Is Folk Now Dead?

by Alan Barrows

It was a moment in time. Back in the 1960s, when I was a young member of the greatest folk generation, our music poured out of the coffee houses, bars and onto the radio airwaves, fueling a social change never seen in America. We sang on college campuses, we sang for the love of it, and finally we sang for the money and adulation. In the sixties, we cared.

But these days it seems, the story is different. With the national economy in the dumpster, three wars a-ragin’ and the American psyche impaired by a deluge of handicapped parking spaces, Domino’s Pizza and Prozac, you’d think the ‘folk’ might be poised for the second coming of the next Dylan. Viagra is okay, but with the headlines of the newspapers proclaiming that a New World Order will be upon us in the time it takes Amazon.com to process the next download, you’d think the ‘folk’ would be ready to respond in an appropriate and protestorial way.

But no. These days it’s garage band this, and CD Baby that. It’s iPhones and apps and it’s texting. It’s Facebook and it’s digital and it’s interconnectedness. It’s all self-important and it’s omnipresent. Music is everywhere and for Christ’s sake, it’s wrong.

The “Hey Ma, look at me!” era of folk music seems to have arrived, and I can’t for the life of me figure out where these people are coming from. And I can’t figure out why they keep coming. The answer I’m afraid, isn’t ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ the answer just blows.

The best and newest example of this answer is a thing called “Time Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me,” released by a little-known label known as Waterbug, from somewhere around Chicago. Chicago of course, is best known for the legendary Gate of Horn and a newer club, The Earl of Old Town. I heard they started up an actual folk music school in Chicago, but I’ll bet that none of the folk singers who perform there are named Joni or Joanie. I’ll bet there aren’t any Judy’s or Bobby’s. I’ll bet there are no Gordon’s.

This new fellow’s name has only one syllable and it sounds like ‘Mark,’ and okay, it is a biblical name, but it’s not Peter, Paul or Mary. And his last name is ethnic. He’s got the same consonants in his last name as Donovan, except for the ‘k,’ the ‘r’ and the ‘n,’ but they’re all in the wrong order.

Whoever heard of a musician named ‘Dvorak?’

His songs are okay (and it should be noted for the record, that he didn’t write all of the songs on the record) but what’s most disparaging is that Dvorak tries to sing in a clear voice. It’s almost as if he wants us to understand him. He sounds sincere enough, but dare I say Dvorak’s delivery strikes me as a bit simpy? I’m not certain he is angry enough to uphold this genre for any serious length of time, and there’s something I’m not sure I don’t like about that. I guess I can’t imagine college kids singing his songs at a sit-in on campus, or at a department meeting at the office, or even at a training session at the new Super Target. When did it become okay to stop thinking about the next generation?

And his rhymes are imperfect. Where Dylan writes, “Come gather round people wherever you roam / and admit that the waters around you have grown,” Dvorak rhymes, “God bless the morning sun / and this quiet day just begun.”

Witness the erosion of craft. ‘Begun,’ sir, has two syllables.

And the titles are too long. The aforementioned “God Bless the Open Road and You” has a seven-word title. By substituting a “&” for the “and,” he could have shortened the title by a word.  It’s that simple. Why do I feel as if I’m the only one who ever sees these things?

And I never knew a summer to last as long as it takes to say, “I Hate to See the Summer Go.” I hate summer anyway. They’re always so hot. Thank goodness though, Dvorak left the first “The” off of “The Promise of the Promised Land.”

Further, this reporter has heard from experts within the industry, that Dvorak originally titled “Take Me With You,” as “Take Me With You When You’re Gonna Go.”

It would have been cooler if he titled it “Take Me With You (When You’re Gonna Go).” It’s Dylanesque in a way, almost akin to “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from Dylan’s last real folk album, the quintessential “Blood on the Tracks.” But Dylan, ever the master, didn’t use the parentheses. He did use  the word “Gonna,” though . I have always liked a song title with the word “Gonna” in it, but Dvorak saw fit to leave that part out.

And as I understand it, “When the Bluebells In Kentucky Were Blooming in the Spring,” was thankfully shortened to “The Bluebells In Kentucky” by a clear-thinking publicist. And I have it on good authority that Dvorak almost threw a hissy-fit when he heard his title was going to be shortened. I say too bad. I say, “Thank God for editing.”

With the release of “Time Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me,” time has apparently got something on someone somewhere. Look out folks, it’s clearly the end of another era.

Alan Barrows is an original member of The Folksmen, a popular American folk music trio that has maintained an intermittent public presence for more than twenty-five years.

To order “Time Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me,” visit www.markdvorak.com

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