Page 151 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 50

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DAVID G. ROSKIES
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
shtetl
called
1. Listen, for example, to
Precious Memories: The Bluegrass Meditations,
June
Appal Recordings (the major label for Appalachian music) 041 (1982) and
A
Sagamore Sampler
Adirondack Recordings AR-102 (1987).
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