Confessions Of A British Invader


And I am glad the Americans acted, for I have always believed that ragtime, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, and rhythm and blues are vernacular styles best carried on by the natives themselves. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a Mick Jagger impersonating a poor black from the Deep South. All that we outsiders—we curators and enthusiasts—can do is to encourage by example. America is pop, the nation’s great and only contribution to world culture. I mean that as a compliment. Heaven knows, we don’t need any more Joyces, Prousts, or Picassos.

For myself, I became a writer of pop history, a reviver of older styles, a neo-Tin Pan Alleyman. Once, at Trinity College, Julian the postman had asked me: “What d’ye want to study history for? It’s all happened, and there’s nothing ye can do about it.” But there was: By writing about it, I could create my own world. So I marched steadily backward until I reached the sunny banks of vaudeville, where I rested. Here I am, where the proscenium arch separates actor from audience, where the singer is not yet the song, where you still end a sentimental ballad with a wink. Where, on a sad and dripping pier, I can still thrill to Al Jolson’s recorded call to come to California, and be right back where I started from.