I’ve been reading a couple of music books and since I don’t have any gigantic stories to tell today or any shows I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, seems like a good idea to discuss one of them. Gerald Haslam’s Working Man Blues: Country Music in California is an older book now, published in 1999. But the history of country music in California hasn’t really changed that much since then–it’s not as if the state is really setting the country world on fire these days. But the roots of the genre are nearly as much in that state as Texas or Tennessee. From Jimmie Rogers to Woody Guthrie to Bob Wills, California was where one went to make it big, or at least it was a good idea to try. Plus you had homegrown acts such as The Maddox Boys and Rose, one of the most underrated acts in the history of the genre. The rise of Buck Owens and the Bakersfield Sound revitalized country music, providing a sharp contrast to the overproduced Nashville Sound that was beginning to wear thin by the mid-60s. People such as Wynn Stewart followed in his footsteps. Merle Haggard, who played in Buck’s band for awhile, became the symbol of California country in the 1970s, especially since he sang so much about the labor camps of the Great Depression. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when Haslam was writing the book, California was a pretty important player, with roots figures such as Tom Russell, Dave Alvin, and Rosie Flores releasing excellent albums. And then of course there is Dwight Yoakam. Lots of other people show up too, from Glen Campbell to Ricky Nelson. Haslam, who grew around this in the oil towns of the state, does a good job providing some key insights. He focuses heavily on the power of the music itself, forcing us to remember the excellent musicians who made all those great vocalists possible. He tells some pretty hilarious stories about Bob Wills in World War II. There’s of course a lot of material on Buck and Merle and if some of it is well-known, some of it is not. Overall, I’d say this is a solid read for anyone interested in country music history.
When I was a teenager falling in love with this music in the early ’90s, I would listen to my CD of A Love Supreme on repeat. Some nights I played it four or five times in a row before going to sleep. Though I’ve never spent much time in any church, I was not alienated by the devout tone of Coltrane’s liner notes. Indeed, the album seemed to have tapped into some kind of higher power. It features his “classic quartet”—Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Jimmy Garrison on bass—each a musician of extraordinary skill and distinct personality, demonstrating unerring commitment and remarkable communication in working together to realize the leader’s vision. During the pandemic, in preparation for a jazz history class I was teaching, I listened to the album straight through again for the first time in probably a decade. Its impact had not lessened. Not only could I sing along with almost every moment, but I had to pull over while driving to give it full attention.
Impulse! Records has now put out a previously unreleased live version of the album, recorded in Seattle on October 2, 1965. I sometimes bristle at the necrophilia of the music industrial complex, which sifts through the discarded takes of every departed giant. But A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is a revelation. It is not better or worse than the original, but it is different. Hearing such beloved strains in a new context challenges the sanctity of the familiar object. It forces us to reconsider what is lost when we allow the snapshots that recordings provide to take the place of the real thing.
Nothing screams Hot Take like Medium. And from the volcanic slopes of Mt. Take comes this slam on The Rolling Stones, which goes about 3 steps too far but isn’t without some merit.
The Stones were made possible by white supremacy.
Although Mick and Keith are not white supremacists themselves and I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not my assertion; their ascension to the throne of mythical rock god status was made possible by the concept of white supremacy. I don’t mean white supremacy in the KKK, Confederate flag, blatant bigotry sense — although that very much plays apart in all this — but rather in the sense that there is a subconscious belief that all White accomplishments are better than any other ethnicity’s accomplishments. Even if it that cultural accomplishment was stolen. It’s that theory of white supremacy, which vaulted the Rolling Stones past Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Howlin’ Wolf, Lead Belly and others. The Stones rebottled a uniquely American art form and sold it back to American youth who were too unsophisticated and/ or lacked the cultural exposure to realize they were being sold a dumbed down version of the real product.
The Rolling Stones took advantage of America’s segregated culture by taking a Black art form, repackaging it and regurgitating it to Whites who would not listen to or simply were not aware of real Blues Artists.
One has to consider that an entire generation of American teens was forbidden from listening to “race music,” “devil music”, or as they would say in less refined circles, “nigger music.” Early in its inception mainstream radio stations would not play Blues or R&B and it wasn’t until White artists like Elvis Presley came along that Rock and Roll filled the airwaves. At the same time The Stones “borrowed” heavily from Country Music artists and presented it to kids from the North who were not sophisticated enough — or in their own view, too sophisticated — or unwilling to listen to Country Music, which they associated with the racist South and “redneck” music. Unless one’s family was from the American South, one simply would not have been exposed to Country and Western music. Up to that point that generation’s musical exposure largely consisted of their parent’s wartime big band era music, jazz and orchestral music. Simply put, most youth from that period were not exposed to American Roots music in a significant enough way to be discerning when it came to music. When the Rolling Stones came along, the youth of the day were willing to accept it as a uniquely original sound.
Unfair? Yes. Entirely false? No. And this? Well, this is really bad:
I recently read an old article published in November 16, 2016 issue of Rolling Stone Magazine in which Keith Richards answered a question in regards to the Rolling Stones’ participation in cultural appropriation of The Blues by exclaiming that he is “as black as the fucking ace of spades. Ask any of the brothers.” He continues by saying, “‘work songs’ and slavery have been around since the beginning of time — and that the genre should not be defined by race.” He goes on by saying, “I didn’t know what color these people were, as a kid. I don’t think of Blues as being of any particular color at all. Obviously, it’s history. But there were White slaves, as well.” What a P.O.S. Richards is.
I saw people say about this on Twitter, “well, Keith was probably high.” Uh huh. As if that is an excuse.
Part of the issue here is that like everyone from David Bowie to Woody Allen to Roman Polanski, there were generations of white male stars who could do whatever they wanted to anyone they wanted. The broader question is whether we throw them all out because they don’t fit our modern conceptions of proper behavior. I’ve seen a lot of hypocrisy on this–Woody Allen is a monster but DON’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT DAVID BOWIE EVEN THOUGH HE ALSO HAD SEX WITH CHILDREN. I mean, I’d hardly question that Woody Allen is a monster–he absolutely is. But so are lots and lots and lots of late 20th century male stars. Maybe Keith’s crimes don’t reach that level, though we laughed about his terrible behavior for nearly 60 years now, excusing anything. So what is the standard here? Who gets a pass and who does not, especially with now old or dead figures who were valorized at the time and now are often rejected based on their personal behavior?
I fully realize I am destroying my own thread by bringing these issues up, but they are important.
Cool looking new exhibit on the music of Milford Graves in New York. May try to check that out.
Damon Linker’s essay on rock bands burning themselves out is basically nonsense.
Tom Morello calls for a return to the labor singalongs of the past. But like all of this stuff, it is extremely white, a nostalgic return to the IWW rail cars of 1915 or the steelworker picket lines of 1940. The problem here is that the actual working class is not moved by white guys with guitars. It’s a tremendously diverse group of people. And everytime I read something about needing to bring back the old songs, I notice that there’s never an expressed desire to rap together or sing songs in modern Spanish language styles that Dominican or Mexican immigrants might want to hear. Gee, I wonder why that is…..Morello really should know better. I know he’s telling people to write new labor songs. But he’s really grounded in white folk music as his base for this and it shows.
Pitchfork’s ridiculous ratings system shines a greater light on their bad reviews. When you give something a 5.0 instead of 2 1/2 stars like Rolling Stone, it just looks even more eyerolling when you get to the future. Given the site’s history of chasing what is hip over what is good (though it’s been a lot better about that in the last couple of years), dumb reviews are going to be the norm. Reranking the albums doesn’t help. Just live with it.
Speaking of Pitchfork, it has its 25 Artists Shaping Where Music Will Go From Here, which has a strong correlation to 25 Artists Who Have Recently Released Albums.
I was supposed to see Tallest Man on Earth last weekend, but thanks to COVID restrictions on visas for foreign artists, our Swedish friend could not get to the U.S. Given how loose the U.S. has been on its own pandemic restrictions and where we are in this journey in October 2021, this is pretty ridiculous. Is someone vaccinated? Do they test negative 24 hours before the flight? Seems good enough to me. So that was super annoying.
Man Made Mountain, Average Man
Quite solid if not exceptional hip hop from this Melbourne based group. Like much hip hop these days, these guys are ecumenical in their interests through the history of Black diasporan music and it shows. A lot of this is chill and happy. Instrumental work is very strong. It’s just a good album.
Xuefei Yang, Sketches of China
I can’t say I listen to a lot of contemporary Chinese guitarist playing with an orchestra. But I am glad I heard this. Yang basically takes inspiration from Chinese folk music, plays it on a modern guitar, and then has a string background. She is an exceptional guitarist and just listening to her work is the highlight of this album. It’s not exactly something I want to listen to everyday, but it might be something right up the alley for many of you. Worth mentioning that this is a double album and that’s a lot.
Indigo de Souza, Any Shape You Take
The best album I’ve heard in the last week from this OFFICIAL PITCHFORK ARTIST SHAPING WHERE MUSIC GOES FROM HERE. I don’t know that she is exactly doing that. But what she is doing is channeling some of the same energy of female rocking songwriters of the last twenty years such as Jenny Lewis and Torres and Waxahatchee. She’s got groove and soul and chops. There’s even a little jazz and hip hop in here. She’s also a good songwriter. I could do without the cursed Auto-Tune. Luckily, it’s not too dominant.
Pilgrim Raid, Anna Agenda
Fascinating if not entirely easy listening Vietnamese experimental mash-up production album. Like the Yang album, it’s a wee bit hard to really evaluate this. But like a lot of albums on the never boring Chinabot label, this definitely grabs your attention and makes you realize you have no idea what is going on in the clubs and basements and apartments of great musical minds around the world. The basis for this is thinking about being a child in the Vietnam of the early 2000s, whether old state television clips or club music in Hanoi and Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. Fascinating.
Tropical Fuck Storm, Deep States
I loved the first Tropical Fuck Storm album, an angry band of aging Aussie punk veterans led by Gareth Liddiard on vocals and backed by a band of awesome kick ass women. That album felt like a prophet of old coming down to damn the present with some of the best rock music I’d heard in awhile. I missed the second album (will get to that at some point here). The third and brand new release is less intense and apocalyptic than the debut, at least musically. The lyrics are still angry as all hell, as the title suggests. Musically, this bounces around a lot, even into the art pop world, which may not be the most effective use of their talents. Still, it’s a solid release of political music for the early 21st century.
Samantha Crain, A Small Death
Crain is a veteran songwriter with a tough past of a bunch of car wrecks and hand problems such as carpal tunnel. Makes it hard to work. So not surprisingly, this solid album focuses on resilience. It’s a small death, but it’s not a full death at least. As it turns out, aging is tough, with the diminished expectations, realization of all your failures, and coming to grips with the fact that your life isn’t going to change that much. But there we are, what are you going to do about it? Survive, that’s what. Part Choctaw, she even sings a bit in the language. Good indie folk-rock.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics or disease or any other non-art based off topic stuff.