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folk song politics

musicmick 28 Apr 03 - 09:33 PM
Frankham 28 Apr 03 - 09:48 AM
McGrath of Harlow 28 Apr 03 - 06:29 AM
musicmick 28 Apr 03 - 12:58 AM
Frankham 27 Apr 03 - 09:09 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Apr 03 - 08:40 PM
Leo Condie 27 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM
toadfrog 27 Apr 03 - 05:41 PM
musicmick 27 Apr 03 - 05:26 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Apr 03 - 06:29 AM
GUEST,Gene Burton 27 Apr 03 - 04:45 AM
musicmick 27 Apr 03 - 02:36 AM
McGrath of Harlow 26 Apr 03 - 06:50 PM
toadfrog 26 Apr 03 - 02:39 PM
Gurney 15 Apr 03 - 01:01 AM
toadfrog 14 Apr 03 - 10:13 PM
mutineer 14 Apr 03 - 08:43 PM
GUEST,Clint Keller 14 Apr 03 - 08:07 PM
wilco 14 Apr 03 - 07:57 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Apr 03 - 07:46 PM
GUEST,Clint Keller 14 Apr 03 - 07:44 PM
GUEST,Folkster 14 Apr 03 - 05:04 PM
Beardy 14 Apr 03 - 02:43 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Apr 03 - 02:02 PM
John Hardly 14 Apr 03 - 07:52 AM
Beardy 14 Apr 03 - 06:28 AM
Gurney 14 Apr 03 - 02:35 AM
Hester 13 Apr 03 - 08:27 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Apr 03 - 08:23 PM
Hester 13 Apr 03 - 08:03 PM
toadfrog 13 Apr 03 - 07:29 PM
InOBU 13 Apr 03 - 07:22 PM
wilco 13 Apr 03 - 06:59 PM
Gareth 13 Apr 03 - 06:50 PM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Apr 03 - 05:51 PM
GUEST,Ewan McVicar 13 Apr 03 - 05:45 PM
Hester 13 Apr 03 - 05:12 PM
Roughyed 13 Apr 03 - 04:57 PM
Rick Fielding 13 Apr 03 - 04:02 PM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Apr 03 - 03:40 PM
GUEST,Bardford 13 Apr 03 - 02:50 PM
GUEST,diggy-lo 13 Apr 03 - 02:24 PM
Hester 13 Apr 03 - 01:59 PM
Leadfingers 13 Apr 03 - 10:26 AM
Fay 13 Apr 03 - 10:25 AM
Fay 13 Apr 03 - 10:18 AM
dick greenhaus 13 Apr 03 - 09:44 AM
The Pooka 13 Apr 03 - 09:39 AM
belfast 13 Apr 03 - 08:17 AM
InOBU 13 Apr 03 - 07:27 AM
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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: musicmick
Date: 28 Apr 03 - 09:33 PM

Frank, I couldn't get mad at you if I tried. You showed me a guitar lick in the Gilded Cage back in the early 60's and I've been using and abusing it ever since. Of course you were all over the country, performing solo and with that quartet you used to work with. (What the Hell was their name?) My point is not that all rural folksingers were reactionary, racist rapscallions. What I meant to say was that the connection between Socialism and folksinging was more a matter of sponsorship than philosophy. To suggest otherwise is to say that inteligence is linked to cosmetics because The $64,000 Question was sponsered by Revlon.
By the way, what ever happened to Bernie Krauss?


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Frankham
Date: 28 Apr 03 - 09:48 AM

Musicmic, there are some incorrect statements.

You don't know what my allegiances are.


Actually I was not just in Chicago. I have lived in various parts of the United States. My perspective is broader than you give me credit for. I worked all over the country as a folk singer. I have traveled throughout the South and lived in California quite a lot.

Not all the folk musicians who you designate were "rock-ribbed reactionaries". Many had various points of view. Many of the African-American musicians we encountered were certainly not part of the white Southern reactionary point of view. This is a sweeping and misassumed generalization. There were and are fundamentalists everywhere.

On the same subject, there is a common assumption that everyone in the South supported the Confederacy. Ostensibly it would seem so until you talk to lots of Southerners. There is no real consensus on this. Many of the defenders of the "battle flag" were "carpetbaggers".


Many of us on the left were able to talk about the political leanings of Lunsford and others quite succinctly. There might have been those who were in a state of denial about this, but those who really knew the folk music such as Pete knew better. It was all too obvious that the folk music was not unilaterally accepted by the public in the North or the South. It was a hope by many on the Left that the appreciation for the working class would be given through the revelation of folk music. It was not a given.

As to the arrogance that you intimate, Pete has never shown signs of this in his career. Naivete perhaps. But it has to be stated that the Left is not the boogy-man that has been painted historically. Arrogance is a judgement call and it doesn't fit all of those who were in the Left. As a matter of fact, an over-reaction has occurred by those who found out about Stalin and the CP in the Soviet Union. Like every over-reaction, it fails to take in the good things that were done by the CPUSA regardless if you agreed with their political agenda or not. A more balanced approach would be to accept that which was useful and that which was not.

Frank Hamilton





I never knew Ken Goldstein to be cynical. I thought and still think he was a great folklorist. Archie Green has decried his association with the Left but it needs to be said that they benefitted from the support that they received from the Left. As to Kenny's personal religious beliefs, I don't think they were ever compromised by the Labor movement.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 28 Apr 03 - 06:29 AM

The fact that at certain times and in certain places cultural phenomena have associations with particular movements and particular views doesn't in any way mean that this connection is universal or permanent.

There are many people who have come to believe that having a beard implies being left wing. The world just isn't that simple.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: musicmick
Date: 28 Apr 03 - 12:58 AM

Yes, Frank, you were there but your memories are restricted by your allegiences. In the northern Urban centers (I was in Philly. You were in Chicago), the political left, influenced as they were by Sandburg and Seeger, was the primary supporter of professional folk singers. Labor unions used singers to inspire and promote solidarity.I sang for the Hospital Workers, ASCME, the striking teachers at Temple and the editorial workers at Knight-Ridder. On the other hand, in 1964, I was hired to sing by the Democrats, the Republicans (I sang "This Land is Your Land" for both jobs) and the Socialist Labor Party. (They held a spaghetti dinner fundraiser and I was the apres pasta entertainment. I did a lot of union songs.) But in the rest of the country, where those folk songs we love come from, most of the folk singers were more representative of the politics of their regions; rock ribbed, rightious and (alas) reactionary. Those of us on the left, were careful to avoid talking about the political leanings of our "informants". We preferred to believe that we were the true folk and that our message was the message of the masses. Well, we were young then and were aflicted with the arrogance and intolerance of our age. Most of us have learned, over the years, that right and wrong are just sides of an elephant to blind men. Even Kenny Goldstein outgrew his cyncism enough to wear a yamuka and tallis when
his sons were Bar Mitzva.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Frankham
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 09:09 PM

Fay, I believe the answer to be pretty basic. Before the "Revival" not many people from the urban quarters were too interested in traditional folk music. For example, in the area where I lived, station WSB eschewed country music for being "tasteless" and sent it packing from Atlanta to Nashville's WSM. There was a big "tude" about it with many upper echelon people making fun of it. Lomax Sr. had a difficult time presenting his case to Lyman Kittredge at Harvard that American cowboy ballads were worthwhile as literature and history.

Along comes the left wing Popular Front in the thirties. They appreciated the "working man's" song. They took it up as a "cause celebre" and as a result actively supported folklore and folk music in this country when others wouldn't touch it. An exception would be someone like Bascom Lamar Lunsford at the Ashville Folk Festival. Here's a story for you. We visited Bascom in Turkey Creek, NC. He railed against the "commoonists" up in New York bastardizing the ballads such as "Penny's Farm" about southern sharecropping. When he finished his diatribe, he told us he was expecting his new album out on Folkways Records and was very pleased at the idea. When he read his glowing liner notes, he sputtered. They were written by Pete Seeger, the guy who he just finished lambasting. Bascom and the Festival benefitted from the Left in this and in other ways.

There were a lot of folklorists who came out of the Left wing movement. Archie Green, Ken Goldstein, Alan Lomax, and many others.
They were supported when no one else was really interested. I know because I was there. People would make fun of my interest in folk music. "That ol' hick stuff". Crooners were popular on the radio. But remember that Bill Monroe and bluegrass came in after the folk Revival. Pete Seeger championed Earl Scruggs in New York and started to learn to play banjo that way to introduce it to New York audiences. After a bit in the 1950's it became popularized.

Woody Guthrie was not a popular figure nationally at that time. The Left supported him. Also, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Paul Robeson,Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee,Josh White, even Billie Holliday and John Jacob Niles. Moe Asch created Folkways Records (the most significant recording company for traditional music at that time) and he was definitely on the Left political spectrum. The rise of interest in blues also can be attributed to interest in the "working man" songs.

Even on Grand Ol' Opry, traditional folk music was not being taken seriously. It had to be wrapped up in clowns clothes for Uncle Dave, Stringbean, Brother Oswald or as a novelty act for the very first Opry performer, DeFord Bailey, a great black harmonica player. Traditional folk music was a part and parcel of the agenda of the Left Wing in the thirties and forties and gave rise to the Folk Music Revival of the Sixties which repudiated it's associations with it's predecessors. For example, "MTA" was written by Bess Lomax Hawes as a campaign song for Independent Progressive Party candidate for Boston, Walter J. Obrien which was changed to "George" by the Kingston Trio.

Josh White, Richard Dyer-Bennett, Susan Reed, and Burl Ives owe their careers to the support they received from the Left Wing movement.

Of course, there was a lot of silly songs written, some doctrinaire and others embarrasing during the forties through the Popular Front.
And by no means was all traditional folk music embraced by the Left but many who were part of it did the spade work to bring it to public consciouness.

Buell Kazee, Texas Gladden, Horton Barker, John Jacob Niles, Bukka White, Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House,Almeda Riddle ....all were the recipients of those who were the folklorists and collectors who were part of the Popular Front. But that doesn't of course tell the whole story. Many of the traditional artists didn't hold the politics of the Left even though they benefitted from it. It took folks with many different political persuasions to bring this music to the public.

Ron Cohen gives an accurate account of the history of the folk song revival development in his book "Rainbow Quest". I know it's accurate because I was there.

The great work by Harry Smith was undertaken by Folkways Records.


Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 08:40 PM

It's more complicated than that. There are lots of ways in which we divide up, and in no way would I say that the economic left-right one was the only one or the most important one. But the different ways don't tie up neatly together, they just tend to coincide in some places at some times.

So for example in some places people will automatically see Nationalism as right wing, and in others as left wing. The same libertarian policies can crop up on the left or on the right or in the middle. And, equally, the same types of authoritarianism crop up on the left and the right and in the middle.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Leo Condie
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 05:56 PM

time for some verse from the great Phil Ochs:


I like Hitler, Jolly Jolly Hitler
I like Hitler and Mussolini too

I like Franco in Spain
And I'll have to maintain
That Batista was
Really quite all right

Trujillo was my man
Henry Ford/Hendrik Verwoerd would understand
What this country
really needs is apartheid

Loyally we Birch along
Birch along, Birch along
Loyaly we Birch along
Back to the good old days

God save the king


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: toadfrog
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 05:41 PM

McGrath: Of course someone who identifies "God, Marriage and Motherhood" as parts of the Right Wing agenda is telling us about himself/herself and not about reality. He/she is a Right wing Kulturkaempfer as Pat Buchanan says. When he/she says "marriage and motherhood," he means setting up cultural police to enforce his sexual norms on everyone else.

But McGrath, you have said it before, in your opinion the Left-Right distinction is purely a matter of economics and not about "cultural' issues or how people should live. If you feele that is the distinction should be, I may agree with you. But if you are saying, that is the distinction which exists in the real world, you are simply mistaken. The issues which most deeply divide people, in the United States at least, are essentially cultural and not economic. Economic differences can ultimately be compromised. Cultural differences can't. There is no compromising abortions; they are allowed or they can't. Likewise Gays are either o.k., or they aren't. If the line were simply between rich and poor, in a democracy the poor would always win. And that just doesn't happen.

Now, of course, I'm only talking about the United States. Maybe in England things are different. Maybe there, it's only economics. Although when I was there, in the 1960's, someone had posted signs all over London, saying "Vote Labour for a N========= neighbour!" That sounds like a cultural issue. And there seems to be lots of feeling about whether fox-hunting is inhumane.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: musicmick
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 05:26 PM

Of course there are Liberals who embrace religion, wedlock and personal responsability. There are Conservatives who were integrationists back when that was not fashionable. William Jennings Bryan was a staunch Creationist who was a courageous champion of workers' rights. William F. Buckley (everyone's favorite voice from the right) has, long, taken the position that drug usage should be decriminalized. When it comes to anti-establishment fervor, no Bolshevik can hold a candle to a Montana militiaman.
Perhaps it is time for us to realize that songs and singers are not branded because they support one issue. Grownups can, and should, make decisions based on circumstance rather than alliance. Folksongs, by definition, represent the society or culture they serve. A Christian song need only support Christianity. It does not have to give "equal time" to other religeous groups. It is a "right wing" song in that it upholds Christian values and espouses Christianity as the one true belief.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 06:29 AM

"family values as marriage and motherhood" - why do people persist in lumping together all kinds of issues and identifying particular positions on them as "left wing" or "right wing" when in fact disagreements over them run right across the left-right political spectrum?

It may well be that in musicmic's particular corner of the world, or choice of reading right wingers who are aggressively or quietly scornful of "marriage and motherhood" haven't turned up - but there are plenty of them, and they have done enormous damage, one way and another. And in the same way there are plenty of lefties who are very much "marriage and motherhood" oriented.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,Gene Burton
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 04:45 AM

Why does it seem to be assumed that Gospel music is right-wing? Surely its point is to promote a faith rather than a political agenda?


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: musicmick
Date: 27 Apr 03 - 02:36 AM

Songs on the right, you want? You've got to be kidding. What do you think Gospel is? How do you classify patriotic songs and anthems? How about wartime songs? What would you call songs about such family values as marraige and motherhood? Since conservatives tend to support the status quo, their songs might be less passionate and heated but that is not to say that, in terms of numbers, their folksongs stack up quite adequately.
And dont think that all (or even most) folksingers are radicals. For every Pete Seeger there is a Bill Monroe and for every Joan Baez there is a Ricky Skaggs. And while we're on the subject, let's clear up that nonsense that Burl Ives was a "friendly witness" to save his career. Burl Ives was a ultra patriotic man. He detested Communism because he felt it was a threat to the America he loved. The folksong community, in those years, was dominated by Woody, Pete, Lee Hays and Irwin Silber. They couldn't believe that any folksinger could be a conservative. Thus, they attributed base motives to Ives' testamony.
My politics are nowhere close to Burl Ives' but no one who knew him would doubt his sincerity.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 Apr 03 - 06:50 PM

Nobody writes folk songs. People write songs, and maybe they hope they might get in time to become folk songs, especially when they are written within some kind of tradition. And sometimes they do, maybe even quite quickly, as with some of Ewan MacColl's.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: toadfrog
Date: 26 Apr 03 - 02:39 PM

Rather than treat folk music as "left" or "right," how about looking at separate themes, which could be called political.

Theme 1, the [boss][king][captain]

"Left wing": The [boss][king][captain]is a rotten bastard and oppresses us all. (Most common, but not universal.)
"Right Wing": Here's a toast to the [boss][king][captain], what a great guy he is! (Less common, so that folk music must be essentially left wing!)

Theme 2, War and the foreign foe.

"Right wing": Long live the glorious fatherland! Let us fall on our despicable foe and cut out his gizzard! (Most common, so that these songs seem to belong to the Right. Except that bloodthirsty Irish songs are "freedom songs" & therefore belong to the Left.)
"Left Wing": The officers oppress us poor soldiers; we have a lousy life! (Also very common and generally considered Left)
"Left wing": Let all peoples unite to end war and bring peace to mankind. (Virtually unknown in tradition, but common in singer-songwriter stuff.)

Theme 3, Women.

Neutral. Women are beautiful, we love them etc. (Probably most common.)
"Right Wing": They are all a bunch of whores, watch how cleverly I get out of paying for my kids, ha ha ha! (Pretty common.)
"Left Wing": Women suffer so, look at the poor innocent betrayed! (Also quite common.)
"Left Wing": Sisterhood is powerful, etc. (Virtually unknown in tradition, but common in singer-songwriter stuff.)

Conclusion: If you count singer-songwriter stuff as "folk music," and weed out all politically incorrect songs, folk music sure enough appears to belong to the Left.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Gurney
Date: 15 Apr 03 - 01:01 AM

Toadfrog, Clint, I support your philosophy. Or even may go further.

Folksong, folkmusic, it is being performed for fun and love. Try NOT to categorise a drunken version of 'Nellie Dean' as a folksong!

Professional folksinger is an oxymoron (said that before) and folk music is not a genre, it is a convenient place to look in the record shop.
Isn't it amazing how often we get back to "What is a Folksong!'


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: toadfrog
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 10:13 PM

Wilco: If you feel folk music was "hijacked" by the Left, and are disturbed, there is a remedy. You can go out in the field, with a tape recorder, and find some untapped source of Right Wing songs, and write them all up in a brilliant book, and then everyone will praise your splendid work. People like Lomax, Seeger, and McColl worked very hard to "hijack" folk music, but if you match their efforts, perhaps you can win it back! And would make your point better than arguing it here.

Oh, McGrath, it seems to me people are all the time claiming to
"write" folksongs. Isn't that what Ewan McColl did? Or Bob Dylan? Isn't there something by a Larry, in this very Thread, talking about how he is "part of the folk process"? Aren't there just hundreds of singer-songwriters out there who feel that's there's something so very special about them which makes whatever they right instantaneously a part of tradition?

Isn't there a mutineer, directly overhead, saying that folk music is a "genre" and a "movement," implying that folk songs are whatever "folk singers" sing? I suppose if one is in the entertainment business, its a "genre," and anyone can write a "folk song." But the idea bothers me.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: mutineer
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 08:43 PM

Not only is folk music a genre, it's also a movement. Look at many of the great folk bands/writers- alot of their music was sung about political issues as their respective time. The Clancys sang songs of Irish rebellion, Woody sang songs for workers' rights, Dylan sang songs for civil rights, and the list goes on and on.
I guess the link developed because usually music that is considered to be 'protest' is usually not commercial...


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,Clint Keller
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 08:07 PM

Well, John Hardly was talking about folk music (currently written) and I supposed that if it's currently written, at some time somebody must have just written it, and who knows, they might admit it.

Of course, we just might be arguing on the same side.

Clint Keller


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: wilco
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 07:57 PM

My point is proved. "Folk music hijacked by the left." It's kind of like religion: anybody can prove almost anything that they want to believe is true. So it goes with most folkies.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 07:46 PM

"Here's a folksong that I just wrote"

I can't imagine anyone has ever said that, except as a joke.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,Clint Keller
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 07:44 PM

John Hardly says "...what there is of folk music now (currently written) is of a personal vein ..." and, if I read him right, of liberal sentiments.

It's the word "written" that troubles me. Shouldn't we be talking about folk music (currently sung)?

I would think that, to be a folksong, a song has to be picked up and sung & (inevitably changed) by people for their own pleasure, and that to say "Here's a folksong that I just wrote" is a contradiction in terms. Like "Here's a tradition I just now invented."

Dangerous territory, definitions. I know that a folksong to many people in the press is a song sung and accompanied by its composer on guitar with alternate chords and arpeggios. And there's the Broonzy theory and all the rest.

But I just don't think you could be certain that
"The Welfare State's the life of man / Welfare, Johnny "
would ever catch on.

Anti-authority songs are something else; "Pie in the Sky" has become part of the language.

Any artist -- artist in the broadest sense -- tends to reject authority, because you cannot do good work using someone else's judgement. You don't have someone else's judgement; all you have is your own. Abandon your own judgement and you get Soviet art, academic art. And so people who make their own songs and stories are often swimming against the stream esthetically and politically.

Didn't mean to get that ponderous, but what the hell.

Clint


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,Folkster
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 05:04 PM

to: Guest Juanandro del Castro

You are missed by the few sensible ones on the Kingston forum.

Please come back!


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Beardy
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 02:43 PM

No, McGrath I didn't mean Tony I meant in the broader sense of the left, as in those not on the right!!


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 02:02 PM

"The Right wing has traditionally been in power with the workers only in relatively recent years getting a more representative voice."

When did that happen? You can't mean Tony Blair!


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: John Hardly
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 07:52 AM

Maybe it's just that folk music has followed a long tradition (hundreds of years of borrowed tunes, instruments and, by assimilation, ideas) -- a tradition that can only grasp a relationship between the power/government in a parental/royal role of caring for the populace.

About two hundred years ago a divisive idea started to really take seed -- that the populace could somewhat self-determine. The idea that an individual's well-being, health and happiness was not the responsibility of a government of kings, but rather, a matter in which he could have voice and self-determination.....

......but you can't protest against yourself for goodness sake. The liberal mindset is still more closely tied to that of dependance on government for health, wealth and happiness. This is the perfect perspective from which to launch protest. Every problem is of someone else's making. (One reason why I like the blues -- it deals with personal problems and makes no other claim than (often humorously) self-attribution for those travails).

This is one reason that what there is of folk music now (currently written) is of a personal vein -- singer/sonwriter sap. The overwhelming direction of the government is a movement toward caring for every single need of the populace. There may be some things left on the liberal's wish list, but overall the progress of government, and the diminishing need of the overwhelmingly wealthy populace (from an historical perspective) has removed the wall against which a protest movement must reasonabely lean.

The left likes naughtiness -- but only their own naughtiness. There may be any number of personal vices for which the left would like greater liberation -- but these desires don't make for great musical themes. They come across as selfishness and are harder to be taken seriously.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Beardy
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 06:28 AM

I think Gurney has it just about right (or should that be correct). Hearing songs relating to issues you are interested in leads to a greater interest in the genre itself and the wider politics it concerns.

The question of why folk song is considered to be of the left seems to me to have a logical basis. The Right wing has traditionally been in power with the workers only in relatively recent years getting a more representative voice. Therefore the left has been in 'opposition' and protesting as a matter of course. It's traditional. Also the poorer sections of society had little or no education and therefore the oral tradition was their source of information on current events.

Fay bemoans the lack of young singer/songwriters in the UK. Unhappily she is correct, the songwriters currenty protesting about Reverend Tony and his cronies are the same as crusaded against Maggie and Major.

Finally lets not forget that songs such as 'Hard times of old England' date back to the Napoleonic Wars lamenting the lack of jobs and opportunities for returning soldiers and was hardly a song of the left.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Gurney
Date: 14 Apr 03 - 02:35 AM

Most posts here incline to the view that being politically left leads to folk music, sort of. I'd see it the other way around, that learning folksongs tends to lead you toward the left.
If a singer likes songs with a bit of meat on their bones, as opposed to silly love songs (sorry Paul) then there are a LOT of songs both in and out of the tradition with protest or political leanings. Then you have to defend the selection, even if only to yourself. You are also made aware of historical injustices that you'll never get in a school history lesson.
That's what happened to me, anyway.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Hester
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 08:27 PM

Hmmm... thinking about the issue of folk music and politics, I can't help but remember the time when I lived in a graduate residence with a Green Christian, an International Socialist, and a Liberal disability rights activist (while I was a Democratic Socialist with faint anarchist sympathies).

Whenever I would play my Billy Bragg tapes, the Green Christian's centre-right pro-capitalist boyfriend would march through the kitchen wearing nothing but HER short pink terry bathrobe, singing along to "There's Power in a Union" at the top of his lungs. He loved that song! And most of Billy Bragg's stuff.

Folk music seems to cross political lines and make very strange bedfellows.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 08:23 PM

Songs reflect the politics of the people who make them and the people who pass them on, it's as simnple as that. And that is something which is going to vary from person to person and time to time and place to place.

Singing is no different really from talking. And of course even talking about some things can be seen as dangerously subversive in some times and places.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Hester
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 08:03 PM

Hi, Malcolm:

I'll look up the Judge article next time I'm at the library. Thanks.

I enjoyed the "Sharp in America" article. Sharp's prescriptive approach to "correct" forms of folk singing and dancing grates a bit on my anthropological sensibilities, but in that respect he was merely a man of his times. I think we can also put his racist comments down to the wider social and temporal context rather than any deep-seated personal politics.

Mrs. Campbell was apparently the inspiration for the musicologist in the movie "Songcatcher". Indeed, a Sharp-like character arrives at the end of the movie to assist her and continue her work. Much as I enjoyed that movie, I'm mystified why the film-maker chose a fictionalized approach when a more accurately historical account of the 'rediscovery' of Appalachian music would have been every bit as dramatic and etertaining (if not more so).

Poor Sharp having all his teeth pulled! I'll bet that affected his singing afterwards.

As for Odinism, I often wonder to what extent anti-Semitism plays a part in SOME neo-pagans' search for pre-Christian traditions. In some groups, there is an unsettling emphasis on finding a "pure" Northern European tradition, "untainted" by the middle-eastern cultures that gave rise to Christianity. Quite disturbing indeed!

Oh well, pagans run the gamut of political perspective just as folkies apparently do (seeing as we have the right-wing "Wilco48" in our Mudcatter midst).

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: toadfrog
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 07:29 PM

I like the one that ends:

Well, it's a long, long way from Greensleeves to Freiheit,
And the distance is more than long!
But that grand old gang that they call the People's Artists,
Is on hand with their good old People's Songs.

Their motives are pure, their material is corny,
But their spirit will never be broke!
And they'll go right on with their old noble Crusade,
Of teaching folksongs to the folk!


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE BIVOUAC OF THE FORGOTTEN
From: InOBU
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 07:22 PM

I agree, Wilco, a lot of hooey! So Wilco, this is for ya...

THE BIVOUAC OF THE FORGOTTEN
Words Lorcan Otway Tune Mill o Tefty's Annie
All rights reserved
Otway 2003

Oh Gunny is there a tent for me,
in the bivouac of the forgotten?
For I've just got back from the desert sands,
Fighting for Halliburton

No, You can share this grate with me,
and a bottle too cheap to mention
For the cost of the war that we fought
Was deducted from our pension

Oh, Gunny, all those things we've done,
will haunt my darkest dreams
And now I've lost those few things I had
Is this what M.I.A. means?

There's Bill out here, who in Viet Nam
Had a silver star pinned on him
And Sparrow fought in Panama
And the first Gulf war brought us big Jim

Where are the folks, who called for war
When we are cold and broken
They're urging young folks to go and die
Or return and be forgotten.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: wilco
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 06:59 PM

Since the 1960's, when the "folk revival" became political, many of us have felt like "folk music" was hi-jacked by the political left. Sometimes, the political "left" acts like folk music is their exclusive province, which is a lot of hooey!!!


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Gareth
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 06:50 PM

Loooooong Sigh ! - Since when has the Welsh tradition been English.

As I keep having to remind the Nationalist "Yak-i-da" brigade the "Coal Owners" were not exclusively English - viz David Davies, and the rest of the Cambrian Combine.

Gareth

Now the Lord Mayor of London is collecting,
To help out our children and wives,
And the Owners, they send White Lily's,
To pay for the colliers lives."


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 05:51 PM

The whole issue of gender and Morris is rather complicated, and really not my field; but once the "pagan survival" fallacy is disposed of, it becomes just a question of custom and usage; purely a matter of choice for the people involved. Sharp wasn't really dogmatic about it; I think that he just wanted to reflect traditional practice, which leaned toward Morris as primarily a male pursuit; though it's a matter of record that women were sometimes involved, and were of course quite important in the continuance or revival after the Great War, when so many of the traditional dancers never came back; and those who did often no longer had the heart for it.

A useful, recent summary of Sharp's involvement with Morris is Roy Judge's Cecil Sharp and Morris 1906-1909, in The Folk Music Journal vol.8 no.2, 2002 (EFDSS, London); his relations with Mary Neal and the Espérance Club are gone into in some detail. To an extent, I suspect that the Ring and its insistence on Morris as an all-male tradition was in part a reaction against Neal (most of her dancers were women) and an attempt to return to what was seen as a more authentic approach; inevitably, Sharp was invoked as an authority for this, but he was safely out of the way by then. I don't know what his stance would have been had he still been living; neither, though, do his critics.

On the subject of Odinism, I recall reading an account -a year or two ago, I think- by a journalist who had attended a ceremony in which he was invoked. It was quite disturbing.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,Ewan McVicar
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 05:45 PM

The key Scots folk activists in the 1950s and into the 60s who equated with MacColl and Lloyd in England were Norman Buchan, Hamish Henderson, and Morris Blythman. Buchan was very active in the Partick CP, and Henderson was I think a CP member. Morris was too left wing for the CP, and was 'all out for a Scottish Socialist Republic' in the John Maclean model.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Hester
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 05:12 PM

Hi, Malcolm:

Thank you! Yes, it was indeed Rolf Gardiner I was thinking of (glad to know it wasn't some strange false memory). Poor Odin -- he tends to attract some less than desirable worshippers even today.

So then, would you say it was the later "Morris Ring", rather than Sharp, who were responsible for the "all-male" rhetoric? And not specifically Gardiner as I'd previously read?

I'd like to learn more about the Sharp-Neal fallout and its ramifications for the folk movement. Can you suggest some reading on the topic?

Off to read your 'Sharp in America' link now.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Roughyed
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 04:57 PM

A rough and ready definition of traditional 'folk' songs is that they are peasant or workers songs (I don't want to open up any cans of academic worms here. As such they reflected the realities of working peoples lives. That included in England strikes, riots, Peterloo, but also the sort of stuff that still fills the tabloids such as 'orrible murders and idealised views of things such as war, hunting and so on.

I think that in England the revival that happened in the fifties and sixties, which is still what formed the bulk of our current clubs and festivals, was left wing generally. I think this is partly due to good old commies like Ewan McColl and A L Lloyd but also to the way that young people at the time tended to be on the left. Certainly when I was becoming aware of folk music in the late sixties, the fact that it was working class music was of interest to me as a socialist, but the main thing that hit me was its sheer beauty. I don't think we should overemphasise the political side - hey, I love Wagner's music.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 04:02 PM

My God Malcolm "Nude Morris dancing"?! It's not just the sticks and swords that concern me, it's all that violent "up and down" jumping!

On the other hand....I can picture a rather fascinating variation on all that "handkerchief grabbing".

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 03:40 PM

Rolf Gardiner was involved for a while in the Morris revival, and certainly had strong links with the pre-war extreme Right. He was never an officer of the (all male) Morris Ring (he did speak at a couple of meetings), if my recollection of the interminable and sometimes strident correspondence on the subject in English Dance and Song during the '80s and '90s is accurate, and after a while he wandered off into Ruralism and neo-Paganism (Odinism, I think, but I could be wrong about that). In the 1930s, a great many people dabbled in various mixtures of nazism and fascism, into which all sorts of otherwise innocent things like paganism, Morris dancing and even nudism were often dragged, until the cold light of reality intervened. Sharp himself was not guilty of this.

Although, like us all, he had his share of faults, I wouldn't characterise Sharp as particularly misogynist -though it has been fashionable to accuse him of all sorts of things in the past, his political leanings were more-or-less Christian Socialist- and he died ten years before the foundation in 1934 of the Morris Ring. His famous falling-out with Mary Neal was a conflict of personalities, not sexes. Georgina Boyes has done valuable work (and Step Change is very much worth consulting), but I can't help but feel that her attitude to Sharp is distorted by her political viewpoint, as was Dave Harker's. To an extent, the anti-Sharp stance was a typical iconoclastic reaction against the unqualified admiration of his followers (in particular, his biographer, Maud Karpeles), but he is beginning to be re-evaluated. There does seem to be some way yet to go before a properly objective assessment is arrived at, but see for example Mike Yates' article, Cecil Sharp in America at the Musical Traditions website.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS ON..(Johnny Cash)
From: GUEST,Bardford
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 02:50 PM

Here's Johnny Cash on the topic:

THE ONE ON THE RIGHT IS ON THE LEFT
Words and music by Jack Clement
As recorded by Johnny Cash on "Everybody Loves a Nut" (1966)

1. There once was a musical troupe,
A-pickin' singin' folk group.
They sang the mountain ballads
And the folk songs of our land.
They were long on musical ability.
Folks thought they would go far,
But political incompatibility
Led to their downfall.

CHORUS: Well, the one on the right was—on the left,
And the one in the middle was—on the right,
And the one on the left was—in the middle,
And the guy in the rear—was a Methodist.

2. This musical aggregation
Toured the entire nation,
Singing traditional ballads
And the folk songs of our land.
They performed with great virtuosity,
And soon they were the rage,
But political animosity
Prevailed upon the stage.

CHORUS: Well, the one on the right was—on the left,
And the one in the middle was—on the right,
And the one on the left was—in the middle,
And the guy in the rear—burned his driver's license.

3. When the curtain had ascended,
A hush fell on the crowd
As thousands there were gathered
To hear the folk songs of our land;
But they took their politics seriously,
And that night at the concert hall,
As the audience watched deliriously,
They had a free-for-all.

CHORUS: Well, the one on the right was—on the bottom,
And the one in the middle was—on the top,
And the one on the left got a—broken arm,
And the guy on his rear—said, "Oh, dear!"

4. Now, this should be a lesson:
If you plan to start a folk group,
Don't go mixin' politics
With the folk songs of our land;
Just work on harmony and diction,
Play your banjo well,
And if you have political convictions,
Keep 'em to yourself.

CHORUS: Now, the one on the left works in a bank,
And the one in the middle drives a truck,
And the one on the right's an all-night D.J.,
And the guy in the rear—got drafted.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: GUEST,diggy-lo
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 02:24 PM

One of the first songs I ever learned was 'Which Side Are You On' by Florence Reese about miners trying to unionize. It was based on a traditional Gospel song.I hardly think of either as a folk song. Wouldn't most people have learned either from books? Hardly part of the oral/aural tradition.

bev


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Hester
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 01:59 PM

Very interesting thread.

Just a couple thoughts:

Greg said:

>>>The modern "folk-singer" has never been happy with the gung-ho songs (or the hunting songs, for that matter)<<<

Historian Roger Manning, in his book "Hunters and Poachers" notes that poaching was often a form of social resistance and protest to hierarchical land-use practices in the late medieval and early modern period in England, and this political perspective made its way into many of the hunting ballads (and of course, the Robin Hood ballads).

And while I'm aware of the Left's involvement in the folk-revival movement in Britain in the 50s, there is also, unfortunately, sometimes a frightening nationalist/racist fringe attracted to concepts of "folk" and "tradition". Certainly, the Nazis drew upon Germanic "folk" traditions and imagery.

I run an on-line Robin Hood discussion group and I'm horrified that, on a couple of occasions, white supremacists have tried to join the group, perceiving Robin as a racially specific "Anglo-Saxon" hero. Ick!

And, as a pagan, I'm always leary of those who insist on practicing a supposedly "pure" religious tradition, such as Asatru or Odinism, rather than a more eclectic, cross-cultural one.

And then, there's the infamous misogyny of Cecil Sharpe (although I've read somewhere that the "all-male" Morris stance actually came not from Sharp himself, but from an associate who had links to the Nazi party -- sorry, can't remember the man's name -- does anyone know who I'm thinking of?). Indeed, recent academic research, such as some of the papers collected in the bookStep Change, suggests a link between Nazi folk "scholarship" and the English Folk Dance revival.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Leadfingers
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 10:26 AM

Gurney--- Yes he is.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Fay
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 10:25 AM

Just thought - to add to that last idea,

In England there is a common cry of where are all the young singers?

There are loads of young singers around, I am one of them, and am quite bored of people ignoring that we are all here. What there is a dearth of, however, is young singer-songwriters, and those that there are aren't writing particually political stuff.

Is this a sign that change within the scene is already happening?


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: Fay
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 10:18 AM

I think maybe the scenes in England and America are quite, quite different.

There doesn't seem to be the same emphasis on pre revival material on the American side of the pond. I agree, the Coppers were/are quite conservative in their material, and are certainly not protesting in a direct or strong way in any particular direction. I don't agree that folk music is, by nature, linked with the left(ish) politics. I think it is associated with that group of people now, due to cultural circumstance and the associations they have given the genra making it less appealing for other groups to take it on.

Looking at the scene and cultural setting of the music (which is surely what defines it as 'folk muisc') rather than the material in itself we can see differences over the years which indicates to me, that this liberal link is a phase which could easily pass, rather than a real bond.

The men only venues (ie the pub) for singing sessions in East Anglia in years gone by are hardly a liberal all welcome setting.

Fox hunt dinners run by the hierachy in rural communities, are neither earth and peace loving in structure or reason for meeting.

Etc...

Will we just gain a new body of material from this phase and watch the folk tradition wend its weary way forward into areas and social scenes?


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 09:44 AM

It's difficult to find a more conservative body of song than the repertoire of the Copper Family.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: The Pooka
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 09:39 AM

belfast - yer welcome. :)


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: belfast
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 08:17 AM

A thread about folk song and politics and no one has yet mentioned Ireland? For this relief much thanks and let us be grateful for small mercies.


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Subject: RE: folk song politics
From: InOBU
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 07:27 AM

Folkies.. for an example of living folk tradition, see the post about the New Song for NY Firefighters... Larry


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