WINNERS: John Adamian reviews Holy Modal Rounders doc dvd

Lunatic folk-poet pranksters The Holy Modal Rounders get their own documentary

Bound to Lose…The Holy Modal Rounders dvd
directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas and Paul C. Lovelace

Reviewed by John Adamian

originally published in Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

It’s hard to imagine a music scene more in a need of subversive humor, half-crazed irreverence, and a swift attitudinal kick in the ass than New York’s folk scene in the early 1960s. The folkies in the Lower East Side circa 1963 called out desperately for jesters to deflate their over-serious pieties and do-good earnestness. But when Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber, a pair of hard-partying absurdist folk poet-pranksters, gave the scene just what it needed in the form of the first Holy Modal Rounders record, the effort was met with puzzlement or offended condescension by the established order. As music critic Robert Christgau says early on in Bound to Lose—a loving, engaging and sometimes painful documentary about the group —the Holy Modal Rounders were folk geniuses on the order of Bob Dylan, because they had internalized the founding documents of the movement, most notably Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, and they’d approached the business of making folk music with the zeal and experimentation of the abstract expressionist painters and beat poets who partied at the same bars.

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