"Old, Weird America"
Remembering the Texan gospel singer Washington Phillips.
[video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBpfdjpBniM width:618]
I have just returned from the US, having driven from San Francisco to Seattle. Intellectual, cultural and economic powerhouses, those two cities share the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and Qwest between them. Seattle is also home to the technological titan Boeing, whose Museum of Flight in Seattle provides a spectacular lesson in the remarkable advances made in aeronautics during the first half of this century.
But outside these cities, especially in the states of Oregon and Washington, the ‘Old, weird America’, to use a phrase coined by the cultural historians Greil Marcus, persists, a land of guns, Old Glory, churchgoing and a wilderness and climate capable of very real danger.
Driving through Oregon, I came across this, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard, the work of Washington Phillips, a little-known genius who recorded just 18 songs in his lifetime. One senses within its fragile incantations of passages from the early English Bibles, the sentiments of Cromwell’s ‘saints’, many of whom travelled between their short-lived republic and the new nation born in its image.