Friday, October 24, 2008

Folk music makes you tough

Several years ago, the Celtic Ensemble was playing a little festival in a town south of here: flatbed trucks for stages, little inadequate PA systems, punishing direct sun. The folks running the festival were really nice and very considerate, though they didn't really know what they were doing. And they had a tendency to book their friends, whose as musicians were pretty good visual artists: great at figuring out all the surrealist things they could do with visual presentation, but pretty shitty as musicians (there was some guy riding a sculpture, wearing a hazmat suit, made out of a bicycle which, when pedaled, would spin a horizontal disc to which were attached hanging beer bottles, on which he'd play percussion). But, the whole point of punk rock was that you didn't need to be a good musician in order to make music--in fact, worrying about being a good musician just got in the way.

Unlike those children, I remember the punk-rock movement and the sense of incredible liberation it bestowed when you put on the Pistols "God Save the Queen" at one of those 1978 dormitory disco parties and starting pogo'ing. And it was decades ago that I figured out that the defiant energy of punk-rock was already part of the world's folk traditions--but that you had to go out and find it.

In the event, at this little sun-drenched festival, the Art School kids were having fun being as outrageous as they thought they could get away with or looked cool, and that was all fine, until they started saying snarky things about me and my band. Now, in the age of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Katherine Jean Lopez, irony is dead: it's so ubiquitous that it doesn't even have any meaning anymore. So I realized that the punk-rockers ahead of us were just trying to be "ironic" with no awareness that it might piss off somebody else.

But making fun of my guys, as any of them will tell you, is a quick trip to a long walk off a short pier with Dr Coyote. So when the Art School fucks had finally thrashed out their last tune, and the hazmat guy had disassembled his bicycle "sculpture," and the snarky lead singer had been introduced to me and had realized that, in addition to having 3 more degrees than he did, I was also a foot taller and about six times meaner, we got on stage for our first tune, and I said:

"You know what's the difference between 'folk music' and 'emo' music? Folk music is 'emo' that's grown up and moved out of its parents' basement."
And we hit it.

Folk music isn't "twee," or "pretty," or "precious," or au courante, or bling, or any of that other temporary ephemeral bullshit. Folk music is tough, and it'll make you tough too.

I thought of that when I saw these videos from the legendary Oyster Band, now embarked on their Thirtieth anniversary tour:

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