Thursday, January 18, 2007

Open House

Open House

Tonight Marsha, Will and I attended Jay Kaufman's Open House -- a once a month meeting he holds addressing different topics of interest to his constituents. This month the topic was The Music of Politics, the Politics of Music. The guest was Lexington resident Marilyn Beyer host of WUBM folk radio.

Although I enjoyed the meeting, somehow I left wanting something different. I thought there was a little bit too much Folk and not enough Politics. When Jay asked for people's lists of protest songs, mine included:
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Ohio
  • The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again
  • Bob Dylan: Masters of War
  • Bob Dylan: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  • Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A'Changing
  • Bob Dylan: With God on Our Side
  • Phil Ochs: I Ain't Marching Anymore
  • Barry McGuire: Eve of Destruction
  • Billy Holiday: Strange Fruit
  • Marvin Gaye: What's Goin' On
I can understand with Marylin being the guest that the selection got vectored off toward mostly Folk, but I felt that there were many important Protest songs that weren't exactly Folk and weren't represented. On the other hand, I thought Marylin's selections were comprehensive in that they went from the very old (Civil War) to very new (reaction to 9/11 written in 2006) and were probably more representative than my Vietnam Era selection.

One of the highlights of the evening was when Lexington resident Sam Berman was identified as the first person (long before the Kingston Trio) who sang "Charlie and the MTA". After the song, Sam was asked to explain: He talked about how he and his singing group had conversation where they imagined what would happen if someone got on the subway without the extra nickel to cover the fair increase put into effect by the opponent of their candidate for Mayor of Boston. Sam's future sister-in-law wrote the lyrics and the rest is history. On a little further research, I found the following version of the story:
Walter A. O'Brien died last month. The Boston Globe, Thursday, July 9, 1998, pp. B1 & B6 carried an appreciation of the man and his association with the song "Charlie on the MTA." The article credits the idea for the song to Sam Berman and Arnold Berman. The song itself was written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes using the melody of "The Wreck of Old 97." Jacqueline Steiner wrote to the Globe on July 18, 1998, p. A14, with several corrections of fact in the article. She says that O'Brien's name was changed to George O'Brien when the song was recorded, because, according to his family, the recording company "did not want to make a 'hero' of a man who had been associated with the Progressive Party." The July 9 article says that O'Brien was denounced as a Communist by the Massachusetts version of the House Un-American Committee. The election song was written for the 1949 Boston Mayoral election in which James Michael Curley lost to John Hynes. In 1957 O'Brien returned to his home state of Maine and became a school-librarian and book store owner.

Henry Scannell
Reference Librarian
Microtext & Newspaper Dept.
Boston Public Library
It was great to meet Sam in person after he and many others on the lex-polrel list have tried to keep the Progressive spirit and message alive in Lexington throughout the Bush administration. Lately it's been getting easier as Bush continues his quest to become the most inept President the US has ever had... There, I said it, and added a little more Politics to the evening.

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