Friday, March 19, 2010

Million Dollar Quartet

Ellie and I saw a terrific musical at the Apollo Theater in Chicago this past week which documents the events of December 4, 1956 at Sun Studios that brought together Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis for an impromptu and unprecedented recording session.

The performances were fantastic; actors, David Lago (Elvis), Lance Lipinsky (JLL), Gabe Bowling (Perkins), and Sean Sullivan (Cash) performed both individual and ensemble performances of early Sun and other rock songs that not only accurately rendered the original recordings but added something new and vital. This wasn't some shabby tribute act, but a reimagining.

I've also been into Tony Tost's off-radio radio show which presents key tracks from members of the Quartet as well as a variety of roots and Americana recordings. Tost's commentary is really smart and evocative; listening, you can tell he's been breathing deep this stuff.

I've been thinking a lot lately about our generational interest in roots, Americana, folk music. Look around and you see band after band (Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, Will Oldham, Bon Iver, name a few) giving new life to the "old and weird."

I may be mistaken that this interest is recent (the Greenwich scene in the sixties was doing the same thing with the Harry Smith anthology) but I wonder what's at its base. Is it the age old, "What does America mean?" dilemma?

I worry about nostalgia; that is, as someone who loves this music, I worry about its fetishization. It may be easy to make a fetish of an "old, weird America" when our current situation is less desirable, saturated with spectacle. It seems natural to mythologize earlier times when music was "simpler" or more "authentic."

But do we commit violence upon these musicians? By idealizing them, do we colonize their work?

Is there a responsibility on our part to this music?

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