March 26, 2011

Teaching The Anti-Vietnam War Movement Via Music

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of addressing Dr. Mark Naison's class on the '60s at Fordham. Since I spoke from a couple of scribbled notes, I'm not really sure what I said, but rather than try and reconstruct it, I'm taking the low road here and posting the notes for a CD I burned for them to listen to as homework before my stint in Bronx.

The idea was to convey to a buncha 18 and 19-year-olds the role music played in our lives back in the day and how the anti-war movement influenced rock and roll and was influenced by it, as well as to suggest the trajectory that we took from protest to resistance to (for many of us, revolution. The songs aren't in exact chronological order but group around themes I wanted to talk about.

So what, FotM reader, would you have included that I missed, and why?

I started by playing a couple of minutes of Paul Hardcastle's "19" to get them thinking about how the kids humping the boonies (and the NLF fighters seeking to liberate their homeland) were the same age as they were.

Here's the annotated playlist:

1. Baby Boom Che—-John Trudell
Trudell is a Santee Sioux who helped found and build the American Indian Movement in the ‘70s. He has since become a writer, actor and spoken word artist.

2. Masters Of War—-Bob Dylan
It’s hard today to grasp all the changes Bob Dylan sent rippling through pop music, including the raggedy-ass, intense quality of his vocals, which opened the door for half the vocalists working in rock today…

*3. Times They Are A’Changin’—-The Beach Boys
Listen hard: 50% of Dr. Naison’s class is in the grooves of this single cut.

4. Vietnam Blues—-J. B. Lenoir
J.B. Lenoir was a great bluesman in Chicago in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He had already cut “Korea Blues” and “Eisenhower Blues” in the ‘50s, though his record company, Parrot, changed the name of the latter to “Tax-Paying Blues.”

*5. Eve Of Destruction—-Barry McGuire
1965. The first protest song to hit number one on the charts. But is it a folk song? And what is it protesting?

6. Ballad Of The Green Berets—-Sgt. Barry Sadler
This little ditty was the number one song in the US for the year of 1966.

7. 2+2=?—-The Bob Seger System
Bob Seger was a working class kid out of the Detroit area, whose father bailed on the family when he was ten. One of his first recordings was a takeoff, “Ballad of the Yellow Beret,” mocking draft dodgers. This come out a couple years later. People changed fast in those days.

8. The “Fish” Cheer / I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die Rag—-Country Joe & The Fish
The band played this at Woodstock, if you do YouTube, it’s here. Watch us rise to our feet starting at about 2:15.

9. War-–Edwin Starr
Starr uses blunt contempt where Country Joe & The Fish use blunt sarcasm to deal with an increasingly insane-seeming war.

10. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place—-The Animals
Written by Brill Building aces Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in NYC and intended for the Righteous Brothers, it was bought by British manager Mickie Most for one of his best bands, The Animals. It became the theme song of the grunts in Vietnam.

*11. Talkin’ Vietnam Potluck Blues—Tom Paxton
A ‘50s peacetime vet, Paxton was part of the early folk scene in Greenwich Village. This talking blues (a pre-hiphop spoken song form) highlights the absurdity of the war.

12. Sam Stone--Swamp Dogg
The other side of the previous song. This is best known in the version by its author, singer-songwriter John Prine, but I threw this one in because the southern soul version lends a little variety to this CD and to put in a plug for the weird and wonderful Swamp Dogg, who made Dick Nixon’s personal enemies list and authored romantic songs like “If I Ever Kiss It (He Can Kiss It Goodbye).”

13. Four Days Gone—-Buffalo Springfield
Buffalo Springfield was one the California-based groups that transformed rock and roll in the late ‘60s. Their first hit was a protest song--“For What It’s Worth.” (Know what hiphop cuts this was sampled on?) This one could be about a draft dodger or someone who went AWOL, as tens of thousands did.

14. White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land—-Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs was one of the great protest singers and his buoyant “Draft Dodger Rag” (But one thing you gotta see/That someone’s gotta go over there/And that someone isn’t me) was an anti-war movement anthem. This came a few years later.

*15. Bring The Boys Home—-Freda Payne
Even in the presence of these other tunes. I hold that this is one of the two best songs to come out of the movement against the Vietnam War.

Freda Payne was a jazz singer who was trying to make a soul breakthrough and was brought by Holland-Dozier-Holland to their new Invictus label after they broke away from Berry Gordy at Motown.

*16. Honorable Peace-—B.J. Thomas
This is the other of the two best tunes of the anti-war era.

A bit of background: B.J. Thomas was a kinda soft rock guy, best known for his 1970 #1, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” He had studio time booked in late December 1972, when Nixon launched the murderous “Christmas Bombings”–4000 bomber sorties that pounded North Vietnamese cities day and night over 12 days. Gerry Goffin, who with his ex-wife Carole King, had written some of the Brill Building’s greatest songs, cranked this out in a fit of rage and persuaded Thomas to record it on Christmas Eve. The pick-up band at the recording session included two guys who had been in the blue-eyed soul group, The Rascals.

17. Ohio--Steve Earle & Marah
Neil Young wrote this just days after the National Guard opened fire and killed four students at Kent State University in Ohio during the largest campus upsurge this country has ever seen, in May, 1970. I include this version because I think the rawer, grindier sound is more appropriate than the CSNY original. Sue me. [A blog post I wrote about “Ohio” as part of a series on the May 1970 events is here at FotM.]

18. What’s Goin’ On?—-Marvin Gaye
“I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.”

*19. What About Me?—-Quicksilver Messenger Service
A San Francisco band from the same scene as Dr. Naison’s beloved Janis Joplin. Even more than in the Marvin Gaye tune, deceptively mellow music masks a deadly serious view of the world.

*The songs with an asterix are the ones I played during the actual class.

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March 25, 2011

Triangle Remembered: "IMAGINING THE HORSE"

Today being the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, I am going to push the limits of fair use by reprinting a second poem from Chris Llewellyn's magnificent Fragments from the Fire, a poetic reflection on the tragedy, first published in 1987 and now regrettably out of print. I urge FotM readers in the strongest possible terms to track a used copy down on the Internet. These two poems (the first is here) give only a taste of the power of the whole.


Captain Meehan's Horse, Yale,
was the first to arrive on the scene.

My name is Yale. At first:
Hail of cinders.
Glass. Fire bells.
Falling bales and
timbers. Blood-smell.

Tarp-covered mounds.
Waterfalls from windows.
Hoses tangled in bundles.
Gutters red to fetlocks.

Block and tackle.
Gray men in lines.
Stacks on wagons.

Slow pull up Broadway
to Fourteenth to Fourth Avenue to
Twenty-third. Clanging. Wailing.
Twenty-sixth pier.

The Sun has dropped
her mares and foals.
Plentiful as flies.
Wrapped in rows.

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March 20, 2011

Triangle Remembered: "SCRAPS"

Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and a great deal is being made of it. This is a fine development, and the culmination of a revival of interest which has been growing for years. My main regret is that it has not led to the re-publication of Fragments From The Fire, a superb meditation on the Fire in poetic form by a woman named Chris Llewellyn.

I read the slim volume when it first came out (and won the Walt Whitman Award), in 1987, and promptly ordered a few dozen of them for sale on Freedom Road literature tables. My own being long gone, early this year I replaced it online from a used book dealer. I heartily recommend that you do the same.

Since the book is out of print, I do not feel at all guilty about sharing a poem from it here in the blogosphere and hope doing so by doing so might contribute in some small way to stirring enough interest to lead to its reprinting.


Lena Goldman Speaks of Sonya

Garment workers from Triangle always came to my cafe.
Each Saturday the boys and girls in groups, arm in arm
and laughing. You'd think after fourteen hours packing
and sewing they'd be ready to drop! But not on payday

Sometimes Sonya sat alone, scribbled on scraps.
With such hours at Triangle, five brothers at home,
where else to write? Her poems weren't Moon-June or
like that. At first she only wanted to make us laugh.

There was a cruel boss named Asch
who preferred his potatas mashed.
When the women talked union he was thrashin
and stewin. Soft-in-the-head, Joseph Asch.

Oh, she was a bright one! Serious poems too:
Tonight all over the world
garment girls are looking out
looking up at stars . . .

Fourteen years old and writing English!
Well after the Fire, her father came in crying.
"Like losing her twice," he kept saying--
since Sonya's notebook burned up too.

He can't afford to educate his sons.
Yet even in better times, a daughter
wasn't sent to the House of Studies.
"But in America," Sonya said, "I will find my way."

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March 4, 2011

The Thrill Of Open Ears: Listening To Top Forty

Hey, fellow old people!

Hey, fellow music geeks among the young!

Here is the best single piece on how and why to listen to today's top forty pop music that I have read anywhere, and it's a very brief semi-pome the author calls a "wordstream" which she wrote earlier today.

Starting this introduction, I was stunned to realize that I have been on the Have_Moicy email list, dedicated to the music of the Holy Modal Rounders, Michael Hurley and whatever else suddenly gets some list regular's drawers all damp, for maybe 15 years now. One such list regular is a woman named Jane Gilday, a creative sort--paints, various stringed instruments, songwriting, poetry and lorry nose what else--who wrote this puppy. I post, of course, with her persimmons.

beat madness

my current obsession
started maybe 2 years ago,
but got waylaid here and there
until i got injured in january,
nothing to do but rest, SO:

began listening like a pre-teen
to contemporary top 40
my transistor radio is on 24/7

the pop of right now
has become vunderbar again

EVERY previous genre/style is being

BUT leaving out all the crap-stuff-drear-overdone from each previous hoopla-era
(such as: NO PENTATONIC-SCALE BORING B'LUESY' GUITAR SOLOS--super yay!...and ditch the melisma-diva ballad schmootz and ditch the bad-boy rap bravado etc.)

PLUS there's lotsa new stuff happening
impossible heretofore
or heretofore unimaginable

i almost don't even wanna write about this
for fear of somehow jinxing its insane vitality
still i'm obsessively thinking about
all this wondrous noise i'm ear-glued-to

what comes to mind, often, is the friggin anthology
like: "these people have no set patterns,
they're re-inventing everything from mistakes,
misconstrual, naivety, haste, greed, delusions,
devil-may-care', technical shortcomings etc

aka 'wrong is right' on a widespread NON SELF CONSCIOUS,
non-ARTSY-FARTSY scale.

also it's relentlessly beat-driven...
fuck lofty poetics, gimme groove every time

every era, some significant changes happen...small shifts
often about which instrument or voice keys and/or exemplifies the overall geist-zit:

this new stuff? it's all about the kick drum.
snare's been done to death,
let's take it deeper all-anon
below the belly button wet ooze thumpin'

and who says ya cant use
some crappy sample of a tambourine,
pitch-shifted down a coupla octaves
as our kick drum? huh?

odd, unexpected influences in lots of this stuff:
--the police
--afro-pop (not just south africa--the west-coast of africa stuff etc too)
--plus bollywood schmooze
--lotsa arabic/mideast...muzzein. muzzein, snakecharmin' etc.
--youngsters come of age cobbling noise via garageband progs on their macs n' similar.

anyhow, it feels like the same kinda fun it was when i was 12-13, and EVERY song on WABC-am was some kinda rush, my brain on fire trying to figger out what all this insane noise was and how could one join the fray

or: just go watch pink's video for 'raise your glass' wearing the best phones ya got with the volume at 12 and
try to do so while imagining you'd NEVER HEARD MUSIC BEFORE, because boomer-R-us baggage has its drawbacks, same as any & all other baggage ya know?

dat surfing bird spirit dun phoenixed again into bengal-paki-beasty-boys-zz-memphis (the nile version) war wooping.

stunned anonce in this dotage

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