Two separate but related things came across my desk recently. The first is a song called “Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hör’n” (I’d Really Like to Hear Dave Dudley) by a German country band called Truck Stop, apparently the heavyweights of American-style country from Germany. You can find the lyrics here. [Honestly it’s got too much lingering German folk influence for my tastes—that’s my least favorite folk style—but I appreciate them anyway. I wouldn’t discourage anybody from appreciating and propagating American country music.*] The relevant part here is this:
Ich möcht’ so gern Dave Dudley hör’n,
Hank Snow und Charlie Pride,
‘nen richtig schönen Countrysong, doch AFN ist weit.
I’d really like to hear Dave Dudley,
Hank Snow and Charlie Pride,
a nice good country song, but AFN is far away.
AFN is the American Forces Network, which I dimly recall from the year in my childhood I spent in Germany. In Vietnam it was known as AFVN, which brings me to the second thing.
I was introduced to the Cambodian singer Ros Serey Sothea a few years back. She was mainly known as a ballad singer but had a nice phase with dreamy garage rock. (Check it out. This kind of stuff would do great on the circuit today.) I learned a little of her story, but I guess I skipped ahead in the biography to the part where she was one of the many victims of the insanely bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge regime. What I only read recently was, according to Wikipedia, the broader Cambodian rock scene she was a part of was influenced by AVFN in neighboring Vietnam.
As blog readers may know I have a very libertarian position on US foreign policy, especially military involvement. I don’t think the US military should have been sent to Vietnam at all, and I can see the argument for having kept it in Germany although I don’t really buy it.
Still, in both cases it was a vector for American cultural transmission, and I view that as a good thing ceteris paribus. I happen to have a fondness for it, and in any event having more options is better than having fewer. The fact that people embraced it shows they shared my assessment. In the minds of people abroad America sometimes means guns pointed at them for mysterious reasons, but it also sometimes means new and exciting cultural inputs.
An additional remarkable story is that while American styles of country and rock & roll are of distinctly American origin, the ingredients used to make them are not; they came to America with the Scots-Irish and West Africans.** (Important story about black influence on country here.) It would surely boggle the mind of any Scots-Irish or West African people you could find several hundred years ago to be told they were players in a cultural story that would branch out as far as 1970s Cambodia.
* Disclaimer: does not apply to nu-country. Nobody should be listening to that.
** Unwillingly in the latter case, but we have to find the silver lining in the history we have since it’s the only one there is.