This Ain’t No Mouse Music

This Ain’t No Mouse Music

Director: Maureen Gosling

This Ain’t No Mouse Music is a documentary film that chronicles the career of legendary American song producer Chris Strachwitz. It takes the viewer on an auditory journey through the heartland of traditional American music and showcases some mighty fine artists and their songs along the way.

But what is mouse music? In the words of director Maureen Gosling, “the opposite of mouse music is easier to talk about – I don’t like to condemn different types of music. Mouse music is music that is not from the heart, not authentic, not overproduced ... perhaps the best description is music that is not polished.” It is easy to think of examples of songs that are mouse music – and anybody with a kernel of interest in the authenticity of different types of music will catch on straight away.

Chris Strachwitz has had a very interesting life. In 1945, Soviet anti-capitalist persecution forced the Strachwitzs to flee their native Poland, away from their castle, aristocracy and a life they would never regain. Chris was fortunate enough to travel to the US, and was immediately enchanted by the music he heard on the radio every day. As for many migrants to the US, American culture and the “American Dream” provided both inspiration and the motivation to do something special. For Chris, that something special turned into Arhoolie Records and the pursuit of the musical heart of America.

According to Strachwitz, he never wanted a “studio.” The real music was to be found on the road, hidden away and untouched by artificial influences. Aptly, this film features Chris on the job, travelling from place to place, as well as anecdotes from his rich history of recording folk music.

Director Gosling reminisced that travelling on the road with Strachwitz was sometimes difficult. Accustomed to being on the production side of things instead of in front of a camera, he would try to produce the film himself. We can see, however, that Strachwitz is an almost untapped resource when it comes to the history of 20th-century American music. Without his efforts, an immense quantity of music would never have made it to the ears of the general public.

As well as recording artists hidden in the depths of America, Strachwitz also collects old records and stores them by the truckload. He sees this process as “liberating” the music rather than simply collecting it. This goes hand in hand with his philosophy of putting folk music into the hands of the public.

Everybody knows that blues music is deep, soulful and a powerful expression of emotion. But this film portrays its origins and development, and how easily it could have been missed. One of the early scenes is simply a cotton plant blowing in the wind while the song is about how the singer wears out his hands. This Ain’t No Mouse Music is moving, entertaining and heartwarming all at the same time. We have Chris Strachwitz and his Arhoolie Records to thank for the immense cultural impact that blues music has had on the world.

In this age of careful market manipulation by giant record companies and almost instant delivery of music to our laptops, smartphones and iPods, we need to take time to appreciate that it wasn’t always like this. Folk music emerged and developed through a very organic process and only existed to entertain a subculture or to express the sighs and cries of the soul. The music industry has changed dramatically since Chris Strachwitz started Arhoolie Records, but the job he does is still invaluable. One of the final thoughts in the film is that “Chris’s actions make a pluralistic society possible and … negate the emphasis on one culture, one language, one politics, one leader, one stupidity that is ruining America.”
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2013.
Posted 2:29pm Sunday 11th August 2013 by Tim Lindsay.