tymshft

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Dance music…in the eighteenth century

During my hour-plus afternoon commute from Orange County to San Bernardino County, I will occasionally amuse myself by imagining that Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson has been transported through time and is sitting in the passenger seat next to me.

Why Franklin and Jefferson? Because those two are more likely to comprehend the changes that have occurred in the intervening centuries.

The freeway upon which we are driving is certainly recognizable – it’s much bigger than anything they’ve ever seen (at least in the United States), but at least they can figure out what it is.

And by some extrapolation, they may be able to figure out how something like kerosene can be used to propel the “automobiles” that are zooming by them on the freeway (I’d say “steam on steroids,” but neither Jefferson nor Franklin would understand the “on steroids” reference). Now I’ll grant that they would be traveling much faster than they had ever traveled in their lives, but eventually they’d get used to it and calm down – well, at least until I told them the story of how my car got flipped over in 1991.

Perhaps as they saw the power lines overhead, Franklin could be persuaded to remember that little incident with the kite during a thunderstorm, and would realize that the power of electricity had been harnessed. A quick glance at the instrument panel of my car would show various ways in which electricity could be used.

Now I’m not sure how I’d explain the radio to them – I can’t think of anything in their 18th century experience that was remotely similar to the radio – but at the end of the day, I’m sure these two Deists would just accept radio by faith.

However, the one thing that might cause confusion might be the sounds that came out of the radio once I turned it on.

I thought of this one afternoon when I was listening to Simian Mobile Disco’s “Sleep Deprivation.” Remember that to Jefferson and Franklin, the major 18th century musical instrument innovation was the piano (the pianoforte). How would one explain to an 18th century person that Franklin’s kite was placed in the air and used to power devices that create purely electronic music – including a thumping bass and a drum machine that had no parallel in Beethoven’s earlier work.

“Where’s the kite?”

I can just imagine Jefferson, covering his ears faster than a 1950’s Elvis hater, and screaming, “What is THAT?”

“That,” I would reply, “is dance music.”

Then Jefferson’s head would REALLY reel.

After all, the eighteenth century social dances of the courts of England and France, and even the more popular “frolicks” of that time, would not lend themselves to the Ibiza-style music. After all, these were the predecessors to today’s square dances (it was the Americans who invented the caller, so that the dancers wouldn’t have to memorize the complicated dance steps).

But the square dance has been modernized a bit.

Oh, those hipsters.

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