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William S. Burroughs buys a parrot, 1963


 
Today’s adventure in obscure video centers around an innocuous 85-second film shot by Antony Balch called William Buys a Parrot. In the movie, the “William” is William S. Burroughs and the parrot is actually a cockatoo. It’s in color and has no audio track—it resembles a home movie to some extent but it’s just a shade more orchestrated than that, although it might just have been something shot to test a new camera. In William Buys a Parrot we see Burroughs, wearing a white suit and a dark brown fedora, approach a door in some exotic desert setting—either Gibraltar or Tangier, it seems. He raps on the door knocker, a man from inside comes out and they chat for a moment or two. Cut to a some kind of a coastal veranda, where Burroughs confronts the bird. Then the fellow comes out and the two men sit at the table and enjoy an adult beverage. The last third of the movie is the bird jumping around in his cage with Burroughs in the background. End of movie.
 

Burroughs and Balch in ‘Tony and Bill
 
In Wising Up the Marks: The Amodern William Burroughs, Timothy S. Murphy has this to say about the movie:
 

William Buys a Parrot demonstrates that even when silence eliminates the specific word—the external word of mundane narrative interaction that is susceptible to technical reproduction and animal mimicry—it leaves intact the general, generic, internal Word—the structural Word of addictive subjectivity that allows the viewer to provide her own narration for this film.

 
Well… sure... Why not? To me, though, it just looks like a famous writer buying a bird and enjoying some daytime spirits with a chum…

William Buys a Parrot was probably shot in 1963, but edited in 1982 by Genesis P-Orridge who is said to have rescued it and many other films from a trash dumpster after Antony Balch’s death (including Balch’s other collaborations with Burroughs and painter Brion Gysin and some prints of Kenneth Anger’s films).
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Watch a ten-year-old Gore Vidal pilot an airplane, 1936
11.24.2014
06:04 am

Topics:
Books
History

Tags:
Gore Vidal
kid
aviation
child


 
The late Gore Vidal was so many things during his life. Groundbreaking author! Master of belles-lettres!  Committed progressive! Gay (but-sort-of-not-really because he conceived of sexuality as inherently genderless, but whatever)! Kind of a sexist, rape-apologist piece of shit! But hey, remember that one time he pissed off William F. Buckley so bad that Buckley called him a “queer,” and threatened to punch him? That was pretty cool, right? And that other time when Norman Mailer head-butted him? That was good times!

Well, you can add “junior aviator” to Vidal’s long list of accomplishments! The video below shows both Eugene Vidals—Junior and Senior, the latter who was an Olympic Decathlete, Professor of aeronautics at West Point, one of the first pilots in the US Air Corps, and he was an original captain of industry who broke the ground for commercial airlines (it’s also widely believed—and reported by Gore—that he had an affair with Amelia Earhart). The short is a bit of a stunt to alleviate public fears about flying, produced in partnership with the federal government—-notice the “Department of Commerce” logo on the side of the plane. Little Gene’s role is just to show us that flight is safe and simple—why even a future-literary-genius-child could do it!
 

 
h/t Connor Kilpatrick

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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‘Freeze, you dirty dopers’: The ‘Heroin Haikus’ of William Wantling
11.19.2014
12:46 pm

Topics:
Art
Books
Drugs

Tags:
poetry
heroin
William Wantling


 
If the American poet William Wantling (1933-1974) had not existed, it would have been up to Charles Bukowski  to invent him—in fact, the two men did know each other. Wantling spent most of his life in Illinois but served in Korea and also did time in San Quentin for unspecified crimes, although it may have been forging prescriptions, which would make him the original drugstore cowboy. (His inmate number in the California Dept. of Corrections system was A45522.)

After prison, Wantling studied and eventually taught at Illinois State University. Samuel Zaffiri said of Wantling that his post-prison life was “a constant search for things which would get him drunk or high.” Zaffiri also wrote of Wantling, “He was a manipulator and all with whom he came in contact, whether best friend or casual acquaintance, were game for his wiles. He wheedled, begged, lied.” According to Kevin E. Jones, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the poet, “Wantling lied, cheated, ripped off his friends, shat in their bathtubs.” Sounds like quite a guy.

And, as it happens, exactly the guy to think up the idea of writing haikus about the heroin life. Spero was a literary magazine published in Flint, Michigan, in 1965 and 1966. The first issue featured William Burroughs and LeRoi Jones; the second issue had a tiny little booklet tucked into a tiny little pocket—the booklet was Wantling’s Heroin Haikus.
 

William Wantling
 
It should be noted that Wantling’s understanding of the haiku form was looser than yours or mine, most likely. Wantling ignores the line lengths and focuses on the syllable count, the poem has to have 17 syllables. I guess that’s why, in a beautiful bit of purposeful modesty, they’re called “some seventeen-syllable comments.”

Here are three of them:
 

THE FIX

Give me the moment
that will join me to myself
in a mad embrace

LOS ANGELES—2

I bring a can of weed.
Grady brings pills and peyote.
Party time!

THE BUST

A knock, the door
flumps down.
Shotguns, the heat screams—
Freeze, you dirty dopers!

 
At the Division Leap bookstore and gallery in Portland, Oregon, you can buy a copy of Spero #1 and #2—complete with Heroin Haikus tucked in a little pocket—for just $350.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
More heroin haikus after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘50 Ways to Eat Cock’ is the only rooster cookbook you’ll ever need
11.18.2014
09:34 am

Topics:
Amusing
Animals
Books
Food

Tags:
cooking
chicken


 
I’m a big believer in the prurient pun, and I think anyone who can actually monetize juvenile humor is a true student of humanity who paid attention in class. So I doff my cap to new-agey nutritionist (and possibly penis-obsessed crazy person) Adrienne Hew, who penned 50 Ways to Eat Cock: Healthy Chicken Recipes with Balls! My only criticism of this culinary concupiscence is that the book might suffer from repetition. If the joke was just in the title, it would allow readers to question her motives, maybe even consider the possibility of her naivete. For example, the competing oral sex-themed cookbook, 50 Ways to Eat a Beaver exercises some subtly. Hew however, is relentless:

Curious about cock? You’re not the only one. Once revered for his virility and strength, the rooster has taken a back seat to the hen in more recent years. With healthy chicken recipes like Risotto Cock Balls and Cock-o’s, 50 Ways to Eat Cock is a fun and inventive chicken cookbook that takes a revealing look at the folklore, history, culinary culture and nutritional benefits of this well-endowed ingredient. With tongue-in-cheek descriptions, these playful cock recipes are bulging with everything from the quintessential to the quick-and-easy to the downright quirky. You’ll learn how to tame this tough bird meat into succulent and finger-licking gourmet meals.

Thanks to the ingenuity of author and Certified Nutritionist, Adrienne Hew, the noble cock retakes his rightful place at the head of the table. Grab the “hard copy” as the perfect bridal shower gift!

Okay, the “hard copy” line is pretty good, even though I think we could have done without the winking quotation marks.

As a cook book, I’m a little skeptical of the project (though I hold out far more hope for her follow-up book 50 Ways To Eat Your Honey: Healthy Honey Recipes for Mastering the Art of Honeylingus). To my knowledge, rooster is pretty inedible in any recipe other than coq au vin, or some other variation of “stew-with-bacon-until-edible.” This does not mean I will not be purchasing it though. Bachelorette parties have certain, near-sacred phallic traditions that simply must be observed (I don’t make the rules), but that doesn’t mean a dick joke can’t have practical applications.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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T-Rextasy: Beasties-on-boys romance novels are apparently a ‘thing’ now
11.14.2014
08:09 am

Topics:
Books
Sex

Tags:
dinosaur
Hunter Fox


 
Last September I helped break a mini-sensation about dinosaur/mythical creature-on-girl romance novelettes available as ebooks on Amazon. About three weeks after we posted that, Stephen Colbert did a bit about them on his show. Featured titles included Ravished by the Triceratops and Mounted by the Gryphon. They’re still available, of course.

I recently discovered that those ebooks are just one half of the story. If there is dinosaur-on-girl erotica, then why not the same for those who would get aroused by dinosaur-on-boy tales? Well, it turns out that that exists. A writer who goes by the name Hunter Fox (sure, that’s his real name, of course it is) has written a bunch of pamphlet-length “ebooks” focused on the pleasures experienced by young men being “ravished” by unicorns, octopi, yetis, cyclopses, orcs, and so forth.

The language here is very interesting to me. All of these stories are essentially about rape, that is to say, nonconsensual sex. None of the titles use the word rape, of course, but they all signal it in various ways. Taken and ravished are a key euphemisms here, but when it’s a male being penetrated, there’s an option that isn’t available for the ladies being so “taken,” and that’s to say that the mythical creature in question “forced me gay,” which might not quite be entirely grammatical but certainly paints a picture.
 

 
I couldn’t resist the title A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay, which indeed is about a billionaire dinosaur tycoon in a world where somehow dinosaurs have returned and become the new one-percent. Here’s a key excerpt:
 

I looked down and our eyes caught for a second. My breath began to quicken as he stepped closer, pulling me towards him with his claws.  He reached around me and tore off my clothing, leaving me in just my briefs.

I was speechless and had no idea how to react. Oliver forced me to the ground, ripping off his suit and throwing it across the library. I looked up at him and saw his gigantic cock, now hard as a rock. I knew now why my boss had taken me to his beach house, it was to fuck me. He reached down and began rubbing himself while looking at me, stroking up and down his throbbing, enormous cock.

 
To find out what happens next, you’ll just have to buy it for yourself!

Here are some other “beasties/boys” titles from Hunter Fox:

Punished by the Dark Unicorn
Gay Android Attack
Tamed by T-Rex
Ravaged by a Unicorn
Forced Gay by Aliens
Tentacles Made Me Gay
Transforming Robot Punished Me
Forced Gay by the School Mascot
Yetti Forced Me Gay
Sphinx Forced Me Gay
Nailed by Dragons
Ravaged by the Saber Tooth Tiger
Turned Gay by an Orc
T-Rex Forced Me Gay
Brachiosaurus Made Me Gay
Slayed by Dragons
Cyclops Forced Me Gay

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Awful things: Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli publishes his photographs in book of seedy haiku


 

She placed the barrel
under her chin and smiled big
quick, take a picture

Amid the flurry of renewed Afghan Whigs activity over the last couple of years (their new album, Do to the Beast is 100% worthy of the band’s legacy, in case you wondered), an altogether different project by that band’s singer Greg Dulli is attracting notice. Dulli’s contributed his photographic work to illustrate I Apologize in Advance for the Awful Things Im Gonna Do, a book of haiku (you read that right) written by former Cat Butt/Dwarves member (you read that right, too) Danny Bland. Bland and Dulli aren’t the only figures from independent music involved in I Apologize… Calligraphy was contributed by X vocalist Exene Cervenka, the book was designed by Camper van Beethoven/Monks of Doom’s Victor Krummenacher, and it’s been published by Sub Pop, the record label that introduced Cat Butt and Afghan Whigs to the world.

I hid the razors
you bought, you sucked the pills from
my throat, quid pro quo

Though they all strictly adhere to haiku’s typical 5-7-5 syllable count, Bland’s haiku are far from traditional—not only do they not take nature as their subject, these poems are just downright raw and seedy. His debut novel, last year’s In Case We Die, was a junkie fable of porn, bad relationships, and damaged humanity, and his haiku hit all the same notes, often with a brutal sense of humor.

I paged my sponsor,
I paged my dealer, then I
waited; heads or tails

While Dulli’s lyrics can often revolve around similar themes of wastedness, obsession, and human relationships gone horrifically wrong, his photographs don’t particularly strike those chords. The most engaging shots seem intended to evoke moods or represent emotional states, concealing as much about reality as they reveal. (The least interesting images just straight up look like they could have been culled from a random art student’s Instagram account, but thankfully there’s not a whole lot of that.) Dulli talked a bit about his photographic work in an interview with the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger:

I think a picture presents itself. For me, photography and songwriting both seem to start with a strange inspiration. I don’t necessarily go around looking for photographs, I wait to find them. [Pauses] It’s hard to quantify it exactly. Catching a picture is the same kind of spirit as catching a song. You hear a melody in your head, you start to interact with it—that’s what photography is to me.

 

Click to enlarge
 

Click to enlarge
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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DC Comics release cannabis-smelling scratch ‘n’ sniff Harley Quinn annual

11harleyquinndopeann11.jpg
 
DC Comics’ launch of the first-ever Harley Quinn annual is certain to raise a major stink with readers—quite literally, as the seasonal special is a “Rub ‘n’ Smell Spectacular,” giving readers the chance to scratch ‘n’ sniff such aromas as pizza, leather, suntan lotion, and “what’s referred to in the story as “cannabisylocibe 7-A”—that is to say, cannabis.

Yes, the waft of cannabis will emanate from the noxious pages of the Harley Quinn Annual this festive season, but only for those readers in America. Can you imagine the trouble DC Comics might find themselves in if they exported this weed-smelling comic book to, say, the UK, where sniffers would be scrabbling and salivating over the “Rub ‘n’ Smell” contents?

As DC warns “you, readers”:
 

This issue stinks! Seriously! Like, unpleasant odors are literally in the story! In this first-ever HQ ANNUAL, take a trip to Harley’s home of Coney Island in a groundbreaking “scent-ticular” issue, featuring actual, honest-to-gosh smells. This issue comes polybagged to contain the stench.

 
Harley Quinn is a supervillain created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm and voiced by Arleen Sorkin for Batman: The Animated Series starting in 1992. Harley then reappeared in the comic Batman Adventures from 1993 on, where she often turned up as the girlfriend of the caped crusader’s arch nemesis the Joker and as an accomplice/friend to Poison Ivy.

The “Rub ‘n’ Smell” content is a certainly novel way to get free advertising from news and blog copy for Harley Quinn’s debut annual and also to generate a few extra sales from the curious. If you want a sniff, you can order your copy here. For those who want to know before they buy ... you can read a review here. Below, everything you need to know about Harley Quinn….
 

 
H/T Nerdcore
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Time of the Assassins’: William S. Burroughs’ cut-up version of Time Magazine, 1965
10.30.2014
08:23 am

Topics:
Art
Books

Tags:
William S. Burroughs
Brion Gysin
Time Magazine


 
One of the favored forms of Beat author William S. Burroughs was that of the “cut-up,” basically fancy talk for “collage.” After the Dadaists pioneered the technique in the 1920s, the midcentury artist who had done the most with it was Brion Gysin, a close friend of Burroughs, who once called Gysin “the only man I ever respected.” Gysin stumbled on the technique on his own around 1954 when he slashed a newspaper page and noticed that the page underneath created interesting juxtapositions. Gysin showed Burroughs the cut-up concept in the late 1950s, as he related in Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success:
 

William Burroughs and I first went into techniques of writing, together, back in room No. 15 of the Beat Hotel during the cold Paris spring of 1958. ... Burroughs was more intent on Scotch-taping his photos together into one great continuum on the wall, where scenes faded and slipped into one another, than occupied with editing the monster manuscript. ... Naked Lunch appeared and Burroughs disappeared. He kicked his habit with apomorphine and flew off to London to see Dr Dent, who had first turned him on to the cure. While cutting a mount for a drawing in room No. 15, I sliced through a pile of newspapers with my Stanley blade and thought of what I had said to Burroughs some six months earlier about the necessity for turning painters’ techniques directly into writing. I picked up the raw words and began to piece together texts that later appeared as “First Cut-Ups” in Minutes to Go (Two Cities, Paris 1960).

 

William S. Burroughs, photograph by Brion Gysin
 
In 1965 Gysin and Burroughs collaborated on a cut-up version of Time Magazine that would end up being 27 pages long. According to Jed Birmingham, “Time was published in 1965 in 1000 copies. 886 copies comprised the trade edition. These copies were unnumbered and unsigned. 100 copies were signed by Burroughs and Gysin. 10 copies numbered A-J were hard bound and contained a manuscript page of Burroughs and an original colored drawing by Gysin. 4 more were hors commerce. ... An hors commerce print was used as the color key and printing guide that the printer would use to insure consistency of the print run.”

Apparently, Burroughs and Gysin chose the November 30, 1962, cover of Time to mess with because that issue contained a dismissive review of Naked Lunch under the title “King of the YADs,” where “YAD” stood for “Young American Disaffiliates.” Burroughs was greatly irritated by the review.
 

 
The Time cut-up was described as follows in Robert A. Sobieszek’s Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts:
 

Burroughs created his own version of Time magazine, including a Time cover of November 30, 1962, collaged over by Burroughs with a reproduction of a drawing, four drawings by Gysin, and twenty-six pages of typescript comprised of cut up texts and various photographs serving as news items. One of the pages is from an article on Red China from Time of September 13, 1963, and is collaged with a columnal typescript and an irrelevant illustration from the ‘Modern Living’ section of the magazine. A full-page advertisement for Johns-Manville products is casually inserted amid all these text; its title: Filtering.

 

Here we can see what the cover originally looked like in color. Photograph: Stephen J. Gertz
 
The first few pages (after the “copyright page”) are pretty much pure typewritten text—the metaphor of this being a version of Time doesn’t really obtain until you get to page 5, which has the word “REPUBLICANS” across the top as well as the words “Democratic Governor John Swainson,” who was the Governor of Michigan when the original issue came out (but not in 1965). After that you spot the familiar non-serif typeface here and there. Page 6 is titled “THE WORLD” and is about Red China. Page 8 is simply an unmolested full-page ad for Johns-Manville. Page 10 has a picture of a bunch of dignitaries at Peking Airport and another one with “John and William Faulkner.” Pages 13-16 are a series of ideogrammatic doodles by Gysin, after which the text reverts almost entirely to typewritten text by Burroughs.

Page 22 may be the most interesting page, as it features several short paragraphs of true automatic writing, as for example: “moo moo. .Tally Tillie Valspar Vent flu flu..doo do do. .Ding Dong Bell. .Sell sell sell. .Knee Wall fell. .sell sell sell. .Tele tell yell. .Sell sell sell. .Pell Pow Mell. .Sell Sell Sell. .Pel Tex Mell.”

Here is Burroughs and Gysin’s Time cut-up in its entirety:
 

 

 

 
The rest after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Thomas Pynchon pranks the 1974 National Book Awards ceremony
10.29.2014
10:24 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon
Professor Irwin Corey


 
The publication of Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon was one of the most important events in American publishing during the postwar era. Everyone who grappled with it at the time recognized it to be an unusually interesting and impressive work—it’s also very long—but it also engaged, in a high-minded way, the counterculture. The book is above all about paranoia. It features five “Proverbs for Paranoids,” including, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” One of the book’s characters is young Malcolm Little, later Malcolm X, and the epigraph to the book’s final section (“What?”) came from Richard Nixon himself. Gravity’s Rainbow was so polarizing that it led to a stalemate among the Pulitzer Prize voting committee; for the year 1974, there is simply no award given. (Causing a schism of this type is much cooler than winning a Pulitzer, I reckon.)

Through the unusual mix in his books of science, conspiracy, corny jokes, and rock music (most of his books have made-up rock or pop lyrics as part of the text, and Gravity’s Rainbow is no exception), Pynchon has always been one of those writers, like Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, whose audience did not consist merely of literary types. Pynchon’s audience, as far as I can tell, always had more than its share of autodidacts, computer programmers, truckers, rock music fans. For a difficult author, Pynchon has had something like the common touch. The corny jokes part of the equation is an important one. In his introduction to Slow Learner, a volume of Pynchon’s stories, the author cites Spike Jones (no, not Spike Jonze) in a way that suggests a deeper connection.
 

 
Which leads us to the 1974 National Book Awards. As mentioned, Gravity’s Rainbow was a big enough deal that people pretty much knew it was going to win for best novel. There was a big gala held at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center in New York, and everyone present also knew that Thomas Pynchon, being extremely reluctant to appear in public, was unlikely to show up. And yet, one just never knew, did one? ... Instead of making an appearance, Pynchon (actually Pynchon’s publisher Thomas Guinzburg, pictured below) sent in his place comedian Professor Irwin Corey, whose schtick consists mainly of butchering hifalutin language, including bad puns, malapropisms…. basically the ultimate absent-minded professor. Oh—and just for fun, the proceedings were also interrupted by a streaker. It was the 1970s! Stuff like that happened.

The ceremony took place on April 18, 1974. The next day, the New York Times account of the event related the following:
 

The National Book Awards were given to 14 authors last night and burlesqued at the same time by a stand-up comic who accepted the prize for Thomas Pynchon, the novelist, and a naked man who jogged through Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center shouting: “Read books! Read books!”

Professor Irwin Corey, the comedian who bills himself as “the world’s greatest expert on everything,” accepted Mr. Pynchon’s prize and took off into a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax that left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.

Some in the audience wondered whether Mr. Corey—who pounded the podium and shouted such aphorisms as “He who underestimates the American public will not go broke”—was, in fact, the reclusive Mr. Pynchon himself.

It turned out, however, that his appearance was a jape contrived by Thomas Guinzburg, head of Viking Press, publishers of “Gravity’s Rainbow,” which won the award for Mr. Pynchon.

 
George Plimpton of the Paris Review remembered it this way: “Tom [Guinzburg] was fairly sure that Pynchon was going to win the National Book Awards, but he knew that Pynchon wasn’t going to appear. And so in a wonderful bit of imagination and cleverness, he got this wonderful actor called Professor Corey. ... So he came out onto the stage, and Thomas Pynchon was announced and a great roar of applause ... because everybody knew that Pynchon was more or less a recluse, and to have him actually appear to get his award, everybody stared at this man, who then proceeded to give an acceptance speech.”

The award was shared by Gravity’s Rainbow and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s A Crown of Feathers. Corey/Pynchon was introduced by none other than Ralph Ellison In the speech, Corey referred to “himself” as “Richard Python,” had a lot of fun with the name of noted author Studs Terkel, and referred to Henry Kissinger as the “acting president of the United States.”

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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How Sam Cooke Invented the Afro
10.27.2014
08:09 am

Topics:
Books
History
Music
Race

Tags:
Sam Cooke
Peter Guralnick


 
The name of music writer Peter Guralnick may not resonate with rock music fans the way names like Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer do, likely because his work is informal, thoughtful, and restrained compared to that of many of his self-aggrandizingly, flamboyantly gonzo contemporaries from the early days of rock writing coming into its own. For example, his scholarly ‘90s Elvis Presley biographies Last Train to Memphis, Careless Love, and the mind-bogglingly granular Elvis Day by Day serve serious students of rock history as valuable counterpoints to the notoriously lurid sensationalism of Albert Goldman’s work on the subject.

On November 4th, Guralnick will be releasing two of his works—Sweet Soul Music and Dream Boogie—as enhanced e-books. In addition to being optimized for e-readers, the e-books will include troves of supplemental A/V material, including audio of his original interviews with figures like Ray Charles, Bobby Womack, and Solomon Burke, and newly purpose-shot video interviews. I was watching one of those video interviews when something I thought interesting jumped out. Guralnick was talking about the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke with the great Stax songwriter, singer, and producer William Bell, and of the brilliant and tragic talent behind indelible songs like “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” and “Another Saturday Night,” Bell rather bluntly asserted that “Sam started the afro.”
 

 
The idea that someone could have “started” the way a significant number of people’s hair grows normally would seem absurd absent the context of the ‘50s, when many African-Americans, quite literally second-class citizens in the US, straightened their hair in aspirational imitation of white hairstyles, especially if they were public figures like entertainers. The common men’s hairstyle was called a “process” or a “conk.” Some of the most spectacularly vertical conks were sported by James Brown, Esquerita, Little Richard, and Muddy Waters. An amazing sequence of photos in Waters’ Electric Mud LP shows his conk’s creation step-by-step. But Waters was a holdover. That LP came out in 1968, by which time processed hair was becoming passé.
 

 

 
Perhaps it’s because I’m from a post-boomer generation, but I’ve long been accustomed to Jimi Hendrix getting a great deal of credit as the musician who popularized the afro. Not that Sam Cooke was without conspicuous black identity bona fides; he did, after all, write the immortal and still-potent “Change is Gonna Come.” Seeking clarity, I turned to Guralnick himself, who literally wrote the book on Sam Cooke—the aforementioned Dream Boogie is it, in fact. (He also wrote the movie on Cooke.) It turns out that the man is as dizzying a fount of knowledge in conversation as he is on the printed page. Compared to the thoughtful depth and detail of his answers, my questions sound embarrassingly boneheaded, so I’ve replaced them in the following Q&A with pictures of celebrated afros.
 

 

Sam started wearing his hair natural back in 58. He saw it as a point of racial pride, and he preached it as a point of racial pride. And Otis Redding stopped processing his hair after talking with Sam—this is what Roger Redding, Otis’ brother, told me long, long, ago, and which I’m sure is true, because Sam’s brother L.C. had told me the same thing. So he went out there at a time when a large percentage, by far the majority of African-American singers were straightening their hair, Sam was out there doing it natural, and making a point of saying “I don’t want to try to look like somebody else, I’m proud of being myself, I’m proud of who I am, I’m proud of my race.” And he articulated it to—not to interviewers, because nobody was interviewing him about it—but he articulated it, and I’ve heard this again and again, to other singers of that era.

 

 

This was a very unusual thing to do. I’m sure it wasn’t unique, in fact I know it wasn’t unique, but it was quite unusual, and it took a degree of self-awareness. Sam was somebody who was an inveterate reader, he just read anything and everything, from War and Peace to The New Yorker to Playboy, and he started reading black history, both African history and African-American history. He read John Hope Franklin, he started reading a great deal of that history, and really immersed himself in it, and in new people like James Baldwin and Malcom X, who were his peers.

 

 

On the night of the first Clay/Liston fight, when Muhammad Ali was still Cassius Clay, and he won the title, after the fight, Sam Cooke, Clay, Malcolm X and the football player Jim Brown went back to Malcolm X’s hotel room in the Hampton House, and the FBI had an informer there, and were extremely concerned! They saw this as a potential nexus of sports and entertainment superstars getting together on a political agenda. Sam was very serious—I don’t mean to make him out to be a crusader, but he was an extremely aware person, and extremely well-read. He once told Bobby Womack, if you want to expand your writing, you’ve got to read. You can’t just keep writing songs about “I love you I love you I love you.” You want to expand your horizons by reading. Bobby was a total disciple of Sam’s, and could describe Sam’s lessons almost word-for-word. I don’t know whether he ever became a great reader but he took the point.

 

 

One thing I think I’d emphasize, Sam’s hair was neither accidental nor happenstance. It was a well thought out response what he saw as white cultural domination and the willingness of the black community, in many instances, to see that as something to which to aspire, to want to look white, like the majority population, and he said that was ridiculous. He embraced James Baldwin’s point that this is a community of incredible joy, creativity, appreciation of life, a community that should celebrate itself, not to try to imitate anybody else.

 

 

Sam saw Black Power arise to some degree, with the Black Muslims who were preaching self-reliance, that was sort of a variation on Booker T. Washington I suppose, in a sense, though they wouldn’t have taken it that way. But the point is that was a proclamation of separateness, of black power.

So there you have it. Guralnick’s mention of that Cassius Clay story reminded me of this wonderful clip of Clay and Cooke singing together. The song is “The Gang’s All Here,” and it saw release on Clay’s LP I Am the Greatest!, which, yeah, exists. While you’re enjoying that, I’ll be starting research for my own scholarly work on the Jewfro.
 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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