still cooking, but on the back burner

English: A Guy Responsable for DJing and Produ...

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Dance As You Are event is still cooking, but continues to be on the back burner. I am training with a local DJ company to do weddings and other events.  While it’s easy to knock wedding DJing, it is a good source of income, and furthermore, the events are a lot more fun than I’d realized.  We’ll see what comes of it, but so far, I’m enjoying it much more than I thought I might.

Meanwhile, I will continue to post to this space about music, so keep watching this space.  For now, enjoy this rare track by AR Kane.  This is one of my favorite songs to DJ.

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september 11th at lothlorien co-op

loth-exter-12A little bit after 1 a.m. on September 11th, firefighters were called to a fire that broke out at Lothlorien Co-op, one of Madison Community Co-op’s oldest and most legendary co-ops.  Thank goodness everyone got out safely, but over thirty people are in limbo right now. Reportedly everyone got out safely because the smoke detectors were working and the fire doors were in their proper closed positions.

The fire began on the third floor deck.  Ironically, I had been on that same deck for the first time just eight days before when I was visiting people at the house.  The fire was put out but the building was deemed unsafe due to the damage from fire and water.  A secondary fire broke out in that afternoon apparently due to insulation that had been smoldering, and efforts to put out that fire reportedly increased the extent of water damage within the house to 75%.  People have been allowed to be escorted in and out of the house to retrieve their belongings.

The Red Cross has provided shelter and many of the displaced people are staying with friends.  We are still waiting for the prognosis for the building as we speak.

Lothlorien is legendary in Madison co-op house lore.  It was founded in 1974 and there are/were house journals going back all the way that far. Half of my current co-op house has lived at Lothlorien at one time or another, and I know many more people who had lived there at one point.  Many people have stories of their years at Lothlorien Co-op.

Offers for help have come from co-ops and individuals within Madison and across the country.  MCC staff have been working tirelessly to address issues that have come up with the fire.

I hesitated to post the video below, but it shows what the fire looked like as it was filmed from a nearby fraternity.  I should also warn that there is more than a little bit of colorful language as the fraternity brothers made their comments.


race and the roots of rock ‘n’ roll

Sun Studio, Memphis, TN (3636820842)

Sun Studio, Memphis, TN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, with my last posting about twerking and cultural appropriation, you probably have an idea of where I am going when it comes to talking about the development of rock ‘n’ roll.  Yes, this is about race and the roots of rock ‘n’ roll.

Writer Robert Palmer wrote, “Rock ‘n’ roll was an inevitable outgrowth of the social and musical interactions between blacks and whites in the South and Southwest. Its roots are a complex tangle. Bedrock black church music influenced blues, rural blues influenced white folk song and the black popular music of the Northern ghettos, blues and black pop influenced jazz, and so on. But the single most important process was the influence of black music on white.”

The genre had its roots in the blues. Sam Phillips, who would become owner of Memphis-based Sun Records, was raised by low-income tenant farmers and often picked cotton in the fields alongside African-American workers. He was deeply moved by the singing he was hearing in the fields. His interest in blues further developed in the 1940s when he worked as a DJ at a station that played both Caucasian and African-American musician. In 1950 he started the Memphis Recording Service which would let amateurs record and many of the early blues and rock ‘n’ roll artists started there.  Phillips also launched Sun Records in 1952 to showcase some of these artists.

Phillips recorded African-American musicians such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, and Caucasian musicians such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. Phillips was said to have claimed that his biggest discovery was Howlin’ Wolf, with Elvis Presley being his second biggest discovery.

In those days, there was no clear line between rhythm & blues and rock’n’roll.  Genres don’t just suddenly happen, they are retroactively named after what seems to be a clear new trend in music, and the musicians who suddenly find themselves associated with a genre have resisted the label.  Phillips recorded in 1951 what has been widely regarded as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats–a band led by then 19-year old Ike Turner. A video for it is below. But other people cite other recordings further back in the 1940’s.  But the same year “Rocket 88” was recorded. Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed started playing rhythm & blues music and using the word “rock ‘n’ roll” to describe it.

Under Sun records, artists like Elvis Presley achieved popular acclaim across the South, but despite this, Sun Records ran into financial difficulties and in 1955, Elvis Presley’s contract was sold to RCA Records. It was while on RCA that Elvis Presley gained national and international acclaim.

So was Elvis Presley’s success in that he was able to market rock ‘n’ roll to a wider audience or a whiter audience?  From what I’ve read of Sam Phillips, he held held African-American musicians and African-Americans in general in high esteem, as did Elvis Presley. But as the record companies marketed to a wider/whiter audience, rock ‘n’ roll became more of a white phenomenon. It could be argued that Elvis Presley became the “King of “Rock ‘n’ Roll” mainly because he was crowned by white people.

It is worth asking to what extent race was a factor in the widespread negative views of rock ‘n’ roll back in the 1950s. Despite the influences that black and white musicians have had on each other, rock ‘n’ roll and its succeeding genres and sub-genres have, for the most part, frequently remained a racially segregated affair. Love, which released its first album in 1966, was one of the first racially integrated bands, and the number of racially integrated bands increased with the disco and 2-Tone eras.

The denigration of disco, which arguably reached its peak with Disco Demolition Night in 1979, was another clear example of the racial divide. Rap and Hip-Hop have also often gotten bad, um, “raps.”  I remember when Public Enemy came out with It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, a white guy with long hair in my environmental studies class warned about the racism associated with that hip-hop group. Wanting to see what the fuss was about, I bought the cassette and after listening to it, I decided not to “believe the hype.” While their lyrics and style sometimes seemed quite militant, I really didn’t hear anything that I objected to. Fortunately, with the younger generation, I am seeing less race-based division as hip-hop is more popular among younger people than it was when I was growing up.

But my point of writing about this is to give credit where credit is due, so I will conclude this post with videos from early rockers Howlin’ Wolf, and my personal favorite from that era, Bo Diddley.

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i wasn’t going to talk about miley and twerking–but it’s relevant

Okay, in my last post, I was going to talk about rock ‘n’ roll in preparation for my next DJ gig September 8, but sometimes the mass media has this way illustrating my point for me, even if it’s a bit clueless in the way that it does so.  So that’s why I’m going to talk about Miley Cyrus and twerking. By now, everybody has probably heard about THAT VIDEO.  I hesitate to post it below, but it will help illustrate my point.

Would white feminists have a point if they were to say that Miley’s performance is degrading to women?  Absolutely.  Would African-Americans have a point if they were to say that Miley and many of Miley’s white feminist critics are being disrespectful to a sub-culture of African-American culture?  Absolutely.

The point is, whether one likes twerking or not, twerking has a history that needs to be at least respected.  Twerking came out of New Orleans “bounce culture” and bounce music.  Bounce music is a distinctly regional form of hip-hop music that came out of New Orleans in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  Its more unique characteristics involve a call and response style and Mardi Gras Indian chanting. Bounce music, like much of New Orleans culture, is also more gay-friendly than normally seen in hip-hop culture.

The best critique I’ve read of Miley Cyrus’s performance and the culture and race implications of it came from “bounce queen” Big Freedia, who has been involved with this culture since 1999.  Big Freedia said, “She was going too far. She’s trying to twerk, but don’t know how to twerk. It’s become offensive to a lot of people who’ve been twerking and shaking their asses for years, especially in the black culture. But it’s also helpful because it’s putting twerking on the map around the world. I’ve been transforming twerking for the last three years around the world and for her to just come out of the blue and just start twerking, a lot of people are very offended by it, especially in New Orleans. When something get hot, everybody want to jump on the bandwagon and act like they created it. That’s totally understandable but they have to give credit where credit is due.”

Big Freedia goes on further to say, “When you have my dancers, they’re professionals. They’re from New Orleans and know what they’re doing. When they started dancing, it was original twerking. Miley’s dancers were prop dancers. None of them were professional dancers. So yeah, she was trying to twerk…They’re just using anybody possible just to get that buzz since twerking is hot now…That’s why I’m working so hard; for it to happen on my end, not on the end of someone who’s not even familiar with the culture. That’s what’s so offensive, when you’ve been doing it for so many years and then someone who just jumped off the porch tries to do it.”

So if you take a look at what Big Freedia is saying, there’s a pattern that emerges here that’s very relevant to what I want to say about rock ‘n’ roll and cultural appropriation.  The pattern that often emerges looks like this:

  1. A cultural phenomenon develops among a marginalized racial and/or socioeconomic group that begins to attract attention outside that group.
  2. Someone from outside that marginalized group begins to cash in on that cultural phenomenon–somebody with more money, more connections and more ability to get media access.  They do so by either taking credit for it, using the culture to give themselves “street cred,” or simply ignoring the culture that created it before them.  They might or might not do a good job of imitating the culture.
  3. The person outside that marginalized group makes money off of this culture while those who created the culture continue to live with the poverty and/or racism typical of that marginalized group.
  4. In extreme cases, the person making money off the cultural phenomenon might not only take credit for it but even claim “ownership” of it and limit the rights of others to use that type of cultural expression.

What I found notable about Big Freedia’s statements were that she made no objections to white people actually engaging in the culture. “We want to empower women of all walks of life to express themselves through dance music. I definitely push that at a Big Freedia show and I have a lot of white fans who get up there and really twerk. I have some amazing white dancers who would get up there and shut Miley down. They could’ve used girls from New Orleans, even if they were not black, who knew what they’re doing.”

There are ways to work in cooperation with such cultures without engaging in cultural appropriation.  One of the best examples is the video below by Diplo and Nicky Da B.  Diplo is an Los Angeles-based DJ who grew up in the South, and who arguably has made a career of supporting, not appropriating smaller musical scenes from around the world.  I will give details in a future post dedicated to Diplo–the more I see from him and the more I read about him, the more I like him.  In any case, Diplo collaborated with Nicky Da B who comes out of the NOLA bounce scene.

A lot of people dislike this video for many reasons–primarly, its explicit nature.  Like it or not, though, you have to admit that Miley’s MTV Awards performance is a cheap, watered-down imitation of Diplo and Nicky Da B’s video.  Despite its explicit nature, I really like the video and keep on watching it for multiple reasons:  1) the video takes place in New Orleans and uses real bounce dancers, both female and male, 2) Nicky Da B takes center stage, while Diplo is in the background. (This is something that DJs I respect often do–letting the music speak for itself rather than it being about them), 3) The dancers are ordinary people, and not selected because they look like fashion models, and 4) Bottom line, the video lets the culture speak for itself.

By now, you probably seeing where I’m going with this in reference to rock n roll.  I’ll go into more details with this in subsequent posts.

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