WHY do people make art, write songs, tell stories? Partly, it’s to deal with pain and suffering. This week I spoke to one of my musical heroes about the lineage of dark, gloomy folk songs from the American South — many of them originating in the British Isles, from Child Ballads and the like.
Here is what Welch had to say about the tradition of tragedy. She starts off this way:
I want to talk about the tradition of tragedy in Southern folk music. This tradition connects with why people make art – to deal with the gnarliest, most painful events that occur. Things beyond your control, almost beyond human understanding. This is why we sing about them: the sinking of the Titanic, hurricanes, rapes, assassination, murder, suicide, drugs …
Music used to be the be-all and end-all of entertainment and art, for the populace, back before TV and movies. Obviously there were books and stuff, but movies were much more inclusive. Now, in our popular culture, most people who have heavier subjects put it in a film or in a miniseries. Music is no longer the place to deal with things like, “My mother died,” which it used to be.
Welch, and her musical partner David Rawlings, are very near the top of my favorite living musicians. (I played, with an old band, three or four of their songs on guitar, and study Rawlings playing as closely as I can.)
Very eager to see what Welch and company come up with next, as they bring this tradition into the 21st century.