So I first wrote this on the 2nd of July before the shootings of innocent black men and before the police shootings. It seems odd to be in America during this time, especially having written what is below. I also tripped over a shotgun casing looking at fireflies just before taking that photo of the water tower in Louisville, the home town of Muhammad Ali, no less.
Ok so it’s 6 am and I can’t sleep because it’s my first day in Chicago & I’m a tad over excited. Not only is this an architectural Mecca but a musical one too. (I am hoping that if, like my partner says, you whisper Jeff Tweedy’s name into Lake Michigan 3 times, he really will appear behind you and give a solo rendition of the song of your choosing.) I mean even the goddamn band that’s playing soul covers in Millennial Park on 4th of July weekend is great.
We even landed on Willie Dixon’s birthday, the man that turned me on to blues. When I was a teenager I looked to see who wrote my favourite Stones songs, it was this dude named Willie Dixon who I then realised was an old blues guy from Chicago -and once I heard him, Muddy, Wolf and Hooker etc it was hard to take Mick & Keef that serious after. (Several days after I wrote this we get a tour around Chess Records by Willie Dixon’s grandson).
So, here I am, a seriously SERIOUSLY white ginger from the other side of the world and I can’t stop staring at black people. My middle class guilt worries it’s fetishising, or worse, otheris-ing. Part of it might be the lack of African Americans in little old NZ and I keep seeing archetypes from music, movies and TV. People that remind me of those I have emotional relationships with, like Bunk, Lester, Bubbles, Tasty, Poussey Washington, Sam Cooke, Eddie Murphy etc.
But then I have an argument/discussion with myself remembering a 2 year old conversation with an American friend who told me African Americans only make up approx 12% of the population (it must be higher in Chicago)… that they have contributed the US’s greatest achievement – rock and roll music. Yes, there is a back and forth but one party certainly benefits financially better. There would be no jazz or electronic music either. No EDM without disco. No Elvis, Beatles or Stones without Rhythm & Blues.
Elvis’s first big hits ‘That’s Alright’ by Arthur Crudup (which I scored a sweet-as record of from Ameboa in LA with arguably the worst, most racist cover in the world) and ‘Hound Dog’ written for the incomparable Big Mama Thornton by two Jewish men, Leiber & Stoller, who were obsessed with black music and would sneak into juke joints as teenagers to watch the bands. One can see why, when you get to hear recordings of that stuff.
One clever musician friend of mine has challenged me by pointing out I think about race a lot when I talk about music. I guess I do. I also pointed out I do the same with gender! I can only put it down to the fact that I can’t separate the political aspects from my appreciation. The injustices, the lack of representation, etc etc. Recently at the BET awards not only did Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar give one hell of a defiant performance; a man who would be too easy to dismiss for being excessively pretty said some powerful words and then another pretty boy who is guilty of those exact words, minimised them. I guess I’ll stop thinking about race and gender when it comes to music when it stops being important. Also one can’t help but reflect the complete lack of respect African Americans get for their outstanding achievements in a culture that is all too quick to dismiss them.
Jesse Williams’ speech: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7416612/jesse-williams-bet-awards-2016-speech-video
Vic Mansa Calls Out Justin Timberlake: http://pitchfork.com/news/66500-vic-mensa-calls-out-justin-timberlake-for-benefiting-from-using-black-culture/
Beyonce & Kendrick Lamar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWF31EWPLj0&app=desktop
This tweet perfectly explains… http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/tweet-dallas-shooting-blm/
All images (c) 2016 Tina Turntables