Musicologist Mack McCormick's spent decades reconstructing Robert Johnson's mysterious life and developing theories about his untimely death at the age of 27, but never made public his discoveries. Biography of a Phantom publishes his work for the first time.
The funny thing about Biography of a Phantom is, after you wade through the trigger warnings, how earnest and low-key and appealing McCormick’s manuscript is ... This is a human and humane book, an insightful exploration of the biographer’s craft ... McCormick’s book is no longer unseen, nor is it a masterpiece. But, reading it, you feel as though you’ve met a real writer, one who had a lot going for himself and let it all slip away.
This page-turner, crime-thrillerlike odyssey leads readers through the American South for details about the blues guitarist ... A preface and afterward by Smithsonian curator Troutman provides needed context about McCormick and this book.
It’s a highly readable account of [McCormick's] discoveries ... This edited version of the manuscript could stand on its own as a revelation, but the contextual material adds to the intrigue. Troutman interrogates some of McCormick’s methods while raising the larger issues of race and appropriation.