Plagued, again

Like the plague, the “what is sg?” meme is running rampant through the chattering classes again (it’s here, here, here, and here … and those are just the places I’ve seen). The air is never free of this pestilential germ of a topic (John R’s - distinct from John Rulapaugh’s - is the most useful discussion, even if he unhelpfully eliminates non-musical factors from his consideration). And the disease is constantly cropping up in the same places, primarily because Roy Pauley has a terminal case of nostaligiaitis, a particularly solipsistic way of talking about and evaluating sg that takes as its founding principle old, older, oldest = good, better, best. John Rulapaugh broke out with a nasty case of nostalgiaitis after this week’s Harmony Awards, which were not southern (enough), in Rulapaugh’s estimation. And plus, Rulapaugh whined, GMA stole the Dove Awards from the great granddads of sg who started it! Poor John … it’s hard to carry all that water for Les Beasley and The Old Cronies of sg rearguard who Rulapaugh aspires to become when you’re scaled over with the musically troglodytic hives (by the best reports I’ve heard from my spies in the field, the only performance that Rulapaugh could legitimately criticize on the grounds that it wasn’t sg [or a influenced thereby] was the Joyce Martin/Mike Bowling duet, which evidently sounded almost exactly like Wynonna’s “No One Else on Earth,” and maybe the Issac’s “Heroes”). I don’t really have a lot more to say about the whole “what is sg?” debate, other than that, as you might be able to tell by now, I find it completely risible and often downright stupid. So having nothing to add to what I’ve said before, I’ll move on to Rulapaugh’s nonsense about the GMA having been stolen from the sg folks who started it.First of all, when it was started, there was no recognizable genre called “southern gospel music” (and before you blitz me with email, this is not the same thing as there having been no sense of a southern gospel tradition, which there was, so read on). Our historicist attempts to define, classify and narrativize our own musical past misleadingly (though not always intentionally) suggests that everyone we currently consider to be historically “southern gospel” primarily thought of themselves in their own time that way and that there was a discernable, generically distinct form of music widely recognized as sg. It wasn’t that way. When GMA was established in 1964, there were groups and artists who self-identified with the tradition that, growing out of southern white, male quartet music, would later become widely recognized as southern gospel (and that’s the real test of being a genre or not: do other musicians and musical experts outside the field generally accept the description you offer for yourself). But what we call southern gospel today was in 1964 most widely understood to be simply “gospel,” and - this is key - it was the CCM of its day. Traditionalists in 1964 hated it - they thought the Statesmen, the Florida Boys, and the Cathedrals were of the devil (that is, people were saying about Beasley and Younce and Payne what Rulapaugh and Pauley are saying about everything to the left of the Statesmen today). So rather than having been hijacked by CCM, GMA has actually remained faithful to the spirit of its iconoclastic, contemporary founders and stayed closest to whatever constitutes CCM at any present time. CCM has evolved in a direction that popular gospel musicians of the 60s did not go, but that certainly doesn’t mean anything was stolen from anyone. Erego: Get. Over. It.

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