean, obviously, Monterey was important because it was the moment that all these boundaries came down.” Musical boundaries, Eli means, the moment when the folk festivals and the rock festivals and the country festivals and the soul festivals and whatever genre we’re putting Ravi Shankar in came together and decided to be one big lollapalooza.

In the Monterey Pop movie, you get to see those boundaries coming down in the eyes of the musicians watching one another. Jimi’s bug eyes on Shankar’s fingers. Janis’s schoolgirl smile underneath those dippy glasses during Otis’s hangdog patter.

Now it’s later and we’re all sitting eating burritos while the John Butler Trio play 40 feet away. We’re rolling our eyes while playing air guitar, mimicking the jam band’s wah-wah fixation.

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