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Folk Wisdom

The acoustic sound of midcentury America.

May 23, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 34 • By RONALD RADOSH
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The good years came to an end with Bob Dylan, who singlehandedly changed the music industry and burst the boundaries established by the folkies, rejecting “finger-pointing songs,” as he called them, and writing introspective, poetic ballads in which he paid homage to his folk roots but went way past them into new, and sometimes strange, territories. It would be a long road from “Song to Woody” to “Queen Jane Approximately” and the power and beauty of his “Blonde on Blonde” album.

No longer a rebel or blacklisted, Pete Seeger enjoys honors galore and appears, instead, as an “adherent of an old ideology.” Bob Dylan sought answers in spirituality and individuality, not in political utopianism. None of the folkies created a new political vision, and no leftist successor ever emerged to replace Woody Guthrie. Indeed, the folksingers were (in Epstein’s words) “sad-eyed prophets” who proved unable to “foresee the future.” Their songs may live on, but the age of a political song movement is gone forever.


Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, is coauthor of The Rosenberg File and blogs on



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