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Historical
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Title: Ken Burns Delves into the Hardscrabble History of Country Music
Source: Reason
URL Source: https://reason.com/2019/09/15/ken-b ... bble-history-of-country-music/
Published: Sep 15, 2019
Author: Glenn Garvin
Post Date: 2019-09-16 09:38:45 by Deckard
Ping List: *Music*     Subscribe to *Music*
Keywords: None
Views: 91
Comments: 3

You don’t have to enjoy the genre to find this 16-hour PBS docuseries fascinating.

countrymusic_1161x653

"Country Music" (PBS)

Country Music. PBS. Sunday, September 15, 8 p.m.

PBS documentarian Ken Burns isn't necessarily modern America's most accurate historian or the most analytically insightful.  He is unquestionably, however, the most irresistible storyteller. Whether the subject is Vietnam or Prohibition, Burns fishes out the most captivating characters and their tales, then follows them down twisting paths that defy signposts, yet always pay off.

Country Music, the new 16-hour documentary from Burns and his filmmaking partner Lynn Novick, may be the best example yet of their artful narrative skills. You don't have to like country music at all—in fact, you can despise it—to be swept away by these gloriously eccentric yarns.

A case in point is Sunday night's opening episode, on the hillbilly madmen and hardscrabble church ladies of the early 20th century who stirred the pot of American musical traditions to produce the earliest glimmerings of what would become country music.

There's Atlanta's Fiddlin' John Carson, the first real country star. His frisky bluegrass tunes got him invited as the featured entertainment at rallies of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party. And there's DeFord Bailey, the Nashville shoe shiner who could make his harmonica sound like anything from a train whistle to a bagpipe.  When Bailey shouted "Sic 'em!" at the opening of his signature number, "The Fox Chase," radio listeners wrote in to tell him it made their dogs go nuts.

The business side of country music produced its own crop of oddballs, none more so than Dr. John Brinkley, who accidentally created a national audience for country artists. An ambitious, inventive and slightly nutty (that last being a joke you'll get in a minute) Kansas surgeon who came up with the Viagra of his day—transplanting goat testicles into men.

To advertise his specialty, Brinkley opened one of the first high-powered border-blaster radio stations, the 500,000-watt XER, which could be heard throughout most of North America from its studios just across the Rio Grande in Villa Acuña, Mexico. And when Brinkley realized he needed some entertainment between his testicular sales pitches—voila!—country-music radio was born.

Country Music, though, is not just a catalog of tuneful populist screwballs but a serious history of an American musical movement. Burns and Novick deftly trace country's origins through a stew—"this beautiful sort of boiling American music pot," as one singer puts it—of mordant ballads carried across from the British Isles, church hymnsvaquero campfire songsGerman oompah and African music played on stringed gourds, the ancestor of the American banjo. Some of the most insightful bits of the show are interviews with country artists like Dolly Parton and Carlene Carter, who often break into bits of song to illustrate musical origins and innovations.

For some of these artists, the history in Country Music is more like family gossip. Carter is a third-generation descendent of the Carter Family, a penniless trio of farmers who in 1927 showed up at an open audition at a recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee.

A.P. Carter, his wife, Sarah, and his sister-in-law, Maybelle—on loan from her husband, whose cornfield A.P. had promised to hoe in return for her absence—were lured by the promise of a munificent $50 a song for anything they could persuade the studio to record.

The Carters recorded half a dozen numbers, most of them mountain traditionals they'd been singing around the kitchen table for years. When released, the songs—including the dismal matrimonial ballad "Single Girl, Married Girl"—had a collective impact that's been labeled the Big Bang of Country Music. But the Carters couldn't wait around to see what happened. They had to head home; A.P. had a cornfield to hoe. It's almost as if he were scripting his story for Ken Burns.


Poster Comment:

Watched the first two last night - fascinating indeed. (2 images)

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#1. To: Deckard (#0) (Edited)

There's Atlanta's Fiddlin' John Carson, the first real country star. His frisky bluegrass tunes got him invited as the featured entertainment at rallies of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party.

It's inevitable.

If Ken Burns is doing a "historical retrospective," you can be sure he'll shine the worst of it with a Spot-Light, but the best of it with a dying match-head.

Burns is a good story-teller. Too bad he's a SJW-propagandist and inciter first and foremost.

Liberator  posted on  2019-09-16   17:53:04 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#2. To: Liberator (#1)

If Ken Burns is doing a "historical retrospective," you can be sure he'll shine the worst of it with a Spot-Light, but the best of it with a dying match-head.

Burns is a good story-teller. Too bad he's a SJW-propagandist and inciter first and foremost.

Why is it that everyone has to view things through a political lens? Sure, Burns is most likely a liberal, so what?

Can't people just watch and enjoy a show without their politics being judged, you know what I mean?

There's Atlanta's Fiddlin' John Carson, the first real country star. His frisky bluegrass tunes got him invited as the featured entertainment at rallies of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party.

Of course, some early country stars and even those today have some questionable things in their past - does that mean that they should be ignored?

IMO, there is no overt "agenda" in this documentary series - and even if there was, I'm politically aware enough to not have my core beliefs influenced by any of it.

Government is in the last resort the employment of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards, and hangmen.
The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning.
Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom.

Deckard  posted on  2019-09-17   5:48:50 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


#3. To: Deckard (#2) (Edited)

Why is it that everyone has to view things through a political lens?

Probably because when someone like Ken Burns does a project, HIS political lens is the size of the (fake) Hubble?

Sure, Burns is most likely a liberal, so what?

Can't people just watch and enjoy a show without their politics being judged, you know what I mean?

I get it; Those same liberals have made good music as well. And even good movies. But then again, at some point enough is enough. Nearly EVERY piece of music, TV, movies or art -- even sports -- has a political element to it lately.

My impression in this case? I'll use the case of Burns video series on baseball. It was really good; He went way over the top in SJWing and guilting whitey in his Jackie Robinson Chapter, turning it into a long-winded crusade, and baseball history into his version of a century-long KKK-rally. Yes, a deep dive was necessary. Just not as dominant and lecturing a political theme and importance to the history of baseball was required.

There's Atlanta's Fiddlin' John Carson, the first real country star. His frisky bluegrass tunes got him invited as the featured entertainment at rallies of both the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party.

Of course, some early country stars and even those today have some questionable things in their past - does that mean that they should be ignored?

To what extent will they be mentioned?? And in what context? How deeply was Burns going to dig on the artists who were pedophiles, rapists, or criminality in their history as well?

Let me cite Kate Smith, who has been banished from baseball/hockey tradition and lore because 75 years ago she parodied black people in a song. Context and common sense has been thrown under the bus at the expense of some kind of weird social "Reparations."

IMO, there is no overt "agenda" in this documentary series - and even if there was, I'm politically aware enough to not have my core beliefs influenced by any of it.

You may be right. I'm not into Country enough to watch. But given Burns' SJW slant, I'd be surprised if that element isn't obvious to Country Music historians. The danger about a known liberal tasked with carte blanche on a project to present matters of history for public consumption is that...it inevitably will be calculated AND won't be balanced. IMO.

Liberator  posted on  2019-09-17   12:44:30 ET  Reply   Trace   Private Reply  


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