In It For the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey

 

In terms of music, Americana is a sort of catch-all genre that includes all kinds of grass root American music. It entails folk, country, blues, bluegrass, early (and usually more acoustic) rock and roll, and all the offshoots that comes from the history of American music. The term recognizes the more noncommercial sounds that have been abandoned by the mainstream as American music became more homogenized by corporate interests. Much of what is termed as Americana is the type of music that you experience as you would trek across America, forsaking the top 40 channels and listening to what the locals are creating on their acoustic instruments. Accepted as a genre by The American Music Association in the 90s, I find it a much better description of grass roots American music than country, folk, or any of the more specific terms.

If anyone can claim to be at the forefront of Americana, it just may be Jim Rooney. He makes a good case for that in his autobiography, In it For the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey. Inspired as a young boy by the likes of greats like Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters, he formed his own band which was primary country, but later started an early folk club in the 60s and went on to be a musical coordinator for the Newport Folk Festival. Then in the 70s he went on to form his own record company and produce music with musicians like John Prine and Nanci Griffith. During all this, he kept his hands in the music by performing, playing in his own bands, and composing.

A memoir by someone who was if not a household name but was still steeped in the Americana tradition, promises to be a seminal and unique look at the development of the music and the scene. Yet Rooney's book falls far short of being that. It isn't that he doesn't write about the scene and the music. He does in much detail. But there is little insight in the music. It is more of a "And then I did this". He writes much about the various artists like Muddy Waters, John Prine,and others but there no real revelations. Pretty soon the book feels like a lot of name-dropping and not much else. When I read a memoir like this I want to get a sense of time and place; a feel for the excitement that the artists and the musical environment brought to the writer and the excitement he transmitted to them as a promoter and producer. That sense of excitement never materializes.

Perhaps this book is meant more for the Americana aficionado or for the ones that lived through the scene. But for someone like me who loves music and would like to know more about a particular kind of music, I just didn't think this worked. Perhaps there is another book out there that does justice to the Americana scene. This is not it.