Monday, June 26, 2006

Music I: How "Genuine" Is the Folk Revial?

How "genuine" are the songs being played by Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band and the other musicians riding the current folk and protest music revival wave?

The answer is that it doesn't really matter. That is unless you're a folk music purist and an affiliate of the Jazz Police. (More about them in the next post.)
To me, music is a big universal wrench that can be endlessly and creatively adapted to musician, place and time.

Question: How many versions have there been of "Amazing Grace" since slave ship captain John Newton penned the first known version after he experienced "a great deliverance," as he wrote in his journal after weathering a storm in 1748?

Answer: Nobody knows how many versions there are. In fact, "Amazing Grace" probably is even older that Captain Newton, who renounced his profession, became a minister and joined William Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. In all likelihood, Newton borrowed an old tune sung by slaves for his own "Amazing Grace."
This bring us back to the notion of genuine vs. interpreted. John Pareles of The New York Times makes an interesting point about that in his review of the Boss's appearance with the Seeger Sessions band at Madison Square Garden:
The Seeger Sessions Band is Mr. Springsteen's uninhibited take on the folk revival, spearheaded by Pete Seeger and others, that peaked in the 1950's and 60's.

They wanted to let America and the world hear the music made by ordinary people in out-of-the-way places. In hindsight, they were about half right. The folkies understood that the old songs were a trove of melody, history, poetry and anonymous genius; they were also, for a few decades, good tools for organizing the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

But the folkies' garbled notions of authenticity — rewriting lyrics as agitprop was fine, but using an electric guitar was not — led the folk revival to self-parody and obsolescence when rock started taking itself just as seriously.
Amen. Or should I say hallelujah?

* * * * *
For my previous posts on the Boss's tack back into the folk and protest song past, go here. I'd also recommend "A Mighty Wind," a wickedly funny cinematic sendup of the folk revival directed by Christopher Guest.

No comments: