The folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) was a pretty impressive individual. Recorder of many unknown musicians in the midst of their daily lives, as well as such figures as Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter (aka “Leadbelly”), Muddy Waters, and Jelly Roll Morton. With the recent Coen Bros movie taking on in satirical fashion the folk music revival of the 1960s, I thought it could be interesting for some to see this lively 1991 interview conducted by journalist Charles Kuralt with Lomax, who was a very unconventional fellow for his time, and as is clearly evidenced here, quite a talker. From the interview’s first part, Lomax describes the role of the folklorist:
“I think our job is to represent all the submerged cultures of the world. You and your CBS and all your big amusement industries represent a way of silencing everybody. You know communication was supposed to be two-way, but it’s turned out to be basically one-way. From those people who can afford to own a transmitter which costs a few million dollars to a little guy who can afford to buy a receiver which only costs a few bucks. … I think the most important thing anyone can do is to try and restore the balance. I call this cultural equity. The slogan is every culture with its equal time on the air and in the classroom. Cultural equity should join all the other principles of human dignity. … Freedom for every culture to express itself cause that’s all we’ve got you know. Culture … Human beings are about 98 % culture and 2 % individuals.”
For more on Lomax check out the Alan Lomax Archive at: http://www.culturalequity.org/. And jazz historian John Szwed (who previously wrote biographies on Miles Davis and Sun Ra) wrote a fascinating book on Lomax recently entitled The Man Who Recorded the World (2011).