“The ‘old weird America’ phrase was created by the music writer Greil Marcus. I’m not his biggest fan… and my reaction is crystalized in this term, which he used to describe the world of the commercial recorded music exemplified by Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, commercial recordings made between 1926 and 1931. What Marcus wants you to understand is that this music represents a strange place nothing like the place where you reside. Look how weird and freakish!”
Interesting piece. At some point the phrase “old, weird America” went from catchy rockwrite lore to cultural meme (cf. McLuhan’s book, From Cliche’ to Archetype as a potential clue to this process?) and it is indeed overused to the point of tedium (332,000,000 results in Google). I personally cringe whenever it shows up in a record review these days. But maybe the word “weird” needs to be thought about a little more (I don’t think I agree with Freeland’s interpretation).