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Comment Archives: stories: Music: Music Feature: Last 30 Days

Re: “What's a Folk Song?

I am a huge admirer of Michael Cooney's talent, but I have to disagree with him about folk music. Just because "you know who wrote it" does not automatically disqualify it from being a folk song. There is indeed a folk process, but it has impacted even songs actually written by people we know of. He uses "Wimoweh" as an example: written b y Solomon Linda, adapted by Pete Seeger, further adjusted by the Tokens, it is absolutely a folk song. The narrow definition Mr. Cooney ascribes to is both dangerous and frankly an insult to the folk process. So many of us learned folk songs around a campfire that we later learned were written by Stephen Foster, for example. Does that make them any less folk songs. There are thousands upon thousands of kids who learned "Puff the Magic Dragon" when their parents sang it to them at bathtime or bedtime" the folk process at work. When they later heard PP&M do it, did it automatically lose its "folkness"? I fully admit that I have a pretty broad definition of folk music, in part because I have an inherent distrust of "genres" (mostly artificial constructs designed to reinforce individual musical tastes/prejudices), and in part because I think that almost all music has its roots in the folk tradition. I know that people often smile when they hear Big Bill Broonzy's statement (sometimes attributed to Louis Armstrong) that "All music is folk music, because I ain't never heard a horse sing a song," and then refuse to take it too seriously. But the crux of my personal definition of folk music lies in that statement, however oversimplimfied it might be. I am NOT one of those hardcore purists who believe that only old, traditional (authors unknown) songs played on traditional instruments is folk music. The google dictionary defines folk music as "music that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style. Folk music is typically of unknown authorship and is transmitted orally from generation to generation." That is silly, self-contradictory, and unhealthily limiting. "Transmitted orally" implies that more modern transmissions (i.e. recordings) are invalid, and its insistence on "typically of unknown authorship" directly contradicts the earlier claim of "written in such a style", as the authorship of songs in that category is generally known. Indeed, all songs at some point were created by someone. The "folk process" is far more intricate and complex than that simple definition indicates. The National Endowment for the Arts provides the following definition of “folk and traditional arts -- rooted in and reflective of the cultural life of a community. Community members may share a common ethnic heritage, cultural mores, language, religion, occupation, or geographic region. These vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic traditions are shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation, most often within family and community, through demonstration, conversation, and practice.” This is a pretty good place to start. Read it carefully. Despite what some folks assert, it paints with a pretty broad brush. Blues and Rap music would fit easily into this definition. It fails, however, to take into account the rich vein of protest music that has been around for at least two centuries and has often been considered-- even by the purists-- to be part of folk music. Is Woody Guthrie's music folk music? Of course it is. For the most part, like Joe Hill, he took old traditional tunes and put new words to them: something that has been going on for many hundreds of years. Because we can name who did it, does that make it any less folk? When Franz Schubert or Ralph Vaughan-Williams took old German or English folk songs and turned them into classical pieces, did they lose their folk identity? I would argue not. In fact, almost any music can be considered folk if one is willing to take the time to examine and discuss its roots and influences. And we MUST differentiate between defining folk music and articulating our individual tastes in music. There are some artists I do not like to listen to, but that does not make them any less folk. I have a weakness for harmony and for shorter instrumental introductions (unless the piece is an instrumental), but that doesn't mean that I believe folk music to be limited to the songs I like. If it makes someone more comfortable to break music down into categories like "traditional folk", "urban folk", "contemporary folk", "topical (or protest) folk", "folk rock", "folk punk", etc. so be it. But it's mostly all folk to me.

Posted by Nick Noble on 12/15/2014 at 12:38 PM

Re: “Love is the Only Truth

Thank you for the opportunity. Honored to be in the Tucson Weekly.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Ezra Letra on 12/11/2014 at 9:29 AM

Re: “Love is the Only Truth

Nice spotlight on a great artist!

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Isaac Kirkman on 12/11/2014 at 8:59 AM

Re: “Music Counts

It's sad that their tragic story is what finally made me actually listen to their music.

Posted by Gonzo Sorcrachi on 12/06/2014 at 10:42 PM

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