Socialists In The Midst

Over the weekend Kish and I went for a walk.  About a block from our house, near St. Mary, we found a poster encouraging people to attend the “launch meeting” for a new group called the Central Ohio Revolutionary Socialists (“CORS”).

The CORS recruiting sign reminded me of the signs that were posted around the Ohio State campus by the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade back in the ’70s.  Like those placards from decades ago, the CORS poster complains about bosses and landlords, “racist cops brutalizing our communities,” “imperialist wars,” and “poverty and powerlessness.”  There are some new parts to the revolutionary agenda, too — like concerns about “the threat of climate catastrophe” and attacks on immigrants and refugees — but the bottom line is pretty similar:  fighting against “the exploitation and oppression we face everyday under capitalism” by forming an organization to “fight for the end of the current system and the creation of one run by and for the working class!”  About the only thing missing from the signs I remember from my college days was a reference to “the masses.”

There’s one other difference between the RCYB of days gone by and CORS — like everybody else these days, CORS has a Facebook page, where a group of what apparently are CORS’ founding members — one of whom is wearing an Ohio State Buckeyes shirt — are shown giving the revolutionary fist sign.

The revolutionary socialist agenda went underground during the Reagan era, but socialism has now emerged from behind closed doors and is back in the American political mix these days, with candidates for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020 and some of the new members of the Party in Congress identifying as socialists.  It will be interesting to see how much traction the socialist agenda gets in the United States — particularly when some countries that adopted what were advertised as socialist systems, like Venezuela, have become train wrecks where the ordinary people live in poverty and misery.

It’s also interesting that the agendas and terminology of the revolutionary groups are so similar to what we’ve seen before.  Facebook page or not, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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That ’70s Party

Later this month, Kish and I are going to a conference for work.  The organization sponsoring the conference is celebrating its 40th anniversary and decided to mark the occasion by having a party where everyone dresses up like people did in the year the organization was founded.

what-did-people-wear-in-the-70sIt’s a clever idea, but for those of you who are mathematically challenged, that means we’re supposed to party like it’s 1979.

This will be a tough challenge, because I don’t have any ’70s-style clothing.  In fact, it’s fair to say that I have tried to get as far away from ’70s garb, and ’70s hairstyles, as is humanly possible.  Having gone to high school and college in the ’70s, I enjoyed ’70s rock music then and still do, and I can definitely wax nostalgic about the shows and skits put on by the first cast of Saturday Night Live.  But the clothes and haircuts of that decade are another thing entirely.  Loud “leisure” suits, platform shoes, brightly colored, patterned polyester shirts that were manufactured without any breathing, natural fibers, monster bell bottoms with huge cuffs, enormous sideburns, and carefully combed hair helmets only begin to scratch the surface.

So don’t talk to me about “’70s style” — in reality, that’s a self-contradictory phrase.   From a physical appearance standpoint, the ’70s is undoubtedly the ugliest decade in American history, when the clothing and grooming industries pulled a fast one on the gullible citizens of this great nation, and I’ve consciously tried to put it out of my mind since the calendar page turned to January 1, 1980.

Kish and I have talked about where we might go to find ’70s clothes, but I’m afraid if we bought such items at a thrift store they might end up infecting the rest of the clothing in our closets.

Tanking Ranking

When my friend Snow posted a Facebook entry about cleveland.com’s ranking of the 50 best albums of the ’70s, I initially resisted.

Typically, I find “top [number of your choice]” lists to be infuriating, and when a writer purports to do something like determine the “best” music of an entire decade I just can’t get beyond the sheer presumptuousness of the whole concept.  And, of course, these days such stories are obvious clickbait, right up there with stories about “weird tricks” to give you more energy or updates on how each member of the cast of Taxi looks these days.

712blvubef2l-_sy355_But, of course, I yielded, after Snow teased me with the information that the list put Dark Side of the Moon at number 10.  Eh?  If that Pink Floyd opus is only number 10, what in the world was ranked ahead of it?  So I opened the list and was immediately inflamed and enraged by pretty much everything on it.  Who was on the list, and how often.  Who wasn’t on the list.  And, of course, where albums were ranked, too.

The Stones’ Exile on Main Street as the number one album of the ’70s is a joke.  Two Black Sabbath albums in the top 50?  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on the list, when it should be Honky Chateau?  (If you’re going to put Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on the list, why not put on The Carpenters, or KC and the Sunshine Band while you’re at it?)  How can you include Hotel California rather than On The Border?  How can you include Sticky Fingers?  And where’s Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, or Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night (or Harvest, or Rust Never Sleeps), or the debut album of The Cars, or Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, or Band On The Run — among others?  And does every top-50 list have to include nods to iconic figures like the Clash, or Miles Davis, or Bob Dylan, or the Velvet Underground, or the Sex Pistols, that all rankers seem to include as a matter of course to establish their rock critic bona fides?  And for that matter, when you’re presuming to do a ranking list, are we talking about artistic influence, or are we trying to acknowledge the great music that people actually listened to and that powered the decade?

The ’70s was the time period I was in high school and college, so it’s the decade where I spent the most time listening to music, thinking about music, and reading about music.  I’d go up to my room during high school and listen to albums like Deep Purple’s Machine Head (appropriately on the list, I might add), and music was always playing in my apartment when I was going to Ohio State.  By reason of those life experiences, I care about this stuff — and this list really sticks in my craw.

Next time, I’m going to stick with my inclination to not read these lists in the first place.

UAHS Rock

There is a theory that every person, of every generation, ends up thinking the music they listened to in high school and college is the best music ever recorded.  And if, 40 years later, they hear the strains of a song that became a hit during the summer after their junior year it still brings a smile to their lips, injects little youthful exuberance into their soul, and makes them want to move their feet, just as it did during their acne-addled years.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really.  For most of us, we’ve never listened to music as fully and intensely as we did during high school and college.  Records and bands were important in those days.  It was not uncommon to listen to records, or the radio, for hours, with or without friends, and then talk about new groups and music, or some great older pieces that you’d just discovered, when you encountered your friends at school.  (“Hey, have you listened to this new group called The Eagles?”)  I even subscribed to Rolling Stone, read its reviews of new albums, and sometimes made purchases on the basis of its recommendation alone if the review was a rave.

And, of course, when you listen to music so carefully you tend to associate it with specific memories from your callow youth — like the album that was playing when you and your buddies were playing pool in the basement (Deep Purple’s Machine Head, maybe?) or the song that your high school girlfriend said was her favorite one time when you were out on a date.  How many people who graduated from high school in my year of 1975 can still sing every song on Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run album because repeated listenings ingrained it forever onto their memory banks?

So, I’m guessing that everyone out there thinks that the music that they listened to during their high school and college years — whether those years occurred in the ’50s, ’60s, ’80s, ’90s, or in this new millennium — is unquestionably the greatest music ever.  Fortunately, in my case, involving the music that I listened to during the ’70s, that just happens to be accurate. I’ve made several playlists that capture those songs, and one of them, UAHS Rock, focuses on the harder stuff that I listened to back when I was walking the halls of Upper Arlington High School during the early ’70s, with an embarrassing haircut and ludicrous ’70s clothing.  The first 20 songs of the playlist still stand up pretty well:

I’m Eighteen  — Alice Cooper
Layla — Derek & The Dominos
Smoke On The Water — Deep Purple
Stairway To Heaven — Led Zeppelin
Walk This Way — Aerosmith
Sweet Home Alabama — Lynyrd Skynyrd
Hocus Pocus — Focus
Band On The Run — Paul McCartney & Wings
Superstition — Stevie Wonder
Come And Get Your Love — Redbone
All Right Now — Free
Rocky Mountain Way — Joe Walsh
Twist And Shout — The Beatles
Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress — The Hollies
Badge — Cream
Roll With The Changes — REO Speedwagon
Radar Love — Golden Earring
I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home — Grand Funk Railroad
Hold Your Head Up — Argent
Moby Dick/Bonzo’s Montreux — Led Zeppelin

Stevie Wonder

IMG_5078Last night Kish and I joined JV and Mrs. JV to catch Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life:  The Performance at the Schott.  It made for a long evening — the show featured every song on that titanic double album, plus some extras and an encore medley of Stevie Wonder hits that ended with him and his singers leaving the stage at about midnight after a thumping, crushing version of Superstition — but it was worth every minute.

IMG_5060Stevie Wonder is aptly named.  In the ’70s, he was one of several artists — Neil Young was another — who could be counted on to produce stunning songs, time after time.  It was a wonder that he could do it, again and again, without a single clinker.  During that period you could buy a Stevie Wonder album, unheard, with complete confidence, secure in the knowledge that you were going to get terrific music and interesting lyrics that would move your feet and expand your social consciousness at the same time.  Talking Book, Innervisions, and Fulfillingness’ First Finale were all great albums, and Songs in the Key of Life was the double-album capstone that cemented Wonder’s status as a full-fledged, multi-faceted genius who could effortlessly cross musical genres to capture the urgings of his inner voice.

Last night we learned that he is aptly named, too, because his outer voice has somehow escaped the ravages of time.  Backed by a huge band that put out an enormous sound, a cadre of talented singers in their own right, and a string section of Columbus’ own, Stevie Wonder knocked the audience out with the 2015 versions of the jumping songs — Sir Duke, I Wish, Isn’t She Lovely, As, and the closing medley all kicked ass — but his singing on the ballads was especially extraordinary.  The star did full justice to beautiful but vocally demanding songs like Knocks Me Off My Feet, Ordinary Pain, Joy Inside My Tears, and Ngiculela – Es Una Historia – I Am Singing as if he had just stepped out of the ’70s.  If you’ve been to see a performance of a ’70s musical star lately, you know that it is rare indeed to find one who still has their full vocal powers as you remember them, and in Stevie Wonder’s case it was even more astonishing because last night he obviously was battling the effects of a cold.  But he is the consummate performer, he played and sang his heart out, and the songs themselves didn’t suffer one bit.

If Stevie Wonder and his show are coming to your town, you really owe it to yourself to see him.  He puts on an unforgettable show, and part of the joy of the performance is rediscovering this legendary figure and music that you loved long ago and that still resonates in your inner core today.  As we left the concert, shaking our heads at Stevie Wonder’s talent, JV and I agreed:  we need to get more of his music on the iPod, pronto.

 

American Hustle And The ’70s

This afternoon Kish and I went to see American Hustle. It’s a clever, interesting, highly entertaining movie that features terrific performances by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro, among many others.

Of course, one of the biggest stars of the movies gets no credit whatsoever. It’s the decade of the ’70s, of course. The movie screams out the ’70s, from the embarrassing hairstyles to the embarrassing clothing to the over-the-top decor of Irving and Rosalyn Rosenfeld’s suburban home. It’s a world of dancing and three-piece suits, gold chains, hairy chests, and skin, cocaine snorts and glitz, where bras apparently weren’t worn and a pop music soundtrack played all day and all night long.

I’m not sure that the movie got all of the lingo and looks exactly right — at the end of the film, for example, one character says “my boss knows you did him a solid,” which I don’t remember as a phrase that was used back then — but it’s clear that a lot of the fun of the movie came from that temporal setting that seems so absurd to us now.

The American understanding of the ’70s seems so fixed that I think it is likely that the decade will always be a popular setting for movies. Just as writers of thrillers and historical fiction can’t resist dipping into the Nazi story, so movie producers and writers will always have a tender spot for the era of leisure suits, elaborate coiffures, and disco.