Miasma of Weirdness

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from http://www.utne.com:

Art Rosenbaum’s “Art of Field Recording” CDs have led to inevitable comparisons with two towering figures of traditional-music collecting: field recording legend Alan Lomax and archivist Harry Smith. Indeed, Rosenbaum has an affinity for, and connections with, both men. He met and interviewed Lomax while he was a college student, and he says Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music “blew my mind” when he borrowed it from the Indianapolis public library as a 15-year-old.

Rosenbaum is a different sort of collector than Lomax, though, focusing solely on old music and working not for the Library of Congress but in service of his own particular interests. And he doesn’t entirely buy the “Old Weird America” meme that has been attached to Smith’s work since rock scribe Greil Marcus coined the term to describe the supposed strangeness of the music.

“I really like what [music archivist] Nathan Salsburg wrote in his preface to Volume 2, that our collection reveals and humanizes rather than mystifies and myth­ologizes these old traditions. I think Pat Boone is weirder than Dock Boggs,” Rosenbaum says with a laugh, referring to the eccentric old banjo player brought to renown on Smith’s anthology.

“That doesn’t take away the strength or power of some of these old tragic songs or very intense blues. I mean, there certainly is this poetic and musical intensity—but the singers and musicians are human beings. They’re not mythical characters in some miasma of weirdness.”

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