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Indians Who Rock
Thursday, September 14 2017
 
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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Indians who rocked

Here’s something uplifting and fun, unlike most of this column’s usual fare.

“Rumble,” a new documentary that opened Sept. 1 at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis, explores a little known aspect of popular music: the contribution of American Indians.

The film’s subtitle is “The Indians Who Rocked the World,” and directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana feature interviews with a variety of American Indian musicians. I didn’t connect some of the musicians featured here with their Native roots; for example, many New Orleans-based artists, like the Neville brothers, claim Choctaw ancestry.

The film’s title comes from the Link Wray song. He was Shawnee, from North Carolina. You likely have heard Wray’s distinctive guitar sound on “Rumble” and “Apache” (he also wrote “Shawnee” and “Comanche”). A host of famous rockers, from Robbie Robertson to Iggy Pop, testify in the film to Wray’s influence on their musical direction.

The documentary lingers over certain figures. For example, there’s the late AIM leader and poet John Trudell, who hooked up with rock guitarist Jesse Ed Davis (Comanche and Kiowa) for his first words and music album, “AKA Graffiti Man.” In “Rumble,” Trudell talks about his friend Jesse Ed, who was a beloved and influential rock guitarist. Davis first gained widespread notice from his work on Taj Mahal’s “Giant Step” album. He played sessions with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne and other stars in the rock pantheon, and recorded his own albums. Davis, who battled drugs and alcohol for many years, died in 1988, at the age of 43.

“Rumble” also delves into jazz and folk music. Mildred Bailey (1900-1951), who grew up on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho, was an influential jazz singer. In the film, the legendary Tony Bennett says that for a span of his formative years he only listened to Bailey. In 1938, Bailey had two No. 1 hits (“Please Be Kind” and “Says My Heart”), with Red Norvo and His Orchestra.

And Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) discusses her role in the American folk revival of the ’60s, and how her activism for Native causes led to her being cast aside by the ruling titans of TV and other pop culture outlets.

“Rumble” is a very entertaining film; and it fills a gap in the history of popular music, which thus far has minimized or totally neglected the important role of American Indians.

 

Menace to society

I was out of the country in July and too jet-lagged to write a column for the August edition. It was good to be 5,000 miles away from this country and the nonstop catastrophe of the Trump administration for a couple of weeks. But I’m back and, like everybody, forced to confront the horrifying debacle that is U.S. politics.

In my June column, I noted that Trump professed his concern about American Indians, in a White House meeting with tribal leaders. Of course, you can’t believe everything that Donald Trump says.

When Trump’s not totally delusional, he’s a profligate liar. Clearly there’s something wrong with this guy, and we’re in peril as long as he commands the U.S. military arsenal. In August, Trump offered his “fire and fury” remarks, vis-ŕ-vis North Korea.

His threat to start a nuclear war was mainly forgotten after the white supremacist chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia. On Aug. 12, the KKK and neo-Nazis staged their largest demonstrations in recent years, ostensibly to protest the campaign to remove a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee. After a series of brawls, a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer, and injuring a dozen other people. The driver, James A. Fields, has been charged with murder.

In response to the shocking events, Trump condemned the violence “on many sides” – suggesting an equivalence between the racists and anti-Semites and those who showed up to protest them. He later alleged that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the confrontation in Charlottesville.

And the president continues to defend those supporting monuments to Confederate leaders and the benighted cause of upholding chattel slavery in the South. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” Trump tweeted.

With a president who threatens to destroy human life on the planet, and then supports white supremacists on the march, we’re in dangerous and uncharted waters. Trump should be impeached, or removed through provisions of the 25th Amendment. When this lunatic is out of power, we can deal with the new threat posed by President Pence.


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