folk music and liberalism

I just got an e-mail asking of Defiance, Ohio wanted to do an interview for a zine called Even If Your Voice Shakes which is put out by some folks involved with the Riot Folk collective.  It made me think about some of the discomfort that I have with folk music and that moniker being applied to music I help make (though I also need to think about why I’m more comfortable with the term Punk, maybe just because it feels like more my own, less inherited from a generation I associate with parents and power structures).  One issue with discomfort is regarding associations between folk music and race.  I wanted to learn a little more about this so I found Aesthetic Identity, Race, and American Folk Music, but didn’t yet get a chance to read it.  In the abstract for this article, it talked about folk music being adopted by social movements in the 60s and suggested that while those movements were multiracial, or at least attempted to be, with music being a part of it, that folk music was eventually whitened.  I think I associate folk music with being this very white, safe, established thing, just as some of the more visible remnants of movements of the 60s and the generation that was alive then seems that way.  This made me think about how I categorize the liberalism that I tend to demonize, and this is what I came up with:

Liberalism, as I think about it, is less about a specific set of political ideologies or positions and more about having an affinity to an ideology without being a stakeholder in the realities that underly political or policy questions.  For instance, there are many people in the US who are opposed to the war in Iraq, but I would argue the majority of those people are not necessarily soldiers or family members of soldiers or Iraqi or family members of Iraqis, or in some other way more closely tied with the war.  I am not arguing that one’s political perspective or responsibility rests on the nature of one’s connection to a particular issue, but I think that there needs to be a lot of self-consciousness, and movement-consciousness about how one’s orientation around an issue affects one’s beliefs and actions.  The 60s seemed to be an interesting time because so many more people became stakeholders in the issues of the times.  White, (upper) middle class people were being drafted to go to war in Vietnam, or faced that looming reality.  Similarly, white, (upper) middle class people faced race riots in their schools as students (as my parents did), seeing their schools, neighborhoods, and communities become desegregated and the tensions that came from those changes.  Certainly, white (upper) middle class people are still stakeholders in questions of race and peace in the present, but I think their orientation is much more static and the connections have been effectively obscured.  For instance, with questions of race, I think most liberal people find it easier to identify and critique racism external to themselves or their communities instead of being forced (as I feel desegregation did in the 60s) to come to terms with their involvement in race and power in the US.

from the radio: analysis of digital media and a cool sounding college class

This radio piece had interesting statistics on the financial viability of the latest Radiohead album which was also available as a free download.

Adam Greenfield, the person interviewed in the piece teaches a class in Urban Computing at as part of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU.



My friend Peter, had the following to add:

Regarding your recent blog post ( The statistics cited in the NPR story are indeed interesting, but not for the reason most people (even in the “quality” mainstream press) think they are.

As I reported in a recent issue of The Nation (, the stats were gathered by Comscore, an internet marketing firm that gathers data from 2 million poor souls who let their every point and click be monitored in exchange for some free software and sweepstake entries. Their software doesn’t work on macs or in firefox. They provide no detailed information about the type of statistical analysis they use They don’t even publish their relevant sample sizes ( i.e. how many of the folks they monitor actually bought the album – the way they phrase it leaves). Their findings are not accepted by many trade groups, and have been widely (and justly) critiqued across the web. Yet the AP, the NYtimes, NPR, etc. etc. are all regurgitating their Radiohead findings, never once noting that the evidence isn’t there.

Why would they do such a thing?

While reporting my first story (a reported personal essay, also in The Nation) on the Radiohead album, I noticed that all the industry people I talked to were not-so-subtly trying to put down Radiohead’s effort. One exec told me he’d heard they were just demos they were dumping on the public for laughs. When I pressed him, he told me he got the info from a members-only industry message board. I weaseled my way into a membership and guess what? No talk of “demo dumping.” Others told me “just look at the reviews, no one thinks its any good, etc.” It’s aggregating in the high 90s at!

To quote one of my own articles:

“It’s hard to resist some cynical conclusions: Comscore’s client base includes several media conglomerates, media conglomerates want In Rainbows to fail, newspapers want stories, and failure sells.”

Update 2:

I read on my friend Jenny’s blog, Greater Detroit, about a Detroit-based artist who also released his latest album, DETRO!T BE!RUT, as a free or donation-based download.

From the artist’s website:

This music comes from South Lebanon, was born in Lansing and lives in Detroit.  A sound declaration.  This music is rhythm for revolutions, rebellions, empowerment and progression.  Through audio and images, history is projected onto the future, terrorific stereotypes are rejected, a slandered heritage is reclaimed, the ruins of a city are rebuilt.  Sound and visions express the struggles and share the beauty of Detroit, Beirut.

Honestly, I’ve only just started listening to the recording, but it makes me think about refocusing the question of downloadable music.  I think the question is often asked as whether free or donation-based music is viable for the music industry or for artists in the context of the music industry.  I’m not sure if it is viable for the industry, or artists trying to operate within that system.  However, I don’t think that’s problematic.  I think that the Internet and digital music is less interesting as a tool that can be assimilated into the current music industry’s business model, or even as something that will shift the direction of the music industry, and more interesting as something that allows for a completely separate space for the dissemination of music and ideas.

It’s easy to see downloadable music and the social and technological network infrastructure that supports it as something that can be exploited by those who wouldn’t succeed within the confines of the record industry.  This casts those who utilize these networks as failures within the mainstream media market.  However, I see the recording industry and mainstream media as failing to produce media that is multicultural or culturally critical and that speaks to or from those for whom the traversal of these cultural boundaries is personal and important.  Digital media offers an opportunity, not just as reform or critique, for artists to succeed where existing cultural systems has failed.  It offers a tool to create something that is completely new and separate, not a music industry, but, hopefully, music culture.

Lemuria/Kind of Like Spitting – Your Living Room’s All Over Me

So I started reviewing CDs for the local community radio station, WFHB, after realizing that, being on tour so much, I couldn’t easily have a show.  It’s a small thing, but hopefully it’s helpful.  I’m going to start posting some of the reviews of things that I find to be pretty enjoyable.

Label: Art of the Underground
artist:    Lemuria/Kind of Like Spitting
title:    Your Living Room’s All Over Me
file under:    Power Pop, Pop-Punk, Indie Rock
grade:    B
Lemuria is a newer band that plays power-pop or pop-punk in a way that sounds like a less aggressive version of Discount, with catchy hooks, male/female vocals, and personal lyrics that, at times, border on the melodramatic.  Kind of Like Spitting features members of Death Cab for Cutie and The Thermals.  The songs are less polished than the former but more musically ambling than the latter.  Their sound reminds me a bit of The Dismemberment Plan if they had made more lo-fi recordings with less dynamic songs but with more present lead guitar parts.

comments / tracks  of interest:
Tracks 1-7 are by Lemuria, 8-12 by Kind of Like Spitting

3 – “Bugbear” – a driving, bitter track about severed relationships
7 – “Sophmore” – a poppy reproach that will remind the listener of their college days
10 – “You I Seek” – Faster and more straightforward than the other KOLS tracks, it sounds as good as anything ever released by The Thermals.

FCC: 1, 5, 6, 11

Link to sample track Hours by Lemuria
Link to sample track You I Seek by KOLS

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged , ,


I wanted to write about Plan-It-X Fest as it was unfolding, but that didn’t happen.  I guess I’ll try to write about it in retrospect.  One thing that I’m really stoked about is that we organized an entire fest, with around 1000 participants, and spent less money on the whole thing than many cultural fests pay one artist!

Manion Companion Guest Set

I’m going to be playing records on my friends Corinna and Riley’s radio show, The Manion Companion, on Bloomington’s community radio station WFHB. The show is from 11p-1a eastern standard time. You can liten in Bton at 91.3 and 98.1 FM or stream it on the web.


Update: Here’s my playlist.

  • This is My Fist – Stoy of Reconversion from I Don’t Want to Startle You but They Are Going to Kill Most of Us (Left Off the Dial)
  • Zounds – Demystification from The Curse of Zounds + Singles (Broken Rekids)
  • Soophie Nun Squad – Maybe You Heard from Soophie Nun Squad/Abe Froman LP (Harlan)
  • Your Heard Breaks – New Ocean Waves from New Ocean Waves (Plan-It-X/Masa)
  • Red Monkey – Bike Song from Difficult is Easy (Slampt)

This is what I would have played had I had the time:

  • Gene Pitney – I’m Going to Be Strong from I’m Going to be Strong (Stateside)
  • Ballast – Resign Yourself from Numb Again 7″ (Self-released)
  • Chumbawamba – The Diggers’ Song from English Rebel Songs (Agit-prop)
  • The Good Good – Redefine from S/T (Harlan)
  • The Gibbons – Kindergarten Class from Gibbons/North Lincoln 7″ (Salinas)