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The Show at Joe's Pub

Village Voice

The Sound of the City
March 5 - 11, 2003

Made you look: Slim hollers 'Nam Songbook
(photo: Cary Conover)


Resistance Hymns

The thing I'll always remember about the February 15, 2003, anti-war demonstration, apart from playpenned masses and cops riding horses into stroller-pushing parents, is the cold, clear moment when 83-year-old Pete Seeger cut through the rhetoric, plucked the perfect flower from an infinite musical bouquet, and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." While Yip Harburg's masterpiece isn't in The Vietnam Songbook, it well could be, so the unannounced Seeger naturally joined the electric group who revived the 144-song anthology of rabble-rousing ditties Saturday at Joe's Pub, alongside protest singer Barbara Dane, who compiled the book in 1969 with husband Irwin Silber.

Musicians Kim Rancourt and Don Fleming, producers of this nostalgic, often galvanizing evening, lured Dane from Berkeley. Dane's version of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" (Yip again) evoked Anita O'Day reviving Brecht—although I would have preferred her own "I Hate the Capitalist System." Other performers worked outside the canon as well. Dean Wareham moaned "No Train to Stockholm," an anti-war ode by former Dane producer Lee Hazelwood, and Lenny Kaye gave Dylan's "Masters of War" a harsh electric halo.

The band—Curtis Eller, Barry Reynolds, Stephan Smith, Dan Zanes, Jim O'Rourke, and drummer David Licht—swung hard with Jenni Muldaur, Bev Grant, Thurston Moore, and Matt Jones. But solo performances scraped closest to the bone. Seeger played "Take It From Dr. King," an optimistic post-9-11 tune, and Tuli Kupferberg brought it all back home with "Kill for Peace," recorded on The Fugs' Second Album . The déjà vu was enhanced by Joe Bangert and Watermelon Slim, Vietnam veterans who seemed equally stoked and flummoxed to have to do it all over again. —Richard Gehr




March 04, 2003

"Songs of Protest: The Vietnam Songbook" / March 1, 2003 / New York (Joe's Pub)

 Last Saturday, the upscale, modern setting of Joe's Pub in New York's East Villlage was a scene more in keeping with a Village folk club circa 1970. The evening's concert, "Songs of Protest: The Vietnam Songbook" was organized around that definitive protest music sourcebook, which was compiled in 1969 by protest singer Barbara Dane and her husband Irwin Silber, the editor of Sing Out Magazine.

Musician Don Fleming came across the "The Vietnam Songbook" when he was working in the Alan Lomax archives. Along with his friend Kim Rancourt, Fleming produced the Joe's Pub event, which featured some artists who were in the thick of the '60s anti-war movement, including Dane, Bev Grant, and Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs. With the support of the Lomax archive, Fleming and Rancourt are recording oral histories from several of the performers. The recordings will be donated to the permanent collection of the Smithstonian Institute.

The looming U.S. invasion of Iraq made the show especially timely. But Fleming qualified the songbook's applicability to the current anti-war movement: "This show is an educational tool," he said backstage before the show. "It's a way to show how great songs can make a movement, from some living examples of people who created and performed them."

Accordingly, the show celebrated a historical era in protest music, with performers bathed in a nostalgic glow. The show's music was improved by its backing band, a loose group that included bassist Jim O'Rourke, drummer David Licht, and violinist Stephan Smith, among others. Their collective familiarity with the songbook allowed them the freedom of improvisation, and they gave show a sense of continuity that made it more than a mere roll call of protest musicians.

Jenni Muldaur (a literal child of the anti-war movement, the daughter of Maria and Geoff Muldaur,) kicked off the concert with "Universal Soldier." She was followed by Dan Zanes, the popular children's musician whose hair is permanently shocked into a mad professor-muppet style. His selection, "Boonaroo," (number 154 in the "Songbook") told the story of some Australian merchant sailors whose ship, the Boonaroo, was seized by the U.S. Navy in 1967 when they refused to deliver weapons to Vietnam.

An unannounced but perhaps inevitable special guest was 84-year-old folk legend Pete Seeger, whose frail frame was energized with the spirit of dissent. Seeger led the audience in an old-fashioned sing-a-long: "Don't say it can't be done/The battle's just begun/ Take it from Dr. King/ You too can learn to sing/ So drop the gun."

A more modern presence was felt with Stephan Smith's radio-friendly protest ballad, "The Bell." The cut addresses U.S. policy towards Iraq through allegory, with a child figure who stands firm, rejecting the successive war cries of a "man at his desk," until the song finally culminates with the boy's assertion that a bell they hear is calling the bureaucrat to hell. With his rough-hewn good looks and mythic songwriting, Smith is the closest thing to this generation's Woody Guthrie.

Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore emerged onstage carrying a 1964 poster handprinted by Allen Ginsberg with the words "Down with Death, War is Black Magic," and then offered up a sonically dense version of "Fourth Day of July." Matt Jones came out in a dashiki and skullcap to deliver his soulful classic "Hell No, I Ain't Gonna Go." The most abrasive music of the night came from Patti Smith's guitarist, Lenny Kaye, who returned to his folk roots with Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."

When Vietnam veteran Joe Bangert took the stage, he announced he'd been waiting to perform the "Ballad of Ho Chi Minh" for 30 years. He gave an acappella reading of Ewan MacColl's ode to the president of North Vietnam, and everyone joined in on the familiar refrain. As they marched down the Ho Chi Minh trail, soldiers sang a tune less familiar to western audiences, "Giai Phong Mien Nam." Bangert, who lived in Vietman for several years in the '90s, sang the song in its original Vietnamese. Another veteran on the bill was Watermelon Slim, the only vet to have recorded a full album of protest music. The singer covered "Draft Board Blues" and "Vigilante Man," and demonstrated that his strongest talent is on the harmonica.

One of the show's favorites was Tuli Kupferberg, who has the distinction of being the artist with the most songs in "The Vietman Songbook." Tuli brought a New Yorker's dark humor to protest music with selections like "Day in the Death," which he sung to the tune of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." But the amazingly vibrant 75-year-old Barbara Dane was clearly the star of "Songs of Protest." She sang with gravitas and bluesy bounce on both of her selections: "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," a tune from between the two World Wars, and the "Ballad of Richard Campos." The latter song received the biggest response from the audience with its querulous refrain: "Should a man have to kill to live like a human being in this country?"

Dane also led the show's gospel finale, "Insubordination," for which all the performers crowded onto the Pub's small stage and led an audience clap-a-long, with Watermelon Slim waving his hands gospel style.

-- Michelle Mercer, N.Y.  


New York Post



 March 1, 2003 -- Songs of another antiwar movement will ring in Joe's Pub tonight, as folk, rock and blues musicians from across the generations perform "Songs of Protest: The Vietnam Songbook."

Legendary protest singer Barbara Dane will be joined by artists such as Luna's Dean Wareham, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke, the Fugs' Tuli Kupferburg, the Patti Smith Band's Lenny Kaye and Vietnam vets/musicians Watermelon Slim and Joe Bangert to sing antiwar tunes from the past.

Some songs - such as Dylan's "Masters of War," "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" (written between the two world wars), Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" and Country Joe McDonald's "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag" - might be familiar, but many of the tunes will be drawn from the out-of-print "Vietnam Songbook."

Originally published in 1969, the title is a collection of more than 100 protest songs about the Vietnam War written by well-known musicians such as Seeger, Phil Ochs, Nina Simone and Tom Paxton, as well as tunes collected by Dane, who just turned 75, from American soldiers, Vietnamese citizens and songwriters from all over the world in the '60s.

"I collected as many songs as I could as I went around the world, and we canvassed the usual suspects here who were singing political songs," Dane told The Post. "When you look at the photos and read the text of the songs and the writers' notes, you get a sense of a movement against the Vietnam War as told by the people who were living through it. It's very moving."

7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Joe's Pub: 425 Lafayette St., at Astor Place, (212) 539-8770, $20.

The New York Times


A Call to Guitars as War Looms


LOS ANGELES  February 27, 2003

The first time Barbara Dane recalls performing was at a demonstration outside a segregated restaurant in Detroit, her hometown, in the 1940's. In the 50's she sang for civil rights and workers' rights. In the 60's she sang in North and South Vietnam during the war, was one of the first American musicians to tour post-revolutionary Cuba and performed at clandestine meetings of soldiers resisting the war.

Wherever history was unfolding, Ms. Dane seemed to be there. Along the way, she accumulated fans like Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Jane Fonda (naturally) and Lightnin' Hopkins, with whom she recorded.

"Music doesn't desert you, and musicians don't desert music," she said yesterday, speaking by telephone. "It will take you through your whole life in fine style."

Now as a war with Iraq looms, Ms. Dane, at 75, is being called into action again. On Saturday evening at Joe's Pub at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in Manhattan, she and other musicians are scheduled to play songs from "The Vietnam Songbook," a collection of protest music she compiled in 1969 with her husband, Irwin Silber, who edited the influential folk magazine Sing Out! The songbook collected compositions from all over the world, making the case that the protest movement was universal.

Ms. Dane recalled performing songs like the "Ballad of Ho Chi Minh," Ewan MacColl's sympathetic ode to the president of North Vietnam, to soldiers who had just returned from the war. "They'd be a bit stunned, but they'd just sing along," she said. "In those days I had strategies for introducing their own history to them. Most of them were 18-to-20-year-old guys who didn't know that we had a history of struggle and songs that go with that. So you would have to get them to see that nothing is new. You have to stand up for what you believe in. If you don't, what are you?"

The tribute at Joe's Pub is Ms. Dane's first performance in Manhattan since the 70's. The event was organized by two New York musicians and producers, Kim Rancourt and Don Fleming, both in their late 40's. Though both were obsessive music fans, neither was very familiar with Ms. Dane or her work. This is partly because Ms. Dane rejected the path to stardom. Long before she made records with titles like "I Hate Capitalism" she was courted by the rock manager Albert Grossman. In 1960, before he represented Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin or Peter, Paul and Mary, he came to Ms. Dane.


"There are moments when you're making a choice that you know is going to influence the future," she said. "One of those moments was when Albert Grossman asked me to join his stable."


At the time Ms. Dane's priorities were politics, music and her children, not necessarily business and career. "He said, `Call me when you get your priorities straight,' " she remembered. "I said that I had them straight. When you reach age 75 and you look back, I don't have a regret in the world. Every time I made one of those moves, it made me feel stronger and more committed to what I was doing."

So now, four decades later, Mr. Fleming was working at the archives of the folklorist Alan Lomax in Manhattan when Mr. Rancourt came by. On the shelf, he pulled out "The Vietnam Songbook."

"It was terrific, but I had never seen it before," Mr. Rancourt recalled. "I thought that reviving it would make a wonderful project because not only did it collect traditional, classic American protest songs, but it was also from the North Vietnamese point of view. And that led me to my study of Barbara Dane. Though I was from Detroit and thought I knew a lot about music in general, I knew little about her. I wanted to bring her to New York and show everybody what a marvelous career she has had."

Beyond the protest music, Ms. Dane is an accomplished jazz and blues singer, though she has also sung everything from gospel to Greek music to Yiddish songs. The number of figures she worked or performed with is staggering: Muddy Waters, Clara Ward, Earl Hines and Lenny Bruce, for starters.

"People have asked me so often over the years: `Are you a folk singer? Are you a blues singer? What are you?' " said Ms. Dane, who lives in Berkeley. "The point is, you don't have to choose. Any form you have to communicate with in a given situation is legitimate. So I'll just pick up whatever it is and use it. I'm not going to be labeled and I'm not going to be boxed."

One example of her versatility is "Insubordination," a call-and-response song she considers perfect for rallies. "I used it a lot because I could do it with clapping, or if I happened to have a tambourine," she said. "I didn't need a guitar. So if they started pushing the crowd, I could run away. I didn't have to worry about my instrument getting broken or anything."

Ms. Dane plans to perform "Insubordination" at Joe's Pub along with other songs that she says still apply: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," from the Depression, and "What Are You Gonna Do When There Ain't No Jazz," about Prohibition. Also performing on the bill are other voices of the 60's, like Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, Vietnam veterans like Watermelon Slim and Joe Bangert and younger musicians like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Dean Wareham of Luna, Jenni Muldaur, Lenny Kaye and Stephan Smith.

With the American war machine gearing up again over the voices of protesters around the world, Ms. Dane does not feel her previous work has been in vain. She remains committed and eloquent.

"We're probably not going to live to see the solutions to the problems that we have to sing about or combat," she said. "We're not going to see a ready-made answer or things fall into place. The world doesn't work that way. But it's so much more fulfilling to be part of the side that expresses life."