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Distortion of History in Folk Song

Doctor John 18 Jul 00 - 04:49 PM
Mbo 18 Jul 00 - 05:02 PM
Bert 18 Jul 00 - 05:36 PM
McGrath of Harlow 18 Jul 00 - 05:40 PM
Catrin 18 Jul 00 - 05:47 PM
McGrath of Harlow 18 Jul 00 - 05:54 PM
Catrin 18 Jul 00 - 06:03 PM
Irish sergeant 18 Jul 00 - 06:09 PM
oggie 18 Jul 00 - 07:10 PM
McGrath of Harlow 18 Jul 00 - 08:05 PM
Rick Fielding 18 Jul 00 - 09:54 PM
Jim Dixon 19 Jul 00 - 12:31 AM
Liz the Squeak 19 Jul 00 - 04:10 AM
GeorgeH 19 Jul 00 - 05:54 AM
Grab 19 Jul 00 - 09:01 AM
Kim C 19 Jul 00 - 10:45 AM
Callie 19 Jul 00 - 11:01 AM
catspaw49 19 Jul 00 - 11:02 AM
Jed at Work 19 Jul 00 - 11:20 AM
Irish Rover 19 Jul 00 - 11:38 AM
Rex 19 Jul 00 - 11:44 AM
Rick Fielding 19 Jul 00 - 11:48 AM
Kim C 19 Jul 00 - 12:59 PM
Songster Bob 19 Jul 00 - 01:10 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Jul 00 - 01:32 PM
pastorpest 19 Jul 00 - 01:34 PM
The Shambles 19 Jul 00 - 02:05 PM
Liz the Squeak 19 Jul 00 - 03:28 PM
oggie 19 Jul 00 - 03:44 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Jul 00 - 04:04 PM
Liz the Squeak 19 Jul 00 - 06:34 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Jul 00 - 06:42 PM
dick greenhaus 19 Jul 00 - 08:02 PM
Margaret V 19 Jul 00 - 08:44 PM
Mrrzy 19 Jul 00 - 08:56 PM
Art Thieme 19 Jul 00 - 09:47 PM
catspaw49 19 Jul 00 - 10:31 PM
Timehiker 19 Jul 00 - 11:32 PM
Liz the Squeak 20 Jul 00 - 02:39 AM
Joe Offer 20 Jul 00 - 04:12 AM
GeorgeH 20 Jul 00 - 05:07 AM
JedMarum 20 Jul 00 - 08:37 AM
McGrath of Harlow 20 Jul 00 - 08:52 AM
Lena 20 Jul 00 - 10:53 AM
Art Thieme 20 Jul 00 - 09:25 PM
Bill D 20 Jul 00 - 10:13 PM
Gareth 19 Jul 01 - 06:51 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Jul 01 - 07:52 PM
vectis 19 Jul 01 - 08:12 PM
The Hiker 19 Jul 01 - 10:33 PM
Amos 19 Jul 01 - 11:50 PM
Wolfgang 20 Jul 01 - 04:04 AM
IanC 20 Jul 01 - 05:56 AM
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PeteBoom 20 Jul 01 - 01:19 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 01 - 02:27 PM
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Subject: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Doctor John
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 04:49 PM

The thread on the Tolpuddle festival got me thinking of this. I suppose in a sense all history is distorted, even for the best of reasons perhaps by trying to judge the past by the standards of the present. Leon Rosselson's "World Turned Upside Down" is an example (read the book by the same title by Christopher Hill to see) and the many songs about the not very Scottish and not very bonnie Bonnie Prince Charlie are another. Any other examples. Dr John (not a member of the Richard lll Society)


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Mbo
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 05:02 PM

There's one that's always been pretty interesting to me. Check out the story of the song The Haughs o' Cromdale below the lyrics!

--Mbo


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Bert
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 05:36 PM

'Santayana' pretty much always has him winning the battle of Monterey.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 05:40 PM

I've always like the way that sailors from other countries used to sing Santiana with General Taylor running away and Santiana winning the day. And that's how the DT has it.

Sometimes you get people correcting the song to match the history, and doing it the other way round. But that was how they sang it, probably to piss-off the Yanks. Maybe they sang it the other way on American boats?


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Catrin
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 05:47 PM

In 'The Death of Queen Jane' (Child #170), the story in the song says that Queen Jane died in labour after a caesarian section (Henry refused to grant Jane's request for a section until it was too late.) "King Henry, King Henry, will you do one thing for me?/Open up my right side and find my baby."

"O no!" cried King Henry "Such a thing I never can do/If I lose the flower of England I would lose the branch too."

This is not true. Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry V111 (who the song is obviously about), died on 25th October 1537, twelve days after giving birth (normally) to Edward.

I think this says something about the people's need to express something about injustice - rather than stick to historical 'fact'.

Just a thought.

Catrin


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 05:54 PM

King Henry was out hunting at the time, I believe.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Catrin
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 06:03 PM

Yeah McGrath - What a b*******d he was!


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Irish sergeant
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 06:09 PM

I never heard the version of Santy Anno mentioned above but I can see the British and others doing so to goad the American at that time as we weren't on the best of terms. The version doesn't just distort history in that case it outright ignores it. Santa Ana played his part in the war between Mexico and the United States but it was minor and he got involved after the war had been going for some time. My impression has been he did so to garner political clout. A good book on the subject is So Far From God by John S.D. Eisenhower. Kindest reguards, Neil


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: oggie
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 07:10 PM

To the winners the spoils, to the losers the songs?

In the English tradition it seems that the majority of songs are written by(or about) those on the losing side. I suppose it makes sense in that if you are, for example, living on the profits of umpteen coalmines any songs you might inspire about how good your life is are likely to have limited appeal and are superfluous to the enjoyment of your riches! By the same token are there any songs written from the point of view of the slave owner?

All the best

Steve


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 08:05 PM

But the slave owners lost in the end. And we're still singing abolitionist songs.

I think you're right, and the best songs come from the poor and the oppressed. But the poor and oppressed can win sometimes, and when they win, their songs win with them. (And when they lose, their songs can still win, in the long run.)


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 18 Jul 00 - 09:54 PM

Always figured that the Logging ballads painted a far rosier picture of that profession (other than "Jam at Jerry's Rock") than the equivalent ballads about mining. Even modern ballads like 16 Tons, and Dark AS A Dungeon, though they use a lot of irony (and a bit of humour) are pretty foreboding.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 12:31 AM

This seems as good a place as any for me to recommend 2 books by James W. Loewen: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong.

Nothing especially musical here, but they might inspire you to look for (or write) songs that redress the imbalance.

These books really excited me. I wish I had time to write more about them; the 2 reviews that I linked to will have to do for now.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 04:10 AM

Who says it's only in song? History is written by the winners, thus Henry Tudor (pause for spitting to one side) made most of those who fought on the side of Richard III into traitors, just by declaring the date of his ascent to the throne to be the day BEFORE the real date of the battle of Bosworth. The "great" historian Thomas More (PFSTOS again) wrote a contemporary account of the reign of Richard III, which has been accepted by all as the history of the Tudor reign. He was a Tudor propaganda spin doctor, who was rewarded by the Tudors and when Bosworth happened - remember he wrote a contemporary history of Richard III's life - he was only 4 years old.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: GeorgeH
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 05:54 AM

EVERY statement of "History" distorts in some way . . and a song like "World Turned Upside Down" comes closer to the truth than many "formal" history books' coverage of those events . . IMO, of course.

G.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Grab
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 09:01 AM

Anyone care to cross-reference with movies (as in other threads recently)? Various America-won-the-war films, both old (Errol Flynn in Burma, etc) and new (U571, Private Ryan). Braveheart, Titanic, and The Patriot (and possibly also Rob Roy - no-one knows the facts in that to say one way or the other). And to prove us Brits aren't immune, there's Elizabeth too. Oh, and Shakespeare completely invented history to either (a) produce interesting plays, or (b) flatter his current patron.

Just goes to show that what makes good entertainment is not necessarily the truth...

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Kim C
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 10:45 AM

There's a Civil WAr song about the Battle of Pea Ridge (Arkansas) that has Sterling "Pap" Price getting kilt, but that ain't what happened. I think Price survived the war but I'm not 100% sure. (His sword is in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, for anybody who cares.)


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Callie
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:01 AM

I saw Billy Bragg last year. He was talking about the era that Woodie Guthrie was performing, and how he wrote songs about women's rights when no one else was - contemporaries such as Glen Miller were playing "men's music".

Didn't Woody leave his family to philander his way across the US?


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: catspaw49
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:02 AM

Its equally dangerous to learn history through song as it is through the movies. I think a lot of the disaster songs are rife with misinformation and most of the "Hero" songs are long on reverence and short on fact. But like the movies, if it stirs an interest to learn more as opposed to just accept as fact, then it ain't all bad.

.......and Price died a couple of years after the war.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Jed at Work
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:20 AM

song writers write poetry; historians write history


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Irish Rover
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:38 AM

the song "The Four Maries" IS historicaly Incor.......wrong! check it out


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Rex
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:44 AM

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Rex


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:48 AM

Actually Woodie did a lot of "philanderin" on his second family as well. By the time of his third marriage and umpteenth kid he was pretty philandered out.

His take on Pretty Boy Floyd was pretty rosy, but the farm folk really DID love the bank robber. "1912" massacre was pretty spot on from what I've read.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Kim C
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 12:59 PM

Thanks Spaw. The only generals I know anything about are Jeb Stuart and Stonewall Jackson! There were songs about them too but those are mostly fluff and don't talk about too much facts anyhow.

I won't even touch the distortion of history in books and movies as 1)it would cause a massive thread creep and 2) I'd be here all day writing something you don't want to take all day to read. But I guess it's fair to say that people have always taken artistic license when it comes to the facts, so don't believe everything you hear or read. :)


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Songster Bob
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 01:10 PM

Folksongs treat truth as the absolute ideal, even if it didn't happen that way. This is because people write them.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 01:32 PM

Thomas More "was rewarded by the Tudors" by having his head chopped off. They weren't a nice lot those Tudors, but then nor were their predecessors.

Songs don't tell you what happened, they tell you what people at the time felt should have happened. In some ways that is more important, because that's what shapes the future.

Robin Hood probably never existed, and the kind of people who the songs and stories are based on were probably pretty unpleaasant - but the idea of robbing the rich to give to the poor that is given a face and a name in the songs is still something we can aspire to. They sang about Robin Hood during peasant uprisings for hundreds of years.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: pastorpest
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 01:34 PM

I have found folk songs a way into history that I might not otherwise know. The powerful and victorious write history. It is true that Bonnie Prince Charlie was a drunk, a privileged and unfaithful playboy, and a fool to general his own troops at Culoden where the decisions he made and failed to make, made defeat certain. But as a symbol of a people struggling to maintain the Scottish identity that was threatened then and still continues to be threatened he is important. Prince William who lead the winning side was a hero to the English. Now he is better known as Billy the Butcher for his systematic destruction of highland clans and highland life after the battle.

It is today impotant to many historians to recover and write history from the perspective of ordinary people. Folksongs, regardless of accuracy concerning events are important sources.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: The Shambles
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 02:05 PM

Tolpuddle 2000


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 03:28 PM

OK Thomas got the ultimate in patronage in the end, but only after he'd served under several Tudors, and then only because he wouldn't play ball with the current Henry.... He still deserved it...

LTS


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: oggie
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 03:44 PM

Historians do not write history, people and events create it. Historians tell their version of history according to their own backgrounds and prejudices. Some do it more honestly than others but there is very little written history that is fact - mostly it is interpretations based on facts. The controversy over Holocaust denial is a prime example of history being distorted by historians (fortunately David Irvine lost in the courts) but differences in interpretation abound even where there are known facts.

All the best

Steve


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 04:04 PM

"He still deserved it..." Like Salman Rushdie would if they caught up with him? For writing a history book which some people reckon was unfair, about a king who was long dead by the time he wrote it? Or rather for refusing to put his name to a statement saying that the King's daughter was "a bastard" in the charming terminology ofv the day?

I take leave to doubt if you really believe that, Liz.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 06:34 PM

McGrath - sorry, I'm a supporter of the Yorkist household. Richard III has been portrayed as a child murderer for no other reason than Thomas More painted him so.

If Salman Rushdie deserves anything it is for writing the dreadful 'naughty but nice' campaign for cream cakes, rather than a badly written, boring book about devilish poetry.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 06:42 PM

I like the Yorkies better myself. But I think Wiliam Shakespeare had more to do with Richard's image problem. And I don't think your man Will would have been foolish enough to write a play putting Richard III in a good light, no matter what Thomas More had written. Not with Lizzie on the throne.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 08:02 PM

Folk songs are seldom accurate. They're always true.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Margaret V
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 08:44 PM

Also consider that not only do different historians interpret the same facts differently, but individuals experienced the same "facts" (actions, events, daily life) differently as they were happening. It happens every day, and it's all about the perspective from which one surveys a situation, and it turns the notion of "just the facts" history into something of a chimera. In short, "history" would usually be better understood (though more complicated) as "histories." Margaret


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Mrrzy
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 08:56 PM

Actually, it's through folk songs that I learned a lot of American history, since I didn't go to American schools and if you think it's distorted in American folk, I give you French history classes! En particulier, I remember my (American) father being appalled that all I knew about the Civil War (or the War Between the States, as they call it where I live now) was from Hey Nellie Nellie (My coat of blue is stained with red, and the man in the tall black hat is dead") or Two Brothers (Two girls waiting by the railroad track / One wore blue and one wore black) - so you know the side in grey lost. But it wasn't for years that I learned that it had been the NORTH in blue! The songs don't mention the obvious, I guess.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Art Thieme
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 09:47 PM

Comes down to this: Folklore, like history, does not always lie.

Tall tales (lies told on purpose) were a way of defusing the terrible realities of life. It was a humorous way of belittling the immensity of nature--indeed of life. A problem comes in when we ACCEPT the lie as truth -- which we often do -- whether it's in the myriads of interpritations of the Bible or in versions of "John Henry". The tales told about larger than life heroes, huge snow storms, gigantic floods, extremes of heat, cold, water (floods), monster animal creations, super- human stamina-----these were ways of laughing at the terrible stuff all around you if you were ALL actually living on a "survivor island" of your own making---like a farm in the middle of "the great American desert" as the plains were often called------or a cabin in the mountains before Calgary was Calgary. To me, the songs were not history, but they did profess to be more accurate than mere tall tales. The ballads showed the way things actually were---combined with the way people WANTED things to be. The reality and the fantasy together in a new hybrid. Everyone had their own agenda to satisfy---people/audiences to entertain---employers to satisfy---spouses to placate---children to occupy before TV and, not the least of considerations, a living to make. The guys who wrote serious history books had no fewer motives to alter "TRUTH" (if we are to be honest I suspect) than the people who fiddled with the ballads for all of the sighted various reasons.

And WE are all just a link on the

v-e-r-y l-o-n-g

chain of human creativity. (What an honor!)

Sometimes we get closer to what's accurate than at other times. But it's almost impossible for me, personally, to desipher if what I see as true at any given moment is actually that. But that's O.K. All I've ever been really interested in finding is a good story----that and knowing I've made a credible stab at telling the tale well.

Oh --- and leaning toward the good and not the evil side of things.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: catspaw49
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 10:31 PM

That was an outstanding post Art.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Timehiker
Date: 19 Jul 00 - 11:32 PM

I've been enjoying this thread. Art, I think you pegged it better than I ever could have. Songs, movies, and stories are just that, works of art. It's great to know the facts behind some of them. It's fun to speculate about the ones we don't know about. Sing the songs, if someone gets an historical insight from it, great. If not, they still heard a good song. Timehiker


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 02:39 AM

Yeah, but I still don't know WHY half these things happened! You're right when you say that folklore leaves out the blinkin' obvious.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 04:12 AM

Hi, Art - I sure liked what you had to say up above. It's sort of ironic how a celebrated liar such as yourself can speak the truth so profoundly.
I've often heard it said that fiction speaks more truthfully than the so-called "facts." Fiction - and folk songs - can tell how people were affected by events, and how they felt about their lives. That's a whole lot more powerful than a library full of technically-correct data.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: GeorgeH
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 05:07 AM

Well I think Satanic Verses is a near masterpiece (all it needed was a little more editing . . )

G.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: JedMarum
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 08:37 AM

I think (in this thread) we've nailed the difference between history and poetry - and their similarities, but I think we are a bit harsh in our judgement of historians. I cannot dismiss all written history as someone's politically biased opinion. Just like musicians or artists dedicated to perfecting their craft, I believe the best historians set out to produce honest, objective, fact based histories - and again, just like artists, some are more successful then others at being true to that objective.

I am normally the first one to take anything I read with a 'grain of salt' - but I cannot simply dismiss all of written history as politically biased, either.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 08:52 AM

Political bias in history doesn't imply the historian is setting out to distort things. But you see different things according to your own personal history, even as an eye-witness.

For example it's quite to completely miss some aspect of an event - it's possible to look at a bunch of people in some historic meeting, and completely overlook the fact that they are all white, or all men. Entire peoples can be pushed to the margins in accounts of historical events. Gypsies in the Nazi death camps, black people in histories of the Boer Wars, Palestinians, native peoples...

It isn't intentional distortion, it's just not seeing things that you aren't focusing on. And we all do it, and sometimes realise years later.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Lena
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 10:53 AM

Can I mention two proto-epic-ballads from some thousands years ago about the Qadesh Baddle,fought by Egyptians(with a VIP pharaon, the Fab Ramses) and Ittits(I don't know if that's the write name in English)?! Along the beautiful verses,they both enthusiastically thank their Gods for winning the terrible fight. Accademicians say that that battle was adjusted on paper,by diplomats.But those people were tremendously aware of the power of Epics and poems passing from mouth to mouth,not to mention the immortality of written words.So,there you go,all heroes.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Art Thieme
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 09:25 PM

I didn't mean to infer that historical accurcy wasn't possible to achieve. I only meant that it doesn't matter. And it's nearly impossible not to expect drift in spite of all care being taken. Time passing does that. I thoroughly enjoy the process. The "folk tradion" IS a process that takes time to achieve. That process is what makes things traditional. It's a matter of looking off a degree or two from plumb in order to see certain things a bit more clearly--lovely things that may not, in actuality, be there. But, alas, looking away those few degrees makes the view of the right-on details of things rather blurry. To gain the "correct" insight, all that's needed is to shift your gaze to a different biography of the same events. But was Braveheart (the movie) less real than the real facts of the life of Wallace? The scholarly writings will always be more on the mark. But the film (and Mel Gibson) sure put the recent vote over the top in a way that politicians never could. And what is a film if not a graphic visual ballad?

As far as what is right or wrong, it just doesn't matter. As Gordon Bok said to me on several occasions, "Art, is what is!"

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Bill D
Date: 20 Jul 00 - 10:13 PM

as Gordon..(or Ed Trickett) said at one of their concerts.."you don't have to believe everything you sing"..(the song was "The Middle Class Life is the Best of All")

the songs can at least tell some part of the story from one viewpoint...and inspire us go look up other versions in the history books(which may or may not help find the truth)


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Gareth
Date: 19 Jul 01 - 06:51 PM

This is currently relevant.

Thanks to the McGrath of Harlow for bringing it to the attention of us newcommers.

Question - Is it only us Celts wfere history is written )or sung) by the loosers ?

Refresh !

Gareth


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Jul 01 - 07:52 PM

??Did I do that? I must be posting in my sleep. No harm, this was a good thread anyway.

History is written by the winners - but the best songs tend to be written by the losers. I think that applies in lots of places.

The South seems to have produced the best remembered songs in the American Civil War so far as I can see. And the slaves produced better songs than the slaveowners. And the workers have better songs than the bosses.

Even when you end up winning, the best songs are from the time before then. "There'll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover..."


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: vectis
Date: 19 Jul 01 - 08:12 PM

Yes McGrath I agree. I was always told by an uncle to remember that history was written by the winners never by the losers.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: The Hiker
Date: 19 Jul 01 - 10:33 PM

Folk songs are written or composed in the main from common memory,and like all memory are subject to human error and intreptation,and isn't it that very human error and intrepration that colours and enhances all our memory's


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Amos
Date: 19 Jul 01 - 11:50 PM

I haven't stumbled across any collections of German songs about the great and terrible war. Maybe they weren't in a singing mood. But the Yanks sure wrote songs! Anyone collected the Japanese natural flowering of song during the period when the Pacific Empire was contracting madly?

I am not so sure it is a matter of losers, but perhaps more a matter of the idealists who end up writing the songs. From the little I have seen, for example, there were more songs penned by Bolshies than by Czarists in the era of the Revolution. Haven't seen any Bush-camp folksongs, either, though. Pushing up from under is a good reason to contemplate ideals, even if you win!.

A


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Wolfgang
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 04:04 AM

Amos, your observation is mostly correct and you're right that having lost a war is not a sufficient condition for a wealth of songs. There were quite a few German songs after loosing WWI and none I know of after losing WWII. Why not?

What makes the losers write songs is not just having lost alone but also the feeling that loosing was a deep injustice and the spirit of 'our sons will fight again and in the end our day will come'.

Except for the lunatic fringe (I don't know their songs and don't think I'm missing something here) there is no feeling in Germany that having lost the last war was a deep injustice and, completely different from the 1920s, there is no revanchism of any relevance.

In a nutshell,
after WWI: we have lost and we have been wronged and we sing about it (BTW, I write about feelings and not about reality)
after WWII: we have lost and we have to blame oursleves so why should we sing.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: IanC
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 05:56 AM

We've mostly been talking about historical inaccuracy up to now, but I notice that Doctor John's original post was really about judging historical events by the standards of today. Something I think we do rather too much. There's a good example of it in this thread and in others.

As George Fox said of the gospels, you can't really understand historical writings unless you can get into the spirit of the people who wrote them. In some cases, that means understanding mean-spiritedness, of course ...

Cheers!
Ian


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 11:18 AM

"History is written by the winners - but the best songs tend to be written by the losers. I think that applies in lots of places."

That's because the winners control the official organs of publishing--the press, television, etc. But the losers can still do the virtual samizdat, the songs, which take no official organization to perpetuate them.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: PeteBoom
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 01:19 PM

Nah - people are rarely villains in their own mind. It seems that most folks figure that "God is on our side." The result is that a generation or two after a "brave and noble" defeat, songs are written about events. If they are close to the actual story, thats a bonus.

Consider the standard Jacobite fare - Will Ye No' Come Back Again, Hey Johnnie Cope, Bonnie Dundee, Skye Boat Song, Killiecrankie and on and on - Rather than being written by the defeated Scots (Highlanders) MOST are of the "drawing room Jacobitism" of the gentry (Lowland Scots or English) and aristocracy, written well after the House of Stewart was no longer a threat to George and his kids. The remarkable thing about most of these was not that they got stuff WRONG but that they had gotten so much of it RIGHT! These were songs based on legend and lore in many cases where the story was well known, even if the facts were a little hazy.

The same thing happened in the States - some of the best known "Civil War songs" were written AFTER the war was over (eg., Marching Through Georgia). How many newspapers carried the story about the death of the "drummer boy of Shiloh", each written about a different person?

In Irish music, consider the number of Rebel songs written years after the events - Men of the West about the French landing at Ballina is a classic example - as is Father Murphy/Boulavogue, Rising of the Moon and Kelly from Killane. None of them were contemporary to the events and were written after - when it was relatively safe to do so and after the emotions were recovered enough to do so - 10 to 20 years after the events.

Is anyone REALLY surprised about the lack of German music composed about the defeat of Germany in WWII? Rarely is a society so broken as Germany was in battle, and the populous forced to face the actions of the government done in the name of the nation - done in THEIR name.

In the defeat of WWI, they had a noble image of fighting until they could do no more for the Kaiser and the fatherland. In the end, defeat was conceded after a noble resistance - great material that.

If you ignore the fact that the war was the result of a house of cards coming apart and invading Belgium brought Britain into the war against her, essentially reinforcing the French line when the Wehrmacht swept into France and buying time at Mons for the French to stabilize their lines. THAT was what set up the entire long defeat that was celebrated in song after Versailles.

Sorry - did not mean to rant -


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 02:27 PM

Songs sometimes cross over from one side to the other without change. An example is Goober Peas (peanuts). It was a southern soldiers song in the American Civil War (The War between the States or The War of the Rebellion, depending on where you were raised). Rations were slim and the soldiers were often reduced to digging in the fields for peanuts and other crops. The northern soldiers sometimes didn't have it much better, and the song became popular on both sides. Nothing of events that could be twisted, but a good marching song. I don't know if the song had an author, but I will look for it. The Bonny Blue Flag (composed for a revue in sympathy with the South) is a pretty tune that was changed. I have lost the Northern version.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 01 - 02:47 PM

No luck on Goober Peas. It was published in 1866 after the war with the joke names P. Pindar Esq., Words, and P. Nutt Esq. Music.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Fiolar
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 06:04 AM

I have just started another thread on the subject of Macbeth under the heading "What about it Scotland?"


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Sourdough
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 03:47 PM

This is a tough topic. I've struggled a lot with the problems of history, ideas such as "history is written by the winners" and so forth. However, like so many other cliches, it both has much truth and is misleading at the same time. I didn't start to write down my thoughts but once I got started a little, I got caught up in the challenge.

I once had to write an article about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I turned to contemporary newspapers and magazines of the United States and of Japan in order to see what the people thought of each other as the war approached. It was clear that many Japanese saw their island being cut off from the raw materials needed for a healthy economy. Perhaps if the US had understood that position better, the warlords of Japanwould not have ascended to the kind of control of the society they did and at least a part of the war in Asia could have been avoided. Writing history from the point of view of the victor may be initially satisfying but it leaves out information that may help provided guidance to action in the future.

Much of the criticism of American history that comes from ordinary Americans today is based on work by historians who continually re-examine the source materials of other times through the prism of today's values.

To look at it a different way: If you read two sportswriters description of a two hour contest, if the reporters are good, you will see two very different versions of why that particular game turned out the way it did. Of course, the central action will be more or less identical but the reasons, the value judgments, attributions of motive, emphases - these will all be different.

Now, add to that the stories of each of the athletes, the contest from their standpoints. One might be aging and would describe the two hours in a way that emphasized that. Another might tell the day's events from a point of view of how he played with pain, another how a self-help program was working, etc. The coaches, the owners, the manufacturer of the uniforms and of the equipment, the groundskeeper, the scorekeepers, the band, each would see the event in a different light, give different weights to the outcome's impact on the future and each would have something valid to add to the history of the game that day as would a sports historian who might put the present rules of the game in historical perspective and how the changes over the year effected that particular outcome.

What was involved? Perhaps one and a half dozen athletes and two hours of action - a pretty circumscribed activity.

So when a historian looks at "The Fifties" or World War II, or the reasons leading up to the Civil War when people changed the public and private motives over the course of the war, even a major work from an unusually informed source such as Churchill's World War II epic can only tell part of the story.

For those who want to approach the truth, it takes more than reading one historian. A good historian uses facts to open the reader's mind to currents that flow through history - he tries to answer the impossible question, "Why?"

It takes the reading of a wide variety of books written from differing points of view as well as source materials (newspapers, diaries, eyewitnesses). Then, filtered through your own interests, prejudices, etc. an depending on how well you have trained your mind to be open and critical, you will have earned your view of "history".

However, you always will have to condense and you will always have to organize and there will always be more to learn. Some of what you learn confirms what you already believed, some contradicts or modifies it.

I approached my first meeting with an established historian in my own field with some trepidation. He had studied "my" period for twenty years more than I had. I had read his work as a part of my education. However, he had not stopped learning. What I discovered was that he found my viewpoints based on my own original research, to be of some value. He was able to take parts of my work and incorporate the new information into his views. He had an open mind and his view therefore was broadened a small bit by my little contribution.

To expect "truth" is unreasonable. To keep an open mind, to train yourself to evaluate new information, to test it, and you stand a good chance of truly learning something valuable from the experience of others.

The problem is that it is soooo comforting to have an opinion and an opinion that fits into preconceptions is especially comfortable.

Sourdough


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 14 Nov 07 - 05:57 AM

Lili Marlene was a German song - popular from both wars.. most old people in England know all the words.

and of course it was used for the D Day Dodgers.

A modern folksong? I realise not everyone would agree.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: Bert
Date: 14 Nov 07 - 11:08 AM

I've just reread this thread. A point that we often overlook is that our individual slant history can be shown more clearly in our choice of songs (our songlists) than in the content of the individual songs.


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Subject: RE: Distortion of History in Folk Song
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 14 Nov 07 - 11:50 AM

Folk song usually had two roles, to inform and to entertain - hopefully both. The former quite frequently lost something to the latter, if only for the sake of holding the listener's attention. In matters more politic, the words often turned based on who was on the throne at the time, for example, or to use a familiar cliche, "whose ox was being gored." I learned about this "poetic license" many years ago, first-hand, from an eyewitness to the actual "Wreck of the Old 97." It's just an inevitable part of the process. That certainly doesn't diminish my love for the music.


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