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There is a song on Mary Lou Lord’s long out of print album on Kill Rock Stars in which she recounts all her boyfriend’s favorite indie bands. The song is an entertaining “who’s who” of 90s noise, pop and punk.
She wrote a sequel a to the song a few years later called “His ND World,” which references the “No Depression” Americana scene. We’re not sure if this second song ever appeared on a record — its heard here in a live recording which a friend dubbed for us.
Several years ago we produced an hour long program on Peter and the Wolf for KFLA’s Wave Project. After the broadcast we posted it here, in case you’d lie to go back and hear it. At the time we did not have a copy of Allan Sherman’s 1964 album Peter and the Commissar. Accompanied by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Sherman satirizes the state of the arts in the Soviet Union with the story of Peter’s effort to have his original theme approved by the tone-deaf commissars of music.
Prokofiev would have likely appreciated the intentions of Peter and the Commissar, even if he would have been forced to do so in private. His work after returning to the Soviet Union in 1936 was frequently constrained by the Union of Soviet Composers, a division of the Ministry of Culture. With his years of success in the United States and France, Prokofiev was often seen as an outsider and his works scrutinized for “anti-democratic” or formalist expressions.
Prior to producing Peter and the Wolf, Prokofiev composed a cycle of piano pieces for children about which we previously posted here. His work in the following period fit firmly within the strictures of Soviet realism, including the collection of mass songs using the works of Ministry sanction poets and the score to Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky. This was rearranged in cantata form the following year and, along with his music from Lieutenant Kije, was one of the first film scores to become accepted as essential canon.
Sherman had his own struggles, although they were not as severe as those faced by composers in the Soviet Union. His was often refused the rights to release his song parodies by the likes of Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers or the Gershwins. This is one of the reasons he used songs by lesser-known composers as the subject of his satires, such as Marchetti and Féraudy, French songwriters whose “Fascination” Sherman reworked as “Automation.”
School starts earlier in Minneapolis than we’d like — between the cool weather and the rumble of school busses, you’d think it was already September. Kids are waiting on street corners all over the city, with cold lunches and new shoes and their annual tithing of school supplies. Usually this is when we post a classic anthem of rebellion like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” or “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” by Pink Floyd.
But once again we thought we’d go in a different direction…
Today’s post returns to Pete Seeger’s 1958 Folkways LP, Gazette, a collection of twenty topical songs which remain surprisingly relevant all these years later. We are also fortunate that this nearly sixty year old record remains surprisingly playable as well.
Seeger was a music teacher for a time during the years he, as a member of the Weavers, was blacklisted from radio and television and found booking difficult. Imagine sending your children to summer camp to have their counselor be the legendary Pete Seeger!
His song “42 Kids” describes the work and passion of a teacher through the melody of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” a song which was a #1 hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford a couple years before Seeger recorded the songs on Gazette.
March may seem like a long time ago, but the decisions that Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff announced then may have affect life inside your neighborhood school this week. Announcing plans to cover a $28 million budget gap, Graff planned to maintain current class sizes in keeping with the voters’ wishes expressed in a 2008 referendum. Most schools in Minneapolis saw staff reductions going into this starting school year, a subject which has made for at least one contentious and emotional school board meeting this summer.
We have two kids returning to Minneapolis Public Schools this morning. They have had an incredible and positive experience and we are very optimistic that will continue into this coming school year. We hope the same for all of you readers with your own kids starting school today (and we’re jealous of those of you whose school districts don’t start until next week!) and we’re thankful for all the Minneapolis teachers who have worked so hard to have everything ready for today.
Recent events in North Carolina are a mere skirmish compared to what happened on January 18, 1958. On that evening a Klan rally was welcomed by more than five hundred Lumbee men, members of a state-recognized tribe. The cross burning was interrupted and the Klansmen scattered — their ‘grand dragon’ James W. “Catfish” Cole abandoning his wife in his flee for safety.
Two of the Lumbee men, one a World War II veteran, appeared in the following week’s Life magazine proudly displaying a Klan banner. The events were celebrated in song by Malvina Reynolds, later appearing on a great album called Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth. A copy this which was here in the record shop until yesterday, but before we could record “Battle of Maxton Field” someone purchased it. Fortunately for the purpose of this post the song was also sung by Pete Seeger on his album Gazette so there’s a recording we can share with you today.
A sweet sounding, sardonically biting satire of the Ku Klux Klan from 1966 has an unsettling relevance today. “Your Friendly, Liberal Neighborhood Ku Klux Klan” by the Chad Mitchell Trio lampooned the Klan’s effort to present itself as anything other than a terrorist organization in the 1960s. You may recognize one of the voices in this recording: it’s John Denver early in his career.
Satisfying as satire can be, the Klan caused terror in many parts of the country in the early 60s. After the murder of civil rights activist Viola Luizzo, who left behind five children at home in Detroit when she went to participate in the Selma to Montgomery Marches, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation with clear language after he made history as the first President since Ulysses S. Grant to prosecute members of the KKK. Addressing the nation he called the organization “hooded society of bigots,” and “terrorists.”
We’ll leave today’s post with a song more fitting to the terror the Klan has brought to this country for far too long. Richie Havens recorded “The Klan” on his second album, Something Else Again. It was first written by Alan and David Arkin. We think of Alan Arkin as the merciless criminal in Wait Until Dark or the retirement home evictee from Little Miss Sunshine, but before he was an actor Arkin was a folk singer with the revival group The Tarriers. Havens performs the song with his characteristic fervor, effectively captures some of the fear caused by this terrorist organization.
There is a book inside this LP commemorating the golden anniversary of the Panama Canal, which was in 1964. The forty-eight mile waterway opened for passage on August 15, 1914 (we’re a couple days late to celebrate its birthday) after a decade of construction. It is commonly considered one of the largest engineering projects ever undertaken.
According to the book, the project involved the excavation of more than 276 million cubic yards of earth, and an investment by the US Government of a half a billion dollars. If you are thinking that this seems like a bargain compared to the proposed wall along our southern border, which has been estimated at costing anywhere from twenty to seventy-five billion, do not forget to adjust for inflation. Even after this, a $14 billion Panama Canal would be a far wiser investment than the proposed wall, and still a deal compared to the Chinese canal project currently underway in Nicaragua.
This may lead you to ask why we don’t build a canal along the southern border, if we’re going to build anything at all. Eighty percent of the proposed wall will sit within the Rio Grande Valley, so why not deepen this famously shallow river and excavate the remaining distance? Earlier this year The Weekly Standard made an entertaining and compelling argument for the idea, which among other things would make El Paso into a port city.
The other thing you may be wondering after all this is whether we ever listened to the record, or if this was all an excuse to propose a pan-American Canal. Yes, and the record features the delightful music of Lucho Azcarraga. The Panamanian keyboardist was a child prodigy born two years before the canal opened. Throughout his long career, he enjoyed popularity in the United States beginning with the boom in latin dance groups in the 1930s. Azcarraga passed away in 1996.
Here is a medley of three popular Panamanian songs from this album, arranged by Azcarraga.