Friday, August 19, 2005

"In the Grand Canyon, at sundown"

Uma writes about listening to the legendary Dust Bowl Ballads (thereby proving there is something called synchronicity - I am reading Steinbeck and she quotes from Tom Joad.)

While Woody's music has now largely been relegated to the Smithsonian/Folkways-folk music listening crowd, rock music owes a lot to Woody (right up to late 90s' protest-rock like Rage Against the Machine).

Protest music really came into being via Woody. Political (and social consciousness) in rock music exists because of Woody. (And how sad that *they* subverted and distorted "This Land is Your Land" and turned it into a patriotic song? It is anything but, read the lyrics)

Bob Dylan's admiration for Woody is itself a part of rock mythology: the young protege who surpassed the guru and scaled dizzying heights. As Woody lay dying, Dylan wrote a beautiful, stream-of-consciousness poem-song called "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie". (the song appears only on "Bootleg Series" album.) If Rock had once prided itself on the lack of tradition and lineage, this was Dylan's acknowledgement of Guthrie's genius. Everyone stands on the shoulders of giants, and Woody is one giant on whose shoulders stood many of the beloved 60s rock icons, albeit unknowingly.

And who can forget Woody's famous sticker on his beat-up acoustic guitar: "THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS". The idea that an itty-bitty acoustic guitar carried such a bombastic slogan is so awesomely punk.

Sidenote: Protest music is largely a western concept. Indian music (or at least, popular Indian music) really contains nothing that resembles "protest". I wonder why? (Other than the fact that popular Indian music has rarely stepped out of the filmscreen.) But is there protest in our folk music?


uma said...

what a great post, krishna. especially the craziness of turning the "this land is your land" song into what it never was; and dylan's sad, moving poem-song (right word, that).

i'm off to goa tomorrow. am taking many cds with me. need to sleep and listen and to music some.

neha said...


India doesn't have a linear tradition in music. Where unfortunately the video has killed the folk star, folk protest music traditions have all but disappeared to weak and diluted balle-balles.

Take Punjab for instance. The Jugni, or many other traditions of folk music were often pitted against Zamindars, or against social systems. Sufi music often had subversive lyrics.

Even someone like Amir Khusrau wrote some sense of politically sensitive lyrics. When I was travelling through rural Andhra and Tamizh Nadu, I often was treated to folk music with interesting lyrics. Some ancient in their anger, and some more modern. Unfortunately anger again has been repackaged as street theatre and sold short to audiences in the India Habitat Centre.

What was it that was a major song when I was in DU - Sau mein sattar aadmi, filhaal jab nashaad hain, dil pe rakhkar haath kahiye.. desh kya azaad hai..


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ummm ... I left a comment about Arlo etc. Now that I've read the rest of your posts and come back to comment some more, my comment's deleted.

Did I somehow give offence?


uma said...

JAP, i saw your comment under the Ullas Karanth post.

km said...

Neha, when you say India has no "linear tradition in music", I suppose you mean music has forked (to borrow from open-source terminology.) But the linearity in (western) blues/pop/rock is also largely an intellectual concept. We go from hymns to worksongs to country to folk to ragtime to jazz and blues to rock to R&B (phew, let me stop), but this development is hardly clean and straight. I do recollect a chat with you about Jugni and I am very curious about this form of music. Any recos?

JAP, Springsteen's irony is missed by most people. There were some who even thought "Dancing in the Dark" was about the pleasures of power outages :)


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