A friend just brought Maureen Dowd’s recent column on Barak Obama to my attention, for this:
“…Obama’s vague optimism and smooth-jazz modernity came together in a spectacular fusion with the deep yearning of Democrats who have suffered through heartbreaking losses in the last two elections with uninspiring candidates.”
It makes me wonder what she is accomplishing or attempting to accomplish with this off-hand reference. Am I making too much of the “smooth-jazz” toss-off? It is impressive as short-hand for so much, but with plausible deniability. What is “smooth-jazz modernity”? The article is hard to parse–she seems dismissive of Obama, but impressed with his ability to mobilize Iowans. The reference to smooth jazz is part of what gives me that feeling: by linking him to smooth jazz she may signal to some readers a placement within the black middle class (which is, of course, quite accurate), which has been denigrated and dismissed by commentators, black and white, for years. Think LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka’s harsh words in Blues People. One wants to hear from Charles Carson about this, whose paper on smooth jazz at this year’s AMS promised to unpack the making of a middle class music for the black middle class in the 80s and 90s.
The other funny thing about this smooth jazz reference is that Obama seems not to want to be heard as smooth jazz. Phil Ford’s post on the candidate’s song choices at Dial M for Musicology shows Obama to have avoided smooth jazz entirely, in favor of (primarily) soul and R&B that is much less explicitly middle class-identified. It’s a pretty good list, incidentally, if predictable; and mercifully free of Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Another friend points out that the reference allows Dowd to suggest (without quite having to say it) that Obama is “all hope and style (without substance).” That’s about right, I’d say–totally what people who love to hate smooth jazz hear it as representing.