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Tex Sample, ‘White Soul: Country Music, the church and working Americans’,  The Abingdon Press, Nashville 1996

I found this odd book on the way home from taking some students to see the brilliant Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum. Perry integrates the signs and wonders of oral and popular cultures into objets d’art with consummate grace and extraordinary skill. But in the expensive exhibition at the British Museum it gave me the chills. The cold wind of recuperation that steals the souls of our children. I might have resisted a book on country & western music at times in the past. Prejudice against ‘rednecks’ and ignorance of country music beyond the all-time-greats like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, might have put me off. But this guy Tex can write with great eloquence about working class culture and how the dominant culture is presented to working class people with the most fracturing effects. Published just three years after my own The Conspiracy of Good Taste, there are things in this book I wish I could have written.

A few of the chapter headings: Rowdy and Loud at the Twist and Shout: working class taste; Elitist taste and the politics of aesthetics; Country music and the politics of resistance; Traditional politics and populist anarchism.

“It was in Miss Ellie’s class that I learned for the first time that country music was ‘bad music’. I distinctly remember the experience. My mother loved country music and woke me every morning with a kiss on the cheek and the music playing loudly on the radio. I can still feel physically what I felt in being told country music was bad music. On the one hand, I felt a sense of getting taller, because I had learned something that most people in Mississippi must not know since they so absolutely bought into it. On the other hand, it was the first time I can remember my mother being smaller, or not ‘enough’. Back then I had no words for these feelings. I just knew I had not had them before. While I believed I was learning something important, I also felt a strange difference from my mother for the first time.” p.42

It is hard to express this violence. “I can remember my mother be(coming) not (good) ‘enough’. !!! This is the primal level of hurt that oppression operates on but few people can describe with a potency of words that matches the psychic violence that is being done to the people concerned.

Unfortunately and I imagine this will put my readers right off the book Tex Sample is also an, albeit working class, professor of theology in Kansas City and seems to extol a sort of liberation christianity. If you can ignore these later chapters though the book is full of sharp analysis of the ways cultural oppression works within oral culture. In fact his wrapper of christianity may allows him to understand the affective and embodied dimensions of oppression in ways that most of the left do not. And he can do this an reference Pierre Bourdieu all in the same breath! Keep in mind that the Civil Rights Movement in Southern USA might not have got anywhere without the churches…

The other key experience that he writes about is about going to a performance of La Boheme by Puccini with some middle class friends. He is moved by the music and responds with (almost) convulsive physical movements especially when it ends. His friend however claps politely but is very still. Tex asks him if he enjoyed the performance. He replies in dry terms that he did appreciate the aesthetics etc. This shows the difference between a detached aesthetic appreciation and an embodied aesthetic response of a person from a working class or oral culture. I don’t believe this embodied response implies a lack of intellectual response. See p.27/8

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