Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and American Folk Outlaw Performance by Damian Carpenter
By Damian A. Carpenter
With its appeal predicated upon what civilized society rejects, there has always been something hidden in plain sight when it comes to the outlaw figure as cultural myth. Damian A. Carpenter traverses the unsettled outlaw territory that is simultaneously a part of and apart from settled American society by examining outlaw myth, performance, and perception over time. Since the late nineteenth century, the outlaw voice has been most prominent in folk performance, the result being a cultural persona invested in an outlaw tradition that conflates the historic, folkloric, and social in a cultural act. Focusing on the works and guises of Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan, Carpenter goes beyond the outlaw figure’s heroic associations and expands on its historical (Jesse James, Billy the Kid), folk (John Henry, Stagolee), and social (tramps, hoboes) forms. He argues that all three performers represent a culturally disruptive force, whether it be the bad outlaw that Lead Belly represented to an urban bourgeoisie audience, the good outlaw that Guthrie shaped to reflect the social concerns of marginalized people, or the honest outlaw that Dylan offered audiences who responded to him as a promoter of clear-sighted self-evaluation. As Carpenter shows, the outlaw and the law as located in society are interdependent in terms of definition. His study provides an in-depth look at the outlaw figure’s self-reflexive commentary and critique of both performer and society that reflects the times in which they played their outlaw roles.
Routledge. Hardcover. 240 pgs. 2018