The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #13068   Message #114161
Posted By: Frank Hamilton
14-Sep-99 - 03:30 PM
Thread Name: Threads on the meaning of Folk
Subject: RE: Threads on the meaning of Folk
When I read Cantwell's book, I thought of a time in Cambridge and Boston where there was a flurry of interest in folk music on an academic level. I remember such places as the Club 47 on Bow Street (before it's new location and name Passims) and the Cantabridgia Book Store with it's collection of folk song books and scholarship, and places like Old Joe Clark's House, a haven for Harvard types who were interested in folk music. Cantwell gives a nod to the Folkways Anthologies, Vol 1-3 edited by Harry Smith as being a pivotal recording in stimulating interest in traditional music in the young people of the time. I think Cantwell caught that spirit in his book quite well. The interest at that time did get pretensious as there are instances in some of the local coffee houses where if folk revivalist guitar/singers didn't do the traditional version of a Carter Family tune note-for-note, certain "officiandos" would raise their hands in protest. Cantwell reflects the time and the attitude that went with it about folk music. It was part of the "revivalist" scene. It became a poseur thing for many of the young college kids at that time where the image was more important than the music. Blue jeans became fashionable along with cute little vests and rustic accoutrements. But there was something in the music that spurred this activity, a kind of genuineness, honesty and integrity which was different than what could be heard on the radio or TV at the time. Cantwell relates the effect of this music on the young would-be exurbanites in language and in mood. I thought it was almost tongue-in-cheek but with a great deal of love for the time and people that he knew.

Art, regarding the NEA which was presided over many years by Bess Lomax Hawes, her position was that she was not at all interested in the "folk revivalists" and wanted to focus her attention as an anthropologist on the source music. She felt that this was the proper way to spend taxpayer's money. The Lomaxes are still in that mind set and it's a good thing that they are because they discover for us many of the traditional folk performers that would have been lost in the folkie show biz of the fifties and sixties. So Bess felt the "revival" or "folk scare" would take care of itself. The problem we had at the inception of the Old Town School of Folk Music was how can we bring the public into the process of appreciating traditional folk music. Bess didn't feel that this was germane to what she was doing, although the School owes a debt to her for inaugurating a class approach to learning folk instruments and songs, something that was not done before she applied this appproach to folk music education in Boston in the forties and later in Los Angeles in the fifties.

Alice, the information on Spancil Hill sounds fascinating. Do you know who the original composer of the song was and can you tell us how is was changed or point us toward a cource where we can find information about it? You mentioned that the tune may have been traditional. Are there antecedents of the tune that you know of used with different lyrics?

Frank Hamilton