Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Scholarship / Folk /
@ K. 2006 07 14

I want to gather a few cross-cultural points and just pin a general title to it for starters.

We’re coming out of an age which had been literary and literalist: an age which had rendered its educated awkward and petulant outside it’s own turf in art.

I was just playing East Virginia on the keyboard, guided for melody and chords by a pop music fake book. And I was noticing, and enjoying the lack of “realistic” narrative unity among the several verses. “I was born in East Virginia. / North Carolina I did go. / And there I met the fairest maiden. / Her name and age I do not know.” In fours. Four statements, 4/4 time; eight measures: off-set: beginning before the beginning and ending before the end. My book’s version rocks back and forth between D and G, with flavorings of D7, F# minor and A7. But understand: it’s folk music: there is no copyrighted “song.” There are no official lyrics. You can play it in any key you want: though D and G will make it sound authentic: very Appalachian. The lyrics as printed in the fake book are fine; but there’s nothing sacrosanct about them. I could sing “I was born in East Virginny,” and be fine. I could sing that I met a fair young lady. I could sing “Her name and age” … Who ever first sang/set that combo — born East Virginia, going to North Carolina, meeting a girl, never knowing the girl — wasn’t doing so in a world of formal authors, intellectual properties, sanctioned texts, protected arrangements. That singer may have been copying some other song lost to us in which someone was born in Canterbury and went to London.

Fine. That’s understood: far and wide, no need for me to make the point. I make it as foundation for a series of other points — that also don’t have to be made, for some, but should be made — for others. For example: a string of other verses, four line statements, follow — that do not fit with the opening statements in any modern, realistic, narrative unity:

Well, her hair was dark of color,
Cheeks they were a rosy red.
On her breast she wore white lilies,
Where I longed to lay my head.

That follows. That could be the same girl, the girl of verse 1. But does this?

Send me to some dreary hollow,
Where the sun would never shine.
If you choose to love another,
Darling, say that you’ll be mine.

That verse is a proposal for a lasting relationship, possibly even marriage. Now we’re in a complex society, with competition, rules, ceremonies. But the first verse states that “her name” he “never did know”. Now he’s propositioning or proposing to a girl whose name he doesn’t know? No: those considerations don’t enter into a folk song. Those questions come from a print-society with a realistic art tradition, one hobbled by too many people knowing of Aristotle.

It’s not just Appalachia: listen to some delta blues. The second verse may connect narratively to the first verse, but the Nth need not connect literally to the Mth or to the Oth. What all verses must connect to is the spirit of the culture: of Appalachia, or of the delta …

Modern people look at a painting and expect to see their own world: three dimensional, white, Christian, time organized into past, present. Commonly understood rules of the universe apply. If we look at tribal art, Cro-Magnon art, Chinese art … medieval art … we may be knocked off balance. In the ahem realistic picture, Adam, Jesus, and Edison can not be in the same frame; in many another art, they can. And the future can be pushing the past.

The Same

McLuhan is one of a number of scholars who’ve prodded print culture as being a bit parochial. I studied under a Jesuit priest (whose name may yet come to me) who reported that scholars had found a yet aural culture, a still epic culture, in the Twentieth Century, in Yugoslavia or somewhere. The scholars brought tape recorders, asked the epic poets to sing the epic, recorded it. At a later time, they asked the same epic poet to again sing the epic: and recorded it. There were variants; but the poet said, swore, it was the “same.”

“Exactly” the same? Yes. Exactly.

Different cultures, different kinds of culture, have very different understandings of “same” and “different.” And “exactly”.

The aural/oral culture may hear “rosy-fingered dawn” and “rosy-tipped dawn” as the “same.” Troy beating the Greeks: that would be different.
“Exactly” doesn’t mean the same thing! Exactly.

Now: notice: right in your own neighborhood, right in your own family: there are still aural members! But there will also be someone who went to law school: insists that “color” is not the same as “colour.”

I don’t trust a man who knows only one way to spell a word.

Folk Music, with scrapbook



About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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