There are plenty of things to like about music, but my favorite thing about music is the story it tells. I don’t mean the story an individual song tells. I’m talking about the story that music tells about our culture. It doesn’t matter what genre or artist we’re referring to here, all of them exist within a broader space and all of them reflect something about society or at the very least, a societal subgroup. For me, this is profoundly interesting. That doesn’t mean that music always says something flattering about what we value; but it does say something, and that’s remarkable.
Some of my favorite music is old (like really old) and it reflects a culture that sometimes feels distant. Early American folk music reflects a DIY can-do American spirit. That DIY attitude isn’t something you’ll notice as often in this fast food, high speed internet era.
During the American folk music revival, the attitudes of American folk were meshed with political dissent, and ultimately with the beatnik culture. Soon after the folk revival, we discovered rock and roll, then punk, then grunge etc. From The Carter Family to Nirvana, music falls within specific moments. Genres invariably now carry specific meaning with them.
It’s okay that genres are recycled or re-purposed. That’s probably one of the more exciting things that an artist can do with music. And ultimately, even if a song represents nothing more than simple beauty or even teenage angst, it’s still a reflection of a moment. Music isn’t created in a vacuum and that’s what I like about it.
The Wikimedia Commons has a fine collection of free folk music here. I’d recommend starting with “Worried Man Blues” by The Carter Family.