Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Alan Lomax," briefly reviewed

 Author John Szwed, who has also done bios of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, does an excellent job of delineating the work of Alan Lomax; work which altered the landscape of American music. Lomax doggedly sought out musicians in remote areas and prisons and brought their music to light-live, through radio, film and television. He was an early advocate of the need to provide a socio-political context for the music, which changed the approach of music archivists both in the US and abroadHe championed civil rights and tirelessly promoted the work of unknown musicians. 


Lomax was a driven, complicated man, who seems to have been as busy internally as he was externally. He was a risk-taker who was both inspired by and psychically somewhat intimidated by his father John. His sexual/romantic/family life was extremely complicated. He turned to and championed the talking cure. Despite his many successes and wide cultural acceptance, he remained broke his whole life. While elucidating an inner life is challenging, I would have liked Szwed to have put a little more meat on those particular bones. 

That said, this book does a fine job of showing us the power of Lomax's work. To some of us, more preoccupied with jazz, Alan and John Lomax are names we recognize and associate with folk music, but as this biography shows, Lomax pere et fils played a very important role in the preservation and presentation of several styles of American music-especially African-American music. A highly recommended read.

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