Listening to music is a fabulous way to spend time. However, learning about the way this music was creates is a nonetheless exciting experience, and When We Were Good by Robert S. Cantwell, as well as The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad by Greil Markus provide such an opportunity. Which is even more exciting, the two books offer a lot of food for thoughts and raise many interesting questions.
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The best thing about When We Were Good is that it helps the readers recall some of their first music experiences, which must have started with the introduction to the world of animated movies. It was rather surprising to find out that famous Joan Baez and Bob Dylan worked on one of the soundtracks to Disney’s masterpiece, Lady and the Tramp, playing the part of the Siamese cats.
Not only did this news expand my understanding of the genres in which Baez and Dylan performed, but also helped realize how important media is in terms of shaping one’s culture, and how well child impressions can be cemented in one’s memory. After reading When We Were Good, a number of people can hear the famous line “We are Siamese, if you please” somewhat differently.
One of the things that made me wonder, though, is the fact that in his essay, “We Did Them Wrong,” Cecil Brown makes a clear statement about “Frankie and Albert” being based off of a single incident. To be more exact, Brown links the ballad to the infamous murder of Allen Britt, which was committed by Frankie Baker earlier. On the one hand, everything from the names in the title of the song to the lyrics points at the fact that the song could be written to honor the memory of Britt and make the audience recall the incident.
On the other hand, nothing in the song states explicitly that these are Allen Britt and Frankie Baker that the author is talking about; for what it is worth, the author could be talking about anyone of the same name, starting from his friends at up to fictional characters. Therefore, Brown’s bold statement about the way in which the song was created and what it was inspired by somehow rubs the wrong way.
However, when it comes to analyzing the author’s original intent and idea, the discussion might turn rather heated, since there is no rule on how to interpret a work. Dave Marsh’s Barbara Allen, for instance, begs a similar question, making one guess whether the title of the most widespread folk song in the U.S. is actually praise or a statement of the song being slowly worn out. There are different schools of thoughts, each offering its own idea of the author’s intent.
Some say that the author’s vision is the only valid one out there; others claim that once the work is open to discussion, it is free to be interpreted any which way the audience sees as possible. Thus, it is reasonable to admit that Brown’s idea of what the song is about has the right to exist, as well as the rest of the opinions on the issue, yet it still can be taken with a grain of salt.
Offering a lot of food for thoughts, The Rose & the Briar: Death, Love and Liberty in the American Ballad helps the readers discover the aspects of the world of music that they have never heard of, revealing the readers new shades of meanings of the songs and compositions that used to seem a well-trodden path.