Mementos 6: A Tale of Four Bookstores, Following Dreams, Remembering Charlie Clements and Eduardo Galeano

Mementos 6: A Tale of Four Bookstores, Following Dreams, Remembering Charlie Clements and Eduardo Galeano

[I’m preparing for mitral valve surgery in November, 2016. One of the instructions is to bring mementos with me. The best way to do this without hiring a moving truck (Diana’s suggestion) is to put some of what I would bring with me on this blog. I can then access it on my phone. That is my goal here]

At 71 my father quit working and decided to follow his dream. George and my mother, Anna, moved to Los Angeles to be with Greta’s family and with me. The year was 1961. I left to go to college at USC the year before. Uprooted from connections to the Rosenbaum

george-rosenbaum-seated-on-a-gear

There sits George, perched atop the gear wheel, a location unknown.

family and friends in New Haven devastated him. Selling the house and packing our belongings exacted a corresponding physical toll. The person who walked off the plane and into my arms in Los Angeles was not the father I’d left behind.

There was his dream though. The 15 years of employment at Mayer Rogol’s clothing store in Seymour had been steady work, but the wages were meager and George chafed at working for Anna’s family. At home we were surrounded by books, most of which had come from what my father saved from his Corner Bookstore, part of a legendary used book section in New York. They rested comfortably in oak bookcases I remember him building in the 1940s. The only power tool he had was a drill; he fashioned them with hand tools alone. He came west hoping to use the proceeds from the sales of

george-rosenbaum-corner-bookstore-1

George’s Corner Bookstore, 120 4th Ave. in 1930s

the house to purchase a bookstore again. To do something he thought was really useful, to do something that gave him satisfaction.

We visited used bookstores around the city together – Partridge had just opened on Hollywood Blvd, right next to Pickwick’s emporium of books; we looked at Yesterday’s Books crammed into a dusty, corner space on Alvarado. And after just a few looks we realized that the dream was a fantasy: there was nothing that even the entire $20,000 could purchase. The light disappeared from his eyes, the walk slowed, and George settled into 5 years of disappointment and Parkinson’s syndrome before he died in a nursing home, debilitated with a stroke.

* * * * * * * *

Maybe my love of books came from watching my father’s hands craft those bookcases and wonder about the magic that they held. I adored one of the books on the shelves:  Jack London’s Call of the Wild.  The story of Buck resonated with me — early on it was Buck, the hero, who captured my imagination, but I think as I grew older I identified with the Thornton character and his relationship with Buck — and I read it over and over again.

call-of-the-wild

“Greta Rosenbaum”  inscribed in George’s hand on the inside front cover

That earned great praise from Anna (another reason for me to care so much for the book). Soon I started scouring used bookstores to find treasures.  From somewhere I knew that used books contained special value, though I did not know what it was.  By then I had begun reading philosophy, and especially Bertrand Russell, whose penetrating criticisms of organized religion were eye-opening. And then came my passion for Shaw, his prefaces as much as his plays. Visiting Greta in Los Angeles during summers in the 1950s, I made a habit of visiting the Goodwill Store in the downtown area as often as possible, where I’d pick up used editions for a buck or less.  I’d proudly show my acquisitions to my father, who dismissed them and therefore my ability to recognize what was good (valuable).  And then, for high school graduation, Greta gave me a complete set of Shaw plays.

* * * * * * * *

I was in my second year of medical school when my father died, and two years later I quit school. In the mid 1970s I settled in at the Midnight Special Bookstore.  We moved the store from its tiny Venice location to the third street mall in Santa Monica, vastly improving both its visibility and its size.  We immediately began planning to take advantage of the new space we had, with author events and readings and special programming around social issues. The first opportunity we had came in the spring of 1984. By then, the Midnight Special was renowned for its selection of Latin American literature and history, especially for its concentration on Central America, then in the throes of conflagration.

Our store best sellers included any new book on El Salvador. Photographer Susan Meiselas published a book of her work, Nicaragua June, 1978- July, 1979, (Pantheon, 1981) which followed the revolution to the overthrow of Somoza and the triumph of the Sandinistas. She followed this up with a book on El Salvador, the work of 30 photographers. Grove Press documented the struggles in the countries of Central America with a series of books that quickly rose to the level of our best sellers. In 1984, then, it only made sense for Gayle Browning, who represented Bantam Books, to talk with us about hosting an event with

9780553267792-us-300

The book cover of Witness to War.

Charlie Clements. Bantam, mainly a mass market publisher, had just published in hard cover Clements’ Witness to War, the account of his journey from the US Air Force pilot in Vietnam to serving as a non-combatant medic with the rebels in El Salvador. After leaving El Salvador, he testified before Congress and traveled across the country talking about the brutality of US foreign policy in El Salvador.

Born in 1946, Clements had graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent a few months in 1967 at UCLA. There he saw the campus vigils about the war escalating in Vietnam, perhaps even the same demonstrations on Wilshire Boulevard that I had seen and taken part in. Perhaps seeds of his future disillusionment were planted here, but at the time he looked at the protesters as misguided, and he went on assignment to Vietnam. After about 9 months and 50 missions, he had grown to recognize the immorality of the war effort, especially because of government lies about military operations in Laos and Cambodia. He refused to fly any more missions, was returned to the U.S., confined to a psychiatric ward and discharged with a 10% mental disability. He became a physician and, in 1980, while treating undocumented immigrant farm workers in California’s central valley, he heard from his patients about the growing U.S. involvement in the war in El Salvador. He feared another Vietnam was developing there. He volunteered his medical assistance in the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) controlled territory, and entered the Guazapo front in El Salvador in March 1982.

During the civil war in El Salvador, Charlie Clements worked as a physician in rural villages that were bombed, rocketed, or strafed daily by their own government. One day a peasant asked, “Why don’t you carry a weapon like the other doctors?” Clements explained that when he returned from the Vietnam War he became a Quaker and that Quakers believe in non-violence. The peasant shook his head in disdain saying, “You gringos are always concerned about violence done with machetes or machine guns. I used to work on the hacienda,” he said, pointing into the distance. “I fed the dogs there [in the hacienda] bowls of meat and milk even when my own children were hungry. If the dogs were ill, I took them to a veterinarian, but my children died without ever seeing a doctor. You will never understand violence or non-violence until you understand the violence to the spirit from watching helplessly as your children suffer.”

“Activists in the US [Clements wrote] . . . have always had to jump in front of the ship of state to keep it on a self-correcting course. Whether the issue was slavery, labor rights, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, or Iraq, it is the determined protests of those who will settle for nothing less than justice or peace that have altered the course of history. The moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice by gravity.”

http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/charlie-clements (supplementary information from an interview with Charlie Clements https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYCge-l-GRU)

 

Of course we jumped at the chance to host this book party. Who else had the ties to communities as well as universities to bring an audience for an author like this? And then we realized what we had done. We had never had a publication for a hard cover book (most of our customers were paperback readers). We’d never done a signing with a major publisher. We had never done cooperative advertising with a publisher before. No matter our vision for what we would like to be, inseparably connected to the cultural life of the Los Angeles basin, our insularity as a political bookstore limited our possible outreach. The day of the signing I paced the length of the store in high anxiety, prowled the front of the store to monitor that we actually had customers coming to hear from Charlie Clements,

th.jpeg

Charlie Clements

and then when the youthful looking physician, four years my junior, walked in the door and we seated him at the folding table piled high with his Witness to War, when he began to talk about his experiences — the 50 some people listened in rapt attention. Then people lined up, around the wooden table shaped, we thought, like an amoeba to have their books signed.

 

I stood to the side, watching the flow, when one person stepped out of line to talk with me. Diane Glinos was a student at UCLA and a committed participant of the Nicaragua solidarity work. She had taken flyers about the event to her school and to the organizations in which she was active. She had an earnest expression on her face, her dark, intense eyes told me she had something important to tell me, when she whispered, “Lew, you should offer to introduce Jackson Browne to Charlie Clements.”   My quizzical look as I looked around convinced her to tell me that he was standing in line. No one in line wore a placard saying “I am Jackson Browne” and I had no idea what he looked like, so I suggested that she might want to do that herself.

 

Diane thanked me for the offer, but thought it would be more appropriate for a representative from the bookstore to do this. She was gracious enough to point him out to me (without making me feel any more stupid than I already felt). I asked Jackson if he would like me to introduce him to Dr. Clements, but he told me he already knew Clements and would wait his turn in line to say hello. But, he said, “I’d like to see if you can get a book for me. It’s a book of photos about Nicaragua. . .” and before he could get any further I told him we had the book in stock and how many would he like, and would he prefer hard or soft cover. On his request I brought two copies of Susan Meiselas’ book to him. On that day, he may not have bought anything other than these and copies of Charlie Clements’ book. But after this, Jackson Browne made many visits to the Midnight Special to find the reading material he needed, to find out the information he could not find elsewhere. Of 220px-jackson_browne_-_lives_in_the_balancecourse now I had to listen to Jackson’s music, so a bought his new release, Lives in the Balance.  The music just reverberated within my brain, “There are lives in the balance, there are people under fire, there are children at the cannon,” and then the magical pipes, the Latin phrasing of the the instruments.  So when Jackson called one day to ask about some books, I had to tell him what I thought about the album.  This precipitated one of the most influential conversations I’ve had.  I admit that until then I hadn’t much considered the artistry of rock and roll.  Jackson forced me to think of the seriousness with which rock and roll musicians pursue their craft.  And I’ve thought about that afternoon often ever since.

* *  * * * * * *

Eduardo Galeano sat at my dining room table in my Chicago apartment on Lill Street one block away from Guild Books, pen poised and a stack of books to be signed at his side. Breakfast consumed, he had reluctantly agreed to sign some books in advance of his appearance at the bookstore later that Saturday, 1988.   He was anxious, it seemed, and we had been warned that his health was mending after some heart issues. We didn’t press him to sign books, but were delighted when he agreed with our suggestion that some folks might just want to purchase a signed copy without talking with him.

I sat mesmerized with the tremendous accomplishment of getting Galeano to Guild; even more amazed by the good fortune of giving up my bedroom to him and my relocating to the living room couch. How did that happen?

Three years earlier, in 1985, I’d been a bookseller at Midnight Special Books in Santa Monica, California. I had done many things at the bookstore, but in 1985 I was mostly the person in charge of ordering books. While the consolidation in book selling and publishing had been well underway, it was still a few years before the tremendous expansion of super stores. It was still important for sales representatives to call on booksellers for book orders.

Doug Hodges, who later became a national sales manager for Random House, s0ld the Random House catalogue to me then. He always came to see me early in the season. He told me I prepared more thoroughly than any of his accounts for our meetings, and, even with the smaller number of imprints under the Random House rubric than I would later have to deal with, meeting with Doug could be an all day event. Start at 9 AM, break at noon for lunch, then come back to wrap up from 1 to 3. All independent bookstores relied heavily on Vintage paperbacks, Pantheon literary and political titles. Less important for us were the books in the venerable Knopf imprint, the Random House titles and Crown and Villard were least important. Nevertheless I always combed through each of those catalogs to find the gems, which was one reason Doug came early to see me. He said he learned a lot about the importance of some of the books that no one else knew about. This day in 1985 was going to be one of those days.

In the Pantheon catalog I found Eduardo Galeano’s Genesis, “the extraordinary first volume of a great and ambitious project” reads the flap of the book jacket. This is probably part of the catalog copy that leaped out at me. And the first thing I said to Doug as we sat down to the Pantheon list was: “We want Galeano in our store when he tours for the book. He has GOT to come here. No place else in Los Angeles area would know what to do to promote this book or who has the connections to get people to hear him.”

Hodges sat dumbfounded. “Who is he?” Doug asked.

I told him about how a generation of Mexican and South American intellectuals had cut their critical thinking eye-teeth on Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (two decades later Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would choose to present a copy to recently elected President Barack Obama); how that was the most consistent best selling book on Latin

galeano-autograph-1

Eduardo Galeano signed the third volume of the Memory of Fire trilogy at my breakfast table in 1988

American history in that section of the store; how the most important Latin American studies departments/teachers in the Los Angeles area from UCLA to UC Irvine to Cal State Los Angeles relied on that book, all of whom we knew and to whose students we therefore had a direct line. And when I got through Doug reiterated that was why he came to the Midnight Special first. He had never heard of Galeano, he now had something to tell other booksellers when he showed the catalog.

But Random House was not planning on touring him, it was not in their plans at all, he was too unknown in the US, Random House could not afford to bring him from Uruguay where he lived. Excuse after excuse met my rants and raves and criticism of their short sightedness.

Random House did not bring Galeano to the US in 1985.

The situation repeated itself, complete with rants and raves and refusals from Random House in 1987, when the second volume, Faces and Masks, was published. This time, however, Doug knew who Eduardo Galeano was and thought he would pre-empt my tantrum by telling me in advance that Galeano was not coming to the United States.

At the end of 1987 I packed my Toyota Station Wagon with its rebuilt engine and its 200,000 miles and drove to Chicago to join the Guild Books staff. One of the first sales representatives I met was Random House’s Mary McCarthy. While poring over the Pantheon catalog I saw that Galeano’s third and concluding volume of the Memory of Fire Trilogy, Century of the Wind, would be published that season (1988). I guess the cumulative brow beating Random House reps had gotten from the likes of Richard Bray at Guild and me at Midnight Special must have taken its toll on the Random House touring brass.

This time Galeano would come to the US.  Richard had come to know Eduardo Galeano’s agent in New York, Susan Bergholz, who insisted that Galeano needed peace and quiet while he was here, recuperating from his illness. Some place away from what she anticipated would be a flurry of activists tiring him out and keeping him from getting the rest that he needed on what looked like a very strenuous tour. He hid out in my bedroom.

So there he was, in my dining room, at the table at which he had just finished breakfast, signing books, including all three volumes of the trilogy, Open Veins, Days and Nights of Love and War, and a copy of each signed to me, all signed “gratefully, mil mil abrazos,” and more importantly with the caricature of the pig with the flower in his mouth, a trademark he said he reserved for special autographs.

But, he said, “I will not read.” OK, we thought, we don’t want to press him on this, make him angry or more anxious. Yes bookstore patrons, our bookstore patrons, want the author to give them a taste of what is in the book and talk about it.   But here is a man who is clearly nervous about the upcoming event. So we backed off, and Eduardo went for a walk, returning directly to the bookstore an hour or so before the event was to start, declaring himself willing to sign more books in advance if we wished. And yes, we wished.

As he signed, the people began to arrive for the book signing. He was seated in the back room, but heard the commotion beginning to build, glanced into the store area, and said, “I think I will read. But I left my book with my notations in your apartment.” I ran to the building, ran up to the third floor apartment (yes, we had cleared with his agent that walking up 3 flights would not be too strenuous for Eduardo), found his book and ran back with it in time to start the program.

The crowd hung on his words, as he read in English but also in Spanish, and then answered questions, altogether about an hour and a half, and then began signing books, as the line snaked throughout the store. He talked with each person as much as the person wanted; he took pictures with the customers and their children. I stood at his side doing the task that all booksellers do in this situation: open the books to the pages preferred for the signature. And about 45 minutes into the signing ritual Eduardo turned to me with a broad but incredulous smile: “They like me. They really like me!”

Before he left, Eduardo toured the 3,000 square feet of the book store and spent some time

DSCF5075

The Haymarket monument sculpted by Mary Brogger, located just north of Randolph on DesPlaines. An abstracted wagon/platform now marks the spot from which the speakers addressed the crowd in Haymarket Square.

looking at the political and labor posters we had for sale, on display in a rack. He fingered the display, took some notes, and left. The next morning friends of ours recorded an interview with him on video and took him in search of Haymarket Square, a search that proved unsuccessful.

Four years would pass before Eduardo would return to Guild. In May, 1992 my divorce from my first wife was finally becoming a reality, my marriage to my second wife a month away, and the book Eduardo would be signing would be The Book of Embraces. The existence of the bookstore itself was tenuous as both a Barnes & Noble and a Borders had opened in the neighborhood and as the neighborhood became less affordable for our regulars. Our core clientele were moving away. We had to close one third of the bookstore and the Guild Complex, the not-for-profit literary organization we had spawned to take up the promotion of literary events, had to move (they occupied a performance space in the South Loop called The Edge of the Lookingglass. This is where Eduardo was going to read.

This time Eduardo stayed in a hotel off Michigan Avenue. We agreed to meet in the lobby of his hotel. There were some items he had to buy while he was on tour, and we could talk while I accompanied him on his rounds. We went to one of the “Magnificent Mile’s” most appealing shopping attractions, the Water Tower Place, where Eduardo wanted to pick up some CDs for his daughter and where I knew there was a small CD store. He picked up a couple of classical CDs and a jazz CD, off the sale rack at the front of the store, but then was stymied in finding the CD his daughter wanted.
Eduardo walked to the checkout counter and asked the sales clerk, in faltering but carefully pronounced words, “Do you have anything by the [clearly and slowly enunciated] Butt Hole Surfers”? A quizzical and sheepish look spread over his face as he said it, almost apologetic. But the clerk was the one who apologized, saying that he wished the store would carry them, but probably the best place to try would be Wax Trax Records (which was right across from the Guild Book Store!).

That evening at the Guild Complex at the Edge of the Lookingglass, Eduardo Galeano read to an even larger crowd than he had the first time in Chicago. And among the things he read was this tribute to Guild Bookstore, the “largest bookstore in Chicago” in this anecdote:

Forgetting
Chicago is full of factories. There are even factories right in the center of the city, around the world’s tallest building. Chicago is full of factories. Chicago is full of workers.

Arriving in the Haymarket district, I ask my friends to show me the place where the workers whom the whole world salutes every May 1st were hanged in 1886.

It must be around here,’ they tell me. But nobody knows where.

No statue has been erected in memory of the martyrs of Chicago in the city of Chicago. Not a statue, not a monolith, not a bronze plaque. Nothing.

May 1st is the only truly universal day of all humanity, the only day when all histories and all geographies, all languages and all religions and cultures of the world coincide. But in the United States, May 1st is a day like any other. On that day, people work normally and no one, or almost no one, remembers that the rights of the working class did not spring whole from the ear of a goat, or from the hand of God or the boss.

After my fruitless exploration of the Haymarket, my friends take me to the largest bookstore in the city. And there, poking around, just by accident, I discover an old poster that seems to be waiting for me, stuck among many movie and rock posters. The poster displays an African proverb: Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.

 

In 1995 Guild Books had been closed for two years, but the Guild Complex hosted Eduardo for his newest book, Walking Words. Diana and I drove him to the reading location, a settlement house in the Wicker Park area, and on the way crossed the Chicago River. Walking Words is a book of myths, some modern, some older, many of water spirits and animals, in a collaborative with Jose Francisco Borges, whose woodcuts illustrate the stories. Diana told Eduardo stories about the Chicago River, whose history included years of being set on fire from the materials polluting the waters, years of being unsafe to drink for the animals that populated the river, years of being attacked by the manufacturers who degraded the water supply and the people who lived on its banks. Eduardo listened, intent, with evident pain in his face. “But wait,” Diana said, “the river had its revenge. Last year the river refused to be contained by the man made barricades, burst through into the tunnel through which the subways run and up into the streets of the city, causing millions and millions of dollars of damage.”

“The earth has memory,” Eduardo said. “That is important. Memory is important. I want to know more about memory.”

 

We know now where the Haymarket was, where the rally was for which the Haymarket

galeano-we-say-yes-to-diana-and-lew

In his 1992 book of critical essays, We Say No, Eduardo wrote: “We say no to some people. And we say yes to Diana and Lew.

martyrs were arrested and imprisoned and executed. In 2006 Henry Holt published Eduardo’s Voices of Time, continuing the epigrammatic form he has worked with, this time “stories that I lived or heard.”   At the Guild Complex we convinced Susan Bergholz to take Eduardo’s strenuous tour through Chicago once more. He read for us at the Museum of Contemporary Art to a packed audience. For many, this was the culmination of what Guild Books had been about. For us, it was an opportunity of bringing memory, forgetting, and not knowing at all together, these themes that strike at the heart of Galeano’s work and of the revolutionary process.

May Day, 2006, just weeks earlier, I walked among almost a million Chicagoans along a route from Union Park to Randolph into the Loop and Grant Park. The steel, concrete and glass canyons resounded with the chants of marchers, many of them recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” reverberated from the walls of those buildings, the marchers swelling into the streets in a mass farther than anyone could see.

But before coming to the loop, just a few blocks out of Union Park, we came to Randolph and Des Plaines. I stepped to the sidewalk, stood in the shadow of the corner building and looked north as the throng walked by me. The contingent from one union, also looking north, paused briefly and saluted the sculpture across the way – a recreation of the platform from which the speakers addressed their audience that May, 1886. Most marchers seemed unaware of the historic place through which they were walking, although well aware of the historic day on which they were marching.

How could we bring this reality of American consciousness to the reading that Eduardo was going to do? We made sure that some of those union leaders representing the marchers and their consciousness of May Day introduce Eduardo. And so they did, and we had the chance to talk about the sculpture, the march, and that although many marchers did not know where Haymarket square was, the fact that their march reclaimed not only the memory of the martyrs but the reality of the struggle which continues.

* * * * * * * * *

My life after Guild Books led me to become an assistant manager in Barnes & Noble.On the day I received my pin for 10 years service and loyalty,  3 years away from my being able to retire with full social security, Barnes & Noble fired me for not pushing the employees to work harder.  For the first time in 30 years I didn’t manage a bookstore, didn’t have to worry about meeting payroll in my own store or maintaining a sane workplace in a store I didn’t own. I sighed with relief.  At some point after I had been forced into “retirement” I was talking with Nelson Peery, who had been instrumental in my coming to Chicago in the first place.  Don’t worry, he said, you’ll get a bookstore again, I’m sure of it.  I didn’t tell him that in the economic environment of  superstores that was the last thing on my mind.  I thought about my father’s own disappointment in 1962, and instead of bookstores I thought of what new chapter would open in my life, now that I would have the opportunity to follow my dreams of revolutionary activity. Fundamentally this story is about literature and revolution; It is about history and lions and how, by recovering memory, by making known what is unknown, the lions begin to write their own history.

 

Advertisements

Labor Day or Labor(less) Day? Thinking About A New Generation — Lew Rosenbaum

Labor Day or Labor(less) Day? Thinking About A New Generation 

Musing by Lew Rosenbaum on Labor Day 2016

DSCF0205

Detail from the Rogers Park Mural “We The People” by Diana Berek, Juan-Carlos Perez, and Chiara

Friday September 2.  The beginning of the four day Labor Day weekend.  How to think about what labor faces now, not just the trade unions which are the usual celebrators of this weekend, but about labor in its broad aspect, the class of workers including the partially working, the hardly working, the not working, the never to be able to work? Then Lynn Bremer said that that the “artist of the day” on XRT radio would be . . . performances of songs for Labor Day. At that moment he put “Bang The Drum All Day” on, I turned the radio up, and laughed out loud. I decided at that instant that not working would have to come on Labor Day itself, but until then . . .

Day One: What Is Working Class Life?

Diana interjected, as I listened to XRT’s Labor Day offerings, “The Eagle Flies on Friday.” If Stormy Monday begins the week, it’s payday when the paycheck comes and the eagle flies. YES!! Saturday we go out and play, Sunday kneel down and pray!

In between Sunday and Saturday, however, comes the workaday world.  Such a richly layered narrative of working class life in such a compressed, concise, framework,  Patty Griffin’s lyric resonates with me on so many levels. “You could cry, or die, or just make pies all day.”  Click here for “Making Pies.”

“Will the wolf survive” is the question facing us all as we find ourselves strangers in our own strange land, fighting for survival.  The visuals on this one lead into Day Two’s theme, with the migrant’s constant search for home.   Click here for “Will The Wolf Survive?”

Day Two, Saturday:  The Sharpest Expression Facing Labor Is Homelessness

This is the “Trump version” of “I ain’t got no home in this world.” At least we know where Donald learned his racism now. Check out also how it begins in the first verse: “The po-lice make it hard, wherever I may go.” No romanticism about good cops vs bad cops, it’s the role they play in society.   Click here for “I Ain’t Got No Home”

“No matter who you are, no matter where you go in life, you’re gonna need somebody to stand by you.”  Street musicians performing this song in streets all around the world, starting on the beach in Santa Monica, Ca.    Click here for “Stand By Me”

“If Woody Guthrie were alive today, he’d have a lot to write about,” says Bruce Springsteen introducing this version of his Ghost of Tom Joad.  A searing guitar solo leads into the final ” I’m sittin down here in the campfire light waitin on the ghost of Tom Joad”   Click here for the “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

Day Three, Sunday: How “Which Side Are You On?” Changes

Florence Reece sings the original mine workers song.  In Harlan County, there are no neutrals there.  Spare and sharp. Click here for “Which Side Are You On?”

Rebel Diaz launches a torrid hip-hop take on this classic. “The truth is, we’re in so much debt, the only way out is revolution or war.  So now the question is, which side are you on?”  Click here for the Rebel Diaz version.

“We’re on the freedom side” is Adam Gottlieb’s take on this song, updated to 2016 in Chicago.    Click here for the Adam Gottlieb version

Day Four, Monday:What Does The End of Work Mean?

This is the song I heard on the radio the Friday before Labor Day, part of WXRT’s Labor Day song focus, that kicked off my idea for this musical reverie.  Nelson Peery asks in The Future Is Up To Us, “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about surviving”?  I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZclddLcOYYA  Click here to bang on the drums all day.

David Coe wrote, and in this version sings, a song made popular by Johnny Paycheck.  Thankfully I no longer have to say “take this job and shove it” (though more than occasionally I remember how little my social security covers, and I think wistfully I’d like to have a job to be able to shove) Click here to take your job and shove it!

Pete Seeger sings “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” my favorite utopian song of abundance, written by Harry McClintock, where they hung the jerk that invented work. Click here to find Big Rock Candy Mountain communism!

Ali Hangan writes – The Canary in the Cage: Black Families and the White Working Class

The Canary in the Cage: Black Families and the White Working Class

by Ali Hangan

Folks,

The black population’s history is one of tragedy and triumph. On the one hand, the population has suffered over 400 years of slavery and entrenched segregation. On the other hand, the Civil Rights movement is considered an American success story. The Civil Rights movement opened up a renewed sense of optimism for the future of the black working class and other oppressed groups. But in the late 1970’s and 80’s, that spirit of optimism began to wane.

American industry confronted with increased competition from abroad, cut costs by outsourcing work and adopting automation. A large swath of black workers in the cities that were once employed became unemployed and ultimately became unemployable. Those families that could move left to the suburbs leaving the remaining population on urban islands with few economic opportunities.

The lack of economic opportunities in the urban black communities provided a fertile ground for a drug economy. Crack cocaine and the culture associated with the drug began to spread at epidemic levels throughout the nation. In the wake of the crack epidemic more intensified policing policies arose in response. The purpose of these policies was not to stop crack per se, but rather to prevent its spread among the more politically organized suburban communities. The tactics to carry out these new policies became the genesis of increased militarization of the police.

The enhanced police tactics entered into the national consciousness by black Hip Hop th-6artists. In 1985, Toddy Tee produced “Battleram” about the LAPD armored vehicle used to smash in crack houses. In 1988, the song “Fuck the Police” by NWA told the story of police intimidation of young black males. And in 1990, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy called upon black communities to defend themselves against the police.

While these songs brought a consciousness to the Gestapo tactics being used to police black communities, it paradoxically renewed old stereotypes about urban black males. With the music industry’s new marketing of music through videos in the 1980’s, they streamed images of black males as gang members into households across the country. This perception of a “black Armageddon” on MTV shifted public opinion toward support of a more comprehensive strategy to police urban black communities.

The new strategy fell under the auspices of the Federal drug enforcement policy, which became known as the “War on Drugs.” The War on Drugs began during the Nixon Administration in 1971. It was a Federal campaign for the prohibition of drugs and enhanced military intervention, with the stated aim being to reduce the illegal drug trade. In 1982, Vice President George H. W. Bush led a push for the involvement of the CIA and U.S. military in drug interdiction efforts. In 1989, under now, President George H. W. Bush, he authorized the creation of a Federal Drug Czar to oversee the war on drugs. Later, raised to a cabinet-level position by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Currently, the Federal Government spends 51 billion annually on the war on drugs. [citation]

The War on drugs has had a devastating effect on the black population:

“The US Department of Justice (DOJ) reports 2.2 million people are in our nation’s jails and prisons and another 4.5 million people are on probation or parole in the US, totaling 6.8 million people, one of every 35 adults. We are far and away the world leader in putting our own people in jail. Most of the people inside are poor and Black.” —- 40 Reasons Our Jails and Prisons Are Full of Black and Poor People, Common Dreams, June 2nd, 2015

“The War on Drugs targets Black people. Drug arrests are a big source of bodies and business for the criminal legal system. Half the arrests these days are for drugs and half of those are for marijuana. Despite the fact that Black and white people use marijuana at the same rates, a Black person is 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person. The ACLU found that in some states Black people were six war-on-drugs1times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites. For all drug arrests between 1980 and 2000 the U.S. Black drug arrest rate rose dramatically from 6.5 to 29.1 per 1,000 persons; during the same period, the white drug arrest rate barely increased from 3.5 to 4.6 per 1,000 persons. ” [Ibid]

The same process that I have attempted to describe amongst the black population is reaching into much broader sections of the working class. Since the economic crash of 2008, capitalism has transitioned into a new stage of development. The increased demands on American companies to compete in the “Just in time” global economy has compelled each to be more flexible adopting more advanced automation and robots. The results have been increased productivity but at the expense of middle-income and unionized jobs impacting many white workers.

The latest wave of economic restructuring has had strong parallels to the process that began in the urban black communities in the 1980’s. This process of decay amongst the white working class has manifested in two visible ways:

1) The surge in the use of meth among the white population.
2) The groundswell of support by the white working class of Donald Trump’s proposals to scale back protectionist policies.

The first two articles that follow focus on the black population but, should be viewed more broadly as a canary in the cage for the entire American working class. In other words, the declining social conditions of the black population provides us with a window into the future for the entire working class as a whole. The flip side is this: As more sections of the working class become equally impoverished it creates a practical basis to move beyond silly notions of race to unify workers politically around a broader class struggle for their common economic survival.

What do you think?

One love,

AH
Excerpt from The incredible crushing despair of the white working class:

“Carol Graham, a happiness researcher at the Brookings Institution, recently analyzed Gallup’s data on life satisfaction and found that when it comes to their outlook on the future, the most desperate groups are poor and near-poor whites.

Gallup asks people to rate their current lives on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is the worst possible life they could be living and 10 is the best. Crucially, they also ask people to imagine what their lives will look like five years in the future.

Among the poor, whites are the demographic group least likely to imagine a better future for themselves, Graham found. Poor Hispanics were about 30 percent more likely to imagine a better future than poor whites. The difference for poor blacks was even larger: They were nearly three times as likely to imagine a better future than poor whites.”

“Part of the optimism gap is indeed because of “a shrinking pie of good jobs for low-skill/blue collar workers,” Graham said in an email. “Whites used to have real advantages (some via discrimination) that they no longer have … they are looking at downward mobility or threats of it, while poor blacks and Hispanics are comparing themselves to parents who were worse off than they.”

And paradoxically, while some inequalities between races are shrinking, other inequalities within races are growing. Across all races, for instance, the wealthy are gobbling up an ever-growing share of the income pie and leaving less behind for everyone else.”

The Average Black Family Would Need 228 Years to Build the Wealth of a White Family Today
KPCC Airtalk with Larry Mantle: The Movement for Black Lives platform and politics

Half of US jobs could be taken by robots in the next 20 years — here’s how likely it is that yours will be one of them

The incredible crushing despair of the white working class
— “The heights by great men [and women] reached and kept were not attained in sudden flight but, they while their companions slept, they were toiling upwards in the night.” —- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Chuck Berry is a Poem (by Cornelius Eady)

Chuck Berry

by Cornelius Eady

Hamburger wizard,

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Loose-limbed instigator,

V-8 engine, purring for a storm

The evidence of a tight skirt, viewed from

the window of a moving city bus,

Yelling her name, a spell, into the glass.

The amazing leap, from nobody to stockholder,

(Look, Ma, no hands), piped through a hot amp.

Figure skater on the rim of the invisible class wall,

The strength of the dreamer who wakes up, and it’s

Monday, a week of work, but gets out of bed

The unsung desire of the check-out clerk

The shops of the sleepy backwater town,

waiting for the kid to make good,

to chauffer home

The twang of the New Jersey turnpike

in the wee, wee hours.

The myth of the lover as he passes, blameless

through the walls.

The fury hidden in the word almost.

The fury hidden in the word please.

The dream of one’s name in lights,

Of sending the posse on the wrong trail,

Shaking the wounded Indian’s hand, a brother.

The pulse of a crowd, knowing that the police

Have pushed in the door, dancing regardless

The frenzy of the word go.

The frenzy of the word go.

The frenzy of the word go.

The spark between the thought of the kiss

and receiving the kiss,

The tension in these words:

You Can’t Dance.

The amazing duck walk

The understanding that all it’s going to take

is one fast song.

The triumph in these words:

Bye-bye New Jersey, as if rising

from a shallow grave.

The soda-jerk who plots doo-wop songs,

The well-intentioned Business School student

who does what she’s told, suspects

they’re keeping it hid.

Mr. Rock-n-Roll-jump-over

(or get left behind),

Mr. Taxes? Who, me? Money beat,

Money beat, you can’t catch me,

(but they do),

A perpetual well of quarters in the pocket.

The incalculable hit of energy in the voice

of a 16 year-old as her favorite band

hits the stage,

And 10,000 pair of eyes look for what they’re after:

Cornelius Eady

Cornelius Eady

More.

And 10,000 voices roar for it:

More.

And a multitude you wouldn’t care to count

surrounds the joint, waits for their opportunity

to break in.

[Cornelius Eady teaches at the University of Missouri]

Earth Day to May Day! Presented by Workers United April 26

Global Climate Convergence:  Earth Day to May Day Celebration at Workers United Union Hall

MAYDAYbob13

 

MAYDAYbob14-spanish

Working Class Perspectives on Pete Seeger by Kathy Newman

http://workingclassstudies.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/sing-out-lessons-from-the-extraordinary-life-of-pete-seeger/

Sing Out! Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Pete Seeger

(reprinted from the Working Class Studies Blog)

th-4Like thousands of fellow Americans, I have spent the last week listening to Pete Seeger’s recordings, poring over his many obits, and inhaling Alec Wilkinson’s wonderful short biography, The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger. With this work behind me, I offer seven lessons that those of us committed to working-class justice and working-class studies can glean from Seeger’s extraordinary life.

Scholars of working-class culture have a lot to offer working-class movements. Some of Seeger’s first paid work was for the legendary folk music authority, John Lomax. As Wilkinson notes in his bio of Seeger, each week Seeger listened to hundreds of records at the Library of Congress—“English and Scotch Irish ballads kept alive in the thSouth, rural blues, farmer songs, widow’s laments, millworker songs, soldier songs, sea shanties, slave songs, tramp songs, and coal miner songs.” By the end of Seeger’s time in the archive, he had flagged a collection of protest songs that he wanted to make into a book, but “his father thought it too controversial.”But soon enough Seeger found someone like himself, Lee Hays, who had “compiled a book of union songs.” Hays and his roommate, Mill Lampell, along with Woody Guthrie, became the nucleus of Seeger’s first band: The Almanacs.  Click here to read more

th-2

Ned Sublette Introduces Los Van Van at World Music Conference in Cardiff, Wales

Thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential for sharing this piece:

From: Rockrap@aol.com

This presentation was made yesterday by our good friend Ned Sublette in Cardiff, Wales at the international world music conference known simply as WOMEX:

How many of you have been to Cuba?
How many of you have seen Los Van Van play?Los Van Van

You’re in for a treat today. Every Van Van concert is a historic experience, and today they’re going to play with the intensity of an impending storm.

In this kind of recital presentation in a seated auditorium, you get every note of the music, but it’s one level shy of the full experience. For that, you’d have to be standing on Cuban soil, preferably at the outdoor Havana dancehall La Tropical, with thousands of young Cubans putting their hearts into singing along with all the coros, experiencing the nuances of the lyrics in their faces, expressing the polyrhythms by moving different parts of their bodies in different directions, pushing the band to drive them harder. I saw this many times.

I came to Los Van Van late. Their official date of foundation was December 4, 1969, and I first heard them play live in January 1990 in a television studio in Havana, my third day ever in the country, at the taping of a TV special in honor of their twentieth anniversary. All that time already they’d been the maximum institution of Cuban popular music. I’d heard their records, though their records weren’t easy to get, given the pariah status of Cuba in the United States, which is why I subsequently started a record label called Qbadisc, at a time when there existed maybe five or ten CDs of Cuban music in the world.

You can’t imagine Cuban music without Los Van Van, any more than you can imagine the world’s music without Cuba. Havana was the first great music capital of the hemisphere. Already in the 16th century, musical ideas traveled from Havana back to Spain and up through Europe. Cuban influence has been heard worldwide ever since then, and Cuba’s a world power in music today. But following the change of government in 1959, after Cuba declared independence from the United States, a whole world came crashing down. Many musicians left, but more stayed. Technical resources vanished. Spare parts couldn’t be gotten. Impresarios fled. The country was embargoed, and, unfortunately, still is, by the United States. Cuban music had to be rebuilt, phoenix-like, out of the ashes. That process took years, out of earshot of most of the world, and it took until the 90s for Cuban music to reclaim its place on the world’s music stage after disappearing for decades into the memory hole.

During those long years, especially after the disappearance of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, during the austerities of what the Cuban government called the Special Period in Time of Peace, it seemed at times that Cubans were surviving on music. A popular song carried a lot of weight in Cuba, where media channels were few but far-reaching. A coro didn’t attain its full meaning until the entire country, from children to seniors, had sung it for a few months. People didn’t come out to hear old hits. They came to hear something new, something that would speak to their situation, and bands competed furiously to provide it.

Juan Formell began putting his coros into the Cuban air in 1968, when he first came to prominence as music director, composer, and bassist of Elio Revé’s group Changüí ’68. After a year and a half or so, he left that band to start his own group, and was joined by a number of musicians he had worked with in Revé’s band, who wanted to be part of the new thing. The first Van Van album sounds fresh today. Despite the technical limitations of the time and place, it’s a fabulous record that already contains the basic elements of the Van Van project. It was utterly experimental in the way it broke with the then prevailing harmonic and rhythmic practices. I love salsa, which is based on prerevolutioary Cuban music, but this is something else. This music took an alternative path, drawing on deep Cuban roots not to answer, but to ask, contemporary questions.

There’s a song they opened their sets with in the 90s: Qué tiene Van Van que siga ahí? What does Van Van have that it keeps going like this? What does it take to be not only the greatest dance band in Cuba, of all places, but to stay on top for almost forty-five years in that highly competitive musical environment, which among other things depends on continually being able to please the teenage dancing public?

Formell updated the band’s sound constantly – not to be trendy, but to take advantage of new instrumental and technical possibilities, as individual musicians came and went. I count twenty-three studio albums over forty-four years, and, despite an almost total turnover of personnel, if you listen to their first album from 1969 back-to-back with the last one, La Maquinaria, from 2011, despite all the changes, there’s a unity to it. Nobody else in Cuba or anywhere sounds Los Van Van. They’ve exerted an enormous influence over the bands that came after them, but nobody could copy their sound. They have a peculiar, original orchestral texture: a charanga instrumentation of flute and violins, but with trombones to fill in the tenor register. They sound like deluxe produced music when they play live.

But that’s just the surface of what’s different about them. Formell changed the rhythmic matrix of Cuban dance music. There’s a steady pulse, which people raised on rock and roll can identify with – cha, cha, cha, cha, easy for anyone to dance to. But then there are all these internal polyrhythms. Formell brought in the rhythms of the great classical music of West Africa, the batá rhythms of the Yoruba religion, into the basic dance texture. He reconceptualized the rhythm section. He popularized the use of the electric bass instead of the upright in Cuba. Los Van Van were brought electronics into Cuban music in a different way than any other band I’ve seen. They used a drumset, something you only previously saw in Cuban jazzbands and rock bands, but they used it differently. Los Van Van has had in forty-four years, only three drummers – Blas Egues, the mighty Changuito, and for the last twenty years or so, the drummer’s been Formell’s son, Samuel Formell, who’s presided over an era in which the present-day members of the group all grew up listening to Los Van Van.

Their cubanía shows up not only in the music, but also in the lyrics written by Formell and others, most notably including their great founding pianist and composer César “Pupy” Pedroso. If you want to know what it was like living in Cuba in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, listen to Van Van, who sang in the language of the people – memorably personified by singer Pedro Calvo, among a number of others — about the challenges and pleasures of contemporary daily life. Even though Van Van played all over the world, the meaning of their music was rooted in the breadlines of Havana, and their validation came at the level of the baile popular, the popular dance. Cabeza, corazón, cintura, lots of bands have two of the three, but Los Van Van has all three. One of Formell’s greatest, simplest lyrics, is a simple exhortation to dance with your heart: Dale con el corazón, muévete, muévete . . .

There have long been two streams of Cuban music – one for domestic consumption, another for export. But Van Van is both. Over the decades, they’ve lived on airplanes, representing Cuba with sabor and dignity in many of the countries that are represented here today. But back in Cuba, they always had a song on the radio. When they have a song out, it stays on Cuban radio sometimes a year and a half, until another Van Van song comes along. You couldn’t gauge popularity by record sales in the unique anti-market of Cuba, so the way you knew who was the most popular was to line all the bands up on the Malecón and see who draws the biggest crowd, and that would be Los Van Van.

In February 1996, with Cuban music at the peak of yet another of its cycles of creativity, I saw the band play six consecutive nights at the Palacio de la Salsa in Havana’s Riviera Hotel. By that point the band had been in existence twenty-six years, and they rehearsed every day, as Cuban bands do. I was present all six nights, and I realized: even with all those years behind them, each night the band was growing. I heard this happen. Each night the band was a quarter of an inch bigger, finding new places to go as they made their way through the complicated, stretched-out arrangements that they played without reading. The band that finished that six-night run was just a little better than the band that started it. This process had been going on, one gig at a time, for decades.

I asked Juan Formell yesterday what it was like – one of those dumb interviewer questons, right? – given the exceptional role of Cuba in the world, what it was like to be emblematic of Cuba both at home and abroad all these years.  He said, “to represent your country on a level like this — what more can you ask God for? I don’t think I could ask for more than that.”

I’m happy to bestow this honor on Juan Formell – composer, lyricist, bandleader, bassist, singer — but Cuba bestowed it on him a long time ago. This is Juan’s award, but it’s an award to the heroic musicians of Cuba who kept their country going, to the dozens of people who have played in and facilitated Los Van Van, and it’s ultimately an award to Cuba, which I highly recommend you visit. As Mayito Rivera sang in Formell’s apotheosic “Soy Todo,” Yo soy Van Van, yo soy Cuba.