Akron/Family performing "I Know You Rider" for Retread Sessions. Good music...also, I'm somewhat interested in so-called "freak folk" as a sort of postmodern pastiche at times bordering on parody. Whereas a good deal of 60's folk music maintained notions of authenticity/purity, in my view the more recent bunch seem more open, playful, and sophisticated when it comes to issues of representation. Rather than an attempt to appropriate an other's culture in an essential way, the zany headdresses and face paint and such strike me as a playful parody of the new-age hippy pose--a way of simultaneously celebrating and subverting those representations. Treating culture as a monolithic package that certain people are granted access to by virtue of their skin color or some other external criteria seems odd--and untrue--to me. In my view, the only thing "authentic" is the event, in this case music--in a constant state of becoming, note to note, regardless of what styles or techniques it incorporates.
I suppose I'm thinking about this because I just listened to this Akron/Family video, and it reminded me of a guy I know who detests Akron/Family, largely because he associates them with new-agers who take a week off from corporate jobs to attend sweat lodges in rented football stadiums in Arizona, sweating out the impurities of consumerist America by packaging and consuming another culture (which, minus belief, sounds kind of fun). I suppose that's why I don't think of Akron/Family or the other "freak folk" people in that way; they seem to have scrapped ideas of authenticity.
Contrast their music with most modern country. Although the musicians and record executives may not believe in the music (only its ability to sell), belief is nevertheless the bedrock of the package they're selling--belief in Bush's version of America, Christianity, middle-class values, the "way of life" the listeners are leading or would like to lead. Consider this from Kenny Chesney's "There Goes My Life": She had that Honda loaded down with Abercrombie clothes and 15 pairs of shoes and his American Express. He checked the oil and slammed the hood, said you're good to go. She hugged them both and headed off to the West Coast. That sort of thing certainly happens, but a semiotician would probably say the signs in the song prop up middle-class values and ideology. Country music has traditionally been about outsiders, people on the margins (not sociologically, but as individuals), but now that "country" is mainstream, I suppose it makes sense to do away with those marginal folks. The Chesney song is at least a little more subtle in its politics than some country music. At work yesterday--in the company truck--I had to listen to a song I find even more repulsive, Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten," with the volume turned up so that everyone in the 7-11 parking lot would, as my fellow employees might say, know how we roll.
I hear people saying we don't need this war
I say there's some things worth fighting for
What about our freedom and this piece of ground?
We didn't get to keep 'em by backing down
They say we don't realize the mess we're getting in
Before you start preaching
Let me ask you this my friend
Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell
And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?
There's more, but you get the idea. The song made me want to scream in so many obvious ways--who has forgotten about Bin Laden? How does invading Iraq have anything to do with Bin Laden or 9/11? Who is guilty of attempting to limit the images of war in the media, and what are their reasons? I would've have liked to discuss the song and the war and the direction America is heading with my fellow employees--most of whom I consider good guys in their day to day lives, people I wouldn't hesitate to call friends--but they don't respond to reason, logic, or facts. I'll admit I'm also a little wary of reason, logic, and facts, but I'm also wary of propaganda. The pervasiveness and popularity of the kind of ideas spewed out on television and in most mainstream music frightens me, and it seems silly to attempt to attack those ideas head on.
In any case, I believe I'll stop here. I'm starting to bore myself, so I think I'll take the dog for a walk, maybe ask him what he thinks of the arbitrariness of signs.