Gen-Xers complaining about the loss of “their MTV” (the one that showed videos)
is now itself, a joke. Gen X-enters-midlife inaugural series “Portlandia” went
so far as to feature an episode where Portland-based Xers united with our
Cronkite (Kurt Loder), and our Barbara Walters (Tabitha Soren), and
our ready-made music-guru buddy (Matt Pinfield) to stage a coup against
the channel’s current Gen-Z-oriented, “Teen Mom”-pushing programming director.
She doesn’t care about your nostalgia, Harms
It’s hard to sell someone else on their loss. No one, reasonably, wants to
hear about how great the party (or New York City, or San Francisco) was just
before they got there. So, perhaps against type to my generation, I’d like to
not say what the later-born lost because they were born after MTV was
paved over with boy-band-friendly, gonad-vaporizing “TRL” and insipid reality
shows gone horribly wrong (What hath “The Real World” wrought?).
Instead, I’d like to recall what humanity gained in that early era of videos.
In this post, I’d like to recall and celebrate a director who laid down a
gauntlet to say “We could do this ‘video’ thing with artistry and daring, like
this.” The director was Englishman David Mallet who, in his
visionary collaborations with David Bowie made profoundly memorable,
challenging, and daring videos. Bowie and Mallett’s videos hinted that the
medium could be more than musical ads to sell records. It could be an art form
Typographical Note: I’m using White to denote a social construct of race,
not to denoted an actual racial phenotype.
My default image of “mountain music” is Dolly, or Kenny, or Del McCoury, or Hank
Williams in his rhinestone suit, or Roy Clark “Pickin n’ Grinnin” on “Hee-Haw.”
Something like this:
Such images and their imperial power would have us think that everything in
such tableaux: bib overalls, straw hats, banjos, etc. were all also White.
But Ms. Giddens deflates that idea noting that luted instruments came from
Africa. Think about it: the gourd was the resonating chamber of early lutes,
and gourds grow in Africa not Europe. Luted instruments and the designs
might have been translated into wooden forms in Spain (Moorish invasion) or
Italy (trade with the city-states), but these instruments are fundamentally
As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up exposed to lurid horrors of
American Southern Gothic folklore in school. Even now, I can remember snatches
of songs like this from a version of the circa-1650 ballad “The Twa
He made a bridge of her bone-ridge.
Oh! the dreadful wind and rain
This ballad finds its source in Northumbrian folk tradition. As the English
departed England for homes in Appalachia, these ballads traveled with them. As
the colonists staked their new homes, they stitched into the American folk
songbook these songs of dismembered, disemboweled, drowned, or imprisoned women
(usually with a fiddle and mandolin accompaniment).
Recently, a friend from my childhood neighborhood recalled on Facebook seeing
David Holt spin his ghastly yarns (that I recounted before) with an
incredulous “Does anyone else remember this?” I think there was also some
implicit “Couldn’t do that today.” Her post was a prompt to review my
post on this material.
With those thoughts refreshed, the tradition of the murder ballad was discussed
in an episode of the podcast “Dolly Parton’s America” (a podcast series that I
heartily recommend). I’d like to connect my baptism to that tradition here.
I also wanted to make a note of the vibrancy of this tradition by noting its
influence in the Anglo-Scots folk tradition of Australia, courtesy of Nick
The Murder Ballad in the Australian Folk Tradition: Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue
This video reawoke my Gothic gene from a decade of slumber:
I hadn’t thought of murder ballads much in the ten or so years since my
baptism into the Southern Gothic until one fine day when the music of two
Australians found me on the cobblestone streets of Holland.