Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It's Too Soon to Know

Write write write. That's what it is all about right now. If I'm going to stick to my (mostly) self-imposed writing schedule, I should have a solid draft of my doo-wop chapter done by the end of this quarter. It is now Week 7, of our ten week quarter, so this would be crunch time. Of course, that is not the only thing I have to write: I'm writing two entries for an encyclopedia that are due in two weeks, plus the introduction to a special section of our graduate student journal. Phew. Luckily, the encyclopedia entries are both topics that are part of my chapter, so there is a certain synergy.

But, anyways, here is some information:

Have you ever wondered where in Baltimore the amazing HBO show The Wire is filmed? There is a great article from the Baltimore City Paper that gives a little tour of some of the locations. Ironically, most of the locations are on the East Side. On the show, most of the focus is on West Baltimore, the black neighborhood traditionally demarcated by Fremont Avenue. But apparently there are less trees on the East Side, which makes season continuity much easier. But you get the idea what it is like in these neighborhoods. The location scout had no problem finding block after block of burnt out row houses, completely empty and desolate.

One of the ongoing themes of The Wire is that we are watching the final chapter of a black community in long decline. But also that before desegregation, urban renewal, and the crack epidemic, these neighborhoods were home to a community that was definitely poor, but had a vibrant life.

In fact, West Baltimore is a crucial location for my dissertation chapter, which is looking at R&B vocal groups of the late forties and early fifties. West Baltimore was home to the greatest of these groups, the Orioles. Would you like to see the street corner upon which the Orioles, still in high school and calling themselves the Vibranaires, used to meet to sing? Show us, Google Maps!

I don't know the city of Baltimore very well, and I can't tell you what this corner looks like from the ground. (Hopefully I will be able to visit this fall!) But one suspects that it is probably not very pleasant right now. Do you remember that scene from Season 3 of The Wire, when the special unit is trying to follow the drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in his car? Remember all those street names the police were radioing to each other in an attempt to find him? That's all right around this spot. In fact, here is another map, courtesy of the Baltimore PD.

This shows crimes within a half mile radius of the street corner. Blue squares are burglaries, red circles are stolen cars, red stars are larceny from a vehicles, green triangles are aggravated assault, and black dots are robberies. Oh, and red crosses are murders. And, you should know that this map is just showing crimes from a two-week period, from April 21 to May 5 of this year.

Does she love me? It's too soon to know.
Can I believe her, when she tells me so?
Is she fooling? Is it all a game?
Am I the fire or just another flame?
A one-sided love would break my heart.
She may be just acting and playing a part.

-The Orioles, "It's Too Soon to Know" (1948)

The image of the golden age of West Baltimore that The Wire and doo-wop fans valorize is probably mostly mythology. It was always a poor neighborhood, and the relative prosperity after World War II was just an illusory moment driven by a temporary rise in manufacturing. I'm sure music is being made here, though, and it is probably good music. But you can start understand the nostalgia. It is hard to imagine the Orioles coming out of today's West Baltimore.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Well, first, I now have reason #450 why I should get cable.

I'm increasingly interested in the connection between music and social economics. Today, we see a strong connection with rap and the inner city, obviously, but I know very little about doo-wop and would like to know more. Guess I'll be reading that dissertation! :-)