Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Marijuana, the beats, and Mezz Mezrow


Wonderful article in the LA Review of Books, by Loren Glass (May 7, 2015).

Some key quotes:

The Beats were the first generation of writers for whom cannabis was central, both to the experiences they recounted and to the prose style in which those experiences were rendered (and, insofar as Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs frequently wrote while stoned, to their compositional methods as well). Furthermore, cannabis was central to the cross-cultural contacts, not only in Mexico but in the African-American community as well, that informed their countercultural sensibilities...

The central figure for both the culture and the circulation of cannabis in the United States prior to its countercultural apotheosis is the jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, born Milton Mesirow in Chicago in 1899, who became the principal supplier of Mexican marijuana to Harlem in the 1930s...

Mezzrow, according to Wolfe [who collaborated with Mezzrow on his autobiography], “came to believe he had actually, physically, turned black,” and is both an underappreciated inaugural example of Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” and a crucial antecedent to the Beat fascination with jazz and African-American culture more generally. Really the Blues, which went through numerous printings and was read by all the Beats, reveals how crucial marijuana use was to this well-known cross-cultural and, for the most part, homo-social complex...

Most significantly, though, Really the Blues illustrates a somewhat underappreciated claim in “The White Negro”: there Mailer calls marijuana the “wedding ring” in the interracial marriage whose “child was the language of Hip"...Mezzrow represents jive as emerging due to cannabis, which is why much of its vocabulary refers to the substance that at least partially enabled it.

Marijuana was also crucial to the music...

Marijuana also facilitated cultural exchange...

Mezzrow’s marijuana network was legal until 1937 when, after aggressive lobbying on the part of Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, making cannabis illegal across the United States. Soon after, in 1940, Mezzrow was arrested. In jail, he insisted on being housed with the African-American inmates, with whom he promptly formed an interracial band. Their jamming was enhanced by marijuana smuggled into the jail by Mexican-American WPA workers running a sewer pipe under the building...

...as Really the Blues amply documents, cannabis was crucial in establishing the social networks, cultural contacts, insider vocabularies, aesthetic styles, and compositional techniques that the Beats would introduce by way of the counterculture into the American mainstream. Cannabis was central to, as Mezzrow put it, “a whole new language.”

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Riots at Newport Jazz Festival, caused by..."Gidget," "A Summer Place," and "Jazz on a Summer's Day"

These would appear to be the most anodyne of pop culture artifacts, the antithesis of what would cause a riot. I mean, Gidget?


A Summer Place?


Jazz on a Summer's Day? (A documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.)


An article in the Wall Street Journal called "Riot in Newport" (July 1, 2010), explains.

As for Jazz on a Summer's Day: 'Filmed at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, "Jazz on a Summer's Day" was released in late March 1960. The color documentary glamorized jazz and its hip audience, inadvertently creating the impression that seating was limitless and free.' It does look terminally cool, especially the footage of Anita O'Day (above). To me, that's the most memorable segment of the film.

As for the other two films: 'Also at movie houses that spring was "A Summer Place," starring Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee as teenage lovers rebelling against hypocritical parents. Percy Faith's yearning instrumental, "Theme From a Summer Place," was No. 1 on Billboard's pop-singles chart for a staggering nine weeks.

And then there was "Gidget." Released a year earlier, the film starred Sandra Dee and was the first in a series of popular teens-know-best beach films. While the Beach Boys' first hit song was still nearly two years off, "Gidget" instantly established the beach as a teenage proving ground.'

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Don Letts' Documentary, "Punk Attitude"

According to Dangerous Minds: In this fine documentary directed by Don Letts (who knows a thing or two about punk rock) a bunch of aging punkers talk about the roots of the punk scene and their love of the music they make. There’s not much new here but it’s good to see Steve Jones, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Siouxsie Sioux, Captain Sensible, Mick Jones Jones,David Johansen, Jello Biafra, Wayne Kramer, Thurston Moore, Legs McNeil and Tommy Ramone, among many others, wax poetic about the music explosion that was detonated in the mid-70s. It’s amazing how many survived. And deeply saddening that since this film was made in 2005 we’re down to zero original Ramones. 

“Punk is not mohawks and safety pins. It’s an attitude and a spirit, with a lineage and tradition.” Don Letts.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

New York City's 1975 Fiscal Crisis: template for neoliberalism, and a precipitant of hip-hop


Initially, the crisis was portrayed as a local story, a reflection of New York and its “mongrel” population, liberal social policies, profligate spending, and powerful unions. But the means of its resolution became a template for the imposition of neoliberal policies around the world. Ruling elites took seriously the call to “think globally, act locally,” making a municipal finance problem into an event of world significance.

Read on, in Jacobin.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Brands and Bands and SXSW

David Carr, "A New Model for Music: Big Bands, Big Brands," on page one of the business page, New York Times, March 17, 2014.

Excerpts:

In Austin last week, the salty, cheesy wonder of Doritos was brought to you by the sweet, uplifting allure of Lady Gaga. Or was it the other way around?...

 
In a streamed world where music itself has very little value, selling out is far from looked down upon, it’s the goal...

The consumer wants all the music that he or she desires — on demand, at a cost of zero or close to it — and we now live in that perfect world.
It doesn’t feel perfect, though. At this year’s festival, historically a place of artistic idiosyncrasy, music labels were an afterthought and big brands owned the joint. Venues were decked out with a riot of corporate logos, and the conference’s legacy as a place where baby bands played their little hearts out to be discovered seemed quaint in a week in which Jay Z and Kanye West kicked it for Samsung, Coldplay headlined for Apple’s iTunes and Tyler, the Creator played a showcase for Pandora.
This new order evolved because when music moved into the cloud, not much of the revenue came with it. CD sales are a fraction of what they once were, and the micropayments from streaming services have yet to amount to anything meaningful...

Given that Bob Dylan, of all people, recently made a big-money commercial for Chrysler, none of this is surprising, but it still has implications. No one will miss the stranglehold the large music labels had on the industry, but having shoe and snack food companies decide what is worthy could strangle the new, unruly impulses that allow the music business to prosper...

For South by Southwest, Lady Gaga filmed something of an infomercial for Doritos, urging people to use the hashtag #boldstage and submit a video of themselves doing something “bold” to compete for access to her performance...

(You could say it was a new low, but last year, I saw Public Enemy, musical heroes of my youth, perform “Fight the Power” inside a mock Doritos vending machine.)


At her keynote address on Friday, Lady Gaga thanked Doritos and said plainly, “Without sponsorships, without all these people supporting us, we won’t have any more festivals because record labels don’t have any” money.

Carrie Brownstein, the star of “Portlandia” who played in the rock band Sleater-Kinney for years, was in town with her co-star Fred Armisen to speak on a panel. Like many, she marveled at the number of brands that wallpapered the festival.

“I almost felt like I was in festival-land and the bands were there as part of the theme park,” she said. “Still, it’s good there is a physical place where people gather to watch music because so much of it seems to come from nowhere at a cost of nothing”...

“The willingness of artists to partner with brands happened because revenues dried up from physical discs,” [Peter Gannon] said. “The labels are not going to get a lot of sympathy because they were not very good to artists. At least when a brand is involved, there is an understanding that we are borrowing the cachet that the artist has built and we try to make high-quality projects that give value to both the client and the artist. ”