THIS LAND – HOPE FOR OUR FUTURE – Marilyn Armstrong

This Land Is Your Land

Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

That ribbon of highway ...

That ribbon of highway …

I saw above me, that endless skyway ...

I saw above me, that endless skyway …

I saw below me that golden valley ...

I saw below me that golden valley …

Navajo Big Sky

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps, to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts …

This land was made for you and me ...

This land was made for you and me …

THE JOY OF HANGING OUT — MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Hanging out is a concept lost to modern youth, but the most fun times of my young years were spent hanging out. Too bad modern kids have lost it.

I was a teenager in college. Madly in love with my first boyfriend who was seriously into the “Village scene.” He brought me there for my first taste of cold chocolate at a MacDougal Street coffee shop. I took to the Village like the proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that sold coffee along with a few other non-alcoholic drinks, to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. Everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home.

The world was mine.

It wasn’t only the Village, either. A lot of New York was free back then.

Museums were free. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was a magical experience. For that matter, the huge New York Public Library behind the stone lions had basements full of original, ancient documents into which you could freely delve. You couldn’t take them out of the library, but they were free for you to absorb. (I have no idea if that’s true anymore.)

You could spend an afternoon at the Hayden Planetarium watching the stars. If you had just a little bit of money, afternoon plays on Broadway could be very cheap, especially if you could live with “standing room only.” In the afternoon, there were always seats available. A lot of things you pay big money, for now, weren’t expensive back when. This wasn’t just a matter of the change of the value of money through the years. It was a huge change in culture.

If you were a teenager, New York on your doorstep was heaven, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s on your doorstep? That was the stuff from which dreams came true.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with other people so we could make the rent and maybe afford food too.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a hot chocolate and just sat around waiting to see what might happen. You could read or watch people coming and going. Hoping you’d see someone you knew — or maybe wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. And we didn’t sit around with our cell phones because there were no such things. We just sat around. Talking or thinking or reading. It was a quiet place until the music started. That was hanging out. No one told you to hurry — or told you to buy something or leave. It was cool to simply be there.”

Bleecker and MacDougalI often sat with a cup of coffee or chocolate for a whole day. No one pushed us out the door to make way for ‘the lunch crowd.’ No one bothered you unless you looked like you’d like some bothering.

When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. It wasn’t particularly odd to have no money at all. A lot of us walked around with empty wallets. Without wallets, too. Rich was having exactly enough money to buy a coffee and subway tokens. It was okay in the 1960s. Poverty was cool.

Not only were there no cell phones. A lot of people had no phone. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Cars? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I know I didn’t. That was a decade in the future.

People were friendly, funny, and we were sure we were going to change the world. I think we did, though sometimes when I’m in a dour mood, I wonder if all we really did was make denim a fashion fabric.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was occasionally attending school and getting far better grades than I deserved, I was a music major and one of the perks were free concert tickets to Carnegie Hall. There’s the “main room” — but there are also a number of “recital halls” where up and coming musicians perform. I’m hoping that’s still true.

Meanwhile, one of my soon-to-be husbands and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island. They opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. It was a light-hearted reference to education — AB, MA, and Ph.D. Nobody got the joke.

They brought in the same people who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

Dave Van Ronk (back then)

What did I do there, in Hempstead? I hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Hanging. I also played bridge upstairs in Memorial Hall instead of attending classes, but no one is perfect.

No one was texting, computing, or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the microphones). Nobody’s phone was beeping, dinging, or wailing. No one was going off into a corner to talk on the phone.

If you were going off into a corner, you were either making a date — remember dating? — or buying (or possibly selling) drugs.  All the noise was human. Talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating. Drinking.

It was an incredibly happy time for me, even though I thought I was deeply troubled, probably because I hadn’t really made the full breakaway from home to real life … and also because I’d read too many books about troubled youth and figured I must be one.

I know that whatever kids are doing today, they aren’t having nearly as much fun as we had. I feel sorry for them. We were adventurous, playful, willing to try anything at least once and most of us, more often. If I hadn’t been me during those years, I’d envy whoever had been the girl hanging out. If I miss anything of the “old days”? It’s hanging out. Just being there and doing nothing important.

Being there was enough.

CORRECTING A WRONG TURN – Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, I had a job in Connecticut. My daily commute was 140 miles — each way. I only worked three days at the office and worked the other two at home. Even so, after a few months, I was exhausted. I could not continue.

I quit and found another job that didn’t require as much commuting. It didn’t pay nearly as well, but it wasn’t going to kill me. Two-hundred and eighty miles of driving three days a week was nuts. Not only did it wear me down, but it also wore out my car.

I never thought of giving up as “throwing in the towel.” I was not giving up. More like I was acknowledging I shouldn’t have taken the job (or married that guy) in the first place. What in the world made me believe I could spend five or six hours a day in the car and also spend 8 to 10 hours at work?

Whenever I’ve given something up whether it was a job, a relationship, a recipe, or whatever? The problem was never being defeated by a foe. The enemy was always me. I made a stupid choice. I should never have started whatever it was in the first place. And usually, I’d known it from the beginning but for some reason, I couldn’t say no.

Ultimately, I knew I’d screwed up and changed course. If you look at this kind of thing as a defeat, you will have a lot of trouble coping when the road gets bumpy. Know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em.

John Prine – A Musical Tribute: A serial monography, forgottenman’s ruminations

John Prine – A Musical Tribute

I’ve already posted one tribute to John Prine, but I stumbled across this amazing musical tribute by Carsie Blanton that moves me deeply as well. I hope y’all enjoy.

HERE is a link if you’re inclined to hear more. (Personally, I prefer the simple YouTube track above.)

IT’S THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF EARTH DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Trump is an awful man. I can’t seem to find something positive to say about him and for me, that’s unusual. I can always empathize, even with very bad people (not including one ex-husband). But not Trump. For him, I can’t find a teardrop of compassion. He has no soul or conscience. He is a greedy, empty-headed abuser, liar, and racist.

Ponder the meaning of life, death, and stupidity. Ponder really hard!

Somehow, America made him president. At least a portion of voting Americans had a hand in his election as well as a lot of Russian bots. I would like to believe that not everyone knew what a complete disaster he’d be. We certainly didn’t expect the next plague, but others did. Our president fired the ones who tried to warn him this was coming and for all he knew, was already here. So here we are.

Plague spares no one. Wealth won’t protect you nor religion or politics. Prince Charles is ill but his 93-year-old mother is not. Boris Johnson was moved into the hospital today. My generation who have been dying for a while are now dying faster and more furiously. A lot of younger people are dying too. Plague is about as non-denominational as anything gets.

Many of us (sadly, including me) assumed that should Trump be elected (I had that awful feeling he would be elected), the weight of his office would force him to become a president. This didn’t happen, proving you get exactly what you vote for. It’s like marrying an abusive guy because you’re sure you are the one who will (finally) reform him.

Moral? If you elect a bad guy, making him president won’t improve him.

Previously, people (mostly) changed when they were elected to high office. Trump, on the other hand, is an ignoramus and proud of it, With an election getting close while all of us are locked down, my party — Democrats — haven’t completed their primaries or had a convention. There may not be a live convention. Exactly how we are going to choose a candidate is a bit whimsical.

A few folks wonder what there will be to govern if we won. This is one of the times when winning might not be in our best interests. We are going to be in a hot mess when the virus runs its course, which might take a lot longer than even our worst-case scenario suggests.

We can’t blame the plague entirely on Trump, but we can put a big luminescent sticker on his ghastly ass regarding the amount of damage it’s doing. His unwillingness to cope with the alarming predictions as well as his lack of concern what this outbreak would do to us — Americans — is not merely deplorable. It’s … well … breathtaking.

Pogo – Walt Kelly – 1971

It turns out leadership can only be as good as who we elect. Being a constitutional republic, we don’t have the option of voting out a bad prime minister and exchanging him or her for a nominally better one for any reason short of actual treason. We should have gone the Parliamentary route. If I go back in time, I think I’ll mention that to the “Founding Fathers.” I hate that phrase, by the way. Isn’t there something else we could call them? “Founding Fathers” is so … stiff.

Short of rewriting the constitution,  we are stuck. History will change us. Change the world. I think in 20 years, we won’t have this government. That might not be such a bad thing.

I wish I could live long enough to see how it comes together. I don’t think either me or Garry has enough decades to see how it turns out. My boomer generation won’t experience a lot of change. We are no longer part of the job market, no longer fighting for our standing in the world. Not climbing the greed and success ladder. We are pretty much done with ambition and were looking forward to some ease and relaxation before moving on.

Anyone who is still in the job market will feel the weight of it assuming the planet lets us continue to live on it. This month’s “National Geographic” magazine marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It lays out the optimistic and pessimistic views of the world to come. The pessimistic view is heartstopping. Makes the blood in your veins freeze. Even the optimistic look isn’t great. I got so demoralized, I couldn’t even look at the graphics.

This plague has blocked everything else. A new world awaits us and I hope it’s a better one. If better isn’t possible, functional might do the job.

Boomers didn’t ruin the world. We tried to improve it, but we didn’t get it done. The human race ganged up on the planet and we all ruined it together. We seem dead set to continue ruining it. Someone will need to fight to save it. Probably you guys, the ones who can’t resist a new iPhone at any price. You will have to give up a few things and do many other things differently.

Walt Kelley’s first Earth Day poster

It is hard but it’s your future. We old folks who you so eagerly blame for everything will be dead. Once upon a time, we too looked to our future and did the best we could with it. Our parents didn’t ‘get us’ at all. We look at our world and decided to change it. But for you, our time is done. We will return to the stars and the world will be yours. If you don’t fix it, you, your children, and grandchildren won’t have a livable world.

Activism isn’t easy, but maybe it’s time to detach from the toys. Earth used to be a nice place. It could be again. Good luck!

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc

Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, “Peyton Place”, trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac

Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”

Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather, homicide, children of thalidomide
Buddy Holly, “Ben Hur”, space monkey, Mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, payola, and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, “Psycho”, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”

Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion

“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it …

Songwriters: Billy Joel
We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

AT THIS MOMENT – RICH PASCHALL

Karaoke Night, by Rich Paschall

From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, we spent a lot of time in adult drinking establishments singing various tunes to varying degrees of success. You did not have to be any good at it. You just had to have enough nerve to get up and sing out loud. The truth is, of course, that most people are not listening to you anyway.  They are having conversations with their friends and ordering another round of whatever is making them loud and somewhat obnoxious at their tables or at the bar. It is a lot easier when you realize that few if any are listening or even care what you are singing.

The first song I attempted was Born To Be Wild if my memory serves me at all after all these years of belting out songs I thought I knew. I had heard others do the song. I knew it was rather easy and within my limited vocal range. So I did it a number of times before I had the courage to move on to song number two.

We were friends with a guy who did Karaoke at a local bar. There were nights when I took over for him, either because he was busy that night or because he would rather sing and drink. Since I sometimes had to fill the gaps early in the evening when there were no singers, I learned to do a few other songs.  And remember, no one was listening anyway.

One of the girls who frequented the place wanted to do a duet. We settled on “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease. Nope, I can not sing it that high. Do I look like John Travolta? We did learn, however, that you can adjust the key on those old karaoke machines, so we drop it down 3 steps, and we both sounded a lot better.

After I had been helping out the karaoke host for a few months, a woman who tended bar on occasion asked me to sing “At This Moment.” I told her I didn’t know it. In fact, I thought I had never heard it before. She told me I should learn it. She was quite serious. Since she was bigger and tougher than I, it seemed like learning the song would be a prudent thing to do. The next time I saw her at the bar she handed me a cassette tape. She had recorded the song back to back so I would listen to it two times in a rows each time I put the tape on. It was the only thing on the tape. I learned the song.

As time went on I learned a variety of other songs. There were a few I had in mind for those that wanted to do karaoke with me. It was a strange experience to have people I didn’t know ask me to sing with them, and some could not carry a tune if we put it in a bucket for them with a large handle attached. But I was always a good host and tried to team up a couple of mediocre singers so I would not have to join the fray. Besides, I thought I was creating friendships. If you want to practice, I have the karaoke version of the next song hereYou supply the vocal. If that’s too much, here it is with vocal:

We had our “go to” duets and we also had our group songs for those who wanted to drag up their friends but didn’t know what to sing. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was not one of my choices, although many chose to kill it anyway. Instead of that, I would suggest certain Beatles tunes and this one was always popular:

There was a Frank Sinatra song or two I would like to sing if I got the chance, and someone else did not beat me to it.  “Something Stupid” was a good duet if someone actually knew the Nancy Sinatra part. I liked “Strangers In The Night” but I could never do it well. This one was better (and easier) for me to sing:

Some nights we were busy and I did not get to sing much, if at all. Sometimes I got the chance to entertain myself a lot. When the opportunity presented itself, I would close the show with “For The Good Times,” and they were good times.

Enjoy the music above and don’t forget to sing along, nice and loud.

2020 WON’T BE ANYONE’S FAVORITE YEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

I had a favorite year and it was 51 years ago. Hard to believe because it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy. Home with the baby, I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there. On the moon. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest.

woodstock-1

Woodstock was a month. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby and wished them well.

I was young, healthy. I just knew we would change the world. Make the world better. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. We saw the future brightly and full of hope.

How could we — in a mere three years of The Trump Dump — manage to watch a lifetime of our generation’s effort vanish? I remember crying when Obama was elected and now we have this bombastic idiot tearing down everything we thought we’d accomplished. And I’m crying again at all the good, torn to shreds by one evil guy.

From 2016 until today, we’ve discovered the fragility of our democracy. In the face of a viral plague, watching this madman destroy our clean water and air and ignore the cries of the Earth. Tears apart our relationships with our allies and the rest of the world.

Take me back to a better time and place where I am young enough to hope for great things to come in my lifetime. Will life be better again in another 51 years? Will it be better next year?