October 13, 2011
Chasing the Rising Sun, the story of a genuine icon
Some things in life are truly iconic. They carry down through the centuries because they embody an essential lesson about the frailty of life, the fallibility of humanity, and the consequences of making the wrong choices. "House of the Rising Sun" is an old folksong that no one knows the original author of. It goes back to at least the 19th Century, and might even have been written in the early 18th Century. It has carried down through the ages and been covered by hundreds of performers in a variety of genres because it, like other universal icons, changes every life it touches. Contrary to some biased and unfounded disinformation spread by the drummer of the British band, "The Animals", "House of the Rising Sun" is also a uniquely American folksong originating in the still rough and tumble mountain communities of the Deep South.
"Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song" is a masterpiece study of this song and its impact on American culture. No one, and I do mean absolutely no one, uses this level of scholarship in today's world. The book covers the earliest appearances of the song, the evolution of the song, the various theories about the origins of the song, and the archeaological survey of the obscure, "Rising Sun Hotel" (built around 1800, destroyed in a fire in 1822) that could very easily have been the original inspiration for the song.
The story of "The House of the Rising Sun" is the story of America. The song embodies our puritanical spirit, our inherent fallibility, and our continuing hope that the next generation will learn from our mistakes. The evolution of the song begins in those hazy, uncertain decades following the birth of our nation, arriving deeply modified but still ringing true in the nightclubs and honky tonks of today's America. I can promise you one thing, somewhere in America tonight some cover band in a seedy honky tonk is playing "House of the Rising Sun", someone is singing it at a upscale karaoke bar, and someone new to guitar is slowly mastering it.
"Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song" is the story of a song. That song is the story of us.