We were looking at an old Scrabble game the other night, one that was handed down through the years. The plain brown box was in pretty good shape, with hardly any rips or tears, and the glue that they used to hold it all together hadn't come undone. It appeared from the markings to be at least 50 or maybe even 60 years old, and the colorful board was clean and crisp, the tiles and wood holders were spotless. I was told it was well used, but it obviously was also well made. It was a lot of fun for families and friends to play Scrabble together in the dining room or kitchen, but the board game business has likely taken a hit. Like music and video and books, and games and newspapers and magazines, we simply use apps these days. Staring at our little cell phone screens and electronic tablets, we either play against the processor chip or some faceless opponent on the internet.
Last month I went to the library. I still read books made of paper. My last holdout to the digital world. Everything else can reside on my hard drive, but I still like a book. I was there to pick up the latest mystery from Stephen White, the 20th and final novel in a series that takes place in Boulder. As I got ready to check it out (they scan barcodes these days--no more pockets in the front or rubber stamps that notate the due date), my eyes caught sight of an oversized book which I usually don't ever read. They call them coffee table books. Being hard to hold and all, usually we think of them at Christmastime because they can be a cooler gift to give than a tie or pair of slippers. You leaf through them and look at the pictures. Hardly anyone ever reads them.
Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music In America is different. Published back in 2006 by the Country Music Hall of Fame, our co-founder and former co-Editor Grant Alden wrote the review for No Depression in issue #65, and he liked it. Which, if you know him or have read Grant's words in the past, is not a low bar to easily jump over. Edited by Paul Kingsbury and Alanna Nash, it is a series of essays and incredible visual representations. Grant noted that it was "written by some of the most respected scholars of country music, several of whom can be credited with creating the field: Bill C. Malone, Charles K. Wolfe, Ronnie Pugh, and Rich Kienzle among them. Other chapters come from comparatively younger pens, including Jon Weisberger and Peter Cooper. (And, yes, all those—save the late Professor Wolfe—have written for ND over the years.)"
While I have studied and read extensively about the history of music in America, I found myself thouroughly enthralled by the chronological details and stories that takes the reader all over the radar from minstrel shows to Tin Pan Alley to the Child and Broadside ballads to the Skillet Lickers and Plow Boys and Patsy Montana and the National Barn Dance and Louisiana Hayride and the Carters and Delmore Brothers and Hank and singin' cowboys and Buck and Merle and Willie and Waylon and Elvis and Cash and Gram and Earle and Dylan, and on and on and on. A bonus that Grant points out: the modern day "hat acts" and "Garth era" take up barely thirty pages at the end. In addition to the interesting essays, photos, handbills and drawings, there are first person pieces from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and many others that really add perspective. The phrase "treasure trove" comes to mind.
After taking my ol' sweet time to cradle and read this beauty, I went out to find the music. While I have a ton of audio files and all, what I wanted was to see and watch and experience the performances . Thankfully, we have You Tube. And sadly, we have You Tube. For every great show or clip you can find, there are others so laden with banner ads that it makes them unbearable. And so much is missing. Or never existed in the first place.
But we should be thankful for what we've got, and I'd challenge you to surf the search bar and see what you can come up with. The Grand Ole Opry has done a great job is preserving much from the early sixties, and you can watch many films of the era, including the full National Barn Dance release. There's some great things found from the Johnny Cash Show, and many of the early variety shows from folks like Kate Smith and Tennessee Ernie Ford. I'll drop in a few that I've found for you to check out below.
As the board games of our youth such as Scrabble slip away to the world of apps, the book world will eventually be completely digitized...and obviously its well on it's way. Bookstores are few and far between these days. (Last time we checked in with Grant, I believe he was running one in Kentucky.) While it might be possible that this book is already out of print, I've found a few for sale and you will too if you just look. Here's a link to the great indie from Portland, Powell's Books. They have three left. Better get it while you can. This book is really F-I-N-E.