Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Saw 2 Dylan clips on PBS last night, live from Newport 1963, “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

The appeal of Dylan’s topical songs from this era eludes me. Simple, didactic, banged unconvincingly, though with tremendous style. Smelling more of Pete Seeger’s abstractions (where have all the goddamn flowers gone, anyway?) than Woody Guthrie’s stoic, concrete narratives.

Reminded again: Guthrie’s stoicism, straight out of the Carter Family, is key. The stoicism that handles heavy emotion with calm urgency, a good quality to have in an emergency, whether spiritual or political. The danger of stoicism being its close relation to resignation, which says, this is the way it has been, and so it is fated to continue. Guthrie doesn’t go there.

The other successful approach to the topical song: The virtuoso mockery of Tom Lehrer.

Neither Guthrie nor Lehrer ever sound angry. Guthrie, stoic and resilient; Lehrer, amused and superior.

Both tones hard to master.

Angry topical songs have to have a musical rhetoric to match. “911 Is a Joke” or “Burn, Hollywood, Burn” by Public Enemy have it. “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys.

Angry folkies don’t cut it -- they lack the music to match.

(Been to a lot of folk festivals. A constant aesthetic danger, the angry guy with an acoustic guitar.)

Interestingly, will.i.am’s setting of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech conveys hope through a mix of ebullience and stoicism, some singers crooning swoonily and some talking low-key. And it works.

* * *

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?