Rock 'n' roll history could have been more fun

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The 1950s were a time of uncertainty in America. The baby boomers had reached adolescence, and their search for identity coincided with the emergence of rock 'n' roll and the push for racial integration.

It is hard to imagine, in the current musical climate, that Elvis Presley was considered lewd, and music by black artists was seen as a threat to American youth. Opinions about rock 'n' roll varied, but all were strong.

In "All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America," Glenn C. Altschuler captures an era that is quickly being forgotten. Although it isn't about a topic in need of further documentation, this text will at least remind another generation where its current musical culture came from.

Altschuler is an academic, and he tackles his subject as one would a thesis. While this yields a wealth of historical information and quotes, it makes for choppy reading and does not allow the author to develop a distinct voice. The book might have been put to better use as a required text for a class.

Throughout "All Shook Up," Altschuler thoroughly documents rock 'n' roll's effects on the racial, sexual and generational conflicts of the decade. Unfortunately, a book organized by such topics lacks the continuity of a chronological documentation.

Yet, readers who persevere will be rewarded by a book rich with shocking and humorous anecdotes. They will learn, for instance, that the lyrics to "Tutti Frutti" were rewritten an hour before the song was recorded.

Altschuler also offers insight into the often complicated racial and legal issues surrounding rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. He explains at length the paradoxes facing black musicians at the time and the greed of industry executives that still plagues the business.

For the music trivia fan or researcher, "All Shook Up" is essential reading. But the reader seeking entertainment or a source for reminiscing might do better watching one of several documentaries that have been made about the subject.