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Archive for the ‘woody guthrie’ 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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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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Here’s a link to Josh Hurst’s wonderful review of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s newest studio release “A Stranger Here“.

a-stranger-here

At better than 77 years of age, Jack is still very much the performer. Jack’s last new release I Stand Alone” was complex, dark and touching. It wasn’t too long ago that I had the great good fortune to watch him up-close-and-personal deliver a strong performance and encore to a packed house at the Beachland Ballroom. It was a powerful set and I thought he was still at the top of his game. He’s going to be up at the Kent Stage in a few weeks and I am going to see him then.

Here’s a YouTube find of Ramblin’ Jack performing Woody Guthrie’s Talking Merchant Marine on one of Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV programs.

I’m a great fan of the old Rainbow Quest shows. I think the black-and-white presentation and the el-cheap-o production values made these absolutely jaw-dropping acoustic live-in-the-studio performances stand out all the more.

And anyway, who says el-cheap-o production values don’t have their own charm?

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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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Over the last few years, we have all witnessed the decline of the music business, highlighted by finger-pointing and blame directed against record companies, artists, internet file sharing and any other theories for which a case could be made.
from The Huffington Post
by John Mellencamp

We’ve read and heard about the “good old days” and how things used to be. People remember when music existed as an art that motivated social movements. Artists and their music flourished in back alleys, taverns and barns until, in some cases, a popular groundswell propelled it far and wide. These days, that possibility no longer seems to exist. After 35 years as an artist in the recording business, I feel somehow compelled, not inspired, to stand up for our fellow artists and tell that side of the story as I perceive it. Had the industry not been decimated by a lack of vision caused by corporate bean counters obsessed with the bottom line, musicians would have been able to stick with creating music rather than trying to market it as well.

john mellencamp with vintage 0000 martin (?)

john mellencamp with vintage 0000 martin (?)

During the late 80s and early 90s the industry underwent a transformation and restructured, catalyzed by three distinct factors. Record companies no longer viewed themselves as conduits for music, but as functions of the manipulations of Wall Street. Companies were acquired, conglomerated, bought and sold; public stock offerings ensued, shareholders met. At this very same time, new Nielsen monitoring systems — BDS (Broadcast Data Systems) and SoundScan were employed to document record sales and radio airplay. Prior to 1991, the Billboard charts were done by manual research; radio stations and record stores across the country were polled to determine what was on their playlists and what the big sellers were. Thus, giving Oklahoma City, for example, an equivalent voice to Chicago’s in terms of potential impact on the music scene. BDS keeps track of gross impressions through an encoded system that counts the number of plays or “spins” that a song receives. That number is, thereafter, multiplied by the number of potential listeners. SoundScan was put in place at retail centers to track sales by monitoring scanned barcodes of units crossing the counter. A formula was devised whereby the charts were based 20% on the SoundScan number and 80% on BDS results. The system had changed from one that measured popularity to one that was driven by population.

Record companies soon discovered that because of BDS, they only needed to concentrate on about 12 radio stations; there was no longer a business rationale for working secondary markets that were soon forgotten — despite the fact that these were the very places where rock and roll was born and thrived. Why pay attention to Louisville — worth a comparatively few potential listeners — when the same one spin in New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta, etc., was worth so many more potential listeners? All of a sudden there were #1 records that few of us had ever heard of. At the time we asked ourselves, “Am I out of touch?” We didn’t realize that this was the start of change that would grow to kill, if not the whole of the music business, then most certainly, the record companies.

Reagan’s much-vaunted trickle-down theory said that wealth tricked down to the masses from the elite at the top. Now we’ve found out that this is patently untrue — the current economic collapse reflects this self-serving folly. The same holds for music. It doesn’t trickle down; it percolates up from the artists, from word of mouth, from the streets and rises up to the general populace. Constrained by the workings of SoundScan/BDS, music now came from the top and was rammed down people’s throats.

Early in my career, I wrote and recorded a song called “I Need A Lover” that was only played on just one radio station in Washington, DC the first week it came out. Through much work from local radio reps at the record company, the song ended up on thousands of radio stations. Sing the chorus of “I Need A Lover.” It’s not the best song I ever wrote nor did it achieve more than much more than being a mid-chart hit, but nevertheless, you can sing that chorus. Now sing the chorus of even one Mariah Carey song. Nothing against Mariah, she’s a brilliantly gifted vocalist, but the point here is the way that the songs were built — mine from the ground up, hers from the top down.

john mellencamp with good looking vintage dove.

john mellencamp with good looking vintage dove.

By 1997, consumers, now long uninvolved, grew passive, radio stations had to change formats. Creative artistry and the artists, themselves, were now of secondary importance, taking a back seat to Wall Street as the record companies were going public. The artists were being sold out by the record companies and forced to figuratively kiss the asses of their corporate overlords at the time these record companies went public. In essence, the artists were no longer the primary concern; only keeping their stockholders fat and happy and “making the quarterly numbers” mattered; the music was an afterthought.

Long-tenured employees of these companies were sacrificed in the name of profitability and the culture of greed was burned into the brains of even the most serious music lovers. It seemed that paying attention sales, who had the #1 record from one week to next, and who fell or rose on the charts was all that validated music.

One of my best friends in life was Timothy White who had been the editor of Crawdaddy, then Rolling Stone and, finally, Billboard. As a music critic, he championed singers, songwriters and musicians of all stripes. He was a music lover, beloved in the industry and by artists. Timothy, as many of you know, died suddenly, at the age of 50, waiting for an elevator at Billboard’s office in New York. Artists including Don Henley, Brian Wilson, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, Roger Waters, Sting and me thought so much of him that two sold-out concerts — one in Boston and one at Madison Square Garden — were produced to raise money to support his widow, Judy, and family that includes their autistic son. Each of you, who care enough to read this, should ask yourself if people would be there to celebrate your life so lovingly as this.

In the early 90s, Tim started talking to me about the new service called SoundScan. Then the editor of Billboard, he was leery about the whole idea, realizing its potential to turn the record business upside down. He was pressured by his boss, publisher Howard Lander, who had warned that if Billboard didn’t buy into SoundScan, its competitor, Hits, would become the premier music industry trade magazine. I remember performing at a City of Hope benefit dinner in 1996 where he and I argued with Howard on the pitfalls of SoundScan and BDS and how there would be consequences that would not be good for the music business once it was embraced. It was a very unpleasant evening.

Let’s pause here to note that the record business has always been known for its colorful characters like Colonel Tom Parker, Ahmet Ertegun, John Hammond, etc. The most important thing is that different artists were able to express themselves in ways that were uniquely original, expressing their hopes and disappointments. That kind of artistic diversity and the embrace of eccentricity made the recording business great. It also made the record business horrifying in some ways. Look at what happened at Stax Records where financial finagling and skullduggery brought a great enterprise to a screeching halt that ended so many brilliant careers.

During the time of the upheaval wrought by SoundScan, BDS and the “Wall Streeting” of the industry, country music seized the opportunity and tacitly claimed the traditional music business. Country has come to dominate the heartland of America, a landscape abandoned or ignored by the gatekeepers of rock and pop. Great new country music stars came from seemingly nowhere to grow to tremendous popularity; think Garth Brooks.

While all this was going on, technology, just as it always does, progressed. That which, by all rights, should have had a positive impact for all of us — better sound quality, accessibility, and portability — is now being blamed for many of the ills that beset the music business. The captains of the industry it seemed, proved themselves incapable of having a broader, more long-range view of what this new technology offered. The music business is very complicated in itself so it’s understandable that these additional elements were not dealt with coherently in light of the distractions that abound. Not understanding the possibilities, they ignorantly turned it into a nightmarish situation. The nightmare is the fact that they simply didn’t know how to make it work for us.

The CD, it should be noted, was born out of greed. It was devised to prop up record sales on the expectation of people replenishing their record collections with CDs of albums they had already purchased. They used to call this “planned obsolesce” in the car business. Sound quality was supposed to be one of the big selling points for CDs but, as we know, it wasn’t very good at all. It was just another con, a get-rich-quick scheme, a monumental hoax perpetrated on the music consuming public.

john mellencamp

john mellencamp

These days, some people suggest that it is up to the artist to create avenues to sell the music of his own creation. In today’s environment, is it realistic to expect someone to be a songwriter, recording artist, record company and the P.T. Barnum, so to speak, of his own career? Of course not. I’ve always found it amusing that a few people who have never made a record or written a song seem to know so much more about what an artist should be doing than the artist himself. If these pundits know so much, I’d suggest that make their own records and just leave us out of it. Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, once told me a story about a reception she was at where Bob Dylan was in attendance. The business people there were quietly commenting on how unsociable Dylan seemed to them, not what they imagined an encounter with Dylan would be like. When that observation about Dylan’s behavior and disposition were mentioned to Nora, the response was very profound. She said that Bob Dylan was not put on this earth to participate in cocktail chatter with strangers. Bob Dylan’s purpose in life is to write great songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A’ Changin’.” This sort of sums it all up for me. The artist is here to give the listener the opportunity to dream, a very profound and special gift even if he’s minimally successful. If the artist only entertains you for three and a half minutes, it’s something for which thanks should be given. Consider how enriched all of our lives are made by songs from “Like A Rolling Stone,” a masterpiece, to “The Monster Mash,” a trifle by comparison.

Now that the carnage in this industry is so deep you can hardly wade through it, it’s open season for criticizing artists, present company included, for making a misstep or trying to create new opportunities to reach an audience, i.e., Springsteen releasing an album at Wal-Mart and, yes, we all know what Wal-Mart is about. The old rules and constraints that had governed what was once considered a legitimate artist are no longer valid. When you think about it, you must conclude that there really is no legitimate business; there is no game left.

Sadly, these days, it’s really a matter of “every man for himself.” In terms of possibilities, we are but an echo of what we once were. Of course, the artist does not want to “sell out to The Man.” Left with no real choice except that business model of greed and the bean counting mentality that Reagan propagated and the country embraced, there is only “The Man” to deal with. There is no street for the music to rise up from. There is no time for the music to develop in a natural way that we can all embrace when it ripens and matures. That’s why the general public doesn’t really care. It’s not that the people don’t still love music; of course they do. It’s just the way it is presented to them that ignores their humanity.

If we have any hope for survival of the music that we all love, compassion must replace name-calling, fairness must replace greed and we need to come together as a musical community and try to understand each other’s problems. I once suggested to Don Henley, many years ago after I had left Polygram, that we should form an artist-driven record label, much like Charlie Chaplin did with the movies when he, more than 90 years ago, joined forces with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks to form United Artists. Don’s response was correct. He said that trying to get artists and business people together to work for the common good of everyone involved is akin to herding cats. When all is said and done, unfortunately, it’s not really about the music or the artist. It’s about you and your perception of yourself and how you think things ought to be. And we all know that this very rarely intersects with what actually is. Just because you think this is how it should be only makes it just that: what you think; it doesn’t make it true. So let’s try to put our best foot forward and remember that anyone can stand in the back of a dark hall and yell obscenities but if you want a better world it starts with you and the things you say and do.

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They take to the platforms and passageways of the MBTA each day: stoic classical guitarists, polished blues musicians working on their chops for the next club gig, up-and-coming singer-songwriters hoping to emulate the success of such former T troubadours as Tracy Chapman.
from Boston.com
by David Filipov

This year, their ranks have been swelled by a new wave: people who decided to play to the crush of commuters chasing rush-hour trains at a time when landing traditional employment aboveground is so challenging.

They represent a small, creative offshoot of the nationwide trend that has seen some of the recently unemployed reinvent their careers, often in occupations they find more rewarding, if less well compensated.

Jeremy Ross, 24, playing at Park Street's Green Line platform. (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

Jeremy Ross, 24, playing at Park Street's Green Line platform. (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

While some of the newer performers are talented musicians, others display a command of their instruments and voices that is rudimentary at best. They are all living a dream – even if they do not always get paid much.

Jeremy Ross was working in a cafe in December when one day the ax just fell. Instead of looking for work, he takes his Taylor 110ce guitar and Vox amplifier into the T station, where he belts out a mix of covers and his folksy, rhythmic original tunes in a brash, earnest voice, his face red, his foot tapping time.

“This is my job right now,” Ross, 24, said last week between songs during rush hour at the Park Street Green Line station. “Perhaps I haven’t been as ambitious as I should be about getting a new job. But I am happier this way.”

As T performers go, Ross was doing pretty well. The open guitar case beneath his feet had far more bills than the three singles he put there to “break the ice” at the beginning of his gig. Sometimes he makes $2 an hour, sometimes it is more like $20. He has a 12-song demo CD that he sells for $5, but those do not exactly fly off the platform. He plays well; he can solo on harmonica over his steady rhythm guitar, his voice does not waver or warble. Performing on a platform does have its downsides: the drunks, the loud trains, the people who walk by without listening.

“There’s problems, you know,” Ross said. “It’s strange waking up and saying ‘Geez, I need a couple of bucks, I better go play.’ This is my biggest audience, but no one stays for the whole set. The truth of the matter is, it’s fun.”

He kicked into the next song, a cover of “Two Coins” by Dispatch. “I reach into my pocket for some small change,” goes the refrain. No one in the crowd rushing by practiced what he sang.

Performers have to apply to play in the T. They pay a $25 fee, they provide references, they agree to perform in designated spots, on a first-come, first-serve basis. They agree not to play drums or trumpet (instruments deemed too loud). In 2008, from Jan. 1 through March 16, 45 musicians received permits, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. For the same time period this year, 76 were issued, he said.

Not everyone is as polished as Ross. A man plays a fiddle very badly at Park Street on the Green Line. Other legendary clunkers have included a singer who accompanied Stevie Wonder tunes blaring from a beat box at the Harvard Square Red Line stop (where Chapman got her start), and a guitar player who scratched out solos to canned music at the same station. Recently, at Government Center on the Blue Line, a harmonica player has alienated passengers.

“He just blows,” said Eva MacLeod, who commutes on the line. She had just dropped a dollar in the case of a musician whose work she found more appealing, Pablo Mendoza, 70. He was plucking Spanish guitar music from a bench at the station, almost completely ignored by the crowd as his simple, melancholy phrases echoed off the bare concrete walls. Mendoza has been playing here for four years; he stared impassively as a man in a Yankees cap sat next to him, absorbed in his iPod. Mendoza does not speak English, and he does not have a job. He does not remember the names of the songs he plays. He had four dollar bills and change until MacLeod made it five.

Pablo Mendoza, 70, playing Spanish guitar music from a bench at Government Center Blue Line station.  (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

Pablo Mendoza, 70, playing Spanish guitar music from a bench at Government Center Blue Line station. (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

Mendoza, MacLeod said, “is better than the crazy harmonica guy.”

Bobby “Clumsy Ninja” Bishop and Terelle “Miss Model T” Brown, who were playing blues at Downtown Crossing on the Orange Line, are probably better than that, too. Rush-hour passersby stopped to swing and sway to their stylish rendition of Elmore James’s “Done Somebody Wrong.” They dropped cash in the duo’s case as his smoky vocals and her fiery electric guitar solo, played over a silky rhythm loop track he had recorded to start the song, reached a crescendo.

Bobby \"Clumsy Ninja\" Bishop and Terelle \"Miss Model T\" Brown playing blues at the Downtown Crossing Orange Line platform. (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

They met here six years ago; Bishop taught her to play. Now their band, Steppers Heaven, plays clubs more than they play here, though they still like to come down.

“The intimacy here – there’s no parallel to it,” Bishop said in the clipped English of his native Gloucestershire. When Tamaki Hosoe, a physical therapist from Japan who works in Malden, started whistling to the music, Bishop held the microphone to amplify Hosoe’s makeshift solo.

Brown said she has noticed the arrival of new musicians in recent months.

“There’s a couple of guys and girls who got laid off,” she said. “Rather than look for a job, they have come down here to fulfill a dream. They’re doing what they want to.”

At the Orange Line stop of Downtown Crossing, Beth Fridinger was doing what she has always wanted to do. Strumming a simple, steady rhythm on her white Yamaha electric guitar, she made her way through a throaty rendition of “Dirty Old Town” by the The Pogues.

At the Orange Line platform of Downtown Crossing, Beth Fridinger strumms a simple, steady rhythm on her white Yamaha electric guitar.  (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

At the Orange Line platform of Downtown Crossing, Beth Fridinger strums a simple, steady rhythm on her white Yamaha electric guitar. (Globe staff/Barry Chin)

Fridinger started here in July, after playing open mic gigs for a year. A professional photographer, she decided to commit to playing music full time.

“Times are really tough right now,” she said, as she fingerpicked the chords to “House of the Rising Sun.” “It’s very hard to get a job. But if I got a job, I wouldn’t be able to do my music. I couldn’t do this and work a full-time job. I’d lose the spot.”

A woman stopped. “This is my favorite song,” she said. But she put no money in Fridinger’s suitcase. Fridinger – armed with sheets of chords and lyrics, an unabashed alto voice, and a tube of muscle rub – was ready to play a four- to seven-hour gig. She said she has made up to $200 a night, but she can also make much less. One night, her version of “Blowing in the Wind” earned her a quarter.

“In January, I was really sick. I almost starved,” she said. “But this is just so much fun, man. It’s been my lifelong dream to be a musician.”

Next to her sat Patrick “Patches” Vautour.

“If I had the money to buy a permit,” he said, referring to the $25 fee, “I’d do this. I’m unemployed right now. Rough times.”

Patches had not paid Fridinger for her music.

“I told her all I can give her are my two ears,” he said. “I really like her style.”

Fridinger was playing an original song, “Looking in the Mirror,” about an encounter with an old drunk man in a bar. A few faces turned but none lit up.

One man threw 50 cents in her case. He neither looked, nor slowed down.

He was wearing headphones.

David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.

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“…We got out to the West Coast broke,
So dad-gum hungry I thought I’d croak,
An’ I bummed up a spud or two,
An’ my wife fixed up a tater stew —
We poured the kids full of it,
Mighty thin stew, though,
You could read a magazine right through it.
Always have figured
That if it’d been just a little bit thinner,
Some of these here politicians
Coulda seen through it.”
Woody Guthrie
.
.

Waters Helped Bank Whose Stock She Once Owned
California Democrat Has Championed Minority-Owned OneUnited on Capitol Hill and Criticized Its Government Regulators
from The Wall Street Journal Online
by Susan Schmidt

WASHINGTON — When Rep. Barney Frank was looking to aid a Boston-based lender last fall, the Massachusetts Democrat urged Maxine Waters, a colleague on the House Financial Services Committee, to “stay out of it,” he says.

The reason: Ms. Waters, a longtime congresswoman from California, had close ties to the minority-owned institution, OneUnited Bank.

Ms. Waters and her husband have both held financial stakes in the bank. Until recently, her husband was a director. At the same time, Ms. Waters has publicly boosted OneUnited’s executives and criticized its government regulators during congressional hearings. Last fall, she helped secure the bank a meeting with Treasury officials.

Her involvement isn’t new. Ms. Waters has detailed her financial ties in a series of federal disclosure forms and has been vocal in public in support of the bank. Those ties, however, have received little public attention. Nor is it well known how the influential lawmaker has over the years acted to support the bank and its executives.

Rep. Maxine Waters, center, with Earvin "Magic" Johnson, left, and Ms. Waters's husband, Sidney Williams.

Such potential conflicts of interest are more serious as the banking system’s crisis has led the government to take an increasingly active role in overseeing financial institutions, including OneUnited. The financial-services committee on which Ms. Waters sits oversees banking issues, and the lawmaker is a potential future chairman.

Representatives of the bank and Ms. Waters didn’t return calls seeking comment. Ms. Waters’s congressional staff didn’t respond to written questions about her and her husband’s relationship with the bank.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, says Ms. Waters should have recused herself from any matters involving the bank. If her support helped OneUnited, “it was a disservice to her constituents,” Ms. Krumholz says.

Ms. Waters, who represents inner-city Los Angeles, hasn’t made a secret of her family’s financial interest in OneUnited. Referring to her family’s investment, she said in 2007 during a congressional hearing that for African-Americans, “the test of your commitment to economic expansion and development and support for business is whether or not you put your money where your mouth is.”

Maxine Waters - Getty Images

Maxine Waters - Getty Images

OneUnited’s executives have donated $12,500 to Ms. Waters’s election campaigns.

Through a series of acquisitions, OneUnited grew to become what it says is the largest African-American-owned bank in the country. It once counted the late Motown Records boss Jheryl Busby as a vice chairman.

Ms. Waters and her husband, Sidney Williams, were investors in two African-American owned California banks that merged with other lenders in 2002 to form OneUnited. Congressional financial-disclosure forms show Ms. Waters acquired OneUnited stock worth between $250,000 and $500,000 in March 2004, as did Mr. Williams. Mr. Williams joined the board of OneUnited that year.

Each sold shares in September 2004 — including Ms. Waters’s entire stake — but Mr. Williams continued to hold varying amount of the company’s stock. In the lawmaker’s most recent financial-disclosure form, dated May 2008 and covering the prior year, Ms. Waters reported that her husband held between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of the bank’s stock.

Mr. Williams also received interest payments from a separate holding at the bank, also worth between $250,000 and $500,000. The 2008 form doesn’t specify what that is. Mr. Williams stepped down from the bank’s board last spring. It couldn’t be learned whether he still owns stock in the bank. Mr. Williams didn’t return calls seeking comment.

At a hearing on minority lending in 2007, Ms. Waters criticized regulators for not doing enough to help minority banks stave off mergers with non-minority institutions. The lawmaker said she had contacted the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in 2002 over such concerns and “I was told that there was nothing that could be done.”

In her 2007 remarks, Ms. Waters alluded to two banks, Independence Bank of Washington, D.C., and “another bank that was about to be acquired by a major white bank out of Illinois.”

Ms. Waters didn’t mention that OneUnited had been an unsuccessful suitor of Independence, which had been taken over several years earlier. The second bank, which she didn’t name, appears to have been Family Savings Bank of Los Angeles. In 2002, that bank backed out of a merger agreement with FBOP Bank of Oak Brook, Ill., and shortly afterward was acquired by OneUnited.

News reports at the time credited the intervention of Ms. Waters and others for Family Savings’s change of heart.

At the hearing, Ms. Waters praised OneUnited’s senior counsel, Robert P. Cooper, as “typical of the young, brilliant minds that have been amassed at OneUnited Bank.”

OneUnited’s minority-lending record is mixed. The bank received “outstanding” Community Reinvestment Act ratings for lending in Los Angeles. It has weak ratings in Massachusetts and failed to meet minimum standards in Florida.

In January, Ms. Waters acknowledged she made a call to the Treasury on OneUnited’s behalf. The bank’s capital, which was heavily invested in shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was all but wiped out with the federal takeover of the two mortgage giants, and the bank was seeking help from regulators.

OneUnited eventually secured bailout funds under the government’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was set up later that month.

In a brief interview in January, Ms. Waters said she was unaware the bank received $12 million of TARP money, which arrived in December. OneUnited was “just a small” bank, she said.

A provision designed to aid OneUnited was written into the federal bailout legislation by Mr. Frank, who is chairman of the financial-services panel. Mr. Frank has said he inserted the provision to help the only African-American owned bank in his home state. He said in an interview that Ms. Waters’s interest “had zero impact on the outcome because I would have done it anyway.”

In October, regulators demanded that OneUnited raise fresh capital and name an independent board. The bank was ordered to stop paying for a Porsche used by one of its executives and its chairman’s $6.4 million beachfront home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., a luxury enclave between Malibu and Santa Monica.

Woody in a beer joint.

Woody in a beer joint.

Write to Susan Schmidt at susan.schmidt@wsj.com

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