thumbnail of Coming of age; The rocking rebel
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
I don't like the music they have but know that rhythm and blues music better for the older ones that they had five years ago 40 years ago. I enjoy them now. I like rock n roll and I like you know please press me and I love playing Eskimo music here and yeah I can. Well I like Conklin music I don't like classical and of course I know this is Ben park. The subject is rock n roll and what it means to American teenagers on this program in the series coming of age. I spent a good deal of time asking teenagers about their feelings toward rock n roll. Why do they like it. What's so special to them about it. You'll hear some of that shortly. You'll also hear a commentary by Alan Lomax the noted collector of American folk music and writer Mr. Lomax his comments make up a good deal of the program you'll soon understand why among many others I was talking with a 13 year old girl. You wouldn't want to rock the record. How do your parents feel about that.
Well. I don't have very much for my brother and I don't like. What they say this is just not worth listening to why they have it on the radio he put on the station. My brother doesn't want to listen to it so I don't listen to my own radio and one of them alone you have to worry if you should listen to what just can't get through he said if he could join the meeting. What did you like about rock n roll. What is it that appeals to you about home. If you're thinking what the teenager could do you know you have some people you know. Right. Your parents don't like you. Yeah someone who's not going to remain that way.
She underlined some fairly familiar points. Rock n Roll is her music not her parents rock n roll brings her together with other teenagers a rock n roll singer as her and other teenagers hero. But she didn't have much to say on why she particularly likes rock n roll. Well here's another girl girls incidentally make up the great bulk of rock n roll fans and account for most of the rock n roll record sales. This girl is 14. Who's you. Thank you. Why. I just love me. Why. Are you the best. Well I think I was kidding. Well. How do. You just present. What about his music. What is it about his music which is why. It's rock n roll. His voice
is just wonderful. What about the merits of rock and roll. You like the lyrics to rock n roll. You know. What about I'm the one. You were when a fame teenagers. Were like Kirk I think you would hear an opera. And we wish for you. You would hear me talk school you wouldn't hear it used to you. Thanks I dig it. And if you mean to say that you know you're very fond of Frank you have oh I. Like everything. You're just the greatest. What is the kind of long distance love affair with Frankie having
been fired anyway. You're the one who had never met him. You know what I want. What would you do in that thing I think. Well why do teenagers like rock n roll. Frankly I found none who could answer the question very deeply. Just they do like it. They like the beat. They like the freedom from restriction such as the restriction of normal English grammar. They're aware of the fact that many of their parents don't like it but their parents attitude far from turning them against rock'n'roll seems to encourage them to want to hear more of it to buy the records shot themselves in their rooms to listen and organize fan clubs for their favorite singers. I suspect there's more to it than just that. I still haven't gotten the answer to the big question why. I asked Alan Lomax Mr Lomax has studied American music from its earliest beginnings to the present. He's written authoritative works on everything from early folk songs to the blues to modern jazz. His studies have led him to the
origins of our homegrown music and those elements in our society which have made the music popular or significant in its time. When I asked Alan Lomax about rock n roll he came up with the most interesting and provocative as well as informed theory. He begins by going back into American history. In America there's been respectable music and music right from the beginning. At first no music that concerned secular affairs of work anything was outlaw music. So far as the respectable working community was concerned a radical minister of the frontier said that anything that wasn't him. It was a sinful song but there was the outlaw element was on the edge of the community who wanted to drink wanted to dance wanted to have fun and have a good time on Saturday night and they fiddled and picked their banjos and they had their outlaw music all Joe
Clarks our wood mountain. All this is not all music you see. These were the people who just couldn't keep from dance and they had to dance and I mean a geyser chorus that dance is so important that that the great conflict of a young woman enjoying the church is that she's going to have to give up dancing. And she just can't face it and this is this is her principal avenue for self-expression in the dance of course being so beautifully exfoliated and elaborate and delightful and and expressive among Negroes it's a terrible thing to have to give it up. So in account after account of conversions especially of women. And did they weep tears of blood having to give up their Saturday night pleasures. Innocent creative dancing. Well this is part of the outlaw musical tradition and this has had an added element of the conflict of the contrast between upper
class respectable music and low down in the alley music in America. Now almost all of our original stuff has come from the outlaw group and more and more they have been the alley crowd. By the time you get to the blues it's it's it's expressed it's out of the alley. It's from way down low. It's funky as they say now you know. As the whole American community has become more and more attracted and it has become less and less afraid of having outlaw feelings feelings of pleasure feelings were bitten by the American. As said a Protestant tradition had been a larger and larger and larger and larger element of young people attracted to the outlaw farms. Sadly beginning with rock and roll. Of America's young people led out low in their tastes and they said to heck
with this respectable watered down pop song thing. Musically speaking this was accomplished by a very much simplifying the rhythm so that everybody protests against the monotonous beat of rock and roll. But it isn't hot. It is a heart beat because you have always two unusually three rhythms going on at the same time. Other time against the back beat against the study for four beat. That and then in the very best rock'n'roll records the singer is improvising against three rhythms but it's much simpler friends to understand the complex Polly Ware thems of New Orleans jazz in its palmy days or in the early records of the Armstrong. But this was so complicated that very few white people could perform
African or Afro American dance steps to it. But by the time you got to rock and roll this whole generation of kids had apparently decided that they wanted to farm negro dances and they got the music that has enabled them to do it and so if you go to any any kids party you'll see a whole room full of people whom whom you would have sworn in 1945 were Negroes at the how they want their all young white adolescents doing negro dances. I think that this is you know that there's a heck of a lot implied here and not just a musical situation for but very much more than just a musical change but very much more. Well you're saying that the tradition of Outlaw Music has stems from lower class elements from negro elements throughout history and that these tend to bubble up through popular music. I was trying to describe
that historically just kind of sketch it. Well there was nothing there or in America in the 18th century than a slave. I think it was only Thomas Jefferson that even considered the negro as a person only Thomas Jefferson and a few of the most enlightened intellectuals of that period and even he wasn't sure he was attracted to Negro music. But he said it didn't express any higher emotions. And his notes notes in Virginia he makes this point about Negro music. It was exciting but it expressed no higher emotions and by the way Jefferson was probably the most musical person in early America it said about him that when he wasn't actually playing the fiddle. He was singing or whistling. And this went on all day long. Now his opposite in more kind of forthright. Number there in Virginia Patrick Henry was actually a fiddler
stomp down country said one very well known when he got a little high on Virginia run he played for dances and he played real well there in early Virginia. The slaves took over the whole tradition of British dance tunes the jigs and reels. They learned it by middle 18th century nobody else was playing for dances at that plantation but because the negroes were natural instrumentalist they hadn't had such good instruments in Africa as the fiddle. So they were playing these jigs and reels but in their own style undoubtedly in hot style. And by about 18 20 this music had been sufficiently absorbed by the light of farmers that. They were ready to begin to compose tunes in it in the style themselves. So you get Buffalo Gals Won't you come out tonight and Dan Tucker and lies a Jane which are imitations of this lone negro music. Now the behavior of these people on stage was to make a complete parody of Negro
life. But there was an element in this parody. Which made it terribly attractive to all Americans who were living under the code we talked about before that that was the respectable music which was religious or else among the upper class and very refined kind of watered down European tradition. And then there was this outlaw music which said you know some got drunk and some got boozy and some got stuck on black eyed Susans you know that's not the you know the but I was up the creek were saying when they got high on moonshine see that far they mass of Americans because they outlaw music was in blackface it was permitted. They could vicariously experience the imagined pleasures of negro slave life those happy carefree negroes. Who lived and kissed and danced and frolicked on the stage in front of them they lived out their fantasies with them. Now this book this was our national music
God in the 19th century might say I remember when I was a kid in Texas when my father took me to of my first minstrel show I was simply transported with pleasure. I mean the condition is that of a 19th century emotional life still persisted up into the 20s in Dallas where I grew up. Well. The next thing that happened musically speaking was that in northern Missouri in Sedalia in a town which is right on the border between the north and the south and where the negroes there were negro professional entertainers but not mean black face but real negroes playing in the saloons. They took this evolution up another stage into ragtime and ragtime music was very much more syncopated. It was very much harder. It was very much more directly sensual than anything in the minstrel tradition. And it
was negro music. Now all America went ragtime crazy. A great many of the best songs were came right out of the houses of prostitution and Delhi and St. Louis. Frankie and Johnny was one. The next wave came out of New Orleans which I had a long history of being the sort of flush pot capital of the United States. And there are the musicians were all professional entertainers in the Tenderloin. And there you got a for the first time European musical instruments in the hands of Negroes. They created a new kind of orchestra a new way of playing these instruments and a new approach to music which is still just spread all over the world which was sufficiently then full of European and respectable izing elements and also officially outlaw to cause a musical revolution all clear through to Moscow
and it is still going on now. As you know the words of the early jazz songs especially on the Blues side are fairly candid just human stories. Now remember that before the foxtrot came in everybody danced at arms length. Suddenly here the whole of America were you know couples were all hugged up close together everybody held themselves very stiff the back never moved you know. Held very close to the bosun but you didn't move any other part of the body much. And then a whole series of dance revolutions and dances became more and more sensual but no real release until as I say rock and roll came on. And here Elvis began to bend and everybody began to bend. There's one funny story about Elvis with somebody in the business told me when he was being interviewed after his first popular successes he was an as you know a Memphis boy the reporter said well where do you get your musical inspiration.
He said Well you know one my folks would go off for a drive on Sunday after and I used to stay on one play my blues records and there was one fellow I used to like some like Petey wheat straw the Devil's son in law. I forgotten that particular negro blues artist or a real outlaw polo down in the alley artist is that man. That's when I learned how to swing listening to him. A lot of people parents particularly seem to object to rock n roll feel that it's a bad influence on their children. There isn't any question about why the parents are so disturbed by it they're not disturbed because a few dozen songs don't make sense or some of them are suggestive in an unpleasant way. It's because the parents are one or two generations behind their kids and in their emotional evolution because to my mind the adolescent group
has has has turned its back firmly on the tradition of the 19th century which was that people shouldn't enjoy themselves. And that people should not specifically enjoy sex. I think I think of the ordinary every day kid and knows all about sex and it's none of his parents business. I think that's basically the attitude now. It's not that these kids are promiscuous as a matter of fact they all want to go steady. They're all extremely romantic they think about marriage. You see but this is their private life. And the official morality is not going to intrude on that. Now I think rock n roll is rock n roll is crystallize that and I think the two main points. Are One the fact that the kids are.
Are liberated and in a sexual sense in a manner that their parents. Were trying to be but didn't achieve. So the kids are out of hard boiled. Realistic and sometimes delinquent attitudes terrify the parents because there is a delinquent aspect to this. I don't think that the delinquent aspect is or is a positive factor at all. I think the liquid aspect comes from the exploitation in comics and rock'n'roll and all the other popular forms of sex. Nothing sex as a kind of a solution for all problems. Not conforming as it has a solution in itself but the amazing thing is this is the tremendously positive results of this rebellion by the kids which is even a
national thing. In fact I think it's an international thing. Because in 1960 the kids all over the world. In an atmosphere of complete conformity. Accepting everything. Accepting the fact that the money was all that counted and success was all that counted in conforming to our will of the inanities of that were sort of exploded by the U-2 incident. Now everybody is thinking about what our real intentions where are we really going. And most amazing of all the Negro youth of the south taking the lead away from their their own. Parents. And walking right through those police lines and going into jail. I've seen that. I'm saying I've seen them in the films. Young girls of 16 and 17 beautifully dressed perfectly
composed walking into the southern jails and holding their heads up. Not at all afraid. And then coming out of those jails in an hour where the street full of young negro college students and high school students not screaming and hooting but applauding them very quietly and very appreciatively and the kids not walking out of their Cacchioli but saying you know making a sort of a gesture saying you know lighten anything. And that wasn't very much. We didn't do anything very much because the kids have suddenly decided. We're we not we don't have to worry about the thing that preoccupied our parents and our grandparents and our great grandparents personal expensive and we got that. So now we can turn our
attention to the important issues you see. Because this Negro youth group. Have you really resolved the old 19th century conflict. The white kids are a little behind them because the negroes never have been quite so involved in the ascetic approach to life as the whites. And for a series of reasons both good and bad are both positive and negative. They never have been quite so hidebound. There are those people to whom the problems of personal life are not absolutely central. Can suddenly be taking the most mature kind of political stand under the most difficult and dangerous situation. But they don't attack the society blindly and and and savagely and without any thought. They make good decisions and they carry them out very calmly. This I think is an
evidence that. That they're not anymore preoccupied as I think I'm sure you were as I was when I was at that age. Basically with the resolution of our personal problems and you feel that released from their own personal tensions is enable them to shift into a higher level of consideration. That's right and also I gather you're saying that rock and roll is not the reason for it but it is a symbol of it. Yeah I know it's been part of the educated process. It's music as is. Music is a. Most importantly a outward sign of inner emotional tension or resolution of tension. However that may be and the particular quality of music is a fairly precise index of what is the main tension problem in any society.
Musical study should I think be largely preoccupied with with that at least that's what interests me about music. And focus on of course is a is a marvelous tool because it has words the lyrics express what what the tunes express pretty much. So it's a it's an open book to read if you want to read it that way. Now there was one other point main point about the content of rock and roll. It has to do with sensual life and on it. And second it's an integrated music for the first time. You have Negro stars like Jackie Wilson. Perfectly. Marvelous looking boy who sings like an angel. From our money as some of his songs aren't the greatest songs ever heard but his singing is simply superb. For the first time negroes are accepted without any reservations as.
Objects of love. You know all kinds of love admiration affection idolization are not just in my pin up boy. And that's tremendous. And of course you and I. Even in our egghead rebellion in college. What have never been able to do that without putting quotes around that this is a Negro that we're loving. Without thinking about whether he's a negro or a Chinese or something. And so these kids are certainly just done away with this whole worry about what color a person is they're not interested anymore. Alan Lomax has studied and written a great deal about American music. His theory about why teenagers like rock n roll must certainly be provocative. Whether you choose to agree completely with him or not to round out the rock n roll picture I also talked to a young
popular singer named Teddy Randazzo. I didn't start recording rock'n'roll records until I was 20 21. An arrangement or 22 I didn't arrangement for book button call just a matter of time and I wrote the other side called hurting inside and it was my first contact really with rock and roll and I became very interested and it took pleasure to see something become successful and up to then I had never really had a successful hit record. I don't think that's primarily the reason I decided to like rock and roll out another door. It's like explorer you know it's like trying to get something that you don't know too much about and you can do it if you study it. What do you feel about the background of rock n roll music. Where do you think it comes from. Rock'n'roll basically comes from. Rhythm and Blues from the old folk sounds it. It can be brought back to the days of Lincoln actually but not in its modern sense not in its Today
form. It started with folk tunes. From folk tunes and folk tunes as you know if anybody is familiar with folk tunes most of them are very simple. And very easy to understand the lyrics are not difficult at all the melodies are usually very simple and from folk tunes rhythm and blues and it's spread out into country and western type songs and they are very similar whereas country western type songs are also very simple. And very sad very basic very basic descriptions of what's happening and so forth. Rhythm and Blues is also the same. It's very simple it's very understandable and it's very expressive. In other words it's the basic human feeling of the human being instead of getting complicated about it. They just tell you how they feel from the beginning. You know I I think I made myself clear I don't know I think you make it very clear that
you know actually rhythm and blues influenced by the negro singers not not until book Battenberg happens to be a very talented gentleman who writes songs and sings so well. And the book was the first influence on me as far as rhythm and blues as far as singing. I respect this man's style and he has a great deal of it. You know a lot of tunes submitted to you. What kinds of things do you look for in those songs. I try to look for. As as nice a lyric but as basic I try to look for a basic idea something that would appeal to the normal people something that is said very simply and said very honestly. Next week 18 year old Joey tells us his own story of a boy growing up in the slums and desperate to escape this background coming of age is produced for the National Educational Television and Radio Center by the Center for mass
communication of Columbia University. The series is distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is Ben park. This is the NOAA B Radio Network.
Coming of age
The rocking rebel
Producing Organization
Columbia University
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-xp6v2q2j).
Episode Description
What are the meanings behind the musical addictions of teenagers? A brief history and interpretation of "outlaw music" and rock and roll. Alan Lomax is a featured guest.
Series Description
Explores the thoughts and feelings of American youth in the 20th century. Writer-director Ben Park talks with teenagers and parents, teachers and friends.
Broadcast Date
Social Issues
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Director: Park, Ben
Interviewee: Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002
Interviewee: Randazzo, Teddy
Producing Organization: Columbia University
Writer: Park, Ben
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-21-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:28
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Coming of age; The rocking rebel,” 1961-04-06, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Coming of age; The rocking rebel.” 1961-04-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Coming of age; The rocking rebel. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from