Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

“Make Them Understand the Cost of a Helping Hand”

January 28th, 2010 · 4 Comments


We’ve long been planning a meditative post on an axiom that’s caused us no shortage of angst these past few months: “People always run from what they’re best at.” Those musings will follow eventually, once things on the paying-work end have settled down a bit. In the meantime, take the above soul cut, off The 24-Carat Black’s classic Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth, as an object lesson in what we’ll be talking about. Dale Warren, the man behind the group, was one of Stax Records’ in-house maestros, producing for all manner of Memphis superstars. (He also did a long turn in Detroit’s indie soul scene.) But the man obviously had a hankering to have a group of his own, and the result was the oft-neglected The 24-Carat Black. Ten-minute jams with depressing lyrics just weren’t what the mainstream wanted back in the early seventies, and Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth quickly landed in the cutout bin.

Was an artist of Warren’s obvious talent simply fated to remain behind the scenes? If you’re heart’s set on being a performer, it must be darn frustrating to see your hard work contribute to another artist’s stardom—no matter how much cash you earn along the way.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    Great stuff- I wonder how much self-awareness an artist has knowing that a work may not be well-received. Does he or she get disappointed when they aren’t able to move the cultural needle? Or do they blame the audience, or just accept that whether or not they are out of step, it doesn’t reflect on the work.

    I suspect in our current era of the new amateurism (no pay for content), that widespread appeal is much less important. But maybe lots of folks are dreaming of ditching their day job.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    I’m pretty sure every artist feels as if the world is dying to receive their vision, and is then shocked when the reception isn’t everything they imagined. Thus the artistic tendency to blame the non-creative middlemen for a project’s failure–“It wasn’t promoted right!” is a common refrain.

    True, though, there can also be the more egotistical tendency to blame the general public’s tastes–“My art is just too ahead of its time!”

    Given that most rookie artistic efforts fall flat, or at least enjoy just a modestly warm reception, it’s important for artists to have the confidence to push through to a sophomore effort. Easier said than done, as no matter how much artists might insist they don’t care about how they’re work is perceived, I think they all secretly do. And rejection stings, even for self-styled geniuses.

  • p m

    God I love this song.

    Late 90s in Japan, a friend loaned me a mixtape of old funk records his brother made him. The tape was unlabelled — story being that the brother was too dyslexic to copy down band names and song titles.

    Side 1 turned out to be mostly Mandrill, some of which i recognized (‘Fat City Strut’) but much of which I didn’t source until I bought their Fencewalk anthology for other reasons.

    Side 2 was a mix of downtempo funk, soul and jazz and remains to this day one of the best things I’ve ever heard, even though (maybe because?) I have no idea what most of the tracks are. one day I’ll digitize it and let the internet figure it out.

    ‘Mother’s day’ was the last song on the second side, slowed down to maybe -5 on the turntable (which makes the vocal more tolerable and the organ/horn riff more trip-hop). Years later, in the google era, it finally occurred to me to search the lyrics. I bought the album from dustygroove.com.

    Annoyingly, the reissued CD version played faster and higher-pitched than I remembered and the sound was thinner than the scratchy vinyl captured on my friend’s Maxell XL II 100. And I didn’t much like the rest of the album, even after all that time searching for it. I still go back to the tape when I’m in the mood.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @p m: Thanks a mil for the trip down musical memory lane. I hear ya on the scratchiness of vinyl adding to the quality of music of this ilk. I recently had an Isaac Hayes conversion experience after obtaining a well-worn copy of “Hot Buttered Soul”; something about that Stax sound translated much better via analog means.

    Two pals of mine caught Mandrill on their recent swing through NYC. They said it was one of the best shows they’ve seen as of late.

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