It was just another pre-show Saturday night as I drove through suburbia to find the house I’d performed at two years ago. I was in Georgetown. The streets were very quiet. The hosts of the house concert series had invited me back for another concert, outside of the formal Home Routes Series they are a part of. A very nice gesture indeed. Oh…you don’t know about Home Routes? You should. I won’t waste your time try to explain the why’s, the wherefore’s and the significance of it all – just read all about it here: http://www.homeroutes.ca/
As is custom with house concerts, we shared some time discussing other artists who performed the series, life at home, on the road, music, literature…you name it. I made my way into the living room to set up for the concert and tucked into the bottom right hand corner of a picture frame I notice a hockey card. Wait a minute – that’s not The Rocket? A first glance the guy in the shot surrounded by two spectacular women had that slick beatnik vibe. This guy wasn’t a hockey player – this guy was real business. “Who is that on the hockey card?” I yelled. “Jay, take it out of the frame and read it!”
It turns out, the house concert organizer has followed the career of Mitch Podolak with some interest. The founder of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and Home Routes, Mitch quietly works away to this day in Winnipeg from his Home Routes office. I won’t profess to know Mitch beyond our basic interpretations of each other, but man did I laugh when saw this card. Wish I more info on the genesis of this – the other candidates in the series etc… I love it.
I demanded a quick snapshot of the front and back for all of my friends on here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Below the picture (only when you have a lot of time) I urge you to re-read an interesting dialogue between Mitch, myself and others that took place about a month ago.
It’s important to know that I was introduced to Hegel, Trotsky, Lenin, Marx et al through my eleventh grade history teacher. It made an impact. I’ve even once had a reviewer say my songs work in the ‘theory of the dialectic’ – meaning they start with a basic premise, then the premise is challenged and the discourse is the filler. Make sense? I was astounded to hear this from a reviewer as it was the second time anyone had made that connection. The other one was a girlfriend who was really into critiquing my work. Bravo. It’s true.
I was introduced to the Communist Manifesto through my second year university poli-sci prof who was on the ‘watchdog list’ at the time for being a good-old subversive right in the epicentre of one our main cultural institutions. A great guy – candid, funny, insightful, helpful – and possessing very appealing notions for the twenty-year old mind set. Hell, I used to think if you’re not a borderline anarchist when you’re twenty years old you must have a problem. That’s your job at twenty years old. You should be questioning everything – tearing down existing truths – getting political – and expressing it in any way possible. Yes, the Manifesto should appeal to these sensibilities more than Leviathan and others. (In my humble opinion).
A few years later I really dug into the works of Woody and Pete. We’ve discussed it before, but suffice to say, the world is a much better place for their contributions. We need strong voices who care. For every folk songwriter I’ve met on the trail – for every one of you who have maintained the trail for us – and for you who come to listen and help spread the good word: Thank you!
And now…if you still have twenty minutes to spare please read my blog, Mitch’s letter to me (which he graciously allowed me to repost) and some other interesting comments from folks around the globe.
Here is the original blog: https://jayaymar.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/this-fascist-kills-machines-or-something-like-that/
And here is a response from Mitch:
Interesting piece. I understand the cynicism about being linked to causes that you’re not sure about or in fact don’t agree with. What’s really true is that very often people take a stand they don’t understand, in my opinion Rocket Launcher is a good example. What Bruce had to say about it sounded good at the time, given the opportunity to fire a rocket launcher at an Army Helicopter in Guatemala that was attacking civilians, I doubt Bruce would. Killing fascists, It’s a matter of belief and steely eyed courage. With a rocket launcher or a baseball bat, it’s a really good idea. Ask my dead relatives about fascists. Really interesting song in retrospect.
Every once in a while I read a piece like yours which if I understand it correctly says “I’m a writer and I’m working hard and struggling and I’m essentially not political and I in some ways resent the inherited and implied politics of the folk scene being thrust on me which is why I have herein parodied the words written on the guitar of the most universally respected and iconized folk writer probably in history who happened to be very political”. Is that a fair analysis? If not read no further. I’m writing out of respect not from an argumentive head space.
Some years ago I was talking about Pete Seeger at the Winnipeg Festival, back in the days when I was running it, he was there that year, on the other side of a canvas wall, unknown to me was Norman Blake and Bryan Bowers. Bowers is an old friend of mine and he told me this story. Norman Blake hated Seeger because Seeger was a red. Norman writes all these very touching political songs about working folks in Appalachia but as a high school product of McCarthyism, he couldn’t draw the line between what he believes and Pete’s beliefs, which when brought down to the short hairs, are not that different. They weren’t spying on me on purpose, it just happened. I was so pleased that Seeger had showed up that I was gushing to a reporter and Blake went ballistic, he went back to the hotel because he was so pissed at me. A couple of days later he was doing a concert in Calgary at one of the clubs and he attacked Pete, red baited Pete from that stage and half the audience got up and left and a couple of folks told him to fuck off. Bowers asked me about it a year later when I next saw him. I didn’t know about them being on the other side of the canvas wall until then, I did know about the Calgary deal and I was as curious about Normans reaction. Bowers was curious about my reaction. I didn’t know what to say so I presented to Bowers a small historical outline that I’m going to present to you for your consideration.
The entire existence of the folk music market place in North America is, in the long term, a direct result of the work of the American Communist Party. Coming from a European tradition where folk music was more closely linked to the working class, the leadership of the CPUSA was looking for a link to American workers and some wag in Moscow thought it was a great idea so the Party started Sing Out magazine and Peoples Songs and the Almanac Singers and they literally made folk music the political assignment of Pete and Woody and whole bunch of others. For the most part, with the exception of providing a musical soundtrack to the rise of the CIO and directly to the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement, the American Communist Party was bypassed and never got out of it what they put into it. They never made that emotional connection with the mass of American workers though their ranks rose to 175, 000 members in the USA in 1947. This is what brought on McCarthyism.
The period I’m referring to is 1945-1975. This is the time we often hear bandied about as the “urban folk revival” which is because the CPUSA got a bunch of urban intellectual’s interested in folk music and the whole thing took on a life of its own. City people started getting interested in the banjo because Pete played the banjo and once they started learning how to play, they discovered the traditional side of folk music and then discovered Mike Seeger. It was a wonderful convergence of ideas and history. Some of those people started the Newport and Philadelphia folk festivals which started to create a mass (relatively) audience for folk music. Estelle Klein who really established Mariposa as a big deal came through the same communist front Jewish organization that my folks came through and so did Gary Cristall (Vancouver Folk Fest). A huge amount of the infrastructure ground work for the entire North American folk scene was done by Commies or their kids. It just happened that way. A number of festivals, Home Routes, the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival and the west End Cultural Centre owes its historical existence to the fact that I’m a Seegerite etc.
Political music is a major component of what we refer to as folk music. The body of work is immense. We have the last 500 years pretty much covered.
I don’t know whether you resist that “folk” designation as a writer, I think you’re a great folk writer, but whatever you choose, the fact that you as an artist, starving or momentarily with resources, the gigs and the existence of many of the gigs you and your many colleagues get to play, are the historical rebounds from that CPUSA led initiative in the late 1940’s.
All of which brings me to the point that “This Machine Kills Fascists” needs to be respected.
Your friend and fan,
IF YOU’RE STILL READING…wow…YOUR ATTENTION SPAN IS BETTER THAN MINE. Here is my re-post back:
first off I’ll thank you for taking the time to write a considerate, literate piece and appreciate the fact that you’ve responded so thoroughly and respectfully. The Norman Blake story blows me away. I can feel the essence of the times through that anecdote. I’m not familiar with Blake’s work yet AM 100% familiar with Pete Seeger’s work. I’d love to drill down deep enough to find out the nuanced differences in their collective work. That would be interesting. Time consuming yet likely fun!
You are not incorrect to make some of the assumptions you have of me Mitch. I don’t feel I necessarily ‘resent’ that the folk world has put the pressure of owning politics onto me. I’m OK with that on many levels. In fact, most of my favourite writers are extremely political and I own that proudly. Many of those artists, conversely have songs which don’t work for me within the context of their artistry.
My own father sat in an Acadian schoolhouse at 18 years of age in Digby NS in 1939. The recruiting officer said they’d all be home from the war in a matter of months and that ‘the girls in England are dammed pretty.’ It wasn’t conscription but it may as well have been Mitch. You know the drill. Every boy was lined up to the back of that class to enlist. My dad says it was more or less to escape the ho-hum existence of the farm. (My dad is 90 – mom is 86…they had me in their late 40’s). My father returned at the wars end. To say he his psyche changed is to misrepresent what happened. He won’t talk about it. From then on he simply wanted to live a peaceful life with his wife and eight children – while listening to Nat King Cole. We weren’t necessarily musical or political.
I don’t know, I guess we all have our own paths and paradigms. I’m not looking to pigeon-hole myself into one category or another OR hide behind anything either. I’m sure to be as ignorant as the next guy when it comes to these issues. What I WILL say about my comments though:
I can choose to listen to Rocket Launcher or It’s Going Down Slow. I’ll take It’s Going Down Slow (fighting our warlike pride).
I can choose God on our Side or Neighborhood Bully. I’ll take God on our Side.
I can choose Where Have all the Flowers Gone or Sam Stone. I’ll choose Sam Stone.
I feel the pain of war through Sam a little more. That’s just me though. I am arguing against one of the best political songs ever written!
As for Woody there seems to be no way of arguing around his singular purpose. Throwing out a line like “This fascist kills machines” could be (to some) akin to draping a swastika over a maple leaf. No Ernst Zundel here. It was done with the inherent understanding that a few of my colleagues may tune in for a read. Nothing more – nothing less. Woody, if he were here, would hear me out, get to know me and hopefully laugh.
Mitch, I’ll likely never write overtly political songs (but one cannot predict the future). I do know that I will write honest songs. Songs that speak to me. If they speak to me, I can assure you they speak for the little guy. As for the ‘no money’ aspect of this business, it does get tough, however, capturing ONE ear on any given night is a reward for me. Why? I feel I’m writing sympathetic songs – underdog songs – humorous songs. It’s not much, but somehow I feel it makes a difference.
I’m going to cue up World of Wonders again tonight and see how it sits with me. Thanks for this. It helps.
All the best.
Respectfully – your friend and fan as well,