Required Reading #2

This makes two weeks in a row I've had the wherewithal to put this out. I'll go ahead and say this is something of a roll for me.

  1. The death of blues legend BB King is, naturally, the biggest news in the music world right now. There is an endless amount to say here. For all the rather cheap praise being heaped on him there is a small contingent who call his music unimpressive and anodyne. I tend to fall into both camp and neither. He was certainly marketed ad nauseam for the last few decades of his life, which makes it fairly easy to forget that he was part of a seminal generation of migratory blues musicians that electrified (I mean that in a literal sense) the genre and for better or for worse took it global. King's death, however, does provide another opportunity to talk about America's denial of its violently racist history. As Tony Fletcher writes for Salon, there is a shamelessly cruel irony in the lauding of blues as "America's music" even as the country refuses to truly deal with the painful conditions that gave rise to  it. Read Fletcher's piece. It's important.
  2. On a related note, Run the Jewels released the video for "Early" this week. It's an animated video. What it illustrates for me, which I confess I personally didn't notice when I first listened to the song, is how well El-P's verse meshes with that of Killer Mike. Mike's verse stands out given that it so starkly illustrates the phenomenon of police violence, an issue which is for obvious reasons at the front of everyone's mind right now. In light of this, El-P's verse at first blush comes off as something of a throwaway. The video is smart for highlighting the themes of a pervasive electronic surveillance state and the atomization that comes with it. Taking the song as a whole there is really is a sense of ordinary people trapped in the panopticon here, albeit in very different ways for Black and white. El was definitely on point in his tweet: it's unfortunately "always the right time" for a video like this to be released.
  3. Oracle Productions are gearing up to put on Suzan-Lori Parks' The America Play in a little less than a month. The play is a stunning piece of work, and there's plenty reason to believe that Oracle will do the script justice in a way befitting their radical cred. There's a pretty excellent (though some what postmodern) deconstruction of the play by University of South Florida professor Rachel Naor. It gives a fairly good idea of what makes the play an important one in terms of contemporary America.
  4. A far less publicized death this past week was that of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright. Wright's poetry isn't particularly interesting in its own right, though there are clear glimpses of very vivid imagery at play in his words. For me, it only becomes interesting when you learn of the severe struggles both he and his father (also a Pulitzer-winning poet) had with mental illness. I have no idea whether this does a disservice to the man or his work but I do know that a lot of art takes on a whole different meaning when one sympathetically considers the influence of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, so on and so forth. And to be sure, the "genius is touched with madness" trope has become a well-worn one over the past few decades, often veering into somewhat over-romanticized and frankly offensive territory. But taken on a sheer balance sheet, there is undeniably a connection to speak of there, just on the basis of understanding how the human mind works. This Brain Pickings post profiles recent work by Nancy Andreasen which insists that in fact the process of creativity and the process of becoming unhinged from reality as it were are actually quite similar. Again, it should be taken with a grain of salt or two, but it's a concept that has broad implications for the creation of art. Reading Wright's poetry with those implications in mind is when his work starts to take on real life.
If capitalism is performative, then the revolution will be a masterpiece. "Atonal Notes" is Red Wedge editor Alexander Billet's blog on music, poetry and performance. Follow: @UbuPamplemousse