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:

 

Finding America

Inspiration No. 1

The king was working in the garden. He seemed very glad to see me. We walked through the garden. This is the queen, he said. She was clipping a rose bush. Oh how do you do, she said. We sat down at a table under a big tree and the king ordered whiskey and soda. We have good whiskey anyway, he said. The revolutionary committee, he told me, would not allow him to go outside the palace grounds…
It was very jolly. We talked for a long time. Like all Greeks he wanted to go to America.

Inspiration No. 2

Let us be lovers.  We’ll marry our fortunes together.
Giuseppe and Anna boarded the steamship that was departing Marsala for New York City.

I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.
Giuseppe thought it would bring them good fortune if he carried a small pouch of that rich Sicilian soil in his coat pocket. He would sprinkle it over their own garden one day.

So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies.
Anna packed two sandwiches, one for each of them, thick slices of peppered salami and hard cheese between two pieces of crusty bread.

And walked off to look for America.
The two of them set sail for a new life together in a new land.

Inspiration No. 3

I like to be in America.
Giuseppe and Anna stepped on to the platform, smiled broadly at each other and climbed into the waiting train coach.

Okay by me in America.
Anna hummed an old song as she kneaded bread dough in their simple kitchen, while Giuseppe sprinkled his pouch of Sicilian soil around the tomato plants in their garden.

Everything free in America.
They were grateful to have left their homeland just before the rise of fascism.

For a small fee in America.
But the guilt of leaving their families behind occasionally would hover over them like darkened clouds.

To be continued.  Again and again…

———-
*Inspiration No. 1:  Excerpt From:  L’Envoi by Ernest Hemingway.  “The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.” Simon & Schuster, 2002.

*Inspiration No. 2:  America by Simon and Garfunkel.  1968.

*Inspiration No. 3:  America by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (from “West Side Story”).  1957.

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