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Sweet Air

Modernism, Regionalism, and American Popular Song

Edward Comentale

Publication Year: 2013

Sweet Air rewrites the history of early twentieth-century pop music in modernist terms. Tracking the evolution of popular regional genres such as blues, country, folk, and rockabilly in relation to the growth of industry and consumer culture, Edward P. Comentale shows how this music became a vital means of exploring the new and often overwhelming feelings brought on by modern life. Comentale examines these rural genres as they translated the traumas of local experience--the racial violence of the Delta, the mass exodus from the South, the Dust Bowl of the Texas panhandle--into sonic form. Considering the accessibility of these popular music forms, he asserts the value of music as a source of progressive cultural investment, linking poor, rural performers and audiences to an increasingly vast network of commerce, transportation, and technology.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction From a Basement on Long Island to a Mansion on the Hill

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pp. 1-28

Traditionally, in books of this sort, this is the place where the author establishes his authenticity. This is my chance to display some musical cred—my personal intimacy with the blues and country and redneck rock and roll. At the very least, I let you look at my record collection—bootlegs and all—so you know you’re dealing with a guy who knows his stuff. But, ...

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Chapter One Lord, It Just Won’t Stop!: Work and Blues in the Industrial Delta

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pp. 29-71

In the opening scene of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, the Thomas family wakes to find that a hungry rat has invaded their dingy one-room apartment. Mother and sister pick up their skirts, screaming, while eldest son Bigger grabs a skillet and takes aim at the beast. The rat is ultimately bested, but the battle leads to a heated dispute about money ...

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Chapter Two Thought I Had Your Heart Forever: Death, Detachment, and the Modernity of Early

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pp. 72-116

So I walked down to the local store and picked up all seven volumes of Fiddlin’ John Carson’s Complete Recorded Works (1923–34). And, yes, I listened—with my earbuds in—to 156 ballads, minstrel songs, reels, agrarian anthems, and rustic hymns. And like many others, I quickly learned that listening to the oft-proclaimed “Father of Country Music” can be a...

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Chapter Three “A Rambling Funny Streak”: Woody Guthrie, Revolutionary Folk Song, and the Migrant

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pp. 117-159

The nearly miraculous climax of Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory takes place at the Ace High bar, where a down-and-out Guthrie and his partner Cisco Houston are playing for chips in front of a “pretty low” crowd. After surveying the rather grim mood at the bar, the two musicians launch into a set of comic verses about the brave boys fighting the good fight abroad:...

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Chapter Four Four Elvises: On the Dada Possibilities of Midcentury Rock and Roll and Modern Fan

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pp. 160-204

So the artist goes shopping. With his belly full of wine and sandwiches, he heads down Fifth Avenue and enters the showroom of the J. L. Mott Iron Works. He wanders over to the bath section and eyes the fixtures on display—sinks, tubs, toilets. He fingers the white rims, notes the play of light and shadow, looks cautiously into a pipe. There, at the end of the...

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Chapter Five ( )

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pp. 205-244

I’ve never been to Lubbock County, but I’m sure it must be beautiful— nothing but blue skies, open fields, and long, long roads. I imagine an immense space carved up in abstract strokes, broad swaths of color and clean, stark lines—a quiet geometry of work and rest, pain and hope. At least that’s what I hear when I listen to the songs recorded in the tidy little ...


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pp. 245-264


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pp. 265-274

About the Author, Further Reading, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 275-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094576
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037399

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Music in American Life
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OCLC Number: 841908946
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sweet Air

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Popular music -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Popular music -- Social aspects -- United States -- History.
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