thinking about victoria spivey and discographies as historical resources

sp.jpg I’ve recently come across some Victoria Spivey songs quite by accident. I have quite a few by her, but mostly bits and pieces from various compilations. I haven’t put any effort into collecting her, in part because my resources are limited and in the other part because my attention was caught by Bessie Smith. I also tend to prioritise ‘songs for lindy hopping’ in my purchasing.
I came across some Spivey songs in a Henry Red Allen JSP (I think) set from emusic. It’s also on one of the Complete Jazz Series, and I think the latter versions are slightly better quality. On both it was just labelled ‘Henry Red Allen and his orch’ I think. I found the additional details in the discography at the library. Listed under Victoria Spivey, she did quite a few sessions in New York 1928 with Clarence Williams etc, and then in 1929 she did some stuff in New York again with some really big guns. Below are the discographic details for the sessions that caught my interest:
Victoria Spivey
[S10354] Victoria Spivey (vcl) acc by Louis Armstrong (tp) Fred Robinson (tb) Jimmy Strong (ts) Gene Anderson (p) Mancy Cara (bj) Zutty Singleton (d)
New York, July 10 1929
40252-C Funny feathers
Okeh 8713, Swag (Aus) 1267, 1310, Col C3L-33, Odeon (F)7MOE-2250, Par (E)PMC7144, CBS (F)65421, (Jap)SL-1209/10/11
402526-A How do you do it that way?
Okeh 8713, Swag (Aus) 1267, S1310, Odeon (F)7MOE-2250, Par (E)PMC7144, CBS (F)65421, Spivey LP2001, Jass 5, Biograph BLP C5, Book of the Month Club 21-6547
[there are details about where these songs were published]
[S10355] Victoria Spivey (vcl) acc by Henry “Red Allen” (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Charlie Holmes (sop) Teddy Hill (ts-1) Luis Russell (p) Wil Johnson (g) Pops Foster (b,tu-2)
New York, October 1, 1929
56732-1 Bloodhound blues (1)
[with recording details I can’t be arsed typing out]
56733-2 Dirty T.B. Blues (1)
56734-1 Moaning the blues (1)
56735-1 Telephoning the blues
[there are details about where these songs were published]
When you go to the Henry Red Allen entry, you find him in New York in the same months (July and October of 1929) recording with mostly the same musicians. Luis Russell is the one that catches my eye, mostly because he’s (one of) the connections between Allen and Armstrong, leading a band which starred both of them at some points in the 30s.
Here are the details of recordings from the Henry Red Allen entry:
[A1573] Henry Red Allen (tp,vcl) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Albert Nicholas (cl) Charlie Holmes (sop, cl, as) Teddy Hill (ts, cl) Luis Russell (p, celeste) Wil Johnson (g, bj, vcl) Pops Foster (b) Paul Barbarin (d, vib), Victoria Spivey (vcl) and the Four Wanderers (vcl quartet) added: Herman Hughes, Charlie Clinscales, (tenor), Maceo Johnson (bariton) Olivier Childs (bass)
New York, September 24, 1929
55852-1 Make a country bird fly wild (tfw vcl)
[with recording details I can’t be arsed typing out]
55852-2 Make a country bird fly wild (tfw vcl)
55853-1 Funny feathers blues (vs vcl)
55853-2 Funny feathers blues (vs vcl)
55854-1 How do they do it that way (vs vcl)
55855-1 Pleasin’ Paul
55855-2 Pleasin’ Paul
[there are details about where these songs were published]
I think the sessions under Spivey’s own name were the best for blues dancing, though really it’s a matter of taste.
FYI, if you’re trying to find all the recordings by a particular musician, you use the Musician’s Index (if you’re using the books rather than the online or CD Rom version of the discography) to find all the page and recording session details for each song featuring that musician. When you’re looking at someone like Louis Armstrong, that can get tedious very quickly. In his case, there’re whole books devoted just to his discographies. But people like Henry Red Allen (and Eddie Condon) tend to ramble across dozens and dozens of bands and hundreds of individual songs. You tend to get a feel for a particular musician, and you realise that they played in a whole range of bands in a particular city at any particular time. This gets really interesting, particularly when they’re using pseudonyms to escape restrictive recording contracts with particular labels.
Just looking up ‘Henry Red Allen’, for example, won’t get you all his recordings. But it will get you the recordings which are credited to him, or recorded by bands with his name attached (eg Henry Red Allen and his Orchestra). This sort of attribution gets interesting when you look at artists like Spivey, who had some of the biggest names in jazz listed as her accompanists.
You can see how I get interested in the relationship between blues and ‘jazz’ or ‘swing’ when I’m doing this digging in the discographies. Surely accompanying these singers (and they were accompanying, particularly when it came to people like Bessie Smith) influenced their music in significant ways. And these big names in jazz influenced other musicians – particularly when we’re talking about people like Louis Armstrong or Allen.
vspiveys.gif Spivey is interesting because she was not only a seriously famous singer in the 20s, she also managed to survive the declining popularity of blues at the end of the 20s. She did interesting things like play in the Hellzapoppin’ stage review (not the film, lindy hoppers, the stage review from which material for the film was drawn) and found her own record company, Spivey Records in the 60s. It was with this label that she recorded Bob Dylan as an accompanist.
I’m fascinated by the idea that you can chart the relationships between musicians in a particular city by using the discographies. All you have to go on is the city, date, song title and musicians. Which is a surprisingly useful amount of information. My attention is caught by the names which turn up all over the place, in all sorts of bands. Zutty Singleton. Paul Barbarin. Buster Bailey. Peanuts Hucko. People I didn’t know before I started looking through the discographies. Now I find that following these guys through the Chronological Classics or Complete Jazz Series gives me an overview of a particular city or style during a certain time frame. So if I follow Zutty Singleton through a particular year on CD, I’ll hear a range of bands. And I can speculate about the professional relationships between bands and the way creative ideas spread between bands.
Of course, all this information is really only dealing with recorded performances. Though this does include a massive amount of recorded broadcasts and live performances (particularly in the 1930s), we’re really only looking at formal recording sessions in the 20s. I always wonder what went on around these sessions. Who did they meet at the restaurant where they had dinner afterwards? Did they go for drinks with the band who’d been in there before? Who sat in on the following sessions to make up numbers or simply out of musical interest? Did these things even happen?
And of course I can’t help but think about the race stuff going on. I notice things like particular bands having personnel with names of particular cultural backgrounds. German or European names in Benny Goodman’s bands. Italian names in New Orleans bands. Anglicised names in Chicago. Certain names are more common in African American bands than in Anglo-American bands.
There are hardly any mixed-race recordings, so when they do pop up, my interest is immediately caught. And of course, when you get into the French recordings of artists like Bill Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, the remnants of Glenn Miller’s band in 1945, you see familiar American names teaming up with French artists. Glenn Miller’s former bandmates (Peanuts Hucko, Mel Powell, Joe Schulman, Ray McKinley) are joined by Django Reinhardt.
All this is super-interesting. And that’s just the information you can gain from reading through the discographies. When you listen along with the discographies, tracing particular sessions and particular combinations of musicians, you can hear musical developments and experimentations expanding and changing an individual musician’s style. Arrangers become much more important. Listening across bands (following a particular musician rather than a band), you hear similarities within a single year. And when you add to that the fact that many bands recorded the same songs in the same year, you hear each of these little moments in creative time explored within the framework of a single composition, arranged in countless ways, exploded by solos and improvisations.
When you think of the music that wasn’t recorded, of all the live performances on stages and in back rooms and kitchens, you realise that music was not only everywhere, but that these were communities of musicians, complicated networks forged by the act of making music. And money.
And, finally, in all of this, if I do come across a female name anywhere other than in the vocals, I’m flabbergasted. This is a world of men. Or so you’d assume, if you relied only on the discographies. There were plenty of women in these pictures, just not dug into the grooves on the record. There were women playing and writing and recording music, women running offices, making dinners, washing clothes. It’s just that you can’t hear them on the records, unless you listen very closely.
Lord Jazz Discography
This is an interesting piece about Henry Red Allen.
Red Hot Jazz.

i’m not sure about natalie portman

Watching a film this afternoon I asked myself what possessed Natalie Portman to keep taking roles where her character is tortured. Is it something in her, that this torture satisfies some sort of inner masochism? Is it that she is continually cast as victim, as vulnerable by directors and casting agents who see a vulnerability in her? Who knows – I wouldn’t speak for her. But this has made me think about actresses taking on these types of roles.
There are few roles in cinema (both mainstream and otherwise) depicting women as strong and independent and free of the threat of violence or otherwise immune to vulnerability. To work, an actress simply must accept roles which present them – as the body a character occupies, as the craftswoman creating this persona – as vulnerable. Weak. Potentially victim of violence of all types. Does the actress refuse these roles, and perhaps not work? If she accepts these roles, is she complicit in this representation of women?

amiri baraka at last

Finally, I’ve made it to Amiri Baraka (aka LeRoi Jones). It’s taken way too long.
I’ve just read this: Jazz and the White Jazz Critic. I didn’t read it there (in a google books page that make me suddenly think ‘what the fuck do we bother with publishers and book deals? All our rights as authors are dead with this one new technology… which really just does as the photocopier did for us all 20 years ago, but faster). I read it in a paper book.
And I got excited.
And then I went here and read that story. But mostly I looked at the youtube clip and got a bit excited.
I recommend the Jazz and White Critics article, as it sums up my misgivings about the jazznick fanmags and magazines and newsletters and recreationists.
Here’s one bit I like:

There were few ‘jazz critics’ in America at all until the ‘30s and then they were influenced to a large extent by what Richard Hadlock has called ‘the carefully documented gee-whiz attitude’ of the first serious European jazz critics. They were also, as a matter of course, influenced more deeply by the social and cultural mores of their own society. And it is only natural that their criticism, whatever its intentions, should be a product of that society, or should reflect at least some of the attitudes and thinking of that society, even if not directly related to the subject they were writing about, Negro music (Baraka 138).

And here’s another:

Most jazz critics began as hobbyists or boyishly brash members of the American petite bourgeoisie, whose only claim to any understanding about the music was that they knew it was different; or else they had once been brave enough to make a trip into a Negro slum to hear their favorite instrumentalists defame Western musical tradition. Most jazz critics were (and are) not only white middle-class Americans, but middle-brows as well (Baraka 140.)

This article is important because it was written by a black man in the 60s, and published in Down Beat magazine. I can’t remember whether Down Beat was moldy fig or modernist, but I think it was the latter. I cannot tell you how rare it is to come across a commentary by a black writer on jazz from the 60s or earlier. Doing all this reading of ‘jazz histories’ I’m beginning to think I might have to kill myself. It’s tedious. I like Baraka’s comment about ‘gee-whiz’ approaches to jazz. I was just saying to The Squeeze the other day that I’d have liked one of these guys to stop gushing about how wonderful jazz is, and to actually open their freakin eyes and see what’s going on around and beside the music. Hells, even in the music!
I’m gearing up for Blues People and will report back later.

violence and film and blues

Reading Gussow’s book about racial violence in southern America, I wonder why I keep coming back to violence. My honours thesis discussed female violence in film, and this book really is about violence in blues music. Both are about violence from the perspective of the disempowered; one discussing women, one black men and women in America.
I’m not comfortable with this stuff – I don’t like stories about violence, I don’t like watching it in film. But both seem linked to hopelessness. Violence for the women in the films I discussed was a last resort or an act of desperation. In the blues songs I’m reading about now, violence is either to be borne or to be perpetrated in revenge or rage or desperation. Both are domestic or carried out in ordinary, everyday spaces.
In my honours thesis I was interested in what happened to female characters when their acts of violence were institutionalised or sanctioned by institutions in the role of assassin. In these blues songs, we are continually reminded that white men were perpetrators of violence which was ignored by the state or unofficially condoned – or at least ignored. These acts of violence contrast clearly with the violence of waged war. I’m interested in the way some types of violence are sanctioned by the community and some not. And who gets to enact this ‘sanctioned’ violence. You know, of course, that class and gender and race are at work here.
One of the other elements of these representations of violence is the role of fantasy, or imagined violence. In the blues song, it might be an imagined retribution for a lover’s deceit, or for a lynching. Music allows the playing out of ideas or fantasies, and the public performance of this music encourages an attentive, participatory audience. It is not enough simply to imagine; it is necessary that the imagined violence be laid out and commented upon by the broader community.

what again?! I’m still crapping on about dance, power, etc

I’m refining and developing these ideas. So I’m just going to keep writing and posting these same points. Over and over again.
One of the more interesting discussions I’ve read about derision dance (from Jacqui Malone’s book I think) discussed derision dance in African American dance as a way of responding to white power/black disempowerment ‘under the radar’. In other words, the cake walk (or whichever example you’re using) allowed dancers to deride or mock whites surrepticiously or indirectly. To ‘get the joke’ you had to recognise who was being mocked, and how the mocking was intended.
This sort of idea comes up in a number of different cultural practices across cultures. I’ve read a bit about satire and humour and derision-through-impersonating-for-humour’s-sake.
I’m reading this book at the moment:

(Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the blues Tradition by Adam Gussow.
Gussow is a a blues musician who’s interested in violence and the blues. One of his central arguments is that the blues (as in blues music – both sung and instrumental) gave black musicians access to a ‘blues subject’

who then found ways, more or less covert, of singing back to that ever-hovering threat. Although blues scholars have long claimed that blues singers remained self-protectively mute on the issue of white mob violence, lynching makes its presence felt in various ways throughout the blues tradition: not just as veiled references in blues lyrics and as jokes recounted by blues musicians…

Gussow discusses the fact that black responses to white violence (in southern America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) were limited by necessity. In the simplest terms, if you fought back, if you responded to white violence, then white retaliation would come ten-fold. Without this ‘right of response’ (legal or otherwise), music offered a way of dealing, publicly with violence. Albert Murray talks about singing the blues as a way of ‘stomping’ the blues – of sharing woe and therefore easing its burdensome weight. The idea with singing a song that implies lynching or violence (ie you might simply sing ‘I have the blues, my body is broken’) is that you share your pain and frustration without directly inviting white censure. Singing and music allow you to sneakily respond, but without risking violent retribution.
Gussow begins his book with a comment from the book What is Life? Reclaiming the Black Blues Self by Kalamu ya Salaam:

[W]e laugh loud and heartily when every rational expectation suggests that we should be crying in despair. [T]he combination of exaggeration and conscious recognition of the brutal facts of life is the basis for the humour of blues people (Gussow x)

So in these cases making jokes when it seems impossible to laugh is an important part of subverting white power and violence. Simply being able to laugh is a way of saying “I am not beaten down”. The joke part is an extension of the sneakiness of singing about violence indirectly, of responding indirectly when direct responses could get you killed. Humour is of course utterly subversive and powerful in this sort of setting.
The sort of violence Gussow talks about in Seems Like Murder Here is a fairly extreme example (though I highly recommend the book – it’s disturbing but also fascinating), but it makes the point that humour through music can work as humour in dance does. By hiding your true meaning or intention under a layer of melody or rhythm, you can say subversive things, do subversive things and reclaim some control over your life and public discourse. You mightn’t be able to speak out, but you can sing out.
I’m particularly keen on the idea of multiple layers of meaning. The cake walk can function just as silly clowning. But (as every clown knows), the surface humour hides something deeper and more subversive. While at first glance the black clown appears as the butt of the joke to white audiences (of the day), to white dancers and observers, the butt of the joke lies elsewhere. Tommy deFrantz writes in Dancing Many Drums that, when faced with white forbidding of black religious dance,

serious dancing went underground, and dances which carried significant aesthetic information became disguised or hidden from public view. For white audiences, the black man’s dancing body came to carry only the information on its surface (DeFrantz, discussing black masculinity in dance 107).

I’ve also heard similar discussions from aboriginal Australian elders discussing religious dance. While some dances are strictly for women or men or older women or older men or not to be seen at all, under any circumstances by the uninitiated, the meaning of a sacred dance can be hidden in plain sight. The uninitiated, watching a sacred dance (or looking at a sacred image in a painting) doesn’t have access the important, sacred meaning, simply because they haven’t been initiated, and therefore don’t understand what they’re looking at. They look, but cannot see.
I think it’s important to say here, though, that having control over who looks at your body (dancing or otherwise) is a matter of power. I’ve been thinking about it in reference to film and how we give permission to have our own image photographed or filmed (and I repeatedly return to an article on the Warlpiri Media Collective’s siteabout managing access to sacred or even just private space in indigenous Australian communities). But discussions about, for example, women’s rights to control who looks at their bodies has just as long a history as white occupation of Australia. It is, after all, a similar discussion about occupation, colonialism and the power of the gaze.
I’ve read some interesting discussions about this in music in other places as well. There’s quite a bit of discussion about Louis Armstrong and his ‘mugging’ or ‘uncle tomming’ for white audiences. Krin Gabbard discusses Armstrong’s work with Duke Ellington, including the filming of Paris Blues (in which Armstrong starred, and for which Ellington contributed the score) and the recording of the ‘Summit’ sessions:

…at those moments in the film when he [Armstrong] seems most eager to please with his vocal performances, his mugging is sufficiently exaggerated to suggest an ulterior motive. Lester Bowie has suggested that Armstrong is essentially “slipping a little poison into the coffee” of those who think they are watching a harmless darkie….Throughout his career in films, Armstrong continued to subvert received notions of African American identity, signifying on the camera while creating a style of trumpet performance that was virile, erotic, dramatic, and playful. No other black entertainer of Armstrong’s generation — with the possible exception of Ellington — brought so much intensity and charisma to his performances. But because Armstrong did not change his masculine presentation after the 1920s, many of his gestures became obsolete and lost their revolutionary edge. For many black and white Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he was an embarrassment. In the early days of the twenty-first century, when Armstrong is regularly cast as a heroicized figure in the increasingly heroicising narrative of jazz history, we should remember that he was regularly asked to play the buffoon when he appeared on films and television (Gabbard 298).

Gabbard continues the point here:

…Armstrong plays the trickster. Armstrong’s tricksterisms were an essential part of his performance persona. On one level, Armstrong’s grinning, mugging, and exaggerated body language made him a much more congenial presence, especially to racist audiences who might otherwise have found so confident a performer to be disturbing, to say the least. When Armstrong put his trumpet to his lips, however, he was all business. The servile gestures disappeared as he held his trumpet erect and flaunted his virtuosity, power, and imagination (Gabbard 298).

Again, there’s this idea of layers of meaning. On the one hand, Armstrong appears as the smiling, ‘safe’ black man, entertaining white audiences with clowning. But on the other, his sheer musical talent empowers him and defies his reduction to ‘harmless’ clown.
There’s quite a bit written about black masculinity and layers of meaning in musical and dance performances, but I’m especially interested in women in all this. Gussow has a fascinating paper about Mamie Smith’s song ‘Crazy Blues’ (which is in that book). And Angela Yuval Davis talks about lyrics and women’s blues performances and power.
Ultimately, though, the idea of layers of meaning is important to a discussion of African American dance. Any one dance can yield a whole host of meanings or interpretations. And at times it’s important to hide the most subversive or dangerous meanings way down inside, where you need a lived experience with violence and disempowerment to really understand or to ‘get’ the joke.
Here’s my current absolute favourite example of layers of meaning in dance. This is a scene from a musical stage play version of the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Most of us are more familiar with the film version (with its wondeful music) and with Oprah’s interest in the story/film.

On one level it’s very much ‘classical’ musical stage play fare – ‘singing’, dancing, ‘period’ costumes (late 19th, early 20th century), young black men with phenomenal dancing ability performing a ‘light hearted’ song about ‘love’. That’s the straight reading (well, almost straight). It looks quite a bit like some of the clips we watch for lindy hop or jazz dance dance from the 30s and 40s. Almost.
But it takes on a different meaning when you’ve seen this.
Immediately, another layer of meaning can be found in that first clip. Men dancing a ‘woman’s’ song. Add the fact that this is a contemporary stage play, not a piece from the 30s or 40s. The lyrics, the movements of the dancers all gain new levels of meaning. The reading is ‘queered up’, not only in terms of sexuality (gay? straight? tranny? wuh?), but in terms of power and gaze. The Color Purple is a story about gender and power and race and ethnicity and class. It’s themes and story are heartbreaking in parts. And yet here are three gorgeous young blokes performing a dance which invites a smile or a laugh. It’s ‘queer’ in that it’s played ‘straight’. The dancers are dancing ‘seriously’, but the entire performance seems unusual, something is happening here, below the surface. Actually, not below the surface. It’s right there, in your face. Making you want to dance. This sort of performance is often talked about in critical literature as provoking a sense of unease in the audience – should I laugh? Or is that wrong, considering the story of The Color Purple? This unease or anxiety centres on issues of sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, etc etc etc. In some ways, this is what makes the performance so powerful. You can enjoy it simply as badass dancing. But you can also left wondering what it means. And context is everything. Watching from an expensive seat in a huge concert theatre is a little different from watching from the audience with different vested interests:

I like the second version because it’s not a quiet audience, sitting and listening quietly and politely. It’s a loud, rowdy audience interacting with the dancers. It’s ok to laugh, to cheer, to want to dance with them, to enjoy the show. The audience are part of the performance. The ‘mistake’ where one dancer drops his hat becomes a chance to demonstrate their ability to improvise, to work it for a crowd. Three men dancing the overtly sexualised, feminised steps from Beyonce’s clip changes the meaning of the movements. It changes the way their bodies are sexualised or regarded as sexualised bodies. It’s ‘feminine’ movement, but this is definitely a performance of masculinity and masculine sexuality. Just not a terribly straight or mainstream one. And when the women appear on stage, all this gets tipped over again.
Is it derision, though? I think it’s more complicated. But it makes a point that we can apply to cake walk. On one hand, it can be read as ‘straight’, fabulous dancing. But it can also be read as clowning or buffooning. Or it can be read as queer-as-fuck politics. Or sexed-up awesomeness. Or race politics. Or mocking Beyonce. Or celebrating Beyonce. It’s imitation and flattery and derision and commentary. It’s complicatedness invites us to engage and to look for layers of meaning. Which of course is the point: one dance becomes a discourse, a discussion, rather than a monologue.
Davis, Angela Y. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Toronto: Random House, 1998.
DeFrantz, Thomas. “The Black Male Body in Concert Dance.” Moving Words: Re-Writing Dance. Ed. Gay Morris. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 107 –
Gabbard, Krin. “Paris Blues: Ellington, Armstrong, and Saying It with Music”. Uptown Conversation: the new Jazz studies, ed. Robert O’Meally, Brent Hayes Edwards, Farah Jasmin Griffin. Columbia U Press, NY: 2004. 297-311.
Malone, Jacqui. Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African American Dance. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Murray, Albert. Stomping the Blues. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
Hinkson, Melinda. “The Circus comes to Yuendumu, Again,” reproduced from Arena Magazine no. 25, October-November, 1996, pps 36-39.


The other day I saw a man on the tram with a white plastic bangle that said ‘non violent’ or something similar.
I thought ‘It’d be more useful if instead they put red ones with ‘violent’ on the men who need it’.

it could just be that nerds – no matter their flavour – love to talk to other nerds about stuff they love

I’ve been crapping on about DJing on the SwingDJs board. I started a thread called mad skillz: mentoring, encouraging and skilling up (new) DJs. As with all threads I’ve begun with long, expository posts that don’t really make much sense and which tend to be far to theoretical, the thread has been languishing. Kind of like my tutorials when I ask a long question which is really a bit of exposition or otherwise impossible to answer.
But someone asked a question which caught my interest, so I’m going to answer it here, at length.
I made this comment (in a post that was far too long):

One thing I’ve noticed – if a scene values social dancing and has quite a tight community vibe, there’s a strong emphasis on skilling up new DJs. But the local culture dictates how this skilling up is achieved.

(Posted: Thu Sep 11, 2008 20:40, first page of the thread at URL above)
And Haydn replied:

Can I ask you – in practice, how does this ‘tight community vibe’ translate into DJs helping each other?

I’m going to answer this at length here, rather than cluttering up that discussion board with my own opinions/rambles.
I have to reiterate: I’m working largely from an Australian perspective, with only a bit of international experience. I’m sure things are vary in different places.
‘A tight community vibe’ needn’t actually translate into DJs helping each other. I don’t see it very often, but I’m sure there’ve been times when a DJ has made it difficult for a new DJ or experienced DJ to ‘break into’ a scene – to preserve their own status, to preserve their own profits, etc.
Also, definitions of ‘community’ (and who’s actually considered part of that community) are ideologically and politically loaded. Do you count west coast swing dancers as part of your ‘swing’ community? Rock and rollers? People from other dance schools/studios? Musicians? People you don’t know?
When I say a ‘tight community vibe’, I’m thinking about scenes where people articulate some sense of ‘communitas’ or identify themselves as part of a scene or community with some sort of pride, protectiveness, etc.
But how might that translate to DJs helping each other?
Well, if a local scene has an active social club or organisation who also run social events, then that club might have an incentive to manage DJs quite carefully – so new DJs will get a bit of mentoring or coaching. I’ve noticed that gigs run by a smaller more coherent group – or by one person, or coordinated by someone who really cares about the DJing/social dancing – often manage the DJs more carefully. If the night is only one of many, is managed by an inexperienced dancer (or DJ) or isn’t actually ‘valued’ terribly highly, the DJing might be less strictly managed. Also, interestingly, if an event (or club) has a particularly fervent revivalist bent (ie they’re really really really into historical ‘accuracy’), they’re also pretty anal about music and about ‘teaching’ their DJs to like the ‘right’ music. But people might ‘manage’ DJs for other reasons – nepotism, interpersonal rivalries, failed romances, burning desires, professional networking, etc – all might affect who hires whom for which gigs.
I’ve noticed that these trends increase as a scene develops – in a newer scene, for example, where there are fewer DJs, there’s less ‘regulation’ of DJing: people are just happy to have someone play some music. As DJing becomes increasingly ‘professionalised’ or formalised in a scene (eg introducing pay rates, introducing a DJ roster, introducing preferences for particular types of music), then it becomes more ‘regulated’. It can also become less accessible. I’ve wondered if this is as a scene or community grows it also develops increasingly complex modes of cultural production and management (whether we’re talking DJing, dancing, dress making, event management, website design, whatever). Also, people figure out that formalised ways of working together can be useful on large projects – a camp has ‘rules’ for teachers (whether unspoken or not), an exchange is run by a group who become a nonprofit organisation to deal with tax and insurance, a social night has formal (or informally enforced) ‘no aerials’ rules for public safety.
What I’ve noticed (and I guess I’m talking about Australian examples, and only very vaguely in reference to the US, etc) is that if a local scene has quite a close community – ie people volunteering their time for events, events run by committees with a ‘community development’ agenda and ethos rather than (or in addition to) a profit motive, etc – then there’s a greater interest in ‘skilling up’ DJs – for the community’s benefit. More experienced DJs are more likely to volunteer to mentor new DJs in that context out of a spirit of ‘communitas’ or ‘doing good stuff for the community’.
There are other reasons for managing new DJs, though – profit motive is a good one, especially if you’re in a scene where dancers really value or care about the quality of DJing. Or plain old competition for cultural capital – a DJ might feel it’s in their interests to discourage new DJs or to not open their night to new DJs (ie they want to keep their status and ward off competitors). If a particular event has a specific musical focus (eg it might want to showcase a particular musical style or moment in history), then there’d also be reason to manage the DJs – if you were (for example), interested in running a ‘neo revival’ night, you might favour DJs who play BBVD, etc, and not hire DJs who play old school exclusively. I’ve even played gigs where what I’ve looked like – on stage – has been important: wearing vintage gear was specifically requested… which leads to interesting questions about the ‘performance’ of DJing. And how we might ‘perform’ the role of ‘vintage music fan’ or ‘swing dancer = vintage costume fan’ for an audience of non-dancers, for example. [That last bit is interesting in the light of things like the Facebook group ‘Embracing my embarrassing swing adolescence’ which seems largely to be about aesthetics and protocols of swing dance fashion – ie what not to wear]
There’s also another interesting aspect to all this. Throughout much of the academic literature dealing with online communities, authors note the importance of ‘answering questions’, especially in an established and well-moderated online ‘community’. People might answer questions for a number of reasons: to help out; to demonstrate their own knowledge (and status); to test their own knowledge; to enter into the discussion (and hence participate in the community – basically, answering simply as a way of getting into the conversation and enjoying the process of answering and discussing questions); etc etc etc.
I’ve always been interested in noticing what type of people answer what types of questions in swing dance discussion boards. In the years I was gathering data for my doctoral thesis (and before), I was really surprised by some of my findings. Sure, the data suggested all this stuff, but I was really hoping to find that how we play online wasn’t so tightly bound to gender. But I found that female posters tend to be quicker to offer assistance (eg hosting, info, etc), but that they mightn’t do so publicly (they’re almost always over-represented in offering condolences, giving positive feedback, compliments and proffering kind words generally). Men are more likely to post ‘information’ or ‘facts’, and to disagree. There are exceptions, but on the whole these tropes are consistent, and they also correlate with the way we talk in groups face to face. I’m also interested in the way the threaded discussion echoes ‘formal turn taking’ in a meeting – which is something all-male groups tend to favour (whereas women tend to favour a more casual, more interrupting/cooperative meaning-making approach). There are also ethnic issues at work here – I was at a fascinating book launch the other day for indigenous literacy day: the speeches and discussion was very very different to the usual middle class ‘literati’ book launch: a room full of koori ladies don’t really do formal turn taking :D.
This is partly to do with how we’re socialised (which of course will result in regional variations), but also to do with the social/cultural context of online communication, especially on something like a discussion board. I’ve been wondering how Facebook changes all that, especially as it’s far more accessible than something like a discussion board.
All this might mean, in the context of DJs helping each other, that women are more likely to answer questions via private message or to ask for help via private message, and less likely to post publicly on the board generally. It also suggests that people post answers and ‘help each other’ for a range of reasons.
SwingDJs is a tricky case study as DJing generally is so male-dominated: there are more men posting regularly here than women, for example (which could be a result of the culture of online communication rather than directly correlating to the number of women DJs IRL).
Something I’ve noticed: experienced DJs, no matter what their gender, are generally very helpful and welcoming to new DJs. They mightn’t be very good at actually helping or communicating their welcome, but they certainly want to be helpful and care about this stuff. This might be a trickle-on effect from the revivalist impulses of contemporary swing dance generally – there’s this impetus towards ‘recruiting’ new dancers, so as to ‘preserve’ historic dance forms.
Or it could just be that nerds – no matter their flavour – love to talk to other nerds about stuff they love.

difficult thoughts

Here is a sad story prompted by a passing comment by Ms Tartan:

It didn’t help that the kid who drew out my blood had the full Myspace emo thing going on, with asymetrical dyed black hair and a scowl and a black spike through one ear, and under his nurse blouse, a studded leather wristcuff. He seemed determined to either spit in my blood or drink some.

It reminds me of another brush with altfashion in a medical context which I had a couple of years ago.
When my mother was very ill in hospital (ie, in a coma in intensive care, or else distressed and disoriented in intensive care) – the most horrible month or two of my life – I remember noticing a (young female) doctor’s piercing – she had a couple of those tiny gold ‘pins’ through the skin at the mid-point of her chest above her breasts. It peeked out through the unbuttoned bit of her collared shirt.
I remember thinking that that was the most inappropriate piercing (or display thereof) that I’d ever seen. It really disturbed me, and not in any logical way.
I’m ordinarily fairly blase about piercings – not my cup of tea, but aesthetically ok, so long as they’re well placed and well done. In any other circumstances I’d have been fine with this.
But, at that moment, in this place of blood and needles and pain and despair, where my mother was deliriously pleading with me to “take it – take it out!” as she pulled at her IV tube, this doctor’s piercing was disturbing.
I’m not sure why. But thinking about it makes me feel bad, even now.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that in the intensive care unit patients have no dignity. And their distressed families have just as little. My mother had no rights – she couldn’t choose not to have that needle in her body. A woman who usually takes such care of her appearance, and who is usually so assertive and capable, strapped to a bed so she wouldn’t tear out the various tubes that were keeping her alive. And for me, being faced with the realisation that my mother wasn’t going to be the one who looked after me, but that I was the one who had to make the difficult decisions and to look after her. Even more distressing, being the one who gave permission for my mother to be sedated, intubated, made vulnerable in a frightening and dangerous moment.
To see that doctor with that piercing made me think that all that display of bodily adornment was really just a display of self-mutilation. A way of saying “I choose to make my body imperfect, to marr it, to flaw the safety of my skin, so as to make a point of fashion or politics” which seemed profoundly insulting and arrogant in that context. In that place, that piercing, to me, seemed like a flaunting of the power and health of that woman. For the patients (and more importantly, family), it seemed as if her choosing to make her (otherwise perfect, healthy) body inperfect was a slap in the face to people who would have given anything for an immune system robust enough to manage a piercing. At that moment, for me, it felt as if she was flaunting her body’s ability to fight off infection (and deliberate mutilation), when it was an infection that was killing my mother. And that there was nothing I could do.
I still don’t understand why I felt so strongly about that tiny, fairly unobtrusive piercing. No doubt in my then-state of heightened emotion, it took very little to spark off anger or frustration. And I know I was always close to tears.
But it reminds me of the way I feel about some christian religions.
Those faiths which endorse refusing medical attention – discourage taking medications, having operations, blood transfusions, and so on – disturb me. And while, on the one hand, I do feel that they have a right to make these choices, on the other, I think that this is a choice only available to the healthy, middle class living in a developed country.
Living in Melbourne, in Australia, in a comfortably middle class home, choosing not to take antiobiotics or see a conventional doctor is a luxury made possible by our high standard of living. But choosing not to be immunised against curable disease, or not to take a course of antiobiotics seems an insult to someone who lives without access to clean water, whose immune system is compromised by malnutrition or starvation or violence or war. Again, a flaunting of privilege in the face of such powerlessness. And while I see the value in principles like ‘living simply so that others may simply live’, it feels like a flaunting of health and wealth and privilege in the face of others who do not.
This is a difficult concept to think about, because I do feel strongly about ‘living simply’ – I choose not to drive a car, I choose to ride my bike, I choose to garden organically, I choose to make my own clothes and so on, because I feel that I need to tread more lightly on the earth. And, as a feminist, I choose not to ‘just take it’ when I hear or see or experience sexism or chauvenism. But at the same time, I am very much aware of the fact that I can make these choices – that I can practice these sorts of everyday eco- and politico- awareness because I am living in privileged place, at a privileged time. I was the child of a middle class family, I have a tertiary education and work in a very socially ‘safe’ environment. I do have the option of choosing how and when I will work. I do not have three children to feed and clothe and get to school every day. I am healthy enough and physically able to ride my bike. I do have the luxury of a garden where I can plant food for my family. I have the skills and access to resources to make my own clothes. And so on.
It is a conundrum: does this make me a hypocrite in the context of the religious issue?
I’m not sure that it does, particularly as there are other issues which frustrate me in terms of certain of those faiths and their approaches to gender and power within their own heirarchies.
I mean, it is a fact that access to proper health care and education, including information about contraception is essential to improving conditions for women (for children – for families) in developing countries. I have difficulty with the idea that choosing not to use contraception, not to use adequate health care, not to be educated, can in any way be a good thing for women, for societies.
And it really, really bothers me that a faith would actively discourage the use of medication or education in a developed country, because it also implicitly (if not explicitly) discourages followers in less fortunate circumstances as well. I smell a frightening use of power to secure loyalty and dependency. Particularly when the only ‘acceptable’ form of ‘medical intervention’ is prayer. Prayer with certain members of the church.
…but that’s a lot to think about on such a nice day, when I have (more!) marking to do.