Music Over Generations

clay county histories

Markus Krueger | Program Director  HCSCC

My wife and I recently went to the Troll Lounge at Fargo’s Sons of Norway Lodge to hang out with friends – Les, Bev, Spider, Chuck – and to see Charlie’s band, The Moving Parts. They’re all Baby Boomers, the generation of my parents. Whoever decides such things places my birth year of 1981 as the first of the Millennials, but since technology baffles me and I was really into 1990s Grunge music, I identify as the youngest of Generation X. I believe one of the reasons I’ve always had an easy time relating to Baby Boomers is that music drove the culture of our generations. 

The cultural movers and philosophers of the mid-20th century were musicians: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Joan Baez, Bob Marley…I could go on. The kind of music you preferred was reflected in your haircut, your clothing, and your general outlook on life. You can tell a Bob Marley fan from a Bobby Vee fan, and the original Punk Rockers are now in their mid-60s. 

Previous generations also found importance in music, but different ages were defined by other art forms. I could name a dozen 19th century painters, but I can’t name three living painters outside my town. People just cared more about oil paintings in the 1800s than we do today. In the 1960s and 1990s, aspiring “cool kids” played in bands. The cool kids in 1880s Paris were impressionist painters. Had Claude Monet been born in the 1940s, I’m convinced he would’ve been playing guitar instead of painting water lilies. I’m not hip to what cool kids are doing nowadays, but from talking with my nieces and nephews it seems that their generation’s cultural movements will be led by social media influencers rather than musicians. That’s just fine. They’ll find their own way. 

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, group singing was more popular than today. Our museum preserves a banner for a Norwegian singing club called the Orpheus Choral Society. People joined clubs like these to sing Norwegian songs together, and conventions called Sangerfests brought clubs together from all across the country. A 1912 photo of the Sangerfest in Fargo showed the Orpheus singers joined by twenty clubs, including Duluth, Chicago, Decorah, Fergus Falls and Warren. Two of Clay County’s first pioneer settlers – Randolph Probstfield and Adam Stein – began their friendship in a German singing club in St. Paul before moving to the Red River Frontier. 

Rock and Roll has taken Baby Boomers through a lot over their lives, and at the Troll Lounge I witnessed music serving them well in their 60s and 70s. The place was packed. Couples danced. Songs were played that allowed for collective mourning of a recently lost loved one. Spider held his phone toward the band so a friend in the hospital could be present for the songs dedicated to him. As Neil Young says about Rock and Roll, “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey hey, my my…”

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