Friday, October 16, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)

Recently I figured something out about Hippies vs. Punks, and it had to do with the timeline I have been using very loosely to frame these Friday morning posts on music. The years in question are 1975 to 1979, and the hypothesis is that the extermination of the Hippies by the Punks is connected with the locking in of neoliberalism as the political-economic paradigm governing the Western world.

But thanks to reading Yanis Varoufakis' The Global Minotaur (2011), I was made mindful once again of the importance of the years 1971 to 1973 in the foundation of neoliberalism, in particular Nixon's abolishing the dollar's convertibility to gold, creating a global system of floating currencies and the resulting commodity price spikes.

Combined with a reading of Ron Jacobs' Avalon Sunset (2015), and the insight found therein that the last big protest year of the 1960s was 1971, not to mention a prior epiphany while watching Bill Graham's Ahab-like ego documentary Fillmore: The Last Days (1972), confirming that the Hippies had all but given up the ghost by 1971, it appears to me that 1975-to-1979-Punks-wipe-out-the-Hippies hypothesis needs to be recalibrated.

Then it occurred to me that there are two American bands that form and release albums in this 1971-to-1973 period that in many ways define the musical avant-garde to come, and those bands are Big Star and New York Dolls. In the former you have the "Après moi le déluge" of college-radio alt rock, which still exists though more on the margins than in the main; while in the latter you have the "Après moi le déluge" of Punk, which also still exists but only as a subset within the margins of college-radio alt rock.

These are two vitally important bands, and I have been meaning to devote several Hippies vs. Punks posts to their recordings. But I want to do them justice. So I have been kicking the can down the road for more than a year. For instance, the Village Voice, more than 20 years ago now, ran this amazing long piece, "My Life as a Doll," written by Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan, and I have been trying to find it online. I can probably go to the Village Voice web site and pay for it, but I have been putting it off; or possibly I attempted to find it on the Village Voice web site but was unsuccessful. In any event, I want to reread it before I post anything on the Dolls, as I want to read Rob Jovanovic's book on Big Star.

Casting around at the beginning of the week for a topic for this morning, I decided upon Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True (1977). I listened to that for a day, and then lost my appetite for it. It is definitely worthy of study. Elvis Costello was ambient towards the end of the 1975-to-1979 time frame of the original Hippies vs. Punks hypothesis. His Nick Lowe produced albums of the period were an important gateway between Pop and Punk. His 1977 Saturday Night Live performance is the stuff of legend.

Instead I have found myself listening every morning to Ornette Coleman's free jazz breakthrough record, The Shape of Jazz to Come. Recorded and released in 1959 for Atlantic Records shortly after Coleman and his great trumpeter Don Cherry finished their stint at Lennox School of Jazz, this is an amazingly fresh and nourishing album. Dispensed with are guiding railroad tracks of bebop chord changes. I can listen to this record forever.

Ornette Coleman died this past spring.

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