Saturday, January 19, 2019

For The Frontline Defenders Of The Working Class!-Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up!”-Build The Resistance-A Program

For The Frontline Defenders Of The Working Class!-Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up!”-Build The Resistance-A Program  

By the American Left History blog staff

[Sometimes and the period we are in of late, over the last several years, a period of cold civil war in the United States, is one of those times, we have to come up with some programmatic statements in order to help the process of clarification about the immediate and future tasks of the Left.  To what the later Peter Paul Markin, forever known as the Scribe, called in his old hard-core working class growing up neighborhood days “seeking the newer world” which he unfortunately by his untimely early death was not able to help create although for a while he tried, tried like hell to do in his best days and which a number of us, his old comrades both from corner boy days and later have been trying to continue. The following is a draft, and only a draft, of what we collectively have come up with to help orient the newfound and promising Resistance that has sprung up in the era of one Donald J. Trump, his henchmen and his hangers-on to reverse the one-sided class war we have been on the brunt side of and of the cultural wars we have been fighting rear-guard action against for about the last forty years. Josh Breslin for the American Left History blog staff. ]   

An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend The International Working Class Everywhere!
Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It Back! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!
A Five-Point Program As Talking Points
*Jobs For All Now!-“30 For 40”- A historic demand of the labor movement going back to the 1930s Great Depression the last time that unemployment, under-employment, and those who have just plain quit looking for work was as high in the American labor force as it is just tentatively recovering from of late, although it is admittedly down from the Great Recession 2008 highs. Thirty hours work for forty hours pay is a formula to spread the available work around. Socially productive work not make-shift stuff although we would support an vast expansion of public works to fix the broken down infrastructure in need of serious and immediate repair. his is no mere propaganda point but shows the way forward toward a more equitable distribution of available work.
The basic scheme, as was the case with the early days of the longshoremen’s and maritime unions’ plans as a result of battles like the General Strike in San Francisco in the 1934, is that the work would be divided up through local representative workers’ councils that would act, in one of its capacities, as a giant hiring hall where the jobs would be parceled out. This would be a simpler task now than when it was when first proposed in the 1930s with the vast increase in modern technology that could fairly accurately, via computers, target jobs that need filling and equitably divide up current work.

Without the key capitalist necessity of keeping up the rate of profit the social surplus created by that work could be used to redistribute the available work at the same agreed upon rate rather than go into the capitalists’ pockets. The only catch, a big catch one must admit, is that no capitalist, and no capitalist system, is going to do any such thing as to implement “30 for 40” –with the no reduction in pay proviso, although many low –end employers are even now under the “cover” of the flawed Obamacare reducing hours WITH loss of pay-so that to establish this work system as a norm it will, in the end, be necessary to fight for and win a workers government to implement this demand.

Organize the unorganized is a demand that cries out for solution today now that the organized sectors of the labor movement, both public and private, in America are at historic lows, just over ten percent of the workforce. Part of the task is to reorganize some of the old industries like the automobile industry, now mainly unorganized as new plants come on line and others are abandoned, which used to provide a massive amount of decent jobs with decent benefits but which now have fallen to globalization and the “race to the bottom” bad times. The other sector that desperately need to be organized is to ratchet up the efforts to organize the service industries, hospitals, hotels, hi-tech, restaurants and the like, that have become a dominant aspect of the American economy. Support the recent militant efforts, including the old tactic of civil disobedience, by service unions and groups of fast-food workers to increase the minimum socially acceptable wage in their Fight For 15.

Organize the South-this low wage area, this consciously low-wage area, where many industries land before heading off-shore to even lower wage places cries out for organizing, especially among black and Hispanic workers who form the bulk of this industrial workforce. A corollary to organizing the South is obviously to organize internationally to keep the “race to the bottom” from continually occurring short of being resolved in favor of an international commonwealth of workers’ governments. Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy.

Organize Wal-Mart- millions of workers, thousands of company-owned trucks, hundreds of distribution centers. A victory here would be the springboard to a revitalized organized labor movement just as auto and steel lead the industrial union movements of the 1930s. The key here is to organize the truckers and distribution workers the place where the whole thing comes together. We have seen mostly unsuccessful organizing of individual retail stores. To give an idea of how hard this task might be though someone once argued that it would be easier to organize a workers’ revolution that organize this giant. Well, that’s a thought.

Defend the right of public and private workers to unionize.
Simple-No more defeats like in Wisconsin in 2011, no more attacks on collective bargaining the hallmark of a union contract. No reliance on labor boards, arbitration, courts or bourgeois recall elections like the unsuccessful one against Governor Scoot Walker in Wisconsin in the aftermath of the huge defeat of public workers in Wisconsin funds and talents which could have been used to reorganize the public workers for union struggles ahead. Unions must keep their independent from government interference. Period.

Defend the independence of the working classes! No union dues for Democratic (or the stray Republican) candidates. In 2008, 2012, and 2016 labor, organized labor, spent over well over 700 million dollars respectively trying to elect Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats (mainly). The “no show, no go” results speak for themselves as the gap between the rich and poor has risen even more in this period. For those bogus efforts rather than the serious labor organizing among low wage workers, the unorganized, the South and Wal-Mart the labor skates should have been sent packing long ago. The idea in those elections was that the Democrats (mainly) were “friends of labor.” The past period of cuts-backs, cut-in-the-back give backs should put paid to that notion. Although anyone who is politically savvy at all knows that is not true, not true for the labor skates at the top of the movement since they have been very generous with own paychecks. The old norm in need of revival is that the bureaucrats at all levels should receive no more than the pay of the average skilled worker they represent.    

The hard reality today is that the labor skates, not used to any form of class struggle or any kind of struggle, know no other way than class-collaboration, arbitration, courts, and every other way to avoid the appearance of strife, strife in defense of the bosses’ profits. One of most egregious recent examples that we can recall- the return of the Verizon workers to work after two weeks in the summer of 2011 when they had the company on the run and the subsequent announcement by the company of record profits. That sellout strategy may have worked for the bureaucrats, or rather their “fathers” for a time back in the 1950s “golden age” of labor, but now we are in a very hard and open class war. The rank and file must demand an end to using their precious dues payments for bourgeois candidates all of whom have turned out to be sworn enemies of labor when the deal went down from Bush to Obama to Trump on down.

This does not mean not using union dues for political purposes though. On the contrary we need to use them now more than ever in the class battles ahead. Spent the dough on organizing the unorganized, organizing the South, organizing Wal-Mart, and other pro-labor causes. Think, for example, of the dough spent on the successful November, 2011 anti-union recall referendum in Ohio (also think, think hard, about having to go that far back to get a positive example). That type of activity is where labor’s money and other resources should go. And not on recall elections against individual reactionaries, like the Scoot-Walker recall effort in Wisconsin, as substitutes for class struggle (and which was overwhelmingly unsuccessful to boot-while the number of unionized public workers has dwindled to a precious few).  

*End the endless wars!- As the so-called draw-down of American and Allied troops in Iraq reached its final stages back in 2011, the draw- down of non-mercenary forces anyway, we argued that we must recognize that we anti-warriors had failed, and failed rather spectacularly, to affect that withdrawal after a promising start to our opposition in late 2002 and early 2003 (and a little in 2006).As the endless American-led wars (even if behind the scenes, as in previously in Libya and now in Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Chad and other proxy wars) continue now with a new stage against ISIS (Islamic State) in Iraq and other Middle East states we had better straighten out our anti-war, anti-imperialist front quickly if we are to have any effect on the U.S. troop escalation we know is coming before that fight is over. No War With North Korea, Iran! Out of Syria! Stop The Arms Shipments To The Middle East! Stop The Bombing Campaigns! Defend The Palestinian People! And as always after 16 long years, since 2001 for the forgetful Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops (And Mercenaries) From Afghanistan!  

U.S. Hands Off Iran! Hands Off North Korea!- American (and world) imperialists have periodically ratcheted up their propaganda war (right now) and increased economic sanctions that are a prelude to war well before the dust has settled on the now unsettled situation in Iraq and well before they have even sniffed at an Afghan withdrawal of any import. We will hold our noses, as we did with the Saddam leadership in Iraq and on other occasions, and call for the defense of North Korea and Iran against the American imperial monster. A victory for the Americans (and their junior partners on this issue, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea) in North Korea or Iran is not in the interests of the international working class. Especially here in the “belly of the beast” we are duty-bound to call not just for non-intervention but for defense of North Korea and Iran. We will, believe me we will, deal with the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran and the Kim regime in North Korea in our own way in our own time.

U.S. Hands Off The World! And Keep Them Off!- With the number of “hot spots” that the American imperialists, or one or another of their junior allies, have their hands on in this wicked old world this generic slogan would seem to fill the bill.

Down With The War Budget! Not One Penny, Not One Person For The Wars! Honor World War I German Social-Democratic Party MP, Karl Liebknecht, who did just that in 1915 in the heat of war and paid the price unlike other party leaders who were pledged to stop the war budgets and reneged on that promise by going to prison. The jailhouse the only play for an honest representative of the working class under those conditions. The litmus test for every political candidate must be first opposition to the war budgets (let’s see, right now no new funding in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea preparations, Iran preparations, China preparations, etc. you get our drift). Then that big leap. The whole damn imperialist military budget. Again, no one said it would be simple. Revolution may be easier that depriving the imperialists of their military money. Well….okay.

*Fight for a social agenda for working people! Free Quality Healthcare For All! This would be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The health and welfare of any society’s citizenry is the simple glue that holds that society together. It is no accident that one of the prime concerns of workers states like Cuba, whatever their other political problems, has been to place health care and education front and center and to provide to the best of their capacity for free, quality healthcare and education for all. Even the hide-bound social-democratic-run capitalist governments of Europe have, until recently anyway, placed the “welfare state” protections central to their programs. Be clear Obamacare is not our program and has been shown to be totally inadequate and wasteful however we will defend that program against those like Trump and the majority of his Republican ilk r his who wish to dismantle it and leave millions once again uninsured and denied basic health benefits.  

Free, quality higher education for all! Nationalize the colleges and universities under student-teacher-campus worker control! One Hundred, Two Hundred, Many Harvards!

This would again be a no-brainer in any rationally based society. The struggle to increase the educational level of a society’s citizenry is another part of the simple glue that holds that society together. Today higher education is being placed out of reach for many working-class and minority families. Hell, it is getting tough for the middle-class as well.

Moreover the whole higher educational system is increasing skewed toward those who have better formal preparation and family lives leaving many deserving students from broken homes and minority homes in the wilderness. Take the resources of the private institutions and spread them around, throw in hundreds of billions from the government (take from the military budget if you want to find the money quickly to do the job right), get rid of the top heavy and useless college administration apparatuses, mix it up, and let students, teachers, and campus workers run the thing through councils on a democratic basis.

Forgive student debt! The latest reports indicate that college student debt is something like a trillion plus dollars, give or take a few billion but who is counting. The price of tuition and expenses has gone up dramatically while low-cost aid has not kept pace. What has happened is that the future highly educated workforce that a modern society, and certainly a socialist society, desperately needs is going to be cast in some form of indentured servitude to the banks or other lending agencies for much of their young working lives. Let the banks take a “hit” for a change!

Stop housing foreclosures and aid underwater mortgages now! Although the worst of the 2008 crunch has abated there are still plenty of problems and so this demand is still timely if not desperately timely like in the recent past. Hey, everybody, everywhere in the world not just in America should have a safe, clean roof over their heads. Hell, even a single family home that is part of the “American dream,” if that is what they want. We didn’t make the housing crisis in America (or elsewhere, like in Ireland, where the bubble had also burst). The banks did. Their predatory lending practices and slip-shot application processes were out of control. Let them take the “hit” here as well.

*We created the wealth, let’s take it back. Karl Marx was right way back in the 19th century on his labor theory of value, the workers do produce the social surplus appropriated by the capitalists. Capitalism tends to beat down, beat down hard in all kinds of ways the mass of society for the benefit of the few. Most importantly capitalism, a system that at one time was historically progressive in the fight against feudalism and other ancient forms of production, has turned into its opposite and now is a fetter on production. The current multiple crises spawned by this system show there is no way forward, except that unless we push them out, push them out fast, they will muddle through, again.
Take the struggle for our daily bread off the historic agenda. 

Socialism is the only serious answer to the human crisis we face economically, socially, culturally and politically. This socialist system is the only one calculated to take one of the great tragedies of life, the struggle for daily survival in a world that we did not create, and replace it with more co-operative human endeavors.
Build a workers’ party that fights for a workers government to unite all the oppressed. None of the nice things mentioned above can be accomplished without as serious struggle for political power. We need to struggle for an independent working-class-centered political party that we can call our own and where our leaders act as “tribunes of the people” not hacks. The creation of that workers party, however, will get us nowhere unless it fights for a workers government to begin the transition to socialism, to the next level of human progress on a world-wide scale.

As Isaac Deutscher said in his speech “On Socialist Man” (1966):

“We do not maintain that socialism is going to solve all predicaments of the human race. We are struggling in the first instance with the predicaments that are of man’s making and that man can resolve. May I remind you that Trotsky, for instance, speaks of three basic tragedies—hunger, sex and death—besetting man. Hunger is the enemy that Marxism and the modern labour movement have taken on.... Yes, socialist man will still be pursued by sex and death; but we are convinced that he will be better equipped than we are to cope even with these.” 

Emblazon on our red banner-Labor and the oppressed must rule!
Bob Marley Get Up, Stand Up Lyrics

Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Preacher man, don't tell me,
Heaven is under the earth.
I know you don't know
What life is really worth.
It's not all that glitters is gold;
'Alf the story has never been told:
So now you see the light, eh!
Stand up for your rights. come on!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!
Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!
Most people think, Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. jah!
Get up, stand up! (jah, jah! )
Stand up for your rights! (oh-hoo! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Don't give up the fight! (life is your right! )
Get up, stand up! (so we can't give up the fight! )
Stand up for your rights! (lord, lord! )
Get up, stand up! (keep on struggling on! )
Don't give up the fight! (yeah! )
We sick an' tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin' 'n' goin' to heaven in-a Jesus' name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah! )
So you better: Get up, stand up! (in the morning! git it up! )
Stand up for your rights! (stand up for our rights! )
Get up, stand up!
Don't give up the fight! (don't give it up, don't give it up! )
Get up, stand up! (get up, stand up! )
Stand up for your rights! (get up, stand up! )
Get up, stand up! (... )
Don't give up the fight! (get up, stand up! )

A special word about Bob Marley whose song above inspired us to update and present out programmatic ideas:

We Don’t Want Your Ism-Skism Thing- Dreadlocks Delight- “One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley And The Wailers”- A CD Review

One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley And The Wailers, Bob Marley And The Wailers, UTV Records, 2001

Admit it, back in the late seventies and early eighties we all had our reggae minutes, at least a minute anyway. And the center of that minute, almost of necessity, had to be a run-in with the world of Bob Marley and the Wailers, probably I Shot The Sheriff. Some of us stuck with that music and moved on to its step-child be-bop, hip-hop when that moved on the scene. Others like me just took it as a world music cultural moment and put the records (you know records, those black vinyl things, right?) away after a while. And that was that.

Well not quite. A few year back, back in 2011 the Occupy movement, the people risen, had done a very funny musical thing, at least funny to my ears when I heard it. They, along with the old labor song, Solidarity Forever, and, of course Brother Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land , had resurrected Bob Marley’s up-from-under fight song, Get Up, Stand Up to fortify the sisters and brothers against the American imperial monster beating down on all of us and most directly under the police baton and tear gas canister. And that seems, somehow, eminently right in the monster age of one Donald J. Trump, his henchman, and his hangers-on. More germane here it has gotten me to dust off those old records and give Brother Marley another hear. And you should too if you have been remiss of late with such great songs as (aside from those mentioned already) No Woman, No Cry, Jamming, One Love/People Get Ready (ya, the old Chambers Brother tune), and Buffalo Soldier. And stand up and fight too.

Originally posted 10th February 2012

*From The Pages Of "Workers Vanguard"-Honor Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg

Click on the title to link to an on line copy of the "Workers Vanguard" article on the subject mentioned in the headline.

Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf Coming Up The Mississippi From The Mister James Crow South And Blowing High White Notes In Mind

Smokestack Lightning, Indeed- With Bluesman Howlin’ Wolf Coming Up The Mississippi From The Mister James Crow South And Blowing High White Notes In Mind

Sometimes a picture really can be worth a thousand words, a thousand words and more as in the case Howlin’ Wolf doing his Midnight creep in the photograph above taken from an album of his work but nowadays with the advances in computer technology and someone’s desire to share also to be seen on sites such as YouTube where you can get a real flavor of what that mad man was about when he got his blues wanting habits on. In fact I am a little hesitate to use a bunch of words describing Howlin’ Wolf in high gear since maybe I would leave out that drop of perspiration dripping from his overworked forehead and that salted drop might be the very thing that drove him that night or describing his oneness with his harmonica because that might cause some karmic funk. So, no, I am not really going to go on and on about his midnight creep but when the big man got into high gear, when he went to a place where he sweaty profusely, a little ragged in voice and eyes all shot to hell he roared for his version of the high white note. Funny, a lot of people, myself for a while included, used to think that the high white note business was strictly a jazz thing, maybe somebody like the “Prez” Lester Young or Duke’s Johnny Hodges after hours, after the paying customers had had their fill, or what they thought was all those men had in them, shutting the doors tight, putting up the tables leaving the chairs for whoever came by around dawn, grabbing a few guys from around the town as they finished their gigs and make the search, make a serious bid to blow the world to kingdom come. 

Some nights they were on fire at blew that big note out in to some heavy air and who knows where it landed, most nights though it was just “nice try.” One night I was out in Frisco when “Saps” McCoy blew a big sexy sax right out the door of Chez Benny’s over in North Beach when North Beach was just turning away from be-bop “beat” and that high white, I swear, blew out to the bay and who knows maybe all the way to the Japan seas. But see if I had, or anybody had, thought about it for a minute jazz and the blues are cousins, cousins no question so of course Howlin’ Wolf blew out that high white note more than once, plenty including a couple of shows I caught him at when he was not in his prime.         

The photograph (and now video) that I was thinking of is one where he is practically eating the harmonica as he performs How Many More Years (and now like I say thanks to some thoughtful archivist you can go on to YouTube and see him doing his devouring act in real time and in motion, wow, and also berating father Son House for showing up drunk). Yes, the Wolf could blast out the blues and on this one you get a real appreciation for how serious he was as a performer and as blues representative of the highest order.

Howlin’ Wolf like his near contemporary and rival Muddy Waters, like a whole generation of black bluesmen who learned their trade at the feet of old-time country blues masters like Charley Patton, the aforementioned Son House who had his own personal fight with the devil, Robert Johnson who allegedly sold his soul to the devil out on Highway 61 so he could get his own version of that high white note, and the like down in Mississippi or other southern places in the first half of the twentieth century. They as part and parcel of that great black migration (even as exceptional musicians they would do stints in the sweated Northern factories before hitting Maxwell Street) took the road north, or rather the river north, an amazing number from the Delta and an even more amazing number from around Clarksville in Mississippi right by that Highway 61 and headed first maybe to Memphis and then on to sweet home Chicago.  

They went where the jobs were, went where the ugliness of Mister James Crow telling them sit here not there, walk here but not there, drink the water here not there, don’t look at our women under any conditions and on and on did not haunt their every move (although they would find not racial Garden of Eden in the North, last hired, first fired, squeezed in cold water flats too many to a room, harassed, but they at least has some breathing space, some room to create a little something they could call their won and not Mister’s), went where the big black migration was heading after World War I. Went also to explore a new way of presenting the blues to an urban audience in need of a faster beat, in need of getting away from the Saturday juke joint acoustic country sound with some old timey guys ripping up three chord ditties to go with that jug of Jack Flash’s homemade whiskey (or so he called it).

So they, guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Magic Slim, Johnny Shines, and James Cotton prospered by doing what Elvis did for rock and rock and Bob Dylan did for folk and pulled the hammer down on the old electric guitar and made big, big sounds that reached all the way back of the room to the Red Hat and Tip Top clubs and made the max daddies and max mamas jump, make some moves. And here is where all kinds of thing got intersected, as part of all the trends in post-World War II music up to the 1960s anyway from R&B, rock and roll, electric blues and folk the edges of the music hit all the way to then small white audiences too and they howled for the blues, which spoke to some sense of their own alienation. Hell, the Beatles and more particularly lived to hear Muddy and the Wolf. The Stones even went to Mecca, to Chess Records to be at one with Muddy. And they also took lessons from Howlin’ Wolf himself on the right way to play Little Red Rooster which they had covered and made famous in the early 1960s (or infamous depending on your point of view since many radio stations including some Boston stations had banned it from the air originally).Yes, Howlin’ Wolf and that big bad harmonica and that big bad voice that howled in the night did that for a new generation, pretty good right.  



In The Hills And Hollows Again- With Mountain Music Man Norman Blake And Satruday Red Barn Dances And White Lightning Dreams In Mind

In The Hills And Hollows Again- With Mountain Music Man Norman Blake And Satruday Red Barn Dances And White Lightning Dreams In Mind    

Recently in discussing Sam Lowell’s relationship with mountain music, the music from down in the hills and hollows of Kentucky where his father and his people before him had lived dirt poor for generations eking almost nothing out of the land that had been abandoned decades before by some going west driven spirits who played the land out and moved on, some moving on until they reached ocean edge California, Bart Webber noticed that he had concentrated a little too heavily on Sam’ s father’s  Kentucky hills and hollows. There were places like in the Piedmont of North Carolina with a cleaner picking style as exemplified more recently by Norman Blake who has revived the work of performers like Edda Baker and Pappy Sims by playing the old tunes. Also places like the inner edges of Tennessee and Georgia where the kindred also dwelled, places as well where if the land had played out there they, the ones who stayed behind in there tacky cabins barely protected against the weathers, their lack of niceties of modern existence a result not because they distained such things but down in the hollows they did not know about them, did not seem to notice the bustling outside world.

They all, all the hills and hollows people, just kept plucking away barely making ends meet, usually not doing so in some periods, and once they had abandoned cultivating the land these sedentary heredity “master-less men” thrown out their old countries, mainly the British Isles, for any number of petty crimes, but crimes against property and so they had to go on their own or face involuntary transportation they went into the “black god” mines or sharecropping for some Mister to live short, nasty, brutish lives before the deluge. But come Saturday night, come old Fred Brown’s worn out in need of paint red barn the hill people, the mountain people, the piedmont brethren, hell, maybe a few swamp-dwellers too, would gather up their instruments, their sweet liquor jugs, their un-scrubbed bare-foot children or their best guy or gal and play the night away as the winds came down the mountains. This DNA etched in his bones by his father and the kindred is what Sam had denied for much of his life.          

But like Bart said when discussing the matter with Sam one night sometimes what goes around comes around as the old-time expression had it. Take for example Sam Lowell’s youthful interest in folk music back in the early 1960s when it had crashed out of exotic haunts like Harvard Square, Ann Arbor, Old Town Chi Town and North Beach/Berkeley out in Frisco. Crashed out by word of mouth at first and ran into a lot of kids, a lot of kids like Sam, who got his word from Diana Nelson who got it from a cousin from North Adamsville nearer Boston who frequented the coffeehouse on Beacon Hill and Harvard Square hipped her to this new folk music program that he had found flipping the dial of his transistor radio one Sunday night.

See Sam and Diana were tucked away from the swirl down in Carver about thirty miles as the crow flies from Boston and Cambridge but maybe a million social miles from those locales and had picked up the thread somewhat belatedly. He, along with his corner boys, had lived in their little corner boy cocoon out in front of Jimmy Jack’s Diner figuring out ways to get next to girls like Diana but who were stuck, stuck like glue to listening to the “put to sleep” music that was finding its way to clog up Jimmy Jack’s’ hither-to-fore “boss” jukebox. Christ, stuff like Percy Faith’s Moon River that parents could swoon over, and dance to. Had picked the sound up belatedly when they were fed up with what was being presented on American Bandstand and WJDA the local rock station, when they were looking for something different, something that they were not sure of but that smelled, tasted, felt, and looked different from a kind of one-size-fits-all vanilla existence.

Oh sure, as Bart recognized once he thought about it for a while, every generation in their youth since the days when you could draw a distinction between youth and adulthood a century or so ago and have it count has tried to draw its own symbolic beat but this was different, this involved a big mix of things all jumbled together, political, social, economic, cultural, the whole bag of societal distinctions which would not be settled until the end of that decade, maybe the first part of the next. That big picture is what interested him. What Sam was interested then down there in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston was the music, his interest in the other trends did not come until later, much later long after the whole thing had ebbed and they were fighting an unsuccessful rearguard action against the night-takers and he was forced to consider other issues. And Sam had been like that ever after. 

The way Sam told it one night a few years back, according to Bart, some forty or so years after his ear changed forever that change had been a bumpy road. Sam had been at his bi-weekly book club in Plymouth where the topic selected for the next meeting was the musical influences, if any, that defined one’s tastes and he had volunteered to speak then since he had just read a book, The Mountain View, about the central place of mountain music, for lack of a better term, in the American songbook. He had along with Bart and Jack Dawson also had been around that time discussing how they had been looking for roots as kids. Musical roots which were a very big concern for a part of their  generation, a generation that was looking for roots, for rootedness not just in music but in literature, art, and even in the family tree.

Their parents’ generation no matter how long it had been since the first family immigration wave had spilled them onto these shores was in the red scare Cold War post-World War II period very consciously ignoring every trace of roots in order to be fully vanilla Americanized. So their generation had had to pick up the pieces not only of that very shaky family tree but everything else that had been downplayed during that period.

Since Sam had tired of the lazy hazy rock and roll that was being produced and which the local rock radio stations were force- feeding him and others like him looking to break out through their beloved transistor radios he had started looking elsewhere on the tiny dial for something different after Diana had clued him in about that folk music program. Although for a while he could not find that particular program or Carver was out of range for the airwaves. But like a lot of young people, as he would find out later when he would meet kindred in Harvard Square, the Village, Ann Arbor, Berkeley he fortunately had been looking for that something different at just that moment when something called folk music, roots music, actually was being played on select stations for short periods of time each week and so it was before long that he was tuned in.

His own lucky station had been a small station, an AM station, from Providence in Rhode Island which he would find out later had put the program on Monday nights from eight to eleven at the request of Brown and URI students who had picked up the folk music bug on trips to the Village (Monday a dead music night in advertising circles then, maybe now too, thus fine for talk shows, community service programs and odd-ball stuff like roots music to comply with whatever necessary FCC mandates went with the license.) That is where he first heard the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Dave Von Ronk, a new guy named Tom Rush from Harvard whom he would hear in person many times over the years, and another guy, Eric Von Schmidt whom he would meet later in one of the Harvard Square coffeehouses that were proliferating to feed the demand to hear folk music. Those coffeehouses were manna from heaven, well, because they were cheap for guys with little money. Cheap alone or on a date, basically as Sam related to his book club listeners for a couple of bucks at most admission, the price of a cup of coffee to keep in front of you and thus your place, maybe a pastry if alone and just double that up for a date except share the pasty you had your date deal all set for the evening hearing performers perfecting their acts before hitting the A-list clubs.

He listened to it all, liked some of it, other stuff, the more protest stuff he could take or leave depending on the performer but what drew his attention, strangely then was when somebody on the radio or on stage performed mountain music, you know, the music of the hills and hollows that came out of Appalachia mainly down among the dust and weeds. Things like Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow, Gold Watch and Chain, Fair and Tender Ladies, Pretty Saro, and lots of instrumentals by guys like Buell Kazee, Hobart Smith, The Charles River Boys, Norman Blake just starting his rise along with various expert band members to bring bluegrass to the wider younger audience that did not relate to guys like Bill Monroe and his various band combinations, and some other bluegrass bands as well that had now escaped his memory.

This is where it all got jumbled up for him Sam said since he was strictly a city boy, made private fun of the farm boys, the cranberry boggers, who then made up a significant part of his high school. He furthermore had no interest in stuff like the Grand Ole Opry and that kind of thing, none. Still he always wondered about the source, about why he felt some kinship with the music of the Saturday night red barn, probably broken down, certainly in need of paint, and thus available for the dance complete with the full complement of guitars, fiddles, bass, mandolin and full complement too of Bobby Joe’s just made white lightening, playing plainsong for the folk down in the wind-swept hills and hollows.  

Then one night, a Sunday night after he had picked up the Boston folk program station on the family radio (apparently the weak transistor radio did not have the energy to pick up a Boston station) he was listening to the Carter Family’s Wildwood Flower when his father came in and began singing along. After asking Sam about whether he liked the song and Sam answered that he did but could not explain why his father told him a story that maybe put the whole thing in perspective. After Sam’s older brother, Lawrence, had been born and things looked pretty dicey for a guy from the South with no education and no skill except useless coal-mining his father decided that maybe they should go back to Kentucky and see if things were better for a guy like him there. No dice, after had been in the north, after seeing the same old tacky cabins, the played out land, the endless streams of a new generation of shoeless kids Sam’s father decided to head back north and try to eke something out in a better place. But get this while Sam’s parents were in Kentucky Sam had been conceived. Yeah, so maybe it was in the genes all along.          

Where Have All The Flowers Gone- With Legendary Folk-Singer Pete Seeger In Mind

Where Have All The Flowers Gone- With Legendary Folk-Singer Pete Seeger In Mind

A while back, a few months ago now I think I mentioned in a sketch about how I came to learn about the music of Woody Guthrie I noted that it was hard to pin just exactly when I first heard his music since it pre-dated my coming to the folk minute of the 1960s. After some thought I pinpointed the first time to a seventh grade music class (Mr. Dasher’s class whom we innocently then called Dasher the Flasher just for rhyming purposes but which with today’s sensibilities about the young would not play very well) when he in an effort to have us appreciate various genre of music made us learn Woody’s This Land Is Your Land.

In thinking about when I first heard Pete Seeger sign I came up against that same quandary since I know I didn’t associate him with the first time I heard the emerging folk minute. That folk minute start which I do clearly remember the details of got going one Sunday night when tired of the vanilla rock and roll music that was being play in the fall of 1962 on the Boston stations I began flipping the small dial on my transistor radio settling in on this startling gravelly voice which sounded like some old-time mountain man singing Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies. I listened to a few more songs on what turned out to be a folk music program put on every Sunday evening between seven and nine at the request of some college kids in the area who were going crazy for roots music according to the DJ.          

After thinking about it for a while I realized that I had heard Pete not in solo performance but when he was with The Weavers and they made a hit out of the old Lead Belly tune, Good Night, Irene. In those days, the early 1950s I think, The Weavers were trying to break into the popular music sphere and were proceeding very well until the Cold War night descended upon them and they, or individual members including Pete were tarred with the red scare brush. Still you cannot keep a good man down, a man with a flame-throwing banjo, with folk music DNA in his blood since he was the son of the well-known folk musicologist Charles Seeger, and with something to say to those who were interested in looking back into the roots of American music before it got commercialized. Interested in going back to the time when old cowboys would sing themselves to sleep around the camp fire out in the prairies, when sweat hard-working black share-croppers and plantation workers down South would get out a Saturday jug and head to the juke joint to chase the blues away, and when the people of the hills and hollows down in Appalachia would Saturday night get out the jug and run over to Bill Preston’s old seen better days red-painted barn and dance that last dance waltz to that weeping mountain fiddle. Stuff like that, lots of stuff like that to fill out the American songbook.

You Have Come A Long Way, Baby-Maybe-Traversing The Woman Question, Circa 1940-With Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell And A Fistful Of Notable Lesser Female Stars And Starlets-No Men-“The Women”(1939)-A Film Review, Maybe

You Have Come A Long Way, Baby-Maybe-Traversing The Woman Question, Circa 1940-With Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell And A Fistful Of Notable Lesser Female Stars And Starlets-No Men-“The Women”(1939)-A Film Review, Maybe

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

The Women, starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and the above mentioned fistful of lesser stars, starlets, fashion models, some producers’ mistresses, a few tramps, a couple more who look like they came out of a high-end bordello in the high rent district of New York City, a couple of  taxi dancers, a few lap dancers and at least half a dozen gold-diggers and not necessarily those lesser females, directed by George Cukor he of the trio of directors who made the classic age of romantic comedy classic, adapted from a play by Claire Luce, she of the Luce of Time magazine founder, screenplay by Anita Loos, she of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes adage (sparked by Dorothy Parker’s Big Blonde the prototype for all subsequent blonde worship and hair rinses), 1939                

Why the hell have I been forced marched into writing a freaking, Sam Lowell’s favorite expression more on him in a moment, silly review about the fantasy lives of the rich upper-crust, the Riverside Drive set, in late Great Depression New York, the film The Women, which I dozed off on at least a few times without missing a beat. More on that in a moment, and hopefully the new policy instigated by site manager Greg Green that some films, some turkeys can be dispensed with by a short brutish swipe and then more on. What I feel compelled to explain is why me, Leslie Dumont, out of the blue has received this loser as her latest assignment.   

This is where Sam Lowell comes in, comes in on the negative side where later when actually dealing with the film after I have had my bilious say he will be redeemed, for now. Greg Green, always Greg Green when stupid stuff happens at this publication, has had a bee up his bonnet around the lack of reviews about art in this publication indirectly pointing the finger at previous site manager Allan Jackson who before he went over the edge a couple of years ago around commemoration of all things 1960s assigned tons of political commentary and film, book and music reviews. (Somebody asked Allan recently on his return here as a contributing editor, whatever that is, if he had ever gone to an art museum, he gave that sly sideways glance when he was in his “don’t suffer fools gladly” mood meaning WFT.     

Sam who had actually been heading toward an art career, had been pushed by his high school art teacher who had paved the way for him to be admitted to art school had always dreamed of being an artist. Having grown up desperately poor his stern and practical Irish Catholic mother who had lesser visions eventually talked him out of that path hoping instead he would get a nice white- collar civil service and push the family fortunes up a notch. He didn’t do that either. Nevertheless, having haunted art museums for years, he was the logical choice to take the continuing assignment, a gravy train assignment meaning he would have had to travel to various art museums and the like. No go though since Sam of late has been knee- deep in his other love writing about the fates of various private detectives and currently why they have or have not been inducted in the P.I. Hall of Fame. He is hot on the case of famous California P.I. Lew Archer who despite a great start in the profession never made the cut. Sam has a theory, a theory about Lew’s sexual impotency which was the major cause of his failure to thrive as he ended up doing “repo” work and peeping through keyholes when that was lucrative divorce work. Greg Green has given Sam a bye on the art front to pursue those leads.      

Now things get dicey. Greg desperate to get started on this projected continuing series cornered me at the water cooler one day and asked me if I wanted the assignment. No way, not interested, never been to an art museum since about high school when we took at trip from Trenton to the Met in New York City. Me and my then boyfriend snuck in some back halls and made out until we were ready to get the bus back to Trenton. To hold Greg off I mentioned that Laura Perkins, a fellow writer here and Sam’s longtime companion, had told me once that she had taken art classes in high school and college and had been to at least one art museum. So, yes, I, according to her “ratted her out.” But revenge is sweet and now that she is herself knee-deep in doing art research and articles and immune from other work, she has put the word in to Greg, who is her poodle now, to give me crazy film assignments like the brain-dead thing I am being forced to review, and review right now.

At this point Sam Lowell redeems himself for a very simple proposition-if you are at a loss, a total loss for a “hook” which every storyline needs to float then go back to tried and true “slice of life” when as here you have an old-time film. And frankly that is the only way that I can figure to say two words, positive or negative, about this film despite the fact that it has an all-female cast. Actually, that may be what is wrong with the thing, with the concept behind Ms. Luce’s original intention. To 2018 eyes which have gone through a few phases of feminism this thing doesn’t fly. For lots of reasons. Here is where I probably should make an act of contrition about any bottom-dwelling I have said about the 24/7 Christmas-etched films which have recently ended on the Hallmark channels. With the lame slapstick and over-the-top sudsy melodrama every Hallmark venture looks like an Academy award nominee.

Okay, slice of life time (thanks again, Sam). This is about the rich and spoiled women who despite the Great Depression still in full blast (it would not really abate until the cataclysmic beginning of World War II in the Pacific for this country) had nothing but time bile on their hands. “Catty” is the word that came to mind very early as the vultures flocked around the latest victim to scavenge. That being pure as the driven snow, Mary, played by super-melodramatic Noma Shearer who made a career doing this tearful muck. Mary, who in real life is the appendage of one Stephen Hanes. One Stephen Hanes, unseen as are all other men from minute one to the end, at least breathing men although the whole plot stinks of men and their perfidy, has left the reservation. Who is having an affair, who is paying the rent for some hat check girl. No, for a damsel in distress met at the perfume counter of Black’s Department Store which I believe is now part of the Macy’s chain but which in its day was the place of places for the high-hatted high-toned set, female division. Middle life crisis Stephen has a yearning for exotic Chrystal, played by Joan Crawfish, oops, Joan Crawford, I am under the influence of a Jack Kerouac short story about a film she did in San Francisco which he witnessed and wrote about. (By the way this is the 50th anniversary of Kerouac’s too early death.)      

The sweet Mary, sultry Chrystal axis will drive the film’s ups and down, ups and downs aided a cluster of chucking hens led by Rosaline Russell who will convey far and wide at the drop of a hat, maybe just a hefty tip to the all-knowing wait staff at the exclusive combination beauty parlor and health spa where they all go to get refueled for the next bouts whose marriage is on the chopping block. Tough work between sitting through exotic (and truly over-the-top) fashion shows, long martini lunches and back to the exercise room. Tough work too the little witty bon mots and flaming arrows thrown around without discrimination for the truth of the matter or how hurtful it might be to the victim of the latest “be-heading” (the only discrimination, real , is the shabby second-rate treatment of the working class white and black female help which would make one hard pressed then, maybe now to, to believe that every woman is part of one sisterhood)    

Naturally younger gold-digger Chrystal will win round one, will win it almost without a fight which is something these high society dames seem incapable of when the deal goes down. Mary is out on streets. No, that is not the way of that world. She just goes to the West, to Reno for a sweet divorce with all the trimmings. Chrystal wins round two as well snagging Stephen into the marriage bed and easy street. But see Chrystal both overplayed her hand and is nothing but a gold-digging tramp who once she snagged Stephen started lining up the next best thing. Even Stephen got wise by then. And Mary when she got the word drew some from nowhere inner strength to go after her man. Round three to Mary although why she wanted back with her lover man I don’t really know, maybe he made her toes curl in bed, although in 1939 Code world we can’t even think such sexy thoughts. Maybe in the end this is really just another variation on the “boy meet girl” trope that has carried many movies and is another “hook” when you are desperate. I will stick with “slice of life,” circa 1940 since no way would a film like this be produced, not even on the Hallmark channels.  

Finally, and this might sound crazy but when I watched this film, watched it with Josh Breslin and yes, we are friends and let’s leave it at that for the rumor-mongers on the Internet, he blurred out that this film should be reviewed by a male, by a man. I agree.

*Honor The 3 L's Always- Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht- A Guest Commentary

Click on the title to link to a "Workers Vanguard", newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S, article on the subject mentioned in the headline.