Page 151 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

Basic HTML Version

Ideologies of the Yiddish Folksong
in the Old Country and the New
Vot ken you makh, es iz Amerike,
Amerike un bol’she nitshevo.
What can you do? I t’s America!
America, and nothing more.
Aaron Lebedev
t o
h a v e
c o m e
of age in America during the past fifty years
was to discover how powerful a political tool folksongs could
become. Whether in the forties, when singing folksongs, par­
ticularly of East European provenance, was a sign of one’s al­
legiance to the Common Front; or in the fifties, when the Weav­
ers won respectability for the Old Left through old songs; or
in the late sixties when Joan Baez turned folksinging into a
theater for antiwar protest, it seemed as if the guitar had become
mightier than the sword. Nowadays, when it is no longer pos­
sible to mobilize the masses, the folksong revival has taken on
a decidedly regional slant. While in Appalachia, young singers
and musicians adapt their modern rhythms and technical know­
how to the ballad and Church repertoire that still survives am­
ong the old timers, in the more rarified atmosphere of the Ad-
irondacks, the people at Sagamore are inventing their own folk
music in the name of personal growth and wildlife preserva­
tion.1 Both are equally self-conscious rescue operations that
stem not from an unbroken chain of tradition but from the
desire to restore a sense of community and common purpose.
If Garrison Keillor, the inventor of a mock-mythic
1. Listen, for example, to
Precious Memories: The Bluegrass Meditations,
Appal Recordings (the major label for Appalachian music) 041 (1982) and
Sagamore Sampler
Adirondack Recordings AR-102 (1987).