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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,stringsinger Us and Them: folk music and political persuasion (183* d) RE: Us and Them: folk music and political persuasion 31 Jul 09

Hi Jerry,

"Given a choice, would you rather be one of "us," or one of "them?"

Us and Them is a huge problem. It starts wars.

" It can be being a Christian, being a Liberal (which is code for Democrat, as we all know Republicans can never have a liberal thought in their head."

Liberal no longer means Democratic Party any more. Too many
conservatives are now there.

"I find all of this extremely stifling."

Yes. It can be. That's why it's very important to understand what
each individual means by these classifications.

" Just when did folk music become the property of Democrats?"

Historically, what we know of the folk music revival in the US came from the American Left. The Right was not interested with a small exception of some folk music organizations in the Southern US. These small groups did nothing to furthur the folk music revival. That came from Lefties (at the time) such as Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Kenneth Goldstein, Alan Lomax, Carl Sandburg, People's Songs, Leonard Berstein, Woody Guthrie, The Almanac Singers, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White, Richard Dyer Bennet, Tom Glazer, The Weavers, Cisco Houston, Sing Out! magazine, People's Artists, Paul Robeson and the list could go on.

"For the brief moment that folk music had national popularity in the fifties and sixties, it was folk music, not Democrat music."

It would not have happened had it not been for the American Left.
They did the spadework. The CPUSA under Earl Browder emphasized the idealization of the American Worker and the songs were encouraged as a symbol of their "struggle".

" But if you look at the body of folk music, only a small percentage of it is political."

I don't know. It depends on how you define political. But many songs are not part of the American Left historically. Any song can be made to fit into a political or propagandistic framework. Many traditional songs were rewritten for this purpose. Woody, Pete, Lee Hays and Almanacs did this intentionally.

"Many years ago when I was running a folk concert series I noticed when I booked a bluegrass group, I got a completely different audience. At the end of a bluegrass concert, I asked the audience to tell to me on the way out why they never came to the folk concerts. "The most common complaint I received was, 'I don't want to sit around all evening listening to someone complain.'"

The bluegrass style is relatively new and an outgrowth of stringband music from the 20's and the 30's. It has become watered down with
trite lyrics and many Right Wing Southerners with a political agenda which involves alienating African-American people from their concerts and participation in their music. If a musician of the stature of Taj Mahal or any good jazz musician would become interested in bluegrass, they could contribute so much to the development of bluegrass. You have to ask yourself why more black people aren't interested in bluegrass. It's a revealing question.

"I protested strongly that folk music is not primarily protest music, but to no avail."

It depends how you define protest. The Dylan genre became commericalized quite easily. Blues, plaints from Appalachia,
early 20's country music, even earlier from the Fifteenth century which gave us "Die Gedanken Sind Frei" were protest songs of a sort.
Chain gang songs protested their conditions. Uncle Dave commented on the coal miner's strikes. It's hard to generalize about this.

"Like most perceptions about the difference between "us" and "them," "Them" was stereotyped in the most negative, simplistic way."

This has always been true. It's called propaganda.

"The minute you define yourself as not being someone else, you get intellectually lazy. So, do you want to be an intellectual, or a non-intellectual."

Today in the US there is an anti-intellectual disease afoot. Somehow, being intellectual is derogated by ignorance propated by
major media propaganda. Public Education is a casualty of this attitude. W was the symbol.

"There's a much better choice than "us" or "them." It's called "we."
This country has gotten into the mess we have in large part because
"us" and them" has become "us" versus "them.'"

This is true. Unfortunately there are those in government and in the corporate private sector that use divisiveness toward their own ends.

"I bet Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a Republican. He was a lawyer, for God's sake! The only work he ever did with his hands was sticking them in someone else's pockets."

Bascom was a bigot. Probably a racist. He was rude and uncharitable
to "outsiders". (This is my personal experience). He was to the Right of Attilla the Hun. He was snide and mean to those he didn't trust. He was the antithesis of Southern Hospitality. He was also a great folk singer.

"What do you think?"

I think your thesis is correct. Folk music should rightfully be a vehicle for bringing people together in harmony. There are tribal divisions in folk music and the "us" and "them" are exacerbated by
those who have a "dog in that hunt". There are those who want folk music to be their private little sinecure and exclude "outsiders".
There are those like the BNP or some factions of the bluegrass scene who use the music to furthur their political and ethnic prejudices.
Then there are folk snobs. (Oh yes there are!)

Music ideally is the language of healing as Tommy Sands says so beautifully in his song. There are those who have been at the forefront of this ideal such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and others who are lesser known. I think Jerry that this is what has connected us to folk music, that it is the music of the human condition, that we can accept emotionally, psychologically and in other ways. It's about people and those who really get it have a reverence for human life.

Frank Hamilton

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