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An award-winning poet and FSU professor, Kirby has written a homage to Little Richard, popular music as serious art, and a taut celebration of youth culture.
His book “Little Richard: The Birth of Rock n Roll” excels in giving us an exact and delightful portrait of the most significant musical pioneer of the last 60 years.
It is kind of sad, though, that Kirby would have to make the case for Little Richard’s brand of artistic greatness. That’s the fault of rock critics. At first, I got the impression that Little Richard was being used as a proxy for theorizing in the academic mode.
There’s some of that in here, but Kirby retains the sincere, nostalgic infatuation of a teenage boy getting his first taste of youthful revolt.
About that theorizing: It can be seen as a high IQ professor slumming, but Kirby is a genuine appreciator of pop culture and he’s made a nice case for its importance. A lot of it, he says, is non-sense.
The non-sense of pop life didn’t begin with “Tutti Fruit-ti” but it refined it by adding black rhythm, therefore, it is a case of profound injustice that Little Richard has been ignored as a pioneer of rock history, while Fats Domino and others says Kirby, have not.
Art, says Kirby, is largely accidental. And Little Richard’s ability to give young suede shoe teens joy was a product of an accidental moment.
That moment in a recording studio, where Little Richard blushing in embarrassment at the nature of the original lyrics —a “paean to anal intercourse” —stood singing against a wall to avoid the sight of a young lady writer —would change music history by creating a chasm between adult culture and youth culture.
This is especially significant because pop music up until this time was a universally shared pleasure. Mostly, it was the polished stuff of Tin Pan Alley —Cole Porter, the Gershwin boys, Harold Arlen —with singers like Frank Sinatra crooning the swank lyrics.
It had a youthful theme: romantic loss, love, etc but with an adult gleam and sophistication. Little Richard bulldozed that and paved the way for a good deal of the musical act we have now, Lady Gaga, for example.
Although, I admit, jazz was reaching the high point of its artistic achievement in the stuff of Miles Davis, it by then was a minor art-form, mostly ignored among the wider listening public.
What makes Kirby’s appreciation significant is its celebration of the youth culture that Little Richard’s music wrought. The 1950s, as cultural watchers like to say, was the real ferment of culture-upsetting ideas.
What it allowed some Boomers to do is cherish an idea of youthful impetuosity that is self-involved and self-defeating. Greater minds have said better things about its assaults on cultural life than I can muster here. However, I’d like make the point that this is one of the regrettable legacies of Little Richard.
You take his wonderful, interesting exploitation of vaudeville, the black church, and see its seamless integration into his personality: His pancake make-up, gaudy wardrobe, very gay, Wildean personality. And say, Wow! Like Louis Armstrong, he could make you smile.
Kirby makes a claim that I’m not sure I can agree with: Little Richard was the first cross-cultural black entertainer. By being one of the first black performers to strut his musical stuff in front of fully integrated crowds, Little Richard is a little noticed hero of race relations.
I think that designation really goes to Louis Armstrong. Through his countless tours, jazz sets and albums, but especially his TV appearances he was one of the first, really cool black musicians to become accepted by a white audience.
Sometime ago, I was showing a friend of mine an original recording of Ella Fitzgerald doing her famous rendition of “Mack the Knife” in Switzerland. He’d noticed the no-frills accompaniment, assured and dazzling singing, but the lack of a performance concept.
That’s another thing Little Richard did for music: He made it into a performance art. Armstrong had his performing repertory of hokum, but Little Richard seems to have elaborated and perfected it.
His overwhelming legacy, before Beatlemania, was ushering in youth culture and making it possible for a list of pop acts— Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga — to use considerably less talent, personal novelty and various hi jinks to vulgarize and propel the adolescent swing of pop life.
Kirby makes the case that Little Richard was an original and exciting pop artist in a vivid prose, but he also left a cultural dearth. Still, the music was, readily conceding my tender young ears, “A-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boom.
Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square (and occasionally does a little bit of rock n roll).
Tallahassee Democrat (clip)…despite our differences of gender, income, race, religion (or none at all), partisanship or no party affiliation, etc., our community is our common thread. We live and love here. Some of us have deep generational roots, others are transplants, but for a time, we are committed to living alongside one another — an immediate tie that binds us amid an ongoing tempest of national demagoguery. For too many Americans, the trend to brand ourselves as martyrs or warriors (and everyone else (more…)
Something interesting happened last week amidst the hype of primary elections and the growing concern of BPâ€™s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
June 2, 2010 Armando Galarraga almost pitched a perfect game for the Detroit Tigers. History doesnâ€™t remember â€œalmost perfectâ€ games, but I have a feeling this one will be remembered. With two outs remaining in the ninth inning, Galarraga had a chance to pitch the first perfect game of his career, a remarkable feat for any baseball pitcher.
As the Cleveland Indians Jason Donald hit the ball to the right of Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrerra, Galarraga had to hurry to first base to cover. Cabrerra tossed him the ball, beating Donald to the bag, an â€œoutâ€ for you non-baseball people; even replays showed Donald was clearly out. However, umpire Jim Joyce didnâ€™t have the benefit of the replay and called Donald safe.
Most athletes, especially the pitcher himself, would have been the first in the umpireâ€™s face, yelling and screaming about how much of a _____ (insert whatever) he was. Galarraga, no doubt surprised, cocked his head back, shot Joyce a wry smile, and pitched to the final batter who was also thrown out.
After the game umpire Jim Joyce watched the replays and realized how wrong he was. He immediately sought out Galarraga and, weeping like a baby, apologized. He later said, â€œI cost that kid a perfect game.â€
The next day, the final game of the series between the Tigers and Indians, Galaragga met Joyce at home plate before the game to give him the starting lineups. The video shows Joyce dropping his head and trying to hold back tears. The two men then pat each other on the shoulders, a subtle gesture that meant so much, and went their separate ways.
So often we hear the bad sides of sports, the athletes who hold out for more money, abuse women, and spend lavishly, hold themselves above the law. Many more are better suited for Broadway with their celebrations and dramatic shows of emotion towards a bad call.
Everyone once in awhile, we get to see something great in sports. The blown call will no doubt haunt Jim Joyce for the rest of his career, perhaps longer. Galarraga still hasnâ€™t pitched his first perfect game. But Joyce was man enough to admit he was wrong, and Galarraga was gracious enough to accept his apology and move on. He didnâ€™t argue, he didnâ€™t complain, he simply went back to work.
It would be nice if we all worked the same way. It would be nice if our elected leaders worked the same way. The events between Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga are a shining example of why we need The Village Square. Sometimes hope springs from the strangest of places.
Luke Inhen is an FSU political science graduate student and Village Square intern.
One of the many interesting things I wrote down yesterday when we met with our panelists from our June 22 event Here I am Stuck in the Culture Wars with you:
“Conflict is the doorway to intimacy.” –Brian Brown, Lead Pastor at Fellowship of the Hills Church
“Most adult Americans spend their daily lives working in organizations where courtesy and civility are basic presumptions of how people should interact with each other. Moreover, discussion and negotiation underlie normal decision-making processes in the organizations and institutions of civil society and the economy. Americans contrast the environments in which they live their lives with a political order dominated by activists and elected officials who behave like squabbling children in a crowded sandbox. This is another reason why Americans dislike politics: They are put off by the people who specialize in politics.” –Morris Fiorina, Culture War? (Join us for our upcoming dinner, Tuesday June 22 “Here I am, Stuck in the Culture War with You.”
See our panel, menu and buy your dinner ticket HERE. Limited scholarship tickets available. Call 264-8785 to inquire on availability.
Reserve your seat HERE. Space is limited. And don’t miss complimentary finger foods and non-alcoholic beverages from 5 to 6 ahead of the movie at 101 Restaurant’s Versailles Lounge just across Kleman Plaza from The Challenger Center. (Plus 101 is offering 15% off of dinner with your movie ticket after the movie!)
You’d think with the clamor for presidential leadership, in light of the BP crisis, which means President Obama must be seen emoting —rage, or expression of sincere pain thereof—he’d be on board. As the usually inane folks on “Morning Joe” noted, it’s not his thing. Thank God.
On this point —the concept of presidential leadership, I can’t say I’ve done some long reflecting, although I can say I’ve done a not so insignificant amount of reading and absorbing. I can tell you the pluses and minuses, etc of John Adams or Calvin Coolidge on the spot.
By reading American presidential history, I’ve become very firm on one point: We need less of presidential leadership. Recently finishing up a one volume bio of Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham, editor of the profit flailing Newsweek, “American Lion”, I was slightly annoyed.
I’ve had a small, ongoing animus toward Andrew Jackson. He just seemed damned fiery, a little intoxicated with himself. Turns out, I was right.
Meacham thesis is many-entrees but the choicest bits are: Jackson gave us the first glimpse of the Energizer Bunny presidency, our ongoing infatuation with presidential fanfare and personality, political glad-handing and campaigning, and the pernicious concept of the president as a “father figure” to the nation.
These are significant things, especially if you go back and review the constrained view and restrained use of presidential power —of Jackson’s enemies (like John Calhoun and Henry Clay) and his predecessors —James Madison, for instance.
Jackson went out of his way to strengthen the presidency because he had this bizarre view of the American people as his children. That’s how he explained his uncanny political sense and “mystical” connection to them and his political success.
I’d explain his success another way: He was a shrewd political operator and a manipulative and needy man. That guided his political instinct and his need for control. Meacham forwards the theory that this may in part have something to do with his being an orphan (His mother died in his early childhood). Having been an orphan myself, I can buy this view as top-notch psycho-babble.
Yet like Clay and others, I abhor the imagery because its the mindset of the dictator, the tyrant. Stalin thought he was the father of modern Russia.
Jackson was a man of phenomenally uneven judgment: His decision to take deposits from the Second National Bank, the infant Federal Reserve, caused an economic crisis; his Indian removal policy which tore up 25 yrs of diplomacy was a disaster from which Native Americans still suffer, and his inability to understand the complexities of the then emerging American manufacturing industry and the point of the tariffs for their support, was a setback. His only redeeming decision and virtue was his calling John Calhoun’s bluff and averting a succession crisis.
So, when Meacham in a smooth, lively and informative prose style praises Jackson and the presidency he created as taking America from its pedestrian and pre-modern constitutionalism, I can’t be persuaded it was a good thing, but just inevitable.
Although Jackson had what a post-Buckleyite right-winger would call conservative instincts —- his states rights positions, his penny-saving fiscal policies, etc.— his overwhelming appetite for governmental power is a fine example of liberal presumption, which made those policy traits less distinctly conservative.
What Jackson did was create a polity that relies constantly on presidential guidance and interference —and it rarely likes the result.
As David Brooks wrote in his NYT column:
“In times of crisis, you get a public reaction that is incoherence on stilts. On the one hand, most people know that the government is not in the oil business. They donâ€™t want it in the oil business. They know there is nothing a man in Washington can do to plug a hole a mile down in the gulf.
On the other hand, they demand that the president â€œtake control.â€ They demand that he hold press conferences, show leadership, announce that the buck stops here and do something. They want him to emote and perform the proper theatrical gestures so they can see their emotions enacted on the public stage.”
We can thank Andrew Jackson, American lion, for this circus.
Chris Timmons shares his insights and conservative sensibilities in a featured blog for The Village Square.
Definition of civil discourse: Posting a smart and well-written blog even when it 1. Rips one of your favorite shows on TV (Morning Joe, I think they’re doing important work in this hyperpartisan climate) and 2. Rips your great x5 uncle (Andrew Jackson, although I already had a whole bunch of bones to pick with him, perhaps we just add one?)
Apparently the Florida House passed a bill this session as a response to a consent decree the ACLU got Santa Rosa County school system to sign prohibiting prayer and religious activities by students and staff at school events. FloridaThinks has a fascinating story today on the potential unintended consequences of the bill:
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Association in Washington, D.C., says the legislation may unshackle student newspapers from the usual oversight of school administrators, effectively putting Florida among seven states â€“ none in the Southeast â€“ that have passed laws endorsing free expression for students. Student papers running frank discussions of sex on campus, drug-use, and other provocative topics usually face few restrictions in the states that have approved such laws, LoMonte says.
Read the whole article HERE.