It’s a Pop Quiz! Get Out Your Pencils.

Neil Young owns Hank Williams’s guitar.  He asks you if you’d like to play it.  You say:

a. Hank who?

b.  Hell yeah.

c.  Holy shit.  No.  What if I broke it?  But can I stand near you while you play it?

If you are one of the dinks who answered a., I’m kicking you out of America.  Seriously, if you’re the kind of person who gets to hang out with Neil Young and you don’t know who Hank Williams is, you’ve lost your right to be an American citizen.  So long, jackass.

So, yeah, I’m half watching the Neil Young DVD being premiered on VH1 old fart’s channel, and he’s explaining how he came to own Hank Williams’s guitar and how, for the musicians he meets who know who Hank Williams is, it’s a big thrill for them to see it.  Implying, of course, that her regularly meets musicians who don’t know who Hank Williams is.

Really.  Shouldn’t you have to prove just a baseline of knowledge of American culture at some point if you want to be an American citizen? 

Off the top of my head, here’s the things I think you should have to have some working knowledge of if you want to claim to be an American.

  • The Constitution
  • George Washington
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Abigail Adams
  • Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Walt Whitman
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Mark Twain
  • The Robber Barons
  • The Civil War
  • Louis Armstrong
  • Hank Williams
  • Elvis Presley
  • Babe Ruth
  • Martin Luther King
  • Malcolm X
  • Viet Nam
  • Muddy Waters
  • Madonna
  • N.W.A.

There’s probably shit I’m forgetting, but is basic cultural competence really too much to ask?

46 thoughts on “It’s a Pop Quiz! Get Out Your Pencils.

  1. No, but I was trying to find figures who kind of summed up the music trends over the last 20 years and I think between NWA and Madonna (and possibly Garth Brooks) you get a feel for the landscape and the major tropes.I’m not saying that they’re great artists. I’m saying that, if you want to understand our culture, you’d better know who they were.

  2. I agree with Ex. Delete Madonna and NWA. You are no ED Hirsch, madam.You need to add:SupermanJohn BelushiPublic EnemyNeil ArmstrongBruce CampbellWyatt EarpBillie HolidayBill WattersonAaron BurrBettie PageT-Bone WalkerLouis JordanChuck BerryWhiskey RebellionFrank Lloyd WrightFrank ZappaFrank SinatraFrank BurnsShay’s RebellionGene RayburnPhil HartmanLewis & ClarkJune ForayPrince MadocLewis GrizzardSacajaweaNeal CassadyR.L. BurnsideSandra Day O’ConnorBattle of Hurtgen ForestHank AaronBruce LeeEvel KneivelMuhammad AliHoward CosellPearl HarborBarbary Piratesand of course, Catch-22.

  3. I take umbrage with your arbitrary and capricious list.Walt Whitman? I quote someone NOT on your list, Homer J. Simpson, when I say, “Leaves of grass, my ass, Walt Whitman!”

  4. Frank Lloyd Wright, Norman Rockwell, Bill Gates.How about the ability to find the US on a globe?I had to look up ‘The Robber Barons’. I guess I’m not an American.Or did you mean the actual kings of industry? I assumed you meant the band.

  5. You think Public Enemy is more important than NWA? I dare you to defend that claim.And you’d put Madoc on there but not Erikson?Otherwise, a fine list.

  6. Short and Fat, don’t make me fight you. I’ll lose, but you’ll have beaten up a girl.

  7. And I’m embarrassed that I forgot Frank Lloyd Wright. The Dana-Thomas house is one of my favorite places on the planet.

  8. It will take a nation of millions to hold us back. Fight the POWER!Zappa is overrated as a cultural influence. I think it’s because of the tootsies, the thorax and lower Burbank.If you think I’m just babbling, then you’ve missed out on another facet of culture.

  9. No one from Public Enemy is currently starring in family friendly films. I bet if you asked a sample group of fourteen year olds who Ice Cube is, they would NOT say "Gangsta Rapper".Public Enemy was listed in the FBI report "Rap Music and Its Effect on National Security."

  10. Public Enemy–gave us Chuck DNWA–Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube.NWA wins. Though, I will never forget seeing Public Enemy come out on stage in Klan robes when they opened for U2. I had no idea who they were and I was suddenly worried I’d stepped into a white pride event.I lead a sheltered life as a child.

  11. Yet Easy-E cozyed up to George H.W. Bush right before dropping dead. He was saved from VH1 buffoonery by AIDS. Oh yeah, score another one for NWA.

  12. A handfull of indespensible places:CBGBRed RocksThe RoxyThe RymanSun RecordsWoodstockAltamontGracelandThe Grassy Knoll

  13. Ooo, Huck. Good ones.Smartypants, okay, fine. If we say that Eazy cancels out Flava, you still end up with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Now, true, that Ice Cube has become a star of children’s movies, but I think that adds to my argument, about the ubiquitous influence of the group.If not, then it comes down to who ends up being more important–Chuck D or Dr. Dre.And, here’s where I’m afraid I can’t make the call. I like Chuck D as a person much better than I like Dr Dre. But in terms of popular influence, I think it’s obvious that Dre has far more of it.

  14. Have you heard Chuck D speak on politics and culture in America at the Freedom Forum Events? He is surprisingly good and makes some very good points and arguments in an intelligent manner. I have seem both him and Henry Rollins speak and I preferred Chuck D.

  15. In all honesty, I can’t even say I have exhausted my knowledge of rap, as I didn’t have any to begin with. Everything I know about it comes from Spike Lee movies and Wikipedia.But from that objective framework:NWA made two actual albums.PE made more than two.NWA existed during a five year window.PE is still a going concern.PE crossed over and recorded with Anthrax, as well as (for better or worse) influencing other bands across the color line, such as, Biohazard, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine.NWA didn’t.

  16. That’s what I meant about liking him better personally. He’s smart and engaging and thoughtful. Compare that to listening to Dr. Dre talk about how he doesn’t like gay people… Well, clearly I prefer the activist.Henry Rollins cracks me up. It’s like he was made for blogging, but since it didn’t exist when he was coming up, he had to get into punk instead.

  17. Now’s when we need Mantooth back here. Why is it that the Run DMC/Aerosmith collaboration is recast as the moment when rock & rap collided, when really, at the time, it seemed, at least to me, more like rap rescues hack rock band from obscurity? True, it was first, but the PE/Anthrax collaboration was the one that seemed like Holy Shit! This is something, since both groups were incredibly popular at the time. It didn’t seem like a novelty. It seemed like a possibility.How has that been forgotten?

  18. I’m glad that we can agree that Aerosmith is the most overrated rock band of our lifetimes. That may be hard for folks who had a mullet to admit, but it’s true.

  19. Sorry, I had a meeting. Okay, kids.PE should be on the list because:They were one of the first, if not the first, serious rap bands to get play on college radio. College radio DJs became music execs, DJs, and probably more importantly to this discussion, music journalists. When those kids started contributing the the industry, they would to discuss rap as a form of music rather than a fad or novelty. It wasn’t Run-DMC that made MTV play rap. Without PE’s status with the cognecetti, there would have been no "Yo! MTV Raps."PE was influential within the African AMerican community in terms of spreading the popularity of afrocentrism, which in many ways was a disservice. Though we really can’t fault them for people choosing to interpret their messages a certain way . . .Sister Souljah, who was in the PE camp, was a factor in a Presidential electionChuck’s assertion as rap music as the "CNN of the black community" helped to elevate some rappers to the status of chat show sociologists — as long as the subject involved black people.NWA’s impact, however, goes further.1) For better or worse, they made "gangsta rap" a household catch phrase (by inspiration, not creation).2) They brought mass attention to the LA crack wars and LA police brutality.3) Their stance as (fake) criminals made a certain segment of the American population as facinated with rap as they were with Scarface and The Godfather. When you combine that with the popularity of pop rappers like Hammer, you have the beginnings rap music taking over the pop music sales charts.These things have made more of an impact to America than has PE, unfortunately. What is funny abt all that is that it could have been anyone really who accomplished these feats. There was nothing about the crew that made them that outstanding, save Dre’s beats. Cube wouldn’t really find his true voice until he went solo.

  20. You are aware that Neil Young is Canadian, right?One more thing, thanks for including Lewis Grizzard.I really miss him.

  21. Hence the reason Neil Young isn’t on the list. Though I’d totally make him an honorary U.S. citizen just for picking a good-natured fight with Lynard Skynard.I’m not concerned about Neil Young. I’m concerned about the people who don’t know who Hank Williams is that he’s afflicted by.

  22. Took a cab downtown last week during the music festival. We were going to the new symphony hall. The driver first laughed at us and asked if we thought anyone would go "to that new place for classical music." As if that was not enough of an insult, he then started making fun of all the country music fans (of which I am anot one but don’t see the harm or shame in others being one) and claiming he knew nothing about the entire genre dspite living in Nashville for years. So, when I listed that evenings headliners, which included Hank Williams, Jr., he said he didn’t know who that was. I thought he was lying and putting on a show. Considering that he also didn’t recognize the names Lynard Skynard or Brooks & Dunn, I still think he was lying. People really don’t know who Hank Williams is? That’s crazy.

  23. I wish I could forget who Dick Cheney is, but he seems hell-bent on not fading into obscurity. Toni Morrison is a good add. Nice catch, Mac.

  24. oh, I agree with you on the "Anyone who doesn’t know who Hank Williams is should lose citizenship" – very true.But sadly, many American’s probably couldn’t locate the United States on a map if they tried.

  25. It’s worse than that. I used to try to teach an environmental history course at a college that is a long softball throw from the Hudson River. About 30% of my students couldn’t identify the river on a map, though they cross it every day driving to school. Forget about being able to differentiate between the Rockies and the Adirondacks. The vast majority cannot tell you the direction of the prevailing wind, point north when asked to do so, name more than three types of birds or more than five types of trees. (Forget about a visual i.d.) They are surprised to learn that our town is in a valley — as though they have not noticed the mountains that loom on three sides. They know a ton of shit about stuff on TV, but they are some of the most unobservant and spatially disconnected people I’ve yet met. If it doesn’t plug in, it might as well not even exist.

  26. bridgett: "I used to try to teach an environmental history course at a college that is a long softball throw from the Hudson River. About 30% of my students couldn’t identify the river on a map, though they cross it every day driving to school."Few of my students in the Bronx would believe that Manhattan is an island, or that Brooklyn and Queens are on Long Island. Of course, when I lived in Spain, my landlady refused to believe that the U.S. is about 3000 miles wide. Geographical ignorance is appalling, but it sure isn’t limited to this country.

  27. Must disagree with Toni Morrison being "a good add". In my opinion, she personified brilliance with Sula, but failed in ever again creating a work of true substance. But she has a nice smile.Best,Ryan

  28. My Morrisonian Defense:The point was not, I believe, that to be American one must like all of these things, but that one must have a working knowledge of them. It would be safe to say that it would be a much less crowded country if liking were the criterion for citizenship, given the sheer volume of people who did not like what happened in Vietnam, or at Pearl Harbor. Therefore, liking Morrison is irrelevant, but knowing about her is important. And Ryan, if you stopped reading after Sula, you might try Love. I understand it’s a companion novel to Sula, and I have to say I liked it better.

  29. Lewis and Clark weren’t exactly chopped liver. I’d lop off Madonna, add L and C as an entity.Totally agree with the mighty Sarcasto – PE fights the power.

  30. John H, I’m so glad you’re back to blogging. You’ve been the cause of much of my good fortune this year, though I don’t suppose you know that. The sister of a friend of yours found Tiny Cat Pants through you and from that has roped me into all kinds of exciting things.So, thanks.

Comments are closed.