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Friday, January 27, 2017

Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography by the Editors of Broadside Magazine

Country Joe McDonald surprised me one day when we were organizing an event in 2015 that he dreamed up called The Berkeley Protest Festival. He handed me a book titled "Red Dust and Broadsides", saying, "I think you will be very interested in reading this book since you mentioned that you knew these folks from Broadside Magazine". Joe said the book was edited by his friend Ron Cohen. 

Cover of "Red Dust & Broadsides: A Joint Biography by Agnes "Sis" Cunningham & Gordon Friesen". Edited by Ronald D. Cohen. Forward by Pete Seeger.

I was somewhat shocked since I had come to know them very well. I had volunteered to help them in the 1980's when they were already getting on in years. I had been reading Broadside Magazine and learning my first songs from its pages many years before I met them. They liked that I had met Phil Ochs, put him up in my apartment, and interviewed him in May 1973 while living in Washington, DC and doing social work in the school system. They published my tribute to Phil titled "Broadside Balladeer", and several other songs. My brother Joe Sadot also had several song published in the pages of Broadside.. 

"Red Dust and Broadsides" was indeed a fascinating read. "Ronald D. Cohen, professor of history at Indiana University Northwest-Gary, 1970-2005, wrote and edited numerous books and articles, many about American folk music, and co-produced compilations of folk and topical songs." is the description for one of his collections. His books about Woody Guthrie and "Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival", which he wrote with Stephen Petrus, are much better known by comparison.

Sis & Gordon

There is so much in this "Red Dust and Broadsides" book that I never knew about these two activists who met each other in Oklahoma where they had grown up on farms, where they later joined the labor movement and the then-idealistic Communist Party USA. They were the only people willing to organize the most downtrodden farmers, the sharecroppers. In addition to many stories about their childhood days, their love story is weaved into the telling of their tales. They not only met Woody Guthrie, but Sis Cunningham and Pete Seeger were in a band called The Almanac Singers with him before the more famous Weavers band came into existence and Woody was hospitalized. The other members of The Almanac Singers were Millard Lampell, Bess Hawes, and Arthur Stern. Gordon was the roadie who carried Sis's heavy accordion and did much of the booking and security for them in those early days with Woody.

The chapter titles give a good idea of how Ron Cohen approached the gathering of the information: Chapter 1: Gordon's Childhood; Chapter 2: Sis's Childhood; Chapter 3: Gordon in Kansas; Chapter 4: Sis: Youth & Politics; Chapter 5: Gordon in the 1930's; Chapter 6: Sis in the 1930's; Chapter 7: Gordon - The Almanac Singers and After; Chapter 8: Sis and Gordon following World War II; Chapter 9: The Broadside Years; Epilogue: Growing Old in New York; Appendix: "Oklahoma Witch Hunt" an engaging early piece of writing by Gordon; Afteward by Ron Cohen. 

The story of "Broadside: The National Topical Song Magazine" is true Americana as Sis and Gordon told Ron Cohen about how they met singers like Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Malvina Reynolds, Len Chandler, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Janis Ian, Patrick Sky, Julius Lester, Peter LaFarge, Nina Simone, Joe McDonald, Peter Krug, Sammy Walker, and hundreds of lesser known folk singers had their songs published in the pages of Broadside. "Sing Out! Magazine" took on the project of preserving "Broadside Magazine". They may need some volunteer help to complete that project. At this time, only the early issues are accessible in the collection. It was a labor of love involving a small community and their daughters were actively involved as well. Aggie contributed hundreds cool drawings and Jane had a major role in organizing and distributing the issues. Phil Ochs would come back to the apartment late at night from Greenwich Village with his pockets full of dollars and change from hawking the latest issues in the clubs. They loved Phil like he was family!
 Phil Ochs May 1973 Interview by Vic Sadot & Rich Lang

A very young Phil Ochs in Broadside #36 in a screenshot from the video I made from the May 1973 audio of the radio interview I did with Phil along with Jeff Lang and Skip Pizzi at WGTB Georgetown University student radio station. Click on the screenshot photo to watch it! "Phil Ochs May 1973 Interview by Vic Sadot & Rich Lang" (30:10) Truth Troubadour YouTube Channel. Phil talks about Nixon, Watergate developments, the TV show he was on the day before, and his travels in South America.

And the singers they liked sang about the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, labor and union struggles, Martin Luther King, Watergate, the dust bowl and depression era, poverty, farmers,  blacklist, strikes, and environmental concerns. They were close to Moses "Moe" Asch, the owner of Folkways Records, and were able to release a number of LP's full of protest songs. There are many historic moments which have become somewhat obscure in the public memory, but they most certainly come alive in Red Dust and Broadsides. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves political songs and social justice movements. 

One thing I did not realize was how important the financial support of Pete Seeger was to Broadside Magazine over the years. I remember visiting from Delaware one weekend and they said, "You can stay in the room Phil used to stay in". The Pete Seeger knocks on the door and walks in to sit down and play some songs. That was simply incredible and unexpected. I backed Sis on guitar sometimes, but usually she played piano or accordion.  I will close out this book review with a song that I wrote about Sis and Gordon that was actually published in Broadside #167 called "Comrades". It was never recorded, but it should be... So long old friends! It's been good to know you!

From the hills of Oklahoma like that “Dustbowl Balladeer”
To the heart of New York City and the songs you helped us hear
When you founded “Broadside” magazine, and you published certain songs
Of issues and of struggles, of social rights and wrongs
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

Too many don’t remember what they put our people through
When the “Great Depression” hit so hard and the Dusbowl blizzards blew
All the heartbreak and the hunger those poor people had to stand
Family farmers became wanderers when bankers stole their land
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

Well, you sang with Pete and Woody when the union movement rose
Did some time in Detroit city where the factory whisle blows
You wrote and sang and organized, and I guess that’s how it goes
Though you gave all that you could, now nearly no one knows
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

On Civil Rights and Vietnam the songs kept comin’ thru
On Women’s Liberation, Third World revolution too
You kept a real consistency of solidarity
And you set a fine example for those who would be free
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

Yes, you always stood for struggles that united black and white
Cause you knew that ultimately it’s the same class conscious fight
Once your forum featured Dylan, Ochs and Paxton too
And many more a troubadour who wrote a ballad true
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

You put your faith in working folks, not in some god above
And it’s clear your motivation was that freedom song of love
Yet you had no use for sentiment with no analysis
For the years of vital relevance, thank you Gordon and Sis
So here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!
Yes, here’s to you, you good ol’ comrades!

Copyright March 20, 1985 Vic Sadot, BMI, Orbian Love Music

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Phil Ochs Remembered in the Washington Post

What a comprehensive write-up about Phil Ochs that was written by Richard Just and actually got published in the "Fake News" Washington Post on January 24, 2017! It was a great and sympathetic review of Phil Ochs and his songs! It was just very odd that it would be inspired by Lady Gaga singing Phil's "The War Is Over" and that it happened in the Washington Post!

In fact, the Washington Post recently published a "Fake News" Black List or "Smear List" that included many brave and bold reporters that people have relied on for years to get news that is suppressed or ignored by the corporate empire media. For example, Robert Parry, who exposed the Iran-Contra scandal, wrote about his shock and dismay at finding WaPo placing his Consortium News and Black Agenda Report on that hit list of 200 targeted news sites! Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt by Robert Parry at Consortium News, November 27, 2016.

That observation being necessary to note, one can still applaud the recognition allowed for one of the country's greatest and long-ignored American anti-war and social commentary singer-songwriters. Of all the political singers covered at Broadside Balladeer Blog, Phil Ochs is this writer's all time favorite! It is noteworthy as well to mention that Phil Ochs Legacy Lives On In The House of Woody (Vic Sadot 8-10-15 at Broadside Balladeer Blog).

Titled "Why Phil Ochs is the obscure ’60s folk singer America needs in 2017 - And Lady Gaga should singone of his songs at the Super Bowl", the article was written by Richard Just in The Washington Post January 24, 2017. It says that Richard Just is a former editor of National Journal magazine and the New Republic. Those publications are not even "left" liberal. They are right "liberal". And those publications are part of the new "liberal" McCarthyism being deployed in the wake of the defeat of the most corrupt and hawkish war criminal that ever posed as a "liberal", namely the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, architect of mass murder and destruction in Libya and Syria. It reminds me that the right wing pro-war group called "Up With People" had embaced Phil Ochs' patriotic song "The Power & The Glory". See “The Hidden StoryOf The Up With People Singers, the gigantic 1970s singing ensemble which operated almost as a cult, performed at the Super Bowl and met with presidents and the Pope, and was quietly funded by corporations such as Exxon and Coca-Cola that were eager to put forward a youth-y alternative to authority-questioning counterculture.” So it is fitting that Richard Just would want Lady Gaga to sing that song at the Super Bowl, especially since the pro-slavery verses in the US national anthem came out as part of the refusal of San Francisco 49's quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand for the anthem.

Some Excerpts from the Richard Just article in WaPo: “Anybody know who Phil Ochs is?” Lady Gaga called out to her audience at a free concert last summer during the Democratic National Convention. Her setlist that day was eclectic: from the Beatles to Edith Piaf to her own gay rights anthem, “Born This Way.” But her decision to perform Ochs’s “The War Is Over,” a 1967 folk song about Vietnam, was particularly surprising… The song Lady Gaga performed is a good example. “The War Is Over” was composed in the middle of the Vietnam War but insists that the conflict had already ended. “One-legged veterans will greet the dawn,” Ochs sang. “And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn. And the gargoyles only sit and grieve. The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived. You only are what you believe. I believe the war is over. It’s over, it’s over.”… Ochs himself was clearly a hard-left progressive. His sister, Sonny, recently told me she thinks he would have been a Bernie Sanders supporter. One of his most famous creations — the sarcastic “Love Me, I’m a Liberal ” — is a harsh depiction of the cautious center-left… When I asked Zachary Stevenson — a 36-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and Ochs devotee, who is working on a play about him — what he thought distinguished Ochs from other political singers of the ’60s, he said it was the artistry. “There are a lot of folk songs that are very simple. In many ways, that’s the standard way to go about folk songs. It’s not necessarily about inventing things too complex,” Stevenson explained. Ochs, by contrast, “was an artist through and through. . . . I think he had a real sensitivity to melody and song and chord structure. And so he was always pushing himself to write better and more moving songs emotionally.”

Phil singing "The War Is Over"

If Phil had lived to this year, I think Phil would have become immensely unpopular, including with writer Richard Just, for attacking "liberalism" as "represented" under Obama-Biden-H.Clinton because overall it became an even more malignant form of hypocritical "liberalism" than the kind practiced when he wrote "Love Me I'm A Liberal" in 1966.

My attempt at updating the song was certainly not the only one attempted, and will not be the last. Mine was focused on the song being a "Love Me I'm A Liberal" embrace of the lies of 9/11, the Middle East wars for Oil and Apartheid Israel, and the repressive laws justified by 9/11. See also Love Me I’m A Liberal by Vic Sadot on 9/11 Truth & Justice Songs CD (2011) audio on CD Baby YouTube. 

No one can really predict what Phil Ochs would have written if he had managed to get off alcohol and did not commit suicide. I believe that if Phil had accomplished that, then he would continued to issue broadside ballads that targeted the terrible and deadly hypocrisy of the American Two Party Monopoly system. He is likely to have been upset that the Black "liberal" President Barrack Obama did not prosecute those who tortured men never charged in any court to get 25% of the footnotes put in Philip Zelikow's "9/11 Commission Report" cover-up (they got the "Knock on the Door" treatment!); that Obama expanded the Bush-Cheney wars to several more countries, including the widespread use of drones and proxy terrorist armies; that they not only did not do as he pleaded in "My Life": "Take your tap from my phone and leave my life alone!", the fake "liberals" under Obama gave the NSA the right to spy on everyone, gave NSA head Clapper a pass to lie to Congress and the America people about it with impunity, and that Obama went along with giving "Homeland Security" the means to militarize the local American police to create "capstone" false flag events; and that the "liberals" are now expounding a McCarthyist red-baiting tactic on Russia to cover up their own complete bankruptcy as corporate and AIPAC suck-ups. One writer who gives me reason to believe how Phil Ochs may have progressed is Peter Feld in "How I discovered what Phil Ochs thought about Israel" in the April 10, 2016 Mondoweiss.
 Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune - The Movie
 Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune - The Movie

Continuing with Richard Just's article in the Washington Post, he wrote correctly that: "Ochs wrote perhaps his two most haunting melodies for “Changes,” a song that isn’t about politics but rather about love, and “When I’m Gone,” which is glancingly about politics but really about living well alongside the ever-present prospect of death:

“Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone. And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone. Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone. So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here. All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone. And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone. Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone. So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here."
As he once wrote: “One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply to more people than a thousand rallies. And that -  the moral power of one good song - is why I have a pitch for Lady Gaga. In two weeks, she is slated to perform at the Super Bowl. To sing just one Phil Ochs song - to introduce millions of people to his ideas and poetry — would be both a glorious act of cultural transgression and an enduring gift to American democracy. Which song should she choose? My suggestion would be “Power and the Glory.”

“Here is a land full of power and glory,” goes the chorus. “Beauty that words cannot recall. Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom. Her glory shall rest on us all.” America, Ochs sings in one verse, is “only as rich as the poorest of the poor. Only as free as a padlocked prison door.”

This is nationalism as it should be deployed: aspirational, ennobling, altruistic. "Power and the Glory” was brilliant enough as Ochs usually sang it during his lifetime. As it turns out, however, he wrote an additional verse, which is now frequently performed with the rest of the song. It’s a statement of faith in the American people amid encroaching political darkness:

“But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate. They twist away our freedom, and they twist away our fate. Fear is their weapon, and treason is their cry. We can stop them if we try.”

Overall, I do appreciate that this article was written with so much respect and appreciation of Phil Ochs, and that some editor at the Washington Post allowed it to see the light of day. Unfortunately, Phil is not well-known to the young writers of today. But like Woody Guthrie became the heroic inspiration for the singer-songwriters celebrated in Broadside: The National Topical Song Magazine from the early 1960's to the mid 1980's, it is hoped that the songwriters of coming generations will see how Phil Ochs paved the way for them to be outspoken critics of war profiteers and slimy propagandists who manipulate the masses. - Vic Sadot
This interview with Phil Ochs from May 1973 was on an old reel to reel tape and it was not found again until 2008 when I was getting ready to move to California and had to sort through everything.

The other main item I like to share with people is the story I broke about "Phil Ochs FBI File" at the request of Gordon Friesen and Sis Cunningham. They got over 400 pages by filing a Freedom of Information request, but they were both feeling the infirmities of old age and asked me to go through it and come up with a report. What an honor! PHIL OCHS FBI File re-published at in 2010. Originally published as the cover story of Broadside: The National Topical Song Magazine in 1982 after Gordon Friesen got over 400 highly redacted pages by using the Freedom of Information Act. 

1973 Audio Becomes 2015 YouTube Video: "Phil Ochs May 1973 Interview by Vic Sadot & Rich Lang" (30:10) Truth Troubadour YouTube Channel. Phil talks about Nixon, Watergate developments, the TV show he was on the day before, and his travels in South America. 

Changes (Phil Ochs) is one of 4 licensed songs used on the "Truth Troubadour" CD released on Dec 2, 2016 and performed by Vic Sadot & Eric Golub. Hear it in full in the playlist posted at the CD Baby YouTube page for the entire 18 song CD!

United Fruit (Phil Ochs) Vic Sadot & Eric Golub on Truth Troubadour CD released on Dec 2, 2016 at CD Baby YouTube Playlist. 

In addition to the Broadside Balladeer Blog about political songs, Vic Sadot writes Truth Troubadour Blog – 9/11 Truth & Deep Politics and Berkeley Calling Blog - Free Speech in Berkeley & the Bay Area