Sunday, November 04, 2012

Pop music and Coulombe on Madonna

Turns out he and she are distant cousins. (The Russian Catholic church in San Francisco used to have a Fr Ciccone as pastor; I always wondered if he’s in the family. PA has a Ukrainian Catholic priest — he changed rites; long story — named Fr Gregory Sinatra; yes, he’s related!)

Though she’s not from the period I like (in concert I’ve seen The Two Remaining Dovells, The Americans and the Talented Jay Soundalike, and A Man Who Says He Grew Up with Dion in the Bronx; he’s very good by the way), she’s an oldies act, purely a phenomenon of the ’80s, when her act was very good. It seems to this fogey that the advent of grunge (minus the cultural BS it was pretty good music, one of rock’s nine lives) sidelined her forever (‘gay icon’ blah blah notwithstanding) although some younger acts seem to largely imitate her (Lady Gaga of course, another not unattractive Italian — I like some of the music and her duet with the venerable Tony Bennett shows she can sing, and arguably Katy Perry; pretty girl but I can take or leave the music). So why pay too much attention to her? (Like she wants of course: it’s her livelihood, although now she could retire comfortably if she wanted.)

I neither hate personally nor support Romney (his record doesn’t warrant it) but I won’t mind if (my prediction) Obama (abortion ghoul whose administration hates the church) loses. That Madonna, preaching to the proverbial choir (a concert: fans; people who paid to see her), gets booed for plugging O. may be a sign of how the election will go. Also, that she’s an oldies act may mean her fan base now reflects the Middle American majority, if it still exists. It’s sick of Obamamania. The Dinkins effect kicks in: it feels it did its duty trying to make it up to blacks; let’s move on.

Like with most people, she got my attention nearly 30 years ago for two things (Coulombe’s psychologizing’s probably right; she seems desperate for attention): the music and videos were well done, and her abusing the church, trying to shock. Once I realized she was trying to get my goat I just tuned out. I seem to have tuned out most mainstream/new pop after about the summer of 1998 when grunge and good adult contemporary seemed to give way to soundalike boy bands and acts like Britney Spears, kiddie stuff. Guess it comes with getting older: you realize it’s repeating itself and it all starts to sound alike. So my dial’s tuned to, you guessed it, roughly 1935-1965, from Benny Goodman to Frankie Valli with the sweet spot somewhere in the early ’50s when the big bands (and their crooners and sultry singers) and boogie-woogie met the blues and black call-and-response to segue into the earliest rock. Locally I listen to 92.1 FM.

By the way I thought Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show was maudlin and obvious. The video trying to shock notwithstanding, ‘Like a Prayer’ is good music (‘there are only two kinds, good and bad’), skillfully using black gospel. But the show’s ending with the candles spelling ‘World Peace’? Yes, of course (but cue Steve Martin’s fireside Christmas spoof) but come on. That should have been laughed out of the stadium. For all her tries at being edgy, she’s corny.

Anyway, Coulombe’s probably right that this shrewd cookie meant to provoke the boos: it’s attention! It got a non-fan like me to write about her, right? Mission accomplished.
This year’s clash of the titans is between an adherent of generic black Christianity and a Mormon.
I think Coulombe’s off. I don’t want to attack Obama or Romney personally but with Sailer I agree Obama’s not an American black, though he’s long wanted to be or be seen as one, but sort of an exotic international type who’s actually very WASPy white (I knew that when I learned his mother was white and his father foreign), and as part of that, he strikes me as the same irreligious type as much of his white fan base. He went through the motions of getting baptized and joining a church because blacks go to church, and to get white votes too:
One of our national culture’s many vagaries is that while the myth of separation between Church and state has grown to where the judiciary will seemingly not rest until the last cross is plucked from veterans’ memorials and every town square is manger-free at Christmas, most of us still demand personal belief from our politicos.
Interestingly he joined a church seemingly made to order for what he wanted: part of the mainliniest mainliners, the UCC (the Pilgrims turned agnostics, a world away from black Baptist and Pentecostal Christianity), with a congregation and minister who mixed that with a kind of black militancy, fulfilling both O.’s real religious (non-)beliefs and his fantasy of being black. (Wright was right when he quoted somebody saying 9/11 was America’s chickens coming home to roost.)

P.S. Recently, finally saw Eddie and the Cruisers. I like 1963. I like Springsteen. But if you’re going to set your movie then, don’t have Springsteen/E Street Band look/soundalikes. Maybe that was supposed to be the point: the moody tortured-artist hero and his band were ‘ahead of their time’. But I think the writers were just lazy.


  1. I don't see anything "generic" about Obama's Black Christianity. In fact I don't even see him as an inheritor of the original Black Civil Rights movement that supposedly was traditional Protestant Evangelical/Baptist Christianity.

    He's a White Man (raised by his White grandparents) passing for Black with a Black wife (and children) providing his credibility as a Black politician/President.

    1. Obama has no really felt generic Christianity, no black Christianity and no generic black Christianity. He's not a lapsed born Catholic or Protestant (I'm not on the birther or 'He's a Muslim!' bandwagons); it seems to me that for him the church thing, getting baptized as an adult, was always just a halfhearted part of his political act he no longer needed when he reached the top so he dropped it. By the way his grandparents were so liberal they quit the Unitarians. Of course he's not an heir to the American black experience. His father was from Kenya!

      His trying to become black by marriage reminds me of Iron Eyes Cody, the crying Indian from the Keep America Beautiful commercial in the early ’70s. The son of Italians (when you know, you can see it), he not only played Indians for decades in the movies and on TV but tried to pass himself off as one, and long did; he admired native cultures and had a long and happy marriage with a real Indian.

    2. "...reminds me of Iron Eyes Cody, the crying Indian from the Keep America Beautiful commercial in the early ’70s."

      The live-action film version of Dudley Do-Right with Brendan Fraser has a hilarious running joke based on old Iron Eyes Cody. Alex Rocco (a real-life hanger-on of the Boston underworld who later played Moe Greene in The Godfather) plays an "Indian" chief who rules over the Canarsie Kumquats, a "rarely-studied tribe of South Brooklyn Indians". The whole "tribe" consists of New York Italians who run a glorified dinner theater for gullible tourists.


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