Another repost from the always insightful History is Made at Night blog.
Last week in Iowa, Michele Bachmann launched her bid to become the Republican candidate in the next US presidential election. On the Tea Party far right of American politics, she has a long, lamentable history of anti-gay and anti-abortion activism not to mention whitewashing the history of slavery
As she made her way to the podium in Waterloo at the weekend ‘Elvis Presley’s Promised Land belted out’
. Well the notion of manifest destiny and Americans as the new chosen people is a hardy right wing trope, and at one level there is a connection between the idea of the Promised Land and the American frontier.But we cannot leave the Promised Land in the hands of US Conservatives. The name itself derives of course from the Book of Genesis where God promises Moses the land of milk and honey, not a metaphysical utopia but the actual land of Israel. Over the millennia that tribal foundation myth of a people in the prehistoric Middle East has taken on a universal appeal, holding out the hope of a better world somewhere, some place, some timeIt’s hardly suprisizing that Bachmann chose Elvis Presley’s version of the song, rather than the original by its black songwriter. When Chuck Berry
sings it there is no doubt that the songs works on at least two levels. On the surface it is simply a description of a journey from Norfolk, Virginia to California, part of the 1950s/early 1960s mythologisation of travelling across the USA (Route 66, Highway 61, On the Road).
Final repost (for now) from the always insightful History is Made at Night blog.
‘The extent to which the music is integrated with the literal meaning in soul is apparent in some of its basic stylistic conventions, the call and response structure, for instance, where a phrase from the lead vocalist – which may not even take a verbal shape – is as often echoed by the band as by other singers. Or the distinctive use of melisma – the concentration of several notes into one syllable – by soul performers. The effect of this technique is often to give the impression that the singer is none too sure that the words exist which could adequately convey the power of what he is feeling. When Jackie Wilson packs more than twenty notes into the word “for” in his version “Danny Boy“, the literal meaning of the song is virtually superseded’ (Ian Hoare, Mighty mights spade and whitey: soul lyrics and black-white crosscurrents, in The Soul Book, edited by Ian Hoare, London: 1975)
Check out the closing bars of this song for the example given – 20 notes for the word ‘for’:
Second in a series of reposts from the always insightful History is Made at Night blog. This entry deals with one of my abiding interests as a scholar, how boundaries of race are maintained, negotiated and challenged in popular culture. It also highlights the power of a “fictional” writing approach to capture the truth of a “non-fictional” events.
‘These were bright new monied times in which society people were encouraged to enjoy the primitive theatrics of those who appeared to be finally understanding that their principal role was now to entertain. Listen. The wail of a trumpet as it screeches crazily towards heaven and then shudders and breaks and falls back to earth where its lament is replaced by the anxious syncopated tap tap tapping of clumsily shod feet beating out their joyous black misery in a tattoo of sweating servitude. Performative bondage’
Dancing in the Dark (2005) by Caryl Phillips is a fictionalised account of the life of Bert Williams (1874-1922), a Bahamas-born performer who became famous on the American stage in the era when black actors were expected to wear ‘blackface’ to conform to white audience’s expectations. (to read more)
First in a series of reposts from the always insightful History is Made at Night blog:
‘A moderate revolution is a contradiction in terms, though a moderate putsch, coup or pronunciamento is not. However limited the ostensible aims of the revolution, the light of the New Jerusalem must shine through the cracks in the masonry of the eternal Establishment which it opens. When the Bastille falls, the normal criteria of what is possible on earth are suspended, and men and women naturally dance in the streets in anticipation of utopia’ (Eric Hobsbawn, ‘Thomas Paine’, New Statesman, 1961)
‘Do as you please. You are free to dance, sing, and celebrate in all squares throughout the night. Muammar Gadhafi is one of you. Dance, sing, rejoice’ (Gadhafi, February 2011)
The festive character of the uprisings sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East has been widely noted (see previous post on Egypt). Just as Hobsbawn wrote of earlier revolutions, everything seems possible as the old regimes crumble and people have literally been dancing, as well as fighting, in the streets. In Libya at the moment it is the fighting that is dominant, hopefully victory and further celebrations won’t be too far behind…. (Check out the rest).
Is the future of jazz in its past?
There’s a lot of talk lately about why jazz has been losing its audience despite decades of efforts to build infrastructure. There is hardly a university music program that does not include a jazz studies program and jazz festivals (and affiliated community programs) abound. The place of jazz in musical histories is secure and the tension between the “classical” and “revolutionary” approaches to jazz historiography seems no longer relevant with the revolutionary voices having left the field (or at least become as absent from the media landscape as jazz itself seems to be — who’s carrying on Frank Kofsky‘s work now that he’s gone). The deep rooting of jazz in the African American experience has been subverted by its widespread acceptance as America’s classical music, its one true art form. I think this has implications for the survival of jazz as a vibrant part of America’s soundscape. The classicizing of jazz has been going on for a while.
The publication of Grover Sales’ Jazz: America’s Classical Music in 1984 sparked an intellectual and cultural frenzy. Sales not only transformed jazz from a cultural product rooted in the African American experience to a cultural product rooted in the American experience, but he also reclassified jazz (an urban folk music) as a national classical music. Whether or not Sales was the first to meAntion jazz as America’s classical music is not as important as the amount of publicity the idea received from the first printing of his text…. Today, jazz is more highly regarded as America’s classical music rather than America’s “rare and valuable national treasure.” In my opinion, these are two diametrically opposed concepts. (The Non-Classical Nature of America’s Classical Music by Emmet G. Price III in All About Jazz, 2003).
In my opinion, there has been a big downside to the success of the classicizing of jazz. Like European classical music, there is a general perception that the best jazz has to offer is firmly entrenched in the past, and not in the sense of a tradition and roots to draw upon but dead masters to venerate. This approach stultifies symphony programs and pushes innovative music to the margins. It seems to be doing the same to jazz.
THIS IS AN ADDENDUM TO AN EARLIER POST ON DECIPHERINGCULTURE.COM: Regenerating Jazz