Monday, March 14, 2011

Folk: The Music of a Generation's Transition

Public Televisions' fund drives most often feature a kind of muzak that is far more offensive than alluring (the faux-Irish crap of late, especially), but tonight I'm sitting here watching John Sebastian raise money based on the folk songs of the early 1960s. It's like a dream-scape.

This was a time of great transition in music when Bobby Darin and Roger McGuinn could occupy the same stage and sing the same songs to great effect. I just sat through a filmed version of lounge singer Bobby Darin crooning the moving "Simple Song of Freedom" (here) while wearing a wide-lapel tux and big bow tie. It was a song he wrote during a change of heart and it is moving, simple and at the very essence of these message tunes.

Peter Paul and Mary (I'm still in love with Mary Travers and she's dead), the Rooftop Singers, the Brothers Four, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, the Serendipity Singers, the Byrds, the New Christy Minstrels, the Mamas and the Papas, the Sandpipers, the Kingston Trio (pictured above) and dozens of others defined my early teens, They softened us all up for the hard times a-comin' with Vietnam, Civil Rights, the Women's Movement, the Environmental Movement, puberty, responsibility, adulthood. It raised our individual and collective consciousness and, I think, helped create a generation that rebelled against damn near everything previous generations held dear.

It is astonishing how so many of those "protest" lyrics could be sung today without anybody asking, "What was that about?" Sadly, it's as much about us now as it was then.

For some of us, it's still going and the music is as rich as it ever was, even though some of it is now in color. When I got married a few years ago (in my 50s), my son and his girlfriend (later his wife) sang Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter," one of five of Hardin's songs sung by Bobby Darin on Darin's album of that title. Transitions just keep coming.

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