MIXED BAG – #4
(1.) I tend to be a voracious reader, often showing little discrimination in what I read (no porn, though). Recently I was given a book by Chuck D of Public Enemy [FIGHT THE POWER: Rap, Race and Reality – w.Yusuf Jah; Delta (1998) NYC] about the rap group and his life before and after hip hop came into his life, and found the following therein:
Economic integration has truly meant economic disintegration for the Black community. Back in the day Black entrepreneurs had their own successful businesses by default, because we weren’t allowed to be included in white businesses. Then in the fifties when a lot of Jim Crow laws began to change, especially down South, and white doors began to open up to Blacks, that marked the beginning of the end for Black economic control and advancement. (p.39)
To some, this may sound crazy or contrary… counter to accepted liberal integrationist wisdom. Truth be told, he’s actually spot on, in the main. While integration may have succeeded in helping Blacks in many areas, it also caused the downfall of Black-owned businesses that had prospered in segregated Black communities, and even those geographically away from them. My best example is Peg Leg Bates’ Country Club in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, a long-time Black-owned and -patronized resort hidden away from the more well-known (relatively speaking) hotel complexes that constituted “The Jewish Alps” back in the day.
When I met Bates, a world-famous tap dancer/singer/master of ceremonies (he toured Europe with Louis Armstrong, and/or Duke Ellington in the early 30s; he was also the person with the most number of appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show on US television!), in the 80s he made mention of the fact that his patronage had declined as other “White” resorts were now available for Black peoples’ patronage. He indicated to me that this had been a slow decline since the civil rights movement’s successes had taken hold – Black folks did not feel loyalty towards his place and went elsewhere now that there was more choice; formerly forbidden fruit finally tasted, if you will. It’s one of the unsung side-effects of integration: given the choices, the former (exclusively Black) clientele will go elsewhere “new” and now available, almost because they can. This has lead to the diminishment of Black-owned and -run businesses in general, seen most strongly in the urban ghettos country-wide.
Back in the day, the philosophical dichotomy between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington was (to be simplistic) between immediate integration of Blacks with all else to follow vs. Black self-help (“pulling ones’ self up by ones’ boot-straps”) first, then integration when able to be easily incorporated in to the ongoing (White) society in the US. DuBois’ immediate integrationist approach eventually won out (Rev. M.L. King, for a more recent example) over the other boot-straps first (Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, ditto) – my personal point-of-view is that BOTH are/were necessary together. Sadly, that has not been possible and all one needs to do is look at the disasters that are present urban America to see the fruits of that failure. Interesting that Chuck D writes this, for it’s counter-intuitive for most and almost heretical in its conclusions. Certainly the “left” will view such statements as racist and wrong, but that’s another form of knee-jerk response. (Don’t get my son going on THAT problem of knee-jerk responses!)
It may appear from this that I am anti-integration, but that is far from the truth… it’s important, but not the only thing that’s important. Unfortunately, Blacks fled from their own in a spate (orgy?) of going where they had been unable to go before, to divorce themselves from their segregated heritage. An understandable reaction, but also somewhat self-harming; taken to the extremes that it has been is not positive overall. I’d say ask Peg Leg Bates, but he’s no longer in the building! Chuck D. has stated the points, but nobody has a method of correcting the ills that have befallen urban Blacks – the demise of Black-owned businesses, the flight of the Black middle class to the ’burbs, all resulting in poorer urban schools, fewer publicized employment possibilities outside of pimping and drug selling (only a slight exaggeration). The state of US urban inner cities is atrocious and not getting any better – that would be in Obama’s “too hard” basket for this term, at least, but it’s at the core of much of the “racial” difficulties that the US faces today and tomorrow.
(2.) And now for something completely different. Bruce Bastin has donated part of his record collection (78s) to University of California – Santa Barbara, his “latin” music ones, as part of their “special collection”. (See other enclosure.) I presume that he got some sort of tax receipt that was good in the UK for deduction purposes; I haven’t been able to find out from him how it was to his advantage. In the best of all possible worlds, UCSB would take MY collections (books, 78s, LPs, 45s, tapes, papers, photos, a.o.) – and ME in a custodial/teaching capacity… that would be nice. But it’s not the best of all possible worlds, is it. As I’ve probably already ranted, I’m too White, too male, and too old to be considered by any US university. Ageism, uber alles seems to be the norm these days, even though the general population is getting older. I do feel as if my time will have been wasted unless I finish up what I started, which is looking less and less likely to happen. Such is life. But don’t get ME started on that particular rant… it ain’t pretty!
The English-speaking world does not honor folklore in the same way that Northern European countries do, especially the Scandinavian ones. While Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany pay serious attention both within and without the academic realm, it’s a fringe area in most English-speaking countries. In the US there are a smattering of Masters programs, usually appended to English Departments, while the few PhD programs have withered: U of Penn, U of TX, UCLA have all shrunk their departments into almost nothing; I don’t know how Indiana University is weathering the situation. St Johns in Newfoundland is also a PhD locale, but I’m out of any loops these days to know how things are holding up there. English universities ignore it completely – it’s all in the capable hands of devoted “amateurs” and a very few who had the fortune to get through to academe when the very few windows of opportunity were open. Sound familiar?
Being a folklorist is something that most “Americans” haven’t a clue about. The love of my life (now working at the LofC in DC) is the niece of TV personality Andy Rooney who would ask her, “How’re things going in your PhD in basket-weaving?” A nice demonstration that intelligence does not bar the possibility of stupidity and cheap-shots, a common trait amongst “Americans” who should know better. Most people I meet have no idea what it is that I do and have done, bar a small coterie of anoraks (as they’re called in the UK, a reference to train spotters!) and here in the US it’s even worse, if possible. There IS an Australian folklore organization, but it’s small and lacks academic association; a few jobs through IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music) are around, but they are more and more academic in nature and NOT for those with actual experience in the real world.
(3.) I again came upon an obit for Guitar Shorty written by my dear friend Valerie Wilmer for BLUES UNLIMITED years ago that brings up many of the points that I’ve raised over the years regarding the music and its context in no uncertain terms. Val is a superb writer/photographer/documenter from the UK whose work is always highly recommended – and not because I get a mention in her autobiography! The bulk of her work has been with jazz musicians, especially so-called “avante garde” ones, but she has delved into other aspects of Black music: blues, jazz, British-Caribbean, and the like. All her books are worthy for those with wider-scoped musical interests than “just” blues.
Shorty (O&S #41) was the most “musically possessed” person I dealt with in my decade “in the field”, often creating songs out of things we talked about in the van driving to the store and back, or when I asked for something specific. Once I asked him to do the dirtiest song he could come up with. He did! A truly X-rated talking blues for future release!! He could create out of thin air, similarly to Booker White, or Lightnin’ Hopkins. His living situation was near to dire (as Val will no doubt attest to). He made great art in spite of his situation, not because of it, no matter how hard many try and romanticize his state. “Poverty ennobles nothing, but marks everything… .”(1).
The saddest part about the death of Baby Tate (O&S # 11) for me musically was that he’d begun to really believe in me (and Bruce) and had worked up NEW material for me to record. We heard bits of some of the new songs before we went further South, with the understanding that we’d record him when we came back in a couple of weeks. One should always strike when the proverbial iron was hot. Larry Johnson was so taken with Tate at the concert they appeared on he said he’d go South with me that summer – I should have taken the two of them to my apartment and recorded them then and there. Such is life.
(1) Pat Conroy – BEACH MUSIC; Bantam Books (1996) NY: p.223.
Peter B. Lowry