American Banshees

Taking a break from the Expedition today to talk about a musical form that has been held hostage by corny nostalgia mongers for years, but deserves a fresh listen.

I grew up listening to old scratchy 45s. I love their cool remoteness, their texture, and mystique: they’re an aural species of daguerreotype. Certain genres of music require a certain setting to achieve any effect, and I think this is especially true of Doo-Wop. My enjoyment of Doo-Wop can only flourish under certain conditions: personally I can’t imagine attending a live performance by the Moonglows or the Fantastics, wonderful as they may be. It would leave me cold. It may seem perverse to say, but to me, hearing a live Doo-Wop performance is to hear it in its diminished form: no spell is being sung, just a performance. Doo-Wop is best when disembodied: it’s meant to be heard through a car radio, late at night on a lonely road, with its spectral keening trailing off into the night air. It is only then that Doo-Wop’s eerie, ghostly power can be felt. Doo-Wop’s sweet subject matter lends a kind of wry counterpoint to its sinister aura. The listener vacillates between joy and dread, which is fitting for a musical form whose heyday arguably coincided with the country’s. I think David Lynch would understand what I mean.

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4 Responses to American Banshees

  1. Jerseyman says:

    Nicely done, Whimsy! A great segue away from ‘yakin’ and into singin’!!

    You may not know it, but Do0-Wop was a favorite genre among those who worked at the North American Marine Salvage Company yard in Fieldsboro. Hitler’s yacht GRILLE met is demise in this yard during the 1950s. In any case, you would often hear the workers singing, “dum, diddy-do, dum, dum, Breaking up his hard to do” as they scrapped the various ships towed into the yard.

    With my tongue planted firmly in my check, I remain,


  2. Dave Bartram says:

    I’m looking forward to reading all about your expedition, but in the meantime I enjoyed listening to the Moonglows. I tend to agree with you about the preferred way of listening to Doo-Wop, although when I began listening to it in the 50’s, I was only about 10 years old (couldn’t drive around late at night). After my parents thought I was asleep, I tuned in to Allen Freed on WINS in New York city and Dick Biondi in Buffalo. The AM radio and late at night part are the same though.

  3. Lord Whimsy says:

    Ah, the great Alan Freed! Pity what happened to him. Can’t believe you got to hear him live on the radio, Dave.

    My friends at are editing the video footage and I am going in this week to do some narration. Also, I will be doing a slide presentation/lecture on the expedition somewhere around sept. 16th. I’m awaiting confirmation on this. When I do, I will make an official announcement as to place, date and time. Hope you can come!

  4. Lord Whimsy says:

    THE Aviso Grille, Jerz?Are you serious? That’s incredible!