Sunday, July 5, 2009

Gender Specific

My wife and spent the fourth driving down from Boston to New Bedford for the decidedly low-key alternative-to-Newport folkie fest. There is always something redemptive about a sticker price within reach of those who get their Birkenstocks as knock-offs of high-end flip-flops. I had to squint through the high sun and low clouds to see a single corporate sponsor. I couldn't place any progressive causes piggy-backpacking to the summit trails of a crunchy, retro crusade. I'm not sure whether this was to keep the music pure or keep the marketing budget in line with the low entrance fee.

Still there's something oddly inspired about bringing a group of disconnected dinosaurs like us together to listen intently to words and music. And that's the point! No one was checking in on the half-dozen other glitzier events that they sacrificed for the trend-deaf folkies. And yes the average tent-hopper was white, smokeless, and a peroxide-free fifty plus.

The most interesting of the tents we attended was unified by the theme of songs for and about men. The songwriting panel included the likes of John Gorka, Stephen Fearing, Cliff Eberhardt, and Peter Mulvey. It was curious that with the exception of mock Zeppelin chord progression from Cliff we had to get through half the session before the manly theme wasn't seen through the female lens -- even the jokes. Mulvey recounted how Chris Smither had penned a song for Bonnie Raitt and thanked some woman who covered it at some club he was visiting. The woman, unaware of who the grateful guy was, corrected him. "You didn't write that," she said. "That song was written by some gal named Chris Smither!"

The part I find curious about the need for females to complete male stories is that the reverse is patently untrue. A round-table of women songwriters could go through cycles of sisterhoods, gal pals, and workplace versus homemaker dilemma-setting scenarios and never whiff the scent of a guy, even as a side dish. It reminds me of a recent factoid from Newsweek that talks about life expectancy: smoke and you lose 15 years right off the top. Floss and you gain two. But if you're a woman and you stay married the figure is zero, neutral. The editors chose to leave out the extra years that marriage puts on for men (this blog says it's +5).

One other addendum to this is just how major an entree lesbian folk is to the world of women singer-songwriters. Talk about a world without men. The telling parallel is this -- how many openly gay folkies are we talking about? My dimming memory can produce more right-wing folkies than gay ones.

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