Monday, August 18, 2008

1st day of school

Not for me, but for Littles, who moves up to a new house in the same daycare operation. She's going to school earlier now, which is great for her (since she loves her teachers and her toddler friends who moved up with her) and great for my writing, but a little sad too because i'm sure going to miss that extra morning time that i've been lucky enough to have with her. I don't normally post about this sort of thing, but I couldn't help but notice that John A. Arkansawyer put up a post yesterday about his daughter's move up to the next level in her school experience. He's got some good advice for teachers posted, and as someone who is one, (albeit to older kids) I'll try to take it to heart.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Notes on the Cate Brothers

Much to my wife's chagrin, I've been listening to the Cate Brothers almost nonstop for the past two weeks. Actually, both she and the daughter let me play a greatest hits compilation that I made from the 70s major label albums almost all the way through dinner the other day. The daughter finally called for "Grover music" just as the record approached 1979's uneven Fire On the Tracks, but until then they both seemed to be enjoying it. The material on these records is a little funkier than the 90s and oughties Cate Brothers Band & that seemed to make a difference.

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

Pre-School Mosh Pit

Saturday night we (Urk, Mrs. Urk, & the Little Toddler Sweetheart) went out to see a concert. It was a multi-band show put on by the Iowa Friends of Old Time Music at the Englert Theatre. it was a pretty great time. Opener Stones in the Field played polite versions of traditional irish songs, which is great if you like this sort of thing. I liked the variety of intruments that they brought onstage (guitar, fiddle, concertina, mandolin, some kind of celtic reed thingie) and they played them well, but on the whole well played respectful versions of old folk songs uprooted from their original context and recreated in museum-like settings just typify everything that i think is wrong with "folk" music.

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.

Isaac Hayes

so, Isaac Hayes passed away on August 10th. I think that instead of trying to sum up the details of his life and career, I'll just direct you to his hometown newspaper, here. I will say that in remembering Hayes it's too easy to focus on the outrageous (a 12 minute psychedelic version of "Walk Away Renee," the wah-wahriffic Shaft soundtrack, the early 70s album covers, Chef) and overlook the fact that he wrote or cowrote songs like "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man" which have worked their way into the DNA of American, and specifically Memphibian music. He'll be missed.


that's what this post is. I promised a new post in comments over at Arkensawyer*, but it's late and I'm on the dialup connection, so the internets are intolerably slow. I have stuff brewing about the Cate Brothers major label albums (released 1975-1979) which I've been listening to alot over the past week or so, and I want to write something about a show we went to on Saturday too. But it isn't happening tonight. I will say this about the Cates albums: they're good, better than I thought when I first listened to them.

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!