Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What Would Alan Lomax Say...

Well,... I have been witnessing the slow death of folk music, in many places, been on islands where old people played music from the 17th century and older, while old people danced equally ancient steps ... and now those islands young people play lounge lizard music, American pop, while old people do Texas line dancing. So what?
If you ask so what, you weren't there ... in places with long memories.

A pub in New York, called Puck Fair.

One of the finest novelists of today wrote a wonderful book, with great sense of the inside outlook of Romany people. He had a big party thrown at Puck Fair. The Gypsy Kings where playing, and he asked me to go home and get my guitar, to come back and play a song I had written, within the tradition of my singing ... so, at the break he asked me to go on stage and play. I did. A friend of mine, Antonio was playing with two members of the Gypsy Kings. I embraced them and greeted them in Vlax Romaness, and they embraced me in Gitano. I sat down, and a number of people in the pub, who had heard me before clapped. I tuned, arraigned the mics and motioned to the bar tender to turn off the CD ... loud rock and roll.

The owner came up and said that this was not an open session. I explained that Colum, the writer for whom the party was being thrown asked me to sing. He told me that the Gypsy Kings would walk out if he allowed me to sing. I told him that Gypsy people were not like that. He said, they were big stars, signed with a big label and I was a nobody, and it was rude of me not to have asked him first, if I might play.

What has become of our music? In my oh, too many years, I have played for many parties in pubs, I have opened for many big folk stars with big contracts with big labels. In past days, in folk music, it was understood that the Gypsy Kings are only the ones noticed by the pop culture, but that the folk tradition is the nobodies like myself, whose songs are often recorded by bigger bands, as mine have been ... we are the ones who are caught for free in field recordings and archived, as I have been ... we once were the people.

But, as Alan Lomax said of modern mass communication, it is a one-way conversation. Those with the money enough to own the media talk to the those who can afford the small price of the receiver. Such is not about communication, it is about silence, silence of the folk, most of us ... the voices of the people, most of whom are nobodies like myself.

I perform less and less, and see, very soon a day, when it is just too sad to get out on a stage.
And they have the nerve to call the pub, "Puck Fair," well, who could have been to the real Puck Fair and act like that? Damned if I know.


At 6:18 AM, Blogger Plain Foolish said...

If it gives thee any comfort (I tried to write as I usually talk and say "you" but it wasn't coming out like that.) I, who usually am silent, have been singing a little bit. I am sorry thou wert silenced in a situation that could have been resolved with a single question.

I sang ghost songs that I remembered from childhood late at night at a science fiction convention in November, and was amazed that noone asked me to stop. Normally, I would have told stories, but found myself singing, instead.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger RichardM said...


You've been in my thoughts off and on lately. I've sensed the sadness in your posts lately--a feeling of loss and betrayal. Feeling betrayed is just about the saddest feeling I know. The harm that those we trusted have done seems somehow so insignificant compared to the fact that it was just those people, the ones we felt cared, who acted so. I don't know what to say to make the sadness go away, but it does make me remember times long ago when I felt the same. I can just pray that your sadness wont last a very long time and that you will shortly come to the joy on the other end.

At 3:56 PM, Blogger Daithí said...

Sorry to hear that about Puck Fair!

I used to enjoy going there, especially when I was working around the corner from them!

Oh well, I'll try St. Andrew's Pub on 44th for a pint of Belhaven instead.

The whole City is getting like that isn't it? So damned regimented!

Ya can't even light up anymore. (Not that I even did that often. But I'd like the option nonetheless.)

This new wretched century is not working out and I really think that it was a mistake to have a new millenium!

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Thee, Hannah! said...

I've been blog-absent for a while but I can't pass up one on folk music.

Good grief--the "birthday boy
" ASKED you to perform! And it's not as if you sneaked up on the Gypsy Kings and grabbed their mics.

So sorry.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

That is a sad situation. To give a gift of music is one of the sweetest, most soulful gifts one can give, and to be denied... well now that is just head-shaking worthy.

I have also noticed how closed others can be when it comes to open, imprompteau performance. American culture doesn't accept it unless a buck is involved.

I lived in Japan for awhile, and spontaneous music was quite welcome in nearly any circumstance. You can be anyone, with any voice, and any story to tell, and you will be heard. It was refreshing to experience.

Unfortunately, when one of my Japanese friends visited Oregon, he felt moved to try singing at an open market, as he was carrying his guitar at the time. He got through 2 songs and was told to leave. He wasn't "scheduled" to play. He looked heart-broken. Hey, welcome to America :(

Maybe a trip to Japan where your gifts can be appreciated?

At 5:07 PM, Blogger jez said...


that sucks so much.

I appreciate that you know much more about the music 'industry,' and even if this example is symptomatic of a general trend, it does sound like one prima donna manager was abusing his power.

Keep the music my friend.


At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lor, so sorry to hear this. Sounds like I need to hit town again and play a few sessions with you. Love to you both, Greg


Post a Comment

<< Home