- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Duke University Press Books (May 22, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780822352112
- ISBN-13: 978-0822352112
- ASIN: 0822352117
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City Paperback – May 22, 2012
"How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals" by Sy Montgomery
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Hopkinson's book is part requiem for a culture that she sees being cast aside by a changing DC, and part appreciation of its unlikely survival and evolution. Her interviewees are full of rich stories. —Mike Madden
"Natalie Hopkinson's Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City demonstrates the essential connections between culture and community in an American city. For generations now, go-go music in Washington D.C. has not only given the authentic, nonfederal parts of that city its musical milestones, but it has—in the voice of so many great lead talkers—marked the civic and political time. From Chuck Brown forward, go-go has proven resilient and real. They say you can't understand this music unless you are there in the club, in the moment, but this book comes close."—David Simon, creator of the television series The Wire and Treme
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Great gift. Even if the person isn't an avid reader, reading about this can surely bring back some memories and create appreciation. Long live old dc!
The book finally arrived and I started reading expecting that the book would in some way chronicle my own go-go experiences. It did not take long to determine that the book is less about go-go and more about the idea that DC is dying or dead as a Chocolate City. While go-go is certainly DC and DC is not DC without go-go, I was not convinced of a link between go-go and the so-called death of the Chocolate City DC.
There are numerous references to ethnographic and sociological studies and theories and, in places, this book reads like one of them. That DC, or black DC, had/has its own (sub)culture, complete with its own form of music, was obvious to many Howard Univ. students, especially those who lived off-campus in the neighborhoods of DC. With respect to its go-go music tradition, DC is a sort of Galapagos.
While references to Juergen Habermas's theories about the public sphere are interesting, as a former DC resident, a musician and someone who enjoys old-school go-go music, I wanted to hear more about the music itself. It would be interesting to know how the music for the songs is constructed, the composition of a go-go band, how instruments, in addition to drums, are used, what makes a good go-go musician, and the evolution of go-go music since the mid-1970's. Instead, the author recounts interviews with several individuals who each comment authoritatively, but almost exclusively, on the business created by go-go music and on the people who promote and consume it.
I enjoyed the book in large part because I spent years living in DC and had my own personal go-go experiences. I'm interested to know whether my friend John G, who has lived his entire life within the gravitational pull of go-go, will find the book interesting. I hope he does and I look forward to having a discussion with him about it.
Thanks to the author for her efforts to preserve the unique genre of music that is go-go. I appreciate how difficult it is to describe art, especially music, with words.
Too bad the book and its author are both total jokes. First off, this book is far more a collection of newspaper articles than a cohesive narrative. And they're not very good articles either, in terms of writing ability (bland) and content (preposterous). For example, she inexplicably spends a chapter in this already rather meager volume on religious go-go, which is probably not as important as, say, a sketchbook history of the genre. So she profiles an ex-stripper and pimp who run some bama go-go after they've found Jesus for two weeks, yet she seems oblivious to the existence of seminal figures like the Northeast Groovers and Junkyard Band, who get a couple of mentions in passing. I honestly don't think she's aware of anything iconic or seminal in the music itself. It's like hearing a middle-aged high school principal try to explain hip-hop culture or something.
Which is probably the book's biggest flaw: Hopkinson doesn't really understand the music she proclaims to be protective of. She grew up in Indiana or someplace in cow country and had never heard of go-go until her freshman year at Howard (which even she admits is not a go-go hotspot for DC). Yet she chest-thumps protectively about go-go and DC as if she owns the place and is the gatekeeper of the music. In other words, she's a dilettante who understands neither the music nor the area. Someone who understands DC might have a less atavistic idea about cultural diversity. She discusses an unimportant controversy over Visionz Clothing, an Asian-owned outfitter selling garish t-shirts to go-go fans. Naturally, Visionz's black competitors stage a boycott, complete with race-baiting that Hopkinson reports on with a mindlessness that suggests she A) doesn't seem to notice that it amounts to simple racism and plays it objectively despite being firmly planted on her high horse about other topics; and B) doesn't seem to have noticed the gigantic Asian population that has lived in the DC area since 1980. Then again, Hopkinson doesn't seem to know that Virginia exists, since she has never lived there in the 45 minutes that she's lived in the Beltway. Why is she discussing a clothing controversy from 2004? Hmm. Good question. To fill pages? Because she has nothing else to say about a topic she doesn't know anything about?
The same obliviousness mars her "study" of black DC in general. She crows about the "Chocolate City" and how it has been run by black people, yet any of the city's foibles are, of course, "their" fault - meaning the white people who don't actually run the city. It's a very atavistic take on representative democracy that makes me wonder if she's writing from a time warp in 1989. She peacocks about writing an angry column for the Washington Post about white people gentrifying "her" neighborhood (by the way my white grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents were living there in the 19th century, so slow your roll). In her world, it's outrageous that people move in and improve things so that it's safe to leave one's house at night. There aren't murders and drugs deals on every corner any more! Whatever will come to define black culture for Hopkinson? What a cynical view of an entire culture, if cleaning up one of the most dangerous cities in the country is seen as a return to some kind of plantation system.
Again, if she had a passing understanding of DC, she might realize that the "Chocolate City" era was a relatively small period of time in a long history of an ever-changing city, really just the 60s through the 90s. Bemoaning the demise of the "murder city" days of DC is just as stupid as it would have been for my grandfather to bemoan the demise of the malarial Irish slums of the Swampoodle era in which he was born in Northeast. To me it would make more sense for my other grandfather to complain about the demise of the safe middle-class Northeast in which he was raised - I can imagine him driving past Cardozo High School and having a serious grievance about his alma mater turning into an open-air crack market.
The nadir of the book, and the apotheosis of Hopkinson's Olympian, bama-level cluelessness, is her lengthy transcription (yes, it's a transcription of an interview, not actual writing) of a day spent with a pathetic loser wannabe drug kingpin from hicktown Maryland. Ron, a second generation PG County resident (this makes him an OG according to a transplanted fool like Hopkinson), is in his 30s, has a daughter, yet still lives with his mother when he's not cruising around town playing a 16-year-old's "gangster" fantasy of selling drugs and wasting space on the government teet of prison. Yet for Hopkinson, Ron is totally "hilarious," probably because he's the only low-class black person who's ever been lame enough to hang out with her in her laughable attempts to slum it and appropriate DC culture before another academic does it first. Ron, what a hilarious guy. She meets him as he finishes a prison stint for a murder in which he was allegedly involved. Hopkinson notes with wide-eyed admiration, "If Ron knew anything about who pulled the trigger that night, he never told me, and he never told authorities." Gee, what a stand-up guy. Mind, this is in a book in which the author quite reasonably shakes her head over senseless murders of teenagers on every other page. Oh but wait, those murders should be solved by white authorities, not by the people actually responsible for them, so Ron's just playing out his cultural role. Again, what a cynical joke.
And don't get me started on Hopkinson's simple-minded economic theories. She praises the underground, tax-free drug economy and doesn't seem to understand that taxes pay for schools, social programs, and neighborhood improvement. Yet whose fault are the poor schools, social programs, and neighborhoods. I'll give you three guesses, and two don't count.
The book is also filled with half-hearted, wet-blanket attempts at academic nonsense. She analyzes dances from a stupid sociological perspective about African traditions, as if it's supposed to be interesting or surprising. She makes the all-to-common error of thinking that black music is somehow unique for expressing what's happening in its culture in ways that don't get reported in the media. And you won't believe the nugget she uncovers from Chuck D of Public Enemy: apparently rap music is the "CNN of black America"! What stunning, extensive, mind-blowing research! It's that level of triteness that characterizes this entire poor excuse of a book.
Go-go deserves both a competent critical study and a comprehensive narrative history. Hopkinson delivers neither. She should be banned from writing. And in the eyes of this tenth-generation Washingtonian, she should certainly be banned from writing about DC. To paraphrase Pleasure (a band Hopkinson likely has never heard of), don't put it in your pocket; don't lock it.