White Tears is the story of an audio nerd and his descent into obsession with a ghostly, cursed song. Really, White Tears is about privilege, appropriation, and the bizarre obsession with ‘realness’ and authenticity in music.
Seth is an audio obsessed loser, who somehow teams up with a rich, trust-fund kid, Carter, who is similarly audio obsessed. Carter’s obsession is for analogue equipment and authenticity. This basically means he is obsessed with very old recordings of blues songs, exclusively sung by black singers.
One day, when out recording the sounds of the city, Seth records a man singing a blues song in a New York park. Carter becomes enthralled by the recording and makes it sound like it was recorded in the 1930s, and gives the artist a name: Charlie Shaw. They then meet an old record collector who insists the recording is genuine and has heard it before. Except it seems it was… and anyone who has had dealings with the song, have been cursed by it…
This excellent book about cultural appropriation of black culture by white people, is also a gripping read. Slight elements of a ghost story come into the story as Seth and Carter get more deeply pulled into the world of Charlie Shaw and the deep south and the origins of blues music. In fact, the later part of the book is quite experimental. You lose track of time, and there are strange episodes that take place in the present, but also the 1930s, and other times. It becomes a very confused timeline, and I took this to be showing how this sort of exploitation has been going on for time eternal. Issues of who can, and should, profit from old recordings of blues music are explored through Seth’s demise. The past seems to be coming to the present to get revenge.
I listened to White Tears as an audio book. I really enjoyed it, and was drawn into the strange style of the latter part of the book. I would highly recommend it.