Saturday, July 11, 2009

A brief musical history lesson from the 1960's and 1970's

Joan Baez was a key element in the antiwar movement. It was her singing voice together with the strong emotion she always communicated. But let's start at the early Baez where it was mostly just her voice.

Joan Baez did not start singing antiwar music at first. Listen to this woman's voice. It was originally pure folk music and uniquely, thrillingly beautiful. This song is American folk music.

This is Joan Baez with "House of the Rising Sun."

In 1960 when she first recorded House of the Rising Sun it was her show-stopper. She also sang old English, Scottish, and especially Irish ballads.


Then there was "John Riley."

Joan then picked up on the Civil Rights movement which was building momentum in the early 1960's. Here is her version of "We Shall Overcome."

The labor movement also got the "Baez" treatment. Here is "Joe Hill." Actually, this version is recorded in 2005 and combines her earlier labor organizing material with an anti-Iraq Invasion message. She had earlier versions when her voice was still young and crystalline which were pure labor movement. Her age not withstanding, there is still not a pop singer working today who can match her voice even in 2005. Is it any wonder that I have no real interest in current pop music? Who cares about one more "You done me wrong" song or an "I love you so" song done with an indifferent voice and covered up with computerized techniques that pass for music once you have heard Joan Baez sing the real stuff.

Joe Hill

Before the troop buildup to half a million soldier in 1965, there wasn't much of an antiwar movement. The draft that fueled the buildup ignited it, and Joan Baez was right in with the antiwar movement. Would it be trite to say she found her voice then? But she did. She certainly got a much larger audience who listened to her.

In my opinion Joan Baez' version of "Where have all the flowers gone" was and remains the most powerful version of that song. Again, it was the combination of her technical perfection and the emotion she conveyed. Words don't do her justice, but that's why we listen to music, right? So do it.

Where have all the flowers gone

There is no modern version of Joan Baez connected to the anti Iraq War activists. In fact, there is simply no modern version of the powerful emotional singing voice and the powerful emotional messages she conveyed. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh on the right has as much influence, but that would be a hard comparison to justify since they are so very different.

Joan's voice is missed these days.

On reflection I suspect this is a view of the civil rights movement that current African Americans won't recognize, because it is White-centric. That's true. I was and remain a White guy who believed in the Civil Rights movement. I graduated from an all-white segregated high school, and was a student at Texas A&M College when it was legally integrated. No problem. The difficulties occurred when the all-male military school started accepting [Shock!] women! Guys had to start taking showers more often and getting their uniforms and clothes cleaned more often. [Guys really don't notice those odors, ladies.] Oh, and talking with more polite language. A few profs even walked out of their classes when a woman entered. We didn't have music for that event. But it didn't last long. The next semester women were routine.

No comments: