Hidden Roots of Rock

In a very special show, the Storytelling Project interviews the founders of the legendary Composition Blues Band, the group that has taught us just how much of Rock ‘n Roll has descended from the powerful and often traumatic experience of the writing process. We get the story behind their recovery of the true lyrics of classics by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and many more, and to hear them perform some of their biggest hits. Tune in to hear the amazing stories behind the writing and rewriting of rock ‘n roll and classics—how “Johnny Be Good” started as “Rhetor be Good” and how Dylan’s anthemic chorus in “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35” was originally “Everybody Must Use Modes”—and learn about their new, international project, a re-examination of the Old Testament that reveals just how much its writers, and indeed the entire culture of the period, wrestled with the writing process.


Host: Jonah Willihnganz

Producer: Jonah Willihnganz

Featuring: Marvin Diogenes, Clyde Moneyhun

Music: Composition Blues Band

Release Date: 9 March 2010


Interview, Part 1: “Painful Laughter”

The Composition Blues Band discusses how they formed, and how they came to learn about the traumatic composition background that inspired such greats as Elvis Costello and George Thorogood.

image via flickr


Story 1: The Delaware Destroyer

Blues musician George Thorogood didn’t like his writing teacher, and this is a song he wrote about it.

image via flickr


Story 2: “Rhetor B. Goode”

Chuck Berry’s early experiences with rhetoric, and how the blues legend came to write his most famous song.

image via wikimedia


Story 3: “Ever Since my Plato Left Me”

If Chuck Berry is Plato, then Elvis Presley is Aristotle, wrestling with the duality of rhetoric. Is it good? Is it evil? This is a song about that place of confusion.

image via wikimedia


Story 4: “Three to Five Sources”

Sure the Rolling Stones could write songs about girls, but could they write songs about writing? Their hit “Wild Horses,” as the Composition Blues Band tells us, isn’t about love. It’s about writing a research essay.

image via wikimedia


Interview, Part Two “Rhet and Roll”

Many rock ‘n roll songs have a spooky prescience. Mick and Keith could reference the internet before it was even invented. The Composition Blues Band talks about what they call the Cosa Nostradamus effect.

image via wikimedia


Story 5: “Everybody Must Use Modes”

Bob Dylan, while he was writing the folk songs that made him famous, was at the same time earning his degree in Rhetoric and Composition at NYU. When he was first asked to direct a writing program, he was still a formalist, obsessed with the rhetorical modes. This is a song about that.

image via wikimedia


Story 6: “¿Cuantas Palabras?”

The Composition Blues Band takes their exploration of the hidden roots of rock outside the English canon. Because when it comes to the universal experience of rhetoric and composition, language is no barrier, as this song shows.

image via wikimedia


Interview, Part Three: The Future of the Composition Blues Band

The forms of composition are found in the great creations of mankind. For example: the pyramids. But is the essay more like a proper pyramid, or an inverted pyramid? The general to the specific, or the specific to the general? It’s an argument that has roiled civilizations from the beginning of time. The Composition Blues Band takes on this and other controversies in the last part of their interview.

image via wikimedia


Story 7: “Comma, Comma”

Rock legend Ritchie Valens had a monograph about commas in progress at the time of his unfortunate death. Born out of trauma, but rising above it, this last song is a testament to the power of music, and the deep role that composition plays in all our lives.

image via wikimedia