Friday, May 11, 2007

Provocative quote of the day

"White blues fans, for example, redefined the genre in the name of authenticity to exclude anything too jazzy or upbeat, thus enforcing a snobbish and racist exclusion of certain blues artists from the canon because they were too sophisticated. Instead, they lauded the most primitive blues artists they could find, such as John Lee Hooker, from whom blacks turned away. In this way, the quest for authenticity did tremendous damage to the blues by codifying certain traditions and limiting innovation."

That's from Faking it: The quest for authenticity in popular music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor, of which I recently reviewed a review. Comments on that post (by Thalia May in particular) led me to order the book, and I received it today. (Off-topic: why is it cheaper and faster to order from Amazon than from an Indian site? The price difference is more than the cost of international shipping, and the two Indian sites I looked at said it will take a month to deliver.)

I'll probably read the book during a vacation later this month, and review it after that. As of now, I've looked through the one-and-a-half blues-related chapters, and it's fascinating. There's also a provocative (and thought-provoking) comparison of Neil Young with Billy Joel, and I'm happy to report that they favour Neil, both in authenticity and in artistic merit.


km said...

I don't how I missed the whole bunch of comments on your original post. Now I just gotta read this book :)

IMO, the argument in that excerpt about JLH is just...strange. I'd like someone to show me which guitarist/singer was doing things like JLH before he came along. (Not challenging - just curious.)

(Neil Young & Billy Joel: LMAO!!!! - though I think Joel, undeservedly, gets shabby treatment from rock fans.)

Tabula Rasa said...

they favour Neil, both in authenticity and in artistic merit.

well, at least it passes the smell test.

Rahul said...

I think they're saying that John Lee Hooker was continuing to do things everyone had stopped doing. His singing is sort of "loose" and his guitar playing often consists of just one chord. But again, in terms of "authenticity", they ask -- weren't he (or Lightnin' Hopkins) more "real" on their "fiercely electric, proto-rock '40s and '50s sides than on their post-rediscovery acoustic albums?" (I haven't heard electric Hooker, except the Hooker and Heat album, so can't say.)

The guy they spend a lot of time on is Lonnie Johnson, who was already a great god when John Hurt did his first recording session. "He virtually invented the guitar solo. In many ways, Lonnie Johnson's music exemplifies the blues. The blues, that is, as defined by its traditional black audience. For them, the blues had once encompassed not only singer-guitarists such as Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson and singers such as Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey, but a range of performers whom we now think of as jazz musicians, from Jelly Roll Morton to Count Basie to Coleman Hawkins."

They point out that in 1963, when John Hurt was rediscovered, Lonnie Johnson was alive and well but few wanted to see him. At a folk music concert in NYC he horrified the audience, who expected blues, by singing a Fred Astaire song. He was never invited again.

km said...

Ah. I get it. So they're saying blues fans often favored acoustic blues over electric blues and view Bessie Smith et al as "Jazz". Fair enough.

Give me JLH's electric blues any day over his acoustic blues.

Rahul said...

The chapter on Hurt (chapter 2) is about 70 pages long, and chapter 3 (on Jimmie Rodgers) and large parts of chapter 1 (on Kurt Cobain and Leadbelly) cover similar ground -- so I don't think my review has done it justice...