White riot - I wanna riot White riot - a riot of my own White riot - I wanna riot White riot - a riot of my own -- The Clash, "White Riot"Got some good DVDs in the mail today. Two of them are a pair, volumes one and two of something called The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1966. Lotsa wonderful stuff here, from German teevee (!), Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker and the like. Given the current jabber about the blues, mostly because of Martin Scorsese's blues documentary series, I feel like a part of the zeitgeist watching these tunes. And I'm currently reading Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture, edited by Greg Tate, and I just gave yet another version of my Elvis lecture the other day, wherein I argue that whites stole from blacks but Elvis was reflecting his "authentic" roots and is thus the wrong person to pick on when demonstrating how whites stole from blacks. And the first essay in the Tate anthology is titled "Eminem: The New White Negro." And it's safe to say I've been thinking a lot about the myriad ways even good-hearted white folks like, say, me, take from black culture.
And I'm watching these old blues guys, back when they weren't quite so old, playing in front of white Germans, and I've loved the blues ever since I can remember, but it wasn't often that I thought of the blues as "mine." And I want something that is mine, it's part of the reason I'm so attached to Bruce Springsteen, he is "ours," but even Bruce doesn't quite get at what I need, except perhaps when he released Darkness on the Edge of Town and I was working in the factory and "Badlands" was like a theme song for me.
The other DVD I got is called The Essential Clash, and I'm realizing that punk rock 1977-1979 was "mine," that this is what I was looking for, esp. the British bands like the Clash, who were indeed my very favorite of all punk bands. Watching these old videos reminds me, as always, what a dynamic live performer Joe Strummer was. But I'm also reminded that there was a few years when I could hear music that spoke to me in that special way the blues spoke to black folks back in the day, the way E-40 speaks to my son Neal. And there's no question about it, the Clash (and punk in general) is a very white music. What can I say? I'm a white boy myself, to the extent I'm going to essentialize experience, then late-70s punk is "me" in ways other music is not.
Of course, I've lived 20+ years since then ... why don't I still have music that is mine? I don't have an easy answer, except that my favorite kind of music (noisy rock and roll) is mostly a young person's music, and I'm no longer young. What really grabs me now is probably good pop music, stuff that works as ear candy without demanding you "identify" with it. Even the non-pop I love, like Sleater-Kinney, is noise-rock, not electronica or hip-hop or whatever. But good pop tunes, those always work, even if they embarrass us down the road.
If I was the nostalgic type, though, I'd be wiping the tears from my eyes right now, watching the Clash and thinking about when music and I had a specific connection.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
Cuz London is drowning and I, I live by the river
-- The Clash, "London Calling"