Sunday, November 16, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
And: Well, I don't have much to say. I did love watching all of those people dance to "Sweet Home Chicago" and "You're Love Is Lifting Me Higher" at Grant Park before the speech. Nice speech too, great use of quotes, compact and powerful.
It's crazy the way this moment activates and recasts the history of the last 40 or so years.
Happy Democracy everybody!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
and here is a video montage that some dude ("Music Mike" put to Union Man, from the 1975 self-titled LP. I psted some thoughts awhile back regarding this song, whether it;s anti-or pro union. I hold by my revised take: that it's about a southern working man putting aside years of previously held predjudices and facing the fact that he can't face down the bosses by himself.
Friday, October 17, 2008
and then this one:
there's more, go find 'em yourself.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Also: check out some new sites on the blogroll: Russ Peterson's Satired, Michael Berube's American Airspace, and for crypto-countercultural history buffs, Stories of the Aquarian Revolution.
Sorry for the long absence from this site. There's plenty on my mind, but no particular thing floating to the top that I want to blog about. so, instead, I want to share something that I read (again) today that's driving what I'm hoping to do:
“We should not take for granted, then, the inevitability of the contemporary southern landscape, dense with invocations of the past. The historical South that exists today is the consequence not of some innate regional properties but of decades of investment, labor, and conscious design by individuals and groups of individuals who have imagined themselves as “southerners.” If characterizations of southern memory are to be meaningful, attention should be given to what kind of history southerners have valued, what in their past they have chosen to remember and forget, how they have disseminated the past they recalled, and to what uses those memories have been put. We need, in short, a social history of remembering in the South.”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, from No Deed But Memory” in Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory and Southern Identity, 2000.
To this I'd add the commonsense note that different southerners have valued different memories, and used different mechanisms for archiving and disseminating those memories too. some of that memory work corresponds to dominant hegemonic notions of southerness, and some of that memory work defies those notions, sometimes activating and enlisting contrary and alternative imaginations of southerness in that effort. And while even this could stand a little unpacking, I want to press forward and suggest a couple of unusual sites for archiving and activating memory, sites available to groups who who lack (for a variety of reasons) the political clout to write their past into the literal landscape in the form of either shopping malls or graveyards. One of them is Facebook, where my own hometown has been holding a kind of extended and far flung countercultural reunion. The other one, broader and more directly applicable to my project is live music in general.
My own experience in playing at and putting on shows suggests to me that live musical performance is all or mostly or often about the construction of memorable moments, and that popular musical performance specifically is about the ongoing practice of enacting (constructing, whatever performative verb you want to use here) a (roughly) duplicable series of memorable moments. Looking at live musical performance in this way ties those performances to recordings, ties together the interests of musicians and audiences, and helps, I hope to get at the role that social musicking plays in the (re)construction of the past in the present. In the context of Brundage's remarks on southern memory it also allows us to see southern musicking as an ongoing identificatory project.
Now, there's a cluster of thoughts around "southern music" and especially "southern rock" that I think cries out for some expansion, but I need a cup of coffee to think about that. Specifically, I'm thinking about southern music, genre, and memory as the overall theme of the next post.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I do this kind of immersion when I'm writing about something, as it helps stuff float up to the surface that I might otherwise not think of or not remember. In this case it's helped me to find the center or at least an anchor for this dissertation. Earl and Ernie Cate are primary examples of white southern musicians playing a kind of music that came across the southern color line in the 60s, music that, when played by white musicians, generally escapes the notice of both journalistic and academic historiographers. They used this music to build a lingua franca with their audience and established a songbook and a set of performance memories that's lasted for over 40 years. While they are small (but not insiginificant and not unconnected) players on the national stage their music is deeply imbricated in the lived experience of many Ozarks inhabitants, meaning that they function actively on a vernacular, regional level while still articulating to the national popular in many important aspects.
I think that if we want to study how popular music works in people's lives, especially with an eye towards how it balances identities (regional and national, group and individual) then we have to look at everyday musical practice, musicking and audiencing on a day to day participatory level, and the Cates provide an example of this par excellence. Their longstanding relationship to their local audience can be, I think, an ethnographic doorway into that group's experience and construction of historical memory and political and social change in a region where the landscape itself seems to have swallowed up the past. I'm especially interested in: the unwritten hsitory of African American music in Northwest Arkansas; the establishment and dismantling of an Ozark counterculture in the late 60s and early 70s,;and of the role of the blues as a mnemonic leusure genre in the 90s, two topics which the Cates career intersects nicely. I'm less sure of what to do about the 80s, the formative decade of my own musical experience.
So that's the operative anchor. Here's some random notes on the music:
1. I'm alot less sure of the politics expressed in "Union Man" than I was a few weeks ago. Listening to the lyrics more closely, and the way Ernie sings them, it sounds like the narrator is skeptical at first but is convinced by the song's end of the necessity of the strike. Here I'm following the reluctant admisison in the penultimate verse that "I know I need your help to win that raise" and the addition in the last chorus of the apparantly sincere "thank you for the helping hand." The guitar solo in the middle does a nice job of working out the narrators conflict, which is both strategic (he needs the raise, but how's he going to feed his family during the strike?) and moral (how does striking fit into an ethical code that valorizes the act of work itself?) in nature. If this is true (and I can't seem to hear it any differently now) then the closing guitar solo is an expression of unity and resistance, a realignment. anyone out there who knows the song (that's you Jzip!) I'd be glad to hear your thoughts in comments or via email.
2. I hadn't realized that the first two albums (1975 & 1976) were released under the name "the Cate Brothers" and that the last two were "the Cate Brothers Band." It makes a difference. In the first two, produced by Steve Cropper, the uptempo numbers are all very funky, but almost everything that isn't uptempo funky is a ballad. Ron Eoff doesn't play on either of them, and Terry Cagle only adds vocal harmony. Klaus Voorman (!) does play on one song tho. These are good records, but I think that I like the third one, with the full band better. As i've worked through this I've made several greatest hits collections & I keep adding more songs from this record. Fire on the Tracks is a b and record too, but it's also pretty discofied and to my ears they don't sound too comfortable with the arrangements on all of the songs.
3. I'll have more to say about this later, but I'm more impressed with Ernie and Earl's songwriting than ever. there's a coherent set of values, responses, and ways of constructing the world that emerges form these songs. It's not an unproblematic worldview, and one of its primary concerns seems to be a paradoxical insistence on having the freedom to follow impulses that can't be resisted, but it's more mature and nuanced than I've previously thought. It's very much an adaptation of 60s soul music concerns (passion, sincerity, community, freedom) into an updated milieu. Just as one example, the women in these songs are surprisingly three D, especially given the sometimes harsh treatment women received in both male soul music and pop singer-songwriter music during this period, and the very harsh anti-feminist posturing delivered by scene mates (and notoriously unreliable narrators) Zorro and the Blue Footballs. More on this later too.
That's it for now. I'll try to figure out if I can post some audio from these records tonight or tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The next act, the Gilded Bats was alot more fun. Although they have a similarly archival approach to the selection of their material, pre-turn of the century mountain music from West Virginia and North Carolina, the Bats perform with plenty of raccous rhythmic authority. This allows the songs to fulfill their original function as dance music. By the second song a group of kids, ranging from our LTS at two up to maybe 11 or so, had gathered in the space between the front row seats and the stage, and they began to jump and hop and shout and dance with serious and gleeful abandon. Musicologist and self-titled groovologist Charles Keil has a riff about what he calls "participatory discrepancies" a multi-layered concept that focuses on the unique ways that individuals respond to musical situations. while I'm not sold on every facet of keil's formulation, watching little kids dance makes it evident that their are very distinct individual responses to musical situations. Watching my own little kid dance, seeing these individual and very personal moves improvised and executed, is one of the greatest pleasures I've ever known. by the third song, the little pre-school mosh pit at the edge of the stage was in full swing, and i was struck by how much it reminded me of the best slam dancing of my punk rock days, something that Steve Voorhies once described as having 'all the naked aggression of a pillow fight."
the next act was the Escaping the Floodwater Jugband. There were sound problems, but this band's playful energy made them all but irrelevant. I don't really have time to describe them fully, but I'll note that they were the youngest band on the bill. According to Norbert form the Bats, one of their members, Banjo Kelly was a punk rocker who bought an old-time music collection as an ironic artifact and was soon converted. Onstage, the band is ridiculous in the best way, as one imagines any jug band was in their day.
I missed most of the Awful Purdies set, but what i heard form the lobby sounded great. check out the link at the top for samples of all of this stuff.
I also want to post a proper goodbye to Isaac Hayes, but that'll have to wait too. See y'all tomorrow.
*oh, I found the "link" button!
Friday, June 20, 2008
So on the blog I Hear a new World (http://ihearanewworld.blogspot.com/) The Sad Billionaire ponders, very briefly the connection between the Cates' apparent populist anti-unionism and their proximity to Bentonville, the home of Wal-Mart, a link that I've been thinking about for awhile now. Scrolling up from this post which was put up on Feb. 7th 2008, I found a thoughtful entry that drew on Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn" to contextualize those over-exploited youtube remarks by Jeremiah Wright, and a critical disquisition about the birth of the neoliberal grotesque, among other gems. This has all helped to unloose some thoughts about the neoliberal landscapes of the post-civil rights south (and Northwest Arkansas in particular) that I'll try to put together in a future post.
Just glancing through, I can tell that this is great, smart stuff. A music blog with academic smarts, a critical-left political engagement, and a sense of humor. I'm adding it to the sidebar forthwith. I can't find an easy way to link directly to the "Union Man" entry, but it's at the very bottom of the current page and it's called (quotes and all) "I've had a rough night and i hate the fucking Eagles, man." go read it and everything else written by the mysterious Sad Billionaire.
*this post brought to you by Sesame Street, and by littles, who is sitting on my lap as I type.
First thoughts: that this is the record I had been wishing Jonathon would make since I saw him a couple of times in Fayetteville around 2002 or so. No Rick Ocasek, No band (so far) just Jonathon playing that amplified gut string and Tommy Larkins on the stand up drum kit. It's very immediate and intimate and I'm certain that some jerkoff reviewer is going to call it "low-fi" when it's just the opposite. Well, maybe not the opposite : it's not "hi-fi" it's just..."fi," as in fi-delicious, as in fi-i-i-ine!
Second thoughts: that description makes it sound like it isn't rock and roll. Not true. Following Lunsford's theory of rock and roll (the more instruments you have the less each person can play) this format really frees Jonathon and Tommy to work these small-but-mighty rock and roll songs for all their worth. Oh, there is a band now, kind of, or at least some piano and electric guitar. Just enough.
Third thoughts: More on the songs after I've absorbed them. Right now the lyrics that leap out are like this from "Our Party Will Be on the Beach Tonight": "We'll spill things there, and we won't care...and we won't care." No, I know, but you have to hear him sing it.
Fourth Thoughts: by the second version, i'm pretty sure that i have some serious disagreements with the central argument in "When We Refuse To Suffer" but its still a great song.
last thoughts: nice little post about this album's special connections to the Mission District in San Francisco, where Jonathon has lived for a few years now. http://missionmission.wordpress.com/2008/04/22/because-her-beauty-is-raw-and-wild/
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I had thought, or set of thoughts come loose while rereading Walter Benjamin's essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" this morning. Page numbers refer to the 2007 Schocken books/Random House edition of the 1968 Harry Zohn translation. The paradoxical importance of notions of authenticity in (mass market, duplicable, industrialized) postwar popular music is a theme that I keep circling, so maybe that means its good blog fodder. We'll see, but in the meantime, here's Benjamin:
“The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.” (221)
– But it’s worth noting that during the postwar period a lot of pop music exhibits qualities that are transmissible only because of the recording process, that are created through the recording and duplication process. (I’m including microphones and perhaps even megaphones here because the amplified sound produced is a shade different in time and history than the original vocalization) Benjamin’s thought here doesn’t take into account the way that the process is utilized to create new forms of “art.” A useful ethnographic exploration of this process in action is Louise Mientjes' Sound of Africa! which locates the recording studio right in the middle of the produciton of musical identities. So here, the multitracked recording creates an art object (Benjamin might argue with that) which has no original referant other than its duplicable form, unless we count master tapes and alternate mixes which do narrate authenticity without most of us ever hearing them and which arent' any more "real" really than the two track mixdown. This is all longhand for the slogan written across Cyclops, the old TV set that the Rex Rootz used to use on stage sometimes which read "The Bands in Yer head."
Another intervention, one that’s more common I think, is the substitution of personal experience with the duplicated object for the experience that in Benjamin’s formulation accrues within the original object. That is, we think of where we were when we first heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or “When Doves Cry” and the various permutations and experiences that we’ve undergone in relation to our continued experiences of those recordings of those songs, which become simply “those songs.” This is healthy I think in the way it allows us to involve ourselves emotionally with music, the way that it defeats the elitism that surrounds high and fine art by placing the experience of them behind barriers that place severe limits on who can see them when.
*I have an immediate want to quibble with this even as I write it, because we don’t, or I don’t, experience that “void” as a lack of anything in particular, that is that I have to work to historically recover the affective power of the aura that Benjamin so credits with the power of the art object, which suggests to me that both his and my engagement are historically constructed rationalizations after the fact intended to explain the power of an experience with music or art of nay kind, a “coming to self” before the presence of a “text” with the stipulation that the “self” one is coming to is historically constructed, is a self we make of the available materials and experiences of our times and places.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
I do the oral defense part of my comprehensive exams on Monday and i promise after that to be here on a regular basis. I had some illusions that the informal qualities of blog writing might spur me past the pain of academic writing and generate insights that i could then pour painlessly back into my work. Well, such are the rationalizations that have for years supported my tendency to overextend myself. As it turns out, whatever kind of writing i'm doing it has to take a certian amount of care and consideration and/or the real spark of "that just hit me!" or it turns out as shitty as the half-baked or overbaked piece on the Hold steady that was my last real attempt to put words up here in hyperspace.
So there are a number of things on and in my mind that i hope to put up here after Monday, some generated by the process of preparing for comps, others by free floating encounters with popular music. One thing long overdue is an inquiry into the Hold Steady's second album, Seperation Sunday, in which your intrepid reporter tries to figure out why the literal descriptions of the story of the album (teenage runaway becomes meth addict and is saved by christian rock and the Catholic church) sound so dim and unsatisfying compared to the story that unfolds listening to the record itself. But i don't want to write that now, not only because i have other very important things to do, but because i don't want this to become just a Hold Steady blog.
Instead, I'll just sign off by mentioning that it was Vampire Weekend, and specifically the self-reflexive genius of the song "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" that really made me want to get this blog back up and running. More in a couple of days.