For some time now I’ve been thinking about one of the core patterns underlying recent history here in the United States. It’s a pattern that can be traced from colonial times onward, and it offers unexpected insights into the mess the United States is in just now; the one difficulty with it is that nearly everyone, across the entire convoluted landscape of American cultural and political thought, seems more interested in acting out that pattern than in understanding it.
Thus a roundabout way toward understanding will be useful. We can begin, therefore, with two yellowing paperbound volumes sitting on my desk at this moment.
One of them turned up at a local used book store weekend before last: a well-used copy of The First New England Catalogue. It was edited by Marie Snow Hall and published in 1973, and it’s more or less a regional clone of the much more famous Whole Earth Catalog: that is to say, a legacy of the era when the cultural avant-garde drew inspiration from the traditional folk cultures of the United States. Those days are long gone now, of course.
The other is also a legacy of that same era, though it appeared a little earlier, and I’ve owned it for many more years. It’s an equally well-used copy of Jean Ritchie’s The Dulcimer Book, published in 1963. Once upon a time you’d find a copy of this particular book, and the odd and lovely musical instrument it introduced to US alternative culture, in just about any well-equipped hippie pad in North America; once upon a time, for that matter, you could count on catching the distinctive drone-and-melody sound of a mountain dulcimer played in the traditional style wherever folk music was played. Those days are long gone now, too, and thereby hangs a tale.
Mention the word “dulcimer” nowadays, and dollars will get you doughnuts most of your listeners will think you’re talking about the hammered dulcimer, an ancestor of the piano with a long history in various corners of Eurasia. The mountain dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer, or lap dulcimer—all three terms have been used for it—is not a hammered dulcimer. It’s plucked or strummed, not played with hammers; it’s got four strings, asymmetrically arranged; it’s got a fretboard like a guitar, but with oddly spaced frets—music geeks will recognize it as a diatonic rather than a chromatic fretboard. It’s made in various shapes and played in various styles, and it came into being somewhere in the southern end of Appalachia, where half a dozen old European folk instruments may have helped inspire the anonymous craftspeople who originated it a couple of centuries ago.
It’s easy to make a dulcimer that sounds good, even if you’re dirt poor and your access to raw materials is limited to what you can get in a little village up in the mountains, and it’s easy to learn how to play it well enough to provide a little additional beauty to the folk songs and Christian hymns that make up most of traditional Appalachian musical culture. That’s why the mountain dulcimer became a common instrument across the Appalachians, and that, in turn, is why Jean Ritchie learned it as she grew up in the little town of Viper, Kentucky. Later, she left home to get trained in social work, which is how she ended up in New York City, where local beatniks (that’s how the word “hipsters” was spelled in those days) were entranced by her traditional songs and dulcimer playing. This is what it sounded like.
Folk music, you see, was the music of the avant-garde back then—and no, we’re not talking about the folk music of foreign cultures conveniently distant from the gritty realities of American life. If you were young and hip in the 1950s, you listened to American folk music. That wasn’t the only thing the avant-garde liked to hear, to be sure; jazz was a major cultural institution on the cutting edge, the more recherché the better—you can still get a reminiscent smile to slip onto the face of people who were there at the time by mentioning Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck, et al.—but American folk music was the common currency of the alternative scene.
Think about that for a moment: the cultural avant-garde, politically liberal, socially conscious, idealistic…listening enthusiastically to the music of the deplorables.
That’s the way things were when Jean Ritchie found her dulcimer playing attracting the rapt attention of young hipsters in New York City. Of course the inevitable happened; craftspeople with a taste for woodworking started making dulcimers, starry-eyed young people started playing them, and for some decades thereafter, the mountain dulcimer was a minor phenomenon on the leftward end of society. You could get instructional books from all the folk music publishers, you could buy dulcimers in any well-equipped folk music store, and the drone-and-melody version of “Boil Them Cabbage Down”—traditionally the first tune everyone learns on the dulcimer—could be heard in pretty much every corner of the country.
Of course none of this happened in a vacuum, and this is where the other book on my desk, The First New England Catalogue, comes in. From the 1950s through the early 1980s, folk culture—honest, handmade, endearingly clunky, and regionally specific—was a major resource for the leftward end of alternative culture. Glossy high technology marketed by big corporations? That was the mark of the Establishment, which had about the same connotations in the youth culture of the time that the Mark of the Beast has among rock-ribbed Christian fundamentalists. A great many people, not all of them young by any means, recognized the downsides of dependence on a profit-centered and environmentally destructive corporate industrial system, and folk crafts, folk music, and folk culture generally were among the resources they used to build an alternative.
That, in turn, was what The First New England Catalogue set out to provide. Its model, The Whole Earth Catalog, provided access to an international marketplace of alternative tools, technologies, and culture; The First New England Catalogue and its equivalents elsewhere—there were quite a few of them back in the day—did the same thing with a regional slant, showing readers what they could find within an easy drive or a day trip on a bus. Inevitably the offerings reflected regional cultures and regional tastes.
Thus there are no ads for mountain dulcimers in The First New England Catalogue, though I know for a fact there were plenty of people in Boston and Providence who played them, and a decade later there were makers in those towns and folk music shops all over the region had them in stock. The local instrument makers who made it into the catalogue back in 1973 made recorders, harpsichords, old-fashioned drums, and electronic synthesizers—yes, you could build one of those on a workbench with spare parts and a soldering iron back then, and in fact most synthesizers were built that way, so it was close enough to a folk instrument to fake it.
I spent a lot of time underfoot in the Pacific Northwest version of that subculture in my teen years. It overlapped to a great extent with the appropriate-technology scene, which was a major interest of mine; unsurprisingly, a lot of people who recognized that modern industrial society was sawing off the branch on which it sat found plenty to learn from regional folk cultures that didn’t depend anything like so much on the products of fossil-fueled industry. It also overlapped to nearly as large an extent with the alternative-spirituality scene, which was another major interest of mine; unsurprisingly, a lot of people who were passionately exploring the far reaches of human potential in those days found plenty to value in learning to do and make things for themselves, rather than sucking at the teat of the industrial economy.
What I didn’t realize, as I strummed out “Boil Them Cabbage Down” on my first mountain dulcimer, helped build a wind turbine for a little communal farm in Bellingham, Washington, and immersed myself in the daily meditations and abstruse studies of the quirky spiritual tradition that I follow to this day, was that the overlapping subcultures that appealed so strongly to me were in their last autumnal days before the coming of a bitter winter. I recall with quite some clarity the day in the mid-1980s that I walked into a folk music store in Seattle to find not a single book of mountain dulcimer music, and a question to the store clerk got the snarled response, “We don’t carry that stuff here.”
That was when the avant-garde dropped American folk music like a hot rock, and “folk music” thereafter meant the music of folk cultures distant enough from the United States to be wrapped in a warm glow of romantic fantasy. Right around that same time, for that matter, CoEvolution Quarterly—the magazine spinoff of The Whole Earth Catalog—stopped talking about crafts and folk culture, and started babbling instead about the wonders of the newly hatched internet and the gaudy high-tech future we were all going to get once we stopped asking hard questions about the environment and got with the program. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, it was morning in America, and this nation was on its way into its forty-year vacation from reality.
I’ve written elsewhere at some length about this country’s collective failure of nerve in the early 1980s, when most of a generation crumpled in the face of the future’s challenges and took the easy way out. (Those who are new to that discussion can find a three-part summary here, here, and here.) That analysis still seems valid to me, but there’s another aspect worth discussing here. This is far from the first time, after all, that a rising social movement in American public life started out embracing American folk culture and ended up stuffing it into the first convenient Orwellian memory hole it could find—nor is it the first time that the poor and working-class people of the flyover states have found themselves redefined, by one and the same middle-class cultural sector, from adorable to deplorable.
Go into any library that hasn’t done a thorough job of censoring the past via purges of its book collection—a fashionable habit these days among library administrators—and you may just find a copy of the Works Project Administration state writer’s project book for your state. Back in the early days of the New Deal, young idealists fired up by Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of national unity prowled the backroads of the nation, taking down stories and songs and folk customs. American folk music was a hot cultural property then, too, when Burl Ives was a young man and Woodie Guthrie was still on the right side of the grass. Fast forward twenty years or so, and those same individuals, no longer young and not half so idealistic as they claimed, were cultivating a taste for opera and pretending they’d never so much as seen a guitar.
They weren’t the first to follow the same trajectory, not by a long shot. It happened in the Progressive era; it happened among the Transcendentalists, whose vegetarian, pacifist, long-haired hippie communes circa 1820 gave Nathaniel Hawthorne the raw material for his brilliant novel The Blithedale Romance; it happened before the Revolutionary War, when communes sprouted in rural Pennsylvania and John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed set the stage for a thousand hippie road trips a couple of centuries in advance. After the middle-class turn to folk culture comes the turn away from it: the former radicals sell out, settle down, embrace everything they claimed they’d rejected forever, and become clones of the older generation they once affected to despise.
Behind this dynamic is the most enduring of the cultural divides in American society, the divide between the urban enclaves of the nation’s periphery—prosperous, irreligious, and culturally dependent on European models—and the relatively impoverished hinterlands, with their loyalty to Protestant religiosity and American folk culture. That divide came into being long before the Revolutionary War and it’s been a massive influence on our culture and politics ever since.
What makes this relevant to the present subject is that the peripheral urban enclaves are the seats of institutional power in the United States, while the rural hinterlands are an immense but usually inert source of political power not locked into institutional forms. Movements for social change that restrict their activities to the urban enclaves get nowhere, because they’re confronting the Establishment on its own turf and can easily be coopted or destroyed. It’s when a movement for social change makes common ground with the unorganized masses of the heartland that real change becomes a possibility. Once the movement for social change takes power, though, it necessarily focuses its attention on the urban enclaves from which institutional power is exercised. Those movements that unseat the Establishment become the Establishment, and make common cause with the remnants of the Establishment they supplant; those that are coopted by the Establishment get to the same emdpoint in a slightly quicker fashion. “Meet the new boss,” the Who sang, “same as the old boss”: it’s a common phenomenon, in America as elsewhere.
There’s more to it than that, of course. Movements for social change do, by and large, enact social change once they take power; the New Dealers of the 1930s and the Boomers of the 1980s, like their older equivalents going back to colonial times, did in fact change things, and some of those changes were both useful and enduring. If the changes ground to a halt once the former radicals settled into positions of wealth and power, and doing favors for their rich pals eventually took the place of anything more constructive, that’s the ordinary rhythm of change in a democratic society—a real democracy, that is, where people are free to be as stupid and greedy as they wish at the ballot box—and can be traced straight back through history to the oldest democratic societies on record.
The rise and fall of folk culture in twentieth century American public life is simply one of many reflections of this well-rehearsed dynamic. In the 1950s and 1960s, the social and generational cohorts that now occupy the seats of power in the United States were young, still relatively idealistic, and eager for power, so they turned—as young, idealistic, power-hungry Americans have always turned—to the great reservoir of untapped political strength in the hinterlands, to counterbalance the institutional power of the peripheral urban Establishment. The Boomer generation was just a little quicker to cash in their ideals than most of its equivalents, and the resulting 180-degree turn gave those of us who didn’t take the bait a bad case of mental whiplash at the time, but the logic was simple enough: having sold out to the Establishment, they no longer wanted to encourage anyone else to rebel against it.
There are, it seems to me, three points worth addressing in the light of this tale. The first is that the value of American folk culture isn’t limited to its use as a virtue signal of temporarily anti-Establishment values. It still has the same values that appropriate technologists and practitioners of alternative spirituality found in it back in the day, not to mention the homely and honest values that led to its creation in the first place. It so happens that many of the products of the Sixties and Seventies folk revival are still readily available in used book stores and the like, and those of my readers who recognize the value of such things may want to make a serious effort to find them there, and assess their suitability for the present.
A second point is that not everyone in my generation traded in their ideals for a cozy corporate lifestyle. Even today, a few of the people who embraced elements of folk culture with an eye toward its relevance in the wake of the industrial age, or who found it congenial as part of an alternative spirituality, are still at it. I’ve found that attitudes toward folk culture provide a useful touchstone when dealing with members of my generation, and members of younger generations may want to use this as a guide: if you find a Boomer who still plays the mountain dulcimer, bakes his or her own bread by hand, or does any of the other common folk-culture practices of the era, you’re probably talking to someone who can pass on something useful. On the other hand, if your Boomer gets brittle and dismissive at any mention of the revival of folk culture in the Sixties and Seventies, you’re almost certainly in the presence of someone who sold out, and will very likely try to talk you into selling out in turn.
Finally, the cycle that brought the Boomers to power didn’t go away once they were comfortably ensconced in the corporate lifestyles just mentioned. So far, radical movements among younger generations have been fixated on European models, and thus have made next to no headway in the hinterlands. That’s what has kept the alt-Right, for example, from exercising the kind of influence that its cleverness and media savvy would otherwise win it: European fascism, the alt-Right’s model of choice, simply doesn’t have the draw on this side of the Atlantic that it does in its homeland. (William Dudley Pelley tried to launch a fascist movement here back between the wars, when fascism still had a certain cachet in this country, and it still bombed.)
We’ll know that serious political change is in the offing here in the United States when young, idealistic, and power-hungry Americans figure out that the hinterlands still offer them the massive untapped source of political power they need, and embrace elements of this country’s regional folk cultures as a badge of identity in the course of that discovery. I would encourage my readers to keep their ears open for the sweet and homely music of the mountain dulcimer; it’s just possible that that’s going to be the sound that signals the next great wave of convulsive change in American political and cultural life.
In Vico and Spengler’s theories of the course of civilizations, if a civilization on the downslope goes through a revolution, can that rejuvenate the society and move it back to an earlier stage, buying it more years and a chance at another peak? I could see that as, I forget if it was Tainter or Quigley who said part of what pulls a society down is increasing complexity, which persists even after it is no longer useful. But after a revolution the complexities can be taken outside and shot. It could also revitalise things like literature, art, science and philosophy, as well as giving a new political structure a chance.
On the other hand it could be more like a dying person deciding to try extreme sports, take a bunch of drugs, and go out with a bang.
Hoo boy, a thousand thoughts come crowding in! One at a time…one thing I remember is that a significant fraction of the beatniks/folkies didn’t so much want to adopt as co-opt folk music. There’s a reasonably well-known live recording of “Down By the Riverside” by Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonsie (sp?), where for every verse Pete resolutely tries to drag over to Marxist Universalism Bill just as resolutely drags the next back to its Christian roots. The poor fit between Marxism and American folk culture may have contributed to the eventual crash of both among the intelligentsia.
Umm, JMG, the proper term is not “village”, it’s “holler”. Geez…
Number two…how much is left of regional folk culture after a century of pummeling? (Honest question – you’ve just moved out of Appalachia so you would know!) Most of the country folk I know listen to the same slick “country” music regardless of location. They shop at Walmart (or Cabella’s if they consider themselves upscale) and get the same stuff. There’s still quite a variation in cuisine, though!
Third…now that you’re ensconced in New England, you might want to look up the folk music of Gordon Bok, who started out as a fisherman up in Maine. No mountain dulcimer, but many moving songs of the sea and the hard work of earning a living from it.
Thank you very much John for this insightful monologue…….. I think that the process you mention requires or is largely focused on alternative technologies, resilient DIY spirited approach to living in the world, sourcing resources locally and building what is needed at home or locally. This requires an understanding of the world and of how things work, which again is something that happens much better in the countryside than in the cities. Despite all the book learning and extensive formal education, surprisingly few people in the metro areas know anything about how to build something or fix the things that we live in or use.
I see a rebirth of civilization based on a practical education that confronts the physical reality, of learning how to and then doing, the business of food production, energy production, water production, small crafts, etc. In this regard, I think that Archdruidry, with its focus on individual effort to learn physical reality, particularly focusing on at least 3 areas of science and learning the particular attributes of the local area (local resources, be they plants, minerals etc) is a key to the future. I lament the lack of personal discipline needed for individual learning of the sciences and technology and believe that Archdruidry has an extremely powerful role to play in advancing a positive future.
Anyone else feel this way and want to join me in learning communications and energy production? I am on a small island in Japan but will travel to the middle East Coast next month and will bring with me very low cost tools for international private communication systems (texting via ham radio) and very low cost solar energy grid DIY systems that I can make available (again, no profit to me)……………
Mots AK4VO http://www.yugeshima.com diygrid.net
Hi: I was one of those people who dropped out in the early 70’s, and tried my best to survive. We had a farm, with goats and sheep. I began hand spinning fiber than I have continued ever since. We preserved our own food, to some extent, and tried to live in some communal way. But I nearly starved to death. Having no annuity to help me out, and having a really hard time finding job or transportation to a job, I got hungrier and hungrier, while learning a lot of new skills. It was a very exciting era, but a very hard one also. Finally I had to return to a city where I could support myself. Your discussion rings a lot of bells for me. I am old now (older than you), and don’t have the energy for that anymore, but I’m glad it happened. And I very much admire the younger people I see now who are trying to live that way also. The whole experience left us with the habits of living simply, trying to stay close to nature, and being content to be outside the dominant culture. We were part of that “underground stream” that keeps erupting above ground when things get really insane, and they certainly are insane right now. thank you so much for your thoughtful writing.
Many ideas a-swirling in the aftermath of this essay and much to ponder. But ’til then a few thoughts:
First, based on the structure of the dynamic you described, it would be apparent that the Democratic Party will most certainly *not* be the vehicle by which this pending change comes, as it has most definitely cast its lot with the urban power-centers.
Second, the later reactions to the folk of the hinterland bring to mind a recent conversation I had with a “Democrat” re Rustbelt voters and the recent election. In response to my suggestion that these were the very voters that the party should be reaching out to, he replied (edited for this blog) “I think you have rose-colored glasses regarding Cousin[frack]istan.”
Third, I began learning the banjo a while ago — I can play “Cotton Eye Joe” 🙂 and one or two other pieces — but I think a mountain dulcimer may be added. I always have loved their sound. (And I want to learn “Dixie” which, needless to say, one does not hear in Wisconsin often.)
Lastly, beyond looking to action in the hinterlands generally, do you have any sense of what particulars might be catalysts or key factors in this cycle?
Many thanks, as always.
Whenever I think of this long gone era of folk culture, and back to the land appropriate technology I marvel at how quickly it disappeared. In Jan of 1980 I attended one of the great folk singer Harry Chapin’s concerts in Ithaca NY. It took place the night before Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Part way through the concert Harry came out and set on the edge of the stage and talked with the crowd earnestly about how this was a harbinger of bad things to come and how he feared this would bring on a long period of darkness to the U.S. and beyond. Later that year Harry would be killed on the Long Island Expressway and few months later I attended a commemoration concert for him put on by his brothers, Pete Seeger and Peter Paul and Mary. I still have the signed poster from that event in a frame on my wall , and for me it is more than just a concert. It represents the moment when the attempt to steer a different course for industrial civilization took a drastic wrong turn. For many the curtain dropped when Reagan was elected but for me it dropped for sure when Harry died.
You might check out Atwater/Donnelly. They are members at First UU and live in Warren. Aubrey places the mountain dulcimer, studied with Jean. They take part in workshops in Appalachia every year. You may know this already from Peter VanErp, coals to Newcastle.
What you listen to on the radio jsn’t necessarily what you yourself play. I have friends who form a Celtic band. Other friends who teach fiddle. One of them composes for fiddle. You’re not going to find that on the radio!
I think the projected culture is very stereotyped, and most people give at least a passing semblence of fitting in, out in public, but what’s actually happening behind the scenes is different, and includes a great deal of fusion between the cultures of one’s ancestors and modernity.
As an additional note, the structure of the cycles you mention would certainly explain my attraction to Emerson and Thoreau 😉
“When the frogs sing, the suckers run the rivers.” That was an old saying from my region a young fellow who was taking his three year old daughter fishing taught me last night. After being absent from here for seven years I see a ton of changes, many of them depressing. But another change I am seeing is the younger folks who are sticking around are getting more and more interested in older traditions and passing them on.
About 10 years ago before I left for China, the radio station I worked at ran a weekly show composed of interviews with the local old generation who had done many amazing things. It seems to have run it’s course after I left but it was something that always made me itch. A great idea, and a great idea for a podcast. I don’t know if podcasting is too “European” of an idea but it definitely to me seems like a good way to help restore some interest in local/regional cultures.
RPC asks “how much is left of regional folk culture after a century of pummeling?”
Quite a lot of it is left here in New England — except it is plural, “folk cultures,” since there never was one and the same folk culture in New England, even back in the 1600s. You just have to get out into the poorest parts of the region and the rural places, where there isn’t any access to TV and the cell phones don’t work — and many folk don’t even have enough money to spend on such fripperies — and where most of the roads have never been hard-paved at any time.
I expect it’s the same elsewhere in the very poorest parts of the USA.
But even if you go to one of these places, you’ll likely never be allowed to see it — not unless you have the knack of setting the locals deeply at ease on their home ground and winning their trust. Mere bonhomie won’t cut it.
“Folk culture” as a single American traditional culture is a myth, just as it’s a myth that America shares a single organic culture in general and is a single *nation* (as opposed to a “state”).
Some of the radicals in Europe and the MIddle East seem to be fond of saying that the USA never managed to become a “nation,” and never will be one; it’s merely a weaponized state. I rather think they’re right about that. I won’t, however, follow these radicals to the next step of their argument, which is that since the USA is not a real “nation,” it is illegitimate and should be destroyed, together with any other non-national states that happen to exist.
I’ve also had a lot of thoughts flooding my mind as I read this. My grandfather has been one of the most influential people in my life, encouraging me to want to be self-sufficient and learn skills. The other night we were talking about food, how things had changed over the years, and got to the topic of canning. He didn’t so much say that the folks of his generation (he was born in ’39) were bought out but that is the gist of the comment that “it was more cost efficient to get an extra job then to spend the extra time for canning, so we gave it up.” Bucking the Establishment isn’t always so clear cut when put in that context. Everyone is trying to make their lives easier and hoping to get more out of their short time on this planet. The trick is not measuring everything we do in terms of dollars but to use some other sense.
i’m happy to note that traditional music is undergoing something of a revival. allow me to suggest lending an ear to emerging artists such as a.j. lee, colter wall, gangsta grass, the railsplitters, jenny hill and the hackensaw boys as well as more established performers; the mccourys, allison krauss, the string cheese incident etc. i don’t know how to evaluate the trend in terms of the broader political and cultural scene, but the talent out there is stunning. i’d like to know your take.
In regards to RPC wondering how much folk culture is left, it’s important to realize folk culture is not strictly Appalachian in kind. I was born in Texas where they have a variety of different folk cultures, not just the cowboy. Later I moved to Northeast Minnesota which has a couple of more localized yet similar flavors of a folk culture quite different from Appalachia. The culture here is deeply influenced by the Scandanavians who predominately settled the area. You can still hear it in the accent to this day. So based on just my two experiences in two areas of the USA, I can only imagine there are lots of pockets of old folk cultures still around but they are harder and harder to uncover. Just don’t look through the lense of “Appalachian” as folk culture and you might see more of it in your backyard.
One last thought regarding the last comment to RPC:
An example I think that can help illustrate this best is regionally we have a very special style of polka with different beats than you find in say Cleveland. It’s still practiced today and adored today but it is also very quickly dying off. I’m hoping to lure my son into the trappings of polka playing using his love of piano as a gateway 😉
But that’s just one example of how different regions have their often very unique folk cultures.
Thanks for this, it reminds me of my parents who were born on farms in the 1930’s, grew up well with “folk traditions” (my dad’s parents farmed with horses) and ended up beatniks in Seattle in the 1950’s.
I grew up in The Burbs and my parents worked white collar jobs, but they had what I guess you could call a “hybrid lifestyle.” We were firmly white collar suburbanites, but my parents always raised a big garden and did some canning, and Pete Seeger usually provided the sound track for our yearly road trip over Snoqualmie Pass to go gleaning on farms in the Yakima Valley.
If you dare enter the First Unitarian Church of Providence some Sunday, you might meet Aubrey Atwater and Elwood Donnelly, students of Jean Ritchie. They play a vast variety of instruments, from feet to tin whistle to (of course) mountain dulcimer and banjo.
Your larger point is well made. We threw out the opportunity for a reset 38 years ago when we chose Reagan, and most of us are in for a hard ride. But I tend my garden, and I bake my bread, and I keep my tools sharp.
Hi RPC. There are alternatives.
Gillian Welch springs instantly to mind 🙂
Fascinating. A challenge on the road to embracing regional folk cultures is that the modern entertainment industry ruthlessly wrings the profit out of any art form or folk tradition with a substantial aura of authenticity. It becomes very hard for ordinary people to tell what of their folk culture has substance under it and what is just joining another marketing scheme. Many varieties of ‘country music’ are the standard example here, but ‘American girl’ dolls come to mind as well. It almost takes an Amish-like isolationist mindset to maintain strong folk cultures in our era.
I personally suspect that economic activity is a better focus that the arts for connecting with the political power of the hinterland in our era. There is a strong instinct among many who long to change our industrial culture to connect with the maker, grower, fixer, crafts person culture that is more common in rural areas. Particularly as automation replaces more humans in our everyday interactions, I suspect that the next successful uprising against the establishment will be united by human making and self-sufficiency. Many have dreamed this would be forced by the end of fossil fuels, but I suspect there are enough burnable resources for us to totally destroy ourselves. The movement will be dismissed as neo-luddite, but it will gain support simply by giving people the dignity of work with a product to be proud of. And we all could use a few more products in our lives made by someone who was proud of their work rather than some machine or sweat shop competing to fill the Wal-mart shelves at bottom dollar.
Darkest Yorkshire? Greg?
Excellent as per JMG. Thanks!
However, would you please help me from the floor? A typo!!!
Did you leave the spectrum?????
I think we’ll have a good idea as to what’s coming down the turnpike in the 2018 midterm elections. I just did my first day of campaigning for Environment Massachusetts in Amherst a few days ago, and it was funny how many people asked me if their contributions were tax deductible.
My inner cynic was on a very tight leash all night, going these people are hypocrites; look at the Toyota Prius in the driveway, the super-duper inhumanly clean house. I’ve find such high quality stuff in the thrift-stores around Amherst it’s not even funny. And the first thing they ask me is if their contribution is Tax Deductible? The Prius, the house, they voted down the field of solar panels in Amherst, they’re fake through and through.
I quit the job after one day. My other thought about the people I was campaigning with was that they’re idiots. They’re not going to get any change with this strategy. I’m not following Picket on his March… Or Custer to his last stand.
As a tail ender boomer, I sold out in the early 1980s and didn’t even know it. I went into the military ’cause jobs were scarce, and was going along with the anti-radical backlash from the Vietnam era, and not really understanding it. I was fully on board with the ideals of keeping communism at bay, and music wasn’t really music unless it was electronically distorted. While exposed to environmental issues in the 1970s during the oil shocks, high inflation and energy crisis, the only lasting impact personally was owning small cars and motorcycles.
A battle of generations seems to part of the Decline, and it’s been a shock trying to come to grips with the challenges ahead, and guilt of opportunities lost. Even now, I’m still not sure if I’m motivated more out of concern for Mother Earth and my fellow man, or if I’m just trying to avoid becoming grilled fare on a Millenial parties’ barbecue spit….
@Chris At Fernglade – belated thanks for the link to your recent podcast, where the Green Wizards were discussing Money and Property. Some great insight on money, values, the systems of financialization versus the reality of scratching out an existence on your own land, etc. And some good laughs, as in “being old” and remembering the oil prices jumps of the 1970s. I felt myself wanting to pipe up and remark that it’s doubtful Jimmy Carter will ever be considered a hero – though he may have been right about energy (and being a nuclear techie in the Navy he should have been on top of that issue), but the poor economy and Iranian crisis will keep him in the doghouse forever. Not even Obama’s debacle of two terms compares….yet.
Fascinating to hear that folk music was popular in the 1950s. I was in elementary school then, and we were immersed in American folklore and folk music.. I remember our songbook, with John Henry and all. Our teachers must have been hip- it was a university “laboratory school”, after all.
BTW, if anyone’s nostalgic for Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans, there’s a great video of it, showint the train itself and playing what sounds like the original recorded track, at
Thanks for a lovely memory! I grew up in NE and live there now– where I learned to knit and sew and dropspindle spin, bake, play piano and harpsichord–but spent several years in Appalachia and did learn to play a dulcimer(OK, partly because Joni M played one), listened to J Ritchie and others in the 70’s. So happy for you that you now get to learn some NE folkways as well! Yes, some of us with long professional careers continue to bake bread, play music, knit and sew, grow some of our own food, craft furniture. It’s just been a lovely satisfying way to live and learn, and may be more necessary in our future.
I must have missed the announcement of your move to New England.. I hope to get up that way and do tree tapping/mapleling this fall. Enjoy the beauty of that part of the country.
I live in the Green Swamp area of Florida. Beautiful in its own way but more humid. My daughters and I are looking to buy a piece of land, build a tiny house compound, establish a homestead with native and other permaculture, as well as raise a few farm animals. I am mostly doing the gardening part, my oldest is raising animals and my youngest does mostly building and taking care of mechanical things.
My mother had an autograph which is much more complex than the dulcimer. Maybe I should have tried the dulcimer instead. My instrument is the frame drum. I love it. But lately I have been getting back to zydeco and cajun. I listened to them a lot in the 80s. I love the washboard. If only I lived in zydeco country.
Dear Mr. Greer – In one of those weird coincidences, I watched two DVDs in the last week (available from your library) that touch on your subject.
“American Folk” (2017) Two young folk singers cross America in a beat up old van, in the days following 9/11.
“Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story” (2009). About the WPA Federal Writer’s Project. Part of that was the State guides. If you want a snapshot of your State in the late 1930’s, they’re a good resource. Mostly. The one’s that weren’t heavily censored by boosters. Often found for pennies in used bookstores.
Books – “America Eats: On the Road with the WPA” (Pat Willard, 2008). The Writer’s Project had a series of books on the drawing board about regional food. The program ended and WWII came along. The source material is moldering in boxes in government storage. This is a sampling of the treasures, there-in. Again, a snapshot of regional foods in the late 1930s.
“A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression.” (Jane Ziegelman & Andrew Coe, 2016). From the jacket: “An in-depth exploration of the greatest food crisis the nation has ever faced and how it transformed America’s culinary culture.” Lew
Joy! This is the best timed, to my purposes, essay in ages. For this Sunday I am organizing a Mayday / Betane / Potluck BBQ for he exact culture you are talking about here in my county. I am so excited about it, one friend even volunteered to make us a maypole to try dancing around! Lot’s of organic farming folks, and aging hippies, and young cynics and idealist both, hosted by some Texan missionaries; I like mutted up social groups.
So I have been trying to get momentum for a green wizard group for years, and have had some sputtering successes, but the models I have been using, and many of which I learned from these discussions, all have a lot of European vintage; guild or fraternal. And true enough American folk have put he same forms to use, but for getting things started a potluck bbq is the proper American way. Last winter I did weekly pancake breakfasts, but found that weekly was actually too often to be sustainable. Then at the beginning of April a new comer to the county organized a smashing good potluck to start he “Cortez Sustainable Gardening & Farming Cooperative” as the Facebook group is named, So riding that momentum I declared I would try to take point organizing eight events in the same model; aproximating their timing to the soltices, ekernoxes, and cross korter days.
So give me feed back if any body got something to say about the plan, but I’m here laying out what I am trying to do this Sunday. An all afternoon potluck bbq. We compramised the roudyness level at byob (or wine) but no reefer (dagnabbing Colorado). Chatting, and a few conversations. I will facilitate a trade blanket for folks to bring things they’ve made to trade. And conversation tables folks can opt into spread over the afternoon on four topics stories about what you have done trying to be more sustainable and how it worked for you, or didn’t; issues you would desire community help with to improve upon in your life style; ideas for agriculture or crafting projects you would love to see tried, or would be glad to work toward; and your motives and goals that guide how you would like to live with your community and with nature. Lots of folks will be meeting each other, and if any project catches enough ears after the even we might make moves to realize it.
Then there is going to be a Maypole, I was at first thinking about a Beltane fire, but weather conditions being as they are in the SW that would be very stupid. So, help me out on this everybody, whats some good music, folksy preferably for dancing around a may pole and generally enjoying in the back ground of a bbq. The sort of thing that can blend into a back ground but it would do for skipping around to depending on your mood (and closeness to the speakers.) I got my own ideas, and will likely post later about some of my favorite folk musics; but I am eager to get input on this. My MC with the speaker system is from the LA club music scene, and messaged me saying he didn’t know any “grass music” to play at an event like this; not refering to reefer, but to the fact we would be listening to in outside, where there could be plants and stuff.
I did want to say I’m glad you’re looking at the loss of the American folk music and crafts. One of my pet peeves is walking into a craft store and not being able find real craft items to work with. I have been frustrated about that for years. Recently I became interested in making pine needle jewelry. Pine needles are easy but the tools for measuring the bundles is on-line only.
Yeah, and that’s not the only such instance–
In the movie “Les Miserables,” the big ending is (oddly) a bunch of ghosts on the eternal barricade singing about the Ongoing Marxist Struggle Against The Man, but the Victor Hugo novel was, I believe, about how the power of forgiveness can rescue people, and how punishment has very limited benefits.
I can’t complain about others repurposing songs to suit their own ends though–
I _am_ that 8-year-old you remember who was coming out of the Christmas Eve church service singing,
“We three kings of Orient Tar,
Tried to Smoke a Rubber Cigar–
It was loaded, and exploded
All over Yonder Star…”
whilst scaring my sister with the fake wax warts I had dripped onto the backs of my hands with wax from the candlelight service.
I’m afraid I’ve got no moral high ground at all on this one…
What you you consider are the considerations that should apply when assessing the suitability products of the Sixties and Seventies folk revival for the present and future?
While specific recommendations for books or technologies to rescue are useful, general themes might be more robust for those of use who live in cultures and places different to the American experience.
I probably need to reread ‘Green Wizardry’, but any thoughts in addition to whats in there would appreciated
I’d like to second RPC’s motion! Gordon Bok is a great way into the maritime traditions that some of us have worked to keep alive that were central to coastal New England’s culture and ways of life.
Do you have a sense that the cycle is turning once again toward a folk revival? That is my sense, but I’m 32 and admittedly I’ve lived much of my life in an interconnected network of “middle spaces” – not cities, but not truly rural either – whose values differ from most of the nation.
Where I live (Corvallis, Oregon), the hippie organic farmers who didn’t sell out are in their 60s and 70s and still at it, enjoying strong and growing support from their communities. At the same time they are being forced to compete with a new and rapidly-growing cohort of young farmers, nearly all under 40 and most under 30. There is a strong do-it-yourself culture and hobbies like homebrewing, gardening, and woodworking are enjoying a revival.
There is a bit of a divide between the urbanized, sanitized, consumption-heavy versions of these hobbies as practiced by those who grew up looking at screens rather than soil, and the gritty, appropriate-tech, production-scale versions practiced by those who grew up in wilder environs, but by and large the movement does seem to be in the right direction.
It’s not clear to me, however, whether I am simply part of a stable subculture or whether this movement will continue to grow. Do you have any thoughts?
Interestingly enough, the only mountain dulcimer I ever saw in a music store was in the Ballard neighborhood of seattle, five years ago. I very nearly bought it but didn’t have any spare cash at the time.
Watch out, all of the younger people are all chemically addicted to their cell phones. God forbid the internet or cell service ever goes down for more than a day or two, then we’ll have the full scale young persons rebellion that you’re predicting. Meltdowns, suicides, panic attacks, massive productivity losses as young people refuse to work until service is restored, ect. I’d feel sorry for the people with their finger on the internet kill switch, they’re going to get it. Young people are already blaming the baby boomers for ‘ruining their lives’.
I’m from an age not as far back as you. When I was a kid in the early 70’s my parents had color cable TV, and I was shocked by old people who had 3 channels with rabbit ear antenna’s. How do they survive? I thought at the time. Still I was very active outdoors, with an ongoing collection of skinned knees, and bruises from a healthy lifestyle. I’d often be gone all day on my own as a kid, only going home for meals. Such things are unheard of these days. Helicopter parents took over and they are everywhere now.
I inherited by grandfathers 4 string banjo after he passed in 1980. There are pictures of him playing the banjo at age 14 on his family farm in 1924, and I have fond memories of him playing ‘The cat came back’ on his banjo when I was a young child. A few years ago I even tried to get lessons on how to play it, but they only teach 5 string banjo now, 4 stringed banjo playing is a lost art.
How many old things will become new again once all the techno gadgets all go dark?
There is a regular Saturday program on NPR called Folk Roots USA. I try to catch it when I can.
As a matter of fact, I heard the sweet voice of the mountain dulcimer on public radio a few months back. The local classical station played a concerto for mountain dulcimer and strings, called Blackberry Winter. Conni Ellisor is the composer. Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjAB_w-SKWo
The piece was commissioned by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra in the 90’s, so it is perhaps more of a musical anomaly than a sign of oncoming cultural shift, but it’s a lovely piece of music either way.
For Oklahoma, 100 years ago, with recipes – Donis Caset’s Alafair Tucker novels, based on the author’s (great?)- grandmother’s stories and diaries. How loosely based I’m not sure.
Here in New Mexico I know of two reasonably active folk cultures, not counting the Pueblos and the Navajo Nation (and Apaches down south, but I’m up here in the north central part of the state.) That of Northern New Mexico, where they predate everybody but the Indians and claim to be pure Spanish; and the Mexican-based culture that predominates in Albuquerque’s South Valley. Attention, seekers: Anglos tend to be treated like tourists and/or customers, unless they’re well known to someone local and/or married into the clan.
And the South Valley also has a full share of get-your-hands-dirty small businesses, back-to-the land types, and the like.
The regional culture and practical folk crafts are wonderfully catalogued in the Foxfire book series. Worth a look!
Longtime reader but this is the first time I have posted. I wanted to say thank you for all your posts through the years and also drop in a link to a B movie from 1963 called “The Greenwich Village Story” that gives a cinematic record of exactly what your post is talking about. The opening scene shows Washington Square Park as it was circa the early eighties with some hippie folk strumming acoustic with dulcimer accompaniment and then at the two minute mark moves back in time to 1963 black and white film stock, Beatniks everywhere and the soundtrack changes to hardcore Appalachian folk music popular with the street musicians of the day…cue the banjo music!
Dear Ray Wharton,
I’m not a Maypole expert–I defer to the English on that. I have participated in a number of Maypole dances as an adult. This is basic level advice. Since I don’t know how much you know already, I might take a series of entriess to get through it all.
This advice may (if you are lucky) prompt more concise advice from other commenters who are more experienced/knowledgeable than I am, which is a low bar.
Maypole for beginners, part one
First off, if you happen to have a couple of people of your group who are experienced in organizing maypoles, put them in charge of everything: constructing the maypole, setting it up, picking the music, and directing the dancers. It will be helpful if they are not perfectionists, because the first attempt by a bunch of novices usually turns out untidy, and a midpoint between anarchy and perfectionism is the place where people will have fun and want to do it again next year.
Second, have you ever watched a group of children or adults dance a maypole? If not, I recommend you look for some clips on You Tube to get an idea what you are talking about. This will give you some ideas for the useful styles of music. The maypole dances I have participated in were done one time only: you assemble all the people who want to dance, get each of them to take hold of a ribbon, have the person in charge get everybody facing in alternate directions and give them basic instructions, agree on a signal to start dancing, start up the music, give the start signal, and let ‘er rip.
At some point, depending on how long the ribbons are, how tall the pole is, and how good the dancers are at following directions, either the ribbons will be woven tight against the pole and too short to continue dancing, or the people will get bored doing the same thing over and over. In the former case, the director could start a cheer or something to let people know to stop dancing (there may be an official way to do this that I don’t know about, because the crowd I usually celebrate May with never gets to that point.) If the ribbons are only woven part way down the pole and it’s obvious that people are not into finishing the weave, the simplest way to finish is for the director to order the people who are circling counterclockwise to reverse direction, everybody then walks briskly around the pole in a clockwise direction until most of the ribbons’ length is spirally wound around the pole, the musician gives a flourish, all done, huzzah.
At that point, no more dancing can be done around that particular pole until the ribbons are unwound (or cut off, if you are using crepe paper streamers). Unless you have multiple poles, you have one chance per event.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford appeared on the album set known as the “Harry Smith Collection” that gave impetus to the “folk scare” of the 50s and 60s. There; I’ve dropped two names, and I know that JMG is familiar with at least the name of Harry Smith. I was listening to this somewhat streamlined style of folk music coming out of NYC in the 60s. There was an hour devoted to it each Sunday evening on our local classical FM station. I’m an amateur violinist, mostly classical, but I really like the old time fiddle music, especially the stuff using modal scales. Even a classical musician, when he or she departs from equal temperament tuning, can produce some very moving performances without the listener even being aware of what was so special about it.
Yorkshire, Vico argues that it’s possible for a society to backtrack a little; “the course the nations run,” to use his phrase, doesn’t stop running, but collapse is always a voluntary act, and he recalled the reigns of some of the better Roman emperors and the way that their actions helped revive the Roman system and keep things running for a while. For Spengler, what happens once a culture fossilizes into a civilization is of less interest, but he notes that civilizations endure for longer or shorter periods before the night closes in. So it’s not possible to turn the clock back, but it’s always possible to keep it from running all the way to midnight — as long as people are willing to do so.
RPC, there’s always that! It really did vary from folkie to folkie, though. I knew people back in the day who put their Marxism into the songs where it belonged, such as “Joe Hill,” and sang the old folk classics straight.
Shane, I was translating out of Appalachian for the benefit of readers who don’t speak the language. Drive east from the neighborhood in Cumberland where I used to live and one of the first thoroughfares you’ll encounter is Bear Holler Road — and yes, that’s how it was spelled on the street signs.
RPC, it depends very much on where you are. Pretty much everywhere, what survives is fragmented, but passionate efforts at preservation and revival are ongoing, and there’s a special (and potentially highly political) energy in those efforts. Thanks for the tip about Gordon Bok — I’ll check him out as time permits.
Mots, I think that’s part of it, but there’s also an aesthetic and cultural dimension that needs to be addressed on its own, and just as the folk revival got much of its impetus from youth culture in the large coastal cities, a similar movement now could draw on urban as well as rural sources of strength.
Katherine, glad to hear from you! I knew a fair number of people back in the day who tried to go all the way back to the land, and had similar experiences to yours — but a great deal was learned that way, and as you’ve noted, much of it is still applicable today. It’s a difficult thing, living with a foot in each of two disparate worlds!
David, at this point in American history the Democrats are the conservative party in the US, in the strict sense of the word — the party that wants to keep things exactly the way they are, no matter how dysfunctional that may be. The Republicans are the ones pushing for change, though many of the changes they’re pushing for are just as dysfunctional! The question in my mind is which party ends up being taken over first by the usual crop of young radicals, and turned into a vehicle for the changes that have to happen; it really could be either one.
By all means check out the mountain dulcimer — it really is a lovely instrument, and easier to play than most others. As for what might catalyze the next great wave of change, hmm; that’s easy to say in the abstract — the cascading failures of business as usual in the United States — but the specifics are much less easy to judge in advance. I’ll have to think about that for a while.
Clay, I remember hearing about Chapin’s comment back in 1981. He was dead right, and I felt that way at the time, too.
Bill, thanks for this. Peter’s comment on the same theme is further down the queue!
BoysMom, I have deeply ambivalent feelings about the way that Celtic folk music has largely ousted American folk music in that end of less-popular culture. I love Celtic music and — how’s this for cultural dissonance — play quite a bit of it on my dulcimer, but it’s still part of the turning away from our own local and national experience that I’m talking about in this post.
David, they’ve been a perennial resource for American countercultures since their own lifetimes, so you’re in good company!
Prizm, that’s good to hear. It’s the young people who matter most now.
Robert, that was certainly true in rural western Maryland, though — as you might expect — I only saw and heard glimpses of it. The irony of the European and Middle Eastern radicals you mention, of course, is that most of their “nations” are hybrid monstrosities that were pieced together in the early modern period, in exactly the same way the United States was. Britain, for example, is a weaponized state, not a nation — ask people in Wales or Scotland about that, and you’ll get an earful — and even within the smaller units, there are major cultural and linguistic differences between geographical regions. South and North Wales speak dialects so different they’re not always mutually intelligible, and ancient rivalries and modern prejudices alike divide them!
Prizm, and of course you’re right. I deliberately used edged terms such as “sold out” to jab the Boomer generation’s airily inflated sense of self-importance, but it was a complex time, and for every person who ditched their ideals with a sigh of relief and bought into Reagan’s jabber about “morning in America,” there was another who made hard choices under the lash of economic necessity. The consequences of those choices, though, need to be faced squarely, and the losses mourned.
Jaymoses, I’m glad to hear this. I haven’t been following the folk scene much of late — too much else to do — but will check it out.
Prizm, of course! Appalachia is only one region in the United States, and its folk culture is specific to that region. Other regions have their own folk cultures, and even within a region there’s a lot of variation. To borrow some examples from my own experience, the western Washington coast (where my paternal family is from) preserved loanwords from Chinook jargon, the trade language of the First Nations out that way, well into my father’s lifetime; Western Maryland has a distinctive style of rug weaving that’s found nowhere else on the planet; and I’m beginning to get a sense of the pleasantly quirky folk culture of Rhode Island, which is a fine and bubbling polyglot stew much to my taste.
Michael, I wonder if your parents knew the late Art Craig, who was also a Seattle beatnik in the 1950s (he lived on a houseboat on Lake Union) and ended up as one of the pillars of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Washington state. My family didn’t do gleaning, but I listened to a fair number of Pete Seeger tunes crossing Snoqualmie Pass on the way to Cheney, where my parents (both teachers) did summer school back in the day.
Peter, thanks for the suggestion! I bet they have gigs outside of the Unitarian church, too. 😉 Good to hear, also, from another who stayed the course.
Ganv, and that’s also part of the mix. The trick where culture is concerned is to identify the corporate media as the thing to avoid, and patronize those who stay away from it.
Darren, I put one in now and again just to give my critics something to chew on. 😉
Austin, thank you for this report from the trenches! This is pretty much exactly what I expect to see the left do this year and in 2020 — that is, double down on the mistakes that cost them the 2016 election, insisting all the while that a vast blue wave is going to sweep them into power. It’s when Trump wins reelection easily in 2020 that we’ll see the existing (un-)Democratic power structure swept away, and change become an option.
JMG, I can just remember the autumn you’re talking about. I was a preschooler. I had the Patons’ “I’ve Got A Song” record (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j1J9GZGcvk), etc., and some of my friends’ parents were still “hippies.” (My parents were too old to have ever been hippies.) Then came Reagan’s re-election and Challenger and…what always felt to me like a cultural shift, even though I was just a little kid. (The hippies disappeared.) I’m glad to learn I’m not the only one who felt that way.
RPC, that recording sounded interesting so I started searching for it…is it this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7X2hqoJ3B0
Prizm, “it was more cost efficient to get an extra job then to spend the extra time for canning, so we gave it up.” A lot of people say that still. Like if you say you’d like to learn to can, they say, “It’s more cost efficient to get an extra job, do that instead.”
Lew, ““America Eats: On the Road with the WPA” (Pat Willard, 2008). The Writer’s Project had a series of books on the drawing board about regional food.” Sounds really interesting!
Maypole dance for beginners, part two
I enjoy folk music but I don’t play it so I can’t give you song titles. There are a bunch of traditional May carols but I don’t think the melodies for a maypole _dance_ are the same. If you are using American music, old time music (it’s a genre) that is peppy, has a very obvious time signature in four, and doesn’t drive you mad when they play the song over and over might be what you want. “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes” is not at all a traditional song for dancing a Maypole, but the style and the tempo of the melody are examples of what works. Some traditional Celtic dance music is good. “Nonesuch” is a British folk tune that might do. Search You Tube for a recording of “About the Rolling World” which is a Neopagan folk song whose melody has been used for maypole dances.
The most basic kind of Maypole dance I know, and the only one I have done, is a plain weave. You have an even number of dancers, alternately facing in opposite directions and moving in the direction they face. It is ideal if the total number of dancers is not just even but divisible by four, because that will keep the partners you go over and the partners you duck under consistent on every round.
It might help for the director to designate the “overs” and the “unders” for the first move. Say you are an “under”. You walk forward and when you meet the person coming your way, you duck a little and they lift their ribbon over your head as they pass by you. The next person you meet is an “under”. You lift your ribbon and they duck under it. You are supposed to continue in strict alternation between over and under. This depends on remembering what you just did.
They call it a dance, but the simple version is just walking around in a ring, lifting your ribbon over the person coming your way and ducking under the ribbon of the next person you meet, repeat, repeat, repeat. That is why it is very helpful to have someone play music with a simple beat at a steady tempo.
Besides keeping track of the last thing you did, the other thing necessary for keeping the overs and unders neat is for everybody to walk covering distance at about the same rate. If some of the walkers move ahead faster than the others, you get bunching up and gaps. That makes it impossible to keep a steady rhythm of over and under. The steady rhythm is very desirable because then you get in a groove where you no longer have to think “over or under?” You just do it. And just doing it without thinking about it will put you into a mild, pleasant and entirely safe trance WHICH IS PART OF THE PAYOFF.
If you expect a lot of people wanting to join in, you are going to need a fairly tall pole with long ribbons attached in order for the geometry to work, because the participants have to start standing in a circle at some distance from the pole _and_ at some distance from each other. As they weave the ribbons over and under each other, the ribbons will get shorter and the dancers will close up closer to the pole and closer to each other in the ring. When the dancers get so close to each other that they can’t easily weave and duck, you kind of have to stop going in opposite directions and weaving. When you can’t weave anymore, it’s time for everyone to face clockwise–sunwise is the traditional English term and the good luck direction; deosil (pronounced “jeshul”) is the Gaelic.
If you have only a few people and a tall pole, y’all will need to start closer in (and grab your ribbons near the middle instead of the end). If you have a tall pole and short ribbons, you are hosed. You can’t do much of a dance. If you have a tall pole, long ribbons, and a large enthusiastic (or patient) group of dancers, you start standing farther out from the pole, but every foot of winding down the pole takes about the same amount of time regardless of the size of the group–the tempo of the music is what controls it. This means that if your pole is high, the dancers may get tired or bored before they have wound the ribbons as far down as physically possible.
This means that if your musician or musicians are competent and cooperative, it would be a real good idea for them to rehearse two tunes and switch off from the first one when they get bored with it, because chances are the dancers are bored too. The fresh tune will give them a second wind. Keep the same tempo for the second tune unless you are getting near the end, in which case speed it up a little, but not so much faster than elderly or out of shape dancers are forced to drop out.
One more of these to follow.
Drhooves, a lot of tail end Boomers ended up in the same place. That’s the cohort to which I belong, and the only reasons I went a different way were (a) innate stubbornness and (b) a handful of role models and influential books that kept me from falling into the trap that swallowed so many others. Some leadership from the older cohorts would have helped, but most of them were way too busy trading in their tie-died t-shirts for business suits and their ideals and dreams for the suburban lifestyles they claimed they’d never embrace.
Robert, I got a fair amount of folk music in elementary school in the 1960s — it was quite a thing in those days. Thanks for the video!
Lane, thanks for this! Good to hear, too, from someone else who stayed the course. There are a fair number of us still out there.
Linda, the frame drum’s a lovely instrument too! Florida’s a bit too humid for me, but if it works for you, wonderful. 🙂
Lew, thanks for these!
Ray, delighted to hear it. Have a wonderful time!
Linda, I share the peeve. “Craft” these days so often adds up to finding ways to get people to buy more plastic!
AMark, don’t worry about what’s applicable universally. Choose what’s applicable to you, personally, in your own life. It’s the things that meet your needs and fire your passions that will become an enduring part of your life, and be passed down to others.
Antonio, many thanks for this. As a thoroughly ignorant newcomer to New England culture and society, I know I have a lot to learn.
Mark, indeed I do. As the Boomers finish the process of becoming the Establishment they once railed against, they necessarily generate their own opposite. The trick this time will be finding a way to break the cycle and move in a different direction.
Workdove, be careful about any assumption that begins “all young people…” I know people a lot younger than I am who aren’t much more cellphone- and social media-oriented than I am. My working guess is that the whole 24/7 connectivity thing is going to turn out to be a fad, right up there with hula hoops and swallowing live goldfish, and when it goes out of fashion, a lot of companies that assume they’ve got a permanent gravy train are going to be left twisting in the wind.
To anybody in the Tokyo area, the April 29 Asakawa Kompira spring festival was so much fun, I hear, that they are going to have the May 6 picnic. Starts at about noon, potluck, see here for directions and details: http://teresamcguffey.com/greenwizards.org/?q=node/34926 I will try to attend.
Maypole for beginners part three
One issue is that if you have tall people and short children who want to participate, it can be a little difficult for the children. Sometimes it works if an adult and a child double up on the same ribbon.
If you are expecting a lot of children, you might want to have a shorter pole just for the children, see how it works out for them, and next year do an all-hands pole or two separate dances on different poles, first children, then adults.
In some Neopagan circles (and maybe in traditional Pagan circles too; I don’t know), the Maypole has associated fertility symbolism. You can make this more explicit while keeping it good-fun-for-all-ages
by having the King and Queen of the May stand against the pole facing either in or out. Eventually the ribbons will get down to the top of the taller one’s head, at which point everybody switches to moving sunwise and binding them to the pole in very light bondage, amusing for all. (And quick to release them from).
The pole is supposed to be of wood, not metal or plastic (because fertility of the land). If it’s just children dancing, you might be able to get away with setting the pole in an umbrella stand, but if adults are participating, you need to dig a good deep hole in advance to set the pole in, so the dancers do not pull it this way and that. For safety reasons, it needs to be pretty thick too. How thick? I dunno.
At some of the Pagan Beltanes I have attended, the hole was predug and covered or flagged off. The pole was ceremoniously carried in, horizontal, by a male chorus singing an English May carol. They were led in, I don’t remember whether by a Teaser type from Morris dancing or a priestess.The pole already had the ribbons attached and maybe a garland at the top. They (having practiced a bunch) raise the pole to the vertical and set it in the hole (WHICH IS JUST THE RIGHT SIZE), accompanied by what passes for ribald repartee in Neopagan circles.
I keep saying ribbons, but cloth ribbons are freakin’ expensive. I have a very dim recollection of a childhood maypole using crepe paper streamers. I’m not sure this really happened. Crepe paper
will not hold up in the rain, plus the dye runs. Lots of cloth ribbons for a tall pole cost serious
money even if you buy them wholesale or at a discount fabric sale or something. One group I’m associated with does a Maypole every year, and about every five years, the ribbons are replaced,
paid for by a fund set aside for the purpose. Some groups place the pole in a garden or field during
the growing season. After harvest, it is taken indoors, and at some point they have a private ceremony at which the ribbons are unwound and the pole made ready for the next Beltane.
You want the ribbons to be at least two different colors, to make a pattern when they are woven on the pole. Multicolors are popular around here. I don’t know how traditional that is.
That’s all I can think of right now. If this seems daunting, be undaunted and just learn how to do it by trial and error.
One thing I found insightful from my day in the trenches was just how different Amherst is from a town say 20 miles away. It’s simply that Amherstonians can afford to clothe themselves in “green” stuff, afford a tax write off, etc.
My father keeps belittling me how I don’t have anything itemized on my tax return. It’s simple I can’t afford to. I’ve tried starting a business, I think I mentioned my ebay business a few months ago; it’s a rigged system if you try starting a business without going into debt. (I’d recommend poshmark over ebay.) I look at my dad and other baby boomers like the people I met canvasing, they judge people by their tax write offs. I’m thinking, I can’t write things off if my wage isn’t even high enough to cover the cost of living expenses.
I keep saying this as loudly as I can to my family, of the salary class, they just don’t get it. The only family member I have who understands this is my Uncle who works a Printer that somehow is still in business doing printing the old fashioned way, with a press etc. My Dad keeps trying to get my uncle to write things off on his tax return, put into a 401K etc. My uncle keeps telling my Dad “Yea but I’d have to live without that income.”
Ik I oversimplified what a tax write off is in my last comment. No business, incorporated enterprise = far fewer tax write offs.
Today’s essay makes me remember my unlce who played bass in a western-swing band. I’ve always liked the fusion of those two styles. Over the years I’ve often reflected that WS (as well as CW) travelled trhough rural/farming networks or channels everywhere from TX to MI. My own parents were urbanites and just were not interested in WS. It just didn’t travel in urban channels. We only lived 20 miles from my uncle’s farm, but sometimes it seemed like 2000.
That’s why my uncle still has a job running a printing press the old fashioned way. He is a tax write off for his boss.
Lew, I read A Square Meal last year and found it to be an interesting read and a source of a few practical ideas to follow up on. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone interested in American food cultures and/or the urban/rural divide.
Actually, I don’t know how many of the Ecosophia commentariat are on Goodreads, but if any of you would like to connect there, my profile is:
I suspect that you all would be a very interesting and eclectic source of new reading material!
not to quibble, but Reagan was elected in Nov. ’80, inaugurated in Jan. ’81
Nah, mention “dulcimer” to most anyone on the streets and they’ll confusedly ask you “Is that a place in England?” Such is the state of Western culture I’m afraid.
I was a bit startled by your reference to “Bellingham” and “communes” and the 1970’s. Did you know my late brother – Ray (same last name as on my email address)?
A brief additional comment about Maypole music. The Neopagan song I mentioned is actually titled The Rolling World. It was written and played (with dulcimer accompaniment, like most of their music) by Ruth Barrett and Cyntia [sic] Smith. It was recorded for their second album and is currently available in a two-album compilation called The Early Years. The recorded tempo is too slow and the lyrics too explicitly pagan to be suitable for a more diverse community’s Maypole. When I participated in a ritual that used it, I was in a chorus that was told to sing just the chorus, no verses, over and over.
Within the Pagan community, this duo has become controversial for reasons that are not relevant to the topic of this post.
Dulcimers go in and out of favor, I think, because they are modal and because they are not very loud.
“Watch out, all of the younger people are all chemically addicted to their cell phones. God forbid the internet or cell service ever goes down for more than a day or two”
There are weird things going on with cell phones, I agree. I mentioned in the last open thread a feature in new cell phones called “augmented reality,” where you look at the world through your cell phone’s camera instead of directly, so that the phone can add things that aren’t really there. They advertise this as being great fun but…well, it weirded me out just to read about it.
At the same time…my impression is that non-internet, non-cell phone ways of accomplishing tasks are being allowed to fall into disrepair and disappear. (I wrote more about my experiences around this in my open thread comment.) I live on an island and as I understand it, the landlines went down during Sandy and will not be restored (but that was before I moved here so I may have it wrong).
In addition, the older methods that *are* still available are currently more expensive for the individual, so many of today’s cash-strapped young people give them up. I still pay most of my bills via check rather than online, but this means paying for stamps. I often hear younger people tout this as a reason to pay everything online. I also hear, “Why waste money and space on a separate alarm clock or calculator when my cell phone has a perfectly good alarm and calculator?” Maybe that’s why, when my ’90s vintage alarm clock and calculator broke. I found it very difficult to find functional replacements. (Time for a slide rule, I guess!)
As a society we are migrating important functions to the internet.
Sorry to repeat yet another thing from my other comment, but…the NOAA weather station in Providence is “temporarily out of service.” People are relying on smartphone apps and twitter instead.
I couldn’t help but notice twitter’s huge disclaimer about not relying on them for important, time-sensitive information. Such as weather alerts. Twitter refuses to take responsibility for ensuring people get them. Twitter is de facto what many people are relying on for this function. IOW there is no longer a reliable system to get weather alerts out to people…we’re headed back to the situation we had before the NOAA existed. Meteorologist Mike Smith has a whole book about the creation of the warning system and how many lives it has saved. Makes me sad to see it declining.
…mentioned this to spouse, who cheered me up with a joke: “When the weather station comes back, it’ll be ClearChannel and the weather will be the same everywhere. …well, that’s what happens to *regular* radio stations, isn’t it?” 😉
Well, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I would think that people will be much, much more cautions about giving social media companies their data.
@ BoysMom and JMG – On the topic of Celtic music, much of America’s folk tradition traces its lineage directly from Ireland and Scotland. I’m not sure celebrating Celtic heritage through music would count, for many Americans, as supplanting the local musical traditions so much as re-invigorating them.
@ Robert Wise – I love that song!
I lived through the folk scare ( I think Jerry Garcia used the term) of the fifties and sixties, along with my brother-in-law’s jazz, and KOMA AM radio playing rock and roll. Folk music made music available, by hand, without electricity, but it take practice to get better. I think it conveys more than the stories, as it gets into the political and philosophical realms along with many of the details of sordid lives made famous. From the late 70’s up to the time the cost and hassle became too much, we would go to Telluride Bluegrass Festival, meeting many varieties of countercultural folk around the summer solstice, but being in a resort draws a richer crowd, and as much as they have tried to be environmentally aware, adding ten thousand people to a mountain community is just like mining to get rich, there’s a lot of waste left behind. There are now a number of music festivals in the mountain west, which carry on traditional music. And in another tradition of music, when it draws a crowd, the music is coopted into a money pump, for the town, promoters, and others, plus having fun is spending money in America, isn’t it? Still, I collect musical toys, to be played by hand. My bouzouki is my favorite.
This is making some sense of the crafting career trajectories of some of my local neighbors here. The ones closest to me moved here in the back-to-the-land movement in 1973 and got taken under the wing of a local Appalachian couple who were middle aged at the time and taught them to make baskets. Just ordinary skills. And they were thrilled to have an interested young couple to teach. The wife is still quite spry and celebrated her 90th last August. She was at the farmer’s market this morning.
My friends became so good at it that they earned a living making baskets, selling them at craft fairs and teaching the art of basket making in week long summer seminars on their farm. They ultimately made such beautiful baskets that one of them ended up at the Smithsonian. Well made crafts like that and several others from blacksmithing to furniture making to chairs and spoons, earned several of those hippies their living. It was the sort of thing people were willing to spend some real money on. But all that faded away some years ago as cheap imports of fairly decent crafts became available and, I suppose, you are saying that the class who supports such endeavors lost interest.
“About the party this weekend, don’t forget to get on the phone and give the folks in the holler a holler.”
When I lived in Appalachia, there was a strict difference between “up the road” and “down the road,” though nothing much but scenery existed in either direction. The KY/VA border was 3rd-worldish in the ‘70’s; now that much of the nation is 3rd-worldish I hate to think what that border must be like.
I’m confused by the basic question of “what is folk music”? I remember a concert where the front man for the band asserted that “we are certain that our medieval French folk music is authentic, because we write it all ourselves “. In the Washington DC area, we had folk & bluegrass music on the radio until just a few years ago, and my impression (from both sides of the instrument) is that it’s a lot more fun to play than to listen to. Music that’s simple enough for casual jamming holds my interest when I’m trying to keep up, but not so much just to absorb. Maybe that’s a working definition: folk music is produced for the joy of producing it, whether there’s an audience or not.
E Goldstein, alternate christmas carols have a history in my family as well, especially among those of us who are actually Christian.
We three kings of orient are,
one on a bicycle, one in a car,
one on a scooter, blowing his hooter,
going to Zanzibar.
As shepherds watched their flocks by night all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down and said, “don’t scrub, use tide.”
The latter came courtesy of my grandfather, transmitted via my dad.
Admittedly, dad does have a tendency to write or collect new words to things more generally. ie.
I must go down to the sea again; the lonely sea and the sky.
I left my shoes and socks there; I wonder if they’re dry.
I tend to do it as well, so it’s obviously something that runs in the family. It’s too much fun not to.
I’ve missed the ferry, to mermaid’s tourney.
My ride is gone, and I am left behind.
I don’t remember the rest off hand, but an Elizabethan madrigal about a peddler turned into a song about struggling to get to an SCA event.
Maypole music, one more thing.
You’ve probably figured out that I prefer live music to recorded for a Maypole dance.
The first coven I was in, we didn’t know any May songs and none of us played an instrument. I wrote some words to the tune of “Frere Jaques”, and we sang that.
Cary, I’m always doing “goofy” things, like recently trying to make wooden blocks for my daughter by hand with just a bow saw. My dad was dumbfounded and asked why. I gave him my answer, that “yes it may be cheaper to buy stuff but at least I know what is going into the stuff I am making.” He later came out and suggested another hand tool to try to help me. So yes, people are always going to ask why but sometimes giving an answer plants a seed. That’s my hope anyhow..
JMG, I was surprised to read an article about chinook loanwords a year or so ago. I think some of these words are still alive in some places in BC. Some of them I’ve heard used or even used myself, and I’m only in my 30s. The chuck, salt chuck, skookumchuk, and skookum, in particular. My stepdad used to use them a lot.
The mountain dulcimer isn’t something I’ve seen much of out here. Fiddles, banjos, guitars, mandolins, ukuleles (though they may be more of a fad) penny whistles, recorders, keyboards, drums, and rarely harps, seem to be the order of the day.
Also accordions, flutes, and string bass. The drums include bodhrans, first nation style drums, and others. It gets pretty eclectic, and can be hard to figure out where folk music starts and stops.
For the whole ‘all young people are connected at all times’, in my mid-thirties I’m not really young anymore, but I recently deactivated my facebook, got off linkedin, and am in the process of moving email addresses to something more secure than yahoomail. The amount of information theft and misuse that is going on finally exceeded what I’m willing to tolerate to the point where I did something moderately drastic about it. It may not make much difference to what people like the NSA and CSIS know about me, but it at least removes any pretence that they’ve got my consent or cooperation in what’s going on.
Good on yer mate for putting a shout out for the folk music scene. I have been a card-carrying folkie since I was a teenager (I’m now 58), and although I have never tried to play a dulcimer, I am having a limited amount of success playing Irish and Manx traditional music on the button accordion (Melodeon).
I live in the Isle of Man which is midway between England and Ireland and has strong Celtic music and cultural traditions. People get together and play traditional Irish music in several pubs on the island each week. However, I am disappointed by the relatively small number of people who play instruments, as opposed to the far larger number who are content to buy pre-recorded music and consume it passively. I think it’s partly due to lack of time – you really need to practise for at least an hour a day to become any good at it – and partly because buying music is easy, whereas learning an instrument is difficult. However, if you consume passively, rather than participating actively, you miss out on a lot. An important part of Irish traditional music sessions is the accompanying “craic”, for which there is no exact English translation, but close approximations are “fun”, “banter” and “fellowship”. Important qualities for the coming “long emergency”.
@ JMG One decade before the Ronald Revolution there was the Rural Purge on CBS, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rural_purge. I wonder if allowing for a decade of cultural lag from the fiction to the rest of culture this is part of the back lash this post is about. Basically CBS was the main network most associated with ‘rural’ and ‘heart land’ sorts of TV shows, but in ’71 the executives, largely based on their own tastes, and to some degree by a sense that there were new markets in the suburbs to target got rid of all most all the successful rural based stories in a single season.
@ Deborah Bender
Thank you for your response on Maypoles. Think what we have in mind will be muy jankey, I think that the ribbons with be braided bailing twine! There is some chance the poll is actually a retires section of aluminum irrigation piping; every body’s super poor and too stubborn to buy disposables for a sustainable gathering, so we will make due. Also, I looked up that in the ol’ history before the ribbons folks would gather haw flowers for the celebration, so I added that to the invites. . I am going to try to make the best of going around the circle, but the main goal is to have a hoot and do a send up… figuring if we just have a kick at it, and if folks are at all inspired by the notion then next year we might make an attempt at doing something more elaborate. I think that we will try spinning all in the same direction for a while to get the blood flowing, then probably do the half going one way weaving the half going the other way as the send off at the end when we are getting done with it.
I will keep in mind the 4/4 tempo, there will be some proper musicians among the guests, I dabble but I wouldn’t impost my rhythmic talents (steady up beat rhythm is the part of music I am personally least interested in) on any dancers I might have to meet again in public.
Patricia, hmm. That might just be a reason for me to listen to Nice Polite Republicans one of these days.
Marie, thanks for this! I’m listening to it right now; it sounds to me as though somebody listened very closely to Aaron Copeland and learned a lot from him. It’s pleasant to hear a piece of modern music that isn’t deliberately ugly, too.
Patricia, back in the day New Mexico had a huge appropriate-tech scene, so I’m not at all surprised.
Badbisco, true enough. Those are serious classics.
Iskander, thanks for this. That’s quite a trip.
Phutatorius, Harry Smith! Now there’s a blast from the past. The big Smithsonian collection of American folk music that he put together can be found on CD these days, not too expensively, and it’s well worth taking in.
Cary, yep. I was 18 when Reagan took office, so I got to see a lot more of it — including the erasure of hippie culture — but you saw and sensed it too.
Patricia O., I wish I could be there!
Austin, have you considered telling your father that he’s being a snob? That’s the grand old term for someone who thinks that status symbols like itemized deductions are worth diddly-squat.
Christopher, I hope you still listen to your uncle’s music!
Spice, okay, fair enough. I’m kind of a folk-instrument geek.
Mike, I lived in Bellingham from 1980 to 1983 — I was attending Fairhaven College in those years, and spent most of my spare time on the Outback Farm just south of campus. I don’t think I met your late brother Ray, but we may have rubbed shoulders at some point.
Deborah, the fact that dulcimers aren’t very loud is one of the things I adore about them. It’s a perfect apartment instrument, the kind of thing that’s great for backing up a single voice or playing all by itself. Imagine one person singing and playing the dulcimer to provide diversion for a room full of people working on some practical chore — that was common, and of course a few centuries back there were a lot of instruments in that volume range, for exactly that reason.
Fuzzy, nice to see somebody noticing.
Trlong36, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? And yet an amazing number of people suffer from the bizarre delusion that what they do online is private…
Ben, but we also have our own folk songs, hundreds of years of them. When people ignore those in order to sing songs focusing on Scotland or Ireland or some other easy-to-romanticize place on the other side of the ocean, I think something’s going wrong.
Jdm, the transformation of folk music from something that people do in their living rooms to something that performers do at festivals is part of the debasement I’m talking about.
Onething, yep. First members of that class did crafts themselves, then they patronized people who did them, then they settled for cheap Chinese imitations.
Fuzzy, the WV/MD border, where I lived, was about as Third World as you can get, so I suspect the country you have in mind is similar now.
LatheChuck, all definitions are ultimately ostensive — that is to say, they come down to pointing to something and saying, “It’s like that.” Me, I point to Jean Ritchie.
Corydalidae, those are good Chinook wawa: skookum means “strong” and chuck is “water.” Does anyone up your way still use muckamuck for “food” or “eat,” or klosh for “good”?
Peakdoc, I’d be startled if anyone on the Isle of Man plays a mountain dulcimer — it’s not exactly a local instrument. 😉 But you’re right that learning to play music gets you inside the music in a way that listening never will — one of many ways in which being a consumer and nothing else is basically a waste of a life.
Ray, fascinating. I hadn’t heard about that.
This is a great radio show in the Chicago area with a wonderful host who expertly curates the loveliest folk tunes, it’s on Tuesday nights from 8pm – 11pm: https://wdcb.org/program/folk-festival
From a songwriter’s standpoint, most songwriters, including myself, are pretty much born wanting to create one peculiar style of music, no matter where they are born. For me, it was always Celtic music from my earliest memory even though I have no connection to the culture.
I’m a music teacher of voice, piano, and guitar. The kids these days are interested in folk music; from my experience, they adore it as soon as they learn it exists. Given the opportunity, I think they would be just fine without 24/7 connectivity. To think they cannot function without their portable machines is to underestimate them.
@JMG – I understand the ambivalence. I was raised by ex-hippies, and as a result grew up not only with 50s and 60s folk, but also a deep background in American folk tradition from ‘Simple Gifts’ and ‘John Henry’ to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I get that you’re ambivalent about the upwelling of Celtic-folk music here, but also remember that a lot of Americans come from a Scotch-Irish heritage, so for some of us, embracing Celtic-folk is as much about embracing the deep past (on a human scale), rather than ignoring or bypassing homegrown American folk.
Oklahoma has a bustling local scene which draws much more on bluegrass and blues, and has produced some stellar artists recently like Parker Millsap and Strugill Simpson. Next door in Wichita we have a ripping bluegrass group called Split Lip Rayfield. And that’s just scratching the regional surface.
I started a conversation in another venue with a quote of JMG’s reply to David by the Lake, concerning politics… one thing lead to another and a mentor of mine, and JMG aficionado, gave me his definition of ‘folk culture’ which I though good enough to quote steal back to this venue.
“Local folk culture is what happens when you turn off the electronics, and go out to have fun with your friends. (And don’t talk about things that are on the electronics!)” Joseph Lofthouse
It really hit it for me, folk culture is what comes up and out of folks hanging out together doing those things that humans do. The fun, beautiful, imitable parts that are passed down evolve into what you get. That means that folk culture cannot be killed, though it can be impoverished of potentials lost on the other side of history. It reemerges out of what people do together. A song performed by my personal favorite folk singer, Buffy Sainte Marie, based on a poem my Lenard Cohen captures this in rapt beauty.
When I lived in FoCo, a couple years back, I lived with a couple of guys who were both pretty good on string instruments. One from Maryland, the other Wisconsin. We could only afford a few hours of internet a week that winter, so mostly we socialized. They would make up the most unspeakably dirt songs together; blending their bluegrass, funk, regee, hip hop, and death metal back grounds. There was much laughing. Little of it was salt of the Earth folk, but it was real, and bonding. A folk community of maybe five people.
Out on Black Mesa, herding sheep, the couple that I ran sheep for, would listen to Buffy Sainte Marie any time we were in a vehical, even though she was from far away, she spoke to realities we felt in our bones. After dinner we would sit around and make up the craziest cacophony of music together! Those two loved the music I would make on a Cello or a xylophone, even though by all rights I don’t know how to play those instruments. I do know a little about playing the native flute, its like the dulcimer in that a person can play it quiet enough that it don’t dron out whats going on. I often play flute while I listen to people, which works better then you may suspect, my breathing to their words makes for an active listening, it draws words out of folks sometimes it seems. The Buffy Song that captured my spirit out there was Carry it On, which is what would be sung in the pews if there were a Church I went to.
It is tricky the divide of folk culture, because there are certain things that really are folk, from folks, from life, done because you are moved to do it, that get carried up into the stratopshere of pop, and then move on to inspire other people to make their own fol songs thereby influenced.
Songs the pollen of culture…
speaking of folk instruments used in Appalachia, and more commonly Africa, may I present to you the mouth bow, with a video from Sesame Street no less…
I think your Maypole plans will do well. I take your point about not spending money on new stuff for a one time use when you have something on hand that will serve. A used irrigation pipe can be ret-conned as having sufficient connection with the bounty of the earth to be symbolically appropriate, not that anybody there will care one way or the other.
The gathering of haw is an excellent idea. if you have an abundance of wildflowers, people who know how can braid or tuck them into chaplets (flower crowns for the head) and show the children how to do that, which some will be quite eager to learn. If people show up to this gathering in T shirt and jeans or other everyday wear, a chaplet of fresh flowers turns that outfit into instant May Day. Do not use thorny, stickery plants, poison ivy/oak or cleavers in the wreaths. Cleavers have quite pretty small white flowers but you will have trouble getting your hair free of the chaplet afterward.
The over-under weaving is a sight easier to accomplish when the ribbons or braided twine or clothesline or whatever you are using is long and coming from a point well above the dancers’ heads than when they are shorter and coming from head height. Because whatever height on the pole the ribbons are emanating from, add the length of the extended arm of your shortest dancer to that height, and that is what your tallest dancer has to duck under when you start to weave.
That is not really a problem because if you wind the braids down too far on the pole, you can just reverse direction and unwind them a ways before you start weaving. If you have really good music,
it’s possible that the dancers will just want to wind-unwind-wind-unwind and call it a day.
I’d like to echo Peter van Erp’s recommendation of Atwater & Donnelly. I’ve been listening to them, on and off, since the 1980s, with great pleasure. They strike me as good people, unaffected and decent. There are samples of their music on their website:
They have a pretty full calendar of performances, including one in East Providence (at the Weaver Library) on October 15th, and lots of performances in Providence.
Now, there’s a blast from the past: skookum, muckamuck, klosh yikes!
I first want to thank you for your very helpful reply to my questions at the end of last week’s open post!
A quick observation: I recently moved from Germany, where I lived for almost a decade. I was always struck by the great amount of ads for classical music events found all over the advertising spaces of the city, and then I realized that, of course, what we call classical music to a great extent consists of the remnants of German folk music, and today still acts as a kind of folk music for many (albeit mainly middle class) Germans.
On a separate note, this post is quite timely, because in my ‘new’ home in Nova Scotia (I’m from there) I’ve been starting to make an effort to learn more about the local folk music, which I mostly ignored when I was young. I learned how to play the piano for a number of years, but because I don’t have the space for a piano at the moment, I borrowed a hammered dulcimer from my father, which I am busy learning. I don’t think the hammered dulcimer was very commonly used in Nova Scotian folk music, but it’s a great instrument: it’s much more immediate than the piano in the sense that you can tune it easily, you’re up closer to the soundboard, it’s portable so you can take it outside, and it sounds so darn good.
And as you noted about the mountain dulcimer in a comment above, it’s quiet enough that you can practice without disturbing others. I know the hammered dulcimer is commonly used in parts of the south eastern US (there are a few manufacturers in North Carolina, I believe) and I will probably buy a slightly bigger hammered dulcimer from there soon. There seems to be an active community of people teaching it, too, there are several upcoming workshops which I would attend if I were closer.
JMG – re Britain as “a weaponized state, not a nation” – not quite, not quite! The issue is enormously complex. I know this from my own case. Brought up culturally English, but by descent Scottish, I reconcile the two by a double patriotism. Immensely proud of my Scottish ancestry, I would be happiest in a Kingdom of Scots with a sovereign reigning at Holyrood. But since that is not reality, I flow my awareness out from there and embrace the whole of Britain as a source of love and allegiance. Also, don’t be fooled by anti-English statements from Scots and Welsh – it’s not what they say but what goes on in their imaginations that counts. And though we can’t have direct evidence of it, we can guess by analogy with the old principle of distance-merging of old strife expressed by T S Eliot in “Little Gidding”: the famous lines concerning the old antagonists in the Civil War, and their posthumous reconciliation in the historical memory.
Wow, this brings back memories. After being transplanted into American culture from Canada, I was drawn to the folk tradition while my architect roommate at MIT espoused the values of small scale technology and planned trips to Paolo Solari’s mecha, Arcosanti. I picked up a mountain dulcimer, attracted by its simplicity and carried it around for years. At the time I was lured in to the space program from my science fiction habit but learned it was all about spies and weapons so I eventually left. When I got the chance and took up Irish citizenship from my AngloIrish Canadian grandfather, I planned to move to rural Ireland. It took much longer than anticipated but I am on my 5th year. In some ways its a lot more like the US was in the 50’s and 60’s. There are restrictions on big box stores so the landscape is dotted with local shops and I go to small garages to get my car worked on without seeing franchises everywhere and no Walmarts!. The cost of services here are much less than the US. Folk music is still strong with every pub hosting a “trad” night. Ironically, the Irish youth in urban areas like American music (Wagon Wheel and Sweet Home Alabama etc). I think part of the reason that things haven’t changed as much is that the Irish approach is not to change things, but to work around them. So numerous one lane bridges still exist and roads are narrow and you can drive for kilometers without seeing stores or petro stations. Here in East Clare, it also appears we collected a lot of European hippy types back in the 70’s with a lot of German, Dutch and French people who have integrated into the local community. I think the US loses a lot when it rushes to adopt the latest fad and toss out the old. As a last note, although my main instrument is an Irish bouzouki( brought to the trad scene in the 70’s from Greece), I also have a native American flute which like the dulcimer, has a limited range but you can just sit and play whatever comes into your head. Which is a nice change from trad which required memorising many many songs!
During my twenties I travelled extensively; born in suburban Massachusetts I lived for over 6 months in Southern Oregon, the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico, Portland, Oregon, Oakland, California, a year in New Orleans and two and a half years in middle Tennessee, with much travel in all directions in between.
Living all around as I did I found it pretty easy to get along with the locals with basic courtesy, respect and propriety. Something I found interesting, though, is the degree to which the literate New England society I grew up in is a product of historical pseudomorphis. Even while I was taught mountain dulcimer in middle school music class, my upbringing was heavily informed by European culture. In high school history class I learned much more about European history than American. Indeed, in my travels I’ve found that I’m usually one of those bourgeois, coastal Americans more comfortable with Europeans than most fellow Americans.
When I travelled in Argentina a few years ago this was especially highlighted; it is my understanding that urban Argentina has a very European culture and while traveling I found the company of Argentines very agreeable. What I found the most interesting is that it was much easier for me to understand the non-vernacular educated Spanish and carry on long conversations about politics, history, and philosophy than it was for me to catch the gist of Tennessee mountain twang concerning hunting and gardening. In many ways, I felt more of a foreigner in the hills and hollers of Tennessee than in another European derived, pseudomorphic society that speaks a different language! Indeed, I felt much safer from violence walking some of the seediest streets of Buenos Aires than the nicest neighborhoods of Chicago.
This indicates that the effects of pseudomorphis have a very profound reach into the psyche of at least some New Englanders. When I was living in the Pacific Northwest, especially, I was surprised and dismayed by how much shallower European culture and values are rooted there. One of the greatest disappointments in my adult life has been discovering how eccentric I am in my love for 1800’s European/Russian literature, history and culture! As I said half-jokingly while wwoofing on a farm on the Florida Panhandle in 2007; “I’m not from America, I’m from New England.”
Jen, are you a member of a group on goodreads? (Over the past x years, most of my must-read books have come to my attention via JMG readers.)
I’m about your age, and while my experiences in rural Pennsylvania were different I do recall the abrupt change. We were hardly the leading edge of fashion here, so many of us found ourselves quite suddenly a backwards joke. When I got to college I found that all the “cool” kids had short hair and did coke, most were Reagan Republicans. I let mine grow even longer just so there’s be no mistake – I was one of the very few long hairs left at that school.
Still, there are cycles within cycles. This one will run up against the normal cycle of the rise and fall of empires, and the exhaustion of the fossil fuel resource base upon which the nation’s entire infrastructure has been based for at least half of its existence.
Also, the folk culture regions are under tremendous stress, crushed by heroin, meth, TV, social media, the automobile and obesity among other things. Most have long given up their local character for mass produced corporate substitutes. Hell, here in PA you see pickups with confederate flags everywhere, and I have no doubt the owners don’t see any conflict with that at all. They can’t rely on t.he methods that got their forbears through economic hardship because they never learned any of that. There are no local stores, only giant chains selling the same stuff as everywhere else.
I’m skeptical there’s enough left of any regional folk culture to fuel the next wave of convulsive change. Sadly, I suspect that convulsion will be driven by a different cycle and be of a rather less benign nature.
This seems an excellent post for mentioning a book I found very intriguing a few years ago. “Why We Left: Untold Stories and Songs of America s First Immigrants” by Joanna Brooks, who found that ballads were the surest road to insights about her own people’s past, including the story of their moving out of England into America. Especially since her people were from among the poor and displaced who initially were moved during the various enclosures that took place within England, and later, in America, moved and moved and rarely settled anywhere for more than a generation. Such people’s history is rarely written, and she does a beautiful job of unpacking several ballads in detail and tracing them back through what she could find of the historical events that would have caught the writers and singers of these ballads, and for who the ballad was the main channel for expression. What I found illuminating in her treatment, is the degree to which the displacement of people was connected to ecological destruction. Anyway, it is a read that might interest folk here. A review: http://www.jfr.indiana.edu/review.php?id=1640
Howie Mitchell cheater fret.
Hello! Did you, by chance, help build the wind spinner that graced the Outback Farm at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University? It seems we both haunted Bellingham at just about the same time.
Aha, I see that you actually answered that question above. I took music recording classes in the little studio in the lower level of Fairhaven College circa 1983. It feels like a million years ago. My friend Ryan worked on the Outback Farm. We had popcorn in his little cabin with butter and brewer’s yeast made on the wood stove, if I remember rightly. There used to be goats. Ryan told me that the wind spinner supplied all the power for the 6(?) little cabins on the hill there. The Outback Farm was such a hopeful little bit of the school. Quirky, sweet and unexpected on the edge of WWU’s campus.
This one made me want to get the autoharp I bought from my grandpa out of the closet and give it another go at learning it. I think the autoharp had a similar place as the mountain dulcimer. That sounds fun too.
Building your own synths from kits/scracth and modding pre-made one’s has made a comeback in recent years, thanks in part to the maker movement. It’s something I’d like to try as well.
For those who want to search their libraries catalog, here are a few tips: do an “author” search for these terms: “Writer’s program”, “Writer’s Prorgram (U.S.)” or “Federal Writer’s Project”. At my library it turned up 122 books, with the first term, and 144 with the third. Thankfully we have a very strong local history department and this stuff hasn’t been thrown away, even the stuff that is about other states and cities. Thanks to this search “Tales of Old Cincinnnati” and “They built this city” are now sitting on my desk for me to look at on my lunch break. I’m also looking forward to “The National Road, in song and story”.
Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music was a huge boon in helping the avant-garde embrace folk music at that time. It’s still such a treasure. And it’s interesting that he was a practicing occultist of various flavors, later made an honorary member of the O.T.O.
Hope everyone had a blessed Beltane, Internation Labour Day (Great day for singing I.W.W. folk songs…) or just a good May 1st.
I tried leaving a comment earlier but don’t know if it went through, so ignore this if that’s the case…
I was first introduced to folk music when I went to University of Montana, far away from my native New York, by a very good friend of mine. From there, I found out that folk music has become one of my favorite genres, especially Canadian folk music (Stan Rogers and Garnet Rogers, etc.), along with Irish and Scottish Folk.
My love of folk actually inspired me a few years ago to start playing an instrument. Although I am terrible with music, I found out that I took particularly well to the Bones, a rather simple folk instrument. I have two pairs, one of cow shin, and one pair of ebony wood, and music is made by holding a pair in each hand between the fingers, and with rhythmic snaps of the wrist, hitting the pieces of wood/bone together to make music. Arguably my favorite instrument.
I also remember that “Back to the Land” continued to change and became “Back to Jesus” as the Hippies turned in to Jesus Freaks, then Evangelicals and then the Evangelicals took over the Republican Party. It’s probably more complex than that but I was entirely befuddled when we went from the oil crisis to SUV’s. What a weird thing to have watched and lived through. I remember quite clearly when Reagan took the solar panels off the White House that Jimmy Carter had installed. I couldn’t understand what was happening.
Not to be contentious, but fascism is socialism, as in the “National Socialist Workers Party.” Their broader platform was to centralize state and corporations into one all-powerful state. Therefore Alt-right/Tea Party, promoters of SMALLER government, NO collectivism, NO taxation, and an adversarial relationship of having the state arrest and/or break up corporate monopolies (as in Wall Street, their first protest) is the exact OPPOSITE of fascism.
This difficulty of definition — that because one nationalist group was once fascist therefore all are, or that fascists are even on the “Right” (the French Assembly definition would be supporters of the king and powerful state: Fascists would not be, because they are socialist revolutionaries, while U.S. Nationalists/Constitutionalists/Tea Parties would not be, disavowing the central state.) this lack of proper definition is one of the biggest problems today, and the biggest problem the Left — who isn’t listening — has with the right — who listens, but vehemently disagrees. Help us out and be careful! Before Americans start shooting each other over a minor misunderstanding in labels.
As for selling out: if you hadn’t in 1980, in one of these rural areas, you’d be dead. You’d have lost the house, live in a trailer, and be one of the deplorable opioid addicts whose son works 10 hours at the Dollar General and whose daughter is reduced to prostitution. It isn’t that the rural culture is hidden away somewhere: it’s dead, gone, systematically murdered, left on the roadside to be mocked by their betters, put in movies as society’s ogre — the backward, toothless, murdering hayseed. It’s that bad. What’s also bad is they still don’t know or care: killing backward rural people who are too stubborn to u-Haul to Frisco is considered a public service to the general good. Or so I’m told. Every. Day.
“(…) the divide between the urban enclaves of the nation’s periphery—prosperous, irreligious, and culturally dependent on European models—and the relatively impoverished hinterlands, with their loyalty to Protestant religiosity and American folk culture (…)”
– substitute Protestantism and American folk culture with a local equivalent, and it sounds just like a description of any other colony. Or does it?
I’m a bit younger than you, but I’ve watched the same sell out happen to my generation, both in public (music all went to corporate record labels, for example, creative people gave up and got jobs and so on). There was a turning point years ago when I realized that even some of my closest friends had been playing roles rather than actually belieiving in what they said, which was a big eye opener for me. I’ve spent a similar amount of time trying to figure out why I stayed the course, I think it’s really a combination of personal stubborness and picking the right mentors (my three biggest also stayed the course, which was immensely helpful).
But more broadly, it seems to me that this is also something peculiarly part of american culture, that idealism should limited to youth and that “selling out”, or accepting culture as it is, is just what you do as you get older. This cycle seems likely to repeat itself indefinitely until the basic value system/presumptions behind it are somehow broken as well.
Something else popped into my head as I read through all the wonderful comments. Recently I’ve been reinvesting myself in some of the punk rock music I loved as a teenager, British bands like Crass and Ruidimentary Peni, and stuff from America like Fugazi and many others. (I have very wide musical tastes. I can listen to punk, American folk, John Cage or Stockhausen, Miles Davis, and contemporary electronica all across a sitting -and that’s what my radio show on a community station used to be like.) Sometimes the philosophy behind punk music was even more exciting than the music: the DIY ethic. Starting your own band, making your own ‘zines, organizing your own shows at diverse venues, or in your backyard. I still love punk. And though it came of age in the 70s and 80s, you can hear the regional differences, from New Yorkers like the Ramones, to the california sound of Black Flag and their cohorts, to all the bands from the midwest like Husker Du, the Dead Boys, and Big Black.
Aging punk rockers are still out there! Just like ageing hippies. In fact Crass was started by Hippies, and punk, in its rebellion against the failures of the hippie, really did continue the hippie movement in a different vein/subculture.
Harry Smith once said that slam dancing in a mosh pit was a form of folk dance. The basic power chord learned for punk music puts the style firmly in the hands of the people. (I might get an essay out of this topic.)
I hope so much that you’re right, because it’s really hard to find much in the devastated landscape of rural America anymore. Two years ago, I went to visit a friend who was himself visiting his family in the little town in southern Indiana where we both grew up. It was really, really depressing. Most of the people I grew up with who had any major prospects had left – so many that the most interesting person my friend could find who was still around was a mildly mentally handicapped guy. My friend’s mother is a pharmacy technician at a nearby pharmacy and got to see the brunt of the opioid epidemic up close, and told us about some of the damage that has caused. An even poorer town in the next county over had suffered an injection drug-caused HIV epidemic that made national news. There was sporadic micro-scale good news here and there – my friend’s father had stopped drinking after nearly dying of cirrhosis and his liver had miraculously recovered, some businesses we remembered were still running strong (as others lay abandoned), and so forth. But the large-scale picture was bleak.
I guess I’m wondering how much culture will be left that can be saved, both from the damage that is happening on one hand as well as the commercialization of rural culture into a monoculture of country music, pickups, fancy guns, etc. on the other. Some remnants may well be surviving the current devastation and may come flying back out like phoenixes, given that these places have been on the cutting edge of deindustrialization for decades now. But I don’t know offhand – my family moved away and I don’t have any real connection to that area anymore. I wonder if you have any insight on what might be surviving in the places you’re familiar with.
Is the American alt-right actually modeled on European Fascism? I don’t think so. Seems to me, it takes conservatism and ditches the social and religious components, replacing them with an acceptance of biological-determinism that the Left calls “racist” and a strong cultural nationalism. It rejects neo-conservative globalism. Unlike fascism, it is not corporatist, not necessarily authoritarian and not pro-war. Of course, there are neo-nazi groups that do overtly mimic European fascism, but alt-rightists generally disown them.
Believe me I’ve tried…. I think you have to undergo a trauma before the word snob can penetrate the salary class bubble. It would have to be a trauma that makes you want to vomit, makes you feel like your own worst enemy, and places a work load on your back so heavy you cannot carry it home with you; it’s at such a moment perception of one’s own spirit would be the only cure. I’d even go so far as to say the salary class bubble gives some kind of emotional high, withdrawal unthinkable.
I know I’m not a part of the salary class, but the perch I’m situated on is. It’s a sinking perch at this point. It’s been a 20 year long descent and the thought processes haven’t changed a bit. The snobbishness of the salary class is just one step removed from the xenophobia of the alt-right, and that scares the sh#*@& out of me.
This all ties back into the topic of today’s post very nicely – When things start to come unglued in the long descent, it’s not at all out of the question the salary class will welcome a savior from the country side playing the Dulcimer. Better a savior than a reflective moment.
I know several “progressives” who voted for Bernie in the primary then became Trump Red Hats. They keep the red hat in private and this group of Bernie Defectors scares me more than most others.
@ Justin Patrick Moore; If I may, I came of age largely in the punk subculture and have played in several punk bands and written a half dozen zines. To this day I feel affectionately towards punk and punks. That being said I humbly offer some counterpoints to your claim that punk is an American folk culture. While some punks, especially “old-timey kids,” certainly engage with folk culture, much of punk is, in my opinion, very much Anglophile and coastal in nature. Joey Ramone was famous for singing in a British accent!
Of course there are bands that have a heavy folk influence, here I’m thinking particularly of the excellent Meat Puppets as well as the aforementioned old-timey kids. That being said, punk isn’t a regional culture, and the British influence is a bit too thundering to discount. Not merely the Sex Pistols, but also Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Fall etc. Perhaps it is not too bold to say that the entire “post punk” subgenre — which is where I would personally place Big Black — took its cues from British bands. It is interesting to note too that Bad Brains appeared to be the band that kicked off hardcore, and they took much inspiration from Rastafari! Personally, I would define punk as a rootless and cosmopolitan subculture.
I’ve lived with squatter punks in New Orleans and Oakland and the scenes were almost exactly the same. My understanding, from first hand report, is that the squats in Europe are very similar in nature, although I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting one. Furthermore I’ve met quite a fair number of Latin American punks and the culture struck me as very, very similar.
I wholeheartedly agree that punk is a folk music, but I would say that it is the folk music of rootless cosmopolitans. My experiences skew my perspective, but I believe that the closest American folk culture that precedes punk is hobo culture, and the punks I take most seriously in terms of praxis are those that ride freight. With hobos, of course, there is the rootless quality again. Interestingly, part of my time sneaking on to freight trains I was on tour with a folk musician who I remember attending a few punk shows!
The US Alt Right is basically Paleo- Conservatism (think Pat Buchanan or Steve Bannon) influenced the European New Right (not the Nazis who are Left Wing but things like Generation Identity) using Allinskiyte Tactics as needed
Its thinking would have been perfectly in the mainstream before 2000 or so minus the tactics of course
Ans also Trump is not .Alt Right, h’s a civic nationalist and moderate conservative.
A note the Wikipedia articleon the topic is awful as it lumps Neo Conservatives and other outright hostile Right Wing factions
This Infogalactic article is much better
as is the comparison article Neo Con vs Paleo Con if the topic interests you
Muckamuck is used more when talking about ‘high muckamucks’, ie. VIPs. I’ve never heard it used about food, nor am I familiar with klosh. I can’t remember hearing any of them recently, though.
Nice one JMG. I remember the first time I heard some of this stuff it stood the hair up on the back of my neck!
Back in the day, BBC radio still barely did regional accent – ‘received pronunciation’ was mostly the order of the day. (As a child the ‘wireless’, alongside reading, was my chief contact with our culture.) Then in the early 50s we got some American folk collectors out of your 30s vintage who combined with our own to make field recordings round the British Isles. It seems to have been the trigger that gave us our later ‘folk revival’. Britain lacked your vast hinterland and the 19th & 20th Century had mostly ‘gentrified’ our various folk music, but, we were to learn, not quite. Field recordings opened a world for me. I learned afterwards that they debated the ethics of broadcasting one recording picked up by accident on the shore in Ireland; a young woman keening. I can hear it faintly now. It was a shock at the time.
Occasional romance, however, can be vital. I hope some future child in your land lying abed under the great darkness will still hear that lonesome whistle blow!
Funny, I’m sitting here in Edinburgh, Scotland, listening to some Appalachian folk right now… It’s a complicated business – some of our tunes survived better over there than they did over here.
As for the question of “what is folk?”, I’ve always liked Pete Seeger’s answer: it’s folk music if folk play it. Although personally, I’ve always felt that it stops being folk when you start getting paid… Bluegrass is a funny one there, as it’s gone in the opposite of the usual direction – started out as a professional performance form, but then got picked up by ordinary people.
I’m always wary of the idea that folk cultures or folk music are dying out… Thing is, by definition, if you’re not involved in it, you’re not going to know about it. There’s a lot of stuff bubbling away under the surface of modern culture… You’ve gotta beware of the distorting effects of mass media and the internet.
Dear JMG – Odd bits and pieces that come to mind, due to this post.
In one of Michael Pollan’s recent books, there was quit a discussion (related to food) as to what is “authentic” and does it stay authentic if it’s noticed? (Commercialized?)
About Chinese imports and crafts. Back in the day when I was in the tat (antique) biz, I had a pretty lively trade in old quilts. Until the Chinese quilts came in and that area of the market collapsed. Why pay $500 for a hundred year old wedding ring pattern quilt when you can buy one that “looks” the same for $50 at K-Mart?
But on the other hand, there seems to be a really lively quilting community, here in rural western Washington State. In general, fabric arts seem pretty lively.
We have a business called “Ewe and I” here in Chehalis. (I have no affiliation). Not only do they sell all things goat and sheep (cheese, yarn, etc.) but they have lots of well attended classes that teach all kinds of things like knitting, spinning, etc.. They have a room full of weaving looms, both old and new.
And, lastly, here at The Home (subsidized elder housing) they’ve begun running in the 12 year olds from the local Catholic school to hear how it was in the “old” days. The intent is to get kids to make eye contact (away from their devices), but I think there’s a lot more going on. Some seeds may fall on fertile ground. Maybe. Lew
Great essay, lot of food for thought here…
On Selling Out–
I’m one or two generations younger than you, and I feel that, in some ways, my experience has mirrored yours in reverse. That is– I spent a fair bit of time deeply embedded in what remains of the radical hippie counterculture, in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. These days I live in an ordinary apartment, work a regular job, am “religious,” and, horror of horrors, voted Republican in the last presidential election. I am precisely what my 18 year old self would have considered a sellout, and I couldn’t be happier about it. The ordinary job I have is as a massage therapist, which allows me to both do something genuinely worthwhile– I have had people tell me that I’ve gotten them out of pain for the first time in years– and gives me a useful skill that I can and do trade with others for things I need. The ordinary apartment might as well be a library, with the shelves packed with books on (going shelf by shelf) Chinese medicine and philosophy; Western occultism; history; Catholic theology; Western philosophy; poetry; literature; and science fiction. You won’t find a TV in here, though you will find an altar around which I practice (Druidical) Golden Dawn magic in the evenings. And the money that I have allows me to train regularly in martial arts, continue to grow my book shelf and my skill set in the various healing arts I practice, and show generosity to others (the other day I donated $50 to a childhood friend whose apartment building burned down. I never could have done that sort of thing before.)
In other words, “selling out” the way that I have has allowed me to actually live the ideals that I was looking for in the counterculture. In the counterculture itself, meanwhile, I didn’t do much besides steal things and commit petty acts of vandalism, dumpster dive, hate ordinary people, sleep around and drink copious amounts of alcohol and not bathe.
And On Folk Culture–
I was raised in Western Pennsylvania. The region is, legally and geographically, part of Appalachia. Culturally it’s a mix of Appalachian Scot-Irish with Pennsylvania German and that sort of “Ethnic White Catholic” that’s common throughout the East Coast and Rust Belt. This may have changed in the decade+ since I’ve been away from the region, but when I was growing up the Catholics, which includes my family, still identified strongly with their culture of origin, be it Polish, Italian, Irish, German or, as has become common in the last two generations, some mix of the above. (If the Protestants also did or do, I wouldn’t know about it. Heh.) The Church was until recently extremely powerful– when the inevitable sex scandal broke in 2014, it was discovered that candidates for chief of police and fire marshal of the town I was born in had to be approved by the Bishop’s secretary.
The folk culture of this region, in other words, is inevitably going to be quite different from that of elsewhere in Appalachia or rural America in general. Anti-Catholicism, which in practice has meant prejudice against Italians, Irish and Polish, is one of America’s deepest and oldest prejudices, and the Scots-Irish Protestants have long been its standard bearers. Many Catholic immigrant families, meanwhile, preserved some form of their traditional culture once they got to the United States, hybridized with one another and with whatever they found waiting for them here. I think it’s as much for those reasons as a dislike of rural people or a rejection of Americana as such that many of us find more inspiration in, for example, Irish folk songs, than in their American equivalents. Often enough Irish music or Italian food or whathaveyou quite simply IS the folk culture for Americans of those backgrounds.
@ Jen – I tried to take a look at your Good Reads suggestions, but they want me to “sign up.” Call me an old poop, but I don’t sign up for much of anything, on line. Lew
Hi John Michael,
You mentioned a long time ago that questioning the Boomers about turn was akin to asking them to question their previous decisions and that was the source of the brittleness. The Alt-Right has very little traction down here either because we never really had much of a fascist or a socialist outlook – for example the McCarthy era obsession with communism looks frankly bizarre to us. Certainly it would not be hard to paint a picture of winners and losers down here, but that might not look so good for Alt-Right folks.
On the other hand there is most certainly an urban – rural divide here and I’m not 100% sure, but it expresses itself as a sort of brutal pragmatism. The interesting thing is that I see that in the old timers, and not so much in the newcomers. I tend to side with the old timers perspective, but you, know, there ain’t many folks going about their lives down here like we are. On the other hand I see a lot of stresses piling up on those who stick to the dominant narrative and are getting crushed by the burden of doing so. It’s not good.
I’ll check out your mountain dulcimers and thanks for mentioning them. I have noticed that some folks recently have been playing guitars in that manner and it sounds pretty cool to my ears.
I recently wandered through the Art Gallery of Ontario, where they are having a retrospective of work by the Very Important Figures of the Abstract Art movement between 1955 and 1980: the American Joan Mitchell and her lover the French-Canadian Jean Paul Riopelle. (If you don’t know who they are, don’t bother looking them up, just picture the tarp used by professional house painters to keep splatters off the floor after a few years work and you’ve pretty much got their entire oeuvre.) As I moved through the space, I pondered that this is a concrete example or your idea that abstraction reaches a point of absurdity and ultimate meaninglessness. Or, more accurately, meaning-anything-ness, since one of the tenets of the abstract art world is that abstraction is reaching the point where the viewer can impose any impression or desire they can conceive on the ink-blot before them. Viewers of Renaissance artwork do not have that freedom, the images are specific and clear and tell a particular story or show a particular person. There is no arbitrary interpretation. Or, more accurately, there is no dispute as to what the image is supposed to be. What feelings it provokes and what it means to the viewer is still somewhat arbitrary.
If it is so that art preceeds the general consciousness of a people, so that the art of the Renaissance was probably looked at askance by a populace conditioned to look at symbolic and abstract images, ones which showed a simplistic representation of human facial features and human anatomy, where size in an image indicated relative importance rather than perspective, and so on. They would be somewhat baffled that figures in the foreground appeared larger than the main subject of the painting. But that realism eventually became standard, notwithstanding a few artists who managed to produce some vaguely abstract imagery along the way, e.g. el Greco or Goya, but who remained, until the 19th Century, fixated on realism. But, as art gradually became more abstract, so it was followed by thought which became increasingly abstract in philosophy, and ideas of industrialism, and so on. The Impressionists used almost abstract techniques to produce images. The Group of Seven, particularly J.W.H. MacDonald, made paintings that, when viewed up close, dissolve into blobs and squiggles of paint, but when viewed from several paces away become almost photorealistic images of the Canadian woodlands. When this new movement, this Art-Nouveau, made its appearance, it was derided and desparaged (these artists, excluded from the mainstream schools, formed the Salon des Refusees and the Vienna Secession Movement) and yet has become perceived as beautiful and charming, even as it ushered in the age of increasingly ugly abstract art. As this happened, they were followed shortly after by increasing abstraction in thought in almost every other activity. Look at absurd situation where the financial sector has come to, for example.
So if art and artists are the precursors, or at least the first-adopters, of new modes of thinking, then we still have a couple of generations to go before the new age of reflection dawns. I might also point out that this type of art became dominant and completely banished all other art forms from galleries, especially folk art, in all the metropolitan centres, relegating regional “folk artists” to kitschy knick-knacks one has at the cottage, and could pretty much predict, by a couple of decades, the about-face sell-out of the 1980s. Art then became something vague for corporations to hang as background noise in their otherwise empty lobbies, the same way that the idealistic would-be anti-corporate rebels became background office fauna.
Out here on the far edges of the Bay Area, I still often receive the musings of Stewart Brand, founder of the above-mentioned Whole Earth Catalog. These days, almost all he talks about is advocacy for GMO agriculture and nuclear power, with virtually no mention of anything resembling human-scale technology or culture. I don’t find this to be tragic or execrable, as though we’ve lost some great elder sage… instead, I find it to be totally boring and inapplicable to my daily life. He has, in a sense, become conservative as you describe, JMG, in that he advocates for infrastructure that will maintain existing social structures. In much the same way, the neo-conservatives aren’t concerned with conserving liberty, democracy, etc. so much as they are concerned with preserving American military dominance, in the belief that all else is dependent upon the empire.
I can also agree that a lot of the tech giants may be hung out to dry more rapidly than anyone currently suspects. Facebook is still betting big on virtual reality headsets, but I will be very surprised if that turns out to be anything more than a niche. Even as a long-standing technophile, I have no desire to spend long hours with a device strapped to my head that so totally isolates me from the real world. And their marketing won’t be helped by the fact that pop culture has so often presented VR-heavy societies as dystopias.
jbucks, Nova Scotia is so enchanting, particularly Cape Breton! And the strong Gaelic/Scottish connection is awesome! So much to work with!
Kimberly, many thanks for the data point! I’m delighted to hear that folk music appeals to young people these days — that strikes me as a very hopeful sign.
Ben, I get that. My paternal heritage is Scots — the name Greer used to be MacGregor back before James VI outlawed the lot of us. Still, there’s a difference between the music of the blood and the music of the land…
Ray, oh man. That was a huge favorite of mine during my Bellingham years — that and “Moonshot” were my two favorite Buffy Sainte-Marie pieces. Thank you for a serious blast from the past.
J.L.Mc12, thanks for this.
Robert, likewise. I’ll put them on the get-to list — the Weaver Library in particular is all of a five minute walk from my apartment!
Bill, mika mamook kloshe tumtum!
Jbucks, classical music is about as native to Germany as anything can be, so that doesn’t surprise me at all. As for the hammered dulcimer, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t used in Nova Scotian music — it was very widespread in folk culture in northwestern Europe and also in North America, where it was sometimes called “the lumberjack’s piano” from its frequent presence in the old lumber camps. (If you run into a reference to an Irish instrument called the tiompan, that’s a hammered dulcimer.) I have one of those as well — a lot of dulcimer players end up playing both, and the old magazine Dulcimer Players News dealt with the confusion between the instruments by covering both of them.
Robert, hmm. That isn’t what I’ve heard from a great many other people in Britain, but I’ll certainly include your comments as a data point.
Jaznights, that sounds very pleasant indeed. No question, the US is much the poorer as a result of its delusions concerning progress…
Violet, thanks for this. It’s very clear to me that middle and upper middle class American society basically fills the role of a colonial class, culturally dependent on Europe and isolated from the people and history of its own land. There’s an extensive discussion in Toynbee of the problems faced by what he calls a colonial intelligentsia; I need to reread that sometime soon.
Twilight, I know there are large areas of middle America in the condition you’ve described, but that’s not the whole story — and folk culture revivals, to judge from past examples, can spring up even when the folk culture has to be largely reconstructed from fragments. We’ll see how things turn out.
Scotlyn, many thanks for this! That sounds worth reading.
John, would you care to translate that into English?
Elizabeth, yep — I was part of the independent study group that designed and built it. There were indeed goats — I used to feed and milk them — and a solar greenhouse that never quite worked right, and a cranky wood-fired sauna. It was in some ways a difficult time for me, but I have plenty of happy memories of the Outback Farm, and learned an enormous amount there.
Justin, get out that autoharp! Those were all over the folk music revival, and it’s not too hard to find good manuals on how to play them.
Daniel, glad to hear it!
Elizabeth, yep. I remember the sense of everything going sour and sick and crazy as the Reagan counterrevolution took hold, and people I’d respected came up with ever more elaborate justifications for doing everything they’d insisted they’d never do…
Jasper, if you don’t want to be contentious, it would help if you weren’t contentious; if you want to be taken seriously here, proclaiming simplistic definitions and then accusing me of doing the same thing isn’t a useful tactic; and if I’d meant national socialism, I would have said national socialism. Fascism is not the same thing, and it’s inaccurate to lump it together with socialism — a nice debating tactic, sure, but poor scholarship. You can find a more detailed analysis of fascism on my old blog here, here, and here. As for the alt-Right, the conversations about political economy I’ve had with alt-Right people demonstrate that they cover a very wide range, from small-government paleoconservatives to straight-up national socialists — but I’ve encountered a great many who’ve drawn substantially from the European “third force” neofascist scene. Look for references to Julius Evola if you want a touchstone.
MigrantWorker, excellent. You get tonight’s gold star for catching a subtext I’ll be developing in later posts.
SNG, I don’t think it’s just American culture. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who wrote, “Any man who is not a communist at age twenty has no heart. Any man who is still a communist at age thirty has no brain.” The notion that youth culture is a padded playroom where the young can act out being idealistic before selling out seems to be fairly widespread in the Western world…
Grebulocities, no question, it’s very grim. I suspect, as I’ve noted more than once in this discussion, that there will be more revival than survival the next time around.
Garyaustintx, maybe I’ve encountered an unrepresentative sample, but a great many of the alt-Righters I’ve interacted with are heavily influenced by Julius Evola and other neofascist ideologues. Your mileage may vary.
Austin, I don’t usually give two gold stars in a single session, but that last sentence of yours is pure gold: “better a savior than a reflective moment.” You’ve just summed up why so many people are fixated on personalities these days when it comes to US politics — it’s all about Bernie or Trump or (gods help us) Hillary, not about policies and programs and the actual meat and potatoes of political change.
Corydalidae, fair enough. Oh, well…
Phil, so do I!
Dunc, amen to that. These days folk culture is like occultism — you really do have to know someone to find out about it.
This post (plus my current reading, admittedly, as I’m working through Eizenstat’s President Carter and Carter’s own White House Diaries) has got me pondering the nature of leadership and change (and magic, in a way). How does one harness the raw power of that unorganized hinterland? How can one influence the direction of a society? Can we manage the nature of the change that looms ahead?
We tend to think in terms of direct intervention, perhaps trained by our preconception of humanity as the Conqueror of Nature, as you’ve discussed previously. It occurred to me, however, that if one were attempting to alter the trajectory of a massive object hurtling through space, for example, the last thing one would do would be to strike it head-on. The far more effective use of your energy would be to push along a vector at right angles (orthogonal, in math-speak) to the vector of the object. Over time, and in a broad arcing swing, one could steer that object toward a desired direction of travel.
Now, I ask myself, what is the nature of the vector-space of societies and how does one determine what an appropriate “right angle” might be? (Yes, my math-geekery shows itself plainly.) You’ve suggested where that orthogonal vector may best be applied (the hinterlands) but what might such a force look like? As you replied to my initial question, I imagine that would take some considerable thought, if it is a soluble problem at all. I see shades of Seldon’s Plan here, however, or the Golden Path of Leto II. Focus, continuous effort, and untold lifetimes. Could this be directed through social forces such as religion, culture, lore, and music?
I was one of those who voted against Hillary twice. I voted for Bernie in the primary, and “felt the Bern” at a Bernie rally by the river in Louisville. When Bernie was denied the nomination, I felt I had no choice but to vote for Trump b/c of his positions on Russia, trade/tariffs, and empire. The DNC needed to be taught a lesson. It’s instructive that Bernie won E KY counties by a large margin, then followed by KY voting Trump in higher percentages than only 3 states.
I should also have mentioned that I would’ve stuck w/Bernie had he been an option during the general election, and would’ve been a much better choice. However, he was not a choice, so I went w/the better of the two, policy-wise, presented to me in Nov.
Lew, I don’t blame you a bit! You would indeed have to have a Goodreads account, and far be it from me to encourage anyone who’s not already there to dive further into the internet rathole–I mostly keep out of it myself, with a few select exceptions.
“I would encourage my readers to keep their ears open for the sweet and homely music of the mountain dulcimer;” Building on that…..
Has anyone else here ever noticed how the chants protesters use today seem to be based around the chants a military drill instructor has his new recruits chant? “This is what democracy looks like.” is one of the more common ones I’ve heard. I haven’t been tempted to protest much of anything because joining these groups and saying the chants sounds to much like joining the army. Dun dad dun dun da da dun –
I think we’ll know a serious movement is underway when we hear a song in hymn meter, advocating change of some sort being sung in the streets. At that point it will be the military drill chants of modern protest, against the far more beautiful form of music that bought us songs like Amazing Grace and We Shall Overcome.
My only question about these as of yet unwritten hymns is will they be a reflective?
Zoidion, I am not currently a member of any Goodreads groups, but I wouldn’t be averse to joining one, especially if it centered around some of the topics here and on JMG’s previous blogs.
I love singing and playing folk music, though I am guilty of neglecting American music in favor of Irish tunes. I will need to remedy that. Speaking of Seattle music stores, I walked into one a few years ago in which a door was rigged to strum a dulcimer every time someone opened it.
I love the Pacific Northwest, but I don’t love much of what we have done with it. Perhaps that is why it is easy to romanticize foreign lands across the sea.
“Muckamuck is used more when talking about ‘high muckamucks’, ie. VIPs..”
I have heard the noun “mucketymuck” used in exactly that sense. I have spent little time in the Pacific Northwest and did not grow up in contact with its culture. I never heard of this creole or trade language before JMG wrote about it. If “mucketymuck” came from Chinook, it has lost its regional character and been absorbed into vernacular American English, like a lot of other loan words such as “boss”.
Lew, at this point I think something’s authentic if you really did make it yourself. I hope the kids visiting the senior home catch onto that.
Steve, I get that. One of the pervasive problems with the counterculture of the late 20th century is that it so often turned failure and parasitism into badges of honor. As for folk cultures, that’s a good point — it’s not just regional, it’s also highly diversified by ethnicity and religion, among other things.
Chris, interesting. I suspect the alt-Right is so influential here in the US because we’ve got the accelerating decline of our empire to deal with, on top of a political class that long ago lost track of the fact that problems are to be solved, not excused. The embarrassing failure of the existing elites has gone far enough that almost anything looks better.
Bruce, nicely argued — and I agree entirely. It’s going to take a while, and plenty of hard work, to provide alternatives to those who don’t want to keep on contributing to digging our societies even more deeply into their present hole. Still, one has to begin somewhere.
Ian, that’s really sad. I remember when Brand still had interesting things to say.
David, good. From a magical perspective, you don’t use orthogonal thrust. You understand the directions in which the situation wants to move, but can’t, and figure out how to ease it around the obstacles in a way that achieves your goal in the process of letting the situation find its own necessary release. That’s hard to express mathematically!
Austin, excellent. Of course the current protest chants sound like jody calls — they’ve got a totally militarized vision of the nature of change, in which everything that doesn’t support them is The Enemy and has to be destroyed. Hymns would be good; genuinely funny satirical songs — not the kind of sneering nastiness that passes for satire these days, but something that plays up the authenticallyhilarious absurdities of the present situation — would be at least as good.
Christopher, unless they’ve changed location, that’s Dusty Strings, my favorite folk music store in Seattle, in the Fremont neighborhood. I bought a lot of dulcimer books there.
Austin of Ozmerst, last year I went to an enviromental protest, sadly most there drove, but there was a good omen. Overwhelming the mean, nasty, demanding protest chants that are ever so futile, a choir group sang Earth hymns; the one that stuck with me was a ever so simple recitation of the old quote “The path is made by walking.”
Justin and Violet.
I would tend to side with violet on this one, the punk movement is rootless English, not even a new sprout like rap, or a rooting transplant like blues and rock, or a hybrid like jazz. Certainly not a rooted perennial like folk.
That being said folk takes into itself and grows on many soils. Some good folk poets have make good use of aspects of the punk culture to their own end. The dearly departed Erik Petersen was a master of walking that line. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uziTOL4zOs it is still in many ways “uprooted” but maybe stil growing roots, reaching, stretching, yearning for soil. Sadly Erik never found that ground, even if his artistry did.
In this song we see the punk idealization of the folkish culture in Kentucky. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk4O8FJPxtI . It makes me feel the lust for roots.
Lacking a satisfactory boundary for our definition of folk, we point and ask one another how well different examples fit. I am trying to figure out what Western Colorado is, even though I have lived here all my life. Goodness, I miss Bill P. what he might have said on the issue makes me wonder.
The Colorado Rocky Mountain area is interesting because it was so very late to be settled. The valley I grew up in had radio with in a generation of being homesteaded; there is a vaguely Okiee hint to the area and the dialect because of a handful of settlers who came to Western Colorado from Oklahoma in the late 19th centure. Some general Southern elements of culture because of folks fleeing reconstruction; particularly from Arkansas. This area was little settled before radio, even with out automobiles my ancestors who I have records of heading west moved around ALOT. four times Great Grandma Zany (that was here name and she has the legal records to live up to it) petitioned judges in at least five states about widows benefits from the civil war, on account of various husbands. The instrument of note history was the guitar near as I can tell. Early country western music is the folk to around here. For me personally the music of my childhood was the Highwaymen. The roots in Colorado are very shallow, and the layer of cosmopolitins come to enjoy the vacationing are thick. The Easter Slope contributed greatly to the Folk revival of the 60’s, but not from Colorado natives, no it was transplants captivated by the land itself.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Q0sX2cv-Q American Remains is perhaps most topical to the theme this post is exploring, though somgs like Desperado Waiting for a Train capture the world feeling of my elders. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpZV1iJ99g4
The Highwaymen are four of the most popular country singers in history, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. In some ways this is a call back, a memorilization of a folk tradition in suspended animation….
Also, the classic Americana song ‘America the Beautiful” its about America, but Katharine was looking at Colorado when she wrote the words.Townes Van Zandt spend much of his teen years in Colorado, and his lie is a reflection of a lot of men from the mountains who never quite sobered up. Woodie Gunthrie’s “Ludlow Massacre”…
Violet, I grew up in Western Massachusetts and I found my middle school and high school history classes supremely interested in American history. We were the last class to even get country square dancing in gym. My feeling about Massachusetts is if you live in any of the towns that still have a town meeting, like Blandford then you’ll get that dulcimer feeling. The most emotional concerts I went to growing up were the Pioneer Valley fiddlers – I was always partial to the concert they gave on the summit of Mt. Holyoke at the mountain house. And the soft American folk tunes would drift through the air, while my high school friends and I looked out on Amherst, Northampton, and in the distance we could see both Connecticut and Vermont, even Mt. Graylock. I could see the entire stage my life takes place in.
Towns that sold out their town meeting, as Amherst did a few weeks ago, don’t seem to enjoy such music or courses anymore.
What hurt most about those concerts was that I knew they would end, most of my friends would be forced to leave Massachusetts, go to college, to attain lifestyles comparable to the ones we enjoy. It’s not working for any of them as far as I know. And a lot of them I think will find their parent’s wealth to be a fleeting thing. When the baby boomers lose control of the levers of power my question is how many of them will still have their wealth?
“the Democrats are the conservative party in the US, in the strict sense of the word — the party that wants to keep things exactly the way they are, no matter how dysfunctional that may be. The Republicans are the ones pushing for change, though many of the changes they’re pushing for are just as dysfunctional!”
I quite like this formulation, but I wonder if it’s quite accurate? It seems to me that the non-dissident Republicans are just as comitted to the status quo as the Democrats, just with some minor adjustments; and on the other hand, the Democrats are the ones comitted to pushing for change when it comes to, say, health care and the minimum wage (even if they are far too moderate and concilatory on those issues for the tastes of their left wing; and of course this is saying nothing about how functional their proposals are). All in all, I’m not sure if either party is significantly more conservative than the other; both are mildly reformist and both are happy to use radical rhetoric of some sort or another.
As for the main post itself… not much I can say about American culture, having never been there, but it is fascinating to read about things like that. Folk culture in Russia has suffered immense damage under the Soviets (generally not even deliberately; it was the inevitable side-effect of uprooting and exterminating the peasants) and the Free Market Bolsheviks that replaced them have done little to help, though currently cultural revival is a major trend. As promoted by the state itself it often comes across as phoney, but there have been some positive local developments that benefitted from the trend. The Russian diaspora and the Old Believers have been very good at retaining centuries-old traditions as well, but the peasant world of old is mostly gone, though not unrecorded.
Haven’t commented for a while, but this post (please excuse the throughly overused pun) struck a deep chord for me. As a musician, I’ve found music (exactly as you’re describing in this post), particularly folk music an excellent way to reconnect with my ancestral/ ecological roots (and I hope to use my music as means of bringing about social change)
In the last few months especially I’ve dived headlong into english folk music. I live in NZ, but much of my ancestry is english (as with much of the european population here). I’ve felt myself come alive as never before. I have a copy of ‘The Idiom of the people’ by Cecil Sharp’, that belonged to my grandfather to draw upon. New Zealand probably has a folk tradition if one looks closely enough, though its hardly something cherished here (at this point in time). The settler culture here is far more recent and we’re still basically used to thinking of ourselves as an offshore farm for Britain.
Just for anyone whose interested, in particular its the english folk group the Unthanks who’ve really sparked me off. Their from Northumbria. Before I listened to them I always thought of folk music as being about someone else’s culture. Folk music of the British isles is often though of in terms of ‘celtic’ folk music. Finding sometime ‘english’ has been quite a revolution for me. (I hear theirs quite a bit of cultural reflection going in in England following Brexit)
Just to complete my ramble, have you heard of a book called “Soil and Soul: People versus corporate power” by Alastair McIntosh? The book discusses the role of the bards in celtic society as being vital to the healthy functioning of society as is integral to the relationship between the people and the soil. (Its actually a book about the isle of Eigg off scotland fighting to become their own landowners and stop a quarry). If you haven’t, well worth a read!
The hinterlands are somewhat depopulated. Any uprising may come from urban and suburban fringes where people are being forced to innovate for survival. More and more folks have ever fewer options. Every avenue to a decent living is blocked.
Not on this week’s topic, but relevant to the blog overall… this is from Politico.com, regarding the EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, and his perspective on fossil fuels:
Last week, he told the Christian broadcaster CBN News that he supports developing the nation’s energy resources, a stance that he believes aligns with Scripture’s teachings.
“The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” he said.
If he’s going to apply a religious test to energy development, so am I. It looks more likely to me that Satan created coal, oil, and gas, and that God buried them in the Earth to protect us from them. (Some religious folks have proposed that dinosaur fossils were placed in the Earth by Satan to confuse us about evolution, so this is not totally absurd… well, yet it is, but it’s not so absurd as to be something that I made up all by myself). But, in our selfish greed, we have set aside God-given wisdom to protect God’s world, and we’ve killing each other to dig it all up again. I imagine that would make Satan dance with delight.
Thanks for your reply. After I wrote my comment yesterday I was thinking along the same lines as you. I’m in agreement with you, but I didn’t actually say that punk was a specifically an American folk culture, just that it had elements of a type of folk culture, and that there were some regional differences. Those regional differences probably aren’t too different really, because if it is a kind of folk culture, it would have to be considered an urban/cosmopolitan folk movement. It is very much about being in a city.
I like the connection you made with the hobos -and how that was a kind of rootless movement and the crossover that has happened between the punks & hobos & squatters. All kind of an intermixing of travelers of various kinds. That’s something that has been on my mind a lot lately in connection with a writing project. …Now you’re comment about traveling a lot in your 20’s also can be put into a different kind of context 🙂
Without belaboring all the finer points of punk/post-punk/hardcore etc.: I think punk still has a lot to teach & give to those of us who are still affected by the long shadow it has cast. We don’t necessarily have to adopt it as an idiom, but the economics of punk can still be quite useful. I think of the “business practices” of someone like Steve Albini or Fugazi or Crass. For instance Albini charges the same amount of money for a recording session no matter who the band is, and doesn’t collect any royalties for being an engineer on their album. This makes it possible for bands big or small to record with him, and he has recorded a huge number of albums. Or Fugazi who would only charge $5 a show for most of the country and make it all ages. (Maybe 10 when they played in California etc.) They did extremely well on this model for themselves and they weren’t gouging their fans. Or Crass who only played benefit shows, etc. where the proceeds all went to whatever cause they were supporting. The idea of doing things to be creative & benefit the (sub)culture you are part of as the main goal, instead of financializing your creativity is a key takeaway from punk. (Of course the style got co-opted by the big labels, etc. The Situationists would call it recuperation.)
I made ‘zines too and have played in a couple bands here locally from my teens into early thirties. Being involved with community radio was my main activity in Cincinnati’s music scene though.
I guess the main take away I would have from the punks though is that we can all do more to be producers of culture -whether its rural folk or urban/cosmpolitan cultures- instead of just consumers of it.
Cheers to all.
You describe a single ethnic strand in isolation from a larger context. It seems to me that you were witness to a kind of insurgent political culture that derives from a romantic construction of the idea of the “folk.” Did we not have a similar thing with the civil rights movement in the South in the last century? It seems to be that what you have here is coded as racially “white.” Isn’t “black folk” protest an entirely different beast, as it is oppositional to whiteness? Do you believe that the indigenous black folk protest traditions, with their use of African American spirituals and their vibrant and inspiring orientations to human flourishing, were successful? Will their success be co-opted or appropriated by rootless but young and idealistic white Americans? Enjoyed your article
That makes sense. I can see that in my framing, I fell into old habits of thought re cosmos-as-inert-object versus cosmos-as-living-entity. So the challenge is to understand the impeded desire and to selectively reduce/remove those impediments such that one’s aim is obtained. Hmmmm.
@J.L. Mc12, thank you for that link! Nice song! Wow, on Sesame Street!
Jimmy Driftwood had one really lovely song with a great mouth bow I remember from my early years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVb8egMKDtc I once tried to get my English students enthused about a future where we make our own instruments, but probably just depressed them. A shame! One thing Siberia taught me was that if you know how, you can have a great time no matter what the economy is doing. But no, they want Disneyland, where you stand in line for two hours to get on one ride.
“Darkest Yorkshire? Greg?”
What does this mean?
@ JMG, you’re welcome!
What’s odd, and perhaps most relevant, about my situation is that I’ve had so much exposure to folk culture; my dad builds banjos and other folk instruments in his free time, I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, I’ve dated an accordionist and an old-timey musician, and I’ve played trumpet in a touring country band!
I’ve participated in folk culture but it never touched my very deeply. It is similar to what you’ve written about the change of gods. I’ve genuinely tried to get in touch with the folk traditions of this country, but it hasn’t touched my deeper aesthetic sensibility. I can participate but I never belong.
“Colonial intelligentsia” is a good term; I’ve not yet read Toynbee, but I’ve read quite a bit of Magical Realism and the refined bookish intellectual who looks towards Europe is almost a recognizable stock character in that genre. They order French novels to the tiny village surrounded by jungle, study alchemical manuscripts and spiritualism and try to carry European polite society in the most incongruous of settings. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that I am so fond of the genre; it is one of the few literary forms I can actually imagine fully existing in.
In your articles about fascism you said it was an ultra-modern movement. So how did Julius Evola both hate the modern world and think Mussolini wasn’t fascist enough?
JMG, it’s not surprising that you haven’t heard much from people in Britain about the over-arching British patriotism I tried to describe. Some positive feelings are quiet and tend not to be voiced except in some reflective literature. After all, how often does one hear someone go on loudly about how he’s seething with non-resentment? In literature, however, I could for example point to the two splendidly unfashionable Scottish writers, Sir Walter Scott and John Buchan, who while fiercely loyal to their native land also wrote with love and respect and understanding of English culture and history. Having said all that, I’d vote for an independent Scotland, if it were on offer (the Scottish National Party, so-called, merely wants to replace London rule with Brussels rule).
But forget Britain for a moment: think about Belgium. That’s a more extreme example of an over-arching patriotism that depends not on any local culture but on the imagination only. I know something about this because I am one-quarter Belgian, have lived and gone to school in Brussels, and have distant cousins near there whom I sometimes stay with. The conventional view is that Belgium is a completely artificial country in sentiment as well as in origin, and has no proper identity in common between its separate Walloon and Flemish cultures; indeed King Baudouin said he felt he was the only Belgian. Yet my cousins, a Flemish woman married to a Walloon man, are perfectly at ease with their nation as a nation. But they don’t make any noise about it; the noise comes from those who take the opposite view.
Even though they are by definition not local, over-arching states have a narrative or mental-picture culture derived from the imaginative value of their sagas. (My gripe with the EU is that its one-size-fits-all mentality is the antithesis of all that made Europe great.)
Lest anyone accuse me of inconsistency in supporting Scottish independence while opposing Walloon-Flemish separatism, I would refer to the sagas. Scotland was an independent kingdom and accumulated the soul of an independent kingdom over centuries. Wallonia and Flanders were never states, whereas Belgium is a kingdom with an interesting history. Though only 188 years old, it has grown its own saga, though I dare say most people would laugh if they heard me say so, the usual joke being that there are no famous Belgians.
Howie Mitchell cheater fret. This was a bit of a heresy offered to Jean Ritchie by Howie Mitchell. He added another fret in the space before the octave. It allowed a standard dulcimer to play two major keys without re-tuning. (Two minor keys if you use alternate tuning.) The purists were in a huff, but Jean embraced it, and almost any dulcimer made today includes the cheater fret.
I thought you might know about this rare dust up in dulcimer history. Those dulcimer players are a rough and tumble bunch!
I built my first from a kit in the mid-70s when low technology was still cool. Built many, but they are all in the wind. Own a nice one. All have been equipped with cheater frets. –JD
Re voting “against” HRC
I, too, voted “against HRC” twice. I voted for Sanders in the primary (which he won in WI). When it came to the general, she was obviously not an option, but neither was Sanders. I admit that I was favorably impressed by some of the things Trump said on the campaign trail about trade and the like. I actually filled out the rest of my ballot first, leaving the presidential selection for last, and stared at the name “Donald J. Trump” for a good long while before casting my vote for Stein. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to condone his harsher language re immigrants, etc. Even though my vote was for someone who had no chance of actually winning, I could stand behind the de-imperialist position the Greens have taken, and as it turns out, votes like mine mattered in the end.
I’ll repeat what I said to others the day after the election: “I’m not exactly happy he won, but I am extremely relieved that she lost.” That remains as true for me now as it did then.
“bakes his or her own bread by hand”
The whole grains and seeds bread I bake by hand – no bread machines! – is truly the staff of life.
This old hippie who never gave up his roots appreciates this post at lot.
I read the three prior blog posts referenced in this essay (“find a three-part summary here, here, and here”) and enjoyed them. I don’t necessarily agree completely – I believe we have not missed that opportunity to switch energy sources, and are in the midst of that transition now – but would like to read the following posts. When I click on “next blog”, it doesn’t take me to the next in that series. Can you point me to them, or tell me how to find them? Thank you. And thanks for all your thoughful writing and respectful responses.
My harp was made by Dusty Strings. They make good instruments. A bit too heavy, but I love the tone, and they are reputed to be very tough. I haven’t really tested that, though! I like the backpack straps for the case. Makes it somewhat more practical to take places when you don’t have a car.
I grew up singing and playing a mix of English, Irish, Scottish, with fewer American and Canadian songs, plus lots of non-folk music. I learned most of the folk music from my parents, who emigrated from england. If my stepdad had been a singer and fiddler the way my parents were, I might have learned more local folk music, but they weren’t. So I second assorted people’s comments about ethnic background having a big impact on what folk music looks like for people.
I blame my harp on the SCA, though. I saw someone playing a lap harp, and decided I really, really wanted to learn. Not least because flute and recorder don’t work for singing with. I didn’t have the money, so I bought a cardboard harp kit from waring, and built a tiny harp with a cardboard soundbox. It is very quiet, and quite restricted in range and key, but it does have portability going for it, and was enough to let me know I love playing the instrument as well as listening to it. The dusty strings harp came many years later.
Re the difficulty of expressing the workings of magic in math
That is probably because life is not reducible to mathematics 😉 And magic is attuned to life, is it not? This, of course, is precisely why the narrative of Progress fails as it does. (As I’m reminding myself here.) What a barren, bleak existence this would be if all were nothing but mechanical input/output functions.
Note to self: the map is not the territory; and things like math are tools, not truths.
Dusty Strings is the one! I hope America can develop its own bardic tradition. I may be too old, but perhaps one of my descendants will make his or her living by sitting by the hearth in various villages and singing the heroic sagas of post-collapse barbarian warlords.
Well, I’ve just spent a lot of time listening to the Dulcimer! It’s a wonderful instrument, isn’t it? The idea of the left leaning radicals picking it up seems quite odd though. I wish they would!
I bet that radical change is going to come from the right, and not the left, because if I mention something like the dulcimer to my conservative friends, they know what I’m talking about, while on the left it’s just blank stares. Assuming that generalizes to the US, I think it’s worth keeping a closer eye on the political right for the major movements for change that embrace “flyover country”.
I’ve moved many times since I made my dulcimer from a kit in 1975. After reading this installment I went to the storage area under the steps in my house here in Berkeley. Along with an old bb-gun and camping equipment I found my dulcimer in its corduroy sleeve – also handmade.
I hadn’t played it in decades, but something about that instrument caused me to keep it nearby. Now I have an inkling why.
Not quite a boomer, age wise. After starting my career at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (Butte, Montana) I’ve earned a living very near, if not ensconced in the cushy corporate world. I stayed here partly to afford my lifestyle and partly to effect change from within. But there has been a price.
Thank you for awakening me to the dreams I had when I made my dulcimer. It’s going to stay out in the open for a while. Let’s see what that inspires.
Rap is American folk, and blues was before it. An indigenous music performed by economically marginalized people. Many of whom live/lived in states that are now celebrated for not being too near an ocean. And whose communities probably preserve at least as many vestiges of self-reliance as typical (let’s say it) white Midwesterners these days: if by “deplorable” you mean Trump-supporter, they have on average above-median income and they don’t watch less TV or buy less of what they consume from big-box stores than other Americans. The opposite of a bad idea (glorifying cities and demonizing villages) is another bad idea (etc).
Not long ago I was lucky as all get out to sit at a 4 hour jam session at a folk festival in Bjuråker, Sweden. The “experts” with their fiddles welcomed all skill levels and all instruments.
I was happy as could be. 🙂
Then they asked me for a song. :-/
Mindful of the rather provincial, insular attitude of the CW and Irish crowd back home, I demured saying I didn’t know anything Swedish or even Scandinavian.
“GOOD !!” they replied. “We want to hear something we haven’t heard before.”
So I sang this.
(It’s only 3 minutes. Please listen to the end. Listen to the audience.)
I’m extremely sensitive about singing in unfamiliar circumstances. Americans are … something else.
@ Austin, interesting! My hometown has town meetings, and I just participated in a uncommonly contentious one. That being said I live much further east than Amherst. For what it’s worth I lived for three years in the Pioneer Valley and I love it there! A lot of my lack of rootedness has much more to do with me than where I am from, as I mentioned in a subsequent comment, although where I’m from is of course relevant.
@ Justin Patrick Moore, howdy! thanks for clarifying. I think we agree about way more than we disagree on these points. I’ve deeply admired the ethical standards set by many of the elder punks, and in many ways I miss my former involvement in the punk scene. That being said, I’ve witnessed a certain thoughtless materialist rationalism that the scene has as part of its egregor. I was always a little bit of the odd man out vaporing about reincarnation, different planes of existence, the tarot etc. One elder squatter punk once scolded me, saying “energy isn’t real!”. Now that my occult involvement has grown, I’ve found that I’ve ‘aged out’ of the punk scene. To be fair though, a few months ago I was in a punk house in Western Massachusetts on Friday night, and I baked challah and led a Shabbat ritual, singing some songs and blessing the food and wine. The punks there were almost all of Jewish descent and several told me it was the only Jewish ritual they had experienced in their lives! It was strangely touching, to say the least.
As a young-ish urbanite, I was surprised to hear that we apparently look down on folk music and traditions. From where I am, (Boston area, so not exactly rural), there is a revival of folk hobbies. Hipster is synonymous with beards and flannel, handmade food, fermentation, mason jars, CSAs, and home brewing. There are businesses picking compost on bicycles and Porchfests and Repair Cafes.
When I followed your link to Jean Ritchie, I saw that she did a rendition of Shady Grove.
I first heard that song from Crooked Still, a Boston-based folk band from a few years back. I also love Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African American folk band reclaiming music that used to be pretty racist, e.g. minstrels. (Cornbread and Butterbeans is a favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xOxHyTP91c)
What I love about these things is that they are a new generation remaking folk traditions. It’s different from the way your generation did it, and that’s the point!
Prizm, I like your approach! I often find people will help me out with my “eccentric hobby,” all the while insisting that it’s impractical, that I’m only doing it for my strange idea of fun, and that I should give it up and be practical…but at least they help!
My impression is that there’s a few threads of the culture that point towards renewed interest in folk culture, but they all seem to be on television – I understand the for-profit channels that showed science and nature programming when I was younger have shifted and now have quite a bit of programming relating to Alaskan and Southern culture (Duck Dynasty, Deadliest Catch, Honey Boo-Boo, etc.), and somebody’s supporting those PBS arts and crafts shows that my parents watch.
That said, I’m suspicious that, to reclaim a certain phrase from the Civil Religion of Progress, “it’s different this time”. That is to say, that the underlying historical tendency you’re talking about exists, but rather than being an incipient wave of the future it’s already manifested – and in fact has done so for roughly the last decade – but for historically contingent reasons it hasn’t resulted in interested in the Midwestern/Appalachian hinterlands. Instead, it’s focused on inner-city culture and is heavily interlaced with the last decade or so of gentrification. I’m not sure that would even be unprecedented, either – to my understanding the interest in the Wild West during the 1890s (the Dude Ranch era) is a classic example of folk culture emphasis, and there was a similar burst of interest in the South following the publication and movie adaptation of Birth of a Nation that gave us the Second Klan. (I think you’re talking about one of those when you mention the Progressive Era, but I can’t tell which.
The interesting question, then, would be why the urban rather than rural hinterland became the focus of the latest idealists. I’d spitball aftereffects of the Clinton-Bush era, and especially aftershocks of Bush the Younger and Palin (and more generally the other American colonial aristocracy – the resource elites that factor heavily in traditional Southern and Texan culture) selling themselves as Real Americans from Real America ™, but I am by no means sure about that.
Danil, I won’t argue too hard. The main point I hope to get across is that the Democrats aren’t trying to change anything — quite the contrary, they’re very much a party of the status quo.
Tom, thanks for this! No, I hadn’t heard of the book; I’ll put it on the look-at list.
Rebecca, depends on which hinterlands you have in mind. I think a lot of urban and suburban people would like to think that the hinterlands are depopulated…
LatheChuck, seems to me your theology makes a lot more sense.
Y Chireau, of course I describe a single strand — this is a blog post, remember, not a 500-page dissertation on American folk cultures. Thus you’re quite correct that I didn’t happen to mention your ethnicity, nor a lot of other ethnicities — did you see any reference to Polish-American culture, for example? Or Vietnamese-American culture? There’s a lot of both. Since this is a single blog post of a few thousand words, a single strand seemed like a reasonable way of sketching the very rough outlines of a broader context…
David, good. You’re getting it.
Violet, I get that. I appreciate folk culture, but I’ll always be on the outside looking in — one of the curses of suburbia, amplified in my case by Asperger’s syndrome.
Yorkshire, good. It’s a very common habit of the ultramodern to try to project their utopia either on the distant past or the distant future — think of the way that a certain kind of feminist built an entire thoughtworld around the notion of utopian prehistoric matriarchies. Evola was doing exactly the same thing; I’ve often thought with wry amusement of the screams of outrage that would arise from both ends of the political spectrum if I pointed out that the guy was basically the Marija Gimbutas of the alt-Right.
Robert, I could point just as easily at an overarching American patriotism, which I suspect is about as prevalent. Our Scotland, if you will, is the South — a region with its own distinctive history and culture, its own equivalents of Bannockburn and Culloden, and a similar habit of sending a disproportionately large number of its young men into the military. That’s common in successful states. One point that I’d make is that prior to 1916 or so, you’d hear the same things being said about Ireland’s supposed integration into British society…and look what happened.
As for Belgium, I don’t know enough about the place to have an opinion; I hope they don’t get dragged down by the EU, but we’ll see.
John, thanks for this! I knew about the extra fret, but not its official name. My first dulcimer didn’t have one; my current instruments (two McSpaddens and a Blue Lion) all have them.
Greg, delighted to hear it! My wife has severe gluten intolerance, so homebaked bread is kind of a problematic thing these days — most gluten free bread recipes produce something that would be overly tasteless if used for hockey pucks — but plenty of homecooked food comes out of our kitchen.
Graycenphil, you can find that whole year of posts here.
Corydalidae, my hammered dulcimer is one of their original models, and it’s built like they expected people to back trucks over it! They do tend toward the rugged…
David, math is useful — but then no saw is a very good hammer…
Christopher, I see rap as the first foreshadowing of the epic poetry of dark age America, so your descendant will be well supplied with verse…
Will, I didn’t say that I thought the left was going to take up dulcimers — and it’s precisely what now passes for the right that’s likely to bring about the next really significant wave of change in this country.
Stacker, glad to hear it. See what your dulcimer wants to say to you.
Dewey, rap is one American folk music. Blues is another — but so is polka, you know. I’m not demonizing anybody, just pointing out where change tends to come from…
Don, many thanks for this.
Robin, all I can say is that I’ve heard a lot of hate speech directed by well-to-do urban liberals against, say, white rural folks in the Appalachians. Do the people you know who love folk culture extend that to the people whose culture it is?
Username, well, whatever is happening on television is off my radar screen — I haven’t owned or watched a TV in my adult life. The focus on inner city culture is another pattern that happens from time to time, and it’s distinct from the one I’m discussing, in that it doesn’t tend to have much in the way of political impact. But we’ll see.
I was raised by hippies, the ones that didn’t sell out. I wasn’t there to see what happened in the 60s 70s or 80s but I heard about it, and here’s my take on the whole thing.
I think the hippie movement was born from the first generation of latchkey kids, the ones whose moms went to work. This was the first generation to bond more strongly with its peers than with its parents. When you consider this and then consider the adults sending the kids to fightband die in Vietnam, all the authority figures selling this cookie-cutter home apple pie life that was too commercial, too authoritarian, and too controlled. Too establishment. It was also destroying everything.
The hippies rebelled. My dad refers to it as a failed revolution. A lot of people saw it that way at the time (“You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world..” ). The had some successes, ending the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, alternative spirituality, the environmental movement, etc. I know people who were there at Kent State when the national guard shot those protesters. There’s no question that it was a strange, rebellious, important phase of US history (that is intensely sanitized in history books, of course).
So what went wrong? They were kids, and they embraced childish ideas, and they replaced the bad idea of Victorian sexuality with the bad idea of free love. So as soon as they aged into parenthood (by accident or design… and yes there were a lot of cute little accidents) they were brought back to the institution of marriage (which wasn’t a huge source of problems for society but did help facilitate selling out, because that brought many hippies right back into establishment institutions like work and school).
Also, as a youth movement, they embraced a youth folly of intoxication. A shockingly high percentage of the rebellious movement appeared to think all you had to do was get everyone to take acid, which was supposed to show the entire world what was TRULY important in life. That alone should tell you why it failed. To ne fair, I think this relates to the generation’s embrace of hedonism, which I think was a rebellion against the strict austerity of their parents, who had survived the Great Depression. That hedonism marks the aged hippies and the sell-outs alike (with the hippies still chasing chemical or experiential hedonism while the sell-outs embrace high class, expensive hedonism), excepting only those that took hedonism so far that they sought treatment for addiction (and THOSE are my favorite hippies, the ones who promote substance-free drum circles).
The revolution failed. The majority sold out. Not all did, some chose freedom and nature over money and found quiet little places to raise their children and teach them to question authority (my parents-70s hippies) or value nature and be politically active (my best friend’s parents- 60s hippies).
But that choice, the option not to sell out, was only available to those who could find places like that where it was still possible to raise children to have a really good life for next to nothing in a natural setting, or those who never had kids, or those who shirked parental duties (i met a bunch of those, mostly men who wandered around from town to town like in Kerouak’s novel).
Even among the sell outs though, not everyone really sold out. (Some did, and I think you can rightly call those people snobs.) A lot of hippies did get good jobs and watched the world change, and they tried to take the levers of power and steer away from oblivion and failed. You can see in them not defensiveness but a sort of bewildered heartbreak. They don’t defend the status quo but they try to describe it, like they are still tryingto figure out where everything went wrong.
I think the momentum in those fossil fuels was too great, and no one could stop the train we are all on. Yes, the government is complicit in its sabotage of the hippie movement (cointelpro, for example), but I think the real problem is the fossil fuels themselves, the energy density is just too high, and the economy that only works based on profit and perpetual growth, which is so entrenched in our society it is difficult to even imagine an alternative, let alone orchestrate a transition to something else.
Sorry to ramble, I have spent most of my life trying to figure out what happened, and I may very well be entirely wrong (possibly raised by some hippies who are not representative of the movement as a whole, for example). I love what they tried to accomplish but I hate the hedonism down to my bones. It has perverted the very concept of happiness from pursuit of meaning and self-awareness and turned it into physical gratification and fleeting sensations. I still love a good hippie guitar circle, though!
Anyway, feel free to disagree, after all, I wasn’t there. I was born in 81.
Re over-arching patriotisms, “Britain” versus Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England:
The reason Ireland is not like the others, is that she had and has infinitely more of a grievance than Scotland or Wales. The Welsh, after all, have won, insofar as in a State called Britain the Ancient Britons should be happiest of all. And as for we Scots, though we can’t be as happy, at least we weren’t trampled underfoot for most of a millennium as the Irish were. So, re your remark about pre-1916 Irish “integration”: I would say it always contained more of an element of resignation and despair and psychological surrender. Unless you’re talking about the Anglo-Irish, of course.
Intriguing, what you say about the South being the US’ Scotland.
By the way, I reckon that even if/when Scotland becomes independent there’s still be a sort of pan-British patriotism; somewhat like the veneer of pan-Hellenic feeling in Classical Greece, though that’s a very imperfect analogy. Perhaps the peoples of the Nordic nations have an equivalent sentiment. That’s the sort of outcome I’d like best for the nations of Britain.
Finally, we’re all Terrans and thus can view each other with fraternal fondness in an over-over-arching planetary patriotism.
I was aware of the Goddess-worshippers and their prehistoric matriarchal utopia but hadn’t heard of Marija Gimbutas before, and from what I’ve just read there may be a good reason for that. Apparently claims she believed in a past utopia were false accusations made by her academic rivals to discredit her: http://www.charlenespretnak.com/files/JoA_article_by_CS_on_MG.pdf Admittedly this is only one source and I can’t judge the archeology, but it reminds me a lot of the scientific establishment’s treatment of the cold fusion researchers and the guy who came up with the theory of continental drift.
I suffered from gluten for about 5 years, came on suddenly. Micheal Pollen did a film on Berkshire Mountain Bakery, all sourdough, long fermented. We traveledthere and I was able to digest the bread. Now I make no-knead bread which is essentially long fermented sourdough, eat it with no problem.
David, by the lake, JMG and anybody else with a comment
I have been following with interest your thought path in your and conversation with JMG this week – regarding leadership (political, whatever…), direction, desire (intention?) and magic, and to paraphrase JMG: ‘going with the flow but easing it round obstacles’.
It is good to get a bit of math geekery from time to time. Smile. I have none. (Geometry always seemed easier for me because the map indicated essential structural relationships in the territories. I guess number relationships, ratios, et al. do the same.)
Regarding ‘life’ and maths you write: ‘What a barren, bleak existence this would be if all were nothing but mechanical input/output functions.’ A little while ago in discussion with a teacher of biological science, I raised the matter of ‘intention’ as a ‘property’ known to exist in the universe. He rejected this out of hand, relying on the observation that relative simplicity of inputs and their interacting outputs could produce these apparently (only apparently) irreducibly complex phenomena, especially in living forms. (He was grappling with complex phenomena of biological behavior and some of the relatively simple algorithms that could model such behaviors.) I had hoped and intended that our own ‘demonstration’ of ‘intention’ was a sufficient proof, even if it was a unique case.
Interestingly, in personal life he put a lot of effort into working out the intentions and motives of others … often painfully, because, I guessed, he was hard-wired to find this difficult. (I’m not smiling!) His simplistic algorithms in social contexts relied on a very limited range of possible motives and notions of cause and effect, and on hammering pegs into whatever holes he could see.
Life has accumulated a vast hinterland of embedded information and exists persistently alongside this as a ‘meta form’… sorry I can’t find a better word … where the constant flow of ‘signaling’ (recognition) might be said to constitute ‘life’ itself. We know this at the biochemical level. My guess is that in the case of humans and comparable social animals – and this could be true in other societies – the animal creates ‘intentions’ as necessary communication signals. We must signal, thus we must have intentions. This seems to me something more than a play on words. Given the information flow running the whole time ‘on background’, magic is what we do. We are required. And the signals must go with the flow in real time, which takes us into the mysteries of space-time, its unique co-ordinates and constellations and perspectives, and, oh… memory and ‘purpose’. Seeing and believing: I am still not disregarding Plato entirely! I will leave that subject for another year.
Sorry I’m just now getting around to commenting. Coming from KY, I guess I have a different perspective on Appalachian folk culture, particularly since we’re the epicenter of it, and Jean Ritchie is from here. When I hear the name “Jean Ritchie”, I think of her funeral in Berea a few summers back. It was quite a big deal when she passed. I was WWOOF’ing on the “Mommie Dearest” permaculture farm (one of the most scarring experiences of my life), and the farmer went to her funeral, and was very into folk music. I kept thinking the whole time I was there that I couldn’t believe that such an enchanting place as her farm could be cursed by such a dark spirit. To the bigger picture, I guess I’ve been dismissive of folk culture b/c, in my experience here, it’s been used as status signalling by the “free-range, organic” salary class, and it’s just another example of the way that the Appalachian region overpowers the rest of the state, such that most people think KY and WV are the same. I’ll have to take a different look, and be more open to it now.
On that thread, I think it is interesting how preindustrial folk culture has been taken from it’s indigenous roots and replaced by a commercialized, stereotypical “redneck” culture among the rural poor that others have alluded to. Think Walmart, Dollar General and Save a Lot, heroin and trailer parks, food stamps and SSI, cheap processed foods, etc. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed in the years since Reagan came to power is a wholesale embracing of “redneck” identity by large swaths of rural America. The change is striking. When I was growing up, people of all incomes and classes, save the very lowest, had a sense of class and manners, and resented the “redneck” stereotype as a foreign, Yankee, outside epithet, not something to be embraced. So now, a lot of rural people of the South identify w/the “redneck” identity, and not the indigenous folk culture of their ancestors, which they regard as virtue signalling by non-native salary class folk. You still find poor rural folk who garden and have chickens, though.
Regarding the dystopia that began w/Reagan, I remember it well. I turned 6 the year Reagan went in, and I remember conserving gas, compact cars, making things by hand, hippies living off grid out in the county. Even though my Silent parents were the epitome of establishment conformity who regarded most of the changes of the 60s w/horror at the time, they were still caught in the spirit of the age, if not just raised w/certain things. Mom sewed, knitted, and made all kinds of things by hand. My dad was fairly handy w/tools. As I remember, the Reagan dystopia took a while to get off the ground. Gas prices peaked in ’82, which was one of the most severe recessions. By the mid 80’s after his reelection, I remember we were off to the races, and displays of wealth became ever most ostentatious here in Central KY. What started off as a trickle of cheap imports by strategic places like Hong Kong and Taiwan became a flood of cheap goods from everywhere, particularly China, by the end of the decade. The digital era was on–disposable electronics and personal computers became increasingly a part of life. Local stores and smaller chains shut and merged into increasingly larger big box stores. My parents interest in making things themselves and not buying new goods crumpled. Family members who would sit around after dinner and complain about imports, low overseas wages, and the lack of American goods by decades’ end threw in the towel. In the late 80’s, gas prices bottomed out, and we stopped conserving gas and ridesharing w/others. Until I found the ADR, I had no paradigm to process all this. Needless to say, we’ve pretty much been stuck in the same dystopia ever since.
JMG, a lot of recent Latin American immigrants come w/very robust folk cultures that they still embrace. What do you make of the chances of a synergy or adaptation of these cultures outside their communities in the immediate future as limits to growth bears down and the next crisis gets going? I think it may play an outsized part in any folk culture revival that gets underway during the next crisis.
“Note to self: the map is not the territory; and things like math are tools, not truths.”
You’d probably like – https://lostartpress.com/collections/books/products/from-truth-to-tools. Search blog under categories there are about 17 posts about it. Most are 1 or 2 page excerpts.
Oh the memories this post and the comments have brought back! Arlo and Pete at Red Rocks – first public concert together they claimed. Building the Viking Mars lander during the week and listening the Dulcimers on the weekend in the mountains. Built a Hammered Dulcimer from The Dulcimer Shop in Manitou Springs – they finally closed a couple of years ago after a major flood wiped them out. Cornbread and Butterbeans – Oh what I’d give to be able to eat them again. (Cancer is the pits – but a feeding tube is a hell of a lot better than the alternative.) Never got to ride ‘The City of New Orleans’, love the song and tested most of the route it took.
I wonder how much of the dynamic you describe is a result of the great transitoriness and increased population of our society more than snobbery.
Whether it’s symptom or influence, I’m not sure, but we (and our children) are not educated around an elder’s knee with all-ages youth of our community. Likewise, we no longer follow the schoolhouse model that worked so well in village-sized and rural locations. Instead we shuffle year by year to new social groups, never cultivating a modicum of connection with a group larger than a peer-friend clique of 2-5 age-mates. A teacher doesn’t view us with any continuity in mind. Then, we graduate and are beholden to the job market, expected to “follow the hunt” far removed from the way traditional nomadic humans learned to maintain cohesion with group culture and identity in a well-understood and integral terrain.
Instead of being an agglomeration of the avant-garde, the (west) coast is full of dis-placed and dis-placing people. In my region, we’re a mix of ethnic Chinese, Mexicans, Sikhs, Hmong, Russians (and many more) and a portion blended-Euro-mutt with family histories in Michigan, Texas, Massachusetts and everywhere in between. West coastal people aren’t that far removed from their “flyover” past, but I think their turn away from folk roots may have to do with wanting to start afresh from familial, political, and regional disfunction.
Maybe I just don’t have the right understanding of your use of “elites” – I see that disfunction being the result of actions by a certain strata of people, a political and economic elite. But are they synonymous with cultural elites? Is there such a thing as a cultural avant-garde these days? There are an infinite number of cultural influences available online.
Perhaps my memories of the social/cultural influences in my childhood prove your point – I’m a bit younger, so I hit social awareness after Reagan was voted in – in my rapidly populating area, the kids weren’t part of creating culture, we were consuming it via the radio. So it was distant, recorded, piped in and commercial. We followed the trends, without thinking about who set them. Sometimes, some ‘cool’ kids got records of non mainstream bands, but the mainstream was… main. But I’m not certain that’s a sign of selling out – more likely it was a result of having a history of up-rootedness that led to a common bland denominator of “mainstream.”
With much of our population now urban, and that being one step in a likely series of lifetime uprootings and migrations, I wonder: Does folk (music, art, culture) only emerge out of the non-urban? Is the urban, therefore, inevitably anti-folk or sold-out, packaged folk? That doesn’t seem quite accurate to me, but I see too that it’s hard to create common micro-cultures in a heavily populated places with constantly shifting neighbors.
Is this far afield from your point which seems to be about a group of people in institutions of power rather than the imported-and-aware-of-existential-instability people who service the elite and their institutions of power, catch the crumbs and deny their abandoned-albeit-rooted past?
The Boomers and what’s left of the Silents are gonna wanna wash down Valium and vodka once we eliminate Social Security and Medicare and they’re forced to live as dependents of the generations they threw under the bus.
@ Shane W
“The Boomers and what’s left of the Silents are gonna wanna wash down Valium and vodka once we eliminate Social Security and Medicare and they’re forced to live as dependents of the generations they threw under the bus.”
Will you please lay off the absurd generational identity politics and stereotypes? Your narrative is getting more and more simplistic and totalizing. This post is just vile.
I would assume inner-city culture to have relatively shallow roots, as most of the people there represent recent (w/in a few generations) arrivals from rural areas (the Great Migration, the Appalachian migration during the early 20th century). Even more recent arrivals (Mexicans) are mostly rural peoples.
Violet, I wonder if your Judaism isn’t part of the reason why you don’t feel as connected to folk culture, given the long history of antisemitism in this country and the fact that the largest Jewish communities are in the largest cities in the coastal periphery? It’s odd, given what happened in Europe, but perhaps Jews as a whole feel a stronger connection to European culture than non-Jews?
Geez, my memories of the 80s, both personal and political, are dark: the AIDS crisis, explosion of televangelists and megachurches, the Cold War build up, the bottom falling out from under the Rust Belt, bad American cars, the explosion of crack in the inner cities as well as the explosion of gangs and crime as those areas were left to twist in the wind, suburbia metastasizing in the Sun Belt. Not saying any of that got any better in subsequent decades, but it was all so relatively NEW then.
Jessi, thanks for this. I won’t argue; you’re speaking from your own experience, and that’s as valid as mine, of course. It may be that I happened to encounter an unusually large fraction of those who didn’t just settle down but ditched their ideals in the process; there are unquestionably a lot of those, but of course there’s a lot of middle ground between those who sold out enthusiastically and those who stayed the course despite everything.
With regard to the hedonism of the 1960s, that’s another good example of the way that the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea. The rigid moral taboos of pre-1960s America caused a vast amount of wholly preventable human suffering; it was probably inevitable that things would go all the way to the other extreme, resulting in more human suffering; somewhere in the middle, there’s a place where sexuality et al. is neither obsessively feared nor obsessively indulged in, but treated as the ordinary part of life it is, with the usual irreducibly personal variables.
Robert, I’d be a lot happier to see the sort of lively mix of local, national, and supranational patriotism you’ve hinted at, but I think we have a long and bitter road to walk before we get there, at least here in the US. If the rabid centralization that afflicts our society, and tries to make every little decision in Washington DC, were to be actively reversed, the culture wars that make politics next to impossible here would calm down a great deal — people in Massachusetts could have the liberal policies they want, people in Arkansas could have the conservative policies they want, both sides could wallow in self-righteous denunciation of the other to their heart’s content, and people would be a lot happier. Unless that happens, though, the union is probably not going to survive.
Yorkshire, er, I’ve read her books; her take was a little more nuanced than the simple description I’ve read, but the article you’ve linked to was a fine piece of revisionism. If you’d like to follow up on the issue, read Gimbutas’ late works, and also Cynthia Eiler’s The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, which discusses the whole movement from a critical feminist standpoint.
Bill, glad to hear you had good results with that. My wife gets ill from a few parts per million of wheat protein, so that’s not an option for us.
Phil, good. Very good. Humans are part of nature, and humans have intentions, therefore intentions exist in nature, QED! And since intentions exist in the one part of nature we can examine subjectively, it requires special pleading to insist that they can only exist in that one part of nature and cannot possibly exist anywhere else.
Shane, thanks for this. No question, a range of immigrant cultures — Hispanic cultures among them — are likely to play a large role in the next round of folk-culture activity. We’ll see, though, how widespread that turns out to be.
Janitor, glad to hear it.
Temporaryreality, it’s a different point, but it’s by no means irrelevant. What you’re describing is what anthropologists used to call “culture death” — the process by which people are stripped of their own cultures and pushed into the role of becoming passive consumers of an alien culture to which they are allowed to contribute little or nothing. Constant movement, the disruption of family and community bonds, and economic insecurity are common features of that process, and it rarely if ever ends well.
Shane, er, you’re getting insulting; I very nearly didn’t put this comment of yours through. Please reconsider your snottiness, and remember that the way the younger generations will treat your generation will be powerfully shaped by the way you treat the Boomers…
Reading my comment, it has a bit of an argumentative tone that I didn’t intend. Thanks for not taking it that way.
I left the area I grew up in for what are probably the two standard reasons. The economy is very bad and I didn’t fit in. I was a radical Leftist, a punk rocker and a pagan. Or, at least, I was trying very hard to be those things. The first thing I found when I got to the Big City– I’m talking about the booming metropolis of Pittsburgh, mind– was that I didn’t at all fit in with the cultural Left there either, the punk counterculture (in which the anarchist movement is embedded) very much included.
I remember as an utterly naive 18 year old approaching a young lady who was dressed similarly to me. It wasn’t 5 minutes into the conversation before the disconnect became very clear “You eat MEAT!?!?” she said to me, with horror in her eyes. Of course, I explained. Animals eat other animals, and shouldn’t we look to Nature as our guide? Are wolves immoral? Where I was raised virtually everyone hunted, and this allowed them some measure of independence from corporate food-producers. Wasn’t that a good thing? A punk rock thing? Well, apparently not. I struck out pretty hard with that one. I’d like to say it wasn’t the first of many, but… well. Anyway.
Later on, I moved to the West Coast. I initially got there by joining an AmeriCorps program, which was based in rural Southern Oregon. By this point I was trying my very hardest to pretend to be an East Coast urban sophisticate. I did a fairly good job of it, too, especially with the locals, who seemed to believe that there was one giant city that began somewhere around the Mississippi River and stretched all the way to the coast. That the area I had grown up in was virtually identical to theirs, but with coal mines instead of logging, was not something they ever suspected and I saw no reason to blow my cover by letting them know. I found, though, that my roots still made it difficult to fit in with my fellow AmeriCorps members. For one thing, although we were paid poverty wages, they all had their own cars and lived in nice apartments. How was that possible? I wondered. Far more important, though, were the shibboleths, by which I mean the secret passwords they used to establish group identity and group status. Hating the locals– “Rednecks”– the people they were ostensibly there to “help”– was a major one, and one of the ways this was expressed was to make fun of guns and gun ownership. I am not a gun owner, but everyone I grew up around was, and I support the right to bear arms. I kept my mouth shut, though, when the topic came up. I couldn’t hide my lack of foreign travel, though, which was a major status signifier. The password here was the phrase “When I was in…” casually dropped into a conversation. Points were awarded based on the remoteness of the foreign country in question. Not to have traveled in this way was a great source of embarrassment for me.
All this is to say, I think you’re very right in identifying the Middle Class as a kind of colonial culture. From what I’ve seen of rural America in Oregon, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania the basic economic structure is the same: One or two industries which produce products for export, dominated by a very small number of powerful corporations. Whether it’s logging, farming, ranching, or mining, the structure is the same– and of course, it is the same structure you’ll find in Latin America.
I’ve been talking as though I were still a part of the rural culture, but that really isn’t true at all. I’ve thought of moving back to Pennsylvania, which is tempting when I look at, say, realtor.com and see houses priced in 5 digit numbers. But I left because I didn’t fit in, and I’m pretty well assimilated into the urban culture at this point. Whether it’s craft coffee or tai chi, the things that I’ve come to fill my life with simply cannot be found in the old hometown. Where I live now, in California, folk culture largely means Mexican culture, when it doesn’t mean Old West ranching culture, neither of which I have any connection to. So I’m in the same boat as you and a lot of the other commenters.
Having lived in Los Angeles Co. and Central KY both, the similarities between inner city and rural are more striking than you think. Poverty and social ills are not really THAT different just based on a difference of population density.
I tried getting involved w/the local county fair, but it was a bit of a stretch for me. I mean, the subculture that springs up around “motorsports” like truck pulls and demolition derbies is fascinating, and the juxtaposition of the Sikh family that runs the local gas station/best food in town running a food truck out of a converted school bus with the roar of engines as background noise says a lot about the reality of diversity in modern day rural America, but it wasn’t exactly my thing or what I had in mind when I thought about the county fair.
@JMG in your reply to Darkest Yorkshire you said, “It’s a very common habit of the ultramodern to try to project their utopia either on the distant past or the distant future”… and it strikes me that either of these mental repositories would be preferable to the attempt to manifest your utopia in the here and now, where people might get hurt.
Perhaps the apparent failure of the hippie movement is because there wasn’t a quid to be made out of it. My father used to say that money talks and I have seen nothing to show that this statement is untrue.
@Shane W – a folk tale I’ve seen in several versions:
“The little boy was watching his father make a big basket, and asked “What’s that basket for, Papa?” The father looked up and said “Your grandfather is old and toothless and is losing his mind. I am going to put him in this basket and wheel him out to the forest and leave him there.”
The father did so and came back to see his son industriously weaving the bottom of another basket. He asked “What are you making, son?”
The boy looked up and said “That’s for you for when you get like Grandpa.”
And Shane, don’t come to me for any home cooking, or if you want your hems mended or a hat crocheted. Let alone any of the Depression-era tricks my mother taught me. Here’s your handbasket; you know where its GPS is set for.
Your story reminded me of my issues with wheat. My problem is not with gluten, because I can eat seitan just fine (it’s nearly pure wheat gluten). I have similar issues with cabbage: I can’t eat fresh cabbage (no cole slaw for me), and I can’t eat canned sauerkraut, but I can eat old-fashioned fermented sauerkraut.
I found that one thing that both wheat and cabbage have in common is, “fructans.” These are carbs that can be difficult for some people to absorb, but some bacteria ferment them. So…no wonder sauerkraut works for me! Maybe I’ll try sourdough. (So far I’ve just been using “gluten free” recipes, since they don’t have wheat. But they often don’t turn out well. The only ones I can stand are the ones from the “gluten free on a shoestring” website by Nicole Hunn. I’ve bought a few of her books after trying some of the recipes on the website.)
I think the alternative high school I spent some years in was where some of your hippies disappeared to! It was very well-stocked with hippie and ex-hippie parents in the 1990s. This made for a pretty unusual school. A lot of hippie words and values were very much alive and kicking, though there was plenty of hypocrisy going on with regards to fossil fuel use. It is also true that the downsides of such things were less blindingly obvious than they are today, and that there were enough people who had never given in that they had a big impact on the school’s current direction, as well as its existence.
Going to a highly-regarded regular high school for my last two years after that was a culture shock. Useful for getting adequate teaching to get good grades to go on to university with, but I can’t say I liked the culture. Selfish, business-oriented, and the bear eats the hindmost. It’s the hindmost’s own fault they got eaten, too. I might have done well academically, and avoided the bullying problems I’d had in elementary school, but I felt like my value depended entirely on my academic performance. I got treated well, but the whole thing was so very, very fragile, and I didn’t like what was happening to others around me. The egregor of the whole thing felt dangerous and just plain wrong.
Brother Greer, the things about the Celtic musical group I know here is that they’re not paid and they’re accoustic. Being in a majority LDS area of Idaho, the local culture hasn’t had two-hundred years to adapt and merge with the native culture. I think there’s a lot to come out of that slow entanglement yet. The immigrant folk cultures are still strong-Highland Games, Greek Festival-as are the native-but people go to each other’s festivals and intermarriage is and has been pretty frequent. We score high on obsession with geneology out here!
Appalachia has had a lot longer to settle in.
The younger academics’ classical music that honors this place is different from what I’ve heard from other composers, both older and from other regions. Which surprises me, because you wouldn’t expect academic composers to be that strongly affected by having moved in three years ago . . . or maybe you would, but I wouldn’t!
Temporaryreality, your description of the urban situation on the US west coast sounds very familiar to me here in urban coastal BC. It is quite the hodgepodge. Victoria today seems a bit more stable than Vancouver late in the last decade, although I think that is just that I have found some eddies in the currents that suit me well. They’re all under financial stress, though, and I am surprised that I have managed to stay in one spot for the past 7 years.
Housing prices are too flaming high, and they recently jumped at the very bottom end of the rental market. When the cost of renting a bedroom in a shared apartment can be as much as someone’s entire welfare check, or childcare can cost the entire income of a low-wage worker, there’s huge problems. The new NDP-green government is trying to fix these, but the problems are vast. And then you get the people with 3 million+ dollar homes being asked to pay more school tax, having street protests over the fact.http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/school-tax-real-estate-vancouver-1.4646982
BC has a history of fairly wide swings in policy when different governments come in, and this is proving the case this time, too. I think most of the changes are needed, and I’m enjoying the novel sensation of actually having a non-municipal government I actually like instead of merely don’t detest at best. I worry, though, about backlash, and about how long this can last.
It is possible to have a left-wing government that actually lives up to its rhetoric much of the time, and is genuinely different from a right-wing one. I don’t know about the USA, but it is possible here, and I’m finding it is worth it.
Now that was – it’s been some time I have to admit 😉 – a post which really caught me… Most striking to me is the music – never heard of Jean Ritchie, which being born in the Germany of the 80s is maybe not very surprising. Listening to those tunes and looking at some pictures of that once young and vibrant woman ( https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/files/2015/06/AuntEllenFieldssm.jpg ) which grew old and died quite a while ago is somehow a very powerful reminder of the omnipresent and inescapable flow of time. I wish more people would be willing to bear the pain of being constantly conscious of and touched by this – the world would be a different place.
Second – the pattern you laid out in your post summarizes as “reluctance for permanent change” in my mind. While it’s easy to strive for change when you’re young and/or poor, it’s a different thing once you think you have something to loose. Maybe it’s just a symptom of a society which put itself in a non-equilibrium state (name any category – it’s off equilibrium). Suppose you’re part of a society living in equilibrium with itself and its environment – permanent change, I suppose, would not be very scary anymore. But we live in a society which has to weather a storm which is just starting to gain momentum – so either grab any pole you can get hole of or try drop out of society (those you have just written about tried but maybe never arrived there, maybe).
Funny in a way… if you look at the term equilibrium physically … to put a system out of equilibrium, you need energy. In our case, the main energy source is petroleum. If you keep the influx of energy constant, the system will at least settle into again settle into a equilibrium (you could call that metastable considering the depletion of the energy sourve). Somehow we even manage to avoid that kind of equilibrium by constantly increasing energy influx. No comparison to what will happen when the energy source is depleted, though.
@ Coop Janitor
@ Phil H
As I mentioned in my initial comment, I’m working through material on the Carter years (by a former staff member as well as Carter himself) and it is apparent that one of his weaknesses was also his strength — namely being a detail-oriented, well-informed problem-solver and engineer. He tended to attack issues with comprehensive solutions at full-throttle, with the intent to get as much done as he could in the time he was allotted, without consideration for his re-election. Eisenstat comments repeatedly that Carter had little knack for (or patience for) “politics” as a part of implementing those solutions. In terms of our discussion here, one might frame the issue as Congress being a living entity itself, its members having their own agendas and foibles and desires and egos, which must be considered in context of the broader issue. Carter tended to disregard those aspects as unsavory (a sentiment I can empathize with), but political leadership, or organizational leadership generally, is a matter of leading human beings, not solving problems. That is the conundrum I find myself pondering in this week’s post — how does one who dislikes those aspects of leadership (the glad-handing, the stroking of egos, the side-deals) nonetheless lead and make a difference?
@ Phil H (et alia)
As a follow-on comment, I can say that my single greatest lesson from this first year on city council is that politics ain’t math and it ain’t engineering either.
JMG- The comment on “culture death” struck a nerve with me. When a generation has been raised with culture transmitted via television, and not observation of elder family members, where do they (we) go to establish new cultural traditions? In what sense are these practices authentic, rather than merely fashionable? Can a live culture be intentionally constructed?
In some cases, traditional culture is simply incompatible with modern life. Target shooting, hunting, and fishing were big parts of my father’s life, in rural Michigan, but not really appropriate in my neighborhood in suburban Washington DC. Backyard bonfires were something we could do in a rural area, but not here (though some try, to the annoyance of those who smell the smoke). Home-made fireworks were a subject of sober thought and careful practice 50 years ago, but not felonious as they are now. (“Improvised Explosives, Weapons of Mass Destruction”!).
Last night, my church showed a documentary film, “Screenagers”, which described the hazards young people (and not just young people) face with on-line culture. But that’s another story… Before the film, as the movie audience was gathering, one guest volunteered to play a piano. As she rolled through one decades-old pop song after another, with more or less competence, it occured to me that everything she was playing was folk music. Because she was folk.
@John Michael Greer. I’d be curious to know how you think print culture will evolve over the next 500 years or so. I ask because I have a collection of roughly 700 books and growing and I would like to know how to protect them over the long term. I’ve been toying to the idea of setting some sort of edowment or trust for the protection of the written word, but if you have a different idea, I’d be interested in hearing it.
@Violoet – lol I ducked out of our town meeting today because it was very contentious. If I had stayed and voted my preference, for a publicly owned internet service, would have won out. It was literally one vote shy. The reason I didn’t vote was because, I already have access to the a service the town is trying to bring in. My abstention was also largely because I heard Mr. Greer’s voice in the back of my head saying, unfunded liability.
Should I have put my finger on the scale? It was made very poignant to me today that each vote counts.
To Bill Rice – Oh my heavens, Berkshire Mountain Bakery! They come to the Farmers’ Market in Amherst (Austin, I really want to meet you there one of these days! If you’re interested, say so, and I’ll get my email address to you) and their chocolate chunk sourdough bread is truly one of life’s great pleasures. I didn’t know Michael Pollan had done a film on them, though!
The recent commentof of Steve T, Shane, and Lathechuck, hit related nerves in me. This post has open a ink blot test of who what and where I am…
Sometimes I look at the partially real, partially staged, partially enforced nationalism or patriotism of Russia or China or some other part of the world which are presented to American’s as unfree. I don’t know what to make of it, but the performances of sincere nationalism are interesting. I think Putin is the most skillful in this regard, he often speaks at length, and with depth unimaginable in the context of American politics, on any of a hundred issues, what he has to say is usually well stated, and the reasons given are engaging, even if I suspect many detains of being fluffed or omitted, or even of the entire thing as being a performance; acting out the roll of competence and beloved leader. It fascinates me, and this fascination, surprisingly, it very close to the feeling I have about this weeks post.
It is my gut instinct to assume that any person in a position of political leadership is a lying sack of shale; in much the same way that four is even. So when I see foreign leaders saying things that a competent, honest, and benevolent leader would say (if such a thing were part of my ontology) it is so strange. I have no idea what Putin is, but he does clearly put considerable effort into appearing to be a great leader, and pulls it of to a degree I could not imagine an American President pulling off. I guess I tend to see it as an act, but I ascetically like it, (I promise I am about circled back to the folk topic, just a couple more stones). It presents something larger to participate in. And even for a person too wary to believe the spectacle I can comprehend the desire to play along. Trump is likewise, but a notably less carefully arrayed display; there is no suspension of disbelief, but even still I can understand the choice to participate in the event, I feel the draw.
As a child there was a music class, we were singing some Americana song as a class, and I was a shy kiddo, so my voice didn’t project. A criticism from the teacher upset me, because I wasn’t really singing. They tried to explain something about moving the voice into my head or some such thing that made no sense to me, so I deduced that I could not sing, and that I had no talent or musical interest. This self opinion stood for ten years until Schopenhauer of all people convinced me to learn the flute. Part of the change is that as a child I excelled in math, and loved the clarity of a game with correct answers and varying severity of wrongness; I exported that model which has use in arithmetic to music for all those songless years. For the last decade my creative side has very gradually returned into the musical side of my being. I slowly learned that music doesn’t at all have to be perfect to be desirable to hear; a calculation need not be precise to be useful; a performance or a custom pure to be worth participation in…
I feel a strange envy when I look to other nations, I think this envy marks the part of my spirit that is uprooted, and wish I could pretend to believe in something that they either pretend to or do believe in. The same envy I feel when I see a musician confident, even infuriatingly over confident as more then some musicians act, to perform to a group, acting on the premise that the whole gathering wants to hear them, when the facts are generally more mixed. This is also of that uprootedness; the eye that floats disconnected above the platform, pretending to be part of the same structure, but instead something of another kind. Hugh chunks of me are roots, shaped by deep history for a particular context and purpose, drying in the sun. Envy, longing, and lust toward the rooted, even if it must be in the dark, or in filth, or bound constrained and unfree. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLc8YeXP8FY
But not all is so bleak, I am rooted, I do have roots, and blessings be I have been shaped by story of my grandfathers, and great uncles, and many matriarchs of the dry west. I do play flute, fearful of being the arrogant musician playing over the good times of another, shyly, and yet am warmly encouraged to play on, I know little songs, but can play my heart, and those I trust speak highly of what they have heard. My ancestors escaped from Europe, and the East Coast, and the Reconstruction, and the federal marshals, and the trail of tears, and the Dust Bowl, CCC camps, Normandy, IwoJima, Suburbia, Public Schooling,Vietnam, the Military, abusive relationships, and alcoholism.Compared to my Dad or Gram-pa I am very uprooted… but they were uprooted too! Again and again and again and again they were uprooted. and they just kept on putting down new roots… roots that got this far any way.
Four generations ago Papa got to the recently homesteaded valley which far later I would grow up in. But it was different from the East, we never quite settled it. We colonized it, because all along we needed supplies and equipment from the coastal people. We needed information and traditions from Europe to keep it going. The Utes who lived here, and knew how to do it got kicked off to the reservations with particular verve, and such that the way of life that had worked was, in it totality, suspended.
Now the colony is getting weird, metals replaced with beef, then tourism, and now retirement and lifestyle. In politics I realize how frustrated I am with the colonies, but how depended we are on them. I work to be less dependent, but I know that independence is beyond the reach of my generation, yet I crave it dearly. Even as the uprooted, educated, intellectual and abstracted side of me rejoices at the interesting things to take in from the old world.
In sum. The dichotomy of folkish and cosmopolitan allows for the most interesting places on the edges.
@Robert Gibson re your discussion with JMG
I also am British. I worked in Scotland for 27 years and still feel at home when there. Most of my ancestors though are from southern England since at least Tudor times. (Err… I am aware that a similar length of lineage might be traced for some families living in remote parts of the Appalachians, but. you Colonist types please bear with us! Smile) My/our children in contrast have a mitochondrial lineage from the Gaeltacht and were born in Edinburgh.
As for concepts of nationality – we are a Monarchy. We are ‘subjects’ not ‘citizens’, though this distinction can confuse people these days. My understanding is that theoretically anybody might be British if the Monarch willed it. After all, that’s what Monarchs are for, no? There is also a quaint folk tradition of ‘birthright’ which can be very stubborn. We tend to believe no one has a ‘right’ to challenge who we are unless we are engaged in ‘licensed’ activities or are on ‘licensed premises’. This has worn very thin in the last decades. Recent outrages have been perpetrated for example on people who’s English-speaking parents, mostly Christians from the Caribbean, many of them devotees of Cricket, were invited here to work for London Transport. These persons had not unreasonably thought of themselves as ‘British’. (Note, there is cricket in Scotland, but it had fewer devotees than in England and the Caribbean. Scotland, and probably Ireland and Wales, I guess are by and large still more Christian than England. England has a significant proportion who declare no religion.)
History of our ‘unity’ and ‘disunity’ is best exemplified by our royalty and our flag. Wales has a Prince, Scotland a Duke of Edinburgh; England does not officially have the Queen. Her title if Wiki is to be believed is: “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith,” During the very brief period of the British Empire the titles Empress or Emperor of India along with Dominions were parts part of the monarch’s name string.
The flag acquired the different crosses over time starting with the Union of the Crowns and acquired the cross of St Patrick in 1801. Anybody else interested can look it up. Warfare within the British Isles continued sporadically into recent modern times in Ireland, but pretty much ceased on the mainland after our Civil War (Restoration, 1660). Wales, I feel, has a much neglected history and a stubborn folk tradition and played a strong part in the formation of the British Working Class, which had its own kind of unity. The hits taken by the BWC over the last decades have been grievous across all regions but that is another story.
@ Shane, I feel that I am not a good representative for Judaism. Not only am I not technically a Jew given that my mother is a gentile but I also am much more of a pagan and polytheist at heart! Given conversations with many Jews, I feel that I have the right as a person of Jewish descent to participate in Jewish ritual in good faith, especially Shabbat ritual. Of late though I’ve not been observing Shabbat at all as my spiritual inclinations have taken me elsewhere.
@ Austin, if you are asking for my opinion my opinion is this; I love town meeting because it is the only place where I go and am treated as an adult of equal standing in the community, with a voice that matters and the right to participate in choices that will effect my town for decades. For me, being recognized as an adult in the community is a very big deal indeed. If my vote counts or not is of less importance to me than the invitation to participate in the allocation of the town’s funds and future. Of course, as your story illustrates, sometimes one vote counts a lot!
you might be surprised at how much ex-Californians in search of jobs and a lower cost of living are transforming cities in the area. I know that Lex, Lou, Cincy, Columbus, and Nashville are being transformed, and I’d imagine Pgh is the same. You might be surprised at how much things have changes
Looking back on it, I worded my comment badly. What I was commenting on was the irony of the left listening to folk music at that time, and that it now seems like it’s the right that’s going to embrace things like that.
I’m also wondering now if that’s what brings on such hostility from some people at the mere mention of “hippy”: they embraced folk culture too much to be acceptable anymore.
Also, in your response to Yorkshire you said that ” It’s a very common habit of the ultramodern to try to project their utopia either on the distant past or the distant future.” I think I’d much prefer this than having them trying to build their utopia in the present! It still strongly distorts understanding history though, so it’s less than ideal, but I think a lot of people need to believe in utopia.
It’s not all young people, but a very large number of my generation have addictions/dependencies on technology. I think it’s going to be messy when the tech bubble pops. Considering how mentally unstable a lot of members of my generation are to begin with, I think it could get very very ugly.
Hi John Michael,
Yeah, “fact that problems are to be solved, not excused”. Well that is a tough lesson to learn for sure. I feel that for the money the politicians earn from the public purse, they might produce better entertainment than the endless bickering and point scoring whilst they feed at the trough of donations. And the folks making the donations should consider taking a close look at what the politicians in Venezuela have recently done to their bankers. Politicians have a basic conflict of interest that is easily resolved, it is just not easily replaced for them.
Your description of soldering irons and musical instruments reminds me of the work done here way, way back in the day on the: Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer. Who would have thought that a couple of Aussie blokes working in a basement with stock products could produce something as amazing and revolutionary as that ground breaking digital musical synthesizer.
One of the downsides of losing manufacturing from a country, is that people become accustomed to replacing components rather than designing and constructing a machine from the ground up. It doesn’t have to be a complex machine either. And the huge volume of products flooding the market sort of means that people lose their ‘farm engineering’ skills.
And then they start telling me that solar PV panels should produce electrical power even when they are covered in snow – because this here model tells them that it should!
Do you reckon we’ll relearn the gentle art of farm engineering?
I don’t know if this is “culture death” or not, but I had a troubling experience yesterday. While I was out for a walk about my small city, I swung into our local McDonald’s, whose lobby had been closed for remodeling for a while. (McD’s and Subway are the only chain restaurants we have; all the others are locally owned.). The old decor had always been impressive: there was a 3-D relief map of Lake Michigan and the walls were covered with artistically-abstracted scenes of lake- and riverfront scenes in town. All gone now, replaced by the bland, generic fast-food coffee-house vibe that the chain seems to be going for now, with two payment kiosks (you can still order from a human cashier, however, and I made a point to do so). It made me very sad to see something uniquely here just cast aside.
Huh. I see I wasn’t the only one to think “Better to put utopia somewhere else!” Great minds think alike? 😉
Thank you for sharing that folk tale! I know some people who I think would strongly benefit from hearing it, but I’m not sure they’ll listen….
I apologize if my thoughts triggered from this post have taken this particular thread sideways a bit, but I’d be very interested in your thoughts on governance in light of “I-Thou” or “politics as dealing with a living thing” — here or even in a later post. I am struggling, I must admit.
A pertinent passage from Eisenstat’s President Carter, “It is not enough to be both visionary and right on policy; it is also important to operate in the hothouse of Washington politics, where small slights add up to big problems. Politics in general, and presidential politics in particular, is a contact sport. While there are times when a challenge is to be met with a fight, it is also essential to build personal relationships with deft touches such as invitations to small dinners, drinks in the private White House quarters, birthday and anniversary phone calls, notes of thanks, tennis games on the White House court followed by locker-room time to schmooze, trips on Air Force One, and many other personal gestures whose principal value lies in that they come from the President of the United States. These were few and far between in the Carter White House.” (p. 197)
And the core of my being is screaming “AS THEY SHOULD BE.” I recall talking with my dad when I was a teen (we discussed history and geopolitics constantly, much to my mother’s dismay) and during one of those conversations he said to me, “Son, what you want is for politics to be a respectable profession.” If leadership within a democratic society isn’t a high moral calling, what hope is there for us?
Is there a way to lead without having to bribe, threaten, lie, cajole, distort, manipulate, pander, and cheat? I struggle with this.
Jessi, re: why the ‘back to the land’ movement ‘failed’, I found a book whose author had tracked down quite a few of the original ‘communers’ and homesteaders (many from ‘Countryside Journal’ subscribers). She was looking for why they failed, and a major reason was the typical gender differences. The men did the ‘project work’, including hunting, building, etc. while the women typically ended up with the maintenance drudgery. And the men were much more ‘into’ the independence, self sufficiency idea.
I’ve thought a lot about my response to this essay because as a musician it touches me to the core.
I think the Dulcimer is a beautiful instrument and I’m glad you wrote about it! I love all instruments, especially ones that have a history of being made at home. It has a sweet tone, and even though it’s not loud, it is perfect for keeping company while people are working. Music makes work light. I would love to pick one up and play with it. And it has a rich and beautiful history. If you make a Dulcimer and learn to play it, it’s like you made a friend.
But I’ve seen too much folk-music virtue signaling to love it in performance. Too many shows filled with self-satisfied Eastern seaboard blue-city-folk of some means glorifying a fictional past while ignoring the actual people who are still alive and dealing with the unfashionable folk diseases such as Mountain Dew mouth and opioid addiction. People with dried-up souls singing these songs by rote, very nicely and straight A’s in music school style, but it all sounds like a unitarian church to me – no offense. It seems so snobbish, and as the daughter of a real Okie, it’s always kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Sometimes folks need that Dionysian release that makes the rest of the week bearable.
My favorite folk instrument is a 1970s era Fender Telecaster. I had one on long-term loan for a long time, I have faith that one day my gods will send another one my way. I can see it. In my mind. 🙂 Meanwhile, I’ll play my acoustic Alvarez and be content. Poor Alvarez. She knows I dream of another, even though she’s been my loyal companion for so long. 😉
Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have put that comment through…
Steve, thanks for this! Your account of the AmeriCorps status games fits my experience in other contexts, too.
Scotlyn, true enough!
Jill, that was certainly part of it.
Corydalidae, that certainly sounds like the high school I went to. Sorry to hear that Canadian education is headed down the same chute as the excuse for education we have down here.
Sister BoysMom, I’m delighted to hear that the young composers are paying attention to the influence of place! That bodes well for the future of classical music — as in, it suggests that classical music might actually have a future, which was in question there for a while.
Nacht Gurke, good. Very good. You’ll always touch an old ecology geek’s heart when you refer things back to thermodynamics!
LatheChuck, I wish I had answers, because those are the big questions that need to be asked.
Trlong36, the survival of print culture depends on the survival of printing methods that don’t depend on extravagant energy consumption. Thus your best bet, if you want to contribute to the survival of print culture, is to do something to help keep old-fashioned letterpress printing in existence. There are various ways to pursue that, from taking up printing by hand yourself through patronizing handpress shops, but that’s the road that leads to a future of printed books.
Will, I tend to think that what makes people get angry at any reference to hippie culture is precisely that, however clumsily and incompletely, the hippies pointed toward the road we didn’t take, and since the one we did take is heading into increasingly ugly territory, the reminder of our society’s great mistake is not exactly welcome…
Chris, a lot depends on who “we” stands for here. A great many people won’t learn the art of farm engineering, and will end up, as the French say, chewing dandelions root first; the ones who survive will be those who learn it quickly enough!
David, I get that; the homogenization of modern America is one of its bleakest aspects. As for politics, leadership could be a high moral calling only if human nature was considerably better than it is. Politics — the original Greek word means “that which pertains to the community” — embraces all of human existence, the grubby and gritty as well as the rest, and a morality that seeks to exclude the grubby and gritty aspects of existence does very poorly in a political setting.
Aron, yeah, I’ve seen that too. The thing is, I’ve seen that kind of musical virtue signaling in every social class and in every kind of music. I keep playing the dulcimer partly because I love it, and partly because I remember the performances that weren’t just a matter of virtue signaling.
IDK, but knowing human nature (human nature of ALL generations), I just strongly feel that people were much more keen on looking after and seeing to the success of future generation when they knew that their quality of life in old age would be dependent on the success and favorable disposition of generations coming after them. Most people simply don’t do things just out of the goodness of the hearts.
“Vermont Life” magazine, first published in 1946, used to be a periodical that celebrated that which made the state unique: the small, the rural, and the quirky. It always had gorgeous photos and well-written stories, most of which centered on the ordinary life of ordinary Vermonters, farmers, maple sugar makers, small family businesses. It carried no advertising. I have a collection of back issues from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; they are dated, but still wonderful.
In the early 90’s, the magazine started accepting advertisements. At some point, although I do not know exactly when, the focus switched to the tourists’ Vermont: the skiing, the resorts (especially the pricey ones) and the high-end whatever. Advertising reflected this and the magazine was peppered with ads for extremely expensive jewelry, home goods so fine that I could never let my husband touch them if I could even afford them in the first place, unbelievably expensive second homes and exclusive clubs and organizations. There are still occasional stories about rural living, but it’s more of the cleaned-up version, not the hand-to-mouth kind that characterizes a place where the native population is decidedly not well off. This newer “Vermont Life” is as far from the real Vermont as can be imagined, it is the Vermont of the pleasant, but totally clueless, vacation home owners that live in the state and whom I try to avoid.
True, there are still some pockets of the older Vermont, mostly in the Northeast Kingdom, but one has to search long and hard to find it. It is a great loss.
I haven’t really had many alternative cultures in my life but the little ghosts that have touched my life I’ve drawn upon so much usually through the internet (in the absence of anything substantial in mainstream life). New Zealand doesn’t seem to have much of any culture to speak of left but a huge hole where there should be one (but having a hard time forming one due to so much pressure on the common people so a disgusting drug culture has emerged in its place).
For me the sticking point of culture looks like child rearing. I am admitably a devoted mother and homeschool, attachment parent my littles and have a disgusting amount of animals that never seem to stop turning up in my life. But I log around a 100 hour work day (I don’t count all the night time get ups either) working within my home, and trust me despite all best efforts nothing is tidy. My husband is amazing, we really have a great set up for our task yet I don’t think we are a typical family and we have next to no support from the community. If we weren’t good at our task we would have no assistance, this could be a kiwi issue as I have found Americans to be much more connective (husband is one). But my point is is that if any culture is to be successful once the freedoms of youth have been whacked over the head with the realities of parental life (which is not well known, I had NO IDEA what would happen to my life after having a baby) It has to embrace this area, help with the act of raising kids, because frankly, there is almost no help for an enormous task in the modern world, and the pressure from it will kill any culture that does not adequately embrace it. So a successful culture MUST have strong woman and child values and act on them or it will not succeed against schooling systems, corporate jobs etc that while awful provide the only relief some families get.
@ Trlong36 & JMG
For example, supporting establishments such as this:
It is a working print museum and I had them do my campaign materials both times I ran for council.
I was afraid that you were going to say something along those lines. I guess one can be a moral leader or an effective leader, but very rarely can one be both. Asimov had Salvor Hardin admonish, as I recall, “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.” Fully digesting this will take some time.
reply to Philsharris – interesting. Yes we’re subjects not citizens – in a certain sense – I’d forgotten that.
Britain is a great example of overlapping, coexisting allegiances. Perhaps what’s needed is a concept of idea-sovereignty which would enable a King of Scots, a King of England, and a King of Britain to reign contemporaneously – in a cultural sense. Stuff for science fiction at the moment.
What we also need is a concept of monarchy that isn’t bogged down in the hereditary principle. The most durable institution in history – the Papacy – has achieved that, by having elections held in secret by a college of cardinals. No party politics, no fashion-tyranny “democracy” but a representative element in the sense that the Church is an idea supported by the churchgoers.
In my suggested secular version, the Nation would be supported by patriots – by those who care. The Monarch would be elected for life by the Lords but the Lords themselves would be self-appointing, their members chosen as cultural representatives, like a literary academy. Of course you’d have to have ordinary democracy too, for bread-and-butter issues, but to the extent that we need more than bread and butter, my suggestion of an elective monarchy to symbolize the nation would allow the abrogation of the ridiculous genetic lottery of the Unions of Crowns (1603) which diminished both the polities concerned. In such a system, those who aren’t interested need take no notice of it.
I’m not so sure about how much importance to put in the hippies “selling out”. I mean, even if you were dead set against things like interracial marriage, LGBT folk, and free love, as my parents were at the time, you still could embrace the appropriate technology and conservation that born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter was promoting at the time. So those hippies at the time had the wind in their sails from support by the larger culture for the things they were doing that didn’t involve contentious social issues. Likewise, what could they do when the cold winter wind of society blew the opposite direction in the 80s until today?
I have a question for you that seems not related to this post, but it is
Could we define “Sacred” as all what cannot be bought by Money?, as it was the case of King Midas’ tale where he suffered what means turn into gold what is really sacred when looking in horror the gold statue that was his daughter after hugging her.
The King Midas’ tragedy was the way the greeks show the “hybris” to try to conver the world in money, but we do not have any tale like this, in fact we “The Faustians” hate up to the bones the mere concept of “hybris”, because is “irrational” not to ask “why not….”
Spengler in “The Decline of the West” says in the vol 2 chapter 5:
“Though the economic history of every Culture there runs a desperate conflict waged by the soil-rooted tradition of a race, by its soul, against the spirit of money. The peasant-wars of the beginning of a Late period (in the Classical, 700-500; in the Western, 1450-1650; in the Egyptian, end of Old Kingdom) are the first reaction of the blood against the money that is stretching forth its hand from the waxing cities over the soil. […] Money aims at mobilizing all things. World-economy is the actualized economy of values that are completely detached in thought from the land, and made fluid. The Classical money-thinking, from Hannibal’s day, transformed whole cities into coin and whole populations into slaves and thereby converted both into money that could be brought from everywhere to Rome, and used outwards from Rome as a power.
The Faustian money-thinking “opens up” whole continents, the water-power of gigantic river-basins, the muscular power of the peoples of broad regions, the coal measures, the virgin forests, the laws of Nature, and transforms them all into financial energy, which is laid out in one way or in another– in the shape of press, or elections, or budgets, or armies– for the realization of masters’ plans. Ever new values are abstracted from whatever world-stock is still, from the business point of view, unclaimed, “the slumbering spirits of gold,” as John Gabriel Borkman says; and what the things themselves are, apart from this, is of no economic significance at all.”
He said “..the reactions of the blood against the money” when talking about the peasants wars as the 1525 in Germany, but the same wars were taking place in the New World when the natives where killed and displaced, their cultures and traditions obliterated because there were mere “superstitions” and we “civilized” them through guns and science. This was the same battle between Blood and Money
For me The Modern Science is not only a “method for skeptical inquiry”, mainly is a method of de-legitimation of “The “Sacred”, and is the way the Money (or the Systemic as Habermas call it) defeat the “Lebenswelt”, (the inner “World-of-the-Life”), flattening the field for the triumph of Money
Science an Capitalism developed at the same time because both are the two side of the same coin, the conversion of the qualitative to quantitative, the perception of the world in abstract terms, the destruction of the sacred in all their forms
The existing forms of folklore are empty vessels of a much more profound meanings in the old past where they were rituals and where the soul was in real communion with the sacred and this rituals reinforce also the sense of community and belonging.
Now the new frontier for the Monetization of Life is the Monetization of Intimacy, which is the purpose of the social networks, because at the end there is no limit in the conversion of personal relationships in “services” (music, child care, elderly care, cooking, entertainment, all are “services” now) as also there is no limit in the conversion of Nature in “products”.
The destruction of sacrality, traditions, families, roots, bonds with our bodies, with others and nature (it is all the same) will continue unabated up to we “hit the bottom” as the drug addicts, and then the civilization will collapse (even with huge amounts of energy at hand)
Re politics and my reply
“One can be a moral leader or an effective leader, but only rarely can one be both.”
With the admission of my own particular biases with regards to morality, of course!
Dear JMG -Books, books and more books. So many books, so little time. Two that I haven’t seen yet, but our wending their way to me, down the library hold list. Both, I think, apply to the current post.
“Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat” (Kaufman, 2018) and “Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts” (Langlands, 2018).
Doesn’t apply to the current post, but, of general interest to your readership (I think), currently on my “am reading shelf:”
“Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” (Bruder, 2017). About the tens of thousands of elderly migrant laborers who have taken to the road and refer to themselves as “workampers.”
“A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City.” (Philp, 2017.) Lew
David, I like your comments very much and would love to see a discussion on your sideways topic sometime. I think that the science of Biology can inform such discussion and that “leadership” by an individual or even a few individuals is evil, wrong and counter to the natural world, and thus repugnancy of an effective leadership by an individual is natural and good. An animal for example is not led by one cell, but instead competing systems are developed to look after problems facing the organism based on natural competition between two competing and virtually identical structures (left vs right hand, left vs right eye etc), not that unlike a two party system developed in America, etc. I just wanted to comment here to express my hunger for discussion on this side topic. Your side topic relates to music generally, and locally inspired music specifically on a deep level. I think that the small number of individuals who make revolutions happen are rationale and logical thinkers who are natural at music, and that the two combine. Active movement toward a better (more rational) world (post industrialization in this case) may be intertwined with local music, which is an emotional expression of where we want to be. Perhaps we will know that our desired revolution is here when the dulcimers and other local forms come out and replace mass marketing.
Shane W, Once oil became cheap everything changed and no-one was going to stop it.
perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Carter administration is his lack of soft political skills (palm greasing) and his tone-deaf optics (“malaise” speech). I find that particularly baffling b/c Carter is an old-stock Southerner, and the South and it’s traditional class system made an art form out of this kind of social flattery and graces. As a Southerner from old stock, why Carter wouldn’t have had these skills naturally is beyond me.
thanks for more bluntly stating my concerns about virtue signalling through folk music. That was something I was alluding to in my post
a lot of California transplants are finding they can enjoy the same kind of lifestyle they enjoyed in Calif. and other coastal states in the trendier neighborhoods of Midwestern and Southern cities, but at a much reduced cost. I know that’s a lot of the mentality of the transplants–“I don’t really need the prestige of a Calif. address to enjoy doing pretty much the same things and creating the same atmosphere.” Now, the reception of the locals to all this Californication is whole ‘nother ball of wax.
Get to know real Unitarians…some even play dulcimer
JMG- For lack of a better definition, let’s consider this: “culture” is what we do when we have choices. Eating is not culture, but what we choose to eat is. Authentic culture is when we make the effort to decide for ourselves, based on our own appreciation, rather than accepting those choices that are thrust upon us for the benefit of someone else. Whether or not it’s derived from the choices our parents made is not really relevant, for we can recover aspects of culture that our parents (and/or other elders) let die. We can do that NOW, because the prior recent cultures left tangible artifacts (such as dulcimers, sheet music, and CDs) behind, but after it’s all be digitized, loss of the Internet / electrical grid will erase a generation.
I just finished reading “Why We Left” this week and it is one of the best history/culture books I’ve read in a very long time. I heartily second your recommendation!
One major transformation of folk culture here in the hinterlands that’s flying under the radar unnoticed by the coastal elites of the periphery is the collapse of Christianity and the surge in Norse heathenry/Aasatru. I look for this to play out in a BIG way as the current fundamentalist wave crashes and goes back out to sea. Polytheism is a vastly different ball of religious wax from Abrahamic monotheism, and if it does become the dominant religion in the hinterlands in the coming crisis, it will reshape folk culture that, until now, has been influenced by Protestant Christianity.
OT, signs of trouble ahead: Faceplant, which itself relies on ad revenue, is now forced to buy ad time for TV commercials.
Re: culture death – boy, that doesn’t sound like it bodes well…
The talk of punk and folk cultures (with the Erik Petersen videos linked to by Ray Wharton), and the topic of Americans tending to prefer UK-based folk music over our own homegrown versions, brought to mind an English band I had an immediate draw toward because of both their VERY localized roots and the fact that some of their songs touch on the globalized themes we’re all swamped by in our culture-death throes.
So, guilty of looking overseas for the folk that connects me to my folk, may I present Stick in the Wheel
consider also their song Common Ground (about the losing of the commons) and a new set of recordings of their region’s contemporary folk singers – made in awareness of and response to the loss of place and culture we see everywhere.
I mention this not so much to expose y’all to a new band, or shout out an ‘exceptional’ and ‘excusable’ interest in an overseas music, but out of a sense of connection shared in this time of great challenge.
whoops, I meant to link to this song, homage to truckers, Champion at Keeping Them Rolling: https://youtu.be/vYvZayrdqUU
@Shane W funny that you should mention that. I’ve seen ads for Amazon on TV as well.
Lew, I didn’t know there was a book on “workamping” (I hate the cutesy spelling, I must admit, but it is sadly standard). I am not elderly, but I moved into my truck a few months ago and will be working my first job as a campsite host in a national forest in California this summer. And one of my libraries actually has the book! I will check it out.
@ JMG, Mots, et Alia
I, too, would appreciate further discussion on this topic, particularly with respect to the broader issues of this blog. As I ponder your response, John, and those of others here — and the solid talking-to given to me by my wife this morning about getting wrapped up in the political world 😉 — I wonder if it isn’t the very concept of leadership that needs revisiting. Not only is not a command-control relationship as is typically envisioned, I wonder if it also isn’t even the I-Thou. Looking at things from an ecosophian perspective, if we are all elements/components of a larger system, then to use Mots’ analogy, we are like cells within an animal. Even if we are only talking about the organism of humanity or just the organism of a particular society, what does “leadership” entail from that perspective? Is it perhaps more about influence, rather? Which then brings us back full circle to the idea of nudging things in one direction or another via indirect forces — e.g. music, culture, magic, folklore.
Being an engineer and former nuclear submarine officer no doubt hindered the indirect approach and his appreciation for theatrical details; and his religious perspective, I am sure, hindered his ability in the less-savory aspects. I find it interesting indeed that one of our most respectable and fundamentally honorable Presidents in recent generations is also widely considered to be one of our least effective Presidents in modern generations. He saw problems and hit them head-on with attempts at honest solutions. But voters didn’t want to hear about that.
JMG & anyone interested – Matt Taibbi wrote a pretty good summery of a new paper the Thomas Piketty (sp): https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/taibbi-piketty-study-is-two-party-system-doomed-w518585
The takeaway: the two party system, sponsored by big money donors, is living on borrowed time. We here may all know this, anecdotally at least, but Piketty’s research brings numbers to the table.
As a resident of flyover state with depressingly low voter turnout and/or civic engagement, I wonder what it will take to light and fire and get people moving? I’m starting to think that a terrible economy and unresponsive political system aren’t enough, because the good people of Oklahoma have put with those for decades.
Shane W, I think you have been unlucky in your circle. My husband and I have always helped our children and I believe each person has a social responsibility for those around them. Not to sticky-beak stage but just a little helping hand as necessary. Good luck with the people you meet from now on.
On the subject of local pride, yesterday I watched the Tour de Yorkshire just up the road from my house, today I climbed Wainhouse Tower. And I’ve just heard we will also host the Road World Championship and the starts of the Vuelta Espana and another Tour de France. This is our culture now. *brass band plays* 🙂
@Shane, this bit on Carter (him lacking in presentation and charisma and instead focusing on policy, if I understand correctly?) oddly reminds me of Alexander II, probably the greatest of all Russian monarchs in terms of the positive impact he had on the life of his subjects (the abolition of serfdom, how ever flawed, was just one of his many good works). His great weakness was his inability or perhaps rather total unwillingness to keep up appearances beyond the bare necessities. He disdained to, in his own words, “play majesty” the way his father before him and his son after him did. He did not bother to win the people around him over with a soft touch or by projecting charisma, preferring to focus on the details of reform policy. As a result, even likeminded reforming ministers failed to understand or appreciate him, instead considering him an “empty space” who just supported them out of self-preservation or some other unworthy motives. This was harmless enough in itself, but the combination of lack of charisma and controversial reforms made him unpopular at the court, which may have played some part in the catastrophic way the court doctors bungled saving his life after the last assassination attempt (he did not die immediately, they brought him to the palace without bothering to bind up his wounds, then, IIRC, essentially just let him slowly expire – it could have been simple incompetence, or there may have been other considerations involved). And the rest is history – his reforms largely died with him, and while Alexander III was not as bad as he is often painted and showed remarkable good sense on some occassions, Nicholas II was ultimately bad enough to run an imperfectly reformed empire into the ground.
I guess it all goes to show that presentation can save lives. All the more reason to look forward to JMG writing more about rhetoric. 🙂
Thanks for speaking up for the Mountain Dulcimer and folk music in general, JMG: this is a truly fascinating post!
I may be wrong (and would be happy to be corrected in case I am wrong) but I think the only truly distinct folk music in Canada belong to the Québecois and the Métis (mixed Québec/Indigenous) cultures. Other Europeans simply haven’t been here all that long. Celtic music has always been a going concern on the East Coast (and still lots of families from our Atlantic Provinces happily play music for their own entertainment – a fact that the more urbane Ontarians [unfortunately] look down on as hopelessly antiquated). Being raised in a Scots-dominated town, the first musical instrument I picked up was the bagpipes – so much for folk instruments being “low volume”! And although I have studied classical music of various cultures, the pipes and the folk tunes they play move me like nothing else… guess my heart just can’t forget my roots!
Re Jimmy Carter, which is a bit removed from mountain dulcimer: I agree that he was probably the most decent man we’ve had for president in my lifetime (ie going back to Truman), but I find fault with the “Carter Doctrine” which says in part; “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” This goes beyond what I think is legitimate defense, and probably has a lot to do with keeping oil cheap. Nonetheless, it’s too bad he didn’t get a second term.
If Shane’s been unlucky I think I’ve been very unlucky as well. There are people out there who are happy to help other generations, but my experience has been that lots of people aren’t. I can’t tell you the number of people I know who get treated horribly in their old age by their children and grandchildren.
I’ve been mulling over the extent to which generational conflicts are a legacy of the horrible choice we as a society made, but regardless of whether it’s an emotional scar, or human nature, I’ve seen a lot of it out there.
East coast music, though celtic, is distinct from the pure strain of the motherland enough for folklorists to catagorize as its own tradition. Not being a folklorist, I’ll go with that. And why not? St. John’s was founded only 40 years after Quebec. And I’m told the traditional tunes of Quebec owe quite a lot to the folk music of brittany and other parts of Old France. Having antecedents doesn’t make a tradition inauthentic!
I’ll admit, though, that Ontario is rather out of luck. The problem there is immigration and integration: the founding Loyalist and German traditions (the first inland settlements in Ontario were chartered by the British crown, but settled by german subjects) were swamped by later waves of settlement and their folkways diluted down to the lowest common denominator of corporate-supplied culture. I could also be wrong about that — but I know that some of my family would do sing-a-longs, and we’d mostly do songs we’d heard on the radio.
Now, there’s a question– if folk music is music that folk make, what does it mean when the folk are performing “Smoke on the Water” amongst themselves for their own amusement?
well, Miss Lillian was an interesting character and an independent spirit who cut a different path, so maybe her influence explains why Carter never was able to do the Southern charm offensive very well…
those X-ers who were old enough to have experience with both the Greatest and the Silent generation noted the change in attitudes between the two generations when I worked at a credit union branch that I nicknamed the “Senior Citizens Center”. The first elderly generation to grow up w/no living recollection of life before Social Security had very different ideas of their responsibilities to future generations than the last one to grow up w/destitute elders living under their roof under the care of their parents.
I particularly remember one vile old Scottish retiree who told me point black that the key to success in life is to “be born lucky.” Very true, grampa, but you don’t exactly have the demographic advantage anymore–maybe your luck has run out?
that’s true, but I find a lot of parents and grandparents today give in a dysfunctional way that turns apron strings into chains, and doesn’t promote development and independence, whereas, maybe in the past, before Social Security, elders were much more eager to see their kids succeed and gave and taught in such a way as to ensure their progeny’s success?
it’s going to take the bottom falling out of the economy or a black swan event a la Twilight’s Last Gleaming before things are gonna change, and not necessarily for the better. The kind of changes you are wanting are going to require Depression 2.0, and even then, it’ll be a crapshoot, given how deteriorated the commonwealth is.
@ Jen – One of the major people in the book is Linda, a camp ground host. It’s a really good read. Wow. Are you in for an adventure. They’re a welcoming tribe, and you should find plenty of helpful advise, along the way. They also have huge gatherings where people swap information. There are websites …
It’s given me an option, if things fall apart in my current living situation. Not much you can stack on a Ranger short-bed. Then again, my needs can be pretty simple. Lew
@Steve T.–In 1973, when I finally made a face-to-face connection with some witches, I got introduced into one of the more lively, creative, diverse regional Pagan communities in the US. It consisted of a few hundred people. The only way to communicate with any Pagans who lived outside driving distance was by mail–no Internet then. So we mostly knew each other by name, and were happy when somebody new showed up.
We couldn’t afford to judge each other by what we ate. Or by how we dressed, or whether we owned a car, or our sexuality. If you had a genuine interest in the weird stuff that mattered to us, that was enough. Also, there was less information available, so people had to read more and really think through their beliefs.
Time changes everything, but I wish newcomers to our communities could experience the acceptance that I received.
I didn’t grow up in a hunting culture, but I would rather eat hunted meat than farmed meat, when I can get it, which is very seldom.
@ Shane W – I agree that another serious depression would jar things loose enough for something to change substantially, and I agree that those changes may or may not be for the better.
OTOH, if we do not experience such a black swan, we might go another century without any real change at all. Look at the plight of Argentina of the course of the 20th century. In 1900 it was (IIRC), Argentina had the 7th or 8th highest income per capita in the world. Nowadays, not so much…
I wonder; if we don’t get any real black swan event, could America spend an equally long time circling the drain?
Shane, Jill, etc. re: caring for elders:
I was a caretaker for my aged, partially paralyzed father for four years (he is able to live independently again now after his last surgery!). He and I are very close, and although we don’t see eye to on on many things, it would be difficult to imagine a more devoted, loving father; I also genuinely enjoy hanging out with him. However, living together under those circumstances was VERY difficult, and I think much of it had to do with being stuck in a dysfunctional parent/child dynamic. I was doing all the work on the family ranch and caring for him, but I had no authority, no financial control, etc. He exercised arbitrary authority over me at awkward and embarrassing moments and made a point of making it seem to others like he was supporting me rather than the other way around. I was 26, but felt as if I were still 16, the age I was when I moved out on my own. It was not done maliciously, but I think out of fear and embarrassment on his part at his loss of control. I contributed my fair share of dysfunction also. All that goes to say, if that is what happens in a loving, close-knit family in which the child feels great gratitude towards the parent and the parent has been unwaveringly dedicated to the child, I hate to see what happens/will happen in many families! I think America (and probably many other industrial/post-industrial countries) has lost much of its ability to live together intergenerationally; there are no narratives or customs for passing on authority or integrating family members who have each been accustomed to ruling their own “castle.” Moving out on your own is a rite of passage, but there is no rite of passage for the reverse in later life–it is seen as shameful to one party or the other, a failure and a demotion from full adulthood. And as Shane says, many parents’ generosity is given in ways that foster their childrens’ dependence, consciously or unconsciously, perhaps out of pride or fear on the parents’ part. And the children of course often unwisely accept and even seek it, because it is the easy way out, or because it is habitual and safe. It will take a lot of work to get past all the fear, shame, and resentment between generations created in these situations by the mismatch between our cultural narratives and our reality, even for good families.
I have been told that American English has in many ways stayed closer than British English to their common ancestor. Could there be a similar thing happening with the perennial popularity of Celtic Music in the United States?
By the way, the Maypole Festival was a roaring success! Plans are underway for a follow up event for summer solstice. Several maydancers are talking of practicing for a more appropriate to our community country swing may dance next season.
Lew, I fancied myself quite the minimalist until I tried to move myself and my diabetic cat into my Toyota Tundra! It was certainly an enlightening experience, and one I am very glad to have tackled. I lived in a tent in the Appalachians for three months one year, which helped a lot; it recalibrated my hedonistic sense to consider things such as pillows and water supplies in excess of a couple liters as luxuries instead of necessities, and it meant I already had much of the gear necessary to live outdoors without heat or cooling (my truck’s is broken, plus it’s wasteful), but it still took me about a month of fine-tuning to figure out what possessions were feasible and desirable for my truck, especially since this time I didn’t have a home base to store all my extraneous stuff until my return. Knowing that I can travel so lightly and cheaply has been freeing, although I do miss being able to garden and putter around. I am also looking forward to the stunning scenery of the Sierra Nevadas!
I get the invalid security code every 2nd time. Shane W, I never give anyone anything I am not prepared to kiss goodbye. Not so generous. Never had a problem with our offspring repaying. Elders have a social responsibility to help their young. Good luck.
No disagreements with anything you said, particularly with regard to the Carter Doctrine. Interestingly, one of the first people who’d point out the flaws of Jimmy Carter is Jimmy Carter. I found the annotations in his White House Diary where he commented on his entries and assessed his decisions at the time, both positively and negatively, quite revealing.
Yes, from what I’ve read, Miss Lilian was a very strong influence. I think the issue, though, was less about Southern charm and more about back-room horse-trading.
As Phutatorius pointed out, Carter is a good ways away from mountain dulcimers, so again, my apologies for pulling the discussion thread off-track. I experienced several links in the Seven Ways of Thought as I read this week’s post 😉
I know this is 11th hour on the comment thread, but I’m watching the tempest Shane W set in our collective teapot, an I fin myself wondering if generational strife isn’t baked into the cake, thanks to the reality of decline.
Sliding down Hubbert’s Peak, each generation sees its forebearers being better off. No, all Boomers aren’t millionaires, and they had hard times in their lives– not even Shane W would argue that, I am sure– but they were born and grew up in a more prosperous time. Gen-Xers were born and grew up in a more prosperous time than Millennials, who were born and grew up in a more prosperous time than the ‘alphas’, etc, etc, so on down the line. Which, if we don’t collectively recognize the decline (or perhaps, even if we do) is a recipe for extreme resentment. I expect, should I live to be an old man, to be hated by jealous youth. Just as there are times when I rail against the unfairness that puts me below the average standard of living my recent elders had at my age.
The bitterness is natural, I think. Unproductive, but natural. I imagine it is worse amongst those who do not recognize the reality of the Long Descent, who don’t have a mental model to explain it other than collective greed : ‘those oldsters through us under the bus’. Now, we here should know better. It isn’t the boomer’s fault they were born upslope of us on Hubbert’s Peak. It is, collectively “their fault”, I suppose, that we did not take the untrod road to ecotopia… but that’s a meaningless statement. Just as it will be collectively “our fault” that the even deeper sacrifices needed to mitigate the decline weren’t made when GenX-ers and Mellenials began to vote en masse. (Also a meaningless statement: some of us tried, others resisted, and most were blissfully unaware. Collective justice is a sham. Not only a sham, but a dangerous one. Collective justice is the handmaiden of genocide, because it is but one step from there to collective punishment, and one step from that to the killing fields.)
All that to say that I think the anger felt by Shane and so many young folk is natural and ought to be understandable — even if it is useless, and will be turned on us in time.
Shane, maybe so, but do you think the rhetoric you’re using will convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you?
Beekeeper, that’s happened to a lot of once-interesting magazines. Profit-seeking is a great way to plunge to the lowest common denominator.
Rose, that’s an excellent point. One of the things that I find the opposite of impressive about most current forms of feminism is the way that they’ve gone from “women have the right to choose their own lives” to “women have the right to choose the lives we want them to have” — and those women who want to be homemakers and mothers first and foremost come in for an appalling degree of abuse, from other women, and zero support from the institutions that used to help them.
David, it depends very much on what you mean by “moral.” I’d encourage you to ask yourself this: if a moral stance reliably leads to ineffective action, and therefore harms the causes it claims to support, is it really a moral stance? Or is it something else? A lot of the problem here is that most current notions of morality focus on purity rather than wholeness — that is to say, excluding certain parts of human life as morally unacceptable, rather than finding a balanced and constructive way to integrate all of human life into a whole, including the grubby bits — and so inevitably doom themselves to failure. More on this in an upcoming post.
Shane, what could they have done? Well, for example, they could have done what I did, and what a few others did — keep doing the right thing even when it stopped being popular. If there had been more of us keeping the green flame lit, much more could have been accomplished when peak oil became an issue again fifteen years ago, and much more could be done right now.
DFC, I’m not sure I’d go all the way and make that a definition, but it’s certainly one of the indicative features. Richard Wagner, of all people, wrote a fascinating essay (“Die Wibelungen”) in which he traces the myth of the Rhinegold back to solar mythology and forward through a process of division that leads to the Grail legend and a disembodied spirituality on the one hand, and to the dominance of money and the desacralization (and desecration) of everyday life on the other. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that deserves more exploration.
David, okay, you’ve got a binary. What’s the third element that resolves it into a ternary?
Lew, thanks for these!
Bill, maybe I’ve just met too many of the unreal kind, then.
LatheChuck, interesting. That’s certainly worth a meditation or two.
Shane, that’s a detail I’ve been watching as well. It strikes me as a very positive shift — and it’s interesting that the Norse deities, in particular, seem to resonate very well with the land, where many other polytheist faiths have always struck me as exotics, requiring delicate handling to thrive in an unfamiliar ecosystem. As for Faceplant — hoo boy. Thanks for the heads up; that means major trouble is looming, possibly for the whole social-media smoke and mirrors economy.
Temporaryreality, thanks for this.
David, excellent! You get this morning’s gold star. I’m not going to say why, either — if people read your comment carefully, they’ll understand. 🙂
Ben, wow. Even Matt Taibbi gets that the Democrats are just as elite-centered a party as the Republicans. I’m going to check my calendar and see if there’s a blue moon this month. 😉 Piketty is of course quite correct, as usual. Now we’ll see which political party is quickest to do something to appeal to the underrepresented voters he’s talking about…
Ron, that’s interesting to know. Like most people in the US, I know far less than I should about Canada, so many thanks for the data points.
Phutatorius, which is to say, he was a mixed bag. Rather like the rest of us in that…
Ray, one of the interesting things about Appalachian music is that it preserves quite a bit of material that came over with the early settlers — Elizabethan ballads, for example. Most of the people I’ve known who were deeply into Celtic music weren’t raised with much if anything in the way of Celtic culture, and more than half have no scrap of Celtic ancestry — what the Irish refer to sourly as “plastic Paddies” are all over the place over here — so I suspect it’s much more a matter of longing for something we don’t have, at best, and dress-up games and roleplaying, at worst.
Glad to hear the maypole event went well, btw!
David, the discussion here always wanders. Jimmy Carter may not have played a mountain dulcimer, but the transition between his presidency and Reagan’s is very much part and parcel of what I was trying to discuss.
Dusk Shine, I’m betting on it — and whatever Shane’s irritating qualities may be, of course, they’re more than matched by the pompous self-importance and collective egocentricity of my generation.
@Will J &c
Re: Generation Gap
Both Strauss and Howe and John Xenakis have a lot to say about the relationships between the generations. These patterns repeat reliably across the 80-year cycle: they have little to do with the specifics of a particular turn of the wheel. Individuals will, of course, behave as individuals – it’s the group activity that’s important.
To summarize ruthlessly: Idealist/Prophet/Reactive generations try to rip up whatever of the currently existing structure seems to be faulty to them, regardless of who else likes it or how well it’s working. The latest generation of this type was the Boomers, and anyone who lived through the “60s” can remember phrases like “generation gap” and “don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Members of this kind of generation tend to live long enough to see much of what they stood for rejected by their children, and experience a poor and impoverished elderhood.
The next generation of that type will probably begin to make itself felt in the mid 30s.
In contrast, Civic/Hero generations live to be well respected by their children, and experience a comfortable elderhood, The latest such generation was the G.I. generation, renamed the “Greatest Generation” by a journalist who wanted his own words. The current such generation is the Millenials, and like all similar generations, they don’t get no respect while they’re younger.
Not folk culture, but since we’re talking about black swans: a copy of an observation I sent to my friend Jean Lamb, re: http://historyunfolding.blogspot.com/ by historian David Kaiser.
“On the surface it sounds like another rant about the horrible damage That Other Party has done to our country. But as an old 4T’er and knowing that Kaiser is also one, the language he uses is revealing. Words such as “transformation.”
What I saw in it at first glance was “Stop waiting for the Grey Champion who is going to transform our nation in the current Crisis Era like Washington, Lincoln, and FDR.. It’s been 18 years already, and, alas, we got him already. 18 years ago. ”
“Kaiser adds, but does not use the word, that the Obama interlude essentially ratified said transformation because Obama was totally unable to reverse the course Dubya set us on, which we are still on today. It’s as if Rome in its Dying Republic Crisis got Pompey, then as a break, Cicero, and finally, Crassus. No Big Julie. Though it’s very like;y that the Recovery president, if the nation survives, will do something like what Li’l Augie did in Rome. Just to insure stability.”
Comments welcome; or, even an idea for a blog post.
Dusk Shine, that had crossed my mind too. I suspect you may be right .
@ Ray Wharton–
My experience of the United States is that the further west you go, the more, as you say, uprooted the people are– the white people, at least. Possibly the black people also, though they become ever more scarce as one proceeds westward. Heh. Either way, there is a sense that I have when I’m on the east coast– in any of the 13 original states, at least– that I am in a nation, whose spirit is at least partially embedded in the landscape.
I remember when I was a kid, we had one of those (God help us) motivational speakers come to our high school to tell us what’s what. He was from California, and he talked about how strange it was for him to be in “one of those towns back east with all the history.” He had visited a park in the middle of town at which there is a statue of a soldier, and a name of all the town’s war dead going back to the Revolutionary War. (For a European reading this, yes, I know that isn’t very long. For an American it’s deep history. For a Californian, it’s a mythical event that took place a few hours before the Dawn of Time.) He supposed that we would have been taken to see it a hundred times by our teachers. In fact, I don’t believe that that ever happened. School field trips were reserved for exotic locations like the Johnstown Flood Museum. It was unnecessary to make a big deal out of the war memorial; we saw it every single day. You paid no more attention to it than to the furniture in your living room, but like the furniture, it had an effect on your consciousness– and that effect, it seems to me, was an awareness of the Dead, your Dead. Sometimes JMG talks about his sense that European-Americans will not become a part of the landscape of this continent until we experience the kind of suffering that we’ve inflicted on those who lived here before us. (JMG correct me if I’m misquoting you.) When I think about that, I think about the war memorial. The extent to which European Americans are part of their landscape, to my mind, varies greatly depending on where you are.
Eventually I took my girlfriend, who was born and raised in Southern California, back home to spend Christmas with my family. She’d never been to the east. She kept saying that she felt like she was in a different country. And my family, which I had grown up seeing as perfectly run of the mill white, seemed to her profoundly, um, “ethnic.”
Also, FWIW, on the subject of music, I am a shy musician. I am sometimes, and inexplicably, capable of playing a guitar and singing reasonably well in public. At other times I quite simply am not. But, harkening back to the discussion of punk, I was certainly trained in the “learn to strum 3 chords while drunk” school of music theory. Years later, I am a bit better than that, but, well, not much better. I still do a mean cover of Billy Bragg’s To Have and To Have Not. Booze optional.
@ Shane– I’ve heard this. Pittsburgh, it seems, has changed a good deal over the last 10-20 years. An old girlfriend of mine is always on me to move back there to teach at the Wellness Center that she’s opened. When I was a kid we did not have “Wellness Centers.”
It’s worth mentioning though that I’m not from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is sort of a city-state, with a hinterland extending 50-100 miles in every direction. Within that area people speak with the accent (“Haa yinz doin’?”) and venerate the Steelers, but the revival that the city itself has seen (for better or for worse) hasn’t been distributed equally throughout. Places like Johnstown and Altoona are still in the grip of the so-called “Heroin Epidemic” (I think the term “White Death” is more accurate) and the economic devastation of the last few decades. The reports I get from friends still in the region are bleak. I was talking about this with my childhood best friend, who has has himself been off heroin since his mom overdosed 3 years ago, how whenever I get news from home it’s a death. His terse reply says everything, “Oh yeah… best friends ex girlfriends dropping like flies.”
Also I learned that they tried to open up a Peet’s Coffee in Pittsburgh and it only lasted a few months before closing. That was when I knew I could never go home again….
@ Deborah– I’ve interacted only minimally with the pagan community as such. The subculture I was talking about failing to fit in with in my post was the punk/anarchist counterculture in Pittsburgh, rather than the pagan culture. The girl I struck out so triumphantly with was dressed in combat boots, camo pants and an Oxymoron t-shirt. (Oxymoron was a punk band from Germany. Don’t listen to them, they are terrible. We didn’t know that then, though.) (Apologies to any Oxymoron fans out there.) It’s worth noting that I fit in much more easily with this crowd when I made it to the West Coast. Primitivism and nature-based or pagan spirituality is much, much more common in this community west of the Mississippi River than back east, where old-timey industrial-communist ideals and atheism are still pretty much the standard.
Still, I appreciate your post, and the vision you describe. A friend of mine (who may be reading this) is, like me, a practitioner of ceremonial magic & resident of Southern California, and has told me about his experiences with the local pagan community. It’s basically the opposite of the welcoming community you describe. Sadly, and unsurprisingly.
@ Patricia Matthews–
Kaiser’s biases are a bit glaring, but that post was a good read all the same. Having come of age in the early 2000s, it kind of blows my mind on a regular basis that no one seems to remember the Bush administration or to find it remarkable that we’ve been continuously at war for the last 17 years.
There was a moment, though, when I was reading, and I sort of flashed back to the state of mind I would have been in in the early 2000s. And then I read the words “Trump Administration” with the sort of perspective on Donald Trump I would have had back then. And for a brief moment all the rancor of the last 2 years fell away and I said to myself “Donald Trump is president of the United States,” and I laughed harder than I have in a long time. I’m still laughing as I’m typing this. “Donald Trump is president of the United States, and he beat Hillary Clinton.” LOL doesn’t quite cover it. Not even ROTFLMAO.
“experience a poor and impoverished elderhood…” Then, eliminating Social Security and Medicare are generational imperatives.
“Shane’s irritating qualities may be”. Well, I never. The audacity. 😉 LOL
@Ray Wharton–I’m very glad to hear that your community event was a roaring success. I think a community country swing May dance is a delightful idea.
Summer solstice celebrations usually involve lighting a fire, unless you are in a location where that would be dangerous. The ones I have gone to that seemed to work the best had a lot of party for all ages and a brief, limited amount of overtly symbolic or spiritual action. People are in the mood to do physical things, sweat and not be too serious. Things like horse races, homemade ice cream, powering amps off truck batteries so the local good rock band can play for a dance. Fireworks of course if you can avoid accidents or setting the woods on fire. Maybe comedy skits or a puppet show. Tug of war through a big mud pit, with the opposing sides possibly being divided based on something meaningful to the locals.
In my part of California, the seasonal and elemental division of the year is fire vs. water. I wrote a public summer solstice ritual that starts with a dialogue among the trees in the forest; followed by the human beings participating in a sun dance and chant; a Water Nymph approaches the circle and is refused admission “Rain, rain, go away,”; she returns in a little while and foments a rebellion, pulls out a Super Soaker and the ritual turns into a squirt gun fight of all against all (like bar fights in Westerns).
the question is, do they do the “Pittsburgh left”. I’d love to do that when I go to PGH.
Oh, yeah, JMG, I fully look for clueless coastal elites to keep yammering on about fundamentalists after the Six Flags for Jesus are abandoned and put up for sale by bankrupt congregations. It really is a trend to watch out for–complacency, apathy, and theological inconsistency amongst fundamentalist evangelicals coupled w/a passionate surge in Norse heathenry.
The biggest intergenerational grievance is the whole Social Security/Medicare ponzi scheme. Get rid Social Security and Medicare w/holding on younger workers paychecks, and you eliminate a major thorn in the side of younger workers making poverty wages who can’t afford to have Social Security and Medicare taken out of their paychecks. You’d just be going back to the “norm” of “how things were done” before the 1930s, and we know it’s got to happen. I’d rather sooner than later, but, then, I have no expectation of ever getting Social Security and Medicare, and really don’t want it taken out of my check.
I’d like to see Social Security and Medicare replaced w/an “Indigent Eldercare payment”–if you have an elder who can not afford to live on his/her own, then the government gives you an indigent eldercare payment to be used for the care of said indigent elder.
I wonder how much Social Security is responsible for the modern idea of grandparents as these loving people who spoil you to death. Both grandparents on my mother’s side had their grandparents living at home w/them some of the time growing up, but they never spoke fondly of them. Granny spoke of him as a “mean, old man” (he was a Confederate veteran on a Confederate pension.) Grand-daddy never spoke highly of his grandfather (the man did beat my great-great grandmother dead, so, not exactly high character.)
JMG wrote, “A lot of the problem here is that most current notions of morality focus on purity rather than wholeness — that is to say, excluding certain parts of human life as morally unacceptable, rather than finding a balanced and constructive way to integrate all of human life into a whole, including the grubby bits — and so inevitably doom themselves to failure. More on this in an upcoming post.”
I think the strategy that rabbinical/Talmudic Judaism arrived at is worth looking at. It is certainly not a perfect solution and will need to be reworked when the next new religious sensibility takes hold. I see it having two main parts.
I. Almost everything in its place (except abominations, which have no place). The earliest parts of the Bible show enormous concern for purity regulation. Some things and acts are simply forbidden. Others are allowed but must be separated. You get to have them, but not all the time or any place or together with certain other things. For six days you labor, travel and engage in commerce. On the seventh day you rest as the Creator rested, clean yourself up, spend time with your family, eat a good meal with wine and white bread, and worship with the congregation. For the observant, the Sabbath is set up to be a night and a day of physical comfort, human warmth and attention to spiritual matters in about equal measure. Also, for married couples, Friday night is supposed to be the ideal time to have sex, in part because your body is fortified by the best meal of the week and some wine, and you don’t have to worry about getting up early for work in the morning (or at least the husband doesn’t. The wife still has to look after the children. But she doesn’t do any housework or tend the store until after sundown Saturday.) Like other rule-bound cultures, Judaism has a holiday of license, Purim. Purim is the one time of the year when adults are encouraged to get drunk.
II. Formation of good habits. The writers of the Talmud said that every person has an inclination to good and an inclination to bad. The Evil Inclination as I understand it overlaps a lot with the id; the impulses to violence, selfishness and lust are part of it. Where Christianity deals with this aspect of human nature by saying that we are hopeless sinners and can only be saved by divine grace, the Talmud says outright that without the Inclination to Bad, the human race would not survive.
Most people are born with their two inclinations equally strong. How you live will affect which one gets the upper hand. You strengthen the good Inclination by doing the right thing, studying Torah so you know what the right thing is, and forming habits that keep you away from trouble and make doing the right thing more automatic.
OFF TOPIC – JMG please review and decide if this should be posted in this discussion.
Hi JMG et al
This is an off topic post, but I thought it worth sharing with this group as it appears to echo and expand on many of the ideas in ecosophia
I just listened to a podcast interview between Krista Tippet, of On Being, and Michael McCarthy, an author and journalist. The interview was called ‘Nature, Joy, and Human Becoming’ if people want to search for it. They discuss Michael’s work on how connection with nature makes us fully human.
I hope people enjoy it and maybe find some useful items, I think I will be doing some studying of Michael’s books.
@Steve T–I don’t think Southern California has one single Pagan community. It is very spread out, diverse, and numerous. There is no way that they can all gather or work together. I think people sort themselves out by geographical location, their particular practice or interest, and other things, and don’t experience solidarity.
Over the past couple of decades, this has also become true in the San Francisco Bay Area, but to a lesser degree, because the region is more compact and some of the leaders from the time when collegiality was the norm are still around. We have a few annual events that are broadly attended and can function as places to meet people, and lots of people who follow different paths but collaborate with each other.
David, I would like to recommend the work of Ronald Heifetz. In 2011 I took a workshop in leadership and it could be boiled down to this quote by Mr. Heifetz, “leadership is not about wielding power and authority. It is about mobilizing people to make progress on tough, adaptive challenges that make or break organizations, communities and societies.” There were other contributors to this workshop, but Heifetz ideas had the most resonance with me.
The other most important thing I took away from this workshop is the ability to mobilize people. According to our instructor, that was most easily accomplished when there was a problem that everyone shared, or as the instructor said, find the shared pain. Unfortunately, without this understanding of the shared problem, it is very hard to mobilize people. They basically have to feel the pain.
My own most successful experience with leadership happened before I every took this workshop, but I was successful because all those involved shared the same pain and I wasn’t trying to wield power or authority, I merely pointed out how we could all adapt our behavior to meet the challenge and relieve the pain we all felt.
I am sure I am making it sound easier then it was and we paid a price for our adaptation, but looking back after I took the workshop, I found those two lessons from that workshop invaluable. The work group I was part of during the workshop also found that applying those two lessons made our project successful even though we had a somewhat contentious person in our group.
Dusk Shine – I have no objections to calling “Smoke on the Water” folk music, as long as it’s being played for the pleasure of the musicians, not for a paying audience. It’s a ballad, after all, about a traumatic historical event (a casino fire in Montreaux). And if I can ever get through “Wish You Were Here” on solo guitar without choking on tears, maybe I’ll perform that as a “folk” tune, too.
Aron Blue (& JMG),
I was raised Unitarian, so I don’t understand the stereotype referenced here. This is like how the mom in “Cheaper By The Dozen” would tell her kids “Don’t do that, it’s Eskimo.” She wasn’t talking about actual Eskimos in the slightest. But an actual Eskimo, or even a non-Eskimo who’d just grown up among them, might have trouble understanding what she meant. (She meant “rude.”)
So, Aron Blue, what is the “Unitarian church” stereotype from your perspective? Snobbish? In what way? What you wrote kinda sounds like you think any culture which values self-control is snobbish–*is* that your definition of “snobbish”? Or what is?
Spouse and I watched the National Police Parade on Aquidneck Island on Sunday. There were a lot of pipe bands. There was a pipe band called the Highlanders, but they played “The Minstrel Boy,” “The Wearing of the Green,” and (I think) “The Rakes of Mallow”–Irish songs. Well, here I am, not at all Irish, and I recognized those songs…
There were also several pipe bands with Irish themed names–Ancient Order of Hibernians and so on. One pipe band played “A Nation Once Again”!
♫We’re Irish people who
Don’t like the UK gov’
We’re playing an anti-government song
In a National Police Parade!♫
Sorry for the impromptu filk, that just…stood out to me.
It was a nice parade. And the Thompson Middle School band played a rousing rendition of “When The Saints Go Marching In.”
“I particularly remember one vile old Scottish retiree who told me point black that the key to success in life is to “be born lucky.” Very true, grampa, but you don’t exactly have the demographic advantage anymore–maybe your luck has run out?”
I don’t understand…to me that sounds like a humble admission that he and his generation didn’t do anything to deserve their position in life, so shouldn’t particularly be congratulated etc….what’s so vile about it? What am I missing?
I’m gen X too. I have generally had bad experiences with “the greatest generation” and better experiences with Depression babies and war babies. The “greatest generation” individuals I have known have tended to be good at jollying, pandering, manipulating…lying. The Depression/war babies I have known have been good and decent if occasionally a bit lacking in self-control.
As for boomers, well, I’ve had the same experience with many boomers that I’ve had with many Southerners: I’ll be conversing in everyday manner not thinking badly of them, and then they’ll take offense, and they won’t or can’t communicate to me what offended them in terms I can understand, so ultimately I have to shrug and move on. There must be some kind of cultural clash that I don’t understand.
I suppose if I’m going to complain about every adult generation besides my own I should complain about millennials too: Many millennials I’ve talked with seem to assume that no one can ever change, and that scares me. They seem to treat every opinion as an unchangeable aspect of identity, both for themselves and for everyone else. Disagree with them? Well, they were born with that belief and can never change it, therefore you hate them. Have a belief they consider immoral? You were born with that belief, can never be persuaded otherwise, and since they think it’s evil, that makes *you* congenitally evil. It scares me the way they so frequently jump from “this person disagrees with me on ethics” to “this person is congenitally evil.” I wish the people with that attitude would change it.
Well, that wandered off topic; sorry!
By the way, I reckon that even if/when Scotland becomes independent there’s still be a sort of pan-British patriotism; somewhat like the veneer of pan-Hellenic feeling in Classical Greece, though that’s a very imperfect analogy.
I’m reminded of the fact that Peter Sagan and Zdeněk Štybar once both won national road cycling championships in the same race.
This comment is likely to be not noticed by the majority, being past the weekly cycle…. but I hope that JMG will appreciate it!
What are the odds, that within 8 days of JMG featuring the mountain dulcimer as a core feature in his narrative, that I should hear this instrument performed live in an intimate concert in the Old Courthouse of a little country town called Camperdown, in the Shire of Corangamite, South West Victoria, Australia? I had never seen the instrument before, though I have heard of it. It was a beautiful performance by Melbourne musician Lucy Wise, who performs original material on ukulele and guitar, but also harbours a love and knowledge of Appalachian folk music. She played one of Richie’s songs (something about Swing and Turn, Jubilee) and then a lovely original. Look her up on http://www.lucywise.com.au Archdruid, I am sure that you will love her work.
Hello Mr. Greer. First, let me just say that the work you do is such a breath of much needed fresh air. I am an avid reader of yours, and this is my first comment here on the forum. This post of yours is so timely for me. It’s moments like these that confirm the sentient nature of the universe. I am a young lad (25) and I find myself to be somewhat of an outlier. My short journey thus far has been quite the roller coaster. In recent years I’ve ventured further and further into the folk scene, on all fronts. Last summer I worked on a biodynamic farm, just an hour from me. You have heard of the “barefoot farmer”. I found that experience to be invaluable in many ways. I still make the trip out there as often as possible. One thing that I was exposed to while there, was the incredible diversity and allure of American folk music. And I’ve been exploring it further ever since. I recently bought a frame drum and have been looking at buying a dulcimer these past few weeks. If that doesn’t illustrate what I mean by your “timely post”, perhaps this will. – Since moving back to town from my adventure on the farm, I’ve been reading, researching, and pondering which direction to turn next. I’ve been directed by many around me to go this way or that. I’ve even tried to convince myself to move toward something that my heart protests adamantly against. In the end, I listen to that inner voice. And so, here I am at 25; feeling like I’m so far behind in life. There is a great deal of social pressure to have a lot figured out by now. (Though I know that’s unrealistic) The pressure is still present. Since high school, I’ve dreamed of pursuing the arts/crafts. Fortunately, I live quite close to a craft school: The Appalachian Center For Craft. It’s an extension of Tennessee Tech University. (which I happen to work for presently) In high school I was active in the art department and had the opportunity to attend a few field trips to this craft center. Getting my hands in the crafts further pushed me in that direction. However, I’ve been incessantly hounded and even scorned by peers and elders around me not to pursue such frivolous things that would never amount to much of a living. The phrase “starving artist” comes to mind. I am certainly aware of the challenges of making it as an artist/craftsman. My question is “In the end is it all worth it?” Alternatively I am interested in a more “sensible” career path as well: Welding. I also feel that this could shape up to be a fulfilling path. I am just so indecisive. (Which I understand is expected of someone my age) But I am also incredibly indecisive by nature. There is so much uncertainty either way and it stresses me out more than anything else in my life. I’ve still not pulled the trigger on either one. There aren’t many (if any) people in my life that I can trust their advice on this decision. I respect you, Mr. Greer, in a way that many will never receive. You may not even read this, but if you do; I humbly ask for your advice. I know in the end, it is my choice. I just need a little guidance from someone with a broad outside perspective. Thank you for your time, sir. Your work is appreciated, even by a few younger than one might expect. Champion on, my brother.
Great article. I was born in Kentucky and raised in SW Virginia, and grew up listening to Bluegrass and country. It was a constant in our family–in the background. Proud to be Scots-Irish !
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