In the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 24, 1974, the incomparable rock critic Lester Bangs reviewed Remembering Bix, a memoir by Ralph Berton.
But in the end the lapidary triumph of Beiderbecke’s art may be as significant and, ironically, a direct refutation of the appalling waste of his life. Because Bix proved, five decades ago, that sleaze and destruction, the brandishing of the degrade and déclassé, are not necessary concomitants of an alternative art form: “What was Bix saying that no other musician had ever said? Simply that this jazz wasn’t on the bottom looking up any more. It was out on the level now, reaching for the heights; not grinning sardonically or defiantly at itself as black and poor and dirty and barefoot: Yeah, baby, I’m ugly, ain’t I, I’m evil and lowdown and funky, ain’t had a bath for a year, dig me!”
That’s a lesson that far too many white jivesters, from the Rolling Stones on down, have still not learned.
It can be tough to tell where Bangs ends and Berton begins . . .