Saturday, December 13, 2008

*Hello In There- The Music Of John Prine

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of John Prine performing his classic, "Angel From Montgomery".


Great Days: The John Prine Anthology, John Prine, Rhino Records, 1993

Over the last several months I have done more musically-oriented reviews that I had expected to on this site in order to flesh out the role of some of the 1960's cultural icons on the times. One of the themes that have kept cropping up is that for some folk/blues-oriented musical artists like Bob Dylan my attachment was immediate, long time and on-going. For other artists like John Prine it has been more of a recently acquired taste. In fact, my first acquaintance with the work of John Prine, at least that I was aware of, was several years ago when I was requested to get a couple of his CDs for a friend for Christmas. Upon listening to those albums, including this compilation, we both agreed that the best bet was to return them and get something else. Go figure.

I had, obviously, heard Bonnie Raitt do Prine's “Angel From Montgomery” long ago but I never associated his name with that song. Then a couple of years ago I happened to listen to his “Hello In There” and “Sam Stone”. Anyone whose has been affected by the Vietnam War experience in any way will gasp after hearing this very personal take of the destructiveness of that war for many of those who fought it, found hard drugs and found the black hole as a result. If you want to hear a real anti-war song rather than something wistful like “Where have All The Flowers Gone?” and the like then listen to this one. Yes, this guy Prine had something to say that I wanted to (and on some songs, needed to) hear.

This compilation represents a very wide selection of his best work, arguably the best representation of that work in one location that you could get. Mr. Prine is a good guitar player, a very, very good wordsmith who has produced some poetic turns of phrases here that will have you thinking for a while. Moreover on, for example, “Dear Abby” he can show his “silly”, nonsensical side. He also frankly, has the wry sense of humor (in the classical Greek sense of that word) of a man who has been pushed around by life, has pushed back; has taken his beatings, dusted himself off and gotten back up again. You know, just the kind of guy that I, and I am sure other guys and gals of a certain age, very definitely can relate to, and in some cases like that above-mentioned “Hello In There” need to relate to. If you have just one John Prine album to get this is the one. Then start saving your dough to get the others.

In addition to the songs mentioned above listen to his cover of “Killing The Blues” and Steve Goodman’s “Souvenirs”. Also Unwed Fathers”, “The Late John Garfield Blues” and “Sweet Revenge”.

The Missing Years, John Prine, Oh Boy Records, 2002

This is a later compilation after his, hopefully, successful bout with cancer. Believe me the above remarks mentioned in the review of 'Great Days" still apply. So what is good here? Listen to "The Sins Of Memphisto", "Picture Show" Train" and "Jesus The Missing Years". Then you will know what I mean by that remark about his wordsmanship mentioned above in the review of “Great Days”.

John Prine At Sessions At West 54th, John Prine with Iris Dement and various artists, OnBoy Records, 2001

Over the last several months I have done more musically-oriented reviews that I had expected. One of the themes that keep cropping up is that for some folk/blues-oriented musical artists like Bob Dylan my attachment was immediate, long time and on-going. For other artists like John Prine it has been more of a recently acquired taste. I had, obviously, heard Bonnie Raitt do his "Angel From Montgomery" but I never associated his name with that song. Then a couple of years ago I happened to listen to his "Hello In There" and "Sam Stone". Yes, this guy has something to say that I wanted to (on some songs, needed to) hear.

This concert represents a small selection of some of his work, although with the exception of "Sam Stone", "Lake Marie" and "Hello in There" not much in the way of classics, at least that I am familiar with. This concert would thus only rate as a pretty fair performance except that on a few songs like "When Two World Collide" he is accompanied by Iris Dement (a powerful singer in her own right who I have reviewed elsewhere in this space. She is also the wife of singer songwriter Greg Brown who is also reviewed elsewhere here). Iris is also a recent acquisition. I would travel very far to hear that voice of hers (and have done so). Incidentally, I have seen both these performers in person over the past couple of years- they still have it. Still this is not the DVD that YOU need to understand either talent, but you may want it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

*An Appreciation of R & B's Ike Turner

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Ike Turner And His Kings of Rhythm In A 1959 Rock Out.


The Sun Sessions By Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythms, Ike Turner, Sun Records, 1959

Needless to say the late Ike Turner’s reputation as a performer has suffered from the revelations about his sexual abuse of the currently still performing Tina Turner (and still wowing audiences with her raucous soulful energies). Tina's revelations in her biography and through the movie "What's Love Got To Do With It" have all but erased any popular knowledge of Ike's seminal role in the R&B aspect of the creation of Rock 'n' Roll in the early 1950's. While one needs to pay due respect to political correctness in this matter and all one's sympathies are with Tina it is nevertheless necessary to pay homage to Ike's pivotal role in that development, warts and all.

One needs to start from Ike's work on 1951's "Rocket 88" (often considered the first rock 'n' roll record although readers of this space know that my preferred candidate is Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll"), to his piano backings for Little Milton and Junior Parker and his twangy, pre-funk heavy guitar playing throughout the 50s (for Loma, among others). Turner was there, contributing ideas and stretching existing sounds into the new cosmos (and new white teenage music market). However, we all know it always has to get back to that Sun studio in Memphis (and the pervasive Sam Phillips). Right? But where is that classic "Rocket 88" here? Although it is readily available elsewhere it should be in this compilation. I went crazy recently when I heard it for the first time in a long time. That was a time when men and women played hard-driving R&B for keeps.

As others have pointed out and I am beholding to here for the remaining comments as a recording artist Turner hopped around quite a bit, recording for (or having his recordings leased to) a variety of labels throughout the 50s, including RPM, Modern, Chess and Sun. His nomadic wanderings make a label-centric compilation such as this more like a snapshot than a coherent view of his pre-Ike & Tina work. Even the liner notes (from Bill Dahl) have a difficult time providing context for these tracks without alluding to coincidental tracks (on other labels) that aren't here.
Of the actual Sun-cut tracks, there are many stand-outs, including several that weren't released at the time of their waxing. Billy "The Kid" Emerson vocalizes on several of the disc's highlights, including his Sun debut, the tremelo-and-blues "No Teasing Around." Here he mixes R & B crooning (of the sort peaking with Specialty artists like Percy Mayfield and Joe Liggins) with a bit of the rockabilly swagger that would soon flourish. His follow-up, "The Woodchuck," features a lyric that riffs on the childhood rhyme, and is powered by a generous helping of Turner's stinging guitar.

After leaving Memphis and cutting sides for Federal in '56 and '57, Turner self-produced recordings in St. Louis in 1958 and sold them to Sun. New lead vocalist Tommy Hodge had great style, and the Louis Jourdan-like jump-blues of "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)" is very catchy. Carlson Oliver's rocking sax solo is a real standout, and Turner's whammy bar gets a full workout on "How Long Will It Last."

Note: Many of the songs by the various artists featured here have been placed on other Sun-related compilations, especially the work of Billy Emerson. However, it is nice to have Ike's early Sun work in one place except that mandatory "Rocket 88".

Thursday, December 11, 2008

FDR And The New Deal- The Last Gasp The Last Time


FDR: American Experience, four part series, PBS, 1994

The economic news of the past several months has created a virtual cottage industry of commentators whose comparative references to the Great Depression of the 1930’s has made it almost a commonplace. Also common are comparisons of the tasks that confronted the subject of this documentary, the 32nd President of The United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt (hereafter FDR), and those that confront the 2008 election victor the President-elect Barack Obama, who seemingly has that same kind of broad mandate as FDR did to make major economic moves. Thus, as is my habit, I went scurrying to find a suitable documentary that would refresh my memory about the decisive role that FDR played back then as the last gasp “savior” of the American capitalist economic system.

An added impetus to do that search was the recent passing of the legendary oral historian, Studs Terkel, whose bread and butter was to capture the memories of the generation that was most influenced by FDR’s policies and whose oral histories have been the subject of many reviews of late by this writer. A biographic refresher on FDR thus seemed to be written in the stars. I found, for a quick overview of this subject, the perfect place to start is this American Experience four- part production on the life, loves, trials, tribulations and influence of this seminal American bourgeois politician.

That said, if one is looking for an in-depth analysis of the role that FDR played in saving the capitalist system in America in the 1930’s, or the concurrent rise of the imperial presidency under his guidance, or the increased role of the federal government through its various executive agencies or the role of his “brain trust” (Rexford Tugwell, Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickles, etc.) in formulating policy then one should, and eventually must, look elsewhere. However, if one wants to capture visually the sense of the times and FDR’s (and of his wife Eleanor’s, who is worthy of separate series in her own right) influence on them then this is the right address.

As is almost universally the case with American Experience productions one gets a technically very competent piece of work that moreover gets a boost here from the always welcome grave narrative skills of David McCullough, who as a historian in his own right has a grasp of the sense of such things. Of course, as always with PBS you get more than the necessary share of “talking heads” commentators who give their take on the meaning of each signpost in the long FDR trail to the presidency and beyond. Of note here is the commentary of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin whose recent book on the Lincoln presidency “Team Of Rivals” has received much notice in the lead-up to the Obamiad.

And what are those signposts of FDR’s life that might have given an inkling that he was up to the task of the times? Other than the question of class (in his case upper class, old New York money) FDR’s appetite to be president is not an unfamiliar one, if somewhat unusual from someone of that New York set at the turn of the 20th century. Except for this little twist in FDR’s case- when one’s relative, if a distant one, was an idolized Teddy Roosevelt who was President as he entered into manhood. That, at least as presented in this film, is a key source of FDR’s presidential “fire in the belly” drive.

The unfolding of the saga of FDR’s “fire in the belly” ambitions takes up the first two parts of the series. Here we find out the early family history, the various schoolboy pursuits, the private schools, the obligatory Ivy League education (Harvard), the courtship of the sublime distant cousin (and Teddy favorite) Eleanor, his first stab at elective office in New York, his apprenticeship in Washington as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during the Wilson presidency, his little extramarital love affairs, his selection as Vice Presidential candidate in 1920, the seemingly political career-ending bout with polio and the fight against its physical restrictions, the successful efforts to hide this from the public, thereafter the successful return to politics as Governor of New York and, finally, the nomination and election as the 32nd President of The United States. Plenty of material for thought here.

But that is only prelude. FDR faced a capitalist system that had like today 'lost', although for different specific reasons, its moorings and was in need of deep repair (or overthrow). It is not unfair, I do not believe, to say as I have said in the headline of this entry that FDR’s effort was the last gasp effort of capitalism to survive (although his fellow capitalists and their intellectual, political and media hangers-on shortsightedly called him a “traitor to his class”). The most glaring contrast in the whole documentary is that between an overwhelmed President Hoover’s abject defeatism and FDR’s strident confidence (a like comparison could be made, at least of the defeated presidential part, with the current Bush).

Although we now know that the ultimate way out of that Great Depression was World War II in 1933 FDR applied, piecemeal and as triage, a whole series of economic programs to jump start the system, most famously the National Recovery Act (NRA, later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court). FDR’s first two terms were basically a fight to find ways, virtually any ways to keep the economy moving and get people back to work. He was running out of time and the public’s patience when the rumblings of WWII came on to the horizon in Europe.

The hard-bitten fight by FDR to get America into the European War against a public opinion that was essentially isolationist, mainly as a result of the WWI experience, takes up the last part of the series. The various efforts to surreptitiously aid England are highlighted here, including the various visits by and with British war time leader Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the fight to get America militarily mobilized including imposition of a military draft, the various conferences of the Big Three (the Soviet Union being the third) to carve up the post-war world and FDR’s final illness round out the story. In our house when I was a kid the mere mention of the name FDR was said, by one and all, with some reverence for his efforts to pull America out of the Great Depression and for guiding it to victory in war. For a long time this writer has not had that youthful reverence but if you want to see why my parents and why I as a youth whispered that name with reverence watch here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“I Said, Who Do You Love”- An Encore-The Raucous Music Of George Thorogood And The Destroyers

Click on the title to link to "YouTube"'s film clip of George Thorogood and The Destroyers performing their version of "Madison Blues".

CD Review

Live, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Capitol, 1990

A couple of years ago when Bo Diddley died I mentioned in a review of his work that many latter musicians, particularly white musicians were influenced by his songs, and covered them like crazy. That is the case with George Thorogood, with or without his Destroyers. Although he is probably best known for his bad boy anthem, “Bad To The Bone” Thorogood cut his teeth on doing covers of Bo, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and the other greats of the blues and early rock and roll. That is how we should measure his work, as an exponent of a certain kind or of rock and R&B.

This album delivers extended versions of his master works including: the afore-mentioned “Bad To The Bone,” the classic Bo Diddley tune “Who Do You Love,” “Madison Blues,” and the classic Hooker song “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”. This album is close to the best versions technically and will give an idea of what old George and boys could do on a hot night. Yes, indeed.

Blues Lyrics - George Thorogood
Madison Blues

All rights to lyrics included on these pages belong to the artists and authors of the works.
All lyrics, photographs, soundclips and other material on this website may only be used for private study, scholarship or research.

Elmore James
recording of 1977
George Thorogood & The Destroyers (Rounder CD-3013)
Live (EMI E 2-46329)

Ah you babes talk about your Madison shoes
We got a thing we call the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues baby
Rock away your blues
I know a gal her name is Lindsey Lou
She told me she loved me but I know it ain't true
Put on your Madison shoes
Put on your Madison blue shoes
I got the Madison blues
Now put on your Madison blue shoes
Ah you cats talking about your Madison shoes
We do the thing we call the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues baby
Rock away your blues
Ah you babes talk about your Madison shoes
We got a thing we call the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues
We do the Madison blues baby
Rock away your blues

A Larry McMurtry Potpourri

Leaving Las Vegas

The Desert Rose, Larry McMurtry, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1983

The last time, I believe, that it I mentioned Las Vegas in this space was regarding a review of the late Hunter Thompson’s classic “gonzo” piece "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" that used that city as the backdrop for his drug-addled adventures spoofing the rubes. The last time that I mentioned the author of the book under review, Larry McMurtry, was just recently praising his Texas trilogy that was based on his classic 1950’s coming of age tale "The Last Picture Show". In a sense McMurtry tackles the scenes that the drug-rattled Thompson failed to get- a view of those who actually live and work in Vegas 24/7/365. That story has a certain pathos that McMurtry is able to milk. Maybe not in the definitive way that he can milk small-town Texas for a story but he milks it nevertheless.

Hollywood and Las Vegas have stood culturally in America as meccas for generations of young girls from places like Oklahoma and guys from Kansas as places to achieve fame, if only for that proverbial 'fifteen minutes'. That is one of the strands that McMurtry weaved into his tale of the loves, dreams, losses and forfeitures of Las Vegas showgirl extra-ordinaire Harmony and her ill-fated marriage to that Kansas boy, Ross.

This is also a story of generations as the product of the marriage, Pepper, although only a teenager seems destined to avoid most of the mistakes that “mom” made by having more talent - for picking right guys, rejecting bad guys and being a dancing prodigy rather than a mere showgirl. The problem, however, is that for Pepper to rise Harmony must fall. The two cannot share center stage in the casinos or in life. Moreover, in a youth-crazed culture epitomized to the nth degree in Vegas aging “mom” cannot fight the fates, even if she had the capacity to do so. That is the drama that centrally drives this little piece.

Along the way we get to look at the lives and loves of the people who hold Las Vegas together (if not themselves). We get to view lifelong Vegas denizens, the inevitable gay wardrobe guy, assorted talented or talentless showgirls and their trials and tribulations, sundry backstage types who share the dreams of the spotlight. Is this a McMurtry work that you must read? No, I already told you that "Last Picture Show" trilogy is a must read. But if you have a few hours, and want to read about what Thompson missed on his sojourn, then read this little novel.

Portrait Of A Writer As A Young Man

All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers. Larry McMurtry, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972.

As is usually the case when I get excited about an author’s work I tend to delve into all the work in order to see which way he or she is heading. That is the case here with Larry McMurtry. I have just finished reading his "The Last Picture Show" trilogy ("The Last Picture Show"; "Texasville"; and, "Duane’s Depressed") about coming of age in small town Texas, having one’s mid-life crisis there and, in the end, struggling against the strains of mortality there as well. The cumulative effect of this work was a five-star review. Here we step back to early McMurtry and while the promise is certainly there as well as his quirky look at modern life this is the work of a rising star writer not of a master writer.

Why? Well, for one thing the subject matter. All fictional writing in the final analysis may be autobiographical, consciously or unconsciously, but here the trials and tribulations of a young Texas writer who heads to California to find himself after the budding prominence of the publication of his first book and a movie offer is, well, just a little too precious. Moreover, the inevitable romantic problems of twenty-something males (and, by now in the 2000s, females) has been done to death. Nothing really jumps out here other than some cogent observations about the foibles of human nature as strained through the California mill. My advice to Danny, the protagonist writer here is –Go east, young man, go east back to Texas. That’s where your pot of gold is. Do you need to read this book? If you have time. Do you need to read "The Last Picture Show" trilogy. Damn right. That’s the different in a nutshell.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

***Poet's Corner- Andrew Marvell's Ode To Oliver Cromwell

Here is Andrew Marvell's famous Ode To Oliver Cromwell. Marvell was a friend of, student of and subsequently succeeded John Milton as Secretary of Foreign Tongues under the Cromwellian Protectorate. I will divide this ode up better when I can find a book copy that does so. Markin.

The First Anniversary Of
the Government under O.C.

by Andrew Marvell

Like the vain Curlings of the Watry maze,
Which in smooth streams a sinking Weight does raise;
So Man, declining alwayes, disappears.
In the Weak Circles of increasing Years;
And his short Tumults of themselves Compose,
While flowing Time above his Head does close.
Cromwell alone with greater Vigour runs,
(Sun-like) the Stages of succeeding Suns:
And still the Day which he doth next restore,
Is the just Wonder of the Day before.
Cromwell alone doth with new Lustre spring,
And shines the Jewel of the yearly Ring.

'Tis he the force of scatter'd Time contracts,
And in one Year the Work of Ages acts:
While heavy Monarchs make a wide Return,
Longer, and more Malignant then Saturn:
And though they all Platonique years should raign,
In the same Posture would be found again.
Their earthly Projects under ground they lay,
More slow and brittle then the China clay:
Well may they strive to leave them to their Son,
For one Thing never was by one King don.
Yet some more active for a Frontier Town
Took in by Proxie, beggs a false Renown;
Another triumphs at the publick Cost,
And will have Wonn, if he no more have Lost;
They fight by Others, but in Person wrong,
And only are against their Subjects strong;
Their other Wars seem but a feign'd contest,
This Common Enemy is still opprest;
If Conquerors, on them they turn their might;
If Conquered, on them they wreak their Spight:
They neither build the Temple in their dayes,
Nor Matter for succeeding Founders raise;
Nor Sacred Prophecies consult within,
Much less themselves to perfect them begin,
No other care they bear of things above,
But with Astrologers divine, and Jove,
To know how long their Planet yet Reprives
From the deserved Fate their guilty lives:
Thus (Image-like) and useless time they tell,
And with vain Scepter strike the hourly Bell;
Nor more contribute to the state of Things,
Then wooden Heads unto the Viols strings,

While indefatigable Cromwell hyes,
And cuts his way still nearer to the Skyes,
Learning a Musique in the Region clear,
To tune this lower to that higher Sphere.

So when Amphion did the Lute command,
Which the God gave him, with his gentle hand,
The rougher Stones, unto his Measures hew'd,
Dans'd up in order from the Quarreys rude;
This took a Lower, that an Higher place,
As he the Treble alter'd, or the Base:
No Note he struck, but a new Story lay'd,
And the great Work ascended while he play'd.

The listning Structures he with Wonder ey'd,
And still new Stopps to various Time apply'd:
Now through the Strings a Martial rage he throws,
And joyng streight the Theban Tow'r arose;
Then as he strokes them with a Touch more sweet,
The flocking Marbles in a Palace meet;
But, for he most the graver Notes did try,
Therefore the Temples rear'd their Columns high:
Thus, ere he ceas'd, his sacred Lute creates
Th'harmonious City of the seven Gates.

Such was that wondrous Order and Consent,
When Cromwell tun'd the ruling Instrument;
While tedious Statesmen many years did hack,
Framing a Liberty that still went back;
Whose num'rous Gorge could swallow in an hour
That Island, which the Sea cannot devour:
Then our Amphion issues out and sings,
And once he struck, and twice, the pow'rful Strings.

The Commonwealth then first together came,
And each one enter'd in the willing Frame;
All other Matter yields, and may be rul'd;
But who the Minds of stubborn Men can build?
No Quarry bears a Stone so hardly wrought,
Nor with such labour from its Center brought;
None to be sunk in the Foundation bends,
Each in the House the highest Place contends,
And each the Hand that lays him will direct,
And some fall back upon the Architect;
Yet all compos'd by his attractive Song,
Into the Animated City throng.

The Common-wealth does through their Centers all
Draw the Circumf'rence of the publique Wall;
The crossest Spirits here do take their part,
Fast'ning the Contignation which they thwart;
And they, whose Nature leads them to divide,
Uphold, this one, and that the other Side;
But the most Equal still sustein the Height,
And they as Pillars keep the Work upright;
While the resistance of opposed Minds,
The Fabrick as with Arches stronger binds,
Which on the Basis of a Senate free,
Knit by the Roofs Protecting weight agree.

When for his Foot he thus a place had found,
He hurles e'r since the World about him round,
And in his sev'ral Aspects, like a Star,
Here shines in Peace, and thither shoots a War.
While by his Beams observing Princes steer,
And wisely court the Influence they fear,
O would they rather by his Pattern won.
Kiss the approaching, nor yet angry Son;
And in their numbred Footsteps humbly tread
The path where holy Oracles do lead;
How might they under such a Captain raise
The great Designs kept for the latter Dayes!
But mad with reason, so miscall'd, of State
They know them not, and what they know not, hate
Hence still they sing Hosanna to the Whore,
And her whom they should Massacre adore:
But Indians whom they should convert, subdue;
Nor teach, but traffique with, or burn the Jew.

Unhappy Princes, ignorantly bred,
By Malice some, by Errour more misled;
If gracious Heaven to my Life give length,
Leisure to Times, and to my Weakness Strength,
Then shall I once with graver Accents shake
Your Regal sloth, and your long Slumbers wake:
Like the shrill Huntsman that prevents the East,
Winding his Horn to Kings that chase the Beast.

Till then my Muse shall hollow far behind
Angelique Cromwell who outwings the wind;
And in dark Nights, and in cold Dayes alone
Pursues the Monster thorough every Throne:
Which shrinking to her Roman Den impure,
Gnashes her Goary teeth; nor there secure.

Hence oft I think, if in some happy Hour
High Grace should meet in one with highest Pow'r,
And then a seasonable People still
Should bend to his, as he to Heavens will,
What we might hope, what wonderful Effect
From such a wish'd Conjuncture might reflect.
Sure, the mysterious Work, where none withstand,
Would forthwith finish under such a Hand:
Fore-shortned Time its useless Course would stay,
And soon precipitate the latest Day.
But a thick Cloud about that Morning lyes,
And intercepts the Beams of Mortal eyes,
That 'tis the most which we deteremine can,
If these the Times, then this must be the Man.
And well he therefore does, and well has guest,
Who in his Age has always forward prest:
And knowing not where Heavens choice may light,
Girds yet his Sword, and ready stands to fight;
But Men alas, as if they nothing car'd,
Look on, all unconcern'd, or unprepar'd;
And Stars still fall, and still the Dragons Tail
Swinges the Volumes of its horrid Flail.
For the great Justice that did first suspend
The World by Sin, does by the same extend.
Hence that blest Day still counterpoysed wastes,
The ill delaying, what th'Elected hastes;
Hence landing Nature to new Seas it tost,
And good Designes still with their Authors lost.

And thou, great Cromwell, for whose happy birth
A Mold was chosen out of better Earth;
Whose Saint-like Mother we did lately see
Live out an Age, long as a Pedigree;
That she might seem, could we the Fall dispute,
T'have smelt the Blossome, and not eat the Fruit;
Though none does of more lasting Parents grow,
But never any did them Honor so;
Though thou thine Heart from Evil still unstain'd,
And always hast thy Tongue from fraud refrain'd,
Thou, who so oft through Storms of thundring Lead
Hast born securely thine undaunted Head,
Thy Brest through ponyarding Conspiracies,
Drawn from the Sheath of lying Prophecies;
Thee proof beyond all other Force or Skill,
Our Sins endanger, and shall one day kill.

How near they fail'd, and in thy sudden Fall
At once assay'd to overturn us all.
Our brutish fury strugling to be Free,
Hurry'd thy Horses while they hurry'd thee.
When thou hadst almost quit thy Mortal cares,
And soyl'd in Dust thy Crown of silver Hairs.

Let this one Sorrow interweave among
The other Glories of our yearly Song.
Like skilful Looms which through the costly threed
Of purling Ore, a shining wave do shed:
So shall the Tears we on past Grief employ,
Still as they trickle, glitter in our Joy.
So with more Modesty we may be True,
And speak as of the Dead the Praises due:
While impious Men deceiv'd with pleasure short,
On their own Hopes shall find the Fall retort.

But the poor Beasts wanting their noble Guide,
What could they move? shrunk guiltily aside.
First winged Fear transports them far away,
And leaden Sorrow then their flight did stay.
See how they each his towring Crest abate,
And the green Grass, and their known Mangers hate,
Nor through wide Nostrils snuffe the wanton air,
Nor their round Hoofs, or curled Mane'scompare;
With wandring Eyes, and restless Ears theystood,
And with shrill Neighings ask'd him of the Wood.

Thou Cromwell falling, not a stupid Tree,
Or Rock so savage, but it mourn'd for thee:
And all about was heard a Panique groan,
As if that Natures self were overthrown.
It seem'd the Earth did from the Center tear;
It seem'd the Sun was faln out of the Sphere:
Justice obstructed lay, and Reason fool'd;
Courage disheartned, and Religion cool'd.
A dismal Silence through the Palace went,
And then loud Shreeks the vaulted Marbles rent.
Such as the dying Chorus sings by turns,
And to deaf Seas, and ruthless Tempests mourns,
When now they sink, and now the plundring Streams
Break up each Deck, and rip the Oaken seams.

But thee triumphant hence the firy Carr,
And firy Steeds had born out of the Warr,
From the low World, and thankless Men above,
Unto the Kingdom blest of Peace and Love:
We only mourn'd our selves, in thine Ascent,
Whom thou hadst lest beneath with Mantle rent.

For all delight of Life thou then didst lose,
When to Command, thou didst thy self Depose;
Resigning up thy Privacy so dear,
To turn the headstrong Peoples Charioteer;
For to be Cromwell was a greater thing,
Then ought below, or yet above a King:
Therefore thou rather didst thy Self depress,
Yielding to Rule, because it made thee Less.

For, neither didst thou from the first apply
Thy sober Spirit unto things too High,
But in thine own Fields exercisedst long,
An Healthful Mind within a Body strong;
Till at the Seventh time thou in the Skyes,
As a small Cloud, like a Mans hand didst rise;
Then did thick Mists and Winds the air deform,
And down at last thou pow'rdst the fertile Storm;
Which to the thirsty Land did plenty bring,
But though forewarn'd, o'r-took and wet the King.

What since he did, an higher Force him push'd
Still from behind, and it before him rush'd,
Though undiscern'd among the tumult blind,
Who think those high Decrees by Man design'd.
'Twas Heav'n would not that his Pow'r should cease,
But walk still middle betwixt War and Peace;
Choosing each Stone, and poysing every weight,
Trying the Measures of the Bredth and Height;
Here pulling down, and there erecting New,
Founding a firm State by Proportions true.

When Gideon so did from the War retreat,
Yet by Conquest of two Kings grown great,
He on the Peace extends a Warlike power,
And Is'rel silent saw him rase the Tow'r;
And how he Succoths Elders durst suppress,
With Thorns and Briars of the Wilderness.
No King might ever such a Force have done;
Yet would not he be Lord, nor yet his Son.

Thou with the same strength, and an Heart as plain,
Didst (like thine Olive) still refuse to Reign;
Though why should others all thy Labor spoil,
And Brambles be anointed with thine Oyl,
Whose climbing Flame, without a timely stop,
Had quickly Levell'd every Cedar's top.
Therefore first growing to thy self a Law,
Th'ambitious Shrubs thou in just time didst aw.

So have I seen at Sea, when whirling Winds,
Hurry the Bark, but more the Seamens minds,
Who with mistaken Course salute the Sand,
And threat'ning Rocks misapprehend for Land;
While balefull Tritons to the shipwrack guide,
And Corposants along the Tacklings slide.
The Passengers all wearyed out before,
Giddy, and wishing for the fatall Shore;
Some lusty Mate, who with more carefull Ey
Counted the Hours, and ev'ry Star did spy,
The Helm does from the artless Steersman strain,
And doubles back unto the safer Main.
What though a while they grumble discontent,
Saving himself he does their loss prevent.

'Tis not a Freedome, that where All command;
Nor Tyranniey, where One does them withstand:
But who of both the Bounders knows to lay
Him as their Father must the State obey.

Thou, and thine House, like Noahs Eight did rest,
Left by the Warrs Flood on the Mountains crest:
And the large Vale lay subject to thy Will,
Which thou but as an Husbandman wouldst Till:
And only didst for others plant the Vine
Of Liberty, not drunken with its Wine.

That sober Liberty which men may have,
That they enjoy, but more they vainly crave:
And such as to their Parents Tents do press,
May shew their own, not see his Nakedness.

Yet such a Chammish issue still does rage,
The Shame and Plague both of the Land and Age,
Who watch'd thy halting, and thy Fall deride,
Rejoycing when thy Foot had slipt aside;
That their new King might the fifth Scepter shake,
And make the World, by his Example, Quake:
Whose frantique Army should they want for Men
Might muster Heresies, so one were ten.
What thy Misfortune, they the Spirit call,
And their Religion only is to Fall.
Oh Mahomet! now couldst thou rise again,
Thy Falling sicknes should have made thee Reign,
While Feake and Simpson would in many a Tome,
Have writ the Comments of thy sacred Foame:
For soon thou mightst have past among their Rant
Wer't but for thine unmoved Tulipant;
As thou must needs have own'd them of thy band
For Prophecies fit to be Alcorand.

Accursed Locusts, whom your King does spit
Out of the Center of th' unbottom'd Pit;
Wand'rers, Adult'rers, Lyers, Munser's rest,
Sorcerers, Atheists, Jesuites, Possest;
You who the Scriptures and the Laws deface
With the same liberty as Points and Lace;
Oh Race most hypocritically strict!
Bent to reduce us to the ancient Pict;
Well may you act the Adam and the Eve;
Ay, and the Serpent too that did deceive.

But the great Captain, now the danger's ore,
Makes you for his sake Tremble one fit more;
And, to your spight, returning yet alive
Does with himself all that is good revive.

So when first Man did through the Morning new
See the bright Sun his shining Race pursue,
All day he follow'd with unwearied sight,
Pleas'd with that other World of moving Light;
But thought him when he miss'd his setting beams,
Sunk in the Hills, or plung'd below the Streams.
While dismal blacks hung round the Universe,
And Stars (like Tapers) burn'd upon his Herse:
And Owls and Ravens with their screeching noyse
Did make the Fun'rals sadder by their Joyes.
His weeping Eys the dolefull Vigils keep,
Not knowing yet the Night was made for sleep:
Still to the West, where he him lost, he turn'd,
And with such accents, as Despairing, mourn'd:
Why did mine Eyes once see so bright a Ray;
Or why Day last no longer than a Day?
When streight the Sun behind him he descry'd,
Smiling serenely from the further side.

So while our Star that gives us Light and Heat,
Seem'd now a long and gloomy Night to threat,
Up from the other World his Flame he darts,
And Princes, shining through their windows, starts;
Who their suspected Counsellors refuse,
And credulous Ambassadors accuse.

“Is this,” saith one, “the Nation that we read
Spent with both Wars, under a Captain dead?
Yet rig a Navy while we dress us late;
And ere we Dine, rase and rebuild our State.
What Oaken Forrests, and what golden Mines!
What Mints of Men, what Union of Designes!
Unless their Ships, do, as their Fowle proceed
Of shedding Leaves, that with their Ocean breed.
Theirs are not Ships, but rather Arks of War,
And beaked Promontories sail'd from farr;
Of floting Islands a new Hatched Nest;
A Fleet of Worlds, of other Worlds in quest;
An hideous shole of wood-Leviathans,
Arm'd with three Tire of brazen Hurricans;
That through the Center shoot their thundring side
And sink the Earth that does at Anchor ride.
What refuge to escape them can be found,
Whose watry Leaguers all the world surround?
Needs must we all their Tributaries be,
Whose Navies hold the Sluces of the Sea.
The Ocean is the Fountain of Command,
But that once took, we Captives are on Land:
And those that have the Waters for their share,
Can quickly leave us neither Earth nor Air.
Yet if through these our Fears could find a pass;
Through double Oak, & lin'd with treble Brass;
That one Man still, although but nam'd, alarms
More then all Men, all Navies, and all Arms.
Him, all the Day, Him, in late Nights I dread,
And still his Sword seems hanging o're my head.
The Nation had been ours, but his one Soul
Moves the great Bulk, and animates the whole.
He Secrecy with Number hath inchas'd,
Courage with Age, Maturity with Hast:
The Valiants Terror, Riddle of the Wise;
And still his Fauchion all our Knots unties.
Where did he learn those Arts that cost us dear?
Where below Earth, or where above the Sphere?
He seems a King by long Succession born,
And yet the same to be a King does scorn.
Abroad a King he seems, and something more,
At Home a Subject on the equal Floor.
O could I once him with our Title see,
So should I hope yet he might Dye as wee.
But let them write his Praise that love him best,
It grieves me sore to have thus much confest.”

Pardon, great Prince, if thus their Fear or Spight
More then our Love and Duty do thee Right.
I yield, nor further will the Prize contend;
So that we both alike may miss our End:
While thou thy venerable Head dost raise
As far above their Malice as my Praise.
And as the Angel of our Commonweal,
Troubling the Waters, yearly mak'st them Heal.

Marvell, Andrew. The Complete Poems.
George deF. Lord, Ed.
London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1984. 93-104.


to Andrew Marvell

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Created by Anniina Jokinen on July 25, 2000. Last updated on September 10, 2006.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Waiting To Exhale- Pop Music in 1960


The Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll-1960, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1995

In the late 1960’s a number of my friends from the Generation of ’68 who considered themselves part of the counter-cultural movement argued, sincerely I believe, that music, by which they meant rock or maybe folk/rock music was the revolution. According to this political logic the various summers of love, be-ins, Woodstocks, etc., if sustained, would create the atmosphere for social change without the need for either a political overthrow of the current capitalist system or doing any heavy political lifting to overturn society’s values and create the ‘new man and woman’. Probably the most articulate expression of that concept was expounded by the likes of John and Yoko Lennon. Well, life has demonstrated once and for all the fantastic nature of that assertion. Which is just a roundabout way for me to argue my point here that while music may not be the revolution some music may be ‘counter-revolutionary’. Let me explain that further.

Whatever the roots of rock and roll- country, rockabilly, blues, rhythm and blues, etc. the sound produced was clearly a dramatic departure from the likes of Ms. Patti Page and her "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" and songs of that ilk that clogged up the airwaves in the early 1950’s. Rock got people, and by this I mean young ‘impressionable’ people like myself, moving. Moving much more than our parents liked. In short, getting caught up in the ‘sexual’ sensual beat of things like "Shake, Rattle and Roll" or "Good Rockin’ Tonight". And there was a palpable backlash from adults and other authorities to this. While teens might have then begun to have more disposable dollars to spend that money came from parents, for the most part. The record companies and other responded, at least in part, to that reality. Hence this truly scary compilation of tunes from 1960 that, frankly, put my hair on ends when I listened to it recently.

Don’t get me wrong. I listened, like millions of other teenagers, to this music and liked some of it but in listening to it in combination back-to-back with Carl Perkins' "Classic Hits" for Sun Records I want my money back. No, not from Time-Life but from whoever imposed this stuff on us in 1960. Okay, compare the rock classics of 1955 like Perkins’ "Blue Suede Shoes" or "Everyone Wants To Be My Baby" and The Theme From “A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and the band, Connie Steven’s "Sixteen Reasons" or Bobby Vee’s "Devil or Angel". Need I go on or say more. Unless you are a nostalgically-inclined modern popular music historian then pass this by and wait for The Rolling Stones or the Beatles to come by in a few years. Enough said

Sunday, December 07, 2008

*400th Anniversary Birthday Greetings- John Milton, Revolutionary And Poet

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for John Milton for background information about this important republican publicist of the English Revolution of the 17th century.


Milton And The English Revolution, Christopher Hill, Penguin Press, New York 1972

The name and work of the late British Marxist historian Christopher Hill should be fairly well known to readers of this space who follow my reviews on the subject of the 17th century English Revolution. That revolution has legitimately been described as the first one of the modern era and had profound repercussions, especially on the American Revolution and later events on this continent. Although Hill was an ardent Stalinist, seemingly to the end of his life, his works, since they were not as subjected to the conforming pressures of the Soviet political line that he adhered to, are less influenced by that distorting pressure. To our benefit.

More importantly, along the way Professor Hill almost single-handedly brought to life the under- classes that formed the backbone of the plebeian efforts during that revolution. We would, surely, know far less about Fifth Monarchists, Brownists, Ranters, panters, Shakers, Quakers and fakers without the sharp eye of the good professor. All to the tune of, and in the spirit of that famous last line from John Milton's "Paradise Lost" about the locus of paradise, except instead of trying to explain the ways of god to man the professor has tried to explain ways of our earlier plebeian brothers and sisters to us.

That said, on this the 400th Anniversary year of the birth of John Milton the great English revolutionary and poet it is fitting that the occasion be commemorated by a review of one of Professor Hill's major literary/historical works, "Milton and The English Revolution". Now with a figure like Milton, so central to the Western literary canon, it is, after 400 years of critique, entirely possible to analysis his life and work from a merely literary or religious point of view and "deep-six" his central role as a propagandist for Cromwell's republican English Commonwealth, as a defender of regicide in "The Tenure Of Kings and Magistrates" or as a man emerged in the various radical religious and political controversies of his day. The literary and political fight against such reductionism is, in fact, both the purpose of Hill's book and his core argument in order to take back the person of John Milton for the revolution. And along the way dispel the proposition that Milton was a cloistered "up-tight" Puritan exemplar, especially through his analysis of Milton's tracts on divorce and an examination of his career during the tumultuously 1640's. To this reviewer's mind Hill succeeds in the first task although I still have reservations in imagining the figure of a `rakish' John Milton on the second.

As always in dealing with the controversies of the mid-17th in England it is best to have knowledge of the various religious controversies that were swirling through all classes as the showdown with the king, and more importantly, the theory of 'divine right' of kings and the heavy monarchical/church state apparatus based on it. Hill's main argument on this point is that Milton's known theological divergences from then orthodox Laudian Church of England dogma or, for that matter; orthodox Puritan dogma as well made him a prime candidate to be the leading propagandist for the republican side in the dispute.

Thus, Milton intellectually was totally emerged in the on-going controversies over mortalism, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the literalness (and timing) of the Second Coming, the virgin birth, arminianism, Arianism and the thousand and one varieties on this theme that had more than one champion in its day. As Hill notes these controversies may seem rather abstract or of merely academic interest today but then one could pay with his or her life for a wrong move. Most famously, look at the fate of Quaker James Nayler, for one, for the truth of that matter-and remember that man drew a severe sentence for his `folly' during the fairly "enlightened" Cromwellian Protectorate.

If one recognizes, as I following Professor Hill do, the politically shrewd aspect of Milton's career as well as that of his role as thoughtful if somewhat arbitrary advocate for various political causes that were dear to his heart then his role as propagandist for the Republic is easier to understand. As Secretary of Foreign Tongues he was the voice of the English Revolution to the known world. In that capacity, rather than that of a 'private intellectual' the reading of such treatises as his defense of regicide "Tenure of Kings And Magistrates" and his rebuttal to Charles I in "Eikonoklastes" makes more sense.

At one time I placed Milton as something of the 17th century equivalent of the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in the 20th century who, according to no less an authority than George Bernard Shaw, was the "prince of pamphleteers" of his era. I now believe this earlier characterization of mine made Milton more organizationally and theoretically committed to the fate of the revolution, as he suffered later disillusions with the revolution under the Commonwealth, than he actually was. However, among the literary set of the English Revolution, his is the most outstanding voice trying to push the revolution, the "revolution of the saints" to put it in the parlance of the day, to the left. All the way to 1660 and beyond, despite his physical blindness. And then in defeat to explain what went wrong, as well.

Although Hill has drawn in this little political biography a portrait of Milton as a man enmeshed in his times his seminal poetic and other literary work after his narrow escape from the clutches of a vengeful Charles II in 1660- the trilogy, "Paradise Lost", "Paradise Regained" and "Samson Agonistes" are also well analyzed. I do not, however, want to enter into that post-revolutionary literary/political discussion which takes up the last part of the book here, interesting as it is. As mentioned above more than enough ink has been spilled over the last four hundred years deciphering the meanings of those works by the literary set. The reader can read this section and make up his or her mind without my layman's literary comments. To conclude then, this book pays due homage to the prime literary defender of the "Good Old Cause", a cause that WAS worth fighting for. All Honor To The Memory Of John Milton, Revolutionary And Poet.

*Poet's Corner- John Milton's "Pardise Lost"

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for John Milton's master poetic attempt to "explain the ways of god to man", "Paradise Lost". Short of posting the whole work this, at least, gives a taste of what he was trying to do. Of course, check Christopher Hill's, "Milton and The English Revolution", or or sources to get the real "skinny".