It's strange, is it not, that the avatars of the white hierarchy should so often love the music of the people (or the race, or the class, or what have you) that they oppressed for so long, and with so little pity?
These thoughts come to mind (again - I've pondered this before), as I've noted Terry Teachout's tub-thumping for his dramatic sketch of the great Louis Armstrong (at left), Satchmo at the Waldorf (which has met with lukewarm, but respectable, praise from other quarters).
Now I don't have much interest in Teachout's play, I admit. My guess from his theatre reviewing is that he's not much of a dramatic technician (although I could be wrong), and the reviews of Satchmo have generally been filled with such puffery as "This play cuts deep." (Uh-huh.) On the other hand, I've read some of Teachout's writing on music, and he is, indeed, a passionate and perceptive critic of that art (he's much better on music than he is on drama).
But when I read that Satchmo at the Waldorf concerns itself at length with Armstrong's battles against racism - and other black musician's denunciations of him as an "Uncle Tom" - I confess I flinched a bit.
For Teachout's career trajectory has been almost entirely within the confines of the white conservative establishment: he did once do a stint at Harper's, years ago, but he's best known for his long tenure at the Wall Street Journal, and his pieces for Commentary and National Review. In short, he works now for the publications and people who opposed civil rights for people like Armstrong, and who generally oppose the great man's legacy today.
And I guess I find that interesting. More interesting than anything I've read about Satchmo at the Waldorf, to be honest.
And so I wish Terry Teachout had written about that, about how politically he opposes the community whose musical legacy he adores. About how he idolizes a black artist whom other black artists called an "Uncle Tom" . . . the irony's almost too intense! And imagine Teachout trying to explain to Satchmo his own employment history! Now that would have been unlike any play I've seen in years . . . I'm not saying that no such explanation is possible; but I'd really like to hear it - wouldn't you?
Although I realize such a confessional is basically a pipe dream - I mean, could Teachout be honest enough about his own internal contradictions to give them coherent dramatic form? (Could anyone?)
But even the attempt would have been fascinating; I'd have paid full price to see that.