Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tragic songs of life

When you're young, you tend to stagger through life, thinking you know it all, that you're all that and then some, and that there's not a damned thing you can learn from the old folks.

This is why, when you get a little older and know a little better, you tend to tread wistfully through a youth-obsessed culture and mutter about youth being wasted on the young.

When I was young, the above masterpiece by the Louvin Brothers was known as "hillbilly music."
We wadn't about no damn hillbilly music. Well, at least we couldn't admit to being "about no damn hillbilly music."

Unless one was at the Cotton Club, just north of LSU on Highland Road, and you were just a little bit liquored up and oyster po-boy'd up, and it was a mixed crowd --
in other words, not your typical college bar -- and your resistance to all those Patsy Cline records on the best jukebox in Baton Rouge just fell to pieces.

And you had to admit it:
Yes, Don Kirchner, there was musical life before the Beatles.

ABOVE, on film from the Grand Ol' Opry, is a vintage 1950s performance of one of the greatest musical acts of all time, the Louvin Brothers. Here is another, straight off the record:

WHAT COULD WE possibly learn from the likes of the Louvin Brothers?

As it turns out . . .
plenty, as recounted today in Charlie Louvin's New York Times obituary:
Mr. Louvin achieved his greatest fame with the Louvin Brothers, the popular duo that modernized the close-harmony singing of Depression-era acts like the Blue Sky Boys and the Delmore Brothers and that anticipated the keening vocal interplay of the Everly Brothers.

Typically featuring Mr. Louvin on guitar and lead vocals and Ira, his older brother, on mandolin and high tenor harmonies, the Louvins’ 1950s hits also left their mark on the country-rock of the Byrds and others.

“I just could not get enough of that sound,” the singer Emmylou Harris said of the Louvin Brothers’ music in an interview with The Observer, the British newsweekly, in January 2010. “I’d always loved the Everly Brothers, but there was something scary and washed in the blood about the sound of the Louvin Brothers.”

Ms. Harris’s breakthrough country hit was a 1975 remake of the duo’s “If I Could Only Win Your Love.” Resolutely traditional in approach, Mr. Louvin and his brother, who died in an automobile accident in 1965, were proponents of the high, lonesome sound of the southern Appalachian Mountains, where they grew up. Some of their best-known recordings were updates of foreboding antediluvian ballads like “In the Pines” and “Knoxville Girl.” Other material centered on the wholesome likes of family and religion, including “The Christian Life,” an original that later appeared on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the landmark Byrds album featuring the singer Gram Parsons.

Also falling under the duo’s sway were alternative-rock acts like Elvis Costello and the band Uncle Tupelo (which recorded a version of the Louvin Brothers’ cold-war plaint “Great Atomic Power” in 1992).

Despite their conservative cultural and musical leanings — their initial ’50s hits were recorded without drums, which were then commonplace in country music — the Louvins’ greatest acclaim came with the advent of rock ’n’ roll, when rebellious sentiments and loud backbeats were in ascendance. Their biggest single, “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby,” was a No. 1 country hit for two weeks in 1956. They also reached the country Top 10 with songs like “When I Stop Dreaming” and “Cash on the Barrelhead” during this period and were headliners in a touring revue that included Elvis Presley.
CHARLIE AND IRA LOUVIN were giants during an era of young titans who recognized the greatness of a couple of purveyors of "hillbilly music." Who decided there were things to be learned from the masters.

Now Charlie Louvin is gone, and one can hope a great, great act has been reunited on the other side of life. One also can hope that the Louvins' legacy will live on, passed down from those who were brave enough to embrace it in the first place. Who were smart enough to realize that beauty is timeless and oughtn't be wasted on a museum.

Maybe I'm naive.
But when I stop dreaming. . . .

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