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Mitch’s Monthly Mix: May Days Fade 2011

As with all monthly mixes, make good use of the “read more” button after the introductory essay. Links are provided in the titles for those of you who want to play along at home, and videos are provided when available.

Mitch’s Monthly Mix: May Days Fade 2011
Blendt by Mitch Ritter
Lay-Low Studios, Or-Wa

We’re looking at a late planting season this wild, wet, and wooly spring. As the month of May recedes hopefully taking with it the labor statistics and lack of job creation trends along with the tornados and climatic devastation, let us pause to reflect, hopefully from the safety of a cellar on high ground, upon whatever meager shelter from the food chain we’ve been fortunate enough to secure. A reminder of the food chain’s precarious perquisites, even for top predators like us humans, tends to be skirted by the comfort cloth’s ministering minions and lay minyans.

The first of May and the rest of May’s Days came and went in these United States of “ours” with little to no attention paid to the labor struggles of workers the world over who’ve secured little things like the five-day work week and eight-hour work day by desperate if determined struggle. In this land of the free it took the Haymarket Hangings in Chicago, and, even with those workers swinging by their necks, we’ve yet to proceed to single-payer health care, child care, or a month’s paid vacation like some of our more civilized and family-values-believing countries. If those are nanny states, they’re kicking our World Trade Organization butts. A nation that has never had a newspaper with a Labor section to balance the ubiquitous Business section (and soon enough no newspapers at all) or a single solitary Public Radio program featuring the Work Place to balance its plethora of syndicated Market Place and daily Dow Jones investor class reporting, can’t be counted on to properly fete May Day. Before the June swoon let us therefore re-enter the May Days “Muse Blues” (sorry, but Loudon Wainwright III’s apt song by that name didn’t make this cut) as approached by some of our more inspired songwriters, including the low-profile but deeply influential Magus of Greenwich Village, Jack Hardy.

Jack Hardy passed away March 11, 2011, and in whatever realm his fecund songwriting spirit has absconded to, there must be an ironic cackle at the corporate media who finally took note of his life’s works, many formed in collaboration with his late brother Jeff Hardy who played bass and sang with Jack’s early bands and whose death in the 9-11-01 attacks on the World Trade Center towers where Jeff worked a sustaining day job as a chef, has been overlooked by many of the leading obituaries published following Jack’s passing.

A documentary film on Suzanne Vega, not yet released, features footage of Jack Hardy’s legendary pasta night songwriting circles in his walk-up tenement flat, the cramped and alternately bitterly cold or swelteringly hot worldwide headquarters of his Great Divide Records empire on West Houston Street in Greenwich Village (toilet down the hall). (Clips may be sampled on You Tube.) While told from the perspective of Suzanne Vega, who continued to sharpen her songwriting skills at Jack Hardy’s songwriting circles long after ascending to pop stardom, it offers a glimpse into the sausage-making magical world of relevant songwriting that ran for some 35 years in full flower right up to the transmogrification of Jack’s soul.

1. “May Day” Jack Hardy, The Nameless One (Great Divide Records, 1978)
2. “Works & Days” Jack Hardy, The Nameless One (Great Divide Records, 1978)
3. “Three Sisters” Jack Hardy, The Nameless One (Great Divide Records, 1978)

From the first Jack Hardy LP to reach an audience beyond his Greenwich Village base and featuring the iconic cover portrait painted by a wonderful downtown artist coincidentally bearing Hardy’s legal name, but no relation, not to mention the astonishingly colorful drummer (and unheralded New Orleans style jazz pianist) Howie Wyeth who was concurrently snagged by Bob Dylan for his Rolling Thunder Revue tour and the as-yet-unrecorded Roche Sisters (singing like angels with the Hardy brothers Jack, Jeff and Chris when not “Face Down At Folk City” together) come these three selections, the latter as gracious an introduction to novice harmony singers as one can hope to find workin’ on the folkie food chain:

It’s not like Pan to play his flute
For those who dance for fun
The fire flickers through poison roots
Where chance is on the run

It’s not like elves to hide their gold
Where fortune seekers dive
Though pirate lore and island shore
Yield only ransomed lives

(Chorus)
There’s May Day and May wine
And may I please come home?
The briar grows before the rose
And neither grows alone
We’ll dance tonight ‘til we faint in the light
Of the dawn’s sweet song of spring
‘round the maypole like a day stole
Like our feet are borne of wings

It’s not like sirens to sing their songs
For sailors with cautious ears
They lure no coward right or wrong
And trade not death for fear

It’s not like kings to yield their wines
For hundreds of years of war
Though drop by drop the ancient vine
Paints blood on every door

It’s not like girls to give consent
To men of ragged prose
Though poets sing of nursery rhymes
Their cradles are filled with hope

It’s not like me to give my heart
In these drowsy daffodil days
Though dreams they douse the timid spark
Where sleep presents its plays

It’s not like saints to tell their tales
Of nights on windswept moors
Where death defies the dreams of fate
To close the cellar door

It’s not like shepherds to lay them down
When wolves are on the prowl
Though songs they scare the waking town
An ill wind has no howl

(Chorus)

4. “Please Mr. Sellack (Can I Have My Job Back?)” (Terre Roche)
5. “The Train” (Suzzy Roche) The Roches, The Roches (Warner, 1979)

The trio debut of the Roche sisters (Paul Simon had helped a duet Roche sister record get made and released on Columbia validating Jack Hardy’s instincts regarding the novice folkie harmonizers’ creative prowess) carried these songs of the workin’ life not to be confused with Si Kahn’s “Aragon Mill.” While the middle class wage jobs can all be outsourced to the cheapest labor on earth, there’ll always be need for a service sector to cater to the patriotic swells.

O Mr. Sellack
Can I have my job back?
I’ve run out of money again.
Last time I saw ya
I was singing Hallelujah
I’m so glad to be leavin’ this restaurant.

Now the only thing I want
Is to have my old job back again.
I’ll clean the tables;
I’ll do the creams;
I’ll get down on my knees and scrub
behind the steam table.

O Mr. Sellack
I didn’t think I’d be back.
I worked here last year
Remember?
I came when Annie
Was going on vacation
And I stayed on almost till December.

Now the only thing I want
Is to have my old job back again.
I won’t be nasty to customers no more.
When they send their burger back I’ll tell them that
I’m sorry.

Waiting tables ain’t that bad.
Since I’ve seen you last, I’ve waited
for some things that you would not believe
To come true.

Give me a broom and I’ll sweep my way to heaven.
Give me a job;
You name it.
Let the other forty-million three-hundred and seven
People who want to get famous.

Now the only thing I want
Is to have that old job back again.
I’ll clean the tables;
I’ll do the creams;
I’ll get down on my knees and scrub
behind the steam table.

6. “Man In A Station” (John Martyn) Iain Matthews—Mark Hallman, Nights In Manhattan (Taxim, 1988 at The Bottom Line)

The late great songwriter and acoustic guitar wizard John Martyn penned “Man In A Station” and recorded a hard rocking electric version that somewhat obscured the mid-life anxiety attack buried under the commuter tableau’s surface. A much darker segue from Suzzy Roche’s “The (Commuter) Train” when considered in the Iain Matthews-Mark Hallman re-arrangement recorded live at the now bulldozed and built-over former ground zero of songwriting, Greenwich Village’s The Bottom Line. Matthews accentuates the existential angst of salary men of a certain age and station.

There’s a man in the station and a train in the rain
There’s a face in the mirror that’s showing the strain
There’s a woman in the dark that’s standing apart
There’s a love in the man that’s breaking his heart
But it’s alright, I’m catching the next train home
The next train home

There’s one more circle I’m dying to try
There’s a piece of my head that’s asking why
There’s a piece of my heart that’s dying to fly
There’s a baby in the woman that’s waiting to cry
But it’s alright, I’m catching the next train home
The next train home

There’s got to be a way for a lazy face and
Get up and start loving the human race
There’s just got to be a way for a crazy face
Get out from under this paper chase
But it’s alright, I’m catching the next train home
Next train home

There’s a man in the station and a train in the rain
There’s a face in the mirror that’s showing the strain
There’s a woman in the dark that’s standing apart
There’s a love in the man that’s breaking his heart
But it’s alright, I’m catching the next train home
Next train home

7. “Last Train To Pontiac” Rod MacDonald, And Then He Woke Up (Gadfly 1997)

Rod MacDonald ran with Jack Hardy’s co-op project Fast Folk a visionary combination of DIY ‘zine and various artists’ record album issued as a periodical and introducing regional songwriters of note to the entrenched folkie-cum-expanding acoustic musical world. MacDonald was always among the most sophisticated in terms of carrying the Phil Ochs legacy forward, gracefully integrating a firm understanding of where the working class came from and where the new neo-liberal economics advanced by both sides of our two-party system were carrying us to.

This song written when Detroit’s big three automakers were getting rich feeding the insatiable gas guzzling frenzy of the post OPEC Boycott window of cheap (if subsidized) fuel glutting the markets, is unique in focusing on citizen and voter responsibilities to see through the ways in which corporate America convinces the majority of struggling Americans to vote against their own interests time and time again. In this case the funneling of mass transit funding into a subsidized fuel-inefficient car culture, leading to a crisis that few policy-makers or economists were willing to face. Fifteen years later and the Portland nu jazz band The Blue Cranes decided to bring rail back into the American psyche as a more fuel-efficient if less touring musician-friendly alternative by launching a Kickstarter supported national tour-by-train via Amtrak. They then blogged their adventure earlier this year on Portland’s alternative Willamette Week website focusing on the very condemned, decaying and now barbed-wire encircled former glory of Detroit’s rail hub Michigan Central Station, so presciently if bitterly lamented fifteen years earlier by Rod MacDonald:

The last train to Pontiac pulled into the station,
switched off the lights, and cut the engines.
But no passengers came calling, no conductor counted tickets,
for the last train to Pontiac had been declared finished.
Somebody had decided they could save a few million
to pay for that big tax cut and that extra twelve billion
they budgeted for the Pentagon next year.

But isn’t that what you wanted when you stood behind that curtain?
Isn’t that what you wanted when you pulled on that lever?
Isn’t that what you wanted? Well, then
you got exactly what you asked for, didn’t you?

The last train to Pontiac sat rusting through the winter
while rich white men debated the future of welfare mothers.
And they said “If a few people starve, it’s still worth the difference
if it gets the lazy mothers to get a job to feed their children.”
Then they passed a big tax break for the corporate bondholders
and a new federal subsidy for the tobacco growers
and they gave away some prime wilderness to some well-connected developers
and they did away with the agency
that would have kept them from ripping off the public trust.
But isn’t that what you wanted when you stood behind that curtain?
Isn’t that what you wanted when you voted your conscience?
Isn’t that what you wanted? Well, then
you got exactly what you asked for, didn’t you?

The last train to Pontiac, the last train to Montreal,
the last train to Milwaukee, the last train through St. Albans
were quieted forever to pay for one super-bomber,
or just to please some banker who never travels without his chauffer
or gives a dime when his tanker kills a billion birds and fishes.
he won’t watch them close the station, he won’t watch them shut the lights off;
he’s too busy buying politicians, so they can afford the advertising
so they can afford to tell you how much they’re doing for you.

But isn’t that what you wanted when you stood behind that curtain?
Isn’t that what you wanted when you pulled on that lever?
Isn’t that what you wanted when you voted your conscience?
Isn’t that what you wanted? Well, then
you got exactly what you asked for, didn’t you?

8. “Tonada (Canto de Trabajo)” (Indio Figueredo, Venezuela) Altazor, Altazor (Redwood Records, 1989)

The neo-liberal economic model that emerged from the Free Market Fundamentalism of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama years, backed unthinkingly by conservative and liberal alike (except for the odd couple of Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader who campaigned unsuccessfully against it) has made migrant workers of us all. The once carefully and politically cultivated if not socially and economically engineered U.S. middle class that was the envy of the world and built largely via protected industrial and textile sectors had a stake driven through its heart by the Clinton Administration, during which time American workers came to accept that they would have to periodically give up all accrued seniority benefits and insurance as well as their established if mortgaged homes to travel wherever the next neo-liberally planned sector needed their labor. The hidden hand of the free market would guide us all.

The ever cheaper labor of our hemispheric neighbors never knew of such a golden ahistorical era as U.S. voters were so cavalierly leaving behind. Open enrollment and affordable tuition for stay-at-home students at state colleges and universities. The family breadwinners were used to living on the road trying to find a field to pick or trade to ply for peasant wages to send back home. Here’s a song from the non-booming oil strata of Venezuelan workin’ life as collected by poet Indio Figueredo and recorded by the La Peña-centered and Berkeley-based group of exiled South American Nuevo Cancion women under the band name Altazor, featuring cuatro ace Jackeline Rago (who now tours with the Venezuela Music Project), former Groupo Raiz Chilean bard Lichi Fuentes, Californian multi-instrumentalist Vanessa Whang and Cuban harmonist Dulce Arguelles:

“In the plains of Venezuela the campesinos sing songs inspired by their surroundings as they work, in part to divert their attention from the weight of their labors. This is one such song:”

When the plain is long
There is always an adventure
The mountain jay
The turpial of the highlands, turpial

I have often walked
From Guachara to Rompia
And I have never found anyone
With a memory such as mine, turpial

My mistress has ordered me to go to the dark lands
And to bring to her the flower of the yerba Buena, dark one
Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle!
Malaya, my bad back
Malaya, my bad back, drizzle!
The downpour is coming
And my roof is lost, drizzle!

Calm, heavenly calm
Eyes black and serene
How dark is the night
And the downpour nearing, dark eyes

Canary, canary, canary
Was singing a melody
The canary in the lemon tree
And let loose a sad lament
To my poor heart, canary

9. “Galloways” Jez Lowe, Galloways (Fellside 1985 w/Anne-Marie Flanagan) [www.jezlowe.com]

From the Venezuelan interior plains to Northern England’s coal-exhausted Geordie culture is a surprisingly smooth and short journey. Cittern strumming Jez Lowe with a haunting harmony by Anne-Marie Flanagan call attention to the remaining legacy of the couple hundred year coal boom in the overlooked form of the Galloways, sturdy pit-ponies bred in Scotland to live and work in the low-ceilinged mines pulling coal carts. The Galloways actually replaced children and women who were the first to fit down into the earlier unregulated shafts and labor out of sunlight and without any protection against breathing in coal particulate. The pit-ponies were brought to work and livery underground. Although much loved by their co-worker miners, when the time came for them to be put out to pasture the Galloways often emerged from their years underground with eyes unable to adapt to sunlight and going blind as well as with difficulty breathing and existing beyond the confined spaces they had acclimated to.

If you walk in the evenin’
Where Galloways graze in the sun
Grazin’ n’ standin’
You won’t see them gambol and run
You won’t see their heads turn around
When you’re walkin’ away
But this sun is still blazin’
On blind eyes a’gazin’
On Galloways grazin’ all day

And it casts a fine shadow
From pulley wheels black in the sky
But the streets seem so narrow
Where once they were gapin’ n’ wide
There’s never no children
Where children always had played
But this sun is still blazin’
On blind eyes a’gazin’
On Galloways grazin’ all day

There are hard restless memories
But it doesn’t seem so long to me
But the yard seems so empty
Like broken hearts fallen onto seed
The ragged red walls are bent and breakin’ away
But the sun is still blazin’
On blind eyes a’gazin’
On Galloways grazin’ all day

These are the windows
That once shared a warm winter’s light
Where a dusty old wind blows
Round cornered ends in the night
And it’s hard howlin’ woods & weeds that it mourned
Where it may
But this sun is still blazin’
On blind eyes a’gazin’
On Galloways grazin’ all day

All that was made, it is gone
But it’s hard to forget
‘cause they’ve left it all naked
And standin’ like stones of regret
So tear it all down
Put an end to its death and decay
But this sun is still blazin’
On blind eyes a’gazin’
On Galloways grazin’ all day

10. “Work Song” Oscar Brown, Jr., Sin and Soul (Columbia, 1960)

An early cross-over pop hit for the poet laureate of the instrumental jazz world, Oscar Brown, Jr. here takes a traditional work song and makes it into an anthem of solidarity for African-Americans. This swings with as much purpose as menace and illustrated an alternative to the economic efficiencies of slavery and tenant sharecropper labor throughout the Jim Crow south.

Breaking rocks out here on the chain gang
Breaking rocks and serving my time
Breaking rocks out here on the chain gang
Because they done convicted me of crime
Hold it steady right there while I hit it
Well reckon that ought to get it
Been working and working
But I still got so terribly far to go
I committed a crime lord I needed
Crime of being hungry and poor
I left the grocery store man bleeding (breathing?)
When they caught me robbing his store
Hold it steady right there while I hit it
Well reckon that ought to get it
Been working and working
But I still got so terribly far to go
I heard the judge say five years
On chain-gang you gonna go
I heard the judge say five years labor
I heard my old man scream “lordy, no!”
Hold it right there while I hit it
Well reckon that ought to get it
Been working and working
But I still got so terribly far to go
Gonna see my sweet honey bee
Gonna break this chain off to run
Gonna lay down somewhere shady
Lord I sure am hot in the sun
Hold it right there while I hit it
Well reckon that ought to get it
Been workin’ and workin’
Been workin’ and slavin’
An’ workin’ and workin’
But I still got so terribly far to go

11. “Tel Aviv (Human Traffic)” Jill Sobule, Underdog Victorious (Artemis\Sheridan Square 2004)

The Eastern Mediterranean slave trade is alive and well with a few modifications to the historic business model outlined in its approved and disapproved of forms dating back at least to the Old Testament [see Leviticus]. Today’s business model recruits primarily Eastern European young females for work often deceptively offered in legitimate lines. Moldovan and Ukrainian women are the currency in today’s trade destined as much for African and Middle Eastern markets as western European and American. Jill Sobule’s narrative voice is heartbreaking in conveying the gap between the dreams of hardscrabble farm girls with access to satellite tv images of a dream life that could await them and the business-as-usual life they soon become trapped in amid a runaway free market. Sobule’s melody and sublime touches like a wistful flute line here or double-tracked vocal line there keeps the impact visceral without any cloying manipulation attendant to tabloid journalism or white-hatted folk.

I’m climbing the stairway
That leads from the kitchen
In a bar in Tel Aviv
He asks for my age
He thinks I’m a virgin
That’s why he asked for me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody come get me
I dream of my country
I think of my mother
I send her what I can
She thinks I’m a waitress
She’s proud I’m a waitress
In the promised land
They promised me work
And they promised me TV
They promised I’d never get bored
I’m back on the stairway
I’m higher than ever
They promised that I could get more
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody come get me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody come get me
There’s a boat down on the shore
Wish I could steal away
I’m back on the farm
With my friend Sofia
She’s running and laughing out loud
We’re down by the river
In the middle of summer
I wish he’d get off of me now
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody’s missing me
Somebody come get me

12. “Forty Cent Raise” Cindy Lee Berryhill (w/John Doe), Beloved Stranger (Populuxe Records, 2007)

Cindy Lee Berryhill’s career as an independent DIY artist with a penchant for experimental musical backing of bohemian poetics took a backseat when her husband the former brilliant rock writer Paul Williams suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle mishap. Berryhill served as primary caregiver for a time in the early aughts, also raising her son with Williams and then when additional care was needed she found herself working a variety of catch-as-catch-can jobs. She performed a quick gig at an unfortunate dive bar a couple of years back in Portland, Oregon thanks to the efforts of Community Radio pioneer and KBOO host Brandon Lieberman who continued to play Berryhill’s recordings and carry in-depth interviews with her from her sidelined musical life on his weekly KBOO trailblazing indie music program Drinking From Puddles. There are indignities a’plenty even for those holding down jobs and Berryhill’s stint as a guitar shop employee and music teacher nails them.

Yesterday I got a forty cent raise
Now I gotta wake up and break it to my family today
But I can’t get outta bed, too much drinkin’ n’ achin’ head
I was already underpaid before my forty cent raise

The outlook on my date book don’t look very good
I’d tell my boss to go to hell if I knew that I could
But there’s the rent and the party for Joey and medication for Dad
Ain’t it sad it don’t even get phased by my forty cent raise

Sometimes, ya gotta know what never can be
Before you look to yourself and decide what you know you can be
I sure ain’t perfect, but I deserve to make a livin’ wage
Now I gotta wake up and face a forty cent raise

You can take your politicians and your Army recruiters
Throw ‘em all in the can and watch ‘em put a spin on the truth
Flying’ planes into buildings cuz we’re makin’ big money in the U.S.A.
And I was just increased by a forty cent raise

13. “Unemployment” J.J. Cale, #8 (PolyGram, 1983)
14. “Hard Times” J.J. Cale, #8 (PolyGram, 1983)
15. “Livin’ Here Too” J.J. Cale, #8 (PolyGram, 1983)

J.J. Cale took a seven year break from the music bid-net after issuing his bleakest work in the early onset of the Reagan Morning In America years. Cale is not an overtly political songwriter, but something about the disconnect between the hype and the product, between what the leaders were selling and what the sold-out looked like piling up on the streets clicked creatively. This song cycle #8 along with the one he issued 20 years later heading into the second George W. Bush term in 2004 featuring his most explicitly political song “The Problem” carried him into some hallowed songwriting and social commentary circles. Cale has always been a man of few words in his songwriting, and that works to the advantage of this unrelenting material that illustrates his setting and soundscape. Cale shows rather than tells what he was experiencing on the street in the early 1980’s, despite his own privileged position as heir to the rock and beer commercial royalty checks forwarded via the rather ham-handed covers of some of his songs by Eric Clapton. Fade the Clapton world and enter the realm of the unemployed and those cast aside, even lower down the food chain than Cindy Lee Berryhill “blessed” with a “Forty Cent Raise.” Then ponder the profundities percolating through Cale’s concision on his album’s existential closer “(I’m Just) Living Here Too.”

“Unemployment”

Beating down the pavement, looking for a job
I’ll do anything except steal and rob
Unemployment is something I can’t use
If you can’t use me, can you tell me some good news

I’ll be pretty simple, hear just what I say
I’ll do anything to send these blues away
Unemployment is something I can’t use
If you can’t help me, can you tell us some good news

You won’t have to pay me overtime, overtime and all that
You just tell me what time and where at
Unemployment is something I can’t use
If you can’t help me, can you tell me some good news

I’ll do anything at all, anything at all to be a friend
You know I’m real prompt, I’m right on time
Unemployment is something I can’t use
If you can’t help me, can you tell me some good news

“Livin’ Here Too”

Don’t ask me no questions I’ll tell you no lies
I was born in a freight train passin’ by
My mother was poor, my father too
I’ll take anything I can get from you
I did not make this old world, I’m just livin’ here too

Been shot three times runnin’, cut with a knife
I got four children working, ain’t got no wife
Well, the landlord is callin’, I’m overdue
If you don’t watch my fingers I’ll put the touch on you
I did not make this old world, I’m just livin’ here too

Turn around slowly, look behind
I’m comin’ from nowhere and not by design
I did not make this old world, I’m just livin’ here too

16. “Down the Line (Texas Prison Work Song)” Linda Tillery & Cultural Heritage Choir, Say Yo’ Business (Earthbeat, 2001)
17. “Arwhoolie (Mississippi Cornfield Holler)” Linda Tillery & Cultural Heritage Choir, Say Yo’ Business (Earthbeat, 2001)
18. “Ain’t No Cane On Dis Brazos” Linda Tillery & Cultural Heritage Choir w/Kelly Joe Phelps, Say Yo Business (Earthbeat, 2001)

Oakland, California urban treasure Linda Tillery and her collaborators in the Cultural Heritage Choir have been making music from the ground up and back- tracking to rural historical routes clear to the slavery era’s Middle Passage for two decades. They’ve toured and played to cultural festivals, inner city street block parties and country fairs. They bring a laser-guided purposeful sensibility to roof-raising music and earthy songs that accompanied the joys as well as the struggles of making one’s way through a food chain that carries compassion as the Creator’s wild card. The collaboration with lap slide guitarist and ethereal vocal harmonist Kelly Joe Phelps on the Texas prison work song “Ain’t No Cane On Dis Brazos” surprises in its bridging of the corporal with the transcendent, the visceral with the evanescent.

19. “Tafsuth Imazighen\Amazigh (Berber) Spring” Yelas Ifili, The Net (Iris Music, 2002)

Returning to his Kabylia Mountain homeland on the Mediterranean coastal plateau of Algeria after the auto-genocide of the 1990’s, Yelas, a young Amazigh (Berber) exile casts his eyes on where his pauperized and traumatized homeland has gotten to since The Battle of Algiers and stirring revolutionary books and speeches of Frantz Fanon. Instead of finding the world roused into action a la the current “Arab Spring” the auto-genocide of Algeria was barely noticed in Europe where so much of the wealth of the Algerian nation was deposited into the dozen or so bank accounts of Algeria’s western allied Generals known as Le Pouvoir.

Nor were the 250,000 dead and disappeared in Algeria reckoned with by then Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney who drew the company’s largest profits during his post-Desert Storm and pre-Iraq invasion swing through the revolving doors of government and corporate boardrooms from Algeria. The Islamic world called for no global summit meetings to address the circle of hell lower than any Dante chronicled, but that brave and traumatized Algerian journalist Assia Djebar reported unflinchingly in her 1996 book release in France Le blanc de l’Algérie and that only was translated for publication in the Anglo world as Algerian White in 2002. Yelas finds a trans-Mediterranean, if Celtic flute and fiddle accented native Amazigh/Kabylie Berber melodic thread for fusing his own flamenco fueled cinema vérité.

March announces spring
Firmly and severely
Sparing our mounts
As usual preparing as well as possible
The eternal festival
The villages sound the alert
Let us break our chains
In Tizi-Ouzou
Let us express our joy and our determination

Pushed aside by the authorities
Who want to erase it from history
And crush it by inventing a war
As alibi to make us forget (Amazigh\Berber cause)
Implanting fear they sow terror
We are the hostages of tanks and swords

To strengthen their tanks
They destroy the school
And exploit misery
Just like the locusts
That took you by surprise
And occupy the maquis

Others go back and forth
To make ends meet
Selling “Nike” or cigarettes
Out on the public street

20. “Hazard, Kentucky” Phil Ochs, The Broadside Tapes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1963)

Here’s Phil Ochs’s combination of close attention to the finer and subsequently lost-to-history harbinger items buried in newspapers and his compass-like intuition for social change, albeit less-than-redemptive. Originally from songs published in Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen’s Broadside Magazine and mimeographed in the hundreds just as songs were starting to matter in anesthetized Ad Age 1950’s into early 60’s America, this was one of a set of demos Ochs sat down at a desk in the closet sized office of Moses Asch’s Folkways Records to tape record. Holds up pretty well, it didn’t bring down the Republic as mountain and hilltops along with entire eco-systems continue to be brought down across Kentucky and West Virginia to the present day. John Prine ten years later couched roughly the same story through the eyes of a child “watching Mr. Peabody’s coal truck haul it all away” in his now-classic song “Paradise.” But Ochs focused on the workers who were well down the food chain and needing to work land they didn’t own so they could eat to live. Will it be death by coal (the dangers of getting it and breathing it), ecological degradation or death by malnutrition? God bless workin’ on the food chain!

Well, some people think that Unions are too strong,
Union leaders should go back where they belong;
But I wish that they could see a little more of poverty
And they might start to sing a different song.
Well, minin’ is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain’t minin’ there,
Well, my friends, you’re awful lucky,
‘Cause if you don’t get silicosis or pay
that’s just atrocious
You’ll be screamin’ for a Union that will care.

Well, let’s look at old Kentucky for a while.
It’s hard to find a miner who will smile.
Well, the Constitution’s fine, but it’s hard reading in the mines,
and when welfare stops, the trouble starts to pile.

Well, minin’ is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain’t minin’ there,
Well, my friends, you’re awful lucky, ‘Cause if you don’t get silicosis or pay
that’s just atrocious
You’ll be screamin’ for a Union that will care.

Well, the Depression was ended with the war,
But nobody told Kentucky, that is sure.
Some are living in a sewer while the jobs are getting fewer
But more coal is mined than ever was before.

Well, the badge of Sheriff Combs always shines
And when duty calls he seldom ever whines.
Well, I don’t like raisin’ thunder, but it sort of makes you wonder
When he runs the law and also runs the mines.

Well, minin’ is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain’t minin’ there,
Well, my friends, you’re awful lucky, ‘Cause if you don’t get silicosis or pay
that’s just atrocious
You’ll be screamin’ for a Union that will care.

Well, our standard of living is highest all around,
But our standard of giving is the lowest when you’re down,
So give a yell and a whistle when they light that Union missile
And we’ll lift our feet up off the ground.

Well, minin’ is a hazard in Hazard, Kentucky,
And if you ain’t minin’ there,
Well, my friends, you’re awful lucky, ‘Cause if you don’t get silicosis or pay
that’s just atrocious
You’ll be screamin for a Union that will care.

21. “Midnight Shift” Heather Eatman, Real (Eminent Records, 2001)

Heather Eatman was a John Prine discovery. Once Prine left the big money rock record company payroll he launched his own record label with his longtime business manager Al Bunetta. Heather Eatman’s debut album Mascara Falls was among the first non-Prine recordings released by Oh Boy! Records. Eatman stayed in the game after losing Oh Boy sponsorship and has continued to record strikingly original songs, albeit from well down the food chain. Her records for Eminent reward repeated listening and I sure hope the retail music world sorts itself out and records with liner notes and conceptual art find an artist-sustaining niche because downloads do not offer as much to ruminate over and write about.

My name is Cornelius P. Ziff
I work the midnight shift
But sometimes my mind starts to drift
It starts to drift

I wash the hallways and the john
I make sure the heat stays on
And I drink up the night ‘til it’s gone
The furnace is on the blink
I pushed it to the brink
But it’s given me time to think
Time to think

I’m just an average guy
Eating his ham on rye
Life is passing me by
Don’t pass me by
Life is just passing me by
Life is just passing me by
Don’t pass me by

{Hidden Track 2:30} “I’m Workin’ On The Food Chain” Mark Graham and the Kings of Mongrel Folk, Natural Selections (Eternal Doom, Seattle, 1987)

I’m working on the food chain, and I’m looking for a bite to chew
Out here on the food chain, and I’m telling you, boys, it’s true
You are what you eat, and you also are what eats you.

At the top of the food chain, and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine view
Of a little old chicken for a little old chicken stew
A ten-foot rooster with teeth and a shotgun would be looking down at you.

I’ve got a food-chain mama, and my baby she draws the line
At munching on a morsel that was walkin’ or swimmin’ or flyin’
But if I was a bean sprout, she’d be no friend of mine.

Well I don’t like bean sprouts, but a pork chop suits me fine
Just put it in a skillet, and get that little old pork chop fryin’
Out here on the food chain, you either diet, die or dine.

I’m working on the food chain, and I’m looking for a bite to chew
Out here on the food chain, and I’m telling you, boys, it’s true
When you’re working on the food chain, the food chain’s working on you.

—Mitch Ritter
A Lay Low Studios, Or-Wa blend especially for Driftwood Magazine

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2 comments on “Mitch’s Monthly Mix: May Days Fade 2011

  1. Wow. A challenging theme and a very strong Mix.

    … I sure hope the retail music world sorts itself out and records with liner notes and conceptual art find an artist-sustaining niche because downloads do not offer as much to ruminate over and write about.

    Amen, brother!

  2. Hey, Satchel,

    Thanks for the compliments! We’ll be sure to pass them along to Mitch.

    -Jack

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