Just downloaded John Szwed's new biography
Alan Lomax -- The Man who Recorded the World.
Very enjoyable and a peek into the OTR world from
an oblique angle. I did a quick google on Lomax and didn't find much
available for free, just lying around. Quite a bit expensively pre-packaged
and for sale. I mean, the stuff is over 75 years old and was gathered
at taxpayer expense for the Library of Congress. Isn't that Public
Domain by definition?
Alan and his father were
dragging hundreds of pounds of disc-cutting recorders
and acid-filled batteries to Texas prisons and Mississippi
plantations, to capture folk music in its most natural state,
even as radio and pop music were erasing it.
Later Alan's wife was the breadwinner, writing radio scripts
and working with Norman Corwin and others. Alan
had a show, off and on, and much is made of the uncertain
life in radio, working from show to show, trying to find
sponsors (though in Lomax's case, the big Rockeffeller
and Guggenheim foundations, rather than Lever Brothers
and Bristol Meyers advertisers). The book also recounts
his championing of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly
and their radio appearances.
Less is made of the McCarthy era; seems Alan took the
opportunity to go folk song collecting in Europe for several
years, until things cooled down. Integrationism is a theme;
his father studied negro culture, but didn't particularly like them.
Alan would prefer Leadbelly's company to Ralph Bunche's or
Thurgood Marshall's. I haven't finish the book yet. Curious
to see his role in the civil rights era.
As he got older, his mania for collecting waned and was
replaced by a mania for systematizing and categorizing
Folklore into a scientific discipline. From what I gather
from the charitable comments in the book and some nastier
ones in blogs, his gifts were as a recordist, making people
feel at ease and willing to sing into that scary box.
Scientists are split into theorists and experimentalists;
they don't naturally evolve from one to the other as they age.
As Steve Martin said about the great folk music scare:
Can you believe that shit almost caught on?
He was indeed a star.