October 2008 Archives

Today's newspaper carried the obituary of Rudy Ray Moore, heir to the vein of bawdy humor running through African-American culture from West Indian calypso and toasting to such North American customs as signifying, sounding, and playing the dozens.  This vein also reaches from 19th-century minstrelsy to stand-up comedy today.  And to hip-hop, because there are some hip-hop performers who rightly trace their roots back to Moore and "Wild Man" Steve Gallon, who performed together in the 1970s.

But there are a lot of people out there who also use Moore to justify the outright obscenity found in today's commercial rap.  To these enablers (I am thinking of the scholars who testified on behalf of 2 Live Crew back in 1990), this link with the past justifies all the ugly, exploitative crap out there.

This overlooks the fact that African-American culture, like all cultures, has (or used to have) different standards for different settings.  For example, the great black comedians accepted such restraints as the rule against profanity in the broadcast media.  From "Moms" Mabley to Richard Pryor, they could be as funny, or funnier, when required to "clean up their act" as when performing in more permissive situations.  They had a fine-tuned sense of how best to adapt their material to private gatherings, to the nightclub stage, to records, and to the public airwaves.

And very often those legal and regulatory requirements suited the performers' own sense of propriety.  As James Brown once remarked, "I feel solidarity with the breakers and the rappers and the whole hip hop thing -- as long as it's clean."  Even Marvin "Sexual Healing" Gaye drew a line between private and public, amusing friends with a satirical ditty called "Dem Niggers Are Savage In The Sack," but never shipping it platinum to the nation's retail outlets.

As for Moore and Gallon, they insisted that their party records were never intended for all ears.  In an interview in 1993, Moore admitted that his own mother had never heard his X-rated records, and he didn't want her to, because "I wasn't brought up like that."  Indeed, Moore and Gallon offered their own criticism of the 2 Live Crew brand of rap:

[Moore:]  We're not in the same bag, and if you think they are, you don't know nothin' about show business.  The things that Steve and I did on records, we called them ghetto expressions and a form of art.  We don't say fuck this, fuck that, fuck this.
[Gallon:]  Or say it just to say it.
[Moore:]  We use it as a punch point where it has the greatest impact...
[Gallon:]  I wouldn't dare take my mother near 2 Live Crew.  And they got the women up there naked.  That's not entertainment to me.  That's porno ... We have a gentleman's approach to our comedy.  And we're basically there to make you laugh, not to insult you or to insult your integrity.

Wouldn't make it on cable today, Rudy.  R.I.P.

October 22, 2008 7:02 PM |
I know I have been remiss in keeping up with Serious Popcorn.  Book-writing and blog-keeping don't seem compatible, at least for me.  But I do like to talk, and Chris Lydon of the Boston-based OpenSource online radio program just posted an interview we did together about my work-in-progress.
October 2, 2008 9:08 AM |


Me Elsewhere


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