Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 2 Aug 10 05:18
This week in Inkwell.vue we welcome DIck Weissman, to discuss his new book, "Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution: Music and Social Change in America." Dick's career as a performer, composer, songwriter, studio musician, and author followed a college thesis on Leadbelly's Life and Music. This has included 18 published books about music and the music business, songs and instrumental pieces placed on television, and a national music critics award. "Talkin' 'Bout A Revolution" is the culmination of a 12 year research probject on American music, social change, ethnicity, race, and gender. Leading our discussion is David Julian Gray, <djg> here on The WELL. David is a musician, musicologist, media technologist and long time co-host of the WELL music conference. In 1975, David helped found The Klezmorim, the band universally recognized as in fountainhead of modern klezmer music. Research for The Klezmorim led to work in computer aided musicology and audio restoration. He's restored and remastered classic folk and operatic recordings and consulted on audio production internationally. David currently works NPR (formerly known as National Public Radio) as Senior Architect for Content Production. Thank you both for joining us.
David Julian Gray (djg) Mon 2 Aug 10 09:48
Thank you, Lisa - I'm looking forward to the discussion. I've been enjoying the broad overview of the long, glorious and inglorious history of music as an agent of social change in the USA provided by "Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution" (which, by sharing its title with Tracy Chapman's song has more resonance than "Singin' 'bout a revolution") I've noted Dick's banjo playing on recordings in my collection since I've had a collection but only recently became aware of this other aspect of his scholarship - Looking forward to everyone's participation. -
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Mon 2 Aug 10 15:30
In terms of the status of women in the United States, and, for that matter the music business, i find it interesting that Lililth Fair is doing so poorly that it has had to cancel a number of shows, while Lady gag's every move seems to attract incredible amounts of media attention and public coverage. Is that an indication that what the media and the public want at this point in time, is something light and amusing, rather than something more thoughtful and introspective> Or is it simply a kind of avoidance behavior, as ibn don't give us anything to think about?
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Mon 2 Aug 10 15:40
Note a few typos! It's Lady Gaga of course (who could forget Lady Gaga?) A question mark should appear after introspective. Apologies.
David Julian Gray (djg) Tue 3 Aug 10 14:48
I don't find anything Ms. Stephanie Germanotta (aka "Lady Gaga") does either light or ammusing - but she does seem to have it a nerve... One could even make the argument, in the context of the book _Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution_ , that her conscious in-your-face gay iconography and insistance on her bisexuality makes her and her work something of an agent of social change ... perhaps this is the current face of socially concious music - the dance floor and not the rally. I found it interesting that the chapter in the book "Women's Lives and Songs" begins with the position of women in song, and not the songs that women sang.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 4 Aug 10 08:42
It could also be -- and maybe Dick would like to comment on this -- that the public perception is that there's a "Lilith Fair" artist, and that the majority of the music purveyed there is humorless and dull. I've known a couple of artists who would ask themselves what they were doing wrong if they were invited to particpate.
Gail (gail) Wed 4 Aug 10 10:38
Hi Ed, Dick... looking forward to the discussion! (Ed, I was thinking that at least at one time the Lilith audience was a defined audience that was part of the "public" but had a particular perception of women and music. A Mass-culture perception and a defined musical subculture/fan base perception are not alkways the same, are they?)
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 10:42
Im regard to David Julian Gray's comment, I fear that it's possible to do Greil Marcus-like culture analysis on anything. To me she has simply found an effective way to promote herself, modifying the well-tested Madonna Model, or for that matter the early David Bowie model. It's hard for me to take this as a consequential social statement. In regard to the about the sequence of information in the women's section, it is similar to the order of the chapter on American Indian music. I agree with Ed Ward that the perception of Lilith Fair is indeed that it represents introspective, feel-good feminism. Yesterday's NY Times review of the show made a big point about Chan Marshall's (aka Cat Power)inability to perform a complete show without stumbling all over herself and the audience. The spirit of these comments was almost that this was refreshing compared to the other, somewhat static performances. Would a similar analysis be given to an all men's rock show?
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 10:44
Gail, it would be interesting know the precise breakdown between male and female audiences at Lilith. Has that changed with this year's show? Also, in all fairness, it's not the only show that's having trouble selling tickets this summer. Even the mighty Eagles seem to have, to an extent, saturated their market. There seems to be more support for current bell-sellers, like Lady Antebellum.
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 4 Aug 10 10:46
I am finding the book quite interesting, Dick, but there are also frequent lapses that are distracting, perhaps speaking more of a production process that will never been deemed sufficiently mainstream to get the editorial attention that a textbook about Beethoven's music might get. In the first chapter, for instance, you talk about the music of three different ethnicities (Chinese, another, and then, "Morris Rosenfeld," the Yiddish poet, who has none - the implication being that Yiddish and/or Jewish is not an ethnicity to be mentioned. This is an issue because of the many recent labor textbooks (one by one of my advisors as a recent undergraduate) that likewise, never mention Jewish activism during those decades. A few pages later you talk about political songs set to existing tunes without introducing the term (contrafactum?) and seeming to imply that this is a rare way to do a political song--quite the contrary I would think--most topical songs have been contrafacta since long before the Star Spangled Banner was set to music, no? Anyway, I'll ignore nits from now on and instead thank you for writing about political song, a subject that deserves more coverage, for sure.
David Julian Gray (djg) Wed 4 Aug 10 12:02
RE: Greil Marcus like cultural analysis - yes, anything can be fodder for it and I didn't mean we should go there ... RE: - the Lillith Fair - I was surprised and please to see that Loretta Lynn was on the bill this year - that's a good choice! - But I also understand why they have a certain marketing perception to overcome ... I was surprised to see Grace Slick dealt with somewhat dismissively in the chapter on Women's Lives and Songs. At the time, I thought she was a strong political voice - more noted for her radical politics than particular musical ability (although no slouch there) and a signigicant influence on many of the adolescent women in my circle.
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 12:58
Art, You're absolutely right, Jews are not an ethnic group. As far as the Beethoven book comparison, I'm sorry to say that the only people who read those sorts of books are musicologists, and graduate students who read them for assignments! I would not have wanted to be edited by the sort of anal retentive mind that unfortunately specializes in this sort of gig. In no way did I mean to imply that it's rare to use existing tunes. Nor is that use limited to political songs. There are even folksong scholars who argue about whether newly written verses to Stephen Foster songs by "the folk" are folksongs. The point that I THOUGHT that I was making in the book was that it seems weirdly inappropriate for The Star Spangled Banner, America's National Anthem, to have used a tune from the "enemy" English, and a drinking song at that. It's difficult to know exactly how Lilith chooses its acts, or which acts that may have been chosen, prefer not to be associated with it. I didn't mean to denigrate Grace Slick's work. The primary radicalism that I find in the Airplane's work, as opposed to their willingness to take political positions outside their music, is their interest in drug promotion, and the fact that a woman was the primary, or at least one of two, main signers in the group. And that she was also pone of the main songwriters, not just the ever-denigrated "chick singer." Given the radical politics of the late 60's, it's a bit surprising to me that the Airplane, the Dead, Joplin, etc. didn't take more political positions in their music than they did. Neil Young's Four Dead in Ohio, I guess, was one of the great exceptions. I think there's a good chance that they assumed that the audience would know their politics from their attitudes, their dress styles, and so forth. I also think that Dylan was seen as sort of the king of cool, and that when he abandoned political songs for personal ones, that attitude dominated singer-songwriter discourse. I remain fascinated that virtually every movie about the Viet Nam war, features For What It's Worth. It's a good song, but it was about a meaningless teenage riot on the Sunset Strip, and really takes very equivocal positions on issues. Although Stills did refer to paranoia and the man, he also said "nobody's right, when everybody's wrong." if everybody's wrong, then how can ANYONE be right?
David Julian Gray (djg) Wed 4 Aug 10 13:42
I thought the Airplane were just as political as Country Joe - Volunteers, Crown of Creation - even Baron von Tollbooth in its way - angry anarchist anthems! - and I both loved and tired of them for these... Dick - your observation of about "For What It's Worth" is a good one. Stills did well to generalize - perhaps the song was INSPIRED by the, yes, "meaningless" riots on the Sunset Strip - but it's not really about them - it's about "nobody's right, IF everybody's wrong" (and it's IF - which leaves it much more open and questioning than "when"). There are other cases of songs culled from one experience appropriated or missappropriate to others - Springsteen's "Born in the USA" momentarily becoming an anthem for Reagan's re-election is a great example - which you bring up in the Chapter on African American music.
Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Wed 4 Aug 10 13:57
"For What It's Worth" works as an anthem for street protest because it's not tied to the specific incident that inspired it. People who never heard of an incident in Hollwood heard (and still hear) references to their own feelings in the song. Country Joe and he Fish certainly took a political position with their "Fixin' To Die Rag".
Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Wed 4 Aug 10 13:58
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 4 Aug 10 14:02
Dick, I have big problems with the "Jews are not an ethnic group" meme. What it means is that the cultural heritage of a Morris Rosenfeld get anonymized and the role of those Eastern European, Yiddish-speaking activists is lost, zeroed out. We can argue semantics all night, but if you are going to note ethnicity or other significant cultural signifiers, then there is something wrong is ignoring that Rosenfeld wrote for a very specific cultural audience and milieu. He was not a Polish poet, nor a Russian poet (both in the part of Poland occupied by Russia at the time, if I remember correctly). You could note that he wrote in Yiddish, you could note that he was part of the Eastern European Jewish migration of the period, but it is weird to be talking about cultural specifics on two examples and then to anonymize the background of Rosenfeld. You may have many reasons for having done so, but given how often that group of activists (the group of radicals that gave us Emma Goldman, most of the post-Triangle-shirtwaist-fire organizers, the Forward, .... not insignificant at the time) is anonymized in recent labor histories for what are generally regarded as political reasons (having to do with current equation of Jewish with those horrible Israelis) it is unfortunate to have done so in this specific book, and obviously colors how I am reading through the rest of the text.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Wed 4 Aug 10 14:57
Quick question. Not having your book, what I see online is a table of contents with dozens of very short chapters. Is each a mini-essay, list of songs, or what? Most of what I (think I) know about music and social change comes from listening to Utah Phillips hold forth on KPFA and in person. I love the quote that leads off the tribute site to him: "Yes, the long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we're going, but where we want to go." - U. Utah Phillips
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 14:58
Jews are not a race. Neither are Poles, nor Norwegians. Poles and Norwegians are national groups, of various ethnicities. Because Jews were persecuted in many [arts of the world, they often had dual identities, mixed between their religious and national affiliations. It is also interesting that western European Jews considered themselves quite superior to Eastern European Jews. I don't know why you would ever imagine that a description of Rosenfeld has anything to do with the present pro or anti attitudes towards Israel. I also have no idea why you think Emma Goldman or other Jewish radicals are dissed. No history of the radical movement that I have ever seen ignores her. Do you see a lot of contemporary commentary on Eugene Debs? Every history that I have seen of the radical movement in the United States points out the large number of Jewish Communist Party members, many of them European immigrants or refugees. What does any of this have to do with Israel? It is true, however, that histories of the Civil Rights movements, tend to minimize the contributions of women, just as the material written about migratory farm workers tends to glorify Chavez and minimize the role of Delores Huerta. It seems to me that you are confusing some sort of imagined anti-semitism with what is typical male chauvinism on the part of historians and male scholars. I'm afraid I can't help what :colors" your reading of the book. Asx the old hippies used to say, "that's your trip."
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 15:00
Absolutely right about Country Joe. The Rag was and is his trademark, and it's surely political. My point about Stills' song is that people read into lyrics what they wish to, rather than comprehending them. See the attempt of the republicans to use Springsteen's Born In The DSA.
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Wed 4 Aug 10 15:07
Rip, Some chapters are short, are longer. No, it's not a list of songs. The books is about various ethnic and gender groups, and about songs that have been written by and about them. Or to put it another way, for or against them! Hearing or seeing Utah was a good starting point to learn about music and social change. One of my favorite concerts was one that I saw with Utah and Ani DiFranco. His audience, like Utah himself, or like me, was shall we say, a bit grey. Ani's people sported multi-hued hair, and some had nose rings. I'm sure Ani introduced Utah to a bunch of people that would never otherwise have met him.
Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 4 Aug 10 15:36
Dick, you are being disingenuous about this. "A more serious Irish lament... Anti-Irish sentiment was common in this period.... Chinese immigrants ... also encountered discrimination. ... And the composer Morris Rosenfeld, who arrived in New York from the Russian -Polish border in 1886 deplored the New York sweatships...." Given the specificity of Rosenfeld's Yiddish poetry, the failure to mention antisemitism, Yiddish, nor Jewish, is funky - you choose which or what descriptor would have been more appropriate, unless your point is that there was no antisemitism, Rosenfeld's cultural background was irrelevant, and it is only his writing against sweatshops that is relevant--but without mentioning that he wrote in Yiddish, a language specific to one community. As for the reason I raise to explain why this is a sensitive point--I would be unreasonably shocked if that were your intent, but we have recent books on the US Labor movement and several articles (starting to rummage) on the phenomenon.
Virtual Sea Monkey (karish) Thu 5 Aug 10 00:40
Ethnicity isn't race. It's culture. Ashkenazi Jews are an ethnic group.
For what its worth (jonsson) Thu 5 Aug 10 02:08
A couple of notes... >>> "Jews are not an ethnic group" meme. In a way isn't it not so much an ethnic (DNA) question, but one of social and cultural groups? In a sense then this also means any cogent group. In the American experience doesn't this mean any "immigrant", "wanderer" or "native" in a variety of contexts, and perhaps arguably the hippies as well. For Country Joe fans - a jewel of political folk-rock McDonald's 1970 War War War (with lyrics based on Scotish-Canadian Robert Service's book 'Rhymes of a Red Cross Man' WWI experience] took the anti-war sentiment of 'fixing to die rag' to LP length. [Wished I had more time for this discussion. Where I presently live in the Czech Republic, music and what is called the "Velvet Revolution" are tied in peculiar ways].
Ari Davidow (ari) Thu 5 Aug 10 06:00
I don't want to divert discussion of an interesting book around such a minor point. On the page following the Rosenfeld mention, Dick does mention several groups and the steretypes about them. Those include Irish Chinese Jewish so, without focusing on my use of the word "ethnicity," there is culturally identifying information that could have been provided, wasn't, and so it goes. It matters to some degree because of the perception (real, in my limited experience) that some authors have removed Jewish ethnicity from current history books. My UMass professor, Jim Greene, being one excellent example. Deborah Dash Moore gave a talk on the phenomenon a summer or two ago that my wife attended. I've seen other articles on the subject and haven't had time to dig them up. But that's not relevant here, especially in a book that doesn't use French or Chinese or Jewish political experience as the primary examples. I apologize for the question, because it really detracts from more significant questions, moving on to the American Indian chapter, say, and asking whether it is fair to state that John Trudell failed to achieve popularity because of the political content of many of his songs, or for other reasons. I ask because I tried for several years to get into Trudell because I agreed with his politics, and found myself just uninterested in what he was doing. I remember seeing him live 15 or 20 years ago and realizing, as I listened to my companion complain, that this might be a case of good politics not being enough to overcome other issues. Tuli Kupferberg he wasn't ;-). It's also not clear to me what role politics has in terms of the music being sung by Native American artists overall, or on their audience - to what degree has song shaped political or cultural action?
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Thu 5 Aug 10 08:32
I agree that social and cultural groups have specific viewpoints and sets of unwritten (usually) rules about what is appropriate, reasonable, or "cool." I seem to remember that Country Joe was active in Berkeley city politics. I believe he ran for elected office, and I can't remember whether he won or not. He also does a Woody Guthrie show, where he sings a bunch of Woody's songs. So i think he's been consistent about his politics, and his politics involve political action, as opposed to comments during a performance. I don't want to push a world music discussion here, given that the book isn't about that. But in many parts of the world music censorship has been vigorously emphasized. China today, Russia, especially during the USSR periods, Chile (with great brutality,) etc.
Dick Weissman (musicmusic) Thu 5 Aug 10 08:45
Ari, Obviously anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiments are major issues for you, Ari. I don't doubt that there's a good book there, but it isn't this book, except for the short chapter on neo-Nazi music, where anti-semitism is a major issue. I don't know Jim Moore, but I have no doubt that certain neo-radical profs. have downed all things Jewish, because of their take on the Palestinian situation in Isarel. If you want me to say that I think that's ridiculous, no problem. I think it's ridiculous. It is certainly apples and oranges. What goes on in in Israel has no relationship in my mind with historical anti-semitic sentiments, or for that matter the history of Jews in the American radical movement. It's an entirely different issue. We entirely disagree about Trudell. Everyone has their own taste. I saw him at a WOMAX show in the rain in Denver about 10 years ago, and I own 4 of his CD's. Personally I really like his combination of spoken word with his strange Anglo-Indian fusion band, with the chanting vocalist. It's weird as hell to me that you bring Tuli Kupferberg into this, because Trudell is strong on women's issues, while whenever I think of Tuli I think of Boobs A Lot. I would also venture that The Fugs' politics as a band were the sort of fashionable East Village nihilist version of the late 50's, early 60's, while Trudell writes about the Gulf Wars, women's rights, etc. I have NEVER heard Trudell on the radio, although I don't doubt that some community radio stations played him occasionally. Ne also tours irregularly,m whether by his own choice, lack of demand, no good booking agent- I have no idea. Despite the fabled Long Tail theory, if you don't get airplay and don't tour, you're not going to sell a lot of CD's.
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