Monday, May 21, 2012

Goodnight Irene


The song "Goodnight Irene" was written and first recorded by Huddy Ledbetter (aka Leadbelly) in around 1932, during the height of that other depression. The song was derived from an old folk song, but Leadbelly wrote his own verses and made the song his own.

While Leadbelly was in prison in the Lousiana State Pentitentiary (aka Angola) John and Alan Lomax learned about his music, and soon began recording Leadbelly's songs to preserve them as a part of America's culture for the Library of Congress. As was common at that time, the song never gained national recognition or particular popularity when recorded by a black artist. White America still mostly listened only to white performers. Long after his death, the Grammys awarded Lead Belly's 1936 Library of Congress recording of the song a "Grammy Hall of Fame" award.

The Weavers was the name of a folk music group in Greenwich Village, New York, consisting of Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger. In their early days, they performed mostly at the Village Vanguard. Soon after Leadbelly's death, in 1950, the Weavers recorded Goodnight Irene, and it became an enormous hit for them.

Immediately after gaining their first success, the Weavers became victims of the McCarthy era anti-communist witch-hunts, and were blacklisted. Their label dropped them, radio and TV refused to play their songs, and if they appeared in person they were hounded and harassed by the FBI and the right-wing. The group disbanded in 1952 because they could not find work, but in 1955 they held a reunion concert at Carnegie Hall, which sold out.

The song Goodnight Irene eventually became a classic, a standard in the American songbook.

Among other famous performers who have recorded Huddy Ledbetter's song "Goodnight Irene" are Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, the Pogues, Johnny Cash, Mississippi John Hurt, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, The Kingston Trio, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, and John Sebastian.

Different performers have altered the original lyrics of Leadbelly which, when written, were both dark and somewhat controversial, talking about the misery of disappointment in love, possible suicide. "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown," which was the inspiration for the 1964 novel "Sometimes A Great Notion," by Ken Kesey.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Malcolm X ( May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965)

Happy Birthday Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965)

Excerpts from a famous speech by Malcolm X:  The Ballot Or The Bullet.

"Feminism" is the radical concept that women are human beings.


Feminists are female humans who understand the institutional existence and effect of sexism on their lives and on the lives of all other women. All women, for example, are prey, potential victims of domestic violence from some man who claims to own our bodies, potential rape victims from strangers or invading armies. We are generally despised, disregarded, demeaned, humiliated, overworked and underpaid in all nations. There is no place to which we can escape, because the oppression is international. We are not brutalized because of something we did. It is not our fault. It is institutional sexism.

Not all men are hateful or cruel, but they are all raised in societies which teach men that women are inferior, stupid, dishonest, untrustworthy, useless past the age of 40. It takes a lot of insight for men to overcome that conditioning, but those who at least struggle can be good companions.

Women are raised in sexist societies and also incorporate the same basic disdain for themselves and for other women. We not only berate ourselves, isolate because we consider ourselves inferior and inadequate, but we also join in ridiculing other women because when we do that, we get credit from the boys.

Women turn over complete control of their bodies to men. We allow men to dictate that the only attractive woman is one who is skeletel, with plastic ballons full of chemicals surgically inserted under their chest walls, and paralyzing agents injected into our faces to freeze the muscles and disguise the wrinkles. This is now normal, not bizarre. It is admired, not condemned. Magazines routinely show photos of women then discuss how fat they are, at a size 4 or 6, because today a size 0 or 2 is expected. During World War II, sizes 10 and 12 were the standard for movie stars.

The people who run the world, steal the money, condemn people to die from illness and children to live in hunger, those who start wars and murder and rape, who destroy homes, are mostly men. Anybody wants to pick apart the legacy of teachings of a person, choose a man. No need to pick on the few feminists who have a name. It helps the bad guys to do that.

Rush Limbaugh, the deaf morbidly obese impotent drug addict on the radio, calls women who speak up for their own rights "feminazis." Many men think this is clever, so they use the term too. Luckily women are used to being ridiculed and demeaned, criticized, excluded from opportunity, and paid only 79% of what men are paid for the same job. I say luckily, because we need thick skins to continue to speak up and stand up for our rights, and against men who humiliate and demean other women.

Always remember: men were the rough draft.  Women are the masterpiece.

When will this country finally give women equal rights under our laws?


The Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1923.  It has still never been passed.  That's because the mostly-male Congress believes women are inferior, and not entitled to legal rights.  Here is the "radical" language of that amendment:  "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Social Realism


Social realism is an artistic movement which first started in the 1930s during the Great Depression. It was seen in art, books and film. Social realism rejects the romanticized view of life and instead truthfully shows poverty, discrimination, and the difficult life of the working class. Social realism discards superstition and mysticism, both of which are often featured in other films to distract people from the hopelessness of their situation.

Social Realism often focuses on critical issues in a society which tend to be denied, ignored, or covered up by mainstream media and politicians. By showing a truthful portrait, it also suggests a political message, that the money hoarded by the rich should be redistributed, and that no person should be forced to live in poverty.

Among the artists whose styles represented social realism were Edward Hopper and Walker Evans.

Most of the Social Realism work became popular before the anti-communist movement of the late 1940s and 1950s. The fact is that the Social Realism movement reflected the horrendous burdens placed onto most working people in this country, living in severe poverty without any hope, being watched over by the ultra-rich living in penthouses and spending their lives being self-indulgent.

By the late 1940s, any book or movie, any politician or social movement which called attention to poverty, injustice and discrimination, was attacked as being communistic, and people who spoke of such things would be hounded by the FBI, thrown out of work, exiled in their communities. The Social Realism movement was ended by the nationalistic patriotism of World War II, but the final nail was put in the coffin by the post-war anti-communist hysteria. Best not to speak of things like poverty, injustice, prejudice, inequality, and corruption.

In film, many of the movies of the 1930s reflect this style including Grand Hotel and Dinner at Eight. The Grapes of Wrath, both the book and the film, are typical of Social Realism of the time.

One of the best of the Social Realism movies was Dead End.  It starred Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, Silvia Sidney, Claire Trevor, Marjorie Main, and the Dead End Kids. This movie takes place on the east side of Manhattan where the ultra-wealthy live in mansions, and the poor survive in the streets below, turning to crime, prostitution and despair. No hope, no opportunity, nowhere to go.