America and the Transcendental Beat: Let My People Groove
I've never actually read Mein Kampf, but I do believe that Hitler was inadvertently correct in this respect. First, we are the only explicitly Judeo-Christian nation on earth (see here for many wonderful examples). Second, as Van der Leun (can't find the link) might have said to Hitler, you just hate us because we've got the groove. And because it's such a drag to be you. But that's a separate issue.... then again, maybe not, since a famous Jew once zonged a positively zimmilar zinger.
Both of these influences have contributed to the uniqueness and the greatness of America. It is sad to me that so many American blacks wish to be called "African American" -- as if America would even be recognizably American without their influence. The other day, someone mentioned to me that he wasn't sure if he liked the genre of "southern rock."
But as a startled Gregg Allman once said in a similar context (and it's not very easy to startle someone with that much opium in their system), the adjective "southern" is wholly redundant, analogous to saying "rock-rock," since rock came out of the American south and could never have come from anyplace else on earth: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, etc., etc. The list is endless.
And of course, it came out of the south because of the proximity of its early practitioners to forms of musical expression wholly invented by American blacks: jazz, blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues. Elvis never thought he was doing anything new. Rather, he was simply attempting to copy some of his musical heroes, most of whom were black (he also had some white musical heroes, such as Dean Martin, which accounts for his later affinity for grooveless schlock).
Now, what do blacks and Jews have in common, culturally? Yes, they are the most persecuted peoples in history. That might come up later. We're not talking about that for the moment. What else?
Well, I can only speak as an outsider, but the Jewish wedding I attended last Saturday night once again reminded me that Jews have their own whacked-out version of the groove, and that it is as earthy and over-the-top as any black gospel performance before an audience of fervent worshipers, or by some R & B combo playing at 2:00AM before a crazed audience on the "chitlin' circuit" in 1962.
Let me put it this way: I am very white. But I probably didn't realize the extent of my whiteness until I married into a Jewish family. Interestingly, being that they are largely secular Jews, they have no idea just how Jewish, which is to say ethnic, which is to say, non-white, they are. But for me, it has been an ongoing culture shock. (By the way, when I say "white," "non-white," and even "black," I assume you realize that I'm not talking about race, much less, "genetics.")
As I was watching the celebrants dancing with insane abandon to the bone-jarring rhythm of hava nagila -- which must have gone on for half an hour -- one thought came to mind: the idea of my parents ever engaging in such a frenetic celebration devoid of cerebration is literally inconceivable. Way, way too white.
But to see the men of all generations holding hands in a circle while kicking and jumping to the pounding beat -- true, they had the grace of a sleep-deprived and disinhibited Jerry Lewis lurching around the set at around hour 23 of the telethon -- but that's not the point. It was the complete absence of self-consciousness combined with the complete and joyous bypassing of the mind and immersion in the senses.
As we touched on yesterday, there has always been a certain life- and body-denying strain in Christianity. While it's not necessarily intrinsic, you have to admit it's there, a sort of distrust, sometimes verging on disgust, toward the human body and toward sensual pleasure in general. I constantly encounter this attitude among saints and mystics that I otherwise revere. In fact, it is also often present in Eastern religions as well -- is if physical pleasure is in the realm of "maya," and is to be shunned and transcended.
It is interesting to me that so many of the early and middle-period jazz greats who weren't black were Jewish: Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Andre Preven, Shelly Manne, Buddy Rich, and many others -- not to mention many of the great songwriters whose music became the basis for jazz improvisation, e.g., the Gershwin brothers, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lerner & Loewe, Rodgers & Hart, etc. The greatest jazz label, Blue Note records, was founded in 1939 by a couple of jazz-loving European Jews, Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, while the greatest R & B and soul label, Atlantic, was co-founded by Jerry Wexler. And I am reminded of the fact that Louis Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck in honor of the Jewish family that often took care of him as a child, even giving him the money to buy his first trumpet.
America: good constitution, easy to dance to.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get too far into this post, and now it's time for work. I'll just have to leave you with an obscure Petey-ism from the Cosmobliteration section of the book. If it means what I think it means, then you could say that gospel music (and its derivatives) really puts the body back into the body of Christ.
Do the monkey bone, do the shingaling, get your slack back & take a trip, slip, lose your grip, & turn a backover flip and say: not the god of the philosophers, not the god of the scholars!