Saturday, March 31, 2007

Steve Jobs meets Woodie Guthrie uptown

Living in an era of tech-driven excess like the twenty-aughts, it's kind of hard sometimes to imagine the hardscrabble life of poverty and resourcefulness-or-else that must have characterised the 1930's for many people. One thing that has always resonated from that era, however, is the music. Not merely the commercial hits--the Broadway and movie showtunes that are now considered historic standards, or the sophisticated jazz style of innovators like Ellington and Basie that formed the basis of the first true American art music, but the sounds that came from the gritty, hard-fought existence of the working class and the poor. Blues, folk, gospel and hillbilly, the three-chords-and-the-truth heartbeat of the Old Weird America. Without them, we'd have no R&B, no soul, no country and no rock n' roll.

With commmercial support for this music somewhat lacking--it was often the music of those who couldn't afford record players and thus bought no records--it was up to a government unusually rich in foresight to document it. Enter Smithsonian Folkways. Over the years, they've recorded everything from field hollers to Beat Generation poetry recitals--and now, for your 21st century postmodern listening pleasure, there's a 24-part podcast series produced by Folkways and CKUA to put a little Dust Bowl in your iPod.

(Also found in the process of *ahem* researching this post: another podcast, the very promising (but rather infrequently updated) Down in the Flood.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007