September 17, 2020

"I affirm whatever I think has the best chance of working, of being both inspirational and unsentimental, of reasoning across the categories of false division and beyond the decoy of race."

Said Stanley Crouch, quoted in "Stanley Crouch, Critic Who Saw American Democracy in Jazz, Dies at 74/A prolific author, essayist, columnist and social critic, he challenged conventional thinking on race and avant-garde music" (NYT).
Espousing that pragmatism, he found ready adversaries among fellow Black Americans, whom he criticized as defining themselves in racial terms and as reducing the broader Black experience to one of victimization. He vilified gangsta rap as “‘Birth of a Nation’ with a backbeat,” the Rev. Al Sharpton as a “buffoon,” the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as “insane,” the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison “as American as P.T. Barnum” and Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” as “opportunistic.”

By contrast, he venerated his intellectual mentors James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray, who, by his lights, saw beyond the conventions of race and ideology while viewing the contributions of Black people as integral to the American experience.

(Mr. Crouch disdained the expression African-American, saying: “I use Negro, black American, Afro-American. And I might throw brown American in eventually. I don’t use African-American because I have friends who are from Africa. But I do use Afro-American, because that means it’s derived but it’s not direct.”)

Mr. Crouch said he had largely taught himself to write by devouring books as a child and then drawing on an innate lyrical sensibility.... Mr. Crouch attended, though never graduated from, two community colleges, but his stature as a writer led to teaching positions at Pomona, Pitzer and Claremont Colleges, all of them in Claremont, Calif., east of Los Angeles....  His father was a heroin addict and hustler who was in jail when Stanley was born and didn’t meet his son until Stanley was 12. His mother was a housemaid who raised Stanley, his older sister, who became an accountant, and their younger brother, who died of complications of gunshot wounds in 1980.... Frequently confined to his home with asthma, Stanley read voraciously....

His writings on race often ran against the grain of liberal orthodoxies. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Deirdre English, a former editor of Mother Jones magazine, said that in the anthology “Notes of a Hanging Judge” Mr. Crouch “sets himself apart from and above the tides of current opinion, sternly hammering a gavel of righteousness — or sometimes only righteous indignation.”

She cited his “refusal to accept the notion that victimization and degradation are the defining motifs of African-American history,” which means “abandoning any notion of African innocence or superiority” and denying “that white racism ever had the power to reduce the black race to a traumatized martyrdom.”

In exhorting Black people to shoulder responsibility and debate reasonably, she wrote, Mr. Crouch “comes off less like a hanging judge than a knowing and anxious father figure.”...
Here's a short video from about 2008 (I think) that shows his charismatic speaking style:

39 comments:

Chest Rockwell said...

Mr Crouch used to write a syndicated column. He's one of the first people I remember writing about race and I used to read his columns as a kid.

Until this article, I hadn't thought about him for years. Sad to see him go.

Fernandinande said...

Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,”

They misspelled "Harold Courlander".

Josephbleau said...

"She cited his “refusal to accept the notion that victimization and degradation are the defining motifs of African-American history,” which means “abandoning any notion of African innocence or superiority” and denying “that white racism ever had the power to reduce the black race to a traumatized martyrdom.”

Sounds like he knew what he was talking about, "Cast down your bucket, where you are."

Temujin said...

A great article about a many who lived a great and full life. I forgot about him in recent years. But I used to enjoy reading or hearing him. He was a smart and interesting man. RIP.

tim in vermont said...

"By contrast, he venerated his intellectual mentors James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray,”

Good taste.

Nonapod said...

Seems like he was a pretty observant fellow based on his character assessments.

MikeR said...

Thanks for the video. May he rest in peace.

mezzrow said...

You could agree or disagree with Crouch, but you always read to the end. Crouch's writings introduced me to Albert Murray, for which I will always be grateful. America could use some of Murray's thought right now. It is currently in very short supply. Those further interested in Crouch can read this excellent tribute at NPR as well.

He understood, from a musician's standpoint, just how good the really great players were. This is something he holds in common with Alan Greenspan, among others.

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/16/913619163/stanley-crouch-towering-jazz-critic-dead-at-74

Tina Trent said...

The essay "Stanley Crouch: Our Black American Mencken," is interesting, comparing Crouch and black John Birch Association writer (and the most-read national black columnist at the peak of black newspaper circulation) George Schyuler with Mencken, who was mentor to Schuyler and an inspiration to Crouch.

There's a whole world out there once you get away from dumb pap such as Audre Lourde, who has entirely supplanted Shakespeare in the new canon, far more exclusionary than the old canon. I once had the temerity to criticize a Lourde poem in a graduate philosophy seminar -- included in the reading apparently because graphically ludicrous and physically improbable descriptions of black lesbian oral sex is now its own subject of philosophical inquiry. Lourde died the next day, through no fault of my own, though I was blamed nonetheless.

The class and professor collectively decided (could they do otherwise) that the death of such a consequential black lesbian poet of oral sex required suspension of all discussion in favor of a three-minute-long "moment" of silence in her memory. Twenty pairs of resentful eyes glared at me for the full three minutes, and afterwards, the professor allowed additional time for students to express their feelings of disgust towards me.

At least that addd up to some fifteen minutes less classroom time wasted on escalating admiration of black lesbian oral sex. Nobody seemed to grasp the hilarious subtextual aping of "three-minute hate," but how on earth could they? They were cultural illiterates.

Crouch eloquently shouldered quite a heavy burden. All I endured was a fascist clown-show. RIP.

tim in vermont said...

"I affirm whatever I think has the best chance of working, of being both inspirational and unsentimental, of reasoning across the categories of false division and beyond the decoy of race.”

Well, it’s always nice to dream of a world where people are primarily motivated by reason, the gift that God gave us that separates us from the animal kingdom.

wendybar said...

Used to enjoy reading his articles in the NY Daily News back when I read newspapers. RIP Stanley.

Can Of Cheese for Hunter said...

Stanley Crouch -RIP

A free thinker.
Rare in the age of victimology and hivemind.

M Jordan said...

Don’t know much about Crouch but I do agree with his message. I have understood how blacks can embrace victimhood as they have. It’s demeaning. My theory is it pays well for the hustlers.

Craig said...

It is tragic that Crouch died knowing that his vision of unity was crushed by media companies and opportunistic politicians who profit from hatred and division.

rcocean said...

I liked him and thought he was a great Jazz critic ( a comparatively small accomplishment I'll admit). He always struck me as unhealthy looking, I'm amazed he made it to 74. Couch called Miles Davis:

"Miles davis turned butt to the beautiful in order to genuflect before the commercial," and was the "most brilliant sellout in the history of jazz," and a "licker of monied boots,"

He didn't like Miles abandoning Jazz for Fusion Jazz or Rock Jazz or whatever Miles Davis called his work after about 1968. And he really didn't like Davis saying "Jazz was dead". But of course Jazz WAS dead, or at least was no longer speaking to black people by the late 60s. They had moved on, and Miles moved on with them in order to appeal to the young black music audience.

gilbar said...

Stanley Crouch?

Not sure i'm up to date. Are we ridiculing him for being an Uncle Tom? or is he just a racist?

n.n said...

A fellow admirer of diversity of the individual. RIP

daskol said...

Great name

J. Farmer said...

Invisible Man is a complicated book. It's a work of black existentialism and reflects how black Americans are trapped between two worlds. You can see the same dynamic explored by W.E.B. Du Bois, James Balwin, and one of Ellison's best friends, Richard Wright.

To a degree, I think there is a sense of hopelessness beneath the surface of all of these works. A recognition that neither Du Bois nor Washington offered a path towards equality and freedom. Neither social reform nor individual moral agency can achieve it. America's racial problems are not solvable.

Nichevo said...

Mr. Crouch attended, though never graduated from, two community colleges



The secret to avoiding a poisoned mind?

Bay Area Guy said...

Always liked Stanley Crouch -- hadn't heard about him in years. Sorry to see him pass. RIP.

Chris N said...

He delivered good art, and quality work, to a larger audience. That's always worth something, and a lot more than piles of popular music, celebrity, aesthetics, and hustlers trying to attach their hobby horses/projects to 'cultural criticism'

Chris N said...

Tina,

I, too, sing the body electric, bringing black lesbian oral metaphysics to contemporary American cultural discourse.

What if 'the canon' just fires out black bodies at White Houses?

-Professor Carol Markowitz-Rockefeller

PhD Language Studies/American studies/Medieval Lit

tommyesq said...

I haven't read much of his other stuff, but devoured his liner notes to the jazz albums I bought in the 80's. Great writing about a subject (non-vocal music) that is difficult to write about.

William said...

Does your taste in music reveal anything meaningful about your character or intelligence? I'm openly antagonistic to rap music, but I'm aware that what I feel is what people used to feel about ragtime and doowap. Maybe there's something there. It's now lasted longer than rock n roll...I like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, but otherwise I avoid jazz. I suppose there's talent and even genius in those pastures, but who needs it. If I ever become suicidal or drug addicted, I might listen to Coltrane but, until then, pass... Richard Wagner and The Ring has the most mismatched set of fans. Hitler, Herzl, and DuBois found sustenance and inspiration in those operas. Writers as diverse as Tolkien, Lucas, Martin, and Margaret Mitchell have amplified the chords in Wagner's mythology. For myself, the music just sits there like a heavy lump of knodel in a greasy stew on a hot day, but de gustibus. Hitler probably had better taste in music than many people.

John Christopher said...

In high school I read a profile of Crouch in which he mentioned that he read everything by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner before he was 18, so I did the same.

Joe Smith said...

Sounds like he didn't give a fuck what the race hustlers thought.

Good for him...

Unknown said...

Crouch impressed me with his willingness to speak the truth about Roots. That was the most notable thing about Crouch, how honest he was, and how free-thinking. RIP.

Tina Trent said...

J. Farmer: Charles Murray's The Omni-Americans is an underrated book in the vein of rejecting eternal victimization without ignoring reality. The victims won, of course, making Crouch, Murray, Ellison, and Baldwin almost painful to read today.

Temujin said...

rcocean said: "He didn't like Miles abandoning Jazz for Fusion Jazz or Rock Jazz or whatever Miles Davis called his work after about 1968. And he really didn't like Davis saying "Jazz was dead". But of course Jazz WAS dead, or at least was no longer speaking to black people by the late 60s. They had moved on, and Miles moved on with them in order to appeal to the young black music audience.

Miles did abandon traditional Jazz, but...I still followed him through those early bizarre years of 'fusion Jazz' (Bitches Brew). So he was not just appealing to the young Black audience. I had a love/hate thing going for it. Then I saw a group called Weather Report live. Early 70s. Probably 72. It changed me. It sent me to another level of searching for the new jazz sound that...never...quite...got a foothold anywhere. The key players in Weather Report came out of the Miles Davis musical tree. So there was Davis' influence, even when he wasn't present. But the fusion stuff broke down. Became a common sound. The greats of traditional Jazz could not find work, could not sell records. Ended up playing for guys like me- running a bar in Detroit and hosting a big-band Jazz group fronted by old, former members of Duke's or Count's bands. These guys were phenomenal players- even as old men, having to play for crowds that did not get it- at all. They had no idea who they were listening to.

Later fusion left, and then the worst thing of all happened: Cool Jazz or Soft Jazz. Also known as Jazz Muzak. Elevator music. Or simply, Kenny G. These days I find myself reaching back to the old Jazz. Stanley was right. It was the best.

Unknown said...

I knew him well from his writing and slightly in person in Manhattan in the late 80s/early 90s. I still remember the almost visceral feeling of him switching from really chatting to then focussing with laser-like intensity on a phrase or topic or illogical bleat in the conversation.
He was very brave in his intellectual honesty.

n.n said...

The 'Roots' of huckster Haley's Great Fraud
...
Since "Roots" has brought millions of black tourist dollars to Gambia, one Gambian said to me, "Yes, it is a lie but it is a good lie."

The book remains an opportunistic insult to black people, and no amount of excuses will change that harsh fact.


50 shades of NYT's 1619 Project and other adventures in social justice. The rotten roots and progress of the diversity racket.

J. Farmer said...

@William:

Does your taste in music reveal anything meaningful about your character or intelligence?

Interesting question. I know a lot of jazz lovers who find modern popular music too simplistic or repetitive and prefer the more complex compositions in jazz and classical. They're looking to music more to be challenged than entertained. You can find the same dynamic among cinephiles. Compounding the problem is that this invites a lot of musical snobbery, and a love of classical or jazz becomes a status symbol of having refined or elevated taste. This gives the genres an elitist reputation that turns people off. Their rejection is less a result of disliking the music than disliking the subculture that surrounds it.

J. Farmer said...

@Tina Trent:

J. Farmer: Charles Murray's The Omni-Americans is an underrated book in the vein of rejecting eternal victimization without ignoring reality. The victims won, of course, making Crouch, Murray, Ellison, and Baldwin almost painful to read today.

Albert Murray. Yes, it is quite a good book and makes the important point that American identity is already a hybrid of European, West African, and Native American identities. But his argument for integration lost because it must lose. Expecting blacks to assimilate to white culture is like expecting Native Americans to abrogate their treaties, abandon the reservations, and simply live as any other American. Not going to happen.

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Nichevo said...

They had moved on, and Miles moved on with them in order to appeal to the young black music audience.

Miles did abandon traditional Jazz, but...I still followed him through those early bizarre years of 'fusion Jazz' (Bitches Brew).


Now I feel bad, because I love Bitches Brew, Pangaea, Agharta, even On The Corner, and I guess that's a bad thing.

...

But his argument for integration lost because it must lose. Expecting blacks to assimilate to white culture is like expecting Native Americans to abrogate their treaties, abandon the reservations, and simply live as any other American. Not going to happen.


Wow, they're fucked, then, aren't they? Do you think they should have reservations? What would those look like?

mikee said...

Anybody that right about so many Black asshoe victimologists deserves attention.

J Farmer, how many people of Native American ancestry live on reservations under treaty rules, compared with those who live off reservation, assimilated and simply living as any other American? Wikipedia has this: "In 2012, there were over 2.5 million Native Americans, with about 1 million living on reservations." Start with an incorrect premise, or simply dead wrong analogy, and your argument looks, well, incorrect.

mikee said...

Ack, I have assigned to Farmer the foolishness of Tina. My apologies, and my argument stands.