When we were on tour together, Sam Newsome was immersed in White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele. I was intrigued, because in my own jazz studies I have found the horror of segregation to have been a kind of crucible for greatness. Following from that, I have occasionally wondered about something being lost in the victories of integration.
Steele is profoundly anti-affirmative action. I am not: I generally consider myself pro-affirmative action. Yet it is indubitably true that all the classic jazz I cannot imagine living my life without was made mostly by black musicians with absolutely no government support or sanction. In addition, I am privately contemptuous of certain art that gets funded under the auspices of what Steele calls liberal guilt. Checking off quotas does not automatically make for greater museums, literary anthologies, or jazz festivals.
It’s obviously a complex issue, especially when we leave the arts and go into the communities where normal people live. As any DTM reader knows, I praise Ta-Nehisi Coates and his idea of Reparations. At this point in my development, Steele may just be a bracing alternative, almost a way to keep one honest.
While the whole book is superbly written, the memoir aspects are especially compelling. In the end, it’s the story of how a passionate man ended up accepting being labeled a “black conservative.”
An interview of Steele with Ed Gordon gives an idea of Steele’s perspective, although my impression is that Steele is more comfortable writing than being interviewed.
I know little of pop and rock music, except of course as an American White Male born in 1973 it is essentially my birthright and folklore. U2 and Bono have mostly passed me by, except that some of the tunes are notably good…
…but I remember being shocked by the 2002 Super Bowl halftime show, the one where Bono unzipped his jacket to reveal an American flag. What was that about? Trading on the righteous indignation created by 9/11 to what end? The Time magazine cover that followed, “Can Bono Save the World?” just added to my skepticism.
I’ve sort of kept a question mark by Bono’s name since then. Recently I opened The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) by Harry Browne. It was a thrilling, scathing, and educational read.
The Amazon page has a solid blurb by Boff Walley:
It’s the stuff you instinctively knew about Bono – his increasingly desperate flirtations with power, his fundamentally conservative and religious motivation, his adherence to neo-liberal and essentially Republican capitalist economic strategies, his old-style crusader’s vision of Africa as another culture to be colonised, blimey even his slimy and unapologetic tax-dodging – all that stuff wrapped up in a grounded, inquisitive, even-handed bookful of research.
I’m not knowledgable enough about geopolitics and celebrity charity to assert that Browne is truly even-handed or not. But not only does Browne does give Bono some credit, the footnotes documenting every damming assertion go on for pages and pages…so I am willing to take Browne at his word for now. As Walley says, it’s stuff you knew instinctively already.
Elliott Prasse-Freeman’s critique in the Los Angeles Review of Books gives a good overview.
Browne’s exegesis is not so much about looking at Bono as it is looking through him — an intervention against an entire type, at what Bono has helped create, forcing us to weigh his useful advocacy (especially around AIDS in Africa) against the symbolic succor he lends to the brutal statesmen and corporations his advocacy work advances.
Jazz students are advised to seek out the obscure 1980 tract Trane ’n Me by Andrew White III. White typed directly onto his Smith Corona and mimeographed for simple self-production. Kevin Sun found it in NEC library, and his survey helped inspire me to take a look myself. A superb quote by White posted by Dan Voss was also intriguing…
White is still around: While it’s possible someone should really cut a deal and get this invaluable material on Kindle. There’s also a White autobiography and probably also other writings, not to mention the hundreds of transcribed Coltrane and Dolphy solos.
Trane ’n Me records how a talented musician came to terms with John Coltrane’s music while Coltrane was alive and developing. At one point in a club in D.C., Coltrane is watching the band, so White calls “Giant Steps” and proceeds to play first Coltrane’s solo then his own variation. Afterwards Coltrane says, “I see you are playing all those HARD tunes.”
Probably Andrew White and Shelby Steele wouldn’t agree on everything, but reading White Guilt and Trane ’n Me back to back offered some interesting parallels. I laughed aloud at this section (ellipses are his):
From a sociological point of view I guess you could say that jazz is an art form. You know…It is the largest contribution to the American culture given by Black people…Jazz was created by Black people…The source of Black Afro-American classical music is the mother country: AFRICA….Jazz is the music of Black people which symbolizes the struggle to gain equality and respect from the oppressors who brought us over here on slave ships under horrendous conditions four hundred years ago…send in your $5.00 for this symbolic dashiki made in Taiwan and assembled in Mexico…Stan Getz ain’t black…Neither is Woody Herman…This dashiki and some mind expanding herb will make you play all of the right changes in “Giant Steps” just like Trane, right?….Wrong!
After condemning the record industry as being Caucasian-controlled, Andrew White writes a page suitable for a footnote in Steele’s White Guilt:
The truth of the matter is that art is work. Genius is work. In order for genius to be realized it has to be met with equal matching funds, not from the National Endowment of the Arts but from the minds and backs of all of us. Work. Trane worked.
I wasn’t around Trane that much but I never heard anybody say they saw a halo around his head.
Let’s get away from successes used as excuses for failure and mediocrity.
WORK! WORK! WORK!
The only distracting element in Trane ’n Me in some rather exaggerated braggadocio. Still, White is certainly not wrong to note that Andrew White the Third is a unique personality. I’m going to try to find his autobiography Everybody Loves the Sugar next.