Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Night Life (1992)

There's really no question of what jazz I'd be seeing at the start of the new year in 1992 - Betty Carter, appearing at Fat Tuesday's. Carter released her first record in 1958, and while her sound certainly grew and changed over time, it's remarkable how mature her style was - both in interpreting melodies and soloing - from the start of her recording career. I've always enjoyed Carter's melody embellishments much more than Sarah Vaughan's - Carter's mission is to communicate something about the song to her audience, while Vaughan's seems to be to simply communicate her own singing - and her solos more than those of the default "jazz" vocal soloist, Ella Fitzgerald. 

By 1992, Carter had become a living legend, a bandleader (like Art Blakey) whose high standards and impeccable taste ushered a generation of tasteful and swinging musicians onto the scene as her sidemen. My guess is that the song referred to in the New Yorker listing is "The Good Life," which Carter recorded in her 1963 record 'Round Midnight and Tony Bennett recorded the same year for I Wanna Be Around... Here's Betty singing an absolutely killer version of "The Good Life" in 1989, the year after she re-recorded it for her record Look What I Got, which won a Grammy:

From The New Yorker, January 6th, 1992:

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Comics Page (for the New Year)

From Harvey Pekar's American Splendor #8, 1983:
America is a violence-loving country where people like John Wayne and even criminals like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bonnie and Clyde are considered heroes and heroines. America is a country where the successful man is thought to be the rich man, where honesty, diligence, outstanding scholarship and artistic achievements that bring no financial reward are looked upon with indifference. America is a country where t's considered O.K. and even clever to break the law as long as you can get away with it. Richard Nixon wasn't disgraced here because he was dishonest. People had known he was crooked for a long time; he was disgraced because he got caught. Add those factors up and it's no wonder you got a lot of people who want money and material luxuries and are willing to use illegal means, including violence, t' get them. If they're caught, they're considered losers, but if they get away with it there'll be plenty of people in this country that'll praise 'em.
January is the time for resolutions. I have a few - to spend my money wisely, to keep writing little essays for this blog, to get better at a few things and follow up on some others. But my biggest resolution is a continuation of a process I really started in earnest last year - to consciously and intentionally be a kind person, someone who will leave others feeling better than they were before we saw each other. I don't have much power in the world beyond myself, and in a year when the problems that surround us can feel oppressive and unrelenting, I think making sure that what I can control is doing good things, not mean ones, will be all the more important.

I try to keep politics off of this blog, so I'll let you draw your own conclusions from this post. But I hope that all of you have a wonderful 2018, and that we can all come together rather than being set against each other. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Night Life (1971)

I'd be seeing Rita Da Costa with Don Pullen at Peewee's. No question.

From The New Yorker, December 25th, 1971:

 Jimmy Ryan's:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Captain America vs. Ideology!!!

In a recent book review for the New York Times, Manohla Dargis writes that “[h]owever they’re defined, comics are everywhere, on big and little screens, on the page and online.” Indeed, comics are becoming a more and more frequently studied topic in academia, not merely in art classes or examinations of popular culture. Comics have been examined through theoretical lenses for decades, but these lenses can often speak more to form than content (such as in Thierry Groensteen’s seminal work on comics and semiotics). One of the theoretical lenses most often applied to the content of comics is that of ideology. The comic book even more than the newspaper comic strip is fertile ground for exploring issues of ideology and culture – springing into prominence not long before World War II and becoming entrenched in American popular culture during the Cold War, and featuring supermen and women fighting battles of good and evil, comics can seem tailor-made for examination from an ideological perspective.

Raymond Williams breaks down Marx’s theory of ideology into two distinct ideas: ideology as “abstract and false thought” divorced from “real material conditions and relationships,” where “[t]he ‘thinkers’ of a ruling class . . . [are] ‘its active conceptive ideologists, who make the perfecting of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood’” (109); and “as a set of ideas which arise from a given set of material interests, or, more broadly, from a definite class or group” (110). In other words, Marxist ideology can be summed up in two ways: as either an illusion told by the ruling class to itself, or as the attitudes that result from a specific group’s vested worldview. The latter definition is the one most commonly applied today, especially in regards to pop culture (including comics), which is often seen as displaying the ideological stances of its creators. In this paper, I will examine Captain America #130, published in October 1970 by Marvel Comics with writing and art by Stan Lee, Gene Colan and Dick Ayers. Captain America is by dint of his very name a representative of an ideology. Captain America first appeared in 1941, before the United States entered World War II, “but right there on the cover of the first issue,” write Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith, “the red, white, and blue clad hero was landing a solid right cross on Hitler’s jaw” (240-241); “[f]rom the moment he socked Hitler on the jaw, Captain America was the embodiment of American idealism” (Duncan and Smith 241). After fighting the Germans and the Japanese in World War II and then Communism in the 1950s (a period that has been retconned from the backstory of the current incarnation of Captain America), Cap went through a phase of “questioning authority” in the 1960s before tackling government corruption in the 1970s (Duncan and Smith 241).

I want to examine this third period of questioning authority because it is more ambiguous than the adventures against clearly defined enemies that bookend it. Which of Marx’s two concepts of ideology is found in this comic book? And what does the ideology of Captain America – a member of the greatest generation finding his way through the rebellious late 1960s – say about how these concepts of ideology inform our reading of American culture in that period?