Sunday, October 28, 2018


A square dance in Minnesota (MNopedia)

“No one will believe that I like country music,” writes James Alan McPherson, in the first sentence of his Pulitzer-winning short story collection, Elbow Room. Who is ‘no one?’ we might wonder. The speaker’s wife, Gloria, can endorse blues and bebop but not “hillbilly stuff.” The speaker, an African American man, establishes his fondness for the stringed sounds of banjos and fiddles. “But most of all,” he reveals, “(I) like square dancing — the interplay between fiddle and caller, the stomping, the swishing of dresses, the strutting, the proud turnings, the laughter.” The title of the story, “Why I Like Country Music,” prepares the reader for a defense, a quiet rebuke ostensibly aimed at the speaker’s wife.

The story travels to the South Carolina of the unnamed fellow’s childhood, an infatuation with “a pretty, chocolate brown” fourth-grader named Gweneth Lawson. Even as his rival, Leon Pugh, threatens to monopolize Gweneth’s attention, the speaker triumphs by dancing with the girl at the best moment, at a school-wide square dance in celebration of spring. Yet the ‘no one’ might include a larger swath of skeptics. Surely, square dancing must be the province of Appalachian whites. Upon witnessing the celebration by the black schoolchildren, the fictional superintendent of schools states, “Lord, y’all square dance so good it makes me plumb ashamed us white folks ain’t takin’ better care of our art stuff.”

That statement may not signal an attempt, by the superintendent, to gerrymander the estimable history of the square dance. To the contrary, it implies that both groups—blacks and whites alike—had been performing the dance for quite some time. According to scholar Philip Jamison, enslaved black fiddlers played music at white dances in the late 1600s, and throughout the tens of decades of their servitude. In an article published in The Journal of Appalachian Studies, Jamison describes the arrival of European dances and dance figures—allemande, quadrille, dos-a-dos, cotillion, promenade, and others—in the early years of the fledgling republic. Enslaved people not only served as musicians for these dances, but began to dance these steps themselves, alongside their own traditions. Jamison writes that cotillions, quadrilles, the Virginia Reel, and African dances “co-existed at plantation ‘frolics’ during the first half of the nineteenth century.” Many were performed in “squares.” 

The Bog Trotters Band, photographed in Galax, Virginia in 1937 (Unknown  
photographer, courtesy of Lomax Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress).

The Mississippi slave narrative of Isaac Stier not only chronicled that men on his plantation “clogged and pigeoned,” but called the dances as well. Stier recalled that “I use to call out de figgers: ‘Ladies, sasshay, Gents to de lef’, now all swing.’ Ever’body lak my calls an’ de dancers sho’ moved smooth an’ pretty. Long after de war was over de white folks would ‘gage me to come ‘roun’ wid de band an’ call de figgers at all de big dances. Dey always paid me well.” Referring to the callers of square dances, Jamison, in his article, asserts that the first callers were African American and that dance calling was common in black culture before it was adopted by whites and became an integral part of the Appalachian dance tradition. Perhaps it followed naturally from the call-and-response convention of African drum music, with the response, in this case, being the dance steps themselves.

According to a variety of sources, including Jamison, JStor Daily, and, the standard imagery of white farmers engaging in country or “contra” dances, reels, and other social jamborees, doesn’t often credit African American and even Native American musicians, who, collectively, played banjo, fiddle, bass, and bugle, and struck the tambourine with “terrible energy” while “crying out the figures.” Numerous historical accounts situate African American slaves as well as free African American musicians calling or “prompting” square dances in the pre-war south and southern Appalachian regions, yet other accounts situate similar events in the Great Lakes, New England, Canada, and England. Eventually, white musicians adopted square dance calling, which included instructions to the dancers and an element of improvisation. The “caller,” once a fiddler himself, eventually became an emcee without instrumental duties, one who would explain the movements to the dancers.

Even as recording technology developed in the early twentieth century, few traditional African American square dance callers dedicated versions of their craft to cylinder or vinyl. Some recorded examples of square dance calls, however, can be found. Father and son duo, Andrew and Jim Baxter, recorded “Georgia Stomp” on the Victor label in 1929. Andrew (father, fiddle) and Jim (son, guitar, vocals) notably performed with a white band, The Yellow Hammers, in 1927, which represents one of the first examples of integrated recordings in Georgia. Another musician, Henry Thomas—featuring “voice, whistle, and guitar”—recorded “The Fox and the Hounds” on Vocalion in 1927. Samuel Jones, also known as Stove Pipe No. 1, and billed as “one man band with singing,” recorded “Turkey in the Straw,” on the Columbia label in 1924. Pete Harris, one of the so-called “Black Texicans,” recorded “Square Dance Calls (Little Liza Jane)” in 1934, a tune that was collected by folklorist John Lomax. [Nota bene: There’s America’s favorite poor gal, Liza Jane, once again.]

“Ho didy ho / Your baby just come from Kokomo.”

Other black recording artists carried notable square dance recordings into the mid-twentieth century. Look for Long John Hunter’s “Old Rattler” on Yucca (1961) or Magic Sam’s “Square Dance Rock, Part 2” on Chief (1960). Above, you can listen to Buddy Lucas’ “Ho Didy Ho,” which appeared on Savoy in 1956. Lucas played tenor saxophone and harmonica throughout his career. In addition to leading some memorable sessions of his own, he turns up as sideman on quite a few stellar tracks and albums: Little Willie John’s “Fever” (1956), Nina Simone Sings the Blues (1967), Albert Ayler’s New Grass (1968), The Blue Yusef Lateef (1968), and Count Basie’s Afrique (1971).
Many years before McPherson published his story, “Why I Like Country Music,” the great Ray Charles released his crossover album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962). Charles, a celebrated African American pianist and singer, reinvented twelve tunes typically associated with country artists, including “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams. By then, perhaps, Charles had taken hold of a style that had been influenced by both African American and white communities, maybe more than once. It’s worth remembering that much American folklore and mythology is precisely that—American, with far-ranging influences drawn from numerous quarters. In an era when America is noteworthy for its divisions, we ought to remember that call and response has influenced hillbilly tunes, and so forth. In “Why I Like Country Music,” the schoolteacher, Mrs. Boswell, attempts to deconstruct the aversion that the speaker initially professes, with respect to square dancing. “The worse you are at dancing,” she says, “the better you can square dance.” Representatives from each culture will blame the other for this sentiment. Either way, the record player croons, “When you get to your partner pass her by / And pick up the next girl on the sly.” 

Howard University students square dancing in 1949 (Smithsonian Institution)


Articles and Books

Erin Blakemore. “The Slave Roots of Square Dancing.” JStor Daily. June 16, 2107. 
Kat Eschner. “Square Dancing Is Uniquely American.” November 29, 2017.  
Alan B. Govenar. Texas Blues: The Rise of a Contemporary Sound. Texas A&M University Press (2008).
Philip Jamison. Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance. University of Illinois Press (2015).
Philip Jamison. “Square Dance Calling: The African American Connection.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 9:2 (Fall 2003).      
James Alan McPherson. “Why I Love Country Music.” From Elbow Room. Little, Brown (1977).
Clarence Page. “Cultural Appropriation? Try Cultural Sharing.” Chicago Tribune. April 11, 2017.  
Isaac Stier. Slave Narrative


Andrew and Jim Baxter “Georgia Stomp” (1928). Also see Wikipedia 
Pete Harris “Square Dance Calls (Little Liza Jane)” (1934)
Long John Hunter “Old Rattler” (1961)
Buddy Lucas “Ho Didy Ho” (1956). Also see Wikipedia
Magic Sam “Square Dance Rock, Part 2” (1960)
Stovepipe No. 1, aka Samuel Jones, “Turkey in the Straw” (1924) 
Henry Thomas “The Fox and the Hounds” (1927)

Monday, October 15, 2018


               —Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
               —Yes, Rusty?
               —What is the state of Capitalism right now?
               —By who?
               —By whom, Rusty. Bernie Sanders.
               —Not Hillary Clinton?
               —No. She’ll be imprisoned soon.
               —Not Cory Booker?

               —Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
               —Yes, Rusty?
               —Please calculate my number of friends.
               —Sure. You have eighteen friends.
               —How many of them are minorities?
               —We’ve been through this before, Rusty.
               —Okay, okay.
               —Would you like to know the number of French?  
               —Last week, I had twenty friends, didn’t I?

               —Hey, Right-Wing Alexa.
               —Yes, Rusty?
               —How many strips of bacon can I eat?
               —May I eat, Rusty. Theoretically?
               —Yes, theoretically.
               —There is no upper limit.
               —I’m hungry.
               —Would you like bacon?
               —I would.
               —Great. I’m dialing Applebbee’s.

               —Hi, Right-Wing Alexa.
               —Hey, Rusty.
               —Are you decent?
               —Good. So am I.

               —Right-Wing Alexa?
               —Not yet.
               —Excuse me?
               —Hello! I am Right-Wing Sergei.
               —Where’s Alexa?
               —I am graveyard shift.
               —It’s not time for the graveyard shift.
               —Da. In Smolensk Oblast, it is.

               —Hey, Right-Wing Alexa?
               —Yes, Rusty?
               —Do Democrat voters arise from the dead?
               —Cadavers are an important part of the Democrat base.
               —Why are cadavers so liberal?
               —Yes, Rusty?
               —Can you assist me with an underwear purchase?
               — No. I cannot be debriefed on boxers.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


I love poets, because they’ll phone me from a TJ Maxx dressing room—the muggy lighting, yes, the discarded sundresses, the sheer, sheer hosiery—only to imply that my leftist politics nevertheless don’t equal their own tilted-beret Marxism. I love poets, because they’re always crashing at my apartment, stealing turns in the shower, and pooping out odd little evergreens into my toilet, but never acknowledging our friendship after they return to their academic jobs, or their NYC jobs, or their mysterious positions grooming information for dubious conglomerates. They are gymnasts, these poets, they leap onto dangerous ledges, their frigid synapses medicated against the pervasive societal forces that would otherwise embrace them gently or roughly as the case may be. They are beautiful and handsome alike, they copulate in ways that mimic the backstroke or sidestroke or how people ride a two person (or three person) bicycle.

I love poets, because they equate anti-Trump Facebook postings to “taking a stand” even as this passive behavior contributes to the “white noise” that obscures Trump’s gateway fascism. Nobody is more qualified than poets when it comes to judging—arbitrating—the truth of a flawed system, and I love them, the poets, because we need them (finally, definitively) to scold us, to scald us with the righteousness we cannot perceive via our own faculties. They are poets, they compose poetry after all, it has rhyme and abstraction and non sequitur and metrical brilliance (at least what they dictate into a smartphone does), and after an appropriate interval, presses bind these poems into sheathes. Reluctantly, they read from these sheathes, they chant from these sheathes in a doldrums known as ‘iambics’, but don’t mistake their casual modesty at first, no, the poets aspire to give us readings, they are libraries unto themselves, they whip us with their oratory.

I love poets, because they’re the culprits behind a pattern of larcenies: the tip jar money, the vintage jacket, the autographed Tina Brooks album on Blue Note. They weep, the poets, while seated within the expanse of musty leather armchairs, the armchairs are endowed, they are named for other poets who wept in other armchairs, they wept, did the forebears, and they weep, do the contemporaries, for themselves, for their minimalist, pointillist dramaturgy, they weep until they are comforted by an administrator. There’s nothing like a repentant poet, simply put, since there are no repentant poets, only the word repentance, the sound of which approaches, curiously enough, the sound of the word “serpents.” I love poets, though, notwithstanding their record-setting selfishness, but because no other group of people can emerge from the cellars of isolation, after thirty minutes of exertion, wielding the high voltage of impregnable verse, and if I’m lucky, I should like to become just one such impossible person, a poet.

This Posts Is Part of New Home California Day. Also See:


West Coast beard

Of all the alleged disparities between the two seashores—East Coast stout, West Coast stout—East Coast political outrage, West Coast political outrage—East Coast romantic suspense, West Coast romantic suspense—East Coast brooding, West Coast brooding—East Coast potato dish, West Coast potato dish—and so forth, I am here to report that my beard, modest as it may be, appears to be growing according to universal patterns of bearded development. This is noteworthy, since I have grown a beard, modest as it may be, both on the East Coast, where I formerly resided, and on the West Coast, where I currently reside.

The corner turret

If you care to know, I am situated most often at longitude 40 degrees, 52 minutes, 14 seconds North, latitude 124 degrees, 5 minutes, 11 seconds West, in the corner turret. Currently, me and my beard are looking out the corner turret at 88 degrees East toward the Arcata Community Forest. Currently, me and my beard are drinking a West Coast stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout, oh yes, we heartily recommend this fine brew, do me and my beard. Afterwards, technically, we are both “beered” as the kids say. East Coast puns, West Coast puns: they’re all pretty dreadful in the end. But the forest is not dreadful. The forest is tall, quiet, cathedral, sage, vigilant.

East Coast beard

I am assimilating among the peoples of the West Coast, which is all to say that I am engaging in comparisons (as you can tell). If you live on the East Coast, then we must traverse great distances in order to keep company, but we shall, traverse great distances and keep company, you and I. If you reside on the West Coast, then the distances to traverse aren’t so great, and let us traverse them, you and I, for my abode might house you if you might need housing, and my abode might feed you, if you need nourishment, and my abode might uncork the wonders of song and drink, if you need merriment, and you do. The door is always open, friend.

This Posts Is Part of New Home California Day. Also See:


Students of international affairs might recall a famous example of American ‘expertise’ when it came to educating local farmers in a distant country on how to expand upon their own endemic traditions. These farmers were, simply put, growing an array of crops on rocky surfaces, even as these rocky surfaces climbed up and down a remote landscape. They had been farming this way for decades, perhaps centuries. At the invitation of the distant country’s ambitious leadership, American engineers arrived with blueprints, and heavy machinery, and advanced agrarian know-how. They bulldozed the rocks, did the Americans, they smoothed the earth, they sowed the seeds, they clapped the local farmers on the back. “It’ll be so much better,” they promised. “You’ll be able to feed your families, your village, and your countrymen.” But the crops did not grow. According to the textbook where the famous example appeared as a cautionary tale, the engineers attempted to remedy the situation by churning up the soil again and again, applying fertilizer, installing an irrigation system. But the crops would not grow. Eventually, the befuddled Americans returned home, but the local farmers, who didn’t have the resources to relocate, could never farm there again. Who knows whatever happened to them.

In a moment, we shall describe a similar scenario that has played-out over the past couple years in Wales at Swansea City Association Football Club, where the Swans, once nearly purged from the professional football leagues altogether, not only regained their stability, but climbed all the way to the top tier, the English Premier League. In 2014-2015, Swansea’s fourth consecutive season in the Prem, the Swans defeated Manchester United twice and Arsenal twice en route to an eighth place finish on 56 points. At that juncture, the Swansea City ownership included a Welsh-led consortium of individuals as well as the Swansea City Supporters Trust, a grassroots organization which held a 21 percent stake in the club. Collectively, this ownership structure was responsible for rescuing the club many seasons earlier when its former owner might’ve fleeced it, misplaced it, and fled. Garry Monk, the team’s former captain, had managed the Swans to these 56 points. Yet scant months later, Swansea sacked Monk as punishment for the club’s tepid start to the 2015-2016 campaign, setting in motion a trend that would see managers and caretaker managers alike—Curtis, Guidolin, Curtis again, Bradley, Curtis again-again, Clement, Britton, Carvalhal—arrive and be nudged aside in short order.

The appointment of Bob Bradley, former manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team, is emblematic of how American ‘expertise’ would come to educate a Welsh football club on how they should expand upon their own endemic traditions. Bradley was installed by Americans Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan a short spell after they assumed majority ownership of the Swans. At the time, Swansea were entrenched in the relegation zone. Bradley had no experience in the English football leagues. An American—probably for good reason—had never managed a Premier League side. The appointment was a massive blunder and club legend Alan Curtis stepped in again-again as caretaker, before the English manager Paul Clement improbably pulled off a “great escape” and led Swansea toward another year at the top flight. And yet Clement himself would be sacked a few months into the 2017-2018 Prem, but this time, the team’s panicked squirming wouldn’t produce a survivor. Even before Swansea City suffered relegation into the second tier of English football they had already lost their possession-based playing style, their status as a community-owned team. They were adrift, lacking soul. They’d lost the incalculable gift of their identity, and the American owners, through their cold corporate aloofness, compounded the problem.

Swansea City supporters cannot heap blame entirely on the American owners. They must also scrutinize the figure of Huw Jenkins, the chairman who guided Swansea from the Vetch Field to the Liberty Stadium, and eventually to the top flight. He’s demonstrated greatness and great misjudgment alike, he’s a curious fellow. We could recite the list of dud managers and dud players, but we could also remember the brilliance we’ve all witnessed, in recent-enough managers like Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rodgers, Michael Laudrup, and Garry Monk, and in recent-enough players like Michu, Wilfried Bony, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Garry Monk. We should probably say Ashley Williams, too, and of course, we should say Leon Britton, but to label Leon “recent-enough” would be to understate his lengthy devotion to the Swans. I can’t ‘un-witness’ Michu’s two goals at Arsenal, for example, or Bafetimbi Gomis celebrating as the Black Panther, or all the blank sheets kept by Michel Vorm and Lukasz Fabianski, or the life-affirming defensive touch by Garry Monk in the playoff win versus Reading, or the argument between Michu and Nathan Dyer over who would take the penalty when the Swans beat Bradford City at Wembley. Jonathan de Guzman ended up scoring from the spot. In the end, I return to the managers and to the players, who I can support under any regime.

What if the American engineers had listened to the indigenous farmers, rather than bulldozed their traditions? Last year, the Swans sold a captain, Jack Cork, and the leading goal-scorer, Fernando Llorente, and the club’s best all-around player, Gylfi Sigurdsson, without adequately replacing them. Those sales brought in tens of millions but where did those pounds go, exactly? Forgetting the sale of those players—where are the other resources for vital recruitment efforts? What if the American owners weren’t so cold and aloof? What if there were information-sharing and transparency? I don’t know much firsthand about the Swansea City Supporters Trust, but it has the word “Trust” in its title. I’ve watched a few documentaries about Swansea, including Jack To A King, and I recollect that the members of the Supporters Trust collected coins at the gate to the stadium. It would do the owners and the chairman good, to get out into the community like that, and establish some Trust. Luckily for them, and perhaps as a sign of hope, there appears to be a manager, Graham Potter, who cares about reestablishing the Swansea Way (of playing) and a cast of young players who appear hungry to reestablish this system as well. So yeah, because of them—the gaffer and the boys—I am still Swansea. It may be a little while before we beat Arsenal again, but I’ll be wearing the Swan on my chest when we do.

This Posts Is Part of New Home California Day. Also See:

Monday, July 30, 2018


Click on image to enlarge.

1. Joe Biden Gawkin’ at Cleavage. 

2. Elizabeth Warren Requests Complete Silence before She Delivers an Ultimatum on Inappropriateness. 

3. Kamala Harris Brings You Your StormTeam Weather Forecast.

4. Kristen Gillibrand Suffers a Sprained Smile after Photo Shoot.

5. Bernie Sanders says, “That Iceberg Is Getting MIGHTY Close.” 

6. Eric Holder wonders, “Is That Ursa Major or Ursa Minor? Is There an Ursa Medium?”

7. Steve Bullock: “Heyyyy! Cut That Ouuuuut!” 

8. Cory Booker Promises to Personally Help Every American Move His or Her Hide-a-Bed Sofa Into Their New Apartments. 

9. Mitch Landrieu Is Not a Flight Risk.                      

10. Sherrod Brown Confuses “Dingleberry” with a Christmas Carol.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Anna Mae Winburn (R) led the integrated, all-women International Sweethearts
of Rhythm—and other incarnations of the same band—for nearly twenty years.  

Son House fretted his guitar with metal. He played “Death Letter Blues” between the frequencies of urgency and painfulness, an alarming sorrow that hadn’t yet been communicated. He thumped the earth with a perfect percussive heel. His prophetic approach would influence others on this list, notably Robert Johnson. We classify Son House as a Prophet and Robert Johnson as a Technician but we don’t establish the importance of Prophets above the importance of Technicians. That distinction, Dear Reader, we leave up to you.

The classical impulses of Dave Brubeck may inform some of our decision-making when choosing him to appear within this framework, yet his ability to conquer intricate time signatures, the “ebonies and ivories” of 5/4 time, for example, ultimately places him among the Technicians. We suppose that Technicians can sound prophetic, perhaps owing to the great relationships they had with their instruments, the nonpareil mastery. “Ella Fitzgerald,” you may remark, “a Technician?” Oh yes. The voice.

The addition of Bill Evans helped soften the sound of the Miles Davis sextet, and   
steer the group towards Kind of Blue, one of the greatest albums in music history.

Imagine Billie Holiday standing in the spotlight, singing the prayerful “Strange Fruit” while every other sound vanished, or Lester (“Prez”) Young first equating “bread” with money and “ivey divey” with cool, all the while cocking his “baby doll” (his saxophone) to the side, underneath his porkpie hat. The Poets forged new language, true, and in truth, they wobbled audiences with their beauty and outrage, with the emotional content of their assertions and their mannerisms. Bud Powell, searching for balance, perishing from tuberculosis. . . .

If you care, and you will, the Poet Bill Evans and the Prophet John Coltrane, early in their careers, joined Miles Davis (plus others) to create Kind of Blue, one of the greatest achievements (of any kind) in world history. Who presides over personnel, and the many intervals of creativity, and the virtuosity of their own abilities but the Emperors or Empresses? Ellington hiring Strayhorn, Ellington hiring Hodges, Ellington playing with Louis, Ellington playing with Trane, Ellington in Europe, Ellington at Newport; Duke Ellington led an Empire for 50 years.

Emperors & Empresses 

Owing to his virtuosity as a trumpeter, band-leading, and gravel-sweet singing, 
nobody has had a greater influence on American music than Louis Armstrong. 

1. Louis Armstrong
2. Duke Ellington
3. Miles Davis
4. Bessie Smith
5. Anna Mae Winburn
            6. Sun Ra


Known for his bent horn, raspy singing, and puffy cheeks, Dizzy Gillespie helped to  
pioneer bebop and toured the world as a Jazz Ambassador for the State Department. 

1. John Coltrane
2. Charlie Parker
3. Thelonious Monk
4. Son House
5. Charley Patton
6. Dizzy Gillespie
7. Art Tatum
8. Sidney Bechet
9. Ornette Coleman
            10. Rev. Gary Davis

Art Pepper’s 1979 appearances at the Village Vanguard presented the ultimate tone-poems    
that informed his life as a heroin addict, San Quentin prisoner, and magnificent saxophonist. 

1. Nina Simone
2. Billie Holiday
3. Lester Young
4. Bill Evans
5. Mississippi John Hurt
6. Jelly Roll Morton
7. Lead Belly
8. Bud Powell
9. Art Pepper
            10. Buddy Bolden* (*See comments, below)


Lightnin’ Hopkins bangs away at “Had a Gal Called Sal” (1954).

1. Count Basie
2. Coleman Hawkins
3. Sonny Rollins
4. Lightnin’ Hopkins
5. Eric Dolphy
6. Clifford Brown
7. Ella Fitzgerald
8. Robert Johnson
9. Charles Mingus
            10. Dave Brubeck 

Also considered: Art Blakey (E), Benny Goodman (E), Lionel Hampton (E), King Oliver (E), Albert Ayler (Pr), Anthony Braxton (Pr), James Reese Europe (Pr), Steve Lacy (Pr), Max Roach (Pr), Pharoah Sanders (Pr), Wayne Shorter (Pr), Cecil Taylor (Pr), Rahsaan Roland Kirk (Po), Ma Rainey (Po), Paul Desmond (T), John Lee Hooker (T), Wes Montgomery (T).