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Author Topic: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"  (Read 535 times)

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Offline Vermonter

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New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« on: March 20, 2017, 03:33:45 PM »
Some of you might be interested in checking out a new book I'm reading, which I'm enjoying thoroughly. Here's  a link to the NPR review and part of the review itself.

http://www.npr.org/2017/03/10/515439756/in-white-tears-appropriation-has-horrifying-consequences.
The story of American popular music plays out the same way so much of American culture does: black people make innovations, and white people take the credit. Jazz, blues, soul, rock and roll, disco and hip-hop all came from the minds of African-Americans. None of them existed for long before being co-opted by whites who realized they could make big money by watering down the music and selling it to a mass audience.

The appropriation of blues ? music born out of the pain and suffering of African-Americans forced to live in a racist society ? is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. It's also the focus of Hari Kunzru's stunning, audacious new thriller White Tears, an urgent novel that's as challenging as it is terrifying.

The book centers on two young, white friends living in New York. They don't have much in common: Carter is a privileged rich kid, the scion of a wealthy family; Seth is a quiet young man from a modest background. They meet in college and bond over their one similarity: an almost obsessive love of music.

Carter turns Seth on to African-American music, and soon it's all either one of them listens to. They share a fondness for albums recorded by Jamaican producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, collecting trivia about session players and recording dates: "We worshipped music like Perry's but we knew we didn't own it, a fact we tried to ignore as far as possible, masking our disabling caucasity with a sort of professorial knowledge..."

After college, the two open a recording studio of their own, bankrolled by Carter's generous allowance. They specialize in making music that sounds old and authentic, just like the vinyl they worship.

Seth spends his downtime walking around the city, recording the sounds around him, seeking to "store the world and play it back just as I'd found it, without change or addition."

One day Seth is listening to his recordings, and is shocked to hear an old blues song he doesn't remember hearing during his walk. It's ghostly and beautiful, and when he plays it for Carter, his friend is blown away. Carter alters the audio and posts it online, claiming it's an old record by a blues singer named Charlie Shaw....
 

Offline Rivers

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2017, 07:59:25 PM »
Thanks Vermonter, looks like a challenging read from an interesting author, I will pick it up.

Offline Pontius2000

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2017, 05:25:20 AM »
I wouldn't read it just based on that first sentence, "black people make the innovations, white people take the credit". That's a shallow and inaccurate way of looking at things. I've never heard of any white person "taking credit" for creating Blues or jazz. But let's be fair, Howling Wolf-a black man- cited Jimmie Rodgers-a white man- as one of his biggest influences. Rodgers influence was so large that many of the old blues players are known to have covered his songs in whole or part. And he was not the only white person making music either in the recorded or pre-record era. Just based on what is known about 19th century music, I can accept that black people probably played the largest hand in creating blues and jazz. But they certainly weren't the only people who ever made music. Son House and Patton didn't "invent" the Spanish tuning that they're so closely associated with. And we probably wouldn't know of any of these musicians if it hadn't been for white men willing to take a chance and put them on record. And it's easy to dismiss someone like Elvis Presley as "a white man who stole black music". But if it hadn't been for people like Elvis, black music wouldn't have made it into the mainstream like it did. I just find that whole "black people create, white people steal" premise to be offensive and completely inaccurate.

Offline Rivers

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2017, 08:18:36 PM »
Well of course. The author can make that case in an instant, and we can knock it down just as swiftly. Doesn't mean there is no germ of truth in either position. It is, after all, fiction, and being mature adults we are mostly capable of holding two diverging views simultaneously in the pursuit of insight. My primary interest is a good read; if I do get around to it I will post a review.

Offline Chezztone

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2017, 01:16:34 AM »
Here's a very recent article by that author. Will help you decide whether you want to read the book: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/mar/24/the-blues-authenticity-mississippi-road-trip-hari-kunzru-music

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2017, 02:44:38 AM »
Here's a very recent article by that author. Will help you decide whether you want to read the book: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/mar/24/the-blues-authenticity-mississippi-road-trip-hari-kunzru-music
I see that the "famous" Robert Johnson/Johnny Shines photo has raised its head again, this time in a novel. Well, that's different.

Balfour of Southampton done bin here and gone with a weeping and a gnashing of teeth. :o

Offline jpeters609

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2017, 06:21:42 AM »
And, Alan, to make matters worse, it was the Guardian itself that published a story debunking the photo (see link), and now here they are using it. Sigh.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/23/robert-johnson-photo-does-not-show-blues-legend-music-experts-say


Jeff

Offline lindy

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2017, 09:01:59 AM »
Thanks, Chezz, I just cancelled the hold that I put on the book at the library.

Lindy

Offline Stuart

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2017, 10:19:06 AM »
Thanks for the link, Steve.

It's the same old story: Create your own daydream and then expect everyone else to sleepwalk through it. I'll stick with my own damn daydream.

And thanks for cancelling your hold, Lindy. It inspired me to place holds at both SPL (74th in line) and KCLS where I have borrowing privileges--If only so I can cancel them both!  :P

Offline Aintno

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2017, 01:29:01 PM »
What is objectionable in the author's article?

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2017, 10:43:45 PM »
And, Alan, to make matters worse, it was the Guardian itself that published a story debunking the photo (see link), and now here they are using it. Sigh.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/23/robert-johnson-photo-does-not-show-blues-legend-music-experts-say

May 2015 was it Jeff?

I hunted high & low for that and came to the conclusion that I must have "trashed" it.

Offline jpeters609

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2017, 06:43:51 AM »
Alan -- yes, the exact date was Saturday, May 23, 2015 (online, at least. I don't know if the article appeared in the printed version).

Now that Getty Images has added this "photo" to their stable, it will continue to appear, I'm afraid. 
Jeff

Offline Aintno

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2017, 11:58:15 AM »
It didn't occur to me that the author of the article had anything to do with the photo at issue. I assumed that the paper put it there to give the writing some visual interest and because it was in the paper's photo database.  Hence, I guess I have no reason to discredit the novel.

Offline Rivers

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2017, 06:24:39 PM »
Thanks for the link Chez. I'll give the book a miss, 'nuff said.

Quote
It's the same old story: Create your own daydream and then expect everyone else to sleepwalk through it. I'll stick with my own damn daydream.

That's a brilliant observation Stuart, thanks, describes my reaction to a 'T' to such works.

Offline Stuart

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Re: New novel featuring the blues: "White Tears"
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2017, 11:11:01 PM »
The author will be in Seattle next Thursday, April 13:

http://www.elliottbaybook.com/event/hari-kunzru

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