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Jeffrey Melnick R'n B Skeletons in the Closet: The Men of Doo Wop (on Martha Bayles, Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American PopularMusic [NewYork: Free Press, 1994];AnthonyJ. Gribin and Matthew M. Schiff, Doo-Wop: The Forgotten ThirdofRock 'n Roll [Iola: Krause Publications, 1992]; and The Doo Wop Box [Los Angeles: Rhino Records, 1993]) When I was real little, I heard the Platters' "City Harbor Lights." I was from Lubbock; I didn't know what a harbor was. But the melody, the sound of the voice, gave me a feeling of pleasant longing that had nothing to do with anything that had yet happened to me. I wasn't old enough to have had sad love affairs. —Jimmie Dale Gilmore I sing like a girl, and I sing like a frog. I'm a lonely boy. —Clarence "Frogman" Henry Lee Atwater Uves! Well, that might be just a little bit of an exaggeration , but the neoconservative movement has finally found its music critic, and she—like the late Republican NationalCommittee chair— loves the blues. Martha Bayles, in her book Hole in Our Soul, has concocted a version of twentieth-century music which aims to explain to Norman Podhoretz why Allan Bloom was right (if for the wrong reasons ) about recent American popular music. I couldn't care less about this:historyshows thateverydeviantsubcultureneeds tohold in-group conversations about why its members are right to segregate themselves from the hostile population surrounding them. But Bayles' truly hateful , error-filled book has already found its way into the hands of undergraduates I know—mostly middle-class and white—who have reported to me feeling sympathy for her argument that contemporary Black music has betrayed its historic mission as a vehicle for communicating an "authentic" Blackness. Bayles describes this Blackness nostalgically as "a cluster of musical skills, honed in settings that were off limits to whites"; this Blackness was "in the good old days" always shared with white audiences, mostly because of the seductive lure of free enterprise (348). Bayles offers a critique of modern popular music which holds that "perverse modernism" (she doesn't like Dada) and rampant technology have ripped the heart out of African-American music. But I have used the wrong word, because "heart" is not what Hole in Our Soul is 218the minnesota review about; it is about properly functioning Black peruses. Bayles sets up a distinction between healthy "eroticism" (which real African-American music has) and obscenity (which it never has), but then she gets dirty herself. "The runaway instrumentalism of early rock," Bayles writes, "suggests a lot of blocked, undifferentiated energy being released, in an uncontrollable rush. Blues performers know how to stop and take a breath, even in the midst of apparent ecstasy." So while Bayles likes the fact thatbluesmen know how to please themselves and their audiences properly, she cannot abide Mick Jagger's "effeminate vamping" (72, 200, 195, 198). Bayles' vision of Black and Black-inspired music is one which focuses almost exclusively on the United States and on adults. Bayles hates most teen-identified music, except for a little Motown. As far as I can tell it is because she is mad that teenage boys come too quick. If Bayles had listened to more Doo Wop she would have been set straight: Earl Carroll of The Cadillacs sang in 1955 that they often call him "Speedoo" but his "real name is Mr. Earl"; and Bill Brown's greatest moment as a bassman came when he boasted with The Dominoes that he was a sixty minute man [1951]). Because ofher bias against teenagers , Bayles scorns Hip Hop and neglects Doo Wop. It is with the latter stance that Bayles is symptomatic oflarger problems in American musical scholarship. Rap and Hip Hop have already begun to receive serious academic attention, at least in part because they mesh nicely with some influential paradigms of African-American cultural production—signifying and hybridiry, to name two. But Doo Wop, a popular vocal group style of the post-World War ? era, has neverbeen comfortably incorporated into the major narratives ofAmerican musical history or African-American history (see Southern; Jones; George; and Hamm...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 217-229
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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