The Birth of American Music

The Birth of American Music

I’ve been a music fan for almost as long as I can remember. I can’t recall how I got it or who gave to me, but I know I had a small transistor radio sometime in the mid 1970s. It had a short, foldout telescopic antenna (which I likely broke off after a day or two) and even came with a white plastic earplug so I could listen to my favorite stations KHJ and KEARTH way after I was supposed to be sleeping or while riding the bus along Santa Monica Boulevard on my way to Bancroft Junior High in the morning.

In the beginning, I was an indiscriminate consumer of music, enjoying everything I listened to but not really understanding why. Then one day after school while I was working extra at Mayfair Market, our local grocery store, one of the cashiers showed me how to play a few chords on her guitar during a break. It was a lofty, partially acoustic song called Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and I fell head over heels in love with it (and probably the cashier as well).

When I moved to Sweden in 1978, I was introduced to what is sometimes referred to today as “Yacht Music” where acts like Toto, Supertramp, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers and Kenny Loggins played immaculately produced and slickly performed white soul.
My musical taste has certainly evolved since and though I don’t feel any distaste, I rarely listen to the yacht genre anymore. Electronic instrumental music is my preference when writing and if I’m editing video or stills, I can listen to just about anything from the eclectic playlists of KCRW’s excellent deejays, Anthony Valadez, Aaron Byrd or Jeremy Sole, Jason Kramer, Ann Litt or Liza Richardson.

Of all of the shows available at KCRW, I felt the late Bo Leibowitz’s Strictly Jazz was usually the most challenging and therefore intriguing. I don’t really know squat about jazz, but the genre has always fascinated me – especially the instrumental, improvisational sub genres (which I know even less about) where artists seem to always veer inspiringly off the rails. There’s also something inherently beautiful and sad about jazz where pain and happiness, constraint and freedom are part of a long, winding, musical history.

Speaking of history…I just heard an episode of The Daily, the New York Times popular podcast, titled, The Birth of American Music. If music plays a role in your life, I urge you to listen to it. Click here to start listening.

Shot the above streetcorner band on Prince Street in New York City.