EMP Pop Conference 2009 — Friday presentations

This is actually my second attempt at this post — EMP how I just wish you could have good connections in this place…

Franklin Bruno, “‘Stone Cold Dead in de Market’: Exploiting the Voice in Post-War Calypso” — referencing its appearance in Raging Bull Franklin discusses the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan hit and its very unusual nature. Sorry about the scattershot report here, I’m typing this up while trying to catch up with Franklin’s words. Where did the song come from? The West Indies but that’s not all — ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ is a partial source given its hit status in 1945 via the Andrews Sisters. For “Stone,” it was recorded in 1939 in New York — Trinidadian calypso recorded in America. Discussion of the development of the calypso market and targeted demographics in the thirties, songwriter Wilmoth Houdini a bit of a mythomaniac who claimed all sorts of false firsts but who was a sharp operator. “He Had It Coming” is the original version of the song and is then played — a touch slower than the Ella version. Franklin calls it a bit backward-looking (4 line instead of 8 line, no grandiloquent vocabulary) but suggests that it demands a dramatic presentation. Said song is ultimately Barbadian, “Murder in the Market,” and a variant vocal only version from 1980 is played, with local additions and government references. The specific incident is unknown but Houdini brought the song ‘to market,’ removing specifics, aiming for an American market with the electric chair reference. Ella said to have picked the song but Jack Kapp a more likely candidate. Arrangement more polished but not necessarily as sharp. Franklin notes various differences, Ella’s delivery of ‘murder’ as slang, displacement of lawless supposition, Jordan as undead class clown. Franklin considers the rough situation women had in the postwar era and concludes.

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, “Jamaica Farewell: Belafonte’s Caribbean and the (Political) Erotics of US Pop”: Begins by noting the 9/11 release of Jay-Z’s The Blueprint and Harry Belafonte‘s The Long Road to Freedom, his compendium of music of black America that had been planned for thirty years, drawing on orchestrations done throughout the sixties and unearthed in the late nineties. In context, it now says more about the state of society in the sixties while Belafonte’s own success began not with American but Caribbean with his Calypso album’s smash hit. It now may sound kitsch but at the time it was very transgressive and gained a following and focus of desire. Besides his looks his use of Caribbean music allowed him to translate a ‘foreign’ style to an accepting nation. His family and leftist roots are noted, his partnership with Sidney Poitier in selling aphrodisiacs, working on his acting and his singing and struggling with finding ways to inhabit the song. His hamburger business success in the Village brought him in contact with folksingers, Pete Seeger, etc allowing him a chance to apply the techniques he had learned. His new folksong repetoire and his stage successes on Broadway, singing in particular with “Hold Em Joe” — was insulted by winning a Tony for singing not acting as he saw it! Released two folksong albums but pushed for Caribbean material, with executives agreeing to focus something on the adult market, easy on the ears but still could work with expats in NYC. The sources of the album are discussed while “The Banana Boat Song” is played, various earlier calypso hits and trends are noted, with Louise Bennett as a specific source and her recording of the song is played, quicker and playful. “Jamaica Farewell” is noted, based on the mento hit “Iron Bar,” then played, various further notes given. Island in the Sun and its film success noted (and banned through the South) — set in the Caribbean but hard to read as anything but being about the US. Belafonte as protoecho of Obama in terms of performative/liminal figure, the Black Orpheus story noted and his mother’s early love for Belafonte.

Rod Hernandez, “Love Songs in Other Tongues: Nat King Cole‘s Latin Music –from Hollywood to Hong Kong” — Wong Kar Wai‘s In the Mood for Love as what broke the Latin recordings to an English audience though the Latin audience had long loved said songs for decades. Idea for recordings came from his manager (from Honduras I think?) and Cole reacting to changes in the late fifties market. Various songs noted, apologies for not catching the titles as I should — really need to brush up on my Spanish. Cole Español and further albums discussed as well as efforts by contemporaries like Peggy Lee and Edye Gorme. Latin music often equals nostalgia in Wai’s films, various examples discussed. Quotes a critic talking about this being reflective of Hong Kong’s own syncretic culture, Philippine musicians popularizing Latin music, HK singers noted too. The framing device of In the Mood discussed then the crucial dinner scene is played, with Nat singing smoothly away as Leung and Cheung’s characters intersect. Just as beautiful on its own as part of the full film; Rod discusses the tensions and suggestions of the scene and the “Green Eyes” and “Magic in the Moonlight” lyrics as underscoring and potentially contradicting the feelings. Nat often shows cautiousness and restraint, feeling his way through the language much like the characters do through their own situations, a familiar feeling with Spanish even for Rod as he notes! A Nat song played demonstrating it very nicely (will get the title here later!)

Holly George-Warren, “Frisky and Fringed: How Wanda Jackson‘s Oomph Kept Her Off the Opry Stage” — plays “My Big Iron Skillet,” a ‘hillbilly version’ of “Stone Cold Dead,” as a handy way to bookend the panel, unintentionally! Great song of course, Wanda’s domestic revenge/sass fantasy from 1969. Ernest Tubb told her to ‘cover it up’ in 1954 before her one and only Ryman Auditorium appearance, then a late fifties clip is played showing her performing and happily ‘shaking her thing’ — kicks major ass of course! Went for skintight outfits with fringes instead of gingham and standing like a statue, belted out the numbers and formed a biracial band, swerved happily between rock and roll and country. Great quote about her lack of recognition, testimonials of her ability to hold her own on stage, using a ‘nasty’ voice and growls and more besides. How did she get the gumption to stand up to it all? Her youthful biography is discussed, an only child, singing early, seeing Bob Wills, Rose Maddux, and more! Off to Bakersfield and learning guitar and back to Oklahoma and learning piano, winning a local radio spot and became a sharp businesswoman and self promoter at 14! Big band debut at 15 with Hank Thompson, by 1954 made bigger label connections, “You Cant Have My Love” and more singles and TV shows and Elvis Presley and all the great stories! Presley said to her ‘go uptempo!’ and she sure did! Capitol wanted to make her country but she stuck to her guns, picked her own songs (very unheard of!). Various songs discussed as well as her ability to work in different styles, building into “Let’s Have a Party” and “Fujiyama Mama.” And from there to now, still touring away and now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame playing “Mean Mean Man” as she went in!

“Embodying Electronic Dance Music Cultures” — all right, a show! This is actually a neat collaborative panel/discussion/presentation featuring Mark Gunderson, Fred Church, Anna Gavanas and Bernardo Alexander Attias. Only here for the opening sequence, which begins with a moody piece from Bernardo, beats/sample zone (a bit like a cheerier Muslimgauze!). He then speaks on the question of authenticity — the idea that what they do isn’t ‘real’ music, that they are just DJs instead of motorskilled and trained musicians. Various images played, the complaint “they’re all fucking cunts!” repeated from within DJ culture from Deadmouth’s misogynist choice of words, a fear of sexual desire. Fundamental tensions noted — electronic beats cold yet embodying desire, not just to keep bodies moving but expressing sexual tension for real time and space. Anna saying “well here we are, the cunts he was talking about,” her words intersecting with further samples. She further discusses technological mediation in general from phonographs on, before going into more on electronic dance music’s specific concerns. Analog machines as more tactile/organic than digital to some ears/mindsets. General sample culture overview, tools and practices. Bernardo speaks again on prolonging musical moments, the disco/dance into house universes, beatmatching, and so forth. Fred then speaks of hip-hop’s lack of live instrumentation, further discussions of electronic forms, blissed out individual dancing vs social interaction on the dancefloor in hip-hop clubs, a validation of electronic dance music in hip-hop’s predominance in the world and especially in America where other forms do not have that profile. At this point I had to duck out to see other stuff, but really enjoyed this so far!

Leonard Pierce, “Women of Dark Desires: The Female Presence in Black Metal” — entered in progress, with Leonard talking about Metal Edge (RIP) and the large female presence in current metal in general. Black metal though — almost all male, worldwide certainly but again nearly no female participants, Countess Bathory and almost nobody else! Leonard tried but is a self-described outsider loving an insular scene, suspicious of the press, the fringiest of a fringe scene. Only two all female black metal bands and only Greece’s Astarte has scene cred. Many others named but the exclusionary scene is incredibly self-policing — no deviation ever! Women therefore represent a threat. Japan’s Gallhammer and Astarte accept this but have other priorities. Tritessa dismisses complaints but had no illusions or concerns over her role in carving out a place. Vivian of Gallhammer similarly dismisses the idea that women would be turned off by musical extremity as laughable. France has black metal but doesn’t quite seem to ‘get it’ — a black metal disco! In the US, almost no following. In Europe Cradle of Filth and Emperor might pull in female fans but of course the purists say they’re not really black metal, etc. — the old story! So there’s symphonic black metal and there’s bands like Wolves to the Throne Room and they aim to leave boundaries behind. The few female black metal fans he could find found less contempt from within the scene than from without. Gender as the path of least resistance!

Mike McGonigal, “Stained Panties and Hoarse Metaphors: Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers‘ Performance of ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ at the Great Shrine Auditorium Concert in Los Angeles, CA in 1955″ — “Touch the Hem of His Garment” is played and Mike mentions the problem of finding the song sexy especially as a nonbeliever. He talks about listening to the song over and over when he first encountered it, the opening line ‘There was a woman,’ the pause, the smooth insistence in his voice. A music where spirituality exists with other desires, ‘sensuality wrapped up in his delivery.’ Cooke bio in brief, religious upbringing, Chicago blues as influence, etc. The emergence of ‘hard gospel’ acts that the Soul Stirrers embodied, Cooke’s initial group efforts inspiring women to rush the stage (in churches!), the history of the quartet tradition discussed. Arch Harris popularized things but had too many kids in too many places and too much child support to pay! So Cooke comes in, leading a band in the shouting era but never shouted himself. Group’s image became part of the show, dressing nattily, full band backup. Bobby Womack talks about ‘the loads of pretty women all there to see Sam…constantly chasing him, and he chased them back!’ Far too much made of the seedy side of his life. Mike admits that his thesis disappeared in front of his eyes as he researched! So he plays “Nearer My God to Thee” and talks about its qualities and the circumstances of its recording, Art Rupe getting persuaded to put on the show, the massive gathering at the Shrine, produced by Robert Bumps Blackwell (good at staying singers to stay on mike). It’s the only time we get to hear Cooke shout, and when he does the audience reacts every time! It’s the opposite of smooth, the ‘realest’ we can hear him. Rupe thought it was uncommercial supposedly thus no release but who knows? It’s definitely stellar, as Mike says ‘an inducing of the ecstatic state’ made manifest. Cooke as songwriter is discussed, someone who stripped it down simply and perfectly, not seeming treacly. Songs were story songs, pastoral scenes. The original hymn discussed, its 19th century writers and its fame via the Titanic disaster. Not famous in African American life but his mom’s favorite hymn, and Cooke’s song is about her retreating away, him looking for her and finding her singing the hymn. A song as comment! First two verses set up this old time scene, then whole group kicks in, then a verse about the sheer power of song and faith that is the key. Concert created the sound of modern gospel, Blackwell sought to convince Cooke to go pop from there on, while also recording Little Richard along the way. Then a pause and an apology for dropping the sex ball! No worries!

Questions! Josh Langhoff, who I missed, in response to a question plays Faster Pussycat’s “Babylon” and my god this is sublime trash! Tim asks about the stained panties and Mike says “You’re making me revisit my shame!” and admits how it was dropped as a theme. (Title from Nick Tosches, adapted.)

Amanda Villepastour, “No Clause 28 and the Coming Out of Boy George” — the entertainment machine shapes perceptions and despite all his fame and work in his own voice, journalists do most of the shaping, especially with his extra musical stories (thus the New York street service deal, for instance). Thus this is a study of his life and sexuality through a different lens, Amanda having worked with him as a musical collaborator and keyboardist and observed his ‘strained relationship’ with the machine. Homophobia, media manipulation and more are discussed –examples of police tracking, Church reactions, Australian tabloid reactions and fiction are noted. His own ‘subjective reality’ is discussed, as well as the retreat into the ‘cup of tea’ excuse to hide the Jon Moss affair. Tony Gordon, George’s manager, encouraged keeping things quiet, while the press reactions after the band’s success — and the American music business reaction too — kept things quiet. Without clear public declarations speculation ran rampant, while his interview with Rolling Stone in 1984 was ‘more legendary hypocrisy.’ The Wogan show clip in 1989 is shown and the attempts to draw him out with a clear statement are quite amusing (and melancholy) and Amanda recalls him shaking with anger on the day. Clause 28 is mentioned and the response “No Clause 28” is played. The current court case and imprisonment is discussed, with the rent boy’s perjury dismissed and George now in jail. Amanda concluded with general notes on confidentiality agreements and keeping things secret in entertainment — few participants have contributed their own stories when many can be and should be.

David Scott, “Gay for Play: The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name Certainly Does Sell Records” — starting with the Britney/Madonna smooch and Blur’s “Girls and Boys” we go into questions of ‘keeping a straight face’ in entertainment. Music is where ‘gay for play’ thrives as role, in-joke, shock value and fashion statement. Music hall drag entertainers are noted, Ma Rainey’s suggestiveness and hints, many other names mentioned (black females seen as less of a threat and more able to explore?). The Prairie Ramblers‘ love of ‘bananas,’ Half-Pint Jaxon‘s falsetto moans on “My Baby Rocks Me,” Merritt Brunies and his boy/girl confusions and into the swing era we go (“You’re the Top!”). More urban and sophisticated responses from Porter, Coward, etc. Ultimately a game of getting away with it with surrounding context providing an out. Francis Faye and her nightclub act and her way around innuendo are discussed and played. Camp is discussed next, “Love is a Drag” is played then more idiotic examples. Liberace and Little Richard, “Lola” and into glam! “Let’s goooooooo!” Enough macho decadence helped sugar the pill. Then there’s women and androgyny as power vs. men and androgyny as disorientation — but gay for play still remains key. Dusty’s bisexuality might have destroyed her career even as Elton struggled for a while. Bowie as the ur-example of gay for play while Hall and Oates have their own history. Peekaboo ambiguity, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Katy Perry and emo guyliner. Genderfuck or gay phase? David’s own youthful history with Bowie fandom is discussed — it helped him understand himself for all the flaws, and the possibilities can still function.

Fred Maus, “We Were At The Beach” –the B52s are discussed since “Rock Lobster” is the focus. Its roots in surf and surf’s own roots and themes are discussed, “a serious engagement with the waves.” “Misirlou” gets played, as great as ever, then “Penetration” by the Pyramids. “Rock Lobster” and its odd structure gets broken down — differing verses and modes, odd intervals, “a lucid juxtaposition” of all elements. “Pipeline” gets played for reference to show up “Rock Lobster”‘s abbreviated parts. Gets pretty technical here, so I won’t go into every comparison! The beach in American culture from the fifties to the seventies is discussed — Anne Lindburgh’s A Gift From the Sea, beach movies, “Boys in the Sand” from 1971…(good subject but this is way too long for an EMP presentation! I’m taking a break after this before the next panel…)

Christine Bacazera Balance, “The Age of the Crew: ABDC and its Dance Dance Revolution” — ABDC short for America’s Best Dance Crew and away we go! Running since 2007 on Wednesday nights thanks to Randy Jackson — Christine wants to discuss race and gender in America through the dance lens, noting Pilipino performers in particular, street party and university nights as sites of performance. An assolationist study! Lots of laughs for that. Lots of subjects at play so back into vaudeville and the original “Meet Me in St Louis” and the gospel of muscles and vibrant civilization in the 1904 World’s Fair and the ‘original crews’ featured in the exhibition from the Philippines, rituals shown on a world stage away from context. Some CRAZY photographs from female photographic teams for fellow white Americans, a situating in visual media. Skipping forward and the next crew, males who worked in farms and factories and dancefloors, dressed up well and danced with whites and Mexicans. Bands know their chops and learned the dance crazes but got no ‘space of belonging’ outside the dancehall. Timed dances to prevent dance as pure release. Vod-a-vil develops in the islands and talent builds up and spreads back to Hollywood and Broadway. Jose de Vega in West Side Story is featured — and an EMP robot voice breaks us all up! De Vega’s role discussed, his and other actors ‘playing everyone except for themselves.’ Into Miss Saigon days and YouTube viral videos, ‘possibilities of a corporeal excess.’ Into ABDC and campus performances and cultural nights and videotapes and practicing at home and more! Too much for me to easily capture. Improvised locations for practice and lessons, patios and garages and impromptu parking lot sessions and band practices, the staging of bodies. Kababayan to Kaba Modern! A corollary to other crews, developing and exploding in the nineties and beyond, hip hop as part of a larger Filipino America, the streets can be found everywhere, intimate technology at play. It now actually looks like America! And a clip from the JabbaWockeez ruling the Charleston and more!

Ann Shaffer, “‘You Know How I Like It, Baby — Straight Hood’: Street Cred, Sex, and the American Teen Dance Fight Movie” — a quote from Lil Kim from You Got Served and a clip illustrating the tropes of authenticity at play. New hiphop dance films explore various genres, large crews, etc in distinction to the eighties breaksploitation ones. What kind of genre films? Ann argues teen dance is a good lens, with their tropes at play in turn — assertion of identity and pursuit of romance. Examples and further tropes discussed from other teen dance films, here crew is the social unit and dancefloors the sites of interaction and ‘ritual combat,’ with many elements at work. Three film clips shown — Served, Stomp the Yard, Step Up 2 the Streets — and the idealized crews demonstrated (skill, unique qualities, a key leader, etc.) Served as light side, Stomp as dark, similar but different settings and audiences, different lighting etc. leading to the lead character having to move on in Stomp. In Step Up the montage shows the rebel elements in the larger classical art school and hints how they will recombine (and all have distinct if stereotypical identities), moving into crew vs individual debates. Romance must occur in such films but not necessarily in these films — performances are solo or group, not doubles, and it’s seen as male dominated throughout. Female romantic partners usually not dancing at all, though in Step shows it via salsa dancing and exaggerated femininity on her part in dress and moves. Dance as language and metaphor and etc!

Priscilla Peña Ovalle, “Flashdance: The Erotic Video-track of Dance and Racial Ambiguity” — an incredibly serious matter! Priscilla describes the problem of being a tomboy Jehovah Witness Latina and finding connection via MTV and cable and learning to love the film and identifying with Jennifer Beals and being ‘a real girl.’ From there into talking about the film and its impact, with MTV’s origins discussed (consumption-oriented, youth focused, branded musical figures). Recall the images when thinking of the song! A memory of the body that moves to the music, instability, buying and belonging. Diversification happened with marketing playing out the logic of Michael Jackson’s breakthrough. Hollywood notes all this and Flashdance is made with an eye towards and marketed specifically via MTV’s audience. Video style editing all over the place, fashion crazes, massive commercial sales, club smashes, more! Video tie-ins to clubs instead of radio tie-ins. Irene Cara and Michael Sembello, stars! But consider the racial politics at work. Breakdancing, biracial Jennifer Beals, her body as a performer. Gender neutral name, surrogate family, liminal crossing over everywhere. Audience can read into her what they want based on who they are, though the media read her as white by default. Her features better sold the fusion of break and ballet, and of course she didn’t actually dance in the film! Think Saturday Night Fever as partial role model…and then my battery died! Sorry folks! Will be saving this and will have to hold off on Diane Warren liveblogging. Hope everyone’s good!