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July 11, 2006

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o/t--- but someone seems to be squatting on www.thenexthurrah.com.

Or was this pointer allowed to expire?

Just thought you guys ought to know.

okay, nevermind, it seems to work now.

For a while I was getting some go daddy page.

Timeless, intriguing and inspiring man he was. Thanks for this post. BTW have you heard Springsteen's Seeger Sessions?

I downloaded them (they were ALSO free on aol recently) but I haven't listened to them yet. I have mixed feelings about Pete Seeger, and more so about Pete channeled through Bruce Springsteen. One thing I like about Woody's music (and Dylan, and Leadbelly, and everything collected by Alan Lomax) is that it's not pretty. A lot of them are not especially talented singers or musicians, but they've got something to say, and in a strange way the lack of skill, for me, becomes a lack of artifice, and lets me feel closer to their passion. Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Odetta, all really know how to sing and play, they are beautiful. I would never want to be without them. But I listen to them in a different way.

(I guess it's the same distinction some people label as "roots" vs. "folk." When you're hearing about the plight of the deportees hollered through the nose or sung in perfect harmony it just has a different impact. I actually think the 'beautiful' singers are most incredibly effective when they're being harshly satiric, like Pete's Big Muddy or Janis Ian's painfully biting Shady Acres.)

By the way, there was a terrific piece on Seeger recently in the New Yorker, maybe a month ago.

I agree about Woody, Dylan, Leadbelly that the real joy of them is that they are not pretty. I just got yesterday the Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith via Smithsonian which I'm looking forward to. The Springsteen Seeger thing is not to be compared to Woody or even some of Seeger's originals. As you say, we listen to these in a different way, sorta like folk candy instead of grits. Anway, it's just nice to talk about Woody and the greats.

Getting off the specific topic of Woody Guthrie for a minute to follow the roots vs. folk or rough vs. pretty thing. One way to think of it is people who approach singing as an extension of speech vs. people who work toward specifically sung vocal production. People for whom the experience of singing is primary vs. people who work through theory (whether musical, ethnomusicological, political) to get to music. I don't want to romanticize the former, but I damn well prefer it. Acoustic music with the emotional directness of rock.

And Joan Baez...blech. Warbly saccharine blech.

mainsailset, I've been meaning to get that smithsonian collection, it looked great. by the way, the best of broadside collection also from smithsonian folkways is one I got a year or so ago, and it's good. it's a real mix of styles and talents, so no one's going to like everything -- in fact you'll probably only love less than a tenth of the songs, though not the same tenth I or anyone else would -- but they're all good for what they are, and it's interesting to listen in a systematic way to political folk as it moves from labor songs to civil rights and women's issues up through the years. also, if you can find it, the library of congress has a LOT of real roots-folk posted free online as mp3s (mostly collected through various WPA projects I think), but it's in a fairly haphazard organization and not straightforward to just download en masse.

MissLaura, I was looking for a line I remember reading somewhere that is I think from Woody Guthrie instructing someone (I thought it was Dylan) how to sing his songs -- he says something like, just say the words, don't sing so much. I thought it was from Joe Klein's Woody biography (which I highly recommend, opinions about its author aside, it's a great engaging biography with amazing source material) but can't find it there now. If you listen to some of the old cowboy 'songs' a lot of them anyone would be hard-put to say whether it's a spoken word poem or actual singing -- it's right in between.

(As to Joan Baez, I actually like her!, especially when she's singing more in the vein of the Carter family (like wreck of the old 97, banks of the ohio) more than the spiritual or old english stuff (please spare me "greensleeves", for example). She has a good sense of humor about her own style, too (have you heard her sing the lord's prayer in calypso, or the one that goes "honey, I want to hold in my hands your big foot, honey") that leavens it for me. but then again, my musical tastes are pretty broad - I kind of like everything - so no great endorsement for her.)

You can't cite all the musical and political progeny of Woody Guthrie and not at least mention Billy Bragg. When Nora Guthrie first heard Bragg and saw him perform, she knew she had found the person to record the songs her dad had written but because of his failing health had never recorded (or even written music for).

Even with the omission of Bragg, this is a great post. Thanks

Heh. I first heard Mermaid Avenue as the soundtrack to some irritating personal circumstances, and have had a possibly unfair grudge against it since. (It didn't help that it was all prettied up, and I was just getting into listening to Woody for his raw unprocessed-sounding sound.)

Nora has been an incredible custodian of Woody's legacy, especially considering how difficult it must be to love and respect him simultaneously as an artist, a legend, and a father (and taking into account the kind of hot-and-cold father it's been told that he was). I highly recommend visiting the web site of the woody guthrie foundation which both coordinates the use of his material (in particular check out the recent stuff on his visual art -- he was a sign painter before he realized that he could get paid for singing, and not have to buy paint) and also funds Huntington's research.

and if we're talking about Woody's metaphorical progeny, we shouldn't overlook his real ones: his grand-daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie (Arlo's daughter) is a musician in Austin (or somewhere nearby?).

Ah, no discussion of music would be complete without DHinMI speaking up for Billy Bragg.

Nor, I suppose, would a discussion of "folk" music be complete without me saying that anyone who's interested in newly-recorded but very old-school in an 1860s rather than 1960s way traditional American music should check out Tim Eriksen.

emptypockets, the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk is definitely worth it - he did something pretty unique by gathering not field recordings but stuff that had been recorded for commercial release, or at least in hopes of commercial release. So a lot of it is less kind of mannered and self-consciously folky than much of what you get from other sources. Plus there's just so damn much in the compilation that there's bound to be something you love, something you hate, something you appreciate and respect without necessarily liking.

I think of that singing style - and when I say "I think" I probably mean that Tim Eriksen, a brilliant thinker about this stuff as well as a brilliant musician, has said something along these lines - as being an extension of speaking in two ways. It's an extension in the sense that it is the same as speaking, that you don't have to be some classically trained person warbling away in your vibrato. But it's also an extension in the sense of, well, extending - drawing out, lengthening, raising, accentuating.

Huh. So apparently I can currently write about this stuff so long as it's not actually for my dissertation. Well, that's great.

As to the Bruce's recordings of some Seeger songs, may I simplify the debate beyond all recognition? Springsteen's recordings of songs like 'John Henry' and 'Shenendoah' are great in exact proportion to the degree to which Bruce can't sing. Truly the man is howling through a can of pea gravel and it's just damn wonderful.

As to Woody's legacy, while both Nora (after whom we named our kid, once both our moms set the limit that naming a little girl 'Guthrie' was just out of the question) and Billy Bragg must be mentioned, there really is no one to take a place alongside Steve Earle. Fort Worth Blues, I got 'em. Four more years of things not gettin' worse, I miss them.

"One way to think of it is people who approach singing as an extension of speech vs. people who work toward specifically sung vocal production. "

Hey, as a person who loves Townes Van Zandt, early Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan, and Guthrie, this is almost the nail on the head.

There is another interesting thread though in this group of geniuses, which I would categorize as voice as melody vs.voice as percussion. One thing Dylan does in particular (but which he pulls from Guthrie and others) is to pull his voice *against* the guitar, to try to overlap his forceful phrasing with the beat to create some tension there. Baez makes her voice all melody, there is no percussive force or interest. And of course this mirrors the lack of true tension in her lyrical matter, but that's another comment.

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