Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing writer, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky. He is the author of the novel White Boy.
Posts By This Author
A Pilgrim in the House
Finding a Cultural Politics
Down With The Boondocks
I Yam What I Yam
What those 'Low Prices' Cost
Better Living Through Technology
Pledging Allegiance to the Imagination
Richard Wright was a political activist, but his loyalty was to his art.
The Story Preceded Us
An interview with Paul Elie on faith, writing, and the "School of the Holy Ghost."
The Boss Plays for Change
The Tupelo Miracle
How faith and a newspaper transformed a Mississippi community.
Michael Moore Brings the War Home
Color Lines and Party Lines
Race and politics in 2004.
In Iraq, the Truth is Out There
Throughout the first year of the Iraq war, the Bush administration managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the war news that reached U.S. media consumers. Embedded reporters told the battlefront story from the viewpoint of U.S. troops. And the big media institutions back home - right up to The New York
"Plagiarism is basic to all culture." Pete Seeger claims that his father, a Harvard musicologist, told him that. To which I could only reply (plagiarizing Jerry Lee Lewis), "You're so right you don't know what you're saying."
Seeger was, of course, talking mostly about the folk cultural process by which the same stories and tunes get passed down and reinterpreted from generation to generation. Today that process continues in popular culture. If you don't believe me, read Dave Marsh's landmark work of cultural criticism, Louie Louie.
In his book, Marsh traces the strange career of that tune from its beginnings as a pseudo-calypso authored by an L.A. rhythm-and-blues singer named Richard Berry, who was inspired by a "cha-cha" he'd heard from a band of Filipino-Americans. Marsh follows the song through various cover versions by white Pacific Northwest garage bands. One of those bands, The Kingsmen, had half-learned the song off a jukebox. They twisted the beat into the now-famous "duh-duh-duh, duh-duh," and, since their singer didn't know all the lyrics, he mumbled through some lines. This led to the legendary "secret dirty lyrics," which led to a national scandal and even an FBI investigation, which declared The Kingsmen's recording unintelligible at any speed. But Marsh's story doesn't end there. He follows "Louie Louie" through an afterlife in which it became the template for countless garage-rock records (starting with that class-conscious classic "Hang On Sloopy"); the "secret lyrics" are finally recorded by Iggy Pop and The Stooges; "Louie Louie" becomes a marching band classic; and the song's signature riff is reincarnated (with more unintelligible lyrics) as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
It's the Sprawl, Y'all
Man of the Decade
If we get the heroes we deserve, then Pete Rose may just be the man for America today.
What If It's All True?
Keeping it Real
Sam Phillips spread the blues, broke racial barriers - and left a mixed legacy.