Tuesday, March 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt eleven)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Johnson retained his crown for more than six years. And he became a legendary, challenging figure on the American landscape. He partied night and day with white women, plenty of wine, gourmet food, and songful jazz music in which he even played the bass and conducted bands in a turning style, slowly spinning around and doing dance steps with a baton in his hand. And he became more than obliquely important to the aesthetic world of blues and swing—most directly because he owned some expensive sporting rooms, and when he sold the one in New York known as the Club Deluxe, the sizable four-hundred-seat room was remade into a swank imitation of a plantation with log cabins and renamed the Cotton Club.

Under its new moniker, the Cotton Club became a high-society upstairs hideout way up in Harlem. But it was off-limits to Negroes, who were not allowed to cross the color line of segregation—Jack Johnson, of course, being one of the few exceptions. The club became a showcase for the hoary tropes of the minstrel tradition, maintained by Negroes entertaining white folks while in tattered plantation attire, or other, equally noxious costumes if the routines called for them. One favorite was a titillating skit about hero flyboys lost after crashing in the jungle of the cartoon dark continent, reveling among attractive, light-skinned, comely, savage, and sexy women ready to have at it with a light-skinned or a so politely tan, tall, and terrific flier—while other, more frightening men lurked nearby, grunting in rhythm: dark brown savages growling while they waited to devour the fallen sky boys. It was a place where white customers could experience so-called “jungle nights” in Harlem, full of what they thought to be the darkies’ “natural” behavior—authentically imbecilic, if not amusingly or intriguingly subhuman, much like the thug-and-slut hip-hop world of today.

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