Donnerstag, 7. April 2016

Pete Seeger, Bernice Johnson Reagon & Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick - Now (1968)

The figure of Pete Seeger towers over 20th and 21st century music. Revered as a songwriter, folklorist and activist his fingerprints are to be found over a vast array of folk and contemporary culture. Wise, kind, provocative, satirical and acerbic his commentaries and performances have lead to his blacklisting in one decade and to his exaltation by pop icons in another.

"Pete Seeger Now" is the venerable (if still under 50) folksinger's 1968 follow-up to his celebrated and controversial 1967 LP "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Other Love Songs", and in between, of course, Seeger was first censored from singing its title song, a metaphor for the American involvement in Vietnam, on network television in September 1967 shortly after the album's release, and then allowed to do so in February 1968. The photograph on the cover of "Pete Seeger Now" alludes to the song, as well as to another Seeger composition actually heard on this LP. The picture shows a hand thrust up from under water (like a drowning soldier in "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy") holding a redesigned American flag like the one Seeger describes in his song "The Torn Flag." The redesign deliberately includes new colors such as black, brown, and yellow, and similarly, Seeger shares the stage here (literally, this is a live recording) with African-American performers. The album cover also makes another point that is reflected in the performances on the album. "Pete Seeger Now", which seems to have come from a recently recorded concert and to have been rushed into release (hence the title), carries with it the sense of desperation felt by left-wing political activists like Seeger as well as Americans in general in 1968, as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement seemed to be coming to a head in the crucible of a tumultuous and tragic presidential election. Seeger, who has always combined a stern ideological bent with a benevolent, inclusive approach, struggles to maintain his usual optimism here; that hand may be sticking up determinedly with its new flag on the cover, but the rest of the body is submerged. Just so, Seeger alternates some of his old singalong favorites ("Michael Row the Boat Ashore," "Water Is Wide") with new songs like "The Torn Flag" and "False from True" that reflect the difficult state of things, also performing a cover of the caustic "Talking Ben Tre," a song full of anger at what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam. Like many whites in the Civil Rights Movement in the late '60s, he acknowledges feeling a certain amount of guilt about the role of his ancestors in American history, even approvingly quoting Malcolm X at one point. He also, without any introduction on this recording, hands things over to the powerful singer of folk spirituals Bernice Johnson Reagon of the Freedom Singers, a sort of young Odetta, who begins her part of the disc with "Backlash Blues," a Langston Hughes poem set to music. Thereafter, Seeger alternates songs with Reagon until near the end of the LP, when he introduces the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick and James Collier from the Poor People's March and the Resurrection City encampment in Washington, D.C., who express righteous anger in "Everybody's Got a Right to Live" and "The Cities Are Burning." "Musicians are supposed to go around cheering up other people," Seeger had said earlier as an introduction to "False from True," "but who's gonna cheer up the musician?" After letting that sink in, he added, "Well, let me tell you, you do." But this answer is of course inadequate as well as being circular, which Seeger must realize. On "Pete Seeger Now", he is as impassioned as ever, but also clearly embittered and, seemingly, inclined to let the flag be carried forward by others, at least for a while.            

Tracks:

11. Adam The Inventor
12. Letter To Eve
13. Talking Ben Tre
14. Backlash Blues
15. He’s Long Gone
16. The Torn Flag
17. Michael Row The Boat Ashore
18. Taint But Me One
19. False From True
20. Cotton Nedded Pickin’ So Bad
21. Everybody’s Got a Right To Live
22. The Cities Are Burning
23. Water Is Wide (O Waly Waly)

Pete Seeger, Bernice Johnson Reagon & Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick - Now (1968)
(256 kbps, front & back cover included)

4 Kommentare:

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

Many, many thanks for this chance to here Seeger sharing the stage. As you note, Seeger and many of us were deeply discouraged by 1968. We witnessed within a span of a few months assassinations of two leaders who sought racial and class unity, and the end of an imperial war, as well a once-popular president refuse a second full term in realization that the war, whose purpose and success he doubted (according to the Johnson tapes), had undone him because he refused to be the first president to lose a war. The war was a seemingly unsolvable pit of a quicksand that had destroyed his dream of and programs for a Great Society.

We also witnessed the election of Nixon, who dog-whistled to those working class whites who were fearful of the riots of the preceding year, racial progress, the students protesting the war and the police riot of the Democratic convention, and had garnered a distorted view from the mainstream media of the anti-war movement, the Panthers, and any other group seeking radical change. Of course, Dr. King had been killed in April and, for many on the left and in the civil rights movement, his assassination symbolized the seeming futility of non-violence as a means of change and reaction to oppression and police-generated violence. The fragile unity between whites and blacks in the civil rights movements dissolved as Stokely Carmichael, who later changed his name to Kwame Touré and emigrated to Ghana, and others became increasingly black nationalist in response to the tepid rate of social change and absence of real racial progress.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was out of control with its Countelpro program which created legitimate fear, distrust, and paranoia in the left. In brief, Seeger saw his old left vision of progressive unity among diverse Americans crumble as even some of the New Left, a splinter group of the SDS, formed the Weathermen and took up arms and bombs. Within a year Fred Hampton, a charismatic Panther working to unite poor whites, blacks, and Hispanics, in Chicago would be murdered in his sleep by the Chicago police and the FBI based on information provided by a Panther, who was in fact an FBI informant who had become close to Hampton. The FBI actually opened its file on Hampton in 1967 and tapped his mother’s and other contacts’ phones in 1968. Hampton was a target because he sought to build a class-conscious alliance between the Panthers, the white leftist Young Patriots organization, and the Puerto Rican nationalist Young Lords that he called the Rainbow Coalition. The Chicano Brown Berets, Chinese-American Red Guard, and SDS would also ally themselves with the Coalition.

Hoover sought to prevent any black movement that unified blacks to fight for change and believed that Hampton’s and other coalitions could be the beginning of a successful revolutionary movement for radical change in the United States and potentially in its government. Hampton’s assassination was emblematic of the period and a foreseeable consequence of Nixon’s espousal of law and order and suppression of dissent. Needless to say, the FBI continued to monitor and compile a huge amount of information on Seeger. Given the role of FBI informants in sowing division and discord in movements for change, including movements committed to non-violence, and what amounted to espionage on his activities, Seeger would have been a fool not to be discouraged. The successful systematic undermining of the work of Hampton and others through infiltration and provocation by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies destroyed the type of movement for which Seeger so ardently worked throughout his life.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

The presidential race of that year bore some similarities to the current race. George Wallace was a racist demagogue who appealed to angry, disgruntled whites. Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy were progressives opposed to the war and advocating systemic and economic change. Vice president Hubert Humphrey did not voice his opposition to the course of the war out of loyalty to Johnson and was regarded as the establishment candidate. Nixon utilized the southern strategy to appeal to many conservative and reactionary white southerners' and others’ racial resentments at the progress achieved by the Civil Rights movement in ending Jim Crow through Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Then as now, many whites consciously or unconsciously feared an end to the system of white supremacy and segregation that were, in part, epitomized by the Jim Crow laws enacted across the South in response to the limited progress made under Reconstruction after the Civil War.

Nixon was also elected, in part, because of his promise of a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. His secret plan was as much of a lie as his alleged achievement of peace with honor. His real plan was to bomb the North Vietnamese into submission and he widened the war into Laos and Cambodia and consequently destabilized their governments. Some of us regard the illegal invasions of those two countries to be war crimes for which no one was ever held responsible. My twenty-year old cousin, a Marine, was blown up in Vietnam in 1969 and my aunt refused his medals to protest Nixon’s lie. In the meantime, those of us in high school assumed the war would still be raging when we graduated in 1973 and discussed the draft and the war daily at lunch. Of course, 1973 would also bring my first September 11, the Nixon and Kissinger-backed coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Allende and plunged Chile into the nightmare of Pinochet’s reign and the disappearance of so many Chileans forever at the hands of Pinochet’s thugs.

Feilimid O'Broin hat gesagt…

Fortunately Seeger was not discouraged for long but after the assassinations and election of 1968, he was among many who were weary and disillusioned. In my opinion, Nixon’s election, the divisive venom spewed by his criminal vice-president Spiro Agnew with the aide of speechwriter Pat Buchanan, the unleashing of law enforcement to “restore order”, and, in particular, the running amuck of Hoover’s agents and informants to, in effect, use any means necessary to preserve the order of the status quo, rang a death knell for the New Left, that had once inspired college youths’ hope for progressive change, the Panthers, and so many other groups working for changing a political system to achieve representative democracy and economic change to end the fighting in which the majority of us dogs are still engaged as we fight for scraps off the table. I cannot help but wonder what Seeger would sing and say about this election and the deep divisions and polarization that cause many of us to reflect on the beginning and dashing of hope in the late 1960s. I apologize for rambling yet again but the posts in and music of this blog evoke so many memories and always make me think a great deal, often casting my memory back to earlier times.

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