Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 12, 2016

Remembering Michael Ratner

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 2:33 pm

Michael Ratner, one of the most effective and respected constitutional rights attorneys in the USA and president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, died of cancer yesterday. The NY Times ran an obit that was noteworthy for its recognition of his accomplishments (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/12/us/michael-ratner-lawyer-who-won-rights-for-guantanamo-prisoners-dies-at-72.html). When a leftist gets such a tribute from a newspaper infamous for its corporate loyalties, that is a sign of his importance.

I also recommend the obit that appeared in the Nation (http://www.thenation.com/article/michael-ratner-1943-2016/) by David Cole, an outstanding constitutional rights attorney in his own right. Cole’s article concluded:

In an era of globalization, Ratner adapted the tactics of the classic civil-rights lawyer to concerns about global justice. Many of his lawsuits challenged US interventions abroad, especially in Central America. He pioneered the use of the Alien Tort Statute, a law enacted in 1789, to bring human-rights claims in US courts for torture and other grave human-rights abuses. He invoked the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which permits countries to prosecute torturers wherever they are found, to pursue accountability for US torture in German, Spanish, and French courts, when US avenues were blocked. In the latter cases, he did not prevail. But as he would have put it, “We filed 100 percent on principle.”

As someone who had a brief encounter with Michael Ratner and his former wife Margaret Ratner Kunstler in 1987, I can attest to the importance of his work and more generally that of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

At the time I was the President of the Board of Tecnica, a group that recruited volunteers to work with government agencies in Nicaragua. The focus was on programmers like myself but delegations included machinists, welders, physicians, engineers and other types of skills—either blue or white-collar. When people returned from a week in Nicaragua, they frequently returned for a longer period to begin work with a government ministry, a cooperative or other entity committed to the Sandinista revolution. Those that were not placed often became activists in their community as part of a broader movement in solidarity with a revolution Reagan was trying to crush.

In April 1987 the FBI launched an offensive against Tecnica that involved interrogating returned volunteers at their workplace about our group supposedly being involved in an espionage network transferring technology from Nicaragua to Cuba and then to the USSR. The Washington Post editorialized against the harassment on May 14th:

The Washington Post
May 14, 1987, Thursday, Final Edition

Questioning Nicaragua Volunteers

IT IS NOT ILLEGAL to travel to Nicaragua. Any American has a right to go there and to teach, repair tractors, help with the harvest or work in a clinic. Many do go, some as a concrete expression of political opposition to the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America, others for purely humanitarian reasons. This can be extremely dangerous. One American volunteer, Benjamin Linder, who went under the auspices of a group called Tecnica, was killed there last month. And it can be unpopular, since the Sandinista government understandably does not have many friends in this country. But it is not illegal.

In spite of all this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning large numbers of those who have returned from volunteer stints in Nicaragua. More than two years ago, Director William Webster testified that about 100 people had already been interviewed, and the pace has apparently picked up in recent months. The FBI will not discuss the reasons for these interviews other than to say that they are related to “foreign counterintelligence investigations.” This may be so, but in justifying inquiries such as these the bureau has a particularly heavy — and thus far unmet — burden of proof to bear.

That is all the more so given the unpleasant method in which some of the most recent questioning is said to have been conducted, which has prompted a House subcommittee to look into this matter. According to some who were subjected to the process last month, agents have arrived unannounced at work places. They have gone directly to personnel managers and asked to see specific employees in connection with a national security investigation. One volunteer charges that an agent threatened to deal directly with her boss if she refused to answer questions on the spot.

Those questioned believe they are being harassed for their political beliefs and activities. They say there is no evidence that any person who has traveled to Nicaragua in support of the contras, for example, has been treated in a similar manner. Public faith in the FBI depends critically on the perception that it will not be used for political purposes. The agency and the administration both owe a full explanation.

Michael Urmann, the founder and executive director of Tecnica who died four years ago, came to New York to meet with Michael Ratner and Margaret Ratner Kunstler at Bill Kunstler’s townhouse on Gay St. in the village. I joined him to go over the ramifications of the FBI intervention. Basically the two regarded it as a form of harassment and doubted that it would lead to arrests since clearly—as the Post editorial pointed out—we were doing nothing except sending volunteers to work in Nicaragua.

That being said, it was reassuring to have their commitment to handling our legal defense in the event that things escalated. I was very impressed with Michael Ratner’s ability to put this incident into historical perspective and to make us feel as if we had powerful allies against whichever obstacles would be put in our path.

On the day after the FBI visits to personnel offices took place, I have to admit that I was spooked. This was in the Reagan era when fears of an out-of-control executive were well grounded. In building up the Center for Constitutional Rights as an asset for activists taking considerable risks in building movements considered subversive by the national security state, people like Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Bill Kunstler himself performed a yeoman service to the revolutionary movement—god bless them.

 

May 5, 2016

Kwame Somburu, ¡Presente!

Filed under: african-american,obituary,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 2:35 pm

Yesterday I learned that Kwame Somburu had succumbed to cancer at the age of 81. Although he was a Facebook friend for a few years, I really had no personal connections to him previously. As was the case with any number of other people I knew from a previous lifetime in the Trotskyist movement, we had reconnected in cyberspace. After spending a few hours doing some Internet research on him, I regret that I had never spent time chatting with him back in the late sixties when we were both members of the NY branch of the SWP. About a month or two after joining the party, there was an incident involving Paul Boutelle, as Kwame was known at the time, that made it into my memoir:

UnrepMarx 1_Page_055 UnrepMarx 1_Page_056

It was that incident and Paul’s appearance on William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” that year that had always been stamped indelibly in my memory. After watching Kwame Somburu: A Conversation with a “Rabble Rouser”?, the superb interview with Paul made two years ago in Albany, NY by Kush Nuba and linked to below, I have a much better idea who he was and why I stayed in the Trotskyist movement as long as I did. It was smart and charismatic people like Paul Boutelle, his running mate Fred Halstead, and Peter Camejo that will always define the party for me—not the bizarre workerist cult I left in 1978.

Although I encourage everybody to watch the entire interview, I’d like to extract a few essential biographical points to put Kwame into context. His father was a small businessman doing radio repairs in Harlem where the family lived. From an early age, he was sensitive to racism starting with being forced to read Little Black Sambo in grade school. He has vivid memories of the people of Harlem spontaneously pouring into the streets after Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938.

In 1951 he quit high school because he was bored. He used to sit in the back row of the classroom reading a book and ignoring the teacher. Despite being a high school dropout, he had a tremendous intellectual curiosity reading everything that came his way from Jehovah’s Witnesses pamphlets to Karl Marx and Irish history, which interested him as an example of how other people can be colonized and exploited. Anything that was off the beaten track intrigued him.

As an autodidact, he was ideally suited to selling the World Book encyclopedia in the 1950s. Before there was an Internet, that’s the way that many families could do simple research without going to the library. My parents bought a copy of the Book of Knowledge, a children’s encyclopedia that I read ravenously.

When Kwame wasn’t selling encyclopedias, he was driving a cab—a job he had in 1968 when I first ran into him at party headquarters. He had joined the movement three years earlier but had first run into the Trotskyists in 1960. He was walking down the street in Harlem when he spotted a couple of white guys collecting signatures to put SWP candidates on the ballot. Since he was always curious to see what out of the ordinary people were up to, he struck up a conversation with the party members. Because he had already been reading Marx, it was almost inevitable that he would end up at party headquarters even if McCarthyism lingered on. That year he joined the Young Socialist Alliance and kept loose ties to the party until he became a member 5 years later.

Kwame was one of the old-timers who left the SWP in 1983 as Jack Barnes finalized the purge of all those who resisted his bureaucratic assault on party norms and Trotskyist politics. What is striking about the interview with Kush Nuba is the sharpness of his mind and his ability to recall events from fifty years earlier in great detail. Is it possible that a lifetime of revolutionary politics can keep the mind in fighting trim? Cancer might have wreaked havoc with his body but his mind shined like a star until his last breath.

January 6, 2016

Thoughts triggered by the passing of Paul Bley

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

In 1961 I was a sixteen-year old freshman at Bard College with a real hunger to hear jazz. It was a new-found passion dating back to the summer when I heard Miles Davis’s performance of “Summertime” on a juke box in a pizza parlor in South Fallsburgh, New York. As soon as it came on, it was like being hit by lightning.

At Bard I was bowled over by the availability of jazz records in the college library. The late 50s and early 60s were the heyday of hard bop and I became a fan of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Charlie Mingus.

But it was also an opportunity to hear live jazz for the first time. That year Paul Bley came to Bard, a pianist that a friend described as a be-bopper influenced by Bud Powell. Smoking a joint beforehand, I strolled over to Tewksbury Hall and sat down for my first live jazz concert. Wow! I can’t remember who the bass player and the drummer were but I’ll never forget the saxophone player: Pharoah Sanders (this is not the same spelling as the Egyptian kings but it was the one that Sun Ra gave to his young sideman who was born Farrell Sanders.)

I had no idea that Bley was on the leading edge of the avant-garde that was just taking shape. I can’t remember much about the rhythm section but Sanders blew my fucking mind. Each solo started off with the standard chord progressions but somewhere near their apex, he began what can only be described as screaming through his horn. Whether it was the pot or the sheer power of Sanders’s solo, or a combination of the two, I was converted to a style of jazz that would become known as the New Thing a year or two later. Other musicians in this movement were the Ayler brothers, Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman.

It was no accident that in my freshman year I also heard LeRoi Jones, as he was known at the time, reading from his “The System of Dante’s Hell”. Like Pharoah Sanders, who would go on to make recordings like “Black Unity”, Jones was an early exponent of Black Nationalism. For me, the jazz avant-garde and Black Nationalism were my guideposts long before I got involved with the political avant-garde and perhaps made my transition a little easier.

You can hear Sanders playing with Paul Bley and Don Cherry, another New Thing proponent here:

This was the second time Bley had played at Bard. In 1959 he was part of a jazz festival organized by pianist Ran Blake who would go on to an outstanding career as an avant-garde jazz musician himself. I had some dealings with Blake in 1965 when I organized a gospel concert at Bard. Ran was pushing for the Sweet Daddy Grace band but the college chaplain put the nix on them performing in the school chapel since the last time they were there, they were too rowdy for his Episcopalian sensibility. Instead we booked Johnny Peoples and the Brooklyn Skyways who put on a memorable concert in the gym.

I have to admit that despite being smitten by the concert of Paul Bley’s band in 1961, I never collected his records. Indeed, I have been much more into his ex-wife Carla Bley’s recordings, especially those done in conjunction with bassist Charlie Haden who was a leftist like her.

But I do want to put in a good word for a record led by saxophone player Sonny Rollins made in 1963 titled “Sonny Meets Hawk” that included Bley on piano. Hawk, of course, is Coleman Hawkins. I consider it one of the 10 greatest jazz records of all time. It is distinguished by the affinity that Rollins, a modernist but not a New Thing musician, has with an ostensible swing relic Coleman Hawkins. In fact Hawkins was always eager to connect with younger modernist musicians going back to Charlie Parker who he played with in 1950:

In “Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation”, Eric Nisenson describes the great aplomb with which Hawkins met his younger cohorts:

The most amazing thing about this album is how unruffled Hawkins is by the often strange sounds being created by both Sonny and Paul Bley (the band was the same as at Newport. although Bob Cranshaw substituted for Henry Grimes at the second session). The first tune, on the album, “Yesterdays,” begins with Sonny’s unaccompanied introduction, during which he briefly alludes to the famous Bird blues “Now’s the Time.” As the tune goes into tempo, Hawkins states the theme, or rather implies the melody. His statement is typically dramatic and moving, never for a moment sounding anything but utterly modern and never sacrificing his inimitable musical persona. Sonny begins by emulating Hawkins’s brief trill at the end of his solo; Sonny makes it the core of his own improvised solo statement, using it as the basis of his solo just as he had in the past used melodic fragments for thematic development. The exploration of pure sound throughout this album prefigures the work of Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and, in the last couple of years of his life, John Coltrane.

And here’s the performance of “Yesterdays”. I would only add that Bley’s piano playing keeps everything sewn together like a golden thread. I find every note played by every musician completely haunting. In fact it is the spirit of the lyrics of the tune that dwells in this post:

Yesterdays, yesterdays
Days I knew as happy sweet
Sequestered days
Olden days, golden days
Days of mad romance and love

Then gay youth was mine, truth was mine
Joyous free in flame and life
Then sooth was mine
Sad am I, glad am I
For today I’m dreamin’ of yesterdays

Photo

Paul Bley on piano at a Jazz at Lincoln Center concert in 2000, accompanied by Charlie Haden on upright acoustic bass. Credit: Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos
Paul Bley, an obdurate and original pianist who began his career playing bebop and eventually became a major force in experimental jazz, died on Sunday at his home in Stuart, Fla. He was 83.

His record label, ECM, announced his death without giving a cause.

Mr. Bley’s style of playing was melodic, measured, bluesy, often polytonal and seemingly effortless. He took as long as he needed to finish a thought, and at the tempo he chose for it. He loved standards but distrusted the strictures of the 32-bar song form, and especially distrusted repetition. His notes could move slowly without telegraphing their destination, drawling down into nothing or cohering into bright, purposefully gapped lines, with backing chords that kept changing the tonal center.

Mr. Bley (pronounced “blay”) developed an influential language of phrasing and harmony — Keith Jarrett and Ethan Iverson were two of its many beneficiaries — but often talked about being eager to get outside his own habits. In the 1981 documentary “Imagine the Sound,” he professed not to practice or rehearse, out of what he called “a disdain for the known.” And he did not stake his work on traditional notions of acceptability, or the approval of the listener.

Photo

A 1965 publicity photo of Mr. Bley for ESP Records.

“I’ve spent many years learning how to play as slow as possible,” he told the Italian pianist and writer Arrigo Cappelletti in a typically provocative 2002 interview, “and then many more years learning how to play as fast as possible. I’ve spent many years trying how to play as good as possible. At the present I’m trying to spend as many years learning how to play as bad as possible.”

Hyman Paul Bley was born in Montreal on Nov. 10, 1932. His father, Joe, owned an embroidery factory; his mother, the former Betty Marcovitch, immigrated from Romania to Canada with her family when she was 9.

He started studying violin at 5 and piano at 8, and as a teenager began playing piano professionally as Buzzy Bley. In 1949, as a senior in high school, he briefly took over Oscar Peterson’s job at the Alberta Lounge in downtown Montreal.

Mr. Bley left for New York in 1950 to attend the Juilliard School. During his early years there, he played with the saxophonists Lester Young and Ben Webster, among others.

Keeping a hand in his hometown jazz scene, he helped organize the Jazz Workshop, a musician-run organization in Montreal that set up out-of-town soloists with local rhythm sections; in February 1953 he booked Charlie Parker for a concert and accompanied him. That concert was recorded, one of his first extant recordings before his first album as a leader, made nine months later with a trio that included Charles Mingus on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Through the mid-’50s, he was an adept bebop player with a spare style.

He met the pianist and composer Carla Bley, then known as Karen Borg, when she was working as a cigarette girl at the jazz nightclub Birdland; the two of them moved west, finally settling in Los Angeles, where in 1957 Mr. Bley secured a job leading a band at the Hillcrest Club six nights a week for nearly two years.

Toward the end of his time there, in 1958, he hired the saxophonist Ornette Coleman and the trumpeter Don Cherry for his band. He noticed that Coleman, in his compositions did not follow the standard 32-bar AABA song pattern, but rather what Mr. Bley called “A to Z form.” In his 1999 memoir, “Stopping Time,” he remembered that “it didn’t take more than a second to understand that this was the missing link between playing totally free, without any givens, and playing bebop with changes and steady time.”

Paul and Carla Bley were married in California in 1957, and during the following years he recorded a lot of her music: Her compositions make up most of Mr. Bley’s records “Footloose!” (1963) and “Closer” (1965), as he found his way toward his own kind of free jazz, intimate and almost folklike.

During that time, playing with the saxophonists Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins, he defined as well as anyone the blurry line between the scratchiness of free improvisation and the virtuosity of the jazz tradition.

Paul and Carla Bley’s marriage ended in divorce. Another relationship, with the singer and composer Annette Peacock in the 1960s, resulted in more collaboration. Her compositions, which make up all of the trio record “Ballads” (1971) and some of the solo-piano record “Open, to Love” (1972), were important to his “slow as possible” period; using synthesizers, well before they became common in jazz, they performed together on record as the “Bley-Peacock Synthesizer Show.”

In 1973, with the video artist Carol Goss — whom he eventually married — Mr. Bley set up the multimedia company Improvising Artists, which released his music and others’. Ms. Goss survives him, as do his daughters, Vanessa Bley, Angelica Palmer and Solo Peacock, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Bley did much of his performing and recording from the ’80s onward in Europe, often with musicians he knew from earlier days — notably the bassist Charlie Haden, from Coleman’s group; the bassist Gary Peacock (former husband of Annette); and the saxophonist and clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, with whom he made two chamberlike trio albums in 1961.

Increasingly he made solo records, full of his onrushing, nonrepeating ideas — the best way for him to express what he described as a series of questions.

“My solo piano playing is a question in itself,” he told Mr. Cappelletti. “The question is ‘why?,’ and after ‘why?’ comes ‘what?,’ and after ‘what?’ comes ‘when?’ ”

 

June 26, 2015

Gunther Schuller Dies at 89; Composer Synthesized Classical and Jazz

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 8:36 pm

The NY Times obituary  for Gunther Schuller is must-reading for anybody interested in contemporary music. It pays tribute to him both as an avant-garde composer of atonal music but also as a pioneer of what was known as the “Third Stream” in the 1950s and 60s, an attempt to bridge the gap between classical music and jazz that was epitomized by the Modern Jazz Quartet. To some extent, Schuller was merely expanding upon earlier works of synthesis such as George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, Igor Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto” that was written for Woody Herman, and Darius Milhaud’s “Creation of the World”, a ballet score that the composer wrote after being exposed to jazz in Harlem in the 1920s.

Although I have no deep insights about Schuller’s politics except that he hated racism, the MJQ saw the Third Stream as a way of breaking with the notion that jazz was “entertainment” served up for white audiences as some kind of “jungle music”. Ironically, Duke Ellington, one of the men most responsible for attempting to bridge the gap between classical and jazz, performed “jungle music” in the 1920s himself. Who said that popular culture and race were not complicated matters?

Schuller certainly was aware of the cognitive dissonances in his discussion of Paul Whiteman and Jimmy Lunceford, who was about as close to Duke Ellington in his mastery of the big band style even if he never reached Ellington’s prominence. To some, the aptly named Whiteman was the prototypical white appropriator of a Black style, in effect the Elvis Presley of his day who was the first to perform “Rhapsody in Blue”. In Schuller’s indispensable “The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945”, he ties the strands together in a brilliant synthesis:

Paul Whiteman in his biography Jazz writes of his father that he was “the best-balanced man” he ever knew—”He never had a drink until he was fifty-five and never smoked until he was sixty”—and he added that he was always “keen on athletics.” That happens to be also a perfect description of Lunceford.’ After taking a bachelor’s degree in music at Fisk University, followed by graduate work there and at New York’s City College (while working with the bands of Elmer Snowden and Wilbur Sweatman), Lunceford went to Memphis and taught music and athletics (sic) at Manassa High School. Here he met Wilcox and Smith, and when they went on to Fisk for further study, Lunceford followed them, and became an assistant professor of music at Fisk. By the time Wilcox and Smith graduated, the band, conceived back in Memphis, developed further at Fisk, and having added in the meantime two outstanding rhythm men—Moses Allen (bass) and Jimmy Crawford (drums)—had already acquired a considerable reputation throughout the South.

It is clear that Lunceford tried to emulate his teacher, Whiteman, Sr., in the same way that Wilcox and Smith at heart regarded Lunceford as their teacher and emulated his sense of discipline and exacting musicianship. Lunceford in fact was in some ways a black Paul Whiteman—down to leading his band with a long white baton.

But the similarities go further. Like the Whiteman orchestra, Lunceford’s band carried a whole retinue of arrangers; he insisted on painstaking rehearsing to achieve the highest possible technical and musical proficiency; he insisted further on playing a wide variety of that music most favored by audiences, developing among other things, like Whiteman, a superb dance orchestra. Lunceford also stressed in the band’s on-stage behavior—as John Lewis was to do with the Modern jazz Quartet twenty-five years later—that music was a profession to be respected and that, if musicians wanted to be considered respectable, they might begin by treating their music and their profession with respect. This was in startling contrast to the conduct ascribed to jazz musicians, then—and, alas, even now—as rather vulgar gin-guzzling inebriates, disreputable Don Juans, and worthless spendthrifts.

Lunceford would have none of that attitude in his band and cultivated a quite different image. As Wilcox said of Lunceford: “He didn’t like anything done sloppily, and that carried into his music.”

I am aware that for many jazz fans to link a musician to classical and “serious” training and, worse yet, to portray him as a disciple of Paul Whiteman amount to absolute anathema. But that is another myth that jazz in its maturity might finally dispense with. The notion that a black musician “tainted- by formal training of one kind or another is thereby inherently less of a jazz musician reveals a special inverse racism, as deplorable as its opposite. The theory of pedigree in jazz is simplistic at best. A man, a musician, is what he is; and what he produces as a musician is the sum total of all his talents. A musician’s antecedents and heritage neither guarantee nor preclude talent and quality, although they certainly may define and predetermine some of its characteristics. It is precisely those specific personal. intellectual, emotional, and psychological qualities in Lunceford’s makeup, influenced by his background and early training, that determined to a very large measure the quality of the Lunceford band’s music-making—its strengths as well as its weaknesses. That it was for some years one of the very finest jazz orchestras of its time is undeniable; and we cannot rewrite history in order to reconcile it with some preconceived premise. Not all white influences on black music are automatically negative in impact—starting with the early black ragtime and jazz musicians’ assimilation of white European harmony.

One thing that is not mentioned in the NY Times obituary was at least for me one of his greatest accomplishments—hosting a show in the early 60s on WBAI called “Contemporary Music in Evolution”. You can get a feel for how much the station has degraded by looking at program guide from 1960:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 4.20.49 PM

It was that year that I first heard about WBAI and became determined to listen to it in my tiny village in the Catskill Mountains, a hundred miles from NYC. I had read somewhere, probably in Time or Newsweek, that there was this radio station in NY that had some daring offbeat programming. So hungry was I for something like this that I persuaded my father to have our local TV repairman mount an FM antenna at the top of a telephone pole in our backyard. You can imagine my glee when the signal came through loud and clear.

Up until I started listening to  “Contemporary Music in Evolution”, my knowledge of classical music was limited to the records I got from the RCA Victor Record Club or occasional jaunts into NYC to pick up vinyl at Sam Goody’s near Times Square. Mostly that meant listening to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, et al. Schuller’s goal was to illustrate how late 20th century atonal music, including the 12 tone style he favored, had antecedents in Debussy, Ravel, Mahler, and other composers who were still wedded to tonality. This meant serious and discussion on the air of excerpts from a piece like “Afternoon of a Faun” to point out how chromaticism opened the door to atonality. It was the most mind-blowing education I got in music that a lower middle-class child of high school graduates could have possibly gotten.

God bless Gunther Schuller. May he rest in peace.

May 18, 2015

Gilles d’Aymery ¡Presente!

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 3:28 pm

From the NY Times obit page:
Screen shot 2015-05-18 at 11.22.47 AM

 

My tribute to Gilles written last December

March 29, 2015

John Renbourn, 70, Eclectic Guitarist Who Founded the Pentangle, Dies

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:39 pm

Photo

John Renbourn in 1966, before he founded the group the Pentangle with with the guitarist Bert Jansch. Credit: Brian Shuel/Redferns

John Renbourn, an English guitarist known for his light-fingered fusion of classical, folk, blues and jazz and for his work with the group the Pentangle, was found dead on Thursday at his home in Hawick, Scotland, near the English border. He was 70.

He had been touring with another guitarist and singer, Wizz Jones, who was one of his earliest influences. When he did not show up for a concert in Glasgow on Wednesday, his agent contacted the police. The cause had not been determined, but a police spokeswoman said there were “no suspicious circumstances.”

Mr. Renbourn was both an antiquarian and an innovator — part of a generation of British and American guitar virtuosos who in the 1950s and ’60s reached deeply into traditions but were not bound by them.

As early as the 1960s, Mr. Renbourn delved with scholarly dedication intomedieval and Renaissance music; his “Complete Anthology of Medieval and Renaissance Music for Guitar.” a sheet-music collection of 28 pieces, was published in 1995. He learned British folk songs and sang them in an amiable tenor, and he was drawn to ragtime and the blues, particularly the fingerpicking complexity of early rural blues.

Mr. Renbourn at the Moseley Folk Festival in 2010. Credit: Simon Hadley/Rex Features, via AP

His music also used the harmonies and phrasing of jazz guitar and an occasional hint of flamenco, and he studied the sitar and the shakuhachi, the Japanese wooden flute.

He was a founder of the Pentangle — which he named after the five-pointed star, symbolizing five virtues, on the shield of Sir Gawain in the medieval Arthurian poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” — in 1968 with the guitarist Bert Jansch, the singer Jacqui McShee, the bassist Danny Thompson and the drummer Terry Cox.

The core of the group was the pairing of Mr. Renbourn and Mr. Jansch, who made their first duo recordings in 1965. They forged a tandem style that became known as “folk-baroque,” full of gnarled harmonies, spiky counterpoint and melodic filigree.

The quintet added Ms. McShee’s soprano — she had sung on Mr. Renbourn’s 1966 album, “Another Monday” — and a jazz-inflected rhythm section to make music that was mostly acoustic (although Mr. Renbourn played some electric lead guitar), intricately arranged and pointedly eclectic. Its repertoire included the group’s new songs, an a cappella medieval dirge, a girl-group remake, Charles Mingus pieces, blues tunes and traditional ballads.

The Pentangle first visited the United States in 1969, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, at Carnegie Hall and — opening for the Grateful Dead — at the Fillmore West. The original version of the group made its last studio album, “Solomon’s Seal,” in 1972 before touring and then disbanding. The group reunited in the early 1980s, but Mr. Renbourn left before it made any new records.

The original quintet eventually regrouped for the BBC Folk Awards in 2007, and went on tour in 2008. It also played concerts in 2011, its last shows before Mr. Jansch’s death in October 2011.

Mr. Renbourn had a prolific career both before and after the Pentangle years. Born in London on Aug. 8, 1944, he got his start in folk clubs there and made his first album in 1965 with Dorris Henderson, an American singer based in London.

He also recorded extensively on his own and in collaboration with many luminaries of British and American folk music, among them the American folk-blues guitarist Stefan Grossman, with whom he made four studio albums and a live album, and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band. Their collaboration (“Wheel of Fortune,” 1994) brought Mr. Renbourn a Grammy nomination.

Mr. Renbourn’s final studio album was “Palermo Snow,” released in 2010.

He had a pedagogic side. In the early 1980s, well into his career, he enrolled in a three-year music course at Darlington College in England, where he would later teach. He published sheet-music anthologies, including a piece from the revered Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan, and an instruction book, “John Renbourn Fingerstyle Guitar.” He taught guitar at universities in the United States (including Columbia), Canada and Britain, and held guitar workshops across Europe.

His marriages to Jo Watson and Judith Hills ended in divorce. He is survived by three children, Joel, Jessie and Ben.

Mitch Greenhill, who produced three albums by Mr. Renbourn, recalled him in an email: “He was most at home in his practice studio, sheet music on a stand, guitar on his knee, trying to channel the muse that hovered just beyond the temporal world.”

March 12, 2015

Roger Burbach ¡Presente!

Filed under: obituary,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

Roger Burbach

I just learned that Roger Burbach died. I never met Roger but kept up an email conversation with him over the years. About five years ago he told me that he was dealing with multiple myeloma, the likely cause of his death.

Federico Fuentes, a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australian group who co-authored “Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism” (http://www.zedbooks.co.uk/node/20723) paid tribute to Roger yesterday on Facebook:

Saddened to hear that, two years to the day of the passing away of Hugo Chavez and almost exactly one year after the killing of Ali Mustafa, my friend and colleague Roger Burbach has also left us.

I had the privilege of working with Roger and Michael Fox on our book Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions. Without a doubt, despite being almost double our age, he was the driving force that keep me and Mike inline and ensured we completed what turned out to be the last book he published while alive.

Roger was truly a remarkable man who never let adversity hold him back. He had been in a wheelchair since 1989 after a terrible swimming accident, and lived most of the last decade with multiple myeloma and constant medical treatment. Despite these hurdles that life threw at him he accomplished so much in his life. Although completely inadequate in describing all that he did, i am posting his bio from our book to give you some idea:

“Roger Burbach is director of the Center for the Study of the Americas and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He has written extensively on Latin America and US foreign policy for over four decades. His first book, Agribusiness in the Americas (1980), co-authored with Patricia Flynn, is regarded as a classic in the research of transnational agribusiness corporations and their exploitative role in Latin America. His most notable book is Fire in the Americas (1987), co-authored with Orlando Núñez, which is an informal manifesto of the Nicaraguan revolution during the 1980s. With the collapse of twentieth-century socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe he began to study the emergent system of globalization and to write about the new Latin American social movements and the renewed quest for socialism in the twenty-first century.”

Rest in power Roger. You may have left us, but your work and example will live on.

I also received email this morning announcing a memorial service:

Dear Friends,

Please join us in commemorating the life and work of ROGER BURBACH who passed away on March 5, 2015.

A memorial will be held:

Sunday, March 15, 2015
2:30 p.m.
Berkeley City Club
2315 Durant Avenue
Berkeley, CA

We also invite you to join us afterwards for a celebration in honor of Roger at the garden patio of Gather Restaurant, 2200 Oxford Street, Berkeley.

There will be opportunities for you to share at the memorial. If you cannot attend but have anything you would like to share at the memorial or with the family, please feel free to email Roger’s son Matthew at salvadorburbach@gmail.com

We look forward to seeing you.

The Burbach Family

I want to add a few words in remembrance of Roger that I would have said if I had the opportunity to be at the memorial meeting.

In 1988 I picked up a copy of “Fire in the Americas” alluded to above and was so impressed with its analysis that I bought 10 copies and sent them to friends around the country who had left the SWP in disgust. This was before the days of email so I told them over the phone that I was sending them a book that applied the lessons of the Sandinista revolution to the United States. Unlike the misguided attempts of the 1920s to adopt “Bolshevist” norms, “Fire in the Americas” was simply a call for a socialist movement that abandoned those norms. About twenty years ago, I wrote an article titled “Lenin in Context” that was strongly influenced by “Fire in the Americas”, an analysis that has a lot more traction today given the exhaustion of the “Leninist” project.

Fortunately you can now read this book that is as timely and relevant today as it was when it was written on Open Library (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL2393527M/Fire_in_the_Americas), a project initiated by the martyred Aaron Swartz. It certainly is a fitting tribute to both Roger and Aaron that the book found a home there.

Just in case you don’t have the time to read “Fire in the Americas” right now, here’s a brief excerpt starting with “Pluralism in the Revolution” to give you a feel for its analysis:

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xx

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February 22, 2015

Clark Terry, Influential Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 94

Filed under: music,obituary — louisproyect @ 4:33 pm

NY Times, February 22, 2015

Clark Terry, Influential Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 94

Clark Terry, one of the most popular and influential jazz trumpeters of his generation and an enthusiastic advocate of jazz education, has died at age 94.

His death was announced late Saturday by his wife, Gwen. She did not say where he died or provide any other details.

Mr. Terry was acclaimed for his impeccable musicianship, loved for his playful spirit and respected for his adaptability. Although his sound on both trumpet and the rounder-toned flugelhorn (which he helped popularize as a jazz instrument) was highly personal and easily identifiable, he managed to fit it snugly into a wide range of musical contexts.

He was one of the few musicians to have worked with the orchestras of both Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He was for many years a constant presence in New York’s recording studios — accompanying singers, sitting in big-band trumpet sections, providing music for radio and television commercials. He recorded with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and other leading jazz artists as well as his own groups.

Photo

Clark Terry in 2003.CreditTodd Feeback/Associated Press

He was also one of the first black musicians to hold a staff position at a television network, and one of the most high-profile proponents of teaching jazz at the college level.

His fellow musicians respected him as an inventive improviser with a graceful and ebullient style, traces of which can be heard in the playing of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and others. But many listeners knew him best for the vocal numbers with which he peppered his performances, a distinctively joyous brand of scat singing in which noises as well as nonsense syllables took the place of words. It was an off-the-cuff recording of one such song, released in 1964 under the name “Mumbles,” that became his signature song.

The high spirits of “Mumbles” were characteristic of Mr. Terry’s approach: More than most jazz musicians of his generation, he was unafraid to fool around. His sense of humor manifested itself in his onstage demeanor as well as in his penchant for growls, slurs and speechlike effects.

Musicians and critics saw beyond the clowning and recognized Mr. Terry’s seriousness of purpose. Stanley Crouch wrote in The Village Voice in 1983 that Mr. Terry “stands as tall in the evolution of his horn as anyone who has emerged since 1940.”

The seventh of 11 children, Clark Terry was born into a poor St. Louis family on Dec. 14, 1920. His mother, the former Mary Scott, died when he was 6, and within a few years he was working odd jobs to help support his family. He became interested in music when he heard the husband of one of his sisters play tuba, and when he was 10 he built himself a makeshift trumpet by attaching a funnel to a garden hose. Neighbors later pitched in to buy him a trumpet from a pawn shop.

His father, Clark Virgil Terry, discouraged his interest in music, fearing that there was no future in it, but he persisted. He played valve trombone and trumpet in his high school orchestra and secured his first professional engagement, which paid 75 cents a night, with the help of his tuba-playing brother-in-law.

His career got off to a bumpy start. After working with local bands like Dollar Bill and His Small Change, he joined a traveling carnival and found himself stranded in Hattiesburg, Miss., when it ran out of money.

In 1942 he joined the Navy and was assigned to the band at the Great Lakes Training Station near Chicago. When the war ended, he returned to St. Louis and joined a big band led by George Hudson.

“George put the full weight of the band on me,” he told the jazz historian Stanley Dance in 1961. “I played all the lead and all the trumpet solos, rehearsed the band, suggested numbers, routines and everything.”

The regimen paid off: When the Hudson band played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Mr. Terry’s work was heard by some of the most important people in jazz, and he soon had offers. He worked briefly with the bands of the saxophonist Charlie Barnet and the blues singer and saxophonist Eddie Vinson, among others, before joining Count Basie in 1948. Times were getting tough for big bands in the postwar years, and Basie reduced his group from 18 pieces to a sextet in 1950, but he retained Mr. Terry. The next year, Duke Ellington called.

It was the opportunity he had been waiting for. Working with Basie, he would say many times, was a valuable experience, but it was like going to prep school; his ultimate goal was to enroll in “the University of Ellingtonia.”

Nonetheless, after close to a decade with the Ellington band, he decided it was time to move on. “I wanted to be more of a soloist,” he said, “but it was a seniority thing. There were about 10 guys ahead of me.”

In late 1959 he joined a big band being formed by Quincy Jones, who not that many years earlier, as a youngster, had taken a few trumpet lessons from him. The original plan was for the band to appear in a stage musical called “Free and Easy,” with music by Harold Arlen. But the show folded during a tryout in Paris, and Mr. Terry accepted an offer to join NBC-TV’s in-house corps of musicians.

The first black musician to land such a job at NBC, he soon became familiar to late-night viewers as a member of the band on “The Tonight Show,” led for most of his time there by Doc Severinsen. He also led a popular quintet with the valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer and worked as a sideman with the saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and others.

When Johnny Carson began his popular “Stump the Band” feature on “The Tonight Show,” in which members of the studio audience tried to come up with song titles that no one in the band recognized, Mr. Terry would often claim to know the song in question and then bluff his way through a bluesy half-sung, half-mumbled number of his own spontaneous invention.

He recorded one such joking vocal in 1964, as part of an album he cut with the pianist Oscar Peterson’s trio. As he recalled it, the song, “Mumbles,” was recorded only because the session had gone so smoothly that the musicians had extra studio time on their hands. Much to his surprise he found himself with a hit.

When “The Tonight Show” moved to the West Coast in 1972, Mr. Terry stayed in New York. Jazz was at something of a low ebb commercially, but he managed to stay busy both in and out of the studios and even found work for a 17-piece band he had formed in 1967. Between 1978 and 1981 he took the band to Asia, Africa, South America and Europe under the auspices of the State Department. Most of his concert and nightclub work, though, was as the leader of a quartet or quintet.

Mr. Terry also became active in jazz education, appearing at high school and college clinics, writing jazz instruction books and running a summer jazz camp. He was an adviser to the International Association of Jazz Educators and chairman of the academic council of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. For many years he was also an adjunct professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., to which he donated his archive of instruments, sheet music, correspondence and memorabilia in 2004.

Mr. Terry was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1991 and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Recording Academy in 2010. A variety of health problems forced him to cut down on touring in the 1990s, but he remained active into the new century. He was appearing in New York nightclubs as recently as 2008, doing more singing than playing but with his spirit intact.

And he continued to be a mentor to young musicians after his performing days were over. An acclaimed 2014 documentary, “Keep On Keepin’ On,” directed by Alan Hicks, told the story of his relationship with a promising young pianist, Justin Kauflin, whom Mr. Terry first taught at William Paterson, and with whom he continued to work even after being hospitalized.

“The only way I knew how to keep going,” Mr. Terry wrote in his autobiography, “Clark,” published in 2011, “was to keep going.”

NEXT IN MUSIC

January 31, 2015

Randy Martin 1957-2015: an appreciation

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 7:41 pm

I was sad to learn that Randy Martin succumbed to brain cancer. He was a 57-year-old NYU professor with a long-standing commitment to Marxist scholarship and activist causes. I kept looking in vain for some personal recollections of Randy on the net but have seen none so far. Mostly what you get is résumés of his accomplishments, which are considerable. Duke University Press, for example, issued this statement:

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I didn’t know Randy well enough except to say hello to him as I passed him by at the Socialist Scholar Conference/Left Forum yearly events. But I know enough about him to acknowledge his contributions to the grass roots movement, which gets mentioned neither by Duke nor by NYU. I also want to say a word or two about what I learned from Randy on some important theoretical questions that have divided the left.

Like Frank Rosengarten, who also succumbed to cancer last year, Randy was an important figure in the Brecht Forum in New York. He gave classes there over the years and likely made substantial financial contributions as well. He was also on the advisory board of the Left Forum. Until its demise because of the hostile real estate market in NYC, the Brecht Forum was an important resource for the left where public intellectuals like Randy could speak on an informal but informed basis to a wide range of students. A search of “Randy Martin” and “Brecht Forum” yields over 3000 items, including this one that is fairly representative:

“All That Is Solid Melts Into Air – The Red Power Mixtape” – annual Intensive Introduction to Marxist Theory & Praxis. This year’s intensive features Matthew Birkhold, Jodi Dean, Harmony Goldberg, Richard Levins, Randy Martin, Liz Mestres, Donna Murch, Alondra Nelson, Eric Ribellarsi, Tim Schermerhorn, Shahid Stover, Astra Taylor, Ganesh Tricur, Rick Wolff et al.

“The Working Class has nothing to lose but their chains… They have a world to Win”

The call of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto still echoes today in the streets of major cities around the world. While capital is on the offensive imposing austerity, the working class is coming into being with self activity in the streets.

The Brecht Forum’s annual Summer Intensive is designed as an introduction to the theoretical and practical traditions that trace their origins to the works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.

Unlike many professors on the left, Randy Martin always offered solidarity to Cuba and Nicaragua understanding that the revolutions that took place there faced insurmountable odds. In 1995 he and Michael Brown, a leftist professor who co-founded the journal Socialism and Democracy with Frank Rosengarten, co-authored an article for that magazine titled “Left Futures” that was a very astute commentary on how to relate to countries that were struggling to create a new society under the shadow of American imperialism. (Unfortunately it is behind a firewall but I would be happy to send you a copy.) It is pretty much the same thing I was trying to say in my post on “Against Manichaeism”:

One of the more dramatic casualties of seeing the history of the left undialectically, exclusively in terms of failures which reflect dispositions built into socialist and communist politics, was a weakening of support on the part of many democratic socialists for the Cuban and Nicaraguan Revolutions, on the grounds that neither government was “democratic.” The principle of this rejection was undefineable as typically stated, and in no case was it or could it have been generalized rationally to other more favored nations. The judgment was, in that form, anti-historical and inconsistent with any notion of politics as a self-reflective and complexly mediated development of organization, consciousness, direction, definition, and power.

When we refer to this as a casualty, then, we mean that it is a casualty for the North American left’s understanding of itself: In particular for attempts to reconcile prescriptions for reforming that left with descriptions and analyses of what is happening elsewhere in the world. We are not claiming that particular cases should never be evaluated and criticized, but only that being judgmental in so categorical a way is inconsistent with respecting the types of non-institutional political processes which are inevitable as such under conditions which generate a left (including the left attempting to reform itself). Such a categorical attitude assumes as well that referring to historical conditions of those instances of social/political action which make it necessary and possible to reflect on further prospects of action is merely incidental to such reflections and, indeed, can only be disruptive of them.

The efforts to generate socialism within and against the global dominance of capital are recognizable along two dimensions. The first includes attempts, however fitful, deformed, or immature, to struggle for a social economy, for which the production of social life in general has priority over production for profit. The second includes all organizations in which the forms of participation–and their mediations–are conceivably consistent with the interdependence and forms of association which Marx referred to as the society of the producers beyond the producers of society. It follows that socialism and democracy are two aspects of the same politics as they are of the same theoretical problematic even when their expressions are historically compromised. It also follows that any process by which the left can be said to develop will be one which is as internally critical as it is externally articulate. From this point of view, the left’s future is, as always, now; and “now” is a distinctly historical present, both in its need to incorporate a past it nevertheless must transcend and in its need to recognize the activist, ideological, and theoretical elements which continue to constitute it despite the momentary desire of so many to redefine it beyond recognition and, apparently, beyond hope.

But this “now” is also a process of self-reflection and learning. For whether part of a distant and glorious past or an as yet unachieved future, an idealized conception of socialism–negative or positive–makes the future utterly obscure if only because practice, infinitely mediated as it can only be, is never perfectible. Therefore the idealist prospect of practical perfection can never be a basis from which to cross the utopian divide into a perfectly progressive state of being. Indeed, it can only render all present efforts as in perfect error. It is, as we hope we have shown, just such an implicitly negative utopian perspective which yields the current self-defeating desire for a yet newer, true left.

Finally, I have to say that Randy Martin opened my eyes to a way of looking at Marx that was distinct from both the postmodernist critique of him as a “master narrative” peddler and those defenders who ironically accepted the postmodernist critique after a fashion. If Marx is nothing but a variation on the Enlightenment tradition, as Vivek Chibber alleges, then this misses how Marx was really offering a critique of the Enlightenment.

Just about twenty years ago I took a class with Randy at the Brecht Forum that forced me to reevaluate my tendency to buy into the Marx as Enlightenment thinker analysis as I commented on Marxmail:

I’m taking a seminar with Randy Martin at the Marxist School in NYC. Randy teaches at Pratt and is the author of “Performance as Political Act” and “Socialist Ensembles: Theater and State in Nicaragua and Cuba”. The seminar involves a re-reading of some basic works of Marx in the context of contemporary critiques by postmodernists, feminists and postcolonialists.

I came to the seminar expecting to pick up some ammunition to use against all those trendy “post” thinkers, but have discovered, much to my initial dismay, that Randy Martin has a more nuanced view of things. Since I am a rather crude fellow, both personally and intellectually, this has required me to alter my habits of thought. But it may pay off in the long run–who knows. In any case, I would like to submit a statement by Randy on some of the basic issues being discussed in the seminar for your consideration. As you will see immediately, they are the same issues that were discussed recently in the postmodernism thread in this list.

Randy Martin: A certain amount of mischief has been done under the sign of the prefix “post.” It is often inserted in front of a noun not as a modifier, but as a total break with what it is manifestly attached to. It seems to me more useful to inquire into the nature of this attachment, and to repose the “post” as a complication within rather than complete rupture from the subject in question. It is within this in mind that I would like to examine the relation between marxism, postmodernism, feminism and postcolonialism.

My interest is not in subsuming the last three terms into the first, but in exploring their mutual articulation. It is not uncommon to construct a rather brittle and straw figure of marxism in order to constitute a critical project that can strengthen an understanding of politics that have typically been difficult to perceive from a marxist optic. One risk in this procedure, however, is to reproduce internally the very features one is attempting to correct through the critique of marxism. An example of this can be found in certain treatments of postmodern politics, exemplified in the radical democracy of Laclau and Mouffe.

Their declaration of the end of master narratives has all the ring of a universalizing proclamation, and their newly decentered subjects may not be able to recognize what they share with the old ones. More specifically, the claim that Marx is the source of a master narrative of history ending with the victory of communism and the industrial proletariat as universal subject, rests on a reading of Marx that would greatly simplify any text. As noted by Foucault, Marx shares with Nietzsche and Freud a view of history as internally discontinuous, and therefore contributes to the very theory of decentering that contemporary theorists depend upon.

The notion that, for Marx, history can be apprehended as a narrative, has been greatly problematized by Althusser and others. Careful attention to the opening pages of the Manifesto bear out these assertions. There, as in the 18th Brumaire, as in Capital, Marx is vigilant in presenting the ambivalent and divided movement of history, not as an inexorable synthesis that is the same everywhere it appears, but as a contradictory process that destroys boundaries only to reconstitute new societal divisions, that depends upon a socialization of labor that it subsequently flees, that levels distinctions only to reinscribe them more extensively. This account of creative destruction is helpful in grasping the dynamics of the postcolonial condition.

But doing so assumes that is possible to extract what is analytic in Marx, rather than reading him descriptively and generalizing form a specific situation. To do so can only produce a eurocentric account of marxism. This is not to say that Marx’s (or anyone else’s work) could be transcribed in toto to account for contemporary situations of postcoloniality or other phenomena. The same would have to be said regarding the relation of marxism to feminism. Yet feminism’s success in showing that the separation between public and private is itself a political construct, is not at all inconsistent with Marx’s efforts to analyze how the disarticulation of production and reproduction (and of circulation) is generative of politics. Clearly this does not exhaust feminist analysis but makes a case for a certain supplementarity among critical endeavors that share a given epistemic context.

In doing some research to prepare this post, I discovered that Randy’s class was most likely based on the analysis he developed in “On Your Marx: Relinking Socialism and the Left” that can be read on Google books. It looks like chapter two titled “Fragmentation and Fetishism: The Postmodern in Marx” can be read in its entirety. It is very closely related to the discussion he led in his class at the Brecht Forum. This is an excerpt that I find particularly insightful:

Impatience reigns when the terms postmodernism and Marxism appear side by side in discussion. A justifiable part of the unease stems from the sense that, while arguing over words, a clarity of political focus has slipped from the Left’s grasp. With the destructive effects of corporate capital’s grip on the direction and details of society’s development receiving increasing attention in the conventional press and from quarters of the right, it would seem less controversial than it has in a long while that some version of a critique of the profit-driven market would have purchase on the public imagination. In this context, dwelling on the nuances of theoretical dispute might appear to be a deferral of politics altogether.

Like any disagreement, this one presents prospects and problems. Criticisms of Marx’s work have too often suffered from illiteracy, decontextualization, aphoristic reduction, or personal attack. Marxists are left in the uncomfortable position of having to redefine the alien ground to which they have been relegated. Ironically, the attacks on postmodernism have often suffered the same fate, in which the connections to and dependencies on Marx have been read out of postmodernist writings by Marxists themselves, at the expense of their own influence on current theoretical discussions. It should be acknowledged that clarity of thought can be a casualty in these interludes. There is an understandable resistance to specialized vocabulary and complex sentence structure that can seem unnecessarily obscure or elitist. But also, the term postmodern, as it is used polemically, overconsolidates a range of intellectual tendencies, political impulses, and social phenomena. Calling someone a postmodernist, if they accept particular features of contemporary culture, is a bit like calling Marx a capitalist because he begins his analysis by accepting the prevalence of the commodity. As Fredric Jameson (1996) has noted, Marxism has suffered the conflation between its identification as a philosophy, a social movement, and an historical project. Yet, so too have the distinctions between postmodernist (an advocate of certain critical principles), postmodernism (a cultural logic) and postmodernity (a formation of societal development), been lost or misplaced in the rough and tumble moniker, ‘‘pomo’’.

All of this has added poignancy in light of Randy Martin’s role in approving Alan Sokal’s spoof for Social Text in 1996, just around the time I was taking his class at the Brecht Forum. My initial tendency was to sell him short because I was still committed to the Marx as Enlightenment thinker analysis that was widespread on the left.

It was only after thinking more deeply about these questions that I began to see the wisdom of the Social Text editorial board in pulling together an extremely important issue even if Alan had conned one of its editors (I have over the years grown more tolerant of such indiscretions in light of understanding better through my submissions to Swans and CounterPunch what a job it is to publish a journal.)

That issue of Social Text was an enormous contribution to the debate about Marxism, science, postmodernism and “enlightenment values” that Randy could have been proud of despite the scandal. It was prompted in large part by a “Science Wars” conference in 1995 that Andrew Ross described as follows in the introduction to the issue:

The shrill tone of this backlash was set by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994). In spite of the authors’ claim that they are not “stalking horses for social conservatism,” Higher Superstition belongs fair and square to the tradition of Alan Bloom, William Bennett, Roger Kimball, Hilton Kramer, and Dinesh D’Souza. Presented as a wake-up call to unsuspecting scientists, it identifies and caricatures “science-bashers” in the same systematic fashion as those before had fingered the defilers of their Great Books tradition: “The relativism of the social constructionists, the sophomoric scepticism of the postmodernists, the incipient Lysenkoism of the feminist critics, the millenialism of the radical environmentalists, the racial chauvinism of the Afrocentrics” (252). Gross and Levitt’s effort generated its share of coverage in the scholarly media and began to draw cutting responses from the ranks of those who demolished The Bell Curve; this early attention was fol- lowed by a series of lavishly funded, high-publicity conferences intended to mobilize a broad coalition from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. The most well-publicized conference, “The Flight from Science and Reason,” hosted in June 1995 by the New York Academy of Sciences, clearly laid out the agenda of linking together a host of dangerous threats: scientific creationism, New Age alternatives and cults, astrology, UFO-ism, the radical science movement, postmodernism, and critical science studies, alongside the ready-made historical specters of Aryan-Nazi science and the Soviet error of Lysenkoism.

Although Andrew Ross does not mention it, the Olin Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation funded the conference alluded to above. You probably already know that the Olin Foundation was to the 1990s what the Koch brothers are to rightwing causes today, a bottomless piggy bank. Then there is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation that is less known but deserving closer scrutiny. Sourcewatch.org advises:

Harry Bradley was one of the original charter members of the far right-wing John Birch Society, along with another Birch Society board member, Fred Koch, the father of Koch Industries’ billionaire brothers and owners, Charles and David Koch.[5]

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “from 2001 to 2009, it [Bradley] doled out nearly as much money as the seven Koch and Scaife foundations combined.”[6]

So was Norman Levitt, who by Alan Sokal’s admission gave him the idea to con Social Text, standing up for Enlightenment values when he went knocking at the door of the Olin and Bradley foundations? If so, then call me an enemy of the Enlightenment.

January 14, 2015

Frank Fried 1927-2015

Filed under: Cochranites,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:55 pm

(Frank was one of the last surviving Cochranites. I never interviewed him but had a couple of phone conversations with him over the years. There will be an article commemorating his life at some point but for the time being it is worth noting that he transitioned from working in steel mills in Chicago to becoming a rock concert producer like Bill Graham. I invite you to look at his blog: http://www.showbizred.com/. On the home page it states: “My name is Frank Fried. In the middle years of the 20th century I produced concerts and tours for some of the most influential and profitable musical acts of the day, such as Pete Seeger, the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Miriam Makeba, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. What a lot of people didn’t know is that this pop music impresario had started out as a socialist revolutionary — a heritage I tried to honor throughout a tumultuous show business career. On this web site, I do my best to tell you what happened.”)


Dear Friends & Comrades,

Our dear friend and comrade, Frank Fried, passed away peacefully today, Tuesday, Jan. 13. His loving wife of 27 years, Alice, is planning a memorial and you will all be notified.

It was only a few days ago that four close friends, Seymour Kramer, Jack Gerson, Robin David and myself were at Frank’s bedside talking politics for several hours. Frank was unable to speak but he was able to muster enough energy to give us the middle finger and the raised fist at separate points during our discussions. Just like old times!

Both gestures were well deserved by the way.

We all loved Frank.

In Solidarity,
Carl Finamore

UPDATE:

Family’s Obit for Frank Fried – Presente! Jan. 24 Memorial Service in Alameda, CA

Frank Fried, 1927­-2015, Presente!

Franklin Fried, who devoted more than 70 years to supporting and fighting for freedom, justice, equality, and liberation for working and oppressed people in the U.S. and around the world, died Tuesday, Jan. 13, at his home in Alameda, California. He was 87.

Frank Fried was the principal presenter of folk and popular music in Chicago for a quarter of a century, but he always thought of himself, first and foremost, as a revolutionary socialist. In his own view, his signal achievement was a historic 1968 series of benefit concerts for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which he organized at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also produced the Beatles’ 1964 and 1965 Chicago appearances, along with innumerable concerts by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Miriam Makeba, Pete Seeger, Frank Zappa, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and many other artists.

Frank was a radical, a socialist, and a labor and civil rights activist throughout his life, and he took great pride in never having abandoned his principles of fair play throughout his storied show business career. “After shaking hands with some managers and promoters in the business, you would have to check if you still had all your fingers,” he would half jest. The colorful story of how he tried to be different, with mixed success, is recounted on his website, showbizred.com.

Frank was born in 1927 on Chicago’s north side. His father, a lawyer in private practice, died when Fried was a child. His mother, who worked as a secretary for the Illinois State Athletic Commission, felt compelled to send Fried to a military school for proper discipline. After military school, he attended the University of Chicago. He dropped out after two years to serve in the United States Navy at the end of World War II.

After the war, Fried joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as a teenager and worked as a welder in Chicago’s booming U.S. Steel South Works plant. He was attracted to the SWP’s democratic vision of world socialism. In 1947, he and his Chicago comrades helped lead a broad and successful defense campaign for James Hickman, who was up on murder charges. Hickman, an African­American sharecropper who had recently moved his family to Chicago from the South, was accused of shooting the landlord who had burned his family out of their apartment, killing three of Hickman’s children. With help from SWP organizers, community pressure got the charges reduced and Hickman released. The dramatic story is recounted in a recent book from Haymarket Press, People Wasn’t Made to Burn, which is dedicated to Frank.

Frank called the campaign “perhaps the party’s finest hour” and credited that organizing experience for much of his later success in building broad coalitions for social justice. Frank had a remarkable ability to collaborate with folks from across the left spectrum, and to help others reach out and build in ways they would not have done without his help and counsel.

A few years later, Frank was expelled from the SWP along with prominent dissident Bert Cochran and many of the party’s foremost intellectuals and labor activists. In 1954 Fried helped that group launch the American Socialist, a magazine that aimed to free the idea of socialism from its association in the American mind with Stalinist dictatorship, and he traveled the country promoting it.

The magazine folded in 1959, a victim of the poisonous cold war atmosphere, Frank said later. “The trajectory that we expected of hooking up with militant sections of the labor movement and a new beginning of the radical movement never happened,” he explained. “The group did not leave much of a footprint, but individuals played an important role in the labor and civil rights movement, and the attractive style and open tone of the magazine did leave an imprint on the New Left that came after us,” he added.

For Frank, the value of the American Socialist group lay in reaching out and attempting to regroup with other socialists without rejecting its Trotskyist background. “We attempted to bring our heritage to the problems and radical language and organization of the modern world without ever forgetting the legacy of Leon Trotsky, who had an incredible impact on me as he stood up for workers democracy against the tides of history,” he said.

Frank stumbled into show business when he met the Austrian folk singer Martha Schlamme at the Gate of Horn, an early folk music venue in Chicago, in 1958. In need of a job and intrigued by the power of folk songs to move people emotionally and politically, Frank went to work as an assistant to Albert Grossman, the club’s owner. On a trip to San Francisco the following year on Grossman’s behalf, Frank met the Gateway Singers, a racially integrated folk­singing group, and managed the group through their period of greatest commercial success. He had a knack for managing, and by the end of the 1950s he was also handling the Chad Mitchell Trio and numerous other prominent folk and popular music performers.

Frank opened Triangle Productions in 1959, with fellow socialist Fred Fine, in order to raise money for leftist projects through benefit concerts. When folk music became a pop craze during the Kennedy administration, the business took off. This was a major turn away from the repression of the 1950s, both culturally and politically. Many of the folk artists were unabashedly radical, and some, like Pete Seeger, were still blacklisted. Frank took special pride in being one of the first commercial promoters to book Seeger, whose sold­out concerts on Frank Fried’s stage in 1957 marked a defeat for the McCarthyite blacklist.

When Bob Dylan’s turn from folk toward rock resulted in an explosion of psychedelic, blues­ and country­inflected music, Frank recognized that the new groups would seize the spotlight from both acoustic folk groups and more traditional, pasteurized pop. He moved quickly on his hunch. By the early 1960s,

Triangle shows dominated live entertainment programming in Chicago and the surrounding area. Triangle Productions ran tours and concerts for the Rolling Stones, the Mothers of Invention, and many other major acts of the time. Meanwhile Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis, and Barbra Streisand remained regulars on his stages.

Throughout his career, Frank tried to weave themes of social justice into his cultural promotions, paying special attention to Miriam Makeba and other politically engaged artists. In 1963 Frank served as producer for “We Shall Overcome,” the only commercial recording by the SNCC Freedom Singers, on Mercury Records and he also took an active role in the movement against the Vietnam War as a leader of Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace.

In 1977 he returned to his roots in the steel industry as a key backer of Ed Sadlowski’s insurgent “Steelworkers Fight­Back” campaign. Frank traveled the country with Sadlowski, working plant gates and union halls in an attempt to divert the Steelworkers Union from what Sadlowski had dubbed “tuxedo unionism” and toward a militant working­class perspective. He and Sadlowski became lifelong friends.

Frank sold his production company in the early 1980s and moved to Los Angeles with his wife Françoise, hoping the weather might help ease her congenital degenerative disease. After Françoise’s death in 1985, Frank moved to New Orleans as the CEO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. He remarried there in 1988 and moved to the hills above Oakland, California with his second wife, the mystery writer Alice Wilson­ Fried, and their daughter Teasha.

Frank’s friendship with Miriam Makeba inspired him to active solidarity with the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. After Apartheid, he was a stalwart supporter of the struggle to build a Socialist alternative as the only way to guarantee the promise of Liberation. He helped launch Amandla!, a popular radical opinion magazine associated with the Democratic Left Front, and remained a valued advisor to its editors.

Frank met the writer Daniel Singer when they fought together to defend Solidarnosc against the Polish and Soviet Stalinist parties and in the 1990s, Frank led the launch of the Daniel Singer Prize, an annual essay competition for young people on topics related to socialism.

In 2011 Frank plunged into supporting the renovation of the Trotsky Museum in Mexico City, organizing a U.S. tour by Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson. He also recently joined the Solidarity chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area as a means of being connected to the movement he invested so much of his hopes in. His longtime comrade Carl Finamore reported that even when Frank was too frail to speak, “he was still able to muster enough energy to give us the middle finger and the raised fist at separate points during our discussions.”

Preceded in death by his first wife, Francoise Nicolas, and his elder sister, Vivian Medak, Frank is survived by his wife Alice, his children Pascale, Isabelle, Bruno, Troy, and Teasha, and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Frank’s memorial celebration will be held January 24, 1­4 p.m. at the Grand View Pavilion, 300 Island Drive, Alameda, California. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests that donations in Frank’s memory be sent to Amandla! Magazine (in care of editor Brian Ashley, brian@amandla.org.za) or to the Center for Constitutional Rights (http://goo.gl/H4Cmcr).

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