Bullshit That Gets on My Nerves: Historical Half-Truths, Distortions and Outright Lies (part one)

Bessie-master675
Queen Latifah playing what she thinks is Bessie Smith. From HBO disaster-bio “Bessie.” Note the string-bassist to the left. String-bassists were extremely rare in 1920s jazz and took a back-seat to the more powerful tuba.

“None of us were supposed to know how to read music. They wanted folk stuff. If we could read, we had to pretend we couldn’t. The day before a show opened  we’d get the music. They’d come to the spots after the show and hear us playing the tunes and say: ‘Aren’t they marvelous?'”

–Eubie Blake, They All Played Ragtime

The narrator to this cute little film clip–taken from Robert Altman’s film flop Kansas City–is bullshitting. Virtually ALL this stuff was fucking written DOWN–whether in their heads* or on paper. That’s another stupid stereotype about black musicians–that they were just a bunch of naturally-inspired, naturally-rhythmic darkies who operated by instinct. People like Mezz Mezzrow (as much as I admire his book Really the Blues) were big proponents of this lie. In fact for decades nobody knew that Louis Armstrong’s solo on Cornet Chop Suey was written down NOTE FOR NOTE in 1924 and copyrighted at the Library of Congress that year, a full two years before he recorded it for Okeh!

People need to stop lying about the history of jazz music–black Americans included. The recent HBO disaster “Bessie” is another case in point. In fact the dance hall scenes from “Bessie” are almost indistinguishable from “Idlewild,” another disaster, and Altman’s “Kansas City”. A bunch of loud, rowdy negroes in big hats which, somehow, with the exception of “Idlewild,” they never take off–and which is belied by actual film footage from black nightclubs from that era (naturally, the conk-haired hipsters of the twenties, thirties and forties never wasted a moment showing off their conks in public spaces!). They are always dancing APART and rarely together, and doing the wrong dances altogether:

“Bessie”

Furthermore, the music, with very few exceptions, is bland and toothless, with none of the fire of the old heads such as Charlie Shavers, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, and naturally Louis Armstrong, to name a bare handful. The next time they decide to make a jazz film in America they ought to hire some French trad musicians such as what’s left of Charquet and Co. At least they sound more or less like the real deal–unlike these wanna-be boppers in the US who can’t tell the difference stylistically between Sonny Stitt, Marshall Allen and early Benny Carter.

*unwritten arrangements were known as “head arrangements.”

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Brief Reflections on What a “Black” Writer Should Do (or, rather, what I think “Black” writers should do)

In the global media, the African American has been obliterated as a human being and as an historical and cultural entity. In fact his identity and humanity are subject to change and manipulation at any given moment by forces more or less beyond his control. One moment he is an amusing entertainer, a powerful and loveable athlete; the very next he is a wild, raging beast who needs to be subdued.

Black American writing should be an effort to reclaim and reinvent, or reconstruct, a history and identity which has been relentlessly trivialized. Americans deny the importance of history because if they were to remember anything that they had truly done in their past, they would probably hang themselves in shame. American history, for the most part, is an ugly testimony to humanity’s failure; it shows one just how exceedingly monstrous people can be towards other people and towards their environment, and above all, just how immeasurably stupid, cruel and callous. The “history” is built on lies, and for a very simple reason that James Baldwin pointed out earlier: in order to tell the truth about the African American, one must tell the truth about every other American, particularly white Americans, and their interaction with African Americans. Such a truth telling would render virtually every American history book useless. The lies continue to the present day: idiots like T-Pain and T.I. and 50 Cent and the rest of the thug bunch were invented and hyped for a clear reason: so that the world can’t see the rest of us. The thugs are a smokescreen.

In the Name of The Father

In the Name of the Father

 

for Nizar Qabbani, Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Henry Dumas, Harold Carrington

 

 

In the name of the Father, the Son

And the Holy Ghost.

 

We, The People,

 

Thank you for your blessings

These past ten thousand years:

 

We thank you for not listening to

A single one of our prayers.

 

Thank you, O lord, for stuffing

Your blessed ears with wool,

 

for turning your backside to us,

for an eternity of neglect.

 

Thank you for mocking our struggle,

 

For making of our misery

A source of endless entertainment.

 

Thank you for gangsters and thugs,

Thank you for allowing cops

 

In New York, San Francisco,

Washington, Milwaukee, Houston,

 

Toronto, London, Paris, Budapest,

Cairo, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro,

 

To beat us with impunity,

To kick us in our genitals

 

And sodomize us in filthy alleys

And police stations.

 

Glory be to God,

For blessing us with a nation

 

Of Nigger-lynchers:

Praise Allah for the most honorable

 

Obeidah tribe of East Libya,

Who aims to finish the honorable work

 

Of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

 

Thank you, O lord, for upstanding men

like Pinochet, the Assads, the Obammys,

 

the Reagans, the Bushes, the Rockefellers;

Thank you for Hosni Mubarak.

 

Thank you for Syria

and a mountain of rubble

and an avalanche of corpses.

 

Thank you for Dylan Roof

and Jim Jones at Guyana,

thank you for understanding

that Yes, indeed, Black Lives

don’t really matter.

 

Thank you, O lord, for deposing our King;

Thank you, O lord, for killing Thomas Sankara;

 

Thank you, O lord, for Tupac Shakur,

Zip Coon, Amos and Andy, J.J., Nicky Barnes,

P. Diddy, Rick Ross, Hip-Hop, Crack, Crunk,

And the brilliant minds who produced it all.

 

Thank you,

Glory be to God.

 

Thank you for the International Monetary Fund,

And guys like Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

 

Thank you for reality shows,

Thank you for Jersey Shore and Bensonhurst.

 

Thank you for Maury Povich, and all

The lumpens who parade

 

Through his camera lens—the better to

Distract us from Afghanistan.

 

Thank you for Michelle Malkin, Ann

Coulter, Michael Savage, Ken Hamblin,

 

Joseph Goebbels, Julius Streicher, Rush

Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Howard Stern,

and Donald Trump.

 

Thank you, O lord, for Obama’s waffling

And Oprah’s mammy-made re-runs.

 

Thank you for Wolf Blitzer,

Thank you for Likudniks,

 

Thank you for Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer,

Judge Judy, the Supreme Court Justice

 

System, for Homeland Security, for the Trans-

Portation Security Administration, and all

 

The perverts who grope girl’s pussies

For plutonium.

 

Thank you for playing worker against worker,

straight against gay,

 

Thank you for playing man against woman,

Old against young, north against south, east

 

Against west, spics against niggers,

gooks against spics, kikes against

 

gooks, Ay-rabs against

kikes, and so on and so forth;

 

Thank you for the Middle Passage, for

Nanking, for Hiroshima, for Libya,

for Baghdad, for Afghanistan,

 

Thank you for all the Holocausts, for

All the Conquistadors, for King Leopold and Tippu Tib,

 

Thank you for the destruction of Timbuktu,

Benin City, and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street,

 

Thank you for burning our libraries,

Thank you for destroying our culture,

 

Thank you for forcing us to live in the ghetto,

Thank you for making us hock our kidneys

 

Just to eat a hamburger;

Thank you for killing us

 

For stealing a slice of pound cake:

 

Thank you.

 

Thank you for flooding Harlem with

Heroin, Hipsters and Walt Disney,

 

Thank you for Hipsters, Hipsters, Hipsters,

Hipsters, Hipsters, and more Hipsters,

 

Thanks for gang-bangers

Who shoot at the drop of a pin.

 

Thank you, O lord, for forcing Cuba

To eat its own shit,

 

For forcing Haiti to grovel in the dirt

For yet another century,

 

For forcing Somalia to choose between

Starvation and piracy,

 

For forcing Mother Africa to sell

Her ass again.

 

Thank you, O lord, for bringing back

Torture camps and Inquisitions,

 

Thank you, O lord, for the guys

Who hacked off the manhood

 

of Hamza Khatib—

 

I mean, it was really his fault that

He was a mere thirteen year old,

 

Wasn’t it? And maybe his big, fat

Stomach should not have been in

 

The way of the bullets that struck him,

And maybe his dick should not have

 

Been in the way of the knife that

Removed it.

 

Glory be to the Creator, to God,

To Jehovah, the One and only—

 

Et benedictus,

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful that our

Earth has been hopelessly poisoned.

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful for facing extinction

at the hands of morons.

 

Thank you.

 

We are eternally grateful for you,

British Petroleum: you’ve done it again.

 

We are eternally grateful for the

Radiation eating out our insides,

 

O great guys of TEPCO:

Thank you for not telling the truth,

 

We did not need to hear it.

 

Thank you.

 

 

© 2011-2015 Philip Lewis