Friday, January 03, 2014

***Songs To While The Time By- The Roots Is The Toots-

A YouTube clip to give some flavor to this subject.

Over the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale, Union Maid, Which Side Are You On, Viva La Quince Brigada, Universal Soldier, and such entitled Songs To While The Class Struggle By. This series which could include some protest songs as well is centered on roots music as it has come down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain amusing here. Listen up-Peter Paul Markin

***Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-

Peter Paul Markin comment December 2013:

A while back, maybe a few years ago, I started a series presented under the headline Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By where I posted some songs that I thought would get us through the “dog days” of the struggle for our socialist future. Posted at a time when it was touch and go whether there would be some kind of uprising against the economic royalists (chastised under the popular sobriquet “the one-percent”) who had just dealt the world a blow to the head through their economic machinations. Subsequently while there were momentary uprisings the response from the American and world working classes has if anything entrenched those interest. So as the dog days continue I have resumed the series. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs selected; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this kind of formation would mean political death for any serious revolutionary upheaval and would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.



From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

My old friend from the summer of love 1967 days, Peter Paul Markin, always used to make a point of answering, or rather arguing with anybody who tried to tell him back in the day that “music was the revolution.”  Meaning, of course that contrary to the proponents (including many mutual friends who acted out on that idea and got burned by the flame) that eight or ten Give Peace A Chance, Kumbaya, Woodstock songs would not do the trick, would not change this nasty, brutish, old short-life world into the garden, into some pre-lapsian Eden. Meaning that the gathering of youth nation unto itself out in places like Woodstock, Golden Gate Park, Monterrey, hell, the Boston Common, or even once word trickled down, Olde Saco Park, would not feed on itself and grow to such a critical mass that the enemies of good, kindness, and leave us alone would sulk off somewhere, defeated or at least defanged.

Many a night, many a dope-blistered night before some seawall ocean front Pacific Coast campfire I would listen to Markin blast forth against that stuff, against that silliness. As for me, I was too into the moment, too into finding weed, hemp, mary jane and some fetching women to share it with to get caught up in some nebulous ideological struggle. It was only later, after the music died, after rock and roll turned in on itself, turned into some exotic fad of the exiles on Main Street that I began to think through the implications of what Markin, and the guys on the other side, were arguing about.

Now it makes perfect sense that music or any mere cultural expression would be unable to carry enough weight to turn us back to the garden. Although I guess that I would err on the side of the angels and at least wish they could have carried the day against the monsters of the American imperium we confronted back in the day.                 

Thinking about what a big deal was made of such arguments recently (arguments carried deep into the night, deep in smoke dream nights, and sometimes as the blue –pink dawn came rising to smite our dreams) I thought back to my own musical appreciations. In my jaded youth I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. Perhaps it initially started as a reaction to my parents’ music, the music that got them through the Great Depression of the1930s and later waiting for other shoe to drop (either in Normandy or at home waiting in Olde Saco), and that became a habit, a wafting through the radio of my childhood home habit. You know who I mean Frank (Sinatra for the heathens), Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and the like. Or, maybe, and this is something that I have come closer to believing was the catalyst, my father’s very real roots in the Saturday night mountain barn dance, fiddles blazing, music of his growing up poor down in Appalachia.   

The origin of that roots music first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House , Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy, Big Joe and Ike, and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Joan Baez, etc. As I said I have often wondered about the source of this interest.

I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that. Meaning rootless or not meaningfully or consciously rooted in any of the niches mentioned above. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. Cajun, Tex-Mex, old time dust bowl ballads a la Woody Guthrie, cowboy stuff with the likes of Bob Wills and Milton Brown, Carter Family-etched mountain music (paying final conscious tribute to the mountain DNA in my bone) and so on.

And all those genres are easily classified as roots music but I recall one time driving Markin crazy, driving him to closet me with the “music is the revolution” heads when I mentioned in passing that the Doors, then in their high holy mantra shamanic phase epitomized roots music. That hurt, a momentary hurt then, but thinking about it more recently Markin was totally off base in his remarks.

The Doors are roots music? Well, yes, in the sense that one of the branches of rock and roll derived from early rhythm and blues and in the special case of Jim Morrison, leader of the Doors, the attempt to musically explore the shamanic elements in the Western American Native- American culture that drove the beat of many of his trance-like songs like The End. More than one rock critic, professional rock critic, has argued that on their good nights when the dope and booze were flowing, Morrison was in high trance, and they were fired up the Doors were the best rock and roll band ever created. Those critics will get no argument here, and it is not a far stretch to classify their efforts as in the great American roots tradition.  I argued then and will argue here almost fifty years later when that original statement of mine was more prophetic the Doors put together all the stuff rock critics in one hundred years will be dusting off when they want to examine what it was like when men (and women, think Bonnie Raitt, Wanda Jackson, et. al) played rock and roll for keeps.

So where does Jim Morrison fit in an icon of the 1960s if he was not some new age latter day cultural Lenin/Trotsky. Jim was part of the trinity – Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix who lived fast, lived way too fast, and died young. The slogan of the day (or hour) - Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And we liked that idea however you wanted to mix it up. Then.

Their deaths were part of the price we felt we had to pay if we were going to be free. And be creative. Even the most political among us, including Markin in his higher moments, felt those cultural winds blowing across the continent and counted those who espoused this alternative vision as part of the chosen. The righteous headed to the “promise land.” Unfortunately those who believed that we could have a far-reaching positive cultural change via music or “dropping out” without a huge societal political change proved to be wrong long ago. But, these were still our people.

Know this as well if you are keeping score. Whatever excesses were committed by the generation of ’68, and there were many, were mainly made out of ignorance and foolishness. Our opponents, exemplified by one Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, spent every day of their lives as a matter of conscious, deliberate policy raining hell down on the peoples of the world, the minorities in this country, and anyone else who got in their way. Forty plus years of “cultural wars” in revenge by his protégés, hangers-on and their descendants has been a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. And Markin will surely endorse this sentiment. Enough.

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