1.0 Role of the Hero in a Voluntary Community, pp 1-3.
Lori Taylor, “The Politicized American Legend of the Singing Hero.”
Muttering something about how pleased he was to perform in a “Rape of Graft” show, he tilted up his chin, leaned into his guitar, and began to sing. Off in the wings, Alan Lomax snapped to attention and felt a surge of adrenaline as he realized—quickly, viscerally, no question about it—that the little man onstage was someone he’d often thought about but feared he’d been born too late to meet: the great American frontier ballad writer (Klein 1980: 143).
People don’t want facts—they want a hero who embodies the ideal, like Woody Guthrie did for Alan Lomax, an abstraction of a living person whose real life has been sifted through the receivers’ expectations. All societies fit their heroes into particular molds based on their own values. Folklorists of myth and ritual, for example, have concluded that there are between 10 (Joseph Campbell) and 22 (Lord Raglan) characteristics which are typical of traditional (primarily literary) heroes, many of which are evident in their modernized counterparts. The modernization of hero traditions has led to the development of many separate minor traditions of heroes. The importane of singing heroes is not simply the music they make but in their image, especially as the role is given them by those who look to these people as life guides.
By looking at the hero specifically, we can begin to understand the values of one very influential post modern community. For some, membership in this voluntary community is a dominant, life-shaping role; for others, merely a passing acquaintance with its values and communications. “There are no natives in a post modern community” (Shank 1988), but members of the community are held together by common experience. Experiences passed between tradition bearers taken on the shape of the general movement as they become formalized narratives, rites of passage, and such, but these forms can be manipulated to fit the needs of a particular tradition bearer in a specific situation, recontextualizing a segment of a commercial industry as a personalized life guide. Music scenes are just one example of post modern communities always in the process of incorporation or rejection of modern values.
The community itself—the reality of its existence, its continuous and contemporary nature—is of primary importance. But “The Politicized American Legend of the Singing Hero” is not an attempt to define the community; it is not about negotiating boundaries of the community but about figures at its value center and the communications through which the community constructs (and deconstructs) itself around these figures. Central to the community is the singing hero tradition, integrating political, musical, and social values and facilitating the spread of these values. The image of the hero, the abstraction from the life of a historical (or contemporary) figure, is an ideal that members of the group may strive to emulate.
Central to my thesis is the idea that we choose and shape our own traditions through our associations—to that the politicized American legend of the Singing Hero and its surrounding community stand as witnesses. Together, often alone together through mass media which create some distance between them, members of this community build a culture based on their chosen values around images that embody those values in the ideal.
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Lori Taylor, “The Politicized American Legend of the Singing Hero: Joe Hill, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen.” M.A. thesis, American Civilization. The George Washington University, 1990.