Monday, 9 March 2009

Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years

by Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney

Because Taj had gotten into folk music for the music, he was able to think of it in those terms. He was using it to discover his own culture and find out who he was. Jackie Washington, however, had come into it when the Seeger political influence was still a force in the folk movement. The Greenhills had become his second family, and he found himself feeling more and more estranged from the folk "movement," especially as the civil rights struggle began to heat up in the early Sixties.

Manny was part of the left-wing, Jewish, liberal movement which was into unions and all that. You dream of Joe Hill, and let's hold hands with Chinese and Black people and Indians -- all dreaming about Joe Hill! "And the banks are made of marble...!" (And today they're damn glad of it!) So everybody had their own little thing that they wanted you to do. It was an incredible position to be in, but I didn't even know I was in it, asshole that I was.

It started to get foolish, because I started to feel guilty about the money. So I started donating a lot of money to causes, because we had to improve the lot of whoever. I don't mean offense to anybody, but I became white -- whiter than I had been. Guilt is a white, American trip. Black people and Puerto Rican people don't have guilt as a group thing. Pain and avoidance of pain is what I see in their music and culture. I didn't have to make up to the Indians! But here I was running around doing all that shit. And I also didn't realize that a lot of people that I thought were special like Eric von Schmidt and Bob Siggins and Jim Rooney and Bill Keith were not on that same soapbox as Seeger and the figureheads of this movement. That was my own blindness.

Then I got involved with the civil rights movement. There was an "army of guitarists" going down south in the summer of '64. So I joined this "army" and quit it when I got to Mississippi. I got in with a group of niggers, and we started working with the people instead of coming down and singing at them. I did one show with the "Freedom Caravan" or whatever it was called. It was a place that was hot as hell. Phil Ochs got up and started singing about how he wasn't marching and he wasn't this and he wasn't that. And these black kids were sitting there in the heat, bored shitless, listening to this guy who had nothing to do with them. They were being used. So I quit and got into the Free Southern Theater.

I realized that the folksingers were talking at people. Rhetoric. Joan Baez really started pissing me off. Although she was a goddess to me, I started saying, "This bitch is phony!" She was talking like she wasn't near anyone. What did the people down there need that for? They were singing their asses off! It was the one thing that they had going for them -- that got them through the week! They would get together and sing themselves to a fare-thee-well! Who needed Joan Baez or Phil Ochs or me, for that matter? Those people were being used to make the singers look good. They came down to HELP THE NEGRO, but they were helping themselves to all sorts of publicity as humanitarians and then splitting. So I left. I started living with families, and I stayed for several months. It had taken me a long time to begin to figure it all out, but I was starting.

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