Friday, May 13, 2005

Back to Peekskill!

This morning, as I listened to the "Morning Edition" piece on last night's bala gash -- sorry, make that gala bash -- for outgoing Majority Leader Tom DeLay, they played a bit of tape that was so hilariously awful that I had to pull the truck over for a few minutes to both catch my breath and settle my stomach.

Imagine the kind of rhythmically-challenged lizard-brains who would attend such a dreadful event in the first place. Then imagine, if your digestion can stand it, their caterwauling voices raised in what they believe to be soulful sincerity, a catbird chorus of purest Babbittry, exhorted by some arm-waving Betty Bowers in a hair-helmet, accompanied by the World's Crappiest Bluegrass Band, voices uplifted together in baleful warbling of "If I Had a Hammer."

Yes. Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer."

Well, don't you know, "The Hammer" is what they call him down on the links at St. Andrews, and some culturally obtuse apparatchik on the Party Committee put two and two together and got 22. Makes all kinds of sense -- Hammer, hammer, if I had a.... I imagine they'd probably puke freshets of pure golden bile -- all over this land! -- if they had the mother wit to understand they were singing a Communist anthem about as appropriate to the gathering as the Horst Wessel Song at the B'nai Brith.

Do you remember in those dark, dark weeks following 9/11, when Osama bin Laden was the evilest-genius motherfucker who ever lived and Al Qaeda a monolithic octopus with testicles tentacles everywhere? How the mere sight of an airliner -- any airliner -- had the ability to invoke an involuntary horrorshow fantasy where the plane wrenched violently and began an inexorable nosedive straight at your head? (Or was that just me?)

And do you remember that sometime soon thereafter, it might have been December 2001, this image came to light?

That pic found its way into some Al Qaeda recruiting posters, and it was at that point that I began to lose my fear of them. I also lost my reluctance to critic-size the Preznit right about then too. Al Qaeda stopped looking like Supreme Evil Mothers and started looking a whole lot more like what they really are: Just dumb fucks making it up as they go along.

Which is what we're all doing. Dumb fucks. Making it up. The Preznit and Tom DeLay and their Minions of Dumb-Fuckery. Me. You. Admit it.

I think Pete Seeger might like his song back, though.

For you whippersnappers who don't know about the Peekskill Incident of 1949, here's a little précis of it, from a folk-song site. Ask yourself, Which side of this little incident would those DeLay dittoheads have been on?
It was becoming dangerous to be a performer if you were suspected of having left-wing views, and the following year Seeger and [Paul] Robeson faced their most dangerous concert of all. The venue was Peekskill, New York State, where on 4 September 1949 they both appeared at an outdoor show that turned into one of the most terrifying and violent events in the history of pop music.

The concert had been planned for the previous month, when it was advertised in a Communist newspaper, but crowds had blocked the roads, beaten up some of the organizers, and it had to be called off. But the performers, and the Communist Party, decided that the show should still be held - this time on Labor Day. Supporters provided protection around the site, and the performance actually went ahead. Paul Robeson sang [...] Old Man River, and Seeger sang If I Had A Hammer.

Fifteen years later (after first being revived by Peter, Paul and Mary) the song became a nightclub favourite, and the sing-along, Latin-tinged version by Trini Lopez sold 4 1/2 million copies around the world. In 1949 it was considered dangerously political, with highly controversial lyrics.

Only when the concert was over did the trouble really start. The performers were ambushed as they left the show, for the residents had been whipped up into an anti-Communist fervour [...]. Seeger escaped, covered in glass, his car dented with rocks.
Well, I've got a hammer, and I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing all over this land
It's a hammer of justice, it's a bell of freedom
It's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

I guess we just have to figure out what those words mean, eh?


ade said...

Communism, Al-Qaeda; same thing, innit? A bogey man to keep the proles in line.

Kevin Wolf said...

So, Neddie, I should NOT buy the Tom DeLay & His Minions album?

Bobby Lightfoot said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bobby Lightfoot said...

Sorry, man. I said "where" instead of were. Anyway.

Yeah, see, there's all sorts of examples of these pissants appropriating songs that mean something desperately different from what these people think they mean.

Every time I hear Bill O'Reilly's theme when I tune in to Check Up On The Enemy I don't know whether to bleed from the eyeballs or from the groin.

It's some weak, watery hippy CSNY album track about " got to speak your mind...if you dare..."

yeah, bill. Speak your mind. Let America know how you really feel about oh I'm not going to say it on your nice bloggie.

Those tiresome, dirty hippies were boring enough before. Except for Neil.

How many times you figure David Crosby marched for peace?

Oh, crap. I'm going to have one of my Beavis-On-Cappuccino moments. Hurk. SFFEDJJFKakf.

I'm going to go to my own blog fast.

Anonymous said...

Similarly, members of the VFW were counter-protesting a vigil for peace before the war on Iraq started. To proove their point, they sung "This Land Is Your Land"... and if the right wants to join the socialist movement, I support it, but until then, their song choices are just bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Delay is the real Bob Roberts, the right-wing folkie in that Tim Robbins mockumentary... "Some poeple work, some simply will not, but they'll complain, and complain, and complain, and complain, and complain..."

mim said...

Blame Peter, Paul and Mary. "The Hammer Song" was never the same after they recorded it. (BTW has anyone else heard the recording of the song by the Soviet Army Chorus and Band, in Russian?)

I also recall reading that "This Land Is Your Land" was sung in GHWB's campaign of 1988, tho some culturally obtuse NYT reporter called it "This Land Is My Land."

blue girl said...

"How the mere sight of an airliner -- any airliner -- had the ability to invoke an involuntary horrorshow fantasy where the plane wrenched violently and began an inexorable nosedive straight at your head? (Or was that just me?)"

No, it wasn't just you. I also remember checking out strange envelopes in my mailbox for white powder -- and also, and much stranger, for awhile -- noticed and watched every white van in a very suspicious way....(I think I watch too much TV and in the spirit of that performance artist you wrote about, should consider giving it up!)

Neddie said...

Evidently, Peter, Paul and Mary changed the song pretty noticeably -- including changing the line "A love between all of my brothers" to the more familiar (and admittedly more inclusive) "between my brothers and my sisters." (Grammar Pedant Note: "Love AMONG my [whatevers]": "Between" for two parties; "among" for more than two. Folk-song writers just love to have their grammar corrected.

What about this theory: There simply ARE no great (or even very good) "conservative" folk songs. That's why they have to appropriate them. A good folk sng kinda needs to at least appear to have come from a proletarian POV, right? I also believe the same thing can be said about comedians: Ever seen a funny professional conservative? (P.J. O'Rourke isn't even close to funny. -- and wasn't even before he became a professional scold.)

This land is my land
It is not your land
You cannot tax it
I own the fucking zoning commission

And furthermore, I
don't even have to rhyme or scan
I own this land so get the fuck off it!

Blue Girl: The performance artist I blogged about had to quite a few hours short of her self-imposed deadline. Her heart was beginning to (literally) give out.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

Anybody remember when getting an envelope full of white powder was call for celebration?

And totally worth the stereo you sold to get it?

The white van thing was during D.C. Sniper deal. I remember 'cause I had a big white cargo van and I was getting pulled over daily. Couldn't have a drink for weeks.

Got all those tail lights online, though.

mim said...

Even before Peter, Paul and Mary had their big hit, somebody had changed "all of my brothers" to "my brothers and my sisters." That was how my sister sang it when she brought it home in about 1960, and BTW she had no Communists in her circle of acquaintances. (And neither did I until my parents sent me to a leftie summer camp in 1961, but that's another story.)

The biggest change PPM made in the song itself was in the melody; before their version, the "all" in the last line of the stanza was sung to a five-note melisma that spanned an entire octave. I still prefer it that way.

But PP&M made an even bigger change, by bringing the song into the mainstream, and gaining for it millions of fans who knew nothing of its radical roots. It was only a matter of time before a bunch of right-wingers adopted it in sheer ignorance.

Neddie said...

>> (And neither did I until
>> my parents sent me to a
>> leftie summer camp in 1961,
>> but that's another story.)

As in the summer of 1961 I was, well, not a exactly red-diaper baby but sporting swaddling that was a fairly rosy shade of pink, I'd love to hear about what went on in a leftie summer camp that year.... I'm pretty sure they were stamped out by the time I was summer-camp age -- not that that was an option anyway, given my life circumstances.

You know what I dig? I dig people who can casually toss out the word "melisma." That's what I dig. In case you were wondering.

When I get anywhere near a decent Net connection, I'm gonna search out Pete's original version. Maybe even post it, samizdat-style. The People Demand Education!

mim said...

I like melismas. They give your lungs a workout. That's one reason my favorite Christmas carol is "Ding, Dong, Merrily on High."

But as for socialist summer camp in 1961: Ah, those were the days. My parents were Stevenson liberals, but in the search for a summer camp where the other kids wouldn't pick on me, my mother reached back to her family's socialist roots and sent me to a camp peopled by red-diaper babies. Very nice red-diaper babies; they didn't pick on me, but I did go through culture shock. But oh, the songs! And this was in the heyday of the civil-rights movement in the South, so we got to sing freedom songs in addition to the usual communist anthems, folk songs and labor songs. And it was there I learned about Pete Seeger, who came to sing there every summer.

But I wish I'd known more history at the time; I wouldn't have been so dismissive of the other kids' hatred of the FBI.

Pete Seeger wrote The Hammer Song with his fellow Weaver Lee Hays. The two of them also wrote "Hold the Line," about the Peekskill riot; I think it might be on the Web somewhere. And I'm very glad that "all of my brothers" was never changed to "all of my siblings"!

The Viscount LaCarte said...

This is a genuine trend.

Sean Hannity used "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby and Rush Limbaugh used The Pretenders "My City Is Gone" as their theme songs.

I say "used" because I don't know if they still do. Even in the interest of keeping up with the right-wing hooey these windbags peddle, I can no longer subject myself to that sort of torture.

Sean Hannity would be better served if he used "Those Were The Days" (The theme song from "All In The Family") and I bet there is a Ted Nugent record (can't bring myself to use the word "song" in this context) that would be perfect for Rush Limbaugh.

"Everything is the opposite of what it is."

- Mal Evans as quoted by John Lennon.

mim said...

Don't forget that Ronald Reagan wanted to use Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," but Springsteen wouldn't let him.

Neddie said...

>> I bet there is a Ted Nugent record
>> (can't bring myself to use the word
>> "song" in this context) that would be
>> perfect for Rush Limbaugh.

Sometimes you gotta get higher
Sometimes you gotta stay low
Some people say you're gonna die someday
I got news, honey, you never have to go

(I can't believe I dredged that one up out of Deep RAM -- I haven't thought about it since about 1974!)

Mim: There's a novel in that summer camp. Think about it.

mim said...

Sorry, Neddie, I just don't have it in me to write fiction.

But the lyrics to the Peekskill song are here:

Ed Drone said...

"The Hammer Song" originally ended, "all over this world," which drove the wingnuts of the time crazy (yeah, I know, that's a putt, not a drive), but Seeger & Hays changed it to "land" because "world" doesn't sing as well, and besides, the action the song is inspiring is localized in individual "lands" anyway. Fix this land, then that land, and before you know it, you've changed the world.


Neddie said...

>> Fix this land, then that land,
>> and before you know it, you've
>> changed the world.

A more cogent exposition of the Domino Theory couldn't be wished for. Tanks, Mr. McNamara!

Ed Drone said...

[>> Fix this land, then that land,
>> and before you know it, you've
>> changed the world.

A more cogent exposition of the Domino Theory couldn't be wished for. Tanks, Mr. McNamara!]

Well, if it'd work for conquering the world, it'd work for fixing it, too. But the actors would have to be the people of each land, not an outside entity. Witness our success in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Viet Nam).


mim said...

My bad: I should have said "topical songs," not "communist anthems" in telling my own story. Big difference; we never sang "The International." Ban-the-bomb songs were big in the early 60's.