Daily Archives: February 1, 2017

Voluntary childlessness – Wikipedia

Posted: February 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Voluntary childlessness, also described by some as being childfree, is the lifelong voluntary choice to not have children. This includes avoiding having biological, step, or adopted children.

The usage of the term “childfree” to describe people are those who choose not to have children was coined in the English language late in the 20th century.[1]

In most societies and for most of human history choosing not to have children was both difficult and undesirable. The availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by systems other than traditional familial ones has made childlessness an option for people in developed countries, though they may be looked down upon in certain communities.

The meaning of the term “childfree” extends to encompass the children of others (in addition to ones own children) and this distinguishes it further from the more usual term “childless”, which is traditionally used to express the idea of having no children, whether by choice or by circumstance.[2] The term ‘child free’ has been cited in Australian literature to refer to parents who are without children at the current time. This may be due to them living elsewhere on a permanent basis or a short-term solution such as childcare (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2011).

Supporters of living childfree (e.g. Corinne Maier, French author of “No Kids: 40 Reasons For Not Having Children”) cite various reasons[3] for their view:

According to economist David Foot of the University of Toronto, the level of a woman’s education is the most important factor in determining whether she will reproduce: the higher her level of education, the less likely she is to bear children. (Or if she does, the fewer children she is likely to have.) Overall, researchers have observed childless couples to be more educated, and it is perhaps because of this that they are more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations, more likely for both spouses to earn relatively high incomes, and to live in urban areas. They are also less likely to be religious, subscribe to traditional gender roles, or subscribe to conventional roles.[8]

Being a childfree American adult was considered unusual in the 1950s.[9][10] However, the proportion of childless adults in the population has increased significantly since then. The proportion of childlessness among women aged 40-44 was 10% in 1976, reached a high of 20% in 2005, then declined to 15% in 2014.[11] In Europe, childlessness among women aged 40-44 is most common in Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom (in 2010-2011).[12] Childlessness is least common across Eastern European countries,[13] although one child families are very common there.

From 2007 to 2011 the fertility rate in the U.S. declined 9%, the Pew Research Center reporting in 2010 that the birth rate was the lowest in U.S. history and that childfreeness rose across all racial and ethnic groups to about 1 in 5 versus 1 in 10 in the 1970s.[14] The CDC released statistics in the first quarter of 2016 confirming that the U.S. fertility rate had fallen to its lowest point since record keeping started in 1909: 59.8 births per 1,000 women, half its high of 122.9 in 1957.[15] Even taking the falling fertility rate into account, the U.S. Census Bureau still projected that the U.S. population would increase from 319 million (2014) to 400 million by 2051.[15]

The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of American women of childbearing age who define themselves as childfree (or voluntarily childless) rose sharply in the 1990sfrom 2.4 percent in 1982 to 4.3 percent in 1990 to 6.6 percent in 1995.

In 2010, updated information on childlessness, based on a 2008 US Census Population Survey, was analyzed by Pew Research.[16]

While younger women are more likely to be childless, older women are more likely to state that they intend to remain childless in the future.

Being unmarried is one of the strongest predictors of childlessness. It has also been suggested through research that married individuals who were concerned about the stability of their marriages were more likely to remain childless.

Most studies on this subject find that higher income predicted childlessness. However, some women report that lack of financial resources was a reason why they decided to remain childless. Childless women in the developed world often express the view that women ultimately have to make a choice between motherhood and having a career. The 2004 Census Bureau data showed nearly half of women with annual incomes over $100,000 are childless.

Among women aged 3544, the chance of being childless was far greater for never married women (82.5%) than for ever-married (12.9%). When the same group is analyzed by education level, increasing education correlates with increasing childlessness: not-H.S. graduate (13.5%), H.S. graduate (14.3%), Some College no degree (24.7%), Associate Degree (11.4%), Bachelor’s degree (18.2%) and Graduate or Professional degree (27.6%).[17][18]

Most societies place a high value on parenthood in adult life, so that people who remain childfree are sometimes stereotyped as being “individualistic” people who avoid social responsibility and are less prepared to commit themselves to helping others.[19] However, certain groups believe that being childfree is beneficial. With the advent of environmentalism and concerns for stewardship, those choosing to not have children are also sometimes recognized as helping reduce our impact, such as members of the voluntary human extinction movement. Some childfree are sometimes applauded on moral grounds, such as members of philosophical or religious groups, like the Shakers.

There are three broad areas of criticism regarding childfreeness, based upon socio-political, feminist or religious reasons. There are also considerations relating to personal philosophy and social roles.

Childfreedom may no longer be considered the ‘best’ way to be feminist. Once a paragon of second-wave feminism, the nullipara (childless or childfree woman) is not typically described in third-wave feminism as being superior to, or more feminist than, women who choose to have children. Feminist author Daphne DeMarneffe links larger feminist issues to both the devaluation of motherhood in contemporary society, as well as the delegitimization of “maternal desire” and pleasure in motherhood.[20] In third-wave handbook Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards explore the concept of third-wave feminists reclaiming “girlie” culture, along with reasons why women of Baby Boomer and Generation X ages may reject motherhood because, at a young and impressionable age, they witnessed their own mothers being devalued by society and family.[21]

On the other hand, in “The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order”[22] and in Utne Reader magazine, third-wave feminist writer Tiffany Lee Brown described the joys and freedoms of childfree living, freedoms such as travel previously associated with males in Western culture. In “Motherhood Lite,” she celebrates being an aunt, co-parent, or family friend over the idea of being a mother.[23] Nonetheless, in 2010, Brown gave birth to a son.

However as the point of feminism is for women to make their own choices, child freedom is considered one of those choices.

Some believe that overpopulation is a serious problem and some question the fairness of what they feel amount to subsidies for having children, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (US), free K12 education paid for by all taxpayers, family medical leave, and other such programs.[24] Others, however, do not believe overpopulation to be a problem in itself; regarding such problems as overcrowding, global warming, and straining food supplies to be problems of public policy and/or technology.[25]

Some have argued that this sort of conscientiousness is self-eliminating (assuming it is heritable), so by avoiding reproduction for ethical reasons the childfree will only aid deterioration of concern for the environment and future generations.[26]

Some regard governmental or employer-based incentives offered only to parentssuch as a per-child income tax credit, preferential absence planning, employment legislation, or special facilitiesas intrinsically discriminatory, arguing for their removal, reduction, or the formation of a corresponding system of matching incentives for other categories of social relationships. Childfree advocates argue that other forms of caregiving have historically not been considered equalthat “only babies count”and that this is an outdated idea that is in need of revision. Caring for sick, disabled, or elderly dependents entails significant financial and emotional costs but is not currently subsidized in the same manner. This commitment has traditionally and increasingly fallen largely on women, contributing to the feminization of poverty in the U.S.[27]

The focus on personal acceptance is mirrored in much of the literature surrounding choosing not to reproduce. Many early books were grounded in feminist theory and largely sought to dispel the idea that womanhood and motherhood were necessarily the same thing, arguing, for example, that childfree people face not only social discrimination but political discrimination as well.[24]

Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam place a high value on children and their central place in marriage. In numerous works, including an Apostolic letter written in 1988,[28]Pope John Paul II has set forth the Roman Catholic emphasis on the role of children in family life. However, the Catholic Church also stresses the value of chastity in the non-married state of life and so approves of nominally childfree ways of life for the single. Some religious interpretations hold that any couple who marries with the intention of not producing children is not married within the church.

There are, however, some debates within religious groups about whether a childfree lifestyle is acceptable. Another view, for example, is that the biblical text Gen. 1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply,” is really not a command but a blessing formula and that while there are many factors to consider as far as people’s motives for remaining childless, there are many valid reasons, including dedicating one’s time to demanding but good causes, why Christians may choose to remain childless for a short time or a lifetime.[29] Matthew 19:12 describes Jesus as listing three types of eunuchs including one type who chooses it intentionally, noting that whoever is willing to become one, should. Furthermore, in two different places in the Bible, Luke as well as Matthew, Jesus himself warns against having children in the end times. Also, Jesus as well as Paul, to name a few of several men as well as women, are childless.

Brian Tomasik cites ethical reasons for people to remain childfree. Also, they will have more time to focus on themselves, which will allow for greater creativity and the exploration of personal ambitions. In this way, they may benefit themselves and society more than if they had a child.[30]

Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such a choice to be “selfish”. The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity and so not engaging in this activity must therefore mean living one’s life in service to one’s self. The value judgment behind this idea is that individuals should endeavor to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world, but also that the best way to make such a contribution is to have children. For some people, one or both of these assumptions may be true, but others prefer to direct their time, energy, and talents elsewhere, in many cases toward improving the world that today’s children occupy (and that future generations will inherit).[31]

Proponents of childfreedom posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. Choosing to have children may be the more selfish choice, especially when poor parenting risks creating many long term problems for both the children themselves and society at large.[32] As philosopher David Benatar[33] explains, at the heart of the decision to bring a child into the world often lies the parents’ own desires (to enjoy child-rearing or perpetuate one’s legacy/genes), rather than the potential person’s interests. At very least, Benatar believes this illustrates why a childfree person may be just as altruistic as any parent.

There is also the question as to whether having children really is such a positive contribution to the world in an age when there are many concerns about overpopulation, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some critics counter that such analyses of having children may understate its potential benefits to society (e.g. a greater labor force, which may provide greater opportunity to solve social problems) and overstate the costs. That is, there is often a need for a non-zero birth rate.[34]

Childfree individuals do not necessarily share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent childfree organizations tend to be social in nature. Childfree social groups first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, most notable among them the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood and No Kidding! in North America where numerous books have been written about childfree people and where a range of social positions related to childfree interests have developed along with political and social activism in support of these interests. The term “childfree” was used in a July 3, 1972 Time article on the creation of the National Organization for Non-Parents.[35] It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.[36]

The National Organization for Non-Parents (N.O.N.) was begun in Palo Alto, CA by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl in 1972. N.O.N. was formed to advance the notion that men and women could choose not to have childrento be childfree. Changing its name to the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood, it continued into the early 1980s both as a support group for those making the decision to be childfree and an advocacy group fighting pronatalism (attitudes/advertising/etc. promoting or glorifying parenthood). According to its bylaws, the purpose of the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood was to educate the public on non-parenthood as a valid lifestyle option, support those who choose not to have children, promote awareness of the overpopulation problem, and assist other groups that advanced the goals of the organization. N.O.N.’s offices were located in Reisterstown, MD; then Baltimore, MD; and, ultimately, in Washington, D.C. N.O.N. designated August 1 as Non-Parents’ Day.Just as people with children come from all shades of the political spectrum and temper their beliefs accordingly, so do the childfree. For example, while some childfree people think of government welfare to parents as “lifestyle subsidies,” others accept the need to assist such individuals but think that their lifestyle should be equally compensated. Still others accept the need to help out such individuals and also do not ask for subsidies of their own.

There are suggestions of an emergence of political cohesion, for example an Australian Childfree Party (ACFP) proposed in Australia as a childfree political party, promoting the childfree lifestyle as opposed to the family lifestyle.[citation needed] Increasing politicization and media interest has led to the emergence of a second wave of childfree organizations that are openly political in their raisons d’tre, with a number of attempts to mobilize political pressure groups in the U.S. The first organization to emerge was British, known as Kidding Aside. The childfree movement has not had significant political impact.

More recently, websites such as Reddit have created online communities specifically for childfree people. As of October 11, 2016 the Reddit Childfree community boasts of having 108,847 subscribers or ‘jet ski owners’.[37] The Reddit Childfree community has created many resources specifically for the Childfree. The Reddit Childfree community has created their own list of nearby Childfree friendly doctors who will perform sterilization procedures without hassle. The Reddit Childfree community also provides links to specialized services such as a Childfree focused dating site YesChildfree, a dating site created by Reddit user ‘YesChildfree’ in March 2016 to cater to the Childfree community that have no interest in dating a parent or person who would want to become a parent that are often found on mainstream dating websites.[38]

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Mommyjacking The Childfree Life – STFU Parents

Posted: at 4:58 pm

If I had to pick one subject thats emblematic of STFU, Parents, it would probably be mommyjacking. Nothing makes a person want to shatter a windshield more than a good mommyjacking round-up, especially when the examples surround people who are childfree. Weve examined this phenomenon before with posts like Have a Kid! and Wait Til You Have Kids,yet parents continue to bully, patronize, and generally annoy the living shit out of their friends by making weird parenting-related comments at the dumbest and/or worst of times.

This much is clear not just in my inbox, but on newsstands, too. Take a look at the TIME magazine cover storyThe Childfree Life,which inspired a lot of conversation online as well asmy new Mommyish columnand this post. The media will never stop comparing childfree/childless people and parents something I canpersonallyattest to even though the subject is suuuper boring, and its still as irritating as ever (if not more so) when parents condescend to their friends just for not having kids. Whats the point? Cant we all just get along?? Lets check out some more examples of parents mommyjacking their selfish, clueless, and unimpressive non-parent friends:

1. Congratulations, You Dont KnowShit

Its taken a few years, but Zoeys comment might trumpthis mommyjackingin its display of earnest assholishness, which is a real feat. Congratulations on being the yin to Karas yang, Zoey. The world stays balanced because of people like you.

2. Nursejacking

Adriennes cryptic-sounding status update isnt so cryptic to her Facebook friends, who know shes been working toward becoming a nurse for some time now. That said, becoming a nurse cant really compare to becoming a mom, PLUS nurses get paid! What kind of BS is that? Pay nurses for knowing how to treat a stab wound to the trachea, but dont pay moms for doing almost the exact same thing? Thats called discrimination.

3. The Dog/Baby Void

Oh,dog people.When will they ever learn that you can never fill a baby void with dogs. German Shepherds, English Bulldogs, pitbull-Jack Russell-terrier muttsthe list goes on and on. You can try to fit as many as 100 beautiful rescue pups into that baby-shaped void, but NOTHING will fill it like a human baby. Its like trying to fit a St. Bernardinto a Baby Bjorn. Not gonna happen.

4. Sun-kiss That Tan Goodbye

Aww, you got engaged andyourso tan! Really adorable considering you have no ideawhat will happen once kids enter the picture..LOL hope you had fun with THAT. Ask yourself one question: Have you ever met a mother whose tan is even? LOL thats what I thought!! Sucker. Just wait. 🙂

5. Enjoy those days

Im considering staging an Apostrophe Intervention because my eyes are so tired of reading plural words with apostrophes. For the love of god, if youre going to mommyjack, do it with some class. Or, heres a thought: Dont do it at all, because it leads to comment threads like this one.First, Red pops in with the old, Holy shit, NOON???, which I can actually understand from a (non-parent) parents perspective. From there, however, it goes from patronizing doll days to Ugh. Ditto on the kids. which is *kind of*another way of saying, Bitch, please.

Ultimately, sleep is a parent vs. non-parent battle that will never be won. As much as it sucks that parents parents never get to sleep in, its also sucky to begrudge a friend who doesnt have kids for doing so. Dont hate the sleeper, hate the nap. Or the wailing child whos keeping you up. You know what I mean.

Dont forget to check out my new column’How Not To Mommyjack Your Childfriend Friendsover on Mommyish!

(submitted by Anonymous)

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Attention economy – Wikipedia

Posted: at 4:54 pm

Attention economics is an approach to the management of information that treats human attention as a scarce commodity, and applies economic theory to solve various information management problems. Put simply by Matthew Crawford, “Attention is a resourcea person has only so much of it.”[1]

In this perspective Thomas H. Davenport and J. C. Beck define the concept of attention as:

Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act. (Davenport & Beck 2001, p.20)

As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information.[2] A number of software applications either explicitly or implicitly take attention economy into consideration in their user interface design, based on the realization that if it takes the user too long to locate something, they will find it through another application. This is done, for instance, by creating filters to make sure the first content a viewer sees is relevant, of interest, or with the approval of demographics.[3] An attention-based advertising scheme may say they are measuring the number of “eyeballs” by which their content is seen.[4]

Herbert A. Simon was perhaps the first person to articulate the concept of attention economics when he wrote:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” (Simon 1971, pp.4041).

He noted that many designers of information systems incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity, and as a result they built systems that excelled at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information (Simon 1996, pp.143144).

In recent years, Simon’s characterization of the problem of information overload as an economic one has become more popular. Business strategists such as Thomas H. Davenport or Michael H. Goldhaber have adopted the term “attention economy” (Davenport & Beck 2001).

Some writers have even speculated that “attention transactions” will replace financial transactions as the focus of our economic system (Goldhaber 1997, Franck 1999). Information systems researchers have also adopted the idea, and are beginning to investigate mechanism designs which build on the idea of creating property rights in attention (see Applications).

According to digital culture expert Kevin Kelly, the modern attention economy is increasingly one where the consumer product costs nothing to reproduce and the problem facing the supplier of the product lies in adding valuable intangibles that cannot be reproduced at any cost. He identifies these intangibles as:[5]

Attention economy is also relevant to the social sphere. More specifically, long term attention can also be considered according to the attention that a person dedicates managing its interactions with others. Dedicating too much attention to these interactions can lead to “social interaction overload”, i.e. when people are overwhelmed in managing their relationships with others, for instance in the context of social network services in which people are the subject of a high level of social solicitations. Digital media and the internet facilitate participation in this economy, by creating new channels for distributing attention. Ordinary people are now empowered to reach a wide audience by publishing their own content and commenting on the content of others.[6]

Social attention can also be associated to collective attention, i.e. how “attention to novel items propagates and eventually fades among large populations.” (Wu & Huberman 2007)

“Attention economics” treats a potential consumer’s attention as a resource.[7] Traditional media advertisers followed a model that suggested consumers went through a linear process they called AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Attention is therefore a major and the first stage in the process of converting non-consumers. Since the cost to transmit advertising to consumers is now sufficiently low that more ads can be transmitted to a consumer (e.g. via online advertising) than the consumer can process, the consumer’s attention becomes the scarce resource to be allocated. Dolgin also states that a superfluidity of information may hinder the decision making of an individual who keeps searching and comparing products as long as it promises to provide more than it is using up.[8]

One application treats various forms of information (spam, advertising) as a form of pollution or ‘detrimental externality’. In economics an externality is a by-product of a production process that imposes burdens (or supplies benefits), to parties other than the intended consumer of a commodity. For example; air and water pollution are negative externalities which impose burdens on society and the environment.

A market-based approach to controlling externalities was outlined in Ronald Coase’s The Problem of Social Cost (Coase 1960). This evolved from an article on the Federal Communications Commission (Coase 1959), in which Coase claimed that radio frequency interference is a negative externality that could be controlled by the creation of property rights.

Coase’s approach to the management of externalities requires the careful specification of property rights and a set of rules for the initial allocation of the rights. Once this has been achieved, a market mechanism can theoretically manage the externality problem. The solution is not necessarily simple in its application to media content (Hay 1996).

Sending huge numbers of e-mail messages costs spammers very little, since the costs of e-mail messages are spread out over the internet service providers that distribute them (and the recipients who must spend attention dealing with them). Thus sending out as much spam as possible is a rational strategy: even if only 0.001% of recipients (1 in 100,000) is converted into a sale, a spam campaign can be profitable (Mangalindan 2002). Spammers are demanding valuable attention from potential customers, but they are avoiding paying a fair price for this attention due to the current architecture of e-mail systems.

One way this might be implemented is by charging senders a small fee per e-mail sent, often referred to as a “Sender Bond.” It might be close to free for an advertiser to send a single e-mail message to a single recipient, but sending that same e-mail to 1000 recipients would cost him 1000 times as much. A 2002 experiment with this kind of usage-based e-mail pricing found that it caused senders to spend more effort targeting their messages to recipients who would find them relevant, thus shifting the cost of deciding whether a given e-mail message is relevant from the recipient to the sender (Kraut 2002).

Closely related is the idea of selling “interrupt rights,” or small fees for the right to demand one’s attention (Fahlman 2002). The cost of these rights could vary according to the interruptee: interrupt rights for the CEO of a Fortune 500 company would presumably be extraordinarily expensive, while those of a high school student might be lower. Costs could also vary for an individual depending on context, perhaps rising during the busy holiday season and falling during the dog days of summer. Interruptees could decline to collect their fees from friends, family, and other welcome interrupters.

Another idea in this vein is the creation of “attention bonds,” small warranties that some information will not be a waste of the recipient’s time, placed into escrow at the time of sending (Loder, Van Alstyne & Wash 2004). Like the granters of interrupt rights, receivers could cash in their bonds to signal to the sender that a given communication was a waste of their time or elect not to cash them in to signal that more communication would be welcome.

Supporters of attention markets for controlling spam claim that their solutions are superior to the alternatives for managing uses of information systems on which there is no consensus on the question of whether it is pollution or not. For example, the use of e-mail or text messages for rallying political support or by non-profit charitable organizations may be considered spam by some users but legitimate use by others. Laws against spam put the power to make this decision in the hands of government, while technological solutions like filtering technologies put it in the hands of private companies or technologically savvy users. A market-based solution, on the other hand, allows the possibility of individual negotiation over the worth of a given message rather than a unilateral decision by a controlling party (Loder, Van Alstyne & Wash 2004, p.10). Such negotiation itself consumes attention and carries with it an attention cost, though.

As search engines have become the primary means for finding and accessing information on the web, high rankings in the results for certain queries have become valuable commodities, due to the ability of search engines to focus searchers’ attention. Like other information systems, web search is vulnerable to pollution: “Because the Web environment contains profit seeking ventures, attention getting strategies evolve in response to search engine algorithms” (Page 1998). It is estimated that successful exploitation of such strategies, known as web spam, is a potential $4.5 billion per year business (Singhal 2004, p.16).

Since most major search engines now rely on some form of PageRank (recursive counting of hyperlinks to a site) to determine search result rankings, a gray market in the creation and trading of hyperlinks has emerged. Participants in this market engage in a variety of practices known as link spamming, link farming, and reciprocal linking.

However, as opponents of the “nofollow” attribute point out, while this solution may make it incrementally easier for search engines to detect link spam, it does not appreciably change the incentive structure for link spammers unless 100% of existing systems are upgraded to support the standard: as long as some critical mass of spammable sites exists, link spam will continue. Furthermore, the “nofollow” attribute does nothing to combat link farming or reciprocal linking. There is also a philosophical question of whether the links of site commentators (as opposed to site owners) should be treated as “second-class,” leading to the claim that the attribute “heists commentators’ earned attention” (NoNoFollow.net 2005).

Another issue, similar to the issue discussed above of whether or not to consider political e-mail campaigns as spam, is what to do about politically motivated link campaigns or Google bombs (Tatum 2005). Currently the major search engines do not treat these as web spam, but this is a decision made unilaterally by private companies. There is no opportunity for negotiation over the question of what is an appropriate use of attention expressed through hyperlinking. It remains to be seen[vague] whether a market-based approach might provide more flexible handling of these gray areas.

The paid inclusion model, as well as more pervasive advertising networks like Yahoo! Publisher Network and Google’s AdSense, work by treating consumer attention as the property of the search engine (in the case of paid inclusion) or the publisher (in the case of advertising networks). This is somewhat different from the anti-spam uses of property rights in attention, which treat an individual’s attention as his or her own property.

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A History of Country Music – Scaruffi

Posted: at 4:45 pm

(These are excerpts from my book “A History of Popular Music”) Country Music Southern States: Hillbilly Music

In 1910 ethnomusicologist John Lomax published “Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads” (that followed by two years the first known collection of cowboy songs), and in 1916 Cecil Sharp began publishing hundreds of folk songs from the Appalachian mountains (or, better, the Cumberland Mountains, at the border between Kentucky and Tennessee), two events that sparked interest for the white musical heritage, although the world had to wait until 1922 before someone, Texan fiddler Eck Robertson, cut the first record of “old-time music”. These collections created the myth of the Appalachians as remote sanctuaries of simple, noble life, whose inhabitants, the “mountaneers”, isolated from the evils of the world embodied the true American spirit. Many of those regions were not settled until 1835, and then they were settled by very poor immigrants, thus creating a landscape of rather backwards communities, still attached to their traditions but also preoccupied with the daily struggle for survival.

In 1922, a radio station based in Georgia (WSM) was the first to broadcast folk songs to its audience. A little later, a radio station from Fort Worth, in Texas (WBAP), launched the first “barn dance” show. In june 1923, 55-year old Georgia’s fiddler John Carson recorded (in Atlanta) two “hillbilly” (i.e., southern rural) songs, an event that is often considered the official founding of “country” music (although Texas fiddler Eck Roberton had already recorded the year before). The recording industry started dividing popular music into two categories: race music (that was only black) and hillbilly music (that was only white). The term “hillbilly” was actually introduced by “Uncle” Dave Macon’s Hill Billie Blues (1924). In 1924, Chicago’s radio station WLS (originally “World’s Largest Store”) began broadcasting a barn dance that could be heard throughout the Midwest.

With When The Work’s All Done This Fall (1925), Texas-bred Carl Sprague became the first major musician to record cowboy songs (the first “singing cowboy” of country music). And, finally, in 1925, Nashville’s first radio station (WSM) began broadcasting a barn dance that would eventually change name to “Grand Ole Opry”. Country music was steaming ahead. Labels flocked to the South to record singing cowboys, and singing cowboys were exhibited in the big cities of the North.

Among the most literate songwriters were Texas-born Goebel Reeves, who penned The Drifter (1929), Blue Undertaker’s Blues (1930), Hobo’s Lullaby (1934) and The Cowboy’s Prayer (1934), i.e. a mixture of hobo and cowboy songs, and Tennessee-born Harry McClintock, the author of the hobo ballads Big Rock Candy Mountain (1928) and Hallelujah Bum Again (1926).

Country music was a federation of styles, rather than a monolithic style. Its origins were lost in the early decades of colonization, when the folk dances (Scottish reels, Irish jigs, and square dances, the poor man’s version of the French “cotillion” and “quadrille”) and the British ballad got transplanted into the new world and got contaminated by the religious hymns of church and camp meetings. The musical styles were reminiscent of their British ancestors. The lyrics, on the other hand, were completely different. The Americans disliked the subject of love, to which they preferred pratical issues such as real-world experiences (ranching, logging, mining, railroads) and real-world tragedies (bank robberies, natural disasters, murders, train accidents).

The instrumentation included the banjo, introduced by the African slaves via the minstrel shows, the Scottish “fiddle” (the poor man’s violin, simplified so that the fiddler could also sing) and the Spanish guitar (an instrument that became popular in the South only around 1910). Ironically, as more and more blacks abandoned the banjo and adopted the guitar, the banjo ended up being identified with white music, while the guitar ended up being identified as black music. For example, Hobart Smith learned to play from black bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson, but went on to play the banjo while Jefferson played the guitar.

The role of these instruments was more rhythmic than melodic, because most performances were solo, without percussion. Some regions added their own specialties (such as the accordion in Louisiana), but mostly white music was based on stringed instruments. When not performed solo, it was performed by string bands, particularly after the 1920s, when the first recordings allowed musicians to actually make a living out of their “old-time music”. The string bands of the 1920s included Charlie Poole’s North Carolina Ramblers, that augmented the repertory of old-time music with songs from minstrel and vaudeville shows, Ernest Stoneman’s Dixie Mountaineers, and finally (but the real trend-setters for string bands) the hillbilly supergroup Skillet Lickers, formed in 1926 and featuring Riley Puckett on guitar, Gideon Tanner and Clayton McMichen on fiddles (and all of them on vocals), the first ones to record Red River Valley (1927).

The “hillbilly” format (led by the guitar and a bit more “cosmopolitan”) was more popular in the plains, while the “mountain” format of the Appalachians (dominated by fiddle and banjo) remained relatively sheltered from urban and African-American influences.

Solo artists, or “ramblers”, became popular after World War I, but often had to move to New York to make recordings. Some of them specialized in “event” songs, songs that chronicled contemporary events, such as Henry Whitter’s The Wreck Of The Old 97 (1923), that may have been the first “railroad song” (but actually used the melody of the traditional The Ship That Never Returned), later recorded by New York’s singer Vernon Dalhart (1924) for the national audience (perhaps the first hit of country music), Andrew Jenkins’ Death Of Floyd Collins, also first recorded by Dalhart (1926), about a mining accident, and Bob Miller’s Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat (1928), Dry Votin’ (1929), and especially Twentyone Years (1930), perhaps the first “prison song”. Miller was, by far, the most prolific, writing thousands of hillbilly songs.

Hillbilly musicians also dealt with the opposite genre, the novelty song: Wendell Hall’s ukulele novelty It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo (1923), Carson Robison’s whistling novelty Nola (1926), Frank Luther’s comic sketch Barnacle Bill The Sailor (1928).

Very few of these singers were of country origins: Vernon Dalhart, Carson Robison and Bob Miller were New York singers who became famous singing hillbilly songs (and sometimes composing them, as in the case of Robison and Miller).

The real country musicians had been known mainly for their instrumental bravura. A national fiddle contest had been organized in Georgia already in 1917 (by the Old Time Fiddlers Organization). Two musicians important in the transition from the quiet and linear “mountain” style and the fast and syncopated “bluegrass” style were banjoists Charlie Poole of the North Carolina Ramblers (Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, 1925; White House Blues, 1926, better known as Cannonball Blues), and “Uncle” Dave Macon, the main “collector” of old-time music and one of the best-sold artists during the Roaring Twenties (Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy, 1924; Chewing Gum, 1924; Sail Away Ladies, 1927). If these two already used the banjo as much more than a mere rhythmic device, Dock Boggs was perhaps the first white banjoist to play the instrument like a blues guitar (in 1927 he recorded six plantation blues numbers and Sugar Baby, that was rockabilly ante-litteram). Sam McGee was one of the first to play the guitar like a bluesman, starting with Railroad Blues (1928). Georgia’s blind guitarist Riley Puckett, the author of My Carolina Home (1927), played a key role in transforming the guitar from percussion instrument to accompanying instrument.

Un until the late 1920s, hillbilly artists were considered comedians as much as musicians. Many of them had a repertory of both songs and skits. The Skillet Lickers were probably instrumental in creating the charisma of the country musician, as opposed to the image of the hillbilly clown.

The Hawaian steel guitar, invented by Joseph Kekuku around 1885 in Honolulu, was a late addition to the line-up of string bands. The incidental music to Richard Walton Tully’s play Bird of Paradise (1912) popularized the ukulele and the steel guitar in the USA, as did the Hawaiian pavillion at the “Panama Pacific Exhibition” of San Francisco in 1915. On The Beach At Waikiki (1915), composed by Henry Kailimai and Sonny Cunha, started a nation-wide craze. In 1916 all the record labels started selling records of Hawaiian music, including Sonny Cunha’s Everybody Hula (1916), Richard Whiting’s Along the Way to Waikiki (1917), Hawaiian Butterfly (1917), composed by Billy Baskette and Joseph Santly, and Walter Blaufuss’ My Isle of Golden Dreams (1919). Hawaiian steel-guitar virtuoso Frank Ferera toured internationally. He had debuted on record with Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home (1915). The craze subsided in the 1920s, but the steel guitar (first recorded by a hillbilly musician in 1927) would become more and more popular in the repertory of country music.

The first stars of the hillbilly genre were the members of the Virginia-based Carter Family, basically a vocal trio (Sara on lead vocals and autohapr, Alvin on bass vocals, and Maybelle on alto vocals and on guitar) that started out in 1926 and first recorded in 1927. Unlike their peers, who emphasized the instrumental sound, the Carter Family focused on songs. Collectively, they wrote over 300 songs, including classics such as Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone (1928), Keep On The Sunny Side (1928), a cover of Theodore Morse’s 1906 song, Foggy Mountain Top (1929), My Clinch Mountain Home (1929), Worried Man Blues (1930), Can The Circle Be Unbroken (1935), No Depression (1936), and especially Wildwood Flower (1928), a traditional first published in 1860 that Maybelle turned into a guitar masterwork. Their vocal style was the quintessence of the “close-harmony” style of country music. Later, Maybelle (who plucked the melody on the bass strings) formed her own quartet with her three daughters (among whom June wrote Ring Of Fire and Helen wrote Poor Old Heartsick Me).

In 1924 with his first recording, Rock All Our Babies To Sleep, blind Georgia’s guitarist Riley Puckett (already a radio star) introduced the “yodeling” style of singing (originally from the Swiss and Austrian Alps) into country music, the style adopted in 1927 by the first star of country music, Mississippi’s Jimmie Rodgers, who wed it to the Hawaian slide guitar and, de facto, invented the white equivalent of the blues with T For Texas (1927), Waiting For A Train (1928), In The Jailhouse Now (1928), Mule Skinner Blues (1930). Ironically (but also tellingly), Jimmie Rodgers became the first star of this very white phenomenon by being the most influenced by the very black music of the blues. The year he died (1933) was a watershed year for country music.

Rodgers was influential in creating the myth of the Far West, which had already been fueled by the cowboy songs of Carl Sprague and Goebel Reeves. Thus “country” music became “country & western” music. Originally, country music was mainly from the Southeastern states (Virginia, Tennesse, Kentucky and neighboring states). But now the audience was becoming fascinated with the Southwestern states (Texas and neihboring states). The romantic allure of the mountain dweller was slowly being replaced by the romantic allure of the roaming cowboy.

Another country musician who, like Rodgers, harked back to the blues, was Louisiana’s singer-songwriter Jimmie Davis whose songbook was no less impressive: Pistol Packin’ Papa (1929), Organ Grinder’s Blues (1929), Pussy Blues (1929), Nobody’s Darling But Mine (1935), It Makes No Difference Now (1938), You Are My Sunshine (1939).

In the meantime, two new styles were emerging: honky-tonk and western-swing. And two instruments debuted in those years that would become the staple of rock bands: Adolph Rickenbacker invented (1931) the electric guitar and Laurens Hammond invented (1933) the Hammond organ. The steel guitar was electrified shortly afterwards, and enthusiastically embraced by country musicians (another sign that the trend was away from the mountain purists).

It was Texas singer-songwriter Gene Autry’s Silver Hairde Daddy Of Mine (1931) a big hit that launched the “honky-tonk” style of country music. Debuting in the film Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935), Autry (who in real life was not a cowboy at all) was also the first of the “singing cowboys” of Hollywood (before Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Johnny Bond, Jimmy Wakely) that contributed to move country music (originally an eastern phenomenon) to the “far west”, at least in the popular imagination. He also recorded Mother Jones (1931), a labor song, besides a long list of western-flavored songs, such as Mexicali Rose (1936). Roy Rogers and songwriters Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer formed the genre’s supergroup, the Sons Of Pioneers, who composed some of the genre’s classics, starting with Bob Nolan’s Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds (1927).

Clyde “Red” Foley was the star of Chicago, popularizing country music in the big city with Old Shep (1935) and Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy (1950).

By now “hillbilly” was no longer a positive attribute, but rather a derogatory one, and thus “country & western” came to connote all white southern music. The performers wore country attires and mimicked the slang of cowboys. The fascination with the West spread to the big cities of the North thanks to fake hillbilly songs written by professional Tin Pan Alley songwriters, such as Bill Hill’s The Last Roundup (1933), actually a catchy tune in the Broadway style, but nonetheless influential in creating the vogue of the Far West. This enabled Tex Ritter, who had never been cowboy but simply a rodeo attraction, to become a star in New York, thanks to his Texan accent, and then (1936) in Hollywood (Rock’n’Rye Rag, 1948).

Both honky-tonk and western-swing were, de facto, by-products of the shift of country music towards the western states (i.e. Texas).

In 1932 vocalist Milton Brown and fiddler Bob Wills cut the first records of a kind of country music influenced by jazz that was later dubbed “western swing” (by Foreman Phillips in 1944). Basically, the country & western music of rural towns merged with the swing of the big bands of urban jazz. The two pioneers then split. Brown’s combo, the Musical Brownies, featuring fiddler Cecil Brower (who introduced Joe Venuti’s style to country music), jazz pianist Fred Calhoun, Bob Dunn on one of the first amplified steel guitars and a rhythm section influenced by ragtime, ruled in Texas, while Wills’ Texas Playboys, based in Oklahoma and featuring a country string section and a jazz horn section, and now fronted by Tommy Duncan, debuted on record in 1935 (with Osage Stomp, reminiscent of Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band) and went on to produce Steel Guitar Rag (1936), New San Antonio Rose (1940), their greatest hit, recorded with an 18-piece band, perhaps the first nation-wide hits of country music. Time Changes Everything (1940), Smoke on the Water (1944), New Spanish Two Step (1946).

From 1936 Chicago’s fiddler and accordionist Frank “Pee Wee” King, who wrote Bonaparte’s Retreat, Tennessee Waltz and Slow Poke (1950), led the most popular of the western swing bands, the Golden West Cowboys.

After the war, Spade Cooley (in Los Angeles) introduced a variant of western swing that de-emphasized the brass and reeds while returning to the more traditional sound of pop orchestras.

Western Swing marked the transition from the archaic string-bands to the dancehall orchestras. These bands were responsible for the introduction into country music of instruments such as drums, horns and electric guitar.

Texas singer Al Dexter had hits in both the honky-tonk style, such as Honky Tonk Blues (1934), and the western-swing style, such as Pistol Packin’ Mama (1942), boasting a revolutionary arrangement of accordion, trumpet and steel guitar. San Diego’s pianist Merrill Moore did the same after World War II, achieving a synthesis in songs such as House Of Blue Lights (1953) that heralded rock’n’roll.

The other major genre to surface during the 1930s was bluegrass music, but this one originated in the traditional southeastern areas (“bluegrass country” being the nickname of Kentucky). Several vocalist-instrumentalist couples had appeared (particularly brothers) that played a more spirited music devoted to domestic themes.

Alabama’s guitar-based Delmore Brothers (Alton was the main composer and lead vocalist) were instrumental in popularizing the “brothers style” thanks to their tenure with the “Grand Ole Opry” between 1932 and 1938. They were also important for bridging the world of white music and the world of black music. Their songs were bluesy, and they often interpreted gospel songs. Their greatest hits were in fact blues numbers, from Brown’s Ferry Blues (1933) to Blues Stay Away from Me (1949). In 1944 they added the bluesy harmonica of Wayne Raney, and in 1946 they added electric guitar and drums. That is when they recorded their series of breathless boogies, one step away from rock’n’roll: Hillbilly Boogie (1945), Freight Train Boogie (1946), Mobile Boogie (1948), Pan American Boogie (1950). Other famous numbers were Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar, Midnight Special, Beautiful Brown Eyes (1951).

Another “brother act” was that of the Blue Sky Boys, formed by Bill and Earl Bolick (respectively, mandolin and guitar), perhaps the most faithful to the “mountain” tradition in their versions of Sunny Side Of Life (1935), Down On The Banks of the Ohio (1936), Story of the Knoxville Girl (1937), Are You From Dixie (1939), Turn Your Radio On (1940).

The bluegrass style, that originated in the 1920s from both Kentucky and Bristol, on the Virginia-Tennessee border, was a by-product of the “brother style”, except that it was fast, virtuoso and sometimes instrumental-only “mountain music” (the country equivalent of the dixieland in jazz). It derived from the string bands of the 1920s, with a banjo, fiddle, and mandolin leading the melody, backed by guitar and string bass. The notable addition to the arsenal of the string bands was the Italian mandolin, that became popular in the South with bluegrass music. The vocals were not as important as in the “brothers style”, although often featured a high-pitched tenor voice. Bluegrass music relied a mixture of techniques: mountain music’s three-finger banjo picking, country & western’s fiddle, the rhythmic guitar of the ramblers, the tenor-driven choir of religious hymns with bass-register counterpoint.

Kentucky-based mandolinist Bill Monroe, who had started a duo in 1934 with his guitarist brother Charlie, popularized the “bluegrass” style with Kentucky Waltz (1945), Blue Moon Of Kentucky (1945) and Footprints in the Snow (1945), performed by his new band, the Blue Grass Boys, that eventually came to include virtuoso musicians such as Earl Scruggs on banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle, Howard Watts on bass, and Lester Flatt on guitar, which were in turn replaced in the Sixties by a new generation of virtuosi (fiddler Richard Greene, guitarist Peter Rowan, banjoist Bill Keith). Monroe’s spectacular mandolin style was documented on instrumental pieces such as Rawhide (1951) and Roanoke (1954). At the peak, Monroe’s band was so focused on improvisation and technical skills that it sounded like a jazz group performing country music.

Flatt and Scruggs formed their own act in 1948, that, thanks to pieces such as Foggy Mountain Breakdown (1949), Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (1950), Pike County Breakdown (1952), Flint Hill Special (1952), and eventually the hit The Ballad of Jed Clampett (1962), competed with both Bill Monroe. Flatt and Scruggs were also instrumental in introducing the dobro guitar (since 1955, played by Buck Graves), a variant of the Hawaian steel guitar, into country music.

Bluegrass acts of the 1950s included the Osborne Brothers (Sonny on banjo and Bobbie on mandolin), perhaps the most innovative of the new generation, as displayed in Ruby (1956); and the Stanley Brothers (Carter being the lead vocalist), much more focused on the vocal harmonies than on the instrumental counterpoint and solos, from the “high lonesome” style of A Vision of Mother to love songs such as How Mountain Girls Can Love (1959) to religious themes such as Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet and Albert Brumley’s Rank Strangers (1960).

Bluegrass would remain the branch of country music most obsessed with dazzling technical proficiency, whether vocal or instrumental.

Tennesse native Roy Acuff became the first star of Nashville thanks to two tunes already recorded by the Carter Family: The Great Speckled Bird (1936), based on the melody of I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes, and Wabash Cannonball (1936), one of the most celebrated “railroad songs”. The Precious Jewel (1940), based on The Hills of Roane County, Wreck On The Highway (1942), one of the earliest car songs, Frank “Pee Wee” King’s Tennessee Waltz (1947), were sung in an old-fashioned, mournful mountain style, and accompanied mainly with the dobro (James Clell Summey until 1938 and Beecher “Pete” Kirby after 1938). Country broadcasting had been dominated by string bands: Acuff’s emotional solo performances changed the very perception of what country music ought to be. He was instrumental in turning country music into a business, and a huge nationwide business. The music publishing company he founded in 1942 with songwriter Fred Rose (credited with many songs that he actually only revised and published, including Hank Williams’ Kaw-liga and Take These Chains From My Heart) became a gold mine.

Johnny Bond wrote Cimarron (1938), I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, Hot Rod Lincoln, Your Old Love Letters and Tomorrow Never Comes.

In 1939 the “Grand Ole Pry” moved to Nashville’s “Ryman Auditorium” and was broadcasted by the national networks.

Nonetheless, the nation was still largely unaware of country music. It wasn’t until 1942 that “Billboard” introduced a column on country music, and only in 1944 it introduced the charts for hillbilly songs.

If country music represented the quintessential American values, and a positive attitude towards the American way of life, others (harking back to the epics of the itinerant “hobos”) were seeing through the American Dream and confronting the issues of poverty, fascism and racism.

In a somber guitar-based folk style, Oklahoma’s Woody Guthrie wrote the Dust Bowl Ballads (1935, first recorded in 1940), the soundtrack of the Great Depression, to become the first major singer-songwriter of the USA. After moving to New York in 1940, he also graduated to be the voice of the political “opposition” with Pretty Boy Floyd (1939), the anthemic This Land Is Your Land (1940, first recorded in 1944), Ludlow Massacre (1944), 1913 Massacre (1944), Deportee (1948), and the Ballads Of Sacco & Vanzetti (1947); but also composed popular songs such as Oklahoma Hills (1937), Pastures Of Plenty (1941), Reuben James (1941), So Long It’s Been Good To Know You (1942), Philadelphia Lawyer (1946). His songs were mostly based on ancient hillbilly melodies.

The Left gained strength throughout the 1930s, finding shelter in the artists’ lofts of New York’s Greenwich Village. The “Village Vanguard”, opened by Max Gordon in 1939 in that area (7th Avenue and 11th Street), was a jazz club but soon began to serve a white audience of political dissidents.

The viability of popular music as sociopolitical protest had been proven by Brother Can You Spare A Dime (1932), a song written by Yip Harburg (music by Jay Gorner), a veteran of the Broadway musical and the Hollywood soundtrack, and sung by Bing Crosby. In fact, the whole soundtrack of Victor Fleming’s Wizard of Oz (1939), also written by Harburg (music by Harold Arlen), was meant as a commentary to the Great Depression.

Besides Guthrie, other folk musicians composed protest songs. For example, Earl Robinson wrote Joe Hill (1936) to commemorate a murdered union leader.

Another important strain of popular music had to do with folk music, which Guthrie and Robinson had already associated with social awareness. In 1940 Pete Seeger went further: he formed the Almanac Singers to sing protest songs (We Shall Overcome, Guantanamera), sometimes with communist overtones. In 1948 Seeger formed the vocal quartet Weavers loosely modeled after the Country Family. Their arranger Gordon Jenkins added a string orchestra to their cover of Leadbelly’s Good Night Irene (1949), thus creating the first folk-pop crossover. The collaboration with Gordon Jenkins continued with The Roving Kind (1950) and Wimoweh (1952). Their If I Had A Hammer (1949), Where Have All The Flowers Gone (1956), Bells Of Rhymney (1959) and Turn Turn Turn (1962) established the vogue of folk music, while Wimoweh (1961) even resurrected African folk music. His Goofing Off Suite (1955) was, de facto, the first record of “American primitivism”.

Another pioneer of the folk revival, Burl Ives, popularized Foggy Foggy Dew (1945), a traditional English tune, Blue-tailed Fly (1948), a Civil War tune, Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain (1948) and Stan Jones’ Ghost Riders In The Sky (1949), based on the traditional When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

“Ramblin’ Jack” Elliott Adnopoz became Guthrie’s ambassador in Europe. Several black musicians (notably, Leadbelly and Josh White) benefited from the folk revival.

In fact, the folk revival was instrumental in rediscovering forgotten genres and musicians that could not possibly aim for the charts. For example, the tradition of “one-man bands” was kept alive in San Francisco by a black musician, Jesse Fuller, an old man (he debuted at 58) who played at the same time guitar, pedal bass, harmonica, hi-hats and castanets, immortalized by his San Francisco Bay Blues (1954). In 1948 Moe Asch founded Folkways, a record label devoted to folk music, but also to Latin-American music, to Native American music and to blues music.

New York became the stage for a movement of “folk revival” that spawned hits such as the Tarriers’ Banana Boat Song (1956), that also launched the calypso craze, the Kingston Trio’s traditional Tom Dooley (1958), Jimmy Driftwood’s Battle Of New Orleans (1958), and Jimmy Driftwood’s Battle of New Orleans (1958) and Soldier’s Joy (1958), all of them reconstructed from traditional melodies. Ethno-musicologists such as the New Lost City Ramblers assembled “lost” songs on albums such as The New Lost City Ramblers (1958), Vol II (1959) and Songs from the Depression (1960). The Limeliters assembled a multinational repertory on soothing collections such as The Slightly Fabulous (1961). The “Newport Folk Festival” (1959) created a vast audience for this music, an audience that increasingly came to be identified with the political Left and the young beatniks of the Greenwich Village.

These folksingers had little in common (stylistically or ideologically) with the hillbillies of country music, but they ended up creating the urban audience for country music. Country music, even in states that were rapidly urbanizing such as Texas, had been catering mainly to the countryside. The post-war generation of folksingers catered almost exclusively to the audience of the big cities. It wasn’t long before country music learned that lesson.

Also part of the Leftist movement of ideas were the iconoclast satirists who attacked the American way of life, contemporary politics and assorted taboos in the night clubs of New York: Richard “Lord” Buckley, Lenny Bruce and Tom Lehrer (chronologically). Their caustic humour actually anticipated the existential spleen and the political skepticism of the Greenwich Movement.

The 1940s were mainly the years of “honky-tonk” music, a much more driving style than traditional Appalachian music, and the first urban form of country music. Originally named after the saloons where alcohol was being served illegally (which, in turn, took their name from the factories that made gin), honky tonk became even more popular at the end of Prohibition era. Its stars were from Texas: Ernest Tubb (Walking The Floor Over You, 1942), who was also the first country artist to employ an electric guitar, and William “Lefty” Frizzell, Rodgers’ natural heir, one of the most innovative vocalists and a poignant songwriter (If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time, 1950; Always Late, 1951; I Want to Be With You Always, 1951; Danny Dill’s folk ballad The Long Black Veil, 1959; Saginaw Michigan, 1964; That’s the Way Love Goes, 1973). Floyd Tillman wrote It Makes No Difference Now (1938) and the “cheating song” Slipping Around (1949). Houston-based pianist Aubrey “Moon” Mullican predated Jerry Lee Lewis in fusing honky-tonk and boogie-woogie, two styles that had much in common, with Harry Choates’ New Jole Blon’ (1947) and I’ll Sail My Ship Alone (1950). South Carolina’s guitarist Arthur Smith did something similar with the instrumental Guitar Boogie (1945). Ted Daffan composed the classics Worried Mind (1940), Born To Lose (1943), Headin’ Down The Highway (1945). Honky-tonk songs dealt with more prosaic themes such as alcohol (of course) and cheating.

Purists looked down on honky-tonk, that preserved little of the original spirit of country music, but Hank Williams shut them down with Lovesick Blues (1949) and You’re Gonna Change (1949), followed by a repertory of both ballads and pseudo-blues. Among the former: Cold Cold Heart (1950), Why Don’t You Love Me (1950), Your Cheating Heart (1952), I Saw The Light (1953). Among the latter: Moaning The Blues (1950), Long Gone Lonesome Blues (1950), So Lonesome I Could Cry (1949), I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (1952). Plus rhythmic songs that predated rock’n’roll, such as Move It On Over (1947), Honkytonking (1948), Howlin’ At The Moon (1951). He died young (at 29), and his last songs, such as Jambalaya (1952) and Fred Rose’s Kaw-liga (1952), already predated the age of exotic music.

The star of honky-tonk who succeeded Williams, Webb Pierce, from Louisiana, adopted the electric guitar and steel guitar and moved towards pop and rock’n’roll in Merle Kilgore’s More And More (1954) and Teenage Boogie (1956). Ray Price, from Texas, bordered both honky-tonk and western swing in songs such as Don’t Let The Stars Get Into Your Eyes (1952), Crazy Arms (1956), City Lights (1958). Hank Thompson’s band, also from Texas, did the opposite (from western swing to honky-tonk), starting with Wild Side of Life (1952), basically a cover of Roy Acuff’s The Great Speckled Bird (1936). Another Texas, Johnny Horton, adapted the style to the dancehalls and to rock’n’roll with songs such as Honky Tonk Man (1956).

Jimmie Rodgers’ style was instead revived by Canadian-born Hank Snow, particularly in his own I’m Moving On (1950), one of the greatest hits of the post-war era, The Golden Rocket (1950) and The Rhumba Boogie (1951).

Among instrumental virtuosi, Merle Travis’ finger-picking style (that was basically an adapation of a banjo technique to the guitar) turned the guitar into both a melodic and rhythmic instrument. To his contemporaries, he sounded like two guitarists, not one. He also recorded Folk Songs of the Hills (1947), including his own celebrated protest song Sixteen Tons, in a vein similar to Woody Guthrie’s. Smoke Smoke Smoke (1947) was his biggest hit.

His disciple Chet Atkins simplified Travis’ style by using three fingers instead of only two. More importantly, Atkins pioneered the classic “Nashville sound” through compositions such as Bluesy Guitar (1946), a duet between electric guitar and clarinet, Canned Heat (1947), Galloping on the Guitar (1949), Chinatown My Chinatown (1952), Country Gentleman (1953), Downhill Drag (1953), that progressively downplayed the rustic role of the fiddle and the steel guitar while emphasizing a sweeter, poppier sound based on guitar and piano.

Jean Ritchie pioneered the revival of the dulcimer with records such as Singing Traditional Songs of Her Mountain Family (1952).

Les Paul, a white guitarist who played more often with jazz musicians than country ones, invented the solid-body guitar (1941), pioneered new recording techniques (“close miking”, “echo delay”, “multi-tracking”) and engaged in archetypical experiments of tape manipulation and overdubbing in his 1948 songs Brazil and Lover (on which he played all instruments by himself), besides sprinkling his recordings with all sorts of sound effects.

Los Angeles-based pyrotechnic guitarist Joe Maphis was one of the first to use the instrument not only for the rhythmic accompaniment but also for the lead lines. He also composed Dim Lights Thick Smoke (1952) and Fire On The Strings (1954).

Other virtuosi included fiddler Vassar Clements and blind flat-picking guitarist Arthel “Doc” Watson, who recorded his first album, Doc Watson Family (1963), at the age of forty.

“Tennessee” Ernie Ford was the sex symbol of country music in the 1950s, and launched standards such as Smokey Mountain Boogie (1948), Johnny Lange’s and Fred Glickman’s Mule Train (1949) and Shotgun Boogie (1950), a progenitor of rock’n’roll.

Leon Payne, a member of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, wrote Lost Highway (1949) and I Love You Because (1950)

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant were among the most successful Nashville songwriters, from Hey Joe (1953) to Love Hurts (1961) to Rocky Top (1967), and particularly for the Everly Brothers.

At the end of World War II, several studios had opened in Nashville, reflecting the growing popularity of the “Grand Ole Opry”. Then musicians started relocating to Nashville. By 1954, when the “Country Music Disc Jockeys’ Association” (CMA) was created, Nashville had as many songwriters as New York. Chet Atkins was one of the producers who, in the 1950s, crafted the “Nashville sound”, basically country music played with a pop sensibility (the guitar and sometimes the piano replacing the fiddle, background vocals, string orchestra). Atkins was the man who buried the “high lonesome” Appalachian sound. In 1961 there were 81 radio stations devoted to country music, in 1966 there were 328. By 1963 one out of every two American records was produced in a Nashville studio.

Malone, Bill: “Country Music USA” (1968)

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A History of Country Music – Scaruffi

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Transhumanism Is the New Gnosticism – Christ and Pop Culture

Posted: at 4:41 pm

In the second and third centuries A.D., some Christian leaders felt it necessary to speak out against a movement of thought that had emerged within the early Church. They believed this new movement conflicted with the orthodox view handed down by the apostles and the Old Testament scriptures. The emerging movement, which was heavily influenced by the ideas of Plato, held that the material world was inherently corrupt and debasing, and our physical bodies were a type of prison. Our souls, on the other hand, were pure and eternal. The end goal of this movement was for ones soul to be released from the bondage of the physical world, and to exist eternally in an ethereal heaven. This movement became known as Gnosticism.

While self-professed Gnostics are rare today, Gnosticisms core beliefs live on in various forms, one of them being transhumanism. In its most general sense, transhumanism is not necessarily incompatible with Christianity they share many of the same values but there is definitely a prominent thread of transhumanist thought that has more in common with Gnosticism than Orthodoxy.

Consider the attitude that both Gnostics and some transhumanists have toward bodily appetites like food and sex. Because Gnostics greatly devalued the material world and our physical bodies as either unimportant or degrading, many of them engaged in ascetic practices. They would, for example, go on long fasts or strict diets, or abstain from sex altogether. At best, Gnostics viewed bodily pleasures as worldly distractions from greater pursuits; at worst, they viewed such pleasures as sinful regressions from their true purpose.

Christians also abstain from food and sex at times, but for very different reasons. It is not because they view bodily pleasures as unimportant, degrading, or inherently sinful. On the contrary, Christians recognize the inherent goodness and joy of these pleasures, and consider them important gifts from God. However, they might choose to abstain from them for a time in order to practice balance, to refocus, or to simply give up something they enjoy as an act of worship.

As another example, consider the attitude that some transhumanists display toward sex when speculating how human relationships will be affected by digital technologies:

Mammals use sex as a means to generate offspring, to experience pleasure, and for bonding with partners Erogenous zones and orgasms are simply the product of chemicals firing in the brain. If scientists can replicate that feeling by firing signals from an implanted chip or a brain wave headset, then it might even be the end of sex altogether.

Transhumanists envision a future where all human interactions are digitally simulated, even sex. As they see it, technology will make it unnecessary to even touch your lovers body; we can experience all the same pleasure and intimacy, they think, through digital simulation.

But it doesnt stop there. Even music cannot escape the reductionism of the transhumanist view. Consider this article imagining a future in which music is purely telepathic:

In all of these examples, we see transhumanists devaluing our bodily experience of the world, just as the Gnostics did.

In the case of food, transhumanists assume that we will not miss anything of importance by changing the way we feed our bodies; what matters most is nutrition and efficiency. Eating solid meals could then become just a leisure activity (i.e., non-essential, unnecessary) as Soylent creator Rob Rhinehart has suggested. In the case of sex, transhumanists assume that we will not miss anything of importance by changing the way we bond with our partners or experience sexual pleasure; what matters is simply having the right chemicals firing in the brain. Biological union is unnecessary. And in the case of music, it is not the sound waves produced by an instrument that are important; what matters is how your brain interprets those signals. If we can digitally simulate those same signals in the brain, we can have music without sound.

C.S. Lewis well described the ultimate hope of transhumanism in his 1945 novel That Hideous Strength. In a telling dialogue, one of the main characters, Professor Filostrato, imagines:

A great race, further advanced than we. A pure race. They have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic They do not need to be born and breed and die; only their common people, their canaglia do that. The Masters live on. They retain their intelligence: they can keep it artificially alive after the organic body has been dispensed with a miracle of applied biochemistry. They do not need organic food. They are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord.

Even though the transhumanist vision of the future is fueled by technologies that are relatively new, the values and assumptions that inform it are not. Those values were around in Lewis time, and they were around in Irenaeus time. But what if, in all their excitement to jettison their biological limitations, transhumanists, like the Gnostics before them, have overlooked something essential? What if transhumanist assumptions about the world are horribly mistaken, both on a value level and on a physical level? What if there is something really important, even sacred, about the way we currently feed our bodies? What if the only way to experience the deep oneness of a sexual bond is through biological union by becoming one flesh with another person? What if part of the transcendent beauty of music is due to the material way it is transmitted? What if consciousness is not something that can be digitally simulated? What if we were never meant to be free of Nature? These are all very relevant questions that I do not hear many transhumanists asking. Perhaps they should.

And perhaps, with transhumanist ideas becoming more and more popular, Christians should, in turn, be reminded of the goodness of Gods creation. With the amount of corruption, disease, and injustice in the world, it is easy for many Evangelicals to develop an attitude of negativity toward our terrestrial existence and instead, dream of a home in the skies future in which God destroys the universe and our souls escape to heaven, eternally liberated from our physical substrate. But thats not the future that the biblical writers envisioned. They looked forward to a time when God would redeem the physical universe, not annihilate it; a time when they would live on a renewed Earth in renewed physical bodies. And they looked forward to that future because they believed the past they believed Gods joyous declaration over the physical world: It is very good.

Transhumanism is not really new. It is Gnosticism for the new millenium. Many transhumanists operate on the same values and assumptions as the Gnostics of the second and third centuries. The Christians of that time thought the distinction between Gnosticism and Orthodoxy, however nuanced, was worth pointing out. Perhaps it still is.

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James Hoskins

James Hoskins is a teacher, freelance writer, and musician. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and a M.A. in Science & Religion from Biola University. James teaches philosophy and science classes at a college-prep high school. He writes about reason, faith, and culture at his blog PhiloLogos.

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Transhumanism Is the New Gnosticism – Christ and Pop Culture

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