I was going to take a day off today, partly because a kind Automatic Earth reader in Athens insisted on taking me out to lunch, partly because I need a break, and partly because the Financial Times complained about their inclusion in my Debt Rattles, which makes me think about the whole thing. Nothing bad about that. Think is good.
But then of course my head doesn’t stop wandering, and so I wandered into music, and Muhammad Ali’s funeral and memory, and I was pondering that he must have loved the songs I post below. As much as I am turned off by a lot of things stateside these days, and he was too, the country, when history is written, will be known for as long as there are people to sing and play and act, for the incredible melting pot of musical styles and plays and movies it has produced.
America, if anything sums it up, is a country that has perfected the art of painting a portrait of itself in music, literature and film. Often a deceptively false portrait, as in the whole “John Wayne vs the Indians” theme, but that’s not the real story, and we all know it. America’s always been about making you believe it’s something it’s not. And in the process it’s produced, despite itself, magic.
Gospel and religion were always a large part of the music, along with the inherent contradiction in having both sides of the segregation lines and railroad tracks go to churches and pray -in different ways- to the same God. Ali found his own. But he knew all along that there is but one God for those who choose to believe in one. He just didn’t want everyone to know that, at least not 50 years ago.
In the music itself, the British and Irish and German and Russin and Jewish et al influences are plain for everyone to hear. But American music was of course shaped more than anything else by African slaves. The biggest miracle the continent has produced is the coming together, if only in music alone, of the oppressors and the oppressed.
That’s quite an achievement, when you get to think about it. At the same time, that’s the power of music; it doesn’t know borders or race. But that’s not nearly all either.
What’s missing in my view and knowledge is how the music that the earliest slaves, those who weren’t shipped to the US but much further south to Brazil and neighboring lands, we’re talking 17-18th century, influenced American music. That’s something I’d like to know a lot more about. Meanwhile, the Coen brothers tuned right down into all of this. And so did Bob Dylan. And Ali, who now wears the robe and crown.