Monday, December 09, 2002

I want to add something to my comments about formalism. I don't care if it's Robert Johnson, The Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family or Johnny Cash: when members of the educated bourgeoisie take an interest in 'roots' music it's not sincerity that draws them in, but a rigorous and formalized theatrical presentation, and serious craft. Listening to Ralph Stanley you know the importance of faith in his life, but it is not his faith that attracts you it's his voice (he sings better than most believers). He constructs his singing with an interior logic and it's that logic, that pattern, as the song travels from beginning to middle and end—to resolution: the structure of all narrative—that's communicated to his audience. He constructs something with a sense that it has to be just so, and listening to it we're compelled to agree.

I watched a mediocre documentary on the tube recently, about Lon Chaney. It had a great quote: It's not an actor's job to feel the emotions of his character, it's his job to make the audience feel them. Eric Alterman and John Nichols, both of whom write in The Nation, always use sincerity as a yardstick, and it's stupid.
If art were about sincerity being in love would get you laid.

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