Sept. 16, 1917: Jubilation at the draft — draftees arrived at the new Camp Dix (now Fort Dix) near Trenton, dancing as they waited to be assigned to their companies. Photo: The New York Times
The water waves and waves funneling
Loose silt and sifting over things
Flows freely, fluent with sky,
Transpares and blanks: shifting every mote
Its cold current takes up and spends
In the dark motive drag
Under unfurling ghosts of waterlight
As sunsparks flare and falter; touching all
Its filtering pull reduces or contains
Or smooths blank in the constant travel down
From the opened iron
Its chipped, heavy mouth
Down East 6th Street
To the dirty, grated drain.
—Thomas Bolt, “Nature”
Art Credit Nasreen Mohamedi, untitled, ca 1970s
In Defense of Transgressive Art: The Trial and Tribulation of Negro Spirituals
Please refer to: http://still-single.tumblr.com/post/44858497340/negro-spirituals-black-garden-b-w-ancient-trees
In this new review for the “Still Single” blog, writer Doug Mosurock makes a few valid points: “We live in a world with standards and reason, compassion and intellect, but above all, different people of all races, creeds, genders, faith, and national origin.” This is the truth, and something that I’m sure no one will call into question. Not even the “three white guys” mentioned within, that have come under fire for naming their rock group “Negro Spirituals”.
Doug goes on to mention that Negro Spirituals is a side project of Tenement, which is plainly untrue, and an honest mistake. Negro Spirituals shares no members with Tenement, however I do know each of them and they’re all compassionate, non–bigoted, and well read young men, who as traveling musicians spend plenty of time outside of the “bubble” they grew up in. Next, Doug finds it within his “sociocultural responsibility” to reduce the entire state of Wisconsin to “Fast food restaurants both staffed and patronized by white people”. Nevermind the African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern and American Indian populations that have existed within the state for as much as centuries; producing important minority group civil rights activists such as Vel Phillips and Lloyd Barbee, and sustaining many communities with rich cultural heritage. Apparently these were out of sight from Doug’s booster-seat view, which I can only assume was from behind a pane of glass on an interstate. BUT HEY MAN, he’s “Been to Wisconsin”…
Setting his ignorant observations aside, you can find from a peek at the 2010 US Census that Doug’s very own home state, New York, shares a common trend with the home state of the three shadowy figures dubbed “Negro Spirituals”: A white majority population. Considering this, and the fact that only four out of fifty states currently have a non-white majority population, Doug’s personal condescension toward Wisconsin and its cultural makeup seems irrelevant. What’s more, each states’ respective largest cities have nearly the same percentage of white citizens – New York City, where Doug Masurock appears to live and operate his music criticism, with 44%. Milwaukee, where at least one out of three of the Negro Spirituals lived, worked, and grew up, with 44.8%. Their home town, which was mentioned in the same breath certainly isn’t a “magical small-town rainbow coallition”, but it does boast a sizeable Hmong population among other ethnic groups, and I assure you that it serves as no more than a postal address and an inexpensive place to exist between creating and traveling. Much of their “real life” is spent outside of the “bubble” that Doug alludes to. Might I also mention that Wisconsin is no stranger to its share of racial conflict, as one is reminded of this whenever walking alone at night in Milwaukee; a city which folks like Reverend Jesse Jackson have called “The Most Segregated City in America”. And a few short miles south bound in New Berlin, Wisconsin, one can find the American Nazi Party’s headquarters, which is now coined “New Order” and acts as a religion rather than a political party; worshiping Adolf Hitler as its supreme being. As children that grew up on rural and suburban soil, where the average adult may never travel farther than the county line in their entire lives, prejudices and presumptions about anyone that looked different in any way ran rampant in our lives from a young age, forcing all of us to either absorb or ignore these ideas, and eventually dismiss them as cruel slander.
And here’s where the lines get blurry. In the wake of criticism, Negro Spirituals have remained silent, leaving the name’s meaning up for interpretation. Since the February First release of this debut single, the name on the cover has drawn confusion, curiosity, amusement, amazement, and apathy. But never, until now, anger. So why does Doug Mosurock seem so deeply offended by “Negro Spirituals”? He does, after all, use the tongue-in-cheek DJ Moniker, “Cockfight” in public appearance – an obvious reference to a blood sport which exploits & kills many animals each year, and serves as a shameful taboo here in America. The employees at the animal hospital where I spend most of my time when I’m home from the road wouldn’t find much humor in the name. Neither would the owners of abused pets resulting from its sister-sport, “Dog Fighting”. Though Doug states that “Actually it was named after the sound of two dicks slapping together”, its double meaning is blatant and leaves me wondering whether he’s ever had to nurse or console an animal that has suffered in vain at the hands of a human before. Surely, someone who has never dealt with such a situation before would be acting in bad taste when making a dick and fart joke out of it, am I right Doug? That sounds transgressive to me.
I can’t speak for the band itself while discussing the meaning behind the name “Negro Spirituals”, but I can say that I believe it to be an effective catalyst for thought and emotion regarding personal insecurities brought about by racial issues in America. In its truest form, it’s a work of art that evokes emotion and in turn through intelligent conversation, co-understanding. Doug’s reaction to this artwork is proof that sometimes laying out the evidence at hand with no preface or explanation can be the simplest and most sure-fire way to make people think. This is something that anyone should be able to do, considering they have good intentions. Be it “three white guys” or three guys of any other shape or color. Humans commenting on human behavior through abstract art. Sounds simple enough to me. Maybe not for the music critic, who crafts much of his commentary out of predictable insults.
The art in question seems a subtle mockery of an openly racist society, be it in a very vague and non-descript way, and the text itself was pulled directly from the cover of a civil rights era “Negro Spirituals” LP similar to others by the likes of The Goldenaires Choir. These LP’s often featured an all-white choir singing in stale, flaccid form, Negro Spirituals, which by definition are “Religious folk songs of African American origin”, and hold no derogatory meaning, regardless of what the words are associated with apart from one another. Considering the music held within the grooves of “Black Garden b/w Ancient Trees” is little more than a drunken sabotage of pop songs through clipping, feedback, noise and apathy, “Negro Spirituals” may have been mocking The Goldenaires’ style in their own distinct way. Not so much like Al Jolson or Amos & Andy, but more like the cover of Ike and Tina’s 1968 LP, “Outta Season”. Look it up, and you’ll know what I mean.
Doug Mosurock seems to think that any art deemed “transgressive” is instantly overshadowed by its own controversy. If that’s the case, where does that leave artists like Raymond Pettibon, John Waters, Robert Crumb, or Pier Paolo Pasolini? Hopefully not in the burn pile. Any art worth thinking about should be left to free interpretation, and this record is no exception. If anything, it’s a testament to the idea.
Create what you feel, Expect a consequence to your actions, Burn the careless critics.
– Amos Pitsch, March 2013