More life and less cash – true probably, unfortunate definitely.

(May 12, 2008)

Folk music has always drawn on what musicians see around them. The ‘stuff’ of life is the ‘stuff’ of folk music. Invariably, that means folk songs find a reason for expression.

The reasons may be wide and varied but the essence of the song identifies with some theme of life. Unlike most chequebook-generated, artificial ‘disposable music’ (the sort that infects the ‘charts’ and permeates talent shows) folk songs have a connection with life. More life and less cash – true probably, unfortunate definitely.

There is a depth in folk music that (unsurprisingly) much cash-driven disposable music fails to achieve. The superficiality of most ‘disposable music’ is reflected in the banality of the lyrics. Then there’s the irritation factor of the tune, the appalling performers (most with brains surgically removed and replaced by clockwork mice) and a life span usually measured in moments.

Many folk musicians contend that it is lyrics first, tune second. Most ‘disposable music’ is the reverse. Find a catchy (irritating) tune, with the compulsory ‘hook’ and then slap some meaningless drivel behind it. Depending on your target market you either employ a curvy plastic bimbo to shake bits of herself in the accompanying video or you find a six-pack-bearing gell-head to gyrate as it mimes to the song. As long as ‘Joe Public’ find themselves humming it in the bath one morning it doesn’t matter if it has the substance of a gossamer web. The writers of this stuff don’t fall into a writing camp that feels influences - they feel the weight of their wallets. Neither do they care that their product has a lifespan that makes the average Mayfly look like Methuselah.

Interestingly, despite the continued existence of this disposable music, artists and audiences forced the pop music industry to allow decent bands to develop. Most people don’t want disposable music it’s what they’re fed. And this disposable music is not a synonym for popular music. There are many folk music influences in today’s pop music (the same is also true). The bands don’t call it folk music, or often, recognise it as such, but it is.  The problem is that disposable music is confused with pop. The two have always existed side by side but it took a generation before Joe Public could judge between pop and disposable pap.

Of course, there are those who are more than happy with disposable music – mostly because it demands little or no thought. There is a vast sea of people that want as much from their music as they do from fashion, magazines or Saturday night discos – little of it has anything to do with thought. In fact, the drive on these individuals appears to be: become devoid of thought at all costs and get by just with function. Is there any wonder that folk music has such a small following?

Perhaps folkies should no longer mind ridicule or parody, perhaps they should retaliate with a parody or two of their own – then again why bother, they wouldn’t understand.

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