FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blasts From the Past

It’s funny how one can remember the very first time we heard a particular song.  Usually, it’s because that song dramatically shifts the idea of what music can be.  Other times, it’s because that song speaks so accurately to the listener about something happening in the listener’s internal or external world.  Sometimes, it’s both at the same time.

The very first time I heard Stevie Wonder’s “Living For the City” I was living in New York.  It was a Saturday night in the freshmen men’s dormitory at Fordham University in the Bronx.  There was one room where us weekenders would gather to drink cheap beer, smoke good Colombian herb, listen to music and bullshit.  We were the guys who didn’t go back to a home in suburban New York or New Jersey either because we lived further away, had to work or lived in the South Bronx, el Barrio or Bed-Stuy and just didn’t feel like dealing with the street that weekend.

The albums we played while we modified our moods and rearranged our brain matter usually included (in no particular order) something by the Allman Brothers, Earth, Wind and Fire, Eddie Palmieri, the Grateful Dead, the Stones or Beatles, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone and another soul or salsa group or two.  It’s not that there weren’t other records in the various record collections of us weekenders.  It’s just that these bands represented a compromise of what we were all willing to listen too.

Anyhow, I had finished with my day’s work at an Italian restaurant near the southern end of Central Park and taken the D Train back up to the Concourse.  After eating a couple quick slices of pizza and picking up a couple six packs of Rheingold, I was ready for the evening.

The first album to drop on the turntable was a new one by Stevie Wonder called Innervisions.  I laughed in a way that only a bong hit can make one laugh as the needle hit the first song: “Too High.”  Even though Stevie might not have been singing about being too high on weed, it didn’t matter.

The second tune was a pretty soulful one about inner sight of some kind.  Then came Stevie on a sneakily seductive Fender Rhodes playing a series of single notes that turned quickly into chords.  “A boy is born / In hard-town Mississippi….”  A story of an African-American family that is the story of thousands of African-American families that is the history of African-Americans after the US civil war.  Out of the cotton fields of exploitation and degradation into the northern cities where racism disguises itself in terms of class and economics.  Where brothers prey on brothers and the law is still a tool of a system that  oppresses and not a tool for liberation or even fairness.  And all set to a relentless rhythm track put down by Stevie himself.

When the song was finished everyone in the room was still.  No matches being lit.  No beer cans being opened or tipped.  The last song on the album side played through (“Golden Lady”, in case you forgot).  Whoever was closest to the stereo didn’t even have to ask.  He played “Living For the City” again and again and again.  I don’t remember if we ever got to the second side of the album that night.  Just enough for the city.  Goddam straight.

I moved to Maryland in March 1974.  A series of circumstances ended my New York City stay and my Fordham University student status.  By August 1974 I was enrolled at the University of Maryland in College Park.  Watergate had been on the television most of the summer until Dick Nixon took the (more profitable) coward’s way out and resigned the presidency on August 9th of that year.  It wasn’t more than a month later that his successor pardoned the crook.

Anyhow, a month or so before Nixon took a helicopter out of DC, I heard a song by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson at a friend’s house in suburban Maryland.  That song, titled “H20 Gate Blues” starts off with Scott-Heron and his band laughing in the background.  From there, it moves on to musing like only Scott-Heron can in that voice that demands your attention and resonates with authority, yet sounds like a brother sitting next to you at a booth in a neighborhood bar.  He begins by talking about the blues.  From standard blues like “I don’t got no woman blues” to “the United States government talkin’ bout the Energy Crisis Blues”.

From there, the song heads into some serious signifying about what imperial war is all about (“Pepsi-Cola and Phillips 66, Boeing Dow & Lockheed/ Ask them what we’re fighting for and they never mention the economics of war”) and the hypocrisy of US policy; the apathy of the US populace; the CIA in Chile; and the corruption and racism of US politicians.  All of this backed by a bass and keyboard.  In fact, I believe it is a Fender Rhodes once again.  This song mixes up politics, cultural commentary, and plain old irony.  It represented the state of the nation.  Presently and presciently.

Add a few more decades of names of politicians and nations invaded and it still does.  The name of the album that song appeared on is called Winter In America.  This was also the title ofa song Scott-Heron released a year or so later on the album The First Minute of a New Day.  That song is a lament for a United States of America that could have been.

Speaking of winter, it’s still awfully freakin’ cold out there.  And I’m not talking about the weather.

RON JACOBS is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. His most recent book, titled Tripping Through the American Night is published as an ebook.  Fomite (Burlington, VT.) is publishing his new novel, titled The Co-Conspirator’s Tale in Spring 2011 He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

July 19, 2018
Rajai R. Masri
The West’s Potential Symbiotic Contributions to Freeing a Closed Muslim Mind
Jennifer Matsui
The Blue Pill Presidency
Ryan LaMothe
The Moral and Spiritual Bankruptcy of White Evangelicals
Paul Tritschler
Negative Capability: a Force for Change?
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: ‘Social Dialogue’ Reform Frustrations
Rev. William Alberts
A Well-Kept United Methodist Church Secret
Raouf Halaby
Joseph Harsch, Robert Fisk, Franklin Lamb: Three of the Very Best
George Ochenski
He Speaks From Experience: Max Baucus on “Squandered Leadership”
Ted Rall
Right Now, It Looks Like Trump Will Win in 2020
David Swanson
The Intelligence Community Is Neither
Andrew Moss
Chaos or Community in Immigration Policy
Kim Scipes
Where Do We Go From Here? How Do We Get There?
July 18, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
Politics and Psychiatry: the Cost of the Trauma Cover-Up
Frank Stricker
The Crummy Good Economy and the New Serfdom
Linda Ford
Red Fawn Fallis and the Felony of Being Attacked by Cops
David Mattson
Entrusting Grizzlies to a Basket of Deplorables?
Stephen F. Eisenman
Want Gun Control? Arm the Left (It Worked Before)
CJ Hopkins
Trump’s Treasonous Traitor Summit or: How Liberals Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New McCarthyism
Patrick Bond
State of the BRICS Class Struggle: Repression, Austerity and Worker Militancy
Dan Corjescu
The USA and Russia: Two Sides of the Same Criminal Corporate Coin
The Hudson Report
How Argentina Got the Biggest Loan in the History of the IMF
Kenn Orphan
You Call This Treason?
Max Parry
Ukraine’s Anti-Roma Pogroms Ignored as Russia is Blamed for Global Far Right Resurgence
Ed Meek
Acts of Resistance
July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail