The Guitar & the New World
A Fugitive History                                  by Joe Gioia

from Studies in Popular Culture, 36.2:

Gioia’s re-visioning of America’s six-string past is a worthwhile trip to take. For some, his multifaceted work may seem too convoluted, too open-ended, raising more questions than it can possibly answer. Yet the very questions that are raised by this book, about interconnected origins and interwoven relationships, are worth the asking and fascinating to ponder along with the author. Using Tompkins’s criteria, this is a “reasonable and plausible” critical work worthy of scholarly consideration; at the same time, it is an accessible
and enjoyable read. 

-- David Janssen

from Old Time Party blog review:

Fascinating and highly readable, this is an important book, revealing a major contribution of Native Americans to mainstream American culture

from The Woodstock (NY) Times

Joe Gioia’s
The Guitar and the New World: A Fugitive History — which the author will be reading from at The Golden Notebook this Saturday, July 27, at 4:00 PM — may be a perfect book for this town. It pulls together interests that have dominated our collective attention for years, from its ostensible subject matter to its touching elements of memoir, as good as anything offered up at the recent Woodstock Writer’s Festivals. It even posits, very convincingly, the influence of Native American music on our own distinctly American idioms of Jazz and The Blues, along with all that’s come since in more populist terms. And all in a voice that’s like a contemporary version of the written form’s 20th century greats. Think Liebling tempered by pop music instead of sports, or Wolfe without the hubris.

The book, befiitting its publication as part of SUNY Albany’s new series on Italian/American culture, starts off as humbly as its historic characters… by charting Gioia’s family’s move from Sicily to western New York, where they settled in Buffalo and then Rochester. Joe (an old college buddy of mine, by the way) takes up the guitar later in life, as something of an emotional valve and transmitter into the sort of musical interests that have carried so much of our generation. He discovers that a distant uncle once made guitars; he looks at how and more importantly, why.

 The book explores the ways in which Buffalo once characterized the nation’s verve and drive… as well as some of the Italian roots of popular song as we’ve come to know it. Then Gioia takes us for a fun turn that at first feels like a surprise and gradually becomes his learned yet personal tome’s central premise… through the 1901 Pan American Festival’s concurrent congresses of Native American tribes and world musics out into the world fair’s ripples throughout American culture. And vice versa.

I ended up getting drawn, through much of
The Guitar and the New World, to YouTube as a means of listening to the various musicians and songs referenced. As a result, I found myself delighted by deep new discoveries in southern hillbilly and Delta blues stylings, and enriched by strange true American histories, and characters, each deserving of their own books (and screenplays, in many cases).

Sure, my buddy’s efforts to legitimize his idiosyncratic “fugitive history” means of exposition feels defensive at times… but it also works to disarm readers and build a subtle emotional impact to the book as a whole that finds release in Gioia’s final chapter, where he pulls it all back again to his family, the ways we envision and incorporate our familial and personal pasts, and make sense of the worlds we inhabit. It’s not an easy trick to make sense of any life — our mothers and fathers and their mothers and fathers, let alone the perambulations our own relationships take us through — while simultaneously taking our younger love of learning into those areas of connection that keep us humming decade after decade. And yes, this book seems to strive too hard for connection at times, and need more editing at others.

Yet in the end,
The Guitar and the New World achieves something quite rare… it sticks in the craw emotionally, and introduces a great set of characters that make those in our own lives more understandable… and treasurable. At the same time, it’s central ideas, while at first somewhat oddball-seeming, end up not only reverberating with a sense of possibility and even probability, but expanding our view of how we process truth itself.

“…There’s History, and then there’s history; the official story, and then everything else, a welter of competing accounts with cryptic meanings and no clear explanations, which is probably a fairer, if confusing, representation of life than the one generally found in history books,” Gioia writes. “For Italians… both
story and history are covered in a single word, storia. While, strictly speaking, the distinction is clear when used in context, the word is emblematic of an ancient Mediterranean world, when history could only be stories; an old world that lasted well into the twentieth century,.. For the story never really ends.”

-- Paul Smart

 Donald Clarke's Music Box - blog review.
"The book is the best kind of American memoir, because it moves easily and naturally from one subject to another (apparently) quite different subject, adding up to an essay on what it means to be an American. It is only 220 pages long, and the best non-fiction page-turner I have read in quite a while. ... We need books like this one, lest we forget who we are."

Clarke is author of The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music
Full review is here.


Publishers Weekly
- Web Exclusive Review

The Guitar and the New World: A Fugitive History
Joe Gioia. SUNY/Excelsior, $24.95 (254p) ISBN 978-1-4384-4617-2

Gioia begins his account by taking the reader through the life of his great uncle Carmelo Gugino, a Sicilian immigrant and macaroni-factory-owner-turned-luthier. After running through the evolution of the guitar's design and construction, he gets to his real focus: deconstructing early blues and country music, guided by his own theory that those musicians were influenced by Indigenous musical tradition. Gioia offers plenty of evidence including repeated phrases common in all three styles, references by singers like Charlie Patton to the "Nation" aka Oklahoma Indian territory, and similar vocal tech-niques and rhythms. He discusses the work of anthropologists like Charles Peabody, Alice Fletcher, and Alan Lomax, taking the latter to task for his "academic self-righteousness and white guilt" and erroneous, according to Gioia, attribution of African roots in blues music. He also provides interesting insight into the methods of some great guitarists and banjo players like Jimmie Rodgers, Maybelle Carter, and Dock Boggs. Though a bit erratic—he has a penchant for bizarre and questionably-related tangents—and somewhat mistitled, Gioia does offer some intriguing and meticulously researched theories on the blending of musical cultures in America. (Apr.)