Sunday, 31 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Bullets of Mexico

"A .45 bullet has ended the life of a man who had lived by the gun,
But all of the bullets of Mexico cannot undo all the work that he's done."
--Phil Ochs, "Bullets of Mexico" (1962)

Struggles of a Campesino Leader: Ruben Jaramillo

With the presidential election of Manuel Avila Camacho in 1940, the era of land reform and support for social change ended suddenly and the revolution veered sharply rightward. The politics of class struggle quickly gave way to a state-directed campaign to achieve the goals, and inculcate the values, of modern capitalist development within a postwar world of united, anticommunist nations...Jaramillo was born in Tlaquiltenango, Morelos, in 1900. He joined Zapata's army at the age of 15, and became a lifelong adherent of the Zapatista causes of land and liberty for the rural poor. By the end of the 1920s he had emerged as a prominent agrarian leader. He strongly supported the Cardenas presidency, and Cardenas returned the favor by supporting Jaramillo's project, the cooperatively run sugar complex of Zacatepec, which was inaugurated in 1938. Jaramillo was elected to the mill's first Council of Administrations and Vigilance. He immediately entered into conflict with the mill's federally appointed administrators when he uncompromisingly advocated many reforms in favor of the mill's workers. These conflicts turned more violent with the advent of the Avila Camacho era, as we see in the excerpt below.

Jaramillo would spend much of his life trying to elude death threats from corrupt local powers supported by the federal government. While underground, he remained active in organizing peasants and workers; occasionally, he managed to emerge from hiding long enough to found legal, above-ground organizations. In 1958 President Adolfo Lopez Mateos named him psecial delegate of the National Peasant Confederation. Frustration with the funereal pace of the government's land reform led Jaramillo to support land invasions and the formation of a socialist collective in 1960, inviting fresh reprisals from his enemies. On May 23, 1962, judicial police and soldiers captured Jaramillo and assassinated him along with his pregnant wife and three sons. No one was ever brought to trial for the crime, which proved to be one of several high-profile episodes that darkened the reputation of the PRI int he post-war era.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Talking Cuban Crisis

"Now most Americans stood behind
The President and his military minds
But me, I stood behind a bar
Dreamin' of a spaceship getaway car"
--Phil Ochs, "Talking Cuban Crisis" (1963)

The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban missile crisis was the most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War and the most perilous moment in American history. In this dramatic new narrative written especially for students and general readers, Sheldon M. Stern, longtime historian at the John F. Kennedy Library, enables the reader to follow the often harrowing twists and turns of the crisis.

Based on the author's authoritative transcriptions of the secretly recorded ExComm meetings, the book conveys the emotional ambiance of the meetings by capturing striking moments of tension and anger as well as occasional humorous intervals. Unlike today's readers, the participants did not have the luxury of knowing how this potentially catastrophic showdown would turn out, and their uncertainty often gives their discussions the nerve-wracking quality of a fictional thriller. As President Kennedy told his advisers, "What we are doing is throwing down a card on the table in a game which we don't know the ending of."

Stern documents that JFK and his administration bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the crisis. Covert operations in Cuba, including efforts to kill Fidel Castro, had convinced Nikita Khrushchev that only the deployment of nuclear weapons could protect Cuba from imminent attack. However, President Kennedy, a seasoned Cold Warrior in public, was deeply suspicious of military solutions to political problems and appalled by the prospect of nuclear war. He consistently steered policy makers away from an apocalyptic nuclear conflict, measuring each move and countermove with an eye to averting what he called, with stark eloquence, "the final failure."

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Bound for Glory

"Now they sing out his praises on every distant shore
But so few remember what he was fightin' for
Oh why sing the songs and forget about the aim?
He wrote them for a reason, why not sing them for the same"
--Phil Ochs, "Bound for Glory" (1963)

Bound for Glory: The Hard-Driving, Truth-Telling Autobiography of America's Great Poet-Folk Singer

He was a hard traveler before there were any easy riders

Woody Guthrie was born in Oklahoma and traveled this whole country over--not by jet or motorcycle, but by boxcar, thumb, and foot. During the journey of discovery that was his life, he composed and sang words and music that have become a national heritage. His songs, however, are but part of his legacy. Behind him Woody Guthrie left a remarkable autobiography that vividly brings to life both his vibrant personality and a vision of America we cannot afford to let die.

"Even readers who never heard Woody or his songs will understand the current esteem in which he's held after reading just a few pages...Always shockingly immediate and real, as if Woody were telling it out loud...A book to make novelists and sociologists jealous."
--The Nation

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Ballad of William Worthy

"Well, it's of a bold reporter whose story I will tell
He went down to the Cuban land, the nearest place to hell
He'd been there many times before, but now the law does say
The only way to Cuba is with the CIA"
--Phil Ochs, "Ballad of William Worthy" (1963)

Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America

William Worthy stood trial in Miami, with both his professional career and his personal freedom in jeopardy. Worthy's individual plight triggered collective acts of defiance. Events surrounding his trial on charges of violating the McCarran Act inspired widespread support, including the satirical "Ballad of William Worthy" by the folk singer Phil Ochs. Worthy turned his legal troubles into a political struggle that embarrassed the attorney general and pushed black protest into uncharted waters. Failing to receive a change of venue despite pleas from his lawyers, he was found guilty of violating the McCarran Act. At a time when leading civil rights groups were at odds with one another over the movement's political direction, Worthy's case provided a rare moment of unity. It also helped open the Cold War's Pandora's box, hurling America's racial hypocrisy in the face of a government already anxious about its interests in the Third World. Convicted after a bench trial in August 1962, he offered no apologies. "Travel control is thought control and intellectual control. Free men, thinking men, concerned men want none of it."

Ochs in Boston Globe

Phil Ochs was mentioned in today's Boston Globe:

[Art] Ferrier's attitude toward his photography pops up in his classroom. Pay attention to what you see on the streets every day, he said he tells his students. Yes, the news focuses on the ugly stuff, but "all around us is also beauty."

He quotes a line from legendary folk singer Phil Ochs: "Ah, but in such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty."

That quote, he said, "has never left me."

Monday, 11 August 2008

Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records 1963-1973

An unprecedented five-disc boxed set, Forever Changing: The Golden Age Of Elektra Records—1963 to 1973, focuses on the heyday of the Elektra label as it made the transition from folk music to folk rock, before fully embracing electric rock. Forever Changing opens with pivotal early folk artists Judy Collins, Fred Neil, and Phil Ochs and sees the gradual impact of electric music with, first, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and then key signings to the label in Love, The Doors and the extraordinary, unique Tim Buckley. Elektra Records never lost its folk roots and, as the sixties progressed, the label embraced the singer/songwriter era by signing Carly Simon, Harry Chapin, and the hugely successful Bread. Yet in 1969, Elektra went on to release the debut albums by The Stooges and the MC5, groups which still make a fierce impact on young musicians to this day; a far cry from the pristine folk of Judy Collins.

Elektra was the brainchild of Jac Holzman, and it was his vision that drove the label through 1973, when he handed over the reigns. A true visionary who believed in the artist and was never afraid to take risks, Holzman went from releasing traditional folk and exotic recordings in the ’50s to signing those truly trailblazing artists: Love, The Doors, Tim Buckley, Fred Neil, Phil Ochs, David Ackles and so many more.

Forever Changing mixes these familiar names with a host of genuine rarities and lesser-knowns. Elektra’s reputation preceded it and helped give maverick artists such as Nico, The Holy Holy Modal Rounders, David Peel and the UK-signed psychedelic folk group The Incredible String Band a launchpad to wider recognition.

A bonus disc, titled 'Another Time, Another Place,' presents an alternative take on Elektra’s history, from the rare 1963 single by The Beefeaters (who went on to become The Byrds), through one of Jac Holzman’s final signings, Jobriath. This disc also includes Eric Clapton & Powerhouse, The Baroque Beatles Book, Simon Stokes, Joseph Spence, Eclection, Leviathan, Goodthunder and David Peel.

The booklet includes a special foreword by Jac Holzman and new interviews with the artists, where possible, plus contributions from Elektra insiders, fellow artists and fellow travelers for whom Elektra was and still is the label.

Forever Changing is housed in a sumptuous 12-inch box that includes, among other delights, a lavishly illustrated hardback book to accompany the discs, four fine art prints of classic Elektra sleeves, a set of postcards, scrapbook style facsimile memorabilia, an illustrated discography, and a CD-Rom copy of Jac Holzman and Gavan Daw’s autobiography and label history Follow The Music.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Celia

"I still remember the mountains of the war
Sierra Madre and the Philipino shore
When will I lie beside my Celia 'neath the trees?
Oh when will Celia come to me?"
--Phil Ochs, "Celia" (1963)

The Philippines: Colonialism, Collaboration, and Resistance!

by William Pomeroy

Born in Waterloo, NY in 1916, the author grew up in Rochester, NY and worked in whatever industrial jobs were available in the 1930s. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force in the Pacific from 1942-46. In the course of the Philippine campaign he became closely acquainted with the Hukbalahap movement. At the war's end, he wrote a history of the Hukbalahap. He decided to stay in the Philippines, enrolling at the University and writing stories and articles. In 1948 he married Celia Mariano, a Huk leader. He and Celia were involved in the postwar Huk struggle, and early in 1950 accepted assignments to help conduct education and propaganda in the forest and mountain regions. Both were captured in 1952, and served 10 years as political prisoners until pardoned after a U.S. campaign for their release. The author was deported to the U.S. but Celia was denied U.S. entry. Therefore, since 1963 they have lived in England. William Pomeroy is the author of numerous books, a contributor to many periodicals, and frequent lecturer. The Pomeroys have continued to work in many academic and practical ways for the national democratic development of the Philippines.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Behind the Songs: Talking Vietnam

"Walked through the jungle around the bend
Who should I meet but the ghost of President Diem
He said, 'You're fighting to keep Vietnam free
For good old Diem-ocracy'"
--Phil Ochs, "Talking Vietnam" (1963)

America's Miracle Man in Vietnam

America's Miracle Man in Vietnam rethinks the motivations behind one of the most ruinous foreign-policy decisions of the postwar era: America's commitment to preserve an independent South Vietnam under the premiership of Ngo Dinh Diem. The so-called Diem experiment is usually ascribed to U.S. anticommunism and an absence of other candidates for South Vietnam's highest office. Challenging those explanations, Seth Jacobs utilizes religion and race as categories of analysis to argue that the alliance with Diem cannot be understood apart from America's mid-century religious revival and policymakers' perceptions of Asians. Jacobs contends that Diem's Catholicism and the extent to which he violated American notions of "Oriental" passivity and moral laxity made him a more attractive ally to Washington than many non-Christian South Vietnamese with great administrative experience and popular support.

A diplomatic and cultural history, America's Miracle Man in Vietnam draws on government archives, presidential libraries, private papers, novels, newspapers, magazines, movies, and television and radio broadcasts. Jacobs shows in detail how, in the 1950s, U.S. policymakers conceived of Cold War anticommunism as a crusade in which Americans needed to combine with fellow Judeo-Christians against an adversary dangerous as much for its atheism as for its military might. He describes how racist assumptions that Asians were culturally unready for democratic self-government predisposed Americans to excuse Diem's dictatorship as necessary in "the Orient." By focusing attention on the role of American religious and racial ideologies, Jacobs makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the disastrous commitment of the United States to "sink or swim with Ngo Dinh Diem."

"Seth Jacobs makes a seminal contribution to the study of the origins of American involvement in Vietnam. Combining prodigious research in a rich variety of primary sources, a sophisticated conceptual framework that illuminates the intersection of high politics and popular culture, and an especially engaging writing style, Jacobs fundamentally recasts how we view this critical period in the history of Vietnam wars and the Cold War."
--Mark Bradley, author of Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919-1950

"Seth Jacob's interesting an provocative argument adds a new interpretation to the massive literature on the United States and the path toward full deployment in Vietnam. Jacobs writes with a lively, punchy style that makes his work both entertaining and instructive."
--Michael Latham, author of Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and 'Nation Building' in the Kennedy Era