Today’s music is the folk music of tomorrow. This means the best will be preserved, even as other music that is meant for a short turn dissolves with time. Some tunes, however, are done so well they are remade again, not just because of their copyright-free status because of their age but the message rendered that is eternal.
Folk music is no longer the popular genre as it was in the 1960’s, but there are folks who in looking for their personal roots find that the old music supports it. Music tells of the times in which it was written. Music was used, and still is, to record history. In that sense, the musician one passes on that street corner in a city somewhere in the world may be doing something that will last for centuries, when elements of the new technology has long faded.
The musicians of great reknown know this, as Elvis Presley recorded not just the modern rock and roll songs with which we are familiar but the old-time music as well, including “Old Shep” and the gospel songs that were part of his personal roots. Bruce Springsteen is another of the relatively new artists of today who looks for certain types of root music to perform, then gives it that modern twist or two that identifies it is his personal sound.
Many songs, when they have been rearranged, change so significantly that the meaning of the author has been lost. The song “Letter Edged in Black” became known by the country artists of the 1950’s through Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but its different theme in modern lyrics took away from the writer’s story of how family estrangement can cause pain for generations. This is an eternal message, even as the war protest words were that were later written to the melody and known in later years. But the history of time and the idea that we continue to learn from our history only when we know it, and the messages it gives, is lost when too many of our original music is lost as well.
So for those looking for their ancestry and building scrapbooks to identify a family, include with it a scrap of music from that same time. Look beyond the words of today in looking for the good of yesterday that we can all enjoy again.
When we speak of traditional values, traditional music needs to be included in that definition, so long as its meaning remains what identifies us all as a community of individuals with one thing in common—our humanity.
As for modern music, it too has a distinctive place in that it records the events of the day and in time will become roots music of future generations. It shares, in that regard, those old melodies that remain because we care. So those folks on Americas Got Talent may be looking for their dreams to be fulfilled, and we can look at them with new eyes when we recognize how valuable music becomes when time has passed from what we knew of simpler times.