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April 29, 2009

magazines, jazz, masculinity, mess

This is another in-progress bit of writing in response to things I've been reading lately. I've found some nicely critical engagments with jazz and jazz study, and am suddenly wishing I was in the US. This isn't the most coherent of posts, partly because I lost part of it with an inadvertent page refresh. Shit.

I've been thinking or wondering about the relationship between Esquire magazine and jazz, partly as a result of my work with the jazz discography (and following Billie Holiday). There were a few concerts in 1944 and 1945 featuring the 'Esquire All Stars' - a group of truly big names: Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey and others.

There are some albums released from these concerts, including one interesting one called At the Met, the cover of which is particularly provocative when you consider the issues I raise below.

I've just found this in a paper about Miles Davis:

By the 1950s, American had become aware of subtle shifts in social and gender roles. Sociologists and psychiatrists were talking about men trapped in gray flannel suits, the age of conformity, the weakening of the superego, the other-directed person. The concern was that a new postwar economy was creating a society in which people were externally motivated, too well adjusted, too sociable. Scarcely concealed behind the jargon of social science was the fear that it was not women who were changing, but men, who were becoming soft, emotional, and expressive - that is, more like women rather than like the rational and task-oriented patriarchs who had built and protected America. More often than not, such ideas were dressed up as if they were the received wisdom of the ages, but their sources were transparently pop.
Elsewhere, Playboy magazine was wrestling with the same anxieties and assuaging them with a particular kind of male hedonism, promoting the good life for the single man: money, imported cars, circular beds, top-of-the-line stereos, chicks. And like Esquire before it, Playboy championed jazz, as a male music, to be sure, but the music of a certain kind of male, as the couture, decorations, and genderized illustrations of the jazz life in its pages made clear. Then there were the Beats, detested by Playboy, but sharing some of its fantasies by celebrating freedom, male bonding, drugs, art, and the hip lifestyle, one of their inspirations being the nightlife of the black musician (Szwed 183).

This article "The Man" discusses Miles Davis' masculinity, positioning him in the 1950s as both 'a man' and as a jazz musician. There's lots of talk about 'masculinity'. We can also draw some conclusions about white, middle class men and their interest in black masculinity as some sort of 'free', 'sensual' and 'vibrant' ideal. Particularly in reference to the Beats.
It's been interesting reading this article after one about the Newport Jazz Festival, “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival" by John Gennari. Particularly in reference to this section:

At the Newport Jazz Festival on the fourth of July weekend in 1960, thousands of white youths described by Life magazine as "more interested in cold beer than in hot jazz” spilled from the jazz concerts into Newport’s downtown, attacking policemen, kicking in store windows, and manhandling the town’s residents and visitors. Press reports noted that many of the drunken rioters screamed racial epithets while rampaging through the town. State police used billy clubs and tear gas to stem the riot, then called on the marines for help in restoring order. When the air cleared, over two hundred of the marauders found themselves in local jails, while more than fifty of their victims required medical attention. One witness told the Providence Journal: “I’ve experienced fear twice in my life. Once was in combat during World War II; the other was Saturday night in Newport.” Scheduled to end on Sunday night, the festival was ordered shut down on Sunday afternoon by the Newport city council. The last act was a program of blues narrated by Langston Hughes. Anticipating the city council’s action, Hughes penned a set of lyrics on a Western Union sheet. He handed them to Otis Spann, who sang them slowly as the crowd quietly departed.

Among a rash of press reports on the riot, one commentator blamed the allure of Newport, a “resort area which hold[s] a fascination for the square collegian who wants to ball without running the risk of mom and dad stumbling across his prostrate from on somebody’s lawn.” Mordantly noting the contrast between the Newport gentry “in the front row with their Martini shakers” and the youngsters “squatting in the back, their heads between their knees, upchucking their beer,” journalist Murray Kempton wondered, “Was there anything in America at once so fashionable and so squalid?” To many who had embraced Newport as jazz’s City on a Hill, a sterling model of New England Brahmin philanthropy, more disconcerting than the spectacle of loutish yahoos profaning the festival was the rioter’s identity. These were not switchblade-wielding rebels without a cause, nor pothead beatnicks in overalls. These ‘young hooligan herrenvolk of the Eastern seaboard,” as Village Voice jazz critic Robert Reisner dubbed the rioters, were students from the elite colleges, fraternity brothers on a fast track to the corporate boardroom. “You could tell the students from Harvard and Yale,” wagged one man on the street: “They were throwing only imported beer bottles.” (Gennari 127)

I'd previously thought about the Newport Jazz Festival in reference to the film High Society and the documentary film Jazz on a Summer's Day, both of which suggest class tensions, but in the politest way. Neither references these sorts of middle class men rioting (!). In fact, JOASD is, as Gennari discusses, a more than a little arty, genteel and restrained. Here's a gratuitous clip to illustrate:

For many dancers Newport is significant for the albums recorded there by Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Gannari discusses the racial tensions at work in the Newport Jazz Festival, particularly in its later years and in reference to Louis Armstrong's performance in JOASD which is a little too uncle Tom to be precisely comfortable (and Gannari complicates this with references to Armstrong's own ability to subvert this stereotype). Unlike the idealised descriptions in Beat literature (including some sections in On the Road, which have always bothered me, especially when read in conjunction with Anne Petry's novel The Street), in JOASD black masculinity is carefully contained.

I guess what I'm trying to do here is make some distinctions about representations of race and class in mens' magazines, in music magazines and in films like JOASD. Mens' magazines and Beat writers presented an idealised black masculinity with was free, undomesticated, independent - an artist unbound. Films like JOASD and High Society present black masculinity as safely contained as an item of novelty by the bandstand or (as in JOASD) safely receptive by chairs in the audience. Both of these disconnect them from the broader community of which they were a part... the communities, I should say.
I always think about stories about Nat King Cole in these sorts of discussions. About an anecdote I heard on a TV doco. Cole, financially and artistically successful, bought a large house in a wealthy white suburb. His lawn was set on fire/painted with racial epithets. Though he sought the trappings of middle class security, he was still tagged as 'other'.

Let's talk a bit more about High Society.

This is my favourite part of the film. Armstrong is, effectively, the narrator of HS. It is his voice which anchors the film. I like the way he introduces us to Newport, and his presenting jazz as the most important part of this narrative. I like the casual setting of their playing - playing for fun, for their own enjoyment rather than for an audience. Armstrong's story is for the guys in the band. I kind of like the idea of the band on the road because it echoes the idea of bands and jazz as music in transit. Travel and jazz are also buzzing about in my head at the moment (and I've talked about it before). Their place on a bus is interesting, too, as it clearly marks their class later on, when we see characters like Samantha zipping about in their flash, private cars. Again, buses are a space I think of as 'public', and I'm really interested in the way musicians and dancers make public places 'space' - they occupy it aurally and physically and socially, cutting down invisible lines between individual people with a song or a dance step.

But this contrasts with the following clip (one described in Gennari's article).

This is such a great song. And a fascinating scene. Armstrong and the band are actually introduced to the very white, very upper middle class Newport gentry by Crosby (I can't remember why, exactly). The point is that they're introducing this crowd to jazz. And, we can assume, to black musicians as more than servants. It's pretty radical to have a white singer on stage with a black band, but not that crazy. The band are, of course, matching in their suits. The part I like most is where Crosby's perfectly articulated, wonderfully modulated voice is upstaged by Armstrong's badass trumpet solo. Crosby is perfect; Armstrong is perfectly badass.
This song is popular with dancers, but this version isn't so great for dancing. It's a little too mannered. There's another version where Armstrong sings all the lyrics and the song, generally, has a little more kick. It makes you want to dance. I wish I could find it on the internet, but I can't. Having Armstrong sing as well as play trumpet anchors the song in quite a different way. Armstrong is more comfortable with improvising, and the subtext feels a little saucier. There's a greater element of call and response. And improvisation, of course, is the best way of escaping and adding creatively to a song without it collapsing into random noise.

This clip is significant for its role in introducing the Newport Jazz Festival to a white, straight crowd. And Newport was largely, as one of the promoters George Wein insisted, about popularising jazz. Or about introducing jazz to mainstream America. Debates about the types of jazz on display at Newport, about work practices, pay and the general culture of the festival during a period of Jim Crow legislation make it particularly interesting. Because, remember, the fact that Louis Armstrong and his band are sitting at the back of the bus is very important. Segregation meant that where they traveled and how they traveled and how they played music was managed by law. In this context, what does it mean for Armstrong's solo to bust right out of the carefully mannered, modulated frame set up by Crosby and his 'introductions'?
Of course, in the film HS the white crowd return immediately to 'not-jazz' music and dancing after the performance; this was a moment's entertainment.

I'm not really sure where I'm ultimately going with all this, but there's something niggling me about the connection between men's magazines, masculinity in the postwar (1940s-60s) period, jazz and jazz performances - big jazz concerts in particular.I've also come across an interesting discussion of gender and masculinity in jazz by David Ake in the article "Regendering Jazz: Ornette Coleman and the New York Scene in the Late 1950s". I'm also thinking about jazz clubs in the 40s and 50s, their (predominantly male) membership and their effects on the jazz scene. There's something about big jazz concerts in there too, I think, that I have to follow up. Especially since I noticed just how many live recordings Billie Holiday did in the last decade of her career. The 50s saw her do a whole lot of television shows as well as large concerts, and recordings made from these. I want to follow up these ideas about the 'popularising' of jazz in regards to the status of jazz as 'art' music today. There's a tension between 'classic jazz' as 'art' and later jazz (from bebop to avant garde) in the jazz literature that I want to explore, especially in regards to the Ken Burns' documentary film Jazz. In fact, I always have something to say about that film, especially in regards to its positioning of the jazz musician as isolated 'artist', and jazz history as one of artists prompting cultural change. I am, of course, far more of the opinion that jazz was and is very much a product and process of community and local cultural context.

I know that there's something to be said about individualism and masculinity and the freedom from consequences that comes from the idea that 'jazz' is about isolated artists without community responsibility and ties. How connected was that rioting by young, white middle class college men with a 'freedom from responsibility' associated with the black jazz musician by mens' magazines and writers?

George Lipsitz presents the book Songs of the Unsung as an alternate history of jazz, one firmly embedded in local community, with jazz musicians as necessarily participating in everyday community life, rather than isolated with their 'art' in some rarified space:

Songs of the Unsung presents jazz as the conscious product of collective activity in decidedly local community spaces. The modernist city and the nation pale in significance in Tapscott’s account in comparison to the home, the neighborhood, and the community. Physical spaces far more specific than the ‘city’ shaped his encounter with music, and these spaces had meaning because they were connected to a supportive community network (Lipsitz 17)

I think I like this approach because I want to talk about jazz in the context of contemporary swing dance culture, where dancers read a history of jazz not as a history of art, but as a history of music for dancing. And this history of music for dancing as a collaborative, community history, perhaps too complicated to be told with a simple temporally linear narrative.

I was absolutely delighted to find this section in Lipsitz's book:

Instead of modernist time, this would be a history of dance time, starting with ragtime, not as a showcase for the personal ‘genius’ of Scott Joplin but as a site where African attitudes toward rhythm (and polyrhythm) became prominent in U.S. popular culture. The difference between the rhythmic concepts in ragtime’s right-hand melodies and left-hand bass accompaniment and the genre’s additive rhythms (eight semiquavers divided into 2/3s and 1/2s) evidenced a tasted for multiple patterns at the same time that it opened the door for future rhythmic innovations. Rather than the era that gave to Dixieland and swing, the 1920s and 1930s could be see as a movement from the fox-trot to the jitterbug and the lindy hop. More than a away to distribute music more effectively to a broader audience, the development of electrical recording techniques would be seen as a shift that enabled bass and drums to replace tuba and banjo as the key sources of rhythm. Such a story would feature the tap dancing of John “Bubbles” Sublette, who was dancing “four heavy beats to the bar and no cheating” fourteen years before the Count Basie band came east and popularized swing. This narrative would honor the moment in 1932 when Bennie Moten began to generate a different kind of rhythm and momentum for dancers by replacing the banjo with the guitar and substituting the string bass for the tuba. The transition from swing to bop in this story would not focus on the emergence of the saxophone over the trumpet or the small ensemble over the big band as much as it would highlight how string bass players and frontline instrumentalists began to assume responsibility for keeping time so that drummers could be free to experiment with polyrhythms and provide rhythmic accents for soloists.
The distinctive creators of ‘dance time’ would not be the virtuoso instrumentalists of modernist time but rather virtuoso ‘conversationalists’ like drummer Max Roach and dancers Earl Basie (better known by his stage name, Groundhog) and Baby Laurence. (Lipsitz 22)

I'll see how we go after a bit more reading...

Ake, David. Jazz Cultures. U of California Press: Berkely, 2002.

Gennari, John. “Hipsters, Bluebloods, Rebels, and Hooligans: the Cultural Politics of the Newport Jazz Festival, 1954-1960.” O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 126-149.

Lipsitz, George. "Songs of the Unsung: The Darby Hicks History of Jazz" O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 9-26.

O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004.

Szwed, John. "The Man" O’Meally, Robert, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin, eds. Uptown Conversation: the New Jazz Studies. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 166-186.

Many of these books are produced by members of the Jazz Study Group at Columbia. You can find some of their articles in full-text form online here at It's a fab resource.

"magazines, jazz, masculinity, mess" was posted by dogpossum on April 29, 2009 1:51 PM in the category academia and fillums and lindy hop and other dances and music and research | Comments (3)

April 27, 2009

waiting #2

This was tacked onto that last post, but it looked stupid. It's not really all that interesting a post, actually, so you might want to skip over it.

I was watching this clip about a roundabout in the Netherlands and it reminded me of some of the things I've written about above. I guess it has more to do with ideas about sharing space on a dance floor rather than intra-partnership communication.

When I watch this clip I compare it to the way motorists and cyclists interact on the road at traffic lights. We live on a busy intersection with a complicated set of lights. At peak hour in particular, motorists tend to approach the lights in these ways:
1. green light: go!
2. orange light: go faster!
3. red light: go really fast! Or stop >:(
When the light turns green again: GO! GO!

They tend not to think actively or critically of the space and people on the road around them. They respond to the traffic lights. When I cross the road there, I wait for the lights to go green, then I look to see what the traffic is doing. I wait before I step out, because cars regularly run these lights - it's a dangerous spot.
But I'm interested in the way motorists do as the lights say, or respond to the lights, rather than to the people on the crossing itself (whether they're in cars, on bikes or on foot). Rather than thinking 'ok, I need to slow down here - it's an intersection with complicated things happening', they think 'the light is green - I must go!'

As a cyclist, I'm out there in the elements. I feel the wind, am very very conscious of the cars physical presence, and I'm ultra-aware of people around me. Cyclists tend to actually make eye contact and smile/talk to each other (or, in The Squeeze's case, challenge them to a race. Yes, really). Riding a bike reminds me that I'm not actually alone. When you drive a car, you tend to forget about the outside world. Things go past you too quickly to really appreciate. You can't smell the bakery doing the morning bread at 2am as you ride home after a night out. You can't stop to help a nanna rearrange her shopping. You can't stop to pat a friendly cat or steal a handful of rosemary from a park. You can't ride through parks - you have to stick to the bitumen. You can't just suddenly hop out of your car and carry it down some steps if you want to take a shortcut. Riding a bike not only makes you feel physically better (and stronger and more independent), it also reminds you that your neighbourhood is sounds and smells and small details, not just blurs or lines of traffic.

This sort of stuff reminds me of some people's general thinking about cycling rather than driving a car. People who drive cars tend to respond to my encouraging them to ride a bike to work or for errands instead with these arguments:
1 it'll take longer - I have to get to work, I spend too much time traveling as it is
2 I'm too tired after work to ride home
3 I don't want to get wet/sweaty/cold/hot
4 I don't want to shower at work
5 it's dangerous
6 I live a long way from my work
7 I have to carry a lot of stuff to work.

They tend to assume that their quality of life will be degraded by riding a bike. Whereas I think - I know that my quality of life is improved by riding a bike:
1 I know exactly how long it will take me to get anywhere. I don't begrudge this amount of time, because I enjoy it - it is pleasurable and good exercise

2 Riding gives me energy and makes me feel, generally, more energetic. It might kick my arse and leave me panting, but overall, I feel more energy. This is especially important if I'm going through a bit of depression or ill health. I've found that dealing with the constant pain in my foot, the exercise of cycling helps me deal with pain and depression; I just feel better.

3 I don't mind getting sweaty/wet/cold/hot. The more you ride a bike, the more accustomed you become to getting wet or hot or cold. You simply accept the fact that riding in the rain makes you wet. Or exercise makes you sweaty. If you're going to work, you shower there. I don't mind getting a bit wet. Or even very wet; I won't melt. I wear practical clothes and I really don't mind the weather - it doesn't kill me, and once you get over the 'oh no! I'm wet!' you can actually enjoy it. Really, getting wet or hot or sweaty isn't so bad. Sometimes it's nice.

4 Showering at work isn't so bad. If you're like me, you need to cool down a bit before you shower or you just re-sweat immediately. If you're like The Squeeze, you get out of bed, step into your knicks, then out the door. You arrive at work, shower, then eat breakfast in the kitchen/tea room/at the cafe on the corner with your co-workers or on your own. He likes doing that. He doesn't have to make sure he looks pretty before he leaves, he knows he'll eat breakfast and have decent coffee. Once you've gotten into the routine, you keep the right things at the office so you don't find it annoying to shower.

5 It's actually not dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous - you're moving at great speeds in a large, dangerous object. Driving your car endangers other people; you make the world more dangerous. It's perfectly possible to take a safe, quiet route to work on your bike where the most dangerous part of your day is passing Sweet Belam without stopping for a cake. Adding a little exercise into your day is very, very good for you. Not exercising every day is dangerous.

6 Living a long way from your work is tricky if you're looking to cycle to work every day. But it is possible. You can take bikes on the train or ferry (or bus in some lucky cities). I'm always surprised by people's sense of distance. I am happy to ride up to and including 10 kilometers as part of a basic commute or errand ride. The Squeeze rides 20km a day, five days a week, up and down hills and at great speed (you can imagine how fit and strong and lean he's becoming).
If your drive is 10km or less, you really should be riding a bike. 10 kilometres is about 30 minutes (or 45 minutes if you're me) by bike. If you're living in a very flat town (like Melbourne), then it's less. If you're a super fit lycra person, then it's less again. but 10km by car in a big city through peak hour is a long journey. It's usually quicker to ride a bike, if you include parking time.

7 Carrying stuff on a bike is far easier than you'd think. Panniers rock - I have transported a week's worth of groceries, four pot plants, giant bags of potting mix and lots of other things by pannier. I carry my laptop, headphones, power cord, water bottle and towel to dancing on my bike in a backpack/back rack combination. And I should mention: I am the sort of person who hates carrying heavy crap. I've noticed that cycling often makes carrying extra stuff in a large handbag unnecessary. If you're showering at work, you leave a set of bathroom things at work (towel, deoderant, soap, etc), so you're not carrying that every day.

It has to be said, though: the only cake that will transport safely on a bike is a fruit cake. But I'm working on that.

There are exceptions, of course. If you have mobility issues, cycling might not be for you. But if you're able bodied and traveling to work by car every day, cycling is often a far nicer option. And you don't have to ride to work every day. Starting with one day a week is often enough to help you find a nice, safe route, and to get you used to the routine. Even just every second day is enough. Commuting by bike regularly (rather than just doing it once and then giving up) is a very good idea - it can take a while to figure out the most efficient, and safest way of doing things. It can take a while to figure out exactly what stuff you can and should leave at work to make your post-ride shower easier. And practicing your route on the weekend is also a good idea. Traveling with friends is another great idea.

"waiting #2" was posted by dogpossum on April 27, 2009 7:09 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)

waiting to understand what the other is doing

In the comments to my last entry, Jac writes that she likes the Billie/Louis duet:

It's like listening in on a conversation... :)

And I replied
Yeah - that's what I like about it. I think that's what people like about the Ella and Louis duets as well - a conversation between really gifted musicians.

This is something I like about really good small group instrumentals as well - it sounds like a conversation between friends. The better the musicians, the better it sounds; they can echo and build on the contributions of others, keeping or building on the feel and topic. The Oscar Peterson trio do some really good stuff like this.

Reading through Ake's book Jazz Cultures I've found this quote from Sidney Bechet about rag time:

Bechet made it clear that his joy and creativity were piqued when playing among musicians like those mentioned above who were his peers in improvisational-interplay abilities. And it was the continual challenge of creating sounds that complimented and inspired bandmates that he found to be most satisfying.
That's the thing about ragtime... It ain't a writing down where you just play what it says on the paper in front of you, and so long as you do that he arranger, he's taken care of everything else. When you're really playing ragtime, you're feeling it out, you're playing to the other parts, you're waiting to understand what the other man's doing, and then you're going with his feeling, adding what you have of your feeling.
(Ake 33)

This is exactly the way I feel about lindy hop. When you're working in a partnership, it's not a matter of performing or completing choreographed moves. It's about responding to your partner, 'waiting to understand what the other is doing'. That's what makes social dancing to live music so freaking damn good. You don't know what's happening next. You don't know what the musicians'll do next. You just have to listen and move and make it up and respond. It's wonderful. Just wonderful.

"waiting to understand what the other is doing" was posted by dogpossum on April 27, 2009 4:55 PM in the category dulwich hill massive and lindy hop and other dances and music and research

April 25, 2009

All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrong

The Louis Armstrong bit of the jazz discography is really, really big. And that's not counting all the entries with bands other than his own.
They have this neat discography in the library: All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrong and I want it. It's a beautifully produced book and something I know I'll keep and use forever. It's just a bit expensive (even in paperback).

"All of Me: The Complete Discography of Louis Armstrong" was posted by dogpossum on April 25, 2009 7:46 PM in the category books and music and objects of desire and research | Comments (0)

billie and louis again


In the spirit of my last post, have a listen to this lovely version of 'My Sweet Hunk O'Trash'. It's Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong singing together a couple of years after that film New Orleans was released.

Recording details:
Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday with Sy Oliver's Orchestra: Bernie Privin (trumpet) Louis Armstrong (vcl) Sid Cooper, Johnny Mince (alto sax) Art Drellinger (tenor sax) Pa Nizza (tenor sax, Baritone sax) Billy Kyle (piano) Everett Barksdale (guitar) Joe Benjamin (bass) James Crawford (drums) Billie Holiday (vocal) Sy Oliver (arranger, conductor)
New York, September 30 1949
7543 My sweet hunk o'trash De 24785, DL8701, Br (E)05074, De (F)MU60363, AoH AH64, Br (G)10159LPBM

It's a lovely example of two musicians playing with timing and phrasing. It's a nice song, but it's their delivery, their to-and-fro that makes it nice. The rest of the band isn't terribly interesting; this is a song showcasing the vocals.
I probably wouldn't play this song for dancers. The emphasis on the vocals means that you really have to listen properly to what they're saying and how they're saying it, and that's not really something you can do when you're dancing. It's also really slow, not juicy enough for blues dancing, far too slow for lindy hop. The vocal showcasing means that the rest of the instrumentation is understated. There's not much going on behind Louis and Billie. This can make for fairly dull dancing; when you're dancing, you look for a range of rhythmic and melodic layers. The more aural interest, the more interesting the dancing. Sometimes it's nice to dance simply, but when the tempos are this slow, you're really looking for something more.

Having said that, there are worse songs you could play for dancers.

Btw, if you're as concerned about the racial subtexts at work in New Orleans as I am, check out this article, which goes a little way towards addressing those issues (let's not talk about my desire for 'owning' jazz just yet. This white girl knows she's got some work to do).
I am currently reading my way (very, very slowly) through David Ake's book Jazz Cultures. There's a refreshingly sophisticated approach to race and ethnicity in this book, and though I'm only in the first chapter (I keep stopping to chase and note references), he's already upsetting black/white dichotomies with a discussion of Creole music and culture in New Orleans and complicating issues of whiteness and blackness which are going a long way to reassuring me about jazz studies literature. I don't have much to write about that yet, but I will eventually.

"billie and louis again" was posted by dogpossum on April 25, 2009 7:08 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and research | Comments (2)

April 24, 2009

billie holiday and louis armstrong

This is a nice clip of Louis Armstrong (and amazing band) playing 'Dixie Music Man' from the 1947 film New Orleans.
The woman with the flowers in her hair is Billie Holiday. The band features Kid Ory, Bunny Berigan and Zutty Singleton (with others) - musicians I've been following through a range of bands lately.

Louis Armstrong - Dixie Music Man
Uploaded by zappata008

This clip was posted by Rayned on faceplant, and it's timely because I'm obsessed by Armstrong and Holiday at the moment. Yesterday I photocopied all the bits of the Discography referring to Holiday. I'm not going to even try that with Armstrong - there's an entire, huge book devoted to his recordings alone.

bh.jpeg It's fascinating to follow these guys through different bands. Both were really amazing musicians with a sense of swing that's really incomparable. You can pick Armstrong's trumpet in any recording, no matter how crappy and crackly. and Billie... her later stuff is really tricky to dance to because she's so clever with phrasing and timing. Sometimes she's so way, way back there behind the beat you're sure she's just about to be out of time completely. I like listening to the way she shapes a band when she's singing with them - with live recordings. She can work around a straight, uptight band and make them sound like they're actually hot. Same goes for Louis - these guys have a sense of timing that's impeccable. Like really good comedians.

('Fireworks', Louis Armstrong & His Hot 5 with Earl Hines, Zutty Singleton 1928)

For my money, Armstrong was really rocking with this small groups in the late 20s. This was a collection of great New Orleans jazz musicians, many of whom began with King Oliver, and most of whom moved on to Chicago and then New York (and further afield). I'm a massive fan of Kid Ory, but I'm also digging Zutty Singleton. I'm a bit of a nut for rhythm sections generally (I think it's because I listen to this stuff as a dancer), and Singleton just keeps popping up in the bands I like.

(That pic of the Armstrong Hot Five is from the Louisiana State Museum site, which is just fascinating.)

I was a little sceptical of the claims made about Armstrong's Hot fives and sevens until I actually sat down and listened to them in chronological order - after the stuff he did supporting singers like Bessie Smith (! powerhouse combo, much? An example: St Louis Blues 1925)), after his work with King Oliver. But before his Orchestra stuff of the 1930s (some of which is a bit dodgy, I've found). I'm not really interested in his stuff after the 50s (though I bet I'll change my mind on that too), and I really don't like 'Hello Dolly' and all that vocal rot. I quite like him doing nice, silky groovy duets with Ella Fitzgerald (many of which included Oscar Peterson), but my real interest in his music is in his late 20s and early 30s stuff when you really hear his approach to timing and nuance signaling musical change: the swing era's coming. But nobody else is really there yet.

(That pic of the Hot five to the right is from this interesting blog)
These Hot Five and Seven bands were really one of the the first real opportunities for Armstrong to experiment with music and musicians on his own terms in his own bands. I think the smaller group allows the sort of group or ensemble improvisation that you just can't keep under control with a big band. The best example of this sort of improvisation usually comes in the final chorus when it sounds as though everyone's doing their own thing (because they are), but are still working together, playing within a particular framework. That's the sort of thing I LOVE as a dancer and DJ because it reminds me of lindy hop - improvisation within structure. I love playing this sort of stuff for dancers because the energy suddenly leaps in that final chorus, and you can end a song (or a set) on a high energy point. I especially love Fats Waller for this. He might begin with a quieter song whose clever lyrics make you listen up carefully, but he ends with a loud, raucous shouting chorus that makes you bust out like a fool on the dance floor.

In a smaller group, Armstrong lets the musicians play in their own ways, but still works as the lynchpin in a fairly complicated musical machine. The ensemble improvisation allows each musician to shine with improvisation, but still maintains a sense of group or collaborative wholeness; it's not just random noise. The musicians were all amazing, including Louis Armstrong on trumpet, Lil Hardin (who became Lil Hardin Armstrong) on piano, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Kid Ory on trombone and Johnny St. Cyr on banjo. The band's membership changed a little, and the group also recorded as the Hot Seven (there are a range of other names for similar groupings, including a special Savoy small band). Additional musicians included Kid Ory (cornet), Lonnie johnson (guitar), Earl Hines (piano), Zutty Singleton (drums) and a few different vocalists (May Alix is one who catches my eye because she also did work with Jimmie Noone, who I love). The Hot Fives and Sevens recorded between 1925 and 1928 (you can read more about the Hot 5 here on

Just in case you're wondering where the Billie Holiday talk is...

I really like this recording of 'Fine and Mellow'. The musicians are, of course, amazing. It's from 1957, when Billie was already more than a little trashed by drugs and alcohol. But she really was a phenomenal singer. Even as her voice became more and more ragged, her technique and sense of music were indefatigable. The Decca collection liner notes mention that she was the sort of musician (or artist is the term I think they use) who used one or two takes to record songs. She could simply get it right the first time. As the liner notes say, she had an idea of how she was going to do the song, and then she did it. Holiday didn't have the length of career that Armstrong did (he was recording from 1923 (at least) til 1971), she had only a couple of decades), but her music spread from that hot, swinging jazz moment in the 30s and the pop/ballad/jazz feel of the 50s and 60s.

And of course, I've just written a post which presents the history of 'jazz' in terms of two 'artists'. But I think it's important to note that Armstrong's Hot Five were just that - five (or seven, or six) musicians working together. The collective improvisation is really important, this isn't the showcasing of solos of the swing era. This is a group of people working and listening together to make something together. Holiday's work as a vocalist was primarily as a response to the bands and musicians she was working with. Her close friendship with Lester Young is perhaps the best example. There's plenty of anecdotal (and evidence based) discussion of their musical collaboration as a process of listening to and learning from each other. Young is often quoted as being most inspired by vocalist's technique. Holiday is often referred to as emulating Young's saxophone technique. Their musical relationship was indubitably one of collaboration and mutual inspiration. After all, it's very difficult to be a jazz musician all on your own.

"billie holiday and louis armstrong" was posted by dogpossum on April 24, 2009 10:31 AM in the category digging and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and research | Comments (0)

April 23, 2009


This is a song called 'Savoy' by Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra, recorded in 1942. Millinder was with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band before he led this band.


The Savoy ballroom is the most famous ballroom in contemporary swing dance culture. Opened in 1926, the ballroom was leveled late in 1956. A plaque now commemorates the ballroom on the spot. Many dancers visiting New York pose for a photo on the grounds of the old Savoy. The Savoy had 10 000 square feet of dance floor and was the length of a city block. It was not segregated.

Two bands would play in the Ballroom, one at each end, swapping sets. Chick Webb's band played there for years, and it was with Webb's band that Ella Fitzgerald developed her reputation. Webb died in 1939 and Fitzgerald took over as band leader. Fitzgerald's earlier work (in the late 30s) is often dismissed as too heavy on the novelty songs, but it was in the period immediately after Webb's death that the band (with Fitzgerald) produced a series of fabulous radio broadcasts from the Savoy.

Live at the Savoy 1939-40 is promoted as an Ella Fitzgerald album, but she sings very little. We can hear her cheering and calling solos, but this is not an album showcasing her voice. It's all live, and it's all from the Savoy. It's also really, truly fabulous.
It's an interesting example of the sorts of tempos played at the Savoy during this period. There's nothing under 180bpm, and most are over 200. It's also great, high energy, and it makes you want to dance. When I play this for dancers, I find people can't help but dance, even if they think it's too fast for them. It's just great music.

The Savoy often hosted dance competitions between rival dance troupes. Frankie Manning (who's having birthday next month) is popularly credited with inventing the first air step in one of these competitions. A step he developed with his partner Freida Washington (you can see a clip of Frankie and Willa Mae Ricker dancing this over-the-back step here). While lindy hop isn't all about aerials, it's best known for these sorts of acrobatics.

Here's a clip of the Silver Shadows (one of the best lindy hopping teams in the world today) dancing as part of the Savoy Ballroom 80th Anniversary celebrations. This is hard core lindy hop at the sort of tempos on the Ella Fitzgerald album.

(If you're interested, I wrote a bit about this routine in an earlier post).

"savoy" was posted by dogpossum on April 23, 2009 11:09 AM in the category lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (2)

i don't usually dream about smells

Last night I woke up, sometime late, thinking I could taste petrol fumes. Exhaust fumes. I hate that taste - it's the worst part of waiting for a bus on Paramatta Road or in the city. I think it was just a dream (especially since allergies have plugged my nose so I can't smell anything), but isn't that strange? I don't usually dream about smells.

"i don't usually dream about smells" was posted by dogpossum on April 23, 2009 11:06 AM in the category domesticity | Comments (0)

April 22, 2009


Today a middle aged bloke walked past me in Ashfield and said "I'm the only Aussie here!" very loudly.
I thought 'well, no - we're all Australian. You're one of the few skips here today, that's all.'

"australian" was posted by dogpossum on April 22, 2009 6:20 PM in the category dulwich hill massive | Comments (0)

mills blue rhythm band madness

Here is an experiment with embedding media players. The trouble is, very few of these have the music I'm after. But here's a Mills Blue Rhythm Band song, in honour of 'going complete' and posters on SwingDJs' obsession with the band.

E-36992-A Savage Rhythm (Br 6229, 10303, CJM 23, TOM 57, GAPS (Du) 130, Decca GRD2-69 [CD]
Recorded by the Mills Blue Rhythm Band in New York on the 31st July 1931. Musicians included: Buster Bailey (clarinet), Wardell Jones, Shelton Hemphill, Henry Red Allen (trumpet), George Washington (trombone, arranger), JC Higginbotham (trombone), Gene Mikell (sop, as, bar, clarinet), Joe Garland (ts, bar, clarinet), Edgar Hayes (piano), Lawrence Lucie (guitar), Elmer James (bass), O'Neil Spencer (drums), George Morton (vocal), Benny Carter (arranger), Lucky Millinder (dir).

Note: Date used here as given in Storyville #108 (Rust listed date as July 30, 1931).
Brunswick 6119, 6229 as 'Mills Blue Rhythm Boys'.
Decca GRD2-629 [CD] titled 'An Anthology of big band swing, 1930-1955'; rest of this 2 CD set by others.
Title also on Hep (E)1015, CD1008 [CD].
Title also on Classics 676 [CD] titled 'Mills Blue Rhythm Band 1931-1932'.

NB: below are some very preliminary thoughts I've had after very little research.

I've been spending an awful lot of time in the library lately. It began with the Con's copy of the Tom Lord Jazz Discography. That's twenty-odd volumes of dry and boring nerdery. According to The Squeeze. For a jazz nerd, that's twenty-odd volumes of orsum. I have spent hours in there already. Days. Doing what? Going through my music, adding in dates, full band names, band personnel, recording locations. Extra, extra nerdy. But also quite interesting.

(that's the Wolverines in the Gennett Records studio from this interesting site)

I've gotten much better at identifying when a song was recorded, and I'm getting to know how a band changed or an artist changed over time. And I'm recognising not-so-big-name band members now, which is fascinating. I'm also beginning to be curious about things like travel. A band might have recorded a song on one day in one city, but another song in another city on the next day. This information alone gives you and idea of just how hard these guys worked - travel, travel, record, record, live show, live show. But when you consider the fact that they usually didn't use planes (in the early days especially) and that segregation meant that these musicians were traveling in pretty shitty conditions...

I'm also interested in the way songs were often recorded only once in a session (or ever) in the early days. No time (or money) for second takes. This makes me think about the mad skills these guys had. Or the cost or difficulty of recording. And all one track as well - everyone just playing along all at once, just recording then and there as the technician heard it.

I've just come across a quite from Mary Lou Williams (from a book called The Jazz Scene: an Informal History From New Orleans to 1990 by W. Royal Stokes, 1991) where she talks about just how poor Andy Kirk's band was in Kansas during the depression. The band simply wasn't getting paid for gigs, so the musicians went days without eating. All that, and they're still producing truly amazing, inspired music. Or perhaps because of that?

Though the discography is just awesome (and I will continue to make return trips as my need for detail increases - at first dates were enough. Now I need everything), I have moved on. I want to know who was where in what years. Why did people leave a city at a certain time? What was the relationship between the northern migration, Jim Crow laws and the development of jazz in Chicago, New York and Kansas? What was New Orleans like, exactly?
(that image above is of Canal St, New Orleans in the 1920s from wikipedia. If you're a big map nerd like me, you'll love this collection of historic maps)

So I've been up the university library looking at books. Now, though, I'm thinking more critical questions. How come all the jazz book are written by men? Even the later ones? And what's the significance of jazz scholarship having its roots in jazz criticism? What role did jazz music clubs (clubs for listeners not musicians) play in the New Orleans 'revival' (I'm wary of that term - my thesis has made me suspect a 'revival' is really another word for white middle class folk appropriating black culture)? What are the effects of researching a music using only recordings? Where ARE all the women in these stories?

I'm also wondering about jazz scholarship itself, in bigger ways. Where is the critical reflection? What are the effects of research so focussed on autobiography? The emphasis on auto- and biography is interesting; it suggests that some musicians were simply so great, so awesome, so influential, they created in a cultural and social vacuum, simply churning out greatness for the rest of the world to admire. But that simply isn't the case, of any art; art is created in cultural and social context. So to divorce a musician from the rest of his life (and it is 'his' - there are no women here) suggests that the rest of this life was unimportant. As I've read recently (and I can't find the ref, sorry), this lack invites an immediate investigation.

One of the things that comes up time and again in the oral histories of the period is that, for musicians, listening to other musicians is as important as playing. Young musicians (no matter how 'gifted') would seek out experienced teachers to learn from. Musicians would spend as much time listening to other bands as playing themselves. There's this great bit in one book (the one I ref'd above) where the musician describes listening to a band at the Savoy: there were as many musicians as dancers there, drooling over the amazing band (Savoy Sultans? I can't remember).
And of course, every great musician needed a band. These early jazz recordings are about the relationships between musicians in the band. They don't - cannot - work alone. In fact, no matter how great one musician, they cannot lift an ordinary arrangement or recording to greatness if the rest of the band isn't there, or if they aren't working with the band. At the end of the day, the goal is to produce a great song, a great bit of music. That is the point of a lot of this stuff: it's about collective improvisation in earlier jazz (where everyone mustwork together - order out of chaos) and about collectivism in the more tightly orchestrated big band swing of the 30s and 40s (where musicians must play together, perfectly, must step in at just the right moment for their solo).

This is of course, all besides the point that being a musician was about earning money to buy food or pay rent. This point makes me think about gender and travel. Linda Dahl (in Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen) makes the point that travel, while so central to the live of post-emancipation black men (who's right to travel had been so viciously curtailed under slavery) was impossible for many black women. Women, as the carers of children and the aged could not uproot and travel with a band or to become a musician:

It was in the years of elation, confusion and turmoil following the Civil War that jazz began to take shape. The war brought an end to slavery and to the isolation it imposed, which had prevented among blacks the free exchange of ideas that fertilizes art. With abolition came mobility, if not equality. Many black men wandered, looking for work or luck or new vistas, and music traveled with them. But black women, history tells us, were more likely to stay put and hunker down for new roots. These were women who, as slaves, had carried double, even triple burdens. Not only did they work in the 'big house' or in the fields - as cottonpickers, eve as logrollers and lumberjacks, - but they of course did their own housework, bore their children and cared for their men. After abolition they were hungry for stable family environments, and it was easier for them to find work as cooks, laundresses or maids than for black men to find employment. Although circumstances dictated that they were often the breadwinners, they deferred to their men, especially in matters political. Above all else they devoted themselves to the hope of better lives for their children. Great were the physical and emotional demands upon them, and most found few opportunities and little time or energy for goals beyond survival (Dahl 1992:4).

For women, cultural and social context was absolutely clear and absolutely present in everything they did. While jazz historians can imagine a Sidney Bechet leaving New Orleans and gadding off to Chicago, New York, Paris, a free agent following his art, it is a little more difficult for them to write the stories of women who played and sang music from the home or the family or their (less romantic) place of work. There are many stories of the 'whore house pianists' but far fewer stories of the whores, who were occasionally musicians in their own rights.

Dahl also makes an interesting point about 'anonymous' music:

And black women certainly contriuted their share to the development of this music [jazz]. During slavery they made up songs that both drew upon and became part of everyday experience. 'Anonymous' was often a slave woman who crooned lullabies to the babies she birthed and the babies she reared, who made up ditties at quilting and husking bees or while she planted in the fields and tended her garden, who created music in her capacity as midwife and healer, at funerals and dances and in church, who developed distinctive vendor calls as she sold her wares. 'Anonymous' invented music to meet the occcasion out of a communal pool of musical-religious traditions. Women and men stripped of their names passed on standards and tribel memory to those who came after (Dahl 1992:4).

That point, of course, leads us to a discussion of black women blues singers in the 20s. But I don't have the time now, and I haven't read the books I have here. But I was very interested in this link between 'jazz history' and race and class and gender. I need more information, though.

This anonymity was the product of domesticity and 'everydayness'; simply made invisible through its very ordinariness and ubiquity. It was not framed or positioned as 'art', and so it was invisible. This reminds me of discussions about vernacular dance. It's only when it takes to the stage (and away from its mutability and use-value in everyday life) that it becomes visible to mainstream or elite audiences. This is perhaps the greatest problem with reading white histories of black music: these observers could only 'see' jazz or black music when it was on a stage, or in a recording, stripped of its everydayness. And these spaces were not accessible for many black women.

Reading jazz as a history made up of one great 'artist' after another is, then, highly problematic. I'm also wondering about the other, dominant approach: reading jazz as a history of a series of cities (New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas, New York). What about the 'territories' of the midwest, a series of smaller towns and cities strung together on the route of itinerant bands which played only to these towns and rarely (if ever) recorded? Perhaps, as the territories suggest, it's more useful to think about these cities as sites in a network of 'jazz place/space'. I want to follow up the idea of travel in early jazz - from the northern migration to individual bands and musicians migrating between cities and countries.
(There are some nice pics in this neat little article about territory bands).

Note: I've just found this interesting interview with Tim Brooks, author of Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890 - 1919. This book is on my list of 'things to find'. And of course, if you're interested in the early days of the American recording industry, the David Suisman article 'Co-workers in the kingdom of culture: Black Swan Records and the political economy of African American music' is a great resource.

"mills blue rhythm band madness" was posted by dogpossum on April 22, 2009 1:33 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and research | Comments (0)

April 20, 2009

kids' SF films and badass women in jazz

1. ' Journey to the Centre of the Earth' with Brendan Fraser is crap. Despite Fraser trying and trying with a truly crap script.
2. 'City of Ember' was awesome. Really good kids' SF. Avoids the more disturbing subtexts of postapocalyptic stories. Mum gave me the book so I'll read it and see how it compares.
3. It's far too long til 'Night at the Smithsonian' comes out. I was really surprised that I liked the first one, but I think it really snagged my museum curiousity.
4. 'Monsters v Aliens' actually isn't too bad. Not only does it pass the Bechdel Test (JTTCOTE and NATM failed), but it also [SPOILER] presents a woman who decides she doesn't want to be a boring trophy wife. She wants to be a MONSTER! The best bit is where she kicks alien arse without superpowers or size. The next best bit is where Dr Cockroach beats an alien using his PHD IN DANCE. I knew there was a good reason for doing a PhD in dance, and preventing alien invasions is obviously it. [/]
5. Two badass female jazz pianists from the Olden Days: Mary Lou Williams and Lovey Austin.
6. Another reason to despise the Ken Burns 'Jazz' doco (or at least the PBS site:

Williams was long regarded as the only significant female musician in jazz, both as an instrumentalist and as a composer, but her achievement is remarkable by any standards.
I'm hoping that's a mistype, as, while Williams rocks the kasbah, she certainly WAS NOT the 'only significant female musician in jazz'. In terms of vocalists alone, Billy Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald were really, majorly important as musicians (as well as other things)... heck, I could go on and on and on. And that's even considering the fact that there weren't anywhere near as many women as men in big name bands.
The text is borrowed from the 'New Grove Dictionary of Jazz', so perhaps they're to blame.

7. Why are all the jazz historians blokes? I want to read New Orleans Style and the Writing of American Jazz History might have some tips. I'm interested in the New Orleans 'revival' - the interest in New Orleans jazz (from the 1920s) in (predominantly white) audiences (c 1940s). While the blurb for that book suggests there were male and female writers, I've yet to come across them. I'd be surprised - absolutely stunned - if the authors' gender break down was 50/50 male/female. This of course makes me think about reading the little jazz publications that were flying about in the 20s, 30s and 40s. I'm also thinking about the white appropriation of black music, here. Or at the least, the effects of mainstream media/white culture's interest in African American music in this period. I'm afraid to start on the Australian stuff.
8. Record fairs are interesting. Mostly blokes. And the blokes into the stuff I'm into (if you can find any of that stuff) are freaky. There aren't as many female as male swing DJs (duh - what's new), and I'm guessing the sisters aren't getting into hardcore vinyl either. But I'd love to be wrong.
9. Let's just revisit ae fully sick female pianist: Mary Lou Williams. She was, fully, awesomely sick. Pianist, arranger, badass.


"kids' SF films and badass women in jazz" was posted by dogpossum on April 20, 2009 3:58 PM in the category djing and fillums and music | Comments (2)

April 19, 2009

i see good things #2

when I ride home at night.

I just saw a man walking a pony up Morris street in Summer Hill. It was about 9pm. So of course, I stopped to find out more. Because I have lived in Brunswick, and that's what wickians do - we investigate and communicate and congregate. He did give a very good reason for having a pony in the city, but he knew what he was doing. It was a small, slim shetland pony (which is almost an oxymoron - shetlands are never slim, unless they're actually working in a mine).
Then I rode home.

"i see good things #2" was posted by dogpossum on April 19, 2009 11:14 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)

April 13, 2009

what is the lindy hopper wearing today?

Remind me to post about current fashion trends in the swing world, will you?
Though I guess I could do it here and now...

1. tattoos. If from Seattle, or spending time with Peter Loggins, the 'high end' lindy hopper is sporting serious ink. Most of it is 'vintage' ink - no tramp stamps or tribal arm bands here.
2. piercings. Not as many as you'd expect from such seriously inked yoof - safety first.
3. body fat. Not. Fast music = lean, athletic, long distance runners' bodies.
4. skirts. Short. On the girls.
5. satin shirts. On the girls. Not as many as last year, but still making a presence.
6. vintage, but not foofy-skirt, zoot-suit vintage. Thank god. Discrete, tailored, clean lined vintage. Think early 30s rather than early 50s. Thank god again.
7. nice, high waisted trousers, collared shirts, ties, tie pins, cufflinks, waist coats. Jackets on arrival. Young men with serious ink and serious tailoring do not displease. Fewer stupid white dress shoes, but still a few too many.
8. generally quite kewl casual wear. Tshirts with stuff on, jeans (tight/baggy/whatever's cool), fashionable hair cuts.

For evidence, check out the camp jitterbug pics (the jump session show stuff is probably most interesting). That's a crew that cares. Mostly because they're young and haven't yet realised the finest lindy hopping accessory is a very large arse, worn low and wide for comfort and facilitating the uses of the internets.

All of this, as per usual, escapes me. I am wearing the only outfit that fits my shrinking body: shorts (The Squeeze's), cuffs folded up as they get longer and bigger on me; tshirts (home made or bought, from a selection of about 4); hiking shoes with sports socks. Hair... big. We have entered the season of the Long and the humidity is running amok with my curls. I am off the hair colour for a while. I am quite grey underneath, and it's come as a bit of a surprise. I might colour it. If I can find a hairdresser who can cut curly hair decently.
So I'm not really the best example of lindy hopping fashion. Hells, I'm ten years older than most of them. And they're mostly teenagers or in their 20s. Give them time, and they'll also realise comfort trumps form. For the internet, anyhow.

"what is the lindy hopper wearing today?" was posted by dogpossum on April 13, 2009 7:13 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (0)

list of dislikes

The Squeeze made a list of things I don't like:
- the patriarchy
- the local McDonalds-type dance school
- high heels
- people who drive cars

Another list of things I don't like:
- not getting paid for things
- picky eaters
- mess
- noise

He scratched the last two. When asked to list the things he doesn't like:
- big pieces of food
and then he got distracted.

"list of dislikes" was posted by dogpossum on April 13, 2009 6:17 PM in the category domesticity | Comments (0)

April 12, 2009

television round up

1. Dollhouse is crap.
- I'm pretty sure it fails the Bechdel test.

- the gender stuff sucks arse. A bunch of beautiful young women kept, powerless, by a business which rents out their bodies for vast sums of cash. It'd be horrifying if there was no chance of it ever coming ... true... Wait. Ok. So this one sucks for even more reasons.

- the gender stuff sucks arse. One of these 'actives'/slaves begins to remember who she is and destabilises the internal workings of the business. Or does she? Even Alias had better gender politics. The female protagonist at least knew who she was and made a series of choices. Echo is, really, just a vehicle for male fantasies. In this case, it's Joss Whedon's fantasies. And they scare me. Whedon: fail.

- the gender stuff sucks arse. I thought it was going to get clever and tip all this stuff sideways. I'm still waiting. Oh, gods, just watch an episode or two and you'll see for yourself.

- the race stuff sucks arse. Whedon repeatedly fails ethnicity.

I'm beginning to think Buffy was a fluke. Joss Whedon sucks.

scc.jpg2. Sarah Connor Chronicles is awesome.
- it passes the Bechdel test. It even encourages us to think about different types of femininity and whether or not cyborgs can be female. And then it makes us think about masculinity in the same ways.

- it not only has a bunch of violence and shooting-up (as per most SF these days), it also deals with the effects of violence and living with violence and terror on the lives of people.

- the second season ends with the 'nuclear' family set up in season one (with Sarah as 'mum', John and Cameron as kids living in the middle class suburban family home) crumbling. The patriarch is done away with, the mother discovers she's actually much happier when in control of the family, directing its motion when literally on the move, Cameron is rescued from adolescent oblivion and John learns that heterosexual romance isn't all it's cracked up to be. So the gang are back on the road, with Sarah as head of seriously badass single parent family.


- the program deals with the difficulties of adolescence in a complex way. John is continually reminded of his responsibilities as the future of humanity, but is still constrained by the middle class nuclear family. There's tension between his eventual role as male hero and his relationship with his active, powerful, controlling mother. Not to mention his desire (and isn't that a complicated mess) for the cyborg Cameron. His mother's power is also complicated: it's at once essential to the group's survival (she is ruthless) and also highly problematic. I was most fascinated by the way she began to crumble in the suburbs: without purpose she began to suffer, quite horribly, from post traumatic stress disorder (as they all did, really).

- time travel is tricky. Unlike Dr Who, which does not in any way deal with paradox and time travel in a clever way, SCC makes it clear that time travel is complicated and that paradox is difficult to avoid. We're left wondering if these time traveling heroes and villains are so effectively separated from their reality that their skills and missions and motivations have become meaningless. As each action changes the future, their original, independent missions seem less and less important or even logical. Which humans are good, which evil? What does it mean for humans to work with the machines, when Judgement Day is, essentially, marking the machines' commitment to killing every single human? Even the terminators' motivations seem skewed by changing context: is Weaver a baddy or a goody? Can John Henry be redeemed by his human/christian teacher and the friendship of a human child?
All the moving about through time (disassociating characters from their temporal and social contexts) and changing of futures means that missions in the 'now' are unanchored from their intended purposes. This flux is perhaps best illustrated by the terminators' moving so far from Arnie's original (and unimpedable) mission: to terminate Sarah Connor.

- Cameron is problematic.
As that series of posters above makes clear.

Cameron's obviously sexualised: she is presented as the object of John's unrequited (and eminently problematic) sexual desire. She presents herself at various moments as a sexualised entity: in the final moments of season one she pleads with John not to kill her because she loves him. This is a transparent effort to delay termination by a cyborg temporarily 'corrupted' from her mission to protect John. It is, clearly a lie, a moment of deceit. But we have spent almost the entire season being carefully led to read her as a potential love interest for John - his desire for her suggests that she should, 'naturally' return his interest. But this isn't your average heteronormative love story. It is made quite clear that Cameron has been 'programmed' to protect John so as to avert Judgement Day. She is clearly fixed on this male character, but her motivation is not heterosexual desire. Or is it? We are reminded by the character Jesse (another 'love interest' from the future) that John Connor has formed an intense and apparently unnatural attachment to Cameron in a future world. And that she reciprocates this.
The buffybot problem is quite clear here: is a machine-woman operating to protect a particular male character anti-feminist?

- I'm prepared to let SCC go a little further with this storyline - I like the way they've presented these female cyborgs (Cameron and Weaver the 'mother') as incomplete or otherwise troubling.
It's difficult to just accept them as your stereotypical 'buffybot' fantasy model cyborgs. Both cyborgs have become characters in their own right, and both are clearly negotiating their way through some serious gender stereotypes: Weaver must 'learn' how to be a 'mother', and continually fails to perform 'correct' femininity (and not only as a mother - she is also a corporate chief). Jesse - Reece's 'lover' from the future (though, it turns out, not from his particular future; she is a Jesse from another time line, a time line created by Reece during this 'now') also fails to adhere to familiar gender stereotypes. As does Riley, John's girlfriend-from-the-future. Sarah Connor herself is challenging. Though she approaches the 'mother lion protecting her cub' caricature, her continual deviation from this role is enabled by her more complex relationship with John, Reece and Cameron. Sarah herself has problems with motherhood, or with her role as a mother. There are a series of incidents where it's made clear that Sarah enjoys or at least finds great satisfaction in her 'professional' dealings with freedom fighters, underground characters and general sneaky/terrorist/badass types. She's also mad-keen on making plans. Sarah seems to also find it difficult to occupy the conventional mothering role and these badass roles. But it's actually quite nice to see a character exploring the fact that mothering isn't simple or 'natural', and that it isn't always a wonderful blessing.

lh.jpg - it keeps me thinking. Unlike Dollhouse, I'm not prepared to give up on SCC yet; it doesn't make me so angry I want to scream. It keeps me wondering how it will resolve these tricky relationships.
It references Linda Hamilton (even if this Sarah Connor doesn't have Hamilton's fully ripped hardbody), and we're continually reminded of her transition from Arnie's innocent, almost-helpless victim to the hardbody badass of T2: gender is flexible, femininity and gender is flexible. I'm still not sure about Cameron: is she a buffybot? Or is she something more? If she's something more, we have to allow for cyborgs having emotions, identities, personalities beyond her programming. And if this is the case, what does it mean for a woman to have been 'made' by other machines?

2. Fringe.
I like it. But I don't have much to say about it right now.

"television round up" was posted by dogpossum on April 12, 2009 11:16 PM in the category dollhouse and fringe and sarah connor chronicles and television | Comments (0)

wedding plans

Two of our very dear friends are planning their wedding. While I'm a little disappointed in their conservative approach to theme and costume, there has been some discussion of both miniature goats and the bride's arrival at the wedding venue. This pleases me greatly. My initial thoughts on the topic were traditionally inspired:

(from flickr)
I like the baby's face: how could you not be surprised and delighted by a goat-drawn carriage?!
There are many other examples (flickr doth provide).

But then, what better opportunity for dressing up? Why not something a little more magnificent?

(from flickr)

It would be a shame to neglect the groom: why have him stand, waiting for the bride when he, too, can make an entrance?

(from flickr)

There's something charming about the miniature goat drawn carriage, though, that is lost in the grand scale of an elephant or horse.


And this wedding is, after all, to be a small one.

"wedding plans" was posted by dogpossum on April 12, 2009 4:33 PM in the category | Comments (0)

April 9, 2009

walking bass lines are reassuring

Listening to HCCT the other night I was struck by a particular song. Or, rather, part of one song. It had people clapping.

It's the walking bass line. People like it. Dancers like it. I've heard hardcore DJs refer to the walking bass line as something for beginner dancers. But I think we all like a walking bass line. Sometimes we just like the simple, bomp-bomp-bomp of a walking bass line telling us exactly where the beat is. Sometimes it's just reassuring to have the rhythm pointed out to us. And sometimes it's a clever point of reference for a more complicated melody. And if you're feeling a bit tired, you can ignore the fancy stuff going on around it, and just step with that walking bass. Walk with it.

The most-used example of a walking bass line is from Nina Simone's version of My Baby Just Cares For Me:

"walking bass lines are reassuring" was posted by dogpossum on April 9, 2009 1:55 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (0)

and then I'll write some

Someone should go to the shops and buy veggies. But I don't think it's going to be me. Yesterday I made it down to the shops for a few bits and pieces, but today I'm feeling a bit too crap to ride to Ashfield (all of fifteen minutes away, at my usual speed). Yesterday I spent about fifteen minutes walking around the video shop trying to think. I don't want to spend time wandering around the veggie shop trying to think today.

I have a bad cold and I don't feel so great. But Fats Waller is trying to cheer me up. He might succeed.

I don't actually feel bad, mind you. Well, I feel rough physically, but I don't feel bad in an emotional way. I actually feel pretty good, post-orthotic ecstacy-wise. I think I might do some hardcore jazz history research soon. I need a decent music journal. But I don't think there's much cultural studies work on jazz. Seeing as how it's from the olden days. But I'll have a look. And then I'll write some.

"and then I'll write some" was posted by dogpossum on April 9, 2009 1:36 PM in the category article ideas and domesticity | Comments (0)

another round-up post

Today I have a heavy cold and feel a bit rough. The Squeeze blames a trip on the train. I blame post-allergy secondary infection. Means I spend some time on the couch with Dr Who, so it's not all bad.

The other night we went to see Hot Club of Cowtown.

It was great. I'm not sure I'm struck on the venue, though. The Basement is kind of a sit-down supper club type situation. The sort of venue that I associate with jazz - a jazz club. Which means it's full of people with money who like to sit down and Be Entertained. Which is, of course, inimical to good, hot jazz. Hot jazz should be played to a crowded room full of partyers looking for a good time. Not straights sitting and eating overpriced, uninspired food.
But Cowtown did a fairly good job overcoming the venue. They're friendly sorts, who like a little audience participation. And it was a little tricky at first; they needed the crowd relaxed and engaged. Guess this is when a support act comes in handy. But eventually they had the audience engaged. Took about five songs, but then they had them. They were, musically, as amazing as I remember. And there's something really pleasing about western swing, the western swing they play. It's friendly and cheery and makes you want to dance about like a fool. And sing along.
Before the "likkermission" they invited us to come up and chat and give song requests. Then they wandered down into the main room and mingled. I was excited and also too afraid to go up and gibber like a fan. Though I really, really wanted to. They seemed really nice and friendly, and talked with all sorts of crazy fans. They were happy to sign CDs as well. I made three trips to the souvenir table, trying to work up the guts to say hello. But I'm shy (sometimes). After the show, one of them (the one I love) stood near the door saying goodbye to people. And I managed to squeeze out a little smile and a 'thank you'.
I'm such an idiot. I'd have loved to request Pray for the Lights to go out, but I couldn't get it out.

I did find myself cheering and clapping along mid-set, just as I would for a dance performance. And people looked at me. But it slipped out accidentally. They were giving the 'engage now!' vibe, and jazz has taught me nothing if not how to respond when someone calls.

Overall, it was ace. I bought myself a tshirt (which I'm going to cut up to be my size and just my style) and a sticker (which I think I'll put on my laptop). I had a great time.

On other, slightly related fronts, I have a pair of orthotics in my shoes now, care of the podiatrist. The podiatrist is a friendly, chatty bloke, who takes up most of our sessions yapping. He loves to talk. Which is ok, because I do too. If I didn't know that he sat in there interacting with people all day, I'd suspect he too spent his time making up crap to fill his unemployed days. But I'm happy to chat.
The orthotics, though. They freaking ROCK! We had to walk a bit to get to the HCCT gig the other night, and I didn't get any pain! Well, I got a bit of abrasion from the new shape of my shoe sole - blisters a-coming. But there was no pain inside my foot. And none later that night after we'd gotten home. It was wonderful.

Basically, they change the way I walk. The bit under my arch, just in front of my heel is a bit raised, and this means I put the weight on the outside of my foot more. And this means that I don't put so much pressure on my big toe - I don't put so much weight on my toe, I don't stretch the plantar fascia so much (yay! - less pain!) and I don't then have to roll the weight over to the outside of my foot when my bung ankle can't bend any more. This means I'm just putting the weight down straight onto the main part of my foot, and I don't roll my foot. This will be great when I get dancing - it'll make my weight transfers clearer and easier to follow/lead. It also means that I'm not in pain.
It's all a bit exciting. I haven't been able to walk without pain in four months. And now I can. Of course, part of me wants to run out and go dancing NOW. But the podiatrist headed me off at the pass on that one: no dancing. No experimenting with movement. No! I have to give it six weeks to test it out. Then we talk.

Part of me wonders what effect this new way of walking will have on the rest of my body. I hope it eases the bit of ache I get in my right knee (which is largely a result of the rolling-foot problem). And I hope it eases my right hip a bit (which is similarly affected by my foot). But I hope it doesn't do other things to me which cause problems. But that's what the check up is for. I have noticed that the orthotic changes the way I pedal when I'm riding my bike. All of a sudden, I'm much more efficient.

Because my ankle doesn't bend as much as it should, I have to roll my foot to get enough bend in my leg to pedal properly. But the orthotic starts me off in the right position, so I don't have to roll my foot (or my knee). This means that instead of all the energy I put into pedaling sort of flying off or being wasted in my knee/foot rolling, it goes straight down into the pedaling, moving the wheels around. So riding my bike is suddenly a heap easier and more efficient. It's wonderful.

I'm not sure whether I'll have to use orthotics forever or not. I think it's more that these will teach my muscles how they should be working, and in combination with my exercises, I'll eventually be able to do away with the orthotics. My legs will eventually be working properly and I'll be able to use my muscles and tendons and bones and joints more effectively.

I think one of the most important lessons from all this plantar fascia stuff, is that it's important to pay attention to the aches and pains in your feet and body. If I'd realised I was in pain from the plantar fascia earlier, I could have done something about it. But you get so used to aches and pains when you dance, it's difficult to tell when something important is going on. I guess that's why it's also a good idea to keep in contact with a decent physiotherapist when you do a lot of sport. Even if you're not an elite athlete. :D

"another round-up post" was posted by dogpossum on April 9, 2009 12:27 PM in the category bikes and lindy hop and other dances and music and old sew and sew | Comments (1)

April 3, 2009

potential bike routes

...right through the centre of the city...

View Larger Map

Well, Redfern, anyway. Looks pretty good, huh? We are preparing for tomorrow's bike ride and exploring routes from the train station to the actual route. We will ride thousands of kilometers and get really sore bums. But we will also be FREAKIN ORSUM!

(If you're in the area, you're welcome; we usually start about 11am and stop for lunches/sticky beaking. Be prepared for stunts.)

"potential bike routes" was posted by dogpossum on April 3, 2009 10:16 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)

April 1, 2009

i see good things

I like riding my bike around the neighbourhood because you see all sorts of awesome things.

1. There's fat, raggedy grey and white cat who hangs around outside the primary school up the road at lunch time. The kids aren't allowed outside to pat it. It's clever enough not to jump the fence. But it sits pressed up against the fence so it can be patted and enjoy the children's company. It's there every time I ride past at lunch time.

2. Today I saw the ladies in the fish shop scooping live fish out of the tank for a customer. It was awesome to see their mad fish-scooping skills in action. Then they drop them on the floor. I'm not sure what happens after that.

3. Once I saw the fish delivery truck delivering live fish to the fish shop. The truck has a flat bed and is loaded with large blue plastic barrels. The fish delivery doods scoop the fish out of the barrels and into smaller buckets, which the ladies take inside and tip into their tank. It's fascinating stuff, and gathered a significant crowd. I wish I'd taken a photo.

4. Today I saw an old poppa walk across the road against the lights. The traffic had to stop to let him cross. He was crossing, no matter what. It was actually at a busy pedestrian crossing, so there was a crowd to watch (and cheer) him across. Lunch time Ashfield appreciates a little shutzpah from the elderly.

"i see good things" was posted by dogpossum on April 1, 2009 3:28 PM in the category bikes | Comments (0)