Thursday, October 27, 2005

More Local Fishwrap Rejections

I attended the board meeting for the Northwest Louisiana Art Gallery this evening, a board I proudly serve as the recording secretary. I was once absolutely blown away at the high level of artistic talent and activity in this city, and the commitment to collaboration by artists, typically some of the most self-centered of creatures, across genres. It also pointed up my ongoing frustrations at trying to find something of the same spirit in progressive political activity. If there is something I'm missing, please contact me at mpbookfreak@hotmail.com and let me know what it is, and I'l get involved. If you're feeling the same frustrations, let me know, because I'm never going to stop plugging away at trying to get our society to live up to the ideals it so loudly professes. Anyway, here are a couple of more letters to the editor of the Times that haven't been published. I was actually told the first one would be published, but that was several days ago, so I'm moving on. Y'all enjoy:

Did it actually take almost a full month for Edward Bradford to compose the opinion piece the Times chose to publish on Saturday, October 10 (“Recent writer seems to lack an understanding of history”)? I realize that it is the responsibility of a newspaper to present the full spectrum of political opinion, but surely there are people in this community capable of expressing conservative ideas with some semblance of the coherence and stylistic elegance Mr. Bradford so obviously lacks.
First, there are what are almost certainly distortions of a previous writer’s views regarding religion, However, since that opinion piece was published almost a month ago, I can’t consult it to either confirm or deny that speculation. He then seems to agree with that writer that George Bush is a coward, but tells us to “Let it go.” We are then treated to a laundry list of buzzwords and sentence fragments expressing his contradictory political philosophy. Evidently, and completely foreign to my own experience, labor unions choose to eliminate their own jobs, some of which are outsourced because “people here won’t fill the jobs,…”. Also, protecting the environment is bad, because of high gas prices. He seems to like Wal-Mart (here’s where the sentence fragments come in), while acknowledging that they are a mega-monopoly, something that conservatives in this country used to oppose.
Bradford also criticizes the previous writer for describing the war in Iraq as “a senseless war based on lies.” I find it fascinating that Bradford does not take issue with the lies, just the charge of senselessness. In his words, “When’s the last time we were attacked by terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001?” I guess my interpretation of “we” is a little more inclusive than Mr. Bradford’s, because I would count the numerous attacks against American troops in Iraq that Al-Qaeda has taken credit for as terrorist attacks against us. Of course, neither American troops nor Al-Qaeda were in Iraq before the sensible invasion based on lies that Mr. Bradford supports.


Oh, that's right, I didn't end up saving the other one. Well here's a book review instead. I shopped it around to several publications, but never heard back from any of them. Fuck rude unprofessionalism and the horse it rode in on! Y'all come back now, hear?

By Michael Parker

book reviewed:
Louisiana Hayride: Radio & Roots Music Along the Red River
By Tracey E. W. Laird
Oxford University Press, 2005

Tracey Laird’s Louisiana Hayride: Radio & Roots Music Along the Red River is a fascinating and concise analysis of the seminal Shreveport, Louisiana-based “barn dance,” broadcast by pioneering country music station KWKH and instrumental in the nurturing of prominent country musicians and rockabilly pioneers. Hank Williams and Elvis Presley are the most prominent examples, but others include Johnny Cash, Webb Pierce, Rose Maddox, Faron Young, Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Slim Whitman and George Jones. Economic trends, race relations, the evolution and proliferation of media technologies and the development of various genres of American popular music are all explored with the context of North Louisiana’s largest city and its history from antebellum times until about the time of the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Laird is a Shreveport native and currently Assistant Professor of Music at Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Her research included a six-month stint as a part-time disc jockey at Shreveport’s KWKH in 1995 (before its purchase by Clear Channel and subsequent corporate homogenization), and her enthusiasm for the music of the Hayride luminaries is obvious. Her research is meticulous, shedding a bright light on Shreveport’s history through the prism of popular culture, serving as a potential model for other mid-sized Southern cities. Finally, if you’ll excuse my flippancy, Dr. Laird manages to communicate profound sociological insights without resorting to jargon-laden prose battering the reader like a Foucaultian anvil.
Laird asserts that the Louisiana Hayride was the culmination of musical cross-fertilization between black and white musicians, despite the cultural mores and legal restrictions of the time. Pre-Hayride Shreveport-area musicians included folk blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter and two-time governor Jimmie Davis, composer of “You Are My Sunshine,” the official state song. Although Ledbetter was “discovered” as a recording artist by John and Alan Lomax and embraced by the 1930’s and 40’s New York folk scene, including Woody Guthrie and the Weavers, Laird points out that his “Rock Island Line,” for one, was embraced by white country musicians, and “…both Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash sang it at the Louisiana Hayride during the mid-1950’s,” (p. 39). And although he felt the need to embrace segregation in his victorious 1960 gubernatorial race – against Earl Long, among others – Jimmie Davis recorded with African-American musicians in the 1930’s, and denied charges that he had been photographed dancing with Lena Horne during his Hollywood days.
KWKH radio benefited from a convergence of opportune geographic and technological circumstances, combined with the flamboyant personality and vision of owner W.K. Henderson, described by Laird as a Huey Long-style populist unafraid to take on the Federal Radio Commission, chain radio stations and chain retail stores. Although financial woes forced him out during the Depression, he had personally hired Jimmie Davis and shown that hillbilly music could anchor radio programming.
The Louisiana Hayride kicked off its initial broadcast on April 3, 1948, from Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium (which is still in use, though disgracefully underutilized). By August, Hank Williams made his first appearance, highlighting his first major hit, “Lovesick Blues.” Laird sees the song’s distinctly non-hillbilly origins as an appropriate metaphor for the Hayride’s cross-cultural importance: “Penned by Tin Pan Alley lyricist Irving Mills and composer Cliff Friend, ‘Lovesick Blues’ was recorded several times over by blues singers like Bertha Chippie Hill (1927), as well as by vaudevillian Emmett Miller (1925 and 1928, the latter backed by jazz musicians) and hillbilly singer Rex Griffin (1939) both Williams’ direct yodeling predecessors,” (pp. 94-5).
Like many of the Hayride luminaries, Williams also spent time with the Grand Ole Opry. Laird does a credible job comparing the two, arguing that the Opry’s social and musical restrictions (ranging from intolerance for Williams’ drinking to a long-standing ban on drums) worked in the Hayride’s favor, particularly as rockabilly began to compete for the younger country music audience. The Hayride’s embrace of free-wheeling innovation, which Laird argues is a musical legacy going back to the mid-19th century in Shreveport, allowed it to incubate rockabilly and rock and roll, both through Presley, Cash, Horton and other singers, as well as homegrown sidemen like guitarists James Burton and Jerry Kennedy, drummer D.J. Fontana and bassist Joe Osborn.
Laird devotes substantial space to these unsung heroes, who devoured the country and rhythm and blues programs sharing time on KWKH, and cut their teeth in the rough-and-tumble nightclubs of the Strip in Bossier City, then Shreveport’s looser sister city across the Red River. In addition to house band work with the Hayride, backing the many musicians already mentioned, Burton and Fontana both had long stints with Elvis Presley, and their combined credits span the spectrum of rock and roll and country music: Rick Nelson, Buffalo Springfield, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, John Hartford, the Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel, Mickey Gilley, Roy Orbison.
Finally, Laird touches on the connections between the r/evolution of country music and rock and roll, and parallel developments in American literature, painting and acting. As a typically alienated teenager growing up just outside of Shreveport, the existential artistry of Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer, James Dean and Jackson Pollock, resonated deeply within me, in a way that nothing even peripherally connected with Shreveport could. I don’t know what residues of the Hayride’s halcyon years still existed in Shreveport at that time (the mid-1980’s), but I do know that I appreciate the concise existentialism of “Wreck on the Highway” or “She Thinks I Still Care” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down” more than anything I’ve read of Norman Mailer. And I am deeply grateful to Dr. Tracey Laird for her elucidation of my hometown’s contribution to that lexicon.

Michael Parker is a freelance writer and disc jockey in Shreveport, Louisiana. He hosts the “Invisible Republic” show on Centenary College’s KSCL, 91.3, in Shreveport, playing traditional and contemporary roots music interspersed with news and political commentary, concentrating on labor and working class issues.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Upcoming and of interest

When the wife and I decided to move back to our soon-to-be-climatologically-bearable-for-a-few-months home state, one of the fall events I most looked forward to was the New Orleans Book Fair, held at the Barrister Gallery. It marked the debut of Book Freaks, my own modest used book selling operation, hopefully soon to be a little less modest here in our fair city. Well, despite the logistical nightmare inflicted by Katrina, this year's installment of the book fair will go on a week from Saturday, Oct. 29, from 10-6, at the Barrister Gallery (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard). Although the website (nolabookfair.com) claims a lot less participation this year, the lineup still includes such independent publishing heavyweights (or at least welterweights) as AK Press, Verso, City Lights, Last Gasp and many others. There will be a number of events and readings surrounding the fair, although something with the website is not allowing access to everything. There is also a posting on the New Orleans indymedia.org site that has more updated info than the website itself. Also, feel free to contact me at mpbookfreak@hotmail.com for any info I can share about the fair.

Also, a Roadtrip for Relief is being organized by the Common Ground Collective, based mostly in Algiers, New Orleans. You can go to commongroundrelief.org to get the details, but they are basically calling for caravans to bring in folks to work on cleanup and rebuilding projects the week of Thanksgiving. There is a discussion board which includes a message from a Dallas-based group, if people from here might want to hook up with them. I plan on being in Wisconsin that week, but would be glad to help with any logistics beforehand, if people want to undertake it. Again, email me.

Finally, World Can't Wait is sponsoring a mobilization on Wednesday, November 2 to hold this administration responsible for its crimes. They are calling for people to leave work and school to express their dissent at rallies and demonstrations in their own cities and towns. It's easy for us early retiree stay-at-home-dad rabble rousers to commit to something like this, but is there any other groundswell of support for it out there? The endorsers of this are quite impressive, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Code Pink, Michael Eric Dyson, Ron Kovic, Tom Morello, Boots Riley, Cindy Sheehan, Studs Terkel, Cornel West and Howard Zinn. Take a look at worldcantwait.org, and email me. No reason we can't have a picnic in the park or something, right?

Anyway, that's some of the upcoming (r)evolutionary events in the neighborhood. Peace, y'all.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Providing the Labor of Reconstruction

My main preoccupation lately has been the rebuilding of New Orleans, and the moral imperative of insuring that that process is one which benefits the people living and returning there, not the economic parasites trying to remake New Orleans in their McWalmartland image. I'll try to be more punctual about this correspondence, as there are a lot of good ideas being floated around. Anyway, this is the article I just submitted for the newsletter of Steelworkers Local 711T, out at the Libby plant. Enjoy.

Providing the Labor of Reconstruction
By Michael Parker

The comparisons between September 11 and the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita run the gamut, from tragic to inspiring to chilling. Whereas both devastating events brought out the best in grassroots volunteer efforts on the part of individuals and communities, there were also catastrophic failures of government institutions, specifically the U.S. intelligence apparatus and FEMA. Another unfortunate similarity is the Bush Administration’s determination to exploit the situation for anti-worker power grabs.
In late 2001, federal intelligence, immigration and transportation safety were centralized in the name of “homeland security.” Workers were systematically stripped of collective bargaining rights and grievance procedures. Additionally, the relatively militant (as well as pragmatically successful) International Longshore and Warehouse Union was locked out in 2002 and threatened with replacement by Naval personnel on the West Coast docks.
As the rebuilding of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities begins in earnest, the pattern continues. The most outrageous situation is the suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1931 law mandating prevailing wages (estimated by the Department of Labor as $9.55/hour for New Orleans) be paid by employers with federal contracts. And no-bid contracts for reconstruction and temporary housing have already been granted to many of the usual suspects—Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton and Shaw—described by Naomi Klein in a recent issue of the Nation as “the same gang that spent the past three years getting paid billions while failing to bring Iraq’s essential services to prewar levels.”
The repeal of Davis-Bacon was denounced by state AFL-CIO leaders from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama at a press conference in Jackson, Mississippi, on September 29. But the “right-to-work” laws in those states, as well as Republican dominance of statewide offices, undercut their effectiveness through normal political channels. The exception could be Louisiana.
Louisiana stands alone among the four states with a Democratic governor and senator. Both were elected by narrow margins, and each has a vested interest in the return and continued employment of working-class African American New Orleanians. Senator Mary Landrieu is also the scion of a venerable New Orleans political family and should face a bruising re-election bid in 2006. Louisiana’s two Democratic Congressmen are also in southern Louisiana. Charlie Melancon’s district was hit hard by Rita, while New Orleans’ William Jefferson, already facing federal investigation, may be looking for friends after facing labor hostility at his pivotal vote for CAFTA.
Despite this potential leverage, it is likely that the most effective action will come from the grassroots. To that end, Community Labor United has already taken a leading role. CLU has been working for nine years in the New Orleans area, bringing together progressives from the labor, civil rights, and faith communities. Working with the San Francisco-based Vanguard Foundation, they have established the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Their goals can be read at vanguardsf.org. New Orleans-based SEIU organizer Jordan Flaherty, whose writings from inside New Orleans can be accessed at leftturn.org, says that CLU has “inspired me deeply. Many of the core members have been involved in community organizing in New Orleans since the Sixties or even the Fifties.”
CLU and the People’s Fund are definitely working in Baton Rouge, Jackson and Houston, organizing evacuees in those cities. Volunteer coordinator Becky Belcore told me that there is a volunteer working in Shreveport who she would put me in touch with, but nothing had materialized by the time this was to go to print. Interested parties should contact me at mpbookfreak@hotmail.com, and I will pass on any information I receive.
Seismic political change has often followed natural disasters, as those most affected are starkly reminded of their invisibility to the powers that be, and are galvanized into long-term action. I’ll let Jordan Flaherty have the last word: “The fall of the Somoza dictatorship was precipitated by his corrupt stealing of post-earthquake disaster aid in 1972. The faulty federal response to the 1985 earthquake that hit Mexico City helped to birth a grassroots movement that survives to this day. And, of course, the 1927 flooding of the Mississippi helped to elect Huey P. Long governor of Louisiana. Reconstruction is a natural issue for the labor movement, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because a democratic grassroots reconstruction is likely to generate solid union jobs in a region where the average wages are low and union jobs are few and far between.”

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

More New Orleans Memories

I said last time that I would share some more New Orleans memories. Speak, memory:

(Incidentally, pretty good with the Nabokov quote, huh? Ah, what working in a bookstore for years will do for you. To you? The jury's still out on that one, I guess, or am I the jury? I the Jury, Mickey Spillane, you get it? Okay, sorry, this is getting out of hand, back to New Orleans)

In the summer of 1986, my dad and an associate were planning on opening a bookstore in Shreveport. As part of the research, my dad planned on attending the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association, which was in New Orleans that summer. As my birthday present (my birthday being in July), I was invited to come along.
Incidentally, Dad had attended the previous year's convention in San Francisco, picking me up a signed copy of Best of the Realist, a paperback compilation of articles, interviews and cartoons from the seminal journal of politics, culture and satire from 1955 to 1975. Paul Krassner was the editor, and to his signature was later added those of Abbie Hoffman and Ed Sanders, two of the other vital cultural revolutionaries of the postwar era (Sanders was a founding member of the Fugs and has published numerous volumes of poetry, prose and nonfiction). That book, now tattered from years of study, is undoubtedly the most important book in my own intellectual development. The list of artists who I was either introduced to in the pages of the Realist or had my appreciation of deepened, would have to include Woody Allen, Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey, Dick Gregory, Norman Mailer, Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson, and, of course, Krassner himself, who I had the honor of interviewing for publication in Portland. It was very gratifying to be able to tell a hero something of the influence he had, even if he did inscribe my book to Michael Palmer.
But I digress, don't I? The most vivid memory I have of the convention itself was getting a copy of Interview of the Vampire signed by Anne Rice for a girl I had a huge crush on in high school. What I don't remember is if George Seldes was there, which is a crying shame. Seldes was a legendary muckraking journalist who lived to age of 104, writing for United Press and the Chicago tribune before tiring of the inevitable censorship and striking out on his own. In the 1940's he published In Fact, a weekly newsletter and the precursor to I.F. Stone's Weekly. Lenin and Mussolini were among those he interviewed, recognizing the danger of the latter when many Americans and Europeans (such as Ezra Pound), tired of the chaos of the Depression years, were infatuated with his strong man tactics.
Anyway, Seldes had a new book out in 1986 (he was 96 at the time!), and I came home with a copy of it, having no idea who he was. But I can't remember if he was there pushing it himself. I almost hope not, because my ignorance doesn't quite seem so appalling if he wasn't actually there for me to ignore.
But the real highlight of the trip was a nightime trip out to the Quarter, most likely my first. Dad and I were accompanied by a couple of other people whose connections are now unknown to me, but one of them was a very attractive young woman (though probably much older than my very young 18 years) who was captivating to talk to about books, a far cry from my peers. I have not the slightest idea what we talked about (Nabokov? Spillane?), but I'm sure it made a much bigger impression on me than on her.
We all went to Preservation Hall, my only time to this point, although I ache to go back in light of recent events. I remember being packed like the proverbial sardines (not an altogether unpleasant situation given the company) and hearing this music, so light and ethereal and yet so substantive and solid at the same time, completely unlike the music I ws infatuated with at the time (U2, the Police, Rush). It was so grounded in time and place, again despite its melodic lightness, and it carried with it a mature sense of possibility that carried over into my just-beginning young adulthood. George Seldes' motto was "Tell the truth and run." I'm outta here. Peace, y'all.