Comment – NY Times Review of Books 7 August 2015

To: Subject: Re. ‘Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival’ By RONALD RADOSH AUG. 7, 2015 Importance: High

Dear Editor

As one who was inspired to sing folksongs at Washington Square and sang at Folk City alongside Bob Dylan and others in the 60s I think it’s important to correct any impression left by either the book or the review that “…There is, after all, quite a distance between “Pretty Polly” and “Which Side Are You On?””  The implication of course is that political content injected by left wing activists somehow contaminated authentic tradition.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The seminal Child, Sharp or Bronson collections for example embrace stories and themes ranging from incest through war, famine, work, liberation, sickness and death as well as “lost loves.”  American 19th century anti-slavery, Civil War and other conflict, farming, factory, seafaring, and many other song types fill countless libraries. Leadbelly, Guthrie and Pete Seeger, union women like Aunt Molly Jackson, Sara Ogan, Mother Jones and blues men like Bill Broonzy predate the 50’s revival by a long way with songs as powerful as any of the best 60s protest.  Songs like these have seldom been commercially acceptable. Even Seeger’s biblical reflection “To Everything There is a Season” aka “Turn Turn Turn”  languished until the Byrds made a rock number out of it. Come to think of it, the Pretty Polly melody was used by Guthrie for arguably his greatest ballad “Pastures of Plenty,” about migrant workers.  Aunt Molly adapted it in “The Death of Harry Sims.”  Dylan wrote new lyrics for “Hollis Brown.” I used it for “The Kent State Massacre”  in 1970.  All of which goes to show, as Pete observed, “You can’t keep a good song down.”


Jack Warshaw


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