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Ha Ha Tonka: Not just a state park.

It is October!!

Ha Ha Tonka, 2013

Ha Ha Tonka, 2013

I failed to continue a working blog in the beginning weeks of my PhD program. Nevertheless, I will not let this keep me from the ultimate goal: a useful template to hash out ideas and to (eventually) provoke conversation between academics, bloggers, cultural historians, musicians, artists, students, military historians, colleagues, and et cetera. This is the “big goal,” but for now, I will stick to writing about things that interest me – just for the sake of writing about them. Blogging is a great stage to reject academic “lingo” in favor of a more enjoyable style.

This week, with the help of the most [insert superlative] academic advisor, I started exploration into my dissertation focus. There will be more on this later. Today, I want to dive into a topic that I will not be able to pursue academically, but something seriously on my mind.

I like music. Actually, I love music. One of the more difficult questions to answer is, “What kind of music do you listen to?” I feel like this is a totally unfair trap that people employ to judge your character. I recently saw an article online titled “What your music taste says about you,” that simplifies music personalities to the minimum. While super funny, a more serious version of this concerns me when I answer the Big Question.

A band that is continually in my radar is the impressive Ha Ha Tonka. From the Ozarks, their music is labeled “Americana meets such and such artist – meets such and such artist – while lounging in a green meadow on a gorgeous sunny day with a beer in hand,” or something like that. (Why people cannot just listen and decide without assistance, baffles me.) As an Americanist, I am instantly drawn to their lyrics. Their newly released Lessons includes a song titled “American Ambition,” and on past albums, “The Humorist” (Mark Twain citation), “Thoreau in the Woods,” “1928” (referencing a fire disaster in Missouri), “Caney Mountain” (depicting a cold-blooded murder in the Ozarks), and “Dead Man’s Hand” (a hard-boiled story of a card game gone awry). Did I mention that they named the band after a Missouri State Park?! This is a gold mine for an American Studies scholar! They have easily become my favorite. (What does this say about me? We could get in to this in future posts… And I promise it has nothing to do with the disturbingly handsome bassist.)

Among the many thoughts that pass through my head while listening to HHT is the matter of American storytelling. Here, HHT does not state the obvious, but the illusion of narrative and conveys a very poetic account of American tradition and/or legend. I think there is a lot to work out here. It is not just a matter of the timeline of tradition or which artists have executed a similar lyric style, but the question is this: what does this kind of storytelling mean for our generation?

“Dead to the World,” by Ha Ha Tonka. Enjoy.

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