This is one of 1122 articles in my book Now and Then Again, The Way We Were and the Way We Are, second edition. The book is available from Amazon for $20.95 print and $9.95 Kindle and also as an ebook from Apple, Kobo, and Scribd for $9.95. It’s fixed format so it’s better with a tablet, laptop, or computer. There are more articles from the book on another blog here. And there is a book preview website .
All Shook Up
“We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the [Viennese] Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last … it is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compression on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”
— From a report on the Prince Regent’s grand ball, The Times of London, July, 1816
The American Federation of Musicians vowed never to play ragtime music at their national meeting in 1901. Ragtime was considered low music by some and was sometimes attacked with a whiff of racism.
The Commissioner of Docks in New York City forbade it in summer pier concerts and the Superintendent of Vacation Schools in New York would not allow ragtime in school music programs..
Thomas Preston Brooke, conductor of the Chicago Marine Band, made music history in 1902 by giving a ragtime only concert at the Cincinnati Zoo, which was so popular he gave two ragtime concerts a week after. Brooke gave a passionate defense of ragtime in the Chicago Tribune in 1902, saying that ragtime was not a fad, that it “pleases the God-given sense of rhythm”, and it will last “for centuries to come after we have been forgotten.”
“Parisians Hiss New Ballet” “Russian Dancer’s Latest offering ‘The Consecration of Spring’ a Failure.” “Has to turn Up Lights.” Manager of Theatre Takes This Means to Stop Hostile Demonstrations as Dance Goes On” headlined The New York Times June 8, 1913.
Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring debuted in Paris on May 29, 1913. The boos started with the opening bars of a bassoon solo so unnaturally high in pitch the instrument was unrecognizable. When the curtain rose on dancers in pagan costume stomping rather than dancing there was laughter which escalated into an uproar that drowned out the music. “As a riot ensued, two factions in the audience attacked each other, then the orchestra, which kept playing under a hail of vegetables and other objects. Forty people were forcibly ejected,” according to a contemporary account by The Guardian (London).
Life Magazine described King of Swing Benny Goodman as “The Pied Piper of the Panty-Waists” in a Speaking of Pictures article in the February 21, 1938 issue. An aside clarified panty-waists to mean adolescents. The article had pictures of youths in various stages of ecstasy listening to swing music. A lover of swing music is a “cat” and cats come in two subtypes: “jitterbugs” and “ickeys.”
“A jitterbug is a cat whose reaction to swing is always intellectual, often physical…” as illustrated by a picture of a young man “who is so stirred that he cannot keep still even when sitting down.” “An ickey is a cat who is affected only emotionally by swing. Ickeys generally contort their faces into ecstatic expressions, emit low expressive noises.”
Dancing to swing (“shag, truckin’, Big Apple, Little Peach”) has alarmed dance-hall proprietors “because the vigor of swing dancing causes dance hall floors to sag.”
When Benny Goodman opened at the Paramount in New York on January 26, “cats swarmed inside to dance and jitter madly in the aisles or, like this ickey, to remain ecstatic in their seats. Moved to religious fervor, she closes her eyes. opens her mouth, gives an unconscious shout and then, almost painfully, subsides.”
Rock and roll is “the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear.”
“It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.”
— Frank Sinatra, in an Associated Press, article October,1957 excerpting an article in Western World (Paris).
“It’s the greatest music ever, and it will continue to be so. I like it, and I’m sure many other persons feel the same way. I also admit it’s the only thing I can do.”
— Elvis Presley from the same article.
In a March 26, 1960 Timex special “Welcome Home Elvis” TV show, Sinatra and Elvis sang Love Me Tender as a duet.
“I too share your concern regarding this type of recording which is being distributed throughout the country and certainly appreciate your bringing it to my attention. It is repulsive to right-thinking people and can have serious effects on out young people.”
— FBI director J. Edgar Hoover replying to a letter from a citizen who called rock and roll “filth.” 1968.
“Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987.
“Quite honestly, hip-hop leaves me cold. But there are some people out there who think it’s the meaning of life. I never really understood why somebody would want to have some gangster from L.A. poking his fingers in your face. As I say, it don’t grab me. I mean, the rhythms are boring; they’re all done on computers.”
— Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, 40th anniversary interview in Rolling Stone Magazine, May 3rd, 2007.
Copyright © 2020 Joseph Mirsky