Me and the Seminar on Non-Violence

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you, pull your beard and flick your face to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.  – John Lennon, 1969

I was scanning the course catalog for something to satisfy both a philosophy requirement and a serious desire to avoid picking a snoozer.  My final semester at the university was otherwise unremarkable so I registered for “Seminar on Non-Violence.”  Seminars were generally less structured classes with fewer students.  The syllabus offered a mix of readings, contemporary and historical, all covering in varying degrees the philosophy of nonviolence and its role in the global struggle for human rights.  Current events provided immediate relevance and inspired more pointed discussion about the importance of peaceful protest in the expanding anti-war movement.  Of the dozen or so students in the seminar, I recognized some faces from campus demonstrations in which we participated.

As spring approached and the weather warmed, class would sometimes meet outdoors on the south quad.  There we’d spread out on the lawn to take on a discussion and take in some sunshine.  Lively discourse, earnest conversation and occasional debate were de rigueur.  There were no written exams. The violence of trying to distill such profound thought to mere multiple choice questions was unacceptable.  Frequently, we’d reflect on an event or an opinion and write a brief essay about it.  Toward semester’s end, we were each to synthesize our final thoughts into an informal presentation to the class.

With some hesitation, I suggested playing guitar and singing a couple of protest songs for my presentation, after which we’d discuss the impact of music.   The TA’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed as she thought a few seconds..  “Yes,” she finally responded, “Topical songs have been an important form of nonviolent protest.”  I even sensed a bit of enthusiasm in her voice.

After class I strutted over to the campus library where I finished my shift shelving books on the seventh floor.  Ironically, that’s where the philosophy books were housed.  The lavatory wall on that floor displayed some of the most creative graffiti on campus.  But that’s another story I “Kant” get into right now.

Returning to the apartment later, I removed my six-string from its case and began rehearsing.  I settled on two songs, Universal Soldier by Buffy St. Marie and The Times They Are A-Changin’  by Bob Dylan.  The first one I’d been performing around campus for a while.  It was a straight up anti-war song.  I’d learned the Dylan tune many years before and played it often for friends.  It was decidedly an anti-establishment song.

The day of my presentation was sunny and warm.  We checked into class and immediately moved out to the grassy quad.  I opened my guitar case, sat down on the lawn and tuned up during some perfunctory discussion.  When the TA invited me to begin, I strummed a couple of chords and started singing, He’s five foot two and he’s six feet four.  He fights with missiles and with spears…  Finishing to light applause, I was asked to play another.  So I continued with The Times They Are A-Changin’, followed by more applause.  The TA asked if I knew Me & Bobby McGee.  I did and she encouraged me to keep playing for the remainder of the class.  Gleefully, I continued.  Me & Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson and Working Class Hero by John Lennon are the only two others I recall playing.  I’m certain there were more.

You might wonder how Me & Bobby McGee fit into a “Seminar on Non-Violence” presentation about protest songs.  I wondered the same thing.  But when you think about it, I’d trade all of my tomorrows, for one single yesterday, to be holding Bobby’s body next to mine, is as beautifully non-violent as can be imagined.  Then and now, we could all use a little more beauty and a lot less violence.

Me & Bobby McGee by Kris Kristofferson (Covered by Janis Joplin):
janis

The Art of Sharing

I entered a Facebook challenge today, something I’m generally not inclined to do.  The idea is to occupy Facebook with art.  The concept is simple.  A friend posted an image of a painting to his timeline.  It was a painting by a 17th century master.   The simple challenge goes like this.  Whoever “likes” the post is assigned an artist chosen by the poster and is asked to share a painting by that artist on their own timeline.  I was asked to share Degas.

Edgar Degas was a 19th century Parisian Impressionist who grew up with a deep appreciation for music fostered by his parents, both of whom were accomplished musicians.  The Degas painting I chose to share is titled L’Étoile (The Star).   In it we see a lone ballerina on the stage, footlights shining brilliantly on her as she performs.  She maintains a graceful, majestic pose “en pointe,” balancing on one leg.

The hauntingly beautiful visual impressionism of Degas’ dancer immediately prompted my recollection of a song to accompany it.  Musical impressionism, if you will.

Following up on the success of their 1966 hit song, Walk Away Renée, the Left Banke, a baroque-rock band from New York, released Pretty Ballerina later that same year.  Both songs were inspired by the girlfriend of a band member whose name was Renée.  Pretty Ballerina features an oboe during the instrumental portion of the song, joining a string quartet before the music pauses then returns to the refrain of the song.  Listen for yourself while gazing at the Degas and you might very well catch a glimpse of Renée pirouetting to the music.

The Left Banke – Pretty Ballerina

I had a date with a pretty ballerina,
Her hair so brilliant that it hurt my eyes.
I asked her for this dance and then she obliged me.
Was I surprised, yeah, was I surprised, no not at all…
Just close your eyes and she’ll be there.”

— The Left Banke, Pretty Ballerina

Pièces de résistance

The insidious writer’s block settled firmly in and I’ve been at a loss for words.  Except for those moments when awareness of this phenomenon is superseded by the enduring memory of selected lyrics to certain songs.  Here’s the playlist currently on my mind.  And sure to be on my stereo.  Resist!

songsresistance

1.  The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
There’s a battle outside and it’s raging.  It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.

2.  Revolution by the Beatles
But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother you have to wait.

3.  Volunteers by the Jefferson Airplane
Look what’s happening out in the street.  Got a revolution. Got to revolution.

4. The Revolution Starts Now by Steve Earle
The revolution starts now when you rise above your fear and tear the walls around you down.

5.  Universal Soldier by Buffy St. Marie
His orders come from far away no more.  They come from here and there, and you and me, and brothers can’t you see?  This is not the way we put an end to war.

6.  Uprising by Muse
They will not force us. They will stop degrading us.  They will not control us. We will be victorious.

7.  Student Demonstration Time by the Beach Boys
I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife. Next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight.

8. Working Class Hero by John Lennon
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small.  By giving you no time instead of it all.  Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all.

9. I Ain’t Marching Anymore by Phil Ochs
Its always the old to lead us to the war. It’s always the young to fall. Now look at all we’ve won with a saber and a gun.  Tell me is it worth it all?

10.  Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley and the Wailers
You can fool some people sometimes. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.  So now we see the light.  We gonna stand up for our rights.

11. Sunshine by Jonathan Edwards
Some man’s come he’s trying to run my life, don’t know what he’s asking. When he tells me I’d better get in line, can’t hear what he’s saying.

12. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott Heron
The revolution will be live.

13. All You Fascists Bound To Lose by Woody Guthrie
People of every color marching side by side.  Marching across these fields where a million fascists died.

14. Which Side Are You On? by Pete Seeger
Don’t scab for the bosses. Don’t listen to their lies. Poor folks ain’t got a chance unless they organize.

15. Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones (Rod Stewart cover version)
Hey!  Think the time is right for a palace revolution.

What do you think?

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

“The snow’s coming down.
I’m watching it fall.
Lots of people around.
Baby please come home.
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
(words and music by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, 1963)

I hear this song every year during the holiday season.  It’s familiar refrain, “Baby please come home,” rings out like a Salvation Army bucket volunteer’s bell.

This Christmas, as in many past, there are those whose loved ones aren’t with them.  Perhaps one is recovering in a hospital or rehabilitation center.  Or one may be off fighting a seemingly endless war on foreign soil.  Or maybe one has simply and inexplicably left home, never to be heard from again.  Whatever the case, the song can conjure up some sad imagery during a time when joy and festiveness abound.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like this song.  I’ve heard it at least once every year for the past fifty years, and more often since it’s singer, the incomparable Darlene Love, performed it live for twenty-six consecutive years on David Letterman’s late night television show.  It’s a seasonal highlight for me.  I can honestly say it’s my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song.

It’s a great song for sure.  I hope your Christmas is shared with family or friends you love and with those who love you in return.  If you find yourself listening to Christmas (Baby Please Come Home), remember those for whom the song is more than just a catchy tune, but rather a heartfelt plea.

Peace and love to you this Christmas.

Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home):

A Star To Look Up To

When I was twelve years old there was a popular instrumental on the radio.  It was called Telstar by a band named the Tornados.  They were a British band, but I didn’t know that at the time and it didn’t really matter.  It came out in 1962 a month after the Telstar communications satellite was launched and several months after astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

Those were heady times for a young lad.  It wasn’t hard to imagine drifting around in dark space, orbiting the globe like a galactic hitchhiker whenever I heard that electronic organ.  A mystical time indeed.  I’d lie on the ground at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with my cousins or neighborhood friends, and stare at the stars twinkling above, memorizing names of constellations and always knowing which direction was north after identifying Polaris, the North Star.  I heard Telstar in my mind’s ear all the while.

Though I never truly aspired to become an astronaut, I was awed by the excitement and the threat of danger in their adventures. Telstar has never failed to remind me of astronauts and their journeys.  With boyish awe, I remember John Glenn and listen to that Telstar instrumental, indelibly linked to him in my head when I was twelve years old.  He was a star.  A star I can still look up to.

The Tornados – Telstar:

 

The Sound of Music: Florence Henderson

It was right around the time I turned eleven years old.  My parents were Broadway musical fans.  By default, so was I and still am.  I’d sit in front of the RCA Victor hi-fi in the living room and listen to recordings of Oklahoma, My Fair Lady and, my favorite, Camelot, over and over until I could sing every word of every song by heart.

I’d already accompanied mom and dad to the Shubert Theatre in Chicago the year before to see Forrest Tucker in the role of The Music Man.  This year we were repeating that trip to see Florence Henderson in The Sound of Music.

I don’t remember enough about the performance to offer any critical review.  After all, I was only eleven.  But there are two things I’ve always thought of whenever I’ve heard Florence Henderson’s name mentioned or have seen her on television.  This is despite the fact I was never a Brady Bunch fan, though I have to admit to finding Maureen McCormick, who portrayed Marcia Brady, kind of cute.  But I’m digressing.

Invariably, when I hear about Florence Henderson, I think of seeing her in The Sound of Music in Chicago and am thankful to my parents for taking me along to see it.  Did I mention there were two things I think of when I hear about Florence Henderson?  The other thing is how cute Marcia Brady was.  I blame rock and roll for that.

Florence Henderson, 1934 – 2016

Leon Russell: First and Last

I didn’t know who he was at the time.  A couple of other musicians listed among the album credits were familiar though.  Nino Tempo and Sonny Bono were the two.  It wasn’t until many years later I finally noticed Leon Russell”s name.

xmas-gift-for-you-3The album was Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You which I bought new sometime in the mid-sixties.

xmas-gift-for-you-1A Christmas Gift for You was a collection of traditional and new Christmas songs performed by three of Phil Spector’s vocal groups.  It featured the Ronettes, the Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans and, of course, the fabulous Darlene Love whose song Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is still among my favorites.  That was my first encounter with Leon Russell, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I listened to Leon Russell more from the late sixties on.  From his work with Joe Cocker, throughout his solo career.  We were fortunate to hear him in concert in Schaumburg, Illinois on October 2, 2010 at the Prairie Center for the Arts.

101001-dailyheraldThat was a real encounter.  Unfortunately, my first and last, captured only in a photo from the show…

101002-leonrussellI love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you.
~Leon Russell – A Song For You

 

Jonathan Edwards

Note:  I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Edwards (the singer/songwriter, not the 18th century theologian) since first hearing his music in 1971.  It took all these years until last night before I heard him perform in concert.  It brought back memories of my first encounter with his music.

Having returned home from college for the weekend, I wasn’t around that October night Poco performed at Notre Dame.  I heard it was a great concert with Poco delivering on their promise at the outset about getting the crowd to “kick up their heels and never let up.”  They had the audience dancing in the aisles.  What I really missed that night, though, was the party after the show.

Frank, my apartment mate, and I hung out with some classmates who lived in a large house they rented outside of town in the middle of a corn field.  The seclusion of this place, notoriously referred to as “the Ranch,” made it an ideal location for parties.  Loud parties.  The living room furniture consisted of two old, comfortable sofas, an equally comfortable easy chair and a high-end stereo system whose gigantic twin speakers were once used in a P.A. system for a rock band one guy had been in.  As I said, the parties were loud.
Enjoying the after-show party I missed that night at the Ranch were not only the usual suspects, but members of Poco who were invited by “someone who knew someone.”  While my friends were rubbing shoulders with the likes of Richie Furay and Timothy B. Schmit (years before he joined the Eagles), I was rubbing noses with my hometown honey. I look back now and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

The following weekend featured another party at the Ranch, a welcome respite from hitting the books all week long.  Still flying high, so-to-speak, from the week before, a lively discussion ensued about Poco’s show and subsequent appearance at the party.  Ed, the party’s host, picked up a record album.  As he slid the vinyl out of its sleeve and placed it on the turntable, Ed recounted a discussion he’d had with some Poco guys.  He’d asked them what music they listened to when they weren’t playing their own.  They said at the moment they were listening to a new singer/songwriter by the name of Jonathan Edwards.


Ed cranked up the volume as the first track began to play.  Everybody knows her.  She’s the one to love… came blasting out of those speakers.  “This is the guy they were talking about,” Ed announced when the song finished.  We listened to the next five songs on the album’s first side in virtual silence.  Wow!  Great stuff!

Browsing the record bins in the campus bookstore a few days later, I ran across that eponoumously titled album by Jonathan Edwards.  I snatched it up and and trotted over to the cashier, plunking down my three bucks and forgetting entirely about whatever else led me to the bookstore initially.  I couldn’t wait to get a listen back at the apartment, pull out my guitar and start learning how to play those songs.  It was a lofty challenge, but I learned to play a couple and would sometimes include them when entertaining myself or my apartment mates late at night.  One song, Shanty, remains in my repertoire to this day.

Thanks for the years of great tunes, Jonathan Edwards.  Such beautiful imagery from a guy who shares his name with an 18th century preacher man.

161104-je
Sounding great at the Altamont. November 4, 1016

Jonathan Edwards – Everybody Knows Her :

A Halloween tale: a lamp, a banshee and a nightmare

When I was a young boy, Walt Disney released a movie that made a lasting impression on me.  It turned out to be the source of a recurring nightmare for quite some time.  The film was Darby O’Gill and the Little People.  The innocuous title belied multiple appearances of a very scary creature in the film called a “banshee.”

I lived with my parents and younger sister in a small, two-bedroom home.  The living room, kitchen, bathroom and both bedrooms all opened into a small hallway.  Mounted on the wall of that hallway was a single light fixture. The lamp’s stem stuck out of its wall plate in a downward, then upward curve to an upright socket fitted with a round, squaty, frosted glass chimney shade.  When it was dark in the hallway, you’d flip the switch turning on the lamp which projected, upward and around, an eerie glow that in itself was scary enough. But it also cast a shadow on the wall behind and below which, in the active mind if an eight year old, resembled a dark, flowing cape or robe.  I used to run through the hall from one room to another, especially at night, averting my eyes from that lamp as much as possible.

Witnessing a banshee on the big screen in a darkened theater, then coming bansheehome to an already tenuous hallway situation with terrifying light and shadow, inevitably led to regular nightmares.  They were nightmares from which I’d awaken with a start, heart beating in my throat.  In each nightmare, the hallway lamp would come to life as the banshee, howling and reciting something that I’ve mostly forgotten, but which always ended with the phrase, “…all your ages and wages.”  I have no clue what it meant, but it scared the crap out me.

And that’s what I think about every Halloween.  What’s your nightmare?

Here’s a movie clip (click on it and see for yourself):  Darby O’Gill and the Banshee

 

City of New Orleans (or was it Chicago?)

The details are a little hazy after all these years.  I suppose that isn’t unusual considering the intertwined memories involved.  What would the Chicago Cubs and Arlo Guthrie have in common anyway?  If you’d ask Guthrie, probably not much.  But memories continue to  churn as they challenge me to line up the details just enough to connect at least some of the dots.

I last saw Arlo Guthrie on Valentine’s Day 2016, in a concert marking the 50th anniversary of his epic Alice’s Restaurant and it was a great show.  One tune he performed was City of New Orleans, a song penned by Chicago’s late Steve Goodman.  You should be well-acquainted with Steve Goodman by now, or at least one of his more widely heard songs, Go Cubs, Go.  Among all songwriters and most of the general public, Goodman was undoubtedly the world’s most devoted Chicago Cubs fan.

Introducing City of New Orleans, Guthrie told a story about the song and his first encounter with Steve Goodman in 1971 at a club in Chicago.  He didn’t mention the club’s name, but his description of the venue, his performance and the circumstances surrounding their meeting sent chills down my spine.  He talked about how tired he was at the end of his second show, when a young guy with a guitar approached and asked if Guthrie would listen to a song he’d written.  Arlo admitted he wasn’t very gracious to the stranger and tried to leave, claiming to be tired and not wanting to hear any more songs.  But the young songwriter, who introduced himself as Steve Goodman, continued to press him.  So Guthrie made him a deal.  If Goodman would buy him a beer, Guthrie would listen for as long as it took to finish the beer.

Goodman played his new composition, City of New Orleans, and asked if Guthrie wouldn’t mind passing it along to Johnny Cash.  Guthrie was so taken by the song and the young songwriter that he eventually asked permission to record it himself.  Arlo Guthrie recorded and released City of New Orleans in 1972.  It became a hit for Guthrie and paid for Goodman’s rent (and Cubs tickets) for years to come.

It was cold that January night in 1971.  A college buddy and I had driven to Chicago for a concert.  We drove to Chicago quite often for concerts and I thought this time it was to hear Small Faces featuring Rod Stewart.  Whoever it was cancelled due to illness, leaving the two of us in the Windy City with no particular place to go.  We headed to Old Town where we spotted a flyer stapled to a utility pole.  Arlo Guthrie was appearing at the Quiet Knight, a music club in Lincoln Park.  We climbed back into the car and drove over to the corner of Lincoln and Belmont avenues.

We enjoyed listening to Arlo Guthrie’s late show that night.  I recall someone in the audience shouting out a request for him to play Alice’s Restaurant.  His response was, “Go see the movie.”  I can only imagine the mood Guthrie might have been in after playing two shows, then being approached by a young stranger, guitar in hand, asking him to listen to an original song.  We can all be grateful he was thirsty enough to make that offer, though.  Sometimes a beer for a song isn’t such a bad deal after all.

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