About New Orleans musical "styles"

Here at the end of the year I'm cleaning out the literally hundreds of little bits of info that I've taken of the internet that I though twas interesting enough to revisit. 

I thought I'd share this with you, a Facebook response from a native New Orleanian conversing about the huge influx of out-of-towner "Jazz" musicians and their effect on the natural environment that creates New Orleans culture. I'm so sorry to not attribute the statement, but it rings true to my experience. 

Lots to think on, especially for those engaged in cultural activities that they are not native to:

usical styles evolved throughout time. 

Here's an exercise that may explain my view. 

1) Take a photograph of a flowing river.

2) Give the photo a descriptive title. 

3) Try to duplicate the subtleties of that "titled photo" by taking another photo of the same river. 

You can't. Culture is fluid. 

But the river has its uniqueness as per the location of the photo even though no 2 will be alike.

I am not as vocal as I used to be but I will say this. New Orleans is a culturally unique place. 

I am who I am because I paid no attention to what "you" thought of me.

Have you ever felt an intimate relationship with a dancer as you played from your heart? Time is the secret to all of this. 

Now that I've given you the answer, you can work on it, like I've done and continue to do, or you can continue to critique the framed whitewashed canvas as a snow covered plain. 

Rest assured, I will not mumble behind your back about your deficiencies."

(Facebook response, 7/31/13)


A Magical Box That Changed My Life Irrevocably

I think it was 1996. AOL was brand new and all of a sudden we could communicate with people around the world. Readers today can hardly believe it, but it was an amazing window on life outside of where you lived. One of the first people I found online was Bob Cohen, a Jewish musician and bon vivant living in Budapest working with his group Di Naye Kapele. I mentioned that I had little access to the Balkan musics that influenced what is called "Klezmer" music. What I was hearing from modern bands just didn't ring true to me, it sounded "dead" frankly. Having lived in worked in living musical cultures I hard a hard time working with academics and school trained musicians who had never, ever, played a live music for live dancers. There must be a living music of today. And where are the recordings of the living masters and why are they so hard to find? I was perplexed as Mamonidies would say.

He said no problem, and look to mails.

Maybe two months later, a battered square box arrived at my home in Austin TX. He sent me literally every recording of Yiddish music he had, many of the recordings either collected by himself or ethnographers he encountered. Home recorded gems of fiddler Moische Nussbaum and vocalist Bronya Sakina. Belf 78's and Lautari classics, Moldovan brass bands and 1961 field recordings of Rroma fiddlers playing half remembered Jewish melodies. Bukovinan and Hutsul bands and Maramures singers. It was, and still is, my personal Yiddish Rosetta Stone. And all of it given freely, even enthusiastically, the absolute opposite of my experience with the Yiddishist I had encountered up to that point (which will get its own essay soon enough.) 

I still go back and listen to them today. And if you're looking for the amazing Yiddish singer Bronya Sakina, I digitized that tape and put it up for all to hear. Along with video recorded around the same time. (Why was this so hard to find?)

Thank you Mr. Cohen. I am forever grateful.

Check out Bob's blog, always entertaining.

Remember that time when the skin head tried to kill you with a ball peen hammer?

From Flipside magazine, 9/1994 edition. An interview with one of about a 100 touring bands who crashed at my house in Norman OK in the mid-80's Hardcore culture. The deal we had in Norman was we'd try and find a venue, have the Flaming Lips run the PA and open up (and believe me, back then they weren't what they are lately,) we'd buy 'em a pizza on Campus Corner and then they'd crash at my place.

When Touch and Go touring band Killdozer came through, we had secured an arrangement with a local business man who opened up and "all ages" club on the main drag, called "The Jailhouse" and served soft drinks and foosball. The Lips set up their ramshackle, patched together "PA" and then played the a medley of their favorite hard rock licks for 25 minutes. Then Killdozer played a ripping set in front of about 7 people, including the 4 piece Lips and the people who set up the show. Coming in and then being thrown out again for being way too tweeked on meth, was the town skinhead (who should get his own posting really.) On his last way out, he told me he was gonna come to my house and kill me. I wasn't worried too much because this was not a new threat and he usually passed out before he could do any real damage. That was to change profoundly this evening.

In this article the band is being interviewed fully 7 years after the "incident" after their show, and it seems to have lodged well into their touring "lore." 

Every word is true:

He swung hard and wild with a ball peen hammer he found in my toolbox just outside on my porch. I just laughed at him lunged at me, seriously laughing my ass off. This totally wasn't what he expected and after he wore himself out flailing the hammer, he looked around, smashed a window and departed. The poor Killdozer dudes were so freaked out, they slipped out and I never saw them again. But here, years later, they relate the tale. And I lived another day :-)


From Justin Normand, actively Making America Great


I have had the most extraordinary weekend.

Like most everyone I know, I have been in a malaise and at a loss since Election Day. What to do? With myself? With my time? To make things better, or even just to slog through?

I manage a sign shop, and so I had had the urge for a week or so to do this. Friday, I had a couple of spare hours in the afternoon, so I did. I made a sign, and I drove to the nearest mosque and stood out on the public sidewalk to share the peace with my neighbors. My marginalized, fearful, decent, targeted, Muslim neighbors. Someone took a picture and posted it, and as of today it’s been viewed millions of times, and shared across various platforms many hundreds of thousands of times.

This is extraordinary and humbling; mainly because what I did isn’t (or shouldn’t be) all that extraordinary.
For me, this wasn’t about expressing agreement; I remain Presbyterian, not Muslim. It wasn’t about demonstrating my outrage to right-wing drivers driving down Esters Road in front of the mosque. I can never, and will never, change any of the haters. It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here.
This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet.
This was about my religion, not theirs.

And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.
Find a group marginalized by the haters in this current era we find ourselves in. Then, find a way to express your acceptance to that group in a physically present way, as opposed to a digital one.
I can assure you, from their outpouring of smiles, hugs, tears, hospitality, messages extending God’s love, and a bouquet of flowers, it will mean a lot.

My own religious tradition ascribes these words to my deity:
I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.

It is also in this vein that the words on the Statue of Liberty embrace, with eagerness and mercy, all who come to join us:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
These words bespeak the America we all remember, know, love, and are still called upon to be. Especially now.
Lastly, it worked. I felt better for the impact it had on my neighbors. They genuinely needed this encouragement. They need us.
They need all of us. They need you.
We ARE one America.

Justin Normand
(from his Facebook account)


Responses to questions about "Punk" and "Old Time"

A nice young man asked if I’d be willing to participate in a research for a college paper he was working on, and exploration of the great number of self identified “punk” musicians involved in “old time.” Though he had never heard of me, or Bad Livers, several of his other interviewees recommended he approach me. Here are my responses:
Hello Mark Rubin, Thank you for being willing to participate in my project.
You are very welcome, Mr. XXX. I always appreciate the opportunity to share my observations.
The questions are below. If you feel that I am missing anything or if you want to add anything else please feel free to tell me.
I think you’ll find my recommendations in the provided answers. Jews tend to answer questions with questions. I apologize what whatever cultural disconnect that might provide.
What drew you into the punk rock/alt/harder scene? The purposeful rejection of the overarching consumerist narrative of the time. And finding, finally, a community of the fellow marginalized. Bear in mind my involvement in a “music” emanating from this counterculture was simply an advent of my already radicalized socio-political world view. This was the Reagan years, ’81-86. You cannot possibly conceive of what rejecting the narrative presented to you would be like at that time, and in a relatively rural environment. Either throw my lot in with these people, Kikes like me, Blacks, Fags, Meskins, Injuns, poor white trash etc, i.e. “Degenerates.” Or try and assimilate into a culture I don’t recognize and wouldn’t let me participate anyway. It was a once wonderful vibrant culture, with its own language, art, dance and even music, until the rich boys and jocks showed up with fucking love songs. These, the very people we worked hard to get away form. But like anything genuinely revolutionary, it was coopted by the well-off and became no more than another consumerist proto-culture, a hobby. It had once been the soundtrack to anti-consumerist radicalism, but it died for good right around 1989 and anything that appears after is mighty suspect. Most all the authentic voices were silenced by the new fashion craze. Capitalism can take down anything it seems. Except Fugazi. They’ll be punk rock long after the Apocalypse.
Can you talk about your journey into that community and what role you fulfilled there?
See above. For a brief time I roadied for the Flaming Lips on trips to Texas. With a Anarcho-collective group, we hosted 100’s of “hardcore"shows in Norman OK from 82-86 before I split for Dallas to join the collection of like minded musicians there. Literally everyone you can think of that toured at that time stayed at my flophouse after the gig we arranged at a the the local VFW hall and ran the PA. Minutemen, Black Flag, etc..I still in touch with many of them today. At least those still involved in the struggle. Bad Livers actually toured the US opening for the Butthole Surfers in 1991, which many have told me in the years since opened their ears to aggressive music forms outside of “rock."
When did you first hear Old-Time?
Define that term, It’s literally meaningless to me. Do you mean regional music that represents and speaks for the traditions and aspirations of a unified community? I grew up hearing Tohona-O’ohdam fiddlers and Chicken scratch bands as a kid on my family’s ranch in Arizona. The vaqueros we hired introduced me to their corridos and mariachi. In Nebraska and Kansas my family went to the Czech towns to dance their polkas and schottisches. I literally grew up at square dances my parents dance at with a local live dance band every Thursday, with fiddler sawing tunes accompanied by three-finger roll banjo. My brother was a adopted from the Kiowa tribe and on Sunday afternoons we went to the local pow-wow at the Rez and heard the singing and drumming. I recall we had Pakistani foreign exchange students who lived with us and played tabla and sarrood in our living room sometimes. I learned to sing in the Church of Christ next door to my home and stayed around in the parking lot afterwards when the pastor drove off and the beer and the banjos came out for a “bluegrass” weekly jam. I played with my dad in a village brass band playing the same tunes they had since they first formed after the Civil War as well, evoking “old times." When I moved to Dallas, I lived in a Mexican slum and got hip to Los Alegres de Teran, which my next door neighbor said was “old style.” So, what signifies “old-time” to you?
What were the circumstances around that?
It was the culture of my neighbors. Jews have to be good neighbors. They’ll still burn a cross on our yard anyway, but one must be nice.
What made you start playing Old-Time?
Again, sorry, I utter reject the notion that white skinned, Protestant immigrants get to use any term they like and make it mean anything they like. Like “waterboarding” means “torture,” or “resettlement camps” means “gas chambers,” all gifts of white skinned “Christians.” Your nomenclature is woefully insufficient I fear. Are you really asking “Why did you abandon your own family and cultural history just to steal someone else’s because it seems fun?” Is that your question ultimately?
What is it like being in this category of Old-Time musician? Were the people in the tradition welcoming?
Music doesn’t exist, cultures do. How welcoming would you be to someone who invited themselves to your party, eats all the food, drinks all your beer and takes one of your girls out to parking lot to have fun with? Hmmm…I stick to my own knitting and I didn’t grown up in a culture that rewards and supports thoughtless appropriation, so I get along just fine with my neighbors. Most importantly, I'm filled to the brim with my own culture and have no need to top it off with somebody else’s anyway. When I’m at a jam session, if anybody asks, I have a song of my culture that I can share. I cannot muster a whit of respect for those who posses the temerity to live otherwise. They may not be bad people, but even the casual observer would agree that’s really awful behavior.
What do you feel like your role in the Old-Time community is?
Zero. None of my business. I hang out and keep my mouth shut until I am invited to participate and then only just so, as I was raised. There’s this bizarre new “proto-culture” left over from urban hippies culture that identifies itself this way I’ve come to encounter. To my experience (nearly 30 years now) it’s simply just yet another consumerist enterprise that any thoughtful person would naturally avoid altogether, as it’s readily identifiable as an abysmal example of White Supremacy. My role? Destroy the entire system that allows people to abusively disrespect and dehumanize others in this offhand way. Question and confront anyone who engages in such, appealing to their inner goodness and humanity, to simply just fucking stop, stop right now and think about what the fuck it is they’re doing. They can’t all be bad people, because if they knew what we knew, they just wouldn’t be that way. I stand in opposition to these notions and my excoriations, stinging sometimes, are my expressions of love and concern, seeking compassion and working for world that people can meet as equals with respect and mutual understanding. Which, so we’re clear, these perspectives are deeply ingrained into both cultures' tradition, Kike and “punk."
What are the crossovers with punk rock and Old-Time?
As they have been expressed in the last 40 years, they are both consumerist fictions, a coopted facade to support Capitalism and ultimately destroy the native traditions of communities they lampoon. It's an effort to delegitimize them so as to assimilate them into the mainstream were they can be sold stuff easier. Culture thus is anathema to Capitalism and and anything that stands in the way of commerce is to be removed or destroyed.That’s it. Literally nothing more. I contend that if you can’t see the unified thread that connects all peoples who are marginalized, then I question what you’re are looking at. Further his kind of questioning belies a premise I utter reject and bears no relation to any reality I’ve experiences in living communities. Except of course, to any consumerist trained to abuse other people as a sport. That anyone can hold themselves at arms length for a other group of people and then parse their “music” independently because they themselves can’t understand it any other way simply represents the absolute worst behavior this country engages in. “Old Time” is a fiction, and was ever since Uncle Dave published his “old-time” songs, and was listed as a description on the 78’s. The clueless hippies found these discs and made the term up whole cloth, so they could put yet another culture in a box so they could understand it. It’s important to note that famed Anti-semite Henry Ford actively supported, even recording and distributing 78’s his fantasy imaginings, American “old time” music and culture as a was to confront the hoards of immigrants defiling his great country. This from a man who ensured Ford Motors supplied a copy of the “Elders of Zion” book in the glovebox of every Model T that came off the line. (“Take America Back.” )
“Mountain” is a moniker for a living culture of which “mountain music" represents only one tiny facet of. In reality, living “mountain” people (like the Spencers on Whitetop Mountain for instance) don’t have the privilege these folks exhibit by pulling apart their heritage, nor can they stop others from describing their lives as a “genre,” yet another consumerist fiction. In doing so, these rude outsiders are in fact choosing to refuse or acknowledge that this “music” is simply a desperate and fleeting moment that this entirely marginalized community uses as tool to regain their basic humanity, endangered the very forces you wish me to comment on? The people I see today who come from some other culture and glom on to another do so because they truly believe its a dead art, available for them to revive. How would you feel, a living person who is set upon by necrophiliacs? What cultural treasure do they possess? Would any take umbrage to some Chinese millionaires appropriating in the same sort of crude and classist burlesque that these people do? Do they have anything at all to contribute to these communities beside scorn and ridicule and theft? Is that your question?
For the record, no, they don’t. Like the Vikings they are descended of, they simply show up anyplace and take whatever suits them, without a single consequence supported by an angry sky god that requires blood. Hollow and hungry vessels buoyed by privilege they fill themselves up and care little what they leave in their wake. “Blues,” “Country,” “Old-time,” etc.. using this terminology and referring to “genres,” that’s how we in living cultures identify the racists and classist arriving to do ill. Like Ralph Rinzler, they yank the gold top Les Paul out of Doc Watson’s hand and make him play an acoustic, because Ralph knows his market and couldn’t care less about Doc’s people. “Genuine Hillbilly, come and see!” That’s what you say to me when you say “Old-Time."
Can you also add a few of your favorite fiddlers/banjo players from "the tradition" that influenced you? (I understand that "traditional" carries a lot of weight and I am using this term loosely to describe those who grew up in the vein of Old-Time) I am compiling a playlist alongside this research paper made up of tracks of "traditional" Old-Time musicians who former punk musicians connect with.
Just Google me. Who I’ve recorded, produced and toured with should give you a nice long list of my neighbors and folks I live or lived around. I toured with many, until I was told by the promoters they didn’t need a “white” bassist. Former “punks?” Adam Tanner had a great Metal noise act long ago. And though we disagree on the points I’ve noted, we stay in touch.
Thanks for participating!
A genuine pleasure. My responses to these queries are my expressions the culture I grew up in, how it lives right now and expresses as a unified culture; a people of which I am simply one of. Not some Ayn Rand solo act told all their lives they can do whatever they like with whatever they find, just as long as they have the gold to buy it.
It was “Nazi punks fuck off” then and its no different today. The Nazis just play banjo now. No fucking difference at all. Share that widely.
A bi gezundt,