As America gallops towards another civil war en route to the destruction of civilisation and ultimately the planet itself, there is very little cause to celebrate any aspect of the world’s most powerful and most dysfunctional nation. But there is one sphere in which the USA has repeatedly excelled: music. The spawning ground of the blues, ragtime, pop, jazz, country, soul, gospel, rock’n’roll, rock, disco, funk and hip-hop, let alone their multitude of sub-genres, has generated so much musical treasure that the rest of the world can only be grateful to America for its immense contribution to our aural enlightenment.
The deaths of two of my all time favourite American musicians in January have brought this home to me. David Crosby (1941-2023) and Tom Verlaine (1949-2023) were both unorthodox dissidents and inventive pioneers in their very different yet overlapping genres – Crosby folk-rock and psychedelia, Verlaine post-punk and art-rock, if one must resort to labels. Writing about music is as difficult and perhaps as pointless as singing about writing, so I will spare readers any dissertations on their back catalogues and instead let the music do the talking with two selections from their oeuvre.
First David Crosby’s counterculture anthem Almost Cut My Hair, written in 1970 after he had left The Byrds and had formed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Note: even at the end, aged 81, he never cut his hair. Then Tom Verlaine’s Torn Curtain from the 1977 Television album Marquee Moon – turn the volume to maximum, especially for his astonishing guitar-solo coda that makes you wish it would never fade out…