Glen Altschuler's, All Shook Up is an exciting well-documented narration of the emergence of rock and roll during the 1950's. He presents the genre as part of a series of social controversies and transformations at the heart of American anxieties in the 1950's. The emergence of rock and roll led to foreshadowed changes in consumerism, corporate control, sexuality, and race. The book reveals how rock and roll challenged and influenced the American culture, laying the foundation for social disarray. Despite beating the odds, the author shows how Rock and Roll were widely condemned and regarded as pandemonium and a threat to established cultural norms (Altschuler). Altschuler does not present rock and roll as entirely doom and gloom and does so without picking winners or losers. This adds him the ability to use rock and roll as a tool of social construction rather than a specific genre.
The fascinating thing about the book is the author's ability to complicate and at the same time add texture to the traditional narrative of rock n' roll. In the first half of the book, Altschuler focuses majorly on music and musicians while touching on subjects such as sexuality and race. The second half of the book looks at the relationship of rock n' roll music to the music industry and the economic forces that drive cultural preference among the youths.
In the beginning chapter, the author traces the evolution of rock and roll between 1945 and 1955 while carefully noting that it was more of a social construction than a musical conception. As a result, his understanding of this new genre allows him to focus a site of exploration, contestation and an amalgamation of different styles, social values, and culture. The other remaining three chapters look at these contested areas by focusing on sexuality, race and generational conflict.
In his discussion of race, the author complicates the traditional viewpoint that white covers ruined the careers of many black artists by asserting that in some way it boosted them by giving them more publicity and airplay. Similarly, although rock and roll were labeled as "black music" it remained a tool of social mobility. Altschuler also points out that both black Americans and the natives often fell victim to shady and unfair contracts, although it was more prevalent to the black people. Indeed, he continues to argue that the highly visible and contested arena of rock and roll was a struggle over racial identity and economic empowerment in America.
Regarding sexuality based on Alfred Kingsley's narration on sexual behavior in both males and females, Altschuler confirms that it was already a heated topic at the center of American anxiety. The genre exacerbated these feelings with lyrics of sexual overtones, race mixing, and gyrating dancers. He asserts that rock and roll was a tool of containment and control because it influenced youths to cut loose and redirect their sexual tensions.
The chapter on generational conflict illustrates how the music symbolized a wobbling empire of adult authority over the baby boomers. Altschuler concentrates on illuminating underlying philosophical and cultural issues raised by rock music in the family context.
The final chapter focuses on the period between 1958-1963 and the revival of rock and roll. It ends with a concise essay on Bruce Springsteen as a symbolic character for rock and roll transformation in the remaining quarter of 20th century. Alschuler notes that rock continues to play an essential role in the present youth culture but no longer carries with it the same unifying force it had before.
The book is impressive despite a few problems. At its best, the book discusses individuals and personalities by providing specific examples of songs and lyrics. The author's artistic mastery of creative writing allows him to balance the chapters on economics and government regulation with fascinating characters and favorite culture creations. In fact, the contrast between the two makes his work even more exemplary in the standard. Most important is the discussion on various themes brought out in the book. He succeeds in bringing out the main themes in the discussion by showing how the power of Rock n' Roll's switchable beats reveal significant divisions in the American society along fault-lines of race, sexuality, and family (Andrew McGregor).
In the second half of the book, the author goes downhill. The chapter addressing generational conflict is narrowly focused on economics and consumerism without addressing class and racial differences. Additionally, section five on culture wars is fallen out of place and disconnected from the main work. The debates of ASCAP-BMI and Alan Freed-Dick Clark are interesting, and show how the government officials respond to controversy and concern. However, it fails to illuminate on some earlier mentioned themes that are relevant in the context. The final chapter of the work on lull and survival conflict with the conclusion of the book. This is because; the tone indicates finality when describing the decline of Alschuler's main character careers while pointing to the dawn of an era on the horizon.
This book is pretty good for understanding the pivotal moments in the American history. The language used is relatively complex, and the story is a bit slow. But overall I think it has good stories, and I like it. The artistic twist in the theme of race is fascinating.
Altschuler, Glenn C. All Shook Up: How Rock n Roll Changed America. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Andrew McGregor. Rock N Roll in 1950s: A Review of _All Shook Up_. Andrew McGregor, 10 May 2013, https://admcgregor3.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/summer-book-review-all-shook-up/.
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