The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #114137
Posted By: Art Thieme
14-Sep-99 - 01:14 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
The book by Neil Rosenberg, _Transforming Tradition_, is from the University of Illinois Press. It's a collection of papers by various accademics and folkies on how the nature of folksong, the traditional points of view etc., have been transformed as time has passed. Cantwell has an essay in that book. Judy McCulloh, a great person even if they did reject my J.F.K. songs collection for a book idea, ;-) is behind the U. of I. Press.

I enjoyed Robert Cantwell's book --_When We Were Good_(Harvard University Press). He was wrong on several points---i.e. that Leadbelly's actual first name was "Hudson" and not Huddie. That's preposterous, outrageous and wrong (I hope). But he gave credit to revival singers for being sometimes good at what they had done with the music. At that exact point when I was reading his book, it sure did feel nice to hear those words coming from a fairly serious book from the Harvard Press. I needed to hear that right then. We most certainly didn't got few sanctions or testimonials like that from the National Endowment For The Arts.

Those page and a half long sentences of Cantwell's were pretty humorous too. Had to read 'em 3 times to figure which phrase referred to which.

Here's a quote from the book that illustrates the best ond worst qualities of the volume simultaneously:
"All of this suggests, finally, that in the folk revivalist herself, by reason of upbringing, experience, training and temperament, genteel and revolutionary ideas divide imagination between them; it suggests that the social fault lines around which the idea of the folk coalesces also map the particular transit of possible ideas and experiences that shape the revivalist---suggests, finally, that the capacity to identify, to imitate, to invent, and finally to love the folk is a particular genius arrising out of the revivalists effort to unify a psyche divided by deeply opposed affinities, tendencies, and aspirations. It is a kind of sixth sense, capable of discovering where the arts of the poor, with what is often a curious precision, meet elite standards of taste, momentarily releasing in them what custom and convention have dulled, the emacipatory gleam."

The book ends with this: "...That is close to what, when we were good, we somehow understood; it is what our youth movement, our revival, was all about."

Strangely (but maybe not) I understand what Cantwell is saying--or trying to say. I enjoyed the book thoroughly---even the parts I thought a bit beyond the pale. I generally found things to smile at while reading the tome. Cantwell put them forth seriously, but with a debt to irony, I found I was often laughing out loud.

Art Thieme