Thursday, October 27, 2005

More Local Fishwrap Rejections

I attended the board meeting for the Northwest Louisiana Art Gallery this evening, a board I proudly serve as the recording secretary. I was once absolutely blown away at the high level of artistic talent and activity in this city, and the commitment to collaboration by artists, typically some of the most self-centered of creatures, across genres. It also pointed up my ongoing frustrations at trying to find something of the same spirit in progressive political activity. If there is something I'm missing, please contact me at and let me know what it is, and I'l get involved. If you're feeling the same frustrations, let me know, because I'm never going to stop plugging away at trying to get our society to live up to the ideals it so loudly professes. Anyway, here are a couple of more letters to the editor of the Times that haven't been published. I was actually told the first one would be published, but that was several days ago, so I'm moving on. Y'all enjoy:

Did it actually take almost a full month for Edward Bradford to compose the opinion piece the Times chose to publish on Saturday, October 10 (“Recent writer seems to lack an understanding of history”)? I realize that it is the responsibility of a newspaper to present the full spectrum of political opinion, but surely there are people in this community capable of expressing conservative ideas with some semblance of the coherence and stylistic elegance Mr. Bradford so obviously lacks.
First, there are what are almost certainly distortions of a previous writer’s views regarding religion, However, since that opinion piece was published almost a month ago, I can’t consult it to either confirm or deny that speculation. He then seems to agree with that writer that George Bush is a coward, but tells us to “Let it go.” We are then treated to a laundry list of buzzwords and sentence fragments expressing his contradictory political philosophy. Evidently, and completely foreign to my own experience, labor unions choose to eliminate their own jobs, some of which are outsourced because “people here won’t fill the jobs,…”. Also, protecting the environment is bad, because of high gas prices. He seems to like Wal-Mart (here’s where the sentence fragments come in), while acknowledging that they are a mega-monopoly, something that conservatives in this country used to oppose.
Bradford also criticizes the previous writer for describing the war in Iraq as “a senseless war based on lies.” I find it fascinating that Bradford does not take issue with the lies, just the charge of senselessness. In his words, “When’s the last time we were attacked by terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001?” I guess my interpretation of “we” is a little more inclusive than Mr. Bradford’s, because I would count the numerous attacks against American troops in Iraq that Al-Qaeda has taken credit for as terrorist attacks against us. Of course, neither American troops nor Al-Qaeda were in Iraq before the sensible invasion based on lies that Mr. Bradford supports.

Oh, that's right, I didn't end up saving the other one. Well here's a book review instead. I shopped it around to several publications, but never heard back from any of them. Fuck rude unprofessionalism and the horse it rode in on! Y'all come back now, hear?

By Michael Parker

book reviewed:
Louisiana Hayride: Radio & Roots Music Along the Red River
By Tracey E. W. Laird
Oxford University Press, 2005

Tracey Laird’s Louisiana Hayride: Radio & Roots Music Along the Red River is a fascinating and concise analysis of the seminal Shreveport, Louisiana-based “barn dance,” broadcast by pioneering country music station KWKH and instrumental in the nurturing of prominent country musicians and rockabilly pioneers. Hank Williams and Elvis Presley are the most prominent examples, but others include Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Rose Maddox, Faron Young, Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Slim Whitman and George Jones. Economic trends, race relations, the evolution and proliferation of media technologies and the development of various genres of American popular music are all explored with the context of North Louisiana’s largest city and its history from antebellum times until about the time of the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Laird is a Shreveport native and currently Assistant Professor of Music at Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Her research included a six-month stint as a part-time disc jockey at Shreveport’s KWKH in 1995 (before its purchase by Clear Channel and subsequent corporate homogenization), and her enthusiasm for the music of the Hayride luminaries is obvious. Her research is meticulous, shedding a bright light on Shreveport’s history through the prism of popular culture, serving as a potential model for other mid-sized Southern cities. Finally, if you’ll excuse my flippancy, Dr. Laird manages to communicate profound sociological insights without resorting to jargon-laden prose battering the reader like a Foucaultian anvil.
Laird asserts that the Louisiana Hayride was the culmination of musical cross-fertilization between black and white musicians, despite the cultural mores and legal restrictions of the time. Pre-Hayride Shreveport-area musicians included folk blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter and two-time governor Jimmie Davis, composer of “You Are My Sunshine,” the official state song. Although Ledbetter was “discovered” as a recording artist by John and Alan Lomax and embraced by the 1930’s and 40’s New York folk scene, including Woody Guthrie and the Weavers, Laird points out that his “Rock Island Line,” for one, was embraced by white country musicians, and “…both Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash sang it at the Louisiana Hayride during the mid-1950’s,” (p. 39). And although he felt the need to embrace segregation in his victorious 1960 gubernatorial race – against Earl Long, among others – Jimmie Davis recorded with African-American musicians in the 1930’s, and denied charges that he had been photographed dancing with Lena Horne during his Hollywood days.
KWKH radio benefited from a convergence of opportune geographic and technological circumstances, combined with the flamboyant personality and vision of owner W.K. Henderson, described by Laird as a Huey Long-style populist unafraid to take on the Federal Radio Commission, chain radio stations and chain retail stores. Although financial woes forced him out during the Depression, he had personally hired Jimmie Davis and shown that hillbilly music could anchor radio programming.
The Louisiana Hayride kicked off its initial broadcast on April 3, 1948, from Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium (which is still in use, though disgracefully underutilized). By August, Hank Williams made his first appearance, highlighting his first major hit, “Lovesick Blues.” Laird sees the song’s distinctly non-hillbilly origins as an appropriate metaphor for the Hayride’s cross-cultural importance: “Penned by Tin Pan Alley lyricist Irving Mills and composer Cliff Friend, ‘Lovesick Blues’ was recorded several times over by blues singers like Bertha Chippie Hill (1927), as well as by vaudevillian Emmett Miller (1925 and 1928, the latter backed by jazz musicians) and hillbilly singer Rex Griffin (1939) both Williams’ direct yodeling predecessors,” (pp. 94-5).
Like many of the Hayride luminaries, Williams also spent time with the Grand Ole Opry. Laird does a credible job comparing the two, arguing that the Opry’s social and musical restrictions (ranging from intolerance for Williams’ drinking to a long-standing ban on drums) worked in the Hayride’s favor, particularly as rockabilly began to compete for the younger country music audience. The Hayride’s embrace of free-wheeling innovation, which Laird argues is a musical legacy going back to the mid-19th century in Shreveport, allowed it to incubate rockabilly and rock and roll, both through Presley, Cash, Horton and other singers, as well as homegrown sidemen like guitarists James Burton and Jerry Kennedy, drummer D.J. Fontana and bassist Joe Osborn.
Laird devotes substantial space to these unsung heroes, who devoured the country and rhythm and blues programs sharing time on KWKH, and cut their teeth in the rough-and-tumble nightclubs of the Strip in Bossier City, then Shreveport’s looser sister city across the Red River. In addition to house band work with the Hayride, backing the many musicians already mentioned, Burton and Fontana both had long stints with Elvis Presley, and their combined credits span the spectrum of rock and roll and country music: Rick Nelson, Buffalo Springfield, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, the Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel, Mickey Gilley, Roy Orbison.
Finally, Laird touches on the connections between the r/evolution of country music and rock and roll, and parallel developments in American literature, painting and acting. As a typically alienated teenager growing up just outside of Shreveport, the existential artistry of Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer, James Dean and Jackson Pollock, resonated deeply within me, in a way that nothing even peripherally connected with Shreveport could. I don’t know what residues of the Hayride’s halcyon years still existed in Shreveport at that time (the mid-1980’s), but I do know that I appreciate the concise existentialism of “Wreck on the Highway” or “She Thinks I Still Care” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down” more than anything I’ve read of Norman Mailer. And I am deeply grateful to Dr. Tracey Laird for her elucidation of my hometown’s contribution to that lexicon.

Michael Parker is a freelance writer and disc jockey in Shreveport, Louisiana. He hosts the “Invisible Republic” show on Centenary College’s KSCL, 91.3, in Shreveport, playing traditional and contemporary roots music interspersed with news and political commentary, concentrating on labor and working class issues.


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