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Saturday, August 14, 2010


air bellows outdoor art museum
The crickets and the tree frogs are singing and chirping. Sometimes I wonder what it sounded like back when this was all farms, the night chorus of these critters, and from up the holler a banjo's notes in the air. A lot of the old houses are gone, nearly all the barns. The people are gone, the clothes they wore are gone, the wagons they rode are gone, the guns remain in vaults and on the walls of gun collectors, and the musical instruments continue. Often they stay in the family. Sometimes they're sold. Or they're in museums. Many of them go on making music, are treasured as great great grandpa's fiddle, either hanging on the wall or in its old case with the handle missing, played only on special occasions. The old culture is so gone now it is functionally over but for the values carried by descendants, the ways of believing, the nature of faith. The music is very much alive. About every county in the mountains has a place for local music and dancing. The music corporations ASCAP and the like would have them all shut down if they had their way unimpeded, which they do to a point. They shut down jams too. They're doing their best to stifle creativity outside their control. It's working.
When I think creativity in America is stifled, all I have to do is go to a karaoke bar and see individual after individual singing their hearts out onstage. These people are good. I went with Jean one night to a place on the highway to Mt Airy called Rock Bottom, a roadside beer place with bands on the weekends. Karaoke night. It was a peaceable place. A friendly place. I saw a guy with a harley tshirt and a bandanna on his head sing like a bird. Women, men, anybody who wanted to. These people, all of them have practiced and awful lot in the shower or wherever they sing. Karaoke uses pop songs of our time for the standards the way jazz in the 50s used Broadway tunes for the standards. Curious, seeing the music I've watched evolve from the start when I was 13 over half a century to the place it's the music of our collective American culture.
In the 50s Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis inspired reaction by the adults. It weakened the kids to Communism. It was Communist propaganda destroying the minds of the kids. Every kind of attempt was made to shut it down. Dick Clark is lauded as the Hot Dog of rock & roll, but he was in the front line of the forces set on destroying rock & roll. He promoted doo-wop black boys and Italian pretty boys, Anita Bryant. Allan Freed was put through all kinds of legal problems promoting the new music. His life was more or less ruined by the reactionary force. Among adults, he was the enemy of the adults from the inside, a virus. All the adults were saying, "It will never last." When my parents said it, all I could think was, I don't care. Among the Andrews Sisters, the Lennon Sisters and the Four Lads, suddenly was Chuck Berry honking Maybellene, "Cadillac rollin down open road, nothin outrunin my V-8 Ford. Cadillac doin about 95, bumper to bumper rollin side to side. Maybellene why caint you be true? Oh Maybellene---why caint you be true? You done started back doin the things you used to do."
Maybellene, Shake Rattle & Roll, Long Tall Sally, Hey Bo Diddley, Heartbreak Hotel, Peggy Sue. All these songs started appearing between the white music that went before. I tended to listen to the black station in KC at the time, because that's where I could hear the black music, like Slim Harpo, Big Mama Thornton, Big Maybelle, Little Walter, Ruth Brown. When the white station was playing Elvis's Hound Dog, the black station played Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog. She wrote it. Elvis gave her a Cadillac instead of songwriter's royalties. He got off real cheap. I heard people like Ivory Joe Hunter, Bill Doggett, Ray Charles before crossover, Big Joe Turner. It was a rich time in my life for discovering music. Both the black sound and the white sound exploring new sounds with the electric guitar. Duane Eddy, Forty Miles of Bad Road. Electricity was changing music like it changed everything else. Changing it fast.
By 1960, Chuck Berry was in prison, Jerry Lee Lewis disgraced, Elvis in the Army, Little Richard preaching, Buddy Holly dead. Freddie Cannon was about all that was left of rock & roll. It was just about shut down in America when records started coming over from England, Spencer Davis Group, Dave Clark 5, then the Beatles and the Stones and rock & roll was back. There was no stopping it after the British invasion. Bob Dylan went from acoustic to electric, psychedelia spread from San Francisco; Big Brother & Holding Company (Janis Joplin), Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and beyond. Then Led Zeppelin, heavy metal, then punk and it stayed punk until it became mainstream after a quarter century on college radio stations. The 20th century was a renascence in art and it was a renascence in music, all kinds of music. It was a highly creative time in every field of human interest.
What rock has evolved into now, I have very little idea. What I hear and see is telling me it's a time in pop music like the post-modern period in art where everything that went before is given expression in various blends. Fusion from all over the world and every kind of music. Tells me it's evolving really fast right now. It's universal pop now all around the world, every culture, every place. Even in the remotest places on earth. It has pushed to the background traditional musics all over the world, not just here. The traditional musics change, but they don't die. It's looking like Kilby Spencer and his sister Martha are devoting their lives to keeping the Whitetop music tradition alive and moving into the future. Kilby is a computer technician to make a living and a fiddler to make music. He plays banjo, guitar and bass too. They'll pass the music to the next generation like their mother and dad did. Kilby has been uploading a lot of good old-time videos of whitetop music. You can find his videos at whitetopmusic on YouTube. He's uploaded a lot of really good old-time videos. Even with media advanced as it is now making YouTube possible, old-time lives alongside everything else. It's no longer the only music, but it is a part of the whole, and will always be. Maybe.

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