Daryl Hall is the taller, more visible half of Hall & Oates, one of the best-selling musical duos of all time who, despite being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, never quite got the sort of critical love that many other inductees have generated. Hall and John Oates met while attending Temple University in Philadelphia, a city known not just for hosting American Bandstand for decades but for a rich musical lineage that includes classical singers (Mario Lanza, Marian Anderson), teen idols (Fabian, Frankie Avalon), and a version of soul that became known as "the Philadelphia Sound" (The Stylistics, Harold Melvin & the Blue Noes).
The city also gave rise to what became known as "blue-eyed soul," an homage to a mix of influences but especially to the black soul music that was "the Phiiadelphia Sound." Since 2007, Hall has also produced an online concert show called "Live From Daryl's House," where Hall hosts a singer or band at his Colorado residence/living space at an upstate New York venue. It's an interesting scene and recent guests have included acs such as Cheap Trick, Wyclef Jean, Ben Folds, and Aaron Neville (for a full list of appearances, go here).
In a new interview, Salon asked Daryl Hall how he, the great "blue-eyed soul" master, would respond to charges of "cultural appopriation" in terms of his music. The answer is…interesting (Salon questions in bold):
One of the current debates is over "cultural appropriation" – The idea that white people should not appropriate the culture of ethnic and racial minorities. I know that you don't like the term "blue eyed soul." Have you followed this conversation?
Are you trying to say that I don't own the style of music that I grew up with and sing? I grew up with this music. It is not about being black or white. That is the most naïve attitude I've ever heard in my life. That is so far in the past, I hope, for everyone's sake. It isn't even an issue to discuss. The music that you listened to when you grew up is your music. It has nothing to do with "cultural appropriation."
I agree with you entirely, because…
I'm glad that you do, because anyone who says that should shut the fuck up.
Well, this entire critique is coming back…
I'm sorry to hear it. Who is making these critiques? Who do they write for? What are their credentials to give an opinion like that? Who are they?
Much of it is academic.
Well, then they should go back to school. Academia? Now, there's a hotbed of idiocy.
Anyone who knows about music, about culture in general, understands that everything is much more natural. Everything is a mixture.
We live in America. That's our entire culture. Our culture is a blend. It isn't split up into groups. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool – worse than a fool – a dangerous fool.
As we've noted previously, essentially all culture activity, from music to yoga, is an act of appropriation (speaking of the yoga that's practiced today in North America, it's a Western creation). Hall's defense of his musical practice is starkly refreshing, even as it slides into anti-intellectualism.
It's worth making a distinction that goes unspoken in the Salon interview: Different types of cultural appropriation have different moral weights. When the appropriation serves to create continuity or openly acknowlege and celebrate influence and adaptation, it's all to the good. When it seeks simply to fetishize or conceal the influence of (almost inevitably) marginalized or vanquished groups, not so much.
Like it or hate it, Hall's music is certainly in the former group and his discography extends well beyond anything like simple imitation. As reviewers at the All-Music Guide wrote, "At their best, Hall & Oates' songs were filled with strong hooks and melodies that adhered to soul traditions without being a slave to them by incorporating elements of new wave." Popular culture—and pop music especially—is a "perpetual meaning machine" that is constantly riffing off itself, mongrelizing, and remixing itself. Led Zeppelin borrows from the blues (belatedly forking over money to Willie Dixon) and a million other sources (especially folk) before becoming one of the most-sampled bands in hip hop. And on and on (at least until copyright and the DMCA gets in the way).
En route to telling critics of cultural appropriation to "shut the fuck up," Hall says something equally damning about the music business, which was notoriously slow to allow crossover artists back in the day (hillbilly music, race music, pop music needed to be quarantined from one another) and even slower to embrace the Internet (leading to a series of sad Senate hearings circa 2000 and the banishing of Napster and similar services, only to see them re-emerge as Pandora and Spotify). Here's Hall's take:
If you work with what is real today instead of trying to fight it and resist it, it is a great time for making music. The real problem for young artists is that they don't have any help or understanding from the record companies. Record company executives are the most backward bunch of idiots I've ever seen in my life. They are probably only surpassed by television executives. If I had a record company, I would know what to do, and how to promote new artists, and how to make money for myself, and for the artist. Now, all the artists are floundering, because all they can do is play live, and hope that they can gather a large enough tribe to support them. There is far too much ignorance right now and refusal to accept change….
If I was the head of Atlantic Records, and not to single them out, I would start an internet show, and I would pair my young artists with my older artists for every broadcast. They have a big enough name. They're as big as me.
There's nothing new about recording artists slagging suits as out of touch and stupid; indeed, after the booty call, such an insight might be rock music's most-popular motif. But it's nothing less than inspiring to see a charter member of the baby boom (Hall was born in 1946) and a guy whose first LP came out in 1972 looking forward rather than bitching and moaning about his and his industry's salad days, when artists and labels alike could force you to buy 10 songs on a record or disc to get the one that you really wanted to hear.
Well, let's close this out with a song, right? Here's Hall performing one of Hall & Oates' signature tunes, "Sara Smile," with Smokey Robinson on a 2011 episode of Live From Daryl's House. Why "Sara Smile"? Because according to a 2012 count, it had been sampled no fewer than 59 times by various rappers and hip hop artists. And because no one ever really wants to hear "Maneater" ever again.