Pale Wire (Popscene)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Black Gold


After a brief flirtation earlier this fall, I finally settled down and committed to Arthur Kempton's Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music this week.

It's a messy but marvelous book. Kempton leads a tour of the bootstrappers of 20th century black music, from gospel kingpin Thomas Dorsey to his allegory of fitful integration and illustration of dreams deferred Sam Cooke to the pimp tactics of Barry Gordy and the gangster posturing of Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur. And in between -- you might say scattered by the wayside -- are the little-known tales of dozens of woulda'-coulda'-shoulda'-beens who never did be.

The one recurrent character, the never-missing link: The White Man. A ever-present force ready to come down hard any time it suits his interests.

Kempton does just as much bookkeeping as chartwatching, so this is far from a fan's guide to soul records. He's no fetishist, more of a Marxist. And he takes the long view, trying to place each character's experience in the large context of the African-American journey..

Click here to read Luc Sante review from the NY Review of Books -- a publication Kempton contributes to -- which attracted me to the book.