Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 17, 2005

Sean Wilentz, Whigs and Democrats

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on October 17, 2005

There’s an article by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz in Sunday’s NY Times titled “Bush’s Ancestors” that tries to draw analogies between the Jacksonian Democrats and the Whigs with the two major parties of today, as the article’s title implies. Perhaps it would have made more sense to title it “Bush and Kerry’s Ancestors”.

Wilentz informs us, for example:

A century and a half before Reagan’s election, the Whigs worked out the basic ideas of supply-side, trickle-down economics. They acclaimed the romance of risk and private investment and a compelling but simplistic view of America as, in one widely used Whig phrase, “a country of self-made men.” These views would reappear in Reagan’s and Newt Gingrich’s celebrations of a coming “opportunity society,” later reformulated by George W. Bush as the “ownership society.” The Whigs also dismissed the Jacksonians’ attacks on the privileged classes as demagogic – much as Bush, running in 2000 as a unifying “compassionate conservative,” labeled his opponent’s criticisms of corporate power and tax breaks for the wealthy a mean-spirited effort “to wage class warfare to get ahead.”

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/16/magazine/16essay.html

Wilentz does not exactly make clear whether there was anything more than demagogy at work in Andrew Jackson’s “attacks on the privileged classes.” Since an analogy was drawn with what Bush described as Kerry’s attempt “to wage class warfare to get ahead,” one must ask whether Wilentz believes that Kerry was a latter-day Eugene V. Debs, not to speak of FDR. If so, it was lost on pundits such as Thomas Frank who wrote an ocean of words lamenting Kerry’s refusal to do exactly that.

Although I have not read Wilentz’s book (and don’t have plans to), the Nation Magazine review by Eric Foner indicates that Wilentz is not exactly a gushing cheerleader for Jackson in the style Arthur Schlesinger Jr. made famous. Foner writes:

Wilentz’s treatment of the Jackson era bears comparison with a classic of American historical scholarship, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s Age of Jackson, published six decades ago. Like Schlesinger, Wilentz takes Jacksonians’ commitment to democracy seriously and, like him, finds the roots of democratic radicalism in popular struggles, especially on economic matters, led by the “city democracy,” not by Western frontiersmen. But Wilentz’s account also shows how the writing of history has changed since 1945. Schlesinger ignored Indian removal, a central event of the 1830s. Despite his overall sympathy for the Jacksonians, Wilentz offers a powerful indictment of the policies that produced the Trail of Tears. Even more striking, Wilentz places the issue of slavery at the center of his account. The rise of American democracy, he shows, went hand in hand with the expansion of slavery and the consolidation in the South of the most powerful slave society the modern world has seen. The conflict between the slave South and free-labor North over the meaning of American democracy eventually led to civil war.

full: http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20051031&s=foner

While Wilentz is certainly an improvement over Schlesinger, you have to go to Harry Braverman who wrote the following critique of Jacksonianism when he was an activist in the Trotskyist movement:

In order to govern the bourgeoisie “by their white slaves,” the planters from Jefferson’s day on, built a northern party machine of a type familiar to this day in the Democratic Party. Politicians of the modern type began to make their appearance. Aaron Burr had been Jefferson’s chief lieutenant on the Northern field. Martin Van Buren, operating through the Albany Regency and Tammany Hall, was Jackson’s man Friday. Each was awarded the Vice-Presidency. Van Buren exemplified the increasing importance of the Northern auxiliary when he succeeded Jackson to the Presidency.

The Jackson and Van Buren groupings, joined by a clamorous farmer element led by such men as Senator Thomas Hart Benton and Colonel Richard M. Johnson, formed a national grouping in the Democratic Party which conducted politics by carefully watching the movement of the popular masses. Their activity, well-adjusted to the new currents which the old time politicians could scarcely comprehend, much less navigate, raised behind them a sweeping national mass movement. Here the great achievement of Jacksonianism emerges. It inaugurated in national politics that pattern which has endured to the present: the rule of an exploiting class concealed behind the appeal to the common man.

The rule of an exploiting class concealed behind the appeal to the common man? Wilentz is right about one thing in his metaphor-mongering. Based on this criterion, Andrew Jackson was the John Kerry of his day.

An earlier response to Sean Wilentz:

Sean Wilentz, Ralph Nader and the early 1960s

posted to www.marxmail.org on March 8, 2004

After reading Princeton professor’s Sean Wilentz ideological fatwa (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/07/magazine/07ESSAY.html) against Ralph Nader in yesterday’s NY Times Magazine section (appropriately enough, facing a full-page ad for Grand Marnier), it dawned on me that Dissent Magazine has filled a vacuum once occupied by SDUSA.

SDUSA was basically a repackaging of Max Shachtman’s SP whose members served as ministers without portfolio for the Democratic Party rightwing. Many were gathered around the 1972 presidential campaign of Washington State Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who was dubbed the Senator from Boeing for obvious reasons.

In the 1980s many SDUSA figures lurched even further to the right and became Reaganites. Joshua Muravchik is typical. He started political life as a leader of YPSL, the SDUSA’s “youth” group, but now writes for the National Review. In between he was associated with the “Coalition for a Democratic Majority” that was chaired by Jackson and whose politics anticipated the DLC.

Now that the Democratic Party has become recast in the “Scoop” Jackson mold, it provides an opportunity for intellectuals like Wilentz to play the same role once played by people like Muravchik. Mostly this consists of lashing out at any initiatives to the left of the Democratic Party, including the Nader campaign and the antiwar movement. Although this is the first time that the NY Times Magazine has drawn on Wilentz’s dubious talents, it has published fellow Dissent editor George Packer on several occasions, including a piece promoting the warmongering views of fellow Dissenters Paul Berman and Kanan Makiya.

As a guest panelist on David Horowitz’s FrontPage website, Wilentz had this exchange with the creepy redbaiter:

Horowitz: What exactly does it mean that a North Korean-adoring Communist sect is running the “peace” movement? Does this matter?

Wilentz: It means that, as ever, Communist sects are extremely diligent and clever at mobilizing large numbers people to march in demonstrations by exploiting those peoples’ concerns and hiding their own politics.

Clever? Diligent? One wonders why Wilentz did not describe the Communists as “masters of deceit” since that term would have captured his true intentions. When you read this sort of thing, it makes you want to take a long, hot shower with disinfectant soap.

As tedious as Wilentz’s attack on Nader is, it does raise some interesting questions about American history and electoral politics that are worth addressing. The purpose of his article is to review how new parties emerge. Except for the Republican Party, efforts such as the Bull Moose or Progressive Parties tend to disappear after their purpose is exhausted.

Wilentz writes:

But Nader will never be a Lincoln — for we are not living in a latter-day equivalent of the 1850’s. Although specific abuses cause considerable agitation among liberals and Democrats, the nation is not as riven over “corporate power,” Nader’s diffusely projected target, as it once was over slavery.

Actually, the nation was not exactly “riven” over slavery. It was instead riven over whether it should be allowed in the western territories. Lincoln was only prompted to abolish slavery when the exigencies of the Civil War required it. In fact, it was direct action by the slaves that took the form of a mass exodus to the North and service to the Union Army either as soldiers or laborers that led to their emancipation. It is not surprising that a committed Democratic Party ideologist would exaggerate the commitment of the Republicans to the abolitionist cause. Moreover, within a dozen years following the war, the Republicans were content to sell out the black population of the South as worries about general labor unrest mounted.

Furthermore, even though there is not as much mass consciousness about “corporate power” as one would like, it is obvious that the American people are its victims just as much as black people were victims of the plantation system in the 1800s. Although abolitionists got even less of a hearing in the 1830s than the Greens get today, there is little doubt that the issues they raised were genuine. Wilentz seems to subscribe to a popularity contest understanding of politics. If less than 5 percent of the population thinks that corporations are exploiting workers mercilessly, polluting the planet and producing unsafe products, then why bother to run independent election campaigns against the two parties that are virtually defined by the word corporation?

Wilentz thinks that “liberal Democrats” are saying the same things about corporate greed and domination as Nader. One wonders which candidates he would be speaking about. I doubt that given his subservience to the centrist wing of the party, he could be talking about somebody like Dennis Kucinich.

Since Wilentz has stated publicly that President Clinton “led the way in salvaging American liberalism, particularly the Democratic liberal spirit of the early 1960s”, it is entirely possible that we simply have different understandings of what liberalism is and whether socialists have any business supporting it. The Democratic liberal spirit of the 1960s is a reference obviously to JFK who invaded Cuba and inspired Clinton’s sizzle without steak image and style

After CORE launched its famous “Freedom Rides” in 1961, JFK became furious at the nuisance they were creating. He told his civil rights adviser Harris Wofford “Can’t you get your friends off those goddamned buses?”

As the rides continued, both JFK and RFK grew more and more upset by what they felt were the “giant-pain-in-the-asses” at CORE. Finally the “liberal” president and his brother, the attorney general, came to agree with J. Edgar Hoover that Martin Luther King Jr. needed to be wiretapped because of suspected Communist ties. Both JFK and RFK met with King urging him to purge the reds from his staff. To his credit, King refused. After reading Wilentz’s disgusting cracks about the “clever” and “diligent” Commies in the peace movement, it should come as no surprise that he would idolize the Kennedys.

Norman Levitt, spiked-online and the Sokal Affair

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:28 am

(After posting this, I learned that Norman Levitt’s animosity toward the left goes back to 1994. Check this Richard Lewontin review of “Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science” co-authored by Levitt and Paul Gross.)

Posted to www.marxmail.org on October 17, 2005

This name might not ring a bell with comrades, but Norman Levitt was a math professor at Rutgers who provided Alan Sokal with the original inspiration to send in his spoof on postmodernism to Social Text. What many people don’t know is that the special issue on the “Science Wars” that Alan’s article appeared in was basically a response to a conference under this rubric that Levitt had organized at NYU with funding from the Olin Foundation, a scummy rightwing outfit. My original take on the deeper dimensions of the Sokal affair can be read at: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/sokal2.htm

I hadn’t been paying too much attention to how these issues have unfolded, but today my eye caught a link on Denis Dutton’s Arts and Letters website whose lead-in read:

“You doubt that Malcolm X was a paragon of humanitarianism, that gender is a construction, that Native American myth is true? You’re culturally incompetent…”

Since Dutton is a New Criterion type conservative with a deep animosity toward the academic left, I assumed that the link would lead me to that kind of publication. Surprise, surprise. When I clicked it, I was delivered to http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/0000000CADAC.htm, where the article by Norman Levitt titled “Academic strife: the American University in the slough of despond” can be read.

Just a word or two to situate the players. In addition to his reactionary opposition to postmodernism (which is of a different character than the sort emanating from an Alex Callinicos, for example), Dutton is a fellow traveler of Frank Furedi’s libertarian cult now grouped around spiked online. Once the purveyors of “Living Marxism,” the ex-Revolutionary Communist Party was unique on the British left for its breathless devotion to DDT, atomic power plants, genetically modified crops, etc.–all in the name of a kind of crude productivism associated with an undialectical understanding of the Communist Manifesto. Nowadays, they have dropped the Marxist pretensions and put forward their corporate PR in the name of “advancing civilization”, “increasing human freedom”, etc. In other words, they sound exactly like ABC television’s John Stossel who gained some notoriety for claiming that organic food is less healthy than that treated with chemicals.

The last time I spoke to Alan, he assured me that Levitt was some kind of “social democrat.” Although that claim was questionable at the time, it can no longer be made based on the evidence of the spiked article, which rails against “political correctness” on campus in the following terms:

Here is an illustrative if fragmentary list of transgressions that would likely strip an academic of any chance of being designated culturally competent:

Suggesting that affirmative action might conflict with other standards of justice and equity, or that opponents of affirmative action are not ipso facto Klansmen waiting for their white sheets to come back from the laundry;

Taking issue with the claim that Malcolm X was a paragon of humanitarianism and political genius;

Disputing the wisdom of feminist theory as regards the social constructedness of gender;

Asserting that the early demographic history of the Americas is more accurately revealed by scientific anthropology than by the Native American folklore and myth celebrated by tribal militants;

Expressing doubts that ‘queer theory’ should be made the epicenter of literary studies.

This is just a laundry list of complaints that you find on any given day on David Horowitz’s website, in the pages of the Weekly Standard, etc. It is painfully obvious that Levitt has morphed into a reactionary slug of the kind that is making life difficult for radicals in the teaching profession. There has been a well-orchestrated campaign afoot for a number of years to silence pro-Palestinian professors, people such as Ward Churchill, etc. All this is taking place in the name of “restoring balance”, creating higher academic standards, etc. But make no mistake, the ultimate goal is to purge the university of reds and pinkos, whether they are classical Marxists or trendy followers of postmodernist fashion.

The last time I saw Sokal was at a conference at the New School in October 2001 on “Science, Knowledge, and Humanity: Debating the future of progress” that was organized jointly by Norman Levitt, spiked-online and Virginia Postrel, the editor of Reason, a libertarian magazine, and an occasional contributor to the NY Times business pages. I didn’t speak to Alan at the time because I was not really in the mood to confront him about the sordid company he was keeping. I only hope that he has wised up over the past 4 years.

October 10, 2005

Marc Cooper and undocumented workers

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 11:41 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on October 10, 2005

Marc Cooper is a liberal journalist rapidly shifting rightward who writes for the Nation Magazine, the Los Angeles Weekly (an ‘alternative’ newspaper that shed its radical politics over a decade ago) and the centrist Atlantic Monthly. Over the past couple of years, he has been poised to break with the left in the same fashion as his colleague Christopher Hitchens. Like Hitchens, Cooper pours vitriol on advocates of immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Unlike Hitchens, Cooper maintains a kind of mainstream opposition to the war in line with Russ Feingold but this hardly compensates for his nonstop redbaiting attacks.

For the past couple of years at least, Cooper has been covering the “illegal aliens” beat for the Nation and L.A. Weekly. I hadn’t paid much attention to what he was saying until it came up in the context of a discussion on his blog, which is rapidly turning into an American version of left-bashing British blogs like Harry’s Place and Norm Geras’s.

It seems that Cooper was miffed that the American left has not taken the “terrorist threat” seriously enough. While most New Yorkers viewed the terror alert for the subway system as manufactured to shore up Bush’s lagging poll ratings, especially since they were timed to coincide with his latest speech on terrorism, Cooper viewed the threat as real: “When ordinary Americans worry that their cities, ports or subways might be bombed by suicidal fanatics, it’s laughable and insulting to tell them that if they would just help put an end to U.S. imperialism the whole problem would go away.” (http://www.marccooper.com/)

Politically, Cooper was trying to pull off the same thing as the British ‘decent left’ (ie., prowar) bloggers after the subway bombings there. When radical critics of the war in Iraq called attention to the increased risk of terror because of mounting civilian casualties, they deflected the criticisms by stating that the Islamofascists always hated us, no matter what we did.

Tim Frasca was head of Pacifica’s news department in 1983 at the same time Cooper was managing the LA station. They urged that the network air the bland and centrist NPR news instead of Pacifica’s own hard-hitting material–this should give you an idea of where they were going politically. This is how Frasca weighed in on the topic of the terrorist threat in the comments section of Cooper’s blog: “I write as a NY subway rider who now sits there wondering if I am going to have my eyes blown out because some bin Ladenite psycho doesn’t like me talking to unmarried girls.” Yes, indeed, “they” want to kill us because we have conversations with unmarried women. How silly of me to have missed this obvious causality.

Now I have heard all this nonsense before so I didn’t really pay it much attention. But what really caught my eye is how the “illegal immigrant” question got dragged in. Cooper wrote, “Policy wise, we need real and immediate comprehensive immigration reform. The flow of human traffic across the border must be legalized and regulated…I have always supported more Border Patrol agents.” Flow of human traffic? More border agents? Odd formulations from a progressive journalist, to say the least.

Although Cooper’s dispatches from the Mexican border are filled with muckraking touches about deaths occurring in treks across the desert, the policy he favors is a draconian bill put forward by Senators Kennedy and McCain. In a Nation Magazine article, Cooper enthuses over the legislation, supposedly the product of a right-left consensus over the need to deal with an emergency situation:

And Senator John McCain allies with Kennedy to sponsor legislation that has been enthusiastically endorsed by both corporate and working America. “I think we now have the best shot at comprehensive reform since before 9/11,” says Medina, who strongly supports the McCain-Kennedy initiative. “It’s now part of the national debate, and conditions are such we now might actually get something done.”

Full: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050606/cooper

Contrary to Marc Cooper, this legislation is hardly anything to cheer about. Growing out of Bush’s “guest worker” proposal, it requires a $2,000 fee from anybody who came here without papers, a figure that is simply beyond the reach of the most desperate immigrants. It also requires passing an English language exam, an obvious concession to nativist prejudice. The bill includes an “Essential Worker Visa Program,” something that will allow 400,000 workers in each year to take low-skill jobs. They would be able to quit an unsatisfactory job, but would be deported if they don’t find another within 60 days. This sounds very much like a way to chain a worker to a shitty job.

Contrary to Cooper, the real problem in the final analysis is the flow of capital across borders, not the “flow of human traffic.” Because of NAFTA and increased multinational penetration of Mexico overall, the country and others to its south are experiencing a massive loss of jobs. A worker given the choice between starving and working will choose work, even without the proper documents. The real problem is imperialism, just as is the case with global terror. As long as the USA and its powerful allies in Europe exploit the 3rd world, you will see people flocking to places where they can work. Nobody wants to leave home and put up with racism and the indignities of low-wage jobs. To make such people the brunt of “reform” reflects a class bias found typically in the rich and the powerful, as well as their whores in the mass media–whatever their “progressive” pretensions.

Bob Dylan

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 9:16 am
Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Volume One
by Louis Proyect
Book Review
Dylan, Bob: Chronicles Volume One, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-2815-2, 293 pages, $14.00 (paperback)
(Swans – October 10, 2005) As accustomed as we have become to the hyping of Bob Dylan over the years, it might come as a surprise to discover that volume one of Chronicles, now available in paperback, deserves all the accolades it has received. Named as one of the best books of 2004 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the London Guardian and other prestigious newspapers and magazines, it demonstrates that Dylan still has enormous talents although arguably singing and songwriting are no longer among them.
With the arrival of the paperback version of Chronicles and Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home on PBS this year, it is a good opportunity to reevaluate this seminal figure of the 1960s. Given Dylan’s propensity for superciliousness, irony and evasion (bred no doubt by early encounters with a hostile and ignorant press,) Chronicles is a good place to start since it is marked by a gentle wit, graciousness and warmth.
Although volume one only deals with the very beginning of Dylan’s career and episodes from his more recent and lackluster years, it gives the reader a very good sense of the creative process, which is always something one expects from an artist’s memoir, but is frequently missing. We learn about the sources of Dylan’s art as well as how he transformed these influences. His ability to understand and document this process makes for a stunning portrait of the creative process. Dylan writes:
I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world. I guess it happens to you by degrees. You just don’t wake up one day and decide that you need to write songs, especially if you’re a singer who has plenty of them and you’re learning more every day. Opportunities may come along for you to convert something — something that exists into something that didn’t yet. That might be the beginning of it. Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in.
These words preface a discussion of the Industrial Workers of the World folksinger and martyr Joe Hill, who Dylan learned about through the anthem I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill after arriving in New York and who he describes as a “Messianic figure who wanted to abolish the wage system of capitalism.” (This phrase and countless others like it belie a sympathy for a radical politics that supposedly Dylan had parted company with decades ago. We will explore this question in greater depth later in this article.)
After weighing the merits of protest songs like I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill and others like it, Dylan explains how he would have gone about writing his own version:
I fantasized that if I had written the song, I would have immortalized him in a different way — more like Casey Jones or Jesse James. You would have had to. I thought about it two ways. One way was to title the song “Scatter My Ashes Anyplace but Utah” and make that line the refrain. The other way to do it was like the song “Long Black Veil,” a song where a man talks from the grave … a song from the underworld. This is a ballad where a man gives up his life not to disgrace a certain woman and has to pay for somebody else’s crime because of what he can’t say. The more I thought about it, “Long Black Veil” seemed like it could have been a song written by Joe Hill himself, his very last one.
In essence, this is what marked Dylan apart from his contemporaries in the folk music revival of the early 1960s. He was looking for a fresh way to address “topical” questions. As pointed out by Irish folksinger Tommy Makem in Scorsese’s film, a Dylan song would often sound both contemporary and several centuries old at the same time. “Masters of War,” a song that appears on the 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” is a case in point as the concluding verses would indicate:
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead
The words “I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon” have a profound, almost Elizabethan resonance. At the same time they evoke “Stagger Lee,” the song performed by blues and folk musicians alike:
Stagolee stood on the gallows, head way up high
Twelve o’clock, they killed him, we were all glad to see him die
That bad man, cruel Stagolee

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/lproy29.html

October 1, 2005

John Hammond

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:34 am

Posted to www.marxmail.org on October 1, 2005

For background on an article on jazz and the left, I am reading John Hammond’s memoir “On Record” that was written in 1977. Hammond, a scion of the Vanderbilt family who was born in 1910 and died in 1987, was a Columbia Records executive with sympathies for the left who “discovered” Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and many other major talents of the 20th century. He wrote for the Nation Magazine in the 1930s and was on the board of the NAACP for decades. He was sympathetic to the CPUSA, but—according to the memoir—never a member. In fact he made sure that when the New Masses (the CP journal) sponsored the legendary “Spirituals to Swing” Carnegie Hall concerts in 1938-1939, he made sure that the concert would not look like it had any connections to the party. He also apparently was alienated by some typical moves of the party, like turning on a dime around certain Stalin initiatives like the peace treaty with Hitler, etc.

While the book is replete with fascinating information about the cultural scene of the 1930s, the main thing that comes across is Hammond’s insensitive personality. To start with, “On Record” consistently refers to Black people as “Negroes”. This is 1977 we are talking about, not 1957. This is obviously connected to a certain paternalism that Hammond expressed from an early age. His hatred of racism, while commendable, was always bred from a certain kind of “do-goodism” found in wealthy white circles. This often leads to some really striking “wrong notes” that are odds with his finely honed musical tastes. For example, in explaining how the Spirituals to Swing concert was conceived, he says that he wanted to present the entire gamut of “Negro music” from the sophisticated arrangements of Count Basie to the most “primitive” blues singers. If I ever had the opportunity to speak with John Hammond after reading this, I would have tried to explain that there was nothing “primitive” about the blues. As somebody who was bent on including Robert Johnson in the Carnegie Hall concert (the musician had been murdered a few months earlier) and who introduced Johnson’s recordings to the young Bob Dylan, he probably knew this. It was just a poor choice of words and reflected a certain class bias.

More alarming, however, was Hammond’s decision to allow class loyalties to get in the way of his relationship with Billie Holiday:

“I couldn’t wait to bring Billie Holiday to Cafe Society. It was the perfect place for her to sing to a new audience with the kind of jazz players who brought out her best. Unfortunately, her appearances were not the success they could have been, and they proved to be the end of my association with Billie’s career. She was heavily involved with narcotics, and she had hired as her manager a woman from a distinguished family I knew well. I was concerned that she and her family might be hurt by unsavory gossip, or even blackmailed by the gangsters and dope pushers Billie knew.

“It was one of the few times in my life when I felt compelled to interfere in a personal relationship which was none of my business. I told the manager’s family what I knew and what I feared. Soon afterward the manager and Billie broke up, and Billie never worked at Cafe Society again. I think she never forgave me for what she suspected was my part in the breakup, but the woman who managed her is still my friend and I think she realizes now the complications which could have arisen.”

The idea of sacrificing Holiday’s career at the altar of a “distinguished family” stinks, to put it mildly. One supposes that this was the Vanderbilt in him at work. Oddly enough, his mother and father looked benignly on his civil rights activism, but neither they nor he could ever descend from their Olympian heights to actually become part of the social milieu that they were championing.

If one visits East 91st street in Manhattan, the street where I live actually, you can see visible evidence of how the Hammond family lived. On 9 East 91st Street, you will find the Russian Embassy. That building was where John Hammond was born. It has a formal ballroom that can seat 250 people! In 1935, Hammond held a concert party where Benny Goodman played Mozart with a string quartet. You can get an idea of the size of this joint and how the invited Black musicians might have felt from this anecdote whose bitter irony I suspect Hammond did not fully appreciate:

“After the concert the audience was invited to a reception on the fifth floor. The front elevator of the house held only half a dozen passengers; I rode up with Fletcher [Henderson], Benny [Goodman], and three other guests. Benny, relieved to have the performance over, appointed Fletcher the elevator operator, a common occupation for Negroes in New York department stores in those days. As Fletcher opened the elevator doors at each floor, Goodman would announce, ‘Fourth floor, men’s and boy’s clothes. Fifth floor, women’s ready-to-wear.’”

As students of jazz history probably know, Henderson was Goodman’s arranger and responsible for the distinctive sound that propelled Goodman into stardom. But Henderson himself felt cheated. He felt that racism interfered with his ability to fully exploit his talents. Indeed, the classic anthology of Henderson recordings is titled “Studies in Frustration”, produced by John Hammond himself.

Some of Hammond’s memoir is unintentionally funny. For example, here’s how he describes the family move from East 91st Street in 1949. “Mother and father had sold the 91st Street house and moved into a modest, sixteen-room apartment which occupied an entire floor of 778 Park Avenue. Mother had never lived in an apartment, but she managed.” This reminds me of the famous but apocryphal exchange between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Fitzgerald: “The rich are different than you and me.” Hemingway: “Yes, they have more money.”

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