Sunday, March 29, 2009

True Test 3/29/09

The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you want.

Virgil Thomson
Howdy Pardner.
I am frequently puzzled over people's attempts both here and abroad to define what is American and what is not. How on earth, in this hybrid country, do you define what is truly American? What is the American way of doing things, the American style?

Our food. I've recently written about our coffee which comes from Africa and South America. Our tea comes from Asia. But the hot dog. Is that American? Then why is it called a frankfurter (something from Frankfurt). Or the hamburger, which is not made from ham (something from Hamburg). "Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener." Wien = Vienna. In some places you get a taco instead of a hot dog. "As American as apple pie" Apples are grown in almost every place on earth. I learned that when I wrote a commercial for an orchard. In Alabama you get grits with your meal. That's the American way. You get no grits in Vermont. You may get a potato instead. Ask the Irish about potatoes. In New York it's American to have a bagel with your breakfast, or a croissant. More European food. Beer? Talk to the Germans. Nobody is really sure about the donut.

Okay forget the food. How about other things. Dungarees, denims, what's un American about those? Denim is a French fabric. We're driving Asian cars, or American cars with Asian parts. Look at the gadgets in your kitchen or tool shed and see how many of them are "Made in China."

"Three cheers for the red, white and blue." We have a grand old glorious red, white and blue flag. So do the British.

What about our music? Jazz? African rhythms to European melodies. Country music, blue grass? More old European tunes, some of it played on a mandolin, an invention from Italy. The guitar? Spanish. "My country 'tis of thee" = "God save the Queen" Even our national anthem was once a British drinking song.

So what's American? If I had to name something that is really, identifiably American I would say baseball. But now the Japanese are playing baseball. The day one of those Japanese teams wins the World Series we'll have to let go of that bit of Americana.

I think Virgil Thomson has it right. If you're an American, in America, and you do something, you are doing it the American way. America is a mixture of all kinds of people from all over the world and they do things the way they do them. Three cheers for our nationwide diversity, and Vive La Difference.

DB Vagabond Journeys
Lion or lamb. March is heading for the door..


Linda's World said...

No grits in this part of the country. Well maybe, if there are I've never seen them on a menu or tasted them. But we native Washingtonians love our English muffins~LOL!!! Snowing here again tonight...when will it end? Linda

Beth said...

I think that maybe it might be more of an attitude. We are obviously a mishmash of all kinds of different influences, but we seem to have the talent of putting various parts together to make it a whole, and to make it our own. You mentioned how jazz is an amalgam of European melodies and African rhythms. But it was put together in a unique way right here, and America is considered the birthplace of jazz.

Maybe it's an ability to put our own unique interpretation on things. Hmm!

Hugs, Beth

Wes said...

We are all mutts, our friends and family hailed from somewhere else. That is why we have so many "American" ways, I believe that is truly what makes us American.

Thanks for your entry.