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BAFFLING SMOKE SIGNALS

Re this blah blah (is it because people often do their online writing first thing in the morning or last thing at night that it can get so needlesly fractious, lazily misread, that people almost seem to be holding their breath waiting to take offence at the tiniest niggle?):

I never said that Stone/De Palma's SCARFACE "invented" bling or showing out or signifying or however you want to name/contextualise it. As someone who's championed both murderous blues and Dr Buzzards/Kid Creole extravagance in the past, who's written a lot about club life and black culture (and who not so long ago reviewed a book all about the StaggerLee myth for The Wire); that would be DUMB. I just noted that SCARFACE has a huge historical presence in recent Rap culture (and also, in passing, noted that I really wasnt the one qualified to develop this observation further). I defy anyone to gainsay this, on whatever level you wanna deal with it, sonic or anecdotal or fashion or deep down. My point was really the 'secret history' one - how interesting it is that a film that is in a sense marginal, of debatable merit or value, written and direced by two white guys, etc, etc, (and also: which is ultimately hugely CRITICAL of bling-4-life) ends up - in a different context - having this rich n contradictory AFTERLIFE.

ALL I said was, it was one of the things that seemingly gave permission for the return of the repressed that is Stagger Lee/bling/whatEVA.

In the SCARFACE piece I also give the appropriate shout out to Greil MarCUSS for his "pioneering" work on the Stagger Lee mythos. Again, what I wrote doesnt seem to be the same thing S thinks he's criticising...

I call Marcus previous work pioneering and razor sharp and epochal. (Epochal is not a word I use lightly.) Again, I think my point was obvious: that Marcus previous books worked because he would insinuate or suggest something and let you, the reader, develop the thought. Call and response. Secret whispers. Whereas now, his work has gotten bogged down and overwrought and portenous. I defy anyone to not find large parts of the new Marcus incredibly frustrating - not disappointing, necessarily, but frustrating. Phillip Roth, Twin Peaks, Pere Ubu - Christ, he's singing MY SONG here! But it's like he can't get from one sentence to the next without dragging in two or three or ten other thoughts and quotes and footnotes and other peoples thoughts. And it seems screamingly obvious that what started out as a bunch of DISPARATE working-journo think pieces, have been needlessly coralled under this needlessly portenous AMERICAN PROPHECY legend, when it would have been much smarter and suss to just sling them out there (as per In The Fascist Bathroom - a book I consistently revisit, even tho I disagree with about 75% of it) and let US, the readership, join any sub textual or sub contextual dots...

Instead, you feel patronised,or wearied, or mystified, by Marcus trying to make EVERY LAST FUCKIN tiny detail of a thing resonate with his 'larger' theme. There's some terribly self-parodic leaps and links and longeurs here, which a smarter editor would have had a word with him about.
(What's up with that, anyway? SO many books these days that I throw down in despair I think: what the HELL was the editor being PAID for here!!!??)
But that is NOT the same as dismissing ALL of Marcus previous work. Which I never did. So there. Storm in a teacup protocallout over.

posted by Ian 10/10/2006 08:30:00 AM

Comments:
Scarface was DISCO when it first came out (the clothes, the music, the drugs). There's a thread between the tackiest disco and hiphop that got marginalised when James Brown breaks took over the genre.
Maybe the presence of the movie in hiphop is some kinda 'reclamation' of tack and glamour in hiphop. 'Keeping it Real' didn't really figure in 99% of hiphop, and its overstated 'potitical' edge may have just been an early 90s fad inspired by PE's crossover success. Look at rap before 86, and there's a lot more in common with Chic than the Last Poets.
 
I think too the role of the VHS in all this cant be understated - favourite films became loops you played and replayed, alone or with friends. "Sampling" of favourit (e.g.) Scarface lines just became the hi-tech equivalent of playground run-throughs the day after of Python or whatever.
Scarface may have been white, but there WAS also a lot of 'underground' black humor - from parents albums, or from samizdat VHSs - that went into bits of Rap. Ditto, of course, a key element in the 'normalisation' of Porn.vzp
 
Maybe he's just been trying to do too much; cos I also think his recent books on THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and LIKE A ROLLING STONE are among his way weakest work...

But even tho I disagree fundamentally with a lot of his theoretical stances (and just plain don't *get* some of his enthusiasms) - I still return time and again to the earlier work - Mystery Train, Lipstick Traces, Dead Elvis, and bits of the Dylan book - for pleasure and inspiration.
 
the 'scarface' dvd actually has a documentary 'Def Jam presents: Origins of a Hip Hop Classic', with contributions from pretty much everyone. puff daddy says he's seen it "63 times". most of them say calling coke "yayo" ("llelo") really took off *after* 'scarface'. also it plays up how the film went down with latinos -- who i don't think had a big crim-cultural profile before the film came out (?).
 
You see - off the top of my head, very very roughly - this is a vague unease of a suspicion I have with marcus... his "American" figurhead... it just feels a bit Springsteen-esque to me; it's a bit sturdy and truth-telling and 'authentic voice of' for my own particular taste... know what i mean? His "American" voice is portenous and MEANINGFUL, in a very Lit Crit kinda way, too much of the time; a tacky Latino disco, say, isn't the sort of place he would look to for sacraments and signs, portents and pleasures. (Rap, too, is a *glaring absence* in his round up of American 'prophetic' voices...) I mean, OK, fair dues, he can't write expertly and passionaely about EVERYTHING... but that begs the Q, as some correspondents have indicated here, I think, previously, begs the Q: why, then, try to propound a purportedly all-inclusive Theory of Everything American ...? Why not just concentrate on the gist and grain, tensions and timbres, of the stuff you DO know inside out? And not try sell us a dubious macro legend: "Prophecy and THE American Voice." Rather, surely: Prophecy and ... SOME American Voices, no?
 
IP taken to task here too;

http://subject-barred.blogspot.com/
 
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