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Max Morath : Urbanization
Max Morath One of the big things happening in America was what we now call urbanization and young people were leaving the farms and villages and going to the major cities and going to work. And even the women were doing that, beginning to get into the work force. The view of society at the time, and I think this is accurate to say, was that this probably was not good, it was probably going to lead to immorality, it was going to lead to problems, it was to lead to sex looseness and it was going to lead into alcohol and all of those things that are detrimental in society, plus a congestion and the temptations of the big city life. There are hundreds and hundreds of songs about that, most of them pretty awful, but a lot of them very accurate, about what happens to a young person going to the city. And, by the way, that whole life is caught up in many of the songwriters' personal lives. Paul Dresser, one of the greatest balladeers and the most successful popular songwriters, the brother to Theodore Dreyser, left a small town farm in Indiana and went on the road and ended up in New York as a wonderful boulevardeer and a guy that just had all the money in the world and lived the big city life. So actually when he wrote about leaving town and he wrote about his sister falling into hard times and he wrote about longing to go back. He wrote "On the banks of the Wabash far away, I want to go back to the Wabash." He didn't want to go back to the Wabash. He had it made in New York, but he wrote about the Wabash and he wrote about the heartbreak of his distance from his mother. And there's a lot of hypocrisy here. I happen to admire a lot of these early songwriters for a number of reasons, most of which have very little to do with music. I think they made a lot of break-throughs in explicating our lives for us. Put aside all the dreck that did appear and go to a few of the key songs. They do help us a lot. Dresser, especially, to me, is a fascinating man for the reasons that I've just laid on. And he -- by the way, went broke. He died rather young. He wrote "My Gal, Sal" and died before it was published and it turned out to make a lot of money. His relationship, by the way, with his brother Theodore is very strange and it makes you wish that maybe Paul had been around to defend himself against some of the things that Theodore said about him later.

I think one of the pivots, as we've been calling them, in 1900 is the entrance of young people, many of them totally unsophisticated musically, not musically educated. Kids that come along and, as kids do want to express themselves so they find a simple way to express themselves musically and make a living, which was not really possible before. This has gone on. The entire 20th century is a history of the next generation of kids saying, "Get that music outta here! We're doing this!" When the ragtimers were getting old in 1917 the kids were playing a new thing called "jazz". And when the jazz musicians got a little tired, along came swing in the '30s and on and on into rock 'n roll and all of the things that are happening as we speak. They're kids. And a lot of them are fine musicians. Most of them have a little music and a dream.

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