It’s been a long, hot week in New Orleans. My head cold lingered but finally faded. The termite swarms have abated but it’s hotter than hell. And the heat leads to short tempers; when the hotheads have guns, it brings a murder wave. I hate it but it happens every Memorial Day weekend. Eventually, things will calm down but despite all the talk, murder remains the hardest crime to deter. It’s often spontaneous and ego-driven. I hate to sound fatalistic but as long as the wider culture resorts to violence to solve its problems this will keep happening. So it goes.
How was that for a cheerful way to start your Saturday morning? Let’s talk about the Robert Rauschenberg artwork that’s this week’s featured image. It’s part of the permanent collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art in gorgeous City Park. I always spend more than a few minutes studying it and pick up on something new every time. I hope you’re feeling better but in case you’re not, here’s a pre-theme song tune to cheer you up:
Thanks Carlos and Greg Rolie. The world may have stopped tilting on its Abraxas after that rousing song.
Now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, it’s time rave about this week’s theme song. Rave On was recorded by rock pioneer Buddy Holly in 1958 and is one of the few hits he didn’t write himself. Bad me. I decided to use it-sans explanation point-because of the second version below.
While we’re on the subject of raving, here’s some Van Morrison:
Now that we’ve raved on about poets and crazy feelings, I’ll have some Words of Love for you after the break.
Since Buddy Holly was one the first rockers to write his own material, I feel remiss in not posting a Holly penned number. It’s make up time: Buddy’s 1957 original followed by the Beatles live at the BBC.
Wow, live Beatles without screaming, orgasmic teenyboppers. It’s disorienting. Let’s move on to our first segment, which is, quite naturally, about Buddy Holly:
The Rocker Next Door: Special thanks to the Guardian for reprinting a classic 1975 NME piece about the bespectacled rock star by Mick Farren:
In any final analysis of the contribution of the stars of the 50s to the general steam of rock and roll, Holly has to be singled out as the man who made possible a whole lot of what came later.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” you ask. Precisely that Holly was the one who, above all others, convinced a large number of nondescript male children that maybe they too could be rock performers.
Most of the early rock’n’roll stars had so much going for them that they tended to overawe the average fan. Only the extremely talented or the extremely crass could attempt to seriously emulate Elvis Presley’s dramatic hoodlum good looks and wide local range, Little Richard’s maniac energy, or Gene Vincent’s delinquent meanness.
Holly was the really accessible early rock star. His high, rather, lightweight tenor could be copied by any spotty third former who posed in front of a mirror with a six-pound mail-order guitar, while with his capped teeth and myopic grim he was certainly no winner in the beauty stakes. He was the first star who made it clear that just about anyone, given a lot of application and the right breaks, could actually make it in the wonderful world of rock’n’roll.
That’s right, ladies and germs, Buddy Holly was the granddaddy of nerd rock. The first time I saw Elvis Costello I said: Holy Buddy Holly, Batman. Speaking of nerds inspired by the man from Lubbock, Texas:
It’s time to strike a more serious note and move on to a story about the Jim Crow era South and how it affected one Louisiana family:
Klan Family Values: LSU’s Manship school of journalism has come up with another winner in their cold case project series. This time around, David J. LaPlante profiles Debra Taylor whose father was a Klansman. Ms. Taylor is so disturbed by memories of her father’s malefactions that she had to get them off her chest:
Debra Taylor remembers many things these days, nightmares she tried hard to forget.
She remembers throwing up as she got off the school bus and walked up the road to her home in the small Louisiana town of Harrisonburg, fearing the abusive father awaiting her.
She remembers her father being so irate after a black 15-year-old boy from a recently integrated high school wrote a harmless note to a female classmate that he led a cross-burning in the teen’s yard.
And she vividly remembers her father confessing near the end of his life to disposing of the bodies of black people by bundling them in barbed wire and dumping them into Alligator Bayou near their Harrisonburg home.
These and more memories so rattled her that at 62, Taylor decided to reveal her family’s secrets. In interviews with the LSU Manship School Cold Case Project from her modest houseboat at Port Vincent, she recounted painful details of life with James “Sonny” Taylor, identified in FBI files as a member of the Silver Dollar Group, a Klan unit that believed violence was the only way to keep black people from gaining rights as the South struggled with embryonic integration.
Debra Taylor was immersed in the racial violence and hate culture that thrived in Klan pockets of 1960s Louisiana. She did not agree with her father, but for the longest time, she said she felt guilty because she said nothing.
Sonny Taylor was mean, she said, exercising his violent anger on anyone — spouses, children, friends and strangers — but especially on black people who didn’t know “their place.”
Debra’s grandfather, her hero and a veteran city marshal, despised his son, she said, and the rest of his family feared him.
I wanted to post the beginning of the article to give you a sense of how horrifying and simultaneously moving it is. It took courage for Ms. Taylor to discuss her horrible father and I’d like to thank her for sharing.
We move from a woman trying to live down the hate crimes of her father to a citadel of *genuine* political correctness, Oberlin College:
The Big Uneasy: First of all, I hate the term politically correct as used by the American right. What they call PC, I call good manners. There are, however, those who have taken things too far as you’ll see in Nathan Heller’s remarkable piece for the New Yorker about the student body at Oberlin:
At Oberlin, it started in December, when the temperatures ran high, although the weeping willows and the yellow poplars that had flared in the fall were bare already. Problems had a tendency to escalate. There was, to name one thing, the food fight: students had noted the inauthenticity of food at the school’s Afrikan Heritage House, and followed up with an on-site protest. (Some international students, meanwhile, complained that cafeteria dishes such as sushi and bánh mì were prepared with the wrong ingredients, making a mockery of cultural cuisine.) There was scrutiny of the curriculum: a student wanted trigger warnings on “Antigone.”
Here’s the deal. I am nearly a First Amendment absolutist. I agree with the late, great Justic Hugo Black that the language of the First Amendment means what it says: “Congress shall make no law” means exactly that. No law. I also believe that hateful speech that does not directly incite violence should be protected. I want the bigots and the haters out in the open where they can be fought.
I’m not sure what I think about what’s happening on campuses like Oberlin but as a free-speech advocate, I defend their right to express themselves as long as it’s not authoritarianism in lefty guise. There’s a lot of authoritarianism out there right now and it makes me nervous. We need to disagree in a civilized manner or the Trumps of the world have won. Violent protests are not only stupid but they play into the Insult Comedian’s hands.
Let’s lighten things up a bit by casting a glance at a movie piece put together by the good folks at Slate:
The 50 Greatest Films By Black Directors is an interesting list that covers the waterfront as it were. Time for a musical interlude:
Hope you’re proud that I got through that without an Elia Kazan joke; until now that is. Here are the criteria Slate used for the list, which doesn’t attempt to rank the movies.
It’s time to fight the canons that be. Slate asked more than 20 prominent filmmakers, critics, and scholars—including Ava DuVernay, Robert Townsend, Charles Burnett, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Wesley Morris, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.—for their favorite movies by filmmakers of color and used their picks to shape our list of the 50 greatest films by black directors. (That restriction excluded many beloved moviesabout black people, like Carmen Jones, A Raisin in the Sun, The Wiz, and Coming to America. Many of those films are great and integral to understanding black film history—but this list is about the power of black people telling their stories.) Our goal is to change the way readers think about the history of movies—and to keep the conversation about black storytelling going long after the #OscarsSoWhite fury has dissipated. That controversy and the immediate responses to it—including the academy’s rule changes—only carry us as far as the Dolby Theatre. They don’t change the playing field.
The list is damn good. I don’t see anything major missing, except for a few comedies but comedy is always underrated. I’m going to be less ambitious and pick ten movies from the list in no particular order:
- Do The Right Thing
- Boyz In The Hood
- Eve’s Bayou
- Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song
- Devil In A Blue Dress
- 12 Years A Slave
- Malcolm X
- Hollywood Shuffle
I may not love listicles but I like lists almost as much as a Cajun loves rice or crawfish. Mmm, crawfish. I don’t have any berl pictures to share this week. You’ll just have to make do with Berl Ives and Irving Berlin puns. I have no idea if Irving bent the dietary rules and did any shellfish berlin, but he was a fine songwriter who doubtless ignored his own advice:
Dave Swarbrick, RIP/Saturday Classic: Pioneering British folk rock musician Dave Swarbrick has died at the age of 75. Swarb was a stellar fiddler best known for his work with Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2007 when he was just 3 years on from a double lung transplant, which led his band mate Simon Nicol to dub him “the poster boy for the NHS.” Swarb was a great musician and a helluva nice guy. He’ll be missed.
You’ll be gobsmacked to learn that this week’s Saturday classic is Fairport Convention’s 1969 album Liege and Lief with Swarb on fiddle.
That’s it for this week. I’m glad I was able to give you a full-blown Saturday post after packing last week’s episode in a Trunk, Kate or is that Tronc? I’m not sure if that made any sense whatsoever but surely you’re used to co-existing with the pun community by now. This week’s Bat-villain is the lovely and talented Michelle Pfeiffer from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Catwoman is seen here giving herself a meme tongue bath: