American Music
by Pril Stevenson

robjonb2.jpgThis, I think, is our greatest gift to the universe. You could get all heavy and say it was our constitution or something like that, and that’d be fine, but I would still say it’s been music.

Our music comes from the dirt. It came from the slaves and the hill people and the fishermen and the first nations, and later the Okies and Arkies and the Mexicans, and it got filtered and reworked and refiltered and electrified and stripped down and added to with a dash of something here and a dash of something else. Some of it went overseas and came back so loud and incredible we almost didn’t recognize it, and so we hammered at it some more and put some glitter on it or yanked out the solos and it was ours again. Rock n Roll, the Blues, Jazz, Bluegrass, Rap, Country, Metal and Punk are wholly American inventions. And they have two roots- Blues and Country, both of which are simply the lament of the common people.

Listen, it took about 200 years for us to take what we came over here with and make it ours. Those European folk songs that belonged to the dirt over there in the 1600s turned into Elvis after he mixed it up with what the black people were doing. By the mid 1800s, we had the blues in its earliest forms. In the 1950s, American music was total anarchy, and I wish I had been alive back then to witness it. People were even excited about music. There were riots over it. Musicians were ferocious about getting heard. Bus loads of people were traveling all over the country and seeing and hearing things they hadn’t ever even imagined, learning things from each other and reincorporating it. People from rural churches with angelic voices were cutting records for the masses (no pun intended). Everyone I know who was a kid in the 50s and 60s played one instrument or another in their garage with their friends. There’s no exception. Maybe the ones you know are different. Maybe not.

rodgers4.jpgWhen recorded music was still young, a guy who called himself the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, was the biggest seller. Millions of records in the 30s. When people could barely afford to feed themselves, they still picked up one of his records when they could. And they all probably went to someone’s house with a victrola with a dozen or so other friends and listened to it together. Or they sat around a radio and listened to the Grand Ol Opry and those people in the radio sang them the stories they already knew because they all were living them too. When Jimmie came to town, you better have bought your ticket quick or you weren’t going to get to see him.

Johnny Cash didn’t go to the country capital, Nashville, to make it big. He went to Memphis because the music coming out of Memphis at the time had a better feel to it, he thought. Well, Memphis has always been one of the seats of the blues, and then later the soul and R&B. There’s an awful lot of blues in Cash’s country. Johnny’s mother-in-law, Maybelle, invented one of the most widely used guitar strumming styles. It’s called the Carter Lick. You pick the melody on the two bass strings and strum the chords on the rest. I bet if you’ve played guitar for any length of time, you can do it and you might notice how handy it is.

I’m a little disappointed in what gets played on the radio now. I don’t hate it. Just disappointed. Where’s the excitement and the passion and the ferocity? Even the protests songs are weak and tired. Where’s the freakin rock n roll, man, the dirt? Where’s my American Music?

(This is part one in a group of thingies where I am going to talk about American music)



EXCELLENT! Despite the fact that I said I would give up music forever to listen to Discovery Radio, not five minutes ago, I am obsessive about my music and this was quite interesting.


Good job, Pril!


Great job, Pril.

One of the best classes I ever took was a history of American music class.

It's interesting, to me at least, how the old English folk songs and church songs melded with the slave folks songs and pretty much ended up creating blues.

I was in Louisiana when I took the class, so we focused a lot on New Orleans (where, honestly, a lot of this stuff was birthed) and when country music got going, the Louisiana Hay Ride out of Shreveport (one of Elvis' biggest starts).

Can't wait to see what else you got for us.


NO shit, pril...

where's the fucking dirt?


really good article

The radio nowadays seems to be lacking that one special "fuck you" element that made the old musicv so special

/does that make sense?


Where’s the excitement and the passion and the ferocity?

It's there, it's just not on the radio.


You're so right. What did happen? Where's the good stuff? Where's the talent? It's sad.


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good music is still out just gotta root around in the mud sometimes

very nice job with this Pril...looking forward to what you'll be doing in the future. i get the feeling that Watt and D. Boon would heartily agree that the good stuff deals with "the lament of the common people."

now i'm hummin' that Violent Femmes song..."i like American music."


I think it's become pretty difficult to make music so NEW that it creates a huge stir like music in previous decades did. For the time being it really feels like it's all happened before and a ton of passion isn't necessarily going stop people from thinking "been there, done that."

I think a big part of what drove huge changes in music trends in the past was rebellion against the status quo. But, I'm not sure you can really take that any further than it's gone. How much more social criticism, instrumental indulgence, and colorful language can one explore than hardcore metal does, for example? As Nigel Tufnel would say, "none more." The controversy, shock factor in music has topped out at 11. The days where haircuts, swivel hips, electric guitars, screams and taboo sexuality made a musical stir are gone.

Also, what do you do when there's a worldwide communication network dedicated to entertainment overload, where there's so much music instantly available that most either goes unheard or is quickly consumed then discarded? It's kind of hard to make a society-wide "splash" in an atmosphere where music is regarded like potato chips.

Still, there's no shortage of talent out there and some really good bands. Unfortunately, the karaoke stylings of "Amercian Idol" seem to be where the cuttting edge lies for a lot of people.



it isn't the talent so much, because there are a lot of talented artists getting airplay , but i guess the loss of heart. If you listen to recordings of Robert Johnson (the guy in the top picture) and Son House, Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Sr, there's something there that isn't in modern music. It's tempting to say it's modern production, but I think that's only a piece of it. The Black Keys have the ferocity I'm talking about. Not technically wonderful, not fast and speedy and aaaargggghish, but their shit grabs hold of you. But if you want to see someone really pour it out, see if you can find a live performance by Son House. Jeeeez.


For argument's sake, a strong and logical argument can be made that our lack of connection with this music is hardly the fault of the audience, but rather an expectation of something we've grown out of.

We don't identify with new music's angst. That makes it hard to feel.

I don't buy the argument, but it is something to ponder.

Personally, I think there are a lot of talented folks out there that play what they love and love what they play. If you do that, and convince me that that's what you're doing, I'm generally going to enjoy what you do.


That first line should say: ... is hardly the fault of the musician, but rather an expectation of something we've grown out of.


well, this was supposed to be more about the history of American music, but since it's gone this way.. hehe. Upcoming ones though will continue about the history. They're going to be a bit more in-depth, as well, and i have a ton of things to suggest for people to listen to if they love music.


I think rock & roll's downfall was a direct result of the idea that it needed to continually morph into something completely different than what it was five minutes ago. It's easy to understand why the major record companies went along with its demise - rock & roll is more difficult to commoditize than genres like pop or rap. Maybe it was just an accident of history that the mainstream public ever liked rock & roll, I don't know. What I do know is that rappers do not belong in the friggin' Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, and that I have to fight the urge to dry heave every time I see words like "rocker John Mayer" in print.

But the thing is, I'm not sure it really matters that rock & roll is no longer popular. The Internet has provided us with an incredibly powerful tool to seek out the specific sorts of music we love, making it possible to find even the most obscure cool bands who've never played a show outside of their hometown. It's true that most rock & roll musicians now need to have day jobs to survive, but as far as I can tell that hasn't limited the amount of new indie music being made. And fame and fortune, while nice to contemplate in theory, in the real world mostly end up hurting the bands who attain that level of massive popularity.

It's hard for me to envision a time in the future when broadcast radio won't suck, but with all the other methods now available to us to seek out the music we love, maybe it's not really that critical that radio not suck. And there is always satellite, which has some interesting possibilities...


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