“If you were a gay Latina, this election would be in the bag for you!”
A production of Actually.org. Please share.
“If you were a gay Latina, this election would be in the bag for you!”
A production of Actually.org. Please share.
If you’re like me, you can’t resist a good piece of moral panic red-baiting propaganda, especially when it’s directed at a social phenomenon that seems so chaste by today’s standards. As luck might have it, I recently came across the 1974 opus, The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music, by the good Reverend David A. Noebel.
Evangelical tracts denouncing rock ‘n’ roll, especially as related to either homosexuality or “race mixing,” aren’t hard to find if you scour antique shops in middle America, but as something of a connoisseur of the genre, I have yet to find a piece of literature that so succinctly combines the collective fears of old, white, crazy, Christian dudes. David Noebel, ordained in 1961, started his illustrious career with the above pamphlet, Communism, Hypnotism, and The Beatles. He saw the rise of Beatlemania as the result of Communist indoctrination via hypnosis (yup, just like the title), a thesis he developed more thoroughly in his 1964 book, Rhythm, Riots, and Revolution: An Analysis of the Communist Use of Music, the Communist Master Music Plan. The book transitioned from The Beatles to folk artists, focusing on Bob Dylan, his colleagues, and their earlier influences. This is at least slightly more understandable, when one considers the political leanings of the folk movement, frequently with explicit anti-racist, pro-labor lyrics.
The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music however, synthesizes all of his previous work, citing children’s records, folk, and rock ‘n’ roll as being part and parcel to some elaborate integrationist, free-love, Communist conspiracy. As a rock ‘n’ roll propaganda collector, I’m used to trudging through a lot of this stuff, and the majority of it is incoherent ramblings—the sort of thing you’d read in a madman’s personal manifesto. Noebel is compelling because he’s intelligent, coherent, and well-researched, despite being absolutely paranoid and utterly mad. Aside from some inconsistent use of the Oxford Comma, he has a clear, if discursive thesis: rock ‘n’ roll is turning kids into gay, Communist, miscegenators.
Some of his “evidence” is fascinating. For example, Alan Freed’s “payola scandal”—who was paying him to play all those rock ‘n’ roll records to unsuspecting teenagers? Communist record companies invade the airwaves by bribery, infecting the youth with music that is ““un-Christian, mentally unsettling, revolutionary and a medium for promiscuity.” He cites psychological studies, sociological statistics, numerology, etc. to scientifically “prove” the moral degradation incited by popular music, causing everything from sky-rocketing “illegitimate” birth rates to sexual rioting. Lots of sexual rioting. The appendices are incredibly dense and well-cited.
What follows his strange assessment of rock ‘n’ roll is an (actually, semi-accurate) account of the American Left, including some background of the American Communist Party and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Then of course, Noebel posits that folk artists were inspiring the youth to instigate a race war. He believed acoustic musicians like Malvina Reynolds (her “Little Boxes” is the theme music to Weeds) and Pete Seeger were instructing white students to join with “radical groups of Negro racists” so that they might revolt and achieve racial dominance in America. The weirdest part of all this is that by 1974, integration was (at least, on paper) complete. The folk artists who were most explicitly leftist or Communist weren’t a particular focus of pop culture, The Beatles had already long been broken up, and he never quite explains how these two very distinct fanbases are somehow connected (except that they’re obviously both very Communist). One can only imagine the lovely psychosis that The MC5 would have brought him.
Noebel is still living today, and I recommend checking out his extensive collection of YouTube videos and blog, if you’re looking for a laugh. These days, he’s much more on the “Obama’s a Socialist” train and decrying “Warmism” (Noebel’s evocative name for climate change) than he is into denouncing rock ‘n’ roll. Hell, even Paul Ryan loves Rage Against the Machine. Still, his older words bring an odd comfort, when we read his treatise on rock ‘n’ roll, comparing it to a children’s record that supposedly contained subliminal messages only audible when the record is played in reverse; “the noise that many of our youth call music is analogous to the story tape played backwards. It is invigorating, vulgarizing, and orgiastic. It is destroying our youth’s ability to relax, reflect, study, pray, and meditate, and is in fact preparing them for riot, civil disobedience, and revolution.” Dear god, I hope so.
Ronald Reagan, that evil fuck President who willfully destroyed working class communities to give tax breaks to the rich. Reagan was happy to do it so long as it was African-Americans that bore the brunt.
Reaganomics left half the Black population on welfare. Reagan had no conscience about it. He had a money lust which hit hardest on those who were weakest and least able to fend for themselves.
Stopping poverty wasn’t on Reagan’s tick list. Rather it was cut corners and take, take, take from the poor - which stooped as low as having the tomato base on pizzas reclassified as fruit to ensure he could slash the cost of school dinners. He even tried to do the same with tomato ketchup but failed.
Reagan’s policy was simple - if you were poor: fuck you. If you were sick: fuck you. If you were dying of cancer: fuck you and get a goddamn job.
For young African-Americans in the 1980s, it seemed the hard-earned achievements of the sixties’ Civil Rights movement had been too easily betrayed and forgotten. And when crack cocaine hit the inner cities, it seemed any hope of a future was gone.
Against this background arose a culture of music that was to redefine Black America. Hip-Hop and Rap reflected the poverty, despair and violence of life in the ghettoes. It also railed angrily against the indifference and cynical exploitation by successive Presidents, whose only interest was to help themselves and help the rich.
Letter to the President is a fascinating over-view of the rise of Hip-Hop and Rap, and their importance in bringing a community together against a common enemy. Narrated by Snoop Dogg, and with contributions form Quincy Jones, KRS-One, David Banner, 50 Cent, Chuck D, Ghostface Killah, Nelson George, Sonia Sanchez, and Dick Gregory.
Actor J.D. Williams is well-known for his role as a drug dealer “Bodie” Broadus on The Wire, but fame can often be a double-edged sword, especially when NYPD officers approach the young actor—who’s also been in Oz, The Sopranos and Homicide: Life on the Street—as if they’ve seen him someplace before… or arrested him in the past!
Perception is everything, isn’t it? Williams spoke out about the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy while participating in the “Silent March” in Manhattan on Monday:
Via Cynical C
Muhammad Ali is a riveting storyteller and has undeniable presence in this entertaining, gutsy and inspiring interview conducted for Irish TV on July 1972. Interviewer RTÉ’s Cathal O’Shannon does a fine job of navigating the enormous personality of Ali and much of what the boxer has to say is painfully true and often way ahead of its time.
The interview took place while Ali was in Dublin to fight Al “Blue” Lewis 16 months after suffering his first defeat at the hands of Joe Frazier.
Image by Finsta
This has to be heard to be believed.
Boots Sex Dread is the name of an anonymous reggae act (is it a band or just and MC? or two MCs?) who brought out a one-off single in 1980 that became instantly notorious. Both sides of the release feature heavy dub riddims coupled with explicitly gay toasting. Like, REALLY explicit.
One side is titled “Rinka” and features an MC coming out: “Mi black and mi proud and mi a Rastafari/And mi a ‘omo-sek-shual”. There then follows an hilarious list of anal sex euphemisms. The flip is titled “Prenton Pressure” and features a different, coarse voiced MC regaling us with the story of how he met his Asian boyfriend, and how their sexual relations in a cornership store room (involving lots of bizarre condiments - Brillo Pads?!) were interrupted by the boyfriend’s mother.
Information on this record is scarce, but rumors about who the authors/vocalists may be have been rife since it was first written about in the NME on its 1980 release. The theory that has gained most credibility is that Boots Sex Dread is the work of the British comedian and actor Keith (father of Lily) Allen. An anonymous source close to Dangerous Minds can semi-confirm this:
It was rumored to be Keith Allen. And Rinka was supposed to be named after Norman Scott’s dog who was shot by the hit man hired by Jeremy Thorpe. [Background: Jeremy Thorpe was the leader of the British Liberal party from ‘67-‘76. Norman Scott claimed to be his gay lover, and Thorpe was aquitted on charges of conspiring to murder Scott in 1979.]
But this was the story running the rounds when Julie Burchill banged on about it as being gay Reggae. Not convinced, but it sounds like it could be him. He is an accomplished pianist, as I found out when I spent 3 nights on the batter with him, whilst he was filming Shallow Grave.
Keith had a character he played on Channel 4 late night back in the early 80s, where he played a gay miner, who’s dad was gay and his father before him, etc. Led to religious people saying he shouldn’t be allowed on TV etc, as they thought Keith was genuinely gay.
There a bit more info on this story over at the Uncarved blog. Here are sides A and B of Boots Sex Dread (even the names have been confused over time):
Boots Sex Dread “Rinka” NSFW
Boots Sex Dread “Penton Pressure” NSFW
Boots Sex Dread is rare as hens’ teeth, but it was re-issued not too long ago, so keep an eye out and you might find it.
I still don’t really know what to make of this - it’s a 10 minute music video-cum-short film for the British band Spiritualized, trailing their upcoming album Sweet Heart Sweet Light which is released on Fat Possum Records next week. Directed by AG Rojas, who has also worked with Jack White, Gil Scott-Heron and Earl Sweatshirt, the video follows a day in the life of a drag queen prostitute raising two young children. It doesn’t end very well.
The violent and sexual clip has already caused a bit of a stir since it was released last month. Stereogum seem all in favour of “Hey Jane”:
[It’s about] a transwoman who attempts to raise kids while turning tricks, stripping, and — in one unforgettable long tracking shot — getting into an absolutely brutal fight. There’s probably a term paper to be written about the video’s treatment of race, class, gender, sexuality, and violence. This is a good one, folks.
While on Collapse Board, Lucy Cage writes a scathing review of the Sweet Heart, Sweet Light album (definitely worth a read in its own right) and points out that:
‘Hey Jane’ wears its NSFW like a smug little badge … I don’t like what it appears to be saying about people. I don’t like that said whiney, white, self-pitying, copyist, imagination-free, privilege-flaunting cisman from England [Jason Pierce of Spiritualized] has used this story and these characters from waaaaaaaaaaay outside his experience, knowledge or culture as entertainment, however much Art has given him a hall pass to do so.
To be fair on Pierce, some of this heat needs to be taken by the director Rojas. The video is definitely slick and very well made but does it tell us anything we already didn’t know, or even desperately need to? Is it shock or titillation?
Hats off to the main actors though, who do a great job. The prostitute is played by Tyra Sanchez, winner of the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race—easily one of the best reality tv shows ever and I’m totally serious, if you have not seen this you are missing out—she does a great job.
Musically the song is pretty much what you’d expect from Spiritualized, who have been doing this kind of laidback-but-overwrought white-psych-soul thing for over 20 years now. I have to admit a bit of a soft spot for these guys though, who I used to love back in the mid-Ninteties before I delved further into their pool of influences while also gravitating towards more electronic music. The Spiritualized sound, which has barely changed in all these years, is like big, warm, fuzzy blanket. You know where it is coming from and you know where it’s going; it is inherently safe.
And that’s something this video tries very hard not to be:
Spiritualized “Hey Jane” (NSFW)
A subversive and satirical re-imagining of Disney’s Song Of The South with an urban spin, Ralph Bakshi’s incendiary masterpiece Coonskin exploits and eviscerates grotesque American racial stereotypes with a politically incorrect, profane and vicious sense of humor.
A flamethrower of confrontational cartooning Ralph Bakshi intensifies the minstrelsy where Disney coats it with honey, his “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” is a “Fuck you” hurled right at audiences. “Ah’m a N****r Man” (“I’ve been red, white, and blue’d on”) is the overture, sung magnificently by Scatman Crothers in profile over the credits, the choleric preacher (Charles Gordone) sets the stage with a sermon in a church empty but for a pair of kids. Gordone crams into a car with Barry White and off they go to bust their bud (Philip Michael Thomas) out of prison; the wait is long so fellow con Crothers spins a tale, and jive-talking furries, slags, junkies, and other unholy toons are drawn on William A. Fraker’s cinematography. Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Preacher Fox ditch the South for Harlem, where racial stereotypes can be amplified until humor boils away and submerged hate splatters the screen. Rabbit follows the Black Caesar trajectory, Bear steps into the boxing ring to evoke Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali, Fox meets his snake-oil match in Black Jesus, the rotund charlatan who breathes fire out of his neon-lit cross while bilking the congregation (“Segregate! Integrate! Masturbate!”). A crooked cop is dipped in blackface and left to shoot it out with the NYPD, the “Godfather” is a swollen subway pig with a brood of sodomites; Miss America has the stars and stripes painted on her buxom body, the noose falls on a serenading black suitor when she sweetly cries “rape.” Pungent ideas and grenade-images are penciled in throughout, often Bakshi lets one become a self-enclosed film of its own—a melancholy sister recounts the tale of the straying cockroach she grew to love, a rat floats into the monologue and is blasted after flashing the evil Mickey grin. Bold racial vaudeville and jolting session of cultural exorcism, Bakshi’s picture is its own tar-baby, making itself open to ignorant punches only to entangle them with the implicating, toxic stickiness of the ugly assumptions that have been swept under our collective rug.”—- Fernando F. Croce
Released in 1975 to a firestorm of controversy, it took Coonskin several years before the film found an audience that could appreciate it as an edgy aesthetic experiment and a powerful social statement. Wu Tang Clan had plans to re-make it and Spike Lee’s Bamboozeled , released 25 years after Coonskin, echoes Bakshi’s brutal take on the pervasive, ages-old, racism in American popular culture.
Sometimes art needs to go over-the-top in order to roil up the dark side of our collective consciousness…to shove into the light the shit we’re too afraid to talk about and too ashamed to acknowledge. Sometimes the only way to make that reality check bearable is to find the ridiculous, the absurd and the insanity within the demons trapped in the briar patch of our shared mythologies.
A little after 1:30 p.m. yesterday, the Miami Heat basketball team released a photo of the entire team wearing hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was wearing a hoodie when the 17-year-old unarmed kid was gunned down in cold blood in what appears to be a racially-motivated murder by vigilante George Zimmerman in a suburban Florida neighborhood. The hoodie has since become a symbol of solidarity and outrage within the Black Community.
The photo was released on LeBron James’ Twitter account with the hashtag, #WeAreTrayvonMartin.
Many, many books have been written about disco, and I have read a whole bunch of them (including more well known works like Turn The Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco by Peter Shapiro, Everybody Dance: Chic and the Politics of Disco by Daryl Easlea and The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night by Anthony Haden Guest) but still nothing comes close to matching Tim Lawrence’s exhaustive yet entertaining Love Saves The Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-79.
For those of you who still believe that disco was nothing more than an music-industry creation dreamt up in a backroom by a bunch of coked-up suits and sold to passive, gullible consumers too high to know it was an empty fad (here’s looking’ at you, Em!) then you need to get your hands on this book. That goes for anyone else with an interest in the disco genre, particularly those who know the basics of the story but crave more. Because, believe me, it’s all here.
Lawrence is a lecturer at the University of East London and a renowned writer on dance music and culture. He has in the past published books on the avant garde/disco composer and performer Arthur Russell (Hold On To Your Dreams; Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene 1973-1992) and most recently added the introductory foreword to Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City, 1989-92. But to me, at least, Love Saves The Day is still his best work. From his website:
Opening with David Mancuso’s seminal “Love Saves the Day” Valentine’s party, Tim Lawrence tells the definitive story of American dance music culture in the 1970s - from its subterranean roots in NoHo and Hell’s Kitchen to its gaudy blossoming in midtown Manhattan to its wildfire transmission through America’s suburbs and urban hotspots such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, and Miami.
Tales of nocturnal journeys, radical music making, and polymorphous sexuality flow through the arteries of Love Saves the Day like hot liquid vinyl. They are interspersed with a detailed examination of the era’s most powerful DJs, the venues in which they played, and the records they loved to spin - as well as the labels, musicians, vocalists, producers, remixers, party promoters, journalists, and dance crowds that fuelled dance music’s tireless engine.
TIm Lawrence may not have lived through this era, but his book is phenomenally well-researched and features interviews with all of the remaining key players, sketching the very earliest days of the movement: from David Mancuso’s Loft parties to Francis Grasso mixing records at the Sanctuary as far back as 1970 (the first dj ever to do so), from Nicky Siano opening The Gallery while still a teenager in 1972 to Steve Ostrow’s gay/mixed Continental Baths (home not just to performances by Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, but also the venue where future legendary djs Larry Levan and Frankie Knuckles cut their teeth.) all the way up through the decade to the opening of both Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.
Love Saves The Day IS exhaustive (perhaps too exhaustive for disco newcomers) and while it can act as a great reference for fact-checkers, it’s also an entertaining read that spares little detail of the complicated drug-and-sex lives of these people. This was an era of radical social change and these folks (and this music) were right at the forefront of those changes. The first chapter of Love Saves The Day is available to read in full on Lawrence’s website, and it focuses on David Mancuso, the man whose Loft apartment-cum-dance-space gave birth to disco culture and who, to this day, remains the beating heart of “real” disco. It also makes clear the connection between hippie culture of the 60s and the emerging gay/black/female-centeric dance culture of the 70s:
When it came to public venues Mancuso’s preferred to go to the Electric Circus, which opened in June 1967, and the Fillmore East, which opened in the spring of 1968. Both of these psychedelic haunts were situated in the East Village — the Electric Circus was located in an old Polish workingman’s club on St. Mark’s Place, the Fillmore East, in the words of the New York Times, on “freaky Second Avenue” — and both hosted live entertainment 1. “I went to the Electric Circus at least once a month,” says Mancuso. “Everybody was having fun and they had good sound in there. It was very mixed, very integrated, very intense, very free, very positive.” The Fillmore East showcased some of his favourite artists. “I heard Nina Simone perform there. I went with my friend Larry Patterson. The Fillmore East would often be noisy but that night everybody was very focused. She was wonderful.”
Mancuso didn’t just go to the Fillmore East to listen to music. “That’s where I also first heard Timothy Leary. He gave a series of lectures backed by the Joshua Light Show.” The ex-Harvard academic was already an important figure for Mancuso, who had first taken Sandoz when he was twenty and the drug was still legal. An early trip coincided with a snowstorm (“each flake was like a universe”) and ten tabs later he came across Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which argues that psychedelics can provide a shortcut to enlightenment. “The book blew me away. It became my bible and I started getting involved with him.” The young acolyte met the acid guru at his LSD (“League for Spiritual Discovery”) headquarters in the West Village, went to his Technicolor lectures and became a regular at his private parties. “People were tripping but the parties were more social than serious. There was food and music. I knew we were on a journey.”
Mancuso’s personal voyage took a vital turn in 1965 when he purchased the key to 647 Broadway, just north of Houston, for two hundred dollars.
Like Soho, NoHo (as the north of Houston area was nicknamed) had historically functioned as a manufacturing district, drawing on New York’s immigrant population as its low-wage workforce, and when industry relocated to the cheaper terrain of New Jersey and beyond New York’s artists moved in, delighted to exchange their cramped Upper East Side apartments for a range of stunningly expansive lofts. The influx triggered off a sophisticated experiment into the relationship between art, space and living that apparently excluded the likes of Utica-born Mancuso, but he quickly established himself as a key player within this creative population, intent as he was on reintroducing art back into the party. “Everyone loved my space,” he says. “There might have been a hundred people living like this so it was very new. A lot of people would just come and hang out there. There were all sorts of activities going on.”
Some of these activities were influenced by Leary. “I would organise these intimate gatherings where we would experiment with acid,” says Mancuso. “There were never more than five of us when we did this. One person would take nothing, another would take half a tab and the rest would take a whole tab. It was all very new and we took it very seriously. We used The Psychedelic Experience as our guide.” Leary also had a bearing on the decoration of the loft space. “I built a yoga shrine, which I used for yoga and tripping. In the beginning it was three feet by five feet and it eventually grew to fifteen feet by thirty feet. As you walked into the loft you were immediately drawn to this area. It was gorgeous.”
Music — which was similar to LSD inasmuch as it could function as a therapeutic potion that “de-programmes” the mind before opening up a mystical trail that culminates in spiritual transcendence — was also introduced into the equation. “Leary played music at his lectures and parties and I went in the same direction. I bought a Tandberg tape recorder so that I could play tapes. The Buddha was always positioned between my two speakers.” That was the perfect position from which to hear the homemade compilations, which drew on a diverse range of sources and were structured to complement the hallucinogenic experience. “I made these journey tapes that would last for five hours. They drew on everything from classical music to the moody blues. They would start off very peacefully and the reentry would be more about movement, more jazz-oriented. Somebody might get up and start dancing around the room at some point, although they weren’t dance sessions.”
...and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
I can’t stress enough how good this book is, and how anyone with an interest in disco, underground culture or the 70s should try and track down a copy. It features some invaluable dj playlists from specific spots and times, which act as a checklist for a whole world of great, under-valued music, but besides that, it’s just a great read. I dip in and out of it all the time, and still find amazement and amusement after many readings, so I guess it would be pretty fair to say that Love Saves The Day is my bible.