Art survival and extinction

Extinction, again.

Alan Lomax and Harry Smith were fighting an interesting battle: keeping the stories and music alive of the peripheral communities and outcasts in the US middle class that like to roll its culture as flat as a pizza. These two were saving the artists who were square pegs from being forced into the round holes.  

Among many things, Alan Lomax made field recordings of musicians and later curated albums (eventually for the Smithsonian). Some of his finds were Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Burl Ives and Woody Guthrie. 

Harry Smith, another polymath, was a collector first, scouring everywhere for rare 78 records in blues, Cajun, country and gospel. His most famous work came to life when he catalogued and designed nearly 90 songs on a three-record set called the Anthology of American Folk Music that thrust these old tunes from obscurity to the cutting edge and the forefront of the folk revival. 

Some of the musicians these two cultural geologists found (one way or another) would most likely have been found. Sometimes life works like that. We can’t say for certain. What we can say is that these musicians have been saved from possible extinction. 

Not like dinosaur extinction, whether by comet or the lonely struggle against a changing world. These musicians would have grown extinct by a more insidious force: apathy. In the US, failing to grab attention is a death knell, today as it was in 1957. The cultural machinery then, like now, has the power to grey out those intractable cultures. 

One way to fight that extinction, then, is trust your curators. They are leading us to the important fossils.