The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #113633
Posted By: Sandy Paton
12-Sep-99 - 01:44 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
My apologies, guys. I guess I'm getting grumpy in my old age. And, dammit, I STILL can't proof-read on a monitor. I should make myself print out everything I write before I post it, giving poor Joe a rest.

Frank, you'll remember Dyer-Bennett always referred to himself as the "20th Century Minstrel," drawing exactly the sort of distinction you express. I once reviewed a concert he gave in Burlington, Vermont, suggesting that he might do well to pass by the "John Henry" interpretations and stick to the Elizabethan songs he did so professionally. He took it well, and we had a very pleasant chat.

As for Lomax, while I have the greatest admiration for his lifetime of work collecting and publishing folk music, his adamant rejection of what those of us who were not born to the tradition might do in taking a traditional song into our repertoire was undermined, somewhat, by his release of Raise a Ruckus Tonight with the doo-wahs of Dupree Family backing him up. That was in "Hootenanny" times, and Alan was clearly moved to take a little economic advantage of the fad. I'll bet that recording embarrassed him for years! (Actually, I thought it was kind of fun!) As for the headnotes to many of the songs published in his books, well... Read D. K. Wilgus' Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship Since 1898. You'll see why many serious academicians have reservations concerning the use of those books for their research. Alan was offering us some wonderful songbooks, for which we should be grateful, but they were not, and weren't intended to be, scholarly publications.

I thought for a long time that we ought to emulate our traditional sources through what amounted to imitation (or mimesis, as Cantwell prefers to call it - means the same damned thing, just sounds more important). Then I decided that old Petronius was right. We should be true to ourselves. I was never going to be Frank Proffitt when I grew up, couldn't hope to be. Forget it, kid!

So let's sing 'em 'cause we love 'em, folks, treat them with the respect they deserve, but let's not be ashamed of who or what we are. Those great old songs might live longer, and be loved more widely, precisely because we made them more accessible to others. And I think that would be a good thing. It could even improve the quality of our contemporary popular culture, and I know that would be a good thing.