Originally Posted by Strollyourlobster
I've been reading Griel Marcus's wonderful book on Bob Dylan and the Basement tapes, The Old, Weird America,
in which Marcus uses this phrase to mean America as it is represented through old murder ballads and visionary folk art and the sort of egalitarianism of impoverished communities. It's been helping me think about America in a different way than I have in the past--less as a political thing and more as a hugely various confluence of different heritages swirling together in constant motion. Partly I'm thinking about this because I spent most of yesterday at a show where Old Crow Medicine Show, Levon Helm, Iron and Wine, and the Felice Brothers played. And I was wondering,
looking around at the crowd of floppy hats, neotribal tattoos, fat babies, earnestly ironic flag t-shirts, what is our smell here in this crowd?
But so I was wondering what perfumes might in some way be an expression of the Old, Weird America? Or if you prefer, think of Kenneth Rexroth's phrase for the America of Carl Sandburg's ballads, "the old, free America." What's the smell of America when you feel most hopeful about it and most a part of it?
This question is stunning to me. The "What's the smell of America when you most feel hopeful about it and most apart of it?" risks encouraging political discussion that's against the rules at the site, of course, but all the same there's a truth to the question--there are times I'm so pumped for the country when people set out living or presenting the change they want to make. There's absolutely a charge that comes and can be called something that's when you're most hopeful and a part of your country. And I deliberately put that phrase in the second person, because I imagine everyone has moments where they're very proud of the activity/history/culture of his or her country. I realize there might be a problem with the question also because it's an international forum. Further, (grunt) why does the rest of the world always have to talk about American stuff/culture? Isn't it stomping around with its culture too much already?
I realize there are those risks, and I beg my fellow members to indulge me as I try to think of the way Americans crave to find something from their roots, yet almost always with a new and fresh turning to the old. In a significant way it's too bad the USA is the superpower it is--this question could be so interesting about a place if it weren't burdened by superpower status. Which is what the essence of the question is: what's the old, weird America scent for murder ballads, visionary folk art, and egalitarianism of impoverished communities?
I'm going to have to search for murder ballads, because I don't know any. However my city has museums of the best folk art the country has to offer, and American stories of impoverishment are well known. (Grapes of Wrath, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and many many others.)
As I said in my first post on this thread, America is a new country. When people here wanted/want luxe, they graft it from the cultures that are much older. French and English stuff. "We've got class here, just like those tastemaking places, so, of course, I want the roses-smelling-juice they've got over there as the best." For evidence, look to the threads we so frequently have here--"how do I pronounce this scent?" Many of them started by Americans. Those hard to pronounce names are often the sought ones and who wouldn't want to demonstrate he/she is in the know about their pronunciation?
But for the old, weird America, which isn't looking to graft elsewhere's luxe, that's the question, ain't it?
The answer isn't just as simple as an American scent brand name, I think. So many of them are just trying to cash in by being peers of European stuff. I also don't think the answer has to do with drug store scents like Jovan Musk in today's aisles, although in some measure I'm sure there's a part to that. The answer might lie in hair tonics, powdery lavender of the barbershop. Olfactory symbols of cleanness probably abound for the old, weird America. Probably some oiliness.
Maybe I'm getting too hung up on the murder ballads and thinking about Weegee photographs.
Let me come out and say it: I simply love the hippie association with patchouli. The hippie movement--back to the land, communal sharing, rejection of capitalism's definitions and social presentation obligations, that's one element of the egalitarianism of impoverished communities that makes me charged with pride for the seekers in my nation. And that they picked patchouli as their stuff, well, that simply rocks the planet. I happen to like smelling patch myself.
So for a first complete thought on this topic, I say patchouli is the commander of the do-it-yourself part of this aspect of the country.