Music in the Age of Anxiety
American Music in the Fifties
Book published by University of Illinois Press
Derided for its conformity and consumerism, 1950s America paid a price in anxiety. Prosperity existed under the shadow of a mushroom cloud. Optimism wore a Bucky Beaver smile that masked worry over threats at home and abroad. But even dread could not quell the revolutionary changes taking place in virtually every form of mainstream music.
Music historian James Wierzbicki sheds light on how the Fifties' pervasive moods affected its sounds. Moving across genres established—pop, country, opera—and transfigured—experimental, rock, jazz—Wierzbicki delves into the social dynamics that caused forms to emerge or recede, thrive or fade away. Red scares and white flight, sexual politics and racial tensions, technological progress and demographic upheaval—the influence of each rooted the music of this volatile period to its specific place and time. Yet Wierzbicki also reveals the host of underlying connections linking that most apprehensive of times to our own uneasy present.
James Wierzbicki teaches musicology at the University of Sydney, Australia, and is the author of Film Music: A History and Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet: A Film Score Guide.
“Wierzbicki takes on the the difficult task of linking all musical genres from 1945 to 1960 to the neurosis of the era.... The author successfully demonstrates the impact of social change upon Fifties music in a well-written and engaging way. Recommended.”
“Music in the Age of Anxiety offers an engaging, lively, and thought-provoking examination of a diverse range of musical styles prevalent in 1950s America. This fascinating book is accessible for students and general readers, even as Wierzbicki offers new insights that will be of interest to specialists as well.”
—Gayle Sherwood Magee, author of Charles Ives Reconsidered
“It's unbelievable, looking back now almost sixty years, that there was once a time that so many different kinds of music could thrive, even claim priority status, at the center of the American musical mainstream. The “fifties” were extraordinary years of conformity and rebellion, a contradiction reflected in nearly every genre of music. Not everyone might analyze these contradictions the same way, or emphasize the same causes or trends. But whether or not you always agree with the analysis you will marvel at the vast landscape that James Wierzbicki masterfully surveys here. I defy anyone to read this book without coming away with a greater sense of the issues surrounding music’s production and consumption during this decade, its staggering array of now timeless treasures in every genre, its immense boldness and variety, and its lasting effects.”
—Michael V. Pisani, Vassar College
“This very readable book is filled with many perceptive connections between music and cultural, social, and political activities of the 1950s. Wierzbicki is to be especially commended for his mastery of many sources and the way he has woven them together.”
—Michael Broyles, author of Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music
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