"That sensitivity seems inevitable, I think, because what we consider folk today might actually be a strange and particular thing. It’s not a living tradition, really. It’s more like a snapshot of a tradition—American rural music as it existed at the precise moment that someone thought to make recordings of it. At some point in the twenties or thirties, once enough of those recordings had been made, the whole thing was trapped in amber: It became, officially, the oldest version of rural-American “folk” music that anyone could go back to consult and imitate using their own ears. It became, almost by technological accident, the wellspring and the touchstone, leaving every generation of revivalists looking like a bunch of people holding blurry Polaroids of Eden and arguing over how to resurrect it. It’s like a cargo cult in reverse: Instead of “primitive” people coming across a modern object and surrounding it with elaborate mystical explanations, we get modern people discovering something traditional and erecting intellectual fetishes around it. And looking back to the “beginning,” even out of an earnest, uncalculated love of the music itself, is always going to be at least a little bit ideological, a response to whatever’s happened since."