Sunday, December 3, 2006

"Let the band play

There are a few too many James Pattersons for comfort; but he who is writing on film for the Guardian Guide this week deserves kudos. [Incidentally, is the Guide an in-house publication, or is it entirely farmed out to the Press Association? It's just that Malcolm likes to know these things.]

Two articles over his by-line appeal to Malcolm's natural dissidence:
  • Power to the People starts from the J.Edgar Hoover and Nixon attempt in 1971 to stifle John Lennon and his early attempt to Rock the Vote. The film based on this opens next week. Patterson then reverses through other efforts to suppress pesky liberal musicians (John Sinclair of MC5, Phil Ochs, then back further to Paul Robeson and the Weavers, before coming up to date on the Dixie Chicks).
  • A lesser, but still worth a Michelin star, piece on subversion in animation. This segues rapidly from penguins as the embodiment of Republican family values to them being an animated version of An Inconvenient Truth, poisoning the nation's kids with 'a political agenda'. Patterson then chucks in the unequal contest between Tinky Winky and Jerry Falwell (TW by a k.o.), before a quick run-through of those well-known deviants, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Betty Boop et al.
There were (and will continue to be) numerous other examples, and by no means all of them involving Stalin and Shostakovich.

There was the curious episode of Eisenhower's first inaugural, when a performance of Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait was cancelled, virtually at the last moment, because Congressman Fred E. Busbey (Rep, Illinois) protested about Copland's vague Communist connections back in the 1930s. Copland was then, promptly, summoned before Joe McCarthy's infamous Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (not, Malcolm believes, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, as is often cited). Copland seemed not to have held any grudge: on his 70th birthday he received a telegram of congratulations from (by now) President Richard Nixon. Copland rescued the sheet from being used as a spliff-wrapper, saying "That goes in my scrapbook". Students of the truly absurd should seek out Margaret Thatcher doing the recitation of A Lincoln Portrait for a version with the LSO, described by the New York Times as "a mesmerising disaster" and "banal and rhythmless" by Norman Lebrecht.

Even more paranoid is the treatment of Vincent Persichetti's A Lincoln Address, which was supposed to be given a premiere at Nixon's second inauguration in 1973. Persichetti's work derived from Lincoln's second inaugural:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
This was felt to reflect on Nixon's conduct of the continuing Vietnam War. Persichetti was asked to edit out the reference: he refused. The piece was dropped from the ceremony.

In passing, perhaps because he had a tinnier ear than even Nixon, let us remember that Lincoln himself had no such hang-ups. When the news of Lee's surrender (and the end of the Civil War) reached Washington, Lincoln was asked to name a piece of music, his answer was the title to this piece, and provided a fine basis for a good song by Paxton, Bob Gibson and Anne Hills.

The irony of all this is that revolutionary music is on another plane. The BBC World Service has an estimable list of political songs. Malcolm suggests a gentle meander therein.

Be realistic: no song or piece of music of itself is likely to change history: reflect and enhance a mood, perhaps. For an example, crank up your video of Woodstock (for some reason, the video-tape version is better visually, even acoustically than the retreaded DVD). Wait for Country Joe McDonald doing the Fish Cheer and an unplugged Fixin' to Die Rag. Watch for the instant audience involvement. That's revolutionary music.

And that brings Malcolm neatly back to where this ramble started. Malcolm wants his attentive readers to pause and wonder at a curious omission: why is there no Pete Seeger version of Fixin' to Die? There is: see here, with an indication of how it was suppressed. Now there's something for any James Patterson to figure out. Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites