(HOST) Recent headlines – especially those coming out of California – have reminded commentator Willem Lange of the music that he has come to think of as the soundtrack of his life.
(LANGE) California is a garden of Eden,
a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot
If you ain’t got the do re mi.
"What’s that?" Mother asked.
"One of Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl ballads, about Okies gettin’ dusted off their farms and headin’ for California. Bad times, boy! Terrific depression and agricultural disaster, to boot."
"But everything wasn’t awful. You remember ‘Happy Days Are Here Again?’"
"Yup. Roosevelt campaign song. It’s on my computer. You want to hear it?" She didn’t.
She and I have lived through seven decades of popular music so far, and it’s interesting how it’s changed to suit the times
All of us my age remember lyrics like these from the Forties:
Comin’ In On A Wing And A Pray’r;
Tho’ there’s one motor gone, we can still carry on,
Comin’ In On A Wing And A Pray’r.
And its militant cousin that carried us through the War:
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
Praise the Lord! We’re on a mighty mission!
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition
And we’ll all stay free!
During the Fifties nothing appeared to be wrong – except the Cold War. We sang along with Mitch Miller and his orchestra: "Yellow Rose of Texas," and "Four-Leaf Clover." Were we ever that innocent? Yep, we were. But when the Weavers sang lyrics that sounded like Woody’s earlier union stuff, they were blacklisted. The Kingston Trio picked up the folk idiom, starting with "Tom Dooley," but studiously avoided controversy.
Vietnam, the compulsory draft, and the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther KIng, changed everything. Anti-war protest started with Pete Seeger singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The Beatles suggested defiance of the values of our post-Victorian parents. And soon we had Dylan, with "Come, you masters of war, you that build all the guns; You that build the death planes, you that build the big bombs…".
Then Woody’s boy Arlo gave us "Alice’s Restaurant," the ultimate antiwar song. But, as an earlier Dylan song predicted, the times they were a-changing. The music of the past thirty years sounds to me like trash cans falling down a fire escape. With the current fiscal calamity, and executives skipping away with millions, while hundreds of thousands are rousted out of jobs and homes, it may be time to bring back that old friend of the working man, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie:
Now as I look around, it’s mighty plain to see
This world is such a great and a funny place to be;
Oh, the gamblin’ man is rich an’ the workin’ man is poor,
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.
Because today even California ain’t got the do-re-mi.
This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.