Why We Must BOOGIE!
Issue #56, Summer 2001
Do you want to boogie woogie?
— Madonna, background vocals on "Music," 2000
A recent spin of a 78 RPM recording of "Bob Wills Boogie," by the formative late-'40s Western swing band Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, unfurled a flapping tapestry of jazz influences. There were guitar licks influenced by Charlie Christian, a drummer flailing on the tom-toms, eight-to-the-bar piano, a fiddle amalgamating turkey-in-the-straw Americana with Stephan Grappelli gypsy jazz, a pedal steel guitar, and bandleader Wills' Satchmo-like exhortations. In a little over two minutes it all paints an evocative picture of postwar optimism for a booming oil economy supplanting agriculture and white boomtown Texans with the sophistication of black jazzmen in New York. Boogie for these exuberant Playboys means progress, machinery, crosscultural jitterbugging, big-city flair, and a promise of the good life for all.
Fast forward to 2001, when a thousand G. W. Bush inauguration guests ("The Best Little Ball in D.C." at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel) included Z.Z. Top, the cartoonishly bearded — except for drummer Frank Beard — Texas band that began as John Lee Hooker imitators, then provided high-concept heavy pop for MTV. As Governor of Texas, Bush had declared 15 May 1997 Z.Z. Top Day. With a sort of thoughtless drive, simpleton songs and guitar pyrotechnics, Z.Z. Top came to epitomize what sci-fi comics writer Link Yaco meant when he said he "liked any kind of music as long as it's not boogie." In performing for the dubious victor of the U.S. Presidential election swindle, Z.Z. Top's boogie only means sentimental escapism, hackneyed Boomer-era vaudeville, played to fulfill the unimaginative expectations of the faithful Republican crowd. It's as venal and base as Lee Atwater pushing an electric guitar into George Bush Senior's hands for a photo-op at his 1989 inauguration.
Meanwhile, in the heartland, the remnants of Lynyrd Skynyrd have surfaced to tour joylessly, their Pittsburgh show in heavy rotation on DirecTV with special DVD version, performing in front of a giant Confederate battle flag — what TIME magazine's Jack White succinctly calls the "American swastika" — and literally raising another rebel flag tied to the singer's mic stand. Reminiscing about 1960s segregationist governor George Wallace ("In Birmingham, they love the Governor") before an all-white crowd warmed up by Clinton-hating carnivore Ted Nugent, the paunchy shades of Skynyrd devote their rock 'n' roll energies toward indoctrinating a new generation of Angry White Males (and the women who love 'em).
Has the Boogie really fallen so far?
We have chosen BOOGIE! as the title of Bad Subjects' second music issue, the first to focus on the topic since issue #9 in 1993. To many activists — including members of the Bad Subjects Production Team — all that is wrongheaded in rock, perhaps in all mainstream music under global capitalism, is personified in a beery young white lad pumping his fist in the air, hollering "BOOGIE!"
Let us try to peel back the conceit to reveal progressive seeds.
Boogie springs from its technology, either guitar or piano. Boogie woogie was a blues style born of Harlem rent parties and country roadhouses, distinguished by fast and complex two-handed piano arrangements, providing full sound on a solo instrument while the rest of the band went overseas to fight World War II.
The 1970s began with the fey and androgynous T. Rex singing of electric boogie. The "boogie" genre included otherwise inexplicable entities like George Thoroughgood or Stevie Ray Vaughan, their somewhat cultish working-class music often appealing to young, white, male factory workers while academics' and teachers' children (Richard Hell, Iggy Pop) were crafting Punk. Soon the word "boogie" became overused — by "your boogie man," in "boogie shoes," going to "boogie woogie oogie till you just can't boogie no more" — as a synonym for cheerful, careless sexual encounter. Yet its silliness powered the newly multiracial disco confluence on the dance floor, while the thumping beat beneath Sylvester's shriek powered the pre-AIDS era of gay liberation as well.
Is Boogie by definition anti-intellectual? Danny Moynihan's novel of manners set in the New York Art market is entitled Boogie Woogie after a Piet Mondrian painting on exhibit in that city's Museum of Modern Art. In 1974 the J. Geils Band brought writer Lester Bangs, inspiration to many cultural critics for his impassioned writing, onstage with them in Detroit to clack away upon an amplified typewriter as a featured soloist.
Are there Boogie politics? A suburban Johannesburg, South Africa record store features the late John Lee Hooker not far from the "Ethnic" section with its own Zulu, Xhosa and Venda musicians, while a CD Kitaar Boogie is found in the "Afrikaans" rack. In the U.S. we heard the unifying beat in the big multiracial demonstrations on campuses to defend affirmative action, to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, or in New York protesting the killing of Amadou Diallo. "Let's BOOGIE!" is sometimes a battle cry like "Banzai!" "Geronimo!" or "Cowabunga!" and we like to think it might have been heard at the protests against global exploitation in Seattle and Washington, DC.
There may also be some of the best of the BOOGIE! spirit in the different music and audio art examined by this issue's contributors. Micah Holmquist questions the politics of avant-garde jazz, while Rob Drew takes the mic in celebration of karaoke. Elizabeth Rich examines the recombinant audio content of Negativland. Baynard Woods keeps on truckin' with the radio on, while Lindsey Eck defines exactly what is country on those parts of the dial.
In two essays exploring politico-cultural roots of Bad Subjects' California birthplace, Mark Van Proyen traces the esthetics and politics of 1970s punk in San Francisco and Mat Callahan remembers a band who threw their fortunes in with radical struggle. Charlie Bertsch then locates the Eagles' Hotel California in other ominous currents of that decade. Mike Mosher examines Detroit's two big-ticket white rappers.
When Madonna, in "Music," sings that music "makes the bourgeoisie and the rebel," are we to finish the sentence with her following phrase "never gonna stop," or accept her assertion to that point — that music defines both the ruling class and its opponents?
Think about it as you pull on your raveware, dancing shoes, or reading glasses. And ... BOOGIE!