Puff the Magic Puffer
Right off the bat I'll tell you, I hated "Puff the Magic Dragon." Along with Puff, I couldn't stand Peter, Paul, and Mary either.
I'm sorry. My music was just further along than "Puff," which to me was nothing more than a children's song. And if I wanted to hear children's songs, there was Bartok who composed a whole set of children's songs...or there were Robert Schumann's Kinderlieder...except by the time the folkies hit the Top Tens I was even further along than even classical children's music (though I still to this day delight in listening intently to old villainous actor Richard Hale's great reading of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf recorded with the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky back in the 1940s).
Richard Hale (1892-1981)--right before he died he acted in a Star Trek movie.
I was on the total other side of the world from the folkies. I had enjoyed the Weavers, but only because I was very young when they hit the Top Ten with "Goodnight Irene" and "On Top of Old Smokey." Besides, I already knew "Goodnight Irene" was Hudie Ledbetter's tune and I had Hudie doing it on an early album I bought of his Library of Congress recordings. But other than those two top tenners, I didn't listen to the Weavers. I knew Pete Seeger because he made a recording with Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, and Sonny Terry that got famous around the blues world because of Sonny Terry's performing with these well-known White folkies. These white folkies had a blues tinge to their music but I'm sorry it was too White and too hillbilly for me.
I had already heard and halfway memorized Charles Ives's Piano Sonata #2, the Concord by the time Peter, Paul, and Mary hit the charts and the Ed Sullivan Show and started performing in Vegas. Too, I was already a fair-to-midland jazz pianist by then with a solid nonconformity approach to my music and especially my jazz. Jazz to me then was the highest form of music there was. It was the highest form of instant creation to me--even to my writing--I could write faster with Miles Davis's "Walkin'" stretching out on my record player. It was a totally improvisational music moving at a heartrate beat in sequences of an individual talent's innermost cooked out and served steaming feelings--song and accompaniment ideas bubbling up out of ancient musical cauldrons then spiced up and locally flavored with the musics of the Americas (La Musica) to serve the musical stews sizzling on a platter of contemporary time.
I first heard Be-bop when I was really young, really a child, really just out of infancy. I first heard Bird and Dizzy on the radio right after my brother got back from China and WWII and slept in my room and brought along his little Emerson portable radio and stayed up reading until midnight every night and I stayed up with him, showing my big brother what a curious and open-minded little brother he had, and at midnight he would tool around the dial of that radio until he found a live remote coming from New York City or Chicago and one night he tuned in to the all-night remote coming from Birdland in New York City, over the Mutual Broadcasting System, with Symphony Sid announcing...and it was Bird and Diz...and the minute I heard Charles Parker, Jr., playing that strange-sounding, high-register, Sidney-Bechet-sounding alto saxophone, I flipped. I flipped totally out there somewhere. Out there with the hipsters and the cats and the kitties and the chicks and the babies and the solid senders and the groove merchants. And I got to groovin' so much higher than anything Peter, Paul, Mary, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan were into--I mean, come on, those cats couldn't groove--they couldn't keep the heartbeat going--they couldn't ride, they couldn't bubble, they couldn't fly.
Jazz was beyond commercial appeal. Jazz was not ordinary music. It was beyond the Top Ten. I put a good jazzman, a fine piano player, Dave Brubeck, down for going commercial (his most famous commercial hit "Take Five" not a badly done blues featuring the thinskinned alto work of the marvelous Paul Desmond. I later would castigate Herbie Mann for selling out to the commercial marketeers--though his first cave-in album, like Brubeck's, did produce some great tunes, like "Memphis Underground" or like Ben Tucker and Bob Dorough's "Comin' Home, Baby" (the album only gives Tucker credit for the tune--though I know Bob Dorough takes credit for it, too). Herbie had 25 tunes that made it to the Top 200; Live at the Village Gate making it up to like 65th in the album standings.
So when I heard Mary Travers had died I wasn't doing any mourning except for the fact I don't like to see people having to die. The last time I saw Mary Travers I was floored. She was huge. She had blown up from a rather pretty young tall but svelte woman into a Kate-Smith-look-alike female blimp. It probably had to do with her health but it turned me off.
I even turned for awhile against Herbie Hancock divorcing himself from mainstream jazz and took Wynton Marsalis's side in saying Herbie should stay true to the 4/4 form, blah, blah, blah, whine, whine, whine. Only later when listening to some of Herbie's after-Rocket-in-Your-Pocket work did I come to understand Herbie's reasoning for venturing down other venues. Herbie was one of Miles Davis's favorite young children who was totally absorbed into Miles's genius approach to every thing he did. Too, Herbie was there when Miles started shifting his gears and traveling down opposite-conflicting-contradictory-genre paths with his jazz--and believe me, Miles was playing jazz right up until his end.
Jazz absorbs it does not blend. Jazz is an individual's thing. Composers composing in your face or playing their compositions with other composers, inventors, innovators, creators...the individual soloists picking up on the compositions and what can be composed off of them in an improvisational way. [And here I can say is where Gunther Schuller pisses me off. Schuller came up with what he called Third Stream. What he wanted it to be was a mixture of jazz with classical music. Even with Ives shouting at him theoretically that American music was its own classical music, empty as much as possible with other world musics unless they've come through the American filter, Schuller wants to be a world music. I'm chauvinistic, I know. One-track minded! The word jazz doesn't bother me, but if the majority say it should be called Black Classical Music, then that's what I'll call it, except I don't think young Blacks see jazz as anything but an old-timey used-to-be music. Coltrane? Who? Duke? Oh, you mean DJ Duke from Flatbush? The Count? You mean "on the count," don't you? How about Louis Armstrong? Yeah, man, that old boxer, world champeen back in some ancient time.
I no longer listen to contemporary jazz. I know some of the players, certainly Wynton (Wynton's been around a long time now), Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts--I could go on, but so many guys playing jazz nowadays I've never heard and when I hear them I don't really want to hear them again or anything of theirs I might maybe want to hear again I don't really care if I never hear it again and I'm certainly not going to go out of my way to hear them again perhaps. Yes, I know there are some extremely capable and virtuosic musicians out there today--oh yes, music like all forms of progressive stuff has gotten very complicated, but in terms of its source or its influences, its nuances, its innovations, I'm not impressed. I hear too much European influence in a lot of White jazz today--as far as Black jazz, I have no idea where it's at these days. Wherever it is, it like all jazz has fallen by the wayside of American culture, a culture now dominated by children. Children who are fascinated by the amateurish inventions of their amateurish idols; children who had they been alive when Peter, Paul, and Mary were singsonging at their loudest would have gone out and bought "Puff the Magic Dragon" and swooned over the trio at their concerts--except, Peter and Paul always seemed like old men to me even back then--and Mary Travers wasn't no chick just out of the shell back then either.
I wasn't really ever a hippy. I was too hip to have been a hippy. Hippies were folkies who got politically hip, but not musically hip. Yes, hippies were politically correct and, yes, Bill Graham and his Fillmore rule tried to integrate hippies and jazz but it never worked.
To me, the guitar ruined American music after the Beatles became its total influence. The electric guitar was invented by a jazz man, Eddie Durham, a trombone player in Count Basie's swingiest K.C.-based band who became fascinated by adding electrical pick ups to an acoustic and hooking them up to speakers that later became the first amps. Eddie played the guitar like a horn--a solo line over chords, yes, but the chords accenting the solo lines based on the chord changes. Yes, there had been great acoustic guitar players: Son House was a great acoustic guitar player; so was the overlooked Teddy Bunn; and I used to love the way Memphis Minnie played the acoustic.
Eddie Durham (l or top) Teddy Bunn (r or bottom)
After Eddie Durham, jazz guitarists became absolutely aces on American-made electric guitars: Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore, Barney Kessell, Herbie Ellis, Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith, Sal Salvador, Billy Bauer, Wes Montgomery [see the Classic Guitar link over in our blog link sidebar]. Even the inventors of rock 'n roll like Chuck Berry played the electric guitar jazzy, solo lines over chord changes; B.B., too; and some of the great White rock 'n roller/blues guitarists, too, like Lonnie Mack from Memphis or the great blues guitarist Ronnie Earle (from Queens, New York). But to White rock guitarists, noise meant more than knowledgeable execution, so the rockers brought over Marshall amps from England and potted them up to HIGH and after that rocker guitarists got stuck on a rather amateurish 3-change style--key of C, with changes involving sliding back to A and then coming back to C via B-flat.
The Cesspool of Politics
I've decided we are now an oppressed people. Did you know President Obama has made 200 speeches since he's been president?
We the People are easily oppressed because even though the stock market is gradually being forced back up to nearly 10,000, that's a false indication of how we're really doing.
Kevin Trudeau says on his informercial where he's peddling his new book that tells you how to get all kinds of free money from the government--yes, Kevin's a swindler, but so what--he's followed the American Dream to success--and Trudeau says 70% of us will be broke before this year is over. So he's making that up, so what, he's pretty close to reality. Most of these people will be broke because first of all they will have lost their jobs--then they will find their mortgages are being raised and then they will be foreclosed upon--and by the way, property taxes in every state and city are going up--also taxes on gasoline, liquor and beer, cell phones, line phones, utilities, food--we're all being fired, foreclosed on, harassed, and taxed out of business.
Corporations, who follow their own Global Marketplace laws and who kowtow to no national laws, now rule us. They own our jobs, our land, our houses, our debts, our food; in fact, they own our futures. They own our president and our Congress. They own our sources of information. They own our colleges and universities. They own our factories (or what's left of them). They own our highways in some states. They own our lives through life insurance policies and they own our souls through health insurance schemes.
Our President and Congress make most of their nest egg monies from Corporate contributions and gifts and junkets and party trips and use of homes and yachts...remember Unka Dick Cheney going fishing off the back of one of the Royal Family of Dubai sheiks's yachts? What a life! Unka Dick coming to Congress as a Young Republican pimple-faced boy without a sou in his jeans. Now, Unka Dick is worth a billion bucks maybe, who knows? Unka Dick receives Halliburton bucks, he receives his VP salary and benefits for life, he makes money off his Wyoming gas well investments--oh what a life!
You have no money, forget it. Hit the road, Jack. That's what in the first Great Depression they were called hoboes and vagabonds. They hit the rails and the roads and shifted around just escaping poverty and woe and death in some cases, some of them meeting death along the way, until they found the right place to settle down and try and hornswoggle a living off the land or the people. The road we have to hit these days may lead to Canada. Otherwise, Go further West, young men. Maybe your future lies in Communist China.
for The Daily Growler
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Second Inaugural Speech, 1937
My fellow countrymen. When four years ago we met to inaugurate a President, the Republic, single-minded in anxiety, stood in spirit here. We dedicated ourselves to the fulfillment of a vision—to speed the time when there would be for all the people that security and peace essential to the pursuit of happiness. We of the Republic pledged ourselves to drive from the temple of our ancient faith those who had profaned it; to end by action, tireless and unafraid, the stagnation and despair of that day. We did those first things first.
Our covenant with ourselves did not stop there. Instinctively we recognized a deeper need—the need to find through government the instrument of our united purpose to solve for the individual the ever-rising problems of a complex civilization. Repeated attempts at their solution without the aid of government had left us baffled and bewildered. For, without that aid, we had been unable to create those moral controls over the services of science which are necessary to make science a useful servant instead of a ruthless master of mankind. To do this we knew that we must find practical controls over blind economic forces and blindly selfish men.
We of the Republic sensed the truth that democratic government has innate capacity to protect its people against disasters once considered inevitable, to solve problems once considered unsolvable. We would not admit that we could not find a way to master economic epidemics just as, after centuries of fatalistic suffering, we had found a way to master epidemics of disease. We refused to leave the problems of our common welfare to be solved by the winds of chance and the hurricanes of disaster.
In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth; we were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government.
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the Revolutionary War; they created a strong government with powers of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people.
Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve the same objectives.
Four years of new experience have not belied our historic instinct. They hold out the clear hope that government within communities, government within the separate States, and government of the United States can do the things the times require, without yielding its democracy. Our tasks in the last four years did not force democracy to take a holiday.
Nearly all of us recognize that as intricacies of human relationships increase, so power to govern them also must increase—power to stop evil; power to do good. The essential democracy of our nation and the safety of our people depend not upon the absence of power, but upon lodging it with those whom the people can change or continue at stated intervals through an honest and free system of elections. The Constitution of 1787 did not make our democracy impotent.
In fact, in these last four years, we have made the exercise of all power more democratic; for we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public’s government. The legend that they were invincible—above and beyond the processes of a democracy—has been shattered. They have been challenged and beaten.
Our progress out of the depression is obvious. But that is not all that you and I mean by the new order of things. Our pledge was not merely to do a patchwork job with secondhand materials. By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.
In that purpose we have been helped by achievements of mind and spirit. Old truths have been relearned; untruths have been unlearned. We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.
This new understanding undermines the old admiration of worldly success as such. We are beginning to abandon our tolerance of the abuse of power by those who betray for profit the elementary decencies of life.
In this process evil things formerly accepted will not be so easily condoned. Hard-headedness will not so easily excuse hardheartedness. We are moving toward an era of good feeling. But we realize that there can be no era of good feeling save among men of good will.
For these reasons I am justified in believing that the greatest change we have witnessed has been the change in the moral climate of America.
Among men of good will, science and democracy together offer an ever-richer life and ever-larger satisfaction to the individual. With this change in our moral climate and our rediscovered ability to improve our economic order, we have set our feet upon the road of enduring progress.
Shall we pause now and turn our back upon the road that lies ahead? Shall we call this the promised land? Or, shall we continue on our way? For “each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.”
Many voices are heard as we face a great decision. Comfort says, “Tarry a while.” Opportunism says, “This is a good spot.” Timidity asks, “How difficult is the road ahead?”
True, we have come far from the days of stagnation and despair. Vitality has been preserved. Courage and confidence have been restored. Mental and moral horizons have been extended.
But our present gains were won under the pressure of more than ordinary circumstances. Advance became imperative under the goad of fear and suffering. The times were on the side of progress.
To hold to progress today, however, is more difficult. Dulled conscience, irresponsibility, and ruthless self-interest already reappear. Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster! Prosperity already tests the persistence of our progressive purpose.
Let us ask again: Have we reached the goal of our vision of that fourth day of March 1933? Have we found our happy valley?
I see a great nation, upon a great continent, blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its hundred and thirty million people are at peace among themselves; they are making their country a good neighbor among the nations. I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.
But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.
I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.
I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
But it is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope—because the nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
If I know aught of the spirit and purpose of our Nation, we will not listen to comfort, opportunism, and timidity. We will carry on.
Overwhelmingly, we of the Republic are men and women of good will; men and women who have more than warm hearts of dedication; men and women who have cool heads and willing hands of practical purpose as well. They will insist that every agency of popular government use effective instruments to carry out their will.
Government is competent when all who compose it work as trustees for the whole people. It can make constant progress when it keeps abreast of all the facts. It can obtain justified support and legitimate criticism when the people receive true information of all that government does.
If I know aught of the will of our people, they will demand that these conditions of effective government shall be created and maintained. They will demand a nation uncorrupted by cancers of injustice and, therefore, strong among the nations in its example of the will to peace.
Today we reconsecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.
To maintain a democracy of effort requires a vast amount of patience in dealing with differing methods, a vast amount of humility. But out of the confusion of many voices rises an understanding of dominant public need. Then political leadership can voice common ideals, and aid in their realization.
In taking again the oath of office as President of the United States, I assume the solemn obligation of leading the American people forward along the road over which they have chosen to advance.
While this duty rests upon me I shall do my utmost to speak their purpose and to do their will, seeking Divine guidance to help us each and every one to give light to them that sit in darkness and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937.