Mudcat Café message #4028160 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #167156   Message #4028160
Posted By: Joe Offer
13-Jan-20 - 07:42 PM
Thread Name: Review: Lost threads
Subject: RE: Review: Lost threads
OK, so I think we need to talk about the "Walter Pardon Industry." Jim Carroll says that the closure of the most recent Walter Pardon thread is an insult to Walter Pardon. I closed the thread twice because it had become combative, and had made rational discussion of Walter Pardon impossible - but Jim does not accept that explanation.

Pseudonymous started the thread on 5 November 2019. I have good reason to think that Pseudonymous started the thread in order to provoke Jim Carroll, but she did a fair amount of research and posted substantive information about Walter Pardon - more substantive information than had been posted previously at Mudcat. She included a number of questions - and it was clear that the questions were likely to provoke the anger of Jim Carroll. But still, Jim had the choice of answering the questions rationally, or becoming indignant and focusing on conflict rather than facts.

One particularly provocative expression from Pseudonymous was "Walter Pardon industry," and that one hit the jackpot. The term "Pardon Industry" was mentioned 18 times in the thread, and also in a number of other threads. It was deemed to be a rude insult to the reputation of Walter Pardon, but I wonder if it was. Some people didn't like Walter Pardon's singing, but I think that's mostly a matter of taste. I really don't think that Walter Pardon made a whole lot of money from his performances, and I'm inclined to think that Walter wasn't particularly interested in making lots of money from his singing. But still, the term "Walter Pardon Industry" made me think. There were a number of traditional "source singers" who were exploited by middle-class collectors.
It's Conventional Wisdom (true or not) to say that the Lomaxes and Peter Kennedy and John Jacob Niles exploited source singers, but were they the only ones? And couldn't it be fact that certain singers were exploited to the point that they became an "industry"? Certainly, Lead Belly was one traditional singer who became an "industry," and collectors and record companies made a fair amount of money from him. Lead Belly made a reasonable living from his recordings but certainly not what he deserved.
And what about Ralph Peer and the recordings he made at Bristol on the Virgina-Tennessee border? There's no doubt that Peer made an "industry" of the working-class singers he exploited. Try licensing a Carter Family song for recording, and you'll find that Ralph Peer's "industry" still exists.
So, was there a Walter Pardon or Harvey Cox or Joe Heaney or Frank Harte or Fred Jordan "industry"? Maybe so, or maybe not. But it's a matter worth discussing. And certainly, the term "industry" is not an insult to these wonderful traditional singers. It's an entree to a discussion of what is and is not appropriate in the "collecting" of songs from traditional singers.

So, was it an insult to Walter Pardon to bring up the question of a possible "Walter Pardon industry"? Certainly not. It may have been an insult to the collectors, but the collector tried to pawn it off as an insult to Walter Pardon. And no matter what you think of the morality of collecting songs from (or capitalizing on) traditional singers, I'm glad we have these recordings to study and enjoy.

And was it an insult to Walter Pardon to close a contentious thread about him that drifted off into personal invective and worse? Well, I suppose that's a matter of personal opinion, but my opinion also counts. And I think it was an injustice to Walter Pardon to leave such a contentious thread open.

-Joe Offer-