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A Dock Boggs BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Whole Ragged Chorus Singing the Mysterious Bloodlines of American Music BY MARK SMITH INVISIBLE REPUBLIC: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. By Greil Marcus. Henry Holt and Company. 286 pages. $22.50. THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC. Compiled and annotated by Harry Smith. Smithsonian Folkways. 1952, re-released 1997. Six compact discs with original artwork, facsimile of Smith’s booklet, and supplementary notes. $72.00. eftist politics in the United States at least until the rock ‘n’ rebel lion of the late sixties have always been closely tied to an interest in traditional \(that is, music. The labor organiz ing and red politics of the thirties and forties coincided with a major folk revival, as did the civil rights and antiwar movements of the fifties and sixties. The earlier period featured such folk-music notables as Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, the Seeger family, and Leadbelly, while the undisputed leader of the latter revival until his “betrayal” on the stage of the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 was Bob Dylan. This may seem like old news on the surface, but matters having to do with the reforms inevitably tend toward complexity. Two documents key to understanding the uses of traditional music one new, the other forty-five years old entered and reentered the public record during 1997. The new is Greil Marcus’s Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, a compelling and utterly fascinating cultural history of traditional music of the twenties and thirties, and of Dylan’s complicated interaction with this music. The old is the CD re release of one of the most influential and peculiar records in history, The Anthology of American Folk Music, a program of eighty-four songs on six discs collected, ordered, and annotated by the famously eccentric ethnomusicologist Harry Smith. Taken together, these two artifacts create a Chinese box, or mise-en-abyme, that allows the viewer to contemplate at once both the history of traditional mainly rural Southern American music, and also the way that it has been revered, appropriated, and often misunderstood, by educated, urban performers, activists, and critics. Marcus starts at the end, by exploring the profound sense of betrayal felt by Dylan fans when he “went electric.” Dylan’s public conversion was not a sudden plug-in at Newport, as it turns out, but a weeks-long shift that partly began in Austin, where Dylan played his first-ever gig with the Hawks, later to become The Band, and where, at a press conference the morning after, Dylan made several oftencited remarks about the nature of folk music and why he was moving on. “There’s nobody that’s going to kill traditional music,” Marcus quotes Dylan, All those songs about roses growing out of people’s brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into an gels they’re not going to die…. Songs like “Which Side Are You On?” and “I Love You Porgy” they’re not folk music songs; they’re political songs. They’re already dead. The ferocity of reaction to Dylan’s seachange, Marcus explains, can only be understood in the context of the importance of folk music to the radical movement. “Folk music” was proletarian music by, of, and for victims of the auction block, wage FEBRUARY 13, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25