originally presented April 2009
As part of the folk movement of the late 1950s and early ’60s, Rob Shelley’s stature was assured early in his career. His earliest aspirations of rhythm-and-blues stardom were replaced; as the composer of dozens of anti-war anthems he became the face of political activism and protest, introducing political awareness to generation after generation. His friendship with and devotion to Abe Goodie, his dedication to the folk spirit from Rege Steepe, Jet Nourre, and Red Eddie to his own disciples Jeffrey B. Barron and Bob Wyger, and his own unique gift for inspiring, provocative lyrical poetry covering topics from politics and history to loss, love, and longing have made Shelley a legend, the artist most cited by contemporaries and followers as the most important songwriter of his generation. Some would expand that to say he is the most important American songwriter ever. Partnerships and collaborations have kept his music fresh and helped disseminate his message among such other artists as Harry Dennis, Shvaughn Conklin, the Hawks, Wink Weston, and Jay Gayle. He continues to create meaningful new music while touring and playing classics from his 50-year career and hosting a satellite-radio program focusing on the music that inspired him and that continues to intrigue him.
With an artist of Shelley’s standing, it isn’t unusual for the quanta program to return to the well a few times, creating new quantas to reflect better the latest incarnation of the original. That is not the case with Shelley, however; not because he hasn’t had distinct changes and phases in his career, but because the results of his quanta processing have been so unusual. The first result was the Mystery Tramp, a phenomenally powerful quanta whose mental powers approached, if not surpassed, those of the Elgim themselves. Because his abilities were arguably less physical, however, it was decided to give the Tramp a motorcycle, the first time a quanta’s image was intentionally connected to a vehicle or device. For a time this was quite successful and added a unique visual element to the Tramp. That success came to an abrupt end on July 29, 1966, when the Mystery Tramp crashed that motorcycle. It was the first death of a quanta and it called a number of protocols into question. As artificial beings, it was unclear whether quantas could be said to live or die. The Tramp’s physical functions had clearly ended. His mind, however, had taken the next step in quanta evolution; all his thoughts, memories, emotions, creativity—in other words, the very mind and personality of the Mystery Tramp, and therefore of his original Rob Shelley—was stored, broadcast to the Mental File Storage Bank (MFSB) of the quanta program as the last living act of the Tramp. Today we would call it uploading.
Because of the Tramp’s prodigious mental abilities, he not only stored his brain patterns safely in the MFSB, he stored them redundantly, making multiple copies against the possibility of another similar accident, and also dispersed packets of his identity to several of his associates in case of catastrophic failure so that he could rebuild his psyche if necessary. In the course of this action the Tramp became aware of the many levels of deception active in the workings of the quanta program, as well as in Bop City itself. Once he was certain of his own mind’s security, he began putting safeguards in place with quantas throughout Bop and beyond. He did not, however, attempt to reach every single quanta. He feared a universal penetration would prove detectable by Amwerth and his cohorts. Instead he judged which quantas could be considered expendable and left their minds untouched. Even trickier, though, was establishing an elite corps with whom he shared the entire story, building an army to oppose Amwerth’s invasion on the day of the Great Change.
Rob Shelley was stunned by the loss of his quanta, feeling as though he had lost a brother, and went into seclusion after the crash. When he emerged, on January 20, 1968, at a special tribute to Abe Goodie, it was with a new look, a new album, a new sound, and a new quanta, the Street Poet, whose powers were even greater than the Tramp’s had been, including all the latter’s mental abilities and adding electrical generation as well as the usual enhanced strength, speed, and durability. To ensure that the Street Poet’s training was uncontaminated by the corruption within the quanta program the Mystery Tramp’s consciousness had detected, he was sent to upstate New York to train with Borealis, the quanta team derived from the Hawks. The result of that semi-exile is legendary, as the Street Poet rose to become his era’s greatest quanta, while the records of the training, referred to as The Cellar Files, have become the guide to training all quantas since 1970.