I have finally done something I had promised to do here years ago. But it is posted at the Bookshop site under ‘annotations.’
The key to this take on the well trodden premise is a simple fact not usually assayed: America is still being made and is not a static thing which was done at some historical point in time. The nation is not a baked cake that can be left out in the rain, but a salmagundi, a jambalaya, a gallimaufry, and a slumgullion, if not a farrago. The first America, the one at the time of the Declaration of Independence was not exactly the one that wrote the Constitution a mere twelve years later. The America of 1860 was certainly not the America of 1865. The general self-awareness of this nation has been shaped and reshaped–mostly by events, not by books. Events are hard facts to ignore. Books are interpretations. A national catastrophe like the Civil War defined us far more than Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance. The hubris of the author is that their words are important to the process—yet that is a determination that can only be made by the reading citizen.
My first awareness of what music was, was a cousin sitting on the front porch of my grandparents house in Spartanburg, South Carolina, playing away on an enormous guitar and singing in a voice which was not pretty, but made you listen.
I might have been all of seven years old, but I remember that his voice was not pretty, as well as I remember the realization at that moment–an early epiphany you might say–that music was made this way. Somehow this had escaped me until an age well after Mozart had written his first symphony. Before that, music was something that emitted from the radio.