Sunday, 16 August 2009

INTERVIEW: David Rovics

David Rovics, a radical singer-songwriter from the US is part-way through his latest tour of Aotearoa. On his way, he answered a few questions from UNITYblog.  

How did you become a radical folk singer? Which came first?  

i was raised by progressive musicians, so it’s really hard to say...  

Is there really such a thing as folk music, as in music of “the people” today? Or is it just another genre for recording industry marketing?

i tend to avoid the term ‘folk’, since it’s too vague. but in the broad sense, folk used to mean music of the people, that is, anything other than classical music. not that classical music is an entirely elite thing, but it’s traditionally the preferred form of music of the elite, which they subsidized to a large extent to keep it going. in the 20th century that changed, and the elite music became what they play on the commercial airwaves. so is pop music ‘of the people’ in the broad folk sense? no. what do we then call ‘folk’ music? i have no idea. but there is music that is funded by the elite and music that is of the people, and i do the latter, along with lots of other artists of various genres who aren’t part of the music industry establishment.  

There’s a long tradition of political folk music in the US, going back at least to Joe Hill and other IWW song-writers a hundred years ago. These songs were written by working people as part of their struggles. How strong is that tradition today? Are these radical songs still really of “the people”? Or is political folk music something that’s only kept alive by a small audience of radical activists?  

having run several open mikes for long periods of time in my younger years, i can tell you unequivocally that regular working class people write political songs on a daily basis. they come to open mikes and sing them. some of them are pretty good! of course those that end up becoming professional musicians are the ones we tend to hear about, and by then they may not have that raw ‘field recording’ or open mike edge to them, but certainly the tradition is alive and well. not, however, part of the very limited pile of crap you’ll hear on commercial radio. and not, by any means, mostly in the musical tradition of joe hill or woody guthrie. more often influenced by indie rock, punk rock, or hiphop.  

How were things for a leftist like yourself when George Bush was in power? Do you have any interesting stories that give an insight into that time?  

george bush got old after a while, but for at least the first 5 years or so he was a real gift to the satirists. he actually named the war in iraq ‘operation iraqi liberation’ for a few hours before realizing the obvious acronymic mistake. amazing.  

What dose Obama’s election mean to you?  

mainly it means that significant sections of the ruling elite have decided it’s a good time to give a little back to the people before the people get out of hand. but it’s also very therapeutic for a lot of people that tens of millions of white americans voted for a black man for president. and it’s nice to have somebody in there who actually has a brain. seems like the last one i remember at all like that was jimmy carter.  

What do you think it will mean for the USA?

i think some concessions will be won out of the obama administration, such as somewhat better health care for a few million people at least. otherwise it all looks pretty grim and corporate-controlled. i don’t think we can expect much without a mass movement to demand it.

What do you think it will mean for the world?

i imagine it’ll mean a lot of things. hard to say. the u.s. is still the evil empire, but i’d say obama would be a bit less likely to start a new war, at least not without u.n. support...

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