Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 4, 2007

Holy Cows, Sacred Musical Cows, & The Educator/Cowboy

As Chicago Cub broadcaster Harry Caray used to say, “Holy Cow!”

As in: holy cow, do the Cubs suck! Though perhaps Piniella blowing a gasket this weekend will light a fire under them. 

As in: holy cow, have I been a lazy-ass when it comes to the blog the past two weeks. (Btw, did y’all catch my blog a few months back wherein I discovered Harry Caray was a fellow Italian American? Look it up! I was shocked, though I shouldn’t have been, lovable loudmouth that he was.) I’ve been inspired to write on and off, but lack of follow-thru on those ideas can quickly lead to severe lack of discipline, and having all those ideas fade away into the ether forever. But hopefully I’m back to a few posts a week, now that the school year’s winding down. So don’t give up on me yet…

And holy cow, have I been busy making life interesting for a bunch of little squirts. For example, I did a unit on American popular music at school two weeks ago. I brought in my electric guitar and my son’s electric piano, letting grades K-8 mess around with the piano’s different voices and sound effects (predictably, their favorite sound was of a guy getting punched in the gut –they’re the Playstation generation, after all…).

Plus I let the older kids talk about and play some of their favorite songs, though not as many took me up on my offer as I expected. To help focus the lesson, I used  April’s 40th anniversary edition of Rolling Stone, which included a useful list of “40 Songs That Changed the World”. Here’s what Salon.com’s music critic David Marchese had to say about that list:

Also in honor of the big 4-0, the editors’ have published their list of 40 songs that changed the world. In the past, Rolling Stone’s lists …have too often seemed to reflect the tastes of a particular set of listeners (i.e., white male baby boomers) to be considered truly comprehensive, but this list, topped off by Elvis Presley’s “That’s Alright,” looks pretty good. Aside from a couple of iffy inclusions (Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” really?), the editors did a good job of recognizing the songs that either introduced new subject matter to popular music (“Heroin” by the Velvet Underground), expanded rock’s formal language (The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”) or heralded a cultural sea change (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”).

But I still have some quibbles. The list overlooks some of the folks who helped lay the groundwork for modern rock and pop (Louis Jordan, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie), and also skimps on some seminal moments in rap. I’m curious to know what you think. Take a look at the list and let me know what songs you think are missing or which ones deserve to be taken off. To get you started, here’s my top five songs that are missing from Rolling Stone’s list:

1. “Cross Road Blues,” Robert Johnson

2. “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie

3. “Paranoid,” Black Sabbath

4. “More Than a Feeling,” Boston

5. “Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A.

I also created and passed out to the students my own version of a pop music family tree– inclusive of rock, country, rap, blues, soul, funk, jazz, folk and as many of the most influential styles and artists as I could piece together. Folks like James Brown appear several times on the list (R&B, soul, funk), while postmodern movements like reggaeton–currently big in the Latino comunity–proved hard to categorize (is it descended from reggae, world music, rap, or all of the above and then some?)

I will try to upload the document here, American Music Family Tree (subtitled  “250 Years, One Page”, though you may find it hard to read and use. It’s still fun to debate, though… like who do you think I missed? (For example, I think Nirvana’s originality and influence are somewhat overrated… I’m not sure I even included them by name.) But who else is gonna teach the next generation about Woody Guthrie, David Bowie, The Clash, Grandmaster Flash, Earth, Wind & Fire, and U2’s The Unforgettable Fire if not me?! Youse know how I loves to tie together all those artistic connections that methinks many others don’t see…

And if you’re reading this, and have an opinion, drop me a comment! I really don’t have a handle yet on who drops in here, or why. Like many bloggers, I want at least some reassurance that I’m not just talking to myself (as I talk out of my ass…)


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