More Rhythm & Jews
By the way, the very term "Rhythm & Blues" was coined by one of the owners of Atlantic Records, Jerry Wexler, when employed as a writer for Billboard in the late '40s or early '50s. Up to that time, it had been condescendingly referred to as "race music" -- as if the white cyphers who produced such dreck as How Much is That Puppy in the Window -- #1 on the pop charts in 1953 -- didn't belong to a race.
I actually had the opportunity to meet Wexler, since he retired to Sarasota, where he became good friends with my in-laws. He and my father-in-law were very much cut from the same page, as both were hi-IQ Jewish atheists from Washington Heights who fell in love with "race music" as teens.
I wonder if there is something aside from business acumen that drew this particular generation of Jews -- many of whom were the children of first generation European immigrants -- to cosmo-American music? In his Capitalism and the Jews, Muller only gets into the cultural traits that made for entrepreneurial success, but not any traits that might have specifically contributed to a passionate musical negrophilia.
And for most of them, it was a passion, not just a business. Here, let me dig out Wexler's autobiography. Ah, here it is: To Bob & Leslie -- Warmest Regards to two dyed-in-the-wool fans of our music. The reason I bring this up is that for most of these people, I think the musical attraction was quasi-religious, even though they were generally apostates of their own faith (and often even ashamed of it).
I know that this is very much what it was like for me as a kid. When I first heard the Beatles, it was like a bolt of reality in a sea of bullshit. School made no sense to me. The Beatles made immediate, visceral sense. And I don't just mean that in any primitive way, or the subject wouldn't be worth discussing.
Interesting. Here is a description of Wexler's reaction to hearing Bing Crosby in the 1930s, while still in his teens: "He was my guru. Bing sent me into a state of voluptuous euphoria. He spoke to me.... I levitated on his melodies.... he set me thinking about the mysteries of music and love." In 1977, "when the news of Bing's death came on the car radio, I pulled over and wept."
Here's a later example of hearing a certain trumpet solo which "put me into a trance.... Time stood still." He also talks about how he and his friends became "a new cult of record collectors, relentless in the pursuit of our Grail."
Again, this was an atheist who claimed to have no interest in religion, and yet, the feelings he is describing certainly have a quasi-religious sensibility. While he says that such experiences set him thinking about "the mysteries of music and love," I don't think he got very far in that area, because these types of powerfully transcendent experiences are experiences of the transcendent.
That being the case, one must follow them back up to their source, which is the whole basis of the "mystery." In a spiritual context, "mystery" is not just the absence of knowledge but an ontologically real characteristic of O. It is a mode of knowledge, not a deficiency.
But Wexler never made the connection. Indeed, "I can't remember a time when I wasn't a doubter. Never -- not for a hot minute -- have I believed in God.... I glory in disbelief. Disbelief, at least for me, is a source of strength."
But in the very next paragraph he says, "My feelings for literature, art, movies, food, and wine are all invested with spirit. Above all, it's in my feeling for music. Music has brought me joy; it has given me a beat and a groove, and sent me down righteous roads."
Excuse me, but WTF?, if you'll pardon the French. Here is a person who has the experience, but leaves it isolated, disconnected from any higher reality. He has a word for it -- "spirit" -- but what could the word possibly mean to a materialist who glories in disbelief? Just a meaningless brain state, I suppose.
I'm no psychologist -- no, wait, I am -- but perhaps this was a factor: his idealized mother "was a great reader, a diligent student of Freud, Marx, and Lenin. She was a freethinker, a liberal [!], a woman who instigated her own liberation sixty years before the movement began." With her friends she would "drink endless cups of coffee and and argue over Lenin and Trotsky. It's a pretty good bet she was a card-carrying member of the Party."
Sounds like he was as liberated as his mother. But from what? Maybe from the promised land back to Egypt.
In the background, my beloved record collection. On the walls, some of my musical heroes. In the foreground, my knee. In between, Madonna & Child. Come to think of it, I got rhythm / I got music / I got my girl / Who could ask for anything more?