April 30th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey


Pere Ubu founder, noise-rock legend, and great Clevelander David Thomas is, by his own admission, a middle class boy.

And in a recent interview he claims that…

all adventurous art is done by middle-class people. Because middle-class people don’t care. Because middle-class people don’t care. “I’m going to do what I want, because I can do something else better and make more money than this.”

At the Collapse Board site (started by ex-Seattleite Everett True), blogger Wallace Wylie begs to disagree:

It surely does not need pointing out that almost every adventurous musical innovation of the 20th Century came from working-class origins. The blues, jazz, country, rock’n’roll, soul, reggae, disco, r&b, hip-hop, techno, house; the list goes on. It would take a mixture of ignorance and arrogance on a monumental scale to appropriate all of these innovations for the middle-classes.

You can probably think of your own exceptions, in music and other artistic fields as well.

Then the Scottish-born Wylie goes on to repeat the longtime meme that most American middle-class teens didn’t know about large swaths of American blues and R&B, until they heard them from British rockers:

…While British bands were playing Chuck Berry, embryonic American garage bands were cutting their chops on ‘Gloria’ by Them. In other words, rock music is a British creation that Americans subsequently copied. Bob Dylan named his fifth album Bringing It All Back Home in reference to the fact that British bands had shown Americans music from their own country that they didn’t know existed and now it was time for an American to take these influences back.

That familiar tale neglects the role American “hip” whites (including Cleveland’s own DJ legend Alan Freed) played in bringing R&B across the color line, leading to the commercial teenybopper variant Freed billed as “rock n’ roll.”

It neglects the white garage bands (such as Tacoma’s own Fabulous Wailers) who studiously covered and imitated their favorite R&B sides, especially during the pre-Beatles years.

Methinks Wylie has his own cultural blinders with which to deal.

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