kidattypewriter

Monday, September 25, 2006

One Sunday Morning, There Was a Beatnik In My Awning ...

AN OPEN LETTER TO FOLK MUSIC

Dear Folk Music,

Well, damn, I've offended you already. Folk Music, why do you have to be so freaking touchy?

It's this new crowd you're hanging out with, I can tell; all layabouts and lollygaggers who drift in and out of Readings and never buy anything. I don't think these effete little fuckers even eat, just, you know, ingest rose petals in a sensitive manner and inhale the droppings of Albanian butterflies for drinks. How the heck did you start hanging out with this whey-faced bunch of wankers, anyway, Folk Music?

Oh, don't look so bloody hurt. Remember the old days? Yeah, I'll bet you do. Let me take you back, Folk Music ... back to when it all began ...

***

Ah, the 19th century: time of vast social change, of democratic ferment, time of an revolution and evolution, of a surging economy and industrial progress, of national and international unrest! It was then that we discovered you: remember that? You were a sturdy fellow then, Folk Music, a likely musical genre if ever there was one, known to every lusty swain and rosy-lipped maiden in the countryside! Muscular peasants sang your praises while planting juicy turnips in their fertile land, and fat-breasted washerwomen carolled your name all over the land as they flapped out lily-white blankets by a babbling brook! Pearlly-eyed first mothers rocked their red-cheeked babes as they crooned your lullabies, and one old Welsh fellow called Smith whistled for you as he cheerfully slung his shovel over his shoulder and went to dig a hole in the garden for his master! Those were happy, optimistic, forward looking days, were they not, Folk Music? Oh, don't look that way!

***

Then you started going all weird, Folk Music. You started to hang out with wild-eyed men in tweed jackets who liked to carry around newfangled machines around with them in meadows. I don't know what the hell these weirdos were on, but I heard rumours that one of them was into revolution. Another was into spanking. They waved their arms about a lot when they talked and raved on and on about how they 'discovered' you and how you were the 'true voice of the people'.
What the hell were you thinking, Folk Music? At the time I thought it was just because they flattered you. Whatever, I said to myself - Folk Music will be back to its old ways soon enough.
But pretty soon, you started appearing in all the latest symphony orchestras and phonographs and bald-pated beglassed professors bustled around in buildings in Budapest and Rome and Berlin and talked wheezily about. I just couldn't understand you any more. So you and I decided to go our separate ways.

***

Next time I saw you, Folk Music, was sometime in the 60s or 70s. Oh, you'd given up all those fire-eyed socialists and wheezy old professors you told me. And none too soon, I thought to myself. I hated to admit it, Folk Music, but it was good to see you again after all of these years. Pretty soon, after a few quenching glasses of ale, we got to talking about the good times - and we did have some good times together, after all, didn't we, Folk Music?
And then - I saw them. Those - things. Those people that you had started to hang around with now. They were a disreputable bunch if ever I saw them: Flower Children, Beatniks, Bohemians - just Low-Down-NO-GOODNIKS! And the way they treated you, Folk Music! The idea they had was to dress you up in a brightly coloured costume with a little dwarf hat, give you a weird instrument, like a crumhorn or a bagpipe (maybe with some pot in it), and get you up on stage to perform. They loved it! And I hated it. And at some point, one of them even got you to start singing in Celtic - as if it was some kind of circus trick - and the crowd went wild! You were being used, Folk Music - can't you see that now? Made to perform like a caged animal! I left that place in tears, then: what had happened to my old friend?

***

I need hardly tell you what a mistake it was, in the late 70s or early 80s, it was to take it up with those country music singers. You can see it now, I'm sure. Oh, they warbled on with their fiddles and dobros and steel guitars about how we should 'treat one another right' and 'home values' and the like, but when they got down to it, they were just a bunch of yokels who liked to get drunk on cheap Budweiser and to bong one another on the head with banjos.

A good thing you left them, Folk Music. Shows you still had some of that common sense about you.

***

What the hell happened to you, Folk Music? You used to like lying around in fields all day and humming to yourself; now you're always singing about politics and the revolution and betrayal, man. (I blame that bastard Billy Bragg, and Bob-Fucking-Dylan, you've never been the same since you hung out with them.) You used to be about stories and ballads and rhymes; now you're always whingeing about touching emotional issues and evanescent sensations and dewdrops on the tips of pink snapdragons in a field full of clover and sunbeams. Fucking hell!

You've changed, man!

***

Brush yourself up, Folk Music. Get out of that kaftan. Get away from all those dozy hippies-turned-yuppies, and yuppies-turned-hippy. And get that fucking flower out of your hair!

Yours regretfully,
Tim

7 comments:

Kieran said...

Yes.

I was chatting to Ray Lamontagne and Jose Gonzalez about this just the other night. Jose made a similar point. Ray just kept banging on about the healing power of women. He kept going on about Kate Rusby and Joanna Newsom saving folk, but I'm not convinced. I think it will take guns, the way Pete Seeger always envisaged.

TimT said...

Interesting drinking companions you have there.

Me, I usually hang out with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Bela Bartok and Percy Grainger and Edward Benjamin Britten. But by the end of the night Britten is usually chasing after some kid just out of grammar school, Percy's asking a dame in the corner to chastise him, Bartok is fermenting revolution in the proletarian masses, and Vaughan Williams is getting drunk on ale and slurring the 'Doxology' from out of the corners of his mouth ...

Ampersand Duck said...

man, you should NEVER go to Woodford. There's very little folk music, but a lot of folk.

TimT said...

Duly noted!

Darlene said...

I can understand what ampersand duck is saying about Woodford, however, I will be going again this year.

My friend volunteers and gets a free ticket, so that's it for me.

I love folk music, it's the music of the people, so Tim, you are obviously not one of the people.

Caz said...

Sure, but which people?

TimT said...

'Which people' is a good question. When the Soviets took over Czechoslovakia and Poland, people were forced to endure a Soviet-approved, bland type of folk music for years ... the result was that when Czechoslovakia and Poland broke free from the Soviets, the last thing they wanted to hear was folk music, and started writing some of the strangest, most progressive orchestral music heard in the 20th century.

Shostakovich got in biiiig trouble from Stalin for writing classical music that lacked tunes; as a result, his style suddenly became very folksy - but apparently, it had a lot of subversive ideas in there. As a result, his music simultaneously appealed to the Stalin 'folk music' set while taking the piss out of them, presumably for his closest friends who knew what he was writing about.

Those English and Hungarian folk like Vaughan Williams and Bartok (and Percy Grainger!) must have had their own motivations and ideas about what folk music was when they went out and started recording all those songs.

Though of course what people call 'folk music' now is a very different thing to all of this - though not entirely unrelated ...

Email: timhtrain - at - yahoo.com.au

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