My bud and producer/musician extraordinaire Don Fleming (profiled in The Encyclopedia below) is now the Director of Licensing and in charge of artist-estate relations for the Alan Lomax Archive, a very cool position for a very cool guy. He had a big hand in selecting two critical pieces of music for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack: “Po Lazarus” by James Carter is in the opening credit sequence and is the opening track on the soundtrack album. Mrs. Sidney Carter’s “Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby” was re-recorded by Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss for the film and also appears on the soundtrack album. Seven songs in Gangs of New York are from the Lomax collection.
- Now as a war with Iraq looms, Ms. Dane, at 75, is being called into action again. On Saturday evening at Joe’s Pub at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in Manhattan, she and other musicians are scheduled to play songs from “The Vietnam Songbook,” a collection of protest music she compiled in 1969 with her husband, Irwin Silber, who edited the influential folk magazine Sing Out! The songbook collected compositions from all over the world, making the case that the protest movement was universal.
….The tribute at Joe’s Pub is Ms. Dane’s first performance in Manhattan since the 70’s. The event was organized by two New York musicians and producers, Kim Rancourt and Don Fleming, both in their late 40’s. Though both were obsessive music fans, neither was very familiar with Ms. Dane or her work. This is partly because Ms. Dane rejected the path to stardom. Long before she made records with titles like “I Hate Capitalism” she was courted by the rock manager Albert Grossman. In 1960, before he represented Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin or Peter, Paul and Mary, he came to Ms. Dane.
….So now, four decades later, Mr. Fleming was working at the archives of the folklorist Alan Lomax in Manhattan when Mr. Rancourt came by. On the shelf, he pulled out “The Vietnam Songbook.”
“It was terrific, but I had never seen it before,” Mr. Rancourt recalled. “I thought that reviving it would make a wonderful project because not only did it collect traditional, classic American protest songs, but it was also from the North Vietnamese point of view. And that led me to my study of Barbara Dane. Though I was from Detroit and thought I knew a lot about music in general, I knew little about her. I wanted to bring her to New York and show everybody what a marvelous career she has had.”
….One example of her versatility is “Insubordination,” a call-and-response song she considers perfect for rallies. “I used it a lot because I could do it with clapping, or if I happened to have a tambourine,” she said. “I didn’t need a guitar. So if they started pushing the crowd, I could run away. I didn’t have to worry about my instrument getting broken or anything.”
Ms. Dane plans to perform “Insubordination” at Joe’s Pub along with other songs that she says still apply: “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” from the Depression, and “What Are You Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Jazz,” about Prohibition. Also performing on the bill are other voices of the 60’s, like Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, Vietnam veterans like Watermelon Slim and Joe Bangert and younger musicians like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Dean Wareham of Luna, Jenni Muldaur, Lenny Kaye and Stephan Smith.
….”We’re probably not going to live to see the solutions to the problems that we have to sing about or combat,” she said. “We’re not going to see a ready-made answer or things fall into place. The world doesn’t work that way. But it’s so much more fulfilling to be part of the side that expresses life.”
Besides being a very interesting piece of musicological archaeology – folk songs from the North Vietnamese point of view! – this reinforces my point that many aritists, and anti-war protesters in general, are ALWAYS against war, period, and in fact any kind of aggressive governmental action that doesn’t involve the redistribution of income or worker’s rights. Is this legitimate perspecitve? Sure, all policy should be held up to scrutiny, but this kind of blanket contrarian approach makes it hard to take many protests against THIS PARTICULAR WAR hard to take very seriously. The show at Joe’s Pub sounds great artistically, but pretty generic politically: war causes death, death is bad, war is always bad. Unless it isn’t.