While I was making dinner, Susie put on a CD of Pete Seegar [sic] songs. I was struck once again by the oft-remarked fact that for half a century, the left has had all the good songs. That cannot be irrelevant.
By the way, the old commie's name is 'Seeger' not 'Seegar.' In the ComBox, some guy confuses him with Bob Seger! The Left has had all the good songs over the last 50 years? Nonsense. Here are 50 counterexamples.
The really interesting case is Bob Dylan. The Left can of course claim the early topical songs such as "Only a Pawn in Their Game" and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. (Not that we contemporary conservatives don't take on board all that was good in these critiques of racism and Jim Crow.) But it wasn't long before Dylan distanced himself from politics and leftist ideology, a distancing documented in My Back Pages. And then came the absurdist-existentialist-surrealist phase represented by the three mid-'sixties albums, Bring It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After that, the motorcycle accident and another attitude adjustment culminating in a couple of masterful albums, John Wesley Harding and New Morning, in which religious and conservative themes come to the fore.
I'll give just one example, Sign on a Window, from the October 1970 album, New Morning. This marvellous version sung by Melanie Safka. The song concludes:
Build me a cabin in Utah Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout Have a bunch of kids who call me 'Pa' That must be what it's all about That must be what it's all about.
Now for a few tunes from the NRO list with the NRO write-up.
1. Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naïve idealism once and for all. “There’s nothing in the streets / Looks any different to me / And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. . . . Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.” The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend’s ringing guitar, Keith Moon’s pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey’s wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.
2. Don’t Tread on Me by Metallica. A head-banging tribute to the doctrine of peace through strength, written in response to the first Gulf War: “So be it / Threaten no more / To secure peace is to prepare for war.”
3. 20th Century Man by The Kinks. “You keep all your smart modern writers / Give me William Shakespeare / You keep all your smart modern painters / I’ll take Rembrandt, Titian, da Vinci, and Gainsborough. . . . I was born in a welfare state / Ruled by bureaucracy / Controlled by civil servants / And people dressed in grey / Got no privacy got no liberty / ’Cause the 20th-century people / Took it all away from me.”
5. Wake Up Little Susie by The Everly Brothers. A smash hit in 1957, back when high-school social pressures were rather different from what they have become: “We fell asleep, our goose is cooked, our reputation is shot.”
From time to time it is perhaps appropriate that we should relax a little the bonds that tether us to the straight and narrow. A fitting apologia for a bit of indulgence and even overindulgence is found in Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind, XVII, 8-9, tr. Basore:
At times we ought to reach even the point of intoxication, not drowning ourselves in drink, yet succumbing to it; for it washes away troubles, and stirs the mind from its very depths and heals its sorrow just as it does certain ills of the body; and the inventor of wine is not called the Releaser [Liber, Bacchus] on account of the license it gives to the tongue, but because it frees the mind from bondage to cares and emancipates it and gives it new life and makes it bolder in all that it attempts. But, as in freedom, so in wine there is a wholesome moderation.
Sed ut libertatis ita vini salubris moderatio est.
. . .
Yet we ought not to do this often, for fear that the mind may contract an evil habit; nevertheless there are times when it must be drawn into rejoicing and freedom, and gloomy sobriety must be banished for a while.
Joan Baez, Rock Salt and Nails. "If the ladies was squirrels with high bushy tails/I'd fill up my shotgun with rock salt and nails." This is undoubtedly (!)the best version of this great Utah Phillips song.
A lonely soldier cleans his gun and dreams of Galveston.
A slacker standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona spies a girl in a flatbed Ford.
Johnny Rivers heads East via Phoenix and Albuquerque.
From Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah, this sojourner of the American night has driven every kind of rig that's ever been made.
Update (9/1). Ed Farrell writes, "The Little Feat version of I'm Willin is a good one. But my favorite version will probably remain the one done by Seatraincirca 1970--which was the standard road song for Sierra climbing trips in late high school/college. Seatrain never really took off as a band but their musicianship was quite good though their style was difficult to pigeonhole."
That is a good version, indeed better than Little Feat's. There were a lot of great bands back in the day that never really made it. Another is Fever Tree. I remember hearing them circa '68 live at a club called The Kaleidoscope in Hollywood or West L. A. Give a careful listen to The Sun Also Rises.
Ed also recommends Seatrain's version of the Carole King composition, Creepin Midnight. Produced by George Martin.
Finally, please take a look at Ed's spectacular photography.
A musician needs a muse. George Harrison and Eric Clapton found her in Pattie Boyd. Here are five of the best known songs that she is said to have inspired. If you don't love at least four of these five, you need a major soul adjustment.
Once upon a time Once when you were mine I remember skies Mirrored in your eyes I wonder where you are I wonder if you Think about me Once upon a time In your wildest dreams In your wildest dreams In your wildest dreams.
Maybe somewhere down the road a ways You'll think of me and wonder where I am these days Maybe somewhere down the road when someone plays Purple Haze
[. . .]
Well it's all right, even if you're old and gray Well it's all right, you still have something to say Well it's all right, remember to live and let live Well it's all right, best you can do is forgive.
For some reason, The Monkees's Daydream Believer always puts me in mind of Jean H. who captured my fancy back in the first and second grades. I don't know why it should except for the line, "wake up sleepy Jean . . . ."
I remember my old pal Joe O. who I've known since kindergarten riffing on the "roovi do" line in the Randy and the Rainbows 1963 hit Denise, so I'll dedicate this one to him. Great video, by the way, from a time when America stood tall in the world.
List found here. Hyperlinks by BV to songs he is in the mood to revisit this Saturday night while he drinks a specialty boilermaker: a bourbon and sweet vermouth wine spodiodi with a Sam Adams Boston Lager 'chaser.' He will repeat as necessary to achieve the requisite mood. He drinks only one time per week, this time of the week. For some, alcohol is the devil in liquid form. For BV it is a delightful adjunct to a civilized life, one he can take or leave. To hell with Sharia and its 'liberal' and leftist enablers.
BILLBOARD (USA) MAGAZINE'S SINGLES CHART FOR WEEK OF:August 1,1964 TW LW Wks. Song-Artist 1 2 3 A HARD DAY'S NIGHT-BEATLES 2 1 7 Rag Doll-Four Seasons 3 6 6 The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)-Jan & Dean 4 11 5 Everybody Loves Somebody-Dean Martin 5 18 4 Where Did Our Love Go-Supremes 6 9 7 Wishin' And Hopin'-Dusty Springfield 7 8 8 Dang Me-Roger Miller 8 3 11 I Get Around-Beach Boys 9 4 10 Memphis-Johnny Rivers 10 5 9 The Girl From Ipanema-Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto 11 13 6 Under The Boardwalk-Drifters 12 14 6 Nobody I Know-Peter & Gordon 13 7 8 Can't You See That She's Mine-Dave Clark Five 14 10 9 Keep On Pushing-The Impressions 15 20 7 I Wanna Love Him So Bad-The Jelly Beans 16 12 9 Good Times-Sam Cooke 17 22 6 How Glad I Am-Nancy Wilson 18 15 9 Try It Baby-Marvin Gaye 19 23 7 Farmer John-The Premiers 20 25 7 Steal Away-Jimmy Hughes
Before getting on with tonight's theme, we pause to remember Johnny Winter (1944-2014). Can a white boy play the blues? I heard the question debated in the '60s and I took the line that the blues was a language anyone could learn whether a Jew like Mike Bloomfield (Albert's Shuffle) or an albino like Johnny Winter (Serious as a Heart Attack).
Wikipedia: According to [Dylan] biographer Clinton Heylin, "When The Ship Comes In" was written in August 1963 "in a fit of pique, in a hotel room, after his unkempt appearance had led an impertinent hotel clerk to refuse him admission until his companion, Joan Baez, had vouched for his good character". Heylin speculates that "Jenny's Song" from Brecht and Weill's Threepenny Opera was also an inspiration: "As Pirate Jenny dreams of the destruction of all her enemies by a mysterious ship, so Dylan envisages the neophobes being swept aside in 'the hour when the ship comes in'." Dylan's former girlfriend Suze Rotolo recalls that her "interest in Brecht was certainly an influence on him. I was working for the Circle in the Square Theater and he came to listen all the time. He was very affected by the song that Lotte Lenya's known for, 'Pirate Jenny'."
It was 30 years ago tomorrow, during a training run. Running pioneer James F. Fixx, author of the wildly successful The Complete Book of Running, keeled over dead of cardiac arrest. He died with his 'boots' on, and not from running but from a bad heart. It's a good bet that his running added years to his life in addition to adding life to his years. I've just pulled my hardbound copy of The Complete Book of Running from the shelf. It's a first edition, 1977, in good condition with dust jacket. I read it when it first came out. Do I hear $1000? Just kidding, it's not for sale. This book and the books of that other pioneer, George Sheehan, certainly made a difference in my life.
The atavism and simplicity and cleansing quality of a good hard run are particularly beneficial for Luftmenschen. Paradoxically, the animality of it releases lofty thoughts.
See here for a comparison of Fixx and Sartre. And here for something on George Sheehan. Now for some 'running' tunes.
Del Shannon, Runaway. Charles Weedon Westover was born 30 December 1934 and is best known for his 1961 #1 hit, "Runaway." Suffering from depression, Shannon committed suicide on February 8, 1990, with a .22-caliber rifle at his home in Santa Clarita, California. Following his death, the Traveling Wilburys honored him by recording a version of "Runaway".
I should have mentioned it last night. Today, 20 July, is not only the 30th anniversary of Jim Fixx's death, but also the 49th anniversary of the release of Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. Wikipedia:
The song had a huge impact on Bruce Springsteen, who was 15 years old when he first heard it. Springsteen described the moment during his speech inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and also assessed the long-term significance of "Like a Rolling Stone":
The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind ... The way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind, and showed us that because the music was physical did not mean it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and talent to make a pop song so that it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock'n'roll for ever and ever "
Dylan's contemporaries in 1965 were both startled and challenged by the single. Paul McCartney remembered going around to John Lennon's house in Weybridge to hear the song. According to McCartney, "It seemed to go on and on forever. It was just beautiful ... He showed all of us that it was possible to go a little further."Frank Zappa had a more extreme reaction: "When I heard 'Like a Rolling Stone', I wanted to quit the music business, because I felt: 'If this wins and it does what it's supposed to do, I don't need to do anything else ...' But it didn't do anything. It sold but nobody responded to it in the way that they should have." Nearly forty years later, in 2003, Elvis Costello commented on the innovative quality of the single. "What a shocking thing to live in a world where there was Manfred Mann and the Supremes and Engelbert Humperdinck and here comes 'Like a Rolling Stone'".
Your humble correspondent was lying in the sand at Huntington Beach, California, when the song came on the radio. It was like nothing else on the radio in those days of the Beatles and the Beach Boys. It 'blew my mind.' What is THAT? And WHO is that? I had been very vaguely aware of some B. Dylan as the writer of PPM's Don't Think Twice. I pronounced the name like 'Dial in.' That memorable summer of '65 I became a Dylan fanatic, researching him at the library and buying all his records. The fanaticism faded with the '60s. But while no longer a fanatic, I remain a fan.
But before getting on to the greaseball crooners, a bit of R & R history. London Ed reminds me that today, the 5th of July, 2014, is the 60th anniversary of the recording of Elvis Presley's That's Alright, Mama, his first commercial record. It was written and first recorded by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup in 1946. Some say that Presley's recording is the first rock and roll record. Others give the palm to the 1951 Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Kings. The associated video features footage (and 'leggage') of Bettie Page, that innocent and unwitting sex kitten of the '50s. She got religion big time later on, as did Dion Dimucci, but that's another and another Saturday Night at the Oldies . . . .
But first one who didn't. An early manager suggested to Frank Sinatra that he adopt the stage name 'Frankie Satin.' Sinatra would have none of that bullshit. He did things his way. You got a problem with that? That's Life.
Margaret Battavio (Little Peggy March), I Will Follow Him. This one goes out to the sycophants of the Ladderman.
Frank Castelluccio (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), Can't Take My Eyes Off of You. Dawn.Walk Like a Man. Wifey and I saw Jersey Boys, the movie, and enjoyed it immensely. Here's the trailer. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Gets a lot of the period details right, like women's slacks with the zipper up the back. See how many period references you can identify. Topo Gigio. The Blob. Etc.
Two pop music notables died this last week, lyricist Gerry Goffin and disc jockey Casey Kasem. Both played key roles in delivering the Boomer 'soundtrack.' Goffin, ex-husband of Carole King, died in Los Angeles on Wednesday at age 75. Here are some of the tunes he co-wrote with King.
America's greatest songwriter, Bob Dylan, turns 73 today. We celebrate with some outstanding covers of some of his best songs. There are two reasons for sending you to the covers: Dylan's own renditions tend to get removed from YouTube very shortly after they've been posted; many cannot stand Dylan's voice. If you are among the latter, these renditions may change your mind about his music.
No reason to get excited The thief he kindly spoke There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke But you and I we've been through that And this is not our fate So let us not talk falsely now The hour is getting late.
Laurence Auster comments: This Dylan song can seem amorphous and mystical in the negative sense, especially as it became a kind of countercultural anthem and meaningless through overuse. But the lyrics are coherent and profound, especially the first verse:
They say everything can be replaced They say every distance is not near But I remember every face Of every man who put me here.
The modern world tells us that everything is fungible, nothing is of real value, everything can and should be replaced—our spouse, our culture, our religion, our history, our sexual nature, our race, everything. It is the view of atomistic liberal man, forever creating himself out of his preferences, not dependent on any larger world of which he is a part. The singer is saying, No, this isn’t true. Things have real and particular values and they cannot be cast off and replaced by other things. And, though we seem to be distant, we are connected. I am connected to all the men, the creators and builders and poets and philosophers, and my own relatives and friends, who have come before me or influenced me, who created the world in which I live.
How many of these do you remember? If you were too much of the '60s then you probably don't remember anything assuming you still animate the mortal coil; if you were too little of the '60s then you won't remember any of these for a different reason. But among the latter are some very beautiful songs from that amazingly creative time.
Dick Dale and the Deltones, Misirlou. Before Clapton, before Bloomfield, my first guitar hero. "King of the Surf Guitar." Pipeline (with Stevie Ray Vaughan). Nitro (with So Cal scenes). Let's Go Trippin', 1961. The first surf instrumental?
I missed Saturday Night at the Oldies because I was in La Mirada, California, for a conference at Biola University. Ed Feser gave the keynote address and I was the commentator. More about the proceedings later, perhaps. But for now a quick make-up:
An appropriate selection given the seismic events of Friday and Saturday in LaLaLand. On Friday evening I was quietly and comfortably ensconced in an easy chair in the guest suite of the Biola Philosophy House reading the Bible and Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics back and forth, when I felt the chair shift. I was puzzled for a second until I realized that I was in Southern Calfornia, earthquake country. I thought: no big deal. As a native Californian, this was nothing new to my experience. (I remember in particular the early morning San Fernando/Sylmar quake of February '71.)
Later that night, in bed, it was a bigger deal: the bed began moving back and forth. I reflected that the Philosophy House was single-story and that egress was quick and easy should that be necessary. So I went back to sleep.
The third tremor I recall was near the end of the conference, and the fourth, rather more serious, occurred on Saturday night while David Limbaugh, Adam Omelianchuk, Ed Feser and I were enjoying a nice quiet conversation over beer in the Philosophy House.
It is good to be back on (relative) terra firma, here in Arizona, where earthquakes are infrequent and mild. I've been out here 23 years and I don't recall experiencing even one.
Experts say a bigger earthquake along the lesser-known fault that gave Southern California a moderate shake could do more damage to the region than the long-dreaded "Big One" from the more famous San Andreas Fault.
The Puente Hills thrust fault, which brought Friday night's magnitude-5.1 quake centered in La Habra and well over 100 aftershocks by Sunday, stretches from northern Orange County under downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood — a heavily populated swath of the Los Angeles area.
A magnitude-7.5 earthquake along that fault could prove more catastrophic than one along the San Andreas, which runs along the outskirts of metropolitan Southern California, seismologists said.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that such a quake along the Puente Hills fault could kill 3,000 to 18,000 people and cause up to $250 billion in damage. In contrast, a larger magnitude 8 quake along the San Andreas would cause an estimated 1,800 deaths. [. . .]
Bob Dylan, High Water. This is a late-career Dylan gem from Love and Theft (2001). A tribute to Charley Patton. Demonstrates Dylan's mastery of the arcana of Americana. Our greatest and deepest singer-songwriter. Here is some fairly good analysis by Kees de Graaf:
“I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed, got a hopped-up Mustang Ford, jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard. I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind, I’m no pig without a wig, I hope you treat me kind, things are breakin’ up out there, high water everywhere”. When the world is under threat of being wiped out, one may expect that man will repent. But that is usually not the case. On the contrary, in the Apocalypse, the low natural tendencies of man seem to thrive like never before. The saying “let’s eat and drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32) rings true. This is expressed in various ways in the song. First in “a cravin’ love for blazing speed”; the word ‘craving’ indicates that this love for blazing speed has something of a compulsion neurosis. The words “A hopped up Mustang Ford” in combination with “craving love” and “blazing speed” is a brilliant pun. A Mustang Ford is said to be a “speedy car, but “speed” is also a drug for which you may be “craving”. So you may be “craving” for the drug “speed”, but you may also have a craving love for blazing “speed”” – that is for driving very fast. The reason why the Mustang Ford is called “hopped up” is because it is a very “speed-y”, fast car. By the way, speed (methamphetamine) is a dangerous and unpredictable drug, sometimes lethal, representing the fastest growing drug abuse threat in America today. Speed is a potent and addictive central nervous system stimulant, closely related chemically to amphetamine, but with greater central nervous system effects. “Hopped up” means ‘high’ or ‘stoned’, the word is derived from “hop", a nickname for heroin and/or opium, but it can refer to the effects of any drug. . . .
My favorite verse:
Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew You can't open up your mind, boys, to every conceivable point of view They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway 5 Judge says to the High Sheriff, "I want them dead or alive" Either one, I don't care, high water everywhere.
Nosiree, Bob, you can't open up your mind to every conceivable point of view, especially when its not dark yet, but it's getting there.
Karla Bonoff, The Water is Wide. I listened to a lot of Bonoff in the early '80s. She does a great job with this traditional song.
Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, Banks of the Ohio. Joan Baez's version from an obscure 1959 album, Folksingers 'Round Harvard Square.
Similar theme though not water-related: Doc Watson, Tom Dooley. Doc and family in a BBC clip.
Standells, Dirty Water. Boston and the River Charles. My mecca in the '70s, the Athens of America, the Hub of the Universe, etc. A great town to be young in. But when it comes time to own property and pay taxes, then a right-thinking man high tails it for the West.
Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water. A beautiful song. May it provide some solace for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Henry Mancini, Moon River. This was Jack Kerouac's favorite song. Ellis Amburn, Subterranean Kerouac (St. Martin's 1998), p. 324:
One night he [Kerouac, during a 1962 visit to Lowell, Mass.] left a bar called Chuck's with Huck Finneral, a reedy, behatted eccentric who carried a business card that read: "Professional killer . . . virgins fixed . . . orgies organized, dinosaurs neutered, contracts & leases broken." Huck's philosophy of life was: "Better a wise madness than a foolish sanity." They drove to a friend's house in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and on the way, Jack sang "Moon River," calling it his favorite song. Composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, "Moon River" was the theme song of the popular Audrey Hepburn movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. Sobbed by a harmonica, later swelling with strings and chorus, the plaintive tune's gentle but epic-like lyrics describe a dreamer and roamer not unlike Kerouac.
Indeed they do. A restless dreamer, a lonesome traveller, a dharma seeker, a desolation angel passing through this vale of mist, a drifter on the river of samsara hoping one day to cross to the Far Shore. Here is another version of the tune with some beautiful images.
Doc Watson, Moody River. A moodier version than the Pat Boone hit. Clever YouTube comment: "It might be a little early in the day for an Am7." But this here's Saturday night and I'm working on my second wine spodiodi. Chords minor and melancholy go good 'long about now.
The Left Banke, Walk Away Renee, 1966. This song is the personal soundtrack to 40-year-old memories of a woman, older than me, whom I loved from afar, a love never revealed to its object. Does hidden love count as unrequited love?
Lenny Welch, Since I Fell for You, 1963. You say it's sentimental? Well, what would life be without sentiment and feeling? Qualia are what make life worth living, as a philosopher might put it. It would be interesting to try to figure out just what sentimentality is, and what is wrong with it.
One self-indulgently 'wallows' in a sentimental song, giving into its 'cheap' emotions. The emotions are 'false' and 'faked.' The melody and lyrics are formulaic and predictable, 'catchy.' The listener allows himself to be manipulated by the songwriter who is out to 'push the listener's buttons.' The aesthetic experience is not authentic but vicarious. And so on. Adorno would not approve.
It was 50 years ago tomorrow. Your humble correspondent was among the 73 million Americans who tuned in to see the Lads from Liverpool, the Four Moptops, the Fab Four, as they were variously known. Later, in '64 or '65 I saw them live at the Hollywood Bowl. What remains are all those great tunes, hundreds of them. So pour yourself a stiff one, and give a listen.
Something, 1969. Although not as prolific as Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison here proves he can write a song as good as anything they wrote. Frank Sinatra considered it the greatest love song ever written. A Sinatra version.
0:00 - You Never Give Me Your Money 4:03 - Sun King 6:29 - Mean Mr. Mustard 7:35 - Polythene Pam 8:48 - She Came in Through the Bathroom Window 10:47 - Golden Slumbers 12:19 - Carry That Weight 13:55 - The End
According to Ron Radosh, ". . . 'The Hammer Song,' known by most as “If I Had a Hammer,” was written by Lee Hays (not Seeger) as a song to be used in defense of the indicted Communists, and not as a clarion call for brotherhood." May of us were fooled way back when, we who heard it first in the Peter, Paul, and Mary version. The Seeger version.
Back to Radosh for context, and to stem the deluge of uncritical praise (bolding added):
Pete Seeger’s death at the age of 94 has brought forth scores of celebratory tributes. America had long ago showered him with honors, which all but made up for the scorn with which he was once held in the age of the blacklist. Seeger received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1994, as well as multiple Grammys. He was named one of America’s “living legends” by the Library of Congress, was asked to sing at the 2009 inauguration of President Obama, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He had become, as a Washington Post story once put it, “America’s Best Loved Commie.”
Without Seeger’s influence and sponsorship of folk music, from traditional Appalachian ballads to slave songs of the Old South, many would never have appreciated folk music, nor would it have become a genre whose influence has spread far and wide. He experimented with “world music” long before anyone had used that term; when abroad, he collected songs and brought them back to the United States. “Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight),” written by Solomon Linda and used in The Lion King, is a major example of a South African song Seeger brought here generations before Paul Simon.
What other artist would receive a statement from the president of the United States honoring him, not to speak of the scores of senators and members of Congress who found inspiration in his voice and his singing?
Yet, an honest appreciation of Pete Seeger cannot be left at what most accolades have done. Indeed, since his political vision, his service over the decades to the brutality of Soviet-era Stalinism and to all of the post-Cold War leftist tyrannies, was inseparable from the music he made, it simply cannot be overlooked. For, more often than not, Seeger’s voice was heard in defense of causes in which only fools could still believe. As Paul Berman put it, “Let us sing ‘If I Had a Hammer,’ then, and, at every third verse, let our hammers bop Pete Seeger on the head for having been a fool and an idiot.”
And calling him a fool and an idiot is, indeed, not too harsh a judgment to make about Pete Seeger. I say that sadly, as a person for whom Pete was a childhood hero. I studied banjo with him, got to know him, and visited him at the legendary home he built from scrap in Beacon, New York.
For years, all that Pete Seeger said about Joseph Stalin, whose regime he served without a blink for decades, was that the Soviet leader was a “hard driver.”
[. . .]
During the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939-41), Seeger sang antiwar songs that, in effect, called for the support of Hitler. When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, he withdrew the songs he had just recorded and suddenly supported the “antifascist alliance” between the United States and the Soviets. During the Cold War, he supported unilateral American disarmament and backed one Soviet propaganda campaign after the other. “Put My Name Down, Brother, Where Do I Sign?” he sang, calling for signatures on the Stockholm Peace Petition developed by KGB fronts in Europe.
During the Vietnam war, Seeger not only helped lead the antiwar movement, he also sang in praise of the brutal Ho Chi Minh. Lyndon B. Johnson was called “a big fool” in one of his most famous songs, while he sang of Ho Chi Minh: He educated all the people, / He demonstrated to the world, / If a man will stand for hisown land, / He’s got the strength of ten.
In 1999, Seeger traveled to Cuba to receive an award from the Castro regime. The fading Cuban tyrants honored him with their highest cultural award, given for “humanistic and artistic work in defense of the environment and against racism,” which was in and of itself a travesty. Accepting an award from Fidel Castro should make it clear that Seeger’s would-be humanism and protest was aimed at one side only: his own country, which he clearly thought was led by the world’s sole oppressors.
One cannot hope to be thought of as a defender of human rights and also accept an award from the Cuban police state. That, too, must be taken into consideration when evaluating what Pete Seeger really learned from his own Stalinist past.
In his last years, Seeger, who, in the period when the Soviet Union was briefly pro-Israel, sang songs in both Hebrew and Yiddish (including Israeli songs), gave his support to boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) against Israel, even to the extent that he handed over royalties from “Turn, Turn, Turn” to the movement.
A great folk singer who contributed much to the American story, he was fatally flawed by the leftism he imbibed with his mother’s milk. How telling that a man who sought social justice, peace, and a livable world could, at the same time, believe that serving leftist tyrants was somehow compatible with his dream of universality and solidarity.
Last time I left out one of the Cs, Petula Clark. A major omission, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Here's 1964's Downtown.
From the sweet to the Dionysian hard core of rock and roll, Spencer Davis, Gimme Some Lovin. A great driving song. Try not to pound a hole in the dashboard.
And from there to the folk strains of Donovan, Catch the Wind. Colours. Here is a dumbassed YouTube comment: "The singing style, the guitar style, even the cap: everything here screams, 'Dylan impersonator!'" You may as well argue that Dylan was a Woody Guthrie impersonator. Though not on Dylan's level, Donovan was a major ingredient in the flavor of the fabulous and far-off 'sixties.
Colours duet with Joan Baez at Newport Folk Festival. Here's another great duet version of Catch the Wind: Joan and Mimi Baez. Season of the Witch. Drifting psychedelic . . . .
And then there was the Dave Clark Five, Glad All Over. A little plastic . . . . 'Plastic' is '60s slang for fake, less than authentic, artificial. Here is a glossary of '60s slang. Not entirely accurate, but pretty good.
Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers died on Friday at age 74. From the NYT:
The Everlys brought tradition, not rebellion, to their rock ’n’ roll. Their pop songs reached teenagers with Appalachian harmonies rooted in gospel and bluegrass. [. . .]
They often sang in close tandem, with Phil Everly on the higher note and the brothers’ two voices virtually inseparable. That sound was part of a long lineage of country “brother acts” like the Delmore Brothers, the Monroe Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. In an interview in November, Phil Everly said: “We’d grown up together, so we’d pronounce the words the same, with the same accent. All of that comes into play when you’re singing in harmony.”
Paul Simon, whose song “Graceland” includes vocals by Phil and Don Everly, said in an email on Saturday morning: “Phil and Don were the most beautiful sounding duo I ever heard. Both voices pristine and soulful. The Everlys were there at the crossroads of country and R&B. They witnessed and were part of the birth of rock and roll.”
RIP Phil Everly. We can never thank you enough for the music and memories of a bygone era, long past, when cars were chariots of Chrome gleaming in the moonlight and shades of neon in the heat of summer...I still remember the crackle of the AM radio with reverb....Nothing can replace Phil and those days.
Larry Verne, Mr. Custer (1960). "What am I doin' here?"
And now a trio of feminist anthems. Marcie Blaine, Bobby's Girl. "And if I was Bobby's girl, what a faithful, thankful girl I'd be." Carol Deene, Johnny Get Angry. Can't find the Joanie Sommers original, but this is an adequate cover. "I want a cave man!" k. d. lang's parody. Little Peggy March, I Will Follow Him. "From now until forever."
Meanwhile the guys were bragging of having a girl in every port of call. Dion, The Wanderer (1961). Ricky Nelson, Travelin' Man. (1961)
Addendum: I forgot to link to two Ray Stevens numbers that are sure to rankle the sorry sensibilities of our liberal pals: Come to the USA, God Save Arizona.
The Llewyn Davis character in the brilliant Coen Bros. film suggests, I don't say represents, Dave van Ronk. So let's start with some tunes (not necessarily the renditions) from the movie done by the Mayor of MacDougal Street.
To Scottsdale this drizzly dreary dark December morning to see the Coen Bros. latest on its opening hereabouts, Inside Llewyn Davis. A tale of two kitties is a sub-motif that symbolizes the self-destructive folksinger's troubles, but it would take a couple more viewings for me to figure it out.
The film gripped me and held me its entire running length, but then I lived through that era and I know the music and its major and minor players. Figuring out the the cinematic references and allusions is part of the fun. Tom Paxton, Albert Grossmann, Jim and Jean, The Clancy Brothers, Bob Dylan . . . they are all there -- or are they?
A distinction is made between purely fictional objects (native objects) and immigrant objects: historical individuals that have been imported into fiction from reality. Many of the characters in the Coen Bros. film seem to belong to a third category. They are not wholly unreal like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or lightly fictionalized individuals like many of the characters in Kerouac's novels, but fictional surrogates of real-life individuals. For example, there is a character who suggests Tom Paxton, but could not be said unambiguously to represent him, pace Dave van Ronk's ex-wife who writes, in a critical review, "The character who represents Tom Paxton has a pasted-on smile and is a smug person who doesn't at all resemble the smart, funny, witty Tom Paxton who was our best man when we married."
Ann Hornaday's Washington Postreview ends brilliantly:
In many ways, “Inside Llewyn Davis” plays like a waking nightmare of creeping anxiety and dread, as the era’s grandmaster of brazen self-invention arrives unseen in New York while Llewyn’s self-defeating near-misses pile up like so much street-sullied snow. But this soulful, unabashedly lyrical film is best enjoyed by sinking into it like a sweet, sad dream. When you wake up, a mythical place and time will have disappeared forever. But you’ll know that attention — briefly, beautifully — has been paid.
The era's grandmaster of brazen self-invention is of course Bob Dylan, who blew into town that bitter winter of '61 and who in a few short years brought about a sort of Hegelian Aufhebung of the folk era: its simultaneous cancellation, preservation, and transmogrification into the heart of the '60s as represented by the trilogy of Dylan at his most incandescent: Bringing it It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde.
Mr. Bill made a mistake the other night on The O'Reilly Factor when he said that the British skiffle group Mungo Jerry's sole Stateside hit, In the Summertime, is from '67. Not so, as I instantly recalled: it is from the summer of 1970. I remember because that was the summer I first read Kant, ploughing through The Critique of Pure Reason. I sat myself down under a tree in Garfield Park in South Pasadena with the Norman Kemp Smith translation and dove in. I couldn't make head nor tail of it. But I persisted and eventually wrote my dissertation on Kant.
Now why is Mr. Bill's mistake worth mentioning? Because, to paraphrase Santayana, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And we wouldn't want to repeat the '60s.
Spencer Case thinks I need to expand my musical horizons. I don't disagree. He writes,
O.K. here are my five picks for good folk/rock music within the last ten years.
First, "The Wrote and the Writ" by Johnny Flynn, an artist I've just discovered. I chose it because of the syncopated guitar and the outstanding lyrics.
Second, "Right Moves" by Idaho's own Josh Ritter. Ritter been one of my favorites for about six years. He isn't instrumentally out of this world like some of the other artists here, but he's a great songwriter. It's hard to find a representative song for him for a first exposure, but this seems like a safe bet. Third, "Simple as This" by Jake Bugg, another new discovery. Great lyrics.
Fourth, "Don't Need No" by Punch Brothers. I've seen these guys live and they are amazing.
Fifth, "Big Parade" by Lumineers. These guys are from Denver and actually, they are quite popular now. So not everything on this list is obscure.
As far as I'm concerned, these artists prove good music is alive and well, if under-appreciated. Interested to hear how you think they stack up.
It's good stuff, Spencer. I enjoyed 'em all. Here are some obscure tunes/renditions I think you'll enjoy if you haven't heard them already. I won't make any invidious comparisons. It's all good.
I met a very interesting man last Sunday, Boniface Thayil. He showed up at our little chess club wanting to learn the game. So I gave him his first lesson. He knew nothing, not even the names of the pieces, let alone how they move. Now he knows a little something. I hope he shows up again tomorrow.
We got to talking. His dark complexion prompted me to ask whether he is Pakistani or perhaps from India. He said he was from the state of Kerala in India, came to Seattle, Washington as a young man, earned a degree in chemical engineering, and had been employed in Chicago. His intelligence and wide interests prompted me to learn more about him via Google. The search pulled up one Kim Thayil. The name rang a bell. A while back I had read about Soundgarden and some Seattle 'metal' bands. So I clicked on this link.
"Kiss Alive was the second album I ever bought, and the first record that made me realize things could be a lot louder and more violent than the Beatles. It emphasized volume and guitar over harmony, melody and lyrics; all the stuff I never listened to anyway," he told Mudhoney's Mark Arm.
Assembling various facts, it seemed possible that Kim was the son of Boniface, so I e-mailed the latter and found out that the former was.
Here is a Soundgarden tune as performed by Johnny Cash, Rusty Cage. Good song. I like it. Here is the rather more 'metallic' Soundgarden version.
Here is some of Kim Thayil's guitar work. The quotation above explains why I can't relate to much of this stuff. Some examples of the guitar work that speak to me follow. It is a generational thing, no doubt. It seems to come from the heart and speak to the soul whereas the metal stuff is more akin to industrial noise. "Music to pound out fenders by." (Ed Abbey) Sorry, boys. De gustibus, et cetera. There is no arguing sensibility. Argument comes too late.
Ventures, Memphis. Mighty fine guitar-slingin' by both lead players.
Hi Bill. Longtime blog follower, here.
Concerning your comment on your Kim Thayil post: "It seems to come from the heart and speak to the soul whereas the metal stuff is more akin to industrial noise."
As you say, there is no arguing sensibility. Nonetheless, just for the hell of it, check out the link below, a sub-forum of reddit called "change by view", and especially the first comment at the top of the chain:
Of course, that concerns death metal, which makes Soundgarden sound very melodic.
Thanks, Martin. I forced myself to listen to the song to which the poster refers. This is music, not to pound out fenders by, but to watch the West decline by. Suppose you like this at 17, will you like it at 57? Suppose you first hear it with a girl who you go on to marry. Will you say to her 20 years later, "Hey baby, they're playing our song"? Well, nobody could accuse it of being sentimental.
To recover from the above, I listened one more time to the marvellous Embryonic Journey by Jefferson Airplane. I loved it in '67 and I love it now. I don't believe this is just generational chauvinism on my part.
And here is nastly slap at Jack from a writer not much better, Edward Abbey: "Jack Kerouac, like a sick refrigerator, worked too hard at keeping cool and died on his mama's lap from alcohol and infantilism."
Cactus Ed on Updike:
John Updike: our greatest suburban chic-boutique man of letters. A smug and fatal complacency has stunted his growth beyond hope of surgical repair. Not enough passion in his collected works to generate steam in a beer can. Nevertheless, he is considered by some critics to be America's finest *living* author: Hold a chilled mirror to his lips and you will see, presently, a fine and dewy moisture condensing--like a faery breath!--upon the glass.
Kerouac's Big Sur opens with a reference to a song:
The church is blowing a sad windblown "Kathleen" on the bells in the skid row slums as I wake up all woebegone and goopy, groaning from another drinking bout and groaning most of all because I'd ruined my "secret return" to San Francisco by getting silly drunk while hiding in the alleys with bums and then marching forth into North Beach to see everybody altho Lorenz Monsanto and I'd exchanged huge letters outlining how I would sneak in quietly, call him on the phone using a code name like Adam Yulch or Lalagy Pulvertaft (also writers) and then he would secretly drive me to his cabin in the Big Sur woods where I would be alone and undisturbed for six weeks just chopping wood, drawing water, writing, sleeping, hiking, etc., etc.
What is this song "Kathleen"? Reading on (emphasis added):
But instead I've bounced drunk into his City Lights bookshop at the height of Saturday night business, everyone recognized me (even tho" I was wearing my disguise-like fisherman's hat and fishermen coat and pants waterproof) and "t'all ends up a roaring drunk in all the famous bars the bloody "King of the Beatniks" is back in town buying drinks for everyone -- Two days of that, including Sunday the day Lorenzo is supposed to pick me up at my "secret" skid row hotel (the Mars on 4th and Howard) but when he calls for me there's no answer, he has the clerk open the door and what does he see but me out on the floor among bottles, Ben Fagan stretched out partly beneath the bed, and Robert Browning the beatnik painter out on the bed, snoring... So says to himself "I'll pick him up next weekend, I guess he wants to drink for a week in the city (like he always does, I guess)" so off he drives to his Big Sur cabin without me thinking he's doing the right thing but my God when I wake up, and Ben and Browning are gone, they've somehow dumped me on the bed, and I hear "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" being bellroped so sad in the fog winds out there that blow across the rooftops of eerie old hangover Frisco, wow, I've hit the end of the trail and cant even drag my body any more even to a refuge in the woods let alone stay upright in the city a minute --
"I'll Take you Home Again, Kathleen" sounds like an Irish ballad but was actually written by an American, Thomas P. Westendorf, in 1875. Kerouac might have first heard it in the 1940s.