Saw another French group at Joe’s — CQMD (Ceux Qui Marche Debout). A funky brass band obviously inspired by the New Orleans grooves and bands, but also by James Brown, Charles Brown (they did a Go-Go cover) and others. Vocals mostly chanted by a host of the players led by a young mulatta who resembled a more athletic Josephine Baker. Incredible grooves, tighter, I would bet, than many of their New Orleans models… but not rigid, as white people can often be when they do this — this group has a mighty swing.
It made me think they will certainly be seen through the lens of reverse discrimination here — they will not be appreciated or written about because the are not black. The same goes for black rock groups, black classical composers, etc it goes without saying.
Saw a play last night — Hurlyburly — a revival of a David Rabe play about a bunch of guys and gals on the fringes of the movie scene in LA — it’s basically a vortex of bullshit and self-delusion, fueled by drugs, anger, sex and more drugs. The writing, poetic speeches full of narcissism, backstabbing and sheer lunacy, was often oddly beautiful.
Went by a talk by Adrian LeBlanc, the writer of Random Family, a book I read recently. She’d spent 10+ years with an extended Puerto Rican family, including boyfriends, step parents, etc… and her book details rough lives in the South Bronx and the various poverty-inspired tragedies — with the characters often ending up in jail — women and men both.
She basically lived with these people during that time, and the writing describes every sordid, loving, hopeful, happy and fucked-up detail of their lives… except the presence of the writer. One gets a deep sense of each person, their connections to each other and what motivates them to behave in ways that white middle class folks might objectively view as self-destructive or mean. We see them as human beings, in other words, not as examples, news stories or statistics.
But her deep involvement brought up lots of serious journalistic issues, which she and her editor and a collaborator tried to address. She mentioned that as she got sucked into the Bronx world, more and more her downtown life began to shrink, until eventually she had no “personal” life at all. At the rare dinner party with downtown friends she would be assaulted with questions as if she had just returned from some strange planet. Her friends and others wanted amazing stories, which there were in abundance, but Le Blanc felt these were cheapening and betraying the humanity of her uptown friends, and eventually she just kept quiet about her uptown life.
When she did eventually realize it was time to put the stories down into words it was extremely difficult for her at first. She’d lost the gift of seeing the uptown world as an outsider — she was seeing it as its inhabitants did, more or less. So when she began to write she left lots of stuff out. Her editor, however, began to prod, through conversations and meetings, and the details began to emerge.
These deeply immersive journalists realized they often ignored or denied seeing lots of things. At one point one of them attended an uptown family party with a photographer in tow… a party at which some kids were maliciously teased by their grandfather. Teasing that led eventually to violence and humiliation. The writer took it all in stride, denying the violence and remembering only sort of rough horseplay. But then later the photographer said, “no, look at my pictures… this was violent and cruel, you're just too close to it.”
Only when confronted by the photographs did the journalist realize what she’d witnessed.
Oddly, the reaction from the book's subjects was, “you didn’t tell enough, you left out some of the craziest shit” …which apparently was partly true. It was decided that the intended readers would lose all sympathy for some of the characters if all of their behavior were described. Without long and detailed descriptions of context it was just too hard for downtowners, for example, to understand why an incarcerated man had to have new Nikes etc. when his wife or girlfriend could barely feed her kids. It just made him seem cruel and unfeeling, which he was apparently not. It seems shoes are so crucial in jail to his place in the world, in society, that it almost became a matter of life and death.