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And we never will sing the Wild Rover no more

On St. Patrick's Day in Chicago, back in the day, it seemed as if a good portion of the revelers cycled through O'Rourke's Pub on North Avenue in Chicago. The juke box was loaded with the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. No wonder. Their records were permanently enshrined in the box, and the regulars knew all the lyrics. Note: The blog software insists on displaying some of this content more than once. I can't talk it out of doing that. I'm sure you will prove equal to the challenge.

Far Flungers

The 2013 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (by way of Oklahoma)

Seasonal anticipation: as 2013 debuted, many were feeling it. The 28th iteration of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, aka "SBIFF," was on the wind, with jazzed moviegoers soon to converge elbow-to-elbow in a familiar, even familial, and happy bustle on downtown's State Street.

I was among the excited, as this would be my third year covering the festival. And for me, extra sweetening would be provided by the tribute to Daniel Day-Lewis, the oft-reticent acting genius whose reanimation of Abraham Lincoln seemed certain to bring another Best Actor Academy Award -- his 3rd, making him the only actor to surpass Marlon Brando, who received 2.


New Year's with Steve: In tribute to a great heart

* *It's hard to believe Steve Goodman has been gone for 25 years. Even though we knew he had leukemia, and sang for 16 years with it, he fought it with courage and good cheer. You counted yourself blessed to find a chair when he presided at the Earl of Old Town every New Year's Eve.

Steve was the composer of great songs funny and sad, and a guitarist of amazing skill. He didn't claim to have a great voice, but he had the right voice for Steve Goodman and his loving audiences. He was above all a friendly soul with a big grin, and he would sing anything on New Year's Eve if it made him laugh."I miss my old man tonight," he sang in one of his great songs. I miss Steve Goodman tonight. • • * • * *Steve's most famous song, played to our astronauts on the Moon, was "The City of New Orleans." He was in fine form here, with his dear friend Jethro Burns. A later performance is offered lower down on this page. * *

* * * ** * Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin and Steve *Steve sings "The Twentieth Century is Almost Over" * *

* * ** *Steve and Jethro Burns *Steve performs "Tico Tico" with Jethro. When Homer and Jethro performed before the Fourth of July fireworks at Memorial Stadium in Urbana - Champaign in the 1950s, I ran up 15 flights of stairs to get their autograph. * *

* * * ** *Steve performs "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" from a rooftop overlooking Wrigley Field. * *

* * * ** *Janis Ian and Steve *Steve does his tongue-twister "Talk Backwards" *

* * * * * *Steve and John Prine sing Steve's song "Souvenirs" *

* * * * * *John Prine sings Steve's "My Old Man" *

* * * * * * *Steve and Jethro singing Michael Peter Smith's "Dutchman." Steve and many others in the Chicago Folk Revival (John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, Larry Rand, Fred Holstein) all had a special love for this song, which Steve popularized. • *

* * • * *Steve and Jimmy Buffet *Steve and Bobby Bare live, singing "The City of New Orleans." Looking at this video, my feeling is that Steve was fairly ill at this time. There's a little energy lacking in his voice. But the joy is there. * •

* * * * * •The City pulling out of Chicago more than 60 years ago * *For a bio, discography and ordering info for all of Steve's many albums, this is the place to go. And by the way, the guy on the left in the photo is Earl Pionke, owner of the legendary folk mecca The Earl of Old Town. Once when he was throwing out a drunk, the guy demanded to know his last name, "Of Old Town," he said.


Phil Ochs: All the news that's fit to sing

"Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune" plays Monday, January 23, at 10 pm EST/PST on PBS American Masters. It will thereafter be available via PBS On Demand, and is currently on Netflix Instant and DVD.

"Mistakes are lodged like harpoons and fish hooks in an intelligent person's soul," says one friend of political folk singer Phil Ochsof the deep depression that eventually led him to suicide in 1976. Och's friends are like that, eloquent and insightful. His mentor Pete Seeger, in particular, speaks like he sings, modulating his voice to give anecdotes a mythic luster and heartbreaking resonance. But after watching "Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune" take a measure of the man's adult life, it seems that some friends put too much emphasis on generic therapist's reasons for his downward spiral -- schizophrenia, alcoholism, declining popularity. It seems that Phil Ochs' fall was inevitable, given the fact that his singing career began when he was barely out of his teens, when JFK's assassination was a couple years off, and crashed after every progressive movement for which his protest songs provided spiritual fuel was crushed.

This is not a standard pop star rise-and-fall story. Ochs was physically involved in the antiwar and social justice movements he sang along with. He headlined, organized and even spontaneously showed up at a staggering number of rallies for various causes. His investment was evident in his performances, presented here with shocking audiovisual fidelity. Even though it's captured on a black-and-white kinescope, a performance of his song "When I'm Gone" feels as clear and urgent as a live event. So, too, is his strumming and crooning at the 1964 Newport Music Festival. (Simply amazing sound and image restoration here.) The sonorous voice and wide, earnest eyes could just as easily belong to a Wall Street occupier serenading Zuccoti Park.

Ebert Club

#45 January 12, 2011

Marie writes: I love cinematography and worship at its altar; a great shot akin to a picture worth a thousand words. The best filmmakers know how to marry words and images. And as the industry gears up for the Golden Globes and then the Oscars, and the publicity machine starts to roll in earnest, covering the Earth with a daily blanket of freshly pressed hype, I find myself reaching past it and backwards to those who set the bar, and showed us what can be accomplished and achieved with light and a camera...

Cinematography by Robert Krasker - The Third Man (1949) (click to enlarge images)

Roger Ebert

Hugh Hefner has been good for us

From the moment that Hal Holmes and I slipped quietly into his basement and he showed me his father's hidden collection of Playboy magazines, the map of my emotional geography shifted toward Chicago. In that magical city lived a man named Hugh Hefner who had Playmates possessing wondrous bits and pieces I had never seen before. I wanted to be invited to his house.

I was trembling on the brim of puberty, and aroused not so much by the rather sedate color "centerfold" of an undressed woman, as by the black and white photos that accompanied them. These showed an ordinary woman (I believe it was Janet Pilgrim) entering an office building in Chicago, and being made up for her "pictorial." Made up! Two makeup artists were shown applying powders and creams to her flesh. This electrified me. It made Pilgrim a real person. In an interview she spoke of her life and ambitions.

Roger Ebert

King, you're one of the best!

I met John McHugh in the autumn of 1966, when I was a cub reporter on the Sun-Times and he was a rewrite man, two years my senior, on the Chicago Daily News. We are still best friends. He worked the overnight shift, and among his duties was taking calls from readers.

After midnight, they wanted to settle bets. "And what do you say?" McHugh would ask. He would listen, and then reply,

"You're 100% correct. Put the other guy on." Pause. "And what do you say?" Pause. "You're 100% correct." If he was asked for his name, he said, "John T. Greatest, spelled with three Ts." He explained, "They can never figure out that that means."

Raven Evans from Cannes

"If you're not at the top, then you just do better!

May 21--I am my Grandmother's dinner date on a friend's yacht. We walk down to the pier where all of the fancy yachts are docked. There are plastic signs hung from the front of the boats with the names of the company renting them for the night. Women are strutting up and down this pier like it's a runway! They're dressed up in expensive dresses and even more expensive heels, which aren't even allowed on the boats. Most of the boats are rented out for company parties, but others are privately owned by billionaires like Roberto Cavalli who can afford the hefty price tag of a docking space.

Since the boat we're going to isn't docked, we're meeting a smaller speed boat to take us out to it. It's pretty windy outside and we're having trouble finding the small boat at the pier. After 20 minutes of walking around and asking if anyone's name is Luke (the boat operator) we finally find him. Apparently we're at the wrong pier for a pick-up, but Luke is willing to pull my grandma along this 7' X 5' floating platform into his small speed boat.

My grandma is hilariously skeptical. She thinks about it for a few minutes, while the platform is sliding and bobbing around on top of the intense waves. "I have to walk across that?" she says. Luke tries to be persuasive, but even he's not buying that his manouever is completely safe. With a "I'm not falling into that water and drowning!" my grandma decides to meet Luke on the other end of the pier where there's a proper docking area.

Roger Ebert

I'm reading newspapers again

Of course I've never stopped reading the Sun-Times. That's the start of my daily ritual. But while I used to read four newspapers every day, I found that, gradually, I wasn't. You know how it is. You get mired in the matrix of the web and think you're reading all the news you can handle. You have the papers, but they're unopened at the end of the day.

However, during the election season and the Inauguration euphoria, I renewed our subscription to the New York Times and remembered, at first almost unconsciously, how much I enjoy reading a newspaper. The pages follow in orderly progression. The headlines and artwork point me to stories I find interesting. I am settled. I am serene. I read, I think. I am freed from clicking and the hectic need to scroll, to bounce between links. I don't have search for the print stories. They find me.

Reading the paper, September 7, 2007 (By Elizabeth Perry; click)


He's Here: The Legend of Pete Seeger

View image Pete Seeger singing "If I Had a Hammer" at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Rally in Greenwood, MS, 1963. From "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song."

(A brief review of Jim Brown's documentary, "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song," opening in select theaters around the country in the next few weeks, and in Seattle September 21.)

I'm a-goin' to Berlin To Mister Hitler's town I'm gonna take my forty-four And blow his playhouse down. -- "Round and Round Hitler's Grave" by Woody Guthrie, Millard Lampell and Pete Seeger (recorded by the Almanac Singers in 1942)

"It’ll be a little soggy but we’ll keep slogging. We’ll soon be on dry ground.” We were waist deep in the Big Muddy And the big fool said to push on. -- "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" by Pete Seeger (performed on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," 1968)

Pete Seeger is an American legend, in a class with Paul Revere (he rang out warning), Johnny Appleseed (he sang out all over this land), and Paul Bunyan (he had a hammer -- and an ax). Like all three, he's attained mythical stature, and like the first two, he's for real.

View image Bob Dylan singing "Only a Pawn in Their Game" at the same 1963 SNCC rally shown above. From "Don't Look Back."

Seeger may not always have been in synch with his times, but he has always been timeless, carrying the American folkloric tradition out of backwoods and into the mainstream. He sang old songs and gave them new life: the 1886 song "Goodnight, Irene" was adapted by Leadbelly and became a surprise commercial hit for the Weavers in 1950; ten years later, "We Shall Overcome" was revived, revised, and sung by Seeger at the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Raleigh, NC, and became the anthem associated with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement.

Seeger has been able to take songs of the past and bring them alive in the context of the present. "Round and Round Hitler's Grave" (collected in a songbook, called "Anti-Fascist Songs of the Almanac Singers: Timely American songs based on timeless worksongs, patriotic ballads, cowboy ballads, spirituals, etc., from America's folklore") is of its moment in 1942. (Woody Guthrie later added a verse about Goering.) But "Big Muddy" -- which begins, "It was back in nineteen forty-two" -- was an anti-Vietnam war song, and is now an anti-Iraq occupation song. Could Seeger ever have anticipated that his ballad would become a relevant protest song again in his lifetime? Perhaps only in the sense that he understands mankind's uncanny ability to keep repeating the same historical mistakes.

Seeger's own songs -- "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" -- well, they sounded like traditional classics the first time you heard them, didn't they? Whether speaking (singing) to a particular time and place, or in general about the state of human beings and the planet we live on (and often both at the same time), Seeger's work is ageless.

So, don't expect just the usual muffled, scratchy old clips from Jim Brown's "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song." The images may be from the past, but the sound is vibrant and present. It begins with a quintessential Seeger singalong, and you could swear you're sitting in the middle of the audience, surrounded by voices. As Bob Dylan says, Seeger had the ability to coax out the singer in everybody.

The paths of so many American folk legends cross in this film: Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Dylan, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen -- and the last four appear in interviews, as do Seeger and members of his family. While the movie is an unabashed celebration of the life, music, politics, and humanitarianism of Pete Seeger, it's just as much a tribute to Toshi Seeger, the Japanese-American woman who married Seeger in 1943. She's the one, as somebody observes, who "allowed Pete to be Pete."

"The Power of Song" reflects the essential qualities of its eponymous hero: enthusiastic, idealistic, patriotic (but not nationalistic), shamelessly earnest, maybe (as the subtitle indicates) even a little corny. And I mean that as an expression of admiration and affection. Seeger may have gone in and out of fashion -- blacklisted from television for 17 years because of his brief affiliation with the American Communist Party, hailed as a prophet during the folk revival of the 1960s -- but he's never been "fashionable." He is who he is. And aren't we lucky to have lived to hear him?


The Weavers take last bow

TORONTO -- Pete Seeger was standing in the corner of the big dressing room, playing a tune on his recorder. Fred Hellerman was planted on a chair, listening. "It's an old Japanese air," Seeger said, putting down his recorder.


Interview with Steven Spielberg

HOLLYWOOD - There's an old union song with the chorus, "Newspapermen meet the most interesting people." I heard it sung once by Pete Seeger, and went to work for a newspaper. Twelve years later, the song turned out to be right.