“I Never Died,” Says He…

November 11, 2011 by

I’ve been waiting a long time for something like Occupy Wall Street to come along, something that would show the 1% just what the rest of us think of the world they’ve built with their billions. It’s bringing generations of activists together in a way I never expected to see. A few Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon down at Zuccotti Park with my daughter and my 5-year-old granddaughter – who could ask for anything more?

How about Joan Baez singing at the park? Here she is with Joe Hill. Please enjoy!

It’s Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2011 by

Veteran’s Day is a complicated holiday for me. I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam era – I know I did the right thing, but have always been haunted by the knowledge that someone fought in my place. Is his name on that big wall of names? I went and looked for it once.

War is too big a topic for this blog post. I’m thinking today about the individuals who decided to put on a uniform and fight. One of them was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima Hill in 1944. Hailed then as a hero, he found when he returned home that life for him and his tribe hadn’t changed very much. Peter LaFarge wrote a song about him that was most famously sung by Johnny Cash, but I first heard it sung by Patrick Sky, and Sky’s version is still my favorite. Here it is – audio only, but still powerful. Happy Veteran’s Day.

Talking About Work

September 5, 2011 by

It’s Labor Day, and I’ve been thinking about who I could put up here as a representative of the working woman and man in what we still call the United States of America. Unions have been left for dead by people like the Koch brothers and their employees (we call some of them by the collective noun “Congress”). The songwriters, except for a lonely few like Tom Russell, aren’t inspiring anyone to turn things around, either.

So for my Labor Day video I had to go way back to Woody Guthrie. As long as people have voices they’ll be singing Woody’s songs: Beethoven and maybe even Chuck Berry will have rolled over, but Woody’s songs will still bring the news to new generations from one side of this world to the other and back.

This is Talkin’ Hard Work, and it speaks for itself. Please enjoy!

Waiting for Irene

August 27, 2011 by

Great song, great live performance: Bob Seger in Largo, Maryland, 1980. They don’t write them like this anymore, people!

Please enjoy!

It’s Mother’s Day Again!

May 7, 2011 by

And time for a shout-out to mothers everywhere – happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

If you are looking for a last-minute musical gift for any of the mothers in your own life, you could do worse than either of these:

First, take a look at Every Mother Counts: Songs Inspired by the Documentary “No Woman, No Cry.” You can see the film tonight on the Oprah Winfrey Network (really!) – check your local listings. The music includes songs by Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, the Dixie Chicks, and a host (hostess?) of others.

Next comes the latest from the folks at Dust-to-Digital: The incredible Never A Pal Like Mother. The package includes a beatifully illustrated 96-page book and two CDs with 40 songs recorded from 1927-1956. Some artists (the Louvin Brothers, The Carter Family) are more famous than others (Mr. & Mrs. Harmon E. Helmick were new to me) but every cut is worth a listen. Head over there now and listen to some samples.

The video today is not one the the happiest possible Mother’s Day songs – it’s about saying goodbye to Mother, but it’s an affirmative and beautiful song, superbly performed here by Michelle Wright, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, and the incomparable Iris Dement. The song, of course, is Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Do something good for your mother tomorrow, eh?

Hazel Dickens, R. I. P.

April 23, 2011 by

There was no better friend of the working woman and man than Hazel Dickens, who has died at the age of 75.  I will leave the biographical details to the excellent New York Times obituary, which is largely accurate, but gets one thing very wrong. One sentence of the obituary claims: “No immediate family members survive.”  Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who carries a lunch pail, anyone who works way too long for way too little, anyone whose job is threatened by the new wave of anti-labor legislation sweeping the country: every one of us is an immediate family member of Hazel Dickens.

No one ever had to ask Hazel Dickens:  “Which side are you on?” Every day of her life was a tribute to her choice of sides. We owe her a lot, and no better way to pay than to continue her fight. I don’t know if there’s an angel’s union in heaven, but my guess is there might be one soon. Look out, God, here comes Hazel!

Here’s a clip from the great documentary Hazel Dickens: It’s Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song, an Appalshop documentary. You can buy the DVD at Appalshop, too. Please visit their site, a great resource for Appalachian arts and artists. They’ve got a front page story up this morning about Hazel’s passing, well worth reading.

On The Wings Of A Snow White Dove

March 18, 2011 by

Ferlin Husky died this week at the age of 85. One of his biggest hits was Wings of a Dove. The song figures in the most moving (for me) scene of one of my all-time favorite movies, Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall is Mac Sledge, former country singing star recovering from alcoholism with his new family, running a motel in an obscure corner of nowhere. Mac’s ex-wife (and former singing partner) is passing through, and their daughter, beautifully played by Ellen Barkin, pays him an unexpected and heartbreakingly poignant visit. All Sue Ann knows of Mac is what her mother has told her, and Dixie still hates Mac with all her heart. Sue Anne tries to connect with Mac by reaching back to her childhood: “There was a song you used to sing to me when I was little, I think…it was something about a dove…I think it went something like ‘on the wings of a snow white dove…'”. Mac tells her he doesn’t remember the song, and Sue Ann leaves. Once she’s gone, Mac looks out the window and sings the song, as beautifully as it has ever been sung.

Tender Mercies streams on Netflix and Amazon (free for Amazon Prime customers) – the scene in question starts at about the 56 minute mark, but watch the whole thing. Unfortunately, I can’t post the Duvall movie version (there is a Duvall version on YouTube, but it doesn’t compare to the one in the film), so we end this post with one from the late Mr. Husky himself, with some great backing guitar fills. I have a feeling I should know who the host of this old TV show is, but I don’t. If any of you know please tell, but even if you don’t please enjoy!

Update: 3/19 – The host was, of course, Tex Ritter, and the show, Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party. Don’t know how I coud’ve missed that one, since the Johhny Cash clip from a couple of weeks ago was from a Ranch Party show, too.

Wake Up! It’s Daylight Savings Time!

March 13, 2011 by

Be careful out there today! And listen to Grandpa Jones’s rant on Daylight Savings Time.

It’s Johnny Cash’s Birthday

February 26, 2011 by

Rosanne Cash tweeted earlier today (she’s as good a tweeter as she is a songwriter – a must follow @rosannecash) that today would have been her dad’s 79th birthday. He left us too early but also left us a wealth of good work. In her tweet, Rosanne linked to this video, and it’s a great one. We get to see the Man in Black dressed in white, among other things.

That’s Tex Ritter introducing Mr. Cash and the Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins on guitar, Marshall Grant on bass), probably first broadcast in 1956. The song is Get Rhythm, first released as the B-side of I Walk the Line, then re-released as a single in 1969. Please enjoy!

Solidarity Now! Wisconsin Unions Need Us All!

February 21, 2011 by

Everybody knows what’s going on in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker is trying to bust the state’s public employee unions, and only the courage of 14 Senate Democrats is preventing him from doing it. These Senators are taking a huge political risk to do what they’re doing: they need your support, and you can give it here.

But there’s more at stake here than Wisconsin: in the wake of the Citizens United case, unions’ voices, already muffled, are in danger of being silenced. Many states have either filed or ar readying measures as punitive as Wisconsin’s. Their passage would complete the takeover of our political system by the Koch brothers and the financial industry.

It’s time to hit the streets again, gang!

The SEIU has a list of solidarity events scheduled all over the country this week. If there’s not one near where you live, move.

Here’s a video of the people of Wisconsin – that’s Arcade Fire doing the soundtrack. Time to stand and fight, now.