Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 4 07:26:32 UTC 2008

The album, "Up Tight!' contains a piece with the title, "Up Tight"
with no exclamation point. It's a cool, relaxed, bluesy-jazz
instrumental. It doesn't sound emotionally uptight to me, but, of
course, that's merely my opinion. IAC, it's *far* less phrenetic than
the Little Stevie Wonder song, as would be expected of cool jazz.

It's strange that Brooks Bros. would be the epitome of square in NYC.
West of the Mississippi - among blacks, IAC - the ideal was to be
dressed *up," not down. A stud who wanted to jump sharp and be - not
get - laid dressed in an Arrow pin-collar shirt with a silk rep tie, a
three-piece Hart, Schaffner & Marx suit, over-the-calf-length socks
held up by garters, Stacy-Adams shoes ("States"), a Stutson or Dobbs
stingy-brim lid, wore a mustache, if he could grow one, and carried
the stereotypical knife. A kind of modified zoot suit called a
"three-button roll" or its "one-button roll" variant worn with a shirt
with a "Mr. B" (Billy Eckstein-style) rolled collar with a
standard-brim fedora was also cool, though a bit déclassé. "Rogues"
tended to prefer the latter style. However, wearing the former style
didn't necessarily mean that a cat was not a bad motherfucker who
could study kick ass when this was called for.

And note that I'm describing middle-school and high-school kids as
well as college students and young adults. In college, it used be a
joke amongst the colored that, on rainy days, when classes ended,
white cats in sweatsocks, penny-loafers, chinos, and open-collar dress
shirts ran for their cars, whereas the colored cats unfurled their
push-button London umbrellas and ran for the streetcar, not being able
both to meet the dress code and to afford a short (pronounced "shout"
in the hip, hyper-BE used for talking slang). It was definitely better
to look good than to feel good.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I shopped at the local Brooks Bros. shop,
located in a loft downtown. It couldn't have been cooler. You merely
told them to bill you and they did, without requiring that you show a
single piece of ID, merely accepting whatever name and address that
you gave them. (At this time, credit cards had not yet been invented
and Brooks Bros. was above requiring the Charge-A-Plate.) That is,
they showed blacks the same respect that they showed whites.
Die-Know-MITE! You couldn't beat that with a sludge hammer! In
addition, there were no tags or labels on Brooks Bros. clothing to
indicate where it came from. If you couldn't recognize it simply by
the material and the fit, well, that was just your lame, unhip ass.
Like, how fine is that? I bought my shoes at Johnston & Murphy, the
company that has supplied footwear and leather goods to every
President since Lincoln, where the manager was my personal clerk. The
more exclusive the store, the more respect it showed black people,
making it worth every extra dollar. It was the kind of thing that once
moved Ebony to publish an article entitled, "Is Los Angeles Heaven?"
My stepfather commented about Los Angeles that he had had no idea that
black people were allowed to live so well in the United States.

Unfortunately, this aspect of L.A. never makes the news.

But that was L.A. Boston is more like Saint Louis in the 'Forties.
But, even in Saint Louis, clerks at the btter stores began to address
me as "sir" from the time that I was eleven years old. If you don't
want trouble, you'd best know where you are and what you're doing. The
great basketball player for the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell (a native
of Texas, BTW), once commented that he'd rather be in jail in
Sacramento than sheriff in Boston. Things must be or have been
something like that in NYC, if Brooks Bros. was the epitome of lame.


On 2/3/08, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Mark beat me to the punch here. I agree that whatever Horne had in mind, "Brooks Brothers" was the essence of sartorial squareness in the late '50s. ISTR _Mad_ alluding to that fact - and Brooks Bros. metonymical connection with hypersquare "Madison Avenue" more than once.
>   JL
> Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>   ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Mark Mandel
> Subject: Re: Another dating for positive "uptight," if anyone cares
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Feb 2, 2008 6:19 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
> wrote:
> On Feb 2, 2008 5:39 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >
> > "Up Tight!"[sic]
> >
> > The title of an LP by the jazz saxophonist, Gene Ammons, son of the
> > boogie-woogie pianist, Albert Ammons, published by Fantasy Records in
> > 1961.
> That's the first cite given by OED2 for approbative "uptight" (though
> they use a 1962 mention of the album title in _Down Beat_).
> What do you suppose "up( )tight" meant to Ammons et al. in 1961? In a
> jazz lexicon published in the June 25, 1961 New York Times Sunday
> Magazine ("The Words for the Music", p. 39), Elliot Horne defined "up
> tight" as "the Brooks Brothers manner of dressing." So did the
> approbation originally apply to clothing before being extended to
> other excellent things (as in Stevie Wonder's 1966 usage)?
> ===============
> I don't think that's approbative. Brooks Brothers was the very emblem and
> summit of straight (= unhip) / corporate / office style. Look at the song
> "I'll Know" from Guys and Dolls [opened November 24, 1950 -- Wikipedia].
> True, that was 1940s gamblers, per Damon Runyon and Frank Loesser, not 1960s
> jazz, but that Horne cite can't be taken as approbative without further
> evidence.
> I'll Know
> (Loesser)
> (Sarah)
> I've imagined every bit of him
> From his strong moral fibre
> To the wisdom in his head
> To the homely aroma of his pipe
> (Sky)
> You have wished yourself a Scarsdale Galahad
> The breakfast eating Brooks Brothers type
> (Sarah)
> Yes, and I shall meet him when the time is ripe
> I'll know when my love comes along
> I won't take a chance
> I'll know he'll be just what I need
> Not some fly-by-night Broadway romance
> (Sky)
> And you'll know at a glance
> By the two pair of pants
> (Sarah)
> I'll know by his calm steady voice
> His feet on the ground
> I'll know, as I run to his arms, that at last
> I've come home, safe and sound
> And 'til then, I shall wait
> And 'til then, I'll be strong!
> For I'll know, when my love comes along
> --
> Mark Mandel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ---------------------------------
> Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile.  Try it now.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
                                              -Sam'l Clemens

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list