26 March 2017

Of All You Learned . . .

Last evening, for the fourth time in thirty years I attended a John McCutcheon concert. I had first heard him sing and play at a Clearwater Festival in the late 1980s. As I recalled, he then shared the stage with Guy Carawan, at that time one of the leading hammer dulcimer player in the country, and in addition to his own hammer dulcimer McCutcheon also played his idiosyncratic mix of topical and what would be called folk songs. (Dylan has said that a song to which one can attach an author is not a ‘folk song!’ Folk songs come out of the folk, and they are almost always anonymous and the songs never remain the same depending, of course, on the time and place.) Last night McCutcheon sang “This Land is Your Land” with a newly composed verse: and though we know who wrote it the song is certainly nothing but embedded in the folk, Dylan notwithstanding, or even Dylan in agreement. McCutcheon ended the concert with his own musical rendition of an unfinished Woody Guthrie song. Woody Guthrie’s songs already exist as part of folk music because he borrowed verses and melodies from the folk, even as Richard Fariña’s “Birmingham Sunday,” about the church bombing in September, 1963 causing the deaths of four young girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair, yet retained a verse (and melody) from the original folk song “The False Bride” (or “I Once Loved a Lass”) that transformed for me Fariña’s composition into something timeless and timely.
All men in yon forest they asked of me,
"How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?"
And I answered them with a tear in my eye,
"How many ships sail in the forest.”
     Of course, there are no answers to these questions that might satisfy any rationality. But as I sat happily and listened to McCutcheon tell stories and sing his songs, I knew for tragic certainty that a sensibility such as his would never be invited or understood into the White House under Trump and his band of thieves and cutthroats. Dylan played there, as did Joan Baez! Joe Hill. Woody Guthrie. The Ludlow mine massacre. The tragedy in Calumet, Michigan. The subjects of “Deportees” and “Pastures of Plenty” would mean nothing to the consciousness of mostly white men of obscene wealth. What could this wonderful chorus of McCutcheon’s “The Kindergarten Wall” mean to them?
Of all you learned, remember this the best
Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap every day, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street.
And remember the seed in a little paper cup
First the roots go down and then the plant goes up!
     Delight and joy lived in that room last evening and I sat amongst family, but out here in the world still resides Trump and his incompetence, stupidity and callous disregard for the rule of law, for civility and for compassion. And the Republicans in Congress are a despicable lot who belong in one of the lower levels of Dante’s Inferno. But I doubt that they have read that book.

22 March 2017

A Craven Press

I remember the front page of the New York Times for November 23, 1963 announcing the assassination of President Kennedy. The banner headline ran across entire page in bold, dark print. I remember the front page of the New York Times the day in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States.  NIXON RESIGNS! I remember the front page head line in the New York Post on October 30, 1975: FOR TO CITY: DROP DEAD. And the front page of the Times on September 12, 2001: U.S. ATTACKED splashed boldly in large type across the entire page.
     I blame the press for their cowardly behavior during the 2016 Presidential campaign and their casual and humorous treatment of Donald Trump’s candidacy for President. He was treated as a joke (which he is) but never quite called to account for the repulsive emanations that spilled from his ugly mind. And today I look at the newspapers and I wonder why splashed across the tops in bold strong type no headline reads, TRUMP LIES! Why shouting out from the front pages aren’t headlines addressing possible treasonous behavior by members of the Trump administration? Why aren’t the newspapers reporting the accruing number of lawsuits lodged against Trump for dubious business practices and obvious conflict of interest issues involving this corrupt and incompetent President of the United States? Why don’t the newspapers more forcefully wonder why the citizens of the United States are paying for offices occupied by the President’s son-in-law and daughter, the latter whose business interests represent already an unethical association with the White House. How much of her time in her White House Office will be spent on her own business dealings?
Where are the newspapers? How craven their posture seems to me. Where rests the conscience of the press?

10 March 2017

History is Not the Past

I do not quite recall what inspired my reading of Stefan Zweig’s memoir The World of Yesterday. I seem to recall that somewhere in another reading a quote from his book appeared and seemed somehow so relevant to our contemporary moment that I turned soon to Zweig’s entire text. Zweig committed suicide in 1942 running from Hitler and the Final Solution and out of despair at what he understood as the hopeless future of humanity in modern times as a result of the terrible danger arising from what at the time appeared to be the victory of totalitarian, hate-filled and self-serving regimes organized and run by officials bent on self-aggrandizing power and social control.
     I felt alarm in the reading at the distinction Zweig made between what he defined as the differing responses evoked by the outbreak of the first World War compared to those that arose at the beginnings of the second conflagration. From the perspective of 1942 Zweig writes in his memoir that was completed the day before his suicide, “A breach of law such as Germany’s invasion of neutral Belgium which today, now that Hitler has made lying perfectly natural and disregard for humanity a law, would be unlikely to be seriously condemned, had the world in uproar from end to end at that time.” I am not well-enough informed of the accuracy of Zweig’s distinction: I am not an historian of either war. But there is something prescient about Zweig’s words that highlights the time in which I feel that we now suffer. I am alarmed because not only the acceptance of but the blatant perpetration of lying at high governmental levels, the fabrication of baseless and evidenceless, unfounded accusations of criminal activity leveled against not only clearly figures but a former President of the United States, and the cruel disregard for the welfare of those most in need of care permeates this country. Every morning I awaken to some horror provoked by the mean-spirited and venal leadership of United States. Either the cowardice or the callous heartlessness of a Republican oligarchy threatens the foundation of our democracy. This sordid bunch seem to me like a gang of ugly trolls living under a dank, garbage strewn bridge gleefully plotting their despicable evil deeds against any who would dare care to cross to the other side; mostly men (and a few women) who are finally evil and not merely mischievous--and that with malice aforethought intend to inflict their will on the powerless. It is only these billy-goat-gruffs who will ultimately benefit from their unspeakable plottings.
     Zweig writes, “Never—and I say so not with pride but with shame—has a generation fallen from such intellectual heights as ours to such moral depths.” I cannot speak to our intellectual heights, indeed, I have my doubts, but I can daily attest to the depth of our moral decline merely by opening the pages of any newspaper or listening even briefly to any media newscast. I am appalled at the behaviors of Americans who continue to maintain their support of this group of egotistical and venal incompetents who have nobody’s interest but their own at heart, and I am fearful for the future of the country under the reign of Trump and his assembled odious crew.