Wednesday, June 08, 2016

*****Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By- We Want The World And We Want It Now!

*****Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By- We Want The World And We Want It Now!    

***Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By- We Want The World And We Want It Now! 

Sam Lowell comment September 2014:

A while back, maybe a half a decade ago now, I started a series in this space that I presented under the headline Songs To While Away The Struggle By where I posted some songs, you know, The Internationale (reflecting the long-time need for international brother and sister solidarity sorely lacking these days), Which Side Are You On? (yeah, which side are you on when the deal goes down and you can’t hide and have to say yeah or nay), Viva La Quince Brigada (in homage to the heroic “pre-mature” anti-fascists from the United States who fought for the Republican side in the 1930s Spanish Civil War), Solidarity Forever(reflecting the desperate need to organize the  organized and reorganize the previously organized like the mass of autoworkers into unions) and others like Deportee (in serious need of a renewed hearing these days where it is a toss-up between resident minorities here and the undocumented for who has gotten the rawest deal out of this system, it ain’t pretty), Where Have All The Flowers Gone (reflecting the need to keep the fight for nuclear disarmament on the front burner with international tensions now approaching the Cold War of my youth levels), Blowin’ In The Wind (reflecting, well, reflecting that the new breeze a-borning for new generations that has not happened again in the long “night of the long knives” since the 1970s), This Land Is Your Land (reflecting that this land is your land, that you or your forbears created the wealth, your land if you have the chutzpah to grab it back) while not as directly political had their hearts in the right place, that I thought would help get us through the “dog days” of the struggle for our socialist future.

Those “dog days” in America anyway, depending on what leftist political perspective drove your red-bannered, seek a newer world, turn the world upside down heart’s imagination then or drives it now looking back in retrospect could have gone straight back as far as the late 1960s and early 1970s when all things were possible and the smell of revolution could be whiffed in the air for a while before we were defeated. Many have put their particular brand on when the whole thing ebbed, fell down of its own hubris but all agree from my inquiries no later than say 1975. I personally, having been on the streets of Washington that week, date the ebb from May Day 1971 when we attempted to shut down with numerically and politically inadequate forces the government if it did not shut down the war, the Vietnam War for those who need a name to their wars, and got nothing but teargas, police batons, and agonizingly huge numbers of arrests for our troubles.

Oh yeah and forty plus years of the short end of the stick of “cultural wars” still beating us down. Some have worked the defeats the other way not from the ebb of our experiments but the from high tide of reaction thinking of later when we all abandoned hope for the least bit of social justice in the lean, vicious, downtrodden Reagan years of unblessed memory or later still around the time of the great world- historic defeats of the international working class in East Europe and the former Soviet Union which left us with an unmatched arrogant unipolar imperialist world. That one pole being the United States, the “heart of the beast” the beast which we work within these days. Whatever your personal benchmark they were nevertheless if you had the least bit of political savvy clearly dog days.        

I began posting these songs at a time, 2009, when it was touch and go whether there would be some kind of massive uprising against the economic royalists who blew the economy, the freaking world economy, all to kingdom  come, who had just dealt the world a blow to the head through their economic machinations in what is now called the Great Recession of 2008 (those “economic royalists” later chastised under the popular sobriquet “the one-percent” come flash-in-the-pan Occupy movement that held out a flicker of hope before it died on the vine). Subsequently, while there were momentary uprisings, the Arab Spring which got its start in Tunisia and Egypt and enflamed most of the Middle East one way or another, here in America the defensive uprising of the public workers in Wisconsin and later as I said the quick-moving although ephemeral Occupy movement, and the uprisings in Greek, Spain and elsewhere in Europe in response to the “belt-tightening" demanded by international financial institutions to name a few, the response from the American and world working classes has for lots of reasons if anything further entrenched those interests.

So as the “dog days” continue here in 2014 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, an old-time communist (you know guys like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson) although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground (and one would be truly hard-pressed to name even one musical one today in America carrying that designation unless they are hiding somewhere). 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.

I like to invite others to make additional comments on certain pivotal songs, groups and artists and here is one by my old friend Josh Breslin, whom I met out in California during the heyday of the summer of love 1967, that reflects those many possibilities to “turn the world upside down” back in the 1960s and early 1970s mentioned earlier before the “night of the long knives” set in. Listen up:


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

My old friend from the summer of love 1967 days, the late Peter Paul Markin always used to make a point then of answering, or rather arguing which tells a lot about the kind of guy he was when he got his political hind legs up with anybody who tried to tell him back in the day that “music is the revolution.” Markin whom I met along with Sam Lowell when I first arrived out in California, out on a nameless hill, or if it had a name in that hilly San Francisco night I never found out what it was, looking for some dope or a place to stay in that order was the most political guy I had ever met then (maybe ever) and I had known some guys who helped form SDS back East in so I knew some “heavies.”

Strangely when I first met him in San Francisco that summer you would have been hard-pressed to tell him, under the influence of dope, the new acid rock musical dispensation, and the flowering of new lifestyle  that could not have been the case but after a few hits on the head by the coppers, a tour of duty in the military at the height of the Vietnam War, and what was happening to other political types trying to change the world for the better like the Black Panthers he got “religion,” or at least he got that music as the agency of social change idea out of his head.  Me, well, I was (and am not now ) as political as Markin had been so that I never got drowned in the counter-culture where music was a central cementing act. Nor did I have anything that happened to me subsequently that would have given me Markin’s epiphany, particularly that Army stint that gave him “religion” on the questions of war and peace but which I think, given his later fate, left something hollow inside him since I had been declared 4-F (unfit for military service) due to a childhood physical injury that had left one arm withered. (Markin, is now buried in a nameless grave in a potter’s field down in Sonora, Mexico after he was found on a dusty back road with two slugs in him after what we had heard was some busted cocaine deal in either 1976 or 1977, probably the summer of the former from what a private detective hired by one of our friends to go down and find out what happened told him from the shaky information he had received down there from a guy, a doper, who claimed to know Markin.)  

 I would listen half-attentively (a condition aided by being “stoned,” all doped up or in thrall to some ephemeral woman a lot of the time) when such conversations erupted and Markin with go through his position for a candid world to hear (candid, his word). That position meaning, of course that contrary to the proponents, including many mutual friends of his, and ours, who acted out on that very idea and got burned by the flame, some dropping out, some going back to academia, some left by the wayside and who are maybe still wandering out in the Muir Woods, by some Big Sur tidal pool or, god forbid, out in rain-soaked Oregon that eight or ten Give Peace A Chance, Kumbaya, Woodstock or even acid-etched Someone To Love songs would not do the trick, would not change this nasty, brutish, old short-lived world into the garden, into some pre-lapsarian Eden. (We all called it “looking for the garden” in short-hand meaning the lost Garden of Eden which we were hung up on seeking, and not always only in our dope-flamed moments either.)

Meaning that the gathering of youth nation unto itself out in places like million butterfly Woodstock, flying kites Golden Gate Park, pop bop Monterrey, hell, the Boston Common when things headed east, or even once word trickled down the way the word has always trickled down to the sticks once the next new thing gets a workout, Olde Saco Park, in the town up in Maine where I grew up would not feed on itself and grow to such a critical mass that the quite nameable enemies of goodness, kindness starting with one Lyndon Johnson and one Richard M. Nixon and working down to the go-fers and hangers-on, 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 too into finding 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 too, were arguing about.

Now, belated now, it makes perfect sense that music, or any mere cultural expression standing alone, would be unable to carry enough weight to turn us back to the garden (I won’t use that “pre-lapsarian" again to avoid showing my, and Markin’s, high Roman Catholic up-bringing and muddy what I want to say which is quite secular). I guess that I would err on the side of the “angels” and at least wish that we could have carried the day against the monsters of the American imperium we confronted back in the day. Although like I said I had a draft deferment due to a serious physical condition, not helped by the “street” dope I was consuming by the way, I supported, and sometimes vehemently and with some sense of organization, a lot of the political stuff Markin was knee deep into, especially the Black Panther defense when we lived in Oakland after he got out of the Army and all hell was raining down on the brothers and sisters.                  

Thinking about what a big deal was made of such arguments back then recently in preparing my remarks for this effort (arguments carried deep into the night, deep in smoke dream nights, and sometimes as the blue–pink dawn came rising up to smite our dreams) I thought back to my own musical appreciations. In my jaded youth (if one could be jaded in Podunk Olde Saco, although more than one parent and more than one teacher called me “beatnik” back then whatever that meant to them) I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. Perhaps it was some off-shoot DNA thing since my people on my mother’s side (nee LeBlanc) were French-Canadian which had a deep folk heritage both up north and in Maine although such music was not played in the house, a house like a lot of other ethnics where in the 1950s everybody wanted to be vanilla America (Markin had mentioned to me that same thing about his Irish-etched parents). So it initially started as a reaction to my parents’ music, the music that got them through the Great Depression of the 1930s and later waiting for other shoe to drop (either in Normandy where my father first went to Europe under some very trying conditions or at home waiting in Olde Saco like my mother), 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 along with the DNA stuff I already mentioned, my father’s very real roots in the Saturday night mountain barn dance, fiddles blazing, music of his growing up poor down in Appalachia. (Again such music except every once in a while Hank Williams who I didn’t know about at the time was not played in the house either. Too “square” I guess.) 

The origin of my immersion into roots music first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House(and that raspy, boozy country voice on Death Letter Blues), Skip James ( I went nuts over that voice first heard after he had been “discovered” at the Newport Folk Festival I think in 1963 when he sang I’d Rather Be With The Devil Than Be That Woman’s Man on the radio after I had just broken up with some devil woman, read girl and later caught hell, including recently, from later women companions when I mentioned the idea in a heated love argument), Mississippi John Hurt (that clear guitar, simple lyrics on Creole Belle and that sly salacious run through Candy Man), Muddy Waters (yes, Mannish-Boy and those manly appetites off-stage), Howlin’ Wolf ( I again went nuts when I heard his righteous Little Red Rooster  although I had heard the Stones version first, a version originally banned on Boston and hence Maine radio if you can believe that ) and Elmore James ( his Dust My Broom version of the old Robert Johnson tune I used to argue was the “beginning” of rock and roll to anybody who would listen but that later proved to be only marginally true even to me once I heard Ike Turner’s Rocket 88).

Then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis (stuff like One Night With You, Jailhouse Rock and the like before he died in about 1958 or whatever happened to him when he started making stupid movies that mocked his great talent making him look foolish and which various girlfriends of the time forced me to go see at the old Majestic Theater in downtown Olde Saco), Jerry Lee (his High School Confidential, the film song, with him flailing away at the piano in the back of a flat-bed truck blew me away  although the film was a bust, as was the girl I saw it with), Chuck (yeah, when he declared to a candid  world that while we all gave due homage to classical music in school Mister Beethoven and his brethren better move on over with Roll Over Beethoven), Roy (Roy the boy with that big falsetto voice crooning out Running Scared, whoa), Big Joe (and that Shake, Rattle and Roll which I at one point also argued was the “beginning” of rock and roll, okay, I liked to argue those fine points)   and Ike Turner (who I ultimately settled on with his Rocket 88 as that mythical beginning of rock and roll).

Then later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, the folk music minute before the British invasion took a lot of the air out of that kind of music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan (even a so-so political guy like me, maybe less than so-so then before all hell broke loose and we had to choose sides loved Blowin’ in the Wind), Dave Von Ronk (and that raspy old voice, although he was not that old then sing Fair And Tender Ladies  one of the first folk songs I remember hearing) Joan Baez (and that long ironed-hair singing that big soprano on those Child ballads), etc.

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 bones) and so on.

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 he fretfully argued against when I mentioned in passing that The Doors, then in their high holy mantra shamanic phase with The End and When The Music’s Over epitomized roots music. That hurt me to the quick, a momentary hurt then, but thinking about it more recently Markin had been 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. Add in heavy doses of peyotes or some other herbals known to produce that very effect and you have a pretty good case for what the group was trying to do out on those whirling dervish stages. 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 go further and classify their efforts on those night 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, played the people’s music, played to respond to a deep-seeded need of the people before them to hear such sounds, 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. Some icon that Markin could have latched onto.  Jim was part of the trinity, the “J” trinity for the superstitious – Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix who lived fast, lived way too fast, and died young, way too 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 (you figure out what that “higher,” means since you are bright people) felt those cultural winds blowing across the continent and counted those who espoused this alternative vision as part of the chosen whatever he thought of their political perspective. The righteous headed to the “promise land,” yeah, back to the garden.  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 our generation and there were many, many made some by sheer ignorance, some by willfully refusing to draw the lessons of the past and re-inventing the wheel yet again, by the generation that came of political and cultural age in the early 1960s, the generation I call the generation of ’68 to signify its important and decisive year internationally, but were mainly made out of inexperience and a foolish naiveté.  Our opponents, exemplified by outlaw big cowboy red neck President Lyndon B. Johnson and one weaseling Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, and their minions like J. Edgar Hoover (a truly demonic figure and treated like a rattlesnake even by people who liked him, or kowtowed to him), Mayor Richard Daley (evil, pure evil, in a business suit and a serious representative of what old-timey poet Carl Sandburg called his city, Chicago, hog-butcher to the world) and Hubert Humphrey ( insidious because he was such a toothless hack sucking up to whoever was in front of him when he had his poor boy wanting habits on but on that  joyous face it took longer to see he was as evil as the rest)  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 their protégés, hangers-on and now their descendants has been a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. And the sorely missed and mourned late Markin would surely have endorsed this sentiment. Enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment