Music is fundamental to human existence, a cultural universal among all humans for all times. It is embedded in our evolution, encoded in our DNA, which is to say, essential to our survival. Academics in a variety of disciplines have considered this idea to devise explanations that Richard Manning, a lifelong journalist, finds hollow, arcane, incomplete, ivory-towered, and just plain wrong. He approaches the question from a wholly different angle, using his own guitar and banjo as instruments of discovery. In the process, he finds himself dancing in celebration of music rough and rowdy.


American roots music is not a product of an elite leisure class, as some academics contend, but of explosive creativity among slaves, hillbillies, field hands, drunks, slackers, and hucksters. Yet these people—poor, working people—built the foundations of jazz, gospel, blues, bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, and country music, an unparalleled burst of invention. This is the counterfactual to the academics’ story. This is what tells us music is essential, but by pulling this thread, Manning takes us down a long, strange path, following music to deeper understandings of racism, slavery, inequality, meditation, addiction, the science of our brains, and ultimately to an enticing glimpse of pure religion.


Use this book to follow where his guitar leads. Ultimately it sings the American body, electric.




“Richard Manning is the most significant social critic in the northern Rockies. We’re fortunate to have Dick Manning as he continues his demands for fairness while casting light on our future.” —William Kittredge, author of The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology and The Next Rodeo: New and Selected Essays


“Richard Manning’s work has always been something special, distinguished by its intense passion and its penetrating insights.” —George Black, author of Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone


“Richard Manning is at the head of his class.” —Larry McMurtry, author of over two-dozen books including The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove


“Richard Manning is the West’s greatest journalist. Read this book, and then read everything else he has written and everything he will ever write.” —Rick Bass, author of Why I Came West and The Traveling Feast

If It Sounds Good, It Is Good: Seeking Subversion, Transcendence, and Solace...

  • PM Press 2020

    New hardcover

    320 pages