Real Radicals Part I – Lady Gaga & Phil Ochs

I had a strange journey through the wilds of the radical and protest movements of the 1960s and 70s this morning that I had not anticipated taking. Here’s part 1 of that journey; part 2 will come tomorrow.

It all started when I was looking at the Washington Post this morning and found a great article under the headline “Why Phil Ochs is the obscure ’60s folk singer America needs in 2017. ” The article takes a look back at one of my favorite 60s musicians and his deep collection of protest and other folk songs.  Phil was famous for topical songs (Here’s To The State of Richard Nixon), biting satire (Love Me, I’m a Liberal) and gorgeously reflective  songs (There But For Fortune).  But the biggest part of his limited fame was for protest songs like “The War Is Over.”

All too sadly, Phil died by his own hand in the late 70s, a victim of mental illness, just a little before I was to discover his music.

It was that last song, “The War is Over,” that was recently covered by contemporary star Lady Gaga at a free concert during the Democratic National Convention last summer, who asked her audience whether any of them remembered Phil.

Richard Just, in his WaPo article, suggests to Lady Gaga that she do another Phil Ochs song when she provides the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl in another couple of weeks – perhaps Phil’s most patriotic number “Power and Glory.” (The version I’ve posted is of the fife and drum version, but there are many acoustic versions as well.)

I can’t imagine it happening – but good lord, it would be beautiful!

 

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Pre-class video: Elvis Costello Anne Sofie Von Otter – For the Stars

My list of favorite Elvis Costello recordings is likely somewhat different from yours:

Here’s “From the Stars” from an album of covers he did with classical singer Anne Sofie Von Otter.

 

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Dr. King – Be an extremist for love

One of the greatest honors of my life was being invited to speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. candlelight vigil two years ago at the UNK student union, along with Kevin Chaney, who was then UNK’s women’s basketball coach. 

This year’s vigil has been postponed due to weather till Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Nebraskan Student Union.  If you are in the area, I urge you to attend as we honor Dr. King

Here’s what I had to say:

Visalli-11-10-13When we think of public relations, we think of a professional in a suit trying to persuade us about something related to a large corporation. But not all PR is practiced by big business.

Civil rights leader The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a brilliant understanding of public relations during the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.

The goal of the campaign was to have non-violent demonstrations and resistance to force segregated businesses to open up to African Americans. What King, and the members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, wanted to do was stage a highly visible demonstration that would not only force change in Birmingham, but also grab the attention of the entire American public.

King and his colleagues picked Birmingham because it was one of he most segregated cities in America and because it had Eugene “Bull” Conner as police commissioner.

Conner was a racist who could be counted on to attack the peaceful marchers. Birmingham was a city where black protestors were thrown in jail, and the racists were bombing homes and churches. There was a black neighborhood that had so many bombings it came to be known as Dynamite Hill.

Dr. King and his colleagues had planned demonstrations and boycotts in Birmingham, but held off with them in order to let the political system and negotiations work. But time passed, and nothing changed. Signs were still up at the lunch counters and water fountains, and protestors were still headed to jail.

King and the rest of the SCLC needed to get attention for the plight of African Americans in cities like Birmingham.

They needed to do more than fight back against the racism of segregation. They needed to get Americans of good will in all the churches and synagogues to hear their voices.

Starting in April of 1963, predominantly African American volunteers would march in the streets, hold sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and boycott local businesses in Birmingham. As the protests started, so did the arrests.

On Good Friday, King and Abernathy joined in the marching so that they would be arrested. While King was in jail, he was given a copy of the Birmingham News, in which there was an article where white Alabama clergy urged the SCLC to stop the demonstrations and boycotts and allow the courts to solve the problem of segregation.

But King was tired of waiting, and so he wrote what would become one of the great statements of the civil rights cause. One that spoke to people who were fundamentally their friends, not their enemies. This came to be known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Writing the letter was not easy. Dr. King wrote it in the margins of the newspaper. He wrote it on scraps of note paper. He wrote it on panels of toilet paper. (Think about what the toilet paper was like if Dr. King was able to write on it!)

The letter spoke to the moderates who were urging restraint. To them, he wrote:

“My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas…. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.”

He went on the acknowledge that perhaps he was an extremist, but that he was an extremist for love, not for hate:

“But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” …

Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” …

And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”

And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?”

King’s jailhouse writings were smuggled out of the jail and published as a brochure. His eloquent words were given added force for being written in jail. As he says toward the end of his letter, it is very different to send a message from jail than from a hotel room:

“Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”

Once King was released from jail eight days later, he and his followers raised the stakes. No longer would adults be marching and being arrested, children would become the vanguard. And as the children marched, photographers and reporters from around the world would document these young people being attacked by dogs, battered by water from fire hoses, and filling up the Birmingham jails.

King faced criticism for allowing the young people to face the dangers of marching in Birmingham. But he responded by criticizing the white press, asking the reporters where they had been “during the centuries when our segregated social system had been misusing and abusing Negro children.”

Although there was rioting in Birmingham, and King’s brother’s house was bombed, the campaign was ultimately successful. Business owners took down the signs that said “WHITE” and “COLORED” from the drinking fountains and bathrooms, and anyone was allowed to eat at the lunch counters. The successful protest in Birmingham set the stage for the March on Washington that would take place in August of 1963, where King would give his famous “I have a dream” speech.[King, 1998 #552],[Kasher, 1996 #553]

We are now more than fifty years from King’s letter from Birmingham Jail. This letter was not one of his “feel good” speeches. It doesn’t raise the spirit the way his I have a dream speech did.

But it did give us a message that still matters today:

 “I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

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Pre-Class Video: Rosanne Cash sings Pancho & Lefty

Today’s pre-class video is the great Rosanne Cash singing the Townes Van Zandt classic “Pancho & Lefty” at the Kennedy Center Honors Willie Nelson concert. (Townes, of course, wrote the song, but Willie is among the many people who made it a standard of country music.)

 

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Back To Pre-Class Video: One Last Time from Hamilton

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent the last semester on a productive and refreshing sabbatical, but I’m now back in the classroom and making use of pre-class videos for students to watch as they come in.

I started things off today with the song One Last Time from the musical Hamilton that tells the story of writing George Washington’s farewell address and establishing that the United States would have a peaceful transition of power between administrations.

Perhaps more than ever this was a good way to start off the semester.

You can see my year’s long collection of online videos at my Tumblr.  Lots of fun and interesting stuff there.

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Amazing Exhibit on Publishing, Luther & Reformation at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Over Christmas break I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art that is showing through January 15th.  While much of the focus of the exhibit is, unsurprisingly, about Martin Luther and the protestant reformation of the 1500s, there is also a great deal in it on the rise and importance of movable type printing – which began in Germany in the 1450s.

While I loved the whole exhibit, I’m going to focus here on several artifacts dealing with the history of publishing that is so tightly connected to history of the reformation.

Lead movable type.

Approximately 500 pieces of lead movable type were found from excavations near where Luther lived. Here’s a sampling of them.

Book Art of Dying from 1495

The book The Art of Dying on ministering to the dying from the 1490s. It is among the earliest of the typeset books. To me, this was one of the most impressive things I saw.

Luther study Bible

Luther’s annotations on a Latin (I think) translation of the Bible. Fascinating to see him taking notes in the the margin of books just as I might. Luther, in addition to everything else, was a college professor.

Pages from Luther's German translation of the Bible.

Pages from an early Luther German-translation of the Bible. Note the elaborate hand-drawn illustration next to the opening of Genesis. Even though books were being printed with movable type, they still had characteristics of old hand-copied books.

A reformation-era political cartoon.

This published cartoon/illustration is based on a scene from a dream an admirer/supporter of Luther had. It portrays Luther with his pen knocking the crown off the head of the pope.

Luther illustration with type.

Some of the published art from the 1600s could look like something from Rolling Stone back when it was a newsprint magazine in the late 1970s.

 

And finally, just because I can, there is this…

A doctor's plague mask.

A doctor’s plague mask from the time of the plague during Luther’s youth. Unfortunately for doctors, this mask was ineffective as plague was spread by fleas and not through the air.

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When a celebrity dies, is it ok to do a brand-oriented tweet about it, especially if it’s really clever?

When a celebrity dies and you have a great idea for tweet with a  meme, should you send it out right away? Probably not…  At least that’s the lesson that Cinnabon learned when they tweeted out the image at right following the announcement of Carrie Fisher’s death. (Star Wars fans and satirists have long noted that Princess Leia’s hairdo resembled a pair of rolls.)  When the inevitable criticism followed, Cinnabon quickly deleted the tweet and apologized.

PR Daily came out with a good post earlier this week addressing this very question with some pretty good answers.  Follow the link for the whole post, but here’s their basic advice:

  1. Timing is everything.  Take the time to think it through before posting something.
  2. Make sure your team has proper training. Your social media people need to understand PR and PR ethics.
  3. Heed lessons from other brand managers’ missteps. Usually you won’t be the first person to have made the same mistake.
  4. Even small errors can be blown out of proportion online. The internet is an unforgiving place.  Especially when fan boys and girls are involved.
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Thinking about W. H. Auden on a morning in early winter

audenvanvechten1939

W. H. Auden

I have been on sabbatical this semester after stepping down as the department chair and becoming a regular professor.  I’ve been working on a variety of projects this fall – finishing up work on ancillaries for the Sixth Edition of Mass Communication: Living in a Media World, working on collecting data on sports boycotts and civil rights, working on a book review, and working on a paper on “fake news.”

But I’ve also been spending time exploring the poetry of British and American poet W. H. Auden.  I must confess I had not been familiar with his work until recently, but I started seeing mention of his work, most notably in the novels The Ice Limit and Beyond the Ice Limit by Preston and Child.  A ship captain, who falls for the somewhat mad leader of their expedition to the Antarctic, quotes Auden on several couple of occasions.

One passage is from “Musee des Beaux Arts,” which tells the story of Icarus falling from the sky after flying too close to the sun and how amazing things happen in front of us that we take little notice of:

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

A second quote comes from “Atlantis,” which deals with impossible journeys:

Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,

Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues” was famously quoted in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, and that poem is likely a contributing inspiration for Joe Jackson’s song “A Place in the Rain.”

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle she sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good

Here’s Joe Jackson’s take on the same structure:

Auden is also quoted in Tuesday’s With Morrie from his poem “September 1, 1939” (Many of Auden’s poems do not have names, only date of creation). Like the rest of the quotes I provide here, I don’t know if these are the verses quoted in the book/play/movie, but they are the lines that stick with me:

And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die

May I, composed like them
Of Eros and dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame.

 My most recent reading of Auden has been “In Praise of Limestone,” which was discussed at length in Alexander McCall Smith’s appreciation of Auden, What W.H. Auden Can Do For You. “Limestone” speaks so strongly to me in large part because I am in love with the landscapes of the American West, in which limestone plays such a prominent role. The open spaces of Utah, Wyoming, Arizona; the badlands of the Dakotas, all show what limestone can tell us.  McCall reports that “Limestone” is Auden’s most republished poem, and I will continue that trend her with just a brief quote:

If it form the one landscape that we the inconstant ones
are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of time and beneath
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear these springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region
Of short distances and definite places:

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Holiday Flashback – Sigourney Weaver & Buster Poindexter do “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

NOTE: This time of year, one of the most consistently popular posts on this blog is the video of Sigourney Weaver & Buster Poindexter singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Saturday Night Live.  So for those of you who don’t know to be looking for it, here it is! Originally posted Dec. 13, 2011.

I’ve been looking for this for years!  A 1986 episode of Saturday Night Live featuring Sigourney Weaver singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Buster Poindexter, the former head of the SNL Band.  My favorite version of this Christmas classic.  This was also the episode that featured “Alienses” and Weaver’s 8 minute version of the opera “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahgonny.”

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Alienses

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Godspeed John Glenn

Godspeed, John Glenn.

Note to my friends – bet you don’t have a John Glenn Hot Wheels play set on your office shelf – I do. Includes Mercury capsule, space shuttle, and three figures – Mercury astronaut John Glenn, Senator John Glenn, and Shuttle astronaut John Glenn.

My John Glenn Hot Wheels  Play Set on the shelf in my office.

My John Glenn Hot Wheels Play Set on the shelf in my office.

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