Dinesh D’Souza’s Dark Vision of “Hillary’s America”
What Did You Learn In School Today?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little child of mine?
What did you learn in school today,
Dear little child of mine?
asked folksinger Tom Paxton.
I learned our government must be strong
It's always right and never wrong!
Our leaders are the finest men
And we elect them again and again,
And that's what I learned in school today,
That's what I learned in school.
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS
YO YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE
“Every tradition is the result of successful invention… Human beings grow by being curious and receptive to what’s around them. A lot of people are scared of change, and sometimes there’s reason to be fearful. But if you can welcome change, you become fertile ground for development.”
This is just one of the many insightful quotes from the movie The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble.
David Broza: East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem
Film Screening, Q&A and Live Performance
at the Museum of Tolerance - April 12, 2016
Blessed are the peacemakers.
It was hard to determine who David Broza’s most implacable enemy was at the screening of his 2014 film East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem last night at the Museum of Tolerance—Palestinians, or Israelis? I went back and forth, so here is a blow-by-blow account of one of the more gripping films and live performances I have encountered in my effort to cover the waterfront for FolkWorks over the past 15 years.
Hank Williams: I Saw the Light
Starring Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams
Written and Directed by Marc Abraham
Release Date: March 25, 2016
A Picture from Life’s Other Side
Well, they did it to you again, Hank; they did it to you again. Hollywood got its clammy meat-hooks on your incandescent life story and snuffed it out without a second thought.
The Shakespeare of country music was the last to recognize his own genius. Your highest ambition was to play on the Grand Ol’ Opry, not to be taken as an artist on any terms whatsoever. Your mother Lillie Williams—portrayed as a jealous girlfriend by Cherry Jones—was the only one to recognize your innate gifts, saying in a key scene in this wrenching new portrait of the “founding father of country music” that while you “came from Alabama,” where you really “came from” is an utter mystery to her. She is not referring to your birthplace or hometown, but to your artistic genius—where that comes from.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO WOODY
AT THE MARK TAPER FORUM - DECEMBER `13, 2015
On the 8th night of Hanukkah what would a Jewish folksinger be doing? Lighting a menorah? No. Enjoying a latke? No. Spinning a dreidel? No. I found myself singing John Lennon’s Imagine as Jill Fenimore and I walked out of the Mark Taper Forum last night. We saw a new play called The Christians, by playwright Lucas Hnath, directed by Les Waters.
PLAYING AT THE SIERRA MADRE PLAYHOUSE
Although her musical career was already in progress, Patsy Cline didn’t make a splash on the national stage until her appearances on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1957. Before that, her music was only available in places where the audience was deliberately seeking out country-western music. Before that, she dressed in cowgirl outfits hand-made by her mother. Arthur Godfrey’s show brought her, dressed in elegant, sophisticated dresses, into homes across America, as a show heavily viewed by housewives who didn’t listen to country-western, heard her amazing voice on repeated appearances.
WHERE DID BOB DYLAN GET THAT HUCK FINN CAP?
PREVIEW OF HAL HOLBROOK IN MARK TWAIN TONIGHT!
AT THE FOX PERFORMING ARTS CENTER IN RIVERSIDE - JANUARY 17, 2015
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne? Not on my watch, Robert Burns; so here’s a cup o’ kindness, for one of my old literary friends.
America’s first literary rebel was not Woody Guthrie, or Jack Kerouac, or Bob Dylan, it was a young boy who sprang out of the imagination of our first world author—the one who inspired Ernest Hemingway to say that all of American Literature begins with Huckleberry Finn, a children’s book by Mark Twain.
Shining in Selma: Odetta, Dylan and Len Chandler
Preview Screening, Discussion and a Knockdown Drag-out Argument
At The Museum of Tolerance - December 20, 2014
Odetta, Oprah and Oyelowo—there are some big “O’s” in Selma, the movie, and judging from the audience response I heard last night at its premiere local screening another big “O” may be in its future; that would be the Oscar. The film’s producer Oprah Winfrey will certainly be nominated for her resounding portrayal of a middle-aged black woman in
DINESH D’SOUZA’S AMERICA:
HIS LAND AIN’T MY LAND
Dinesh D’Souza’s America opens in medias res, in the midst of the American Revolution, and before we have had time to settle in, we see General George Washington riding by as he is…shot dead by a British sniper’s bullet. What if, D’Souza’s movie speculates, George Washington had died that way and America had never been born. What would the world look like today?—a fascinating hypothesis--but apparently not enough to hang a movie on.
As John Milton found out while writing Paradise Lost every epic needs a villain as well as a hero, and often the villain—in Milton’s case Satan—is the more interesting character than—in his case the Lord. In Dinesh D’Souza’s pseudo-documentary America: Imagine a World Without Her, a hypothetical retelling of the American story the hero—it goes without saying—is America—while the villain is the late great Boston University historian and author of The People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn.
Written and Performed by Randy Noojin
The Theatre Asylum’s Elephant Studio
At The Hollywood Fringe Festival - June 23, 2014
Woody Guthrie is still out there, like the Force, unencumbered and unfettered by normal social constraints or personal obligations that most of us take for granted. Just him and his guitar and harmonica - ramblin’ around from town to town, lending his voice to the cause of the working people. He reminds us that “working people” includes hoboes like himself—one of the original Dust Bowlers from Okemah, Oklahoma, who got put out on the road by Ma Nature and the Bankers in 1935, and never came home. Woody tells their story and sings the real-life ballads and songs he made up so their story wouldn’t be forgotten.
I’ve heard others do this kind of one-man theatre before, starting with Tom Taylor at the Theatricum Botanicum in the 1980s, and more recently Will Kaufman, British author of Woody Guthrie: American Radical (University of Illinois Press, 2011) during the Centennial of Woody’s birth (on July 14, 1912) a couple of years ago.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS:
THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS
AT THE AHMANSON THEATRE: APRIL 23RD, 2014
“Is that it?” were the first words out of Jill’s mouth as the last notes died away from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at the Ahmanson Theatre. In other words, “Is that how it ends?” In still other words, “where’s the Broadway Musical?” You know, the one that ends the way a love story is supposed to end—with Porgy and Bess in each other’s arms—or dying in each other’s arms, just the way they look on the Marquee picture that’s advertising the show. It’s beautiful, in living color, just the way you want to remember them. But there is something wrong with this picture: what they’re advertising is not what they deliver. Jill could almost have asked, “Where’s the beef?”
What they deliver is something more profound: a Shakespearian tragedy, a Greek tragedy, or Dreiser’s An American Tragedy—but not what Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter or George M. Cohan would call “a Broadway Musical.” That’s why George Gershwin called it “a folk opera.” In opera you expect to see dead bodies on the stage, as you do here—the defining moments of both Act I and Act II.
HIGH HOPES: THE MEDICAL MARIJUANA TELETHON
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY VIRGINIA DEMOSS
AT THE FOUND THEATRE IN LONG BEACH
MOTHER’S DAY, MAY 11, 2014
It was a solemn occasion, Mother’s Day, taking the whole family out to a Champagne brunch at Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site in the morning, where you could enjoy Randy Newman’s “another perfect day” in sunny Long Beach, to the Latin beat of the James Cheeseman Jazz Trio and Grand Marnier French Toast and Bourbon-soaked ham (well, some of us could; a 12-stepper like myself enjoyed the vegetarian frittata and fruit salad, orange juice and coffee), catered by Sofia and hosted by Rancho Los Cerritos own Ellen Calomiris.
But the solemnity quickly ended as soon as we got to the Found Theatre further down Long Beach Boulevard, where we caught the Mother’s Day Matinee of their latest twist on reality—The Medical Marijuana Telethon.
The Resurrection of Paul Robeson:
“Paul Robeson” At The
Nate Holden Performing Arts Center
Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014
For an artist of Paul Robeson’s stature—except that there is no artist of Paul Robeson’s stature—to have become a stranger in his own land is one of the more improbable stories of a so-called free society. At one time the most famous performer in America—star of stage (Othello), screen (Show Boat), radio (Ballad for Americans), author (Here I Stand) and recording artist (for Columbia and Vanguard Records), Robeson strode across the American landscape like a colossus. No one would have been surprised to learn that he was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at Rutgers, a two-time All-American football player and the toast of British Aristocracy after making his debut singing Ol’ Man River in Show Boat in London’s West End in 1927. He was declared “the Voice of the Century” long before the 20th Century was over—sharing that title with Marian Anderson.
All Alone with Paul Robeson:
The Tallest Tree in the Forest
The Mark Taper Forum - April 19, 2014
Who is the real Paul Robeson? The Tallest Tree in the Forest or the biggest windbag in Los Angeles? It wasn’t clear to this reviewer last night at the opening of the new one-man play about Robeson by actor Daniel Beaty at The Mark Taper Forum at The Music Center—until half way through the performance—when he sang Zog Nit Keynmol—Never Say—the Warsaw Ghetto anthem penned by Hirsh Glick, the 22-year old Vilna poet who wrote the song upon hearing news of the Jewish resistance to the Nazi attempt to liquidate the ghetto on April 19, 1943, as a birthday present for Adolph Hitler, who was born on April 20—today, as I write this review on Easter Sunday, Hitler’s birthday.
PASSION PLAY 2014: BOUND FOR GLORY
Shepherd of the Hills Church, Porter Ranch, California
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014
“I saw Jesus on the cross/On that hill called Calvary/Do you hate mankind for what they’ve done to you?/He said talk of love not hate/Things to do it’s getting late/We’re all brothers and we’re only passing through.” A song from a Catholic hymnal? A Protestant prayer book? Not even close: it’s from Lift Every Voice, the second left wing People's Songbook of 1953, the same book that contained songs by the soon-to-be blacklisted Pete Seeger, suspected communist Paul Robeson, executed IWW troubadour Joe Hill and Dust Bowl Balladeer Woody Guthrie. It was written by a professor of Renaissance Literature at Cal State Northridge and People’s songster, Dick Blakeslee. What’s a Godless commie folk singer doing writing songs about Jesus? Maybe because Jesus was himself a textbook case of a radical misfit.
Who said “The meek shall inherit the earth.”? Who said, “As you do unto the least among us, you do unto me”? Who said “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”? Who drove the money changers out of the temple? Hint: it wasn’t Karl Marx, who wrote The Communist Manifesto in the safe confines of the British Museum’s Reading Room. So what kind of a man was Jesus?
I wanted to find out for myself, so I figured where better than the best passion play in town, which Jill and I had the good fortune to see last night at the sold-out production of The Passion Play at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, with a cast of hundreds, including children, teens and adults, some of them highly esteemed Hollywood professionals. If you want to see a passion play, theirs is the production to see.
The Book of Altman: A Review of The Book of Mormon
At the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood
February 5, 2014
An account written by the hand of Altman upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi;
Transcribed by RA in the annum MMXIV.
What can a folk singer say about a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that is still playing on the Great White Way and also in various touring productions around the country, one of which thankfully landed at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, where Jill and I and Paula saw it last night, thanks to my cultured friends Jan and Jerry, who gave us 3 tickets they didn’t need. I’ll tell you what I was expecting to see, based on its creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s smash hit TV series South Park, with music and lyrics by Robert Lopez. A foul-mouthed satire of organized religion, belittling the faith of ordinary mortals and bringing to the fore the alternative views of such famous atheists as scientist Richard Dawkins, comedian Bill Maher and the late great critic Christopher Hitchens.
THE COEN BROTHERS’ ROCKY ROAD TO GREENWICH VILLAGE
There were two versions of the Folk Revival available to viewers this evening: on PBS a rerun of John Sebastian’s hosting a program called Folk Rewind, with performances by the Kingston Trio, The Highwayman, The Limelighters, Harry Belafonte, Judy Collins and others who made folk music a commercial success in the early 1960s, and on the big screen, the long-awaited premiere of the Coen Brothers “remembrance of things past,” a film homage to the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961, when Bob Dylan hit town in the dead of winter and joined a budding revival that was to move folk music out of the fraternity circuit and into a major cultural force that fueled the civil rights and antiwar movements. Based on a character modeled on Dave Van Ronk, herein called Llewyn Davis, a young, bearded folk singer in love with traditional music who runs into a burgeoning singer-songwriter crowd with whom he is decidedly and humorously out of sync.
Marilyn…Madness & Me:
An American Classic Premieres
at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood
October 20, 2013
Who Killed Norma Jean is the title of a song by Norman Rosten and Pete Seeger, who saw Rosten’s poem in Life Magazine in 1963 and set it to music. It goes through a dark list of those who had used her in life and now stood to profit from her death—her agents, her fans, the press and the men who exploited her desperate need to be loved. Like Bob Dylan’s scorching anti-boxing protest song Who Killed Davy Moore it shows that there is enough blame to go around. But neither song singles any one out to hold accountable.
Who really killed Norma Jean? A new play has a theory. And however incredible it may seem, I now know how the audience felt on the night of February 10, 1949 at the Morosco Theatre on Broadway for the premiere of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, as they watched a classic being born. I got to see the Sunday matinee closing performance of the world premiere of Marilyn…Madness and Me by Frank V. Furino from an original concept by Didier Bloch and brilliantly directed by Joe Leonardo at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.
The person driven mad in the play is not, as you might think, Arthur Miller, though he does of course play a prominent part—Monroe’s third husband. Nor is it Joe Dimaggio—her second husband—who sent fresh roses to her crypt every week until he died, and was there for her long after their marriage ended. The mad man is the nondescript narrator, who introduces himself as Tim—starring Adam Meyer—Ms. Monroe’s limousine driver.
WILLIAM PILGRIM AND THE ALL GROWS UP:
LIVE AT THE ICE HOUSE
The best Americana duo in the country may be one you've never seen. At least, not yet. The regular podcast, Live at the Ice House with William Pilgrim and the All Grows Up is a living document of the growth of two artists from the streets of L.A. and Orange County to the recording studios of Hollywood where in the latest episode with they are joined by The Blind Boys of Alabama including Jimmy Carter-the oldest touring member of the group. The broadcast also brings together social commentator, writer and activist, Kevin Alexander Gray, modern artist-poet, David (Judah 1) Oliver and up and coming singer-songwriter, Josh (Lesedi Lo-Fi) Douglas. Also featured is narrator Exene Cervenka, a poet, writer, activist and musician. She is one of the founding members of L.A.'s own legendary punk band, X. It is a well-paced production directed by photographer, Scott Montgomery.
Those Were the Days
A Film by Laura Archibald
June 24, 2013 at The Grammy Museum
LA’s own GRAMMY Museum hosted the West Coast Premiere screening of the feel-good movie of the year, Canadian filmmaker Laura Archibald’s documentary Greenwich Village: The Music That Defined a Generation. Are you tired of seeing buildings blown up on screen? Of body counts higher than Hamlet’s last scene, and all in the first five minutes? Of explosions that prove the high tech expertise of digital computer graphics designers who have turned modern films into deafening video games? Perhaps you are ready for a break, for a reintroduction of classic storytelling as an art form, with heroes and heroines whose only weapon is a guitar and a song. I certainly was, and that’s why I enjoyed spending the evening with a gallery of artists who perform on a human scale, and speak straight to the mind and heart.
Directed by Jacob Hatley
SEE IT NOW: It’s playing at two local Laemmle Theatres this weekend, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, in Claremont, at 11:00am and at the Aero in a double bill with The Last Waltz on July 5th.
My voice is not one of the smooth-riding kind, wrote Woody Guthrie, ‘cause I don’t want it to sound smooth; none of the folks I know have got smooth voices, and yet they sing louder, longer and with more guts than any smooth voice I ever heard. I’d rather sound like the ash cans of the early morning, like the cowboys whooping, like the lone wolf barking.
I think of Woody’s description of his own voice every time I hear Levon Helm, for it describes not only its timbre, but the world it expressed as none other in modern music. To me he was the Voice of America, as I wrote in my obituary last year, as surely as was Edward R. Murrow a generation before.
His legion of fans will be delighted to see Jacob Hatley’s new film documentary Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm.
Hard Day’s Night: Radio Unnameable
A Documentary Film About Bob Fass and NYC Station WBAI
by Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson
Broadcaster Bob Fass’s favorite four words are: “You’re on the air.” He said it to every listener who called in to his pioneering midnight show Radio Unnameable on WBAI in NYC, which he started in 1963, an amazing amalgam of the loosely scripted and improvisatory format which LA music writer Michael Simmons dubbed radio jazz.
I saw the premiere screening last night at the Arena Cinema on Las Palmas, a fundraiser for the Pacifica Archives housed at sister station KPFK in Los Angeles. Bob Fass attended the show and answered questions after the screening. In New York he is a living legend, a therapist for the entire city over the past half-century, whom sometimes desperate listeners would call in during the wee small hours when—as Fass put it—the night people are cleaning up the effluvia of the day people, and listening to the radio for company.
It’s a wonderful film, an epic story about a heroic life lived on its own terms, without regard for creature comforts, conventional tokens of success, or any sure knowledge that what he was doing had any value whatsoever, apart from the particular listeners who kept him on the phone sometimes for hours at a time.
Take, for example, Mae Brussels, a conspiracy theorist during the mother of all conspiracy theories—the aftermath of the Warren Report on the Kennedy Assassination.
Dead Man Singing:
Searching for Sugar Man
What if Elvis weren’t the King? What if it were a Chicano folk singer you never heard of? What if Dylan weren’t the Poet Laureate of Rock & Roll? What if it were a Detroit troubadour who inspired the most oppressed people in the third world to hear the Chimes of Freedom flashing? What if Nelson Mandela were not the only hero of the South African freedom movement? What if this same troubadour found himself inexplicably to have inspired a generation of Afrikaners to accept the necessity of ending Apartheid?
Then you’d know how I felt upon coming out of the screening of Director Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man. To call it a documentary begs the question; for if it is true then it is also one of the more fantastic tales since Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days or Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. But I met three of its disciples—outside the Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd. Call them Matthew, Mark and Luke; they were so eager to vouch for the authenticity of this fabulous tale they made a believer out of me—an avowed atheist and skeptic.
Phil Ochs documentary Story
on Democracy Now
Here is the link for the Democracy Now special, "Phil Ochs: The Life and Legacy of a Legendary American Folk Singer"
A Documentary (2010) by Kenneth Bowser
Abbie Hoffman did it with pills, Jerry Rubin walked into an on-coming car on Wilshire Blvd., and Phil Ochs hung himself on his sister’s bathroom door in Far Rockaway, New York. All founders of the Yippies—the Youth International Party that confronted Mayor Daley and the Democratic Party at the Chicago Convention in 1968 and led to the Trial of the Chicago 7. All dead of suicide. So far as we know there was no suicide pact, but in the aftermath of the long strange trip of the 1960s, a more eerie coincidence would be hard to imagine were it not true.
Fortunately, some of the more eloquent voices of that volcanic decade made it out alive, and continue to bear witness to its courage, commitment and overzealous foibles that make it continually memorable into its half century anniversary this year. Perhaps its most eloquent voice did not, protest folk singer, songwriter, organizer and provocateur Phil Ochs, the subject of filmmaker Kenneth Bowser’s astonishing new documentary, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, which, for a week in August, 2010 was shown for an Academy Award qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles. before its official release in the beginning of 2011.
In its opening frames Phil Ochs sings a song that defines his greatness as an artist, both for its musicality and its intense lyricism, While I’m Here:
There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singing on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.
The Bad Arm:
Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer
Written and performed by Maire Clerkin
Directed by Dan OʼConnor
Tonight is the last chance to catch this comedic dance-driven tale of identity crisis and coming of age as an English-born Irish girl in London.Dancer/ Writer/ Choreographer Maire Clerkinʼs one-woman autobiographical presentation is at times poignant and at times hysterically funny. She is able to channel her younger self at various stages of development and to elucidate the moments when life to her was just not fair. No longer need she hold in her feelings of inequities, she is free to entertain her audiences with them - with each incidence diffused by a humorous moment.
ARTIST: FRED STARNER, PETE SEEGER, ROADHOG, LARRY PENN, LUTHER THE JET, RICK PALIERI AND OTHERS
TITLE: THAT'S THE TICKET, ROADHOG: THE HOBO'S SONG
A DOCUMENTARY FILM
LABEL: A PATCHWORK QUILT/CINIWEB PRODUCTION
PRODUCER: FRED STARNER
DIRECTOR: BILL McINTYRE
RELEASE DATE: 2009
Hard Travelin' ("Banjo Fred" Starner's Last Ride)
O Henry tells a story of a vagrant who on a cold winter night deliberately gets himself arrested in order to get a warm bed and a hot meal. He should have met Roadhog, the hobo hero of Fred Starner and Bill McIntyre's new documentary, That's the Ticket, Roadhog-the Hobo's Song. He takes O Henry's premise and stretches it five hundred miles further by robbing a bank in Miami, Florida, to get into the federal health care system available to inmates of a federal prison.
After handing out fifty dollar bills for a couple of days-thus insuring his Robin Hood status-he turns himself into the police, pleads guilty before the judge, and is sentenced to a minimum two years in what he calls "Club Fed," where he sees his first doctor in thirty years, gets tested and treated for diabetes and mental illness as well.
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR:
A REVIEW OF I’M NOT THERE
When they made a movie about Woody Guthrie they didn’t think twice—they put in This Land Is Your Land. When they made a movie about Johnny Cash they didn’t think twice—they put in I Walk the Line. When they made a movie about Buddy Holly they didn’t think twice—they put in Peggy Sue. And when they made a movie about Ray Charles they didn’t think twice—they put in Georgia On My Mind. So I’m sure filmmaker Todd Haynes thought twice about leaving Don’t Think Twice out of his new Bob Dylan movie I’m Not There—
PETE SEEGER: THE LION IN WINTER
A REVIEW OF PETE SEEGER: THE POWER OF SONG
It took six actors to play Bob Dylan, but there is only one Pete Seeger. Now in the winter of his discontent, Pete is the subject of a new documentary directed by Jim Brown (who made the Weaver’s movie, Wasn’t That a Time) and executive produced by Pete’s wife of sixty three years, Toshi Seeger. It’s a love story, a folk musical, and a passionate portrait of Pete Seeger’s America all rolled into one.
Few artists have been at the center of as many storms as Seeger, from the fight against fascism in World War II, to the cold war fight against McCarthyism and the blacklist, the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements. Even now, the lion in winter, standing out on an icy street corner near his log cabin home in Beacon, New York, with an American flag and a peace sign, forty years after his protest song Bring ‘Em Home fired up the anti-war movement against the Vietnam War, is still singing out against the war in Iraq.