My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

December 31, 2019: 2019 in Review: “Old Town Road”


[2019—it’s been real, it’s been good, but it ain’t been real good. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d say it’s been good, but it has definitely been eventful. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of major 2019 stories I haven’t been able to cover on the blog, leading up to a few predictions for what’s likely to be an even more eventful 2020.]
On three contexts for one of the year’s (and music history’s) most surprising smash hits.
1)      Black Cowboys: Yes, that’s the title of an underrated Springsteen song from his Devils and Dust album, but for once I’m not (mostly) talking here about Bruce. Instead, I’m talking about an even more under-remembered group of historical figures, the African American cowboys who constituted a striking percentage of that labor force (one in four!) yet remain nearly invisible in our collective myths and narratives. The wonderful, equal parts historical and mythic autobiography Life and Adventures of Nat Love (1907) offers one compelling way in to engaging with this largely forgotten American community. But so, in its 21st century way, does Lis Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” As much as the song is part of an evolving country music tradition (on which more in a moment), it is even more directly part of cowboy culture, right down to the stereotypical “Wranglers” about which I wrote in this post. A playlist that, yes, could start with an evocative pairing of “Road” with Springsteen’s “Black Cowboys.”
2)      Cross-Cultural Country: “Road” was already a hit before Billboard temporarily banned it from the country music charts for “not embracing enough elements of today’s country music,” but that controversial (and eventually rescinded) move certainly helped take the song to a new level of attention and popularity (and seems to have led to the remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus that really sent the song into the stratosphere). I agree with takes that Billboard’s move was at least frustratingly discriminatory (if not outright racist), not least because many other crossover hits, such as last year’s Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line track “Meant to Be,” have had no such challenges. But the decision was also historically misinformed, both to the long legacy of African American country artists and to the related and even more overarching reality that country music has always been an amalgam of many genres, sounds, styles, and cultural forms. For all those reasons, “Road” belongs not just on the country charts, but in the country pantheon.
3)      Out Artists: While the song’s success was a huge surprise, I think it might have been an even bigger twist (at least for those of us not initially familiar with Lil Nas X’s album or career beyond the song, which I have to believe was most of us) when Lil Nas X came out publicly as gay on the last day of Pride Month. We have of course come a long way from the days (only a few decades back) when an artist like Freddie Mercury had to keep his sexual orientation secret in order to avoid backlash (if not blacklisting), but I would argue that genres like country and rap (the two that Lil Nas X combines so potently in “Road”) continue to suffer from homophobia (although of course there are other openly gay artists in both those genres). In any case, for Lil Nas X to come out at precisely the height of his song’s popularity was a striking and bold choice, and one that added another vital context to the ground-breaking success of “Old Town Road.”
Next 2019 review tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? 2019 stories you’d highlight?

Monday, December 30, 2019

December 30, 2019: 2019 in Review: The UAW Strike


[2019—it’s been real, it’s been good, but it ain’t been real good. Actually, I’m not even sure I’d say it’s been good, but it has definitely been eventful. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of major 2019 stories I haven’t been able to cover on the blog, leading up to a few predictions for what’s likely to be an even more eventful 2020.]
I promise that I’m not gonna use every post in this series (or any other, in fact) to simply share pieces from my bimonthly Considering History column for the Saturday Evening Post. But in this case, I did write there about why the national strike started by UAW workers was so significant and so representative of the true radicalism of the American labor movement; since I didn’t get a chance to write about that strike in this space, I wanted to share that piece as a way to remember that vital 2019 action and activism. If you get a chance to check it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts (there, here, wherever!).
Next 2019 review tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? 2019 stories you’d highlight?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

December 28-29, 2019: December 2019 Recap


[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
December 2: AmendmentStudying: “Summertime Blues” and the 26th Amendment: For the anniversary of the 13th Amendment’s ratification, a series kicks off with how a classic song connects to a generation-changing amendment.
December 3: AmendmentStudying: Santa Clara County and the 14th Amendment: The series continues with the offhand sentences through which the Court revised an amendment and the nation’s ideas.
December 4: AmendmentStudying: The 19th Amendment and the ERA: How the long road to the suffrage amendment might parallel a current political journey, as the series rolls on.
December 5: AmendmentStudying: Washington, DC and the 23rd Amendment: How the 1961 amendment echoes the capital city’s complex history, and how it helped shift it.
December 6: AmendmentStudying: On Not Taking the 13th Amendment for Granted: On the anniversary of its ratification, why we shouldn’t take the imperfect but inspiring 13th Amendment for granted.
December 7-8: Future Constitutional Amendments?: The series concludes with three ways that the Constitution might (and to my mind should) be amended in coming years.
December 9: 50s Musical Icons: Cross-Cultural Origins: A series on 50s rock and popular music kicks off with the cross-cultural origin points for those genres.
December 10: 50s Musical Icons: Fats Domino: On the anniversary of his recording “The Fat Man,” the series continues with a few iconic moments in Fats Domino’s legendary career.
December 11: 50s Musical Icons: Patti Page: Three signatures songs from the 50s top-charting female musical artist, as the series rocks on.
December 12: 50s Musical Icons: Sinatra and Elvis: The differences between influential and interesting, and why even the former can be problematic.
December 13: 50s Musical Icons: “American Pie”: The series concludes with the straightforward and subtler sides to a eulogy for 50s music.
December 14-15: Crowd-sourced Musical Icons: My latest crowd-sourced post—add your thoughts on 50s music in the comments, please!
December 16: Book Talk Recaps: Temple Graduate English Program: A series recapping some of my sabbatical book talks kicks off with three awesome audience cohorts from my return to Temple.
December 17: Book Talk Recaps: Two Public Scholarly Conversations: The series continues with inspiring takeaways from two communal events at which I was fortunate enough to share my ideas.
December 18: Book Talk Recaps: Student Responses at Four NY Colleges: Exemplary student voices from my whirlwind tour of four NY colleges, as the series rolls on.
December 19: Book Talk Recaps: Scuppernong Books: Three great elements, two expected and one delightfully surprising, from my most recent bookstore talk.
December 20: Book Talk Recaps: The Boston Athenaeum: The series concludes with three reasons why my last book talk of 2019 was a perfect way to end (for now!).
December 21-22: What’s Next for We the People: Three ways I’m excited to extend the book talks and work into the new year, all of which could use your input!
December 23: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember William Apess: My annual holiday series kicks off with two reasons to better remember a fiery Native American preacher.
December 24: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember Yuri Kochiyama: The series continues with a few reasons to better remember the Japanese American activist.
December 25: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember Dorothy Day: Why we should better remember the reformer who embodies the true meaning of Christmas, as the series rolls on.
December 26: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember Gloria Anzaldรบa: What better remember the challenging autoethnographer reveals about American community and identity.
December 27: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember Abraham Cahan: The series concludes with the advice a prolific journalist and author might offer us all.
Year in Review series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!