‘Books is all right. Far as books go, but as far as they go, they still don't go far enough.’Woody Guthrie
Of all the folkies covered in this book, Lomax was probably the closest we get to a scholar. He studied philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Texas, his favourite thinkers being Plato and Hegel, and he pursued graduate work in anthropology at Columbia University, though he did not finish his degree. For their part, the Almanac Singers did have an academic come to their house for weekly lessons on dialectical materialism, but it remains uncertain what and how much they read. As Dylan recounts in the documentary No Direction Home, though he was registered at the University of Minnesota, he did not attend classes. ‘I just didn't go’, he says.
Although my folk revivalists were not disciplined as philosophers or historians or political economists, however, they put their ideas into motion by building, doing, and singing. And what weird ideas. Sometimes simple, stark, like Seeger's awkwardly lit television show or Guthrie's machinic Hootenanny; at other times, muddy and cavernous, like Lomax's cybernetic folk circuits. The writings and songs joining up with Dylan give us less coherence than his elders, but they are no less vivid or rich. If Seeger's and Lomax's thinking straddled the strategic and the tactical (but only ever in the name of the tactical folk), Dylan's blows apart strategy entirely, if not always exactly in the way that liberal-romantic celebrations of his electrification would have us believe. Whatever their particular route, these folk revivalists take for granted the tactical media slogan ‘By Any Media Necessary’, but they do not stop there. Their tactical media, and/or their folk, and/or their time, open up the terrain of struggle and joyfully occupy it.
As acknowledged at the outset, this has not been an exhaustive search or history. Lomax, Seeger, Dylan, and Guthrie in part were chosen for their synergistic connections and for their stature, but there are other routes that might have been taken.