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Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song Hardcover – June 19, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The song "House of the Rising Sun," which became a chart-topping hit in 1964 by the Animals, has a murky history, said to have originated in Appalachia, maybe New Orleans and perhaps even England, as well as having a thriving universal afterlife among cover bands and karaoke singers. Anthony, an editor for the Associated Press, crisscrossed the globe in search of the twisted roots and many spreading branches of this lonesome ballad of unknown origins. The song's ultimate odyssey began in 1937 when folklorist Alan Lomax recorded a version by 16-year-old Georgia Turner Connolly in Middlesboro, Ky. Lomax published the lyrics as "The Rising Sun Blues" and from there it grew in popularity and was performed and recorded by many, including Bob Dylan on his first record in 1962. The story seems promising, but Anthony's narrative is an uneasy mix of memoir, dissertation-like detail (with tedious repetitions of multiple versions of lyrics), journalistic feature writing and esoteric trivia. Anthony at times unconvincingly adopts the authoritative voice of an American studies expert, and he also lacks the musical or poetic knowledge to dissect the song. This exploration will be of most value to those who share Anthony's unbridled obsession with this ubiquitous ballad. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Depending on age and background, folk-music fans associate "The House of the Rising Sun" with Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Josh White, or Bob Dylan. Many more remember what some consider its definitive rendition, recorded by the sixties English rock band the Animals. Anthony travels to places throughout America and a few beyond its borders to uncover the song's origins for this musical detective story that is also in part straightforward music history. We meet early country-music stars Clarence Ashley and Charlie Poole, several record collectors, and renowned folk-song collector Alan Lomax, who also recorded early commercial versions of the song. Anthony even hunts down the harmonica player at the 1937 session in which 16-year-old Georgia Turner recorded the song for Lomax. Anthony's travels take him from Middlesboro, Kentucky, to Springfield, Missouri, and down to New Orleans, where the house ostensibly operated. Although Anthony's style veers from the poetic to the prosaic, the tale he tells remains fascinating, especially for enthusiasts of traditional songs, folklore, and folk music. Sawyers, June
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song is a masterpiece study of this song and its impact on American culture. No one, and I do mean absolutely no one, uses this level of scholarship in today's world. The book covers the earliest appearances of the song, the evolution of the song, the various theories about the origins of the song, and the archeaological survey of the obscure, "Rising Sun Hotel" (built around 1800, destroyed in a fire in 1822) that could very easily have been the original inspiration for the song.
The story of "The House of the Rising Sun" is the story of America. The song embodies our puritanical spirit, our inherent fallibility, and our continuing hope that the next generation will learn from our mistakes. The evolution of the song begins in those hazy, uncertain decades following the birth of our nation, arriving deeply modified but still ringing true in the nightclubs and honky tonks of today's America. I can promise you one thing, somewhere in America tonight some cover band in a seedy honky tonk is playing "The House of the Rising Sun", someone is singing it at a upscale karaoke bar, and someone new to guitar is slowly mastering it.
Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song is the story of a song. That song is the story of us.
Where did "House of the Rising Sun" come from? England? Appalachia? From an imaginary place Anthony terms "The Village"? Perhaps it takes one to raise a really memorable song.
In his fascinating, world-wide search, Anthony meets about as many people as you could imagine, all different, but with one similarity: All of them have performed the song, or know someone who did, or collected recordings of people who did, or were transfixed by it just as Ted Anthony was.
This book originated as a lengthy feature story Anthony wrote for the Associated Press, his employer, in 2000. I was still a newspaper man in those days, and in 39 and one-half years of reporting, I never read a feature story as fascinating, detailed or inspiring. I'm glad that Anthony expanded the feature to full-length book form. It was obviously too good to stop relating the story of his quest with just a feature. If one is determined to have an obsession, I can't think of a better object than "House of the Rising Sun."
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