Re: RARA-AVIS: OT: Folking Around

From: Patrick King (
Date: 17 Sep 2009

  • Next message: Patrick King: "Re: RARA-AVIS: OT: Folking Around"

    So your suggestion that Dylan "seldom" sang folk songs in his early career is just plain wrong, even by any hidebound, antiquated 1962 definition of folk music. They were a large and obviously very influential part of his repertoire.

    By the way, it would take some strong rhetorical footwork and some churlish hairsplitting to suggest that Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind," as originally performed, is not a folk song -- as most folks understand the term -- simply because we know who wrote it. Or that, in the ensuing years, it hasn't, indeed, become a folk song.


    Way off topic and I was afraid this would happen, but...

    "As most folks understand the term" is exactly at issue here. You can hear Dylan, himself, argue the point in the film DON'T LOOK BACK. He hated the term "Folk Rock" with which he was saddled in '65. You can also hear Dave Van Ronk argue that he is not a "folk singer" on his last video, LIVE AT THE BOTTOM LINE.

    You're right, PRETTY PEGGY'O is a folk song. MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW is a folk song. Those are two instances when Dylan sang folk songs on his first album. He also sang HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN, which is a folk song. The rest of the songs are works by specific artists who are known, hence not folk music.

    CAMPTOWN RACES, historically, was written by Stephen Foster. If you want to argue that he "stole" it from slaves working on his plantation, some evidence must be brought forward to prove it. The song in question is a published song attributed to the first popular song writer in the United States. It ain't "folk music" whatever Big Bill Broonzy may think.

    Joan Baez' first 3 albums were all folk songs. I'm not arguing that there were no folk singers in the 1960. I'm saying, and Dylan agrees with me, that Bob Dylan is not a folk singer. If you write your own songs, these are not folk songs, however the press and general public may perceive them. Words have real meaning, which is the point of my bringing up this topic. It is more practical to argue that Ritchie Valens invented "folk rock" when he recorded LA BAMBA, which is a folk song, than giving that mantle to Bob Dylan. A published song is never a folk song regardless of it's chord structure or it's melody. The tendency of the pop press to blur this distinction, preferring to determine style based on a performer's atmosphere, which is why I used this example, is exactly why the scholarship of the press is unreliable.

    Patrick King


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