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February 06, 2010

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Hans Eekhoff

Very interesting indeed - an important discovery!
However, there is another possibility - namely that Bix himself read (and kept) the articles and that he, knowing that he was going to be interviewed and was expected to say something intelligent, freely borrowed from the statements mentioned in it.
It is possible of course - but I rather doubt that a provincial interviewer from a local paper would have read the Niles interview, let alone the Osgood diatribe.
And would this interviewer really have just quoted from other sources and blatantly publish them as Bix's words? Surely the paper would run the risk of being accused of plagiarism? And what would Bix have said afterwards about the article containing things he never said?
Did Bix have so little to say that the interviewer thought it was necessary to borrow from other sources?
I am sceptical about that.
Furthermore - would it not be possible that the interview wasn't done in person at all but that Bix was asked to write something about himself and his opinions on jazz and send it to the newspaper?
I think it is likely that Bix himself copied these statements to add some depth and seriousness to his "interview".

Hans Eekhoff

Brendan Wolfe

Thanks for the comment, Hans. You suggest a couple of possible scenarios: 1) that Bix read the Niles interview and used it as a basis for his interview answers in an attempt to sound more intelligent; and 2) that Bix was actually the one who plagiarized the quotations, having been asked by the reporter for his thoughts.

I don't think either scenario is as likely as the one I've suggested, and the first scenario borders on the implausible. The quotations in the two articles aren't merely similar in a way that would suggest that Bix remembered them and inserted key ideas and phrases into his interview responses. No, they're exactly the same. Word for word in most places with room for a few editorial excisions here and there. I'm just not convinced that anyone could offer up those exact words by memory and that a reporter would then get those quotes all exactly right so that the Bix and NIles interviews matched up so perfectly. If it is possible, it sure isn't likely.

It is possible, I suppose, that Bix is the one who plagiarized the quotes, but again it seems unlikely. The reporter was working on deadline, and asking an interview subject to write stuff down would hardly speed up the process. And even if Bix did write those quotations down and the reporter assumed they constituted Bix's words and thoughts, how then to explain that the structures of the two articles are also basically the same? Both more or less lead with the idea of musical humor; both put the extended biographical information in the same place; both even talk about Chopin, Grieg, and Liszt. It just seems far, far, far more likely that the reporter lifted the Niles interview, especially when you pair that conclusion with the additional evidence of his having plagiarized Osgood and, perhaps, even another Democrat article.

I'll admit to being a tad bit defensive about the suggestion that "a provincial interviewer from a local paper" would not have read a nationally syndicated article about the most popular music of the day. Contrary to what many may think, Davenport was not some backwater at this time. It was plenty large (relatively speaking) and plenty cosmopolitan. The Niles interview, meanwhile, was nationally syndicated. And it's possible that the Democrat subscribed to NEA at the time, and the reporter read the piece not in another paper but off the wire. In any event, a reporter above all would have been likely to have sought out or randomly come across this interview -- even a reporter in Davenport, Iowa.

I also don't buy the idea that there was something obscure about the "Osgood diatribe." (I'm not sure how his writing fits that description, "diatribe." He was quite sympathetic to jazz and especially to Whiteman.) In 1926, the first two full-length books about jazz were published: Osgood's and Whiteman's. I don't think they were obscure titles, and anyway a reporter looking to brush up on the subject certainly could have found them.

I am less skeptical than you, Hans, about the idea that Bix had so little to say that the reporter might have been provoked to make stuff up. I have interviewed many, many musicians as a journalist. Most musicians don't also deal with words for a living. And they're generally no good at all in using words to describe what it is they do. There are exceptions, of course, and it doesn't mean that Bix was not articulate about his music. It's just that there's no reason to believe he was. After all, there are few if any instances of him actually talking about his music, right? Which is why this interview has always carried so much weight.

Finally, you are skeptical that a case of plagiarism this outrageous would have been attempted let alone pulled off. Wouldn't the paper run the risk of being accused of thievery? Certainly it would have. I don't think it's likely the paper knew. But given the plagiarism scandals of our own era -- at the New York Times and the New Republic, for example -- who's to say that this one isn't possible? Anyway, before I had even found the Niles interview, I asked the advice of a scholar who has some knowledge of the history of journalism. Would it have been unheard-of in 1929 for a reporter to just make a whole interview up? Not at all, she replied. That doesn't mean it was ethical or that the paper would have approved, but it would hardly have been unheard-of.

As to what Bix or his family thought -- isn't that always the question. Who knows?

Hans Eekhoff

Who says that Bix had to remember those quotes? I wrote to you in an email that it could very well be that Bix had the writings by Osgood and Niles in his posession - after all, Whiteman was mentioned in them. Nothing unusual about that. I too collect articles in which bands that I belong(ed) to are mentioned. I think it is very plausible that Bix copied them. He wasn't a great writer - that we know; he may have agreed with the quotes and decided that he couldn't put it better himself.
The Osgood diatribe (which does not always mean, as you suggest, that the writer is against the subjesct - I simply meant it as "prolonged discourse") was not a "nationally syndicated article" as you stated. I maintain that it is far less likely that the reporter from Davenport knew about it than Bix.
But if the articles WERE "nationally syndicated" and NOT "obscure" it would have been even more unlikely that the reporter plainly copied them and put them in Bix's mouth.
You also misunderstand me. I did NOT state that Bix had little to say. Quite the contrary - I questioned that. I think he DID have something to say and that the reporter embellished nothing. In my opinion Bix was asked to write an article about himself and his opinion of jazz, which he did; including the quotes which he copied from Niles and Osgood.
Hans Eekhoff

victorcornet21

"Jazz is not confined to music,

' "Magazines, movies, melodramas, the comic strips of the Sunday newspapers, and even politics succeed because they are noisy and full of vigorous rhythm. They express our national good humor. This is jazz. Why shouldn't a dance orchestra do the same thing?'
"
'Jazz expresses an instinct for a noisy good time that is universal and as old as the globe. Even in the jungle the natives made music of shrieks and drum beats. Orientals had the oboe; American Indians the drum and the war-whoop. In the earliest days of the circus there was a noisy clown band. Negroes give expression to the jazz mood in playing the banjo.' "

- Paul Whiteman The American Magazine (June 1924), written by Susie Sexton

Kind of has the same feeling as the Bix article. Laura Demilio sent it to me a while back. I thought then it sounded an awful lot like Bix's interview, but nothing can beat finding Bix's "interview" word for word! Ha! Ha!

Hans Eekhoff

I have this to add. For once Haim says something sensible in his Forum, namely
that the article was important, not only for Bix but for the entire Beiderbecke
household. The paper must have been received with great anticipation on that wintery Sunday, just imagine - a large article on Bix, with his photo!
Knowing that this would be a significant event for the family (as well as friends and neighbours!), would Bix not have taken the trouble to have a decent story? Would he have accepted the invitation to be featured in an article and not have anything to say?
Nonsense. I am pretty sure that he put his heart and soul in it.
However, Bix was not the greatest of writers, we all know that, not because he
was "uneducated" but simply because writing was not his strongest point. (Bix is not the only one!).
He therefore used a number of quotations from writings that he had in his posession
and knew well (after all, Paul Whiteman his bandleader was mentioned in them). These quotations no doubt reflected his own opinions but Bix realised that they were rather better put than he could do it.
Also the remark that "Jazz is musical humor" is very fitting for Bix. In a lighthearted way he defended his art which, especially in starchy Iowa of the 1920's, was still often considered to be the "music of the devil".
A too serious plea for Jazz may not have gone down all that well so instead he
chose to put it in a lighter manner. Bix wasn't stupid.
While resting at home for some time, Bix was offered a chance to write something about himself for the county newspaper. I believe that he really tried to make the most of that.
I will never believe that Bix just wasn't interested, had nothing to say and
simply let somebody at the Davenport Democrat do the ghost-writing and put these highly esoteric quotes in Bix's mouth.
In my opinion Brendan Wolfe, in this case, has the wrong end of the stick.
Hans Eekhoff

Brendan Wolfe

Thanks for your additional comments, Hans. I am enjoying the conversation.

I agree with you and Albert Haim that this likely would have been an important story for the Beiderbecke family. Maybe for Bix, too. He'd been in the paper before, both for good and bad reasons, but I think it's fair to say that at that point in his life and career, the good publicity would have been gratifying for both him and his family.

You write: "Knowing that this would be a significant event for the family (as well as friends and neighbours!), would Bix not have taken the trouble to have a decent story?" I'm not sure what you mean here by "taken the trouble to have a decent story." When you are the subject of a journalist's story, you don't necessarily have a lot of power or control over how that story will be told. (See Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer for an in-depth discussion of the often-difficult relationship between journalist and subject.) The journalist shows up, interviews you, and then goes away to write the story. Bix might have had the opportunity to prepare for the interview so as to put his best foot forward. He had the opportunity to talk the journalist into framing the story in a way that was sympathetic to his ideas. He had the opportunity, presumably, to lobby the journalist after the interview or to provide additional quotations. But in the end that's how it usually works: journalist and subject talk; journalist goes away and writes the story.

You write that Bix would have "put his heart and soul in it." Maybe. I just don't know why we must assume that. Did he put his heart and soul into everything he did? Hardly. None of us do. That's just an assumption I'm not prepared to make.

You write: "Would he have accepted the invitation to be featured in an article and not have anything to say?" Maybe Bix thought he had plenty to say, but it is the journalist, not Bix, who decides whether what he has to say makes sense, whether it fits the story he or she wants to tell, and finally whether it goes into the paper. Of course, maybe Bix didn't have much to say because, as I may have written elsewhere, maybe he wasn't terribly articulate when it came to talking about his art. As I also might have mentioned previously, my experience as a music journalist tells me that this would hardly be a rare trait among musicians. I've had plenty of people (musicians and otherwise) agree to interviews and leave me with little decent material. It's the nature of the business. Of course, part of the skill of interviewing is to overcome such obstacles and engage people on their own terms and get them to tell you great stuff!

Anyway, I think this is most likely what happened. I say this because it fits with how I understand journalism to work, and because there is no obvious evidence to suggest anything different. I understand that your version of events is possible; I just don't buy the premises on which you base your conclusion that it's likely.

I agree with you that Bix was not the greatest of writers. And I agree it was not because he was "uneducated." I don't think I ever said that. I simply said that his academic struggles, combined with the other writing from him we'd seen, made me "skeptical" that these quotations were from him. Again, it's possible to be a C or worse student and a great writer. It's possible to write letters in the voice he did and then write a newspaper article in a completely different voice. It's possible to be a musician and be highly articulate about your music and your art. I don't disagree with that at all. It's just unlikely. And that very unlikelihood led me to investigate the language of the article and find that it was not Bix's writing or voice at all. There is now no reason for me to think, suddenly, that it is in fact Bix's work after all. I just don't follow that reasoning.

You write that Bix would have had the Niles interview and the Osgood book in his possession. He might have. You write that Niles's opinions "no doubt reflected his own opinions." I'm not sure why you have no doubt. I suppose to the extent that Niles's opinions were fairly uncontroversial, lots of people, including Bix, may have agreed with them. But is there stuff that Bix has said or written that specifically suggests he would have had those same specific views?

You're right: Bix wasn't stupid. His family wasn't stupid. I'm not sure even the reporter was stupid. You asked earlier how the reporter could have thought he would get away with such a brazen case of plagiarism. My answer is he did get away with it, and for eighty-one years at that, so maybe he would have been correct to assume that no one would notice. Except wouldn't Bix notice? And the Beiderbecke family? Or if not notice the plagiarism, notice the story and want to talk about it. It would take some collusion on Bix's part to keep the charade going. I don't think this presumes he wrote it, though. I don't even think it's even evidence of that. There could be other reasons: maybe the reporter told him that's just how journalism works. (Reporters manipulate their sources all the time, as sad a truth as that may be.) Or maybe Bix thought he sounded good and decided to just go with it. It wouldn't be the first time he kept something from his family.

In the end, I don't know what happened, and you present an interesting but I think unpersuasive theory. What's even more interesting to me is that you "will never accept" some fact about Bix. I'm almost done writing a book about the guy, and I don't feel I know him nearly well enough to be so certain. And now something I thought I knew to be true is not true. That provokes in me less certainty, not more!

Hans Eekhoff

Brendan,
I repeat a few things which I said before and which you haven't grasped or choose to ignore and are therefore misinterpreting once again:

1. I don't think Bix was "interviewed". In my opinion he didn't "talk to a journalist" at all. I think he was invited to write and submit a story about himself and his views on Jazz - which he did.
2. I think that Bix put his heart and soul into that writing, he wanted to impress his family and friends. He knew how important the article would be for those people. He borrowed some well-defined theories from Osgood and Niles; he had their writings at home. He agreed with those views and used them to enhance his article.
Bix wasn't a writer or a philosopher. He did what many 25 year old guys do who are not all that clever with a pen but are suddenly expected to write something important.
I recognize this - I did exactly the same thing at that age. I wrote the sleeve notes for a Bix LP when I was 25. I quoted much from Sudhalter.
3. No, you didn't use the word "uneducated" in this connection. I didn't say you did. Jamaica used it and I do not agree. Again, you've obviously missed this.
4. The reporter didn't have anything to "manipulate" or "get away with". I am convinced that he didn't write the article. Bix did.

Finally you write:

"In the end, I don't know what happened, and you present an interesting but I think unpersuasive theory. What's interesting to me is that you "will never accept" some fact about Bix".

That is also exactly what I think of your version of this case.

Hans

Mike

Let's see...the famous son of a prominent Davenport family returns home for an extended stay. The city editor sees a possible story and sends out a reporter. Who is the paper likely to send? The Society columnist. The Society columnist doesn't know from Shinola about jazz. Maybe he's heard of Ted Lewis. Not wishing to be at a disadvantage, he does some research in the morgue and comes to the interview armed with some dandy quotes. When Bix is reticent, the reporter asks "Would you say jazz is enough to make a dog laugh?". And Bix says "Yeah, sure".

Bix was a serious musician and I can't imagine him discussing his art in terms of low humor. Was he thinking of the dog audience when he recorded In a Mist or I'm Coming, Virginia?

There is a long history of self-important reporters interviewing jazz musicians and either overpowering the musician with windy, irrelevant questions, or being conned by the musician who gives off the wall answers that the reporter, with his complete lack of knowledge, accepts. The Bix interview may have established the pattern used for the next fifty years.

Mike

I forgot to say good work finding the Niles article.

Hans Eekhoff

I repeat - I do not think that Bix was "interviewed" at all. I think he, being a local celebrity, was given a chance to write an article about himself and his opinion of jazz and submit it to the newspaper. I think he had the writings by Osgood and Niles in his posession (his band was mentioned in them) and he borrowed a few quotes from it. In my opinion "Jazz is musical humor" is also typical of Bix. Not because he wanted to "discuss it in terms of low humor" but because Jazzmusic was not yet really accepted in the starchy Iowa of the 1920's and Bix tried to defend this "devilish music" in a lighthearted way, to make himself and his art more acceptable, rather than vigorously defend it, which may not have gone down very well.
I find the idea that Bix himself wrote the article, rather than a local reporter, much more logical, plausible and feasable.

Hans Eekhoff

Mike

I repeat- I think Bix was interviewed by an empty suit. But, Hans, I agree your argument is plausible.

Glenda Childress

Dear Mike:

I also agree that Hans'scenario is a possible one.

However, there is a clear break in style at the end of the article. The style switches from academic ("Terpsichorean!") to conversational. Bix mentions that the band members were interested in traveling by air, especially when they might be "late" for an engagement (Bix's own experience when he chartered a plane after missing the train for a date). This off-the-cuff tone sounds very like a natural result of a face-to-face Q & A about day-to-day experiences with the Whiteman band, making me believe that there was an actual in-person interview. Since we all probably concur that this article was intended for the "society" rather than the "fine arts" section of the newspaper, questions about the celebrity bandleader and working in that famous orchestra would be a likely major focus of any such interview.

Now, in fairness to Hans' scenario, I have to allow that there could have been an initial interview AND a written out or loaned clipping portion from Bix, perhaps to help out a clueless "society" reporter with what it was all about in jazz. Even so, Bix couldn't have known that almost every word would be appropriated and reproduced in the finished product.

These speculations are all angles on what could have occurred, and I hope that they will be helpful to Brendan in evaluating whatever other evidence, aside from the now known texts, may emerge. Absent such evidence, however, textual exegesis still suggests that the plagiarism most likely originated with the reporter, who was ultimately responsible for what he or she wrote.

Why, a non-Bixophile might ask, are these people arguing over an article published the better part of a century ago? The reason we care is that this discussion is at the heart of the question about which Brendan Wolfe is writing his book. We're all trying to find Bix somewhere in this story, and it seems as if, whatever side of this discussion we come down on, the boy may be giving us the slip yet again!

Hans Eekhoff

Sure. But it was NOT a "fake inteview". It was just a rather shallow interview and not very serious because Bix didn't have much to say. He was a great musician but not a great raconteur or a philosopher. He tried to add some weight with the quotes from Osgood and Niles - it was very logical for him to posess their writings, after all the Whiteman band was mentioned in them.
Forget the local reporter with all this knowledge theory. THAT is fake; not the interview.

Hans Eekhoff

Recent comments in the Haim Forum by a former QC Times staffer who prefers to remain anonymous are significant. This guy makes it very clear that Bix made those comments - not some local reporter. Mr. Wolfe is therefore quite wrong to call this a "fake interview". Hopefully this myth will not be accepted as truth - as is so often the case.
Hans Eekhoff

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