Authenticity: Why We Need Folk Music in a Modern Society

Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
Many times I've often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

- Lyrics of "Girl from the North Country" by Bob Dylan.

These words were penned in the early 1960s by a young but world weary Bob Dylan. The song appeared on the now infamous "Freeweheelin'" album of 1963. A simple song consisting of nothing more than a finger picked guitar, ragged vocals and occasional bits of harmonica. I am a big fan of all of Bob Dylan's music, the folk, rock and roll, country and blues, but this song remains one of my absolute favorites.

Not old enough to have heard Dylan sing in the 60s, the "freewheelin'" album was my first experience with his music and with real folk music the likes of Woodie Guthrie, Leadbelly and Alan Lomax. When I first hear the album I was convinced that Dylan was a wanderer about the age of 50 or 60 who had more experience than I could ever have, not the 20 something year old he was when he recorded it. It had an authenticity and weariness that I figured must have come from age, but I learned that it was less about age and more about experience and honesty. These lyrics are so starkly honest as they tell a story of lost love, remembrance and sadness, that it becomes very hard not to relate or at least understand where Dylan was coming from. They read like a direct window to the soul so honest and authentic in nature that they are hauntingly real. The works of Guthrie, Leadbelly, Lomax and other folk artists also share this authenticity. They are the songs of regular, honest people, singing what they like and what they believe. This authenticity had a tremendous impact on me and my view of society, music, culture, individuality and life.

Image in Society
With the increased commercialization of music, it was inevitable that the music industry and certain artists would become increasingly interested in maximizing their profit and money making capabilities. We have formulas on how to be a successful pop star, groups designed with a particular image and artist image overtaking the actual soul of the artist. This produced form of music lacks something very vital to the soul of the music: authenticity, and has replaced it with an image designed to make money. Even folk music has gotten an overhaul to help it reach the largest possible audience. Sometimes these production and marketing images are completely harmless, the skill and soul of the artist showing through, but other times

These images exist outside the music industry as well. In a society that seems increasingly driven by money and greed, there seems to be an increasing number of unethical, amoral cheats, liars and shady characters pervading our everyday lives. This makes it hard to believe that anyone is being authentic or even be honest ourselves for fear of being hurt. Instead we create an image, a reputation, a legend per say, that exists in society along with us. This image dictates how we act and how we treat people but is not reality. We use it to hide who we really are for fear of ridicule, being hurt, being taken advantage of or being outcast. Other times we use a specific image and projection to get what we want, assuming a persona or personality because we know that it will allow us to achieve what we desire.

It is perhaps impossible to completely eliminate these images from our lives as there will always be occasions where we will slip into a certain public image either accidentally or on purpose. The problem exists when these images overtake our lives, completely eliminating authenticity and honesty, leading to paranoia and undermining trust.

When we become aware of image in society and why they're used, it is easy to become increasingly paranoid and suspicious about other people. We start to question other people's motives, whether they're using a public image to hide their feelings for fear of being hurt, or for the purpose of manipulating us. This makes it increasingly difficult to trust, leading to resentment and hatred.

This is a major problem in modern society. I've even been accused of using the image of an honest person for personal gain. I insist that I'm just being myself (and I really am, no side motive, not even money, the proof right now being that I'm poor) and that seems to just increase the sentiment that I must be lying because "no one can be that honest all the time, everyone has an agenda." I'm still honest with these people, they just choose not to believe it. When we don't trust people, of course they are going to appear to have an agenda and be out to hurt us because that is all we are open to believe, and in turn is all we will see.

As a society we need something authentic to reassure us that people can be honest, not everyone is out to hurt us, and we don't need to put on airs to get what we want out of life. If we can't be honest, why should we expect other people to be?

Why We Need Folk Music In Modern Society
The wide reach and influence of music makes it the perfect media to instill any kind of social change. Music was the guiding force behind the psychedelic movement of the late 60s, and has for a long time been interwoven with social causes and social changes. I believe that music is a direct link to the soul when done correctly, and so by letting artists bare their soul, we can connect with them on a very personal level. This allows us to relate to them, understand a little about where they're coming from, why they think the way they do and in turn become more empathetic. This then translates into our actions with others. When we see an artist being completely honest, bearing their soul and being authentic, it shows us that we can do this too and still be accepted by our peers. By infusing authenticity back into our music we can encourage people to be more honest, open to honesty in other people and show them that you don't have to put up these false fronts to be accepted, successful or appreciated.

It doesn't necessarily have to be through folk music, but can include any genre as long as the authenticity and realism that is so prevalent in folk music is included. Blues is another very honest genre and other genres can be too depending on the artist. Authenticity in all genres in music can help to break down these fake images and personae encouraging people to trust each other again.

Empathy, honesty and authenticity are only ways that we can create a better society, and have peace. This is not a cure all, that's for sure, but maybe remembering and appreciating the simplicity and honesty of folk music can help us recover the authenticity that seems to elude us in the modern world.

References Include: for lyrics and for dates and some biographical information.


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