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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
GUEST,Sandy Andina Is folk music selling out? (92* d) RE: Is folk music selling out? 19 Apr 06


Interestingly, I have heard the accusation of folk music "selling out" applied not just to performing songwriters who have changed their own styles till they've morphed more into acoustic pop/rock, but equally as vehemently and snarkily to non-writing performers accused of trying to "kiss up" to audiences by singing mostly overly familiar "folk scare" material. Neither is entirely true; alternatively, the truth may lie somewhere in between; or it could be that "folk music" is incapable of precise and exclusive definition.

Like the late Justice Potter Stewart on the subject of porn, I can't define "folk music," but I know it when I see it. No, scratch that--I think I know it when I see it. Aw, hell, I think I can tell what may and may not be folk. Maybe. I consider myself a folksinger, and yes, I do write. I (unlike some of my colleagues and even musical co-workers) do not believe that a competent songwriter has no need to or should not perform songs written by others. A damn good song is a damn good song, and if it speaks to me, fits me as a folkie and I believe I can do it justice and move an audience with it I will go right ahead and perform it. (If we don't want to consider entertaining our audiences, why perform in public?). But I also refuse to limit either my defintition of folk or my repertoire to music by Anonymous Dead Anglo-Saxons (if that sounds like a song title, it is; and sorry, folks, it's mine).

I consider myself a folk singer-songwriter precisely because I write songs with traditional folk instrumentation and musical structure, non-omphaloskeptic lyrics and subject matter (I pay a shrink to hear me unload, not expect an audience to pay me for that), and perform them in a manner everyone can understand (e.g., hear all the words clearly). And nothing would please me more than if others decided to sing them and start debates about the subject matter (and especially use them as springboards for writing their own songs--ah, to be a link in the chain!!). My songs tell stories and comment upon things that hopefully interest others outside my own small circle (and psychiatrist). I don't presume to declare that all or even many of my songs are timeless classics, but my goal is to write and propagate at least one that'll take on a life of its own. (The requests I get when I perform--and the ones that show up on radio playlists--tell me that I may be on the right track with at least one or two of them).

I think it is extremely dangerous and self-defeating to set an arbitrary timeline cutting off what is and is not a folk song. There are plenty of guitarslinging navel-gazers out there who stare at their feet while they mumble indecipherably, eyes closed of course, over repetitive chord progressions (that may even be electronically looped) about their own personal interpersonal angst. Maybe we can agree not to call them folksingers.....though from folk radio playlists and folk conference showcases we may ultimately be incorrect in excluding them from our concept of folk. But I think it is arbitarary and self-defeating to exclude everyone who writes and performs mostly their own songs from the rubric of "folk music." If we insist on doing so, have we the right to bristle at the outside world snickering at all folk music as if it were the kind depicted in "A Mighty Wind?"

If the folk process by definition includes the morphing of individual songs over the generations, why can't folk music also expand the size of its umbrella to reflect the creation of new songs (and, I grudgingly admit, some carefully limited stylistic expansion of the genre)? What made folk music folk to begin with? Folks: not just those who played it but those who listened and sang along. Like it or not, it is PEOPLE who drive this--the performers and the audiences alike. I am not saying that all music that is popular is folk--obviously, we can exclude most rock, rap, adult contemporary/MOR, cookie-cutter pop, factory-produced country, electronica, etc. despite its popularity. But when it comes to traditionally structured and performed songs made by acoustic musicians steeped in and respectful of folk music, we are shooting ourselves in the collective foot when we begin to split hairs too finely. (And when we overuse cliches).


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