Understanding and Respect: The Nez Percés

One of the most discussed topics regarding the traditions and beliefs of other cultures and other people outside of western traditions is that of how one can attempt to understand and learn of them, without stepping into the realm of appropriation. This discussion, reflected in our class discussions on the differences between cultural sharing and cultural appropriation, is one that must be discussed, else there are consequences. As someone whose heritage lies in the Nez-Percés tribes of old in Idaho, I often question how much I can delve into the traditions without stepping on the toes of those who came before me. As someone raised in a white household, being brought up on French traditions, I do not know enough of the traditions of my ancestors, yet I have always been raised with the utmost respect for them. This respect is what leads me to crave knowledge in learning more regarding my heritage, yet it’s important to understand that I will never truly understand the traditions and beliefs of the Nez-Percés, as one cannot truly understand without being born and raised in the culture.

Cultural Misunderstandings

There are many types of cultural misunderstandings, two of which that I will discuss in this post being that of malicious cultural misunderstanding compared to ignorant cultural misunderstanding. In regards to the Nez-Percés, the first type of misunderstanding was what they encountered initially with white folk. One document I looked into was a recount written by a white man named Lawrence Kip, who was with the Escort from the 4th Infantry, regarding the 1855 Indian Council.1 What I focused on primarily in the recount was his descriptions of the Nez-Percés tribe before and throughout the council. In his first encounter with the Nez-Percés, he refers to it as his “first specimen” of the Nez-Percés.2 This initial vocabulary, in referring to the approaching tribe as the first “specimen” he encountered already places them below the white man. Without any experience with the tribe, he has already assumed them to be inferior beings to himself, and this will continue throughout his experience with the tribe, as it did in the minds of many other white men.

In continuing his description of the natives he encountered, the western world’s infatuation with the exotic was also portrayed. He described them in a majestic light, claiming that they assumed the grace of centaurs, being one with their steeds. They were “gaudily painted,” had “fantastic embellishments flaunted in the sunshine,” and had “fantastic figures” covering their bodies. In the end, he wrapped up his initial description as “wild and fantastic.”3 To him, they were wild savages, yet they were fascinating, fantastic, and something utterly exotic from what he’d experienced before.

The Nez-Percés were known to be one of the kindest tribes to the white men, yet while visiting one of the Nez-Percés chiefs, Kip lumped them and their enemies, the Blackfoot tribe, together as savages.4 The lack of distinction between two tribes, one seemingly more violent to the white men than the other, shows the lack of care and thought that the white folk gave the tribes, no matter how kind.

It has been greatly discussed that the musical accomplishments of native americans stray from those in western culture, although that does not in any way diminish their music. Pitches and rhythms that are not in the western music cannot be dismissed as lesser, or incorrect, but must rather be adopted, as they are all music. Kip described their musical instruments as of the “rudest kind,” their singing as “harsh,” and overall “utterly discordant.”5 Even one who was not adept in music couldn’t find a way to appreciate what he heard, and instead described it in the words that we don’t dare use to describe music. While something may be discordant, it is still appreciated in western culture, unless, it seems, it is a part of another culture altogether, in which case it is dismissed as something that is not music, and something we cannot appreciate in the same manner.

Kip’s description of his experience with the Nez-Percés tribe is not to be taken as a factual and perfect account, as he had his biases. It is important to search other references, as I shall continue to do so in later blog posts. This original conception of the Nez-Percés tribe was something that was later to bring on the Nez-Percés Campaign, where the white men went to war with the tribe. This misunderstanding and refusal to understand other cultures was what brought on violence, and is what I’m referring to as a malicious misunderstanding. While it was not explicitly malicious to begin with, the fact that the newcomers found the native american tribes to be inferior to them was the beginning of homicide. What could be considered a misunderstanding was not solved in an equal and understanding manner, therefore there was no resolution.

Nez-Percés Campaign

Another very interesting document that I found was a map of the Nez-Percés Campaign. It depicts the path taken by the newcomers in their war against the Nez-Percés, as well as drawings of fighting grounds, military movements, and notes of times and dates when specific events occurred.6 It is the prime example of the consequences that can happen from cultural misunderstanding and more specifically, the lack of respect and attempt for peace with other cultures.

Nez-Percés Traditions and Religions

The second misunderstanding I’m going to discuss occurs often in today’s world, and is something I’m experiencing currently when researching the Nez-Percés. I am aware that for all of the research I can do, I can only gain a small glimpse into the truth regarding the culture of the Nez-Percés, and I cannot hope to truly understand their culture and traditions. At the same time, in my attempts to research it I hope to gain more insight on something that is both important to me, and should be important to everyone else out there, as it is important to learn and respect other cultures.

In R. L. Packard’s “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez-Percés,” he goes into detail of first hand accounts of a very small amount of traditions of the Nez-Percés. He gets his information in a discussion with James Reubens, who is a member of the Nez-Percés tribe. Even at the beginning of the conversation, the concept of misunderstanding and lack of respect in learning as portrayed in Reubens’s statement that he was worried Packard only had the “idle curiosity of a white man,”7 rather than a true passion for learning and respecting Nez-Percés traditions. This statement is a prime example of the issue at hand, where people are ignorant of the cultures they are stepping on and appropriating, yet make no attempts to learn about them in depth. Sometimes, it is due to pure ignorance, as they do not know that there is an issue, but other times it is due to laziness, which is something else altogether that we must combat.

As Reuben continued to discuss Nez-Percés traditions and beliefs, he touched on another prominent barrier in true understanding. He said that “the way we (the Nez-Percés) get our names is a beautiful thing when told in our language, but I cannot tell it well in English.”8 The language barrier that exists is extremely inhibiting, yet unavoidable. Without knowledge of the language and time spent with the culture, one cannot hope to gain true understanding of it. At the same time, this is another reason people are unwilling to learn, and wish to simply continue living their lives in an ignorant manner.

One tradition that was extremely interesting to learn about was the tradition of how children received their names in Nez-Percés culture. I do not dare to paraphrase the process, as it is complex and deserving of a true description. Even now, I am using a paraphrasing that Packard received in his discussion with Reubens.

“When a child is ten or twelve years old, his parents send him out alone into the mountains to fast and watch for something to appear to him in a dream and give him a name. His success is regarded as an omen, and affects his future character to some extent. If he has a vision, and in the vision a name is given him, he will excel in bravery, wisdom, or skill in hunting, and the like. If not, he will probably remain a mere nobody. Not to every child [boy or girl] is it given to receive this afflatus. Only those serious-minded ones, who keep their thoughts steadfastly on the object of their mission, will succeed. The boy who is frivolous, who allows his attention to be distracted by common objects on his way to the place of vigil, or who while there succumbs to homesickness, or gives himself up to the thoughts about hunting in the woods he has passed, or fishing in the streams he has crossed, will probably fail in his undertaking. On reaching the mountaintop, the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument, and sits down by it to await the revelation. After some time – it may be three or four days – he “falls asleep,” and then, if fortunate, is visited by the image of the thing which is to bestow upon him his name and the wisdom and power belonging to it.”9

Why does this matter to me?

One thing in particular rang with me in reading this description, and that was the line “the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument”10 atop the mountains. Towards the end of the section, Packard mentions that “there are many of these little monuments referred to on the mountains of Idaho.” Growing up, I often came across these monuments, as did others, but people simply believed they were put there by others hikers, and added their own stones to the piles. I did the same. Never once did it occur to me that the piles of stones were monuments to something more important, something that I should have been respecting throughout my entire childhood.

Why does this matter to anyone?

In learning about one simple tradition, I gained a deeper understanding and respect for the culture, and it is something that I will spread to all those who I am with when I run into these monuments. I believe that it is important to take the time to learn about other cultures, and it is important to learn to respect them. Objects such as the first hand accounts regarding some old white man’s first experience with the Nez-Percés tribe, albeit biased, is something that we must study in order to understand past mistakes, and in order to never make them again. Maps of conquests, while violent, are something that we must view in order to understand the occurrences and events that formed the present. First hand accounts are something that we must listen to, and something that we must always respect, especially when they are difficult to share. While we cannot truly understand, we must make an effort in order to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors and ancestors. Through research, discussion, and open-mindedness to learn, we must work to understand and respect everyone.

1 Lawrence, Kip, “Introduction,” in The Indian Council in the Valley of the Walla-Walla. (1855), (henceforth Kip).

2 Kip, 12. 

3 ibid.

4 Kip, 14.

5 Kip, 16-17.

6 Oliver Otis Howard and Rob H. Fletcher, “Map of the Nez Perce Indian Campaign.” (1878)

7 R. L. Packard, “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces,” in The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15. (1891), 327 (henceforth Packard).

8 Packard, 329.

9 Packard, 329-330.

10 Packard, 330.

Howard, Oliver Otis (1830-1909); Rob H. Fletcher. 1878. Map of the Nez Perce Indian campaign. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Map_6F_G4241_S55_1878_F5 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Kip, Lawrence. 1855. The Indian Council in the valley of the Walla-Walla. 1855. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_2342 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Packard, R. L. “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces.” The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15 (1891): 327-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/533388?origin=crossref.

 

 

 

The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media

In the modern day of 2017, so much of our lives are spent online. We as people have the universe at our fingertips – with so much information out there, what all can be considered trustworthy? An issue with the concept of Mass Media is that anything and everything can be found somewhere online. Anyone who is able to access the internet is able to contribute their information and knowledge. Like moths to a flame, we are instantly bound to the first bit of information we see and accept it as fact. This leads to many issues spanning across many topics. In the past few years, the concept of “Cultural Appropriation” has exploded across everywhere and everything. To be correct when describing, defining, or demonstration any form of culture is so incredibly vital that issues arise when someone does this incorrectly. With it being so easy to misappropriate a culture in Media, what are we able to trust and how does the mass media change our perception of different cultures through their ideas of appropriation?

Native American culture is found in the roots of this country’s foundation. Often, when considering American history we forget that America was populated BEFORE 18th century colonization. The culture of Native Americans is one that has been appropriated for hundreds of years, through music, art, dance, etc. Because of this, our concept of this culture has been warped by pop culture and media as demonstrated in this cartoon…

This cartoon presents the problem of misappropriation. This boy only identifies “Indians” as the overly stereotypical form displayed in movies, sports teams, or cartoons. To him, this girl who looks “normal” doesn’t fit that stereotype and thus he questions her cultural authenticity.

Another example of this kind of appropriation occurs in cartoons. One example in particular is in Seth Macfarlane’s TV cartoon comedy “Family Guy”. In the episode The Life of Brian the episode begins with Stewie and Brian running from a band of Indians in a modern day city. They explore and make racist remarks about their ways of transportation, medicine, clothing, and music.

These two clips, both from the same episode, demonstrate the racist humor that Macfarlane is demonstrating. Examples like having the doctor at the hospital stand in a bunch of poses to try to cure disease, using smoke signals instead of phones, and having their most popular song be mono-tonal unison chanting are prime examples of Native American Appropriation. This kind of appropriation Macfarlane uses can even be found in other forms of music, such as Dvorak Symphony No 9 movement 2, largo. In this movement he references Native American tribal melodies. Of course, what he notates is only a small, itemized fraction of what the actual melody would have been and what it was to represent. Was Dvorak trying specifically to be incorrect, probably not, but still – some find this use of melody an unfair representation of the true culture. 

In 2017, being able to rid our minds of ignorance and to be able to fully understand and be aware of the sensitivities of other cultures is imperative. The massed media and pop culture has shaped our minds around what being a Native American or an “Indian” means. These stereotypes are preventing us as a nation from knowing the rich and long history of Native Americans and their culture. As Russell Means says in this video: “A nation that does not know its history, has no future”

Sources

Kanke, Marie. “The Harm of Native Stereotyping.” Blue Corn Comics — The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. August 08, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2017. http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stharm.htm.

TheUlleberg. “Family guy – Native American/Indian Radio.” YouTube. March 07, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=octtLcjJshw.

Jinpaul11. “Family Guy – Native Americans.” YouTube. May 07, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGcW3kjcFSU.

Diesillamusicae. “Dvořák: Symphony №9, “From The New World” – II – Largo.” YouTube. September 02, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASlch7R1Zvo.

Framesinmotion2007. “How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans.” YouTube. October 31, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q.

The two sides of Walt Whitman

Xanthus Russell Smith's portrait of American writer Walt Whitman

Fig. 1: Xanthus Russell Smith’s portrait of American writer Walt Whitman

Xanthus Russell Smith painted the posthumous portrait of American writer Walt Whitman in 1897, several years after Whitman’s death.1 The oil study on canvas appears to be based off of a portrait photo which was taken by photographer George C. Cox in 1887. Whitman had loved this photo so much that he titled it “The Laughing Philosopher” and sold the other portraits from the session to supplement his income.2

Whitman lived from 1819 to 1892, spending the majority of his life on the east coast, dying in Camden, New Jersey, He was an American poet, essayist and journalist and as a humanist, his works are regarded as being transitory between transcendentalism and realism with elements of each idea present. He was concerned with politics and abolitionism (although this is not necessarily based on his belief in racial equality) and was wishy washy with his endorsement of abolitionism. There has also been debate over what Whitman’s sexuality was, although this began much later after his death and there is still disagreement among biographers as to whether or not Whitman had even had sexual experiences with men (although having or lacking experience should not be the validating factor as to whether a person truly identifies a certain way).

George C. Cox's photograph portrait of Walt Whitman

Fig. 3: George C. Cox’s photograph portrait of Walt Whitman

It is unknown as to whether or not Xanthus Russell Smith was acquainted with Whitman or was instead an admirer of his work. Smith was known for using small brushstrokes and sharp detail. The portrait can be interpreted by many different lenses, including artistic, historical and modern perspectives.

The portrait is composed fairly symmetrically, with Whitman’s shoulders facing at an angle away from the painter and his face squared to the front. The colors of the portrait are muted and neutral, lacking color except for around the eyes, which could be interpreted as a nod towards Whitman’s interpretation of the world, beliefs and persuasions (i.e. gray).

The focal point of the portrait is definitely the eyes. The viewer is drawn to them immediately, then down Whitman’s nose to his shock-white mustache and beard. The eyes are the most lifelike piece of the portrait and along with the rest of the face are almost completely centered in the portrait. However, this positioning is not so much a surprise as it is a given that the focal point of a portrait should be the subject’s face.

The painting is divided down the center of the frame, with one side of the background lighter than the other, and on Whitman’s face, the light patterns seem to be reversed, suggesting that there were two different light sources used in the photograph Smith used or in his interpretation of it. The use of light might be a nod to Whitman’s ideas and philosophy, which went between transcendentalism and realism or to the two sides of his sexuality and the way the public perceived him. The latter interpretation would however be carried into that of the modernist lens as few writers speculated on his sexuality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Today, Whitman’s poetry has been set to music by many composers, including the music of John Adams, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Kurt Weill, Roger Sessions and Ned Rorem.

You can view Xanthus Russell Smith’s portrait of Walt Whitman in the Flaten Art Museum reserve collection housed in St. Olaf College’s Dittman Center.

Bibliography

1. Smith, Xanthus Russell. Walt Whitman. 1897. Oil on canvas. 17.5 in x 13.5 in. Dittman Center : Second (2) Floor : Storage Vault : 19A : Flaten Art Museum.

2. Whitman, Walt. Lafayette in Brooklyn. New York: George D. Smith, 1905.

3. Cox, George C. Walt Whitman. 1887. Photograph.

Joan Baez and the Rise of the Folk Protest

Joan Baez with her guitar

Joan Baez with her guitar

The 1960s were a decade of political development and social unrest. American folk music became a method of conveying political ideas and protest, and the singer-songwriter fell into the important role as the purveyor and curator of civil disobedience. This style of folk music was adopted by college students who saw it as a meaningful vehicle for bringing about positive, humane change to the world. “Like Zen Buddhism and organic foods, folk music swept the colleges as a hip fad. Indeed, since the 1930s folk music had a close connection to the radical left in America (especially communists and socialists), and had increasingly been taken seriously by folklore scholars as a guide to past social mores.”

The prevalence of protest folk did not exist without criticism. Folk purists believed that protest songs were “pretentious, portentous and ponderous” and that folk-protest writers were “political hacks who wouldn’t recognize either folk music or folk style if it were walking along beside them in a peace march.”

Joan Baez was a folk singer-songwriter who made a name for herself in the 1960s (and then on) performing folk ballads. As the social and political climate heated up in the United States and around the world, Baez became a civil rights and universal nonviolence activist. “As the child of a decade of agitation, her attitudes and life-style evolved so smoothly that she seemed not to have changed at all. Joan blended into the protest tradition, into pacifism, into activism, into a publicized marriage and motherhood, into a vicarious martyrdom, . . . and finally into a national symbol for nonviolence.”1 She had a very appealing voice, which served her well in attracting audiences to her music.

Joan Baez wrote many songs of political and social protest, utilizing her distinct voice that became associated with the folk singer-songwriter genre. Saigon Bride is one of the songs she wrote, which appears on her 1967 album Joan. The following are the lyrics to Saigon Bride:

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

How many dead men will it take
To build a dike that will not break?
How many children must we kill
Before we make the waves stand still?

Though miracles come high today
We have the wherewithal to pay
It takes them off the streets you know
To places they would never go alone
It gives them useful trades
The lucky boys are even paid

Men die to build their Pharoah’s tombs
And still and still the teeming wombs
How many men to conquer Mars
How many dead to reach the stars?

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

Starting out on a local scale in California, Baez ended up playing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960 and then signing onto Vanguard Records for the next 12 years. Baez played many shows internationally and during the Vietnam War, she began playing internationally, including a show in Tokyo, Japan in January 1967. At this show, the translator later admitted that he left out all of Baez’s political comments after being instructed to do so by a man who identified himself as a CIA agent.

Instead of interpreting her subtle antiwar sentiments in Saigon Bride, the interpreter told the audience that it was a song about the Vietnam War. It is interesting to see how time and again, governments have feared the strength of a song or piece of art. Instead of listening to something and learning about its meaning and background, we are told to move past that and consume something topically or refrain from interpreting and consuming it altogether.

Joan Baez is one of the first recognized folk protest singer-songwriters and someone who has really affected the style of political song today. With singer-songwriters pioneering the political song, it has moved through rock, country, to rap and hip hop. Political protest today takes its form in many ways and the efficacy of that art is dependent on the audience it reaches out to.

1. Rodnitzky, Jerome L. Minstrels of the dawn : the folk-protest singer as a cultural hero. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976. x-87. Print.

2. Baez, Joan. Saigon Bride. Joan, CD, 1967.

El Salon Mexico: Copland’s Correspondence with Carlos Chavez

copland and chavez

El Salon Mexico was a highly labored over composition Copland was particularly enthusiastic about writing. Spending over two years on its composition, Copland was in correspondence with Mexican composer Carlos Chavez years before its actual premiere in the Fall of 1937. The correspondence between Copland and Chavez reveals Copland’s strong interest in the pieces reception critically both in terms of popularity but also particularly centered on the acceptance of it as Mexican music.

Copland’s enthusiasm for the piece can be seen in his letter two years before its premiere in a letter from August 28th, 1935:

“Just now I am finishing up the orchestration of El Salon Mexico which I wrote you about last summer. What it would sound like in Mexico I can’t imagine, but everyone here for whom I have played it seems to think it is very gay and amusing!”

This quote reveals both the excitement Copland felt and also his concern over the piece’s reception in Mexico. This concern is more strongly articulated in other letters he wrote to Chavez during the piece’s composition. In October 1934 he wrote that:

“I am terribly afraid of what you will say of he Salon Mexico – perhaps it is not Mexican at all and I would look so foolish. But in America del Norte it may sound Mexican!”

copland letter oct 15 1934

Anxious to hear about the reception of the piece, Copland asked explicitly for Chavez to pass on that information to him in 1937 after he sent the piece to be performed. He writes:

“I hope the Festival will be a big success. Also, that you’ll enjoy working on the Salon Mexico. Be sure to have Armando send me all the reviews – even those of Senor Pollares!”

copland letter may 18 1937

The correspondence between Copland and Chavez provides a fascinating insight into the concerns and enthusiasm that Copland had over the piece and shows that Copland himself was very consciously thinking about the issues of race and musical representation during the composition of his piece. Some interesting questions to ask would be whether or not Copland ought to be writing pieces which he worries are “authentic” only to an audience they do not belong to. Is it reinforcing racial stereotypes if the culture wildly raving the piece as “Mexican” is America? Is Copland advocating the writing of stereotyped pieces? Or is he trying to authentically capture and represent what might constitute as “Mexican music?” Would doing so be a respectful celebration or appropriation of Mexican music? Is Copland’s correspondence with Chavez reveal a genuine desire to please Mexican audiences or to market to American audiences? These are all questions without answers, because that’s what this class is about.

Works Cited:

Kostelanetz, Richard. Aaron Copland: A Reader. Great Britain: Routledge, 2004. Print.

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.copland.phot0005/default.html

 

Virgil Thomson: Master Chef

Today, I will remain in the vein of composers and their culinary expeditions, as established by fellow author Phil Biedenbender (Here’s his post on Mahalia Jackson and her fried chicken excursion).

A pioneer of the “American” sound in classical music and winner of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize in music, Virgil Thomson had some serious musical chops. But did you know he also cooked gourmet lamb chops?

Virgil Thomson sharpening his knives in preparation for cooking

Virgil Thomson sharpening his knives in preparation

[1]

 We know Virgil Thomson mainly through his acerbic wit revealed in his writings and musical critiques. Thomson wrote many letters to his friends and acquaintances, some criticizing music, some about special occasions, and even some advice about various topics. His prose is known for being blunt and often funny even if he was being offensive. Thomson’s curiosity was insatiable, composing for almost every genre of music and absorbing all that was new around him.

Thomson also had a passion for fine wine and dining that could only be matched by his passion for music. He once stated, “If I was going to starve, I might as well starve where the food is good.” Thomson’s dinner parties were legendary. Few people were invited since space was limited in his residence at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City, home to other greats such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. But those that were fortunate enough to attend were treated to an amazing meal and enlightening conversation. He may have been one of the most well-connected men in New York during his time, as people worldwide wanted to stay in contact with him.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 22.06.25

Correspondence from Virgil to fellow composer, Charles Shere

[2]

 As enigmatic and detached he may seem in writing and his compositions, Thomson’s love of food makes him at once more personable as well as knowledgable. People would have not gone to his parties if he was a discourteous host or did not have engaging discussions. He showed a human side of himself that people may have never thought existed through the various meals that he hosted. Even as he was getting into his 80s and 90s, Thomson never lost his vigor and remained as sarcastic as ever until his death.

 Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 22.06.38

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 22.06.59
[3]

I wish I could have had the pleasure of being served his pot roasted guinea pig.


1. Hodgson, Moira. 1980. “Virgil Thomson Orchestrates a Meal And Reminisces.” New York Times (1923-Current file), Oct 29. http://search.proquest.com/docview/121418217?accountid=351 (Accessed March 22).
2. Shere, Charles, and Margery Tade. Everbest Ever: Correspondence with Bay Area Friends (Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf Press, 1996), 30.
3. Ibid., 45-46.

What the folk is going on with the youths of America?

An article written about the Mariposa music festival featured in Rock Magazine. 1972, Vol. 3, Issue 10

An article written about the Mariposa music festival featured in Rock Magazine. 1972, Vol. 3, Issue 10

The folk music revival was carried by and largely served the young men and women who were raised to volunteer, organize civil rights protests  and activist groups and work with political powers (at least at the start) to effect the change they envisioned for the world. These college-age individuals rejected commercial mass culture while they favored borrowing and adapting older music from previous generations to serve their own purposes.

During the 1970s, there was a boom in music festivals. Occurring over the span of 3-12 days, festivals became the best place to discover new artists, interact with new like-minded people and share new ideas about politics and the world. (They were also associated with drug use, but that’s not the focus of this article.) Festivals were generally grassroots efforts, organized by local communities, regionally or nationally and could have an educational focus. “The Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Canada is one of the biggest in North America. [In the summer of 1972] it broke even and its organizers were happy.”1

Many different artists came to the festival to perform the music that was shaping the mentality and ethos of the college-attending generation in 1972. Old folk tunes were repurposed, given new life with new words about the ideas and emotions of the heartbroken and those downtrodden by society.2

“In 1965, a young folk singer named Joni Anderson hitchhiked to Mariposa from Calgary and in 1970 she drew 12,000 to a night concert because she was the famous Joni Mitchell[James] Taylor was asked to Mariposa because ‘he has a lot of roots in folk’ not because he would draw people. Taylor came because he wanted to, not for the money, which amounted to $75. That is the most any performer is paid, along with his traveling and accommodation expenses. Why? Because Mariposa is an annual gathering of balladeers, not a rock festival.”

Today, we still see (or hear of) people borrowing from other musical ideas and traditions. What they borrow leads to commercial success––in the case of Amy Winehouse and Iggy Azalea. Artists borrow ideas for several reasons: they identify with some aspect of the idea or culture, to make money, necessity demands that they adapt their music to today’s pop standards by updating the sounds or affect they use, or, to make a statement. We are in a never ending cycle of cultural repetition. Everything we produce and consume will reoccur in another form some time (shortly or long after) the “original” was produced. However, the questions have not changed from the 1970s when the folk music revival was in full swing, nor from when bluegrass was in its developmental stage as a musical genre. What is the intent behind artist’s borrowing ideas from others and how many alterations must the new work undergo before it is something original? Is there a way to respectfully reproduce or change something when you yourself have not been around to experience the genesis of that idea or have little to no connection with that cultural movement, people, or idea? And what is the significance of festivals? What role do they play with the appropriation, adaptation and spread of ideas and are they important cultural hub or a temporary collection of society’s social outcasts and wannabe reshapers?

The Mariposa music festival still is around today. This year, the festival’s dates are July 3-5, 2015.

 

1. Musgrave, Corinne. “Mariposa: The Festival That Never Fails.” Rock, 1972 3, no. 10 (1972): 20-21.

2. Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) was an American singer-songwriter whose folk music gave voice to people’s struggles and considered his songs as his weapon in the fight against injustice and hardship among many other things.

Woody Guthrie experienced enough tragedy and hard times to inspire thousands of songs. Alongside his passion to voice his own trials, Woody became a voice for more than just himself.

woody_guthrie

Wilson, Charles Banks. [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.oksenate.gov/senate_artwork/images/artwork/woody_guthrie.jpg

He crisscrossed across America and made ends meet playing guitar and singing in saloons and work camps during the Great Depression. As he would follow his insatiable wanderlust, Guthrie would absorb certain ballads and styles of the folk style he heard on the road and would write song after song that reflected the struggles and good times of the ordinary people he would meet. Listeners responded immediately to Guthrie’s heartfelt, down-to-earth style.

In the mid-1930s, The Great Depression had already swept across the nation, and a drought had hit the plains of the United States. The prairie grasses had been over-plowed and the dust that collected would sometimes blot out the sun. From his experiences in the “Dust Bowl”,  Woody had realized the power that music had to capture the core of individuals and the events and places he understood.

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eli.com [Photograph] Retrieved from http://eil.com/images/main/Woody-Guthrie-Dust-Bowl-Ballads-495806.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In thinking back about this time, he wrote, ‘there on the Texas plains right in the dead center of the dust bowl, with the oil boom over and the wheat blowed out and the hard-working people just stumbling about, bothered with mortgages, debts, bills, sickness, worries of every blowing kind, I seen there was plenty to make up songs about.’” 1

Behind the simple song, a rich and complex personality that Guthrie instilled, still exudes. One of his first songs to reflect what he saw happening around him became one of his most famous songs. “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You”

Jackson, Mark. “Rambling Round: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie — Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950 | Collections | Library of Congress.” Rambling Round: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie — Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950. Library of Congress. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://www.loc.gov/collections/woody-guthrie-correspondence-from-1940-to-1950/articles-and-essays/rambling-round-the-life-and-times-of-woody-guthrie/>.