Monday, November 21, 2011

Alan Lomax's Times and Ours

The American Conservative's Marian Kester Coombs reviews a biography of the man who "not only devoted his entire life to popularizing and publicizing his beloved voces populi but became a spokesman for 'the common people, the forgotten and excluded, the ethnic, those who always come to life in troubled times'" — American Folk Hero. Some excerpts:
    Alan Lomax’s achievements are inseparable from the cultural crisis the country found itself in after the ’29 crash, as hard times ground on, the world rearmed, and threats both inward and outward forced Americans to ask themselves Who are we? What do we stand for? What can we draw upon now for strength?

    All over the planet, peoples were asking themselves the same questions, as a vast wave of nationalist, nativist, patriotic, populist, and yes, chauvinist mass emotion swept over them. “There’s no place like home!” cried Dorothy. “Tara. Home. I’ll go home,” whispered Scarlett. “This land was made for you and me,” sang Woody Guthrie....

    Volkisch sentiment is not usually characteristic of the left, which prides itself on being sometimes pacifist and always internationalist. The upwelling of American folkishness in the ’30s and ’40s was mostly a symptom of the period’s fierce nationalism....

    Where do we hear America singing now? Like it or not, in rap and other street music, in reality television, in the generic praise music of community megachurches, and, let us not forget, in the greatest strain of folk music ever seen on earth, pop. Pop’s domain reaches from the coolest corners of jazz to the darkest recesses of heavy metal and everywhere in between. It is the people making music. “Yesterday” is a ballad of today. Techno is a tribal dance music of today. All over the world, pop is based on American popular music—the music of our folk.

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