Rockabilly Ain’t Elevator Music!

The title of this article pretty much points out the painfully obvious! In fact, when you think about what “elevator” music is, you can take the opposite of that and you’d have a pretty good description of what rockabilly is.

Elevator music strives to be generic and nondescript. It’s designed so that it doesn’t offend anyone. It’s safe, serene, calm, and careful. I’m not sure those four words have ever in the history of spoken or written communication appeared in the same sentence as the word rockabilly! Rockabilly is none of those and never was.

In fact, back in the early days, rockabilly music and the musicians who played it were considered dangerous, manic, brash, and careless. The music was viewed as a mental illness and a disease that was infesting the clean skin of polite society.

The rockabilly pioneers were “dangerous” and they knew it. They cultivated their “vulgar” rebel image because they knew that the more the parents hated it, the more the kids loved it.

Although the musicians involved in the music were in truth mostly decent, ordinary people just like the people in any other profession, rockabilly and rock and roll did ironically turn out to be dangerous. Dangerous for many of the musicians and others in the industry who suddenly found themselves faced with that potent combination of sudden fame and adulation and more money than they ever dreamed of.

Not that rockabilly stars invented the problems, but many of them became caught up in the same excessive drinking and drug addictions that have plagued so many of our entertainers before and since. Maybe they started popping a few pills in order to keep awake while driving to the next town or drinking too heavily to mask the pain of homesickness in the middle of another long, drawn-out tour.

So, maybe rockabilly music was dangerous after all. But I don’t think so. It’s not the music that caused the problems. It was the excessive fame and sudden fortune. That’s what so many people through the years have had difficulty handling. But the music itself can’t be blamed.

And actually, if you think of it, perhaps elevator music might be the more dangerous of the two. After all, I could listen to rockabilly all day long and come out smiling and humming. But one ride up to the 10th floor as a captive forced to endure the travesty of “Blue Suede Shoes” done up as elevator music…well, that’s enough to bring out the worst in any of us!


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