". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, March 13, 2009

An Alternative History of American Popular Music

The very best history of American popular music, so far, has been written by amigo, Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. Beatles Worshippers, do not be alarmed. The title is a a bait 'n' switch; to the disappointment of some, Elijah doesn't really say the Beatles destroyed R 'N R.

Pub date, June 2009. From the Oxford University Press.

He's been in town the last couple of days. The things you don't know about your friends! His parents, for instance, were both biologists (like Vaquero's, but unlike Vaquero's, they are politically very leftist). Elijah's father, George Wald was a Nobel Prize winner. His mom is Ruth Hubbard. Elijah even wrote a book with his mom.

The ARC doesn't include the illustrations, which ought to be brilliant. Elijah says they are. This book was being written while The World That Made New Orleans and The Year Before the Flood were being written. There was a great deal of draft and conversation back-and-forth so reading the galleys isn't that kind of content revelation. IOW, this book has been a significant presence in the casita. But this is the first time I've read the whole roll as part succeeds part. Deeply researched, the book is brilliant, overflowing with vivid, fascinating, revelatory detail. It reads quickly and easily, though, because Elijah, another of that rara avis, a writer about music, who is also a working musician, is also an excellent writer.

This is a different kind of book than Elijah's previous titles, which include Narcorridos: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas and Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. As he stresses strongly, this isn't a book of music criticism, but a book of history. If you are interested in American popular music you will need to read this one.


K. said...

I'll look forward to this one.

Speaking of books, what is yours about?

Foxessa said...

You are a primary audience for Elijah's book.

Mine is historical fiction.

Love, C.

Frank Partisan said...

I was going to say the same thing as you, the book has K written all over it.

I don't think any adult is happy with what is called R & R today.

Foxessa said...

The more of the African American heritage of rhythm and creativity got bleached out of r&r the more uninteresting it got.

At the same time though, technology changed the entire experience of popular music as dancer-driven by real people and musicians in the same public space.

Music now is personal device designed to block out the world around you.

Which is why we love places like New Orleans, da Bronx, Havana, the hills of Morocco so much. Popular music there is still about bringing real people together, experiencing the world together in real time.

Love, C.

K. said...

Rock was limited as dance music; unchanged, it would never have kept up with funk. By introducing an exceptionally sophisticated element songwriting to the mix, Dylan and the Beatles blew rock wide open and established new standards for it.

Their lyrics -- as well the production values explored by the Beatles -- helped make rock something to listen to and sing along with as well as dance to. The primacy of the electric guitar and the interest young white guitarists had in blues masters eventually introduced musical virtuosity to the genre. In the meantime, the advent of FM radio placed a premium on album cuts.

I'm not even accounting for the impact of drug use by the musicians and their audience, and it was profound.

The issues with today's rock are complex and rooted in economics and demographics as much as technology and a dearth of talent. The indie scene is -- IMHO -- a complete drag. Nonetheless, there are some really able men and women making pretty good music. The problem is that it's so fragmented and so damn much of it.