marxism-digest V1 #6577

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Sun Nov 9 14:21:43 MST 2003

> Date: Sun, 9 Nov 2003 21:48:31 +0100
> From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <bendien at>
> Subject: Marxism and music: a 1999 comment from Blondie's Chris Stein
> "...rock 'n' roll really seems kind of defunct in a way. Rock 'n' roll has
> lost so much edge and mystery. I really wonder if I was a young kid if I
> would be drawn into it at all, because it's so mainstream," he ponders.
> "Rock 'n' roll has become the background for reality. It's everywhere; it's
> on milk commercials and everything! The racial aspect makes all this urban
> music still dangerous to the white suburban majority out there. Which is
> sad, but racism in this country goes very deep, and God knows how long
> before that shit goes away. You know, a [white] kid comes home dressed like
> Marilyn Manson, the parents go, 'Ooh, ah, he looks funny!' But if he comes
> home with a hip-hop outfit on, they start freaking out. (...) There's a lack
> of repetition in [rap] that's interesting. I'm seeing a lot of hope for the
> future in the kids that are in their twenties, as opposed to the ones that
> are in their thirties and forties. I think if there's any kind of return to
> '60s sensibilities of social consciousness and revolution, I think it's
> going to align with the younger kids now."
> Coolio featured on No Exit I think and Blondie has performed with the
> Wu-Tang Clan, but what the hell does that prove anyhow ? Either you like the
> music in some way or you don't, and if you don't, why are you listening to
> it ? I have had people objecting to me playing Beethoven records in the
> past, but if I want to play fucking Beethoven I will play fucking Beethoven.
> Jurriaan
I dunno, I like Webern better (old fogey).  But the point is the race thing
is important not because it is "black-and-white" but because it is
complicated.  Fab Five Freddy does the rapping on "Rapture" and it's kind of
an "intro" -- he was a New York scenester who was critically important as a
publicist, but he's kind of pointedly not really a major figure.  But, on
the other hand, Chris Frantz from the Talking Heads played the drums on
Kurtis Blow's "These Are The Breaks"; and so what you see throughout "black"
American music is not so much a unitary Afrocentrism as subalterns "calling
the shots".  But whereas the Rolling Stones were kind of obviously mining
the institution of slavery for laughs (Mick liked black girls, and knew how
to talk to them nice), a lot of "deep soul" shouldn't be as alien as it is
to most Americans.  I suspect Adolph Reed's "What Are The Drums Saying,
Booker?", taken as a savage polemic against Henry Louis Gates and Cornel
West, is a kind of joke along these lines.

"Now we made an album in '76 - the electric "Universal Language" album with
[former Bar-Kays' drummer] Willie Hall, but he didn't really have the sound.
It didn't sound as much like Booker T and the MG's as this does.  Steve
Jordan made a lot of concessions to the way he usually plays," Jones says.
"He has some of Al Jackson's old drums, and he brought those into the
studio.  He knew Al's style really well; that was his goal.  He had a
picture of Al in the studio in front of him and he was determined to carry
on Al's tradition."

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