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.


Anonymous setbeat iOS said...

John McCutcheon is an awesome artist, i love him. I got free music from setbeat app.

28 March, 2017 15:35  

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