Thursday, October 15, 2009

Amnesia-inducing process

At Dusted Magazine, Kevan Harris reviews a book called Freedom Rhythm and Sound: Revolutionary Jazz Original Cover Art 1965-83, published by Soul Jazz Records. In doing so, he describes an approach to the history of jazz that runs counter to the tradition that sees jazz as "America's classical music" and, in George Lewis' words, as "dominated by autobiography" and thus sidestepping (obliterating) "issues of intellectual development, social context, racial conditions or the subjects’ view of culture, history, and philosophy". Revolutionary jazz especially was a collective enterprise, not dominated by the ego of the soloist. Harris' review is an invigorating and fascinating reminder of the kinds of music "self-appointed keepers of 'official' jazz history worked hard to efface any trace of" and ends with this:
Writing this piece from the periphery of the United States’ world reach [from Iran], I cannot help but read this collection as a book that is anti-Obama, though this is assuredly not the editors’ intention. After all, given what has occurred in the U.S. between January and now, it seems we are experiencing the fastest unraveling of a liberal consensus since the Weimar Republic. In 2008, the Obama campaign was astonishingly able to get 18-24 year olds from around the country to knock on doors in poor neighborhoods, engage strangers in debate, go sleepless nights occupied with political action that many had told them was futile and impossibly naïve (I know, because they constantly were skipping my classes to go to places like Iowa and South Carolina). These individuals have the rare experience of being involved in a social movement that actually wins what it sets out to accomplish.

Did it, though? It was recently reported that Obama’s staff had to get the President “fired up” to take on his critics before his recent address to Congress on health care. The passage from New York Review of Books is telling: “Obama, whose high self-esteem is well known among close observers, had previously assumed that a ‘following,’ a ‘movement,’ would be there without his having to do much to stimulate it.” Frankly, the movement is already gone, so someone should let him down easy. But it was Obama and his technocratic centrism that demobilized it, and the guy’s just too damn charismatic for anyone to admit it.

What if we lived in a world where all that youth energy, filled with utopian visions, knowing that history was on our side, foregoing the established routes of behavior, was directed into something other than the amnesia-inducing process known as an American presidential election? Something more locally and globally minded than simply a re-branded nationalism? Maybe, it would have produced something comparable to the arts, movements and lasting social resonance that underlie this book.

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