Monday, May 21, 2007

Terrible Life Choice?

Starting in 1919 with True Stories, there has been a small but popular genre of what are called "confession" magazines. Aimed largely at working class white women, they were centered around short stories designed to show you how far people could fall. Lots of stories about infidelity, abortion, incest, drug use, and a surprisingly large number of babies dying in horrific fashion. There would also be articles about fashion, makeup tips, the odd celebrity profile, that sort of thing.

Well in 1950, the publisher of Ebony thought that there might be a market for a confession magazine aimed at African Americans. So for a short-lived period in the early fifties, we have an amazing historical document called Tan Confessions. I came across a reference to it somewhere, and since it is in my period, and I'm currently writing about the so-called "black bourgeoise," I got a microfilm copy via ILL.

Well let me tell you, gold mine! Anybody who is working on music in the fifties has got to check it out. Nearly every issue is divided between these horrific confession stories and interviews with famous black musicians aimed at women. A regular feature is "How I Proposed," with the wives of famous musicians telling the stories of their engagements. Then there are occasional articles written by musicians themselves. There is a hilarious one by Louis Jordan called "What's Wrong With Women?" and another one by Dizzy Gillespie talking about how he doesn't do anything without talking to his wife first. And best of all, for my purposes, there is a lengthy piece penned by none other than Sonny Til, analyzing, in very intelligent and observant ways, why exactly women go crazy over him.


In other news, while taking a break from the microfilm I accidentally walked in on two people having sex in a bathroom in the library. I feel bad for having disturbed them, but they rushed out before I could apologize. Hey, it was a Sunday, nobody was in the library, and it was a very obscure bathroom buried away in the stacks. Go ahead and have anonymous sex with strangers, more power to you.

This is what I was thinking, but then I realized that the only people having a good time in the depths of the library on a beautiful Sunday afternoon were these two gentlemen and myself. What life have I signed up for?

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