DVD REVIEW: Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker

Electric Purgatory: The Fate of the Black Rocker
(Microcinema International)

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Exploring the history of many black rock and roll acts, this documentary is very educational and succeeds in getting one to really think critically about the racial disparity in this powerful genre. Electric Purgatory explores the roots of rock, the delta blues of Mississippi, and likens it to the basis for all good rock and roll. The film asks the essential question “How does something that was rooted in the African American experience become the voice of mainstream White America?”

After a plethora of interesting/enlightening interviews and drawing connections from Chuck Berry and Little Richard to Jimi Hendrix and Rick James to Prince to Fishbone and many other contemporary acts, the answer invariably boils down to ‘It’s not about the audience, it’s about the gate keepers’ and how an all black rock band making it big is ‘damn near taboo.’

But the question remains, what IS the fate of the black rocker? Made clear in the film is the idea that there has been a conscious effort by the music industry’s big labels to market rock and roll away from the black community, reinforcing the idea that ‘if it’s guitar heavy/intensive, it’s not for us.’ There is a difference drawn between all black bands and those who are racially mixed; the prevailing idea being that having whites in a band makes it more palatable and gives it a better chance to succeed.

?uestlove’s interview is damn near academic and wholly amazing on the subject of how a black musician can make it. He breaks down the small amount of personas a black musician can actually succeed with, concluding “There’s no such thing as normalcy (for a black musician).”

This is a powerful documentary and brings to light a subject that has either been ignored or simply unexplored in the mainstream consciousness of what rock and roll is and can be. I highly suggest checking it out, listening closely, and realizing the fate of the black rocker is tied to we the audience exploring the full spectrum of the genre.

Kenneth Joachim

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