Archive for April 2012

Dick Clark and Levon Helm – Nonconformity and Protest in Music   Leave a comment

The recent deaths of Dick Clark and Levon Helm cause us to look back fondly at an earlier era. As many articles are pointing out, the brilliant career of Dick Clark forever changed American music. The beloved Levon Helm, especially in his role in the Band, had a huge effect on American music in a different way. What they both had in common, besides their importance, was how they defied expectations about the way things should be. I’ve been thinking about music and musicians lately, and just that about them – how often they point the way ahead for us, how often we learn from them and follow.

I recently bought a turntable and dug out my old LPs. I also happened upon a yard sale where the guy was selling hundreds of unopened cassettes. (I bought 80!) As a result, I’ve been listening to music from the sixties and seventies again – and  since I’m involved with the Occupy movement – with new ears. Obviously, that was a time of intense protest, and of “peace, love and understanding” – itself a form of protest – and we hear it in the music.

As “Boomers”, we were weaned on this music, which shaped our values, and provided, as Dick Clark himself so aptly put it “the soundtrack of our lives.” And yet, it seems like not very many Baby Boomers are involved in protest today – for instance with Occupy Wall Street. (I’m not as familiar with the ranks of the Tea Party, so I won’t be commenting on that.) I’ve been wondering at how that can be, and if it can change. But first, I invite you to take a stroll down memory lane with me, sampling protest music for that era. How many of these songs to you remember?

Malvina Reynolds – Little Boxes (’62)

Peter Seeger – Where Have All the Flowers Gone (’61, popularized by Peter, Paul & Mary), We Shall Overcome (based on a negro spiritual, covered here by Joan Baez), Bring Them Home (’66), Union Maid (written by Woodie Guthrie, covered here by Seeger),  Which Side Are You On? (popularized by Seeger, written by Florence Reece in ’31) this cover by Annie DeFranco

Phil Oachs – Vietnam (’62), Talking Vietnam (’64), I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore (’65), Draft Dodger Rag (’65)

Tom Paxton – My Son Tom (’66)

Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In the Wind (’63 – sung here by Peter, Paul and Mary), Masters of War (’63), John Brown, The Times They are a Changin’ (’64), With God on Our Side (’64 – Baez cover), the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (’64), Masters of War (’64), Chimes of Freedom (’64), Hurricane (’66), The Death of Emmett Till (’72), Hard Rain (’76) [Most, if not all, Dylan’s solo videos have been removed from Youtube.], w/ Joan Baez, Deportee (’76)

Sam Cooke – A Change is Gonna Come (’64) (this cover by Seal)

Curtis Mayflield – People Get Ready (’65) (later covered by the Vanilla Fudge)

Jackie DeShannon – What the World Needs Now (’65), Put A Little Love in Your Heart (’69)

Country Joe and the Fish – Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag (’65)

The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn (’65) (written by Pete Seeger)

Barry McGuire and P.F. Sloan – Eve of Destruction (’65)

Janis Ian – Society’s Child (66)

Kriss Kristofferson – Vietnam Blues (’66)

Jr. Wells – Vietcong Blues (’66)

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth (’66), Soldiers of Peace (’67)

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Masacree (’67)

Donovan – The Universal Soldier (written by Buffie Sainte-Marie, ’64)

Eric Burdon and the Animals – Sky Pilot (68)

John Lee Hooker – I Don’t Wanna Go To Vietnam” (’68)

Quicksilver Messenger Service – Pride of Man (’68), What About Me? (’70)

The Doors – Unknown Soldier (’68)

Graham Nash –  We Can Change the World (’68),Oh! Camil (’73), Military Madness

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Wooden Ships (’68), (also covered by Jefferson Airplane), Ohio (’70), Teach Your Children (’70)

David Crosby – What Are Their Names?

The Beatles – Tax Man, Eleanor Rigby, She’s Leaving Home, Revolution (’68)

Joni Mitchell – The Fiddle and the Drum (’69), Woodstock (’69), Big Yellow Taxi (’70)

Larry Norman – I Am the 6 O’Clock News (’70, Grammatrain cover), The Great American Novel (’71), Peace, Polution, Revolution (’71)

The Kinks – Some Mother’s Son (’69)

Steppenwolf – Draft Resister (’69)

Joan Baez – I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill (’69) (written in the ’30s but popularized by Baez), Saigon Bride (’67), Where Are You Now My Son? (’73)

John Sebastian – I Had A Dream Last Night (’69)

Credence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son (’69)

Jimi Hendrix – The Star Spangled Banner (Woodstock) (’69), Machine Gun (’70)

Jessie Collin Young – Hippie From Olema (’69), Get Together (here with Jackson Browne, Steve Stills, Graham Nash, etc.)

Yes – Harold Land (’69)

John Lennon – Give Peace a Chance (’69, with Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band), Imagine (’71), Happy Xmas (’71)

Buffy Saint Marie – Moratorium (’71)

Cat Stevens – Peace Train (’71)

Grand Funk Railroad – People, Let’s Stop the War” (’71)

[Jefferson] Airplane – Rejoyce (’67), Crown of Creation (’68), Volunteers of America (’69)

The Steve Miller Band – Never Kill Another Man (’70)

Guess Who – American Woman (’70)

Deep Purple – Child in Time (’70)

Edwin Star – War (’70)

Chicago – It Better End Soon (’70)

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? (’71)

Neil Young & Graham Nash – War Song (’72)

O’Jays – Love Train (’73)

Johnny Cash – Don’t Go Near the Water (’74)

Tom Paxton – Born on the Fourth of July (’74), Whose Garden Was This?

Bob Marley and the Wailers – War (’76), No More Trouble (’97)

The Ramones – Commando (’77)

This list is a “who’s who” of the most popular performers of that time – and not just in terms of protest music. These songs sent many of us out into the streets, and still exert great influence in music and on our musical consciousness. (How, for instance, can anyone listen to “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and not be changed?)

As we look back this week with affection on the passing of two musical greats, I wanted to raise a question – not “Where have all the flowers gone?”, but “Where have all the protestors gone?” Now, I should say that I talked to enough people at Zuccotti Park (before “the man” shut it down to protect “the establishment”) to know that plenty of people who are out protesting now were doing it “back in the day”, or perhaps, ever since “the day.” But, it seems to me like what is probably a much greater number who were outraged and moved to action back then by racism, injustice, police brutality, corruption in government and the injustices and terrible human (and economic) cost of war, are now distracted by other things. (Typically, activists come from the ranks of the young, so that is also an obvious factor.) Even so, is that what we want? To leave the fight for justice to only the young? To be remembered as youthful agitators but then comfortable, sleepy oldsters? Is it fair for us to leave all the hard work to the young – and can they even succeed without us? (For protest is much more than holding up signs outside Goldman Sachs or letting yourself be arrested for sleeping on the sidewalk.)

So, here’s what I suggest if it’s been a while since you’re really been stirred by a problem bigger than paying the mortgage (which granted, today is no small problem for many). Put on some of your old LPs, or simply click some of the links in this article to revisit some amazing and great old musical places. See if the idealism of those days doesn’t grab you. See if you may have forgotten some things that are sacred to you. See if you may indeed want to do something “for the cause.” I’m not saying it has to be with Occupy Wall Street. I’m just saying that your country and your planet needs you. Don’t do it for Dylan or Baez. Don’t do it for Morrison or Lennon. But do it because you still share the values they sang about. Do it for yourself, your children, your grandchildren and for your neighbors near and far.

* I want to emphasize that my review is obviously subjective and therefore somewhat arbitrary. If I’ve left out your favorite song or band, I apologize in advance. Obviously,  I’ve limited my selections to a certain era (basically 60s and 70s). This has meant refusing the urge to look back to some great songs (e.g., “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday), or to later years either (“Rockin’ In the Free World” by Neil Young). I’ve included as many actual clips of the groups singing as possible, and avoided posting those “collage” type “videos” with the music in the background –  with only a few exceptions (i.e., “Ohio”). I hope you enjoy the article (and the music!), that you think about my question, and that you leave a comment. I’m interested in your responses.

P.S. I want to thank Tom Carnacchio for his contributions to this article.

Pat Buchanan on “Whipped-up Hysteria” Over Trayvon Martin Killing   2 comments

Pat Buchanan claims that when it comes to the killing of Trayvon Martin, Black leaders – like Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, Representative Hank Johnson and “former Black Panther” Bobby Rush – have “whipped-up hysteria”, making the case, which apparently wouldn’t have been about race, as it is “now.” What they’re done, he says, has been designed “…to turn this into a national black-white face-off, instead of a mutual search for truth and justice….” and into an “exacerbation of and the exploitation of racial conflict.”

It would be naive to argue that this was or would ever be purely “a mutual search for truth and justice.” Politicians always have their own agenda, and are often quick to sacrifice the truth to exploit a situation for their own benefit. Media outlets want to keep a story going because they have a profit motive. Even so, I don’t believe that either of these forces is sufficient to explain why all this, and why now. In other words, why is everyone so “whipped-up” and in “hysteria” over this?

Buchanan’s explanation is that what we’re seeing is “… an irreconcilable conflict of visions about what the real America is in the year 2012.” And here is Buchanan’s analysis of America today. American 2012 is a place …

1) where Black men are suspect, because black men between 16-36 are responsible for 33% of all US crime, and because their crime rate is seven times what it is for whites. Indeed, in some U.S. cities, 40% of black males “… are in jail or prison, or probation or parole, or have criminal records.”

2) where these realities are “not a product of white racism but of prosecutions and convictions of criminal acts.”

3) where, if you’re black and you wear a hoodie, you’re only asking to be mistaken for a perp, like those who hold up convenient stores and are captured on hidden video cameras.

4) where America is a safe place for young blacks, not  “… a terrifying place for [them] to grow up in because of the constant danger from white vigilantes.”

In this world (Buchanan’s world), it only makes sense that George Zimmerman suspected sixteen year old Trayvon Martin (who just barely made the 16-26 year old cutoff).

Buchanan offers no links or sources for his statements, but I’ll have to leave the fact-checking to someone else. I’ll only say that when I was reading the article, the old saying “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” came to mind. And I’m not accusing Buchanan of deliberately lying. I just think his world view is “skewed up” enough to create a lot of doubt about his analysis. For instance, if everyone knows that you gotta watch out for young black males because so many of them  – almost half! – are criminals (points 1 & 2), then doesn’t that mean that they probably are treated with suspicion everywhere they go, and that they are put in danger more often as a result? (contra point 4) Maybe they’re not so much in danger from white vigilantes, but plenty of times “average” Whites have killed Blacks without any repercussions (like in the famous case of Emit Till in 1955, and the March 3, 2012 killing of Bo Morrison). We also need to consider fear of the police (think “stop and frisk“) that is part and parcel of the lives of many Blacks in troubled neighborhoods, and increase in the danger level that goes with that oppressive approach. And now, with the Stand Your Ground laws are spreading through the states, the perceived and actual danger has increased dramatically.

I’d like to interact briefly with three of Buchanan’s points about America:

1) Agreed, lots of blacks are in prison, and lots of Blacks have been arrested.

2) To say that this is “not a product of white racism” is a sweeping generalization, and by no means obvious. Here’s America in 2012 the way I see it (and someone else can fact-check me as well):  Blacks are very often stopped when whites wouldn’t be (again, stop and frisk). Blacks are very often charged when white’s wouldn’t be. (They don’t all have PDA cards like my four white sons do – and lots of friends who are cops.) Blacks are convicted more often and serve longer sentences than whites in the same or similar circumstances. And, when “things go wrong” in police action, somehow it seems like blacks (and the mentally ill like Ronald Madison – but that’s another story) are often the dead victims. (Think Rodney King, Sean Bell, James Brisette, and many others, including, more recently Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.) Looking on from the outside, it seems to me like Blacks are considered “more disposable.”

3) If it was only natural for Zimmerman to be suspicious of Trayvon Martin, then it wasn’t about his hoodie (according to Buchanan’s criteria) but because he wore a hoodie – and he was a black man. From moment one then, this story has been about race, no one needed to make it about race. (And yes, as Buchanan himself says, it’s likely that if the victim had been a white man shot by a black man “…the black guy would have been arrested.”) But Zimmerman wasn’t arrested, and again, in the light of such stories as I’ve linked above, it seems like race is a factor.

Perhaps Buchanan states the obvious when he says that Jesse Jackson and others like him wouldn’t be “whipping-up a frenzy” over this story “… if Trayvon had been shot dead by a black neighborhood watch volunteer.” No one can know that. Maybe Jesse Jackson isn’t as hard-hearted as Pat Buchanan. Maybe though, the issue would have still been young blacks being unjustly executed by careless or bigoted cops – or armed civilians – no matter what their color. It’s really the same story. The point is that there is a significant possibility that a young black man was unjustly killed, and also originally, failed by the criminal justice system which seemed to do nothing. I think that would have been enough to stir up black leaders, especially since it’s happened plenty of times before – and perhaps (finally) plenty of White’s too, like those who have been showing solidarity with Trayvon’s cause in Occupy Wall Street in Manhattan, and in Miami, D.C., and in other major cities.

Finally I said earlier that Paul Buchanan seemed heartless, and I’d like to explain why. Equating advocacy for justice in the case of the possible execution of a sixteen year old with “whipped-up frenzy” is shamefully inconsiderate. I think that if I were Trayvon’s parents, I would find this an incredibly callous and very hurtful dismissal of the value of my lost child. I know we don’t, but I wish we lived in an America where the killing of any innocent child would bring forth a flurry of passionate protest. Sadly, it happens too often to engender such a response. Nevertheless, using the phrase as he has, only seems to reflect the attitude that is at the heart of this troubling story. I’m White like Buchanan, but I think that the killing of Trayvon Martin was an outrage – even if it just turns out to be what Zimmerman’s lawyer says – “a tragic case of self-defense.” Pat Buchanan’s comment shamefully demeans the discussion, and falls short of showing the appropriate honor that should be given to any and every human being – black or white – simply because each is created in the image of God.

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