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The story focuses on a number of different time periods, offering a perspective on the different styles of music, as well as the family line that takes a strong involvement in the creation of this music, beginning with a Jewish Mother and her son escaping from a pogrom. The son begins working for a comedian at a burlesque house, and she dies in a sweatshop fire. The kid later marries a stripper and becomes involved with the mob, which continues to be associated with this family until the 1950s, when his grandson involves himself in beat culture and later writes lyrics for a Psychedelic Rock band, fathering a Blond Haired, Blue Eyed son with a waitress in Kansas. This son becomes a rock star by the end of the film.
You might recognize several scenes from this film via Kanye West's music video "Heartless", which copied this film and its Rotoscoped animation as a tribute. The film itself contains a Crowning Soundtrack Of Awesome, with songs by Janis Joplin, The Doors, George Gershwin, Herbie Hancock, The Mamas & the Papas, Lou Reed, Louis Prima, Pat Benatar and Jimi Hendrix. Not to mention, Bob Dylan songs are portrayed within the context of the story as being written by one of the main characters. American Pop is one of Bakshi's most acclaimed films as the result of its mature story, and its use of music.
American Pop provides examples of the following tropes:
- An Immigrant's Tale
- Blue Eyes - this and his Hair of Gold is how Little Pete is identified as the son of the waitress Tony had a fling with in Kansas, and realizes that Pete is his son.
- Everybody Must Get Stoned - Tony is slipped LSD during a concert. He sees the crowd as live action actors rather than rotoscoped animation, falls and injures himself, and winds up in the hospital. After which, he becomes addicted to heroin and pain killers. Definitely not a good trip.
- Expy - Frankie Hart is essentially Janis Joplin, right down to her death due to alcohol and heroin use.
- Generic Ethnic Crime Gang - it's not specifically stated what ethnicity most of the gangsters in this film are. Except for Zalmie, who's a Russian Jewish Immigrant. Being that the crime boss' last name is "Palumbo", it could be The Mafia, though the entire gang is not specifically Italian, and might be a mixed gang.
- Hair of Gold - Little Pete again.
- Hookers and Blow - Tony was once a songwriter for a successful rock band. After the band's singer dies due to drug and alcohol abuse, he finds himself dealing coke on the street with his son in tow.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold - a stripper with a heart of gold, Bella, whom Zalmie marries and fathers a child with.
- Jewish Mother - Zalmie's mom exhibits this after he's been out working for Louie.
- Rotoscoping - most of the film is this.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll
- Should Have Thought of That Before X
Palumbo: Don't you think it's time for a wedding?
Zalmie: How can I ask her? I don't have a cent.
Palumbo: You should have thought of that before you got her pregnant.
- Wasted Song - looking for that awesome, piano-based alternate version of "Night Moves" (as opposed to the album version, which had more prominent guitars instead)? Yeah, you're not going to find it outside of this movie. It's not on the soundtrack album, and it was never released on any of Bob Seger's albums.