Sunday, April 21, 2019

`We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement' 1963 Introduction: An Excerpt

In 1963, the introduction to the We Shall Overcome! Songs of the Southern Freedom Movement songbook (that was compiled by Guy and Candie Carawan for SNCC and published by Moe Asch's Oak Publications) indicated how non-commercially-motivated Freedom Movement protest folk songs, that working-class people of various racial backgrounds and Movement activist/organizers collectively created in 20th century, differ from most of the commercially-motivated pop songs that get played on corporate media conglomerate radio and television station programs in 21st-century, in the following way:

"Freedom songs today are sung in many kinds of situations: at mass meetings, prayer vigils, demonstrations, before Freedom Rides and Sit-Ins, in paddy wagons and jails, at conferences, work-shops and informal gatherings. They are sung to bolster spirits, to gain new courage and to increase the sense of unity...

"The freedom songs are of many kinds and range through many moods. The important ones are the old, slow-paced spirituals and hymns (some in the minor mode) that sing of hope and determination, and, the rhythmic jubilee spirituals and bright gospel songs that protest boldly and celebrate eventual victory. These are in the majority and usually have new or revised words to old tunes...Finally, there is a small miscellany of songs imported from the north, including a couple of revised union songs and a handful of newly adapted folk songs. These have come from exchange students, freedom riders, folk singers and hit records...The students have been responsible for making up most of the new lyrics and singing new life into the old songs...

"...No other songs have been able to express so closely the feelings of the participants or have been so easily adapted to fit current situations as some of the old spirituals. When sung with anything approximating the old time style and spirit, they are unbeatable..."

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Irwin Silber's 1966 Foreward To `Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People' Book: An Excerpt

In 1966 Sing-Out! folk music magazine editor Irwin Silber wrote the following about the Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People book, whose text Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax first put together in the early 1940's, that was finally published in book form by Moe Asch's Oak Publications in 1967:

"...This book is all about--the despair, the struggle, and the dreams of the working people of the United expressed through the songs the people themselves made up and sang.

"There aren't many professional song-writers represented in these pages. Mostly, the writers and composers, where we know their names, are people like Aunt Molly Jackson, Jim Garland, Ella Mae Wiggins, Sara Ogan, John Handcox. Or blues singers like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red. For these and all the anonymous picket-line poets of the time, there was no intellectual problem of `commitment' or whether or not `protest' was `art.' When you sing because your life depends upon it, when you sing out of the very bowels of your being with a scream of anguish or when you sing out with a yell that demands and proclaims and asserts your rights as a man or a woman and as a human being--when you sing this way, where the song is an extension of your own life as it is inter-connected with the lives of others, there is no need to weigh the advisability or artistic worth of songs of protest..."

Thursday, April 4, 2019

John Steinbeck's Foreward To Text of `Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People' Book: An Excerpt

`Grapes of Wrath' Author John Steinbeck
In the early 1940's, the novelist who wrote The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, also wrote the following about the protest folk songs created by U.S. working-class people and about 20th-century protest folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie; in a Foreward to the early 1940's text of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax's Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People book:

"The songs of the working people have always been their sharpest statement...Working people sing of their hopes and of their troubles...You can learn more about people by listening to their songs than in any other way, for into their songs go all the hopes, and hurts, the angers, fears, the wants and aspirations...

"Woody is just Woody...He is just a voice and a guitar...There is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of a people to endure and fight against oppression..."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Did Hip Capitalist Multi-Millionaire Musician Dylan Sell-Out The Movement In 1965?

In his 2015 book, Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan and the Night That Split the Sixties, Elijah Wald described what apparently happened in the world of U.S. folk music, historically, in the summer of 1965--during the same year when the Democratic Johnson Administration ordered U.S. warplanes to bombard North Vietnam on a daily basis and sent over 200,000 U.S. soldiers to wage war in South Vietnam, in violation of international law:

"On the evening of July 25, 1965...Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival...carrying a Fender Stratocaster in place of his...acoustic guitar...The New York Times reported that Dylan `was roundly booed...' Many were dismayed and angry...

"In most tellings, Dylan represents youth and the future, and the people who booed were stuck in the dying past. But there is another version, in which the audience represents youth and hope, and Dylan was shutting himself off behind a wall of electric noise, locking himself in a citadel of wealth and power, abandoning idealism and hope and selling out to the star machine. In this version, the Newport festivals were idealistic, communal gatherings, nurturing the growing counterculture...and the booing pilgrims were not rejecting that future; they were trying to protect it...

"...1965 marked a significant divide...The weekend Dylan walked onstage with his Stratocaster, President Johnson announced he was doubling the military draft and committing the United States to victory in Vietnam.

"...Dylan...spent the rest of the decade making...albums that seemed willfully oblivious to the the headlines...In 1968, pressed by an old friend to explain why he was not more engaged in the Vietnam protests, he responded: `How do you know I'm not...for the War?'...

"In 1965 Dylan was...24 years-old...When he turned from sharp topical lyrics, followers who had hailed him as the voice of a generation lamented...

"...Seeger and Dylan can stand for the two defining...ideals: Seeger for the ideal of democracy, of people working together, helping each other, living and believing and treating each other as...equals...

"...There is some truth in the simplification that Dylan was a cynical careerist..."

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Hip Capitalist Multi-Millionaire Musician Dylan's Albert Grossman Connection Revisted

One reason a 21st-century hip capitalist multi-millionaire musician named Bob Dylan apparently was able to personally enrich himself and his individual family during the Vietnam War Era of U.S. history was that a hip capitalist businessman named Albert Grossman was Dylan's manager during most of the 1960s.

Hip Capitalist Businessman-Manager Albert Grossman and Dylan in 1960s
 As Elijah Wald observed in his 2015 book Dylan Goes Electric!--Newport, Seeger, Dylan and the Night That Split the Sixties:

"Grossman's talents as a promoter were more than equaled by his backroom financial savvy. He seems to have become interested in Dylan during the spring of 1962, and by most reports it was `Blowin' in the Wind' that caught his attention...

"...Folk agents tended to be fans first...which...preserved separation from the commercial mainstream. Grossman was another beast entirely: he had started one of the first folk night clubs, Chicago's Gate of Horn...He was...a...rapacious businessman who enjoyed distinguishing himself...with...displays of wealth and power...In 1962 most people on the folk scene were only tangentially aware of Grossman, but over the next few years he would become widely regarded as the snake in the garden.

"Bob Neuwirth, who was one of Dylan's closest companions in the mid-1960s, has argued that Grossman `invented' Dylan..: `Bob Dylan could not get arrested before Albert came along!...Albert made it possible to have a $50 [equal to around $415 in 2018 dollars]-a week allowance to have enough money to pay the rent.' Dylan had an album on a major label...before Grossman got involved, but the record sold badly, and paying jobs were few and far between..."