inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #76 of 149: Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:23
    
I agree. As I wrote in the book, Jordan is where I really hear the
rock 'n' roll impulse for the first time. It's joyous, mischievous, and
exploding with rhythmic zeal. Great melodies, too. I can't get enough,
personally.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #77 of 149: My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 13 Oct 05 08:51
    
kevin, i have not read your book, but i'm curious about your exploration
of ethnic/cultural identity.  I realize your book is focussing on music,
but it seems that in order to talk about ethnic/cultural identity in
music, you might have spent a lot of time thinking about ethnic/cultural
identity in general.

What did you learn about how do blacks talk about blackness and whites
about whiteness?  What is different about how people talk about
themselves versus how they characterize others--how do blacks talk about
whiteness and whites talk about blackness?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #78 of 149: Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 09:41
    
Great question, I must say, but I have to answer it with one. How
often do YOU hear blacks talk about blackeness vs. whiteness or whites
talk about their racial identities or how they feel about another's?

Understand that I'm not in any way trying to duck the question, but as
I found out during the course of the interviews (which stretch back to
1982) and as recently as the panel discussion I conducted during the
Austin City Limits music festival just last moth (with Lyle Lovett, SRV
drummer Chris Layton, Cyril Neville and his wife), these are questions
that seldom arise in conversation.

Much of what DOES exist is better covered by academics -- and the
evidence goes back as far as civilization. But I was hunting for
significance in the past that inflects relevance to the here and now.
Many of the subjects I interviewed had never been taken so deeply into
the topic before, and found themselves, after decades-long careers --
publicly reflecting on these issues for the first time.

To answer your question most directly: Blacks and whites don't talk
about blackness and whiteness any more often than you or I do. It
doesn't come up in such a way. And like that grand old physics theory
that tells us the act of observing a phenomenon inherently changes the
phenomenon and contaminates the study, it's been difficult to get at
much of this in the here-and-now.

What I do know is that once the topic is broached (and again, the
panel discussion was revelatory in seeing this happen), it's as though
a floodgate opens. Everybody wants to share, and it can become a real
disgorging of years of pent-up anger (as was the case in my interview
with Bill Withers) or a real opportunity for healing and rapproachment.

At times, I felt as though I was conducting a self-help seminar in
some of these interviews. Music was the topic, but just below the
surface is this roiling cauldron of emotion. And it remains murky.
During the discussion, Lyle Lovett asked a question I repeatedly posed
during the interviews: "What is the nature of soul?"

My childhood best friend (who is black and a jazz guitarist in Denton,
TX) says that in order to be an authentic practicioner of
black-derived music, one must be black. I asked him then if he thought
then that the Fifth Dimension had more soul than Van Morrison -- whose
music he very much respects. "The only way to be black," he said, "is
to be black."

I know and love my friend Don Bell (we grew up in El Paso together,
and met in 1964), but I must tell you, this rocked me back on my heels.
He's right of course. But where does that leave us? Is everyone who is
not black but loves black-derived music and works in those idioms
stealing? As Joe Pesci's character says in "JFK," "it's a riddle
wrapped in a mystery inside a connundrum."
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #79 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 13 Oct 05 11:26
    
To me, it's just one sub-set of the general "authenticity" argument. 
An interesting example from a completely different part of the musical
sector: Jerry Jeff Walker, the quintessential Texan, except he's from
Oneonta, NY, a little town in the Finger Lakes that's about as far from
Texas culturally and geographically as you can get in the 48.  Does
this make Jerry Jeff a fake Texan?  Well, kinda sorta I guess, but...

And what about all those Mexican guys who play polka?  Just a bunch of
wannabee Germans?

To me the thing to focus on is the music, not whether the person who
plays it is part of the ethnic (or regional) group that originated it. 
One of the best blues performances I've heard live in the last few
years was by a Mohawk Indian, wish I could remember his name.  He
certainly wasn't authentically black, but the music was authentic, and
that's what matters.

That said, I can see why some people who belong to the ethnic group
which originates anything -- be it a style of dress or a style of music
-- would get mightily annoyed by seeing outsiders get involved in it. 
You actually see just that controversy in the Native American Church
(peyote religion).  Some Native American members think this is God's
message, and that's just fine for anyone regardless of background,
others feel very strongly that white folks have been fucking with them
for 100s of years (hard to argue with that) and they should stay the
heck out.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #80 of 149: Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 13 Oct 05 18:10
    
You're right about what you're saying, Mark, but... I believe there's
something inherently different in identifying with another ethnicity
when that ethnicity is of another skin color -- and it's one that white
America has subjugated for centuries. True, Jews have not exactly seen
the best treatment here (or anywhere else in the world, for that
matter), but they weren't enslaved in this country 150+ years ago.

I went 'round and 'round on this point in the book with Nick Tosches,
who says in his book, "Where Dead Voices Gather," that minstrelsy was
no more pernicious than Jews playing gangsters in the movies. I
disagree, mostly because minstrelsy so drastically distorted the
experience of blacks -- and it wasn't always ill-intentioned, but
sometimes just plain ignorant. 

Stephen Foster, whose music I love, had very little actual experience
of the life of true slaves from the South. He traveled south of the
Mason-Dixon line only once in his life, and that trip took less than 30
days.

And just as some blacks refer to each other with the "N" word even
today, I believe it's very different when someone OUTSIDE that
ethnicity does so.

I'm traveling to NYC tomorrow (to do the Joey Reynolds radio show at
11 p.m. Eastern), without my computer. I will try to keep up over the
weekend, but my postings may be sparse until I'm back Monday night.
Thanks to all who've chimed in so far; it's been very illuminating.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #81 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 13 Oct 05 18:28
    
Well, it's funny.  Granted minstrelsy was unique both in terms of its
popularity and longevity, but the world of late 19th century and early
20th century theater in America was full of horrible ethnic
stereotypes, as can be occasionally glimpsed in early silent films that
carried over sketches from vaudeville.  Ditto people with physical
disabilities -- one of the later examples I can think of is Mr. Muckle,
the blind man in W.C. Fields' "It's a Gift," who runs amok with his
cane in a (now) old-fashioned store.

So I guess one question is whether there was something unique about
the way Blacks were ridiculed, or whether there was something unique
about the way blacks were hated and discriminated against, which thus
gives black stereotypes a power that other mean-spirited ethnic humor
doesn't have.  

The reason I use the term "ethnicity" is because to me the whole term
"race" is problematic.  It doesn't really have any scientific validity,
and basically belongs to the same era and stream of thought as things
like phrenology.

And there's a bit of humor in the whole issue of Jews playing Italian
gangsters in the movies, since the stereotype is that all gangsters
were Italian, but in fact going back that far, many important gangsters
were actually Jews.  And to take it one level further than that, in
the very early days of the Mafia, Italian gangsters sometimes took on
Irish surnames because everyone "knew" that all gangsters were Irish!

So I do agree that discrimination against Blacks has been unique in
the American experience (although I guess you've got to give Indians a
close second), but I'm not sure if I get from there to saying that
there's anything unique about non-Blacks getting involved in
Black-originated musical forms.

As for Tosches, one sometimes wonders if he says those things just to
tweak people. ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #82 of 149: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 13 Oct 05 21:58
    
> discrimination against Blacks has been unique in
> the American experience 

Really?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #83 of 149: Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Fri 14 Oct 05 01:19
    

Somehow IMHO McDee and Kevin are both right, and somewhere
in their something more sublime or complex lingers, unfortunately
history needs to be rewriten to really get to the bottom of all
this and luckily it presently feverishly being rewritten.

The Indians had genocide to contend with (and in our lifetimes
still are contending with it in south america), the Irish were
sometimes employed in dangerous labor because to loose a slave doing
the job would be a greater financial loss and other social cruelties
about across most lines. Yet it seems the spiritual life of white
emigres may of suffered more because their was less distance between
the boundries of their skin and the rulers. Assimilation was taken as a
short cut when becoming "culturally multi-lingual" may of saved their
souls a bit more, while perhaps even made them more successful on other
levels.

Hendrix was very "culturally multi-lingual", he moved between the
various internal nations/civilizations of western civilizations/nations
quite sucessfully. Look at the
Dick Cavett interviews and imagine his history on the 
'chittlin curcuit', he was former boy scout who could talk
football and had a knack for the blues even though he was not
from the deep south. He was good at crossing between the 
nations in the nation, and even could tap the virtual nations
in the mix.

Marley and Santana took it even further into the southern hemisphere.
Part of these artists personalities do seem to be assimulated, but
another part of them is to one degree or another is culturally
multi-lingual. 

That ugly economic line blended with race, identity or ethnicity (or
whatever-the-device-is-that-pushes-the-knife-deeper-when-push-
comes-to-shove-between-others as perpetuated by greater armed-economic
power) is something though that continues to be an issue. 

Statistically general quality of life, like life span, infant
mortality rates, unemployment and so on still impacts blacks
considerably, both in the US and globally, so the black/other 
divide remains painfully visible.



When the levee breaks though it is no-time to reflect about the
spiritual suffering of whites, as your attempting to get your
grandmother out of town with an intertube while an army of white
neighbors exit early from their heavily insured real estate
in armoured SUVs. You might even be more pissed-off if you
are a musician and the early evacuees are the corporate record 
executives holding the patent to your lifes work. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #84 of 149: David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 14 Oct 05 10:46
    
Interesting comments about Louis Jordan.  

I'd like to get your thoughts about a musician similar to Jordan who
exhibits some enduring characteristics of the black music tradition.

Eddie Cleanhead Vinson was a Kansas City style blues shouting alto
player.  As a youth he traveled the circuit with Big Bill Broonsy and
he said he learned a lot about the blues from listening, talking, and
being with Broonsy.

Cleanhead was the same type of blues player as Charlie Parker.  When
Parker emerged as an innovator in the 40's, they would hang out
together whenever their paths crossed.  They were a mutual admiration
society.  Vinson started incorporating Bird's harmonic and rhythmic
innovations into his blues shouting and playing.  

In the 50's Vinson hired John Coltrane for his band that toured the
cittlin' circuit.  Coltrane said that Eddie Cleanhead Vinson was a
major influence on him.

In the 80's Vinson caught the blues revival and started playing with
everyone on that scene:  Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham, Eddie Lockjaw
Davis, Bill Doggett, and Eddie James.

In 1961 Vinson recorded an album with Cannonball Adderly, Coltrane's
stablemate with the Miles Davis band.  Sometimes it is hard to
determine who is playing on that record.

I wouldn't call it fusion, but someone like Vinson incorporates
distinct styles within the black tradition.  He could play straight r
and b, bebop, and shout the blues.  Then he could mix it up into a
thoroughly enjoyable stew.

Sun Ra is another musician who exhibits the same characteristics.  He
could be surfing the outer waves, communing with the powers on Saturn, 
and then stop his band on a dime and have them play Fletcher Henderson
arrangements.

Ornette Coleman is similar.  If you listen to his early recordings you
can hear that in his playing he has moved Texas blues shouting to the
saxophone.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #85 of 149: Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Oct 05 11:03
    
While Charlie Haden has brought bluegrass to jazz: that's where he
learned to play the bass, with the band his family had, starting from a
very young age. On one of Ornette's Atlantic recordings -- I forget
which -- there's a point at which he picks out "Old Joe Clark" very
clearly while the rest of the band's doing their thing. Fits right in,
of course. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #86 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Fri 14 Oct 05 11:07
    
The one time I saw Sun Ra live, he & the band did a great, reasonably
straightforward version of "Mack the Knife."
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #87 of 149: Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Sat 15 Oct 05 09:08
    
All of which goes right back to what Debussy said more than a century
ago -- that folk music has always been one of the major sources of
inspiration for composers of the classics, and that black-derived music
is the folk music of the United States.

And, if you're going to open the throttle on a subject like Sun Ra,
then we'll need to revisit the whole psychedelic thing, and how
Hendrix, according to George Clinton, really blazed a trail for other
black musicians to follow that didn't involve choreographed dance steps
and matching suits, as did the Temps, Tops et. al.

-- And while I know it's a bit further to leap to get to this point,
I'd love to hear what people in the topic think of the reverse
prejudice against white vocal groups like the Backstreet Boys. Granted,
they were a bubblegum group. That said, why are these guys looked down
upon because they didn't play or write their material, while the Four
Tops, Temps and the rest are viewed as legitimate artists. 

Is it because they weren't put together, but joined each other
organically on the stoop before scoring recording contracts? Is it
because they weren't matinee idols? If that's the case, why do we have
respect (as I do) for En Vogue, who were put together, and were very
very photogenic?

There are some who would say that the Motown material was stronger,
and perhaps that's true. Perhaps, though, it's just nostalgia that
makes the material appear stronger in hindsight. 

"I Want It That Way," "Quit Playing Games With My Heart, and "Show Me
the Meaning of Being Lonely" are respectable songs -- perhaps not as
immortal as "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" or "My Girl," but as good as
some of the lesser Motown singles.

I think, however, if you're white and you're in a vocal group, you'd
better be able to either write or play an instrument if you hope to
earn any respect at all.

I'm on the road to Boston today, and will check in tomorrow
afternoon/evening.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #88 of 149: Berliner (captward) Sat 15 Oct 05 10:05
    
Hey, dude, don't refer to the Backstreet Boys in the past tense. There
are posters up all over Berlin for an upcoming performance -- this is
the "Not Gone" tour, which led me to think that if they're not gone
tour, why are they coming here -- and I gotta say they look more like
the Backstreet 35-Year-Old Guys than any kind of boys. 

But...good point there. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #89 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Sat 15 Oct 05 10:08
    
Acid was invented by a white guy in Switzerland.  I really think all
those black musicians who tried to co-opt the psychedelic thing were
just ripping off white folks. ;-)

But I do have a lingering fondness for "Time Has Come Today."
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #90 of 149: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 15 Oct 05 15:22
    
Whatever happened to the Chambers Brothers?
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #91 of 149: Berliner (captward) Sun 16 Oct 05 01:53
    
They went onto the gospel circuit from whence they came. It's a pretty
forgiving milieu. And I think they were making records at least as
recently as a couple of years ago. 

They were a really important crossover group that's almost been
forgotten. Had they had a second hit, things might have been slightly
different. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #92 of 149: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 16 Oct 05 11:04
    
Check this out:
http://www.rapstation.com/swapmeet/chambers.html
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #93 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Sun 16 Oct 05 11:07
    
Not surprised, sadly.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #94 of 149: Berliner (captward) Sun 16 Oct 05 11:08
    
Well, he shouldn't expect to get paid by Folkways, for heaven's sake.
Or Avco-Embassy; I'd forgotten about them, and I bet their creditors
have, too. But Vanguard: I once heard unsubstantiated gossip that
Vanguard (at that time: this was before the sale to Welk) had an
unlisted phone number. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #95 of 149: Carl LaFong (mcdee) Sun 16 Oct 05 11:11
    
Nobody ever got paid anything by Folkways, from what I've heard.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #96 of 149: Berliner (captward) Sun 16 Oct 05 11:17
    
Folkways was a documentary label, or at least that was Moses Asch's
philosophy. You didn't sign with them hoping for a hit, which Folkways
couldn't have delivered anyway. 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #97 of 149: Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Mon 17 Oct 05 05:08
    
Sorry to hear about the Chambers Brothers, whose song is everywhere
(covered by -- of all people -- the Ramones on "Subterranean Jungle, I
believe), while they remain nowhere. And if an entreaty to Courtney
Love isn't a cry for help, I'm not sure what is.

Not at all unusual, as Ed says. There's a nifty little anecdote I got
from Rolling Stone at about the same time as the Lester Chambers letter
was written. It had to do with South African Solomon Linda, who
improvised the original melodic line of "Wimoweh," a huge hit for the
Weavers in the early '50s. Through endless wrangling and dodgy deals,
Linda's name was obliterated from both the sheet music and the record
when it became an international hit (No. #1 in the U.S.), "The Lion
Sleeps Tonight."

It also kinda creeps me out to see white folks using terms like
"sharecropper." Seems to me you could find a better analogy, unless you
actually did perform backbreaking labor in the fields. And, lest
anyone think I'm just too p.c. for school, I didn't much care for it
when Prince sported his carefully etched "Slave" on his face in the
'90s, either. He really ought to have considered that people alive
today could very well have known a former slave as a grandparent or
great-grandparent.
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #98 of 149: Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Mon 17 Oct 05 07:00
    
Kevin, I wanted to tell you that I thought the sections of your book
that dealt with the 20th century and beyond were really well done. You
provide some great information and anecdotes. However, the earlier part
of the book had some areas where I believe that you telescoped
historical occurences that happened over a longer period of time to fit
your organizing premise. 
One of the main instances where I noticed this was in your description
of "Dixie" (p.54). You wrote, "The verses recall scenes of antebellum
bliss...but below the surface, its insurrectionist intent is clear
because the utopia depicted so romantically is at odds with the
country's direction--away from slavery, away from an agrarian economy,
and away from isolationism." 

I found this characterization of both the song and the country to be
contrary to the facts. However, not being a 19th century expert, I
turned to someone who is, Dr.Elizabeth Varon, noted author of several
books on the Civil War period and a professor of history at Temple
University. Her reply to my question about this passage was: "The song
was racist entertainment in the minstrel tradition; it tapped 
Northern nostalgia for the agrarian life in an era when the 
North was chaging rapidly and the South was not. In the era 
the song was written, the South was still overwhelmingly 
agricultural--in 1860, some 90% of southerners worked in 
agriculture (and some 40% of northerners did)." 

A large part of the reason the war was fought in the first place was
to determine which direction the country would go, towards industrial
urbanism or rural agrarianism (and in the South this equaled a
component of unfree labor for those who could afford it). There was
little stomach for freeing the slaves on the parts of most white
Northerners before the war. In fact, abolitionists were held in almost
universal disdain. The United States (in terms of where its population
lived) did not become primarily urban until 1920 (at which point %50 of
the people lived in towns of 5000 or more and %50 didn't). And as far
as moving away from isolationism, well the Second World War was an
object lesson in the lengths to which Americans would go to avoid
"foreign" entanglements. Your characterization of the song, and the
country in which it was performed, contains both regional bias (five of
the richest counties in America were agarian and the South at the
outbreak of the war, so things were working pretty well for the white
folks in power. It was not a moribund system destined to failure in the
face of more "forward" looking industrialism. It was a decision
decided at the barrel of a gun with a tremendous loss of life.) and
lack of understanding of the realities of the mid-19th century. 
 
 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #99 of 149: Berliner (captward) Mon 17 Oct 05 07:51
    
"I didn't much care for it when Prince sported his carefully etched
"Slave" on his face in the
'90s, either."

Grease pencil, applied before the show, looking in the mirror, which
is why it was backwards most of the time. 

And, as a friend at Warners said at the time, "How many slaves are
vice-presidents of the plantation?" 
  
inkwell.vue.256 : Kevin Phinney, "Souled American"
permalink #100 of 149: Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Mon 17 Oct 05 08:30
    

What percentage of share croppers were white?
  

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