I'm just finishing up one of the best books I've recently read, John Jeremiah Sullivan's essay collection Pulphead . Five of the fourteen essays are


Which White Men Can Dance?

I'm just finishing up one of the best books I've recently read, John Jeremiah Sullivan's essay collection Pulphead. Five of the fourteen essays are about music in some way, the most famous of which is probably "Upon This Rock," originally published in GQ (most of these were first published in GQ), in which Sullivan, a former teenage evangelist, rented a twenty-nine-foot RV, drove it to Pennsylvania, and camped out at the giant Christian rock gathering, Creation Festival. Pulphead also includes "The Last Wailer," about Sullivan making friends and then enemies with Bunny Wailer; "Michael," the smartest and fairest article I've read about Michael Jackson; "Unknown Bards," about the lost Southern blues; and "The Final Comeback of Axl Rose," a treatise on present day Axl Rose vs. early days Central Indianian William Bruce Rose Jr. Axl Rose.

Sullivan is an old Guns N' Roses fan (he attended the band's 2006 comeback at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York and then flies to Spain to see them headline the Bilbao Live Festival; he tracks down Rose's boyhood best friend at a dive bar in Lafayette, Indiana), and at one point in his essay he writes this:

From the beginning, [Axl Rose has] been the only indispensable white male rock dancer of his generation, the only one worth imitating in mockery. I consider the moment in the "Patience" video when he does the slow-motion snaky slide-foot dance while letting his hands float down as if they were feathers in a draft-less room--one fleeting near-pause in their descent for each note that Slash emphasizes in his transition to the coda--the greatest white male dance moment of the video age. What Axl does is lovely, I'm sorry. If I could, I would be doing that as I walk to the store. I wake up and dance every morning like William Byrd of Westover, and that would be my dance.
Anyway, I highly recommend this essay and the book it's found in, but to switch gears, this particular opinion of Sullivan's got me thinking about who else we could add to the list with Axl. We all know White Men Can't Jump, but can they dance?

The results of my research and heavy pondering are inconclusive. Sullivan's qualification of a white male rock dancer disqualifies the Justins Bieber and Timberlake, everyone by now is sick of hearing about the moves like Jagger, and ultimately I was only able to come up with one serious qualifier and one more minor consideration:

I'm partial to the awkwardly sexy shuffling of Beck, as seen here in 2000's "Mixed Bizness," or, alternately, in "Sexx Laws."

In this 2009 Friendly Fires video for "Kiss of Life," frontman Ed Macfarlane memorably got down with his bad self and a masked drumline on an Ibiza beach. Macfarlane's moves are admirably free and easy, but he hasn't showcased his skillz in any subsequent clips.

I must be leaving some people out. Music is rhythm and movement; there can't possibly be only two or three white male rock musicians who can dance, right? Help me out here. If someone says Thom Yorke, so help me God.

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