Right Name, Wrong Campaign

Here’s one of my prize possessions, that’s always been in my school office but I moved it home today:


While I was working on the Nancarrow book, one of his cousins ran for judge in Dallas, my home town. I guess he won. (Nancarrow and I grew up only 180 miles apart, but 180 of the dreariest, flattest, least picturesque miles you can imagine – a true minimalist stretch of highway.) My dad, bless his heart, saw this sign in a vacant lot, stopped his car, and stole it for me. I asked Conlon about it, and I believe he referred to his cousin as a crook; whether he meant more by that than “Republican,” I couldn’t say. All of Conlon’s family were true Arkansas conservatives except for him. I had a lovely dinner-interview with Conlon’s brother Charles, a wealthy dry goods merchant (their father was mayor of Texarkana), and Charles enjoyed saying, “Conlon’s to the left of Che Guevara, and I’m to the right of Attila the Hun.” But they had an affectionate relationship nonetheless.
It’s been weird keeping this in my office, because people who don’t know about my Nancarrow (which includes almost everyone) get the idea that I’m a croo-, er, Republican. One of my favorite stories Conlon told me was that when he returned home after the Spanish Civil War, Texarkana welcomed him as a hero under the mistaken idea that he’d been battling Catholicism.


  1. says

    A weird coincidence that (according to that link to the article about the judge) Judge Nancarrow born and lived his early years in Spain (and Spanish was even his first language).
    KG replies: I noticed that – very peculiar. I suppose they moved back to Texarkana because they had family there. But I think Charles, when I knew him, had never yet married (though he might have afterward, very late in life), and I don’t know the exact relation with this cousin.

  2. David Bratman says

    Recently in Texarkana, I visited the local museum, a few feet on the Texas side of the state line. I was pleased to see an exhibit referring to three great musicians from the tri-state area: Nancarrow, Scott Joplin, and Leadbelly. A disparate trio, you must admit. Pushbuttons would let you listen to musical excerpts by all three. I wonder how many Joplin or Leadbelly fans try some Nancarrow, and what they think.
    KG replies: Wow, glad to hear someone at the museum is that much on the ball.

  3. Luk Vaes says

    “people who don’t know about my Nancarrow (which includes almost everyone)…”
    He Kyle, is that a hyperbole? I would be schocked if it were true that many people in your invironment (which includes a very decent college near a cultural world-class metropole, the Cage Trust, etc.) would be ignorant of Nancarrow. It’s not as if no book, articles, festivals, CDs are keeping his name in the game. In Europe he’s an icon – why (really) is it that the US cannot at least recuperate that. Can you tell us the reasons for which you think CN is underestimated in the US?
    KG replies: Well – he’s certainly not well-known among undergrads. I didn’t mean to make the situation sound quite so dire. Among the people likely to wander into my office, he’s certainly known to the composition faculty and a few of the student composers. But the student voice majors, classical violinists, faculty from other departments, jazz pianists, and pop singers (who tend to end up with me as their adviser because I’m pop-friendly) don’t know the name, and most of the students haven’t heard of Schoenberg until I mention him. I will say that the Columbia psychology professor who lives across the street knew all about Nancarrow, and my very first year, 1997, I was addressing the incoming freshmen when one raised his hand and asked, “Are you the guy who wrote a book about the composer who wrote music for player pianos?” I think my immediate surroundings can be easily accounted for by the dearth of arts education in high schools. As my friend Bill Duckworth likes to say about his undergrads, “Everything you tell ’em’s news.”
    Remember, the Republicans have to prevent money from going to the school systems, because an educated populace would have let the Republican party wither away decades ago.

  4. mateo says

    Hopefully I’m not derailing too much but I’m always fascinated that before Southern Democrats and Republicans divided and conquered with race-baiting tactics and the like, much of the South (“Real America” lol) were hotbeds of various strains populist agrarianism, socialism, syndicalism and so on – would it be fair to say Conlon Nancarrow came out of this milieu or did his winding up in the Abraham Lincoln brigades come through other means?
    KG replies: Interesting question, but one I’m not confident I can answer. He joined the Communist Party in Boston, as so many artists did during that era. I get the impression that he was in total revolt against his conservative father, so it seems unlikely that he was positively influenced by any early association, but I guess it’s possible. I grew up among the ’60s Dixiecrats, but it sounds like you know more about the pre-’50s South than I do.