Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University
Growing old gracefully
never has been an ambition of mine. The growing old part, that’s
a given, or at least the lesser evil. The graceful part, though, that’s
just uninteresting. It sounds to me like a euphemism for going quietly.
What I don’t want to do is get out of touch, which means I try to
stay current with the means of communication that are commonplace to generation
next. Young folks, for instance, are into digital music. They copy it,
steal it, bootleg it, and trade it in the form of compressed sound files
called MP3s. Well, it took a while, but I now can do what every 19-year-old
in the country can. I’m doing MP3s.
As I travel the country doing lectures about life on the plains, often
singing regional folksongs and my own compositions, people often ask (they’re
probably just being kind) whether I have any tapes or CDs for sale. And
I always say I’m not going to get into that business. If people
really want some of this stuff, perhaps the new technology is a way to
make it available, while doing some good for a good cause.
Now operating, at least on a trial basis, is a branch of the Plains Folk
Web site (www.plainsfolk.com)
devoted to MP3 files. I’ve loaded three kinds of pieces here. First,
Plains Folk columns, each about 5 minutes. Some people might like these
readings to make car CDs for the road. Second, traditional folksongs,
starting with “Red River Valley” and “The Prisoner’s
Song.” Third, original compositions, beginning with “The Table
and Tavern Song” and “Hazel’s Hands.” It’s
a more-guts-than-brains proposition to record this latter piece, performed
as voice unaccompanied, for the public, but I hope my rendition does the
It’s a start. Many more recordings are coming. Visitors to the MP3
page will note that I ask those downloading sound files to make a contribution
to one of my charitable causes.
Speaking of technologies, and turning them to good old-fashioned causes,
let me invite attention to another effort intended to foster healthy discussion.
It’s a weblog, or blog, devoted to the discussion of books on the
Great Plains of North America. Called the Buffalo Commons (ironies intended),
this blog (another branch from www.plainsfolk.com)
will host discussions by members from up and down the country. It’s
just now set up and open for business.
Anyone can become a member and join in discussions. Contributing editors
will be mainstays, providing reviews of new books and reports on literary
events. The first event covered was a reading by author Mark St. Pierre
from his novel, “Of Uncommon Birth: Dakota Sons in Vietnam.”
The reading took place at the Zandbroz store in Fargo on Feb. 6.
The vision is that readers from Texas to Alberta will regard this as a
place to talk about what they have read and to meet other readers, along
with authors. Our write-up on the St. Pierre reading includes a photo
of proprietor Greg Danz welcoming the author and a sound file of St. Pierre
reading from the book.
Notices and reviews of books, along with notices and reports on readings,
will be set pieces in the Buffalo Commons. Later we hope to add chats
with authors, visits to literary sites, and appreciations of regional
Visitors to the Buffalo Commons or to the Plains Folk MP3 page will find
they are just new bottles for old wine. They convey things like conversations
about books and recordings of folksongs. These are things that new media
cannot improve upon. If you have trouble getting into them, have your
grandkids show you how.
Tom Isern, (701) 799-2942, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, email@example.com
here for a TIF photo of Tom Isern that is suitable for printing.
(1.5MB b&w photo)
here for a TIF photo of Tom Isern wearing a hat that is suitable for printing.
(1.3MB b&w photo)