Culture Rover

#36 - Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Alex Hanley Bemis' nice article, "Freak Folk's Very Own Pied Piper" (New York Times Arts and Leisure section, Sunday, 12 December 2004), on the burgeoning genre known as "freak-folk" points to the way these musicians -- Devandra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, the Animal Collective, and others -- are re-appropriating and re-orienting memories of the 1960s.

They are turning to its earnest side, but always with an edge of absurdity, even madness; songs of innocence and experience; denuding the self but getting real hairy and sensual too; Blake and Rousseau and a healthy dose of outsider art.

Freak folk can be a bit creepy. Banhart wants to call the musicians who play it "The Family," which, as Bemis points out, is a little too Mansonian (Was Banhart joking? Did he not know the allusion?). But the music can also be strikingly beautiful, aware of human fallacy and frailty but seeking and yearning too.

As Banhart astutely puts it: "If there's anyone we relate to, it's our moms and dads, and older hippies, people into Eastern philosophies and new age, in the sense that if you look at the seed of every religion, it's all the same, so let's start our own vague one based on love and peace and unity and going within. I suppose we like that kind of hippie as opposed to the white-dreaded, hackie-sack-playing Dave Matthew's hippie."

Easy to make fun of, perhaps even a statement to be a bit suspicious of, but also worth honoring its willingness to seek truth -- even vague truth -- in an era that possesses so much self-deception and, more depressingly, self-obliviousness.

14 December 2004

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