Thursday, 9 July 2009


I picked up Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers last night at a friend's, and thought it seemed fairly reasonable and worthwhile on first glance.

Anyway, the opening vignette - a eulogy to the benefits of good upbringing and background based on the story of an uncannily healthy Italian-American community - got me thinking about latter day attempts to recapture communitarian ideals, and (perhaps inevitably, for me) modern folk music was the first example that sprung to mind.

But, for all that I love it, thinking things over, it struck me that post-revival folk music on the whole seems to be a remarkably family- (as opposed to community-) oriented beast, constructed around a series of dynasties - Carthy/Waterson, The Kerrs, Prior/Kemp etc.

Of course, this has always been the way of things, to an extent, and it doesn't contradict the central thesis of Outliers at all, but the fact of this collective principle having shrunk to the atomistic level of the nuclear family seems like a bit of a shame. Basically, playing folk music growing up, sometimes it felt like there was a strong element of elitism in the genre, which was a massive paradox in light of its staunchly anti-elitist ideological core.

Sometimes it seemed to me that it would be difficult to take things beyond a certain point unless you were a member of a 'folk family', that there was an element of exclusive 'flame-carrying' that precluded any notion of folk music as a viable communal entity, that even this archetype of modern neo-collectivism, couldn't hope to build enclaves larger than the familial unit.

And if even folk music can't manage this ...

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