Reflections on Global Reggae

In: Miscellany, Music Industry, News, Travel

I had to dig this out to send to someone, and thought I should post it. This is the last chapter of my doctoral thesis, about reggae music and globalization. Sadly, a lot of the positive energy has gone out of reggae music in the 10 years since I wrote this; what is left is assorted Marley kids living off their old man’s reputation and a lot of Caribbean accented hip-hop. Because this is part of an academic work, I left the cites in. If you want a copy of the works cited list, e-mail me.


If there is anything I have learned in the 10 years since I began trying to document reggae (first for newspapers and a book; later for this dissertation), it is that cultural phenomena refuse to hold still long enough for a thorough examination. Many things have changed since the first interview in 1990; some participants are deceased (Mikey Wallace, Panhead, Don Taylor and Garnett Silk) and others have made major changes in direction (Carlene Davis, Lieutenant Stitchie and Judy Mowatt are all singing Christian music). The music industry itself has been transformed by mega-mergers — who could have anticipated even a few years ago that the charts in 2000 would be dominated by teenage pop stars? To conclude this lengthy study, I will turn to my research notes and recollections in an effort to give additional resonance to some of the major themes of the study.

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Midsummer Progress Report

In: Documentaries, Miscellany, News

I always caution students not to second-guess themselves on tests, not to go back and change their answers once they’ve recorded them. “When in doubt,” one of my grade-school teachers used to say, “your first impression is usually right.”

I think the same is true about editing a documentary. You work on it for a long time by yourself, and then you start showing it to people to get their reactions. If three or four of them agree on something, you probably should change it. You make those changes and show it to more people. Eventually they start suggesting things you tried and discarded a year earlier. That’s when it’s time to stop. Making any further changes would be second-guessing, erasing right answers and writing in wrong o

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Mary Gauthier is on tour right now, doing about the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen an artist do. She gets up on stage in front of a roomful of strangers night after night, reaches down deep into her soul and unflinchingly tells her life story: a litany of abandonment, resentment, trouble and pain, ending on notes of hope and redemption.

No words can adequately describe the feeling of watching Gauthier reach down deep into her soul and sing the ten songs that comprise her autobiographical album, The Foundling.

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The Artist as Gambler

In: Miscellany

I’ve been doing a lot of ruminating lately about art, and artists, and what makes one person an artist and another person a C.P.A.

The children of workers want to be professionals, I remember someone telling me once, and the children of professionals want to be artists. I took some comfort in that idea; the son of professionals, it seemed to me to explain my own artistic aspirations.

More recently, I’ve been wondering about one of the central questions of Troubadour Blues: what drives these artists to sustain their creative efforts over the long term, often at great sacrifice, and without guarantee of fame or material reward?

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Another repost from my musical pilgrimage through the Deep South in summer 2006. This item was posted Tuesday, July 4, after I made my roundabout way back from Texas through Hank Williams country in central Alabama.

Sunday’s drive was a marathon along the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coasts and into Alabama. Right as I got into cajun country at Lafayette, the rain started pouring down so hard that it was hard to see the road. I think I missed a lot of beautiful country driving through that rainstorm. By the time the rain let up, all the place names that are familiar to me from James Lee Burke’s great mystery novels (set in nearby New Iberia) — Iberville, Evangeline, Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge — had gone by.

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About the Film

Troubadour Blues is a feature-length documentary that explores the fascinating world of traveling singer-songwriters. We see them in a variety of situations: impromptu performances, concert stages, formal and informal interviews and songwriting sessions. This is a story that needs to be heard. In our media-saturated age of instant pop stardom, there is real danger that the tradition of the itinerant working musician -- the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly -- is being diluted or lost. Troubadour Blues explores the hidden corners of our culture, where honest, authentic songs reflecting the human experience are still being made up and sung.

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