BEST U.S. R&R BANDS

I was asked my opinion on “the best U.S. rock-and-roll bands.” My answer:

‘The Band’ was ‘built’ around Levon Helm, from Arkansas, and the mythology it plumbed was all country-blues, country-folk, Levon’s canon of music. By “best” I mean most connected to the spirit of the people, coupled with absolutely superb musicianship, lyrical insight, and ever captivating ‘listenability,’ all equaling pure songwriting and pure performance.

What I DO NOT mean by ‘best’ is flamboyant sonic showmanship — though I have enjoyed much of this as well, as with Hendrix and the Allman Brothers (with Duane). Sly and Santana were good, mainly for dancing. Dylan and Aretha were superb, each in their own idiom, but they were showcased acts fronting cherry-picked studio bands, though I’ll give Dylan credit for sometimes blending into the bands who backed him (The Band, with the ‘Basement Tapes’, and George Harrison’s ‘Traveling Wilburys’).

For me, ‘best’ is a musical ensemble that is a song-expressing integral unit that has achieved a timeless recorded body of work; and for ‘American’ that has really tapped into the spirit of its people both on its light and dark sides.

My three favorite (‘best’) American Rock and Roll bands are:

— The Doors (especially albums 1,2,4,5),
— The Band
(‘Music From Big Pink’, and ‘The Band’ being to me two halves of one double album), and
— the 1969 band in Memphis, TN, that recorded ‘The Memphis Tapes’ with Elvis Presley, his absolute best work ever.

*If the pure ‘American idiom’ were the #1 criterion, then ’The Memphis Tapes’ band+singer rates #1.

*The most underrated Doors album is #4: ‘Morrison Hotel’, which is their most unified (a favorite).
*The most avant-garde Doors album is #5: ‘L.A. Woman’.

*The ‘best’ (favorite) Band song is ‘King Harvest Has Surely Come.’
(Steinbeckian musical mythology).
*The most ethereal song of any Rock band: ‘Whispering Pines’ by The Band.

*Best stoner album: ‘Blonde on Blonde’ by Bob Dylan
(+ real musicians, one from The Band).
*Best Dylan albums: ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Blood On The Tracks’.

*Best Hendrix song/track: ‘Little Wing’.

*Best Janis Joplin song/track: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
(Kris Kristofferson song).

*Best Southern Rock band: The Allman Brothers
(with Duane Allman).
*Best Duane Allman + Dicky Betts track: ‘Little Martha’.
*Most popular Duane Allman solo: on ‘Blue Sky’
(Dicky Betts’s non-blues balladic song).

*Best ‘supergroup’ band: The Traveling Wilburys (1988)
(also, best ‘old man’ band).

*Best Dance Band: ‘B-52s’.
(most creative song: ‘Rock Lobster’).

*Best Beer-Drinking Night band: ‘Hoodoo Rhythm Devils’.
(their best ‘American mythology’ song: ‘Red Pacific’).

*Best ‘generation II southern rock band’: ‘The Doobie Brothers’.
(with Tom Johnson, and pre Michael McDonald).

*Best soul singer: Aretha Franklin (obviously).

*Best female rock-pop-country vocalist: Linda Ronstadt.

*Most idiosyncratic: ‘Captain Beefheart’, a Howling Wolf imitator
(considered a genius by his afficionados, an acquired taste, not mine).

*Most Puckish: Ry Cooder
(especially his ‘Paradise and Lunch’ album: his best?)
(a favorite, especially ‘Married Man’s a Fool’, delicious guitaring).

*Best band for wallowing in depression: ’The Velvet Underground’.

*Best frenetic unhung rock band: ‘The New York Dolls’.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

*Best album for spending the night with your girlfriend in the dormroom:
‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’.

*’The Rascals’ (or, ‘The Young Rascals’)
(‘Good Lovin’’ best cover ever).

‘Lovin’ Spoonful’
(‘Do You Believe In Magic?’, ’Summer In the City’)

*’Creedence Clearwater Revival.’
(their groove is all in their pacing).

*’Steppenwolf’ (best white trash stoner band)
(’Easy Rider’ soundtrack).

*Best Country-Pop: ’The Carpenters’
(sorry, Dolly)

*Most soporific on long roadtrips out West: ‘The Eagles’.

*Most ‘70s coke-hip cool: ‘Steely Dan’ (eh, for me).

Most amusing gen-II ‘Dolls’ style (with less chops): ‘The Ramones’.

Best Disco: an oxymoron.

CATEGORIES NOT INCLUDED HERE:
Blues, R&B, Soul, DooWop, ‘Detroit Sound’, JAZZ, Gospel, ‘50s R&R,
(Black music from which White R&R was sourced)

NON U.S. R&R Bands:

*Most appealing rock band ever, and best all-around: ‘The Beatles’
(and from the working class).

*Most pretentious rock ban ever: ‘The Rolling Stones’
(and most Tory-decadent rich hypocrite appropriators of American R&B)
(my favorite RS song: ’No Expectations’, last with Brian Jones).

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MOVIES, TV and BOOK Reviews (8 April – 10 May 2021)

“Sarah’s Key” (2011) is a superb, affecting movie. The start of its story thread is in July 1942, when the French round up the Jews living in Paris, for deportation into the Holocaust; and this multi-thread story ends in New York City in 2011, with multiple generations of several families critically affected and inspired by “Sarah,” even if they didn’t know her. While plot is certainly important to this movie, it is not the most essential element: the reverberations of tragic history through human hearts is the essence. Kirstin Scott-Thomas leads a first-rate cast. The grinding of the massive impersonal wheels of political power are lubricated in the human blood of countless nameless and forgotten individuals. “Sarah’s Key” is about one such individual recovered appreciatively to human memory.

Sarah’s Key (2011) – Movie Trailer
https://youtu.be/0AmxnNxiNWA

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“The Disciple” is about the displacement in these times, of Classical Indian vocal music, which aims to absorb the conscious meditative mind into the drone of eternity; a traditional form of sound-production stretching back over 1,000 years or more.

It is entirely outmoded for today’s youth-oriented minds that strive to remain at the bubbly sparkly superficial inconsequential level of rapid-fire bursts-of-entertainment threaded by indecipherable torrents of rhymed attitudinally hip couplets riding on bouncy jingles: mega-hits.

I listened to a tribute concert to Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, on the occasion of their being given honorary doctorates in music — which are clearly deserved (craftsmen in any field always recognize who are their best practitioners, and as they would want to be) — and which I give a web-link to.

The polar opposite of this music and video, in: pacing, sound, intent, and concept of temporality, is shown in the film “The Disciple” (the trailer is web-linked). For the devotees of American pop mega-hits, this movie is b*o*r*i*n*g — “a snore” — but if you awaken to the undercurrent of that snore: it is about the dissipation of the drone of eternity by the evaporation of modern consciousness into mega-hit amnesia.

But I never condemn any music, because it all serves a fundamentally important purpose, each such piece being tailored to the needs of the listener and the stratum of consciousness that listener is operating on. Human variety is vast, and so must be the music that instills it with spirit. Any music of quality in its type is of value, because any human life of quality in its expression is of value.

The Disciple
https://youtu.be/uIqAOGM_zZ0

Berklee Virtual Commencement Concert 2021
Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams
[1:23, about Chad and Pharrell; 6:13, begin tribute medley by graduating music students; 18:20, end]
https://youtu.be/_ePTkzYHPxA

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INCREDIBLE! A masterful exposition (by Errol Morris) on one of America’s still-living apex war criminals. The fundamental tragedy in American government is that its most successful careerists all aspire to match Donald Rumsfeld’s achievement in this regard. His close “friends”: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, all did. Americans waking up to, and taking responsibility for, that fact could very well equal the outbreak of world peace.

The Unknown Known
https://youtu.be/J-NSyMTpkYI

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“The Year The Earth Changed” is an excellent new documentary about how Nature — animals, air waters — quickly expanded their ranges and health when we humans retreated into our pandemic lockdown “caves.” Basically: people are mostly bad for all the rest of Nature.

The story is told with spectacular photography of quite amazing animal behavior: when we went into lockdown they came out! It is abundantly clear from start to finish of this hour that the way of reversing biodiversity losses, and slowing the degradation of global climate, is entirely a matter of humanity disengaging from its obsessive hard-hearted and polluting behavior, and instead both relaxing and living in solidarity with all other Life On Earth (including human): Peaceable Kingdom, with deer calmly walking city streets in daylight, and people raising fields of crops for elephants to graze contentedly in the suburbs, and whales sing to each other across wide expanses of ocean untrammeled by mechanical noises.

David Attenborough narrates with his usual charm and elegance. The film literally shows a better version of our world that is beyond the merely possible because it actually happened. We could make that change permanent.

The Year The Earth Changed
https://youtu.be/XswV_yqPq28

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DOGS (Netflix): I have seen the first three episodes of this series so far.

The stories here are really about the improvement of the “man-pack” (as Mowgli called it) by the presence in it of dogs of good character.

1, on medical service dogs for children, explains what a “medical service dog” actually is (a loyal pack-animal friend) and does (lives out his/her pack-bond by watching and protecting you; when the same is done well by humans they call it “love”).

2, transmits the true and horrible reality of the Syrian Civil War, one of the direst humanitarian catastrophes of the 21st century, through the simple story of a good sweet dog relayed by the humans he has touched (on them note: “pack bond,” and “love”), out of perilous Syria and back to his boyhood human companion, now a refugee in Germany.

3, shows an aging Golden Labrador Retriever (my family had a black one when I was as a boy), the stalwart who anchors the affections of an Italian fisherman family facing an uncertain future because of the environmental degradation of Lake Como.

Dogs
https://www.netflix.com/Title/80191036

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“The Day After” is an excellent, intelligent, realistic, and frightening movie about the human consequences of nuclear war. It was made in 1983 and broadcast by ABC Television, during the height of Reaganism and the nuclear tensions provoked by the Reagan Administration.

This film ranks with “On The Beach” (1959) and “Dr. Strangelove…” (1964) as superb cautionary believable tales about nuclear apocalypse. None of these movies has really gone out of date: can you guess why?

Of the three films mentioned here only “The Day After” despite offering the grimmest scenes and lingering over them, leaves a hint for the continuation of humanity and even slivers of civilization; “On The Beach” (my favorite of the three, a film of great humanity) is definitive about the finality of life on Earth; “Dr. Strangelove” (the funniest of the three, if you don’t think too much) leaves with a small and select group of the top U.S. leadership class headed for long term sequestration deep underground. Will they survive to emerge decades later to reconquer the Earth (unless the Ruskies beat them to it!), or will they go mad down in their hole and kill each other by and by?

It won’t matter to the rest of us, all left topside in the fallout. Nuclear War, and now Global Warming could end our beautiful Blue Planet, but they don’t have to if enough people focus their attention on what really matters, and stick with it.

The Day After
https://youtu.be/Iyy9n8r16hs

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“Community” is a TV situation comedy that is basically: gamma-level college as Gilligan’s Island. it is simple mindless American fun, similar though more sophomoric than “A Good Place.” For me, the most hilarious characters are Annie (the Mary Ann equivalent) and Abed (the Professor equivalent). Other humorists here are: Britta (the Ginger equivalent), Jeff (the Captain equivalent), and Shirley (the Lovey Howell equivalent). Chevy Chase, embalmed in the character of Pierce Hawthorne (the Thurston Howell not-at-all equivelent) seems not to be actually acting, in my view; and the Dean and Chang are too hopelessly stupid for my tastes (though I’m sure the actors portraying these caricatures must be highly skilled to be able embody these ridiculosities; too bad bad work pays so well). i watched the whole series, and shamelessly enjoyed it (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”)

Community
https://www.netflix.com/title/70155589

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“The Silence of Others” is an intense (especially for me) documentary about the efforts of the survivors of torture and persecution by Franco’s fascistic dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975), to gain justice.

The Spanish state, with many Francoists still ensconced in positions of authority and power, and shielded by the Amnesty law of 1977, resist tooth and nail all judicial efforts to provide such justice for the victims of these crimes, via the internationally recognized (and very little adhered to) judicial principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and there being no statute of limitations for prosecuting them.

My father (a Spaniard born in Cuba) had an uncle, a violinist in a symphony, jailed by the Franco regime after the Civil War (he had regained his liberty by the late 1960s).

The Spanish Civil War continues to cast a long, long shadow on the character of Spaniards, and on the character of humanity. And there are too many new reflections of that cancerous fascism flickering on today around the world.

The phrase “never again” should have been blazed on human memory many times in the past, for example searingly in Guernica in 1937, but tragically it never seems to fully catch hold as a guiding principle for human beings.

To my mind, one significant impetus to the eruption of World War II in Europe in 1939 was the failure of the Democracies including the United States to defend the Spanish Republic and stamp out fascism in Spain during 1936-1939. The retreat into nationalist comfort (as today with vaccine nationalism) and their not-so-covert anti-socialist collaboration with the fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany, doomed them to be sucked into the genocidal maelström of 1939-1945. And we are yet not free of that poison.

The Silence of Others
https://thesilenceofothers.com/

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ALSO:

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On “Tales By Light” (season 3), which is superb.

[links in the article]

Human Solidarity and Nature Conservation
11 April 2021
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/04/11/human-solidarity-and-nature-conservation/

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Don’t leave the planet without seeing these masterpieces by Jean Renoir, “the Mozart of cinema”:

“Greatest film ever made. Orson Welles said if he could save only one film, this would have been it.”

Grand Illusion | Critics’ Picks | The New York Times
https://youtu.be/rZkrioz5Zc0

The truth about society: everywhere and always.

Rules of the Game, Trailer (Jean Renoir, 1939)
https://youtu.be/qxs4P6u1EiI

See them twice, or more… many times more.

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A seminal song by Lhasa de Sela, a very talented and all-too-short-lived (like Eva Cassidy) singer-songwirter, and world-musc performer. I find this song a bit flamenco-ish (which is good).

Lhasa de sela — El Pajaro
https://youtu.be/3_WcygKJP1k

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Spy Hummingbird Films Half a Billion Butterflies
https://youtu.be/Hq3X60H7aBo

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Interesting blog on modern art:

Art & Crit by Eric Wayne
https://artofericwayne.com/

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BOOKS
“The greatest book ever written on…”

The greatest book ever, period:
History of the Peloponnesian War,
by Thucydides

The most important religious work:
The Upanishads

The most important book on ethics:
Bhagavad Gita

The closest American equivalent to Thucydides
(if that were possible):
Cadillac Desert,
by Marc Reisner

The greatest book on Buddhism:
The Way of Zen,
by Alan W. Watts

The greatest book on Anglo-American morality:
Huckleberry Finn,
by Mark Twain

The greatest book on the American Dream:
The Great Gatsby,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The greatest book on Man Against Nature:
Moby-Dick,
by Herman Melville

Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby and Moby-Dick tie for the greatest American novel ever.

Moby-Dick is for the Anima, The Great Gatsby is for the Animus, Huckleberry Finn is for the Psyche.

The most unique book that exhausted the possibilities of its style:
Thus Spoke Zarathustra,
by Friedrich Nietzsche

[excerpts: https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/05/04/from-thus-spoke-zarathustra/%5D

The greatest novel ever:
The Three Musketeers,
by Alexandre Dumas, père

The greatest book on Western Philosophy
by Plato

The greatest work of scientific writing:
[a tie]:

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein
[physical science],

On The Origin of Species,
by Charles Darwin

[biological science, and as supplemented by the works of Alfred Russel Wallace, in particular “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type,” 1858]

The greatest volume of poetry:
There are far too many poetry books worthy of that title to select just one; and we are very grateful for this.

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Remember:

Great artists funnel a wide range of culture (art, literature, music) through their own personal experiences to produce superior works of art by the use of their skill.

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Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (14 November 2020 – 8 April 2021)
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2021/04/08/movie-reviews-by-mgjr-14-november-2020-8-april-2021/

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Heartrending Antiwar Songs

What makes for a heartrending antiwar song? Is it a doleful poetic and folkloric lament, or is it a driving martial beat with piercing raging lyrics of protest? Does it need a woman’s plaintive voice to make your heart ache with pain, or a man’s fierce growl to give you that gut-wrenching sinking feeling? I suppose it all depends on your kind of musical ear, and on your own situation with regard to the hazards of war.

I will offer a sequence of antiwar songs here, which for one reason or another have given me pause. Why do this?: because I like music, and because I think it important that none of us ever forget the proper attitude towards war and the prospect of war: rejection and rebellion. Peace is emotionally and politically turbulent when you are stubbornly antiwar, because war is the grease of imperialist capitalism.

The nuclei for this project are the first two songs listed, which both pull on my heartstrings. High Germany is a Celtic song where a Scottish lass laments the loss of her soldier lad to the First World War. This particular song really gets me because the lyrics are so poignant, and because the singer — my younger daughter — does such a good job of conveying the emotion that was very real 100 years ago in Scotland, and, sadly, remains just as real all over the world today.

High Germany
https://youtu.be/2QybAQVv6jE

Soldier, We Love You is an original composition by Rita Martinson, who performed it so eloquently and memorably in the 1972 movie F.T.A. (officially “Free The Army,” and understood to be “Fuck The Army”). F.T.A. starred Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and a collection of performers and musicians banded together in a touring satirical revue performing at coffeehouses and parks near American army bases, for G.I.’s opposed to the war in Vietnam. Though I was never a soldier (by pure luck) I have been so touched by Rita Martinson’s performance, and I gratefully wish her a happy life and satisfying career, wherever she is.

Soldier, We Love You
https://youtu.be/7iMusPYq83g

As you will see below, I quote some of the commentary on these songs by people I found on the Internet, many of them veterans, who had offered their suggestions.

“The Robert Shaw Chorale sing Shenandoah, a heartrending soldier’s lament from the American Civil War. The very first, and among the very best of antiwar songs ever… We lost a lot of relatives and close family friends in WW1, WW2 and in Vietnam.” — Fred Wilson

Shenandoah – The Robert Shaw Chorale
https://youtu.be/IBH2QrUyz7o

Eva Cassidy was a gift to us from the universe, of pure soulful heart through song. She left us far, far too early. Her rendition of Danny Boy unfolds the sheer tragedy carried by the lyrics with a radiant vocal eloquence (self accompanied on guitar), and most admirably without any showy attention-seeking bombast. The lyrics present a dead soldier’s call for remembrance and love, from his grave, and Eva had the grace and the perception to honor that sentiment.

“As a full blooded Irish man who has heard this song sung hundreds of times by family and friends at weddings, funerals and every other occasion when Irish people gather together to sing, I can honestly say I have never heard it sung better and with more feeling than sung here by Eva.” — Belfastsoul

Eva Cassidy – Danny Boy
https://youtu.be/oSKM0YiU8LU

War rips apart families, and mothers, who are the hub of their family wheels, are heavily burdened with those painful losses. So it is natural for a woman’s voice to express that universal pain, and to this Joan Baez has lent her beautiful artistry and passion.

Joan Baez – Weary Mothers
https://youtu.be/hqQcaWpwCrM

If war is so bad why does it exist? Why does anyone allow themselves to become a soldier, a lethal tool and sacrificial victim in the war-schemes of the Big Money? Who, ultimately, is responsible for inflicting the scourge of war on humanity? Buffy Sainte-Marie plunges to the core of this question, and arrives at the painful truth (Pogo’s realization).

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Universal Soldier
https://youtu.be/VGWsGyNsw00

Many of the antiwar songs here are from the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, “a time I remember oh so well” since I was nearly swallowed up in it. The songs of that time which I list either had a sound or some turn of phrase that imprinted on my mind either because I heard them so many times during those bright days of hopeful youth, and stoned drunk nights of dreams or despair, or because hearing them coincided with moments of incredible euphoria or tension. Basically, this song-listing exercise is neither a scholarly assemblage of the historically significant, nor a production based on logic. It’s about visceral memories and their reverberations in songs.

Barry McGuire and Buffalo Springfield gave us clues, in 1965 and 1967, of what we high school boys in those years were in for. I was not looking forward to facing the draft when I reached 18.

Barry McGuire – Eve Of Destruction
https://youtu.be/qfZVu0alU0I

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
https://youtu.be/gp5JCrSXkJY

Country Joe McDonald spelled out rather explicitly why I did not like being 1A during 1969. The Doors punctuated that feeling of dread all too perfectly.

Country Joe McDonald – I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag
https://youtu.be/3W7-ngmO_p8

The Doors – The Unknown Soldier
https://youtu.be/6LSCoBk8hgU

“I remember the nightly ‘kill’ numbers on the news.” – Andre R. Newcomb. The evening television news broadcasts would give the awful weekly totals of U.S. soldiers killed. Totals of enemy dead issued by the U.S. military were complete fabrications, but the unknown quantities of Vietnamese dead were definitely very very high; America had the most superior firepower. Three Five Zero Zero, a song from the musical, Hair, takes off from its initial reference to a body count. Have you heard as scathing an antiwar song in recent years? And it no, why do you think that is?

Hair – Three Five Zero Zero
https://youtu.be/FAdq3Z-9bsg

As we know from President “Bone Spurs” Trump, Dick “Too Busy Four Deferments” Cheney, George “AWOL” W. Bush, and others of our immune ‘privilatti’ class who breezed past the Vietnam War, “getting out of the draft” in a culture dedicated to materialism and the instinctive worship of power is more easily arranged the more elevated your association to the economic and political hierarchy. Creedence Clearwater Revival give a spirited expression of this class-war truth.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
https://youtu.be/ec0XKhAHR5I

For the callow petit bourgeois youth of the time, like me, who felt a continuous sinking feeling of “circling the drain” before ever really stepping into adulthood and savoring the sweet fruits of life, there arose an intense desire to find somebody to love and be loved by, at least for a while before “the end.”

Jefferson Airplane – Somebody to Love
https://youtu.be/5Jj3wZVc7nw

Phil Ochs was a songwriter and political activist of sharp wit, sardonic humor and earnest humanism, whose songs were graced by insightful lyrics of literate elegance. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1976 at the age of 35 he succumbed to his own demons, and left us. Phil Ochs was a man of very keen perception, and immersed in the bubbling cauldron of intense antiwar activism during the Vietnam War, I think his psyche was eventually overwhelmed by that searing experience. I think the reason more of us “ordinary people” — those with reasonably decent moral character — don’t go completely mad over the poisonous nature of American politics and national character is because we are shielded by duller wits from perceiving the full reality of the kind of society we live in. There are hazards to being a seer.

Phil Ochs – Draft Dodger Rag
https://youtu.be/tFFOUkipI4U

“Funny thing is I’m in the Army and I don’t know anyone in my unit over 30 years old who doesn’t know all the words to this song [I Ain’t Marching Anymore]” – ‘Joe Blow’

Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore
https://youtu.be/gv1KEF8Uw2k

Phil Ochs – The War Is Over
https://youtu.be/ZOs9xYUjY4I

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, and many large, deadly and terribly destructive urban riots broke out and continued for weeks. Federal troops were called out, and the television images of them patrolling the streets of burning cities was a hellacious realization of “bringing the war home.” Up to 1968 half of the American casualties in the war were made up of ethnic minorities, mainly Blacks and Latinos, despite their much lower proportions of the national population. This was a rather ugly manifestation of America’s formative — and apparently forever — race and class war. Edwin Starr gave voice to the deep resentments by Blacks over their exploitation as cannon fodder, in his song War.

Edwin Starr – War
https://youtu.be/dQHUAJTZqF0

On 4 May 1970 the Ohio National Guard, called out to Kent State University during a mass protest by unarmed college students against the bombing and invasion of neutral Cambodia by United States military forces, fired approximately 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds at the demonstrators, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Ohio (1970, Kent State University)
https://youtu.be/68g76j9VBvM

The Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. The Vietnamese would then continue to sort out their politics without the overt highly destructive interference of the United States (the covert interference would continue). What did any of all this mean to a young American war widow? Was it worth her pain and sacrifices? Of course not, but this was always a knowable truth. So where was justice?

Steve Goodman – Penny Evans
https://youtu.be/K0I59AN_z2k

It is important to realize that the most significant reason the American government withdrew from its Vietnam War effort was because of the widespread and persistent rebellion against it by active duty military personnel, and the ferocious activism of the antiwar veterans who had returned from that war. The civilian antiwar activism and public demonstrations helped to increase a public consciousness in sympathy with the military rebellions, most ad hoc and personal. Rank-and-file soldiers who had come face-to-face with the realities of that war, and who took their Soldier’s Oath seriously, realized that their duty to protect and defend the United States was actually at odds with the dictates from their military chains of command and from their country’s political leadership. Their duty was to the people of the United States, not to one of its transitory government administrations whose policies were clearly not in the interests of the American people, even though there were special interests who profited from them.

The British Soldier is a “song about the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was written and performed by folk singer Harvey Andrews, and banned when it was released. It is based on an actual event which occurred in the early ’70s.” — SuperNutty23. “Remember Sgt Michael Willets GC of 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment whose sacrifice inspired this song.” — Archie Carter

Harvey Andrews – The British Soldier (1972)
https://youtu.be/8NpaT5LDFgM

Eric Bogle wrote and performed the song My Youngest Son Came Home Today. “When I played this during an interview on Cairns FM89.1, Eric asked me if I had heard Mary Black sing the song. When I said I hadn’t he said her version was far better, as a woman can put more emotion into a song.” — Johnson28316

Mary Black – My Youngest Son Came Home Today
https://youtu.be/1H6-OrLpiPk

99 Luftballons is a German protest song against nuclear war, written in 1983. “The premise was that 99 balloons crossing over the Berlin Wall would be mistaken by radar as an attack, causing jets to scramble, starting a war that would leave both sides in ruins. The singer, walking through the ruins, finds one balloon, is reminded of her lover and lets it slowly fly away.” – TheJenr8tr

This song, band and performance are from before the Berlin Wall fell (9 November 1989), when tactical nuclear-tipped U.S. missiles stationed in Western Europe, and similar Soviet Russian missiles poised in Eastern Europe, had Germany between them under the potential arcs of their flight paths, and also very obviously in the crosshairs of their targeting in the event of a boiling over of the Cold War.

An English translation of the German lyrics of 99 Luftballons is given immediately below; it was made by my wonderful daughter-in-law, Sabrina García, from the Black Forest.

Nena ‎- 99 Luftballons
https://youtu.be/La4Dcd1aUcE

99 Luftballons
(translation by Sabrina García)

Do you have some time for me?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Do you perhaps think of me just now?
Then I’ll sing a song for you
About 99 air balloons
And how one thing comes from another

99 air balloons
On their way to the horizon
Mistaken for UFOs from space
Therefore a general sent
A squadron after them
To raise the alarm if they had to
Yet there on the horizon were
Just 99 air balloons

99 fighter pilots
Each one was a great warrior
Regarding themselves as Captain Kirk
There were great fireworks
The neighbors didn’t understand anything
And thought they were under attack
Yet there on the horizon they fired
At 99 air balloons

99 War Minister
Matches and gasoline cans
Regarding themselves as smart people
Already smelling a big fat prey
Crying “War!” and wanting power
Man, who would have thought
That it would ever get this far?
Because of 99 air balloons
Because of 99 air balloons
99 air balloons

99 years of war
Left no room for winners
There are no more War Minister
And no fighter pilots either
Today I’m doing my rounds
I see the world in ruins
I’ve found a balloon
I think of you and let it fly….

A classic antiwar song is Where Have All The Flowers Gone?, by Pete Seeger. Marlene Dietrich, who was deeply and very visibly committed to antifascist activity during World War II, included Seeger’s song in her one-woman musical show, which toured the world. Burt Bacharach had arranged many songs of interest to Marlene, to accommodate the limited vocal range of her contralto voice. This enabled Marlene to continue as a singer during her later years, and she was quite open about gratefully giving Bacharach credit for this.

“Marlene Dietrich performed a German language version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone? during her 1960s tour of Israel. She sang in German only after receiving the consent of the audience, thus breaking the unofficial taboo against the use of that language in Israel. Many in the audience were German expatriate Holocaust survivors.” — Hollie Willetts

Marlene Dietrich – Sag Mir Wo Die Blumen Sind – with English Subtitles
https://youtu.be/YIoF-Q6yGpk

Well, the political management class of the United States managed to survive the “Vietnam Syndrome” years of popular distaste for war and opposition to foreign adventures that might require the use of military forces, mainly from 1975 to 1979, during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. But Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, was able to convince Jimmy Carter to initiate the first action of what would become our current Forever War in Central Asia: the covert arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion there in January 1980. And so Osama Bin Laden got his start.

As the US and allied wars of the 1980s and 1990s metastasized into our Forever Wars, new antiwar songs sprouted from the dragon’s teeth of pain and death sown in the wake of those wars.

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985)
https://youtu.be/Dqok5m4lqeE

Scorpions – Wind Of Change (1990)
https://youtu.be/n4RjJKxsamQ

“The video of ‘Smile Empty Soul – This Is War’ hits me very hard. I am a combat veteran who now advocates for peace. I took part in the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War, Fallujah 2004. My heart broke in that place, though it took me years to realize it.” — Lucas B.

Smile Empty Soul – This Is War
https://youtu.be/-PFk4SXpb-8

And so it goes. There will certainly be antiwar songs from other times, from many cultures and in other languages, which I would not know about. I am sure that the fundamental sentiments of all such songs are universal, because they spring from the deepest and most fundamental aspirations and disappointments of the human experience.

The antiwar songs of the pop music supernovas Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War, The Times They Are A-Changin’) and John Lennon (Give Peace a Chance, Imagine, Happy Christmas, I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier) are so well known that I feel no need to say more about them.

Every instance of war is a failure of political leadership. Good antiwar songs can help us all see this, and motivate us to find better leaders, to devise better politics, and to reawaken feelings in our hearts of genuine human connection to everyone.

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What Does It Mean To Be American?

I pledge allegiance to the flag
Of the altered states in America
And to the republic-of-dreams for which it stands,
One nation under the gods, the goddesses,
The spirits of the ancestors,
And the great unknowable void,
With liberty to imagine justice
For all.

“Are you an American?” I’ve been asked since I can remember and to this day. I’m never sure, let’s just say I’m trying.

Being born here is not enough. I know, I was, and still most Americans think I’m a foreigner. I was born in the upper West Side — Spanish Harlem — in the time of Machito. I have a black moustache (well, had) and a permanent tan “to die for” — if your skin is plucked-chicken white and you can afford the “color.” I’ve been taken for every kind of Latino (I’m Cuban-Puerto Rican), for Egyptian, Persian, Turkish, and even black.

“My story is much too sad to be told…,” Ella Fitzgerald doing Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” that’s me.

Today, there is much feverish fantasy about patriotism, and many assume a real American is the usual stereotype of the beer-bellied, baseball-cap knuckle-headed, pasty-faced palooka who drives a pickup; loves the 3 B’s: baseball, basketball and football; eats steak without vegetables; and is entwined with a tight-ass cowgirl or bimbo-fluffy suburban SUV mama, who’s got the mall floor plan imprinted in her cerebral cortex, and has mapped out decades of smothering protective love over the lives of her young: Jennifer and Jonathan, or Kiley and Toby, and is as far away from Lou Reed’s “a girlfriend named Samantha” in “Street Hassle” as it is possible for human genetics to produce. And still, such people can be real — it is not automatic — as can many a “Samantha” and her inner-urban boyfriend, perhaps the quintessential Anglo-American, the one that makes a suburban lovesick New Jersey Jewish rock-and-roll composer boy realize how much he aches to be the ultimate Anglo — “I Wanna Be Black.”

“…you have drank — of the fountains — of innocence…there’s a dream — where the contents — are visible…where the poetic — champions compose…,” Van Morrison doing “Queen Of The Slipstream,” that’s me.

Real Americans have vision not to be confused with greed, motivation and drive not to be confused with ambition, and innocence not to be confused with stupidity.

“It’s knowing that your door is always open – and your path is free to walk…” Elvis doing “Gentle On My Mind,” that’s me. “True love — travels on a gravel road…” that’s me channeled by Elvis, along with so many others.

There are many American-born fakes. The loud ones self-identify with variations on the mantra “America is Number One!” Real Americans don’t care about being a number, they care about being. Is George W. Bush a real American? Nah, he’s a fake. There’s lots like that, cheap crap passed off to a dumb-ass public who’ll pay good money for something big, loud and empty. Dubya is a real fake, of which we have lots, since big fat useless empty is a big part of fake America, which everybody knows of course, but which we still feel necessary to be embarrassed about when we think. Not embarrassed enough to stop producing them, there’s just too much money to be made pushing out fake stuff, and money is GOD, money is Jack Number One in Jack-Off Nation. That’s why Rupert Murdoch (another fake) is here. And the multi-million head penis of Jack One are the guns of Jack-Off Nation, stroked compulsively in an auto-erotic neurosis to discharge our fantasies of power. Guns of the Pentagon world-jacking, guns of the street punks car-jacking, guns on the lobotomy-umbilical TV net volition-jacking, guns in the playgrounds in grammar schools child-jacking. I’m dying, I want to vacuum every dollar out of every pocket and portfolio in the country (and those “offshore”) and light a bonfire that can be seen from space: smoke-signals to the Tralfamadorians, “Send help!”

But wait…

“Our life — together — is so precious — together — we have grown — we have growww-ow-ow-own…and our love — is still special — let’s take a chance and fly away — somewhere — alo-o-own,” John Lennon’s “Starting Over,” that’s me, that’s real America, “…don’t let another day go by — it’ll be — just like starting over…”

Yes, lots of foreigners are REAL Americans, and lots of born Americans are pure fakes. Get it? OK, I’ll keep going.

“Your love – is lifting me higher — than I’ve ever — been lifted before…” Jackie Wilson taking flight, there is hardly any higher peak of Anglo-American ecstasy. If you are unmoved, you are un-American.

Anglo-American? Yeah, “such a feeling’s coming over me…” Karen Carpenter doing the best country music ever uttered (yes, this is true). The true voice of white American imagination with heart. OK, Elvis gets in there, and James Taylor brings country to philosophy when he opens with “Something in the way she moves…” Yes, heart is the high of love, and it draws us all in. “Love me tender — love me sweet — never let me go — you have made my life complete — and I love you so…” to hear Elvis do this and be unmoved is to be from Mars. Beyond all the money-grubbing, soul-sucking scum that interposes itself between the pure American artist and the audience, is the product of genius, a direct pipeline to the eternal, the universal voice of being. “Holy smokes and land sakes alive — I never thought this could happen to me — I got stung!…”

“Get Happy,” that’s true America. Hear Judy Garland do this Harold Arlen tune to get the real feeling of being an American. A New York Jewish composer writing a Negro spiritual (sort of), and sung by a Jewish-American gamin vocal genius. Even so, love the Ella Fitzgerald version — can anyone sing better? Frank Sinatra said of Ella, “man, woman or child, she is the best.” On this, he was right. “Hallelujah — hallelujah — come you sinners — gather round…a land where the weary are forever free…forget your troubles and just get happy!…” Brothers and sisters, this is the best revival you will ever attend. Listen to the sax in the Ella version, the real thing, feel it? If you’re moving, you’re American. “Get ready for the judgment dayyyyyyyy!”

And what will our Judgment Day be like? Wilson Pickett will lead the choir in “Everybody Needs Somebody,” as the waiting and wanting rejoice at their liberation and reward. Dubya and the fakes will be clueless, but probably worried on seeing the Vietcong in judges robes behind the bench.

The Vietcong are real Americans, one of our purest strains. They are one side of the American psyche denied in a psychosis of self-avoidance, a schizophrenia of psychic amputation. Instead of throwing troops fed on Rexroth and Kerouac at them, we unleashed troops fed on Playboy and quarter-pounders at this Buddhist, Third-World side of our psyche. We saw the tragedy of cornball-fed doughboy Cain killing riceball-fed water buffalo boy Abel. Ho Chi Minh could have been the Teddy Roosevelt inversion for our times — imagine his face on Mount Rushmore.

Instead of Ho’s visage in the Black Hills, we have the Black Wall etched in tears, the scar that will never heal because truth-facing is MIA. Time for some “Highway 61 Revisited,” (“God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son,’ Abe said, ‘Man, you must be putting me on’…”), time for some Aretha Franklin (“Baby — baby — baby…”). Our artists can only point to the moon, and we could see that light were we willing to forsake obsessing about the fingers. Dance on, danzón, bugaloo.

“Good lovin’…” by the Rascals, the best rock and roll song ever. If you disagree, you haven’t heard it loud enough. Can’t take it? Then, if you’re young, you’ve not got the American pulse; c’est la vie.

But, must everything American be blaring, brassy and bawdy? Of course not, listen to the Navaho flute of Nakai, or the soaring sonorities of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, yes Bohemian and yes American. And listen to Dvorak’s musical grandson: Duke Ellington.

The pulse is deep, it is wide, it can soar high, it can connect to the navel of the world and unfurl the panorama of eternity, and it is grand, and generous and heartbreaking, like a starry sky melting into the melon glow of dawn over southwest desert mountains. The wail of fighter plane turbines drilling through that reverential space is part of real America too, but it is that part which is so easy to make fake.

So, what makes for real America? Is it historical primacy, or historical prominence, or just longevity? “The People,” ersatz Indians, Native Americans, “indigenous peoples” are the bedrock of America, the impermeable stratum to which the blood that soaked into the land settled to cake and bind into a matting supporting the overlaying weave of America that Europe, Africa and Asia have knitted into the fabric of our culture. The noises of this catastrophe, this tragedy, this miracle, are woven into the sounds of its music, its joy of Cuban son, our salsa, the lubrication of spirit, the celebration of time’s passage that bathes the soul in effulgence of inchoate insight, beating like the heart of an infant, a hummingbird, or — in slow motion — a rock-and-roller. A real American is the issue of the survivors from old cultures that have fallen away, or are kept hidden from public defilement. They are Adams and Eves, innocent, spoiled and open to inheriting the earth, ignorant, cold and witless to the hunger of the outer world crushed by the weight of America’s joy. To be a truly real American is to see all this, to be driven insane by the clarity of understanding the holocaust we unleash upon this earth, and of splashing out unhindered by truth or moral vision, into a life of maximal creativity and expression. How else are we to understand a Billie Holiday, a Jim Morrison, a Winslow Homer, a Dorothy Day?

When you understand what it means to be a real American, then you can see that most Cubans are real Americans, where most Floridians are not; that most Mexicans are real Americans while most Californians are not; and that many immigrants will never be real Americans, though probably most always were. If this essay makes no sense to you, then you are sober in your delusions, for I am drunk in my insights. Insight knows itself to be particular, whereas delusion imagines itself to be general. This separates Carlos Castañeda from John Ashcroft. If you don’t like my icons, then pick your own, just make sure they are real, like Crazy Horse and Noam Chomsky, instead of fakes like George Armstrong Custer and Henry Kissinger. If this rant makes any sense to you, then you are capable of seeing that the America that will survive into the 22nd century, in peace and security, is as remote from the America of George W. Bush as that of Mark Twain was from J. P. Morgan’s, or Kurt Vonnegut’s was from Richard Nixon’s.

Real America is like a psychic glue binding us all together across our ethnic and intellectual territories, with a common sentiment that is Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men,” Gregory Peck in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Sidney Poitier in “Lilies Of The Field,” Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and the voice of Ella Fitzgerald doing the songs of Gershwin and Cole Porter.

We all have our private-language ethnicities, some based on culture and tradition, like Vietnamese or Mexican, others being intentional modern concoctions based on identity. But real Americans connect trans-ethnically through a psychic web of mutually-held vision and appreciation. Real America is alive in the Carnivals held in schoolyards by parents gathering funds for music and art education, and library books for their children, by issuing the products of their kitchens: cookies, bundt cakes, lumpia, spring rolls and ribs. Watch the kindergartners dance the Hula!

The real America is a spirit that is too easily raped, as George W. Bush and his gang have done, and too tough to be easily overcome, as the delusional enemies of our delusional nation have assumed.

When the Lincoln of our times is found, then the many chords of real America will sing in harmony, and the fascist myopia of taxless property will fall away before a harmony of vision worthy of Eugene V. Debs. An America that fails to open its loving arms to its own cannot survive, and cannot be real. “Do I love you, do I?…” Oh yes, Ella.

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Originally published at Swans.com on June 7, 2004
http://www.swans.com/library/art10/mgarci15.html

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