Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

November 14, 2008

The roots of early American history-themed rock

Filed under: Historians,Music — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:51 pm

A couple of weeks ago, I took note of Austin-based rocker Robert Harrison’s frequent references to early American history, from the name of his wonderful ’90s power pop band Cotton Mather to a song called “Old Edmund Ruffin” just released by his new band, Future Clouds & Radar. Well, I had a chance to see FC&R this past Tuesday night and chatted briefly with Harrison. It turns out that he comes by his historical references honestly, from having grown up with an early American historian in the house! His father was Joseph Harrison, Jr., an Early Republic specialist who taught at Auburn University. (And once published an article in the Journal of the Early Republic, as I found out when I got home and looked him up in “America: History and Life.”) My conversation with the extremely talented Robert Harrison was short, but it was memorable in being the only time I have ever heard a band member at a rock show utter the phrase “internal improvements.” This means it is the duty of every early Republic scholar to go out and buy a Future Clouds & Radar CD.

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October 29, 2008

Cotton Mather to Edmund Ruffin, the Musical Journey

Filed under: Music,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:06 pm

I am trying to be a serious person in these serious times, but permit me to take moment to follow up on the Early American History Band Names thread from a while back. Mention was made of the 90s power pop outfit Cotton Mather, out of Austin, TX.

I have just learned that Cotton Mather leader Robert Harrison’s new band, Future Clouds and Radar, has a new album coming out next week, and that the American history references continue, albeit to a later period. Song #2 on Peoria is something called “Old Edmund Ruffin.” The rumor is that FC&R is doing a little tour through my environs (Columbia, Chicago, St. Louis & Louisville) week after next, so I look forward to asking Harrison how he came to name pop bands and songs after Puritan theologians and hyper-secessionist editors.

Future Clouds and Radar’s eponymous debut album from last year is also very much worth seeking out. An epic two-CD set, the best song on that collection (video below) also has some geek value. It’s “Build Havana” and appears to use Fidel Castro’s capital city as a metaphor for the sort of relationship that the singer would like to have: “Our love’s in currency that I can’t hold.” I think this metaphor might qualify Robert Harrison as a socialist under current rules, so John McCain might want to look into that. Most struggling indie rock bands do stand in need of some wealth-spreading.

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August 8, 2008

Rocking the Colonial Period

Filed under: Music,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:29 am

In answer to Ben’s comment, of course Sir Lord Baltimore counts, and who could forget Paul Revere and the Raiders, who actually performed in quasi-colonial outfits? (Actually they are still performing in them, in Branson!) To my surprise, it seems that the gimmicky, studio-buffed Raiders have enjoyed something of a critical renaissance in recent years. Kicks do just keep getting harder to find.

But if we are going all colonial, what about Cotton Mather (out of Austin, Texas), perhaps the greatest power-pop band ever? I have no idea why Robert Harrison and company decided to name themselves after a witch-unfriendly Puritan divine, but their band was really, really good. They had a taste of success in the late 1990s but got washed away in the implosion of the “commercial alternative” music scene around the same time. I remember hearing their terrific single “My Before and After” on the radio a couple of times in Tallahassee, but I only truly discovered them ex post facto, thanks to a wandering conversation (and subsequent CD-burning) with a University of Chicago Press editor at an OAH booth a few years ago. I kid you not. (Sadly, Cotton Mather never named an album “Wonders of the Invisible World,” a ready-made album title if I ever saw one, at least if you had to choose among Puritan religious writings.) The video below is not my favorite of their songs, but it was the only one I could find on YouTube. Other songs can be heard here.

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