Letters Of Note: 6/6/2016

Birthday Power Quartet Of The Day:

Jeremy Gara(1978, Arcade Fire) on drums, Tom Araya(1961, Slayer) on bass guitar and vocals, and Steve Vai(1960, various spankings and guitar stunts) and Clarence White(1944, mainly The Byrds but tons of important studio work) on guitar.

Honestly, Araya might not be up for this, and Gara might not be able to keep up, but I’m going to have them play “Country Boy” by Heads Hands and Feet. If you took Steve Vai’s virtuosity and add Clarence White’s clean picking and b-bender propensities, you’d get Albert Lee. And, actually, if you offered the band the same amount of drugs that the band in this video were on, Gara might have to keep up just to burn off that German amphetamine energy, and Araya will find it a tad more ammissible:



Let’s All Die In 2016: Muhammad Ali

There’s a few ways you could talk about Muhammad Ali in a music blog and remain germane, but after all the tributes I’ve read this weekend, addressing his ties to “hip hop” are the most important. Eldridge Cleaver, in his “Lazarus, Come Forth” portion of Soul On Ice, and the musings of Nelson George and other writers about hip hop’s history, paint a picture of race relations and racial self-identity that separate the birth of Muhammad Ali from the chrysalis of Cassius Clay and the birth of hip hop. Too many of the essays I read tried to merge the two.

Their are lots of geographical plot points for hip hop’s influence, but its birth was undoubtedly in The Bronx, in discos that shared, like the scofflaw ares were jazz was born in New Orleans, a racial harmony. Hip hop would certainly become a media outlet for under-served African-Americans, but those early DJ’s shouting out people in the clubs were frequented by white people and black people alike. Yes, Debbie Harry is a horrible rapper, but she was honestly rapping in Blondie’s “Rapture”. She didn’t just pull Fab Five Freddie’s name out of a magazine; they hung out. The white producers, like Rick Rubin, were not taking advantage of the black performers but were championing them and their musical ideas, giving musicians the freedom to make music that no other A&R people, including black A&R people, would risk. Racial harmony was important to the birth of hip hop.

There wasn’t much in the way of racial harmony for Cassius Clay, and the birth of Muhammad Ali wasn’t an attempt at being more harmonious, instead taking the absolute value of the inherent racism of the Antebellum ideas of having a a black boxer fight for white men and redirecting it towards whites. Ali would denounce The Nation Of Islam in 1975, but in 1964, after his famous fight with Sonny Liston, Ali embraced The Nation’s polarizing ideas so much to the point that before he was Muhammad Ali he was briefly calling himself “Cassius X”. Someone in your Twitter feed this weekend either said or retweeted someone that said that Ali was a Muslim racist. It’s partly true. Ali shouldn’t be demonized for it, though, and not just because he changed his ways later in life. Muhammad Ali’s “racism” didn’t really manifest in the misogyny and anti-Semitism of The Nation Of Islam. Ali wasn’t born in the melting pot of New York, like hip hop was; he was from Louisville, Kentucky, a place where people are still plenty racist and were overtly so in 1964. His demands for being treated like a human were still radical enough then, but his direct confrontations with white people about being white made him dangerous. Be sure to comment on those tweets with one word: “good.” 1964 sure could have used more outspoken African-Americans in 1964.


Also Dead: Elvis Presley

Late in his life, Elvis became friendly with Muhammad Ali. His ties to Vegas got themelvis_presley_muhammed_ali_robe introduced, but they remained friendly for years. Not too much is known about their friendship; Ali was outspoken about keeping Elvis’ privacy. Elvis did make Ali a custom robe, not too gaudy, with “PEOPLE’S CHOICE” on the back, a necessary slogan after Ali lost his title for refusing military service. It’s an odd pairing, those two; I can’t imagine Ali was doing much drugs or white women then, and, by the look of his weight in this picture, Elvis was doing enough for the two of them combined. Ali had said of Elvis, “I don’t admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know.” This Ali, still getting in a jab about how Elvis might not be admirable but still giving praise about another, is the Ali we should be remembering. It’s certainly the one he would want you to.


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