I’m always intrigued by Italian perceptions of American lifestyle, and like to uncover what defines us as a nation in the eyes of others. Tu vuò fà l’americano is a satirical song about a young Napolitan who tries to imitate American style, which is summed up by whiskey and soda, rock and roll, baseball and Camel cigarettes. Click here for an English translation of they lyrics. I stumbled upon this adorable video of the great old song, and it got me thinking about two of my favorite American inventions: the cocktail and rock & roll.
Immigrants brought a myriad of influences to a country that wasn’t bound by historical conventions, but defined by innovation, experimentation and risk. Obviously, this lack of social structure has had some drawbacks (we have a reputation for bad manners and serial killers), but has also led to some of the most creative outbursts in recent history.
“The Old World alcoholic beverage traditions are neat and settled, with thousands of years of history behind them… The New World was too big and too wild to be confined in a sherry glass. America was not about tradition; it was about adventure, leaping forward and taking chances on all fronts.”
– The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America
Rock and Roll, too, was born out of the collision of cultures, and the American spirit of experimentation and unleashed expression. So, in honor of these beloved traditions I’ve put together a little timeline combining the history of cocktails with the history of rock.
1890-1910: The “Old Fashioned” and Ragtime
Very old-fashioned indeed, this cocktail originated in the mid 1800s and appears, under various names, in all early cocktail books.
Mix 1 tsp sugar, 1 splash water and 2 dashes if angostura bitters in an old-fashioned glass. Drop in a cherry and an orange wedge. Muddle into a paste using a muddler or the back end of a spoon. Pour in 2 oz of bourbon, fill with ice cubes, and stir.
The Maple Leaf Rag
Written by Scott Joplin in 1899, this was the most famous song of ragtime, which preceded the birth of jazz and blues. It’s performed here by Jelly Roll Morton, who went on to compose “Jelly Roll Blues” in 1915, which was arguably the very first jazz song.
[audio:https://www.unamericanaincucina.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/3-03-Maple-Leaf-Rag-2.mp3|titles=Maple Leaf Rag]
1910-1930: The “Mint Julep” and the birth of Blues
The Mint Julep:
Crush a few mint leaves in the bottom of an 8-oz. glass, then fill with crushed ice. Add one tablespoon of simple syrup (recipe follows) and one tablespoon of water. Add 2 ounces of bourbon. Stir gently until glass frosts. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig, sip and enjoy.
Simple Syrup recipe: Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Boil for 5 minutes without stirring. Pour mix over a handful of mint leaves, and gently crush the mint with a spoon. Refrigerate overnight in a closed jar. Remove mint leaves, but continue to refrigerate. Stays fresh for several weeks.
When the Levee Breaks:
This 1929 Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy song was covered by Led Zeppelin in 1971.
[audio:https://www.unamericanaincucina.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/02-When-the-Levee-Breaks.mp3|titles=When the Levee Breaks]
1930-1950: The “Martini” and Rythym & Blues,
early stirrings of Rock and Roll
The classic cocktail of all time, shaken or stirred, has evolved much through the ages. The original martini appeared in the very first cocktail books in the 1880s, but the version we drink today became popular around the 1950s.
Combine 2.5 oz gin with 0.5 oz of dry vermouth and shake or stir with ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a green olive or lemon twist.
Roll ’em Pete:
Recorded in 1938 by Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson, it is considered one of the most important precursors of what later became known as “rock and roll”. [audio:https://www.unamericanaincucina.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Boogie-Woogie-Stomp-13-Roll-Em-Pete-Turner-Johnson-1938.mp3|titles= Roll ‘Em Pete – Turner-Johnson (1938)]
1950-1960: The “Margarita” and the Birth of Rock & Roll
It originated in Mexico, but was popularized in the U.S. in the 50s and 60s.
Pour 1.5 oz tequila, .75 oz Cointreau, and .5 oz fresh lime juice into a shaker with ice cubes. Shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass rimmed with crusted salt.
A true pioneer of Rock and Roll, his songs and showmanship were a major influence on the future of rock. Just check out his raging guitar solos and you can almost imagine him smashing his guitar at the end of the show. This video is from 1958, the same year as the video above of Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano.