The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I don’t listen to the radio much anymore. I’ve never been a fan of “programmed” music and miss the days of a colorful and knowledgeable individual (or individuals) sharing their taste and discoveries with me. And no, I’m not going to “pay” for radio to get that type of service – some things were just meant to be free-with-ads and, unlike television, there have always been a plethora of competing radio stations to tune into – even here in the North Woods.

So I get my music the old fashioned way – friend recommendations, movies, tv shows – and with YouTube I can sample to my heart’s content. And maybe I’m a snob, having grown up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, but I’m not that impressed with what’s out there today. When I used to buy an album, there were one or two songs on it that you didn’t like – I find today it’s the exact opposite (thank you Amazon, for allowing me to pick what I buy, instead of sticking me with everything).

And maybe because I don’t listen to radio anymore I’ve missed this, but there doesn’t seem to be any “American Folk Music” out there anymore (granted, some of the best was done by Canadians). I’m talking about Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the true master of prose for a generation, Bob Dylan. Has anyone (except maybe Paul Williams) had more songs “covered” by more artists than Bob Dylan? None come to my mind, except maybe The Beatles.

I’d have to say my favorite PPM song was always “Stewball”, and my second was “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (PPM covering, who else – Dylan). Oh sure, Puff may have been their most popular, but not for me – and they had their own hit with “If I Had a Hammer”. All of these simple songs, describing life through their eyes.

Since I’ve never really enjoyed the nasal, whiny sound of Bob Dylan’s voice (just something about it irks me, like nails on a chalkboard), I’d have probably missed most of his songs – which would have been a HUGE loss for me. Thankfully others saw the quality in his work and paid for the privilege of repeating it, allowing me to savor in the joys of a true poet laureate. And I may be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that most of the best selling Dylan songs were performed by others.

I was really kind of late to the Folk scene – it played in the background to my poets of the time – John Lennon and Jim Morrison. I’d always been partial to rock, and while I was aware of the folk artists work, it wasn’t until later that I truly began to appreciate what they brought to the table. Like Joni Mitchell – all I really thought of her was “Big Yellow Taxi”. It never crossed my mind that songs like “Circle Game” were written specifically for her friend, Neil Young, who lamented in his song “Sugar Mountain” about his sadness in growing older (you can’t be 20, on Sugar Mountain), and how she felt his sadness in leaving his teens.

And maybe it’s just that I’m so impressed with the maturity and vision that these folks had at such a young age – neither of which I possessed until much later in life. And who from my generation doesn’t think of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving Day? Mr “City Of New Orleans” himself a prodigy of his father Woodie, another great folk master. And as I look around, I can’t, for the life of me, find anyone that even comes close to these people.

As I said at the start, I don’t listen to radio anymore, so maybe I’m just missing the next great folk artists. Rap and hip-hop seem to have taken it’s place concerning life being described through someone’s eyes. Except that most of that music has a truly negative connotation to it – no lament, no “promise of tomorrow”. And much like disco (with a few exceptions), it’s something I really don’t care for (even more than Dylan’s voice). So, to steal a phrase from Pete Seeger,

Where have all the flowers gone
Long time passing
Where has all the folk music gone
Long time ago
Where’s America’s peaceful heart
To me it’s silent now
When will they ever learn
Oh when will they ever learn