A Most Ingenious Paradox

by Jimmy Akin

in Music

Down yonder, a reader writes:

I would like to see someone write a long article on the strange combination of traditional values like patriotism, family and a faith that plays right alongside praising infidelity, praising being drunk and Tim McGraw’s ambivalent song about abortion. There seems to be a strange disconnect among Country singers and their fans who can sing along with Restless Heart’s "Why does it have to be wrong or right?" one minute and then switch to "Believe" by Brooks and Dunn the next.

It’s like reading Cosmo and Inside the Vatican and not seeing any conflict.


I think I can shed some light on the paradox. The reason for it is very simple: Country music is a form of folk music.

Folk music, by definition, reflects the interests of a particular people or "folk." Since there are saints and sinners in every group, folks music invariably includes songs that appeal to both. By its nature, folk music is broadly reflective of whatever the particular folk is interested in, which includes things like their religious lives, their families, their romances, their jobs, their frustrations, and their entertainments. The particular mix of these topics will vary from culture to culture and from time to time even within a particular musical tradition, but the same topics show up over and over again, just in different ratios.

Folk music can be distinguished from more selective musical traditions which are more polarized topically. Religious music–particularly those song that are sung in church–for example, is very, very narrow topically. Perhaps it’s the most narrow genre of music that shows up in each culture since it is devoted to the holy, which by definition is set apart from the ordinary.

Children’s music is also quite narrow in topics because its target audience is only just learning about life and the music created for children is focused on what children are interested in (e.g., animals, the jobs of the adults they see around them) and what is considered appropriate for them at their age.

Classic rock and roll, which received its foundational imprint as music for mid 20th century adolescents and young adults, is also narrower in topic than country music since its target audience hasn’t really come to terms with life as adults. It’s also marked by the obsessive interest of young males with a few particular topics (e.g.,  dating, sex, cars, rebellion against authority). It also shows notable traces of the particular era in which it was formed (e.g., songs about drug abuse rather than alcohol abuse).

Country music received its foundational imprint as music for traditional American adult society, which has historically been rural and religious. This means that you get some songs that are heavily religiously themed but also songs about sin. Since people struggle with their sins, you get some songs that reflect the struggle ("Why Does It Have To Be Right Or Wrong?"). Since people also give themselves over to their sins, you also have songs that glorify sinning ("Get Drunk And Be Somebody"). Since people get hurt by others’ sins, there are songs about that, too ("Your Cheatin’ Heart"). And there are songs that morally censure sinning ("Wreck on the Highway"). And songs from the perspective of those hurting under their own sins ("Honky Tonk Blues"). And songs that worry about whether people will escape from their sins ("Will The Circle Be Unbroken?").

You even get some songs that are like something from a Flannery O’Connor story (e.g., the Dixie Chicks’ "Goodbye, Earl" or Rock County’s "Turn It On! Turn It On! Turn It On!").

It’s a big, complex mix because folk music reflects the lives and struggles of the folk it represents. It includes both the good and the bad, leading to the paradox of amazingly powerful spiritual songs right next to ones glorifying sin.

That’s not to say that people to whom the folk music is addressed like all of the songs in the tradition. Religious country music fans frown on the glorify sin songs. Irreligious country music fans may roll their eyes at the  religious songs. But the mix is there because the music represents a folk and the folk itself is mixed. Some fans appreciate both kinds of songs because both reflect their lives and aspirations.

The paradox seems particularly striking if one is used to music that is topically more narrow (e.g., used to only religious music–which has the holy stuff but leaves out the sin-oriented songs–or used to rock and roll–which is more oriented toward the sinful stuff and tends to leave out the holy most of the time).

But the paradox of modern country music is normal in folk music. If you go back and listen to 19th century American folk music, the exact same themes are there: You’ve got explicitly religious songs and ones that hit the standard life and sin themes. "Ol’ Rosin the Beau" glorifies a reprobate who dies and goes to hell and drinks whiskey with the devil. "Soldier’s Joy" has alcohol/drug abuse in it ("It’s 25 cents for the morphine/It’s 15 cents for the beer/It’s 25 cents for the morphine/Gonna drink me away from here"). The original, pre-War version of "Dixie" has adultery in it ("Old Missus married Will the weaver/William was a gay deceiver . . . Old Missus played the foolish part/She died for a man who broke her heart"). "Sweet Betsy From Pike" has implied extramarital sex and possible illegitimate preganancy in it. "Buffalo Gals" and "The Yellow Rose Of Texas" are about being attracted to the opposite sex. "Cindy" is about the opposite sex being attracted to you. "Lorena" is about lost love and missed opportunities. The "Boatman’s Dance" is about glorifying a particular job/lifestyle.

And the same is true of folk music in other times and cultures. Back in the Middle Ages they had all kinds of religiously themed songs, but they also had drinking songs they’d sing in the taverns. And songs about romance and sex and loneliness and hardship and everything else that is part of the human condition.

Because that’s the paradox of true folk music: It reflects the paradox of the fallen human condition.

As to the paradox of why particular singers will sing both religious songs and those that glorify sin, the answer to that is simple also: They’re doing what singers have always done . . . trying to make money.



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Anonymous May 26, 2006 at 5:45 am

I know this is not really the place to put it, but I sent an email to Jimmy awhile back with some serious questions about baptism. Since he seems to reply to combox comments more often than emails (at least lately), I thought I’d pop in a reminder to check his email inbox and maybe consider posting on the topic. Thanks! (Feel free to delete this comment.)

Maureen May 26, 2006 at 5:50 am

“Soldier’s Joy” has lyrics?

Cajun Nick May 26, 2006 at 5:53 am

Bravo, Jimmy! This post does a great job at explaining the topic at hand.
Like most of the regulars who post in the comment boxes, I visit this site early and often every day because I know that you will give thoughtful clarity and useful detail to just about any topic.

mulopwepaul May 26, 2006 at 6:15 am

Country music is at least as packaged and contrived as any other. The reason the drinking and whoring remain in the lyrics is because they sell, which is really no different than any other pop, lowest common denominator musical style.
The surprising thing about this style, really, is rather the fact that God has not yet been driven out by Mammon, although the steady drumbeat of commercialism has increasingly beaten the religious references of the more recent lyrics into the therapeutic “help me succeed, Lord” style conventional to modern mainstream southern Protestantism.

Ryan Herr May 26, 2006 at 6:16 am

Thank you for this great post, Jimmy!
“true folk music … reflects the paradox of the fallen human condition.”
I’m a Catholic banjo player, and I don’t find many Catholics who understand folk music, and I definitely don’t find many folk musicians who understand Catholics.
Thank you for reminding us that the paradox is not new or peculiar to modern country music.

Ruthann May 26, 2006 at 6:38 am

Jimmy, you’re wonderful! You’ve set my mind at ease over something that’s been bothering me a lot lately.
I grew up singing and playing folk music and played in local coffeehouses in the 70s. Over the years, as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve been turned off by newer folk music because the lyrics are often rife with feminist, liberal, and pagan/New Age themes.
I really enjoyed playing and singing, and felt sad that I was “losing” that part of who I was. Now, with your perspective, I have a better understanding of how to perceive folk music, and I won’t feel so trepidatious about singing the old songs any more.

Ed Peters May 26, 2006 at 8:21 am

Jimmy, it might be simpler: country music has suffered the same, post-Ted Turner/Modern Atlanta, deterioration that marks most, well all, of the New South…

Jordan May 26, 2006 at 8:34 am

Ah, I knew Jimmy had a taste for curious quips, for cranks and contradictions queer.

Tim J. May 26, 2006 at 9:52 am

“I should like to consider the folk song, and expound briefly on a theory I have held for some time, to the effect that the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by THE PEOPLE.”.
– Tom Lehrer

Anonymous May 26, 2006 at 11:10 am

And just who are THE PEOPLE?

Ruthann May 26, 2006 at 11:21 am

In honor of Tim J’s quote:
“So join in the Folk Song Army,
Guitars are the weapons we bring
To the fight against poverty, war, and injustice.
Ready! Aim! Sing!”
[the venerable Tom Lehrer]

joe May 26, 2006 at 11:32 am

Great discussion. Thanks.
Although, It’s saddening to believe money alone explains the paradox of a singer contributing both moral and immoral songs.
What else might motivate besides money? Perhaps, the ego re-inforcement of having thousands of fawning/ drooling fans. I can imagine it’s tough to cut oneself off from that kind of gratification. Unfortunately, I will never know for sure–ha! It would be intersting to hear a star attempt to personally explain the paradox for him or herself.

Adonais May 26, 2006 at 12:20 pm

Wow. . .you’re good! Anyone who can talk eschatology and folk music with equal aplomb is definitely well-gifted.
I might point out, just as an interesting side-note, that a lot of those dirty medieval folk-songs found their way into the Sacred motets (choral pieces) and Masses of the time. Usually it was just the music which was used as a basis for the piece (called the “cantus firmus”), but I’ve seen scores where even parts of the text made it in. . .there were often so many sets of lyrics going on at once that nobody could make out the words, anyway. The practice was so common that the Council of Trent forbade the practice, and by some accounts nearly banned polyphony altogether (though I think that claim may be exaggerated).
On the subject of country music, where does one place a fellow like Johnny Cash? It almost seems to me that at times he was almost exploring the dark side of man in order to contrast it with the light of his faith. I haven’t really worked this hypothesis out yet, but I’d be interested in any opinions.
P.S.: Glad to see a few folks still remember Tom Lehrer!

Mr. Data Esq. May 26, 2006 at 1:10 pm

When I was growing up (near East Texas), I heard that “Yellow Rose of Texas” was about a prostitute who helped win a critical battle against Santa Ana by sneaking into his camp on the night of a crucial battle (forgot which one) and .. err .. distracting him. With the great Capitan otherwise occupied, or at least stumbling about in a daze, the Texan forces had a much easier time of it.
I also heard that she was a half-breed of some sort, and somehow that’s how she got her name.
Of course I haven’t bothered to verify any of this ..

MissJean May 26, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Adonais, you hit the nail on the head with Johnny Cash. He has a lot about the dark side of life, but if you look at the whole body of work, you see he doesn’t glorify wickedness. The defiant songs are usually because the narrator is helpless, even doomed to death – the defiance is really bravado.

Jimi May 26, 2006 at 1:56 pm

Just curious, why are so many people so overwhelmingly understanding when Johnny Cash sings a song about murder by seeing it for what it is a “narrative,” but when a rapper tells a story about what he grew up seeing in the projects he’s glorifying everything that is tearing apart the fabric of our great society? As far as I can tell, going off Jimmy’s description, Rap is folk music too.

MissJean May 26, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Jimi, I like rap. But for my part, I end up buying the “sanitized” CDs because I won’t listen to a bunch of filthy words. Sometimes my students will bring in an MP3-player and have me listen to their favorite songs, but they usually have great lyrics and are (for the most part) clean. I listen to Old School that the hs students play out of Detroit public schools’ station.
Johnny Cash’s songs are from the perspective of a felon regretting it. And they’re clean. The same thing with his cheating songs: He might talk of adultery, but he won’t say he’s been *****ing a **** and her **** is like ******. I’m a great believer in the philosophy that LL Cool J’s grandma had: If you can’t say it without using filthy language and racial slurs, it probably isn’t worth saying. :)

Tim J. May 26, 2006 at 2:45 pm

I keep hearing this line about the rappers songs just reflecting their environment, but if you listen to the stuff, most of them are bragging about it.
If they are supposed to be criticizing the gangsta lifestyle, you sure can’t tell it.
I know a few actually do a good job of doing an honest social comment, but they are the exception, from what I can tell.

Adonais May 26, 2006 at 4:09 pm

Thank you, Miss Jean! I think we see him from the same perspective, the sinner, at the foot of the cross, knowing all too well his need for salvation.

MaryC May 26, 2006 at 4:17 pm

Apropos of nothing: one of my favourite “Columbo” episodes featured Johnny Cash as a homicidal preacher/Country singer. Also featured Ida Lupino as his – ill-fated- wife.

Anonymous May 26, 2006 at 5:07 pm

All right, so lets have a look at the claim that Johnny Cash is only telling a folk story and not glorifying anything. But before we do, I want to make this disclaimer. I LOVE JOHNNY CASH I THINK HE’S TELLING A FOLK STORY! BUT I ALSO THINK THE SAME OF CYPRESS HILL, ICE CUBE, NAS, OR ANY OTHER RAPPER. The only difference is Cash doesn’t cus AS MUCH.

Here are some of Cash’s lyrics

Early one mornin’ while makin’ the rounds
I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down
I went right home and I went to bed I stuck that lovin’ 44 beneath my head
Got up next mornin’ and I grabbed that gun took a shot of cocaine and away I run
Made a good run but I run too slow they overtook me down in Juarez Mexico
Late in the hot joints takin’ the pills in walked the sheriff from Jericho Hill
He said Willy Lee your name is not Jack Brown
You’re the dirty hack that shot your woman down
Said yes oh yes my name is Willy Lee if you’ve got the warrant just aread it to me
Shot her down because she made me slow
I thought I was her daddy but she had five more
When I was arrested I was dressed in black
They put me on a train and they took me back
Had no friend for to go my bail they slapped my dried up carcass in that country jail
Early next mornin’ bout a half past nine I spied the sheriff coming down the line
Talked and he coughed as he cleared his throat
He said come on you dirty heck into that district court
Into the courtroom my trial began where I was handled by twelve honest men
Just before the jury started out I saw the little judge commence to look about
In about five minutes in walked the man holding the verdict in his right hand
The verdict read in the first degree I hollered Lordy Lordy have a mercy on me
The judge he smiled as he picked up his pin 99 years in the Folsom pen
99 years underneath that ground I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down
Come on you’ve gotta listen unto me lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be

Note the profanity. He certainly says “Lordy, Lordy have mercy on me, but that’s directed to the judge.” Also, note the jovial tone about booze and cocaine.

Let’s contrast these lyrics with a foul mouthed Rapper named Nas. He’s been around for 14 years and is from New York City. Let’s see what this degenerate has to say…

“I Can”
I know I can (I know I can)
Be what I wanna be (be what I wanna be)
If I work hard at it (If I work hard at it)
I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be)
Be, B-Boys and girls, listen up
You can be anything in the world, in God we trust
An architect, doctor, maybe an actress
But nothing comes easy it takes much practice
Like, I met a woman who’s becoming a star
She was very beautiful, leaving people in awe
Singing songs, Lina Horn, but the younger version
Hung with the wrong person
Got her strung on that
Heroin, cocaine, sniffin up drugs all in her nose…
Coulda died, so young, now looks ugly and old
No fun cause now when she reaches for hugs people hold they breath
Cause she smells of corrosion and death
Watch the company you keep and the crowd you bring
Cause they came to do drugs and you came to sing
So if you gonna be the best, I’ma tell you how,
Put your hands in the air, and take a vow
[Chorus – 2x (Nas and Kids)]
I know I can (I know I can)
Be what I wanna be (be what I wanna be)
If I work hard at it (If I work hard at it)
I’ll be where I wanna be (I’ll be where I wanna be)

Darned that foul mouthed rapper and his dirty…wait he didn’t even cuss! But how dare he encourage kids to follow their dreams. No-no…wait a minute here. He talked about drugs! Oh wait, he was telling kids to stay off them, while Cash told a story joking about a guy’s nasty drug habit. Well, I guess Cash is the true folk musician in this case. Sorry to get it twisted!

Dr. Eric May 26, 2006 at 5:37 pm

You took one song from each artist, that doesn’t count for anything. Your sample size is too small to make a proper comparison. You can’t make a judgement on the validity of your claims using only one sample to compare to the other one.

Dr. Eric May 26, 2006 at 5:38 pm

Tracer Adkins was asked about all the boozing and sex songs on country radio on “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. He said that all his songs that had to do with sex were about his wife and him. And what was wrong with that he wondered. To which he received a thunderous applause.

Tim J. May 26, 2006 at 5:46 pm

You missed my point. There are exceptions, which I pointed out before.
You want me to find you some rap that will make that Johnny Cash song read like a hymn in comparison?
I could find a hundred, though I doubt I could print them here, unless we all want to look at an infinite string of asterisks*****).
Your comparison is disingenuous.

Jay May 26, 2006 at 8:08 pm

The two early commenters (Ed Peters and mulopwepaul) who want to blame drinking/sex in country songs on the evils of modern times are classic–have you guys ever listened to any old country/bluegrass music? Half the songs are about the singer murdering his girlfriend while drunk, as recounted from his prison cell while waiting to be hung in the morning. I think the old songs are, for the most part, far rougher around the edges than the country-pop of today.
Moreover, it never ceases to amaze me the degree to which commenters on this blog (and the blog Jimmy links to at the bottom of the post, where someone “innocently” speculates that Evangelicals must think it’s ok to get drunk, do drugs, and commit adultery because they’re already saved no matter what) are willing to take absurdly overbroad, contrived, gratuitious swipes at Protestantism, especially given that there would be no end to the cries of “anti-Catholic bigotry,” etc. if something one-tenth as strong was said about Catholicism.
So, no, mulopwepaul, the guy selling magic wealth-creating prayer cloths on channel 98 is not representative of “modern mainstream southern Protestantism,” whatever that might be, and neither of the two accounts for the state of modern country music.

Adonais May 26, 2006 at 8:54 pm

[geek]Umm. . .not to nit-pick, but Johnny Cash didn’t write the “Cocaine Blues.” His rendition appears to be modeled on Woody Guthrie’s version, and the last line comes from an even earlier song by Rev. Gary Davis. [/geek]

Ian May 27, 2006 at 6:04 am

I make the distinction based on the message of the song. I don’t care what its age or style is. You can have classical music that from a message standpoint is just as bad as stuff today.
If the song is about sin, does the sinner regret what he has done or does the song portray the sin as having negative effects? If so, baring considerations of skill, I consider it good music. For example, Fine Line by Radney Foster is about a guy who has committed adultery and gets both women pregnant. He realizes that he has done something wrong and goes home to confess to his wife.
Does the song glorify sin or treat it as harmless? Stays in Mexico by Toby Keith, Not Goin’ Down ‘Till the Sun Comes Up by Garth Brooks, etc. fall into this category. These songs are bad regardless of the overall theme of redemption that may exist in the singer’s other work.
Songs are not like books. With few exceptions, you aren’t going to find people familiar enough with a singer’s entire career to be able to trace a path to redemption that puts the music in context. For the most part, people are only really familiar with a few favorites that they hear on the radio so you have to take each song individually.
Remember, music, like movies and books, have a message. Think about the messages you absorb when you listen to music like Shores of Mexico or Fireman by George Strait. I don’t think that as a Catholic you can really justify listening to this stuff.

Fuinseoig May 27, 2006 at 6:26 am

As regards folk/traditional music, let me throw into this discussion the song “The Well Below The Valley”, which always reminds me of Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well:
“A gentleman was passing by
He asked for a drink as he got dry
(Refrain)At the well below the valley-o
Green grows the lily-o
Right among the bushes-o
“Me cup is full unto the brim
If I were to stoop I might fall in”
“If your true love was passing by
You’d fill him a drink as he got dry”
She swore by grass, she swore by corn
That her true love had never been born
He said to her “You’re swearin’ wrong
For six fine children you had born”
“If you be a man of noble fame
You’ll tell to me the father of them”
“There’s two of them by your uncle Dan”
“Another two by your brother John”
“Another two by your father dear”
“If you be a man of noble esteem
You’ll tell to me what did happen to them”
“There’s two buried ‘neath the stable door”
“Another two near the kitchen door”
“Another two buried beneath the wall”
“If you be a man of noble fame
You’ll tell to me what will happen to mysel’ ”
“You’ll be seven years a-ringing the bell”
“You’ll be seven more a-porting in hell”
“I’ll be seven years a-ringing the bell
But the Lord above may save me soul from porting in hell
(Refrain)At the well below the valley-o
Green grows the lily-o
Right among the bushes-o”
Christy Moore did a version of this, just him singing accompanying himself on the bodhrán, which is fabulous.

Lazy J T May 27, 2006 at 6:54 am

Are there any recordings of Soldier’s Joy with the lyrics available? The Soldier’s Joy I am familiar with is a fiddle tune, which is played everywhere from the Shetland islands to North America. The story goes that the tune was made by an Irishman in jail during the 1700’s. The tune was so catchy that the jailers set the Irishman at liberty. I would be interested in knowing who set words to the tune and when(if in fact it is the same tune) if anyone happens to know.

Ruthann May 27, 2006 at 7:20 am

You think that country music (even OLD country music) has gory lyrics? Try the centuries-old Child Ballads (named after Francis J. Child, the man who documented them, not written for children). LOTS of murder and mayhem in them thar tunes (there are more than 300 of them). Folks killing their mother, father, son, daughter, sibling, lover, husband, wife…

Tim Rohr May 27, 2006 at 4:00 pm

I posted this on the related site, but for the record:
Tim Rohr Says:
May 27th, 2006 at 4:55 pm
I don’t have time to read all the replies, etc., but seems like some of us pay no heed to the maxim “the medium is the message”. In music this is particularly true. As a musician and avid student of both the history and the physics of music I must say that we cannot negate the power of the music itself, despite the text, to ennoble or to degrade. Physiologically, music has the power to “center” one or destroy one’s center. Since there is no time or room for a long discussion on the issue I would simply remind you of the reason wny “marching” music is selected for going into war, whether it be the battlefied or the football field, and why another type of music mixes better with alcohol and dim lights. Neither type of music has to have words. The music stands on its own. Our Church in its wisdom knew which type of music to give “pride of place”, and for good reason. Too bad we ignore it.

MissJean May 27, 2006 at 5:11 pm

Jay, I’m the person who made the comment about the “Out of Hell Free” card on the posted link. Since my family is mostly Protestant, we often talk about the balance between being saved by grace and not through works and faith without works being dead. I stand by what I wrote. My late uncle believed that when he accepted Jesus as Lord, he needn’t even TRY to correct his behaviour. He was not alone in believing this. Another family member, a Protestant minister, has seen similar notions when he began a new ministry. This is a warping of the promise of salvation, just as those “sorta” Catholics who think as long as they do good things and give to charity, they’ll go to heaven – without developing a personal relationship with Jesus as their Saviour.

Mary May 28, 2006 at 8:07 am

A man describing the lessons learned from Child ballads: one was if you are pregnant, and this is inconvenient to anyone, NEVER EVER be alone with that person.

Maureen May 28, 2006 at 7:10 pm

The thing about music is… you write what you write and sing what you sing — what comes to you and what works. There is a lot that depends on things that musicians can’t put into words or make decisions about in any ordinary way. Intuition and feeling one’s way, that’s how you learn to write songs or perform. Every time it works, that’s a gift. You have no guarantee of ever being able to perform well, or at all, ever again.
Certainly there is plenty of rap out there which is positive. But then, there was heavy metal that was positive, too. It’s not the genre; it’s the individuals who make up that genre. And of course, the same musician can produce pernicious hateful or seductive crud and searing portrayals of the human condition. (Sounds like a few musicians I know, in fact.)
I will say that I highly recommend the recent hip hop album Voices from the Front Line, as being the perfect example of rap as folk music, expressing all sorts of emotions and thoughts which come from the heart.

James May 29, 2006 at 7:14 pm

Jimmy (Akin Breakin’ Heart) said:
“As to the paradox of why particular singers will sing both religious songs and those that glorify sin, the answer to that is simple also: They’re doing what singers have always done . . . trying to make money.”
Not always true. In the old days in Ireland, there were a few “professional” musicians who maybe got a small stipend if he played at a wedding or something. These were the notable ones. There were also plenty who just played for the fun of it, at home, at house parties, etc. Music was an integral part of the fabric of the people’s lives, and the majority of people could play some kind of instrument and/or sing.
They did both religious and sinner songs because they, and the people they played for, were both religious and sinners. And even the ones who tried not to be sinners enjoyed songs about sinners and sinning nonetheless.
So, I think rather than money being the root issue, it is rather a matter of what people like and what reflects their experience, which also naturally happens to be what makes money for those who are professionals.
Ryan said:
“I’m a Catholic banjo player, and I don’t find many Catholics who understand folk music, and I definitely don’t find many folk musicians who understand Catholics.”
I’m a Catholic fiddle player.
In Ireland most folk musicians *are* Catholic.

mulopwepaul May 30, 2006 at 7:44 am

Please don’t try to tell me that country, western or bluegrass music are folk musics. They all spring from the 1920’s and 1930’s and the advent of the radio. People who mistake them for traditional music are taking what the record companies want you to believe as some sort of revealed truth.
We can talk about old time music, but that’s an entirely different set of songs, and the genre simply can’t be interpreted the same way.
The ballads and tunes written before the advent of mass media have a documentary/journalistic quality that we no longer expect, so the ballads about shootings and adulteries are reported mainly as matters of fact, without the need for editorialising, but I challenge anyone to produce an actual folk song documented in more than one location which documents any sort of crime or sin which presents those acts in a positive light.
There’s an entirely different set of assumptions that went into music before it became a matter of business, and was instead a commonplace activity.

mulopwepaul May 30, 2006 at 7:47 am

I should add that any song which has a copyright is by definition not truly a folk song.

mulopwepaul May 30, 2006 at 7:55 am

I also don’t mean to suggest that mainstream Catholicism in the U.S. is is any better shape than mainstream Protestantism, or that pious southern Protestants don’t exist. But pious southern Protestants must surely have noticed that they’re no longer driving southern culture the way they did before the advent of mass media.

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