Sunday, April 09, 2017


There's been some hub and bub regarding old folkies lately who are doing slightly odd things.

The always unpredictable Bob Dylan continued his fetish for tormenting the standards by releasing three more CDs of songs Sinatra and others have done better. That Willie Nelson did a lame album of "Stardust" and other worn out tunes over 30 years ago hasn't mattered. Most critics have indulgently bought the line that Dylan is a valid interpreter of everything from "As Time Goes By" to, yeah, "Stardust." And he isn't. He's put out 5 novelty albums. Some tracks are downright embarrassing. Play this stuff to anyone who isn't a starry-eyed and indulgent rock critic, and they'd say "what fucking amateur retirement home idiot is hacking away at this shit?"

Bob's former girlfriend Joan Baez hasn't been doing the standards. She's gone back to singing topical folk songs (she has a new one yodeling about Trump). She's now considered a rock star, for having made it into the rather pointless and obscure “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” It’s located in Cleveland. That’s how unimportant it is.

Joan humbly acknowledged that she is not now and never was a rocker. She's a folkie who's had crossover appeal by covering a rock song (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) or singing about Bob Dylan (“Diamonds and Rust.”) She toured in Bob's "Rolling Thunder" shows, sometimes dressed in Bob drag, but others did the rocking. So Joan made sure to let everyone know that she was entering rock's "Hall of Fame" with a slightly apology and a lot of gratitude. Funny, there was nobody apologizing for Tupac Shakur also getting into the Hall on the same ballot. What the FUCK does that dead thug have to do with rock?

Joan Baez is 76. Bob Dylan is 75.

Also touring, at 81, is Peggy Seeger.

While Joan enjoys her unexpected shot-in-the-arm, which has led to renewed interest in her catalog and sold-out performances with the God-awful Indigo Girls, and while Bob continues to amaze (people who said his voice was shot have to admit, he can be smooth and actually hit high notes on the "standards") Peggy Seeger continues along.

The most hardcore folkie of them all, Seeger isn’t begging for Kickstarter money or haunting YouTube or Facebook asking to be LIKED. She remains somewhat obscure and uncompromising, playing for that small circle who admire traditional music sung and played with total integrity.

In other words, her stuff is far more difficult to take than Dylan's standards or his Christmas album. Her flinty voice is not going to win over people who find Baez's warble seriously annoying after ten minutes. She could care less. And she tours and makes CDs when she feels like it.

Seeger wrote one of the greatest modern folk songs, “The Ballad of Spring Hill,” (aka Spring Hill Mining Disaster, and Ballad of Springhill) which has been adapted and covered by everyone from classic balladeers such as Martin Carthy, to the dreaded U2 and the unheralded Ivy League Trio. She and husband Ewan MacColl covered it, too, with Ewan adding a few authentic touches to the lyrics, related to mining technique.

MacColl, who was born James Henry Miller (January 25, 1915 – October 22, 1989) is the father of Kirsty MacColl via his second marriage, to Jean Newlove. Ewan was still married to Jean when he fell for Peggy, 20 years younger. The circumstances, Peggy is quick to say, “are none of your business.” Meaning, don’t ask her if she felt uncomfortable about taking a man away from his wife. Legend has it that Ewan wrote “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” as a love song to Peggy, and she first heard it via a tape sent by mail.

MacColl’s other famous songs include “Dirty Old Town” and another great modern folk song, “The Ballad of Tim Evans” (aka ‘Go Down Ye Murderer”), which was covered by Judy Collins and the Ivy League Trio among others.

Severely traditional folk singers are an acquired taste, especially in the decades that have seen the rise of folk-pop (The Weavers and Peter Paul and Mary) and folk-rock. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” after all, only became a hit when it was softened up and sung by Roberta Flack in 1972. Below, you get the oddity of a woman singing a tribute song to herself. Oh, I’m sure Peggy was imagining the countenance of the controversial Commie Ewan MacColl while she was singing it, and not singing it to a mirror. But Peggy was the inspiration.

Peggy Seeger First Time Ever I Saw Your Face Instant download or listen on line. No egotistical Zinfart password to type in.

No comments: