It's been a good ten days for Americana in London. Last week, we had the lachrymose but mercurial alt-country singer Ryan Adams playing his acoustic set at the London Palladium (and apologizing to anyone who expected to see the Wizard of Oz musical which is running on that stage); the first Sundance London festival was running at the former Millennium Dome - and there was a showing of the 90% indie comedy/10% 1980s SF tribute film, Safety Not Guaranteed supported by the U.S. Embassy; and last night, the Jazz Cafe hosted a gig from the Canadian band, The Sadies.
The Sadies serve up a pleasantly sour and addictive mix of country, garage rock, psychedelia and surf, tearing their way through American traditional music, offering murder ballads, instrumentals, and virtuoso musicianship. They also have neat line in psychedelic suits, in the fashion of the Flying Burrito Brothers (as seen on the cover of The Gilded Palace of Sin album). As such they are a something of a tribute to a tribute, a visit to an idea.
Pop and rock, of course, feeds on itself, but there's also something that reminded me of American Studies, at least as it's practiced in the UK (and seemed to appeal also to the audience at the Jazz Cafe). Jackson Turner's Frontier may be long gone, if it ever existed, but the desire to escape somewhere vast, other and often strange may account for some of the attractions of studying, visiting, imagining and writing about the USA, from the Colonial Period to the Harlem Renaissance, the borders of Mexico to the constructs of Las Vegas and Disneyland. This year's Eccles Centre for American Studies plenary lecturer, Professor Peter Coates, touched on this during some comments during his talk 'Red and Gray: Toward a Natural History of Anti-Americanism in Britain'. He mentioned his sense of personal shock at finding himself researching at Kew in The National Archives. He never wanted to go to Kew. He wanted to beyond, away, escaping provincial, narrower concerns.
The Sadies (with Andre Williams) are represented in the collections by 'Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)' from the Red Dirt album. Those wanting to plan their own scholarly escapes, perhaps with an MA thesis, may want to start with Grant Alden, No Depression: an introduction to alternative country music (Dowling Press, 1998) [YK.2009.a.7499) and a run of No Depression (Seattle), issues from 1998-2008 at ZD.9.b.752.