Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:50 am
The thesis looked good:Michael T. Bertrand / Race, Rock, and Elvishttp://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/79fye2sx9780252072703.html
But I was displeased to see him erroneously place a racial epithet and an expletive in Scotty Moore's mouth:Michael T. Bertrand, Race, Rock, and Elvis (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, October 1, 2000)
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Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:02 am
There are aha moments if you're open to them In the Ghetto. The most prominent came when Bertrand tracked down the original mention of the shoe shine story. It really exposed as the unsubstantiated slur it was. Another was the brief comments by NAACP director Julian Bond's positive memories of singing "Teddy Bear" as teen.
For most folks, though, the biggest revelations are in Bertrand's establishment of context and the way it makes Elvis' actions seem that much more remarkable. One of the things that has destroyed Elvis' reputation these past few years has been the rearview tendency to make Elvis' decision seem natural, par for the course, approved by the establishment. Bertrand's text shows it to be anything but. For the casual reader, they might be shocked by the Nat King Cole anecdotes that Bertrand replays, not only his on stage beating but also the reaction to his TV show. There was a huge backlash against Cole's show in the South and many affiliates did not air it. Cole was not preaching racial equality on the show or radical black action. It was a simple, if very well done, entertainment show, but for many in the South it was simply infuriating that a black man was on the air and the star of a show. In this environment, it was far from obvious that a young white southerner would think it was hip to be associated with black culture.
Some of the other context is Bertrand's use of the then contemporary black press. Guralnick hinted at this, but Bertrand really digs into it and contemporary readers might be shocked to see that most of the coverage was positive and Elvis' success was seen as a step forward in race relations and black music. HIs quotations of several interviews with black performers done during the period are especially important. Some like Shirley and Lee saw Elvis as an interloper. For many other performers, though, they viewed Elvis positively. A third track is when Bertrand quotes Wyonnie Harris, from a vintage interview, and Harris claims that not only Elvis but Berry, Richard and the others were copying his and other jump blues acts. For him it was generational thing, not a race thing. And even in that, he recognizes Elvis as one of the heirs to his style, even if of course he sees Elvis' music as lesser than his own. That, to me, was an aha moment.
For me, it's one of the Top Ten Elvis books. Ideas that a Marcus or a Rodman might throw out, Bertrand tries to prove.
Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:55 am
I, too, had hoped for a lot more. He did track down the source of The Rumor, but the "why" of it could be explored more fully and from more angles.
I got a sense of a writer biting off more than he could chew.
And, that dialoge in the Sun studio is not only mistranscribed ("master"?), but needed much more analysis. It was a moment of shocked discovery ("I had it too!") that was very important, AND Elvis said "what?" and used black slang. This is of interest, and was mishandled.
And it must be stressed that one of three people said the word, yet one was singled out. Why? Why that assumption?
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Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:17 am
The reference he's making can be found on track 23 of 1987's 'The Sun Sessions' CD (or LP if you have that). I was familiar with the studio banter on that track long before I read the Bertrand book and I think he takes it out of context in that passage you pointed out. First, I don't think 'those around him' were condemning Elvis by using that word toward him, at least not that day in the studio. Second, who really knows if that is in fact Scotty Moore, I always thought it could possibly be any one of the other three guys that were in the studio.
And finally, and maybe I'm inserting the present into the past here, but when I heard those comments on the recording I always took it as playful banter, using that word the same way it's thrown around now between black people and
The dialogue has been available for years before the 1987 RCA release.
Bertrand's analysis fails on both counts. It is not Moore who says these things, and the comments may be casual, but are not "playful banter."
Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:05 pm
What is unusual about southern man making racial references?
It would be news if they didn't'
These were not choir boys