All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America

All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America

All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America

All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America

Synopsis

The birth of rock 'n roll ignited a firestorm of controversy--one critic called it "musical riots put to a switchblade beat"--but if it generated much sound and fury, what, if anything, did it signify? As Glenn Altschuler reveals in All Shook Up, the rise of rock 'n roll--and the outraged reception to it--in fact can tell us a lot about the values of the United States in the 1950s, a decade that saw a great struggle for the control of popular culture. Altschuler shows, in particular, how rock's "switchblade beat" opened up wide fissures in American society along the fault-lines of family, sexuality, and race. For instance, the birth of rock coincided with the Civil Rights movement and brought "race music" into many white homes for the first time. Elvis freely credited blacks with originating the music he sang and some of the great early rockers were African American, most notably, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. In addition, rock celebrated romance and sex, rattled the reticent by pushing sexuality into the public arena, and mocked deferred gratification and the obsession with work of men in gray flannel suits. And it delighted in the separate world of the teenager and deepened the divide between the generations, helping teenagers differentiate themselves from others. Altschuler includes vivid biographical sketches of the great rock 'n rollers, including Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly--plus their white-bread doppelgangers such as Pat Boone. Rock 'n roll seemed to be everywhere during the decade, exhilarating, influential, and an outrage to those Americans intent on wishing away all forms of dissent and conflict. As vibrant as the music itself, All Shook Up reveals how rock 'n roll challenged and changed American culture and laid the foundation for the social upheaval of the sixties.

Excerpt

Rock 'n' Roll Fight Hospitalizes Youth, ” the New York Times announced on April 15, 1957;. In a fracas between white and black boys and girls following a rock 'n' roll show attended by ten thousand fans, fifteen-year-old Kenneth Myers of Medford, Massachusetts, was stabbed and thrown onto the tracks at a subway station. Myers missed touching a live rail by inches and scrambled back onto the platform seconds before a train sped into the station. “The Negro youths were responsible for it, ” police lieutenant Francis Gannon told reporters. “The fight was senseless … but we expect difficulty every time a rock 'n' roll show comes in.”

For two years the Times printed dozens of articles linking destructive activities at, outside, or in the aftermath of concerts to “the beat and the booze” or the music alone. Public interest in rock 'n' roll was so great, Times editors even viewed the absence of a riot as newsworthy. “Rock 'n' Rollers Collect Calmly, ” readers learned, following a concert at the Paramount Theater in New York City. The journalist attributed the good order on this occasion and several others that year to the police, who arrived early and in force, as many as three hundred strong, some of them on horseback, to set up wooden barriers along the sidewalk, separate the crowd from passersby on Times Square, and then station themselves in the aisles and at the rear of the theater to . . .

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