Wednesday, March 05, 2008

When Will They Ever Learn

I’ve taken an interesting ride this past week, not physically as in a car, a train or even an airplane. The ride was through some old music written or performed by some of the finest performers I can think of. My journey started long ago; but today’s thoughts were prompted by an article posted by the Old Old Lady of the Hills this past week, a spotlight on Pete Seeger’s accomplishments as he was honored.

The music I’m referring to became popular with “my generation”, if such a thing truly exists. I grew up in post WWII America with a noticeable difference between the previous generation, the so called “greatest generation”; we questioned everything and required answers from those in authority. There was an unhealthy aspect to such insubordinate attitudes in the manner such questions were posed, particularly toward the “establishment”. Government, police, schools and especially the military were all ripe targets to be questioned, doubted, ridiculed, avoided or otherwise portrayed as task masters holding back free expression. I’m guessing each generation questioned the way things were done, how they might be improved or even done away; that’s neither good or bad.

Pete Seeger’s music was pleasant to the ear, a soft clear “hoot-nanny” type of singer who invited the audience to join in the fun. Picking the banjo or strumming his guitar didn’t seem to matter as his vision of how America could be “if only” a few things were done better. Other musicians with similar messages come to mind, Peter Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie to name a few had concerns about our being involved in war, extreme poverty, union worker issues or a host of other “establishment” challenges. In most cases the establishment was shown to be wrong, at fault, deceptive or less than desirable. The music’s statement, true or not, had a profound effect on how society interacted; think Mr. Rogers with a banjo and enjoy this next song.

I listened to an introduction by Joan Baez in front of an anti-war concert as she was about to perform, Where have all the flowers gone. It was her simple statement which provided some insight as to where the division is between my America and the naysayer protest singers. She explained how the mothers of soldiers crippled or killed in the war were present and how that was the worst experience a mother could face, the death of a child because of a war, a meaningless confrontation; when will they ever learn? I many have taken some liberties with her exact words; but the meaning was hinged on the idea that nothing is worth dying for in war. Listen carefully and you will pick up on her particular agenda; it must be true because it’s a popular folk song.

The idea proposed, and accepted without much thought, is that a valiant young man’s death is the worst thing that could happen to a mother; it just isn’t true. I would think a mother would suffer more knowing her child wasn’t valiant, didn’t understand that some things are worth fighting for, are worth dying for; that’s where I part company with the wrist wringing generation who want peace at any cost. I’d rather be a draft dodger living in Canada and spout off about being responsible than go to war; sorry but that only works if you are responsible to begin with.

I spent quite a while listening to the folk music preserved on YouTube, much of it familiar to my ear and yet the more I listened the veins in my neck began to swell. I heard, What did you learn in school today; all about the brainwashing of our children and the idea that a strong government isn’t good, policemen aren’t friends, previous war victories aren’t something to be proud about and you sure don’t want to join the military and become a dead guy; other than that it was a catchy little children’s tune played with a neat banjo to reinforce the melody.

I listened to a song, Which Side Are You On?, intended to enlighten workers, join the union or stay on the side with the “lousy scabs”; or will you be a man? I’m not saying changes didn’t need to be made to secure safety issues or even that labor hasn’t been taken advantage of; however, take a look at the present state of things and how labor unions have all but destroyed the American economy by forcing unrealistic wages and compensations to be paid regardless of the company’s ability to produce a profit.

GM and Ford routinely post losses in the Billions of dollars because they have to pay outrageous hourly wages to union employees, fully funded retirement and health insurance premiums which add thousands of dollars to the price of each vehicle sold. At some point in the near future the industry will be unable to sustain a footing in the market and the whole mess will collapse. What will happen to the economy, our standard of living and the American way if such a huge segment of our society is destroyed because of greed, not from the owners; but from the laborers? It takes a worried man to sing a worried song. What the heck is a scab anyway; I thought that was some lowlife unskilled person hired to fill an opening when the labor unions were on strike; guess not.

It’s one thing to point out our deficiencies, yet another to despise America; takes some of the fun out of singing, now don’t it? I was going to include a version by Peter Paul and Mary done later in their careers but I couldn’t inflict that kind of visual damage on a stranger; just wouldn’t be right. When will we ever learn?

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