Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Behind the Songs: On Her Hand a Golden Ring

"Then the crackle and that clatter and the crinkle of the glass
Fell upon the people from the power of blast
The face of Jesus was crumbled into sand
Nearby the gold ring on her hand"
--Phil Ochs, "On Her Hand a Golden Ring" (1963)

Until Justice Rolls Down: The Birmingham Church Bombing Case

It was a time when Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders rallied black youth and adults to march for their civil rights, a time when the Ku Klux Klan was active in cities and throughout the countryside of the Deep South, employing 19th-century tactics to intimidate blacks to stay “in their place.” It was also the year that the worst act of terrorism in the entire civil rights movement occurred just as Birmingham, Alabama, was coming under close national scrutiny.

This book tells the story of one grim Sunday in September 1963 when an intentionally planted cache of dynamite ripped through the walls of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and ended the dreams and the lives of four young black girls. Their deaths spurred the Kennedy administration to send an army of FBI agents to Alabama and led directly to the passage of the Civil Rights Act. When the Justice Department was unable to bring anyone to trial for this heinous crime, a young Alabama attorney general named Bill Baxley began his own investigation to find the perpetrators. In 1977, 14 years after the bombing, Baxley brought one Klansman to trial and, in a courtroom only blocks from the bombed church (now a memorial to the victims), persuaded a jury to return a guilty verdict. More than 20 years later two other perpetrators were tried for the bombing, found guilty, and remanded to prison.

Frank Sikora has used the court records, FBI reports, oral interviews, and newspaper accounts to weave a story of spellbinding proportions. A reporter by profession, Sikora tells this story compellingly, explaining why the civil rights movement had to be successful and how Birmingham had to change.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Behind the Songs: Jim Dean of Indiana

"His mother died when he was a boy, his father was a stranger
Marcus Winslow took him in, nobody seemed to want him"
--Phil Ochs, "Jim Dean of Indiana" (1970)

James Dean: A Biography

James Dean died in 1955 at the age of 24, blazing out his position as the 'first American teenager' and destined forever to exemplify the spirit of rebellion and defiance. His film career lasted only sixteen months, but it produced three cinematic greats: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. The titles alone evoke epic visions and even now all three films retain their timeless appeal, constituting a three-part heroic poem on atomic age youth, its beauties and its frustrations.

So much has been written about James Dean that today the myth has become hazy, and he is both revered and puzzled over by generations who never knew him. Yet who really was James Dean, the original 'live fast, die young' icon of the twentieth century? This definitive and balanced study, now fully updated, cuts through all the different legends around James Dean and shows the man behind the myth. John Howlett interviewed many actors, friends and lovers who knew Dean in New York and Hollywood, and for this edition has incorporated fascinating new material about James Dean's sexuality and significant information that has come to light from the opening of the Warner Brothers archives on Dean.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Behind the Songs: The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns

"Captain will not say how long we must remain
The phantom ship forever sail the sea
It's all the same"
--Phil Ochs, "The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns" (1969)

Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion

What happened to the USS Scorpion? The question has vexed submariners for almost four decades. Now, with meticulous research and incredible attention to detail, Stephen Johnson examines and dissects one of the most tragic and mysterious submarine accidents in U.S. Navy history.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Remembering Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs' birthday was commemorated today with an article in Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch Blog.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Behind the Songs: Where Were You in Chicago?

"Oh, where were you in Chicago
When the fight was being fought?
Oh, where were you in Chicago?
'Cause I was in Detroit"
--Phil Ochs, "Where Were You in Chicago?" (1969)

Chicago '68

Chicago '68 reconstructs the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago--an epochal moment in American cultural and political history. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Farber tells the story of the protests in the three different voices of the major protagonists--the Yippies, the National Mobilization to End the War, and Mayor Richard J. Daley and his police. He brilliantly re-creates all the excitement and drama, the violently charged action and language of this period of crisis, giving life to the whole set of cultural experiences we call "the sixties."

Monday, 8 December 2008

InHoguration Daze: The Dream Is Dead

By Stew Albert (published January 24-January 30, 1969)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Little Dick Nixon, always the smallest punk on the football team, has finally been sworn in as captain.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was there, and stoned out of my head, I thought I saw Eldridge in the White House, and the choir was singing “Fuck Ronald Reagan.”

We came to Washington to denounce the war and the phony democracy that produced it. There were twelve thousand new style madmen, the kind that flaunt their sanity in public.

The same people who stormed the Pentagon and Richard Daley’s dungeon were back on the streets, and if they were not able to destroy the inauguration, at least they could force it to share TV time with an army of solid freaks.

It started in a weird huge tent more or less at the base of the Washington monument, a day before Nixon put his hand on two Bibles. There was a rally, the usual assortment of Guatemalan priests, Hell No GI’s and Woman Liberationists. And Phil Ochs.

The crowd wearing white Nixon masks and playing kazoos got uptight – some guy shouted “anyone who speaks from a microphone is my enemy,” and 700 Yippies, their purple and pink flag aloft, bolted from the tent and began their march twenty minutes before anyone was supposed to.

When the march officially began it numbered ten thousand. Reversing the route the monsters would take the next day on Pennsylvania Avenue celebrating Nixon, we marched to and not from the Capitol building.

The reviewing stands were already up for the inauguration and we piled into them cheering ourselves as we walked by. The occasional Hungarian refugee was there to remind us we were traitors.

There were occasional incidents with the pigs and some clubbings and arrests, but it was mostly peaceful and the fuzz even faked being polite.

When the night came we had our InHoguration. It was a great rock and light show, and Paul Krassner was on the set to say that he had a post escape interview with Cleaver and that the FBI had already questioned him.

The tent was packed and ripping apart at the seams, the grass was passed around and many of the cats who stay away from all marches were there, really grooving and happy.

The ground was cold and muddy, it reminded people of Resurrection City, but we all stayed close together and warm.

Around midnight a Yippie wearing Earl Warren’s robes stood on top of a parked truck, and using the Reader’s Digest as a bible swore in a pig as President. This time Pigasus was a naked man in a pig’s mask (the real presidential Pig still languishes in a Chicago jail), and he was shot down and assassinated on the spot.

Throughout the evening, plain-clothesed pigs circulated in the crowd, but although they saw pot, made no arrests.

There were some SDS and Youth Against War and Fascism type radicals who wanted to try to create a Chicago type situation out of the power of their own wishful thinking. To have an all out war in the streets it takes a Trujillo type Mayor or Governor but the guy in charge was Attorney General Ramsey Clark and he was very generous in handing out permits.

The government played it clever allowing the organizers to do all the peaceful things they wanted and bringing in an overwhelming police power to crush us. The 82 Airborne, the Secret Service, the National Guard and the Washington Tac Pigs were all there. In this environment street fights were always small and sporadic, and it was impossible to fuck up the inaugural parade.

We will now have to relate to Richard Nixon. He is the first president whose very inauguration was met with organized opposition in the streets on the day he took the oath.

This hard working mediocrity will have no era of good feeling from the New America. The universities and ghettoes will blow up in Nixon’s Bob Hope face, and even the boy scouts won’t be inspired by his Elk’s Club charisma.

The Dream is now officially dead. Without myths no ruling class can survive and what myths are left in America are now the sole property of the movement.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Behind the Songs: William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed

"When the fog rolled in and the gas rolled out
From Lincoln Park the dark was turning"
--Phil Ochs, "William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed" (1969)

No One Was Killed: Documentation and Meditation - Convention Week, Chicago - August 1968

What did happen in Chicago during August 1968 when the Democratic Party staged its Convention to nominate a candidate for President and a series of confrontations -- vital, often raw, at times complex -- erupted between demonstrating citizens and police and Guardsmen, the Democrats among themselves, and the black community and the turbulent Convention melee? Novelist John Schultz, covering the Convention as reporter for Evergreen Review, observed almost every confrontation in the parks, streets, at the Hilton Hotel and the International Ampitheater for ten days and nights. No One Was Killed is his clear, impassioned history of what he saw, felt and found out. This book is tough honest reportage.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Bum Trip

By Stew Albert (published January 10-January 16, 1969)

At a New Year’s Eve party in New York the Yippies declared 1969 to be the Year of the Bum Trip. It was universal, the wild-men moved between parties and into the streets, and always came back with a “It was a lot more joyous last year” tale.

We sat around and it was all reminisces about last year’s pipe dreams of both freaking out and making love to America.

The felony indictments are going to come down heavy. If you plan a demonstration it will be conspiracy, and if you go to it it will be assault with a deadly weapon (existing in the pigs minds).

The despair was exaggerated, everybody at the parties knew that, but there were just no beautiful dreams as January 1 became a reality.

A lot of the best struggles have turned sour. There was an attempt to get Bill Graham to give the Lower East Side community a free night at the Fillmore East. Graham gave in for a while and then backed out claiming the insurance companies were threatening to cancel the Fillmore if the free nights continued.

There was a wild semi-riot after an MC 5 rock concert. Graham got his nose bruised by a chain and a couple of ushers were stabbed. The street people went after some of the MC 5 when they caught them leaving the gig in a bourgeois chauffeur-driven limousine.

A couple of days later Graham convinced people that the insurance rate really would ruin him and that there was no way he could give away the Fillmore.

Bill Graham may be a very big cat on the block for us, but for the insurance companies, he is a tiny mouse that can never roar.

I spent a couple of hours with Abbie Hoffman, a one-man global village, all electric and always optimistic. Even Abbie was seeing grey for the future. He hopes Eldridge is in Cuba, setting things up for an exile-dropout community. Hoffman figures we have a year or so and then the trip without a ticket will end.

Back in Berkeley everyone says the movement on the campus is at a ten year low. Telegraph Avenue is applying for status as a police station. The Diggers have gone a hundred ways into hopelessness.

I checked out the Panthers and they are in the needed business of purging crazies and reading Lenin. They are going to stop recruiting for a while, harden their core and be ready for a long cold winter with Richard Nixon.

The revolution has spread out a long way since the FSM. Campuses like Columbia and San Francisco have exploded higher into the sky than Berkeley ever did, and lots of high schools are blowing with them. The psychedelics are taking over TV and some of the best light shows are found in commercials that undermine the products they sell.

But the price is going to be paid. The man has no intention of letting us take over and illuminate his power trip without first trying to build concentration camps around our dreams.

To survive and grow in the next year we are going to have to re-examine every anti-organizational bias in our rebel souls. Everybody just can’t go off and do his own thing. We have to develop a program for winning the majority of American youth to a real thing, social and political revolution. Your own thing has to become our thing.

The FBI agents who have visited me four times since Chicago wake up early in the morning, and through the day exert a ferocious and determined energy in the cause of J. Edgar Hoover’s evil portrait.

Lying around stoned all day isn’t going to make the revolution for us. Those agents will install bars around our pads and leave us there to meditate on our navels and die.