Monthly Archives: August 2007

Pete Seeger repents

There’s a pretty surprising and quite significant article today in the New York Sun, by Ron Radosh: Pete Seeger Speaks — and Sings — Against Stalin. Read it all, but here’s a few extracts: You need to know that Radosh had written an article earlier this year, in response to a new documentary on Seeger, in which he highlighted the old icon’s failure to ever come to terms with the crimes of communism — in particular his failure to write a song about the Gulag, in repentance for his longstanding support of the murderous Josef Stalin. Pete Seeger (who is now in his late 80s) responded to Ron Radosh with a letter.

Surely he was angry, or at the least peeved, by my article. I had been a banjo student of his in the 1950s and regarded Mr. Seeger as my childhood hero and mentor. But for decades since then, I have been publicly identified as an opponent of much of what he has believed — that the Rosenbergs were innocent, for example, or that Fidel Castro was a friend of the poor.

I almost fell off the chair when I read Mr. Seeger’s words: “I think you’re right — I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in [the] USSR.” For years, Mr. Seeger continued, he had been trying to get people to realize that any social change had to be nonviolent, in the fashion sought by Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Seeger had hoped, he explained, that both Khrushchev and later Gorbachev would “open things up.” He acknowledged that he underestimated, and perhaps still does, “how the majority of the human race has faith in violence.”

More importantly, Mr. Seeger attached the words and music for a song he had written, “thinking what Woody [Guthrie] might have written had he been around” to see the death of his old Communist dream. Called “The Big Joe Blues,” it’s a yodeling Jimmie Rodgers-type song, he said. It not only makes the point that Joe Stalin was far more dangerous and a threat than Joe McCarthy — a man Mr. Seeger and the old left view as the quintessential American demagogue — but emphasizes the horrors that Stalin brought.

“I’m singing about old Joe, cruel Joe,” the lyrics read. “He ruled with an iron hand / He put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast) / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Do this job, no questions asked) / I got the Big Joe Blues.”

Fifty-four years after Stalin’s death. Some things sure happen slowly. But it is what it is, and it’s much better than if it had never occurred.

Radosh, incidentally, met Bob Dylan when Bob stopped over in Madison, Wisconsin, where Radosh lived, on his great journey to New York to find Woody Guthrie. Radosh describes the encounter in his 2001 book, “Commies” (and he was one at the time). Dylan told him he was going to be “as big a star as Elvis Presley.”

Made to make you blue

In honor of Dylan’s upcoming tour backed by Elvis Costello here’s a clip (or play below) of Elvis singing the Boudleaux/Bryant classic, Love Hurts, with Emmylou Harris.

Emmylou sang this back in the 1970s with Gram Parsons, on the Grievous Angel album, and their performance of it stands, in my opinion, as one of the precious few absolutely perfect recordings ever made, by anyone. Ever. In the universe. One of those proofs that God exists; i.e. that it is just absurd to think that random chemical reactions could have produced amoebas that would have ultimately resulted in Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons making this record together in just this way. Ludicrous.

Costello and Emmylou don’t reach those heights at all, but it is nice all the same. And as Elvis has always been a big Gram Parsons fan, it must have been an intense privilege for him to share the mike with Harris on the same tune.

And yes, that’s none other than Larry Campbell on the pedal steel guitar.

Killing ’em

Still on a Jerry Lee Lewis kick, and it may well be terminal. Click here or below for two minutes and forty seconds of pure dynamite, as the Killer performs She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye.

To keep good form here, I’ll add this little Dylan/Jerry Lee tie-in. Writing the liner notes for the tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers that he put together in 1996, Bob Dylan referred to Lewis, to back up the case he was making that Jimmie Rodgers has to be considered as one of the very few all-time greats.

Jerry Lee Lewis once said that there are only four stylists — Jimmie [Rodgers], Al Jolson, Hank Williams and himself. Jerry Lee doesn’t give out compliments lightly.

Reports from Iraq

Ralph Peters continues his dispatches from street-level Iraq in the NY Post, with this one from Fallujah.

The extremists and insurgents believed they could wear America down. But between 2004 and 2007, two things happened: We wore them down – and al Qaeda wore them out.

With foreign fanatics butchering the innocent and enforcing prison-yard “Islamic laws” that far exceeded the Koran’s demands, it belatedly dawned on the insurgents that, while we intended to leave eventually – on our own terms – al Qaeda meant to stay.

A wave of suicide bombings earlier this year, culminating in a massive attack on a funeral procession, made the population snap. The people of Fallujah may never love us, but they hate al Qaeda with the rage of a betrayed lover.

Since May, the change has been stunning. When the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines were last in Fallujah, in 2006, they took casualties from snipers and roadside bombs. The city was violent, bankrupt and partly in ruins.

Now the battalion’s back. And welcome. Marines banter with the locals where, six months ago, it was risky to ride in an armored vehicle.

Paradoxically, the violence of the past set the only possible conditions for the sudden reconciliation. The Iraqis had to grasp that we meant business. Now the 1st Platoon of the battalion’s Fox Company lives and works in the Hadari Precinct with the Iraqi police.

Michael Yon has been delivering detailed reports from the ground in Iraq for a long time now, and has a new one today.

Over the past several years, while working into a strategic fatigue, our military has made an amazing transformation in how it conducts this war. Gone, for instance, are heavy-handed tactics, replaced by multi-dimensional counterinsurgency strategy rolled out simultaneously with targeted kinetic battles, like those recently with the 3/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Baqubah.

Arrowhead Ripper was merely the latest experience that underlines the Army’s rapidly-growing expertise. Yet the Marines have adapted faster and seem poised to win the war in their battle space. In fact, it’s been Army officers who have told me repeatedly over the past several years that nobody is successfully morphing to meet this war faster than the Marines. Of course, Army officers who compliment Marines always say, “But that didn’t come from me.”

Hubris

Thanks to Gene C. for the e-mail, subject line: “You’re a soothsayer!”

“As long as the Democrats continue to spin their wheels around that fact, they will remain effectively a minority party.”

Yeah, they’ll never crush the Republicans in the 2006 congressional race!

The quote is from something I wrote while basking in the triumph of the 2004 election. Expanded for context:

The talking point now is that the Democrats simply failed to frame their issues using moral language, as if a few Biblical quotes and prayerful pleadings would make an issue like embryonic stem cell research suddenly appealing to conservative religious folk. However, the problem is not the language used to sell a policy of harvesting nascent human life for the benefit of Christopher Reeve and Michael J. Fox and indeed potentially any one of us. The problem is the policy itself. A lot of people don’t want any part of their tax money being spent in a search for a cure that they equate with cannibalism.

It’s not the packaging; it’s what’s inside that stinks. That’s true on this and a range of issues, including the war, taxes and health care. As long as the Democrats continue to spin their wheels around that fact, they will remain effectively a minority party.

Alright: I cannot but grant that I was foolish to imply that politics as we know it had somehow come to an end. The 2004 election was pretty historic, when you consider that Bush won with the largest popular vote on record and that the Republicans simultaneously increased their majority in congress (having already increased that number in the 2002 mid-term). However, politics goes on and there is not likely to be a point when either party can be written off as unable to control either congress or the White House. After all, the response to a loss is inevitably an adjustment in strategy to try and effect a win the next time around.

Nevertheless, I would say this: The Democrats won in 2006 not so much by strongly expressing what they really believe, but more by obfuscating it and by taking advantage of Republican errors (in particular the disillusionment of the Republican base with the perceived weakness of the Republican congress). The Democrats did not, for instance, run with a concerted theme of immediate withdrawal from Iraq, but rather with just a generalized theme of dissatisfaction with the President’s handling of the war. Since being in control of congress, however, Pelosi and Reid have reverted to something more like their core selves, and have focused on forcing a withdrawal, and it must be noted that congress now has the lowest poll ratings ever recorded. So you could argue (or at least I could) that the Democrats are in some sense still effectively a minority when they stand up for what they actually believe. The 2008 election may be clarifying in this regard.

That said, I’m sure anyone else who wants to troll through the backpages of this site will find any number of other predictions from the author upon which history would now cast a cold eye. Feel free to dig them out, but please just click on the Google ads while you’re at it.

And I’d be happy to compare my rate of accuracy to the likes of Paul Krugman or Richard Cohen or some other high-profile mainstream media liberal commentator over the same time span. (I’d be even happier to collect their salaries, but that’s another subject.)

If my love is real

Twenty-eight years ago, on October 20th 1979, Bob Dylan delivered his first public performance of the song I Believe In You on the “Saturday Night Live” television show, in a moment some would consider every bit as electric as when he plugged in at Newport in 1965. His most recent performance of the same song came in Melbourne, Australia, on August 19th last. Click here for a clip.

Addendum: And thanks to Richard for his comment on the above clip.

Oh, man! Every time I announce to whoever’s listening that Bob ought to hang it up something like this comes around. Talk about a voice coming from, I don’t know, Biblical depths… If there’s a sound of a prophet speaking from beyond time, Dylan has got the sound, and it feels like it just altered the flow of blood in me own veins.

I’m Not There is here

The trailer, that is. If you haven’t seen it, you can play below. Dozens of people seem to have uploaded it to YouTube. As the titles tell it: “Inspired by true / false / authentic / exaggerated / real / imagined stories of the greatest artist / agitator / poet / fighter / genius / radical of our time.” And: “He is everyone. He is no one.” Uh huh.