Thursday, July 10, 2014


Play it here!
Buy it here! (Of course it's on vinyl!!)

We don't need a revolution in the summertime
We don't need a revolution anytime

what we need is someone to believe
in like a god to fall out of the sky
what we don't need is a revolution
that could blow our minds away,
yeah away,
tomorrow or today

You can sell me Darwin's theory
evolution got me here to where I am
i'd believe in anyone who'd promise me
the sun would shine today
yeah today
or any other day

we can pray for the sun and let it shine on everyone
sunshine brings love
we can pray for the sun and let it shine on everyone
sunshine brings love

Uncertain of the irony of this appearing directly above the Airplane theory below, given I am referring, perhaps again, to the "revolution" via summer music festivals, albeit with particular reference to the UK. In a strange way, the lyrics above completely underline the point that, needed or not, it has taken/did take place. And now, is it a revolution or a ritual? Or relic?

I love festivals. As a younger man I attended as many as I could, from the Rock of Reading 1975 to the more ambitious Glastonbury 1994, the latter with  my then wife and pre-teen kids, my tastes gradually turning then more to the more intimate (nominally) folk festivals. I think I finally stopped going in about 2003, my swansong being my much visited Cropredy in 2002, the annual Fairport Convention run and curated shindig, still going after many a long year. But, in a whimsy of  disappearing youth, I have this year bought tickets and a tent for The 50th Cambridge Folk Festival. It is true my choice is as much based on my musical preferences as the seemliness of my age: both the stage and the audience will make me feel young, as the "revolutionaries" of the 60s and 70s have become respected elders, letting down (whats left of) their hair in like-minded company. It will feel both a reminiscence and an evolution. With Glastonbury being now on the summer privileged corporate circuit of Wimbledon and Henley Royal Regatta, mass-produced and must-do, both anaethema to me, I am hoping this will feel a nostalgic wallow in ageing counter-culture.

But what of the song? Have you listened to it? Sorry about the biker bit that precedes, it was the only link I could find to this wonderful slice of completelyoutofitstime hippy wisdom, if that is no oxymoron. It is the Cosmic Rough Riders, even the name reeking of a patchouli scented lysergia. Sounding as if from the heart of a stoned california of a quarter century ago, it actually stems from the urban mayhem of Glasgow in 2000. For some strange reason, Scotland's concrete city landscapes have always been a dab hand at producing USA-philic jangle-pop a la Byrds and similar. (Another and possibly better known example would be the wonderful Teenage Fanclub .) By the time the LP upon which Revolution in the Summertime appeared, actually a compilation of 2 earlier self-produced albums, the band had begun to implode, their singer leaving as a run of singles therefrom had begun to garnish them both notice and praise. The band actually lurched on for a number of years and several more recordings, never quite, at least for me, catching these glory days. Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine is the name of the parent record and I unashamedly promote it it a tonic to turn to, on those occasional days we get a blast of sun and summer. I'm praying that it won't rain at Cambridge.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Revolution: Volunteers

Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock: Volunteers
[purchase] the album

I recently read an eye-opening article that relates to my “revolution” choice. The link came my way via “Longreads”, which I access thru Flipboard. The “long” article chronicles a free outdoor music festival that pre-dates both the seminal Monterey International Pop Festival in ’67 and Woodstock in '69. The festival was called the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival and it took place in ’67, about a week before the Monterey festival that launched Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, among others.

Here’s a link to the article itself, but for those who prefer to miss out on this article of great historical import, a summary: SF radio station KFRC, in an effort to increase ratings, sets up a free show the week before Monterey. Partly because it is a last minute effort, but partly because few of those involved have yet to get a taste of mammon, the whole thing comes off as one big love-in. Without a backstage area, the bands end up hanging with the audience ... and more. Less than one week later at Monterey, the whole thing has turned commercial – despite the smell of “revolution” in the air.

The point behind all this is not so much the logistics, but rather that which was in the air from ’67 on, and more than one band called it for what is was: a revolution. In France, the students were in the streets; in the US, students were in the streets and in front of the courthouses, in the UK, the Beatles were in the studio with “Revolution”. The revolution extended to the privacy of the bedroom and up-ended social mores. Yada yada yada. You know the rest.

The article plausibly claims that Magic Mountain was the spark that lead to Woodstock. Certainly, it was a major event in the history of many of the bands: some went from local to national on the basis of their performance (or maybe simply their participation in) this weekend. If nothing else, the tech crew that pulled off Magic Mountain learned and morphed into the team that also put Woodstock together.

Among the bands that appeared at Magic Mountain, Monterey and 2 years later at Woodstock, was Jefferson Airplane. In many ways, without getting as deeply political as CSNY (Chicago, and again Chicago), the Airplane managed to give the impression of standing for revolution. Was it Grace Slick’s style/appearance? Was it Jorma Kaukonen or Paul Kantnor, Marty Balin or even Nicky Hopkins or the combination of all of the above and the confluence of time,  the stars and the moon?

In any event, the link above will lead you to part of the Airplane’s 100 minute set on the 2nd day of Woodstock back in 1969. The question I might ask is if the hippie  ”revolution” actually happened? Does it count as a revolution today? It sure has taken a long time to make only a little progress (didn’t David Crosby sing “seems to be a long time ...” in reference to the changes?)
In Volunteers, the Airplane sing:

Hey now it's time for you and me
got a revolution got to revolution
Come on now we're marching to the sea
got a revolution got to revolution
The flipside of the record is equally revolutionary: We Can be Together, and so I link to that as well.
In We Can Be Together, they sing:

We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves
Up against the wall
Up against the wall fred (motherfucker)
Tear down the walls


Whew! Seems to me you would be hard pressed to get away with this these days!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Revolution: The Revolution Starts Now

Steve Earle: The Revolution Starts Now

Although the day that commemorates the American Revolution has just passed, the idea of “revolution” is not limited to the U.S.A. The word “revolution” is from the Latin “revolutio,” meaning to turn around, and in politics, of course, it means a change, usually of regime. It also is used to describe the turning of records or CD’s, those somewhat quaint media that we used to use to listen to music. So, melding the two meanings, for the next couple of weeks, we here at SMM will be writing about songs that relate to Revolution, and fittingly, we begin with a song that declares, that the revolution, like our new theme, starts NOW!

Most political revolutions have resulted in one political group overthrowing another (like the Russian or French Revolutions) (and, unfortunately, often becoming as oppressive as their former oppressors), or a colonial group throwing off the rule of colonizers (like the American Revolution) (ditto).

Marxist theory posited a “permanent revolution,” which was championed by Trotsky as a way for the proletariat to obtain power. And in our featured song, Steve Earle argues for a new, grassroots revolution to address the problems that he saw in the American society of 2004. Earle, whose message had become increasingly political, found himself excoriated by the right wing for his leftist politics. As the presidential election approached, Earle wanted to make a statement against the Bush Administration and its policies, and he recorded the album, The Revolution Starts...Now. In the liner notes to the album, Earle explained:

The Constitution of The United States of America is a REVOLUTIONARY document in every sense of the word. It was designed to evolve, to live, and to breathe like the people that it governs. It is, ingeniously, and perhaps conversely, resilient enough to change with the times in order to meet the challenges of its third century and rigid enough to preserve the ideals that inspired its original articles and amendments. As long as we are willing to put in the work required to defend and nurture this remarkable invention of our forefathers, then I believe with all my heart that it will continue to thrive for generations to come. Without our active participation, however, the future is far from certain. For without the lifeblood of the human spirit even the greatest documents produced by humankind are only words on paper or parchment, destined to yellow and crack and eventually crumble to dust. 

His call to personal political revolution is made clear by the lyrics of the song:  

Yeah the revolution starts now 
In your own backyard 
In your own hometown 
So what you doin’ standin’ around? 
Just follow your heart 
The revolution starts now 

Of course, history shows that Bush defeated Kerry in 2004, and it wasn’t until 2008 when Earle’s (somewhat reluctantly) favored candidate, Barack Obama, was democratically elected (Earle would have preferred a socialist, which, despite what you may hear from the right, President Obama is clearly not).

Whether that qualifies as a “revolution” is open to debate, I’d say. But, interestingly, Obama’s presidency has only increased the call for a revolution from the right, which in many instances has challenged the legitimacy of his election and has obstructed Obama’s agenda. Many of these more radical truth deniers have adopted the “Tea Party” moniker, drawing from the iconography of the American Revolution, although some of us think that they have more in common with another group of revolutionaries with a narrow, theistic point of view, the Taliban. It is interesting that the Tea Party movement is funded by rich capitalists who fear that continued government support of poor Americans might take away some tiny fraction of their billions, but is often championed by people who need the very government support that they eschew, making it more of an "Astroturf" movement than a real "grassroots" one.

And it is also interesting that much of the “progress” made by these right wingers has come from the kind of local action that Earle would probably approve of—taking control of school boards and local government units, and other small scale activities. Unfortunately, the result of this conservative activity ultimately has resulted in the imposition of reactionary policies, either by vote, inaction, or even through endorsement by one of the worst Supreme Courts ever. The exact opposite of what Earle was looking for, which is a shame.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Clearwater Festival, mostly for the great music.  But I was happy to see that the Activist Area was fully staffed, with many groups and people dedicated to trying to change the country and the world to make it fairer, cleaner and better for everyone, in the spirit of one of Earle's idols, Pete Seeger and his wife Toshi.  So, there is hope.

Oh--it is also a good song.