Ian Nagoski

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excerpt of interview with 78 RPM collector Ian Nagoski (of Canary Records), from http://contrappassomag.wordpress.com:

In my mid-teens, shortly after buying Lomax’s Folk Songs of North America book, I heard the ‘Social Music’ volume of Harry Smith’s Folkways Anthology (still my favorite volume) and began to take his premise of listening for the Big Picture (the “voice of God”?) seriously. From my late teens through my twenties, I studied the first generation of collector/anthologists of Americana (Pete Whelan’s Origin Jazz Library, Nick Perls’ Yazoo, Chris Strachwitz’s Folklyric and Arhoolie, Don Kent’s Herwin, etc, etc) and came to think of them as artists as much as the performers that they were presenting, as sculptors, bricoleurs, and composers in the same sense as Joseph Cornell, Bruce Connor, Pierre Schaeffer, etc. I was at university and having a very difficult time finding my way when Pat Conte’s Secret Museum series was released and I felt that he had more to say about the truth of music than anyone in a hundred mile radius of the town where I lived.

When I was thirty my daughter was born, so I gave up my music because it was too time-consuming and only lost me money. But I’d been into 78s for about ten years at that point, and a buddy of mine suggested that I make a CD collection for his label. So that became Black Mirror on the Dust-to-Digital label. Then that lead to a relationship with Mississippi Records and got me interested in doing more research and writing about old music. I saw that there were some great stories not being told and saw a way to deal with some of the same concerns regarding memory and musical meaning that I’d had as a composer in a relatable form, so I started doing that.

I’m driven by a desire to respect the work of the people who made this beautiful music—to say simply and clearly that their lives mattered. I feel connected to them when I hear them play, and I want to know them and share the quality and meaning of their lives to the extent that I can know it. Secondarily, I want to shake people up a little, Americans in particular, and remind them (us) that we haven’t been told the whole story, that we don’t know enough about who we are, that the world is a big place full of beauty and wonder, and that simply agreeing on a few icons and symbols and songs is not good enough. It leads to amnesia and complacency and ultimately reinforces the devaluing of human life and creativity.

(The ‘secret history’ and, especially, ‘old, weird America’ tropes mean nothing to me. There’s nothing particularly ‘secret’ or ‘weird’ about any of it. It’s all perfectly normal, and the answers could be available if the questions were asked to the right people…)

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One Response to “Ian Nagoski”

  1. REED MARTIN Says:

    When the Folklife Festival on The Mall idea came to Ralph Rinzler, I was @ 20, and out of a job. Mr. Rinzler had met lots of real rural musicians when he was a member of The Greenbrier Boys bluegrass band. He hired a couple of us to drive thousands of miles to pick up the things which would be sold at the Folklife Festival, and he also asked some of us to stay on stage and help make the festival musicians feel more at ease….many of them had no idea how to play or speak into a microphone. Imagine our surprise one night when two guests from Africa played PingPong for the first time. They held their paddles between their big toe and the toe adjacent……only because – in their country – they were accustomed to doing more with their feet than with their hands…..and besides….their hands were used to hold their huge sheets of material – wrapped around their bodies. If you did not control your sheet with your hands – it would fall immediately to the ground.
    I’m sure that our guests waited until the were out of earshot and then burst into laughter as they discussed these folks at the festival who used their HANDS to do things which obviously – to them – were supposed to be done with the feet !!

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