Sunday, January 12, 2014


I had this idea that I wasn't going to do the R.I.P. thing anymore. The internet is taking care of it already -- do I have to chime in? Of course I too want all these great artists who are leaving their body week after week to rest in peace, and/or in power, and/or attain a new plane of transcendent existence, but I don't want my twitter and/or my blog to be 80 percent RIP notices. I mean, let's face it, as far as the 1960s counterculture is concerned, we are entering the kind of period that scientists coldly call an "extinction event or biotic crisis." Sometimes I feel like the job is to share the work of these great artists, both alive and deceased, every day except on the day they pass on.

I have to say something about the passing of Amiri Baraka, because as a poet he was simply one of the boldest and most uncompromising artists of the 20th Century. He was also a brilliant essayist/thinker/historian, even when polemical, and his books Blues People and Black Music were completely foundational for understanding how deeply the music I love was forged by the transatlantic African diaspora. His work was fundamental to the free jazz & fire music movements of the 1960s, through journalistic coverage (as collected in Black Music) and also through performance. He said that "Poetry is music and nothing but music. Words with musical emphasis," and when he read his fire music poems, with or without additional musical accompaniment, who knows what unknown tongues were unlocked in his listening contemporaries.

Here's two posts where his name shows up if you do a search on this here blog, including some writing about one of his most powerful recordings ever, "Black Art" with Sunny Murray and Albert Ayler. By the way, I humbly think these are two really good posts of music writing, not just for the Baraka content ... I know people are always saying "Blastitude doesn't review records anymore, blah blah blah," but I do occasionally if you pay attention, and why would I write twenty-seven lukewarm reviews of all the latest underground flash-in-the-pan oversaturation bands when I could be writing shit like this instead? Sorry, end of mini-rant.

I'm sure a lot of you and even most of you have already delved into the works of Baraka for yourself, but if you haven't, read some poems right now on this web page. Listen to "Black Art" and "Black Dada Nihilismus." Dig deep into all the other fascinating related YouTubes down the right side of your screen. While you're at it, check out the crazy "mad stressful" LP he released in 1972 on Motown Records spoken word subsidiary label Black Forum. Also Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music is a fantastic sprawling anthology of his jazz writing that was published just recently in 2010 -- I got it at my local library. And, if you can find a VHS copy, Amiri Baraka: In Motion is a great documentary covering some days in the life of Baraka and his family during the 1980s.

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