Friday, August 26

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judge

A couple days back s.z. directed my attention to the Spence Publishing site, the home of Jittery Anne Jacobsen's new book. I browsed the shrubbery of their authors list, because what good is free time if you don't waste it?

It looked promising. It was chockablock with the sort of pseudo-scholarly wingnut screed which purports to be a philosophical musing on some cherished bugbear (Feminism, say, or anti-religious bias) or a densely-reasoned "contrarian" view of The Unexpectedly Negative Impact of some liberal do-gooder policy or other, and as usual the scholarly pose is dropped by the second sentence of the blurb, where we're informed they expose the delusions of the Left! and shatter its popular myths! lest some potential buyer somehow Miss the Point. By ignoring anything on the subject of Global Terrorism and everyone named Horowitz, I thought this might be prime scouting ground for the Respected Conservative Thinker who was still playing AA ball.

For reasons I think will be obvious I was immediately drawn to:

If It Ain't Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture (2000) by one Mark Gavereau Judge.

And perhaps some reasons that aren't so obvious, such as the fact that I'm a sucker for books by people with three names when the middle one is a family name, and the fact that it was only $5.00. But the catch there was that it costs that much to ship it. So I made a mental note to look for it next time I'm at Barnes & Noble, and if it doesn't cost any more than its weight in Duralogs™, I'm in.

Meanwhile there's time to google Mr. Judge and see what crawls out. If I couldn't read the book, maybe there were excerpts somewhere. I found the next best thing, which was a short essay on "Swing and Spirituality" Mr. Judge penned for I open it and was greeted with:

Hi Lindy Hoppers!!!

Okay. Three exclamation points and you're out, no exceptions. Right off the frickin' bat. Aw, well, it's no reason I can't read a little more. Plenty of time left to murder, and we could get a sense of what might have been. Then again, maybe not. The piece has little to do with Swing and nothing whatever to do with Spirituality, unless you want to count the fuzzy and oddly New Age-y description of the spiritual ardor Judge says he feels after dancing for an hour. Instead the piece is mostly about how Mark Gavereau Judge, former Gen-X teenage drunkard (the topic of his first book) became a Lindy Hopper, and transcended all that Gen-X grunge crap that was so emotionless and musically stilted.

I spent a lot more time with Mr. Judge over the next 48 hours. I decided pretty early on that there probably was nothing in his book that couldn't be surmised from the blurb at Spence. Jesse Walker's July 2001 review in Reason was subtitled "A music critic's juvenile cultural politics", which just about says it all, except that Walker adds that Judge switches the date of his conversion to Swing dancer from 1993 (the jitterbuzz piece) to the book's 1995, presumably for didactic purposes (in the former, swing dancing replaces hanging out in taverns; in the latter it's his conversion to neoconservatism and a renewal of his Catholicism which leads to the new grown-up lifestyle).

But then, what's fudging a date when you're fudging an entire cultural phenomenon and rewriting the history of a period you know little about? If there's little of interest in Mark Gavereau Judge, aging Gen-X thinker, yet there's still some interest in him as a cultural phenomenon on his own. Searching out his articles (he's currently writing in what's left of The American Spectator) one finds a man, now 40, who went from being drunk to being belligerent. If we gathered in a room together, could we recite his bio in unison without prior communication? I think so. All together, now: "I was a Liberal and teenaged punk rock fan before I saw the light and returned to the Church." And his targets? "Liberals, the 60s, resentful anti-war protesters, the 60s, Liberals who compare Bush to Hitler, the 60s, Liberals who are just like Hitler, immoral Boomers, the 60s..." Oh, and for good measure he's got some free advice Democrats should follow unless they want to become a permanent minority party.

Jeeze, fuckin' enough, already. What exactly did you sober up for? You write a book glorifying an eighteen-month micro-fad as The Savior of Western Civilization in Really Nice Shoes. Uh, Attention Cherry Poppin' Daddies! We need a clean-up on aisle five. You couldn't see that comin'? If you've gotta slag the decade before you learned to read, is it too much to ask that you read up about it now? My god, I wish I had a nickel for every nominally intelligent person whose perspective on the the 60s is the history of Woodstock, hashish, and Lava Lamps as told by Nancy Reagan, and who then turns around and acts like Nancy Reagan was forcibly silenced for the decade. Richard Nixon was President. People were making the very same arguments while the 60s were going on.You can look stuff like this up. The Counter-Cultural Thought Police did not suddenly round up everybody who listened to Frank Sinatra. There's a reason it was called the Counter Culture.

So, Mark, you imagine now that in the Golden Age of Ozzie and Harriet and the Three-Bedroom Ranch on Elm Street you'd live as one happy little well-dressed Lindy Hopper? You're ill-informed and spoiled. Care to man the barricades against contraception? That's what your Church was doing in the 50s. The urban poor who weren't ghettoized for their skin color were largely Irish and Catholic, like you, and there was still a residual distrust of both in Middle America leftover from the day when it was blatant and virulent. The one year I was lead in the Lord's Prayer every morning in public school, the one Catholic girl who said "tresspasses" instead of "debts" was taunted mercilessly. That's why there are Catholic schools, Mark. When the cry went up in 1959 that John Kennedy would be beholden to Rome as President, it wasn't the Right that came to his defense. Care to take your life in your hands for dancing with a black woman (let alone deciding to marry one)? Go to jail for mail fraud for ordering a movie featuring a bare-breasted woman? Divorce? Plan on having it ruin your social standing and your career in many places. Forget about ruining your life as a sullen punk-rockin' drunk--you wouldn't have gotten away with reading comic books. Those empty one-night stands of yours? Sodomy laws weren't just for gays in those days, Mr. Judge.

It's conveniently easy to simply wish away the institutional racism, the second-class citizenship of women, the sexual repression and blue-law censoriousness of those golden days now, isn't it? So easy to blame every social ill you can dream up on the excesses of the people who lived with those things and finally said Enough! But then, you can walk down the street in that snazzy Zoot suit of yours without worrying that some jarheads on leave are gonna beat the shit out of you for wearin' it, can't you now?


KathyR said...

You might be interested in this post + infuriating comments at Kung Fu Monkey. Or it might make you sick, I dunno.

I swear the guy's not related to me. There are lots of Rogerses out there.

Yosef said...

Y'know, I'm not sure that another fad style of music has come along since the swing thing fizzled out. It's all just your basic pop now. Whether it's R&B, Hip Hop, Rock, or what have you, all the mainstream music is just pop. Oh, sure, you get the occasional White stripes thrown in, but most of it is crap. Even most of the new "punk" is just pop with bad haircuts and piercings.

Or maybe I just reached the age where I decided what I like instead of having MTV and Clear Channel tell me what I like, and so I don't know about any new trends.

D. Sidhe said...

Believe me, the swing dancers are still out there. And, frankly, I'm fine with it. I live in dread that the next big thing will be CLOGGING.
Ow, my head.

Marvellous rant, btw. I'd go on at fawning length, but I must go stick my migraine in a bucket of ice water, so I'll just say that Mrs Riley is a lucky person.

doghouse riley said...

Yeah, I'm fine with it too, like I'm okay with the people I know who are Civil War reinactors or Ye Olde Renaissance Faire types, but they don't write books claiming they're the cutting edge of a return to the Golden Age of Dueling.

I'm a big Swing fan. Not a week goes by without Artie or the Duke or Benny (Goodman or Carter) or Fats or Django and Stephane, or Glenn (more for my Poor Wife) gets a turn on the CD changer. I was mostly interested in how the book dealt with the original culture. But per the Walker review he just sort of mentions the neo-Swingers without critical comment. Which is to be expected, because otherwise he'd have had to deal with the ugly reality of the racism of this Charmed Age, instead of just putting Ellington on the cover like we're all better now. And I'm all for returning civility, but I'm not gonna be lectured on it by a guy who blows invective the way Harry James blew a horn.

And btw, last month he wrote a piece in the Spectator saying how much he and his buddies love rock and roll, and how it's primitivism is really conservative. So I guess he's checked the Squirrel Nut Zippers' sales chart recently.

harry near indy said...

great post, doghouse.