Thursday, January 30, 2014

Putting It Together (Step One)

There are still some interviews to be shot and lots of research to be done, but that's no reason not to start putting pieces together to get a sense of what the final shape of this effort will be. I enjoyed putting this together, rough though it is, and hope you will as well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

...There Is a Season...

This is obviously a little off-topic, but the passing of Pete Seeger seems significant enough to warrant a bit of digression. As much as I respected him and his contributions to popular music. the late Pete Seeger was never one of my favorite musicians. He was, however, a hero to me for the ways he stood up for his beliefs throughout his life. 

When called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Seeger didn't use the 5th Amendment - constitutional though it may have been to invoke his right to avoid self-incrimination. Rather, he honed in on a more pertinent point by referring to the 1st Amendment and the principle of freedom of association. Simply put, Seeger told the committee that it was none of their business what groups he belonged to, communist or otherwise. For his trouble, he was indicted for contempt of Congress and would spend several years dealing with the fall-out of that exceptionally principle decision.

Seeger told me about this in a phone call a little over five years ago. The ostensible purpose of the call was to clarify some rights questions about the release of one of his old concerts, but that took up maybe three
 minutes of the 20 minute call. For the rest of it, Seeger (I can't pretend a sufficient level of familiarity to call him Pete) gave me an unsolicited history lesson.

He told me about the world tour he and his family undertook once the HUAC situation had finally been put to rest. He talked about the Soviet Union and his belief that the post-revolution circumstances had made the emergence of someone like Stalin almost inevitable. Most memorably, he related an anecdote about Eleanor Roosevelt and the eminently graceful way in which she engaged one of her husband's mistresses after his death.

It's hard to recall another instance where such a brief slice of time left me feeling so much more enlightened and just as 
much in awe of someone. There's a school of thought that one should never meet their heroes, because of the seeming inevitability of disappointment, and perhaps Pete Seeger was the exception that proves the rule. He was never talking down to me - at least I never felt he was. Instead, he gave me lots to ponder and, now that he's gone, a very personal story to tell. I can only imagine how many lives he touched through music or conversation and will always be grateful that I was one of them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The 12 Month Matter

It's been about a year since I started researching and interviewing for this project. Though the production hasn't progressed as fast as I'd like ("life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" as a famous songwriter once opined), I'm still pleased with what's been done so far. This includes my interview with broadcasting legend Ed Walker, who remains the host of WAMU-FM's weekly old-time radio showcase The Big Broadcast (Sunday nights at 7:00 and available to listen online). Here are Ed's thoughts on some of the elements that made Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar a success.