Posts Tagged ‘Fiddle

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at The Theater at Madison Square Garden

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Last week Robert Plant was quoted in the Village Voice as saying that America “needs to hear its music.” Leave it to a Brit to tell us what we need. Plant’s condescension aside, he is right. The former Led Zeppelin singer’s recent album and tour with Alison Krauss, which stopped at the Theater at Madison Square Garden last night, prove that he is doing more than just talking the talk. About halfway through the show, Plant, humble and gracious throughout, paid homage to those American musicians who came before, telling the crowd “If it weren’t for Chicago and Mississippi, I wouldn’t even be here right now.”

Plant gets it. All the amazing musicians who shared the stage with him get it. He is right though – more Americans need to get it.

It’s hard to claim that popular music today has largely forgotten its roots. How can any music become untied from its history when, consciously or not, it is a product, a direct descendent of that history? Take rap music for example. Where would rap music be without James Brown, Bo Diddley (think “Who do You Love?”), Muddy Waters, and even Elvis and his televised gyrations? But, is rap conscious of its ties to history? Despite heavy use of samples, the answer is largely, no. Popular music across the board has lost its ties to the deep past. This would be okay (after all innovation is a good thing) if it weren’t for the fact that American music’s original soul, the soul that makes it exceptional in the truest sense of the word, has been largely flushed out as well.

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Skippin’ in the Mississippi Dew

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The Mississippi River holds a prominent, mythic place in the American psyche. Dating back to its days as part of France’s territory in the new world, the Mississippi has been a place where cultures commingled; where trappers and Indians traded pelts; where shipping fortunes were made; and where frontier forts were built. Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition left for the interior from the shores of that great River. And later, some of the country’s largest and most brutal plantations sprung up along its banks. Steamships, casinos, showboats, houseboats, and of course, rafts, all float in and out of our mythic notion of what it means to be American, a notion forever tied to the Big Muddy.

Writers have long spoken of our rich river tradition. Alexis de Tocqueville, Mark Twain, and John Steinbeck all wrote about Americans’ connection to their river. William Faulkner even likened the Mississippi to an long umbilical chord connecting us to our homeland and to one another.

And then there’s the music.

It’s called Mississippi Delta Blues for a reason. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, B.B. King are only a few of the greats who grew up just miles from the muddy riverbanks. Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan were also raised near the great river. Dylan’s home town of Hibbing, Minnesota is only a stones throw away from the Mississippi’s oft-disputed source. Not to mention all the music that came out of the strange commingling of cultures in New Orleans as a result of the city’s unique location at the Mississippi’s mouth.

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Written by JustJake

April 8, 2008 at 8:12 am