There regularly is presented a newspaper column or electronic commentary on the theme that Americans know little, to their disadvantage, about their history. From the vantage of a man with a master’s degree in history diploma on his wall – it’s worse than that.
Studies and anecdotal tales indicate that the native-born American likely could not pass the test given to aspiring citizens, who need to name the three branches of federal government or the number of legislators in Congress, among other quiz questions, to gain admission.
Incidentally, it’s the legislative, executive and judicial branches. And 435 members of the House, 100 in the Senate. The home-born studies these things in high school, or in the greatest theater of learning, known as “somewhere along the line,” but we evidently forget sometimes. Many face the vaunted Bill of Rights — the adjunct to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees what a government cannot do to its citizens – and view it suspiciously, as though it offers too many loopholes for anti-government protestors and their fellow travelers. It has been cited that the attitude toward knowledge of the current president, notorious for being unaware of much of what in Washington preceded him, is the cause of his administration’s perceived overreach and general sloppiness.
If you cannot tell Daniel Webster’s contributions to society from Daniel Briere’s, it is unfortunate and may come back to haunt you and your society. Americans’ careless attitude toward respect for their own history also hurts their general well-being, their quality of life and as someone named Thomas Jefferson – the guy on the nickel — phrased it, their “pursuit of happiness.”
When a friend has a child, age about four or five, I suggest they introduce the kid to the work of Little Richard, a music pioneer in massive measure responsible for rock and roll sounding the way it does, as well as the reason a lot of frightened white adults in America once regarded the musical form as some sort of Commie plot. There was a time the mom or dad laughed, suggesting they’d go to YouTube and try him on their kid.
These days, regrettably, I often hear “Who’s Little Richard?”
Who’s Little Richard, indeed. It is no secret that Michael Jackson remains an influence on whatever pop music offers its adherents these days, that today’s country music all sounds like the Eagles and that “Saturday Night Live” would be nowhere had the Monty Python troupe not previously perfected that civilized disgust with modern politics and mores. The knowledge that rock and roll, invented by black and white Americans in places like Memphis, Chicago and Macon, Ga., later overspreading the world faster than Christianity or Coca-Cola, is turning into a rich, crucial secret.
If you stay up late at night you likely learn your current events from Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert and several talkers named Jimmy. David Letterman may be fading in memory, and you heard about Johnny Carson from your grandparents. You should be aware that everything they do was inspired in the 1950s and 1960s by a man named Steve Allen. Oh, they refined the format for modern sensibility, but Allen invented it.
The genealogy of modern communications goes like this: radio, television, cable television, the Internet, social media, in that order. That’s not a scoop. It takes a pop culture archeologist to consider radio when it was a lifeline instead of a simple pipeline for music, and influences prior: vaudeville and concert halls, the Chautauqua circuit, newspapers, ideas disseminated by the “published pamphlet” and others. The printing press revolutionized modern thought. So did the record player and the home piano.
You can mutter, “Yeah, we owe a lot to those pioneers and inventors,” then move on. Most do, neglecting what that work meant and how society pivoted to influence you, today.
Regrettably, it took invention to preserve this stuff. The work of any great actor, performing prior to the invention of film, is lost, as is the singing of anyone in the pre-phonograph era. There once existed a cadre of European stage performers who could produce melodies by exhaling air through their rectums. Yes, they farted tunes – look it up and be astounded — while wearing thin linen pants and drinking water, before an audience. One practitioner of the art form blew out candles to end his act. While “America’s Got Talent” is not rushing to find the next generation of recitalists with those skills, it evidently requires a history doyen to even be aware of them.
It takes someone who cares about history, if only his own, to remember the work of Little Richard. Richard is not a young man these days, and his eventual death will be the final item on some news board. We will respect him momentarily and then move on, oblivious to how we got here.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.