Nowhere in America:The Big Rock Candy Mountain
and Other Comic Utopias
[University of Illinois Press, 1990]
Photo postcard from 1912
I wish somebody would tell me what Diddie Wa Diddie means." - Blind Blake, 1929
"What is Doo Wah Ditty? That's all I ask!" - Jack Benny, 1948
Diddie Wah Diddie, Doo Wa Ditty, the Big Rock Candy Mountain,the Land of Cockaigne, Lubberland, Schlaraffenland, and Nowhere share a history that follows a straight, crooked course extending further back in time and covering far more territory than might be thought possible of what today remain most familiar as subjects of simple children's songs and obscure folk tales. These remarkable places lie within the broader borders of equally remarkable lands that exist far beyond here or anywhere, maybe not even somewhere, in other words, nowhere. Although Nowhere can be found in the imaginative landscape of every land's folklore, NOWHERE IN AMERICA: THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN AND OTHER COMIC UTOPIAS (University of Illinois Press, l990) proposes to identify and describe its presence in the imaginative landscape of America.
From its earliest documented appearances in Greek Attic comedies of Teleclides, images and confabulations of a world turned upside down where rivers flow with milk, wine, and whiskey, where hens lay hard-boiled eggs, and clouds rain apple pies flow into the marvelous nooks and crannies of American popular culture. NOWHERE IN AMERICA chronicles the appearance of these marvels in Dogpatch (with L'Abner and the Shmoo); in the blues of Blind Blake, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Sleepy John Estes; in the repertoire of Bo Diddley, Earl MacDonaldís Original Louisville Jug Band, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and Haywire Mac McClintock; in the cartoons of Windsor McCay, Walt Kelly, Charles Addams, and Carl Barks; and in the film comedies of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Terry Gilliam, Pee Wee Herman, and Charles Bowers.
In MAD LOVE (1937), taking note of the cultural and poetic persistence of such extravagant and topsy-turvey imagery ("tree for bread, tree for butter"), Andre Breton observes: "One myth among all others, clear and without harshness, is developed starting with this tree: that of the inexhaustible natural generosity able to see the most diverse human needs . . . How to resist the charm of a garden like this one, where all the trees of a providential type have gathered? . . . The bread tree, the butter tree have called to them the salt tree: a whole frugal lunch is being improvised. How hungry we are!"
That hunger, for plentitude and freedom, is the subject of this book.
In the early l940s saxophonist/vocalist Red Ingle recorded and toured with Spike Jones and the City Slickers. The discovery of an old 78 titled "Nowhere" by Red Ingle and his Natural Seven, a 1947 parody combining "That's What I Like About the South" with 'You Came Along (from Out of Nowhere)" inspired the research that produced this book.
back to contents