Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Ours, but We don't Want it

Appropriation. After "exploitation" it's the word that so aptly conveys the depth and breadth of white culture over and into mud peeples' cultures. When I mentioned Amy Winehouse the other day I thought how it might possibly appear to some of my friends who are sensitive to the subject of a white songstress using black musical tropes to meet success.

Without any apologies, I want to say that I'm a fan of Amy's talent, and that yes, I think it's fucked up when there are talented mud peeps who never even get a shot, particularly the kind of shot she had.

And yet there's no denying her talent; to have the depth of artistic vision she does and the chops to express it with so much bravura is, I think, a rare thing. But to have it while in your early 20's is hitting the lottery. As I write this I have her Love is a Losing Game on, and it's crazy to think that she's writing and singing like this at 24/25.

Should that talent be constrained by genre according to racial precepts? Of course not. Am I saying this because of her undeniable talent or, rather more precisely, because I like her talent? Yes, there's that degree of prejudice involved, but it's more a matter of being "real." Yeah, at some point, art crit does indeed boil down to intangibles and preferences. But it's actually much more, or rather, it can, and should be more. This is totally subjective but it's not a cop-out. There's simply no other way for me to put it.

What I mean. Some artists have that aura of authenticity. A guy like Tarantino comes along and totally jacks the cultural flow of mud peeps left and right and it's hailed as genius.

But to Asians who grew up on shit like Sword of Vengeance we look at something like Kill Bill and just laugh.

Look at Paul Simon, who I can take in limited doses. When he made his critically acclaimed Graceland I sneered. I thought it rang false. I still do. Put it this way; having a celebrity white singer fronting blacks is not only visually problematic but an aesthetic infantilizing that creeps me out.

But this whole appropriation business gets really dizzy when you consider someone like Clapton. Obviously his allegiance and devotion to the blues is real. Any dude who'd leave the Yardbirds at the height of popularity for the Bluesbreakers is making a statement. But I thought his cover of I Shot the Sheriff was limp.

It goes on and on. Led Zep's cover of I Can't Quit You Baby is one of the best I've ever heard. And of course, Stevie Ray who always gave props to Albert King and Jimi.

And I guess this is a way of turning the mirror back on America, because we’re so pathologically contemptuous of our own until someone else appropriates them, and then we climb on board. After all, it wasn’t until the Brit guitarists - Clapton, Beck, Page, but also Peter Green – reminded white Americans of what they had lying in their own backyard but had for all intents rejected. No, Elvis didn’t remind white Amerikkka where rock ‘n roll’s roots lie, no no no. Jimi had to leave and go to Europe to be “discovered.” A few, such as Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and many a southern rocker like Johnny Winter (Cool band name: “Johnny Winter And”) or Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top knew.

But for the most part we’re retarded over here. Sorta reminds me of the Churchill quote I heard in The Eleventh Hour: “America always makes the right decision, after exhausting all other possibilities.”

Oh well I haven't resolved the conundrum of a white girl "singing black." But it's doubtful that Americans, particularly young ones, can even see the line that runs from the blues to rock. It’d be amusing for a minute to hold up a picture of, say, Otis Rush, and one of Henry Rollins and ask college students if they think the two are musically related.