North American Anthology
of Pop Music Literature

Two:  Bayard Godsave's "White Man in Hammersmith"

Bayard Godsave's short novel*, "White Man in Hammersmith," which appears in Torture Tree, is dedicated in part "to Town."  That's me.
*I prefer the term "short novel" to "novella," because novella strikes the same reactive nerve in me as do most portmanteaus:  webisode, guesstimate, and the now thankfully obsolete cassingle.  These words create bullshit specificity -- do we really need a word to indicate a thing and its form all in one go? Even short novel seems unnecessary and arbitrary:  is Of Mice and Men called a short novel?  Or Bright Lights, Big City? Anyway: I will refer to Godsave's "W.M. in H." as a story from here on.
It is a great story full of great writing, and I'm proud to be identified as its ideal audience (if that's what a dedication is meant to do...?).  The story is narrated by a expat American running a small recording studio in Trinidad, and his ancillary connection to an attempted coup there by radical muslims in 1996.

The title comes from The Clash's "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais," which the band released as a single in June 1978.  It also appears on the US version of their eponymous 1977 debut album, which wasn't released in the States until 1979.  "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais" is the best Clash song, a song that well illustrates their mesh of politics and punk, a song that cements them as The Only Band That Matters.  I presume Bayard dedicated "W.M. in H." to me because he know how much I love "(W.M.) in H. P.," and how much I revere the song's co-author, Joe Strummer.  However, there are aspects to both the song and its namesake story that touch on issues of (White Man) privilege and cultural appropriation that also -- perhaps not as consciously -- might play into the dedication and the thematic unity between the song, the story, and its dedicatee (i.e., yrs trly.)

The song "(W.M.) in H.P." is about a white Londoner (Strummer, himself the son of a British foreign service diplomat) who attends a a reggae concert at the Palais, hoping to absorb some of the danger and rebellion of Jamaican music but ultimately let down by the show's shallow glitz and showmanship: ...but it was Four Tops all night / with encores from stage right.  The singer then turns that thought onto the shallowness of the by-then-fully-mature London punk scene -- they're all too busy fighting / for a good place under the lighting -- when they should be using punk's energy for forward political movement: the new groups are not concerned / with what there is to be learned / They've got Burton suits, you think its funny / turning rebellion into money. By song's end, the singer himself gives up and gives in: I'm the all-night drug-prowling wolf / who looks so sick in the sun / I'm the white man in the Palais / To go looking for fun.  It's sort of Thomas Frank's Commodify Your Dissent in a four-minute pop song.

The narrator in Godsave's novel is essentially taking on the same mission as Strummer in the song: he uses his white American privilege to make a personal paradise of Trinidad in the '90s, appropriating what he prefers from the culture (music, weed, an atmosphere of danger and dissent) without really understanding what he's doing.  (Cf. Strummer on the recording of Sandinista!, the Clash's Jamaican dub and US hip-hop influenced album named after socialist Nicaraguan rebels:  "I smoked so much pot, I'm surprised I haven't turned into a bush.")  At the same time, the Trinidadian mystic/musician Master Z, with whom our narrator is obsessed and embroiled, is appropriating western/America hip hop in it's 90's/Pantherish guise of radical militarism, just as Strummer reports finding Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson taking on aspects of the stalwart oldies-circuit Four Tops.

"W.M. in H"'s narrator's white/rich/expat privilege is most evident in that the novel places him always in contexts of recall and reaction: his privilege prevents him from doing anything but react.  Most of his interactions with Master Z happen through media -- observing his radicalism through a control room's window, watching the coup on television.  Our narrator can only consume culture, he can't really engage with it.   He's the audience to history, like Strummer at the Palais or standing by as Caribbean youth challenged UK bobbies at the Notting Hill riots in 1976 (cf. The Clash, "White Riot.")  This is part of what privilege does -- puts you behind the window, puts you in front of the screen, makes you audience or consumer rather than actor or maker.  It makes you a book's dedicatee, perhaps, but not its author.

Neither "W.M. in H"'s narrator, nor "(W.M.) in H.P"'s narrator, nor I  (fan of both) can be free of allegations of privilege and cultural appropriation.  The life I live, the music I prefer, are things given to me, handed down or handed over.  Even my kids are mine through a kind of cultural appropriation, though its not pleasant to dwell on that thought.  One doesn't like to think of oneself as more Four Tops than drug-prowling wolf, even here in my lower-middle forties.

Junior Murvin said: All the peacemakers turn war officers.
Eddy Grant said: Well, I'm running -- police on my back.
Willie Williams said: A lotta people won't get no justice tonight, so a lotta people going to have to stand up and fight.
Lloyd Price said: Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that he threw eight.
James Wayne said:  Down the road, came Junco Partner -- he was loaded as can be.

Joe Strummer, who also said these things, died in December 2002.  The Hammersmith Palais closed down in 2007 and was demolished in June 2012.

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p.s. Order Bayard Godsave's Torture Tree here or ask for it at your local bookseller's.  Both of the short novels within are tremendously good and well worth your time, attention, and dirty ill-gotten lucre.


North American Anthology
of Pop Music Literature

One:  Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" #12 & 35

Jack Dove dj'd under a name that would later embarrass him, having chosen a tag that was cutting edge at its invention but dulled and gummy by the middle of the next year.  He might have done better by "dj jack dove," in e.e. cummings uncaps, which through its obviousness and utility would have stayed sharper in the knifeblock than the name he'd stretched for.  It was under this name, the one he'd wince to hear when he'd run into patrons of the dance club in later years -- always at the grocery store or the mall, wherever the lights were too bright, and always when his kids were misbehaving, the auld acquaintance being the absolute worst kind -- under this name he'd posted to the internet a mash-up of Bob Dylan's thing about "everybody must get stoned" and Sly Stone's thing about "I-high love everyday people."

It had come to him in his sleep, or from the verge of wakefulness anyway -- connecting those two songs, and he'd worked on a title before he'd manipulated the music into any form of actuality.  Downloading, cutting up, recalling a short story from his high school literature textbook, all of it coming together without really thinking about it, almost in the way he read those stories in high schools, watching the words without recognizing that he wasn't actually reading, seeing without comprehending, turning back to see where he'd stopped paying attention.  What is there to know about zen that one cannot better intuit about zen?  

Dylan's song is, on the level most often appreciated, about getting high.  It's also about a certain kind of inevitability, of outside forces working upon the individual:  they will stone you when you are walking home, but you needn't feel so all alone -- they do this shit to e'erbody.  Stone's song, meanwhile, is about acceptance and diversity, different strokes that move the world, but it's also kind of a resignation to our separateness, to man's inability to figure out what bag you're in.  It's also about getting high.  Only in that every Sly Stone song is about getting high.

None of these levels factored into Jack Dove's work with the two songs in ProTools -- to the extent that he sought meaning at all, he meant only to recreate the idea that had come to him in sleep, the creation of a sound he'd heard in a dream, a sound that did not exist and wasn't even a sound.  But its interesting to consider that Jack Dove took two songs that are celebratory on their topmost layer ("What do call what's above the subtext?") then merged them into something about the inevitability of division, persecution, and violence.   The addition of the Shirley Jackson story, in the form of the composition's title and that doubled meaning of "to stone," underscores all of this in a way that, again, the mash-up artist -- the author, or collagist -- was entirely unaware but for which he must still be held responsible.

The song he'd created -- or merged, or stole: these are someone else's argument to make with you -- this song made from other songs about stoning and people and everybody, this song has long since disappeared from digital space, from peer-to-peer file sharing sites, or wherever such things once had their loci. The source file must have lived on some long-wiped hard drive, the weblink broken and 404'ing to nowhere and nothing.  Before winking out, and according to server analytics themselves now overwritten with now-now-now, the file was downloaded two hundred and thirty seven times.  Its possible, one supposes, that copies may still exist, floating out on the ethers and iClouds, ready for recharge on a Gen2 mp3 player in the lowermost desk drawer in an ex-girlfriend's guest room, just as it is possible that it is gone entirely.  Like the sound of an airplane too far away to see, its jet trail only ones and zeroes.

Stranger still: when Jack Dove merged the Stone horns of Cynthia and Jerry with the Dylan horns of Doc Butler and Charlie McCoy, he also merged -- in ways too elaborate to detail -- distant branches of his family tree, as one of the horn players of the Family Stone was a shirt-tail relation of his maternal uncle and one of Dylan's players had once been married to a second cousin-once-removed, but mapping this out is oblique and hard to follow.  And, frankly, as Jack Dove was no more aware of this than any other layer of meaning beneath what can be felt in one's funk and heard through one's earbuds, to make anything more of this particular coincidence would be to strain credulity.

Some time later, Jack Dove was recognized by his long-lapsed dj tag in a southside Super Target by a man only slightly younger than he, but a younger man all the same, one who'd so far resisted any urge to change his clothes or hairstyle or metaphysics from how'd they'd been situated way back in his dancehall days.  "Yo: dope, that was dope," this younger man said, in relation to the digital construction or the dj or that period in which they once shared common space.  Then a handshake too intricate to recall and a question:  "You holding?"  Jack Dove looked to his small children in the cart as if he were afraid they might be hip to the lingo, as if they'd knew the soundtrack, as if they too might be hiding pebbles in their balled-up fists.