You Call That Folk?

Whenever there is a revival of folk music, the music gets further from its roots — and gets closer to being ludicrous.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now we're not trying to imply any link at this point, but we're moving from hemp to folk music.

Commentator Daniel Pinkwater says that he has noticed that every few years, there's a resurgence of that art form. It's the folk music, not the hemp.

DANIEL PINKWATER: Mostly I hear it on the local college radio station. Only I never hear Leadbelly or Big Bill or Blind Lemon or any of those guys because the kids playing the records never heard of them.

As time goes on, chances get better that their parents never heard of them. The songs are familiar but you don't hear the original artist because they couldn't have been recorded digital live.

A friend of mine a few years younger than myself recorded hours of folk songs off the radio and then edited them down into a cassette of his favorites. He liked the results so much he made me a copy.

What I heard were songs I've known most of my life but without energy, conviction or personal significance. I know these baby crooners aren't at fault. They don't know any better. But something has been lost in the generations since any of the current exponents of the oral tradition might conceivably have jumped down or turned around, let alone picked a bale of cotton.

It may be that the listener doesn't know what I'm getting at. Ask yourself, is there anything wrong with this lyric? Take this hammer, carry it to the captain, tell her I'm gone.

If this seems about right to you. Just forget I ever mentioned it.

(Soundbite of song, "Take This Hammer")

Mr. HUDDIE WILLIAM LEDBETTER (aka LEADBELLY; Folk and Blues Musician): (Singing) Take this hammer, carry it to the captain, take this hammer, and carry it to the captain.

SIEGEL: Daniel Pinkwater is author of "The Neddiad."

(Soundbite of song, "Take This Hammer")

Mr. LEDBETTER: (Singing) Carry it to the captain, you tell him I'm gone. You tell him I'm gone. If he asks you was I runnin', if he asks you, was I runnin'...

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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