Eastern American Studies Association: Learning by Example

Last month, we attended the Eastern American Studies Association conference in Philadelphia titled “The Body of America, the Health of America: Taking the Pulse of American Culture.” We attended panels by graduate and undergraduate students who had completed research in the field of American Studies. They spanned many topics within the broader theme of health in America, including how photography effected the national understanding of poverty in the sixties, the practice and concept of passing in literature, the struggle of being a black country singer in the seventies, and the representation of women’s sexuality in the media since the fifties. Personally, it was exciting to see where I could potentially present my own research in the future.

President Lyndon B. Johnson posing with Tom Fletcher, an American living in poverty; part of Johnson’s campaign for the “war on poverty,” 1964

While these presentations were interesting, I was most captivated and intrigued by the plenary session at the end of the first day. Throughout the day, multiple panels occurred at once, so participants could choose what they wanted to listen to. However, this plenary was the only event between the last panel session and dinner. The topic listed on the pamphlet said “Beyond the Resolution: The Future of American Studies (Roundtable).” I thought they would talk about how changes in academia, technology and the field of American Studies itself were affecting how we research, study and teach American Studies. However, I found myself listening to four panelists (Professor Miles Orvell, Professor Sharon Musher, Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, and Professor Robert Snyder) tell us why the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions is wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines roundtable as “an assembly for discussion, especially at a conference.” It seems to me that multiple perspectives would be presented at this roundtable so as to facilitate a discussion that explores all sides of the issue. However, the four panelists who spoke all gave the same argument: the American Studies Association should not boycott Israel. Regardless of their reasons why or their proposed next steps, they all agreed that it is not the place of the ASA to call a boycott and take a political stance in matters that do not concern the ASA directly.

This is all well and good, and these scholars are certainly allowed to have and to express their opinion. The point of this piece is not to agree or disagree with this boycott or anything having to do with the Israel Palestine conflict. I am concerned, however, with the fact that the Eastern American Studies Association forced me to do the exact opposite of what they teach me in classes: read one perspective without exploring different opinions, rationales, or narratives. Debates are fundamental and necessary in an active and creative academic setting. But this was no debate. The people in charge of the conference used the conference as a platform to express their solitary opinion. This abuse of opportunity is shown through the lack of differing opinions presented by panel members, and the lack of options to attend other panels. Furthermore, what does this resolution have to do with the theme of the conference, the health of America?

I am calling into question the way the Eastern American Studies Association represents themselves through the way they organized and presented a one-sided debate. After doing some research on my own after the conference, I found that 252 universities reject the ASA’s boycott. Clearly, many American Studies departments who are members of the ASA disagree with the boycott. However, there are general members, other departments and executive board members who agree with the boycott. Why were they not invited to represent their side of the argument? I found myself feeling as though we were sitting at the high school lunch table talking about our friends behind their backs. The Eastern American Studies Association wasted an opportunity to show young American Studies scholars such as myself and my classmates that internal debate within the field occurs and is healthy. However, by excluding an entire half of the conversation, this lesson was not learned.

Overall, I am grateful that I received this enlightening experience. I hope to present my future work at next year’s conference. However, the conference further solidified the lesson we learn in our classes everyday: do not accept the facts you are given as absolute truth. In order to be an active learner and a responsible citizen, you must understand the possible biases that are working for and against arguments and create your own opinions. Curiosity and inquisition are necessary in growing as fulfilled American Studies students and as responsible American citizens.

Ray Charles, The Greatest Manipulator of Music

The film Ray,” released on October 29, 2004, chronicles the life of Ray Charles Robinson, better known as the dynamic Ray Charles.

“They call him the ‘genius’ and they call him the ‘father of soul.’ With perfect pitch and an expressive voice, he combines worlds as diverse as jazz, country, rhythm and blues, and gospel to break your heart or make you dance. His name is Ray Charles, and if you turn…you will hear the influence of his ground-breaking music.”

Charles was born to a poor family in rural Georgia, and became blind at a young age. He struggled throughout his childhood and later life to become successful in the music industry, and did so by combining different genres of music. His vast travels and partnerships with various music groups and record companies, each led him to create a different sound in his music.

The work of Ray Charles not only grew to fame starting with his involvement within the jazz trio known as the McSons, in 1950, but continued to rise to even greater popularity throughout the decade and into the early 1980s. Charles went from the McSons, who used his vocal talents to replicate the work of Nat King Cole, to joining Swing Time Records. At Swing Time Records he started his road tours and was able to take his voice around the east coast. Though he was praised for his jazz influence in the McSons, Swing Records urged Charles to create music with upbeat tones, and that he did. Charles did not compromise his own uniqueness to cater to the needs of the record company though, he simply added a swing music flare to his existent jazz persona, creating the hit single “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.”

His ability to manipulate his music through others’ influences in this single, led to his rise in popularity and his appeal to Atlantic Records in 1952. Charles signed to this record company later in the year, due to financial interests. His path to record deals seemed to be a trail of funds; wherever the greater financial interest could be found, Charles was not only sure to follow, but also willing to cater his sound to the needs of his current investors. At Atlantic Records Charles was urged to stray from his Nat King Cole influence, and encouraged to create a Pete Johnson dance sound. Here, not only did he add even more of a swing flare to his music, but he also created his, at the time, seemingly sacrilegious lyrics. Charles used gospel music as the basis for his new work, then combined it with R&B, and added suggestive lyrics along with a trio of female singers. This recipe led to his hit single, “I’ve Got a Woman,” in 1954. His addition of changes to different forms of music did not end with one hit single; Charles continued to add changes to his music to gain greater appeal to a various audience. This one song appealed to those who enjoyed gospel, R&B, jazz, and swing music, and now, even more women.
In 1959, Charles continued to change his music due to his travels throughout the nation. In the south he had started off with his country music, and then added jazz and R&B as he performed for New Yorkers, but while performing in California, Charles added pop sounds and signed with the major ABC Records company which offered him rights to his own master copies and seventy-five percent shares to his profits. By signing to such a major record company, Charles realized his music would not only reach those of color, but the majority of the white population as well. It was this expansion that led to his inclusion of pop sounds, an orchestra, and a choir, to his usual country and jazz roots, creating the famous song, “Hit the Road Jack.”

As Chris Rojek explains in, Pop Music, Pop Culture,” the function of popular music is to reach a wide audience, and Ray Charles did so by combining different genres of music, so that audiences of each would gather to listen to his work.

“The function of music may still include achieving neural links that make meaning possible. But the commercial motive behind popular music…the social and psychological uses which consumers make of it preclude the idea of a universal structure. The production, exchange and consumption of popular music is a question of human agency and interpretation, rather than a matter of a universal mechanical link between generic feedback loops…here, music is an accessory of lifestyle architecture (17).”

Charles was innovative not only in his sound, but in his thinking. He experimented with different genres, record companies which appealed to different audiences (whether indie through Atlantic Records or popular through ABC Records), and different supporting artists (ranging from jazz players or a female trio, to a choir). He used his audiences’ tastes to revamp his original sound, making him the great musician he is known as, not for his personal music but for the sound of his hits.

Ray Charles performing with an orchestra

Ray Charles was truly not only a great artist, but a great manipulator of sound. What gave him his rise to fame was his manipulation of his own sounds, music, and combinations of genres throughout different eras. He accommodated to the needs of each time period, record company that he was working with, his personal life, and his audience. The listening experience of Charles’ music was heightened due to his riveting and dynamic work, which never ceased to impress the demanding audiences, both black and white.

“Ray,” very objectively presents Ray Charles as a great musician and struggling moral being. The once poor and illiterate black man, used his musical talents and understanding of audiences’ needs to gain popularity. Having been conned by several individuals and record companies, he followed suit of those who promised him more financial support and soon became engulfed in the world of fame, narcotics, and promiscuity, yet always remained an idol to the public.

Chris Rojek also insists that

“…certain pop stars are sometimes elevated to the status of idols representing particular issues relating to wider social formations, such as generation, ethnicity, class, gender, nation, or subculture (19).”

This holds true for Charles as well. Charles, during a tour in Georgia, refused to play at a venue which segregated black individuals. This refusal led to his ban of playing form his home state, which was only lifted eighteen years later, in 1979.

“In the popular imagination Ray Charles will probably always be linked with his rendition of ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ his number-one pop hit of 1960. Over the next forty years, this “old sweet song” remained his signature piece, becoming Georgia’s official state song in 1979.”

His outward support for black rights led him to be crowned a great idol, and this act was what later helped Charles appeal to court as a moral man, when caught for narcotic use in the late 1960s.

The cover of Ray Charles’s famous, “Georgia on My Mind.”

Charles’s music was so vast in its influence, that it was not merely bound to the decades in which it was created in. He was truly a great musician due to his ability to manipulate several genres of music, including jazz, rhythm and blues, rock n’ roll, country, and popular music today. The appeal of his music has not died, and continues to remain relevant among the genres he changed and influenced throughout the course of his fame. A true pop artist, he always changed his music to suit not only his own country sounds, his life events, but also the musical demands of his various audience; Ray Charles is truly the greatest manipulator of music.

Bob Marley: The Legend

Bob Marley is a music legend, but has become a legend for all of the wrong things. Bob Marley is more than the man that prepubescent kids listen to while smoking their first joint, but it seems that this is all people can remember him by. His reputation has been clouded with marijuana dreams, but his story is far deeper than any of these stereotypes. After watching the documentary, “Marley,” Bob’s story becomes a lot more enhanced.

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The documentary was created in 2012 and helped us see Bob Marley’s life from the very beginning to the very end. Bob grew up in Nine Mile, Jamaica after being born to his parents, Norval Marley and Cedella Booker. Norval was a white man from England and Cedella was an African-Jamaican woman from Jamaica. Norval was an absent father, but Bob still recognized him as his own father. When asked if he identified with being white or black, Bob responded in the best way possible: “I don’t stand for the black man’s side, I don’t stand for the white man’s side. I stand for God’s side.” During the 1960s and 1970s, this was monumental for the Civil Rights movement. In a time of racial turmoil in the United States, Bob Marley took a stance that race didn’t matter—all that mattered was God.

After growing up in Nine Mile, Bob and his mother picked up and moved to Trench Town. The move to Trench Town sparked Marley’s love for music, since that is where “the real music of Jamaica was made.” Bob joined a musical group, which began his singing career. By 1963, Bob’s group was named The Teenagers. Not even a year later, the group changed their name to The Wailers—and that name seemed to stick. In 1972, Bob Marley signed to Island Records and the album Catch a Fire was made. Only a short time after getting signed, in 1974, Bob Marley & The Wailers broke up in pursuit of individual hopes and dreams.

Bob Marley – “Trench Town Rock”

The era that Bob Marley was most active, during the 1960s and 1970s, were times of serious turmoil in Jamaica. There were government issues, social issues, and political unrest that filled the once peaceful country. Jamaica achieved independence from British Rule in 1962, but soon after, the country went through years of political unrest to get to a stable political environment. There was massive inequality between social groups, and the gap between the rich and the poor only seemed to widen after independence was achieved. There were people flooding the streets, and the people at the bottom of the totem pole (and lived in places like Trench Town) were suffering the worst.

In 1977, Bob Marley & The Wailers came out with Exodus, and more specifically, the song “Punky Reggae Party.” The punky reggae party referred to the blending of reggae music and punk music, which originated from England. Marley identified with the punks of England because of how they were also pushed out by their government; just like the people in Trench Town. Bob Marley always identified with his roots, and always remembered where he came from.

Bob Marley – “Punky Reggae Party”

In class, we discussed rap music and disco music, and more specifically how they created a whole movement and environment. Bob Marley and the Rastafarian movement were no different. Disco music was remembered for all of the negatives that the music brought rather than the positives. Disco was remembered for clubs, sex anywhere and everywhere, and drug abuse. Similar to Disco, the Rastafarian movement that Bob Marley made famous is only remembered for its abuse of marijuana. Marijuana was only a small piece of the Rastafarian movement; the movement was about finding inner peace and motivation within themselves. When movements are created through music, sometimes the negatives are discussed far more than the positives, and that is when messages get misinterpreted.

The documentary “Marley” was a story that catalogued Bob Marley’s life so it was a biased representation of his life. While all of the stories discussed and facts discussed were true, the commentary was given solely by people close to Marley whom were either his family, friends, or had worked with him. There was not much negativity discussed, and the documentary simply highlighted the best and most monumental points of Bob Marley’s life. I chose this topic because I had previously learned about Bob Marley in another course and it truly broadened my eyes to a much deeper way of looking at Bob Marley’s story. I learned that he was more than a ganja idol, and his story was a lot more interesting than people initially knew. I had always liked Bob Marley, but was guilty of only seeing him as a marijuana icon instead of seeing him for what he truly was. My initial learning’s about him inspired me to want to learn more, and that is exactly what I did.

If I were to conduct further research on Bob Marley, I would love to research his political influence deeper. I believe that he had a lot of political influence in a time of political turmoil in his home country; and the film did not discuss it as much as I would’ve liked. Overall, the documentary opened my eyes to a deeper Marley and helped me truly understand why he is a Legend.

The Filth and The Fury: The Sex Pistols

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The Sex Pistols were one of the most notorious and influential bands of the 1970’s punk movement.  Widely known for their blatant disregard for traditional society and obscene antics, they are generally considered to be an embodiment of the anti-conformist and the voice of the socially repressed.  Although they only released a single album, Never Mind the Bollocks, their influence over the rock and roll music scene and the message of individuality continues to reverberate through to the present day. Julien Temple’s documentary The Filth and The Fury tells the story of the generation of the Sex Pistols from the mouths of the surviving members themselves.

Temple’s film opens by setting stage for social discontent in the late 1970’s London.  We are introduced to a state of social upheaval and chaos in which the working class was fed up.  The ruling Labor Party failed to provide for the working class and unemployment was on the rise, thus leading to discontent with riots and strikes on the rise.  The lack of control that the working class held over its destiny was exhibited in this social strife. They felt that they were powerless and the only way to retain any semblance of self-respect was to grab on to any power they could get.  As Johnny Rotten states, “The socially repressed man is sad because he is misinformed, misused, and misled”. There was no room for social mobility and therefore one had to be born into money to have money.  It is in this historical context and out of this chaos that the Sex Pistols were born.

We only see the members of the Sex Pistols in clips and videos of their formative years.  Interviews of the surviving members shadow their faces and only their voices narrate their story.  Its purpose is to preserve the image of the band members as a generation of dispossessed youth.    Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and Paul Cook all grew up around the corner from each other in similar working class conditions. Later, due to internal conflict between Glen and Johnny, Matlock was replaced by the infamous Sid Vicious. Interestingly enough, Steve Jones was a kleptomaniac, an inherited habit from his own parents, and he stole all of the Sex Pistols’ equipment.  Growing up, Rotten says that he had felt that his education was useless in that it taught him to accept his lot in life and he was basically told that he had no future.  Together, the boys bonded on the mutual feeling that they were “wounded people”.  Although they couldn’t play their instruments and Johnny Rotten couldn’t sing, they abandoned all the rules of music which gave the impression that anyone could do what they did.  In their shows, they created new environments in which each audience member was a unique individual.  They spoke to an audience in which the people who previously had no self-respect started seeing the beauty in not being beautiful and women, who were normally treated as second class citizens, no longer saw themselves that way.

Out of impoverishment came the style with which the Sex Pistols are associated with.  Johnny Rotten tells an anecdote in which he wore trash because of the garbage strikes which carried on for months.  He believed that by wearing the trash, he was dealing with the issue of the strike. The safety pin, iconic of the punk culture and well-documented in Dick Hebdige’s 1979 book Subculture, began with the notion of poverty and a lack of money and thus you needed safety pins to hold your clothes together.  Originating from the ideas of the subculture of teddy boys, the style of the punk movement was intended to be rebellious, “the idea of standing out but also feeling a part of the dispossessed”.  At one show, one of the audience members is remembered as being dressed in the full costume of a Sioux cat.  She exemplified the intention of the punk style to be totally original.  Not only was her individuality remembered, but she is applauded for her bravery in being able to come out in public the way she wanted to.

The standard view of the Sex Pistols as subversive comes from not only the antics they performed onstage, but were generally viewed by traditional British society as a threat to their way of life.  Fearful of the influence the Sex Pistols would have on children and other moral qualms, they were banned from various towns and it was hard for them to find places to play.  They were signed on EMI and A&M because of the controversy that surrounded them and subsequently dropped for the same reason.  Most famous is their song, “God Save the Queen” which they played down the river Thames during the Queen’s Jubilee.  While seen as a criticism of England’s archaic monarchial system and seen as a threat to the Queen, the song’s message as interpreted by Johnny Rotten is that it was written because he loved England and was fed up by the monarchy’s mistreatment of the middle class.  Central to the philosophy of the Sex Pistols is the concept of the music coming from the kids themselves as opposed to the industry.  They refused to submit to the press, which separated themselves from a majority of other musicians.  They saw themselves as honest and raw in addition to their reputation as crude and outrageous troublemakers.  What the public didn’t understand was that Rotten’s conception was of violence in the mind not of the body.

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The Filth and The Fury acts as a response to Temple’s directorial debut film The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, the story of the Sex Pistols told through the perspective of the band’s manager Malcolm McClaren.  As opposed to McClaren, the major voices of the film are Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones who consistently disparage McClaren’s role in the creation of the Sex Pistols and his mishandling of their career as a business deal.  As Rotten says, “You can’t create me, I am me”.  McClaren is reduced to an inflatable leather mask, as if he were just a prop throughout the career of the band.  He is defamed by the band members as having stolen ideas from Johnny Rotten and taking credit for the controversies stirred up by the band such as the mishap on the Today show. McClaren consistently refers to them as his “artful little dodgers” as if he is Fagin, profiting off of the misdeeds of his clan of young thieves.  He also mismanaged their funds, taking royalties and diverting them into failed projects such as the movie Who Killed Bambi?.  Subsequently, the Sex Pistols ended up the way they started: broke.

Ultimately, the Sex Pistols had to break up because of the irony of their absorption back into the system.  The punk attitude became an acceptable culture and the message became diluted.  The punk style became a uniform of an adopted style and attitude when the whole idea was about being original.  Punks started wearing leather jackets when in actuality the original punk rockers could not afford to purchase a leather jacket. They had become a “cartoon band” instead of an actual band, known more for the spontaneity of their performances and the controversies they produced both onstage and off instead of the music.  By the end of their career as the Sex Pistols, they could no longer play in England and therefore embarked on their first and only US tour, avoiding iconic scenes such as CBGBs and instead playing in the heartlands of America.  The tour was a disaster with Sid Vicious fully addicted to heroin and tensions between the band members, ending at San Francisco’s Winterland, the Sex Pistols last show.  They played a cover of the Stooges’ “No Fun” which Johnny Rotten famously ended by singing, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”, aptly summarizing how he felt about McClaren.

The film fails on the level of extending beyond the scope of the Sex Pistols to the punk rock movement itself.  There are passing mentions of Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol, and the New York Dolls but no real insight into other punk rock icons such as the Ramones. Steve Jones borrowed some of Johnny Thunder’s moves before realizing his own stage persona.  Sid Vicious also admired the Dolls’ style and their tough, mean attitude. Unfortunately, in the film, the most prominent thing the Dolls gave the Sex Pistols was Nancy Spungen, originally Thunder’s drug dealer and subsequently Sid’s heroin dealer, girlfriend, and ultimate downfall. However, early in the film, Rotten states that they had no music heroes because the music out there was boring and its musicians were inaccessible to the average person.  As a child, Steve Jones believed that musicians fell from the sky.  In this way, as well as many others, they assert themselves as completely original.

Rutgers and Public Transport: Can we do better?

Rutgers busing. The caption? “Multiply the number of students by 50 and you should get a picture of what Scott Hall bus stop looks like.”

Navigating Rutgers’ busing system requires practice.  It’s not complicated, necessarily, but it does take time, planning, and mental space just by virtue of Rutgers being a massive institution.  In researching more information about the busing system, I found myself facing similar challenges.

Thus far, I have mainly been in contact with Transportation Liaison Ariana Blake, a rising senior in the School of Arts and Sciences.  Earlier in the semester, we discussed the possibility of a bus courtesy campaign aimed at educating Rutgers students about bus etiquette.  According to Blake, Rutgers students graduate without knowing how to properly utilize public transport.  “As students we could be better riders,” she says.  We spoke of other issues pertaining to the busing system, such as the rising tuition costs of Rutgers (one of the most expensive public universities), overcrowding of the school, the environmental impacts of the buses, and the effect of the university’s various construction projects around high-traffic bus stops.

However, as of now – let the record show that it is April 18th, 2014 – the bus courtesy campaign has been stalled.  Instead, there has been recent talk urging the university to make public transportation (outside of the Rutgers buses) free to students, faculty, and staff.  Colleges like Brown University, Johnson & Wales, and RISD have all successfully partnered with state transit to provide free transportation to students.  As a member of the Douglass Governing Council, Blake and her peers seek to pass this resolution as a way to alleviate financial burden on a significant portion of the Rutgers student body.

Whether or not Rutgers will accede to this request remains to be seen.  For now, my findings through Blake seem to best fit under Rutgers’ issues of overpopulation, environmental concerns, and best-practices.  I would think that the issue of bus etiquette (or lack thereof) would be less of a problem were it not for the sheer numbers of students using the buses every day.  The question of best practices ties directly with the recent push for free state transit beyond the grounds of Rutgers University.  These topics could easily be visualized through video footage of the buses during high traffic time slots and perhaps footage of the New Brunswick train station.  We could also interview commuter students who utilize state transit to get to class.  As for further research, we could find out more about Rhode Island’s system and how it was implemented.  We could also contact members of the Douglass Governing Council to learn more about their resolution and about transit issues facing Rutgers students more specifically.  Finally, we may want to contact DOTS about the topic as well.

Amadeus: A True Genius of Music

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Despite the constant changes and developments made within music, one name still remains highly respected and admired for being one of the greatest Classical composers in history, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film Amadeus is a 1984 period drama that portrays a fictionalized rivalry between Mozart and Italian composer, Antonio Salieri. This movie is set in Vienna, Austria during the late 18th century where music existed as fully orchestrated performances. From watching this movie, the audience is able to see a different kind of music industry that eventually developed into the industry we are familiar with today.

Along with Joseph Haydn, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, Mozart was one of the most influential composers during the Classical Period (1730-1820). This was a time in Western society where a new style of art and literature was created that emulated the ideals of Classical antiquity. Quite often, Composers would take Greek and Roman ideals and incorporate them into their own symphonies, concertos, operas, or requiems.

During this era, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made a name for himself due to his musical talents. By the age of five, he had already started composing his own music and was performing in front of European Royalty. Despite his early death on December 5, 1791, Mozart was one of the most accomplished composers for having composed over 600 works by the age of 35. Joseph Haydn praised Mozart for his talents by saying, “Posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”

Amadeus, adapted from Peter Shaffer’s stage play, was written to acknowledge the genius of Mozart and his work. The film is a theatrical drama that portrays the perspective of Antonio Salieri who reminisces about his youth and the rivalry he had with Mozart. While Salieri is providing a biased opinion of his rival, the audience is able to see the two sides of Mozart. We are shown the young, immature man that Salieri believes doesn’t deserve this God-given gift for music. However, despite Salieri’s hatred for Mozart, he cannot help but respect his music and admire its greatness. Amadeus is not only meant to show Mozart’s genius and how it influenced others, but also how he suffered from an unfortunate life of poverty. And despite his fame and talents, his lack of money led to him being placed in an unmarked grave, its location to remain forever unknown.

Salieri describing one of Mozart’s composition:

Salieri: On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse, bassoons and basset horns, like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly, high above it, an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God.

-Amadeus (1984)

In order for a musician’s work to be recognized during this time, he would need the support of a benefactor. Amadeus highlights the life of Mozart during his time in Vienna where he was employed by Emperor Joseph II. With the help of the Emperor, Mozart was able to create some of his most famous operas and concertos, The Marriage of Figaro, The Abduction from the Seraglio and Don Giovanni. These benefactors were quite similar to the modern-day record label. These people of title and wealth would employ great composers so they could serve them. In return, the benefactors would pay the composers to write and create performances and operas. The only difference, however, is that record labels employed artists for the sake of creating more money. The benefactors, on the other hand, employed composers mostly because of their own personal enjoyment for the composers’ music.

Mozart existed during a time where music was always a live performance. There were no recordings that allowed a musician’s work to be shared. At that time, the only way one would be able to listen to music in a more intimate setting is if the listener was knowledgeable of a composer’s composition and was able to play the music himself. However, despite being a part of a large audience, operas, concertos and symphonies allowed the listener to experience music beyond stereos and headphones. Instead of hearing the music from an mp3 file or a record, you were able to watch as the musicians performed the song in front of you. Live musical performances have the ability to create a reaction within the listener that a digital copy cannot. The passion of the musician flows from the sound of their instruments and into the ears of the audience. Sharing the stories and emotions that were intertwined in the music became a much more intimate experience when the music was performed or conducted by the composer himself. While it was not intimate in setting, the listener had a greater connection to the composer through these live performances.

Mozart conducting his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio:

Even though a live performance created more intimacy between the listener and composer, it unfortunately lacked the convenience and profit from selling records. Despite his talents and reputation as a great composer, we see in the movie that Mozart struggled financially. This was a common problem during this time. Even though a musician achieved great fame for his music, there was no way to profit from composing beyond creating successful concertos and operas (which was difficult to produce without a wealthy benefactor), or by teaching pupils.

Mozart: I must have pupils. Without pupils I can’t manage.
Salieri: You don’t mean to tell me that you’re living in poverty?
Mozart: No, but I’m broke.
Salieri: How is this possible? You give concerts don’t you? I hear they’re quite successful.
Mozart: They’re stupendously successful. You can’t get a seat.The only trouble is no one will hire me. They all want to hear me play but they won’t let me teach their daughters as if I was some kind of fiend.

-Amadeus(1984)

By observing the struggles of the great, classical composer, we are able to see how much technology has benefited the music industry in regards to expanding music on a global level and generating profit. It brings forth the question on whether Mozart would have achieved greater success if that type of technology was available during the Classical Period. Would he have been able to live a comfortable life financially if he was able to sell recordings of his music? Would his name, reputation and music have spread to countries beyond Austria during that century?

However, it also questions whether technology has diminished the art of composing music. Mozart was considered a genius for how he constructed his compositions. In one scene of the movie, we see how Mozart composed music in a way that was on a level beyond other composers. He could hear how his music would sound when played by an entire orchestra in his mind, even before it was written on paper. With the use of synthetic sounds and recorded voices today, orchestras no longer hold as much importance as they once did. Does the use of modern technology and the need to create profit eliminate the passion and art of creating music which Mozart’s works are famous for?

Mozart’s attempt to complete his Requiem Mass in D Minor before his tragic death:

While I am not a huge fan of classical music, I am a fan of Mozart and the other composers of his time. While today’s music involves computer-produced beats and studio-recorded vocals within a three-minute time frame, composers like Mozart created music that could be played for hours. Mozart’s music was seen as an art form where each note was important and was carefully arranged in a way that resulted in the construction of a masterpiece. This was a time in history where this music was highly respected for creating beautiful and complex masterpieces that told stories for the audience to enjoy. My appreciation for the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has encouraged me to listen to other great composers of the Classical era like Beethoven and Haydn and to discover the ways they have influenced the world of music as well.

He Preached Peace, Love, and Unity only to be Remembered by Marijuana: Bob Marley as a Person

a href=”http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/5b/15/b8/5b15b8fe95c89f09cf534486d623dfa9.jpg”> One of the many novelty Birthday cakes with a Bob Marley theme.

Posters of Bob Marley can be seen in many college dorm rooms across the world. In today’s youth he is a symbol for the recreational use of marijuana. Pop star, Miley Cyrus was given a Bob Marley cake for her birthday by her friends and stated, “You know you’re a stoner when your friends give you a Bob Marley cake.” Kevin McDonald directed the 2012 documentary “Marley”, which was so needed for today’s youth. The documentary gives an exclusive overview of the man who was Bob Marley.

Robert Nesta Marley was born in St Ann Jamaica in 1945. He was born to Black Jamaican native Cedella Booker and European-Jamaican Norval Marley. Being half Black and half White led him to feel like an outcast by both races because he was often discriminated against. Robert was born into a time where racial tensions were high and racial segregation was legal. There was a point in time when his paternal family rejected him as their own family member because he was Black and a Rastafarian. The way he felt about his upbringing and treatment by his society was reflected in some of his music.

This song was made after he was rejected by his White paternal family.

When he was introduced to Rastafarianism by friend Mortimer Planno, he started to feel a sense of belonging. Planno treated him as a person and did not discriminate against him because he was biracial. In the Rasta culture members smoke marijuana (ganja) as a source for meditation. Being in the state of high from the marijuana helped them to connect with Jah (God). In the documentary he is painted as a very spiritual man. Close witnesses of his life all testified that all the decisions he made were based off being aligned with Jah’s will. When he traveled to African countries and the youth would call out “Ganja” around him he would take the time to educate them about Rastafarianism.

In the documentary multiple people spoke about his timid and giving personality. In the film his wife and girlfriends all agreed that he was not a womanizer, but was quite shy and that some of them actually persued him. Everyone in the film saw him as a geniune person that did not back down. Evidence for that was shown when tear gas was thrown during the Zimbabwe Independence cooncert and he continued to perform. Marley’s guitar addition to the slower paced ska beat changed the sound of their music to sound like the reggae sound we know today. Reggae was the precursors for dancehall and reggaeton.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a lot of political unrest globally. The role of his music was not only for dancing and nice melodies to listen to, but to unify people and nations. There was a lot of political unrest between two parties in Jamaica in the 1970’s. Leaders realized that he was a big influence on the people and leaders tried to gain his favor. Marley tried to stay out of politics but was tricked into doing a concert that could be interpreted as him supported one party, which led to him, Rita Marley and his manager getting shot a few days before the concert. After that he self-exiled himself from Jamaica. 1978 Jamaica begged him to come back to unify the two warring political party at the “Peace Concert” where the two leaders joined hands ending the political riff in the country. He was also used his musical talents to give the people of Zimbabwe a voice in politics of their country.

This documentary was biased. All the people in the film had a close relationship with him and would not say anything negative about him. Even when his wife and some of his girlfriends were asked if they thought he was selfish not committing to any of them and they all agreed that he was but they were okay with the situation. There was not anyone in the film who could talk about him objectively. The film painted a positive picture of Bob Marley.

I choose to blog about Bob Marley because I grew up listening to his music. My father is a Trinidadian immigrant and would play songs by Bob Marley and other reggae artists all the time. Growing up listening to song like “Redemption” and “Jamming” created nothing but positive thoughts about Bob Marley. It bothers me that all his work to unify people through his lyrics are under looked because he was known to smoke marijuana. For me Bob Marley will always be seen as a misunerstood peacemaker.

After watching this documentary I would like to further investigate his musical influence on his children. Most of his children have been involved in some aspect in the music industry. I also would like to learn more about the psychological effects Marley’s lifestyle had on his wife, girlfriends, and children. Seeing your father, father many children not by your own mother probably had a great impact on his children and I would like to know the negatives and the positives of that impact. In the documentary it discussed that Marley had a hard time crossing over to the Black audience in America. I would like to know why that was because today people from all races enjoy his music on first listen.

Robert Marley I salute you for always trying to give to others with all you had whether it was through music or material things!

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“This Film Should Be Played Loud!”: The Final Concert of The Band

By Sarah Kennelly

Theatrical release poster, 1978.

The Last Waltz, directed by Martin Scorsese, chronicles the final performance of The Band, a group originally formed as a backup ensemble in 1963 for rockabilly musician Ronnie “the Hawk” Hawkins.  During their nearly two decades together, The Band navigated a drastically changing American music scene, all the while maintaining their “roots rock” sound.  Shown in media res, the film begins with their encore on Thanksgiving night, 1976.  The performance was staged at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where they had first appeared as “The Band” in 1969.

As the first title card of the documentary, “This film should be played loud,” would suggest, it is essentially a concert film, interspersed with interviews of the members conducted by Scorsese.  In the film’s first interview, singer Robbie Robertson states “We wanted it to be more than just a concert, we wanted it to be a celebration.  Beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning.”  It is primarily a retrospective of their career and the rock and roll era, tracing their origins from their start in the late 1950s backing blues and folk singers like Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, through their rise as a solo act.

Scorsese not only documents their personal story, but showcases those who have influenced their music: Muddy Waters, the Staple Singers, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, and Van Morrison.  However, it is not just a concert film.  Besides its unique nonlinear structure, the film stands out because there is actual waltzing.  The title “The Last Waltz” not only refers to their last performance together as a group, but the celebration that occurred before the show, with tables for a Thanksgiving feast covering the dance floor, then cleared for the waltzers.

In the opening credits, the camera pans around San Francisco, pre-gentrification (or pre-Silicon Valley).  The dilapidated city shown is very different from the city as it is today.

The venue was chosen for its location; the connection between music and the Haight, a neighborhood that had suffered “white flight” in the early 70s, which had become a haven poor musicians.  The venue itself had actually been a Depression-era ballroom and skating rink, with a large wooden dance floor, stage, and balcony for observers.

Interior of the Winterland Ballroom during the concert.

The performance itself is incredibly structured to show the band’s musical evolution; each guest represents a different stage in their career and a different musical influence.  For example, the first guest, Ronnie Hawkins, represents the very beginning of the group.  Hawkins, a contemporary of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, discovered that Canadians loved the rockabilly genre and possessed a rich music scene in Toronto but was largely ignored by artists on tour.  As he toured, Hawkins assembled local musicians to back him, who would eventually become The Band.

Another guest, Dr. John, a jazz singer-songwriter, represents the influence of New Orleans and southern jazz on their fourth studio album Cahoots, produced by jazz musician and NOLA native Allen Toussaint.  This album has a noticeably different sound than their first album as group Music from Big Pink, which was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan’s sound, and who cowrote two songs on the album, with other songs emerging on The Basement Tapes.  While their previous albums could be described as country, folk, or Americana, Cahoots has undertones of southern rhythm blues.  It was also a large departure from their previous album, Stage Fright, recorded four years earlier in 1970.

Keeping with the nonlinear theme, The Band then goes back to their roots- their respective youths in Canada, where each member (except Arkansan Levon Helm) experienced the burgeoning, vibrant music scene.  Neil Young, their contemporary and fellow Ontarian, then performs “Helpless” with the group, which begins “in a town in Old Ontario.”  Another Canadian, Joni Mitchell, provides backing vocals.  The next song, “Stage Fright” refers to their performance as a solo act, when Robbie Robertson was overcome with stage fright, and told Scorsese he feared he would vomit on stage.  This prompts a series of interviews regarding their rise in the mid-sixties, which coincided with the growing popularity of psychedelic rock.  As Richard Manuel describes it, The Band, while working with Bob Dylan, was juxtaposed against highly produced psych rock, which saw mainstream artists The Beatles and The Rolling Stones releasing experimental albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request respectively, and new bands like Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Robbie Robertson explains, “You know, for one thing, there aren’t many bands around Woodstock and our friends and neighbors just call us the band and that’s the way we think of ourselves. And then, we just don’t think a name means anything. It’s gotten out of hand — the name thing. We don’t want to get into a fixed bag like that.”

Their last show in 1976 followed a turbulent year for the group.  Only months before, Richard Manuel was seriously injured in a car accident, and was battling a heroin addiction.  The Band was also about to lose their lead singer and songwriter Robbie Robertson who would have preferred the group stop touring and become a studio band.  The stress of touring for sixteen years was evident in the lyrics for “The Weight,” “I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead, I just need some place where I can lay my head.”

Today, the musical influence of the band can be seen in the recent 2000s “New Folk Revival” in popular Top 40 bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers.  Other folk/neo-folk rock groups include Old Crow Medicine Show, Jamestown Revival, The Avett Brothers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and The Decemberists, each with the same roots rock tendencies and appreciation for Southern blues.

I chose this particular film because of the importance of The Band in my family.  As long as I can remember, my father has had a poster of the Music from Big Pink cover in his office, and has made the family watch The Last Waltz after Thanksgiving dinner.  A few years before I was born, my father and his best friend had even driven around Woodstock for hours trying to find Big Pink.  They eventually found an identical blue house, and in the days before the internet, reasoned that someone must have painted over the pink.  They were actually just at the wrong house, but still showed the photo to Rick Danko at a bar, where he may or may not have been hitting on my mom.  In an anecdote my father will happily regale you with today, Danko deadpanned “I kinda remember it being pink.”

Members left to right: Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, and Robbie Robertson.

A Band Called Death

“Before Bad Brains, the Sex Pistols or even the Ramones, there was a band called Death”.

The independent documentary “A Band Called Death” portrays the long, heartbreaking and inspiring story of three African American teenage brothers from Detroit, Michigan, who decide to form a band in hopes of making it big and sharing their music with the world. The Hackney brothers, Dennis, Bobby and David, first start out practicing in their bedroom and with the complete support from their parents, eventually go on to play various gigs in their local area. Ahead of their time, the band experiences consistent rejection both from people and record companies because of the punk rock style of their music and the intimidating name of their band. This rejection was also primarily due to the time period, which was around the early 70’s, a time where Motown was dominate in African American culture. Its blend of R&B and pop music style was a complete contrast to rock “n” roll’s more aggressive tone.

The film shows Dannis, Bobby and David as being normal, fun loving teenagers always looking for a way to laugh and have a good time. Their free willed personalities along with their parent’s open mindedness to music, encouraged the Hackney brothers to go beyond social norms and create their own identity; one that rejected the typical Motown loving African American teens of their time. However, it was extremely difficult to not be a part of a trend or go along with the social current of society and still be accepted around the 70’s. Motown music encompassed so many different kinds of people, that rock “n” roll seemed exclusive, particularly to white people. Almost three centuries later, their music has revolutionized punk rock, which is typically referred to as “white people music”.

The group searched as far as Europe for a contract but couldn’t find anyone who would accept their punk image or name. Instead of conforming to record companies David’s never faltering persistence, dedication and faith towards the band’s reputation kept the band true to it’s music and identity. “David was convinced more than any of us that we were doing something totally revolutionary,” said Bobby Sr., 52. However, this strong loyalty to the band’s image/concept led the group nowhere and eventually forced the group to disband, erasing “Death” from existence until the early twenty-first century.

The rejection got to Bobby and Dannis: they were rejected for the name of the band, rejected for the fact that they were black boys playing “white boy music”, rejected for the sound of the music itself which didn’t “fit” at the time. (Shelia O-Malley)

Original “Death” band members.

About 35 years later, the band’s original master recordings are discovered in Bobby’s attic and ultimately changes the history of music forever. With the help of punk rock music lovers and both Dannis and Bobby’s children, the band’s music finally catches on. After everything they’ve been through, “Death” gets a second chance and finally makes their first album in 2011. However, David, the band’s founder, had died of lung cancer in 2008 and wasn’t able to witness the emerging success of the band in 2008. Today, the band is reformed and consists of Bobby and Dannis Hackney, who play the bass and drums respectively. Bobbie Duncan, who was the guitarist for the brothers’ former Reggae group, Lambsbread, now replaces David as the new guitarist for the group.

Today, “Death” is considered to be a protopunk band and has gained thousands of followers over the years. This revolutionary story intertwined with brotherhood, depicts the power of  loyalty towards something you love and the many rewards that come with it. The band is recognized as the “first black punk band (hell…the first punk band!) and are finally receiving their long overdue recognition as true rock pioneers”.   The film doesn’t mention any other emerging punk bands, so there seems to be some type of bias in its content. However, it’s also important to mention that is it focused primarily on the fairy-tale music career of the Hackney brothers. It portrays one of the very first pioneers of punk rock and their struggle as African American musicians.

“Death” members today: (from left) Bobby Hackney, Bobbie Duncan and Dannis Hackney

I decided to chose this particular topic because it consisted of the start of a music genre and a personal heartfelt family story. I believed that the personal touch of the brothers’ lives would help me better relate to a time period that existed before I was born. In addition, I was especially interested with the fact that an all African American band was playing punk rock in the early 70’s. I could not believe it and immediately decided to see the documentary. Sure enough, I found the film both inspirational and a life lesson.

Today, Bobby’s kids (Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr.) have formed a band in honor of their late uncle, David, called Rough Francis. They play covers of “Death” songs trying to spread their father’s and uncles’ music to anyone who will listen. Their songs “Politician in My Eyes” and “Keep On Knocking” are some of the best known in their album.

I know the early 70’s was a bustling time for music. Many genres like pop and disco were very popular among the public and other genres were just being invented, like hip-hop. To further research the topic, I would look into the many early pioneering bands that helped shape the history of music and their struggles/obstacles they face in aspiring to be known large musicians world wide. These different types of genres given rise to different types of identities that individuals can relate to, which can ultimately helps shape an era’s culture.

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

Ice-T, director and host of Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

In Something From Nothing: the Art of Rap (2012), director Ice-T seeks to explore how hip-hop’s most influential stars craft their rap verses. His status as one of the pioneers of gangsta rap allows him access to the masters of the genre, and the documentary gives insight into how these artists write and perform. It also explores hip-hop’s roots, the difference between a rapper and an emcee, and what rap means to its progenitors.

Ice-T leads several of the interviews with the same question: Why do you think hip-hop does not receive the respect it deserves? The artists featured all answer differently—producer Marley Marl believes it’s because hip-hop artists do not respect each other, and that the public will begin to take the genre seriously when rappers stop having “beef” with each other and show some camaraderie. DJ Premier thinks that mainstream audiences don’t understand the street language used in rap verses. Without this understanding, he says, rap music just sounds like noise. Nas believes that hip-hop and its artists are perceived as a “threatening,” invading influence.

It’s a good question. As Ice-T himself says, “Rap has introduced poetry to a whole new generation. We’ve crossed color lines and changed lives. It just seems wrong to me that we still don’t get the respect like jazz, blues, or other musical art forms.”  It’s a question that seems to ground the film, and as Ice-T travels from East Coast to West, interviewing the greats of hip hop, it’s difficult for even the casual listener not to come away with more respect for the artistry and creativity that has made these emcees into stars.

What differentiates a great emcee from a rapper? As Big Daddy Kane says, “Well, a rapper is, you know, someone that rhymes. I mean, you can consider Dr. Suess a rapper.” An emcee, on the other hand, must be capable of verbal acrobatics and have the presence to command a crowd. Lyrical skill is a necessity, and rap verses are frequently quite complex—something that is unfortunately often overlooked as mainstream audiences jump into analysis of what the lyrics mean, and ignore how they are put together. Take Eminem, who is widely considered to be one of hip-hop’s greats, thanks to his complicated rhyming schemes—but who is much better known for his extremely divisive subject material and his ability to offend middle class suburbia. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2011,  he was asked by the interviewer to come up with a verse about the interview itself. In two minutes, he produced the following:

This dude doin’ this interview wants me to spin a few
Lyrics while I tie my fuckin’ tennis shoes in the nude
A romantic interlude in a livin’ room
In an inner tube with a dude with a bit of lube
Fuck that, I’m sniffin’ glue, sippin’ gin and juice
And a little bit of paint thinner with my dinner too
You better pay me for my bars like your rent is due
Now hurry up and finish, dude, before I finish you

As the interviewer notes, “Every line rhymes with the word ‘interview’– some twice, and one even three times.” And Eminem isn’t the only hip-hop artist who takes such care with his verses. Responding to a question about how he crafts his verses, Rakim (also known for his complex, intricately crafted lyrics) describes how he draws 16 dots on a piece of paper and views the space between these dots as a graph for him to plot words and syllables. His aim is to fill this space so that “If the beat [is] perfect, I can take it to the point that there’s no other words you can put in those four bars.” Throughout the documentary, hip-hop artists from Grandmaster Caz to Kanye West discuss how they write down and tinker with their lyrics, sometimes for weeks or months. Given this effort, it’s astounding how hip-hop is still largely dismissed as a musical genre. As Brandon Soderberg says in Spin (emphasis my own):

Rap music’s significance is almost always framed in pop sociology terms or because it has become a driving commercial force. To most people, hip-hop’s sort of like Donald Trump: Loud and annoying and man, one day let’s hope it goes away, but it sure has made a lot of money, so we all should shut up and cake off of it. […] It has become a phenomenon almost in spite of its artistic merit.

Still, though Ice-T is correct in saying that hip-hop should command more respect than it has received, his perspective (and hence, the perspective of this documentary), is not entirely unbiased. As Spin notes, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap puts heavy focus on the old school greats, with Kanye West the closest to young blood featured in the film. Many rappers say that the reason they wanted to pursue rap was to give the people from their side of the streets a voice, and it’s reflected in their catalog. From Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” to Kanye West’s “Gorgeous”, hip-hop is at its best when its lyrics provide social commentary. Early in the film, Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian speaks of hip-hop’s roots. By taking music programs out of schools, “they tried to take the music from us,” he says. Hip-hop, which turned the record player into an instrument, gave the black community a musical voice again.

But as Slate‘s review of the film points out, “hip-hop is no longer the scrappy upstart it was in 1986.” Though once a vehicle that gave a voice to a community of people who had to struggle to be heard, hip-hop has now become its own force in popular culture, and its lyrics now read more like a list of brand names, a ditty about the perks of being rich and famous. Asked for one thing he would tell his peers in hip-hop, artist Kid Cudi said, “I think the braggadocio, money, cash, hoes thing needs to be deadened. I feel like that’s holding us back as a culture, as black people. It doesn’t advance us in any way, shape, or form.” And while there’s far more to hip-hop music than this braggadocio, it can’t be denied that these “money, cash, hoes” songs are what the genre has become best known for in the 21st century. 

The reason I chose this topic was because of the excerpt we read from Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation. As someone who does not listen to hip-hop music besides what’s on the radio, it amazed me that this genre was once responsible for being a voice of the people. After that week’s class, my interest in the cultural and technical aspects of hip-hop grew, which is what drew me to this documentary. Like it implicitly sets out to do, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap increased my respect for both the hip-hop genre and its artists. It has also caused me to separate hip-hop’s roots from its funhouse mirror reflection in popular culture today.

As Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) says: “Rap is not pop. If you call it that, then stop. It didn’t start out as a popular culture movement, it didn’t even have pop culture ambitions. It’s a folk art. It’s folk music.”

–Vickie Wang