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American spawn


Every night TV broadcasting (cable or not) spills over with irony. There’s the weird nonstop juxtaposition that brings us Eminem, George W. Bush, Daffy Duck, the Iron Chef, Chris Rock, Judge Judy, Terry Bradshaw, Rosie O’Donnell and legions of young babes disrobing as young Palestinians get shot by Israeli troops. But it’s fun, right?

Well, the other evening a particularly jarring contrast took place as first Duke Ellington and then John Ashcroft filled the screen of the old gray-matter disintegrator. Duke was being featured in an episode of Ken Burns’ “Jazz” on PBS in which swing bands of the ’30s made Americans (both black and white) dance their asses off. The music and faces of Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Count Basie and so many others took turns reminding us of the head-bobbing wonders that America has produced. And Duke was the master, the quiet center of the storm — his elegant sensitivity, sentimental moods and sophisticated brilliance nowhere more clearly expressed than in his classic “Single Petal of a Rose.”

Then the show was finished and we half-consciously clicked over to CNN for coverage of the Senate confirmation hearings of attorney general-to-be Ashcroft. What a knee in the spiritual cojones, what a grim reminder of the violent history that flows (like a river of blood) right along with the emergence of jazz, abstract expressionism, rhythm and blues, indeterminacy, techno and other home-grown blossoms. Here was a man (The Man) taking the name of his god in vain, sweating, obfuscating and denying, just itching to get his hands on power, on the steering wheel of the law. What could Duke Ellington and this fan of the Confederacy ever find to say to each other?

Lord, preserve us. What contrasts, what lingering hatred this country keeps producing. …

The Hot & the Bothered was written and edited by George Tysh. E-mail him at

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