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Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Mon Feb 04, 2013 9:58 pm

I just finished this book recently and was wondering if anybody else had read it and what your opions were.

Compared to the other Elvis/cultural theory books or essays I've read like 'Elvis after Elvis' by Gilbert Rodman I found 'Race, Rock, and Elvis' a good, but slow read. I'm really looking for revelations and other new insights (like with the Rodman book) when I read Elvis cultural theory stuff and I thought the Bertrand book was decent but I didn't feel I was learning a whole lot that was new to me. The book was good at underscoring and painting a more vivid picture of the advent of not only Elvis but the rise of R&B music in the South amongst a young white audience and how it was so contrary to the southern culture of the time. However, alot of it dealt with things we know already; how Elvis was shocking to the older generation because of the way he performed, the music he did, all that, but I guess I was looking for some 'A-ha!' moments that weren't there. One thing I will point out that was interesting is that you get more of a sense of how Elvis arrived on the scene. This book gives a clearer perspective on how it wasn't only his talent that put him front and center in pop music, but how American popular culture for years was working up to the proverbial 'right place, right time' moment for Elvis to actually make sense and make an impact.

Anybody want to add or subtract anything from this? Doc, anybody?

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:50 am

The thesis looked good:
Michael T. Bertrand / Race, Rock, and Elvis
http://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:


001001_Race, Rock, and Elvis p107.JPG
Michael T. Bertrand, Race, Rock, and Elvis (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, October 1, 2000)
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

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.

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:06 am

drjohncarpenter wrote:The thesis looked good:
Michael T. Bertrand / Race, Rock, and Elvis
http://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:



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 white people. The author interprets it as 'condemnation' using a racial epithet but hearing it on the actual recording, I have a hard time buying that. It doesn't sound like anybody is condemning anybody.

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:28 am

likethebike wrote: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.


Agreed, I think that Bertrand does, as I said underscore alot of the information about Elvis and race relations that's already out there. He definitely fills in the blanks and provided at least for me additional information that I hadn't read before. In the case of the 'shoe-shine' story and the sham it was, I'd known that already, but he did give more of a context on how it all unfolded but for me it wasn't a revelation. However, and unrelated to Elvis in the book, I had never known about the attack on Nat King Cole in Alabama. That was new to me. If anything else was new to me it was the way Bertrand articulated how the younger generation of Southern whites were rejecting the segregationist views of their elders. But honestly, aside from their interest in R&B and Elvis, it seemed a bit of stretch to me because I think Bertrand suggests that young Southern whites were rejecting segregation across the board, and history tells us that they weren't. I would agree that experiencing the music was so powerful that it did break down physical and mental barriers, but I think it only did in concert and dance halls where Elvis and the other artists were performing. Did those people that went to those integrated shows take that attitude home with them after they left the theater? I think some did, but most didn't.

Generally speaking, although this was a very good book that 'put you there' and gave a a clearer understanding of Elvis in the context of race relations, to me it was stuff that I had known. It doesn't make this a bad book, or a book that others, especially those that have't really gone in this direction with Elvis shouldn't read. They should! Particularly the ones that constantly accuse Elvis of 'stealing black music'.

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

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?

rjm



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Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:17 am

intheghetto wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:The thesis looked good:
Michael T. Bertrand / Race, Rock, and Elvis
http://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:



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 white people.


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."

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:59 pm

drjohncarpenter wrote:
intheghetto wrote:
drjohncarpenter wrote:The thesis looked good:
Michael T. Bertrand / Race, Rock, and Elvis
http://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:



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 white people.


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."


Yes 'casual' is probably the better word to describe what was going on.

Re: Race, Rock, and Elvis by Michael T. Bertrand

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