Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Borrowing and appropriating

Left: The CREEM magazine logo, which I loved and have been waiting for an excuse to use on my blog!

The newest scuffle in Blogdonia concerns Big Blogger Amanda Marcotte liberally ummm, borrowing from another blogger, notably a Woman of Color. And blogging about issues she usually doesn't know much about, that Brownfemipower has been blogging about since day one and in fact, presented in a recent speech (about feminism and immigration) at the Women, Action and Media conference. It's Led Zeppelin all over again!!!

Background: As a fresh-faced hippie tyke, I wrote record reviews for underground/alternative publications nobody remembers. (The most famous of these would be CREEM, where I only got three paragraphs.) Lots of these were leftist publications such as Detroit's RED TIDE and New York City's OVERTHROW. Imagine my shock when hard-core lefties jumped me over my blues-ignorance. Didn't I know that Led Zeppelin, Spooky Tooth (does ANYONE remember Spooky Tooth?), Humble Pie, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Cream, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, et. al. were doing OLD BLUES MUSIC, written and first performed by southern black delta folk?

My reaction: Huh?

And in fairness, this was the 70s, way before the internet. Nowadays, one could simply type in PAUL BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND and learn all you needed to know about the early influences of these bands. But at the time, I actually had to study and go to the library. I felt like a fool; these were bands and musicians I idolized, and I didn't know squat about the actual roots of the music they were playing. Yet, I felt qualified to opine about the quality and the musicianship of their records. And I was published, too, as countless other clueless white rock critics were.

Paul Butterfield went to Woodstock and appeared in the subsequent hit movie. Albert King did not.

I am pleased to report that I learned from my study. I am one of the few people who have heard the original recording of When the Levee Breaks by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. And you know what? I prefer LZ's. But I always refer to it as "the Led Zeppelin remake of the Memphis Minnie/Joe McCoy recording"--I never refer to it as a Led Zeppelin song. Ditto Whole Lotta Love--a morph of Willie Dixon's You need love.

Of course, they aren't exact replicas. Zeppelin was trying something novel--a sort of psychedelic bombastic blues. They succeeded, but they also 'forgot' to put the names of the original authors of the songs on their work, and that's why they ended up in court. The operative term is BLUES, which was invented by a certain group of people in a certain cultural moment and location. Yes, you get credit for the psychedelic bombast, but the blues came from someone else. (As much as you have, can't you give credit where it is due without going to freakin COURT????)

Unfortunately, we now have Amanda, doing what I would call a Led Zeppelin: What, me, worry? And let me make it very clear: I love Led Zeppelin. I refer to a whole process of cultural and racial appropriation, and how deep and insidious it is. As white people, we ARE largely unconscious of it, at first. That is how people like Amanda get by with the innocent routine, just like me at RED TIDE and Jimmy Page in court: Huh?

Hopefully, that time has passed. Huh don't cut it anymore. Huh is extremely fucked up. You have the ease, comfort and availability of the internet; you don't have to traipse across town to the library or earnestly trek to the local blues-hound's apartment and beg for copies of tapes, the way I did, and for that matter, the way Jimmy Page did. IT'S ALL RIGHT THERE AT YOUR FINGERTIPS.

And giving credit, too, is just as easy. You might try it.