Against PBS-ifying Our Music

Here’s a (relatively) brief old essay from the online UCLA musicology magazine “Echo” explaining why I’m against what perfectly well-meaning people, I suppose, keep doing to what is now called American roots music:

Because it represents yet another expression of the folk revival’s successful progress from festivity to officialdom, [the PBS show] “American Roots Music” ends up squandering a wealth of amazingly fresh archival material on what turns out to be an eerily tuneless paean to its own makers, funders, and mentors. Nothing could be more boring, but there is an infuriating irony involved too, with ramifications for current and future manifestations of folk revival. In a breathless Procrustean lather, “American Roots Music” permits itself repeated bouts of disingenuousness, as it lops off vital elements and stretches others painfully thin. The curators on whom we rely to present this music in popular and accessible form seem so preoccupied with enshrining what they consider authentic, and eradicating what they don’t, that they have removed all conflict and personality—all life, really—from this vision of the music they are supposed to be committed to preserving. . . .

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