Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 6, 2005

Louis Prima

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on December 6, 2005

Although the name Louis Prima will draw a blank nowadays, he was one of America’s most popular musicians from the 1930s through the early 1960s. Last night I watched a fine documentary on his life titled “The Wildest” that demonstrates the way that popular music can meld together different styles of different nationalities. Like Bob Wills who blended country music and swing, Prima fused various jazz styles throughout his career with the Italian songs that he heard as a child growing up in New Orleans.

The Primas left Sicily at the turn of the century and ended up in Buenos Aires, a primary port of call for economic refugees from Europe, including Jews. Shortly after arriving, the Primas decided that their fortunes would be better served in the USA and booked passage to New Orleans, another major port of call.

Like Elvis Presley, who sopped up Black gospel and blues influences in Memphis, the young Louis Prima would stick his head through the doors of Black churches on Sundays, to be knocked out by what he heard. When his mother wasn’t singing Italian songs around the dinner table, she was performing at local minstrel shows. Among the eye-opening segments of the film is a huge crowd, including many whites, paying homage to the King of the Zulus, an honorary figurehead of the Mardi Gras. New Orleans, like Memphis, was a city made for cultural cross-fertilization.

Although the documentary does not make note of this, Prima’s debt to Louis Armstrong is enormous both in his trumpet playing and his singing. Like Jack Teagarden, and other white jazz musicians rooted in the New Orleans style, Prima learned his phrasing from Armstrong, the recognized master.

In the 1930s, Prima adapted to changing jazz idioms. He had a talent for keeping up with major trends in the music business and could even be seen leading people doing the Twist in 1974 (four years before his death of a brain tumor in 1978). Prima composed “Sing, Sing, Sing”, a swing anthem made popular by Benny Goodman. When big bands were no longer economically feasible, Prima changed gears and launched a small group specializing in what is known as the “jump” style. Other practitioners included Louis Jordan and his Tympani Five and Lionel Hampton. Jump music was one of the major influences on early rock-and-roll, as evidenced by Bill Haley and his Comets. This is a sound that relies heavily on aggressive saxophone solos, a heavy drum beat and electric guitar. Prima’s longtime saxophone player was Sam Butera, who can be heard in a sizzling hot performance of “Night Train” in the documentary.

Prima’s band included Keely Smith, a great vocalist of Irish and Cherokee origin who is still performing today. The two complemented each other on stage to great comic effect. As he jitterbugged around the stage with a broad grin on his face, she stood by motionlessly with a deadpan expression. To the end of his career, Prima was an old-time entertainer who wasn’t happy unless his audience was happy. This put him in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie. As jazz has evolved into America’s classical music, such antic-driven performers have fallen by the wayside.

As I sat watching this fine documentary, I could not help feeling remorse about what has happened to New Orleans. The sort of racial gumbo that made a Louis Prima possible is probably gone forever.

“The ghosts race towards the light, you can almost hear the heavy breathing spirits, all determined to get somewhere. New Orleans, unlike a lot of those places you go back to and that don’t have the magic anymore, still has got it. Night can swallow you up, yet none of it touches you. Around any corner, there’s a promise of something daring and ideal and things are just getting going. There’s something obscenely joyful behind every door, either that or somebody crying with their head in their hands. A lazy rhythm looms in the dreamy air and the atmosphere pulsates with bygone duels, past-life romance, comrades requesting comrades to aid them in some way. You can’t see it, but you know it’s here. Somebody is always sinking. Everyone seems to be from some very old Southern families. Either that or a foreigner. I like the way it is.”

Bob Dylan, “Chronicles, part one”

Louis Prima website: http://www.louisprima.com/

December 5, 2005

Lexus recycles Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:39 am

I guess that everybody is aware of how big corporations appropriate underground or avant-garde culture to hype new products. The Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” is used by Anheiser Busch and AT& T, while William S. Burroughs once showed up in a Nike commercial. Before Tom Frank became the resident expert on red state America, he used to write about this phenomenon in the pages of Baffler. The articles were collected in the aptly named “Commodify Your Dissent”.

After watching a Lexus commercial on TV lately, it became obvious to me that the ad agency was borrowing from Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs.

For a comparison with Glass’s music, play this dance from “Einstein on the Beach”, a minimalist performance piece choreographed by Lucinda Childs. Her style has been described as follows: “Childs developed her own special style which aimed neither to make shock waves, nor set trends. Her trademark has always been a sort of choreo-mathematics, repetitive movement sequences that are arranged in intricate geometrical patterns, that if observed overhead would give a kaleidoscopic effect.”

Debunking Bob Woodward

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:37 am
(Swans – December 5, 2005) Bob Woodward was the first reporter to be informed that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. While keeping that a secret, he tried to minimize the importance of Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation on television and in the pages of the Washington Post. This led many media analysts to wonder why one of America’s premier investigative journalists would violate the principles that made him so famous. As this article will try to point out, Woodward was never the fearless muckraker popularized by Robert Redford’s portrayal in All the President’s Men. Moreover, the Washington Post was exactly the kind of paper that would recruit and promote somebody so willing to violate journalist ethics in the pursuit of advancing his own career and the larger goals of American foreign policy.

The story starts with Eugene Meyer who bought the paper in 1933 and turned it into a family fiefdom just as the Sulzbergers, another German-American Jewish family, had made the New York Times its own. Meyer was a financier who served in high government posts from WWI through the New Deal under both Democratic and Republican administrations — just the sort of background that one would expect in a publisher of a major American daily.
During the 1930s, the children of ruling class families often veered to the left as a response to the social misery that stared them in the face and out of sympathy with the new radical movement that included many of the brightest members of their generation. Katherine Meyer was no exception to this rule. As a Vassar student, she took a bus to Albany with other students to protest a loyalty oath. In 1936, she wrote an article for a student newspaper complaining that Hollywood lacked the guts to make a “genuine Left wing” film. This was prompted by moves to censor a film based on Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, a cautionary tale about the rise of American fascism. As a board member of the American Student Union, she took part in peace demonstrations, struggles to abolish ROTC on campus, efforts to promote desegregation, and fundraising for the Spanish Republic.
In 1940, Katherine married Philip Graham, a brilliant graduate of the Harvard Law School who would work in the Lend-Lease Administration and then enlist in the army where he worked in intelligence.
After the war, Philip Graham took a job as Eugene Meyer’s assistant at the Washington Post where he would be groomed as his eventual successor. Katherine stayed in the background, serving as hostess at parties or salons to which Washington’s top politicians and power brokers were invited.
With their growing wealth and political clout, Philip and Katherine Graham began to identify more and more with the Democratic Party elites, who were using the political capital acquired through the defeat of fascism against the newly discovered Communist “threat.” Before long, the Washington Post would become a pillar of the Cold War. Phil Graham took to this new crusade with great relish, believing that the press should serve as a handmaiden to the anti-Communist cause.
Among the Grahams’s guests at social functions were people like Frank Wisner, an OSS veteran who had become the director of Office of Policy Coordination in 1948, the covert operations arm of the CIA. Wisner had begun to recruit foreign students and infiltrate trade unions with an eye to defeating the reds. Philip Graham helped Wisner devise a plan called Operation Mockingbird that would recruit journalists to the cause.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy31.html

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