Crossroads of the ordinary : contemporary singer/songwriters and the post-revival folk

Gruning, Thomas Robert
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This work began as a primarily ethnographic account of contemporary singer/songwriters in the United States. In the course of researching and then writing about that research, it became a much larger and broader account of the American folk' s history, its present, and its potential future. For the folk, neither the past nor the present is free from a deep sense of paradox that pervades multiple levels of what has become an increasingly active community of musicians, music fans, and folk entrepreneurs. While the history of the American folk and folk music over the last century plays a fundamental role in this account, I am more interested in presenting an analysis of the musical and social changes that have occurred in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Folk music has changed. In the process of negotiating the world, many of the folk' s past ideological precepts have metamorphosed, keeping pace with and mirroring the development of Internet communication technologies that have served to galvanize contemporary folk communities. The fictions of the folk as rural, working-class "just plain folk" have given way to a new "common-man": one whose position of privilege is marked by a decidedly middle-class nature. For today' s folk singer/songwriters, indexes of authenticity have changed since the 1960s revival. The anonymous author of folk' s past has given way to a revival of authorship and ownership in which a politics of experience plays fundamental roles in constructions of the authentic. Folk' s traditionally contested relationship with the popular has become less so as stylistic distinctions between them become increasingly ambiguous. I will explore the fundamentally paradoxical nature of contemporary folk idealism as it regards constructed histories and imagined pasts within the context of an increasingly globalized present. Additionally, I will suggest that various issues regarding gender, sexuality, and race operate both explicitly and implicitly at multiple levels in today' s folk community, reflecting a paradox of exclusion and inclusion that at once reinforces folk idealism and exposes its darker side.