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Archive for the ‘new populist’ Category

devil with fiddle
I attended a song circle last weekend at at the Canalway Lodge in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Ohio and Erie Canal reservation. Hank Mallory, an Interpreter at the reservation was our host. Hank is also a caver who used to work at Mammoth and who picks a pretty good flattop when the mood strikes him.

I run hot and cold on open song circles. There are usually lots and lots of really shiny, cheap guitars that absolutely cannot and will not go in tune. But you can never tell who is going to show up and you can never tell what type of tunes they will bring with them. I always enjoy the opprotunity to meet and listen to acoustic musicians. This session was no exception.

There was one fellow who showed up and introduced himself as “Gary ‘The Guitar Guy’ from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” – I’ve seen him around and heard him play several times. Gary has stenciled “This Machine Recycles” on the front of his guitar.

I’m a great admirer of the iconic Woody Guthrie series of “This Machine Kills Fascists” photos. They speak loud and clear about the man, his music and the historical framework in which he practiced his art. The one photograph in particular I’m looking at now has Woody standing with a slot-head classical slung low over his shoulder with his weight on one side of his hip, a harp and rack around his neck and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He is lean and mean and staring confrontationally right into the camera lens; “This Machine Kills Fascists” is hand printed across the front of both bouts of his ax. He looks like nothing less than some deranged gun slinger – Billy the Kid with a six string pistol.

The photo is startling and arresting. Whatever else you think you might know about “folk music” you know that you‘re going to at least have to take this man very seriously. There is absolutely no question in my mind that That Machine would in fact Kill Fascists or just about anything else that moved.

But, as Lou Reed reminds us, “…those were different times…”

“Gary ‘The Guitar Guy’ from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” also brought a made-in-China 5 string banjo with him. He tuned it like a guitar and strummed it with a flatpick “like Pete Seeger”. He lectured the circle about how “in Colonial America if you played forbidden scales on your lap dulcimer you would be burned at the stake as a witch”.

That was news to me. I regret that I don’t have the rigorous academic background of scholarship and historical prospective provided by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but evidently we were to take from this that the members of the colonial Dulcimer Star Chamber were barely one step removed from contemporary Christians or gun owners. Oh, wait… Well, anyway, I bet they didn’t even use the blue bin for their glass and aluminum.

It takes all kinds, I guess. But that’s what makes circles endlessly fascinating.

I had the great good fortune to learn to play in oldtime and bluegrass circles. Beyond chops, you pick up a real good sense of “jam manners” real quick. The great advantage is that when a given circle becomes too much “artiest oriented” or just plain dumb (“Hey…let’s play Rocky Top…”), you can always move on to the next circle. Or the next. Or the next. I’ve spent lots of festivals floating through the parking lots for hours on end.

The bluegrassers don’t suffer fools gladly, and I have seen plenty of people shouldered right out of a circle; the oldtimers don’t have any problem at all with “putting it in the case” until the participation in a given circle improves dramatically – usually by subtraction. But generally those are extreme responses to severe and aggressive ill-mannered assholery.

A silly old lady autoharp player stepped right up into the middle of a circle at a Pennsylvania oldtime festival I attended several years ago. She couldn’t play a lick but insisted that the “authentic” American folk tradition evolved from autoharp repertoire. She hadn’t learned banjo/fiddle tunes or if she knew them they were in her own “correct” key. That circle dissolved in under twenty seconds.

Circles are ephemeral and have their own “vibe” – very literally their own vibration. The best ones feel like some sort of reptilian, pre-verbal mental telepathy; everybody on the same wavelength communicating simultaneously and with absolute clarity with every other member.

Two years ago I played fiddle in a 3:00 AM circle at Clifftop with Mike Seeger at the center. The circle was better than 100 people around and we played in pitch darkness. That circle was a perfect and complete self-contained universe. We played some crooked version of Shaking Down the Acorns on and on and on for thirty minutes or longer until my psyche was lost in pulse and drone and completely absorbed within the group.

The pulse and drone open you up to all sorts of influences and I think the fiddle’s role in this kind of traditional dance music is one of the reasons the fiddle is known as the “devil’s box”. I honestly believe this is when competent oldtime musicians with an inclination toward that sort of thing can begin to call spirits.

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We should remember that ‘nice things happen to nice people’.

So far the nice people at United Airlines have watched their airline’s stock price free-fall by ten per cent, costing shareholders $180 million dollars since Canadian singer-songwriter Davd Carroll wrote and published the first of a three tune song-cycle entitled ‘United Breaks Guitars’.

Dave and his band Sons of Maxwell were flying on United to Nebraska for a tour in the spring of 2008. While watching out the plane’s window Dave noticed his Taylor road ax being thrown around by the United Airlines baggage handlers.

In the full sad, sad story posted on his website, David states “I discovered later that the $3,500 guitar was severely damaged. United Airlines didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss.”

…and so the MP3 single “United Breaks Guitars“.

Did everyone catch that? UNITED (Airlines) BREAKS (Your) GUITARS (…and then treats you like the wretched little worm you know yourself to be when you dare lift your eyes in the presence these corporate titans, these transportation smart-money bigboys, these paragons of western capitalism…so if you wouldn’t mind too much, why don’t you just herd yourself back to your dirty, hoplessly cramped little seat in coach, sit down and kindly STFU. Thenkeww…)

There’s just so much to like about this story and this song.

I notce that Dave Carroll’s music is flowing like water around what could have been a real disaster. Let’s see:

  • YouTube video – check!
  • Branded website with long narrative explaining in great and excruciating detail the noxious free-floating assholery associated with United Airlines – check!
  • Interlinked Internet 2.0 social networking sites – check!
  • a well constructed guerilla marketing campaign – check!
  • …and a ruthless exploitation of the ‘new media’ – check!

There’s a lesson here for every working musician.

A pig is a Pig is The Pig and the new international corporate model of Debt Capitalism (aka ‘Slavery’) is very clear in its constant assertion that the only reason you are on this earth is to shovel money at your betters and be grateful for the privilege. And so when Dave Carroll pointedly and repeatedly sticks his thumb in United Airline’s eye I have to smile.

…because nice things happen to nice people.

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Wow.

Just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse in the American political landscape along comes a rough beast slouching toward Conneaut, Ohio; Conneaut City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a proud resident of Cuyahoga County (practically next door to Ashtabula) where we have learned to shrug our shoulders at the antics of our own wildly corrupt, arrogant and retarded political class. We have determined over time that ‘corrupt, arrogant and retarded’ is a ‘lifestyle choice’.

No, we here in Cuyahoga are no pikers in that regard, I assure you. In fact, I would put our corrupt, arrogant and retarded politicians up against your corrupt, arrogant and retarded politicians at any time and at any place.

I can almost certainly say that in any such contest our corrupt, arrogant and retarded politicians would leave your corrupt, arrogant and retarded politicians in the dust, binding their wounds, crying for their mothers and otherwise turning tail from the radiant corruption, the epic arrogance and massive retardation embodied by Cuyahoga’s elected representatives.

I say this without boasting.

working man reading socialist newspaper

Or at least that’s what I used to think until I read the Ashtabula Star Beacon earlier this week. It seems that Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. had some concern over a local blog posted by Ms. Katie Schwartz.

It seems Ms. Schwartz had the temerity to publish ‘information concerning City offices, fees and other City government information…without the express (sic) written permission of the City.’ In his hubris Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. demanded that Ms. Schwartz immediately ‘cease and desist’ publishing any and all material related to Conneaut city government and under threat of court order remove any and all material related to Conneaut city government from her site.

Evidently, no one in Conneaut, or anywhere else for that matter, was ever going to publish anything regarding Conneaut city government without the ‘permission’ of the city’s political class. Presumably public information would hereafter be communicated in hushed and reverential tones only by certain officialy annointed individuals and only then after some sort of vetting process held deep within the dark bowels of the Conneaut Star Chamber.

That is, at least, if Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. was going to have anything to say about it.

According to the Star-Beacon article, it didn’t take long after Katie Schwartz posted her blog until Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. corralled lick-spittle thug Council President James Jones, lap-dog stooge Councilman-at-Large Chris Castrilla and lackey idiot Ward 4 Councilman Tony Julio to join him in attempting to crush Schwartz’s web site under the hobnailed heels of their collective jackboots.

The site is still active. The site and all its archived posts are there for anyone to read.

The site is pleasant, conversational and full of a charming, straight forward, mid-western boosterism. Nowhere does Ms. Schwartz stoop to calling Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. ‘an arrogant little snot’, ‘a martinet’, a ‘neo-Stalinist’ or ‘The Pig’. Nowhere does she suggest that Conneaut, Ohio or even the entire world would be better off if only Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. would crawl back into his dirty little worm hole and leave everyone else alone. She never describes Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. as ‘silly’, ‘puffed-up’, desperate’, ‘clawwing’ or even ‘laughable’. She never once declares that Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. is ‘just another stupid asshole’. Not once.

Because she doesn’t have to.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. goose-stepping around his office in full SS regalia, grasping his riding crop and monocle, stomping his foot, shaking both fists, flailing his arms and screaming ‘But-but-but…she does NOT have my PERMISSION!’. Imagine Jones, Castrilla and Julio standing in a circle holding tire chains, and ball bats and with stupid, vacant smirks across their jowly faces pointing to Schaumleffel and muttering ‘yeah, what he said…’.

men and women of america - the militant

I think Schaumleffel and his goons are suggesting that the open exchange of public information is an idea which is probably too abstract for most of Conneaut’s huddled masses. It only follows that spirited public debate among free citizens in a free society will almost certainly lead to contention, ill will and possibly even (shudder) speech privilege abuse.

I think that Schaumleffel and his thugs are suggesting that the Little People frankly need to speak only when spoken to and otherwise keep their eyes lowered and their mouths shut in deference to their betters. The Little People frankly do not know what their best interests are and must never be trusted to use either words or ideas.

Far better that Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. and his brown shirted bullies take that gate keeping responsibility to themselves.

And anyway, aren’t the complexities, subtleties and nuance of city government best left to the great architects, the giants of public administration, the great and selfless Philosopher Kings such as are Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr., Council President James Jones, Councilman-at-Large Chris Castrilla and Ward 4 Councilman Tony Julio?

It’s for Conneaut’s own good, after all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The current and continuing 20 year depression here in the rust-belt is not an economic failure; it is a failure of our political class who lined their own pockets and consolidated raw political power rather than advocate for the citizens upon whom they fed. Like a grotesquely bloated, insatiable and ultimately fatal parasite feeding on a sallow and wasting patient, our politicians grew corpulent and morbidly obese while willfully and systematically starving their constituencies.

Think Jabba the Hutt gurgling ‘I’ll teach them what it means to offend the Empire. Send me Solo and the Wookie…and then send me Kathie Schwartz’.

Which brings us back to our first question: what would Woody do?

What indeed.

this machine kills facists

Woody was no stranger to thugs, bullies and goons. Woody’s autobiography Bound for Glory is one tale following another of individuals betrayed by their institutions and left to fend for themselves in the face of desperate circumstances. Bound for Glory is that one simple story repeated in variation again and again.

Woody wrote of the worst of times and the worst of people in 1913 Massacre, Dead or Alive, All You Fascists, Don’t Kill My Baby and Son, Hangknot, Slipknot, Pretty Boy Floyd, The Outlaw and hundreds of other songs.

I imagine that Woody would shrug with a familiar ‘seen it all before’ attitude, pick up his six string and begin to document with simple melody and rhythm the names, places and details of each affront, each insult and each abuse. Woody would build a picture of each and every insufferable fat-head, each self-important Kommissar and each of the creepy sycophants with whom they surround themselves.

And in each song Woody would let those people speak in their own voice and he would let them strut and preen and posture and stomp in their own gait through their own stories of petty insult, intrigue, greed and malfeasance.

And he would let them tell their own story without editorializing, without adding any artificial emphasis on their insolence and venality and criminality and stupidity.

Because he wouldn’t have to.

And then Woody would move on to the next song. And the next. And the next. Because it would be just one simple song repeated in variation again and again.

Here’s hoping that Katie Schwartz tells Conneaut, Ohio City Manager Robert Schaumleffel Jr. and the rest of his bully boys to take their ‘cease and desist order’ and go straight to hell.

Because THAT’S exactly what Woody would do.

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I’m tired of all the political and corporate scoundrels and I’m tired of all their mischief. My brains are roiled and I am otherwise distressed. I believe my circuits are overloaded and I am in danger of blowing a fuse.

I am forcing myself to take drastic measures.

I’m returning to First Principles; caves and American traditional music. Here’s a great way to enjoy both – Vernon Dalhart’s Death of Floyd Collins.

In January, 1925 Floyd “The Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known” Collins became trapped in Kentucky’s Sand Cave in a narrow crawlway 150 feet from the entrance. Efforts to save him became a worldwide media sensation, and many would say it was the media circus surrounding the event that eventualy killed him. After four days where he could be fed, a cave-in closed the entrance passageway to everything except voice contact. Collins died of exposure and starvation after about fourteen days underground, three days before a rescue shaft could reach his location. His body (minus a leg) was recovered two months later.

His embalmed body was displayed as an attraction at Crystal Cave in a glass coffin for many years before the body was stolen. The body was eventualy recovered and buried at last in a private Flynt Ridge cemetary.

Dalhart documented the affair with a number of recordings for various labels. I have a copy of a Columbia recording pressed under the pseudonym “Al Carver (Caver?)” in my own collection of 78’s. Vernon took vocals and harmonica duty while his regular collaborator Carson Robison performed on guitar.

vernon-dalhart-first-star-of-country-music1

The folk and Americana purists among us (and you know who you are) consistently wrinkle up their dainty noses at the odor of commercial success surrounding poor Vernon. The rap against him was that he was a little too popular and that his vocal delivery was a little too polished due to his conservatory training and that he sold a few too many records (over 400 titles for Edison, Victor and Grey Gull) to completely qualify him as a ‘folk artiest’.

But to my ears, Vernon Dalhart contributed hundreds of great performances in the service of hundreds of great tunes (The Wreck of the Old 97′, The Prisoner’s Song and the wonderful depression tune Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat come quickly to mind).

Vernon had a huge hit in 1925 with The Wreck of the Shenandoah. To those of us here in Ohio the crash of the dirigible Shenandoah was the stuff of legend for our parents and grandparents. The great ship went down in Nobel County not far from my Grandmother’s childhood home and I can remember her telling of how my great-grandfathered drove out to survey the wreckage strewn over many acres. Vernon and Carson Robison wrote the tune and published the song under the pseudonym “Maggie Andrews”.

wreck of the shenandoah

I went on the Mammoth Cave wild tour a few weeks ago with some members of the Cleveland Grotto. After we finished the tour we took a short side trip to Sand Cave where Floyd met his maker.

There is an observation deck built to look over the cave and the rescue site, but you cannot see the actual cave shaft from the deck. Curt, Phil and I walked down what was left of the path to the cave and found the shaft sealed with a steel grate in the back of the cave. The pathway down to the cave was overgrown and covered in poison ivy.

It is a dirty, muddy, dark and an awful place. The sealed shaft is filled to about five feet from the top with leaves and garbage. My imagination could make out how the shaft wound down to its intersection with destiny.

That’s Phil on the left and me on the right. We are standing on the grate.


phil and gary at sand cave -1


There’s a solid streak of populism and down home charm that shows itself all the way through the Dalhart catalog. Vernon built a twenty two year recording career by capitalizing on tragic topical stories and by combining morality tales with wry observations of the world around him – in short, by using the palette of the American folk musician.

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The Honorable Representative Luiz Gutierrez (D-Illinois) can now count himself along with Maxine Walters as among ‘the best politicians money can buy’. And don’t think for one moment this is some aberrant behavior restricted to a few yahoos in the House. There is a very good reason Joe Biden was know as Senator Master Card.

This is, in fact, the entirely predictable behavior of a hopelessly corrupt, arrogant and retarded political class feasting next to a vomitorium built on the backs of ‘citizen’/slave labor and with a never-ending supply of special interest money.

There will be a day of reckoning in this country for the pigs and carrion feeding vultures that have grown fat picking the bones of decent Americans. It will not be pretty and I sincerely hope I get to watch it all happen.

from The Consumerist
by Carey

A House subcommittee wants to legalize payday loans with interest rates of up to 391%. Lobbyists from the payday industry bought Congress’ support by showering influential members, including Chairman Luiz Gutierrez, with campaign cash. The Congressman is now playing good cop, bad cop with the payday industry, which is pretending to oppose his generous gift of a bill.

“While they may not be JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America, they’re very powerful. Their influence should not be underestimated,” Gutierrez, the top Democrat on the Financial Services subcommittee in charge of consumer credit issues, said in an interview this week.

Indeed, the payday lending industry is strenuously resisting Gutierrez’s measure, which it says would devastate its business. The measure would cap the annual interest rate for a payday loan at 391 percent, ban so-called “rollovers” – where a borrower who can’t afford to pay off the loan essentially renews it and pays large fees – and prevent lenders from suing borrowers or docking their wages to collect the debt.

a new broom

a new broom

A newer player representing Internet payday lenders – a growing segment of the market – also ramped up its lobbying and political giving efforts. The Online Lenders Alliance, formed in 2005, nearly quintupled, to $480,000, its lobbying expenditures from 2007 and 2008. It contributed $108,400 to candidates in advance of the 2008 elections compared to about $2,000 in the 2006 contests. Gutierrez was among the top House recipients, getting $4,600, while the top Senate recipient was Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., a Banking Committee member who got $6,900.

After watching members of the military fall prey to exorbitant payday loans, Congress in 2006 capped the interest rates for military payday loans at 36%. Fifteen states have similar caps or outright bans.

Congressman Gutierrez is competing with Congressman Joe Baca to see who can author the biggest giveaway. Baca’s legislation would allow rollovers, higher fees for online banks, and would pre-empt state laws banning payday loans.

Someone—maybe Carolyn Maloney, who did an excellent job with the Credit Card Bill of Rights—needs to step up and punch the payday lending lobbyists in the face.

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