O Brother! Why Bother? The latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books has a masterful essay by the critic Martha Bayles. It’s framed by discussion of the Coen Brothers movie so often mentioned on this site. But this is more than a movie review. Bayles covers allied subjects—1930s folk music, 1960s folk music, figures like Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger, folk’s relation to the blues, the perennial debate about authenticity—and places them in the context of commerce and entertainment in America.
On the Communist Party then—
The party in 1935 “made it once again permissible to use any music that might further a Popular Front against Nazi Germany. Unintentionally, the Popular Front turned out to have a salutary effect on American music, including several strains of commercial music tied to the Capitalist economic machine.”
On the singer-songwriters now—mostly drek! finally someone has said it!
“The folk revival nurtured the rise of the singer-songwriter, to be sure. But people like Tom Paxton, Ewan MacColl, and Bob Dylan were so steeped in the tradition, their best work sounds as though it has been around forever. This is less true today, when most ‘folk songs’ are just as melodically and lyrically impoverished as most pop songs.”