Page 8-The Michigan Daily-Weekend etc.-April 9,1992
Blame the Negritude
A n d r e
a h n
To some people, Les Paul is just a
name on a guitar; to others, he is the
man who started it all. By the time
Les Paul was 14, he had developed
the first electric guitar. Within five
years, he not only had his own trio,
but also a primitive, homemade re-
cording machine in his closet.
In his 20s, he created the "Les
Paulverizer," a little black box which
can expand any single instrument or
voice to four-part harmonies, so his
mom would always be certain that it
was her son only that she heard on
the radio. Now, at 76, Paul remains
obsessed with narrowing the gap be-
tween music and technology.
Paul took his listeners by storm
over 50 years ago with his blistering
speed and creative interpretations of
standards. As a guitar player, he is
one of the main influences on to-
day's artists. His inventions, how-
ever, are what have made him a true
icon for musicians and popular cul-
ture throughout the world.
Some may even pinpoint Paul as
solely responsible for the decline of
Western civilization. Without the
electric guitar or multi-track record-
ing, how would rock 'n' roll have
developed? Without this loud music,
on what would our parents blame all
of our problems?
The widespread impact of the
electric guitar has come as no
surprise to Les Paul since Gibson
manufactured the first one in 1952.
He always believed the instrument
would be a big success, but Gibson,
who eventually beat out Fender for
the right to produce Paul's design,
was not completely convinced.
"They did not have faith in it,"
Paul said in a recent interview.
"They made four of them, and I said,
'What in the world are you making
four for? You should make four
Paul also says they resisted
virtually all of his innovations for
the instrument. "They were thinking
of cost, and that they're foolish,"
Paul says. "To put a steel bridge on a
guitar was absolutely sacrilegious -.-
to have long sustain was against
their religion ... When I asked for
the first cutaway, they said, 'Andre
Segovia can go all the way up to the
last fret. Play correctly and you
don't need a cutaway.'..
The electric pickup, which am-
plifies the sound of the guitar, is his
most significant invention. "My first
one was the needle for my
phonograph with a crystal pickup on
the bridge of my guitar," he says.
"It's identical to what is on any of
the acoustic/electric guitars today."
The concept for standard guitar
pickups originated when he heard
the notes of a guitar reproduced
through a telephone. Paul, however,
couldn't have designed the pickup
alone; he was only 14 years old and
had no formal training in electronics
or theoretical physics.
He explains, "I went down and
rapped on the doors of the guys at
the transmitters and the engineers,
and when I found some electro-me-
chanical people to answer to my
questions, I made a guitar pickup for
under the strings."
The coils in the pickup create a
magnetic field around the strings.
When the string is played, the vibra-
tion in the field creates a minute
amount of electricity. The voltage is
then carried from the pickups,
through the cable to the amplifier,
and voila, rock 'n' roll.
A problem Paul saw with pickup
placement is that the various har-
monics on the finger-board create
distinct vibrations, and the sound re-
produced is different for each spot.
He did not want to sacrifice anything
by making his instrument electric, so
he wanted to have three or four of
them on the body, as it does now. If
this explanation sounds confusing to
you, then you can understand why
there was so much opposition to
manufacturing guitars with only one
In time, Gibson acquiesced and
designed the guitars just as Paul
wished. They must have realized that
they were dealing with a true vision-
ary. Additionally, they never forgot
whose ideas went into creating their
Paul says Gibson told him,
"'Anything with a pickup on it, you
own it, Les."' Paul explains, "Out of
all the electric guitars going back to
1952, if it was amplified, I got a roy-
alty on it because it was my sweat
and blood that went into it."
While many of his peers are
retired in Florida, Paul keeps on
sweating and bleeding. As Dave
Mason sang, "I've got too much to
do before I die." Paul has never been
satisfied with the sound of the
electric guitar. It has never equaled
the ideal that he has in his head.
He's working on a new guitar which
is "supposed to blow everybody
away," but it still may not be good
enough for him.
Paul says he has a few other
projects he must also complete in his
lifetime. He has a few books to
write. He's got to finish designing
the ultimate stage monitor system.
He's got to do that record with Ella
Most of all, he says, "I want a
chance to start over again so I can
finish everything I'm working on
right now." We should hope so, as
well. He may be the only guy who
understands how any of this stuff
by Forrest Green III
If you've never heard the voice of events critic EMW doing his Color
Commentary on WCBN, I won't pretend that I could give you an accurate
description. If you have heard EMW, then your familiarity will only en-
hance the effect of my ramblings.
EMW, or "the weekly Negro" as he affectionately refers to himself,
sounds vaguely like your own most sardonic, outrageous, mocking voice of
conscience. Despite his bold persona of proud, glowing Negritude, he tends'
to fall into a disorienting racial anomaly during any given Color Com-
mentary. He might change from a mean Stepin Fetchit imitation to a
remarkably pompous Don Pardo-Authoritarian Man character between two
But then this is no big deal for someone who's given us over 30 charac-
ters in his two-year career, as many as 12 of them in one commentary.
Belying his scathing political outlook is an ambiguity which I would de-
scribe as a limitless fervor for ultra-humanitarianism.
It would be quite easy to classify EMW as an unadulterated pro-Black'
voice, but he says that the Commentary's overall theme is, if anything,
He says, "I am against death in all forms. To favor capital punishment is
consistent with favoring abortion, war, rape, battery, or any other form of
gross contempt. When the life-death issues come up, you will find that I am
without hypocrisy. I go with life every time, no matter who's watching."
Personally, EMW's worldview strikes me as leading dangerously toward-
anarchism. His most provocative quote is, "Abortion, racism, sexism, ho-
mophobia, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and straight-up murder are exactly
the same thing. They either are, want to be, or will become institutions
which eventually seek to determine when the other motherfucker gets to
Even though I don't agree with all of EMW's philosophies, his commen-
tary never ceases to amaze me with its stark, confrontational tone and hu-
manistic passions. Like filmmaker Spike Lee, he stays away from giving an
authoritarian answer to the universal questions that his art raises. A daz-
zlingly provocative commentary "to encourage debate on the issues of the
day" is certainly enough.
Like the best commentators, EMW doesn't take a side in most of the is-
sues he confronts (moronic leftist vs. rightist ideologies aside), but simply*
tries to shed some amount of light on the subject covered. His scathing de-
nouncements range from the fallen New Right to the liberal "shame-ridden
'new leafers,' the elsewise children of Mister Charley, aka Whitey"
On his perspective toward Black Americans, or "the oppressed herd" as
he refers to them, EMW doesn't cower or choose sides. He's quick to diss
commentators like the apologist Shelby Steele and armed-and-dangerous
Carl Rowan, as well as the Black separatist organization the Nation of
Among my favorite commentaries is the recent "Is Pussy A Bad Word?,"
which analyzes the rape trial of Mike Tyson. "It was assumed long before
the contest began that Iron Mike was guilty," EMW tells us midway through
his delivery. "Oh, come on now, America," he coddles us, referring to
America the same way that neo-conservatives and the media do, as a shel-
tered, innocent mind.
"Don't try that innocent look on me. Women celebrated, from the stools:
in the local bars to the offices of Ms. Steinem herself, because they knew-
they finally had a man they could convict of the most heinous of all crimes,
the date rape. The object of this anger was the most ferocious and publicized
criminal of the day, the Black man."
"Pussy" continues, "Now white men celebrated too, long before the trial
took place. Because the enormous symbolic emasculation of a so-called
Black hero would confirm their ultimate power once again." The mediation
continues to the point where we might understand that Tyson is as much a
victim of mythology as stereotyping.
The Commentary "The Nigger and the Whore" describes the frantic
scurryings of neo-conservative Republicans Clarence Thomas and Anita
Hill respectively, under the oppressive motions of a racist government.
EMW cuts through the malaise of contemporary political discussions to
analyze the makings of "the nigger and the whore" with verve.
"Censorship is not equivalent to freedom of speech," he tells us, "And it
ain't just because it favors the preferred language of the hypocrite over the
most familiar language of the land. It is good only to those who defer certain
pronunciations to certain situations. It is always right, though. That is, a tool
of the New Right."'4
Last year's classic Commentary "The Fall of the New Right" analyzed
the ludicrous platitudes and barbaric extremes which constituted America's
semantics of the Persian Gulf war.
"There is no doubt that most of us still think that we've just won a sport-
ing event," he tells us with a smirking voice. "Is this the growth and pro-
ductivity your popular President promised? Let's see. In six weeks and one
day, we've produced more than two hundred fifty thousand dead bodies. If
laid side-by-side, that's seventy-one miles of corpses. More than one and a
half miles of human corpses per day, at a cost of only twenty billion dollars,
Now that's progress. Hmm?
"I ate nineteen pounds of candy bars, smoked more than a thousand
cigarettes, and drank forty-eight gallons of tea during the Persian Gulf war.
Now as offensive as that might seem to you, I really see no reason to brag
But no Color Commentary is quite so amazing as the yet-to-be-aired
"Reality Is This." If you were one of those courageous enough to hail the
"white-bashing" of the startling multi-media presentation "The Beat of Dis
Content" by VAMP (Visual Arts Media and Performance), you're fortunate
- you've already heard it. "Reality Is This" asks us the question, "Now,
how can we say we want freedom, America, when all we really want is for
the other motherfucker to die?"
EMW has yet to air "Reality is This" on WCBN because of its powerful
language and unsparing discourse on white supremacy, but I hope he does
anyway. The decision doesn't quite fit in with his philosophy against cen-
sorship, and if ultimate chaos is what it takes to open people's minds, then
so be it.
Tired of MTV? Tune in some music on other stations
T here's more to music on televi fools is not good. Besides, who wants Solid Gold The best of the best, be- its white breadcounter-part(
sionthanMTV.Besides thefact to skip a show to see some band talk fore MTV gained the monopoly on sake, the Romantics wereo
that a lot of folks still don't have to some middle-agedhostwho's more music on TV that it is today. With the stand), and was ultimately I
cable and therefore are deprived of concerned with his toupee and his Solid Gold Dancers - the obvious its choice of guests. Surpr
TNN (TheNashvilleNetwork), most jokes than a bunch of kids? predecessors to the Fly Girls on In prise.
of the music on MTV is videos-the Lawrence Welk Even though Larry Living Colour - your hosts (usually The Variety Show Doi
now heinous overblown "art, dar- does some talking, and a mean "Tiny Marilyn McCoo and some guy) intro- Marie, Sonny and Cher a
ling" form. TNN has more live per- Bubbles" cover, this is definitely duced the best lip-synched perfor- such hosts subjected their v
formances, but it's all country mu- something youwatch with yourgrand- mances from such now-major-play- not just the occasional gu
sic. But don't forget the restofmusic mother. Isn't he dead anyway? ers as R.E.M., Culture Club, Prince, THEIR OWN MUSIC pe
TV land and their avoidance of vid- Saturday Night Live So they have and AFlock of Seagulls. Some people with skits not unlike ...
eos: their musical guests play a couple of would like to forget this show ever Hee Haw But Hee Haw was
The Talk Shows You can see many tunes. The sound quality is compa- existed. 'cause they had Minnie Pea
bands with a current product to push rable to The Talk Shows, but SNL Soul Train/American Bandstand Hot Country Nights More
on Arsenio, Dave Letterman, The rarely uses band members in skits, The concept of people dancing on TV more live, but who really wa
Tonight Show, etc. But the quality of depriving us of the opportunity to with musical guests lip synching a The same people who wat
performance and the annoying chit- watch our heroes make asses out of couple of songs is kind of like SNL Irish Rovers' show on Cana(
chat thatmakes yourheroes look like themselves. and Solid Gold. Soul Train outlasted - Annette
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