A real fun book about a real crafty turkey named Pete that I read to the kindergarteners the other day; written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Jeff Shelly.
Hello all, and Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been too preoccupied with other projects and responsibilities to devote much time to these pages as of late, however, I wanted to pop in today to try and sweeten up our modern slant on a harvest feast with some thematically appropriate sounds. This holiday, as we Americans have come to celebrate it, has been an official tradition since 1863, when, in the midst of the divisive horrors of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln responded to a 74-year-old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, who urged the president in a letter dated September 28, 1863, to unite the states through custom by having the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation written by Secretary of State William Seward:
Detail from “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter shows President Abraham Lincoln seated at left and Secretary of State William Seward seated at right.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
Nearly eighty years later, On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.
Otis with the Johnny Otis Orchestra in 1957. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images).
Now with that little history lesson out of the way, I’d like to first present to you The Robins backed by the exceptional Johnny Otis (“the blackest white man in America”) and his Johnny Otis Orchestra, who in 1950 laid down these swinging rhythm and blues instructions to dance the “Turkey Hop.”
Eddie Jefferson playing at Half Moon Bay California, October 10, 1978 (Photo by Brian McMillen).
From Turkey to Thanks, up next is Eddie Jefferson, the innovator of Vocalese: a style of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an instrumental composition or improvisation; basically, it’s like scat singing with a lexicon. Tragically, while exiting Baker’s Keyboard Lounge on May 8, 1979 at approximately 1:35 a.m, Eddie Jefferson was shot and killed by a disgruntled dancer who once worked for him. Jefferson was 60-years-old. However, a few years prior in 1974, Jefferson released the album Things Are Getting Better, which featured a freewheeling and funky rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” Here in this song, Stone gives thanks for perhaps the greatest gift one can receive, being permitted to just be who you are.
Billy Mitchell – Flute, Clarinet (Bass), Sax (Tenor)
Joe Newman – Trumpet
Mickey Tucker – Organ, Piano, Piano (Electric), Saw
Conrad Buckman – Vocals
Eddie Gladden – Drums
Mildred Weston – Vocals
—Alright, I’ve given you the gravy, and now it’s time for some dry turkey meat—
First published in the 1989 chapbook Tornado Alley, “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986” features William S. Burroughs giving thanks as only he could. Two years later, director Gus Van Sant created this short film of Burroughs reading the poem over a montage.
For John Dillinger
In hope he is still alive
“Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986″
Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts
Thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes
Thanks for the American Dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through
Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces
Thanks for Kill a Queer for Christ stickers
Thanks for laboratory AIDS
Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs
Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business
Thanks for a nation of finks—yes,
Thanks for all the memories all right, lets see your arms
You always were a headache and you always were a bore
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.
Now, as a bit of a palette cleanse, I’d like to conclude with what was a radio-wave tradition in my youth and what must be the most epic of Thanksgiving songs, a twenty-year-old Arlo Guthrie’s hilarious and poignant true story, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” With a runtime of 18 minutes and 34 seconds, this song served as the opening track (and took up the entire A-side) of Guthrie’s 1967 debut album, Alice’s Restaurant, which later inspired an amusing and underrated 1969 movie of the same name co-written and directed by Arthur Penn.
Yet, before I leave you with the song I’d like to say that we need to remember—to paraphrase colonist William Bradford’s words of 1621, in “Of Plymouth Plantation”—Thanksgiving is the time for the people to “fit up their houses and dwellings against winter,” and to celebrate both “being all well recovered in health and strength.” and having “all things in good plenty.” However, more importantly, if you find yourself fit up and with all things in good plenty, Thanksgiving should serve as a reminder of a fundamental principle for humanity, perhaps best expressed as a succinct maxim in Bob Dylan’s 1967 song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”:
Wheat Field with Crows: Painted in July 1890, this work is one of the two debated to be Vincent van Gogh’s final painting. Regardless, this dramatically lonesome landscape would have been one of the last things seen by the painter other than the immediate surroundings of his deathbed.
One hundred and twenty-two years ago today, on July 28th, 1890, in Auvers, France, the outstanding but wholly dismissed artist Vincent van Gogh lay prostrate on the precarious balance between life and death. The day prior he had walked alone into a field and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He would spend the next day lying in bed smoking a pipe before finally, on July 29th, succumbing to an infection in the wound. He was 37 years old and had sold only one painting during his lifetime (Sherwood, 2006). Attended to by his brother Theo, his last words were reported to be, “The sadness will last forever” (Sweetman, 1990).
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Self-Portrait 1889. Paris. Musée d’Orsay.
In memoriam to this brilliant artist, I present to you today an unfinished work by another. Captured on tape by biographer Robert Shelton in a Denver hotel room on March 13, 1966—just three days after the final sessions for Blonde On Blonde—this “sketch” by Bob Dylan would come to acquire several names over the years, given by various bootleggers and fans: “Definitely Van Gogh;” “Positively Van Gogh;” and “Spuriously Seventeen Windows (The Painting By Van Gogh).” After this date, Dylan would go on to complete his European tour in a blur of inspiration and stimulants before entering a reclusive period on July 29, 1966, when he crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, New York. The extents of his injuries from this accident were never fully disclosed, however, Dylan claimed that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. As for why he never returned to this composition—the narrative of which had the potential to develop into something with a grandeur to rival his “Visions of Johanna”—Dylan had told the press at the time: “The songs I don’t publish, I usually do forget…I have to start over all the time. I can’t really keep notes or anything like that” (Heylin, 2009).
Tree Roots: An intense vision cut off sharply, this turbulent tangle of dense paint applied by fevered brushstrokes is the other of the two works disputed to be Van Gogh’s “final painting.”
But then she’d press and I’d say, “You see that painting?
Do you think it’s been done by Van Gogh?”
The cook she said call her Maria
She’d always point for the same boy to come forth
Saying, “He trades cattle, it’s his own idea
And he also makes trips to the North
Have you ever seen his naked calf bleed?”
I’d say, “Oh no, why, does it show?”
Then she’d whisper in my ear that he’s a half-breed
And I’d say, “Fine, but can he paint like Van Gogh?”
I can’t remember his name he never gave it
But I always figured he could go home
‘Til when he gave me his card and said, “Save it”
I could see by his eyes he was alone
But it was sad how his four leaf clover
Drawn on his calling card showed
That it was given back to him a-many times over
And it most definitely was not done by Van Gogh.
It was either she or the maid just to please me
Though I sensed she could not understand
And she made a thing out of it by saying, “Go easy
He’s a straight, but he’s a very crooked straight man.”
And I’d say, “Does the girl in the calendar doubt it?
And by the way is it Marilyn Monroe?”
But she’d just get salty and say, “Why you wanna know about it?”
And I’d say, “I was just wondering if she ever sat for Van Gogh.”
[from here the recording becomes too damaged, and is not worth listening to]
It was either her or the straight man who introduced me
To Jeanette, Camilla’s friend
Who later on falsely accused me
Of stealing her locket and pen
When I said “I don’t have the locket”
She said “You steal pictures of everybody’s mother I know”
And I said “There’s no locket
No picture of any mother I would pocket
Unless it’s been done by Van Gogh.”
Camilla’s house stood on the outskirts
How strange to see the chandeliers destroyed…
Bob Dylan, “Paranoid” Birmingham, England, 1966 by Barry Feinstein.
Heylin, C. (2009). Revolution In The Air: The Songs Of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
Sherwood, K. (2006). van Gogh, Vincent (1853–1890). Encyclopedia of Disability. Ed. Gary L. Albrecht. Vol. 4. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from Gale Virtual Reference Library
Sweetman, D. (1990). Van Gogh: His Life and His Art. New York: Crown Publishers.
Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes (1935)
Nation as a Promise
This weekend I honor the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who more than most would have understood the weight of the words above. He knew that our Nation is a Promise—a promise that we each make to ourselves, and to our community—a promise of a Shining City upon a Hill. However, as Jesus Christ said as he gave his Sermon on the Mount, “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (King James Version, Matthew 5:14). Martin Luther King, Jr. understood that not only was it our duty to judge our world, but that in turn it was our burden to be judged.
Our modern view of King’s August 28, 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech has had a tendency to reduce his words to merely a pictorial report of utopia. Yet, when King called for integration, he was speaking of our responsibility to our fellow man, and that true equality means that we all labor together to fulfill the promise of our nation, a promise that we have inherited, and a promise that we renew with each day we continue to build our homes here. King’s dream was not merely one of interracial hand-holding and pleasant afternoons together in the sun, but one where “[…] we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day” (Walenta, 2010). As Greil Marcus (2006) writes in “The Shape of Things To Come,” King’s most celebrated speech was one that “[…] judges the nation, and calls on each member to judge it in turn. The speech calls on each citizen to weigh the nation’s promises against their betrayal […]” (Marcus, p.34).
A Model of Christian Charity
Governor John Winthrop
President Ronald Reagan was fond of invoking the image of a “shining city” to promulgate a supposed moral superiority and an ideological slant on American exceptionalism, as well as to suggest that our nation could serve as guardian angel and warden for the world. Ultimately, his words were an expression of optimism. They did not take into account the age-old question of “who watches the watchmen?” Nevertheless, as conveyed in the 1630 sermon by Puritan and Massachusetts Bay Colony founder Governor John Winthrop—while aboard the Arbella, which sailed from the Isle of Wight to Salem, Mass.—this status as a City upon a Hill is one to be considered more of a threat than a blessing:
“The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely
with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to
withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a
by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to
speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God’s sake. We
shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause
their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out
of the good land whither we are going” (Religious Freedom, 2001).
Citizen King in the Great World House
The Computerized Plans of Destruction
As a citizen of the world, King not only appreciated the necessity for community as a prerequisite for peace on earth, but understood that community—regardless of one’s view or relation to it—is by its very nature inescapable; existence is nothing if not a multitude of threads and ligaments, by which each living thing is bound to another and all. Beyond this, King knew the obligation that comes with community. On June 14th, 1965 Dr. King gave a commencement address at Oberlin College in Ohio. Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” the speech was more of a challenge to the graduating class than just a mere attaboy pat on the back and words of congratulations:
“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together;
all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable
network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
[…] All that I’ve said is that we must work for peace, for racial
justice, for economic justice, and for brotherhood the world over.
We have inherited a big house, a great world house in which we
have to live together—black and white, Easterners and Westerners,
Gentiles and Jews, Protestants and Catholics, Moslem and Hindu.
If we all learn to do this we, in a real sense, will remain awake
through a great revolution (Oberlin College Archives, 2009).
As a true patriot, King not only loved our country and its inherent promise, but also was willing to descry that there is a disease within our nation, and that it was our responsibility as a people to deliver a cure. He knew that it little mattered where in fact Plymouth Rock landed. Regardless of semantics and pedigree, in the words of Woody Guthrie (1940), “This land is your land, this land is my land.” Again, as a patriot, King did not necessarily view the malady as an innate element to our nations principle architecture of government, Democracy, but rather the result of a promise perverted by those in power that seek personal gain through the influence of money and violence. Furthermore, I believed he viewed our nation’s malaise and inequity as a matter of depraved, cruel, arrogant, and often merely imbecilic value systems growing viral within our culture; a culture becoming a gluttonous creature in blind pursuit of comfort and dollars, obsessed with the distractions of torture and cartoons on the television. If one wonders what is wrong with this world—why these wrongs are prevalent—one need only to take a look at his world; to understand the product, one need only inspect the factory.
Despite his “I Have A Dream” speech remaining what he is mainly remembered for, I find King’s “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” to have endured as one of his most pertinent. On April 4, 1967 (exactly one year prior to his assassination) at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. King delivered these words:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the
fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on
life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we
must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed
as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is
more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice
which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring
contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will
look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West
investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America,
only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment
of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance
with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others
and nothing to learn from them is not just. (A More Perfect Union, 2011).
Essentially, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message remains one of Hope and Compassion, however, I believe there was a bit more fire & brimstone to his sermons than people care to remember. King knew that Time remains ambivalent to the aspirations of man. King knew that progress is not inevitable, but requires the vigilant struggle and toil of a conscientious community. King knew that with this community we could one day create “a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” King knew that without this community we are surely damned; our names will remain a stain on history, a curse upon all our offspring’s lips, and a curse upon the lips of God itself.
—The World is a better place for having had this man in it—The World can be a better place for having had this man in it—
Here is a YouTube post with the audio for Dr. King’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Beneath that I have pasted several of what I feel are critical passages from his speech, particularly in the context of our modern world.
“The only change came from America, as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support. All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
“So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
“What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?
“We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing—in the crushing of the nation’s only non-Communist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.
“Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon, the only solid—solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call “fortified hamlets.” The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.
“Perhaps a more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak for those who have been designated as our enemies. What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call “VC” or “communists?” What must they think of the United States of America when they realize that we permitted the repression and cruelty of Diem, which helped to bring them into being as a resistance group in the South? What do they think of our condoning the violence, which led to their own taking up of arms? How can they believe in our integrity when now we speak of “aggression from the North” as if there were nothing more essential to the war? How can they trust us when now we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem and charge them with violence while we pour every new weapon of death into their land? Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.
“These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.
“Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala—Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
“And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.
“In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.
“It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring.
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
“This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.
“These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions.
“It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes-hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
“This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing—embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door, which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate—ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.’ ‘If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.’ Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:
“‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action.
“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
“And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when ‘justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream’” (A More Perfect Union, 2011).
OK, now that I got that off my chest—
Here are a few tracks in tribute of MLK.
First up is perhaps my favorite Public Enemy song, 1991’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” Chuck D spits incisive line after incisive line at both the legislature and citizens of Arizona State after their refusal to observe a holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To give a brief history, Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham, who in 1987 rescinded a former Democratic governor’s establishment of the holiday. As a result, Arizona lost an estimated $300 million in cancellations of concerts, conventions and the 1993 Super Bowl (Hardigg, 1993).
Arizona State eventually relented to observe the holiday. Now, Arizona has gone on to note that in fact they are the only state that actually voted to recognize the holiday, unlike other states, which simply accepted the federal mandate. To me, however, that sounds like mere revision and spin, and an attempt to distract the issue with State’s Rights. One need only look at recent laws that permit the police force to demand your “papers,” to get a fair sense of Arizona’s collective conscious.
The video for this song was received in scandal due to graphic re-enactments of the civil rights movement and King’s 1968 murder interspersed with scenes of Public Enemy members leading an armed insurrection, which culminates with a series of political assassinations.
The heavy-metal-funk groove prominently featured throughout “By the Time I Get to Arizona” is a sample of the Bed-Stuy funk group that was formed in 1968 by three Panamanian born brothers: Mandrill. The sampled song, “Two Sisters Of Mystery” off of their 1973 album Just Outside Of Town has more in common with Led Zeppelin and Stone Temple Pilots than hip-hop, which goes to show just how eclectic P.E. could be.
Mandrill – Just Outside Of Town (1973)
However, the sample that I find particularly inventive occurs as the break-down when Chuck D grits his teeth and obstinately declares that he’s got twenty-five days to get to Arizona. To complement D’s message and delivery, the music is swallowed whole in a rhythmic swamp of menacing bass/drums and disturbing shrieks. These sounds bring to mind a perturbed vision of a playground massacre. Yet, with such precision, this snippet of looped sound is actually taken from a 1971 live concert by the Jackson 5 while performing a rendition of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk on By.” Recorded for the live/soundtrack album, Goin’ Back to Indiana, The screams are nothing but giddy girls cheering on the slow-step dance routine on stage. What a perfect subversion of sound.
The Jackson 5 – Goin’ Back to Indiana (1971)
Affirming the conclusion that most logical Americans arrive at, “[…] my money’s spent/on the goddamn rent/Neither party is mine/not the jackass or the elephant,” and directly stating the threatening consequences for cultural subjugation, “When the blind get a mind/ Better start fearing while we sing it;” off of Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black here’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”
Up next is Baby Huey and the Babysitters with their 1970 epic rendition of the song that for many came to epitomize the sixties’ Civil Rights Movement: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I’ve already discussed much of Baby Huey’s brief history and the story behind their Curtis Mayfield produced record elsewhere, so, I’d rather consider the impetus behind the song itself. Written by Cooke while on tour in early 1963 and recorded on December 21 of that same year, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released on 1964’s Ain’t That Good News, which was comprised of the first material that Cooke had recorded in the six months following the drowning death of his 18-month old son. Unfortunately, this album would also be his last released while alive, as Cooke was murdered under mysterious circumstances nine months after the album’s release; he was 33 years old. Ten days after his death on December 11, 1964, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released as a single.
Sam Cooke was driven to write this song after being both inspired and filled with anxiety upon hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Cooke felt challenged by the song’s depth and understanding of America’s current climate in regards to race relations. Cooke is quoted as saying, “Jeez, a white boy writing a song like that?” (RollingStone, 2012).
Baby Huey and the Babysitters do Cooke’s song more than justice by swelling it into an epic psychedelic anthem that keeps the integrity of the definition of psychedelic intact: soul-manifesting, or soul-revealing. Punctured with scattergun horns, Baby Huey maneuvers the ballad through various temperaments while relating various humorous but personal asides. The most poignant of these being “There’s three kind of people in this world—There’s White People, there’s Black People, and then there’s My People.”
Third, here’s the song that inspired Cooke to write “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan, at the age of 20 in April 1962, introduced this song while onstage at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, by stating: “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs” (RollingStone, 2012). He later said that he wrote the song in ten minutes, and anyone familiar with Dylan’s genius will believe him. The version I present was recorded live February 13th, 1974 in Los Angeles during Dylan and The Band’s joint tour. The fact that this tour was the first time Dylan had returned to the road since 1966 is evident in the unrestrained, muscular, and nearly irate delivery of this performance. Through the haze of Garth Hudson’s organ, Robbie Robertson provides some dynamic lead guitar that plays interesting games within the melody.
And to conclude, here are the final public words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The next day, at 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, he was murdered by a coward while standing on the 2nd floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. If these words do nothing to you then check your pulse.
The Holy Bible, King James Version. New York: Meridian, 1974. Print.
Public Enemy and Island Def Jam Music Group (1991) (Creators). PublicEnemyVEVO (Poster) (2010, Aug. 27). Public Enemy-By The Time I Get To Arizona [Video] Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrFOb_f7ubw
Ridenhour, Robertz, Gary G, Wiz, Depper, Mandrill, Santiago. (1991). By the Time I Get to Arizona [recorded by Public Enemy] On Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black [CD] Def Jam.
“It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now? Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”
Allowing my last post to bleed into this one, here’s a quote by Howlin’ Wolf given in 1968, shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Somebody has been cashing checks and they’ve been bouncing back on us, and these people, the poor class of Negroes and the poor class of white people, they’re getting tired of it. And sooner or later it’s going to bring on a disease on this country, a disease that’s going to spring from midair and it’s going to be bad. It’s like a spirit from some dark valley, something that sprung up from the ocean…Like Lucifer is on the earth” (Gates, 2004).
At first I was not quite sure how I felt about the whole “Occupy Wall Street” movement and could certainly understand the frequent critique that they did not express a clear “message” nor provided direct, and comprehensive “solutions” to their myriad grievances. However, as I was discussing the topic recently with a good friend of mine, I realized that the message might truly be a simple “Shit is fucked up!” It might not be eloquent—or serve well as a slogan for a Shepard Fairey poster—but I believe that this is what it all boils down to…somewhere back there we made a wrong turn, and we all need to register that fact first before we carry on with finding the right way forward.
Sometimes, “solving problems is not good enough or even the point, when the hardest task is not to denounce evil, but to see it” (Marcus, 1975).
Some suck their teeth and deign to say, “Get a job!” Sure, but then what? Particularly when in the grand scheme of the here & now, regardless of what you might think of your position and the comforts it affords you, we are all essentially shoveling shit in some debtors’ prison to please some plantation warden whose name we never even caught, nor knew we were indentured to. We are on the cusp of 2012 and still we live in a world where there are divergent rules and regulations for a particular set of privileged individuals, while the remaining masses are relegated to a servant-class status at best; at worst are horrors too innumerable to begin to list here.
Several months ago, a Polish émigré who abandoned a career in L.A. and now lives as a masseuse/farmer in Costa Rica said to me (after divulging her admiration for Alex Jones) “C’mon guys, we are living in the future; we should be building cathedrals of music, not fighting stupid little wars all for somebody else’s wallet.” Next she advised me to “throw out your television,” something that I admittedly am not quite ready for, but I do believe she has a point; shouldn’t we be somewhere else by now, somewhere other than here?
V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Alan Moore, the man (along with David Lloyd) behind the mask that has been co-opted as a symbol for much of what these movements represent, recently gave an interesting interview to Honest Publishing (2011) in which he discusses the Occupy movement, and the fascinating idea of ideological change. I have posted some excerpts below:
Alan Moore [photo by Mitch Jenkins, 2010].
“As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights which should always have been theirs. I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re ‘too big to fail.’ I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. It’s a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way […].
“What do you think needs to change in our political system?
“Everything. I believe that what’s needed is a radical solution, by which I mean from the roots upwards. Our entire political thinking seems to me to be based upon medieval precepts. These things, they didn’t work particularly well five or six hundred years ago. Their slightly modified forms are not adequate at all for the rapidly changing territory of the 21st Century.
“We need to overhaul the way that we think about money, we need to overhaul the way that we think about who’s running the show. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people, to the people whose lives this is actually affecting. It’s no longer good enough to have a group of people who are controlling our destinies. The only reason they have the power is because they control the currency. They have no moral authority and, indeed, they show the opposite of moral authority.
“With politics at the moment seemingly determined to keep ploughing on their same destructive course because they can’t think of anything other to do, when we’re facing the possibility of an economic apocalypse, of potentially an environmental apocalypse, we don’t necessarily have an infinite amount of time. I think that since our leaders are not going to address any of these problems then we really have no choice than to attempt to wrest the steering wheel from them. If they’re aiming at the precipice with the accelerator pedal flat to the floor, then we don’t have any other choices left. Do it now, in this generation, because we don’t how many more there’s going to be.
“So something has to be done […]. I would suggest beheading the bankers, but while it would be very satisfying and would cheer us up, it probably wouldn’t do anything practical to alter the situation. Behead the currency. Change the currency, why not? It would disempower all the people who had bought into that currency but it would pretty much empower the rest of us, the other ninety-nine percent” (Honest Publishing, 2011).
I think at this point in time it is quite obvious that we need something new, something other. In an attempt to be clear as to where I position my ass in relation to the fence, I am not opposed to civil disobedience, and I am certainly not advocating that we find recourse in performing pagan rituals with menstrual blood and hallucinogens “on the endless expanse of a Nevada prehistoric lake bed” (Grigoriadis, 2006, p.90), but perhaps we need to occupy our heads with new ideas about what it is we think we are doing here, and just why we are doing it?
There is a tendency in society to firmly believe that what there is, is all there is, forever, and ever, amen; close the book, grit your teeth, and shrug your shoulders. However, a mere glance over those shoulders back into history reveals countless worlds firmly fixed within the confines of their supposed reality: realities that today we either reject wholesale, or vivisect for whatever bits we wish to cling to…and sometimes those realities only linger because they’re making someone money.
Our current financial system, now seemingly entrenched into even every little spasm of our synapses, appears to work exceptionally well. Unfortunately, it does so only for those who were designated heirs-apparent during the design phase of this system’s architecture. Whether this lineage is through actual bloodlines or more of an inheritance through mutual ethics (or lack thereof), for the rest of us it’s a mug’s game. We’ll never get ahead this way. If the game has been bought, sold, and won a long time ago, perhaps it is time we invented a new game? It’s either that or one day we’re going to kick the whole board over in a fit, and if that day comes you better take shelter.
Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. a.k.a. Cal Tjader (July 16, 1925–May 5, 1982) was a vibes player who played with Dave Brubeck and in George Shearing’s quintet in the early fifties before forming his own group and going on to gain an international reputation for his distinctive musical style that encompassed Latin, jazz, and soul music (McClellan, 2004). Signing to Fantasy Records in 1971, Cal Tjader released Agua Dulce with its hypnotic rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “Gimme Shelter.”
Arranged by Ed Bogas the song features: Cal Tjader, vibes; Rita Dowling, Moog Synthesizer; Micheal Smithe & Pete Escovedo, Congas; Coke Escovedo’ Timbales; and either Richard Berk or Lee Charlton, Drums.
To stay within the theme, here’s “Mr Guy Fawkes” performed by the Australian psychedelic rock group, The Dave Miller Set. Originally written by guitarist Mick Cox of the Irish group Eire Apparent (who opened for Jimi Hendrix’s America tour of ’68), Dave Miller remodeled the song to be his group’s single in 1969 (Kimbal). I love Dave Miller’s proto-Layne Staley vocals atop this orchestrated ballad with a boot-stomping backbeat.
“Mr Guy Fawkes”
by The Dave Miller Set: Dave Miller (vocals), John Robinson (guitar), Leith Corbett (bass), Mike McCormack (drums). Produced by Pat Aulton.
Although I’ve by no means reached a terminus to my thought processes on these matters, I remain firm in my belief that there is much more than just all this.
Cox, M. (1968). Mr. Guy Fawkes [recorded by The Dave Miller Set]. On Mr.Guy Fawkes (single). Spin Records. (1969)