11/17 Frank Fairfield + Horse Feathers at The Southern

November 17th, 2012 · 4 Comments · By

Much, maybe most, music being made right now is more or less explicitly cover or tribute music. Insanely spot-on nostalgia bands like Tame Impala, Veronica Falls, and even our own Eternal Summers mimic recordings of the past with unnerving historical accuracy. It’s funny, because when you fall in love with a band, you fall in love with their moment, the world they represent. These artists represent a world of fastidious scholarship in the manners and techniques of a totally ephemeral and insouciant youth culture some decades deceased.  Is that a compelling mythos? It’s like one of those silly mirror pictures of infinite recursion. “I like this band, because they like this band, that liked this band, that liked….”

Among these performers who are as much mediums or reenactors as musicians, Fairfield is the arch-anachronism. He is devoted to an idiom more distant and strange than even the bygone swells of post-war youth culture. He plays old-time music the way you hear it on Smithsonian recordings. In fact, as of last year when he played two shows in Charlottesville, Fairfield was the only living artist on the legendary Tompkins Square label (though that has changed). And despite my ambivalence about the self-referential introversion of contemporary music, there is a tangible value in that. Our recordings from the early 20th century are very poor, so we have a correspondingly shallow concept of folk or ephemeral music from that time. It’s a bit like a dead civilization. We  have an idea of what this art form was like, but nothing like the full living experience that has made old folk music so tremendously powerful and enduring. Fairfield, whatever his motivations, offers a much-needed aid to the historical imagination.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James // Nov 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Frank Fairfield is a nice gentleman, a wonderful performer, and clearly a time-traveller of some sort.

    also tonight: that movie starring Jim Waive, “My Fool Heart,” premieres at the Paramount, 7:30 pm. I interviewed Jim and Jeffrey Martin (the director) in the paper, here:
    http://www.c-ville.com/my-fool-heart-starring-jim-waive-gets-a-long-awaited-screening/
    … also, Jim is playing live after the show, and Sarah White’s new band is making their debut!

  • 2 coogan // Nov 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    it’d be cool to have some details in the post about the show, such as time and cost of tickets.

  • 3 Jeronimus // Nov 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Can you unpack this and elaborate on what you mean here? It seems that just a paragraph away you’re talking about the Borgesian infinite mirror experience of liking this because they liked that which would be the antithesis of self-referential.

    “And despite my ambivalence about the self-referential introversion of contemporary music…”

    btw: I think your point about bringing a moribund art form to life is very apt. Kinda like a 2-D pharoah turning around to give a full frontal aspect as the papyrus rips.

  • 4 Carolyn // Nov 18, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Indeed, James & Coogan.
    Jeronimus, thanks for your comment. “Self-referential” because this music calls on musical ideas, rather than on concepts and experiences outside the art form. I agree that nostalgia artists or reenactors are very far from being “self-referential” in the sense of being confessional.