". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Muscle Shoals

Unlike Sun and Stax, and even Blue Note for Jazz, at Muscle Shoals, whether the original Fame Studio or the Jerry Wexler - Atlantic Records steal-way of the Swampers from FAME for Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (memo: never get in bed with Jerry Wexler; guess Rick Hall hadn't paid attention to what happened with Stax) -- there were no women involved at FAME or Muscles Shoals.  It was a boys club all the way around.

No wonder that mess happened with Aretha -- those guys didn't know how to treat women.

No wonder the Stones recorded there.

Or that it was the birthplace of we-wave-stars-and-bars 
 Country Rock (the Allmans).

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vikings Season 2 - HBO History Channel - Ep 207 Blood Eagle & Ep 208 Boneless

As much has been going on in the saga world of legendary Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok, his family, relatives, friends, allies and enemies as has been going on over here in real world. In Nuestra Casa, thank goodness, it's been art, scholarship, music and friends

But in Kattegatt, it was cutting out an enemy's lungs, the "Blood Eagle" in the title of last week's episode, while Jarl Borg still lived. If Borg wanted to get to Valhalla, he could not make a sound while this lengthy, excruciating death was in process. One has the sense hope drugs were involved to make his heroic sacrifice possible, for it was in every sense a ritual death, dedicated to Odin, even though it was carried out upon the man who betrayed Ragnar and tried to kill him,  his family, and stole all his lands. When one of Borg's hands slips from the beam simulating an outstretched wing, Ragnar carefully replaces it, to make the sacrifice perfect.  

One sensed that mass of bread or whatever it was brought to Jarl Borg in his prison by Ragnar's son, Bjorn, was not really bread, and the passionate haste with which Borg snatched it was more from relief than because he was famished. We've seen drugs involved in two ritual deaths already, the handmaid who volunteers to go with Eorl Haraldson on his funeral ship was both drunk and drugged, and the sacrifices at Uppsala were given a potion.

King Horik revealed himself the rat we know he is.  Ragnar is skinning and gutting a rat -- evidently just for something to occupy his restless hands -- when King Horik arrives in his Hall.  Horik coerces Siggy, whose choices of powerful men with whom to ally herself have a way of backfiring, to have sex with his son -- while he watches.  He visits Jarl Borg in his cell, bringing him the skull of his dead wife and the mendacious assurance that Ragnar will rescind his Blood Eagle. When Hork enters Borg has been holding a sort-of pet rat.  In both these sequences we know who the rat in the scene really is. 

In Wessex, the rescued Athelstan is King Ecbert's new,favored librarian-scribe-confident and advisor in all things nordic. Athelstan suffers from hallucinations, most of them most unpleasant. Rescued by Ecbert from the cross on which he was hung, while arrows were shot into him, Athelstan could be having post traumatic episodes -- the crucifixion might have resurfaced memories of the terrible scenes of the sacking of Lindisfarne where Ragnar captured him. Then, one does wonder if the hallucinations are Upssala drug-induced triggers, for back in season 1 when Ragnar was going to sacrifice Athelstan there, Floki gave him something psychotropic (on which it seems everyone there was tripping).

So -- two tortures last week.

And there are two weddings!

One in Wessex between King Ecbert's son, Athelwulf -- who seems a good bloke --  and King Aelle's daughter, Judith -- who seems a nice enough girl --  and the other in Kattegatt -- Floki marries Helga, pregnant with his child.  Floki's also pregnant with a non-previously perceived antagonism toward Ragnar.  Like the universal trickster's dark side, as we see with Elegba, Loki or Iago, Floki's dark or twisted side is becoming dominant (and woo, has he imbibed in psyhotropic drugs over the years!).

In any case, one wedding looks like loads of fun and we know which of the two weddings does not look like any fun at all -- though the two principals are old enough, and seem to like each other well enough, which is much better than nothing.  But the one that was not fun was for political and military alliance: not only to fight off viking incursion, but to carve up Mercia, a larger, neighboring kingdom.  Certainly this alliance shall fare no better than the alliance among Ragnar, Borg and Horik has? -- the ways of ambitious and powerful men being what they are, of whatever religion or land, bent as they are on betrayal and back-stabbing.

With the loss of Borg's lungs last week, so were Borg's ships and men. This week Ragnar gains ships and fighting men because Lagertha has become Eorl in the place of her sadistic stupid insane husband.  She brings Ragnar what he needs, including herself among the counted warriors for the invasion of Wessex. I personally believe she's doing this for the sake of her son Bjorn, not Ragnar, but Ragnar's manly self-regard doesn't consider this, seemingly. He's surely believes she still loves HIM even though he threw her over for a royal baby-production machine.  Anyway, he thinks he should be able to have them both as his wives, and what Ragnar wants is how it should be in the devious mind of Ragnar. 

This week's episode, "Boneless", shows Rat's back-stabbing tactics.  It's one way to become king and stay king -- connive to divide your rival from his support network. King Horik scope for this is far greater than poor Jarl Borg's ever was -- all he managed to do was suborn Ragnar's brother Rollo, and that, only for a time. Horik's playing Siggy, Floki -- and even it, seems, Lagertha.Rollo, having learned his lessons (as well as having an historical destiny of his own in the offing) isn't playing the game though.  Besides he knows that Horik has sexed Siggy. Rollo may have forgiven Siggy (they aren't married), but he's unlikely to forget it happened -- certainly no so far as to betray his brother Ragnar again.

Shortly before the gathered invasion fleet sails out of the Kattegatt fjord, Aslaug has another baby, another boy. This one has legs that are withered and misshapen, probably due to the very difficult birth. In the end Ragnar cannot kill / expose the boy anymore than Aslaug would, even though that's the regulation for imperfect babies. Ivar the Boneless.  He too has a destiny.

A previously unknown character invades Ecbert's court, shortly before the viking fleet invades Wessex. This is the Princess  Kwenthrith of Mercia, who, has not only killed her own brother in a civil war, but is Princess of the kingdom King Ecbert and King Aelle have agreed to divide up among them. The watchers are immediately on the team of Ecbert and Aelle to do this because for some reason the writers wants us to be. Not only have they made Kwenthrith a vegetarian, she's witchy, creepy and sexually insatiable. She talk talk talks of her appetites and experiences in public -- raped by her brother when she was twelve! A BAD WOMAN, unfit to rule a kingdom. As unlike Lagertha as you can get, Only one woman at a time, if any at all, can be allowed to be strong and wise and worthy of running things. I'm not believing in her character as presented to us.  Hate this character, in a negative, not good, way. Such frackin' cliche, wildly implausible in her milieu, at least to someone like me for whom this era is not an historical specialty.

Athelstan -- still having hallucinations -- even one about the horrible Kwenthrith -- mattered to everybody in this episode.  Ragnar nearly wept with relief learning certainly that Athelstan is still alive.  This is sort of curious since Ragnar was planning to sacrifice him at Uppsala, until told Athelstan didn't believe properly so couldn't be a proper sacrifice.

Bjorn didn't do much, beyong fight training, continuing to be in lust love with the slave, Porunn and worrying about how he'll handle himself in a battle. There was another thing though about Bjorn -- Lagertha sees him with Porunn.  Fearsome Mother asks, "Who are you?" meaning Porunn.  Bjorn answers, that Porunn is a serving woman, a slave, and "I'm in love with her." He takes Porunn's hands and walks off.  There's the teensiest hint of a smile on Lagertha's mouth.  Why? if there is a smile, is she smiling?  That Ragnar's first born, warrior NOW son, is confident enough in himself to tell his mother that he's in love with a low-born, nay -- a slave and not be embarrased?  When his father chose to throw off his middling born shield maiden wife in favor of a woman born royal, and who gives him son after son (I still blame Siggy -- or the sweating plague -- for that). But I got the sense that Lagertha approves .... (Can be wrong!)

This week's episode was much a set-up episode for this season's last two, in which surely there will be the battles that so many watch for (I'm not one of those -- I've seen how shield walls work now, and I appreciate knowing more now than before). Horik made sure there would be battles. The rat's son reveals himeself to be a creepy toad in his own right, not just as an obedient son doing as his father tells him. 

With all those sons Ragnar Lothbrok has brought into the world, does the world need him any longer?  He's sown his seed adequately. How will all those boys manage with each other as they grow up and need lands, ships and compete for warriors and girls?  

Not that I want to see Ragnar go -- he's a terrific character.  But lately we haven't much seen him being himself -- more as others around him react to the fact of him. All this could go so many ways.  We are content knowing there is a season three already given the go light, so there will be more. 


* It's possible that Ragnar is cognizant of what Horik's doing (that rat he skinned and disemboweled last week!).  Ragnar being a cunning sort, may have made a strategy with his family to play along  -- meaning Rollo, Lagertha and Bjorn. And then, gut. Ragnar's got his own men, his ex-wife's men, his son and his brother at his back.  Horik's only got his own creepy son, as well as his own men, of course.

I kind of think Floki's antipathy is real though -- as identified as he seems to be with the Norse trickster god, Loki.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Robert Ashley, Whitney Bianniel Performances

Two articles about the performances (in one of which el V is lead, Perfect Lives, in Spanish, Las Vidas Perfectas) published today, in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Three of Robert Ashley's works are part of this Whitney Biennial.

Though it is mischance, not design or forethought, these are the first posthumous performances of the composer's work. When an artist dies his work is looked at and assessed differently, so these performances -- and their inclusion the Whitney Biennial -- are even more notable for the arc of Bob Ashley's career -- beyond the great desire of the guiding force of  Alex Waterman of these runs -- to, among other objectives, honor the artist that Alex so reveres.
April 8, 2014 11:29 p.m. ET
Extending a Composer's Opera Legacy
Alex Waterman Brings Robert Ashley's Operas to the Whitney BiennialBy Corinne Ramey
APRIL 14, 2014
Critic’s Notebook
Still Sensing the Presence of a Departed ComposerRobert Ashley’s Work Lives On at the Whitney Biennial

The sold-out performances begin Thursday

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Blues: Recovering Lost History

We've lost so much in that transition between music's prehistory and early recording. Here's the story of getting back just a teeny bit of it.

This is another New York Times interesting article about earlier American popular music, but this one's in the NY Times Magazine: "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie" --  On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace, by John Jeremiah Sullivan.

The article includes listening links that you do not leave the page to hear, video and photographs.  It's one of the Times Magazine's efforts at creating authentic interactive journalism.  Beyond the content text, this is one hell of a production.

This is one of the early paragraphs:
Outside any bullyingly hyperbolical attempts to describe the technical beauty of the songs themselves, there’s another facet to them, one that deepens their fascination, namely a certain time-capsule dimension. The year 1930 seems long ago enough now, perhaps, but older songs and singers can be heard to blow through this music, strains in the American songbook that we know were there, from before the Civil War, but can’t hear very well or at all. There’s a song, Geeshie’s “Last Kind Words,” a kind of pre-blues or not-yet-blues, a doomy, minor-key lament that calls up droning banjo songs from long before the cheap-guitar era, with a strange thumping rhythm on the bass string.
Via the embedded music that can be turned on or off at the reader's convenience, what Sullivan's talking about becomes clear.

Reading this essay is rather like sitting with Elijah Wald,  sharing the research information of our latest projects with wild enthusiasm -- which has been our pleasure to do again this weekend as he's visiting. BTW, EW's having a terrific spring -- The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mamma, his latest book, has sold out already!

As Dylan shows up in Sullivan's piece so he does in Elijah's work-in-progress, which is about the folk music scene of the 1950's and early 60's.

Here's another intriguing paragraph, about legendary, but not so well known Blues collector, Mack McCormick, about whom EW and I talked yesterday, among other collectors who aren't able to write books of their own out of their laboriously created archives (there are several we know in the latin music world, particularly those who have lived their own lives in Puerto Rican music in New York; they are aging, in poor health -- and poor; so much of what they know will be lost -- yet they don't want to let go of what they know, at least to very many people):
He had said he didn’t want to talk about Robert Johnson, for personal reasons and on principle. But his talk spiraled inexorably toward Johnson anyway. The singer loomed over his memory as he had over his career. What he told me took me aback. McCormick said that what he realized, in the quarter century since Guralnick’s book came out, was that most of what we think we know about Robert Johnson — which is to say, most of what McCormick thought he knew — was highly unstable. We’re not even sure, McCormick said, that the man in the pictures we have, the smiling man with long fingers, holding the guitar, is Robert Johnson. Or that he is, as McCormick put it, “the guy who made the records.” He is a Robert Johnson. But according to McCormick, the more he has lived with the evidence, the more he doubts. Of the people he interviewed so long ago, more than one of those who had met Johnson and been present at one of his two sessions in Texas told McCormick, when they were shown the famous photograph, “That’s not the guy.” It didn’t look like him, they said. Not everyone said that, but a few.
According to EW, who, obviously, is well versed in many of the matters of the blues, "It's not as though blues scholars haven't known for ages that much is mythology and not historically factual. This isn't new news (as he shows in his Escaping the Delta), it's that didn't matter much to them."

It's sort of like the Story of the Egyptian Captivity and Exodus -- which historically never happened. We choose the stories we want rather than historical fact, because the stories we make up, we make up to nurture, to sustain ourselves. Those stories are more essential to our continuing to live this life, out of which none of us gets alive.

Forbidden City USA

Forbidden City USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970 by Arthur Dong chronicles the Chinese nightclub scene in San Francisco and NYC. The book is published this weekend by DeepFocus Productions.

Mr. Dong, whose award-winning trilogy of documentaries about discrimination against gays includes “Coming Out Under Fire,” began researching the clubs while working on his 1989 documentary, “Forbidden City, U.S.A.” “I love the big band era, I love Busby Berkeley musicals,” he said. “And the fact that these were Chinese-Americans doing this made it even that much more exciting.”

This San Francisco nightclub scene was the inspiration for the 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song, by Chinese-American writer, C.Y. Lee, which in turn inspired Oscar and Hammerstein's eighth stage and screen musical. They hired Gene Kelly to direct the first stage production (1958; film 1961).  From the New York Times article on Forbidden City USA and Mr Dong:

Mr. Dong discovered seven nightclubs in San Francisco, as well as a lone outpost in New York, the China Doll, where patrons could indulge in pagoda punches and Tibet coolers “fit for a Buddha.” Owned and operated by Tom Ball, a white stage producer, China Doll played up the Asian angle in ways unseen in the San Francisco clubs, which were all Chinese owned. “At the Forbidden City, you had the Gershwin revue and the Gold Rush show,” Mr. Dong said. “At China Doll, you had shows like ‘Maid in China’ and ‘Slant-Eyed Scandals.’ ”

Mr. Dong also discovered that a lot of the performers at these “all-Chinese” cabarets were not really Chinese. Many were Japanese-American, including the M.C. Pat Morita (“The Karate Kid”) and the comedian Jack Soo, who would go on to star in “Flower Drum Song,” the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical inspired by the Forbidden City nightclub.

This is a fascinating part of the history of American popular music,particularly the Big Band erea, which hardly any of us know.  So we thank Arthur Dong for making it available.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Memphis is Mississippi

Memphis is really Mississippi, not Tennessee, no matter what the maps say.


Memphis, not Nashville, was the economic magnet for the Delta, as Philadelphia was for the upper south, Maryland and Virginia, and even South Carolina,  in the colonial era -- until Baltimore, which rapidly took its place. In the southern "west" not Nashville, but Memphis, was the magnet for the working poor, black and white of the Delta. Elvis. Even though, as we see from Wiki, Tupelo isn't the Delta per se:
Tupelo is the county seat and the largest city of Lee County, Mississippi. It is also the seventh-largest city in the state. It is situated in northeast Mississippi, between Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, and is accessed by U.S. Route 78. 

For the more prosperous Delta people, Memphis is where you go to shop for fashionable items and enjoy sophisticated entertainment. You see this in the fiction by the writers who are from this part of the country, as in Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty, set in 1923, published 1946. The Fairchild's family's mercantile members live and own business in Memphis. Those who live on Shellmound plantation to there to shop, to celebrate and to party.

One way to understand this is to contrast the work of Welty, say, born in Jackson, Mississippi, with that of Peter Taylor, Nashville writer.

As another contrast is what the writing of William Alexander Percy, second cousin and adoptive parent of Walker Percy, reveals. The wealthy and powerful elite of the Delta, are cosmopolitan: sending their sons, at least, to Harvard, then to Europe and New York, with family connection throughout the old confederacy from Virginia and Georgia, to New Orleans and Nashville.

... William McChesny Martin, Walker Hill, and W.B.. Plunkett. Standing: Murray Carleton, Oscar Fenley, F.O. Watts, Walter W. Smith, and LeRoy Percy, from  A Foregone Conclusion, a history of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, serving "St. Louis, Little Rock, Louisville, Memphis."
Nashville for this class rather than Memphis, because Nashville was the regional political center. William Walker Percy's father, LeRoy Percy (1860 - 1929), served as a senator in D.C.

LeRoy Percy was a wealthy attorney who became a planter in Greenville, Mississippi (location headquarters for the Coen Bros.' film, O Brother, Where Art Thou), in the heart of the Delta. His plantation of Trail Lake covered 20,000 acres and was worked by sharecroppers. Thus it's not surprising that Leroy Percy died Memphis, the economic and cultural capital of the Delta.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Visions of Science: Books and Readers at he Dawn of the Victorian Age by James Secord

Visions of Science reviewed here, "The March of Intellect" by Rosemary Hill, in the UK Guardian, has provoked thinking again about the parallels of events and ideas in England, particularly, Europe generally, and the New World, the North American colonies and the United States particularly.

The March Of Intellect, portrayed in a cartoon of 1828 as a giant steam-driven robot sweeping away the established order, was changing everything for better, or for worse.

1828 – here in the U.S. we are now the Age of Jackson, partially thanks to “the Press”; when we, over here, think in terms of the Age of Jackson, the final destruction of the Federalist party, universal franchise (for white men), Indian Removal, Jackson' economic ignorance bringing on one of the longest and worst financial disasters in our history, the inflating bubble of the domestic slave trade and the growth of secessionist "philosophy".  Yet, all these other ideas and discussions were going on in the minds of men and women too, as much in the adolescent U.S. as in the far more mature England.

This makes me shiver – as quoted from the review, again, the advances in printing made these ideas more available to more people. It was as much in effect here in the U.S. in the era of raging populism (playing a huge role in the election of Andre Jackson to the Presidency),

as it was for a highly educated, developed, brilliant intellects as George Eliot (then  Mary Ann Evans) and her to-be common law partner, George Henry Lewes, and her intellectual sparring partner to-be, Herbert Spencer.  All of them were enthralled by Lyell’s thinking.
.... What may now look like "the dawn of the Victorian age", as James Secord's subtitle has it, was to contemporaries an era all of its own in which The March of Intellect, portrayed in a cartoon of 1828 as a giant steam-driven robot sweeping away the established order, was changing everything for better, or for worse.

The new steam-powered printing presses brought cheap reading matter to ever larger audiences and among the books available to buy or borrow were the founding texts of subjects from psychology to physics. ....

.... If one question preoccupied the thinking classes of the 1830s more than another it was time. Newton had long since opened up space, but time remained trapped in biblical chronology, which reckoned the Earth to be about 6,000 years old. It was increasingly clear that this was not enough to account even for human history, but evidence for an alternative theory was slow in coming.

It emerged from one of the newer sciences when the first part of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology was published in 1831. Lyell's theories about the formation of the earth broke the time barrier and his book, Darwin found, "altered the tone of one's mind". Many minds were altered in due course, but as Secord makes clear the process was gradual and the alterations various. For some people it meant the end of God. The atheist Charles Southwell sent for Lyell's Principles when he was in prison for blasphemy. Yet many contemporaries read it as a way of reconciling the material evidence of the fossil record with the slow unfolding of a divine plan.
The mysteries of time, even documented, historical era parallels, are still here, to be investigated and marveled at, part of the history of ideas.