The premise of Jack Hamilton’s deep new study Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imaginary seems like something that’s been on rock history’s tongue for a long time without ever quite leaving it.
Chuck Berry, a black man with a guitar, had been a rock and roll archetype in 1960, but by the end of the decade Jimi Hendrix would be seen as rock’s odd man out for being… a black man with a guitar. How did that occur?
The book, out September 26, began life as Hamilton’s graduate thesis (he’s a professor at the University of Virginia). But while it’s intellectually rigorous, Just Around Midnight is also clearly and entertainingly written—not a surprise to anyone who reads Hamilton on Slate, where he’s one of their music critics.
Hamilton locates the ways “rock and roll” (which tended to denote everything from soul to surf music) became just plain “rock” (which tended to mean only guitar music by white people)—namely, in San Francisco’s psychedelic scene, full of ex-folkies.
There, a pattern repeated from the folk revival that preceded Beatlemania, in which largely white musicians tended to idolize black forebears while ignoring contemporary R&B.
As Hamilton point out, this mindset often put black rock and rollers into the “predecessors” category even when the musicians in question were peers and contemporaries, like when a Beatles biographer claims Smokey Robinson as a precursor when, in fact, Robinson was born the same year as John Lennon.
Even that précis doesn’t do justice to the richness of Hamilton’s ideas, or his wide-ranging research, both archival and musicological—the latter particularly during a chapter on the musical interrelationship of Motown and the Beatles. Are there two more oversaturated musical topics on the planet?
Along with the rest of the ’60s rock and soul canon, Hamilton thinks, convincingly, that we’ve only begun to understand them, especially side-by-side. [Read More]