Last night, I moseyed over to the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax here in the fair(ly atrocious) city of Los Angeles to catch a documentary on Harry Smith, the renowned and reclusive Renaissance Man who not only assembled the definitive Anthology of American Folk Music, but was also a writer, experimental filmmaker, and philosopher. The man was a genius – but I’ll save him for another post.
What really got me thinking last night was about the origins of recorded “folk” music and “country” music, and where, how, and maybe why the two styles forked and grew apart from one another. You look at artists like Woody Guthrie, Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, or the Carter Family and you wonder: they are most certainly the “origins” of critically acknowledged 20th century folk, but they are also the origins of critically acknowledged 20th century country. Is our modern definition of American “folk” simply based on how white bourgeois culture of the 60’s (Dylan, Baez, et al) interpreted the music of artists on the Anthology, and our modern definition of “country” based on how lower income rural white culture interpreted the same ouevre?
You may remember a few weeks ago I posted on Minneapolis singer/songwriter Meg Ashling, whose dusty and road-weary folk/country songs drew influences from all the aforementioned artists. Meg recently said:
“when i think of country, i think of hank williams, sr. and ernest tubb, i don’t think of toby keith and carrie underwood. sure i’m an independent artist, but i wouldn’t necessarily put myself into the “indie” genre. country has always seemed much more fitting to me, but i find that some people are afraid of labeling my music as “country” because people associate the term with all of the overproduced pop crossover garbage and all of the songs about pickup trucks and drinking beer and honkytonk badonkadonks.
i know i’m probably living in a dream world, but i’d really like to bring back the real meaning behind country and honkytonk music and make it relevant to our generation… i want people to know what an important part roots music has played in our history so we can preserve it for the next generations to enjoy. i wouldn’t even be playing music today if i hadn’t grown up listening to my dad and my grandpa playing all those old country songs. the state of music today is very sad and we need to encourage people to stop relying on technology and marketing strategists to write songs and instead write something from the heart!”
What’re your thoughts?