Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Participation Generation

The old-photos blog Shorpy has had a few pictures up lately showing everyday folks making music back in the 1940s. The one at left shows a pick-up band at a Florida trailer park. An earlier entry shows "boys in the bunkhouse" gathered around a stove and a guitar.

These resonated for me with parts of an interview with Levon Helm I heard this morning on my commute. It was a rebroadcast of the December 11 edition of Fresh Air. Terry Gross was working through Helm's history and talking about his new album, Dirt Farmer, reflects the influences of his early life.

Levon Helm, once the drummer and a singer with The Band and a solo artist of some repute, has established a new tradition of regular in-studio house parties featuring a variety of great musicians at his place up in Woodstock. They started as a kind of rent-party a few years back when he was working through bankruptcy and recovering from throat cancer. They echo a style of house-party that was a part of his Arkansas childhood back in the 1940s and 50s.

Helm, musing on those sorts of parties and the fact that his father used to perform at some of them, used the phrase "participation generation" to refer back to a time when anyone might pick up a guitar, a fiddle, a washtub, or a beat-box and join in a pick-up band.

That's part of what I see in these photos.

Update: Here is an even better view of the jam session shown above.

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