A Secret History of the 20th Century

Sure our old pal the 20th Century has seemed a non-stop collection of natural disasters, hate crimes and war, but beneath the surface, there have been currents of resistance and renewal. This list attempts to point you to the positive connections which may point the way to a better century to come. I ain’t making any promises about the next millenium, you’re on your own there. (Boy, that seems prophetic in retrospect!)

I know it’s a testosterone-poisoned cliche to make lists, but it’s also an easy way to attempt to convey a shorthand version of information via the Web, and those that find a resonance with list items can pursue subjects of interest in the depth which they deserve.

Ten Textbooks for a Secret History (in no particular order)

Mumbo Jumbo - Ishmael Reed

A mulatto is in the White House in Jazz Age America, and an Afro-Caribbean conspiracy is making a strong push to remake American kulcha.

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon

We await silent Tristero’s empire. Need I say more? A madcap comic conspiracy epic, created with uncommon brevity by Pynchon.

Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska - William W. Fitzhugh and Aron Crowell

If Siberia and Alaska aren’t really separate entities after all, then it’s all one continent (except for Antarctica) and we still live on Pangaea.

Flash of the Spirit — Robert Farris Thompson

Ur-text of linkage between Africa and African-diaspora cultural retentions. Seems obvious now. Imagine how sterile ans bleak the 20th Century would be without Afican-American and Afro-Caribbean culture.

Kandinsky and Old Russia: The Artists As Ethnographer and Shaman - Peg Weiss

The man most responsible for dissolving visual/spatial representational reality studied shamanism in Siberia. Coincidence? I don’t think so!

Finnegans Wake — James Joyce

All Joyce tried to do in the Wake’s near-impenetrable pages was encompass all human history and all human interaction. Came pretty darned close to pulling it off, if you can get a handle on it.

Dreams of A Rarebit Fiend - Winsor McCay

And Little Nemo too, of course. Everything Andre Breton wanted to be and never was. Don’t you believe it. Not me. Nope, not Welsh Rarebit for Willie after that one. Wheo!

Lipstick Traces - Greil Marcus

A credible link between the Situationists and the punks. I find the Situationist critique of our current ills to be the most plausible ideological and intellectual analysis, although Taoism and Dada are still superior.

Tao Te Ching — Lao Tsu

Imagine all the spiritual energy in the Universe as a gumbo of radio waves around your head. Your job is to tune into the station and let go.

Chaos — James Gleick

My view of intelligence entails having a framework to hang new information on so it makes sense and is useful. This book really rearranged the topology of my framework.

Soundtrack for A Secret History

While you’re plowing through weighty tomes, you may need an extra push to dissolve the reigning paradigm. This music is guaranteed to do just that.

Sun Ra

If you find Earth boring, just the same old same thing... Ra was laying it down in 1955, while Trane was still playing hard bop. Guaranteed to broaden your interplanetary perspective.

Recommended starting point: Black Myth/Out in Space: live at Berlin & Donaueschingen, 1970 (MPS 557 656-2)

Harry Partch

Hobo bohemian composer and inventor of instruments with a fascination for the Ancient Greeks wasn’t getting much mainstream airplay, deserved better.

Recommended starting point: The Music of Harry Partch (Composers Recordings Inc./CRI CD 7000)

Edgard Varese

The present day composer refuses to die indeed. Pioneered electronic music, also where Zappa went to woodshed when he wasn’t making comedy music.

Recommended starting point: The Complete Works (London 289 460 208-2)

Colin McPhee

Not much on him, no very good web pages, his memory and contribution deserve better. Here’s the best I found: http://www.culturenet.ca/cmc/dac_rca/eng/k_/McPhee_Colin.html

Exposed to the earliest Balinese 78s in 1929, he had to go to Bali & see for himself. Composed some great music, fled ahead of the Japanese and spent the rest of his life drinking and dreaming of the Paradise he left behind.

Recommended starting point: Colin McPhee (MusicMasters 01612-67159-2), Tabuh-tabuhan (Argo 444 560-2)

Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band

With the chanking guitars playing rhythm and the drums and marimba playing melody, it’s the unlikely missing link between the Delta blues and James Brown.

Recommended starting point: Trout Mask Replica

Elvis Presley

Put your preconceptions aside, listen to his early Sun sides and hear the sound of the white power structure being rent asunder forever.

Recommended starting point: the Sun recordings

Terry Riley

Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. Music to leave your body to that doesn’t leave you feeling empty afterward. He’s the Baba in the Who’s Baba O’Riley.

Recommended starting point: A Rainbow in Curved Air, All Night Flight (organ of Corti 4)

Duke Ellington

Sure, he’s not a secret per se, but it’s hard to imagine any aspect of quality music that he didn’t touch. Wynton says when the Martians land and want to hear some hot tunes, they’ll ask for late Duke compositions.

Recommended starting point: Complete live at Newport 1956 (Columbia/Sony)

Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris

Use Babel Fish, it's in German. With his new approach, which he calls "conduction," Butch has made the first real leap forward in improvised music since Trane died.

Recommended starting point: Conductions 31, 35, and 36 (New World 80485-2)

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