When I was in my early teens I wanted to be American. It just seemed that everything cool, important and fun came out of America – except for sport.
As I got older much of the romance faded as the horrors of US imperialism and racism became apparent to me.
Yet part of it has always stayed with me – and this makes me very envious of Garth Cartwright. Like me, he grew up admiring the US from afar, New Zealand in his case.
Unlike me he has done the American music road trip – well perhaps not “the” road trip, but certainly a road trip of some wonder.
In the book he looks at roots music of the poor and dispossessed, the outsiders and outcasts – blues, jazz, soul, country and Latino – all of which made modern American music so extraordinary.
In doing so he tracks down the obscure and the vaguely famous, the impoverished and the moderately successful.
At the heart of the book is a concern that these wonderful cries from the past are in danger of becoming historical artefacts.
He fears for the death of this great tradition of American music as a voice of the downtrodden. The truth is that each new generation of the dispossessed finds a voice, and a musical form that gives vent to their anger, hurt and pain.
Cartwright clearly has little time for rap or hip-hop. This is fine, although it is in this form that much of the anger is being roared out, just as it once was by a discordant soulful voice accompanied only by a very basic acoustic guitar backing.
That apart, this book is such an enjoyable and informative read I would recommend it to anyone who loves American music.
More Miles than Money – Journeys through American Music