Monday, February 29, 2016

something I think you'll understand

When you read about the music scene (or scenes) of the 1960s, it can be like reading about politics, in that it becomes mixed-up and confusing, very fast.  Who?  What?  This person, or group, is -- folk?  Rock?  Folk-rock?  Democrat?  Republican?  Right, left, liberal, conservative.  ("Well -- VERY VERY conservative...except on stuff that -- like -- affects myself..." only kidding)

As you're reading, or listening, you start to go, "What??!"

--------------------------- [excerpt, Dylan Goes Electric!] --------------- "There must be a lot of staunch folk fans who like Dylan but who don't like the Beatles,"

Harrison admitted, adding that the fact that Dylan liked them "knocks us out."  Compared to

Dylan -- or to Baez, Seeger, or any serious, adult musician -- a lot of people dismissed the Beatles as commercial kid stuff.  When they began attracting positive notice from intellectuals, that was a major shift not only for the band but for the future of rock and pop, and for folk fans it was a shift that spelled danger.  Robert Shelton sounded the tocsin in the November issue of Hootenanny magazine

(an aspirationally mass-market periodical unrelated to the TV show).  He granted there was "something of merit in the music of The Beatles

. . . a certain funky, bluesy quality," but reminded readers of recent history:  "The Kingston Trio

came along at a time when the sort of music that the Beatles have now revived had absolutely glutted the market.  The meaningless gyrations of the first rock 'n' roll craze had taken the genuine country blues sense

Elvis Presley brought out of Memphis and distorted it beyond recognition." 

Yes, the Beatles were decent musicians, and yes, the Kingston Trio played slick pop-folk, but compare "the two worlds represented by 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'Tom Dooley' . . . the difference between a time-steeped ballad of an actual episode and a souped-up, over-engineered love song." 

Whatever their faults, the Trio had the fortitude to join the Hootenanny boycott; their latest album, Time to Think, displayed their growing social consciousness....

Of course they were not in a class with Dylan, Baez, and Seeger, but the folk boom they had initiated was an important musical and cultural development, and, Shelton concluded, "If The Beatles end it, we'll all be the losers."

One could argue that Shelton was stuck in an archaic mindset and by November 1964 it was silly to contrast

folk as adult, intelligent, and socially conscious with

rock as dumb adolescent music for dating and dancing. 

He was right that the Beatles and their followers were a threat to the pop-folk trend...the rocking Dave Clark Five were clearly more exciting than the folky Brothers Four, and the record charts confirmed that audiences were deserting one and flocking to the other....

Rootsy, blues-oriented groups like the Stones

and Animals were a threat to some folksingers but an inspiration for others. 

As Dylan told an interviewer in 1965, "Folk music is still here, if you want to dig it.  It's not that it's going in or out.  It's all the soft mellow shit, man, that's just being replaced by something that people know there is now."

Shelton was right that the pop-folk trend had led some listeners to deeper, more serious styles and encouraged millions of young people to make their own music and go beyond the commercial products of the hit parade.  Dylan himself was an example, someone who had traveled via Harry Belafonte and Odetta to Pete Seeger, Jack Elliott,

Woody Guthrie, and Robert Johnson, and found his own new voice in the process....

...The British invaders were leading young listeners to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and in some cases on to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf -- in May 1965 the Rolling Stones said they would only go on the popular teen music show Shindig if Wolf

was also presented, providing the Chicago legend with the largest audience of his career.

The idea that the English rockers were steering white Americans to authentic African American traditions would become a commonplace of rock history, but very few people were making that case in 1964 or 1965,

and certainly not at Newport, where Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker were familiar faces.  The common equation was still that folk music was mature and handmade, while rock was adolescent and plastic.  Marianne Faithfull...

recalled that among British Bohemians, as among their US counterparts, rock was for squares and herd followers.  "Jazz was hip and blues were hip...."


{Dylan Goes Electric!  Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties.  By Elijah Wald.  2015.  HarperCollins.}