Pete's Blog

Dancing

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Reductio ad absurdum. It's Latin for "Reduce to absurdity." As in so much of American culture, society, and politics leading up to and away from the turn of the century, the concept looms larger and larger as you look at the story of our popular music. The desire to reduce musical styles to their essentials, then grind those essentials to powder, then blow that powder to the winds, all the while declaring your loyalty to those styles, is as American as televangelists, transvestites, and tea parties. That sounds like I'm going to begin another rant about the end of American popular music and its significance in the decline and fall of society as a whole but, frankly, I'm just too tired. Still, there is one area I can use as an illustration: Dancing. Let's start with one of the indisputably great rock and roll records, Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly." Listen to the Specialty Records original, recorded in New Orleans, and you'll hear a relentless, swinging syncopation you won't hear in any subsequent versions of the song, not by the Beatles, not by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, not by the legion of bar bands that have covered it since. With Earl Palmer setting the pace on drums, "Good Golly, Miss Molly" is rhythmically all over the map, moving sideways as it moves forward, inviting dancers to swing their hips, loosen up, move in two or three directions at once, just like the music does. It's three minutes of liberation. The dancers you see on teen-dance television shows of time are responding to that unspoken message. Their dances involve moving forward and back while shaking their hips from side to side. Listen to Metallica, or to Kanye West, and the dancing it prompts is the same for white rock or metal fans and black hip-hoppers. Both camps do essentially the same dance - up and down, up and down. The white kids may bob their heads a bit more, the black kids wave their hands around a little more, but the groove is the same: slog, slog, slog, slog. The backs bend and straighten, the knees bounce, but all that varies is the tempo. I suppose a case could be made for the racial progress implied by the utter lameness of both sides, the absence of a social or artistic divide between what used to be rival camps. But I'm too tired.

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