Nitsuh Abebe on "What New Folkies Share With the Old Ones"
New folkies being "Mumfords, Avetts, Lumineers & Co", old being the Fifties collegiate types who made a cult of Leadbelly, "squeaky-clean crew-cut folksters in jug-band drag sing[ing] songs about railroads"
What they have in common, basically, is an obsession with authenticity that inevitably, even instantaneously, generates inauthenticityNitsuh traces the seed of this instant-ersatz, or one of its sources anyway, to this paradox:
"what we consider folk today [is] not a living tradition, really. It’s more like a snapshot of a tradition—American rural music as it existed at the precise moment that someone thought to make recordings of it. At some point in the twenties or thirties, once enough of those recordings had been made, the whole thing was trapped in amber: It became, officially, the oldest version of rural-American “folk” music that anyone could go back to consult and imitate using their own ears. It became, almost by technological accident, the wellspring and the touchstone, leaving every generation of revivalists looking like a bunch of people holding blurry Polaroids of Eden and arguing over how to resurrect it. It’s like a cargo cult in reverse: Instead of “primitive” people coming across a modern object and surrounding it with elaborate mystical explanations, we get modern people discovering something traditional and erecting intellectual fetishes around it."
The fake-folk, Abebe, argues, is basically arena rock with a small gestural component that harks back deceivingly to the very "organic" "communality" that rock/pop as a mass leisure industry has done so much to eradicate
The invention of recording, then, makes a break in organic time, the temporality of barely perceptible but steady evolution in communities and traditions.... Recording makes preservation of the music past possible, but at the cost of proliferating embalmed traditions, time warp cults, xeroxes of xeroxes... It makes these traditions live forever, but in undead rather than truly vital form