Country Music: Ken Burns, PBS

Can The Circle Be Unbroken?

Country Music.Ken BurnsSixteen hours of the history of country music. I watched it all. Some bits of it I knew about, but I learned a lot, especially the parts before I was born. It starts with the 1920s when the birth of radio and the growth of the phonograph record propelled country/hillbilly music as well as other musical genres.

The beginning of the Grand Ole Opry is outlined. The documentary posits that there were two early giants of country music, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers brought forth the yodel in recorded music, often replicated by others for decades. The second episode, “Hard Times (1933-1945),” touches on Gene Autry and Bob Wills.

Oddly, it was the story about the creation of the music licensing entity BMI that was a big revelation for me. It was “founded by a group of radio industry leaders meeting in September 1939 at the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention in Chicago. The move [was] prompted by ASCAP requesting to double license fees to the radio industry…”

“Hillbilly Shakespeare 1945-1953” certainly described Hank Williams, who dominates Episode 3. Eddy Arnold and Bill Monroe are also included. Episode 4 is called “I Can’t Stop Loving You 1953-1963”, which meant that it had to mention the seemingly unlikely crossover of Ray Charles. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and early Elvis are some of the others highlighted.

The parts I remember

“The Sons and Daughters Of America (1964-1968)” is the title of Episode 5. Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Merle Haggard, and Roger Miller are among the stars. The Beatles even get a mention with their Buck Owens cover. This is the period of my first recollections listening to WWVA in Wheeling, WV late at night.

Episode 6, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (1968-1972),” gets into the period I was collecting music. More than one person I know discovered Kris Kristofferson from this show. Bob Dylan and The Byrds get coverage, as well as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

“Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way? (1973-1983)”, in Episode 7, discusses the ongoing tension between “traditional” country and countrypolitan. Olivia Newton-John beats out Loretta Lynn for the best female artist at the CMA? Highlights include Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams Jr, Roseanne Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Emmylou Harris.

Finally, Episode 8, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (1984-1996)”, shows the development of Ricky Scaggs, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, The Judds, Dwight Yoakum, and especially Garth Brooks.

Among the complaints were that Burns, et al. left out any number of artists from Jim Reeves to Linda Ronstadt, while spending too much time on Johnny Cash. I suppose this may have some legitimacy. Sometimes, for licensing, artistic, or other reasons, you work with what you have. On the other hand, Marty Stuart’s knowledge of the genre continues to amaze.

The music

There’s a five-CD set of the music mentioned in Country Music. I thought I’d link to just a handful. I’m ignoring any cuts I already own, such as tracks by JR Cash, Charles, Cline, Kristofferson, Lynn, and Williams.

Can the Circle Be Unbroken – The Carter Family
Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues) – Jimmie Rodgers
Fox Chase – DeFord Bailey, the first black at the Grand Ole Opry
Mountain Dew – Grandpa Jones and his Grandchildren; by the time Jones was on the TV show Hee Haw, he didn’t need the makeup anymore

I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart – Patsy Montana & The Prairie Ramblers
New San Antonio Rose – Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Wabash Cannonball – Roy Acuff
It’s Mighty Dark to Travel – Bill Monroe & his Blue Grass Boys

New Mule Skinner Blues – Maddox Brothers and Rose
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, who I first knew from The Beverly Hillbillies
It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels – Kitty Wells
Crazy Arms – Ray Price

The Long Black Veil – Lefty Frizzell; I have The Band and Mick Jagger versions of this
El Paso – Marty Robbins
Stand by Your Man – Tammy Wynette, later covered by Lyle Lovett
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way – Waylon Jennings

Boulder to Birmingham – Emmylou Harris
Pancho and Lefty – Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
He Stopped Loving Her Today – George Jones
Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ – Ricky Skaggs

Somebody Should Leave – Reba McEntire
Why Not Me – The Judds
Streets of Bakersfield – Dwight Yoakam with Buck Owens
Where’ve You Been – Kathy Mattea
Go Rest High on That Mountain – Vince Gill
I Still Miss Someone – Rosanne Cash

The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

The real value of the documentary was the story telling

There are over 6.6 million living veterans in the United States from the Vietnam war era. That constitutes about 36% of all US vets, according to the 2016 American Community Survey, the largest contingent in the country.

And of course, it was the war I grew up with. So I just HAD to watch the series The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, all 10 segments, all 18 hours of it, though it took almost a month. It did not lend itself to binge-watching.

I knew quite a bit about the war from my time protesting it. Names, dates. 1954: the French fall at Dien Bien Phu. But I never felt how brutal the battle was. How the the United States, first little by little, then in a big way after the Tonkin Gulf resolution, expanded the war, were facts I knew.

Of course I had not been privy to the thoughts of the American Presidents and their administrations as they struggled with their decisions as events on the ground did not go as planned.

The real value of the documentary, though, was the story telling: the soldiers that were there taking this hill or that, only to abandon it a few days later. The sister of one soldier killed in Vietnam who became an antiwar activist.

And while the segments prior to my political awareness were interesting, seeing the parts I lived through had the greater impact. It managed to reflect all sides of the war: Vietcong soldier to disillusioned American vet.

The evolution of the antiwar movement was of particular interest to me. The killings of four students at Kent State in 1970, for instance, which I was well aware of, nevertheless became deeply personal.

One of the odd takeaways I got was that Hillary Clinton was Lyndon Johnson were the policy wonks who arguably the most qualified in 2016/1960, but that the more TV/media-savvy candidate got the nomination (John Kennedy) or won the election, even though Trump had claimed his sex life was his personal Vietnam.

I saw the criticism of the Burns/Novick work, that “Vietnam was not a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ but a campaign of ‘imperial aggression.'” Surely it was the latter, but I leave room for the possibility that it was the former as well.

August rambling #2: artificial – flowers and televangelists

A Marvin Gaye/Ramones mashup.

librarian.mug

How a ’50s-Era New York Knife Law Landed Thousands in Jail.

Jeff Sharlet interviews Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King.

No matter how sincerely we think we get it, we don’t really get it. “A personal epiphany about race and gender, to my fellow white males.” And Please Stop Being a Good White Person (TM).

Donald Trump Just Stopped Being Funny. “Win or lose, Trump’s campaign threatens to unleash the Great American Stupid.”

About Josh Duggar’s Ashley Madison Account. Am I the only person who had never HEARD of Ashley Madison until this summer? Continue reading “August rambling #2: artificial – flowers and televangelists”

Connecting the historical dots: Ferguson to Charleston

“People should not spend their days mourning relatives they never knew from a war that ended 150 years ago, especially if that feeling is so paramount that it outweighs the sense of brotherhood they might feel toward fellow humans who are alive…”

Little Rock, 1957
Little Rock, 1957
At my relatively diverse, but still primarily white, church, I am the de facto organizer for Black History Month each February. I’ve noticed that 2016 will mark the 90th anniversary of what what was Negro History Week, designed by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. “Besides building self-esteem among blacks, [it] would help eliminate prejudice among whites.”

I think the argument that the United States is “post-racial”, now that Barack Obama has been elected President twice, has been pretty well negated by the events of the past six years. There are those who will seriously argue that because Obama, and for that matter, actress Halle Berry, had white mothers, they shouldn’t be considered black. Anyone passingly aware of the historic obsessive nature of the US government to define race Continue reading “Connecting the historical dots: Ferguson to Charleston”

E is for Eleanor Roosevelt

After FDR died in 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations.

EleanorRooseveltI watched the excellent The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, Ken Burns’s seven-part series on PBS this past fall and became even more impressed with Eleanor Roosevelt than I had been before. She was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the daughter of his brother Elliot.

She married her fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt on St. Patrick’s Day 1905 in New York City, “given away” by her uncle Teddy, who was by then President.

In spite of Franklin’s marital betrayal, which wounded Eleanor greatly, they were a dynamic political couple. She could sometimes say or do things that he, a more pragmatic state legislator, governor and eventually President, could not.

In the summer of 2013, my family visited Val-Kill, her place on the Hudson River not far from the home in Hyde Park that was her mother-in-law’s and where she seldom felt comfortable and welcomed. There is a kiosk there where one could read her My Day columns, which she wrote from 1936 to 1962, the year that she passed away.

After FDR died in 1945, she was appointed by President Truman to be a delegate to the group that would create the United Nations. She became a primary author of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

Check out these Eleanor-centered clips from Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts:
ER Is Born & Elliot Dies
ER and the Red Cross
Her First Step into Politics
ER vs. Sara Delano Roosevelt
ER on Troubled World
ER’s South Pacific Visit
ER Leaves White House

ABC Wednesday – Round 16