Thursday, July 28, 2011

Founders and greats of rock and roll: part 2

These next two influencers of rock and roll are both as influential musically as they were socially. And their contributions to folk music made the 1960s America a world-class melting pot of folk tunes and ideas.

Harry Belafonte. I , as most people I know, first knew of him from the "Beetlejuice" soundtrack. But in 1956 his "Calypso" album was the first LP to sell over than a million copies. So I guess, all those suckers born back in the day knew him from that. On that album, he sang "Matilda," which is much better heard sung live than on the album because he made it a career trademark to have the audience participate in the song. He also sang "The Banana Boat Song" first on this LP. Fun fact about that song, the first time he ever sung it live on TV was on The Muppet Show, which kind of warms my heart.

Harry's music brought Caribbean music into the States to a wide audience and people began to listen to him. So he started talking. He raised funds all over the place and has been an activist in the environmental and anti-war movements ever since. And he can still sing, man. This one was drawn on the back of a receipt.

Pete Seeger. I know. I write about him too much. But he fits in here, when we're talking about influencers on rock and roll music. In 1936 he joined an arm of the US Communist Party and collected music to sing at union protests, migrant rallies and anti-war functions. He was edgy before it was cool to be edgy. He was called in front of Sen McCarthy and HUAC and blacklisted at the height of his early career. But he kept on singing. Or as he wrote to me in a postcard, kept on keepin' on.

On his banjo, which I was lucky enough to see for myself at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (I know, why the hell is it in Cleveland?), he wrote "This Machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender." It was a response to Woody Guthrie's "This Machine Kills Fascists," which was written on his guitar. And I think these two statements really show the difference between Pete and Woody. Woody wrote something big, brash, slightly reckless and really catchy. Pete, wrote something longer, more thought out and ultimately, more easily to forget. You can hear, in all of his songs, from children's folk music to protest songs to pop covers, both honesty and true, palpable love in his voice. I drew this one on a packet of guitar strings.

I got to see him sing at President Obama's Inauguration and ended up in tears when he and Bruce Springsteen sang "This Land is Your Land." Apparently Pete insisted that they sing Woody's lesser-known third verse to the song about the evils of private ownership of land, and the more protest-ful fourth verse and the failures of government:
As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there 
And that sign said - no tress passin' 
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin! 
Now that side was made for you and me! 
In the squares of the city - 
In the shadow of the steeple 
Near the relief office - I see my people 
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' 
If this land's still made for you and me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My homage to R. Crumb

So R. Crumb, the world-famous comic book artist, musician and music-lover made a book of his favorite blues, jazz and country artists, imaginatively titles, "R. Crumb's heroes of blues, jazz and country."

Lucky for me this book fell into my hands a few years ago (in that I stole it from a friend) and I devoured every page, every image and every song that came with the book. Thanks R. Crumb. And thanks to my friend who I stole this from, who shall remain nameless lest he or she realizes it's missing.

On that CD was Blind Willie Johnson, who I have written about before, among other people. Man oh Man, can that guy sing. On an episode of West Wing they talk about how his music is on the space shuttle Voyager to bring the blues to extraterrestrials. Check out the clip here and tell me you don't want to listen to all of his music.

Anyway, I decided that as an homage to R Crumb, and everyone in that book, I would draw a few of my favorite musicians. A nice notebook costs about $30 here. So in lieu of a new notebook, I have made my own out of scraps that I've acquired -- cereal box cardboard, receipts, a soap container, and a McDonalds bag that I, uhhhh, found somewhere...

So here you go: my first installment of Molly Mullen's founders and greats of rock and roll.

So Jack White in an interview was talking about his musical inspirations. He said he remembers when he first heard Son House and thought, "I didn't know you could do that with music." Well, that's how I feel about Leadbelly. When I was 15 Abby made me her annual Christmas mixed CD, which is always the best present of the year. It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing (which is unusual). We had a fire in the fireplace and things were winding down. She put the CD on and after hearing Pete Seeger and Joan Baez and others, Leadbelly came on. And I remember thinking, "Whoa. I didn't know you could do this with music." And he's been a hero ever since. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his contributions to the evolution of rock and roll, as should most 1930s and '40s blues musicians. This one was drawn on a McDonalds bag.

Son House man. He kills everything. It's hard to tell which is more moving, his guitar or his voice. It makes me want to move back to Mississippi. It makes me want to move back in time. Alas, listening to his records will have to do. I'd recommend listening to this one about three beers deep with the lights and AC off, laying on the floor. But that's just me. This one was drawn on a soap box.

Not a lot to say about Woody Guthrie. You know all those punks and hardcore rockers with that "I don't give a shit" attitude? That "screw the establishment" freedom of expression? Well, Woody did it first. And he did it better. He would walk off TV sets if the the producers were too bourgeois. He's ride the rails to find work that suited him. He'd write some of his greatest songs while getting drunk with strangers on a dock somewhere and never write them down. Just let them evaporate like the whiskey. His machine killed fascists. On top of being a punk, Woody is my idea of the quintessential American. Tough life. Outspoken. Loves the country enough to change it. This one was drawn on part of cereal box.

I heard someone the other day call Buddy Holly a 1950s pop idol. Jesus, man, does that make him sound lame. Please, this guy was no Justin Bieber. Buddy Holly is a rock-n-roller. His music was banned from white radio stations in the 1950s. He partied hard and died young, as good rock stars are supposed to do. If he is so 'poppy' then why would Modest Mouse cover him? Or why would Florence and the Machine cover him? Why would Patti Smith cover him? I rest my case. This one was drawn on a bookmark.

Last but not least. Cash, Johnny. His name is synonymous with badass-ness. I drew an early JC on the picture, with his infamous photo in the background of him giving the camera the finger. Hard rocking and redemption. That's the Johnny Cash story, and the story of rock and roll when you think about it. The man in black will always be one of my favorite musicians. Because he is the most honest person I know. The way he writes and portrays himself. The way he goes whole hog into "Cocaine Blues," and can turn around and put the same intensity into a gospel song, it's the opposite of posturing. He allows himself to be contradictory. He is one of us. This one was drawn on a McDonald's french fry container.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Anchor babies

So I was recently talking to a friend who is trying to get refugee status for her and her newborn so they can be resettled to a country like the US or European countries or Australia or wherever is less awful than Thailand.

"It's not for me. I can survive anywhere. But think of my daughter. She is stateless," she said.

Her daughter was born in Thailand. But the mother is from Ethiopia. Because she was not born in Ethiopia, she doesn't have an Ethiopian birth certificate. And because her mother is not Thai, she does not have a Thai birth certificate. A woman without a country indeed.

Stateless? Stateless, I thought. How in the year 2011 are children born stateless? It sounds to me like a problem that should have been solved by now. There I go again, having too much faith in humanity.

Well, mark that down for one more thing I take for granted in the States. Well, that and Heinz tomato ketchup. Every restaurant I go to in Thailand, I expect there to be tasty Heinz tomato ketchup on the table, and I am frequently sorely disappointed. But that is besides the point. I'm here to talk about statelessness and the good ol' US of A.

While I know that my home country (isn't it nice to have a home country?) has some major things it needs to work out domestically, and a plethora of problems abroad, it gets mad props from me for two reasons. We resettle boat load (pun intended, take that Australia!) of refugees, and we assure that babies born in the US are therefore from the US. No statelessness here, folks.

Having a home country is like having a home base in tag. I know I can run there whenever I need to and feel safe. And while it's exciting to run away from there every now and again, it's just as exciting to run back.

So there you go. God bless the United States for being just that much better than Thailand on domestic policy. Now if you could please just get your shit together on this and this and this and this and this and this. That would be great.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


This is Valeria. We work together. She begrudgingly let me draw her when we had nothing else to do.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Well if that doesn't just sum it up

So I'm reading the last chapter of this book about protest music, and what do I find? I paragraph about Nebraska's own Conor Oberst. Take a read:
A few weeks later, the young Nebraska singer-songwriter Conor Oberst debuted a new song, 'When the President Talks to God' at New York's Town Hall. It is not, to be frank, a great song, -- it is callow, overstated and clumsy with anger -- but that very failure of poise spoke powerfully to Oberst's young, liberal audience. 'I can't think of too many occasions when I felt an audience so engrossed in the drama of a song,' observed critic Rob Tannanbaum, 'and I don't know if I have ever seen a singer project as much sincerity. There was a point when I thought he was going to start crying.'
Well, doesn't that just about say everything there is to say about Omaha in 2004?