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Gypsy reviewed in Locus Magazine

February 21st, 2016

Gypsy is the first collection of Carter Scholz material in a dozen years, consisting of the centerpiece title novella, a pair of short stories, an essay, an interview with Scholz (conducted by editor Terry Bisson), and a bibliography. As compelling as the shorter pieces are, it is the novella that grabs and won’t let go. In the interview, Scholz characterizes ‘‘Gypsy’’ as SF ‘‘with the net up’’ to ‘‘let the story come out of the constraints of the physics.’’ And throughout it is constraints, human and physical, that define the story, which follows the progress of the first interstellar voyage to the Centaurus system. As each of the hibernating crew’s ‘‘stewards’’ is awakened to solve some problem, we also get the back-story of how the starship Gypsy came to be designed, built, and launched in secret by a conspiracy of scientists, engineers, and astronauts who despair of the home planet’s future.

That future already looks bleak by the story’s mid-21st-century opening. Sophie, the first steward revived, remembers a world in a tailspin, dominated by corporations, defense contractors, and the surveillance state. She and successive stewards must deal with the expected and unexpected hazards of interstellar flight, and as the errors and failures pile up, the chances of a successful planetfall diminish, and the gradually unfolding back-story makes a happy outcome for the homeworld seem increasingly unlikely. When Sophie recovers scraps of Earth’s network traffic, she catches fragmented glimpses of rolling disasters and the insanity of a civilization ‘‘speaking its poison poetry of ruin and catastrophe and longing’’:

Drought melt permafrost thermokarsts methane burn wildfire giants 800 ppm….

Hurriedly autoimmune decay derivative modern thaws in dawn’s pregnant grave shares in disgust of high frequency trading wet cities territorial earthquake poison Bayes the chairs are empty incentives to disorder without borders. Pneumonia again antibiotic resistance travels the globe with ease….

Mankind is inwardly endocrine and afar romantic spaceflight.

Everything in the story’s science-fictional machineries emphasizes complexity and interaction and unexpected outcomes; and like the design of Gypsy itself, the story’s rolling, interconnected disasters are complex and comprehensively imagined. For example, the engineered-in sterility of commercial crops has jumped to natural species, so that ‘‘[t]here wasn’t a live food plant left anywhere on Earth that could propagate itself.’’ The starship’s necessarily minimalist design leaves only the tiniest margins of error in the elaborate and delicate systems that power and direct the vessel and sustain the sleeping crew. The stubborn resistance of the physical environment traveled by Gypsy – a set of cold equations – is the physics-and-engineering analogue of humanity’s perverse refusal to overcome the greed and power-hunger that drives the leaders of Spaceship Earth.

The most satisfying SF produces a world as dense and operationally plausible – as fine-grained – as the one we actually inhabit. Scholz’s future and starship design supply that kind of credibility for a quite non-technological set of observations about the failure modes of human endeavor. As I read ‘‘Gypsy’’, I kept thinking of Kim Stanley Robinson or Paul McAuley’s densely textured evocations of physical reality, of physics and chemistry in action. And it was quite interesting to read next to, say, Charles Stross’s various blog essays on the barriers to intra-solar-system, let alone interstellar, space travel and colonization, the executive summary of which is ‘‘space travel is shit.’’ (See Saturn’s Children and Neptune’s Brood, reviewed in August 2008 and July 2013.) Sophie, last as well as first steward, recognizes humankind’s precarious perch in the universe:

So long for us to evolve…. So long to build a human world. So quick to ruin it…. Every last bit of it was a long shot: their journey, humanity, life itself, the universe with its constants so finely tuned that planets, stars, time itself, had come to be.

‘‘Gypsy’’ is a hard act to follow, but the rest is as compelling and (sometimes) angry. ‘‘The Nine Billion Names of God’’ (1984) starts out as one of those epistolary-story goofs that used to turn up in the magazines (an author-editor rejection exchange), but it develops a sharper bite as ‘‘Carter Scholz’’ explains the genesis and significance of his text, which only appears to be a word-for-word copy of the famous Clarke tale of the same title. Post-modern hilarity ensues. ‘‘The United States of Impunity’’ seems to be a new piece, a kind of op-ed essay driven by anger but expressed with considerable rational restraint: a reasoned case against the moral bankruptcy of our governing class and the moneyed, kleptocratic classes that run them. ‘‘Bad Pennies’’ (2009) is another narrative stunt piece, the answers-only side of a Congressional hearing that points up the strange banality of geo-politico-economic operations.

The volume lives up to the PM Press’s ‘‘Outspoken Authors’’ series label, and while the genial and often funny interview does not exhibit the anger behind the stories, it does supply some biographical, political, literary, and musical background – that early on Scholz was ‘‘drawn to the core modernist works’’ of Eliot, Beckett, and Pound, and that he has argued for the science-fictionality of Beckett, Borges, Calvino, Gaddis, and Pynchon. (The brief comments on the nature of genre are right on the money.) It also made me very curious about his music – anybody who admires Monk and gamelan is going to be very interesting.

Scholz is anything but prolific. The bibliography that closes out the book is only a little over two pages long, showing his most productive writing period to have been the 1980s, with two dozen titles, most thickly clustered in the middle of the decade. He is, nevertheless, a powerful voice in the field, and Gypsy and ‘‘Gypsy’’ both pack a lot of punch for their sizes.

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Leon Rosselson’s Where are the Barricades reviewed in Peace News

By Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2016

After 60 years of making music, radical English singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson turns his attention to the post-financial-crash political landscape in this new album, made up of original compositions and rescued old songs.

On the title track, 'Karl Marx is scratching his head/they ought to be shooting the bankers/But they’re giving them money instead'. 'Looters' finds Rosselson comparing the rioters of August 2011 with the industrial-scale, officially-sanctioned looting carried out by 'the Brutish Empire', while 'Sixty Quid A Week' takes aim at Iain Duncan Smith’s claim that he could live on the current level of unemployment benefit.

Other topics tackled include so-called welfare cheats, the looming climate crisis, and the recent Gaza wars on the moving 'Ballad of Rivka and Mohammed'. On the latter, Rosselson – a long-time supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians – combines the story of a girl killed in the Vilna Ghetto in 1942 with the Israeli bombing of four Palestinian boys playing on a beach in 2014. Throughout, Rosselson is assisted by a number of other musicians, including Janet Russell and Roy Bailey who lend a hand on the wonderfully-titled 'I’m Going Where The Suits Will Shine My Shoes.'

Long out of step with popular music and the British folk scene, Rosselson’s music and voice is something of an acquired taste. However, activists who take the time to listen will find a fresh and knowledgeable take on contemporary politics – often caustic, sometimes angry and always right on the money.

Rosselson’s detailed and amused introductions to his songs in the liner notes – with repeated references to the privileged background of the austerity-crazed government – are worth studying in themselves. In addition, his nimble, humorous wordplay will provide activists with some light relief. And like his most famous song, the left-wing anthem 'The World Turned Upside Down', the music here will surely inspire anyone involved in struggles against established power.

I end with bad news. Now 81, Rosselson has announced that this will be his final recording. But there is good news too: the brilliant Where Are The Barricades? is a fitting end to a rich and humane recording career that will no doubt continue to entertain, nourish and enlighten progressive activists across the world for years to come. And luckily much of Rosselson extensive back catalogue is available through the PM audio series.

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Leon Rosselson’s Where are the Barricades reviewed in The Irish Left Review

by Raymond Deane
Irish Left Review
March 10th, 2016

Five years after his 4-CD compendium The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010  the radical English singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson has released a new album, Where are the Barricades? Rosselson turned 80 in 2014, so his announcement that “after some sixty years of songwriting… this is my final recording” is hardly shocking, but will nonetheless distress those for whom his consistent advocacy of social change and support for the underdog has long been an inspiration.

Rosselson, the son of communist Jewish immigrants to Britain, made his name contributing satirical songs to the classic 1960s BBC TV show That Was The Week That Was, and he has never abandoned a very English form of political satire. Indeed some more po-faced purists may well be aggrieved by the sheer frivolity of the first song on the album (the earliest version of which dates back to 1986):

                         Full Marks for Charlie.

                        He’s the bugbear of the bosses.

                        Workers of the world unite!

                        Charlie Marx is dynamite.

In fact the transmission of serious political comment through the medium of cheek, conveyed in a voice that in an earlier review I described as possessing a “vaguely Monty Pythonish quality (Eric Idle comes to mind!)”, is so characteristic of Rosselson that the listener’s response to his music may depend on her/his tolerance of the combination. To which I must add a further comment from that review: “When Rosselson sings, the vocal idiosyncrasies are inseparable from his intractable and endearing integrity.”

The satirical mode is conspicuous in Looters (“You smash up the shops and you get free stuff/ It’s all about the money nowadays…innit?”), Benefits (“Come all you skivers, welfare cheats...”), and the title song, Where are the Barricades? (here making its fourth recorded appearance) which effortlessly manages a direct quotation from the Communist Manifesto:

            See how the bubbles are bursting

            ‘All that’s solid melts into air’

            The stairs are beginning to rattle

            And the rats are beginning to stare.

However, Rosselson’s range is wider than this. While he has admitted to avoiding love-songs (“love, a word that has rarely passed my songwriting pen”), he has instead composed what he calls “relationship songs” entailing “a sideways look at love, sex, marriage, relationships and angst…” Active Ageing is a comical example of this, while Marital Diaries are bitter-sweet slices of married life spoken by Rosselson and Liz (Elizabeth) Mansfield. To the latter (minus Rosselson) is assigned Paris in the Rain, an “attempt at an English French-style chanson”, beautifully accompanied on piano by Fiz Shapur. Fair’s Fair, originally recorded by Roy Bailey (who participates in a couple of songs on this album, but not this one) is a seemingly apolitical celebration of the fun of the fair, rollercoaster, dodgems and all. For Rosselson, it’s

“a song that suggested revisiting the past in order to recapture those more innocent, stress-free days, represented by a trip to the fairground where ‘smashing plates can be a lot of fun’  and ‘you’ll see it can be easy to pretend’ and we can ‘dream of sunny days that never end’.  An exercise in nostalgia, in fact. (Private communication.)

Four Degrees Celsius, opening and closing with a line from the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman (‘On a summer season when soft was the sun’), is an enigmatic allegory that may or may not evoke ecological apocalypse.

I have previously described Rosselson’s anti-Zionist Song of the Olive Tree as “perhaps his most beautiful composition”, and perhaps the most powerful song on the new album is The Ballad of Rivka & Mohammed, the note on which in the CD booklet is almost an essay on Israel’s persecution of the people of Gaza.

In a sympathetic interview with Rosselson, which is much more than an interview, the English Jewish blogger Robert Cohen describes the song as follows:

            A Nazi soldier smashes the head of Rivka, a seven year old girl wearing her new red dress in the Vilna ghetto in 1942. An Israeli soldier fires a shell onto a Gaza beach and kills Mohammed, an eleven year old boy playing football with his cousins in 2014. In the songwriter’s dream, Mohammed and Rivka take each other’s hand and “leave this world of war” – together. The Polish ghetto has been twinned with the Gaza Strip. Nazis are on a parallel with Israelis. And in life and in death, Rivka and Mohammed are together and equal.

Cohen asks: “Isn’t such a coupling of victims a dishonest slur against the state of Israel, a gross exaggeration, and an offence to the memory of the six million?” Rosselson replies:

The racism of the Nazis, dehumanising Jews (and so making them disposable), is matched by the racism of prominent Israelis and government spokesman dehumanising Palestinians, calling them ‘little snakes’, ‘two-legged beasts’, ‘drugged cockroaches’ and suggesting – as in an article in The Times of Israel – that there are times when genocide is permissible.

What is most remarkable about the song, apart from its courage, is its understated simplicity: the message is clear, and requires no rhetoric to hammer it home:

            And I saw children still being slaughtered

            The monster must have its fill

            While the people with power turned a blind eye

            And supplied the weapons that kill.

 Rosselson’s decision to revisit the title song suggests that he sees few grounds for optimism in his country’s – or the world’s – recent history:

            The plebs should be storming the ramparts

            And whetting the guillotine’s blade

            Singing capitalism’s in crisis

            So where are the barricades?

However, the last song on the album, At Dawn (inspired by Yves Montand’s C’est à l’aube but replacing “its somewhat generalised imagery” with a “focus on the specific, the particular, the visual, which is what I always try to do”) rebuts any such fatalism. If this is truly Leon Rosselson’s farewell to the recording studio, then it is a stirring one indeed.

            When the millions find their voices,

                        no more killing, no more war,

            And the mighty will be humbled

                        at the dawning of the day

            And their wealth and power will crumble

                        and be swept like dust away.

            And it will be at dawn – at dawn.


Raymond Deane is a composer, author, and political activist. His memoir In my own Light was published in 2013 by Liffey Press.

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The Last of the Hippies in Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
March 5th, 2016

It’s many, many years since I read this. For those who don’t know, The Last Of The Hippies was a lengthy essay that was published in the insert that accompanied the CRASS album ‘Christ The Album’. It’s quite a sprawling narrative to included with an album and, while CRASS was always about ideas and the dissemination of ideas and information, it did get a bit lost within the context of the booklet that came with the album, as it was sandwiched between song lyrics (if I recall correctly at least). Here, in book form, it should certainly be easier to ‘digest’ for those who aren’t CRASS obsessed.

The main core of the essay is an analysis of Wally Hope. Hope organised the Windsor Free Festival between 1972-’74 and was among the founders of the Stonehenge Free Festival. He was also a bit of a visionary and activist, which lead his incarceration in a mental institution for the possession of a small amount of LSD. He allegedly committed suicide, but Rimbaud’s investigation discovered evidence he was murdered by the State. The narrative here only touches on the subject of Wally Hope and, if you want a more in-depth analysis of the events, it’s well worth picking up Rimbaud’s Shibboleth also.

The remainder looks at the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll as a medium of social and political change, of the ethics and ideals behind Anarchism (as viewed by Rimbaud), of the power of pacifism and peaceful protest and ultimately the then occurring Falklands War. This last issue certainly gives the narrative placement and compensates for ‘Christ The Album’s lack of songs about it. Add in religion, the banality of Oi, journalistic lies, CRASS and many more peripheral matters, and you have a convincing essay on the fundamental beliefs of what Anarcho-Punk represented.

What is hugely interesting is Rimbaud’s new introductory piece. It carries particular weight for those who already know what the core text concerns as Rimbaud mentions he is greatly embarrassed by his then-belief in the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll as a force of change. He also states that throughout his life he has swung between the pacifist stance that the original text represented (which ran in parallel to the stance of CRASS) and a more militant form of activism, which is where he currently sits. There’s definitely a sense of self-analysis and progression in this new piece.

The contrast between the two narratives makes for great reading, especially for those who think of CRASS as more than just a band and realise the power their songs could wield in a socio-political sense.

A few subtle alterations have been made to the original text; nothing that changes the actual meaning of it or acts as either contradiction or emphasis, but just some minor updates. Most notable of those is the bold, headline print of some of those iconic statements: There is no authority but our own, We have the strength but do we have the courage? etc.

If you’ve got ‘Christ The Album’ then you have the core of this; however I reckon it would be well worth your time picking this up primarily due to the new introduction and the fact that in book format, the narrative does take on a slightly less-laborious tone. 


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The Irish Socialist Who Organized an Uprising on Truth out

by Paul Buhle
Truth out
April 25th, 2016

Why should we care about a failed independence uprising that occurred 100 years ago on April 24, led by Irish rebel James Connolly?

It's a question answered within the pages of A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough that I helped bring into the world.

It's also a question that I might not have asked myself if I had not been in Dublin, Ireland, the day before Ireland's marriage equality vote in May 2015.

The throng of young people in particular, eagerly distributing leaflets, cheering each other with smiles, waves and songs, was something to see. Same-sex marriage was clearly to be approved by a massive margin across the Republic. A literature table and some very grouchy characters represented the official, deeply anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The Catholic Church, with its views on divorce and much else, has long been utterly dominant in the Republic of Ireland, but has more recently been discredited by reports of child sexual abuse committed by priests and sex scandals involving clerics, and by the emergence of a new, more secular generation.

By May 2015, the solemn-faced devotees almost seemed harmless -- remnants of an unpleasant and widely regretted past. When the vote came, the church politicians carried only one county. Ireland had come into modern times.Not quite times for a wide-ranging discussion of James-Connolly-style socialism, however. That remained for the future.

Something equally remarkable and unpredicted for 2015 happened in the United States. Here, Sen. Bernie Sanders began talking up one of Connolly's great admirers, Eugene V. Debs. Before Sanders rekindled public interest in this topic, Debs -- the most beloved socialist of US history -- seemed to have vanished. A historic site devoted to Debs exists in Terre Haute, Indiana, and every now and then, the public hears once again about how Debs won nearly 1 million votes in the 1920 presidential election while campaigning from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary where he was being held as a political prisoner.

By way of contrast, the public in Ireland has never forgotten the story of James Connolly (1868-1916). Statues, portraits, inscriptions, assorted celebrations, songs from Connolly poems and songs about Connolly are recited or sung in Irish taverns by scores -- all these seem available in any season. The run-up to the centenary of Connolly's failed revolt for independence naturally offers a special case.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund / Tom Keough)

Connolly, actually born in Edinburgh, Scotland, among Irish immigrants seeking industrial labor, became a teenage factory worker and then British soldier until he managed a permanent AWOL, and then he became a socialist agitator and editor. Notorious in 1898 for leading a nationalist protest against a visit by Queen Victoria (among his fellow nationalists were poet William Butler Yeats and Maud Gonne, "the most beautiful woman in Europe"), Connolly continued to educate himself to an extraordinary degree. Meanwhile, he wrote immensely appealing, deeply sentimental class-conscious poetry. And then, broke as usual and with a growing family to feed, he abandoned Ireland for the United States.

On this side of the ocean, Connolly became an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, founded the Irish Socialist Federation and published its lively tabloid, The Harp, while writing furiously and traveling widely as a socialist lecturer. In 1910, Ireland called him home.

His extraordinary volume, Labour in Ireland -- a historical inquiry into the workings of empire rivaling Marxist (or other) anti-imperialist analysis anywhere at the time -- had as much as predicted catastrophic war between the rival empires. How right he was, and what conclusions to draw for Ireland's quest to throw off the British yoke? "England's adversity is Ireland's opportunity," according to the old adage. Against his own former reasoning that Irish capitalism would be no better than English bondage, he threw himself into plans for an uprising -- the doomed uprising (or "Easter Rising") of 1916.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund / Tom Keough)

Anticipations that the countryside would rise with the population of Dublin -- or even that the poor population across Dublin itself would rise -- proved worse than false. Within days, the Easter Rising was crushed. A badly wounded Connolly faced execution along with his comrades. But that would not be the end of the story, of course.

The British suppression was brutal almost beyond description. Wholesale murders, torture and the full gamut of horrors stirred Irish sentiment as the rebellion had not. In the end, the British seemed glad to get out, and in 1922, the Free State emerged. The former colonialists retained the northern six counties with mostly Protestant populations, planting the seed for future strife bordering upon internecine guerilla warfare, and for repressive state violence by British authorities.

The Irish Republic, nurturing nationalist resentments but run by a repressive clerical clique and a pack of corrupt politicians, remained a site of heroic memories alongside a most unheroic present. Connolly, the socialist ghost, inspired labor activists and a persistently fragmented left, recalled, if distantly, by the 2014 Ken Loach film Jimmy's Hall. His mustache glowers out from photos and paintings, a sign of fierce resistance. But perhaps Connolly is best remembered as the autodidact theorist and inveterate sentimentalist who comes to life again in popular culture. Hence the James Connolly comic, A Full Life, with the artwork of a veteran Irish-American activist and of myself, an aging editor.

(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund)(Image: PM Press / Hungarian Literature Fund / Tom Keough)

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


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A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel in Dissent Magazine

by Paul Buhle and Tom Keogh
April 25th, 2016

An excerpt from A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, illustrated by Tom Keough, edited by Paul Buhle, and published by PM Press/Hungarian Literature Fund. Reprinted with permission. 

Renewed recognition of James Connolly’s life and work, his triumphs and his tragedies, is very much on the agenda in 2016. The centenary of the Easter Rising (or Rebellion) splashes Connolly’s face and borrowed memories of his martyrdom across the whole Irish diaspora. Fact and legend, always abundant in the Connolly saga, reemerge with a new vividness. Glasgow, Scotland, during the 1910s, was a beehive of socialist activity, heavily impacted by workplace conflicts, pressure for women’s rights, the approach of war, and the presence of a suffering Irish proletariat. Connolly and his ideas were present in all of these causes.

Connolly spent precious years from 1902 to 1910 in the United States, much of his time and effort evoking the grand vision of the IWW: socialism emerging as the “new society within the old.” Breaking with the traditions of insular or sectarian socialism, Connolly urged the formation of broader, more comprehensive radical movements. Returning to Ireland, he energetically joined the campaign to have Irish children included in the British Act of Parliament providing funds for feeding the impoverished. Likewise, he stood proudly on platforms with non-socialists, urging voting rights for women, a demand that “pure” socialists considered a mere bourgeois reform. His 1915 article in the Irish Worker, simply titled “Woman,” contained this vivid phrase, “None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter.” From Dublin to Glasgow (where the antiwar movement was weaker, but the women’s rights campaign stronger than in Ireland), Connolly figured not only as an agitator for radical reform but as a monumental visionary. By seeing in Ireland’s fate a microcosm of empire’s victims, the self-taught worker-intellectual looked ahead to the expansion of Marxist themes in the twentieth century and beyond.

Perhaps none of this hard thinking could have been brought to fruition without Connolly’s keen moral and emotional sensibilities, so deeply rooted in his Irishness, and so brilliantly expressed in his newspaper, The Harp. Modern and postmodern thinking has little room for the sentimentality of Connolly’s lyrics, written to accompany traditional songs. They were written to rouse workers to common struggle against the capitalist oppressors, but also drew upon the most tender sentiments of family feelings and the great urge toward a better society, an urge maintained through great difficulty with the dream of what that better society would surely bring. Songs of Freedom by Irish Authors, the five-cent edition prepared by Connolly and published by an Irish-American firm in 1909, delivered inspiration to lift the hopes of every reader (and singer) for what humanity could become. —Paul Buhle



Editor Paul Buhle, formerly a senior lecturer at Brown University, produces radical comics. He founded the SDS journal Radical America and the archive Oral History of the American Left and, with Mari Jo Buhle, is coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left.

Illustrator Tom Keough has been an artist all his life, trying to use his talents to do some good in this world. Tom’s paintings and illustrations have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the United Nations offices, in union newsletters, and used by organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the War Resisters

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Feministing Reads: The Spitboy Rule: Tales of Xicana in a Female Punk Band

by Chanelle Adams
April 25th, 2106

Many of us have dreamt of starting a badass girl band. Few of us have been as public and reflective about the process as Michelle Cruz Gonzales, who had no idea picking up a guitar in rural Toulumne, California would lead to a life-long journey in punk feminism.

So who better than to write about the complex topics of authenticity, creativity, and race in feminism than Gonzales, known professionally as Todd, the Xicana non-riot grrl drummer from Spitboy?

The Spitboy Rule (May 2016, PM Press) is a tell-all road diary – first a zine, now a book – in which Gonzales offers a glimpse her life as a Xicana punk drummer in the 90s – an experience that has been largely written out of history, save for zines and blogs such as the POC Zine project.

After a beautifully insightful introduction by Martín Sorrondeguy, of openly queer punk band Limp Wrist, Gonzales takes you through it all. As a reader, you go on tour as her bus breaks down in the middle of Wyoming, the band stops driving because their period cycles all sync up, Kurt Cobain dies, and Gonzales and her bandmates eventually break their Spitboy rule: no boyfriends on tour.

For me, reading The Spitboy Rule was like a throwback Thursday. Gonzales’ journal-like writing chronicles her experiences coming of age in the 90s punk scene. Now a professor of English and Creative Writing, Gonzales’ memoir convincingly brings the reader right back into the mentality of being a teenager; the trap of simultaneously looking to fit in and stand out, and an exhausting oscillation between self-consciousness, self-righteousness, vulnerability and outright stubbornness. For Gonzales, being a Xicana in a majority white punk-sphere makes the usual punk teen complexities that much more difficult to navigate, an experience that many punks (and ex-punks) of color know all too well.

Gonzales rejected riot grrrl from within the heart of riot grrrl territory: her band, Spitboy. While the third-wave riot grrrl movement, in all of its gender equality glory, was liberatory for many, present-day romanticization of the movement flattens the complexities of ‘90s feminism. Feminism is not (and never was) a monolithic ideology or singular movement, especially when it comes to issues of race, transphobia and classism.

While Gonzales admits she shared many commitments with riot grrrls, Spitboy was decidedly not a riot grrrl band. Some of the major differences were that Spitboy didn’t want to be called girls (during those years, Michelle went by her nickname “Todd”) and the band did not require men to stand in the back for their shows (which riot grrrl band Bikini Kill notably demanded of their audiences).

The story of Spitboy shows riot grrrl bands weren’t the only feminist and transgressive hardcore punk ’90s spaces. Instead, bands like Gonzales’s pushed on tensions within the movement from outside.

Mimi Nguyen, author of Evolution of a Race Riot, longtime zinester, and brilliant scholar, offers a preface to the book. She provides the context of dominant attitudes in punk such as “racist cool” and “white supremacy camouflage” in punk’s “bro-dominant scene.” Punk is a dominated by white cishet men from the suburbs who are mad at their moms. This makes punk an especially difficult space to navigate for anyone who occupies space outside of that narrow experience. The racialized and gendered tensions in punk, as Mimi has written and talked about time and time again, often reveal themselves in racist lyrics, appropriation, and exclusivity.

Reaching Gonzales’ story submerges the reader into the complexities of navigating this reality.

As a woman of color raised by a single mother in a predominantly white town, Gonzales was certainly an outsider to the scene. “As a Mexican American, a Xicana in a hick town, I was never allowed to forget that I didn’t fit in, that I muddled their waters.” In some ways, the punk scene provided a respite. But, as Nguyen’s introduction foreshadows, Gonzales’s escape from rural California into her musical career wasn’t an escape from racism. As she documents, Gonzales navigated the casual racism within punk in the “post-racial” ‘90s. “I could never pass really,” Gonzales writes, “but I did vacillate between being quite vocal about my Xicanisma and trying to just fit in with everyone else because going it alone was too exhausting.”

A turning point for Gonzales within the punk scene was Spitboy’s third release “Mi Cuerpo Es Mio” (My Body is Mine).  In a way, this was Gonzales’ coming out as a person of color in a punk world that treated her as different, but did not call racism by its name. When a white riot grrl called out the album title for being cultural appropriation, it became clear to Gonzales that she was passing as white. Gonzales writes:

During my days entrenched in the scene, I never tried to pass for white, but my nickname was Todd and people didn’t always go by there last names. Familial ties were less important than what band you were in, zine you wrote, or city you were from, and a lot of us were from broken or dysfunctional families anyway… Although I looked quite different from the rest of the Spitboy, my ethnicity didn’t often come up in conversation, not in the Bay Area. In the 1990’s, people were still trying to be colorblind, to not see race, or to pretend not to see it, as the case may be… Apparently my body was invisible.

The book hit close to home for me. Ironically, in all of its whiteness, riot grrrl was my access point into feminism. I think it was because of my frustration of knowing I was an outsider, but not having the tools to express it. As a black queer woman raised by a single mother in a house we would never own, punk music spoke to me. But at shows, it would feel obvious that I did not belong. I was not a middle-class white boy who hated my mom. I would have my ass-grabbed and get called a N-r with people I’d go to shows with. Like Gonzales, I picked my battles.

I am reminded of one summer I spent in Providence when I saw Malportado Kids perform.

Victoria Ruiz, also of Downtown Boys, in all her glory sang along to aggressive dance music “Mi concha no es bastante blanca para ti“ (My pussy isn’t white enough for you) while a parade of mostly white toddlers spawned from white Providence crust-punks joined the stage in their intricate robot costumes made of cardboard and recycled materials. Everyone cheered. I, a Black woman, next to my Mexican-Persian best friend, laughed. I watched as these children danced with a carefree attitude while a Brown woman sang about her pain in the background. I wondered, is this what post-racial looks like? Does it mean ignoring the differences for aesthetic connections in punk, or was I actually witnessing a negotiation between identities that come to punk for different reasons?

“We are all punks, but we are not all punks the same.” Nguyen’s introduction captures the sometimes invisible differences in punk communities at the heart of Spitboy,
I think there are echoes of this sentiment in feminism more broadly. We are all feminists, but we are not all the same. Feminism has done its fair share of excluding intersectional approaches to issues such as race, sexuality, class, ability, migration status, etc. It is that difference within community that is essential and heartbreaking in Gonzales’s journey.

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The Struggles and Victories of a Xicana Woman in a Hardcore Band

By Leilani Clark
April 10th, 2016

I first saw the East Bay feminist hardcore band Spitboy in 1993. I remember the moment the four women, the only ones on a packed bill, took the stage at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Wearing ripped shorts, combat boots, Converse and worn tank tops, they were tough, intimidating, and mind-blowing with a driving, abrasive sound I’d never heard women produce before. Sure, I loved punk rock. But I’d never seen it done like this. Spitboy’s lead singer Adrienne sang about gender oppression, sexual violence, and the mismeasure of women in American society like a no-holds barred assault. It was exhilarating, hardcore, and life-affirming;  I loved every second.

I idolized Spitboy from that day, adding them to a stable of bands that would inform my experience as a young feminist woman fronting an (almost) all-girl band a few years later.

In her new book, The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press) Michelle Cruz Gonzales writes about being a “Spitwoman” in those heady days. Gonzales — known back then as “Todd” — was the drummer in Spitboy and one of the band’s founding members. She still makes her home in Oakland, where she lives with her family.

The book, based on a zine of the same name, doesn’t function as a straightforward narrative.

Rather, the collection of essays jumps around in time and consciousness, anchored by Gonzales’ reflections on the varied experiences of being a young, working-class Chicana woman in a well-known touring band at a time when women in punk rock were rare.

As such, it’s an engrossing account of a particular period in music history. A historical moment when, as Mimi Thi Ngyuyen writes in the preface, “some consciousness about women in music broke through, briefly.” (Read anything by Jessica Hopper for more on this.) Gonzales writes about her journey from Tuolomne, a “dysfunctional, limiting, broken” town in California’s Gold Rush country, to San Francisco, hellbent on playing music like her heroes the Clash — first with Bitch Fight, and later with Spitboy and Instant Girl. It isn’t an easy journey, and it’s exacerbated by class shame, a neglected Chicana identity, and sexist and abusive vitriol lobbed at Spitboy during live performances.

“As aggressively unapologetic women in a (still) bro-dominant scene, Spitboy shouldered both misogynist hostility and the burden of representation,” writes Gonzales, after relaying a story of one particularly disgusting comment from a male audience member.

What’s most refreshing about The Spitboy Rule is Gonzales’ ability to closely examine the class and race issues woven through the mid-’90s Bay Area punk scene. Yes, she found community, friendship, and unfettered artistic expression with the band. But, as she writes, she always felt like an outsider; the only woman of color amidst all white women. The only band member who didn’t come from a fairly comfortable middle-class background.

These cultural differences come to the forefront after the band stops to visit Gonzales’ grandmother in East Los Angeles. It’s a stop she later regrets:

Stopping had not been a good idea at all. We should have stayed on the I-5. I should not have suggested we veer off into the second-largest Mexican city in the world. I had made everyone uncomfortable, and now I was outside my body, seeing my adored Grandma and her shabby East L.A. home, which I’d always found tidy and comforting, her knick-knacks — which they probably called tchotchkes — and all her family photos of Mexicans, and now myself through different eyes, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Most working-class kids have experienced similar moments — even within the punk scene, where lots of middle class kids went to hide — the feeling of shabbiness, of not quite fitting in, which is disconcerting when you’re with a peer group that professes to accept pretty much everything except Republicans and SUVs. In truth, the punk scene suffered from elitism, mansplaining, and race/class privilege as much as any other cultural movement.

Gonzales writes honestly about being Chicana in an overwhelmingly white punk scene. “I didn’t often make references to being Mexican, a Xicana, in a mostly white band in a mostly white punk scene. It was just easier to try to blend in with my short hair, my tattoo, and my punk uniform.” She dates white guys (including Cometbus editor Aaron Elliott) and struggles towards an acceptance of her identity, first through learning Spanish, and later as an ethnic studies minor at Mills College.

There are victorious moments as well. Gonzales writes of the thrill of touring Europe with Citizen Fish, traveling to Japan for the first time where one rabid fan cried upon meeting her, and playing in New Zealand to enthusiastic crowds. All experiences she couldn’t have imagined as a young, isolated punk in Tuolumne, listening to the Clash and dreaming of England. Later, she meets Los Crudos, a Latino hardcore band out of Chicago that sings in Spanish and proudly displays their cultural heritage. “I began to feel more comfortable with my multiple identities,” she writes, “Spitboy drummer, feminist, Xicana.”

Gonzales is now in her mid-forties; Spitboy played that show at the Phoenix Theater almost 25 years ago. The stories and observations in The Spitboy Rule benefit from years of reflection, schooling, and life lived. This would have been a much different book if Gonzales had written it 20 years ago. It is a privilege to grow older, to have the chance to reflect on the formative struggles and building of consciousness that happens when we are young. And, for Spitboy fans like me, the true thrill comes from getting the inside story on the four radical women who took that stage in 1993 and blew us all away.

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Message First: Author and Spitboy Drummer Michelle Cruz Gonzales on Punk, Privilege and Perimenopause

by Karin Spin
Hip Mama

From 1990 to 1995, Michelle Gonzales toured the world as the drummer of Spitboy, a feminist hardcore punk band based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her new book The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band describes her experiences of both finding and losing her identity as a person of color in the punk scene.

She was interviewed at her home in Oakland, California, by her friend and writing partner Karin Spirn.

Karin: You’ve been using the term perimenopunk a lot lately. What does that term mean to you?

Michelle: When I was working on The Spitboy Rule, I was looking at a lot of old photographs and listening to the old bands I used to listen to. I got a record player and I started listening to some of the old records I still have that you cannot listen to on Spotify or Itunes, that you can’t even get on CD. I started going through my archives of Spitboy and related bands and music and clothes and photographs. It revived in me this aesthetic and this value that was always there but I sort of set aside when I was in graduate school and had my son. I just didn’t have time for fashion, for caring that much about a certain look. I cared about nursing my son and getting good grades in my writing classes. Punk took a real backseat. Writing this book made me see just how much punk is a part of my life no matter how close to it I am at the time.

And then I started going into perimenopause and having these exact same feelings of frustration about the world that I had when I was sixteen. Being sick of people telling you what to do, defining you, belittling you. Now it’s not people belittling me because I’m young and have no power. It’s because when you get older, people stop seeing you. You become invisible.

You are not taken as seriously. Perimenopunk is about going into middle age and not feeling like I have to abide by rules about what it means to be forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.

I don’t have to not dress like a twenty-year-old. If I want to die my hair I will; if I don’t want to, I’m not going to. At every age you’re expected to fit the society’s idea about what you should look like and what you should wear and how you should act. Perimenopunk is a nice way to remind me not to get boring and to continue being outspoken.

Karin: Your first memoir, Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Xicana in a Hick Town, was about your childhood in Tuolumne, California. I wondered how that book is different from The Spitboy Rule in terms of its themes and your writing process.

Michelle: I actually think they’re really similar. The second half of Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl discusses how I got into punk rock, how I started my first band when I was fifteen, and why I was attracted to a subculture movement that was political and that helped me express my feminism. It also helped me express a frustration that people were always foisting an identity on me.  I was like, I’m gonna form my own identity, dammit, and I used punk rock to help me.

So The Spitboy Rule picks up where Pretty Bold leaves off.

I did write new things about Tuolumne in The Spitboy Rule. I really love writing about Tuolumne. Where I grew up, the small town, really has so much to do with forming my identity.

It was a horrible place to grow up, but interestingly a very comfortable place to write about.

In terms of the process, I was learning how to write memoir when I wrote Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl. I studied fiction at Mills College. I left thinking I was going to be some fancy literary fiction writer, and the first longer work I started writing ends up being nonfiction, the very thing that I didn’t take a single class on. So I had to read a lot of memoir and do a little studying of how to write memoir.

The Spitboy Rule was a different process because I felt more confident, more like I knew what I was doing. Also I had a very clear audience in my mind that I didn’t quite have for the first book. For the first book, my audience was mostly, like, me, I guess. For the second book, my audience was Spitboy fans, Latino punk rockers and people who like music.

Karin: One of my favorite stories in the book is “Mi Cuerpo Es Mio,” which is about people not recognizing you as Mexican-American during your time in Spitboy. The book, then, is a kind of coming-out as a Xicana. I wonder how people in the punk community are reacting to that.

Michelle: Nobody has said, “Oh, you never talked about that then. You’re just making this up, because now being a person of color is something you get cache from.” But I suspect that some people would think that, and it might be a fair thing to think. I mean, rude and presumptuous, but kind of fair. I may have, at points, not appeared interested in my identity. I may have appeared more interested in being punk rock or feminist or part of a band or the scene. After growing up and not fitting in, when you start start fitting in somewhere, you’re like, this feels pretty good. So I went through a phase of really wanting to just fit in. Though I always felt like I didn’t. I felt like a poser a lot of the time. When people started not really seeing my identity, it made me realize: I feel like a poser and this is why. I feel like a poser because I am in a mostly white punk scene that privileges mostly white stuff, and I am participating in that by not being more vocal or clear or respectful of my other identity—of my other identities.

But I think that part of the book is being received well, for a couple reasons. One, there are a lot of Latinos who want to see themselves in literature and movies and punk bands and winning Oscars. Those things aren’t happening enough. Latinos in the United States are becoming the majority and we still are subject to stereotypes and invisibility. I think the punk scene is hungry for other perspectives. The idea that there have always been Latinos and people of color in punk is totally true. We just weren’t as noticed.

Karin: Through your book, and through your teaching in a community college, you’re a role model for young Latinos and Latinas.

Michelle: Well, nobody tries to be a role model. Somebody posted on the book’s Facebook page, “Thank you for being a female drummer and being in a feminist band.” Essentially a role model, though I don’t think they used those words. My reaction was: someone had to go first. I wasn’t trying to go first. I was just trying to do the thing that I loved, to express myself, to be heard.

That desire to be heard is rooted in being Xicana and growing up in a small town and being on welfare and just feeling marginalized when I was younger.

The thing I like about being a quote-unquote “role model” is having the opportunity to be in a room with young people and say, look, it’s really important to think critically and to not be taken advantage of, and to give them some tools to do that. We did that in Spitboy, and I’m doing it in the classroom. I went to community college, and it was really important to have the people to mentor me, instill faith in me, help me see that intellectually I had what it took to be successful in school. I only want to be a role model if I’m in the trenches, if I have some kind of active part in somebody’s life, not some photo on Instagram.

Karin: Do you think your experience would have been different if you’d been in an all-Latina or all-Xicana band?

Michelle: I think it would have been different because I was sort of in that band before Spitboy.

In my earlier band, Bitch Fight, Nicole and I were both Mexican, both Xicanas, and then Sue was a white woman but a single mom on welfare. The class and race differences were almost none in Bitch Fight. We fought a lot, and that’s why we had that name. But the fighting had nothing to do with race or class. The fighting was about being young and immature, and we all grew up together.

So I do think it would have been different, but it’s not like we didn’t have our own problems in Bitch Fight. Because being in a band is hard. You have to collaborate to write songs, to write lyrics and music. People always say that being in a band is like being married, and it’s true, but it’s like being married to two or three other people. Which, you know, being married to one person is hard enough. So you’re having to navigate all these different relationships and egos and learn how to put your own ego in check. Like when you’re writing a song, you always feel insecure when you bring something new to the band. Then how they react to it makes you feel either really good, or just fine, or terrible. You’re really putting yourself out there. You have to share your art with someone else in order to collaborate, but then you’re always insecure at first, when it’s not formed. Those are the kinds of things that make being in a band really difficult.

So in one way, yes, it would have been different. Would it have meant there would have been no problems? No. Because being in a band is just kind of tricky.

Karin: How is being a writer similar to or different from being in a band?

Michelle: I don’t think I could have been as ambitious of a writer as I am, and as brave as I am, if I hadn’t been in the band. When you’re in a band, once you collaborate to create a song, if it’s not exactly what you wanted it to be, you can say, well, I wasn’t the only one who put this together. It didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it to, but now it’s a band piece—or it’s a band problem. But either way, it’s a collaboration, so I don’t have to take full responsibility. But when you’re writing on your own, it’s all you. If there’s a typo or repeated words that you didn’t catch that you see later—it’s more personal. It’s just you and your name and nobody else.

On the other hand, for me, playing music when I did and writing now serves the same creative purpose for me. I don’t necessarily like one more than the other. I do think I was always more of a writer than I am a drummer. I wrote about half the lyrics in the band, then went straight from doing that to college to study writing. I always liked English more than anything else, like in high school for example. So I do think that I was always more of a writer than a musician.

And I don’t feel weird about that. Spitboy wasn’t trying to be virtuoso musicians; that wasn’t our aim. Spitboy was a band with a message. We were message-first, and music was secondary to the message. Music was the delivery vehicle for the message. Thinking about where I went from there to become a writer, it makes sense. The message is still the thing that’s most important to me.

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The real meaning of May Day has been obscured by the designing propaganda of the American and Soviet governments: ROAR Magazine

ROAR Magazine

The real meaning of May Day has been obscured by the designing propaganda of the American and Soviet governments. The truth is totally different.

This article is excerpted from Peter Linebaugh’s The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day (2015) published by PM Press.

The Soviet government paraded missiles and marched soldiers on May Day. The American government has called May 1 “Loyalty Day” and associates it with militarism. The real meaning of this day has been obscured by the designing propaganda of both governments. The truth of May Day is totally different.

To the history of May Day there is a Green side and there is a Red side.

Under the rainbow, our methodology must be colorful. Green is a relationship to the earth and what grows there-from. Red is a relationship to other people and the blood spilt there among. Green designates life with only necessary labor; Red designates death with surplus labor. Green is natural appropriation; Red is social expropriation. Green is husbandry and nurturance; Red is proletarianization and prostitution. Green is useful activity; Red is useless toil. Green is creation of desire; Red is class struggle. May Day is both.

The Green

Once upon a time, long before Weinberger bombed North Africans, before the Bank of Boston laundered money, or Reagan honored the Nazi war dead, the earth was blanketed by a broad mantle of forests.

As late as Caesar’s time a person might travel through the woods for two months without gaining an unobstructed view of the sky. The immense forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America provided the atmosphere with oxygen and the earth with nutrients. Within the woodland ecology our ancestors did not have to work the graveyard shift, or deal with flextime, or work from Nine to Five. Indeed, the Native Americans whom Captain John Smith encountered in 1606 only worked four hours a week. The origin of May Day is to be found in the Woodland Epoch of History.

In Europe, as in Africa, people honored the woods in many ways. With the leafing of the trees in spring, people celebrated “the fructifying spirit of vegetation,” to use the phrase of J.G. Frazer, the anthropologist. They did this in May, a month named after Maia, the mother of all the gods according to the ancient Greeks, giving birth even to Zeus.

The Greeks had their sacred groves, the Druids their oak worship, the Romans their games in honor of Floralia. In Scotland the herdsmen formed circles and danced around fires. The Celts lit bonfires in hilltops to honor their god, Beltane. In the Tyrol people let their dogs bark and made music with pots and pans. In Scandinavia fires were lit and the witches came out.

Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.

The history of these customs is complex and affords the student of the past with many interesting insights into the history of religion, gender, reproduction, and village ecology. Take Joan of Arc who was burned in May 1431. Her inquisitors believed she was a witch. Not far from her birthplace, she told the judges, “There is a tree that they call ‘The Ladies’ Tree’—others call it ‘The Fairies’ Tree.’ It is a beautiful tree, from which comes the Maypole. I have sometimes been to play with the young girls to make garlands for Our Lady of Domrémy. Often I have heard the old folk say that the fairies haunt this tree.” In the general indictment against Joan, one of the particulars against her was dressing like a man. The paganism of Joan’s heresy originated in the Old Stone Age when religion was animistic and shamans were women and men.

Monotheism arose with the Mediterranean empires. Even the most powerful Roman Empire had to make deals with its conquered and enslaved peoples (syncretism). As it destroyed some customs, it had to accept or transform others. Thus, we have Christmas trees. May Day became a day to honor the saints, Philip and James, who were unwilling slaves to Empire. James the Less neither drank nor shaved. He spent so much time praying that he developed huge calluses on his knees, likening them to camel legs. Philip was a lazy guy. When Jesus said “Follow me” Philip tried to get out of it by saying he had to tend to his father’s funeral, and it was to this excuse that the carpenter’s son made his famous reply, “Let the dead bury the dead.” James was stoned to death, and Philip was crucified head downward. Their martyrdom introduces the Red side of the story, even still the Green side is preserved because, according to the floral directory, the tulip is dedicated to Philip and bachelor buttons to James.

The farmers, workers, and child bearers (laborers) of the Middle Ages had hundreds of holy days which preserved the May Green, despite the attack on peasants and witches. Despite the complexities, whether May Day was observed by sacred or profane ritual, by pagan or Christian, by magic or not, by straights or gays, by gentle or calloused hands, it was always a celebration of all that is free and life-giving in the world. That is the Green side of the story. Whatever else it was, it was not a time to work.

Therefore, it was attacked by the authorities. The repression had begun with the burning of women and it continued in the sixteenth century when America was “discovered,” the slave trade was begun, and nation-states and capitalism were formed. In 1550 an Act of Parliament demanded that Maypoles be destroyed, and it outlawed games. In 1644 the Puritans in England abolished May Day altogether. To these work-ethicists the festival was obnoxious for paganism and worldliness. Philip Stubbs, for example, in The Anatomy of Abuses (1583) wrote of the Maypole, “and then fall they to banquet and feast, to leape and daunce about it, as the Heathen people did at the dedication of their Idolles.” When a Puritan mentioned “heathen” we know genocide was not far away. According to the excellent slide show at the Quincy Historical Society, 90 percent of the Massachusetts people, including Chief Chicatabat, died from chicken pox or small pox a few years after the Puritans landed in 1619. The Puritans also objected to the unrepressed sexuality of the day. Stubbs said, “Of fourtie, threescore, or an hundred maides going to the wood, there have scarcely the third part of them returned home again as they went.”

The people resisted the repressions. Thenceforth, they called their May sports the “Robin Hood Games.” Capering about with sprigs of hawthorn in their hair and bells jangling from their knees, the ancient characters of May were transformed into an outlaw community, Maid Marians and Little Johns. The May feast was presided over by the “Lord of Misrule,” “the King of Unreason,” or the “Abbot of Inobedience.” Washington Irving was later to write that the feeling for May “has become chilled by habits of gain and traffic.” As the gainers and traffickers sought to impose the regimen of monotonous work, the people responded to preserve their holyday. Thus began in earnest the Red side of the story of May Day. The struggle was brought to Massachusetts in 1626.

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