Lincoln musicologist provides a peek into NYC music history
LINCOLN — In the acknowledgments section of his new book, “Everybody’s Doin’ It,” Lincoln author Dale Cockrell muses on how strange it is to put the words “sex” and “musicology” in the same sentence.
“Many seem not to think at first that the two can coexist in a mutual frame of scholarly mind,” he writes. “But after the initial shock and an additional explanatory sentence or two, everyone seems to brighten with something to say about music or (sotto voce) about sex or both.”
Cockrell, who taught music history at Middlebury College from 1979 to 1985, does more than just rub a couple of unlikely words together in a sentence. His new book, whose subtitle is “Sex, Music and Dance in New York, 1840–1917,” provides what Publishers Weekly called “a fascinating story and soundtrack of disorderly old Gotham.”
This isn’t the first time Cockrell has taken on music from this time period. Previous work includes a multivolume study of the music from the “Little House on the Prairie” book series, which is also set in the 19th century.
“The ‘Pa’s Fiddle Project’ was to help people of all stripes engage the 127 songs embedded in the ‘Little House’ books, and help them understand how and why music worked the way it did in those books,” Cockrell told the Independent in an email. “Beyond that, I’ve made it a point in my career to let my life tell me what I should be working on,” he added. “I got interested in the music in the (Little House) books by reading the books to my son in bed.”
It’s not just the music that matters, however.
“I’m dedicated to the proposition that my scholarly work can (and should) matter to real people, and not just scholars,” he said. To that end, “‘Everybody’s Doin’ It’ is written to be read (and I hope enjoyed) by people who like to read, whatever their training in music.”
One of the most fascinating discoveries Cockrell made while researching the book was a collection of reports filed by agents of the “Committee of Fourteen.”
“There’s nearly 100,000 handwritten reports detailing (unexpurgated!) what was really going on in the dives, bars, brothels, hotels, etc. in New York (City) from 1906 through 1917,” he said. “They were an absolute goldmine of firsthand information on real, down-and-dirty life.”
The reports inspired an entire chapter of the book, which focuses on “extraordinary influence the Committee had on New York and American life, not just musical but social, political and racial.”
Is a musical tour of New York City during this era also a musical tour of America? Or does “Everybody’s Doin’ It” occupy its own universe?
“Excellent question,” Cockrell said. “Go to the epilogue section for your answer.”
“Everybody’s Doin’ It” goes on sale Tuesday.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
As an added bonus, Cockrell compiled a brief playlist of music covered in the book, which can be heard (and seen) below.