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.


Renegade Evolution said...

is she page or plant?

Daisy said...

Speaking of appropriation, I forgot to credit R. Crumb for the Creem logo! :P

harriettheelf said...

Holy crap.

I go away for a day, I miss the entire story, and now BFP has stopped WRITING?!

I literally do not know how to respond to this.

Octogalore said...

Nice analogy, Daisy.

Daisy said...

If the above links aren't working, it might be because Brownfemipower's blog, a thing of power, poetry and beauty, seems to be gone, kaput, over, ended. At least, as of this writing.

Amanda's is still there, last time I looked.

I think that sums up everything, actually.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Harriett -
I KNOW. I went to bed early last night. Got home from work today and everything is in a shambles.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Forgot to say - excellent post, Daisy.

John Powers said...

Oh wow this post kept me busy for a good while! I don't follow these blogs, but I had heard of and have read Brownfemipower. Getting the 404 message early on in the journey you've laid out made me sad.

You linked to belledame222 who linked to Brownfemipower who made an essential point:

"I give a shit about that because not only does this erase the work that women of color are doing within racist white dominant structures, but it erases the work we are doing within our own communities."

I care very much about the writers of the blogs I read, most of the blogs are not commercial blogs. These offerings make me feel so much richer. But the metaphor "richer" confuses matters. The "stealing" here isn't about money, "erasure" gets to the meat and bones of it.

You made some very good points about appropriation. Thank you Daisy for all you do with your blog. I feel glad when I see a new post up by you. It matters a lot that you work so diligently to make visible again what others erase.

Marion said...

Good points, Daisy...and well presented, as always.

Dave Dubya said...

Not to defend the millionaires of Led Zeppelin, but the very blues artists they "appropriated" from had also similarly "borrowed" from the generation preceding them.

It makes me want to write some songs like: "Whole Lotta Affection", "Stairway to Paradise", and "Dosed and Confused".

Jenny Dreadful said...

I hope BFP comes back and starts writing again someday soon. She'll be missed.

Kristen said...

Folks, brownfemipower has NOT stopped writing. She took her blog down. Those two are not the same.

cripchick said...

goodness you're amazing

Daisy said...

Follow up thread on Feministe:

This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging, beforewarned--locked at 319 posts!

If you are coming over FROM Feministe, welcome!

And Cripchick, thank you! ((blushes))

Victoria Marinelli said...

Just FYI Daisy, I received your comment (on an unrelated thread on my blog) re: this matter with instructions that I visit various links on this situation, of which I had been blissfully unaware at the time. I meant no slight in not publishing your comment; rather, the thread to which you posted it no longer exists, as I decided that the only fitting contribution I could make to this discussion within the feminist blogosphere would be to commit blogicide, which I promptly did. (Although this was hardly my only impetus; also, I have reincarnated, somewhat. Which is to say my entire blog now dates from yesterday.)

So, sorry if anyone is going to miss any of the last 4+ years of my blogging (irregular and uneven in both quality and relevance as it has been), but I'm DONE, forever, with participating in internecine warfare.

Best wishes - Victoria

Victoria Marinelli said...

...Um, and after reading the above comment thread (which I actually hadn't done before posting my own), I though I should go ahead and clarify that taking down my blog was my very own idea.

That anyone else had been considering taking the same steps, or had followed through on doing so... well then, this is, in fact, purely coincidental timing.

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