Alice, Lagan Love is a wonderful example of how an "art" song intersects with the folk tradition. It would be interesting to find out how many changes were made from it's original form. The song "I Will Twine Mids't The Ringlets" was a composed song in the 1800's (I don't have the exact information as to the authors at hand) until it became Wildwood Flower in the folk tradition. (Still trying to figure out what the "pale aranautus" is.) Having been to Ireland a couple of times, I recommend the tourism your friend suggests. Great country!
lamarca, Charlie Seeger's definition of a folk song according to Sam Hinton is that when you see it in a book or hear it on a record it's a photograph of a bird in flight. The beauty of folk songs to my view is that they're not set in stone.
Sam Hinton also suggests that Barbara Allen was saved as a folk song in oral (aural) tradition because it was found in a book. He says that if it had not been recorded it would have gone out of circulation in the tradition.
In reference to the recorded material by record companies, I think that as they documented the music they became part of the process. But the tradition was in place for each form of music you mention. In the case of Robert Johnson, the style is definitely a folk style. The song may be composed or it may be pieced together from other forms in the blues tradition. It, nonetheless, emanates from that tradition. Cajun/Zydeco is a melange of different cultures intersecting as you suggest. These traditions are traceable. Cajun from Acadian (French Canada), the African-American Zydeco adaptation and as outsiders, it may be easier for us to spot their antecedents. Re: "I Bid You Goodnight", that it is an intersection of specific musical folk traditions. I would guess that a note-for-note reconstruction of the song would be less a folk song performance of folk song content. This would be how a "revivalist" or "interpreter" would deal with it who was not part of the tradition. The Pindar family obviously are a part of that tradition. Their version would reflect their visceral understanding of their musical tradition.
I think "Why Johnny Can't Sing" is a wonderful thread idea. Spectator sports have replaced the baseball sandlot.
Art, I'm with you man.
Sandy, the traditional singer's attempt at accuracy in learning a song is something to think about. Mondegreens and typos are apparently part of the process. Sometimes could it be that these changes occur because the cultural references of the singers are superimposed on the song as when Barbara Allen in America finds herself walking the "highway" home? But as to singing style and musical tradition, this may be hard to make "typos" about in my view. The "Darwin" analogy works for me.
Agreement may never be reached in terms of precise definitions but I believe that the discussion is still fruitful. Semantics can be dealt with by offering a point of view. This is a valid form of communication. These views may differ but the exchange is important. Information that is valuable gets passed back and forth.
Stewie, If Leonard Cohen is pertinent to this debate, then I have a right to question his authority. If he speaks for you then I have a right to question that as well. I wish that you would have cited Russell, Green, Wilgus, Malone, et. al. and then we could stay on topic. If you feel that this debate is tired, then please don't feel obliged to pursue it. I, for one, don't want to waste your time. There are other threads that may be of more interest to you.
I agree with you that Steve Young, John Prine et.al. are not folk singers although they all have something worthwhile to recommend them. Cantwell's book had something of a romantic view of the traditional singer in my view. I thought it was Rousseau-like. I don't think that this is where our discussion leads. I haven't read Neal Rosenburgs essay. Where can you find it? A good song is a good song, agreed. But they are not all folk songs. Why should anyone care? Because a folk song tells the story about it's patterns of culture through it's musical nuances, subject matter, style of performance, and association with history of a country. It's different and important for these reasons. Also, it usually isn't devised to make a buck.
Thanks for your point. The record store would sell a lot more records in my opinioon if they didn't dump everything into the "folk" bin. As a consumer of music, I look for specifics and "narrowcast" my interest. If the record store had a bin labeled "traditional folk" and meant it, I would pour over it for hours as I used to do at places like Briggs and Briggs in Cambridge. As to the wonderful music you suggest, we're in total agreement about that. Maybe there ought to be a bin for "wonderful music". I'd spend time there too. :)