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Reflections On "What Is Past, Or Passing, Or To Come"

Updated: 2017-09-16T04:00:00.071-07:00


Peter Yarrow: My Last Visit With Pete Seeger


Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary recounts his last visit with American folk legend Pete Seeger during Seeger's final illness. This account was written by Mr. Yarrow and published on his FaceBook page. It is a public posting, but it is necessary to be a FaceBook subscriber to access it, so I am posting the complete text and the picture that Mr. Yarrow chose to illustrate his essay here.  Pete Seeger died on Monday, January 27, 2014 at the age of 94. Peter YarrowMy Last Visit With Pete I had the privilege and honor to be with Pete this past Monday, not long before he finally passed. I came directly to his hospital room from the airport where I’d arrived from Tel Aviv, having just sung a couple of Pete’s songs the night before (“If I Had a Hammer” and “We Shall Overcome”) in a meeting with folks involved in efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East. The magic of Pete’s songs, as frequently occurs, had a remarkable effect. When the discussion stopped and the music began that night in Ramallah, the spirit in the room changed; “positive” and “enthusiastic” replaced “not so sure” as we created a concrete plan that - who knows? one can always hope - might play a small part in, at last, bringing about a successful peace process.I was not sure how much Pete understood my words but, nevertheless, by his bedside I told him about the previous night’s events before singing “We Shall Overcome” with his family and friends assembled. This song was shared close to the end of what was almost an hour and a half of remarkable singing at Pete’s bedside. Pete’s daughter Tinya, Pete’s grandson Kitama, other relatives, as well as beloved allies and friends - many who worked with Pete for years on the amazing Clearwater Sloop effort - sang together.When I had first entered Pete’s room, I had quickly unpacked my guitar and then waited for the loveliest of songs to be finished by one of Pete’s extended family. Then I started to sing a subdued but still gently defiant (if that be possible) version of “We Shall Not Be Moved”. We all crowded around Pete, singing this old Union Song together, with friends on each side of the bed holding his hands. We sang that song for perhaps 7 or 8 minutes, with many verses about “young and old together”, “black and white together”, “gay and straight together”, “the union is behind us”, “no more poison fracking”, on and on.Slowly the strength and beauty of the singing began to carry us all with it as we felt each other’s hearts unite, all of us singing directly to Pete, and beginning to ride on the sweetness of the sound we were making together. Everyone there was a really good singer and picker and everyone was wordlessly agreeing which song would come next, who would take a verse and how to sing a bit more passionately for a moment and then bring down the energy the next.For me, it was precisely like some of the most wonderful moments I'd had with Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers when we felt so close and so intuitive that we fairly sailed together, enveloped in a beautiful gliding spirit that was no one’s and everyone’s doing. Honestly, it was more beautiful and peaceful, loving and joyous, (yes and tearful and, yes, reverent) than I can adequately describe.A number of Pete’s Sloop songs were led by others, and I included “Oh,Freedom”, “Down By the Riverside”, “Talking Union” and “Union Maid” (we got most of the lyrics thanks to others’ memories filling in), a memorable version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, and even a passionate yet gentle version of “If I Had a Hammer”.I wanted to tell Pete about singing “No Easy Walk to Freedom” with Noel Paul and Bethany & Rufus at the memorial for Nelson Mandela at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC a few weeks before, where, prior to our singing the song, I told the august audience of dignitaries from around the world of the trio having gotten arrested in our 25th year together as an act of civil disobedien[...]

Reflecting On "Inside Llewyn Davis"


My lifelong love of folk music, now going back rather more than fifty years, impelled me this afternoon to go against all of my instincts and enter a movie theater for exactly the third time in twenty years to see a first-run movie,* the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis. The first fifteen minutes at the venue reminded me emphatically of why I just won't go anymore. The $9.25 price tag for a weekday matinee - and that with a senior discount - is ridiculous: damned few films are worth that, especially figuring that they will all eventually find themselves remaindered to Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or Vudu, where for a flat rate per month I can watch a thousand movies if I want. Worse, I had to sit through seven - seven - mind-numbingly stupid previews of what passes for film entertainment in our republic today. I had to keep my forefingers planted deep within my ears for the entire fifteen minutes of this insulting nonsense - Dolby 7.0 SurroundSound and all - for fear of damage to my hearing, which was doubly ironic given the fact that I had come to see a movie about music.This entrance proved to be a blessing of sorts, as I was half-expecting to dislike Llewellyn Davis. It has been reviewed generally positively and it is, after all, by Joel and Ethan Coen. But several of my folk music friends who were actually in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s had a number of problems with the project - the misrepresentation of real-life people on whom several of the characters seemed to have been based, the joyless gloom of much of the story, and some small but significant anachronisms. Additionally, several reviewers who seem to think the commercial fare purveyed by the record companies today as "roots music" is what folk music sounded like or is supposed to sound like complained that the score was bland and formless. Decades of experience had also predisposed me to approach Inside Llewyn Davis with my defenses up. Hollywood virtually never gets a time period right. Most every film I have ever seen depicting the 1960s (perhaps excluding Oliver Stone's The Doors) has left me howling with laughter at their raging inaccuracies, and only Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (spot-on perfect 1973) and parts of a handful of others have ever delivered a reasonable representation of any period of my life that I remember.The one hundred minutes or so of the feature made me happy that I had survived the price and preview gantlet. Inside Llewyn Davis is for my money (pun intended) a very good film - a very, very good film. Once I put aside both expectations and trepidations, what I saw was a moving, highly intelligent character study of a profoundly troubled but somehow ultimately decent young man trying to come to grips with his own deeply-flawed personality, his painful past, and a harsh and exploitative business that is killing the last shreds of sensitive artistic ambition that he still clings to. It is not really about folk music very much at all, nor about the Village scene, nor about the early 1960s. These are devices of setting that underscore what the directors are really interested in showing: the slow self-destruction of a character who is neither strong enough nor cynical enough to survive in the world he has made for himself. Lest that sound too somber and unappealing - it is still a Coen Brothers film, punctuated by dark and at times savage satire and even humor. Davis's record company owner (based perhaps on Moses Asch of Folkways Records) is a grasping, manipulative and dishonest jerk - but eminently watchable. The Tom Paxton character - soldier by day and folkie on weekend nights - is mercilessly lampooned as an "aw-shucks" simpleton, good-hearted, earnest, and decently talented but clueless. Other characters - a supercilious jazz musician, a Neal-Cassady-like Beat poet, a pair of university professors, a shrill but attractive young woman folksinger - also provide moments that are funny without ever disrupting the overall tone of the movie.The key is to understand that the point of the film is to take t[...]

Peter O'Toole, 1932 - 2013


No other film and few books have informed and shaped my interior life as much as did Lawrence of Arabia, which I saw as a boy of 13 fifty years ago in the company of my closest sibling, Peggy Zwisler. The fictional Lawrence as imagined by screenwriter Robert Bolt and director David Lean is an idealist and a believer in the ability of a single committed individual to change the world - a world controlled by the cynics and manipulative power brokers who ultimately marginalize and destroy the title character - but not before he is able, to a limited degree, to accomplish what he set out to do, at an enormous cost to his own integrity and even his own soul.

Never before and seldom since have I walked out of a theater or seen the closing credits of a film on television so thoroughly stunned by what I had just watched. I was literally and utterly speechless, and the images and themes of the movie have remained alive and vital within me for half a century now. Peter O'Toole's performance as the tortured and at times manic Lawrence was merely the first triumph of a long career of memorable realizations of a disparate set of characters - Henry II twice, Allan Swann, Lord Jim, Mr. Chips, Don Quixote, Eli Cross, and dozens more. O'Toole had a rare ability as an actor: no matter how grand or large or dramatic or humorous a script was, his acting transported the viewer into the inner life of the character, making even an epic like Lawrence finally the intimate portrait of a single person.

The scene in Lawrence that struck me most forcefully was the rescue of a character named Gasim, played by Indian actor I.S. Johar. Early in the film, O'Toole's Lawrence accomplishes an almost impossible trek across a vast stretch of desert, only to find that one of his group of fifty, Gasim, has been accidentally left behind somewhere in the sand. Lawrence starts back, though an oasis is in sight of the group, to rescue his companion - only to be told by his Arab troops that "It is written in the great book of heaven that Gasim's time has come." Lawrence disdains the belief that fate controls all and proceeds to rescue Gasim and bring him to safety. Near collapse from heat and thirst, Lawrence takes a drink of water and turns those impossibly blue eyes on his Arab friend who has told him to leave Gasim to his fate - and says in a measured voice with great affect - "Nothing is written."

I cannot express how profoundly moved I was as a 13 year old boy by that scene - how much it fired my imagination and became one of my most deeply-held beliefs. "Nothing is written," indeed.

I'm reminded of a comment made by O'Toole on "The Charlie Rose Show" a few years back, I believe around the time of his last Academy Award nomination. O'Toole had been a frequent and often prickly guest on Rose's program, so I winced a bit when Charlie waded right in with his first provocative question - which was to the effect, "You know, Peter, when they finally publish your obituary - you know what the lead is going to be - it'll be 'Lawrence of Arabia.' How does that strike you?" To his everlasting credit, O'Toole replied without so much as a blink and with consummate graciousness, "That will be just fine with me. I was lucky once in a lifetime to have had such a role."

Fortunately for those of us who love good acting, Peter O'Toole elevated many roles to a level near that in a long and distinguished career. RIP with heartfelt thanks.

Woody Guthrie & The Kingston Trio


"We are all Woody's children" Pete Seeger remarked famously several decades ago, and by "we" he clearly meant everyone who loves American folk and roots music every bit as much as he meant those who collect and perform it. The folk revival in this country, however you wish to define it and whatever parameters you put on its duration, has certainly had its oracles and prophets both before and after Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, from John A. Lomax and Cecil Sharp through Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan and beyond. But the central figure of the revival, the one whose cultural significance a century after his July 14, 1912 birth still stands above that of all the rest, is the skinny kid from Okemah, Oklahoma whose personal charisma, charm, and talent for writing songs that touched and moved ordinary people to both emotion and action make him the single indispensable figure in American folk music.That Guthrie was also a canny self-promoter who told a lot of tall tales about himself and was the primary painter of his own icon is also true as well. That he was a sometimes troubled soul with profound character flaws, a deep resentment of authority, and lifelong trouble maintaining stable relationships is equally true - and ultimately not especially relevant to his achievements except in one regard - and that is that his very iconization obscures, as it often does, the true nature of what he was able to accomplish in a musical life that was essentially over for him at the age of 40, fifteen years before what we would see today as his shockingly early death at 55.The nature of that achievement and its importance is currently being celebrated, debated, and discussed across the airwaves and print media and websites of the nation, and properly so. I'm sure that many of these discussions will point to the popularity of Guthrie's work as essential to the creation of a genuinely national folk music in the U.S. where a mere 80 or so years ago none had existed - it was all regional material, and before the near-simultaneous arrival of Guthrie, radio, and records, Americans seldom heard much music from outside of their own localities and cultural niches. Many others will discuss Guthrie's lifelong commitment to unions and other progressive and radical causes and his willingness to put his own welfare on the line for what he believed in. Still more will praise him for his influence on later and usually lesser lights of the folk world that he helped to create. All of this is true, all of this is real - and all of this misses the simple and essential point of why we should and do still care about Woody Guthrie.He wrote great songs. I mean, really really great songs - songs that decades after his death people still sing, people still march to, people still embrace, people still connect with, here and around the world. Guthrie's songwriter acolytes in later generations may have exceeded him in lyrical complexity and apocalyptic anger - but those are precisely the points at which they ceased to be folk musicians in any recognizable sense of the word and converted themselves into self-conscious artistes and percussionists for political movements. Folk music is in its very nature simple and repetitive - it is the music of The People, as poets Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg termed them, and that is the music that Woody Guthrie wrote. Many of his best songs sound familiar the first time you hear them, and you can usually sing them the second. Yet Guthrie is capable of lyrical brilliance unrivaled for its Whitman-esque beauty of simplicity -I roamed and rambled, and I followed my footstepsTo the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts...As the sun was shining, and I was strollingAnd the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rollingAs the fog was lifting, a Voice was calling - "This land was made for you and me."No American lyricist has ever surpassed those lines for sheer American-ness - for an unselfconscious imagery derived from the real sight of his own two eyes and not from [...]

Auld Lang Syne


(image) ...which is Scots dialect for "old(auld) long(lang) since(syne)," or the times that have faded and the days that are no more.

A friend's message board post got me thinking about the song, which will doubtlessly be played innumerable times around the world this evening. While I'm sure that I first heard it, as so many of us did, on radio and TV as played by Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, I really got into learning about OLS when as a teenager I found that it was a poem by Robert Burns, the most venerated writer in Scotland's history of distinguished writers and certainly for his verse in English one of the great poets of our language.

For aficionados of Irish and Scots folk music (or novels - think Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott), all the braes and aulds in the lyric don't pose much or a problem, and most of Burns' poem is in very comprehensible English. However - through the magic of Wikipedia and a computer snipping tool with a bow to Photobucket - here is the full poem and translation into our modern tongue:


So in sum - addressing a very dear longtime friend in the first verse, our speaker asks rhetorically, "Should we ever forget about the long-gone friends and times? Should we let 'the dead past bury its past'?" In answer to his or her own question, the speaker answers emphatically "No!" in the chorus - "For all the old times, we'll drink many a toast now and in times to come to remember the days of long ago." The remaining verses reminisce about the friendship between speaker and listener, and the lyric concludes with a pledge of eternal friendship.

And here are two of the many fine versions of the song on YouTube. First, somewhat as the tune would have been heard before Burns' poem was set to it, the pipes (with orchestra and some great pictures):

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And who better to sing the song than one of Scotland's great folk performers, Dougie MacLean:

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May we all ne'er forget the days of old long since as we charge bravely in what we all hope and believe will be a great 2012!

The Nick Reynolds Tribute - Lakeside, CA 11/27/11


Last night's Nick Reynolds Tribute show at Jimmy Dukes' Dark Thirty house concert venue in Lakeside, CA near San Diego was an event that was always delightful, frequently moving, and occasionally bittersweet. Organized largely by Josh Reynolds with some significant help from Triofan John Lee and others, the show featured performances (and as you might expect, virtually every number became a singalong) from members of Nick's extended family, a number of his longtime professional musician friends, and a healthy contingent from Nick's Fantasy Camp years. Also as you might expect from an event celebrating the life of as big-hearted a man as Nick was - the roster of players in those three groups frequently overlapped.Notables in attendance included George Grove, Greg and Janet Deering of Deering Banjos, Nick's nephew Joey Harris (of a great 90s group The Beat Farmers), singer-songwriter James Lee Stanley, John Stewart's daughter Amy, and Mark Josephs, musician and founder of and The Tenor Guitar Hall of Fame. In addition to playing tenor and harmonica (excellently, in both cases), Josephs displayed the plaque that was the official notice of Nick's induction as the premier honoree in The Tenor Guitar HOF.Josh Reynolds emceed the event, and his quips and tales of his dad and occasional tears of memory were the unifying element of the evening. The show was comprised of two fifteen song sets, with most of the songs naturally being Nick solos or ensemble numbers on which he sang the lead. Many of the songs that any KT fan would expect were part of the program - "MTA," "Hobo's Lullaby," "One More Town," "The Gypsy Rover," "The Mountains of Mourne," "Little Boy," and "Bad Man's Blunder," among many others.In addition to the hall of fame presentation, another highlight of the evening was relative Mike Marvin's reading of a letter from Nick to his grandmother written in April of 1957. Beyond strictly family matters, Nick informed her that the still-developing trio had fired their agent and were looking for a replacement at a "freelance guy" named Frank Werber, who in Nick's words had "ten times the ability and a hundred times the honesty" of the guy they had dropped. Nick also said that even if the move cost them some bookings, he wasn't afraid and was really happy because "we are getting so good that it's scary."Musical highlights were too numerous to catalog, and there may well be a CD available soon. My own favorites included James Lee Stanley's "Badman's Blunder" and "Catch The Wind," FC friend Peter Overly's marvelous rendition of "Mountains of Mourne," Nick's great niece Maddie White's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" and Josh Reynolds' version of my own all-time favorite Nick solo, "The Wanderer" - as before, among many, many others.A few pictures now - a bit dim and hazy because they were taken with an inexpensive small camera...Tom Lamb, John Triofan Lee, George Grove - "Mark Twain"John Lee, Mikey Burns, George Grove - "Bottle of Wine"Ensemble Including (L-R) Mike Marvin, Mark Josephs, Mikey Burns, John Lee, Peter Overly, Tom Lamb, George Grove, Joey Harris, Dave BattiJames Lee Stanley and Michael Bettendorf - "Catch The Wind"Stanley, Grove, and Josh Reynolds - "Badman's Blunder"Grove, Mike Marvin, Lamb, Maddie White, Stanley, Joey Harris - "Flowers"Josh Reynolds - "The Wanderer"Ensemble: Lee, Marvin, Stanley, Grove, Overly, Reynolds, BattiMany members of the KT/FC extended family were in attendance, including my friends Dan Hartline and George Jensen. When I noted the bittersweet aspect of it all - that Nick was no longer with us - Bakersfield Dan beamed that inimitable smile of his, gestured toward the stage at the performing musicians, and said - "Of course he is."Amen to that.[...]

Some Vintage KT Reviews


I posted this article on a message board that does not archive; preserving them here.

Even after the recent revocation of some of the "preview" rights that had enabled Google to include large sections of many copyrighted books online, Google Books remains a remarkable resource. Whilst trolling around this morning in the hundreds of research links that I have bookmarked (sometimes for reasons that I have forgotten) - I came across the following three articles.

First, from the January 12th, 1959 issue of
Billboard, a short review of a Kingston Trio show at NYC's legendary Blue Angel night club:


Interesting side note - the Blue Angel was a
jazz club primarily. The KT's appearance there in January anticipates its appearance in April at the Newport Jazz Festival (which led to its appearance at the premier newport Folk Festival in July of that year) and the fact that the liner notes to the group's second studio album At Large were written by Downbeat Magazine editor and jazz critic Nat Hentoff. The group is still playing nightclubs primarily at this point; the college shows are yet to come.

From the Nov. 28, 1960 edition of
Billboard, a review of a concert at Carneige Hall on 11/23/60:


Interesting - a concert at Carnegie Hall was generally considered the apex of a performing artist's career, but the fact that the KT played there has been one of those under-the-radar facts that never generated much historical note.

Finally, a review from almost a year later - November 6, 1961, from the Windsor Star, this being Windsor, Ontario right across the Detroit River from - Detroit:


Trio fans will find this amusing. Dave Guard had actually left the KT several months before, replaced by John Stewart. The reviewer has confused Guard with Nick Reynolds, who remained with the group for its full ten-year first incarnation.

In Memoriam, Bo Wennstam - 1939-2011


Bo Wennstam was a friend of mine from the folk music world. We were drawn together by a mutual love of the music of the Kingston Trio, whose sole surviving member Bob Shane broke the news of Bo's death here in the U.S. (Bo was a Swede who lived in Mallorca.) This is a copy of the post I made to the KT message board; there will be more to say about Bo very soon. Bob Shane's message about the passing of Bo Wennstam, though not unexpected, is still a major blow to all of us who knew him in three dimensions - though his loss is incalculable to those of us who love the Kingston Trio and were acquainted with him only in cyberspace. I believe he would have been happy and proud to know that it was Bob himself who broke the news to us, and the boy inside of Bo even in his latter years - the boy who in Sweden so loved the KT and folk music - would have been deeply gratified that this was so. Tributes to Bo from his friends are coming in already, and I'd like to share some of them here, as well as direct people to some of Bo's remarkable legacy. But first, taking my cue from Rick Daly's FolkUSA Rogue's Gallery - here is the man himself. Bo Wennstam Bo With Good Friends Josh Reynolds (L) and Bert Williams(R) Bo At FC10 With Fellow Rogue Mick Coates Completing The FC International Trio Of HellRaisers, Scotland's Tom Craig Bo loved Fantasy Camp and attended in 2007, 2008, and 2009. He shot and uploaded 324 videos of the event, everything from stage performances (including the very last appearance of the NBJ KT together performing in public) to jam sessions to the wonderful instructional videos of Tom Sanders and Bert Williams. 324 videos. Should this event last 100 years, it will never be covered more comprehensively. The videos are available here: Bo Wennstam's Fantasy Camp Channel On YouTube Bo's channel should remain on YouTube as long as the site lasts - there are no maintenance requirements or fees. I believe that some of us with decent computer skills and a bit of time could begin to organize these on a third party site. I've left a comment on the channel and invite any other YouTube registered clients to do so as well. As a tribute to Bo (who is mentioned here), master musician and FC regular Fred Grittner posted his FC re-write of the classic Kingston Trio song "I'm Going Home" to Bo's FaceBook page. Here it is: A wonderful tribute indeed as Bo goes home. It has also become customary in the short life of FaceBook for friends and acquaintances to post a remembrance on a user page when someone passes on. If you are a registered FaceBook member, you can "write on the Wall" of Bo even if you're not a FB friend. His page is here: Bo Wennstam's FaceBook Page Bo's good friend Tom O'Donnell recorded one of Bo's favorite songs by former KT player John Stewart called "Some Kind Of Love," and friend Max Schwartz created a video montage of pictures of Bo and Fantasy Camp to go with the music. They sent it to Bo in early December, so Bo had the chance to see and appreciate Tom's work on behalf of their friendship. As I believe many of us already know from decades of living and the losses that that entails, we will feel Bo's absence most intensely when we, God willing, all assemble again where we knew him best, next August in Scottsdale. To say that Bo's spirit will hover over and with us might seem to be a sentimental cliche - except that those of us who knew him and his complete love of all things Kingston realize how thoroughly true it is. "I am a part of all that I have met," wrote Tennyson in Ulysses, and all of us who knew Bo will carry that part of him that touched us til the end of our own days. [...]

A Primary Source: Review Of The 1959 Newport Folk Festival


My friend Mary Katherine Aldin - she of the radio show that we appear on, voting member of the executive committee of the NARAS (Grammy people) who are giving the KT the upcoming award, officer of the Folk Alliance, producer and liner note writer for the KT Newport CD, and more - has in her home what is likely the most remarkable folk archive in the U.S., tens of thousands of items from posters to vinyl albums to handwritten notes from EVERYbody, plus articles. Tonight she sent me this, knowing my interest in the KT. It is the first review (from the NY Daily News, I believe) of the triumphant KT appearance at the Newport Folk Festival of 1959. The writer garbles some song names and facts, but this is first-hand account with a picture I've never seen before of of that seminal event.


I cannot resize this further to embed here, but if you double click on the picture, it will take you to the image on Photobucket. Once there, put your cursor on the top of the picture and you'll see some menu tabs, including one for "Resize." Put the cursor on that anc click "More Options," and you will get an editable image for which you can use the slider - about 200% is good.

Another re-size:



Another Nick Reynolds Tribute


By Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone Magazine, 10/2/08:

Kingston Trio Founding Member Nick Reynolds Dead at 75

Nick Reynolds, one of the founding members of folk group the Kingston Trio, died today at a San Diego hospital. He was 75. Reynolds was in the hospital’s ICU for several weeks before his family made the decision today to take him off life support. As the guitarist for the Kingston Trio, Reynolds performed on the band’s hits like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Tom Dooley,” which was a Number One song in 1958 and won them a Grammy. The trio won their second Grammy the following year for their album The Kingston Trio At Large. The band is also credited with helping to usher in the folk movement that ultimately spawned artists like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

“Nobody could nail a harmony part like Nick. He could hit it immediately, exactly where it needed to be, absolutely note perfect — all on the natch. Pure genius,” said Bob Shane, who with the passing of Reynolds is now the lone surviving Trio member. Original member Dave Guard died in 1991 of cancer, and his replacement John Stewart passed away earlier this year from a brain aneurysm. Reynolds is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

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A Rare Folk Recording: Art & Paul, "Puff The Magic Dragon"


Art and Paul, a legendary but short-lived Greenwich Village-based folk duo from the late 1950s and early 1960s, perform a version of the now-classic children's song "Puff, The Magic Dragon" recorded in 1961, two years prior to the release of Peter, Paul and Mary's far more famous rendition.Art Podell and Paul Potash were friends who joined musically in Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, just at the time when the "pop folk" boom that had originated largely on the West Coast began to bring attention to the plethora of talented musicians and songwriters who had already been working in the Village, in some cases for years.Podell and Potash were painstaking in their arrangements, sometimes taking weeks to work out the nuances of a single song. They were rewarded with a loyal following in clubs and concerts and with a contract with major label Columbia Records, which was looking to cash in on the burgeoning folk boom but as yet had no folk artists in their stable of performers.The duo's first Columbia release, Art and Paul: Songs of Earth and Sky[1960] is today regarded as a lost classic; copies of the record are very hard to find and sell at top dollar to folk aficionados when they become available. Earth and Sky led to the recording of a second album, Hangin', Drinkin' and Stuff[1961] before Art and Paul left for the West Coast, where without either consistent bookings or record sales they disbanded. In 1962, Podell became a member of the folk ensemble The New Christy Minstrels, a group that Potash joined two years later during the height of its considerable popularity.Prior to the bit of fame and fortune enjoyed by Art and Paul, Podell had become friends back in Greenwich Village with another struggling young folksinger, Peter Yarrow. Yarrow's roommate at Cornell University, Leonard Lipton, had written a fragmentary children's poem about a dragon that Yarrow had completed and for which he had written a melody. Yarrow shared the newly-completed "Puff, The Magic Dragon" with Podell right around the time that Warner Brothers Records, also looking for a successful folk act, had united Yarrow with Noel "Paul" Stookey and the late Mary Travers to form the trio Peter, Paul and Mary.As Art Podell's introduction on this rare recording indicates, the Art and Paul duo was so taken with Yarrow's composition that they added it to their concert sets. The recording here features Podell's and Potash's distinctive arranging style in rhythm and harmony.Video images are of Art and Paul, of their first album, of other albums on which Podell played, along with later pictures of the New Christy Minstrels and Podell in a recent photo.[...]

More Historical Fun Facts And Charts: And These Guys Are NOT In The Grammy Hall of Fame?


Editor's note: Happy to report that the post title is no longer true. On December 22, 2010, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS - the Grammy people) announced that the Kingston Trio was to be given the Lifetime Achievement award on 2/13/11 - and this is essentially the Grammy HOF.

The following chart facts were culled from Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Albums, the 2001 edition. Whitburn and his Record Research, Inc. are about the last word in accuracy about record sales charts, and he has a new edition of the book just out.

The dominance in the last decade of Jay-z and other hip hop artists suggests that the KT's rank may slip a bit in some of the categories below - but some are cemented in history, like "most weeks with a charting album by decade," where the KT's rank is permanent.

Note that most of these chart summaries refer to position on the charts or appearance on them and do not refer to total record sales. Still - very impressive.









It Was Five - Not Four, Not One


(This post is being uploaded here by request; it appears now on a website that does not archive its posts.)Since the publication of The Kingston Trio On Record in 1986, many if not most Trio fans became aware (if they had not been before) that our favorite group established a milestone in entertainment history in 1959 when they had four albums simultaneously in the Top Ten of Billboard's Top LPs chart, now known as the Billboard 200.The note about this in KTOR on p. 37 mentions the date of December 7, 1959 and lists the albums and their chart positions. Nowhere do Allan Shaw & Co. say that this was the only week for the Trio achievement (and achievement it was; even the Beatles only ever managed to place three) - but dozens and scores of commentators have inferred that KTOR's meaning was just that - one remarkable week, but that's all. You'll see allusions to that all over the internet - AllMusic, Amazon, many many more.In the months after I finished my KT Wikipedia article, I've continued quietly to refine it, rewrite it to overcome some of the edits that were forced into it by evaluators, and to provide more definitive sources. In the process of doing so, I discovered - so I thought - that the KT had accomplished the four albums thing in four consecutive weeks, not one, and I rewrote the Wiki accordingly and mentioned the fact here.Well, pride goeth before the fall, and I have been done in by my own hubris. I just didn't check thoroughly enough. Unlike Allan and Co in '86 - we have Google Books today and every single issue of Billboard from the 1930s forward online and complete. The tale it tells is even more impressive, as the correct number of weeks is five. Rather than make anyone click away to see - take a look, with dates:11/16/5911/23/5911/30/5912/7/5912/14/59These, of course, are .pdfs of the pages from the actual magazine - not summaries.I'm not sure that this seemed as big a deal at the time as it does today (or should). Why not?1) The country was not as statistic-maniacal as it is today;2) The guys were young and weren't making much $$$$$ off of this: the record company got most of it, and successful records were mainly a springboard to successful $$$$-making concert tours;3) The album charts themselves were pretty new, relatively.4) 33 1/3rpm albums were pretty new and sales of them were not yet the hallmark of a performer's success that they would become. The KT had a lot to do with making that so.Before you can change a public perception, you have to say something - even a factual something - over and over and over again before it roots in the public consciousness as fact. So let's all get busy setting the record straight on this. Tell someone. A neighbor. Your mother-in-law. Strangers on the street. This was a remarkable thing to happen, and it's now all but forgotten.I only hope that when the committee to secure a place for the KT in the Grammy Hall of Fame next meets with the brass that they do so armed with the correct facts. Tell 'em that you saw it here.Addendum, 12/29/10And someone apparently did. Happy to report that on December 22, 2010, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS - the Grammy people) announced that the Kingston Trio was to be given the Lifetime Achievement award on 2/13/11 - and this is essentially the Grammy HOF. [...]

A Promise Fulfilled


(Note: This was originally posted in June of 2007 at the time of the event. That post was spammed with 84 comments in Japanese promoting a product, so I'm deleting it and re-posting the article now.)Philip S. Gutierrez was formally inducted as a trial judge on the federal bench for the Central District of California on June 13, 2007. A graduate of Cantwell High School in Montebello, California in 1977, the University of Notre Dame in 1981, and UCLA Law School in 1984, Judge Gutierrez invited several members of the judiciary and the bar to speak at his induction. The only speaker who was not involved in the legal community was the author of this blog, Judge Gutierrez's teacher for all four of his high school years. Following are my remarks at the ceremony. Induction Of The Hon. Philip GutierrezJudge, US Federal District CourtJune 13, 2007 Honorable members of the Judiciary and the Bar, and family and friends of Phil Gutierrez - I have known Phil Gutierrez for just under thirty four years, since he was a freshman at Cantwell High School in Montebello. It is just a few days past the thirtieth anniversary of Phil's graduation from Cantwell - June 1, 1977 - a date that I have a multitude of reasons to remember, not the least of which was the salutatorian speech that Phil delivered that beautiful late afternoon, in which he urged his classmates "never to stop living, never to get smothered into something unwanted, but most of all to live as people" - part of the definition of which, he had earlier asserted, was being "not afraid to touch, or to be touched." I am struck, these three decades later, by how thoroughly Phil has lived out that credo himself, though as I found out in an hour's conversation last night, he has long forgotten exactly what he said that day. It should surprise no one here, I think, that many of the qualities that characterize Phil today were in evidence in the boy I first knew in the Seventies. He had, for example, the same dogged persistence that at its best was a hall mark of his genuine scholarship but could also at times be trying and even verge on the annoying. When Phil had a point to make, he could argue it until you were tempted to give in to him out of sheer exhaustion. More commonly, when he had a question, he would pursue its implications until he had found an answer that satisfied him, typically an extended and once again frequently exhausting process. Some of the earliest and most treasured memories of my long career as a teacher were the frequent, almost daily visits to my classroom after school by Phil and a friend or two to pursue further some issue that had arisen in class, or to render some judgment on the state of world affairs, or to vent some anger at whatever the latest outrage that had occurred at out school was. Usually, the echoes of the dismissal bell hadn't even subsided before he was in my room, standing politely for often an hour or more to the side of my desk, to badger, to listen, to argue, to persuade - to do all that was necessary to nurture a developing intellect of the range and depth that I know characterize him to this day. Phil was the first genuine student I had and remains all these years later perhaps the most complete of the nearly ten thousand I have taught. I was delighted by Phil's continued growth in college. Many of you know that he went to Notre Dame, but I'm not sure if it is as commonly known that he turned down Stanford and Yale to do so. I was pleased by his choice, really not primarily because I went there as well, but rather more because I felt that sending this dynamo of energy and questions into the heart of a bastion of white, traditional, Middle American Catholicism would be go[...]

The Eagles' Timothy B. Schmit Remembers Nick Reynolds


Like many rock musicians who came of musical age in the 1960s, Schmit started off in the early 1960s playing folk music in an acoustic trio. That trio — Tim, Ron & John — was modeled after the Kingston Trio, the highly influential group co-founded by San Diegans Nick Reynolds and John Stewart.
Reynolds died here late last year at age 75. Schmit credits him as a key influence and proudly notes that he got to befriend Reynolds barely half a year before his death: “Tim, Tom & Ron was a Kingston Trio copycat band and Nick was the guy I copied. I even got a tenor guitar like him, although mine was a cheap imitation.
“Nick’s wife called me early last year to ask if I’d play at a memorial concert for John Stewart, and I said ‘Absolutely.’ I didn’t know Nick would be there. He was in a wheelchair and we had a really good talk. His son told me Nick had all these old instruments and the family has entrusted me as the caretaker of Nick’s tenor guitar, which is a thrill to have. The Reynolds family is trusting me with it, which is unbelievable to me.”

"The first singing group I was in, we were such fans of the Kingston Trio that we dressed exactly like them and sang their songs. In fact I just found a really great picture. We're rehearsing for our first gig and I'm 14 years old. I'm looking at it right now because I've gotta put it on my Web site. And I'm playing a tenor guitar just like Nick Reynolds of the Kingston Trio did. About 6 months before Nick Reynolds died (in October 2008), I finally got to meet him. I became friends with he and his wife. He was pretty ill and somewhat incapacitated, but he was the sweetest guy. I have his tenor guitar right in my studio here, sort of on indefinite loan for me to keep. It's the same guitar that played on "Tom Dooley," some of those old hits. Don't get me started! They were definitely a big influence on me."

from Dean Goodman's Interview On MySpace

Just For Fun


I've spun off two new blog pages in the last week or so to accommodate my more specifically musical interests and (to a smaller degree) in response to several requests for pages on these specific topics.

First, I've begun to assemble different elements into a memorial page for the late Americana/folk/roots music singer-songwriter John Stewart, who died in January at the age of 68. I've known of and followed Stewart since about 1960, and only when he died did I fully realize the impact that his music had had on me.

This page is in its formative stages, and I expect it to grow over time to include more reminiscences, more music, and more perspective. Right now, it's a good source for links and a pleasant place to see some Stewart videos without the clutter of YouTube:

The John Stewart Memorial Page

I was also asked to insure that some posts I'd written to one of the music discussion groups to which I contribute wouldn't disappear after they "fell off" the pages, as this board - Kingston Crossroads, discussing both the Kingston Trio and folk/roots music in general - has no permanent archive.

The posts in question included different video performances of songs originally recorded by the Kingston Trio and subsequently covered by others, at times more famously. I also give a brief history of each song and some comments on the performances - it's called "Comparative Video 101" and is here:

Comparative Video 101

Both of these tend to be updated with a bit more regularity than The Vivid Air since I'm doing a lot more work in music these days with the release of a group CD I produced, remixed, and mastered (and of course performed on) called "The Chilly Winds: Live In Colorado" and a solo album that I'm currently putting together.

Stop by these pages and check out the notes and videos.

Place And Privilege


(Alissa Costello, J.K. Moran)On Sunday June 8, 2008, I attended my thirty-fifth high school graduation ceremony as a teacher. These are always poignant late afternoons, suffused as they are with the joys of youth and the moment and the melancholy of goodbyes that only age can comprehend.This year's graduation at Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, California - my professional home these many years - was graced by an extraordinary valedictory address by an extraordinary young lady. Alissa Costello was elected senior class president for the Class of '08 a year ago, and the chief and final duty of this position at our school is to deliver an address to and on behalf of her classmates at graduation, the only student to speak at the ceremony. Alissa, one of the most distinguished students in her class and one of the most impressive I have ever encountered in the long decades of my career, rose to the moment with an address that was at once playful and heartfelt, emotional and intellectual - just exactly what a graduation speech should be. That her classmates and the assembled audience appreciated it goes without saying.Its larger significance, though, I believe to be the credit it reflects by extension on many young people too often belittled, minimized, and disregarded by their elders for their perceived behavior, attitudes, preferences, tastes in music and entertainment, and just about everything else - "slackers," they are often called and depicted as. The generational hubris of doing so is appalling - as if millions of individuals could be lumped into or expressed by any term, be it "Boomer" or "Gen X" or "Greatest Generation" or any other such nonsense.Alissa Costello is none of these. She is simply a gifted and thoughtful young woman who will be developing her considerable abilities at Harvard come autumn. She speaks here for herself and her classmates only - but for me, her voice in these words resounds with a kind of hope and affirmation that suggest to me that when the torch is passed, it will be eagerly received by some very capable hands. This is what she said. Good Evening, and Welcome...... In considering the significance of today, I am led to what John Steinbeck said of the morning dawn: “It is the hour of the pearl. The interval between day and night, when time stops and examines itself.” For the 76 Mayfield students on this platform, it is our “hour of the pearl.” Today, we are called to examine ourselves—the ‘was, is, and will be’— in preparation for the dawn. When I pause to inspect the range of desires and impulses, the variety of insecurities and hesitations, the many moments of confusion and success, no surprise— it’s daunting. I realize now that high school is ceaseless yearning, is profound uncertainty, is joyous disorder, and is adolescent shouts, like that of John Cusack in Say Anything, when he yells: “I’m [just] looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.” And yet, in spite of all this, here we stand, fully intact and looking ahead. 2008 poses a new season of conflict for us. So maybe, in this hour of the pearl, we can identify just what gives us the audacity to question our own futures, the daring to seek our own greatness.To outsiders, Mayfield a gated campus with manicured lawns; a marble entryway with trimmed foliage. When you pass through the front gate, you are instantly aware of Privilege. Considering the opportunities given to us, the profound care and attention provided, I am drawn to wonder at this hour of the pearl: What is the essence of Privilege? If you were to ask the students what Mayfield [...]

Folk And Faux


Maybelle, Sarah, and A.P. Carter(L) Woody Guthrie (R) :Harrison Ford. mentioned that in college he hosted a folk music and : blues show. Leno asked him who the hot acts were - "would it be the Kingston : Trio" (well, THAT got my attention) and Ford's answer was peculiar...he said : something along the lines of; no, he did the "REAL, ORIGINAL folk music like : B.B. King"...WHAT?! I thought the Kingston Trio was about as real and original as you : could get in those days!--Betty Cominsky on Kingston CrossroadsWell, I guess it just means that old controversies never die - and they never really fade away, either.First, as an almost 50 year KT fan, I wouldn't take any exception whatsoever to Ford's remarks. I remind all of the prominence of the Dave Guard quotation in the liner notes of the very first album. This is from memory, but I'm betting it's very close to the actual quote :"We're not folksingers in the accepted sense of the word," says Dave Guard, acknowledged leader of the group."But it was our interest in this kind of music that brought us together."Clearly, at the very beginning of things and at every turn since, the KT never claimed to be purveyors of "folk music." That they became identified as such by the general public - and to the chagrin of people who identified themselves as "real" folksingers, in Greenwich Village and elsewhere - is doubly ironic given Guard's up-front comment and Bob Shane's continual reiteration of the same.The outrage of folk purists at the "commercialization" and "popularization" of traditional music by the KT was ironic in its disingenuous rejection of the attention that the Trio brought to what had been before them (a few songs by the Weavers, Gateway Singers, and folkier efforts by the massively popular Belafonte excepted) a strictly niche market of no Grammy, virtually no widespread airplay - and negligible sales.The Trio's phenomenal popularity in its first two years especially (late 1958 through early 1961, the peak time of their record sales according to KTOR and other sources) changed all three of those permanently and opened the door for everything that followed - as we fans know but the general public has forgotten. (Digression/allusion - as I noted below in my post about the JS tribute - both Timothy B. Schmitt of the Eagles and Lindsey Buckingham were lavish in their praise of the Trio - Schmitt: "When I was 13 or 14, I was way into the Trio....(smiles) WAY WAY into the Trio (Laughs)... WAY WAY WAY into the Trio." - describing then what we all did, pouring over pics and liners, wearing out grooves....)Many a true folkie paid his/her rent with money generated by an actual and not mythical example of trickle down economics, with the hurricane of Trio sales spinning off into golden showers all around the landscape of acoustic music.But there's more, much more. Many of the various patron saints of of true folkiedom did exactly what the Trio did - but neither as smoothly or as lucratively. Cases in point:1) A.P. Carter: Remember John Stewart's quip on College Concert about stumbling into the local coffee house with a tape recorder and automatic copyrighting machine? Well, change "coffee house" to "holler" or "rural front porch" and you have AP's exact modus operandi. His extended trips away from his family were usually song-gathering expeditions; he'd return home with a passel of field recordings, work out arrangements with his wife and sister, hit the recording studio - and sell lots of records. And oh yes and by the way - copyrighting [...]

The John Stewart Memorial


Oh I live in CaliforniaI can look out at the oceanOn the silver blue PacificIt is always there to seeBut I'm so busy workingThat I don't have time to see itBut it's the knowing that it's thereThat means lot to me - John Stewart, "Botswanna," Punch The Big Guy (1988)As with so many of John Stewart's songs, this particular lyric hit me with especial forcefulness, this time as I emerged from the McClure Tunnel off of I-10 and onto PCH, heading north on a perfectly crystalline spring afternoon, toward Malibu and Pepperdine University's Smothers Theater for the official family-sponsored tribute to perhaps the most remarkable and certainly least appreciated songwriter of his generation, and - as both the mellowed Stewart of later years was proud to claim and as the tribute underscored with ample evidence - an integral part of the storied history of the Kingston Trio.Coming out of the tunnel, I saw the silver blue Pacific for the first time in I don't know how many months - and found myself wishing that it hadn't been so long, which is about the same way I felt if I skipped a JS performance that I could have made with a bit more effort.It was one of the most extraordinary evenings of music that I have ever enjoyed.The location was perfect, as was the 5 pm starting time. Pepperdine is located on dramatically sloping, intensely green hills at the point where Malibu Canyon opens onto the strand leading to the beaches. It is an architectural gem set into a dramatically beautiful California landscape with which it is in complete harmony. Both the university and the coast itself put on their Sunday best in the hours leading up to the sun's daily dramatic plunge into that silver blue expanse.The Stewart family planned an event that seemed not nearly long enough at 3 hours and 40 minutes non-stop. Just when you'd think that the music couldn't get any better - it did, often in unexpected ways. And the video tributes from those who could not attend - including an eloquent John Glenn and a clearly emotional Scott Carpenter and Roseanne Cash - were sublime.And the moments - a wheel chair-bound Nick Reynolds joking about his impaired speech and still recounting an emotional bond with JS eloquently, RFK's son Max regarding Stewart as a father figure, MC Mikael Stewart kissing Nick on the cheek when Nick had finished, Mikael having to pause for a long minute after the John Stewart band had rocked out a song, saying "You know, sometimes you forget just how great so many of those songs were..."The surprise high point for me was the appearance of Eagle Timothy B. Schmitt, who like so many of us was a Trio-maniac in his teens ("I was the Nick Reynolds") and then launching into a perfect "Chilly Winds."The John Stewart Band - Dave Batti of course, but absolute heavyweights Dave Crossland and Chuck McDermott were superb. Crossland's "Armstrong" was mesmerizing, and his superlative reading of "Mother Country" lived up to its billing from those who saw him do it in the east Coast tributes. McDermott was just plain amazing on song after song - a real major musician. The We Five did two JS songs and "You Were On My Mind" flawlessly.The spontaneously generated trio of MFQ vets Chip Douglas (almost DG's replacement and the Monkee's manager who brought a certain Stewart song to the group)and Henry Diltz plus musician and former child star Bill Mumy (Twilight Zone) doing a letter perfect "Molly Dee" - with Russ Kunkel - THE Russ Kunkel to anyone who followed more than Trio music in the 60s and 70s - on congas, and other percussion all evening.Obviously, Lindsey Buckingha[...]

Reflecting On "Tom Dooley" After 50 Years


A Scene From Karen W. Reynolds' PlayTom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend" Sometime this week at current rates, our Chilly Winds' video of Tom Dooley on YouTube will pass the 30,000 views mark, making it our most popular upload by far. I am proud to say that of the dozens of versions on the web, ours is second only to the Kingston Trio itself, whose version from the 1981 Reunion Concert weighs in at 70,000 plus views (making it, I'm pretty sure, the most viewed single file of any of the now scores of videos of the group that YouTubers have posted in the last year and a half).I hope Xroaders have seen theirs and ours. I dressed up the audio for ours for our upcoming CD and you can hear it here:The Chilly Winds: Tom DooleyThe popularity on YT of the song is odd for a whole host of reasons, and the odyssey of the song itself from its origin to this point in time is strange. I figured that our version of The Gypsy Rover uploaded at the same time exactly a year ago would have outpointed TD by a mile, given the incredible popularity of Irish folk music online and on TV in the last few years. Well, our GR is closing in on 9,000 views and is the #1 version on YT - but our Tom Dooley hit 1,000 in three days and has never looked back.And yet the song gets so little respect. I've been to the last five fantasy camps, and I have never heard the song performed from the stage or suggested and sung in any of the never-ending jams I've been a part of. It never appears on any of the "favorite song" polls occasionally conducted by KT fans. I've never heard it on oldies radio over the air (and once in a while I do hear MTA or Tijuana Jail or A Worried Man).But TD is the only single song of the hundreds recorded by the Trio to be recognized by the Grammy people, both with the now famous first award for a C&W performance in 1959 and as #88 on the 100 Greatest records of all time.The song remains controversial. Our upload generated a number of semi-negative comments, and there are more videos on YT of people making serious attempts to do something like the original Grayson/Whitter version from 1929 popularized by Doc Watson in recent decades (whose YT version has but - gulp - 13,000 views). Jeremy Raven did an excellent piece here two or three years ago complete with pictures and audio files - and yes, the Grayson of the duo was related to the Grayson who captured Dula.Doc's version on YT is part of a documentary and not complete, but here's a band doing TD in its original form: I've been surprised at FC at how many KT fans know primarily the Stereo Concertversion (which was not the Record of the Year) and not the original albumcut/single in glorious mono. So - here's what sold six million copies:I'd guess that most KT fans know the murky story of their acquisition of the song.They allegedly ( KTOR p. 27) heard it at an open mic audition on 8/27/57 at thePurple Onion and decided to include it on the first album, with Dave Guard grabbinga copyright for the arrangement (and the subsequent writer royalties ).But I always suspected part of the story. Most people don't learn a song after listening to it once. I've always guessed that Dave had a copy of John A. and Alan Lomax's 1947 Folk Songs Of North America, which includes seven songs that appear on the first album, including Tom Dooley with the exact words the Trio uses and the exact tune, adapted according to the Lomaxes by folkies Frank Warner and Frank Profitt from the Grayson/Whitter version, which as you can see above is very different. Warner and Profitt of course sued Guard[...]

John Stewart, 1939-2008


The sad news from San Diego yesterday morning was that singer-songwriter John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio in its glory years, died this morning following complications resulting from a stroke Thursday night. He was 68.Stewart was an under-appreciated artist who penned some of the best folk-style songs of the last fifty years, as well as a small number of pop/rock classics, the most notable being Daydream Believer. Following is a remembrance penned by Stewart's best friend, Detroit journalist Tom DeLisle."My friend John Stewart died this morning in San Diego, California ... in thehospital he was born in on September 5th, 1939 ... 68 years ago.John suffered a massive stroke or brain aneurysm early Friday morning in SanDiego. Doctors had determined that any difficult surgical remedies that mighthave been employed to save his life-- even if successful -- would had leftJohn immobile and unable to speak. It wasn't generally known, but doctors hadtold John in recent years that he had apparently experienced various minorstrokes, likely in his sleep.In the early 1970s, Stewart wrote "Cooler Water, Higher Ground," one of hismany highly personalized songs, in which he sang "I was born in the heat ofSeptember, and I died in the cool of the fall ... borning and dying we do all thetime, it don't mean much of nothing at all." But his passing will mean somuch, to so many, around the world.John's all-time companion and wife Buffy, and his children -- Mikael, Jeremy,Amy, and Luke -- were at his side when he passed peacefully around 7:30 a.m.Pacific time. John never regained consciousness after collapsing in his hotelroom late Thursday/early Friday, and was not in pain during his time atScripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.John Stewart leaves a compilation of musical excellence unparalleled in histime. He recorded over 45 solo albums following his seven years in theKingston Trio, 1961-67. He worked all the way up to the time of his death, havingrecently completed his latest as-yet untitled album. It is estimated that hewrote more than 600 unique and highly personal songs, many of them constitutinga modern musical history of his beloved America.He leaves behind a wide-ranging group of fans who have felt a passion for himand his music that bordered on fanaticism. Chief among them are theBloodliners, a hard-core legion of supporters who communicated via computer everydayin discussing John and his career.It can now be said that John was told last summer, shortly before TrioFantasy Camp 8, that he was suffering from the initial stages of Alzheimer'sdisease. That news was kept from the public in the hope that his condition wouldstabilize and allow him to work in the following years until the disease took itseventual toll. Indeed he had stabilized in the time since Camp, and was ableto bravely perform several concert shows and do the studio work on his newalbum.If there is a blessing in his passing, it is that he will now be spared thetrue ravages of that awful disease. He will not suffer the gradual personalmental reductions caused by Alzheimer's, though he had already lost his abilityto drive, owing to California law. In fact, one of the new songs on theupcoming album is "I Can't Drive Anymore," a typically honest and emotionalpersonal reaction to his situation.Speaking personally, losing John creates a hole in my soul. I had agonizedfor months over the Alzheimer's prognosis. But after talking with many of hisfriends and family yesterday, I can see that -- facing a debilitating future[...]

The Sad Tale Of "Wimoweh"


One of our local PBS stations here in Los Angeles recently re-ran a program on its "Independent Lens" series entitled simply "Mbube," the Zulu word that was the only lyric in the original chant that became Anglicized (by Pete Seeger, no less) as "Wimoweh."I had had doubts that the topic could sustain an hour's worth of television; I was wrong. PBS had done earlier hours on "This Land Is Your Land" (one of the highlights being Bruce Springsteen singing it solo with guitar) and "Danny Boy" (less successful) that had worked moderately well. But the show on "Mbube" was riveting. During the course of the hour, maybe 12 or 15 versions from Africa were played, ranging from an almost mournful dirge by the composer's daughters (more on that upcoming) to melodic versions by church groups to a vocally stunning rendition by Ladysmith Black Mazambo (of Simon's "Graceland" fame, if anyone's forgotten).The song was indeed a traditional Zulu chant, though according to Joseph Shabalala of LBM, not a hunting chant, as is often alleged. Shabalala believes it was a "tribute" song to someone's majesty, and I have read elsewhere that the song arose in the mid nineteenth century as a tribute to Shaka, the Zulu king who devised their system of warfare, established an empire, and handed the British one of the worst military disasters that their colonial armies ever suffered - a kind of a Custer's Last Stand multiplied by about fifteen times. Shaka was known, not surprisingly, as "The Lion." The version we hear was codified by Solomon Nisitele, also known as Solomon Linda (above). On the show, Shabalala pointed out that Linda made a daring, even shocking, change to the performance of the song. The falsetto "verse" was originally a "ululation" - the curdling cry most often heard in the West as intoned by Arab women in celebration or encouragement but apparently common throughout Africa. This "verse" was done in a singing style that before Linda's version was done only by women. For a man to sing the part was revolutionary - part of what Shabalala guesses was the "tribute" factor - to the audience, or the Zulu king, or God. The song came to America from Linda's record company, Gallo of South Africa, a subsidiary of Decca - which was recording The Weavers. It was Seeger who picked out the song out of a couple dozen on records given him by legendary folklorist and song collector Alan Lomax, and Seeger who pronounced "mbube" (very soft first "b") as "uwimoweh." The Weavers recorded it and included it on "The Weavers At Carneige Hall," and it became a moderately successful single, reaching the Hit Parade Top Forty. The source for most of the remaining American pop iterations of the song was the first "live" album in 1958 of the then-phenomenally popular (if today often neglected) Kingston Trio, recorded at San Francisco's legendary showcase nightclub, "The Hungry i." Except for a slightly sophomoric and lightly amusing introduction, the Trio's reading of the song is pretty straightforward and respectful of the original, delivered with their trademark verve and energy On "At The Hungry i" the Trio attributes the song to both The Weavers and Linda, and the song was covered a really surprising number of times by other performers. (A partial list: Ian Cowley's List) The problem that arose then and persists to this day is one as contemporary as tomorrow's newspaper - the use and ownership of intellectual property, a bone of sharp contention between especially the[...]

All Good Things....


The Vivid Air has been on an unplanned and unannounced hiatus for most of this summer so far, which to the shock and consternation of well bred and educated people everywhere has actually been noted by a select few in the blogosphere (possibly including refugees from brother Rick's Right Wing, whose site meter climbs steadily toward one million visitors).Before the sabbatical ends, I'd like to present some links to the web work that has occupied much of my time this summer.The last few years have seen a rebirth of the amateur performing career that I had put on a much longer hiatus some decades ago. Abetted by the free resources afforded by the web (including and YouTube), I've been at work promoting both my group and an upcoming event that we appear at yearly.The group is called The Chilly Winds, taking its name from a song by balladeer John Stewart, who co-wrote the song (with the late John Phillips, founder of folk-rock icons The Mams and the Papas) when he was a member of the Kingston Trio. Stewart has enjoyed a rich and critically acclaimed solo career, having released over forty solo albums and CDs, but has had only a few limited brushes with widespread commercial success. Stewart continues to soldier on, however, his releases always garnering critical enthusiasm and occasional Grammy nominations. (Stewart's most recent effort, The Day The River Sang on Appleseed Records, has been hailed as one of the best folk albums of the year to date. It is available through many sites, including Amazon).The Chilly Winds group performs the music of the pop-folk revival of the late Fifties through mid-Sixties (also know to purists with a sense of irony as The Great Folk Scare). It's just for fun and for the joy of making music in an ensemble, as I hope our home page demonstrates:The Chilly Winds Home PageThe links on that page to the performance videos are also accessible directly through YouTube at:Chilly Winds VideosOur next performance will be at a delightful folk festival outside of Colorado Springs in late August, for which I've designed this home page:The Mountain Music Festival Home PageWe'll be moving in pretty heady company. Bob Haworth, Michael Johnson, and Mark Pearson are all long-established professionals in this branch of the folk world, as the audio and video files attest.But I actually can chew gum and walk simultaneously, and as the eclectic nature of Moran minds is always in evidence (as with brother Terry moving from attack drones in Iraq controlled from Nevada to an interview with Kiera Knightley on Nightline, or Rick posting about the Middle East one day and Gettysburg, Custer, or the Chicago White Sox the next), I expect that my rants and ruminations on other topics will return to the blogosphere shortly. How ever has it survived without them? (insert smiley here, for those who need them.)[...]

Coulter Pulls A Churchill


OF COURSE, THESE IMAGES are reversed, aren't they? Shouldn't Ann Coulter be somewhere to the right of this column, and oughtn't Ward Churchill be on the left? Isn't that the conventional take on the "politics" of these, uh, commentators, for want of a more appropriate but less neutral term?If it's amusing to any degree to see them on the same page, albeit in apparently inappropriate locations, then consider how much funnier it is to realize that the dyspeptic ramblings of each have come to embody all the sins of their respective extreme sides of what passes for discourse in our benighted land these days - to embody those sins at least to their opposite wavelengths on the political spectrum.Where they both really belong, of course, is in the middle - of this page, of pointless controversey, of tasteless extremism, and perhaps most culpably, of the subversion of genuine debate in our political process by obscuring legitimate points of contention with the killer fog of screed.Coulter, as we all know, has once again sampled the refined taste of perfectly sauteed shoe leather with her widely-publicized comments on the interior emotional lives of the September 11th widows. While the statements themselves have been widely circulated, including the most inflammatory of them here serves as a pleasant caption to the picture above and as a point of reference later on:“These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process. “These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.”There is more, naturally, of much the same stripe. But this suffices as an example of Coulter's off-handed and utterly purposeless meanness of spirit - the fraternal twin of, say, an observation like:"As to those in the World Trade Center . . . Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting t[...]

The Real American Idol: Pete Seeger


CHILDREN EIGHTY YEARS YOUNGER THAN HE IS can sing his songs. Folk musicians around the world play an instrument that bears his name. An American rock icon releases a tribute album to coincide with his eighty-seventh birthday. The Kennedy Center honors him for lifetime achievement in the same city that nearly jailed him for subversion decades earlier. A fundamentally simple man, he wears his accolades with a frank and modest demeanor that puts literally to shame the self-aggrandizing, chest-thumping atonal frauds and mass production empty vessels who are called musicians today. He is both the first and last of a breed of whose creation he was a major part. He is an American original. He is Pete Seeger.There is a hint of the timeless about the man. He never looked young, even when he was, and now that he is well into his ninth decade, he wears his age with the same grace that he held and played that now-famous long-necked banjo. Seeger has godfathered three younger generations of musicians, and nothing lends credibility to a folksinger as much as an association with ol' Pete does. He has spent nearly seventy years singing songs, through decades of wars and depression and peace and prosperity, always with an unarticulated faith that if he could just get folks singing together then somehow things would work out for the best. From his wanderings with Woody Guthrie to union rallies and migrant camps and with the Almanac Singers and the Weavers through their rise and fall - from pressing Bob Dylan and Joan Baez into freedom rides and demonstrations in the Deep South in the Civil Rights era through his cruises up and down the Hudson with Arlo Guthrie to cleanse that desecrated waterway - Pete Seeger has just kept on singing, and he wanted all of us to sing along with him.A half dozen at least of his songs will likely outlive him by a century or more. While everyone knows that Pete wrote Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and Turn! Turn! Turn! and co-wrote If I Had A Hammer with fellow Weaver Lee Hays, few are aware that folk classics Guantamera and Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) would have lain fallow in their countries of origin had not Seeger discovered, re-arranged, and introduced them to American audiences. Fewer still are aware that the present form of We Shall Overcome, originally a religious and labor song before it became a civil rights hymn and just about every activist's favorite anthem, owes its arrangement and many of its lyrics to the lanky Harvard drop-out with that impossibly long banjo.That Seeger's supposed politics remain problematic for some is simply an indication of the extent to which Pete subsumed himself into his music. Not given to rants, Pete always tried to let the songs speak for him. That he was a socialist or communist or radical leftist is beyond question. But HUAC and McCarthy and the FBI never quite understood what Pete was up to. Seeger's activism had more in common with the utopian communards of nineteenth century New Harmony or Brook Farm than it ever did with sleeper cells or comic-opera type Commies who drummed out the vote for Gus Hall for forty years. If you want to understand Pete's collectivism, you have to look not in Trotsky or Lenin but in Carl Sandburg's The People, Yes! or Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Like those classic American poets, Pete Seeger had an unshakable belief in the uncommonness of the Common Man, in the ultimate destiny that[...]