Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dangers of the crossover


When I attended Rosehill College, the pride of Papakura's educational system, back in the late 1980s and early '90s, the school had two official uniforms.

The first uniform, which was worn grudgingly and scruffily, consisted of the sort of grey shirt and blue jersey with which so many institutions, from schools to prisons to mental hospitals, homogenise their inmates.

The second, unofficial uniform, which was worn underneath those colourless shirts, and which burst proudly out of its hiding place on the school's rare and coveted mufti days, showed the letters AC and DC on either side of a lightning bolt and featured either a nihilistically black or garishly purple background.

By the end of the '80s the Aussie metal band was fifteen or so years old, and its members had acquired stock options and golf club memberships. At Rosehill, though, AC/DC's deadhead lyrics and two chord drones were still seen as a symbol of rebellion. The band was so popular that anyone who spurned it was seen as a cultural traitor. I got teased for months after I wore a T shirt that honoured The Smiths rather than the Aussie metallers on mufti day.

I felt like I was entering familiar territory, then, when I turned up at the waterlogged campus of the 'Atenisi Institute this year and heard AC/DC blasting from a stereo. I soon realised, though, that loud guitars are not as popular in Tonga as they are in South Auckland.

After one of my first days teaching at the Institute, I accepted a car ride home with Salise and Hai, two of the school's biggest metalheads. As our vehicle skidded and roared through the crumbling backstreets of Nuku'alofa, launching chickens into the air and pigs into puddles, Hai put an old AC/DC cassette onto the stereo, cranked up the volume, and hooted with a strange anticipatory delight. Soon 'Highway to Hell', the title track to AC/DC's most famous album, was bringing Tongans onto their doorsteps and verandahs. An old man stepped out of a Free Wesleyan Church and frowned meaningfully at the din. A couple of boys sprinted down the drive of their 'api and stared at us, wondering if we were the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Men and women in passing cars gave us thumbs down signs and shouted curses from which I was magically protected by my ignorance of Tongan.

"Tongans don't like loud music" Salise explained when we got back to my place. "They don't even like rock. Kava songs, love songs, reggae - anything mellow, island style, that's what they like. Not AC/DC." In Nuku'alofa, fans of bands like AC/DC are not snotty-nosed bogans but avant-garde provocateurs.

I soon learned that Salise doesn't need a stereo to play music. He's an extraordinarily talented musician, who can knock out a classical piece for Spanish guitar as easily as the riff to 'Highway to Hell' or 'Smoke on the Water'. I've been working on winning Salise over to my tastes in guitar music, by lending him CDs by Nick Drake and John Fahey, but he remains a devotee of the heavy stuff. Together with a couple of mates, he has formed a band called One in Blood, which is battling against the Tongan distaste for rock music.

This semester Salise is doing a research project - autoethnography is the fancy term I'm using for it - in which he reflects on the difficulties of making loud guitar music in Tonga. I've been giving him music and texts which relate the struggles of path-breaking musicians in other countries, and asking him to relate them to his own experiences. I'm not so much interested in discussing the technical aspects of music, which are beyond me, as in hearing Salise talk about the sociology and politics of rocking out.

Here are some of the notes I've given to Salise. Some of the musos who frequent this blog, and in particular the great Bill Direen, might have their own responses to the questions I ask.

The art and politics of crossover music: Miles Davis and Death considered

You have been listening to Miles Davis, and reading Nick Kent’s classic portrait of the trumpeter. As Kent notes, Davis was a compulsive innovator who repeatedly crossed from one genre of music to another during his career, as he sought out new sounds and new bandmates.

You have heard Kind of Blue, which Davis released in 1959, and Bitches Brew, a double album which appeared in 1970. While Kind of Blue is considered a jazz classic, Bitches Brew upset some jazz fans, and helped create a new genre of music, which is usually called ‘fusion’ or ‘jazz-rock’. As his use of electrified guitars and pianos and the wah wah and other effects pedals shows, Davis had become a fan of Jimi Hendrix by the time he recorded Bitches Brew. The sound of the album also owes something to James Brown, whose funk sound was very popular amongst black audiences in the late ‘60s.
Miles Davis hoped that by bringing Hendrix and Brown into his sound he could attract a younger and blacker audience. After the release of Bitches Brew he began to leave behind the relatively small clubs where jazz musicians usually play and instead perform on the same bill as rock bands in stadiums. He went on tour with the Stevie Miller Band, an outfit which played middle of the road rock, and appeared alongside bands like The Who and The Doors at the Isle of Wight festival, which was Britain’s answer to the massive outdoors concert at Woodstock.
Davis’ desire for a blacker audience was connected to his anger about the racism that he and millions of other black Americans faced in the decades after World War Two. As a young man, Davis was attacked by a policeman outside a jazz club. The musician loved to drive fast sports cars, but often got pulled over by cops who were convinced that a black man in an expensive vehicle must be a thief.
Davis often referred to the battles of African peoples against colonialism in his music. In the early 1970s he composed a half-hour track called ‘Calypso Frelimo’, which paid tribute to the Mozambican guerrillas fighting to throw Portugal colonialists out of their homeland; in the ‘80s he released an album named Tutu, after the anti-apartheid leader the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Davis was perplexed that so many of his fans were well-off white people, and that it was much easier for him to find an audience in a prestigious American college or a fashionable Parisian music hall than in Africa or one of America’s black ghettoes.

 Despite the changes he made to his sound, Davis found it hard to attract large new audiences. In the years after Bitches Brew he achieved, instead, what one critic called a ‘negative crossover’. Davis’ use of rock instruments and funk rhythms alienated traditionalist jazz fans, but his long, intricate, turbulent songs – as you may have realised, the title track of Bitches Brew ran for a whole side of vinyl! – were too much for many fans of rock and funk to absorb.
Between 1975 and 1980 Davis retired from music. When he returned, he played in a much more accessible style, and began to incorporate ‘80s pop into his repertoire. He made a cover version of Cyndi Lauper’s hit single ‘Time After Time’ and worked with several rappers before his death in 1992.

You have read about the black Detroit band Death, whose members created a punk-like sound years before supposed pioneers of punk like Britain’s The Sex Pistols and New York’s The Ramones. Like Miles Davis, Death wanted to reach a black audience, but struggled to get a hearing for their fast, loud sound. They were working in a city famous as the base of Motown Records, and their community wanted to hear the soul and funk of Marvin Gaye and George Clinton. Death only reached an audience decades after disbanding, when their music was discovered by record collectors and historians.  
Some questions to consider:
What is your response to the differences between Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew? Which album sounds more accessible to you today? Which album did you enjoy more?
Is it difficult to cross musical genres in Tonga today? How would a band like Death, or an album like Bitches Brew, be treated in Tonga?
Can you relate to the difficulties that Miles Davis and Death had in making music that audiences were unfamiliar with and hostile toward?

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

13 Comments:

Anonymous Vivienne said...

Hi Scott, Just wondering if you've listened to Betty Davis? Her album 'They Say I'm Different' is pretty amazing - she's a funk singer. She was married to Miles Davis for a couple of years and introduced him to Jimi Hendrix (with whom she was rumoured to be having an affair) and Hendrix's music blew Miles away and fed into the jazz fusion of Bitches Brew.

7:20 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for the tip Viv! I'm looking forward to catching up with you and the other fine people of Auckland in a couple of short weeks!

5:36 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I've never liked loud crashing music, and loud music going on for too long. Such music is quite bad and bad for one's hearing also. I even now prefer Mozart and Bach to Beethoven who I preferred as a composer when I was young.

I never was big on Jazz or blues but in the 70s in Ponsonby a lot of young people were playing Hendrix, and all the contemporaries such as Bob Dylan: but I was into political protest and at the time I felt such music was non-productive.

I seem to (often) find music to be something that merely distracts my mind from thoughts. The most beautiful music being silence. I like the ideas of John Cage. I also like Charles Ives.

I can see what jazz and contemporary pop is doing but I never followed what other people were listening to: if the majority liked the Beatles when I was young it was a forgone that I would see Brahms as the greatest composer. To listen to the really great music you need ideally to be alone, in a dark room to concentrate on it.

Social music doesn't interest me - I often am at a venue where there is music but I cant recall any of it. At the end of the night I only hear the applause.

And some times I cant listen to any kind of music, other times an old pop song will suddenly "come alive" often I cant remember the song or it is quite trivial but it evokes a time when I was young.

Much of the time though it is background noise I turn off as I mostly simply want to read and try to think.

I'm a bit suspicious of music, I can see it can be quite subversive of peace and stability. In this respect I am quite conservative.

At other times in different moods: all kinds of music "come alive" for me.

9:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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7:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/1743-anthropologist-finds-cultural-emphasis-on-group-over-individual-might-hinder-democracy

1:11 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For example, a Westerner might describe a building location as "in front of me," whereas a Tongan would describe it as being "toward the church." In experiments, Bennardo asked test subjects to draw pictures of their island. They typically placed the major town in the center of the island, even when in reality it was at or near the coast.

1:12 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard taylor radical in poetry reactionary in music???????????

2:13 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, my musical tastes are quite conservative (and strange even to myself). I am rather "schizophrenic" about music. But I really loved only (or almost exclusively) classical music as a child and a teenager. I did play the piano for a while. But my father used to say that popular music was "for morons" and this influenced me, whereas my brother liked The Beatles (I also quite liked some of their music but the problem also was that the music effect of many pop or blues or whatever was sometimes (or I found it) quite frightening - similarly for along time I couldn't watch 'Monty Python' as I found it too disturbing (as I used to find Escher's works for many years).

But when I got into politics or the protest movement in those days I was interested in political change and I rejected what some of us of the PYM called "hippy music" - we saw the hippies and others as dangerous deluded liberals but could see their use in the coming struggle for a working class state: a dictatorship of the proletariat. But meanwhile PYM, Communists and others were mostly all listening to Hendrix (and all the other music of the 60s). In the flat I was in Hendrix and Joplin etc were played by these Maori blokes just about all day and I could hear they were good. Intense. I liked also 'Dark side of the Moon'

But it doesn't matter what I liked. But yes, I had this "voice" that kept telling me music of this kind was (all of it) "for morons" but I was deeply affected by classical and baroque and modern so-called classical music.

My point is that nowadays even classical music (any kind) I frequently find irritating. I could live in world without any music. But I do appreciate it. I tend to listen only to the FM Concert Program as there is less talking on it, no adverts, and its not noisy (but I am interested in all kinds of contemporary experimental music: having said that it means nothing to me if it all vanished).

I tend to like Bach and Handel - particularly choral music or if modern such as Schnittke and others. I'm not so keen on the minimalists. Beethoven I liked as a teenager (but I thought Brahms was the greatest composer) but now I prefer Mozart (I used to listen to his Requiem for hours) and Bach.

I'm not so keen on Jazz.

Reactionary? I'm not sure music is "political" - I'm sick of hearing Shostakovich and how terrible things were for him under Stalin.

Later I got interested for while in Brubeck and also in Reggae.

(But as I say I have this kind of mixed reaction to music: it seems that in reality, their are REALLY more than 1 Richard Taylors although my poetic thing I did of the Richard Taylors arguing etc was comic it is also a reflection of reality.

For example I spend hours talking to myself. I love doing that. I also copy things out of books that other people have written simply because I love doing it and I prefer that to making things up: just as I used to love tracing maps and doing painting by numbers. People will laugh but I really wish I had many painting by number sets to play with again.

4:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's not a more demonic band than ACDC. For decades now the group has held together, leading fans unanimously in praise of Satan and joyful glee that they're all on a HIGHWAY TO HELL.

Tragically, that's where they're all going to spend eternity. 2nd Thessalonians 1:8-9, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

ACDC has destroyed the lives of tens-of-millions of young people, leading them into spiritual decadence, sexual immorality, rebellion against God, substance abuse and the lake of Fire. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). God said what He meant, and meant what He said in the Scriptures.

Jesus proclaimed in John 10:35 that the Scripture cannot be broken. All Christ-rejecters will be cast into the lake of Fire to be tormented day and night for ever (Revelation 20:11-15).

AC/DC lead singer, Bon Scott's Gravestone, who drank himself to death at the early age of 33Scott epitomized the role of a God-hating rebel who abused drugs and indulged in sinful living. His death is just one of hundreds in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Shame. Psalm 55:23, “But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee.”

Scott was found dead in his car after an indulgent binge left his body lifeless and his soul at the reality of the “Highway to Hell” which Bon Scott recorded just months prior to his tragic death. Scott had been taking medication for liver damage prior to his death.[1]

Bon Scott, who wore a Satanic pentagram around his neck, sang in his infamous song entitled Highway to Hell...


“Hey Satan, paid my dues, playing in a rockin' band, I'm on a highway to hell.”

Circus Magazine reported:


“Throughout the AC/DC catalogue, there is a disturbing correlation between pleasure/sex/drunkenness and unconsciousness/death, which has now reached its tragic culmination.”

After Scott's untimely death, Brain Johnson took over as ACDC's lead singer, and has been with the band ever since. I am saddened by Bon Scott's death, and I'm equally saddened that Brian Johnson rejects the God of the Bible, and I'm very saddened that hundreds-of-millions of ACDC fans are going to be cast into the Lake of Fire with them at The Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

Hebrews 9:27 teaches that judgment immediately follows death. The second you die, you will either be escorted by angels to the gates of the Heavenly city; or else you'll find yourself suddenly burning in the flames of Hell beneath the earth. Wherever you end up, your final judgment will await. For Christians, they will be judged at The Judgment Seat of Christ immediately following the Rapture of the saints from the earth (2nd Corinthians 5:10-11). For the unsaved, they will be judged and sentenced to the Lake of Fire at The Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). This judgment of the dead will follow the 1,000-year Millennial reign of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem over the earth.

3:38 pm  
Anonymous AC/DC evil said...

Rock music is of the Devil, adversely affecting the nervous system, more addictive to the body than crack cocaine. I've never been able to steer anyone away from so-called Christian Rock, which is not Christian in any sense of the term. Contemporary Christian Music [CCM] bands like Stryper, Third Day, Jars of Clay, TobyMac (playing a range of music from trashy ghetto Hip Hop to Ozzy Osbourne style heavy metal), have disgraced the name of Christ, infiltrating the churches, masquerading as true Christian believers; but they are of the Devil, singing for the Devil, serving the Devil, and being rewarded greatly by the Devil. It is tragic!

3:40 pm  
Anonymous Break with AC/DC! said...

I saw a YouTube video of a recent ACDC concert. Brian Johnson leads the audience, tens-of-thousands of fans, to sing in unison... “I'm on a highway to Hell.” There are giant movie screens on stage behind the band, showing flames on both sides, mocking the Bible. The band and many fans are wearing hats with devil's horns. The guitarist, Angus Young, sticks his guitar between Brian Johnson's legs, near his crotch, making it look like an erect penis. It is shameful and evil. It is hard to actually witness tens-of-thousands of people all gleefully singing that they're going to Hell. It is tearful if you believe the Bible and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you care that the souls of billions of lost sinners are headed straight for the Lake of Fire. It's telling that 42,000,000 Americans have bought ACDC's BACK IN BLACK album, not counting all the other ACDC albums sold in the U.S. No wonder abortion is so commonplace and our nation has forgotten God.

God will cast each and every one of them into the Lake of Fire as 2nd Thessalonians 1:8-9 and Revelation 20:11-15 warns! God will not be mocked by evil men and women. If you die in your sins (John 8:24), God the Father will be your Judge in eternity (Revelation 20:11-15).

3:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a powerful article about the Seleka Kava group. Lively, provocative,relevant and much needed in Donga man.
tumeke mean article Skyler!Mauri oRa

1:28 pm  
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7:16 pm  

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