“The taste for folk music”

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March 16, 2009 by gadaya

For those who don’t know it yet, there’s a great music blog called “Wrath of the grapevine”  who have wonderful posts with really good writings to present the music. This week “The Irate Pirate” (that’s the mysterious name of the creator of the blog) has posted especially for me a sublime record by the traditionnal singer Texas Gladden recorded by Alan Lomax. I’d like to quote his introductory notes to the post as its really express what i feel about traditionnal folk music (and as a french guy, i don’t have the mastery of the english language  to write myself such good things).

“Like most musics, I suppose, the more you listen to folk music the more you develop a taste for it. But part of the fascination that’s particular to folk music is that you’ll hear bits and pieces of one song that you could have sworn you heard in a completely different song. And you’d be right. Because folk music is an evolved music, and like humans & chimpanzees, there are uncanny similarities lurking just below the surface that point to some invisible, unknowable ancestral precedent. And, like all things subject to evolution by natural selection, the essential parts are maintained and the extraneous, inconsequential bits fall aside. What this means in terms of folk music, particularly these old traditional ballads, is that while a song may be quirky and seemingly obtuse, at some level (often a non-conscious, irrational level), the song is deeply meaningful and helps people to negotiate the trials and uncertainties of this muddled mortal existence. And, of course, since folksong-evolution is an organic process in an oral tradition, sometimes bits and pieces get lost along the way and we’re left with only fragments (you could say this too is a product of natural selection: the part that remains is that which is most memorable). And since it is sung by people who weren’t professional musicians, it had to relate to things that everyday people could relate to, rather that abstruse musical concepts and the self-indulgent wankery that professional artists are susceptible to. The universal subjects are thus revealed: love, death, nature, heartbreak, childhood, remorse, dream/spiritual encounters, and leaving home. These themes can be found recurring in folk music and most great narrative art across time, from Homer to Shakespeare to Stan Brackage. It’s as if these subjects keep coming back because they’re the moments in our lives that stay with us, and we need songs & stories like these to help mark those moments and distill meaning from them. And while this music is rather difficult to listen to by modern standards, if you do take the time to listen to it, it’ll work it’s way under your skin and into the back of your mind, which is where it truly belongs. There it will take seed, whispering things to your irrational dream-mind, calling you back to time immemorial and rousing odd emotions like a broom rousing dust bunnies from corners and crevices.”

-I’m still working on my next post, “The John Henry Variations” and i already have selected 50 performances of this glorious song…


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