Archives for category: 70s

My best beloved reads the Economist every week, and occasionally I’ll read an article or two as well. She’s noted to me that periodicals like the Economist, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are written for people with an interest in the proliferation of money. As such they’re (historically) neither right-wing nor left-wing. Save for the elephant in the room, of course.

I was rereading a column from last June from the Economist’s ‘Bartleby Blog’. On the web site, this blog is subtitled ‘Thoughts on management and the world of work, in the spirit of the “scrivener” of Herman Melville’s 1853 novel’. This alone is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Bartleby the Scrivener is a short story, not a novel.
  • The titular character of Bartleby the Scrivener would rather starve than work. His catch phrase is ‘I would prefer not to.’ He utters this phrase whenever his boss or others ask him to do something.
  • It seems that whoever named the blog took note of Bartleby’s initial burst of hard work, not the fact that by the end of the story, he’s been evicted, arrested, and starves in the Tombs, Manhattan’s municipal jail.

With all of this in mind, I point you to the June 29th edition of the blog in which the writer discusses the differences between American and European working hours and vacation habits.

First point: In 1979, the average worker in the US and Europe put in about 38.2 hours per week. Later measurements diverge. By 2000, the US worker was putting in 39.4 hours. This fell to 38.6 hours in 2016.

Second point: European and US workers differ in the amount of holiday they take. Rather than looking at the number of days off each culture has, the blogger points out that over the course of a year, Americans average 34 hours per week, the French 28 hours and the Germans 26.

Third point: The wealthy in the US work longer hours, but still tend to work in daylight as opposed to cleaners and food delivery people who mostly work at night.

Why the differences? Taxation? Possibly. But the key point is made in the passive voice: ‘Another potential explanation is that a decline in trade union membership has weakened American workers’ bargaining power. Except that unionization rates in France and America are not far apart.’

Let’s take a look at that for a moment: What happened to the unions in the US shortly after the 1979 calculation? I’d point to Ronald Reagan’s firing of almost the entire membership of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization rather than bargaining in good faith, given that he had supported the union during his campaign. This act alone signaled the death knell for unions in the United States.

The blogger distinguishes between unionization and policy. What isn’t spoken is how a well unionized country affects policy. Employers in underunionized countries also affect policy. Far more now than they used to. In the US, legislators financed by large employers have succeeded in gutting union power in a variety of areas. And they also succeed in breaking labor laws that protect the rights to unionize. So the question of who shapes policy goes unanswered.

I can’t speak for unionization rates in France, but labor in general speaks louder in Western Europe. Mandated holiday time of at least 20 days per year as a matter of national policy in most EU countries makes a big difference in that average number of hours worked.

Continuing through the blog, we get an assertion that ‘champions of workers’ rights have focused on raising the minimum wage (so far to little avail at the federal level)’. Again, begging the question as to WHY these efforts fail at the federal level. Might it have something to do with who is financing those who set the policy? I have a feeling that it might.

The writer then discusses the longer hours worked by the higher paid than the lower paid in the US. And this class of people discussed: cleaners and food delivery workers? Take a wild guess as to the areas of employment that are the least stable from the employee perspective? And which have unionization efforts stymied by both legal and illegal measures almost before such efforts have begun? Yeah, that would be those classes. It’s not that unionization rates have dropped simply through attrition or that the US minimum wage has stagnated through some kind of Adam Smithian invisible hand of the market. Those with money have made it higher to increase either one to the point of impossibility.

Released:
September, 1979

Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux (vox), Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitars), Kenny Morris (drums)

Tracklist Side 1:
Poppy Day
Regal Zone
Placebo Effect
Icon
Premature Burial

Tracklist Side 2:
Playground Twist
Mother/Oh Mein Papa
The Lord’s Prayer

Following the release of non-album single The Staircase (Mystery) in March, Join Hands was recorded in May and June. Lead single Playground Twist was released in June, and the album three months later. I first heard it in ‘83 or so and found it beastly difficult listening. Opening track, Poppy Day was actually composed to fill the two minutes silence observed in Britain on Remembrance Day.

Saxophones introduce Regal Zone, but instead of playful glam effect they added to songs on The Scream, in this instance, they’re more like blasts of a war trumpet. With imagery that includes helmets of blood and squirming bodies, we’re still in realms of death that don’t really let up for most of the album, either lyrically or musically. Placebo Effect and side one closer Premature Burial (the latter based on an Edgar Allan Poe story) continue this imagery.

Icon, in its second half offers side one’s musical ease from the album’s musical intensity. I was listening to this album while stretching after my run and found the rolling toms easy to listen to. Lyrically, we’re still in arenas of conflict.

Those rolling toms, so reminiscent of Maureen Tucker’s work in the Velvet Underground suggest that the structure of Join Hands owes something to the Velvet’s White Light/White Heat. Side one contains relatively short songs with recognizable pop structures, whereas side two contains one pop song succeeded by nearly 20 minutes of what Laurie Anderson would have called ‘difficult listening’. (I know this argument assumes that The Gift on side one of White Light/White Heat has a recognizable pop structure. It doesn’t. But that’s a topic for another essay.)

By the time the original listeners flipped this over to side two, the bells of Playground Twist, already a top 40 hit and performed on Top of the Pops, must have been a welcome respite. Its waltz-time signature however puts the listener on guard that this isn’t going to be any easier. Mother/Oh Mein Papa, recited mostly to the sound of a music box, has new lyrics to a German music hall song later a hit in English for Eddie Fisher, among others. Rather than the nostalgic memories of ‘my father, the clown’, Siouxsie sings of the suffocating parent who wants to mold the child. ‘She’ll stunt your mind til you emulate her kind’ is eerily similar to Pink Floyd’s Mother, released later the same year, ‘She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing.’

The original release’s closer is a 14-minute tour de force rendition of The Lord’s Prayer. Noting that the Banshees’ first performance (the only performance of the lineup that featured Marco Pirroni on guitar and Sid Vicious on drums) was an extended rendition of this song. Does its inclusion on this album suggest that they were at a loss for material? It’s possible, but given how prolific the band was, this is unlikely. Troubles within the band, whatever those things that precipitated the departures of McKay and Morris on the eve of the tour might have been, are more likely. The words of the prayer are interspersed with snippets of other pop songs (Twist and Shout, Knocking on Heaven’s Door), show tunes, and wordless wails and yodels. The inclusion of Tomorrow Belongs To Me, repurposed from Cabaret, brings the war references of the opening of the album full circle.

Even though Kenny Morris and John McKay would leave the band before the next album, Kaleidoscope, Morris’ drum sound on this album defined their sound in many ways. the toms in Icon are especially emblematic of the Banshees’ sound.

The 2006 reissue follows The Lord’s Prayer with the punk single Love In A Void (the b-side to the next single, Mittageisen) and closes with Infantry, an instrumental originally meant to close the album, but left off the original release. (Wikipedia indicates there’s a Record Store Day edition from 2015 that includes Infantry after The Lord’s Prayer. That would be a nice version to have.) Infantry is a slow, echo-laden piece for solo guitar and effects pedals with a repeated motif that slowly fades out. I think this track makes for a more appropriate, purposeful closing to a very difficult and worthwhile album.

Next up: Kaleidoscope

In between other things, I’ll be sharing my views on the music of Siouxsie and the Banshees, including the Creatures and Glove side projects. As with the other catalogues I’ve reviewed, I’ll be looking at the original album releases as opposed to the bonus-track laden reissues (not that those bonus tracks aren’t without merit).

Released: November, 1978

Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux (vox), Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitars), Kenny Morris (drums)

Tracklist Side 1:
Pure
Jigsaw Feeling
Overground
Carcass
Helter Skelter

Tracklist Side 2:
Mirage
Metal Postcard
Nicotine Stain
Suburban Relapse
Switch

Recorded after the release of debut single, Hong Kong Garden, and also produced by Steve Lilywhite. One of the first salvos of the post-punk era, The Scream contains elements of punk and glam, and with elements of the macabre, it set the stage for what became goth. And did so a year before Bauhaus hit the stands with Bela Lugosi’s Dead.

In terms of subject matter, the lyrics run from the mundane (Nicotine Stain) to, indeed, the macabre (Carcass, Suburban Relapse). I first got into the Banshees in ‘81 or ‘82 and started collecting their singles and having friends tape their albums. I’m sure I had this on a cassette with the second LP, Join Hands, on the other side. I listened to their music a lot, but the full albums I found really difficult to get into. Listening to this one now, I find it almost comforting in its familiarity, but surprising at the same time. The buried saxophones in Suburban Relapse and Switch feel lifted from a Roxy Music song (which kind of makes sense – Sioux and Severin, the band’s only stable members from start to finish, met at a Roxy gig in ‘75). Kenny Morris’ spacious drumming leaves so much room for the other members to thrive as well. I think Severin is underrated as a bassist, possibly because he makes the rhythms feel so obvious.

In between there’s the almost obviously punk cover of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter and the almost Can-like Metal Postcard. I’ve always found the English version of Metal Postcard a little strange, because the version I had, and played steadily for several years, was the German-language 45 (Mittageisen) released the following year.

Overground and Suburban Relapse are both about the trades between outward normality and an interior that doesn’t match expectations. This acknowledgement of the human balancing act was one of those things that fueled the goth aesthetic. Jigsaw Feeling almost foregoes the outward normality and addresses the splits inside, “One day I’m feeling total / the next I’m split in two.”

The album’s opening track, Pure, fades in with a slow build of bass, then guitar, then a wordless moan from Siouxsie that sounds as though it’s coming from down a long hallway. Jigsaw Feeling comes in with bass triplets and a single repeated guitar chord for the first 40 seconds. Combined with the almost two minutes of Pure, it’s two and half minutes before the album’s first words, ‘Send me forwards, say my feelings.’ A bold move for a debut album. David Bowie didn’t try the same trick until StationToStation, 12 years into his career.

By the time the album concludes with the 7-minute Switch, an indictment of science, medicine and religion for the ways in which they direct and confuse and experiment with no real understanding of how people work, the listener has been on a journey. A deeper lyrical analysis might reveal an inner-directed childhood point of view in some tracks followed by the more adult concerns (infused with that childhood confusion) found in the last three tracks.

Next up: Join Hands

I had an astoundingly specific musical dream last night in which I was attending a gig by a reformed Rocket from the Tombs. RFFT were an early 70s proto-punk band from Cleveland fronted by Dave Thomas. The other original members included Craig Bell, Johnny Mandansky, Peter Laughner, and Gene O’Connor. The band lasted a year before the band split. Thomas and Laughner formed Pere Ubu while O’Connor and Mandansky joined Stiv Bators to form Frankenstein and later the Dead Boys.

Right, In the dream, I was watching a lineup RFFT that also included Robert Forster, one of the founders of Australian pop band the Go-Betweens. In the dream Forster was the founding member of the Go-Betweens who had passed away. In the waking world it was Grant McLennan who died of a heart attack in 2006. Forster is a going concern.

The gig took place in the large back room of a diner. It was brightly lit and the stage was barely raised at all. And there was a serious mosh pit. The song in the dream was 30 Seconds Over Tokyo and before the song was over, the mosh pit spilled its way into the diner.

We had friends over last night who I regaled with tales of this year’s Glastonbury Festival. One of the acts I brought up was Kamasi Washington (a fair distance, musically from RFFT), and in a later dream, I was at the office and rushing out to catch a bus to see Washington, but I saw the bus (#71) drive by as I was leaving. I must have been in San Francisco because I ran down a hill to catch the train at Market and Montgomery, but I took the wrong entrance and I and another guy ran two or three flights downstairs only to find that the platform wasn’t there. A guy working on a car at the bottom of the stairs told us to go back up and take the other entrance. As I was running up the stairs I woke up. And I’ll conclude with this excerpt from Kamasi’s Show Us the Way.

 

Guinevere Turner writes in the May 6, 2019 New Yorker about growing up in a commune and discusses the differences between communes and cults. ‘(Leader Mel) Lyman never ordered his followers to kill anyone the way Charles Manson did, but if Lyman had asked, I’m pretty sure that they would have complied.’ (The Others)

That said, I spent some formative years in a commune/cult and not long after my family left, the leader of this cult did ask two of his followers to attempt murder.

Lance Kenton was about 21 (and the one thing said about him in every article on this subject is that he was the son of big band leader Stan Kenton) and Joe Musico, a damaged Vietnam war veteran aged about 28, under the direction of Synanon’s leader, Charles Diederich, used the rather ingenious method of cutting the rattles off of a rattlesnake before putting the snake into the mailbox of attorney Paul Morantz. They were found guilty and each served a prison sentence and probation time.

My family had all left Synanon by the close of 1977 and the snake incident didn’t occur until about a year later. (I should verify, but in my memory the Morantz attack, the People’s Temple mass suicide and the murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone all ran together in the news. So perhaps by this definition, Synanon counts as a cult, or at least it did by that point. I have vague memories of an increased focus on self defense while I was still there, but that might be an amalgam of readings and memories and discussions that happened later.

From certain points of view, there might be objective assessments of the whole situation but 40 plus years later, I’m generally unwilling to dig into them. I don’t get much out of the subjective assessment either, given that it took me 25 of those 40 years to get to the other side of my own Synanon experience.

The death of Paul Morantz in 1978 would only have benefitted Chuck Diederich. Morantz had made something of a name representing individuals who had cases against Synanon and other such places based on mistreatment. And he’d won some pricey verdicts as well. It’s not as though there weren’t other lawyers going up against Synanon at the time, but Morantz had been successful and was showing no signs of stopping.

CED, according to one very biased account that insists on referring to Synanon members as ‘Synanites’ (a term we never would have used), spent a lot of time on the Wire, the closed-circuit radio network demonizing Morantz and calling on followers to do something about him.

Anyway, this brings me to the cult at the heart of the executive branch of the US government. The president’s fixer has just started a prison term for crimes that only benefitted the president. Diederich’s call for someone inside to to his dirty work sounds eerily like what we’ve heard from Trump and specifically from Cohen’s defense of his own actions. (Fall Guy – Michael Cohen’s Last Days of Freedom by Jeffrey Toobin in the same issue of the New Yorker.)

Mel Lyman’s Family organization – the cult to which Guinevere Turner belonged from birth to the age of about 12 afforded her a great deal of security and was home in a way that Synanon wasn’t really for me. Noting that I have friends who were there much longer than I was and who saw the other end of a period of distinct cruelty against those of us in the school. Their attitudes about the place are very different than mine or my parents’. For a period, the school was run by a guy who had no pedagogical background. This wasn’t uncommon – most people worked jobs inside that had no relationship to whatever training they may have brought in. Unless it was lucrative. My father was a patent lawyer and he continued doing the same work and gave most of his income back to the community. If not all. The fact that the person in charge of the school, Chris Benton, had not educational background didn’t set him apart from anyone else teaching us. His background however was as a drill sergeant. And corporal punishment wasn’t outside of his remit. (This despite the fact that Synanon had strict policies against physical violence, threatening physical violence, not to mention swearing and drug, alcohol, and tobacco use.)

I left at the age of 10 1/2 when my father and stepmother left in September of 1977 (my mother and stepfather had left in mid-‘76. The story behind all of the relationships is complex and for another blog entry), almost three years after entering. It took a long time for me to come to terms with the place. Psychoanalysis in the wake of my divorce helped, I suppose. And simply getting to middle age and that point where there’s no longer any profit to be had from carrying the baggage.

Turner made a certain kind of peace with her experiences on a return visit at the age of 18 – the casual sexism with which the men their expected to be waited on put paid to her longing to return to The Family’s way of life. She makes an interesting point about the probable profusion of cults in America:

If you haven’t heard of a cult, it’s because it didn’t go down in flames. Its members are just quietly doing what they do, which means that there are many more active cults today than we are aware of.

Manson and David Koresh’s group in the 90s (for another example) and Synanon went down in flames. Folks like Lyman’s group laid low. I’d suggest that the probability a cult will go down in flames is directly proportional to the degree it goes head to head with existing power structures. Synanon got under the skins of nearby residents no matter where it set up (for a variety of reasons – the fact that it sold itself as a drug rehab organization harking back to its roots is one) and there was a certain amount of that antagonism built into Chuck’s messiah complex.

The issue we’re running into here is that Manson, Koresh and Diederich, and let’s add Philadelphia’s MOVE commune to the list, all in their own ways got the goat of the power structures (and the media). Outright murder got Manson on the map. The others? Different in their different ways.

What do we get, though, with the Cult of Trump in which the leader is the power structure? Increasingly there seems to be no way of stopping him short of something that turns the rest of the structure against him. That has historically taken a long and very difficult time.