Oh, there are, indeed, so many good things on the internets. Here's a recently-discovered gem. It's a fully searchable and listenable database of WPA-made recordings of the folk-music of California. Try just searching by audio titles and you're bound to find something to pique your interest. I find the Portuguese fados particularly enjoyable, but maybe that's just because I can picture my great-great-grandfather Amarro Bettencourt picking a few of those tunes out on his mandolin while sitting on his porch in Marin.
I've become particularly interested in folk music and musicology lately. I suppose it makes sense as the perfect blend of my college studies: cultural history and music. After a solid year and a half of immersing myself in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music and collecting various Pete Seeger Folkways albums with their delightful two-tone covers, song sheets and black cardboard binding, the foundations of obsession were pretty well set. Add to that two books on folk music collecting and different approaches to folk music and the fabulous Alan Lomax/Rounder Records albums found at the Multnomah County Library and you have a growing interest in taking a fresh look at the music of the communities I live in and around.
The whole idea behind folk music, as far as I understand it and as far as I care to interpret the inherently troublesome category, is that it is music made by people for other people who they feel are more or less like themselves. It is the musical expression of one person's idea of what it means to live their life. It isn't made by corporate systems, though it is at times driven by economics. It isn't produced beyond recognition of a human musical voice (I use the word loosely), though the miraculous spread of computers throughout the world means modern folk music must include electronic and digitally produced recordings. It isn't bound to any few, canonical categories, though the guitar continues to be as popular a tool for personal musical expression as ever.
Such a definition was broad enough to include professional balladeers to chain-gang choirs and calypso to social fiddling during the years of America's peak interests in folk music in the first half of the 20th century. Likewise, it ought to be broad enough today to include all the many ways of life and individual forms of expression in the societies of the 21st century.
Why, then, am I stuck with all of these ideas about the music of America as the country looked seventy to one hundred and fifty years ago? Folk music isn't dead, but it appears that the type of musical open-mindedness that its champions championed has turned against itself in a sort of reenactment of the de-evolution of the French Revolution (I only use the comparison to further support Folk Music's accepted cultural place among the pinkos and outright reds. Ah well, "If you'll want to be a Bolshevik you'll have to go to hell," as the Limeliters remind us, possibly attempting to cover their RCA tracks.)
Where are the folklorists and folk-music collectors of my America? How does my America express itself? Was it garage rock and dirty punk bands for my dad's America? Is it the MC battles at Tourettes Without Regrets? Is it laptop mixes made in college dorm rooms? I think it is, but there's got to be so much more than that. I'd like to find out. I'd like to hear my America.