The Common Good
June 1994

Looking for Culture in All the Wrong Places

by Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann | June 1994

I'm jealous of countries or regions that have a popular culture.

I'm jealous of countries or regions that have a popular culture. Islands like Haiti with flaming paintings or Jamaica with reggae or Puerto Rico with national love songs that anyone with a guitar can play. I don't believe the United States has one. If a bus breaks down or a road washes out and 60 Americans are stranded, can they sing even one song to its conclusion? The most likely are ones we learned in kindergarten and which play back to a time when we did have a popular culture-tunes like "Working on the Railroad," "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."

We have a piano in our house that none of us knows how to play. When a friend sat down recently and played the one piece he knows, I was surprised by the feelings it evoked. It reminded me of summer camp when, half-homesick, I would listen to kids play "Heart and Soul."

But when Lydia was born, I was really conscious that her first experience of musical instruments and most singing would come from a source that her 1-year-old eyes couldn't identify. Her intellect would be asked to make a jump that would hurt her sense of her own powers of observation.

My relationship to the popular culture that Batstone and Smith endorse is to try to curtail its influence. I try to keep the radios and TV off. If there's live music somewhere I'll try to take the kids. My first choice would be to listen to a friend play.

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