The Rockabilly Culture and its language

You might think that was taken in the 1950’s, while in fact, it is contemporary!

Revolving around the 1950’s, the Rockabilly culture represents this period in time. This subculture has various characteristics that make it stand out from all others, having its own music, fashion style, hairstyle and language.

The term ‘Rockabilly’ used to refer to a type of music genre that emerged in the 50’s, mainly existing out of a mixture of rock ‘n roll and country. Since the subculture relates to the 50’s, typical style elements of that time period are part of the rockabilly’s appearance: Wide dresses, tight and ripped jeans, waxed hair, 50’s classic cars, distinct colors and patterns which could then be seen in everyday design. Nowadays, the term rockabilly is used to define an incorrect stereotype of Elvis and Marilyn fans. The subculture is in many ways considered to be a commercial farce of the original 50’s rockabilly culture.

The rockabilly icons include: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, James Dean, Johnny Cash and Eddy Cochran. These icons are the main source of inspiration for rockabilly’s nowadays, and are impersonating their lifestyles. Which is rather strange when you think about how Rockabilly, originally was focusing on overcoming difficulties and daily issues that normal, working class people, faced in the 50's.

One of the purest forms of music is Rockabilly, considered to be an American art form. This is why a large cultural aspect of the Rockabilly community exists out of music. As I said previously, 50’s music revolves around rock ‘n roll and country, hence the name Rockabilly (Rock + hillbilly). Not only is Rockabilly a mixture between 2 words that explains the meaning, but is also used to demonstrate a passion and love for the “Rock genre” within the community and allows fans to show a common interest. For the non-American Rockabilly fans and communities that might not speak English can still share this common bond through the musical language of Rockabilly and the culture. For example, an everyday Rockabilly term is ‘Rockin’, used to describe the original Rockabilly scene. An individual who follows 50’s trends and is a devoted listener to Rockabilly music often considers him/herself as being part of the rockin’ scene. Other aspects also play an important role in creating a community, for instance clothing and appearance.

Elvis Presley with a typical ‘Greaser’ hairstyle.

50’s clothing for women is well known for its tight waist line, tight leather skirts and skinny jeans. In short, a very feminine look. Men’s 50’s fashion mainly existed out of tough leather jackets, jeans and Dr. Marten’s leather boots. Clothing was not the only distinct, physical characteristic. Hairstyles played a large role as well. Men were called ‘Greasers’ as they used a lot of hair products creating a typical slick 50’s hairdo. Women had long, bobby pinned hair that was fixated with tonnes of hairspray. Many female Rockabilly’s dyed their hair either blonde or black. It was not a very natural look.

Another shared aspect of Rockabilly culture is their use of language. The Rockabilly audience in the 50’s was originally made up of a young audience (teenagers and young adults). The young audience of the Rockabilly sub-culture is responsible for the informal language used, often including American slang. An early example uses the word ‘cat’. This word was at first, a jazz term used in the 20’s and 30’s, though ‘cat’ became popular throughout the 40’s, describing musicians. In an audience context an example could be: “Man, those cats were wild!” an expression that shows respect towards a Rockabilly band that played brilliantly for an audience. Certain terms were adopted during the 50’s by savage teens and hot rod gangs, which were later considered to be the innovators of punk. The word ‘Greaser’ derives from greased hairstyles, which were popular in the 50’s. ‘Greaser’ also represents the rebellious nature of Rockabilly fans in that time period. Rockabilly language can also be found in 50’s song lyrics, allowing all sorts of age groups to enjoy the language of Rockabilly. Elvis songs portray Rockabilly language by his lyrics and simple words and rhyme. A typical ‘Elvis’ song would display heart break, loneliness and often sorrow. Elvis uses the word ‘Gal’ in That’s alright mama. in his main lyrics:

‘Son, that gal you’re foolin’ with

She ain’t no good for you’

That’s Alright Mama- Elvis Presley

Here, the world ‘Gal’ is used to represent the word ‘Girl’, which has a very informal tone that encourages any age group to read the text. Elvis, in this case, makes the assumption that the listeners will have prior knowledge of the Rockabilly sub-culture.

Nowadays, the Rockabilly sub-culture is still very much alive throughout the world. Most Rockabilly diehards still dress the same way as the original 50’s culture did.

The Rockabilly sub-culture has spread since the 50’s throughout the world, hence the two Japanese Rockabilly’s.