News & Politics

Bob Shelton: Lay Off Folk Music!


Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.

March 2, 1960, Vol. V, No. 19

Listen, Mr. Reisner!

By Bob Shelton

Bob Reisner’s attack on folk music in last week’s Village Voice was really quite outstanding. Outstanding, that is, as an exercise in Philistinism, illogic, snobbishness, and misinformation.

There is no more menace of folk music’s “driving classical and jazz albums out of homes” than there is a menace that do-it-yourself carpentry will put an end to Chippendale or Swedish modern. For a host of wholesome reasons, people are re-discovering and communicating pleasure in making music for themselves. Among those reasons are the need for self-expression, the search for roots, a reaction against Tin Pan Alley’s contrivances and banality, and plain old creative musical impulses. The folk-music revival is partially counteracting the stultifying effects of mass-produced entertainment.

Folk music will not cure dandruff, schizophrenia, or the problem of the hydrogen bomb. It is no panacea for the malaise of modern man. But the revival that alarms and confounds Reisner is demonstrably one of teh healthiest and most democritizing cultural phenomena going on in America today. And the flood of world folk-music recordings issued in the last few years, which Reisner might explore along with his “Mozart and Miles,” constitutes nothing less than a musical and ethnographic Baedeker of man. This sensitive home listener can, through his phonograph, travel to the highlands of Bolivia, the farms of Bulgaria, the thickets of Africa, or the ranges of Australia. He can, with careful listening, familiarize himself with the ethos of the peoples who live there.

…The one kernel of logic that lies well-hidden in Reisner’s jumbled tract is that the phenomenon of city folk singing today is confusing and often lacking in standards. Being primarily an upsurge among young people, it has many of the elements of any youthful fad. There are party bores with no talent and no potential. There are compulsive guitarists and singers who must substitute for their inability or unwillingness to converse intelligently. There are the victims of narcissism who must hold the attention of any gathering by “performing.” But to let these fringes of infantilism stir a wholesale condemnation of a decent and creative movement is to throw the baby out with the bath water…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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