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...maybe this is the best version of the Samson and Delilah song. Except maybe that it's too short
01/26/2013 at 10:35 AM in Music | Permalink
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The Blasters' rendition is competent and satisfying, but the Rev. Gary Davis's is spellbinding.
I wonder, given America's cultural and political history, if there isn't a reprise of the "romantic hero" phenomenon going on with respect to establishment enthusiasm for poor black (and especially blind) artists. We are all still children, aesthetically, of the Romantic movement. We want our artists and poets and musicians to be cut off from the mundane cares of everyday life, to be devoting themselves exclusively to art and beauty and truth, even if they starve (or never get an HBO special). It's hard for me, white and middle-class and comfortable, sitting here smack-dab in one of America's most famously affluent suburbs (Plano, TX -- although in the LEAST affluent part, I hasten to add) not to think that the Reverend Gary is in touch with elemental issues of life that I might have managed to insulate myself against. Life and Death themselves. The elemental importance of physical strength as a factor in human destiny. The ever-present threat of female treachery -- or (in a nod to political correctness) the ever-present threat of male tyranny.
What I'm getting at is that, when the Rev. Gary sings and plays, what he's doing seems to be more important to him -- and, by implication, to us -- than what most musicians sing and play seems to be to them.
I fear (suspect, hope?) that that's because I am unconsciously thinking that the Rev. Gary's music IS in fact more important to him than other (more commercial) musicians' music is to them. It largely comes down to that look on his face, when he's done -- that he's said something important. How many musicians have that look on their faces at the end of a song? Even if the Rev. Gary and some 30-something music-school grad sing the same song about loss and pain and sadness, who are we more likely to believe, and be moved by?
Jeff Woodward |
01/27/2013 at 07:34 PM
I think you've given a pretty good analysis of what middle-class fans of folk music fans going at least back to the '50s have meant by "authentic." And in relation to the Reverend (possibly a self-bestowed title) thinking that he's said something important: almost certainly, he really believed in what he was singing about. There's a collection of his stuff called The Sun of Our Life that includes a 20-minute sermon. The story of Samson and Delilah wasn't just a folk tale for him, but (most likely) a historical incident of real spiritual significance.
01/27/2013 at 09:22 PM
Also, what you say reminds me of something Dylan said in an interview once, when he was asked about the significance of the folk songs he started out with (and seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of): he named a title--something about death, maybe "See That My Grave is Kept Clean"--and said it was not sissy stuff. But he put it a bit more crudely than that.
01/27/2013 at 09:25 PM
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