Author Archives: caitlinford

Final Showdown: Jefferson vs. Hamilton

Jefferson’s idea that everyone should be uniform farmers was the best way to run America is ridiculous. I can’t imagine what life would be like without the same innovations and technological advances we have today. Even writing this online blog post would have been impossible without the consequent waves of innovation that Hamilton’s idea of pressing toward the future catalyzed. Not everyone can be a farmer because then there is no specialization. While Jefferson does make a point when he says it’s harder to keep a nation together without uniform interests, I think he missed the mark a little. Just because everyone doesn’t have the same profession, and thus economic interest, doesn’t mean we don’t have the same national interests. Our interest IS America, no matter if you’re a doctor, a teacher, or a blacksmith. The reason I mesh better with Hamilton’s ideas is that he describes America much like what I have grown up with. Our culture is all about individualism and what makes each person stand out among the crowd. Americans strive to answer the question, how does my uniqueness contribute and build community? And I think this is a perfect reflection of it.


What would I be without this?

Morality of Music Stealing

With the evolution of music technology, it’s no wonder piracy has been a increasingly long thorn in artists’ side. The ability to illegally copy music, and then distribute it for free (or worse, for profit, thus taking money right out of the original creator’s hands) has only gotten easier. It’s kind of funny too, because a lot of the same people who are worried over piracy (aside from the artists themselves, of course) are the same people who shy away when faced with the suggestion that fans should make sure artists they like listening to are supported and paid for their work. It’s all kind of crappy when I think about it. On the one hand, it’s so easy to say I support these artists, and they should be paid for their hard work and creativity. It sounds like a no-duh moment. But on the other, that can be expensive and I like keeping things cheap. Even beyond music, I run into this problem more frequently than I would have guessed. I love the idea of supporting independent artists and clothing lines, craft and jewelry shops, but it can be a lot cheaper and easier just to get something at Walmart. I feel like those artists are being neglected, and find myself wanting someone else to support them. It’s a bit hypocritical, I know, but I feel this is a reflection of today’s popular music industry. At the end of the day, nobody (the producer or the consumer) really cares about the artists anymore, it’s just about that cold hard cash.


I can confirm


Nature of the Mp3

When creating (or recording) music, often times there are moments when the frequencies of the different instruments cancel each other out and the listener does not hear both instruments. During conversion into an mp3 file, this overlap can then be removed, because, after all, you don’t need to include something you can’t hear anyway. This allows for mp3’s to be much smaller than the original file, and easier for transportation and storage. There is something about this process that bugs me. It seems like technology is trying to deceive you. Producers are selling you something that is only half of what you thought you were buying. It’s like going to a concert where the lead singer lip syncs, only it’s so natural that you don’t even realize it. While taking these overlapping parts away does make it easier and cheaper, and it really shouldn’t matter anyway since I can’t hear it, it just seems that people are lying about it. But I guess a distinguishing factor of today’s music (versus the music produced and sold fifty years ago) is that in order to have it fast, cheap, and now, shortcuts and robotic tuning must take place. It still bothers me that Katy Perry singing from my iTunes download sounds so different than the Katy Perry singing at a concert. I also know it doesn’t logically make sense to not like the mp3 process, but the feeling of somewhat being jipped remains.


I want to download this whole experience. But then, would it even be authentic anymore?

Lomax’s Quest for the Ideal

Miller describes the journey Lomax goes on trying to find ‘real folk music’. He ended up travelling to various prisons, hoping that the black inmates would reveal to him this perfect condition of what he called folk. Instead, he found that the inmates had all sorts of music, like pop songs of the time, a military band, and even an orchestra. Lomas didn’t find the “isolation and homogeneity” that he sought from the prisons’ black inmates. To me the whole idea of what Lomax was trying to do is kind of silly. He just made up some stereotype in his head and then spent actual money and real time on trying to prove it. I know his intention was supposed to be noble (?). He felt that folk music was dying and desired to preserve a piece of American cultural history before it was destroyed. But the thing is, no matter how hard you look, nothing you record or categorize with be the authentic product. When he recorded Muddy Waters, the singer didn’t even know what Lomax was talking about when he wanted him to play folk music. Muddy listened to the radio and heard pop music just like everyone else. Its frustrating when I see how Lomax was trying to push this ideal he had in his head onto so many other people. And while Muddy may have made it into his own thing in the end, so-called folk music wasn’t where his heart and desire was. He wanted to sing the songs all the other popular (white?) artists were playing. He didn’t want to be confined to one genre, a genre that wasn’t even his own but was forced upon him by a disillusioned man looking for something that didn’t exist.


They spent all that time looking to preserve folk music sung by black slaves in the field, yet this is what folk music looks like today. I say his efforts to preserve this part of history didn’t work out so well.

Is Today’s Copyright Moral?

In 1790, a creator had to still be living in order to extend their copyright a second term, nowadays, copyrighted material can avoid the public domain for hundreds of years, well after the death of the original creator. When a technology is patented, a book is written, or a character developed, the grandchildren and their children afterwards can earn copyright fees for something they in no way, shape, or form, had anything to do with. This, I believe is not right. Copyright seems to be the product of greed and selfishness. And while I acknowledge that a creator should be rewarded for his or her work, this does not carry over to their descendants. The idea that you couldn’t (until recently) even use the happy birthday song without paying a thousand dollars is ridiculous. Every one knows this song, we sing it on multiple occasions every year and pay nothing. It’s even worse, however, for intellectual property (as apposed to physical property). For this type, it doesn’t matter who made it, only who owns it. Unlike physical property, intellectual property is intangible — you can’t touch something that is just an idea in someone’s mind. And the resulting concept that one can actually copyright that idea is even more confusing. If intellectual property is the result of some idea you had, what is the difference in the actual product? Does physical property refer to just things of the earth? It seems to me that the idea of intellectual versus physical property just wanted to find a way to make some extra bucks even after they were old (and dead). If something is so well known and already in the public consciousness, then there should not be a copyright on it.


JK Rowling has already earned hundreds of millions of dollars off the Harry Potter series and its accompanying movie adaptations. Isn’t a billion dollars enough (yes I know she gives to charity and technically isn’t even a billionaire anymore, but a multimillionaire is pretty damn close right? And it’s a heck of lot more money than the majority of the world) Why not end the copyright (or at least end it after she dies)?¬† —- Because money.¬† Creators will never say okay okay enough is enough. I personally love JK and what her imagination has created, and I think she should definitely earn money for her hard work. However, at some point it does become excessive. Take Disney, an even more extreme exmaple — the animation giant whose copyright continues to be extended¬† throughout the decades to the point that it most likely will be under copyright literally forever. This is the mighty dollar at work, and this is why money truly does make the world go round.


Scavenger Hunt

The word jazz began to be used in earnest in the early 20th century, around 1920s. The origin of the word, however, began in 1860, with the word ‘jasm’, which at the time was slang for energy, vitality, and spirit. It was mostly used among the black population, birthed from the unique local culture of New Orleans. Interestingly enough, the first ‘jazz’ recording, in1917, was done by an all-white group of musicians. The Dixieland Jass Band recorded the song Livery Stable Blues, but the recording was never officially attributed to anyone. There was a lawsuit claiming the Jass Band had plagiarized what they heard African Americans singing in New Orleans. It’s troubling that white musicians were trying to record ‘jazz’ first. It originated in a very specific subculture, so shouldn’t New Orleanians be the first to record? Considering this was an incredibly prejudiced era, perhaps they didn’t think it would be very popular. Additionally, upon listening to this first recording, it doesn’t much sound like what we call jazz today. It has a more Charlie Chaplin, cartooney vibe.

Even before this recording, the term ‘jazz’ was being printed in newspapers as a way to describe a more upbeat, fox-trotty version of the blues, as seen in a Chicago Tribune article published in 1915, called “Blues is jazz and Jazz is blues.” In it, there is a caricature of a black saxophonist, and that of a white man who becomes young again as he hears the jazz music. The article gives a pretty good explanation for blues — a harmonic discord, it’s never written, but interpolated by the piano player and other players. Perhaps the most unique and important part of jazz is the improvisation during a performance, making each song like all the others, but at the same time, different from them.


The Jazz Player, 1915


Seagrove, Gordon Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jul 11, 1915; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune pg. E

Are Museums Lying To Us?

I have never considered that museums may not be displaying “authentic” history. Preserving an artifact in its ideal form rather than its reality is an interesting issue. I don’t think the public would be very receptive to going into a respectable, national museum only to be met with dirty smelly things. If a museum chooses to put Michael Jordan’s uniform on display, they are going to wash it first. But isn’t the sweat and stadium smells of a winning game part of history too? The public, I believe, has a very specific image of what we call ‘history’. It is supposed to be neat and orderly — no matter how messed up a massacre was, or how devastating a hurricane became, or even how revolutionary a torn down wall is, things need to be labelled with smart little placards. A visitor should be able to walk into an exhibit and experience from start to finish the progression of events.

But I don’t think history is actually anything like museums say it is. Just like in Bush’s memex, people should be free to jump around history as they please, making their own connections and analyses. While museums for the most part appear to allow this, a visitor can easily go on a ‘guided tour’ or download the best route to see everything. Or consider the Luvre in France. You walk inside one end, and go in one line, exiting out the other end. I understand that not everyone is a trained historian, but traditional museums are almost patronizing in their treatment of experiencing history, holding your hand like a child and explaining in simplest terms the significance of something. I think instead of this, a picture or a replication should be the jumping off point for the experience of history, not the end.


How best to preserve this exact moment?

Miller’s view on Southern Music

Performers like Muddy Waters were especially successful in catering to a wide audience, mostly due, as Miller points out, to their large repertoire. If a musician could play black and white music, knew various cultural and local dances, memorized different kinds of tunes, etc., he had a greater chance of employment than a musician who only knew plantation songs, or only knew pop songs from the north. It’s interesting that there were several artists that overcame “differences of race, class, or region” despite his skin color, and were extremely popular to both white and black audiences. In such a racially segregated era, for music to transcend this barrier I think is amazing. We’ve talked about before how pop culture often progressed at a faster pace than the legal system, and I think this is a prime example. A fiddle player who grew up in the deep south could then produce music to be played on the radio and enjoyed by both white people curious about ‘authentic southern’ music and also black people longing for home, just by being able to play various racial genres. Which why is that even a thing in the first place? It’s strange to me that ‘race’ can be a genre, like a white person wouldn’t listen to ‘black’ music or buy ‘black’ products. My goodness people, a homegoods brand is a homegoods brand, the dishwashing soap isn’t going to change properties based on the color of your skin. That tshirt doesn’t know if you have more or less melanin. Racism as a concept baffles me, I understand that it started when white people “discovered” (heavy emphasis on the quotes) darker skinned people in Africa, but why on earth did they immediately jump to ‘Hey Joe, I got a great idea. Let’s take this other human and torture, rape, and enslave his people for hundreds of years, and then later, let’s be actively and legally cruel, violent, and unreasonable hateful to his successors, just because they’re more tanned than us.’ I thought we prided ourselves on our logical, rational ability, yet this seems incredibly illogical, and irrational, to me.


How can love be illegal?

Commercially Southern

Hank Williams, the father of modern country music, often wore a cowboy hat and “western” style clothing despite growing up and singing in Alabama (where there are most definitely no cowboys). It’s the same story with Jimmie Rodgers, who wore a costume of railroad overalls and hat. But why is this stereotypical southern imagery necessary? And why was it so popular? In part, I think the people managing Rodgers and Williams remind me of the minstrels. The minstrel singers performed what they believed was black culture and music. Likewise, these country singers performed and wore the clothes that the public believed was authentic southern. It may not have been accurate, at least for the majority, however stereotypes and imagination go a long way to shape the views of the masses. It’s even more befuddling, however, that those who migrated from the south to urban cities, loved this kind of music and film, yet they, more than anyone else, should realize this is not quite how life really is in the south. They themselves buy into this commercial country image the north sells, despite having lived and experienced the “real south” (whatever that is). Additionally, when considering songs like Honky Tonkin’, about adultery and cheating on one’s husband, these crass popular songs which depict almost a lesser, more basal culture, were listened to and liked by the masses, including those who moved from the south. Maybe it’s just my liberal, millennial point of view, but I imagine I would be somewhat offended if all these ‘fake southerners’ were singing all about my family’s home in such a crude, comical way. Or maybe I’m taking it too seriously, afterall, pop songs today are just as crude and secular and sexist and biased as they were then.


The best possible representation of my people (that was sarcasm)

Music Between Genres

America’s segregation history is one of violence and cruelty, yet in the midst of this, phenomenon like the minstrel show exists. Or even more interesting, people like Muddy Waters existed in this era and context of intense radical racism while also transcending the borders between genres and race. Muddy Waters would listen to everything on the radio — country, jazz, pop, minstrel songs, etc — and sung them in his own way. He had very wide musical talent, despite being nearly illiterate. Later on, he would further fuzz the boundaries separating the races by singing in integrated bands and working on movies for Disney. In a time when it was illegal for a black and white person to play music together, the radio allowed this to happen. After all, you can’t see skin color when listening to a guy play the guitar. I think it’s pretty rad that in the face of such unfair and unjust laws, people still found a way to stick it to the man while doing something they actually love. Music is something that has always passed borders between race and ethnicities long before the legal and political systems, and it makes me wonder if America, or even the world, would look a lot different if these integrated bands didn’t have to play in secret.


President Waters