• B F Gypsy Scholar

The Troubadours & the Pre-history of Sixties Folk-Rock & Rock Song


“Without the Provencal and troubadour singers there would be precious little in our contemporary music worth the name. True, we could have dirges and folk songs, but the strange insistent call to something else, something which awaits us, something which as human beings we have to accomplish, would probably be missing from poetry and music alike.” –G. Butler, The Leadership of the Strange Cult of Love


“The poets and singers of the Troubadour tradition envisioned love as inspiration to song.”


Concerning the songs selected for this musical essay series (from folk-rock to classic rock and beyond), the GS should point out that there is another purpose for this musical essay that kicks off on Valentine’s Day (and the musical essays that follow), because the celebration of love is also the celebration of love-in-song. Thus, the GS will use this series of musical essays to answer the question of the Western origins of our popular tradition of love-song (at least its medieval focal-point of origin), and in so doing ask his own rhetorical question on this mysterious topic; to wit, in the history of Western culture, at least since the Middle Ages, how can one separate romantic love from song?

Thus, the other endeavor of the entire musical essay series, “The Troubadours & The Beloved,” will entail tracing the origins of the Western love song back—“way, way back”—in order to re-vision (along with the notion of romantic love itself ) the popular, secular love song. And here we may see that romantic love and its natural expression in song were born simultaneously. In other words, the GS will trace the Sixties and post-Sixties secular love song all the way back to those twelfth-century (itinerant) singer-songwriters known as the “troubadours,” who sang of both the joys and sorrows, both the highs and lows of being “in love” (from V.M.’s “There’s a love that’s divine, / And it’s yours and it’s mine” to L.C.’s “And love is not a victory march / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah). It will search out a love, an amor, that was at once a passion, a fever or mania, and an ennobling force all in one. And, after traveling back to the time of the troubadours, the GS hopes that this will enable his audience to clearly see the connection of love-song forward in time to that special class of singer-songwriters of the Sixties, in order to reveal a relatively unrecognized subterranean continuity (not so much technically, but stylistically and thematically) of a musical tradition that has escaped the attention of the majority of popular music critics (or, if they only nominally recognize “modern troubadours,” then substantiating such by way of solid thematic connections between the singer-songwriter musicians of the twelfth century and of the twentieth).


The underground continuity of these historical connections was recognized by the GS, little by little, as he immersed himself in research into the background of the troubadour phenomenon of the High Middle Ages. What began as an investigation driven only by intuitions of a profound connection to folk and folk-rock music, eventually turned up formal and thematic connections with Sixties music that confirmed the GS’s hunches of a profound cultural legacy and inheritance. He then understood that the label of “troubadour” given to Sixties singer-songwriters rather haphazardly (e.g., Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Phil Oaks, Tom Paxton, Tim Buckley, Richard Farina, Donovan, Arlo Guthrie, Simon and Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Morrison, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, and etc.) was not a just a willy-nilly designation; it was rather a recognition, however dim, of a special class of poet-musicians that had always emerged to voice the soul of the people—their dreams and visions, their longings and hopes, their anguishes and their joys—, bringing renewal to Western culture.


In effect, then, what the GS discovered through his research were enduring parallels between the original troubadour Twelfth-century Renaissance and the cultural rebirth that occurred in the nineteen-sixties.


Given such a profound discovery, the GS, in this series of musical essays, would call attention to an underground artistic/cultural inheritance, a survival of such magnitude that couldn’t help but influence the singer-songwriters of the Sixties Counterculture era. Therefore, the research behind this musical essay series, “The Troubadours & The Beloved,” would suggest that although the troubadour cult of love (fin’amor) and its code—the troubadour twelfth-century counterculture—has long since disappeared, nonetheless its underlying poetic ethos and thematic musical tropes have survived and have been given new expression in the songs that became a living soundtrack to the Sixties Counterculture.


Therefore, rather than an academic discovery, as the GS assumed, it was only the beginning of a much greater revelation, one that lead beyond the strict aesthetics of poetry and music per se. Little did the GS know, up until recently, that my academic research was actually a quest of origins—a romantic quest—, and thus my heuristic research had become hermetic insearch. And here, once the GS got the initial inspiration and began to follow up the leads through the troubadour themes and troupes of folk-rock music, solid and striking confirmation was not lacking:


“Simply by inventing (or—here we go—cribbing from the Moors) not love but l'amour, love as a concept, the troubadours of Provence laid one of the foundations of rock and roll ….” –Robert Christgau, Dean of American Rock Critics


“The troubadours’ true heritage can be said in the oral compositions which were meant to be heard, like the sermons of Saint Francis or the songs of Bertolt Brecht and Anne Sylvestre, and more recently those of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Such compositions generally express spontaneity and immediacy of emotion, values which were celebrated by the troubadours. Nor do the modern “troubadours” only sing of love, but often engage in political commentary and satire. They have typically sought inspiration from the folk tradition, which in some ways mirrors the troubadours’ use of the vernacular, as a way of getting their message across to all members of society.” –Ffiona Swabey, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love, and the Troubadours.



Thus, the Sixties and post-Sixties songs heard coming out of the Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack will not only be the entertainment element in the program but will, at the same time, demonstrate the GS's thesis.