Saturday, 30 January 2010

Groove Tube: Sixties Television and the Youth Rebellion

by Aniko Bodroghkozy

Other sketches, although open to various interpretations, leaned more in the direction of dissident, protesting groups, such as a segment built around Phil Ochs's song, "Draft Dodger Rag." The November 19, 1967, episode featured guest star George Segal, who joined Tom and Dick to sing the song. Dick introduced the number by saying, "We're going to sing a contemporary song about a great effort that some of the young men in our country are making." Tom chimed in, "Yes, it's a song about a problem and how, with good old American ingenuity, some people attempt to solve it." They then launched into the song, whose first verse and chorus went as follows:
I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town,
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down.
And when it came my time to serve I knew better dead than red,
But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:
Sarge, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen and I always carry a purse,
I got eyes like a bat and my feet are flat, my asthma's getting worse.
O, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, my poor old invalid aunt,
Besides I ain't no fool, I'm a-going to school, and I work in a defense plant.
For those who knew the song was Ochs's handiwork and knew that he was a well-known antiwar folksinger, the song could be read as a tongue-in-cheek support for draft resistance by any means available. However, the song allowed for a different interpretation, less sympathetic to those who evaded the draft. Just as the show's "We Protest Here" number could be read as mocking and ridiculing protesters and their methods, so too "Draft Dodger Rag" could be read as an indictment against those young men who shirked their military duty. Context was crucial. Phil Ochs's singing the song to young people protesting Selective Service at an antiwar rally opened the lyrics to their preferred meaning. However, in the context of a prime-time variety show with a still fairly diverse audience, the song's preferred meaning may not have been so evident. Perhaps aware of this, the Smothers ended the song with the proclamation, "Make love, not war!"

Although the segment was open to various interpretations regarding draft evasion, CBS's Program Practices division, which would soon become the bane of the Smothers Brothers' existence, requested a copy of the lyric sheet. A CBS memo about this episode focused particularly on the "Draft Dodger Rag" number. The memo noted that the "introduction . . . seemed complimentary to draft dodgers." (The network's censors apparently were not worried about the song itself.) The memo also mentioned that the number resulted in four letters objecting to the material. Despite the concern, the network allowed the episode to be rerun in the summer, apparently with no cuts.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

U2: A Musical Biography (The Story of the Band)

by David Kootnikoff

"Bono continued to invent characters and was looking for new ways to add commentary and humor to his shtick. He came back for encores as 'Mirror Ball Man', a narcissistic hypocrite in love with his own image dressed in a silver lamé suit similar to the one Elvis had worn. Folksinger Phil Ochs once put on an Elvis suit for a Carnegie Hall concert, telling the perplexed audience that the only way to save America was for 'Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara'. Bono was a fan, and the comparison wasn't lost on him." (p. 80)

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Phil Ochs' Anti-Drug Public Service Announcement

Featuring a performance of "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy":

Monday, 25 January 2010

Ao Dai: My War, My Country, My Vietnam

by Xuan Phuong and Daniele Mazingarbe

Joan Baez first sang three songs. Then she said in perfect French: "Now I am happy and moved to know that Doctor Phuong is here. With her, I experienced some unforgettable moments. Where are you, Doctor Phuong?" I found myself on stage next to her under the floodlights. She took my hand. 'Thanks to you, Phuong, I overcame my fear. I became calmer and stronger. To my dying day, I will never forget those moments. Now, dear audience, I would like to sing for you this song that Phil Ochs has written in memory of those events and that I am dedicating to Doctor Phuong: There but for Fortune." After the last note, the public got up and applauded.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution

by Joseph Crespino

It was a remarkable transformation, one that would have been hard to imagine in the summer of 1964, when Mississippi racism seemed so galling and when protesters outside the Republican National Convention held up signs such as "Be with Barry When They Burn the Crosses" and "Goldwater for Governor of Mississippi." That year, Phil Ochs, one of the most prolific voices of the American folk revival, summed up both the outrage over Mississippi injustice and America's liberal consensus in his searing ballad "Here's to the State of Mississippi." The verses, framed around a rhymed quatrain, paid sarcastic tribute to the state. Each ended with a damning couplet and the same ringing refrain: "Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of."

Friday, 15 January 2010

The New Left Revisited

Edited by John McMillian & Paul Buhle

Equally critical to Los Angeles's uniqueness was the omnipresence of the mass cultural production system, which critics held responsible for the fakery and shallowness of mainstream culture. To those trying to create a new, radicalized culture characterized by openness to experimentation, freedom from market dictates, and tolerance, the film, television, and music industries seemed omnipresent, injecting the debilitating tedium of the constant hustle into the "underground" zones of L.A. To many observers, the culture industries colored the character of the rest of the region as well, making it a strangely disorienting and inhuman place, without grounding in "real" life. And the area's seemingly endless, centerless suburban sprawl only enhanced the sense of weightlessness. In 1964 Theodore Roszak wrote in the Free Press, "There is perhaps no modern city where the sense of community is so dissipated as in Los Angeles. . . . It lacks even the physical integrity of a metropolis. . . . In reality, Los Angeles . . . is a case study in social disorganization . . . where the bonds of community life have grown hopelessly slack." Cribbing from Nathaneal West, Phil Ochs offered an even more damning indictment in 1967: "Los Angeles is Death City. . . . It is the land of the Philistines. Los Angeles is the ultimate in the materialistic exaggeration of America. It's almost like the barbarians throwing themselves into the materialistic fires." (Open City, 9 June 1967, 3, 11, 14).

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Phil Ochs Covers: Diamanda Galás - The Iron Lady

The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom

by Barbara Smith

That evening we heard Bobby Seale, a leader of the Black Panthers, speak in Lincoln Park. It is always curious to me to see a certain type of white person receive with such enthusiasm the promise of the destruction of their society by Black people, but perhaps they are so accepting because they are still naive enough to think that it will not happen.

We went after this speech to a show in the Coliseum. It was extraordinarily inspiring to see Jean Genet and William Burroughs and finally Dick Gregory (a truly gentle man) on stage speaking to us and with us. It was suggested that we proceed after the show to Grant Park in front of the Hilton, where people from Lincoln Park were already arriving.

This would be our first contact with the police and we were nervous as we walked toward the Loop. Surprisingly, nothing happened that night. At one point the police pushed us back off the sidewalk onto the grass, but this was done efficiently and without force. At one point the singer Phil Ochs was standing near us and we listened to him talk to someone for awhile and then drifted away. We also spoke to some policemen who were laconic, but not hostile. We finally went home at about 2 A.M. Wednesday. The day of the nominations had already begun.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Britpop!: Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock

by John Harris

The Labour Party's last organised dalliance with rock music had been announced to the world on the morning of 21 November 1985. At 11.30am, a crowd of 200 musicians, politicians, trade union officials and journalists gathered in a marquee, pitched on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. They were served hot punch, and regaled by a speech from Neil Kinnock. The leader was there to place his formal approval on a new wing of the Labour Party's campaign structure: an organisation called Red Wedge. 'Can I first disabuse anyone of the idea that Red Wedge refers to my haircut,' he said, to a smattering of groans.

The name, taken from a Russian propagandist painting entitled Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge, had been suggested by Billy Bragg, who stood with Paul Weller - then in his avowedly political Style Council phase - as the new set-up's most recognisable face. The pair, along with a handful of other musicians, had recurrently bumped into each other on the platforms that often defined the life of the switched-on 80s musician. From there, it was only a short leap to formalising their alliance.

'They key event was the miners' strike,' says Bragg. 'That was the thing that heightened political awareness to such an extent than an initiative like Red Wedge could actually happen. You can't do things like that in an ideological vacuum. Red Wedge came about because we were constantly meeting one another - the same brands on different platforms, for different issues: the miners, Nicaragua, anti-apartheid, anti-racism. It was all the same people.'

Bragg also believes that the generational background of the Labour leader was crucial: without the enthusiasm of someone familiar with rock music, Red Wedge might not have come to life. 'Neil Kinnock was the first leader of any major political party who knew who Gene Vincent was; the first member of the post-war generation to lead a mainstream political party. That was really significant. He was a member of the Gene Vincent fan club, and a big fan of Phil Ochs. He knew that popular music could be used as a vehicle to spread ideas. He was aware of that. And that's really important. If it had been Roy Hattersley, I'm not sure he'd have got it quite so well. Kinnock was a bit of a rocker, in his spare time. I once saw him pick up a guitar and sing Help Me Make It Through The Night. It's a pretty hard song, that. I can't play it. I bet Blair can't play it.'