Friday, December 31, 2010

Devilin' the Years: Prospect

We have other prospects out there (marvinology, versions of "Body and Soul,"close reading of OB4CL, the educations of Ellison) so it really shouldn't be time to start up another thread, but we can't stop and won't stop. Ours is more about beginnings than endings, and accumulations rather than holding s single done thing. It's like that.

So we'll begin where we began before: by observing that our conjuring is in the spirit of the AEC maxim: great black music, ancient to future, an organizing principal that is, as it should be, about the creole -- it's temptations and repulsions, its satisfactions and denials, the power and shortcomings of crossing over, and the Lazarussian dialectic of the unnaground, the street and the will to rise up. We posted a request for more like Allen Lowe's anthologies because the present so much you cannot see from end to end. When it's so high you can't get over it and so low you can't go under that's when you know you are at the crossroad. It's all there, and that's when you know there is not enough of you, and therefore there will always be more. Dig?

More recently it came to this. And as it worked it out, we realized that we could do so much more w/ the tears and prove that each one contained its own host of devils.

What we did then was try to gather, just as a body of work, one stone per year. And now for the foreseeable future we'll start w/ an effort to find the devils in the years. Here's how it goes:

@ the Blue Light, we'll take deep breaths, and always leave a clip of bullets behind.
@ the Red Light, we'll collect the leaves from the library, cause we think our notes should be visible.
@ the blue mirror is where we draw out our selves and look for others; the annex, too, although we admit to not knowing how to work things there. And
@ the repeater pencil, we'll leave a trail of syllables, likely to blow away in the wind before we find our way.

Each gesture is a stone on the roadside. We'll mark each one with the year's number, and in so doing create a new numerology intended to make a new past visible.

It's an autobiographical project. When we conjure the past, we always conjure ourselves. And of course, this is a deception, because the devils take us every time. We aren't ourselves, and then we come back. It's like that.

And everyone of these posts will serve as an invitation. We hope anyone who finds these stones on the roadside feels free enough to pick one up and put down another. You know: one and one is two, and two and two is four.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What We're Hearing

If you got the line, I got the pole.*


* Now listen, could you explain it to me? Tell me, did you know?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Literary Education of Ralph Ellison 3

We are deep in the groove of Blood on the Forge, part of the deeper groove of Ralph Ellison we are trying to find. It is an old story, and we'll be making some markings about here in the next couple of days.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Less Than Meets the Eye

A friend prompted us by example to list an noteworthy slab for every year of our lives. When one is under 20 is to make a lineage for your present taste. When as we are, you are over 50 the trick is different: it is to assemble something that still makes sense. So first the list, then some remarks.


Blues and Roots

Charles Mingus


This Is Our Music

Ornette Coleman


Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson


Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music

Ray Charles


Live at the Apollo

James Brown


Where Did Our Love Go

The Supremes


A Love Supreme

John Coltrane


The Exciting Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett


I Never Loved a Man

Aretha Franklin


The Promise of a Future

Hugh Masekela



Sly and the Family Stone


Bitches Brew

Miles Davis


What’s Going On?

Marvin Gaye



Curtis Mayfield


Catch a Fire

Bob Marley & the Wailers


Fullfillingness First Finale

Stevie Wonder


Chocolate City



…Is It Something I Said?

Richard Pryor


Bush Baby

Arthur Blythe


Nice Guys

Art Ensemble of Chicago


Off the Wall

Michael Jackson


Dirty Mind



Bass Culture

Linton Kwesi Johnson


The Message

Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five


Synchro System

King Sunny Adé and His African Beats


Run D.M.C.

Run D.M.C.


Seven Standards

Anthony Braxton


When Colors Play

Ronald Shannon Jackson


Introducing the Hardline According to…

Terence Trent D’Arby


It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy


3 Feet High and Rising

De La Soul


Sex Packets

Digital Underground


The Low End Theory

A Tribe Called Quest


The Chronic

Dr. Dre


Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)

Wu Tang Clan





Only Built 4 Cuban Links



All Eyez on Me

Tupac Shakur


Blu Blu Blu

Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra


The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill


Charlie Hustle






The Blueprint



Missy Elliot

Under Construction



David Murray and the Gwa Ko Masters


Piracy Funds Terrorism



Run the Road




Ghostface Killah


Underground Kingz



Tha Carter III

Lil Wayne


These Brings Us To

Henry Threadgill’s Zooid


My Beautiful Dark Fantasy

Kanye West

We think of this as a pile of stones left by the roadside, a cairn that conjures way. It goes almost without saying that therefore it is of a moment, and would be different if we re-did it. That's the way of such things.

1.) The arbitrary rules:

a.) Hadda be an album, not a song, single or something else. That mattered on the long tails of this chart. In the early 60s and the present era the album has a more limited form than in the era of the LP or the CD. When the currency was measured in 7" or exchanged on u2b, the album is just a little less significant. Thus there are moments when choosing a single album was hard. In the 1965-2005 period because there were too many. In the 1959-1964 and 2006-2010 periods (the latter way more than the former, b/t/w), there were too few. Furthermore, given how we learn, and given the autobiographical nature of the list, the single means much to us. Our taste was shaped by hot singles, especially in 1967-1977, again in 1980-1985, and again in 2002-present.

b.) No repeat artists. Borrowed this from GG's list of songs in the second half of the 20th c. It came natural on this except in the case of Ornette Coleman, whose self reinvention really called for his name to be on the list again in the 90s.

c.) Autobiographical context mattered. We cared less about the greatness of the album (although that mattered) and more about whether we thinks it was great then and now. More below.

d.) There needed to be some thematic integrity to the list. We summoned the meaning of the list as we went, but it as we conjured the list gave us vision of where we were heading early on. We hesitate to call it coherence, but the meaning we made up speaks to our our aesthetic purpose. 'Gain, more below.

e.) No comps. No reissues. This neutralizes a number of significant autobiographical moments.

2.) Autobiographical:

The foundation stone in the chart is Nice Guys, an album that is second to us in many contexts, but first as we think of the rules above. It was our first contact w/ the AEC's "great black music, ancient to future" maxim. We realized that so much of our listening had already been in that tendency, and it became then, and again later, one organizing principle in what we sought to hear, and what we sought to learn.

Other albs stand out in this line:

What's Going On was our first real run in w/ Marvin. The full blown drama was there before, but when we heard the singles from this slab we fell in love with it: mashing soul, politics, sex, drugs, lying about drugs, strings and the groove, etc.

Bass Culture was our first realization that the pancarribean was transatlantic, and that the movement went both ways.

The Message made rap into an album game, and may be the only slab that comes close to breaking the comp rule.

This is Our Music came to us like punk rock, full of bluesbased opposition to the sound that came before it.

Bitches Brew was our first taste of conjuring, leading us to Tell My Horse, guiding our way as we try to find it. Thus, BB, like TMH, is for us when are lost, our amazing grace.

3 Feet High and Rising, which came so distinctly after so much hard sh*t, redefined what we thought of as street, just like De la Soul is Dead taught us about the real meaning of unnaground and Lazarussian movement that keeps us all alive.

Only Built 4 Cuban Links is the What's Going On of the second half of the list. We didn't even understand it until long after the release of Stankonia. It is still living up to the James Blood rule: "Jazz is the teacher. Funk is the preacher." The mess that makes WGO is all in OB4CL: mashing soul, politics, sex, drugs, lying about drugs, strings and the groove, etc. We also see this slab totally in the light of Nice Guys and the AEC rule cited above.

Piracy Funds Terrorism taught us that the AEC rule had gone global, that Chuck D was still working the dancehall, and that the blues was now the world's song form.

3.) Thematic

In the end, the devil is in the details that such a list obscures. The short version (which is unfair to all that is omitted and true only in its abstraction from the devilish context we love the most) is simple: the blues endures like angels, and the full force of creolization can't stop and won't stop. Dang diggy dang ma kingz and queenz.