Sunday, August 2, 2009

Time For Some More Protest Folk Songs?

If you feel like listening to some protest folk songs that you're not likely to hear over the corporate media monopolies' radio airwaves, you might want to check out an anti-war protest folk site.


markin said...

It is always time for protest songs. Renegade Eye recently posted "Bella Ciao" on his site in support of the struggle in Iran. I have posted "Bandiera Rossa" for the same struggle recently and every year the "Internationale" for May Day and the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. For things like Dylan's "Masters Of War" or "God On Our Side" and other 1960s songs I listen in WUMB in Boston.

The problem is that the contemporary folk scene, reflected in the tracks played on the folk stations, is very light on singing on social and political questions and very heavy on reflectin on the trials and tribulations of interpersonal relationships and the like. Leftist politcal protest songs like protesters, on many days, seem like relics from an ancient civilization. Yet, the struggle must continue, right?

b.f. said...

The problem, like you indicate, does seem to be that the generally economically secure middle-class folks who determine what gets most of the airplay on the WUMB-like stations seem to mainly push the middle-class acoustic music singer-songwriter stuff that don't reflect the historic left folk protest political Guthrie-Ochs tradition in folk music. Yet 21st-century protest folk music is still being sung by people like David Rovics and Evan Greer, etc. which rarely gets aired by the middle-class folk-controlled, often corporate or foundation-subsidized radio stations that play acoustic/singer-songwriter personalistic music.

Ironically, as the following indicates, Woody Guthrie definition of authentic folk music was apparently somewhat different from what many people in the contemporary middle-class folk scene seem to be promoting as "folk music."

In a July 15, 1946 letter, for example, Woody Guthrie wrote the following:

"I think that I have proved that a folk singer, to sing best what the people have thought and are thinking, is forced to turn his back on the bids of Broadway and Hollywood to buy him and his talents out. I feel like my work in this field will someday be seen as the most radical, the most militant, and the most topical of them all…

"Every folk song that I know tells how to fix some things in this world to make it better, tells what is wrong with it, and what we've got to do to fix it better. If the song does not do this, then, it is no more of a folk song than I am a movie scout…

"When you ask yourself which of the so-called folk singers live up to the real name, you can cross lots of their names entirely off of your list…Ask yourself, does the singer, (artist or poet), take part in the fight to win a better world for the worker? There is only one big fight with a million and one legs to it, the fight of the worker to win his fair share from his owner (boss, etc.). The more the owners allow a singer to be heard around, the less he can sing the tale of the worker's fight. Before your voice can be heard or your face fotographed, you must actually turn into a weapon of the owner against the workers. I know from a hundred cases of my own experience that any work of protest, fight, militance or plan for the worker, was blue penciled, and censored a dozen times. Any word that was too true, too strong, or too loud in criticizing the world owned by the big boss was scratched out by several hands under a thousand reasons."

Coincidentally, among the pages contained in Woody Guthrie's declassified post-1950s FBI file (100-29988) is an April 10, 1951 memorandum from the FBI's New York City office to the FBI Director on the subject "Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, Security Matter," which states that "It is recommended that a Security Index Card be prepared on the above captioned individual." This April 1951 document also categorizes Woody as "Communist," indicates that "49 Murdock Court, Brooklyn, NY" is now Woody's residence address and lists Woody's "business address" as "Free Lance Folk Singer."

For more information about Woody Guthrie's historical contribution to U.S. musical history, you can check out the official Woody Guthrie site at