A Short History of Rock and Roll by Miriam Sagan

I’m 14 years old, dancing in my dark bedroom in my undies to The Doors. If I hear my parents in the corridor outside I turn the music down. And if Jim Morrison is singing “Whiskey Bar” I turn it all the way down. The song just sounds…so dirty. I don’t want my parents to hear it.
54 years later, the scene in my bedroom is pretty much the same, except my parents are long dead and I moved away after high school. How old was I before I realized that “Whiskey Bar (Alabama Song)” was the only thing by the Doors my parents would have instantly recognized. After all, it was written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. And the original lyrics are more transgressive. Morrison, at least in the album version, changed “show us the way to the next little boy” to “little girl.”
It turns out that my ignorance about primary sources will plague me for years. No, the Rolling Stones did not write “All My Love In Vain.” Robert Johnson did. After he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads and before he was stabbed by a jealous lover. But that is another story.

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

5 thoughts on “A Short History of Rock and Roll by Miriam Sagan

  1. Good story! I love an earlier recording of Lotte Lenya singing the Alabama Song with Kurt Weill’s small “jazzmusik” ensemble. She sings it in English, with an accent that is naughty and delicious.

    In a strange parallel twist of musical lives, Johnson was run out of a roadhouse in the mid-1930’s (or more than one, likely ) because he could keep a beat worth a damn and the customers hated it the noise he was making. Not unlike a very young Charlie Parker whom Jo Jones “gonged” off a bandstand in 1937 for pretty much the same reasons — couldn’t keep a beat, couldn’t play the changes. (Contrary to legend, Jones did not throw the cymbal at Parker’s head — he threw it at the floor by his feet.)

    Both men retreated to the woodshed to lick their wounds then proceeded to practice their respective asses off until they had mastered their music. No devils were involved — Ike Zimmerman & Son House who taught Robert Johnson just about everything he knew.

    Johnson’s performing and recording life was so short, maybe two years — 1936-38?
    He used the tune from Leroy Carr’s “When the Sun Goes Down” for his own song, “(All My) Love in Vain.”

    Son House was part of the great northern migration from the Delta, ended up as a porter in the Rochester NY train station, gave up playing music for many years. A couple young men from NY tracked him down during the folk and blues revival of the early 1960’s via some old race recordings House made in 1930 for Paramount.

  2. My understanding is that although Brecht wrote the original lyrics for the Alabama Song in German, it was the English translation for which Weill wrote the music, and it was sung that way both on its own and in “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” even though most of the other songs and dialog were performed in German.

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