Friday, December 18, 2009

What the folk is wrong with the world today?

This thoughtful essay came to me by way of the "Supporters of folk and blues on WGBH" facebook group, which was started the day word reached our community that WGBH was terminating those programs.

It may be too late to save folk and blues on WGBH, but it may not be too late in other communities to get involved to keep the "public" in "public radio and TV."

Thank you, Iowa!

December 16, 2009

What the folk is wrong with the world today?

When I was 18 and putting myself through the local community college, I was researching in the library one dreary afternoon. I was starting to get interested in some of John Coltrane's more accessible recordings, and I figured I could find a biography or two. But, then I made an interesting discovery.Shrugging beneath it's time-laid blanket of dust, like a forgotten Atlas, was "The Land Where The Blues Began" by a fella named Lomax. Then and there, the potential to understand so much of the music I loved opened before me, as if some heretofore unseen church had begun to light it's stained glass windows from within.

I'll not lie- time and life have worn down my memories of said book, while other timeless tomes by Robert Palmer (Deep Blues), Nat Hentoff, and many others have come to share what little headspace I have left. But there's a lesson I learned from the memory of these books today, and now is the perfect time to share it.

On the sometimes wonderful contraption called Facebook, I've been linked to friends new, old, and to become. I am selective in my choices and alliances, and one choice alliance was a Blues/Folk Radio program based out of the Boston area. They were trying to save their Blues and Folks programs; much like the first act of your typical fairytale, the program stood no chance, Evil steamrolled Good, and all seemed lost in anticipation of heroic ascent. Except this is real life, billionaire playboys don't really don capes, and somedays life really is a toilet and we're all swirling downward.

But the book... maybe this old book can tell us something.... maybe, but not quite yet....

You should know that I live in Des Moines, IA, a community with very deep blues roots, and a strong, burgeoning folk scene. Which is why it strikes me as so odd that in a recent City Council election, an incumbent Councilman, when asked to describe his vision for shoring up the budget and getting back to black, specifically culled arts, entertainment, and the public library from the herd of potential budget cut victims. Calling arts and entertainment too "esoteric", and saying that the public library is "non-essential", I found myself infuriated at the sheer ignorance of his comments. Democracy survives because we have free, public institutions such as libraries, parks, and... you know where this is going.... radio.

He lost to an early 20's go-getter with basically no experince. Just saying.

Wait- back to the book. It's been right there all along. An old blues book is like an old blues record- testaments to what came before and should be remembered. I guess ignorant, illiterate folks, a generation or two removed from chattel bondage, should have more studiously taken the yolk of education upon themselves and properly phrased those slave hollers, instead of passing folktales through dusty, scratchy old aluminum discs that Lomax & Lomax carved out in the fields and juke joints.

Shame on ya, Terra. Boss 'round those parts never called learnin' time, eh?

I feel like I live in a world where the Truth is an iceberg, and Hear/Speak/See No Evils are pushing with both hands towards the equator, as if life would be better without these big chunks of ugliness floating around. The Truth remains ugly, right?

So ugly we've got to hide it when destruction's not hip, apparently. I would not have gone on to write for publications such as Guitar World, BluesWax, and others if I had not been so personally persistent in uncovering hidden truths about what I love. I could not have learned without someone preserving the history that birthed what I love. I would not be able to illustrate the web of influence and result, of cause and effect, to students without being shown it first, in pieces small or large. I could not have become the musician and man I am today without that sense of history. Of knowing that after my Scottish ancestors fought bravely and returned safely to their highlands, it was with the music of both their ancestors and their own lives that comforted their loss, put hope in their hearts.

Past easy and safe categorizations, roots music today keeps that alive, not because of an adherance to using vintage instruments and wearing period clothing, but because the stories continue to grip the hearts of generations past and present. Behind words translated to modern tongues live melodies and harmonies that people shed blood and life to keep alive. They kept it alive so that their sons and daughters could progress without having to suffer the same mistakes.

There is an entire book written about the history of "The House of the Rising Sun", that presents an interesting look at how one song can take on so many guises and meanings in it's lifetime. It's also true that songs, like books and history itself, can be twisted to speak agenda instead of truth, which is why my generation is passing N'Sync and Lady Gaga to the grandkids. Isn't anyone going to revolt, or are we too revolted?

My world likes to present itself as a renaissance era, but it's like lipsticking a corpse, as my wise and wily wife would say. Decorations hiding the fact that we're rotting from the inside out. I don't have the answers on how to diagnose, much less cure, such ills. But, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that there's at least one song out there that holds the answer.

I just don't expect to hear it on the radio any time soon.

Looking back is the best way move forward sometimes. I wonder how much better this country would be if we followed Washington's benediction when he left office. Read the farewell address. We promptly ignored the warnings, and now reap our due harvest.

Perhaps the loss of roots programming, wheter folk, celtic, blues, americana....whatever- labels are worthless and serve the problem, not the solution. Perhaps this loss should jar us into action, but it's not really. I'm writing a letter on a blog that no one regularly reads, so what good did it all really do? Well, if you read this a hundred years from now, and it still rings true, then you tell me. I made the record- it's what you do with it that matters....

Jeff Boudreau, please know that I've tried....

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