Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Some further thoughts on last night’s post on rock history.

* More examples regarding my contention that lots of early rock and roll had nothing to do with country: Little Richard. James Brown. Fats Domino.

* It’s not just blues, gospel, and pop (and country too) that influenced rock and roll: jazz too (sez Robert Palmer, and he’s right); and Cuban music (sez Ned Sublette, whose book I recently got as a gift and which I’m digging big time).

* The blues and country did have a baby, and they called it rockabilly, but of the several original rock and roll styles rockabilly had the least influence on ‘60s rock. (Except maybe via surf guitar?)

* Country did have a big influence on rock and roll, but it came in the ‘60s, and it came heavily filtered. Dylan’s influence was huge; his primary influences were Woody Guthrie and the music anthologized by Harry Smith; 75% or so of Woody’s style came out of the Carter Family; the Carter Family and half the people on the Harry Smith anthology played what was known then as country.

* Country started having a direct influence on rock starting with the Byrds’ third album and the subsequent country rockers. (Or was Ringo the original country rocker?)

* Typo embarrassment: When I said last night that Robert Christgau’s self-proclaimed deanery has been ratified by general acclimation, I meant to say acclamation. Major oops!

I’m hopeful to read other people’s thoughts on these matters. [UPDATE, January 16: I take valid objections to my critique of the blues + country myth into account here.] And I’m happy to read my musically literate friend Jake London’s defense of music criticism by people who lack technical knowledge of music. From here on out this post is Jake’s:

"I'm about half done with the Dylan book. I agree that one of the great things about it is the way he writes from so inside the music making process. Sometimes it's beyond my comprehension. Sometimes it's much simpler than one might imagine ("I just thought it was cool").

"I think people who understand the process from doing it ultimately do serve our knowledge of the subject better, because they understand both the genius and the mundane humanity that goes into it. Then there's just the less than magical reality of trying to make a living doing it.

"But I think people who don't have those music language skills may serve the market better, because they experience music more like the fans. As such, they are able to project things onto the finished work and in a sense create a derivative/value added version of work that in some cases is far more magical than the work would be on its own. Remember the power of context. In many cases, that's what these people provide.

"Most non-musician pop music fans would have little or no vocabulary to discuss pop music if critics weren't setting the tone here. And most of these critics don't have the skills you talk about. Often these critics take their cues from the musicians and appropriate vocabulary from them. But more often than not, the critics really are the ones doing the heavy lifting, painting word pictures of the music. Whether these word pictures are accurate in some music speak empirical sense is kind of beside the point. What's important is that they resonate with the critic's readership. So if the critic wants the audience to know that something is good, the critic wants his or her words to be received by the audience that way (and vice versa).

"I am fluent in translating between critic speak and music speak. It happens pretty regularly that I can identify a song by a band I've never heard simply based on reviews I've read of this band's music. That's because certain archetypes are so ingrained in rock music today that as long as the critic is skilled enough to evoke them accurately, a reader with some skills can translate this into a sonic reference point that is meaningful and by extension useful."

[JOHN COMMENTS: Thanks Jake!]

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