Less Cowbell: Nazi Rules for Jazz Performers

Boing Boing has a set of ten rules for jazz performers during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, as implemented by the Reich’s Gauleiter for the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Here they are:

1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

As horrible as the contents of this list are, particularly given that so many of the rules are couched in overtly racist language (Jewishly gloomy lyrics, Negroid excesses in tempo, barbarian races, actually, pretty much the whole list), their net effect is an overwhelming affirmation of the power of music to profoundly move and inspire us. These are not arbitrary rules; exposure to music — particularly a music as potentially soul-expanding as jazz — absolutely poses a direct threat to the totalitarian mindset. This is the reason that the right wing to this day fetishizes the danger posed by “Hollywood” and “popular culture”.

This machine indeed kills fascists.

It’s also the reason why music is inherently progressive — not in an overtly political sense but in the sense of pushing boundaries. I don’t know if it’s possible to create great art if your primary goal is to enforce boundaries (which is a key component of the reactionary mind).

No greater proof need be given than the current sad state of country music, which is what happens when an entire genre — or at least the popular manifestation of an entire genre — chooses to impose a restrictive, politically motivated set of rules regarding acceptable themes and the expression thereof. Over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Erik Kane wrote a great post on this very theme.

But there’s something about the country music scene these days that rubs me the wrong way. It’s not just the cheesiness of it, or the tendency toward familiarity or even the conservatism so much that I find so glaring and off-putting about Nashville. It’s just the shallowness of these themes that gets to me. There’s something reminiscent of the woefully hollow Christian music scene here – the easy answers, recurring tropes, and three-minute, four-chord simplicity of it all. I want to go spelunking but all I get is a kiddie pool. The world is cold and full of cruelty and all this false comfort is thin broth.

Kane’s post riffs off this one by Will Wilkinson, Country Music, Openness to Experience, and the Psychology of Culture War, which demonstrates that country music is the most “upbeat and conventional.” It is no coincidence that these are the precise qualities being rigidly enforced by the ten rules listed above. Or as Wilkinson puts it:

My conjecture, then, is that country music functions in part to reinforce in low-openness individuals the idea that life’s most powerful, meaningful emotional experiences are precisely those to which conservative personalities living conventional lives are most likely to have access. And it functions as a device to coordinate members of conservative-minded communities on the incomparable emotional weight of traditional milestone experiences.

Or, as my 13-year-old daughter said one day when we were listening to country music in the car, “Dad, why are all country music songs about how great it is to listen to country music?”

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5 Responses to Less Cowbell: Nazi Rules for Jazz Performers

  1. pt dismal says:

    tonight the west is sleeping and the desert will be creeping
    inch by inch across the continent
    and the bones of country music lie there in their casket
    beneath the towers of Nashville in a black pool of neglect
    so we cast our nets in the water, dragged the pool and caught ’em
    grind ’em up and snort ’em, deep into the night
    and we spill some blood on the ashes
    of the bones of the Jones and the Ca-ashizz
    skulls in false eye-lacher whast riders in the sky!

    thus sayeth (singeth) the waco brothers

  2. pt dismal says:

    dang, the corrected version, stoopid interweb:

    tonight the west is sleeping and the desert will be creeping
    inch by inch across the continent
    and the bones of country music lie there in their casket
    beneath the towers of Nashville in a black pool of neglect
    so we cast our nets in the water, dragged the pool and caught ‘em
    grind ‘em up and snort ‘em, deep into the night
    and we spill some blood on the ashes
    of the bones of the Jones and the Cashes
    skulls in false eye-lashes and ghost riders in the sky!

  3. Pingback: when the universe speaks « twinklysparkles

  4. I keep forgetting to comment on this post to tell you that you should check out the band Dawes, if you haven’t – they have a really nice traditional country feel that’s not hokey. (I really, really hate since-1980 country music.) Also, this video, which is just…golly.

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