Saturday, February 09, 2013

Rust Belt Chic Richard Thompson

I used to be a folk rock nerd. That was my gateway drug to more traditional folk music. If I had to put a label on the genre I most appreciate now, I'd go with "American Roots". This journey all started with guitarist Richard Thompson:

Thompson deserves that Americana songwriting award, and then some. Over the years, he's balanced black humor and straight-ahead lyricism, cynicism and idealism, and done it all with style. Electric may or may not be Americana, but it rocks hard, and Thompson's songwriting is at a peak. In late March, Thompson will embark upon a series of dates featuring his electric trio along with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. As you would expect from such an accomplished songwriter, he chooses his words carefully, and displays a dry sense of humor that is as bracing as his music. The Cream recently caught up with Thompson via phone, and you can see our chat below. ...

... You combined folk and jazz on one of my favorite records of yours, Industry, which you did with bassist Danny Thompson in 1997. Is it fair to say that it straddles the fence between populism and artiness?

I think so. That record speaks of our love of the industrial age, in the sense that I love communities that grew up because of industry — these amazing steel-working towns and coal-mining towns that were just extraordinary places, and [with] wonderful human beings. Even though the jobs were, in some cases, terrible, the communities were the opposite: The communities were extraordinary, people working alongside each other in dangerous situations. That tends to breed a certain kind of spirit, and a certain kind of music, and a real camaraderie that really is gone now from Britain. It just isn't there anymore. I think that was something that we missed, and that we wanted to pay tribute to.

It's similar to what the United States has experienced as the industrial Rust Belt has aged.

It's the post-industrial scene. But I kinda grew up in it as a child. To me, it was kind of a beautiful landscape, that industrial landscape, and I miss it. I really miss it.

Thompson is describing, unwittingly, Rust Belt Chic. The difference, for him, is that this romantic geography no longer exists. I think the spirit, music, and camaraderie live on. In fact, Rust Belt culture is all the trappings of industrial culture without the terrible jobs. What's really gone now from Britain and the United States is the concentration of manufacturing employment.

The optimism associated with the manufacturing renaissance in the United States is a longing for the past. For me, Rust Belt Chic is looking in the opposite direction. What will these extraordinary communities do next?

No comments: