TUESDAY

Eleven paragraphs into the introduction of Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground, Scott Alarik tackles the Question: “What is folk music?” It’s a gutsy move—that discussion generally deteriorates into a conversational death spiral only marginally more productive than comparing a Usenet correspondent to Hitler or declaring that Bush stole the presidency. Alarik doesn’t get too far himself: “Folk was the label given to…the music made by ordinary people” and the “soundtrack to their daily lives.” Then the term was a synonym for popular music before the early-20th-century boom of radio and recording studios allowed more people access to “their own professionally made music.” But the term “folk” also described “a genre of professional performing and recording artists who emerged from, or adhered to, that older form of musical expression.” Oh, yeah, and it might be music by “artists who continue to play in traditional styles” or the work of “modern songwriters who seek to write about authentic life experiences in more honest, closely observed, and intimate ways than mainstream pop usually does.” Me, I favor the definition given by someone at this year’s Folk Alliance Conference in Nashville: “Folk music is country or pop played by people who aren’t pretty.” It’s cynical and inaccurate, but it’s as pithy as a Hazel Dickens song and as economically striking as a Scottish ballad. Join Alarik—a musician as well as perhaps the country’s foremost folk-music journalist—when he speaks at noon Tuesday, Oct. 21, at the Library of Congress’ Mary Pickford Theater, 101 Independence Ave. SE, free, (202) 707-5510, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, at Borders, 18th & L St. NW, free, (202) 466-4999. (Pamela Murray Winters)