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New American Vegan: A Review

By Amy Steele
Entertainment Realm
February 2012

“Cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, bees, and other animals have nerves, memories, fears, wants, and interests just like cats and dogs—just like you and I do.”

New American Vegan opens with a very thoughtful and thorough introduction on being vegan and why author Vincent Guihan went vegan. Guihan has chapters on techniques and tools; soup; sauces; side dishes; sietan & potatoes; desserts. There’s an excellent index at the back of the cookbook.

There is the Best lentil soup recipe EVER—Old-Fashioned Hearty Lentil & Vegetable Soup—I will make this again and again. I’ll also make the Mango Chili with Tahini Cheese & Cilantro as well as the Stick-to-Your-Ribs Yellow Split Pea & Greens soup. Obviously I like to make soup.

Guihan devotes an entire chapter on sauces. “Sauces and dressings are prominent in many cuisines. They both add high points of flavor and color to a dish.” He claims that every vegan has/uses a lot of sauces. Well, not this vegan. I use salad dressing, salsa and stir fry sauce. That’s it. I don’t put sauce on everything I consume. Guess I’m more of a no-frills vegan. I like the taste of most veggies, grains and fruits as it. Maybe a touch of spices.

The recipes are just a bit too wordy for me. Plenty of soup recipes in this cookbook which is a great thing. Many recipes needed too many ingredients or called for something I didn’t have in my pantry. With Veganimicon and The Moosewood Cookbook, I don’t think I’d be grabbing this one too often.

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The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: A Review

Charles De Lint
Books to Look for

In Doctorow's The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Jimmy Yensid and his father are trying to preserve Detroit, the last standing city in the United States, as a historical artifact. Their failure to do so results in Jimmy being cast adrift in a wilderness filled with communities trying to change the world for the better but often with horrible results.

At the same time, Jimmy—a transhuman; i.e., genetically engineered almost immortal stuck in pre-puberty—just wants to grow up. But he's trapped protecting the last of his father's artifacts: the Carousel of Progress exhibit from Disneyland.

Though much of the story is a fun read, the novella has a dark undercurrent and comes to a sobering conclusion. Still, it's pure Doctorow, filled with more invention and movement than many writers can fit into a book series.

Also included here is a transcript of Doctorow's manifesto: "Copyright vs. Creativity," a must read for anyone involved with ebooks and the like, as well as a freewheeling interview conducted by Bisson.

These are beautifully designed and produced books. What I like about a series such as this is that you get a really well-rounded picture of the author: there's a sample of their fiction, you see what they look like from the cover jacket, hear their more-or-less formal essayist voice in some nonfiction, and finish up with their casual day-to-day voice in the interview.

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The Wild Girls on Books to Look for

Charles De Lint
Books to Look for

I've long admired Terry Bisson as a writer, but I had no idea he was an editor until the small, attractive trade paperbacks showed up in my post office box. Now I've got another reason to admire his work.

The PM Press Outspoken Authors Series has eight entries so far, including such genre stalwarts as Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Moorcock, and Rudy Rucker, as well as editor Bisson in Volume One. Each book has a photo of the author on the cover and contains a meaty novelet/novella along with one or two essays, poetry (at least in Le Guin's case), a bibliography, and an interview conducted by Bisson.

Le Guin's book opens with a classic story of a rigid society and genera relationships, told as only she can tell such stories, and presented here in a revised version. There's also the poetry (an excellent, if brief section), an essay on modesty, and my favorite piece in the book, a reprint from Harper's called "Staying Awake While We Read," in which she takes on corporate publishing and explains the inherent fallacy of trying to fit the buying habits of book lovers into the annual growth mold that stockholders expect from their "product."

I'd recommend you buy this book simply to read that essay, though you won't be disappointed by the rest of the collection.

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Represent Our Resistance: Love and Struggle: Review

By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels
BlackCommentator.com
Feb 1, 2012
Issue 457


There’s no escape . . . There’s only what you do.
—Catholic Monk to James Orbinski, Doctors without Borders

My heart’s in this struggle. My people will overcome. All the peoples will overcome, one by one.
—Pablo Neruda, Canto General

I was eager to read Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond, but apprehensive too. Review a book written by an imprisoned ex-member of the Weather Underground (WUO). I knew of David Gilbert, and of course, the WUO, Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and others, activists who split from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to engage in armed struggle “underground.”

When I left Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, not long after the organization split from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), I had had enough of the Christian, conservative, don’t-rock-the-boat, reform is good mentality of the mainstream Blacks. I was trying to remain committed to the revolution and the tasks of resistance ala Fanon, Freire, Guevara—while a Black woman—at a predominantly white college campus in Illinois, knowing that the misogyny of more radical Black organizations would be as oppressive as those State forces who murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

In the years of WUO’s bombings of State buildings, I followed the news of the latest arrest or murder of Black activists or Black Panther Party members. Tread carefully above ground was the message my generation of Blacks received from the State. The struggle for Black liberation in the United States is over! We are simply rounding up the excess “waste,” picking up the corpses. Respond with anything other than a blank expression, and we’ll know. We’ll know . . .


I had not read anything written about or by Gilbert, nor had I listened or read an interview he had given the past. I expected a typical self-aggrandizing narrative in which the passive reader encounters the “greatness” of the man David Gilbert and his “legendary” role in piecing together pipes and wires, sneaking here, passing that guard and boom! Good ole’ boys at the usual, historically Western, good ole’ boys stuff . . . But no! This is not Gilbert’s narrative.

This narrative reveals an author who is still profoundly commitment to revolutionary change—and who is not, frankly, an obnoxiously white man in the business of glorifying his or the white support network’s past activities on behalf of people of color.

Before he is eligible for parole, Gilbert needs to reach his 111th birthday, and he is sixty-eight years old, a political prisoner at Auburn Correctional Facility in New York, serving a life sentence. Gilbert is not apologetic for his commitment to the Struggle and there is a struggle continuing, one that Gilbert clearly understands never ended, as it has for so many white and Black “activists” of the 1960s and 1970s era.

If anything, the liberal, young, white, middle-class Columbia University student who wants to be helpful at first, who observes older organizers, the poor and the Black, who debates the level of commitment necessary for revolutionary change, and then who determines that commitment to radical thinking and activism will be for him a way of living personally and publicly among his fellow human beings, made costly blunders in judgment and remained silent when he should have openly expressed his concerns.

There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. (Richard Bach, American writer).

Love and Struggle is David Gilbert’s work! It is Gilbert’s work for readers and activists. It is a dialogue, and, if we are serious students of movement organizing, then reading Love and Struggle becomes a way to critically engage in a dialectic dialogue with a fellow fighter and lover of human rights. And for that reason and more, it is a must read for anyone active in the process of building an anti-capitalist and an anti-imperialist movement.

“Measured by either standard—full solidarity with the Third World or support by a majority of white people—the WUO was a failure.”

Recalling a collective of “internal discussions” at WUO meetings, Gilbert writes that the five main aims of “armed propaganda” had been to:

1) draw some heat so that the police and FBI couldn’t concentrate all their forces on Black, Latino/a, Native, and Asian groups;
2) create a visible (if invisible!) example of whites fighting in solidarity with the Third World struggles;
3) educate broadly about the major political issues;
4) identify key institutions of oppression; and
5) encourage white youth to find a range of creative ways to resist, despite repression.

These aims could be considered “abstract today,” Gilbert writes, since armed struggle is off the agenda of the “anti-imperialist movement in the U.S.” But at the time, he continues, these aims “resonated and even had a certain urgency . . . when revolutionary struggles were raging throughout the world.” But Love and Struggle suggests that these aims should not be “abstract” today.

Revolutionary struggles are raging throughout the world: The Arab Spring uprisings and Europeans and U.S. citizens are in the streets!

The FBI’s COINTELPRO operation has not disbanded, but expanded into the Patriot Act, Homeland Security. The most recent indefinite detention law (NDAA) is war against civil liberties at home. The disconnection between the American Dream of white Americans and the institutionalization of repression experienced by people of color within the United States, is acknowledged by the young adults today, and once again, the aims of radical struggle no longer seem “abstract.”

It was not the aims but the forces, both internal and external, that sent the white activists back to their familial homes and liberal pursuits, the Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a to ghettos and prison cells, and left the Empire free to expand its wars for profit and shrink social services and civil liberties.

The sad reality is that the status quo, the day-to-day comfort, the conventional wisdom of empire is insanely anti-human. True human sanity does not consist of remaining calm, cool, collected—going on with life as usual - while the government murders Black activists, carpet-bombs Vietnam, trains torturers to ‘disappear’ trade union organizers in Latin America, and enforces the global economics of hunger on Africa.

Tweak a little here and there: add the list of 800 U.S. bases and a list of wars and proxy conflicts; add the documented names of the tortured and those rendered to other regimes for abuse; add the “disappeared” unions and union representations along with the disappeared jobs; and add the cities and towns of Kansas City, New York, Chicago, L.A, the reservations of Lakota lands, anywhere in the U.S., after Africa, as places where children suffer from Empire- induced hunger. Does this insanity/sanity scenario resonate with us today?

As Gilbert points out, yesterday’s movements (including the armed struggle led by WUO) drifted from a focus on solidarity with the struggles of people of color, in order to challenge imperialism and capitalism, to a focus on a “particular set of tactics.”

The killing of ruling class individuals or their armed enforcers, no matter how justified by the bloody war they waged on the oppressed,would be hard for those who hadn’t experienced the repression directly, even radical white youth, to accept. If our mass support evaporated, we wouldn’t be able to sustain armed struggles on any level.

Gilbert rightly rejects a romantic image of the Black struggle in the United States, but at the same time, Love and Struggle’s narrative unabashedly lays out what many of us have been writing for years now: the white support networks abandoned the struggles of people of color, without offering critical, useful,compassionate debate regarding the tactics of both the Black and white armed or unarmed struggles. This abandonment furthered the marginalization of the Black, Latino/a, and Indigenous struggles, and also led to the aims for fighting imperialist oppression to be viewed as “abstract” nonsense.

The prevailing wisdom in the United States is that good, law-abiding citizens will come to their senses when presented with the enemy in their midst. Consequently, police assaults against Black organizations and individual fighters continued. More and more Black fighters became prisoners of the State or corpses permanently buried underground. The “politics of creating an example and [a] presence of solidarity with people of color,” (an “essential step for developing any kind of revolutionary movement worthy of that name among white people”), was replaced with “self-serving motives.”

Activism promoting the organization’s leadership, Gilbert explains, and individuals pursuing “status within the organization,” became the work of WUO—when the bombs were not going off. As with most organizations of the '60s and '70s designed to fight imperialism, the hierarchal structure of WUO became “too top-down”; consequently, “the danger of being captured and the demands of armed actions put a premium on discipline and cohesion, while clandestinity and compartmentalization made open, organization-wide debate difficult.”

I could identify with David Gilbert as the observer of “rhetorical excesses accompanying a correct direction.” In a supportive position within the WUO, he had to contend with the chain-of-command, and, on the other hand, he was reluctant to express his “discomfort” and criticize decisions: “I didn’t want to be left out of the cadre who would be chosen to pursue armed struggle—to be, in the status consciousness of the day, revolutionaries ‘on the highest level.’”

Externally, the forces of power were in full swing, working to convert the non-activist, counter-culture generation into self-absorbed mutes, if not out and out capitalists.

As Love and Struggle argues, after the killings of four white youths at Kent State, white youth turned from forming solidarity with the struggles of people of color. It was too dangerous! The government would not hesitate now to kill white American youth! Youth were killed at Jackson State but they were Black!

White youths suddenly found themselves in the business of commune building and spirituality, (“the latter both in the progressive sense that we’re all one soul and in the more mystical way of looking to various supernatural forces for the answers to our problems”). Gilbert explains that the commune began as a “wonderful effort” to live cooperatively and in harmony with nature, but, by the mid-1972, the commune becomes more about “retreat - not just to the countryside but also from opposing the system.”

It is an old American story, and Love and Struggle does not avoid confronting and analyzing the announcement of its return in the heyday of the 60s/70s era. It co-opted the language of the youth movement, but it was the same American story: A “new consciousness” is sweeping the nation or a “new astrological age” is dawning! Live “in harmony with the spirits of nature or with the feminine goddesses.” In short, “achieve change without struggle”—without the people of color, particularly without the Black American!

Gilbert saw the unraveling of the movement coming while he was still engaged in his work with WUO. As he recalls, when the Left saw itself up against “a colossal and ruthless power,” it “retreated into a form of magical thinking: a recitation of Marxist dictums on revolutionary agency as a substitute for the concrete analysis of our actual conditions.” In the meantime, he writes, “the people we most admired, the BLA [Black Liberation Army], were now getting gunned down by the police and were on the run.”

Gilbert recalls the discussions that divided activists between those who blamed the movement’s crisis on too much theory and those who saw actions without theory, and the armed struggle in particular, as too defused and divisive. But Gilbert recognized that the problem was not theory per se, “but rather the deep history and powerful material impact of white supremacy and benefits from imperialism. He continues, “the repeated drifts into white opportunism also characterized movements that didn’t invoke M-L (Marxist-Lenin) at all, such as populism and women’s suffrage.”

Individual corruption breeds organizational corruption. For some, that corruption came in the form of drug addiction or in the pursuit of money or in fear of difference. For Gilbert, it was ego. Ego, he writes, lured him from the aims of liberation. The “‘exceptional white person’ mentality” does not engender solidarity with people of color and further “undermines any serious effort to organize other people against racism.” Similar to Mumia Abu Jamal behind bars, Assata Shakur in exile, and other political prisoners, David Gilbert continues to confront the forms of corruption that breed alienation rather than solidarity.

Whenever I start feeling full of myself or sense that I’m taking a direction that’s not right, I need to grapple with that and, if possible, get help. "How does or doesn’t this particular path advance the interests of the oppressed?" "What self-interest do I have here and how do they complement or conflict with the goals of the struggle?"

This book is an act of love. It is a timely gift to a new movement of young and old activist veterans. Love and Struggle is for you, if by now, 2012, you know which way the wind blows.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. 

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Revolution and Beyond: A Review of Love and Struggle

By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine
Winter 2012


The main lesson of "the Sixties," now passed down through numerous generations, has been that once upon a time there was an amazing period of social, political, cultural, and sexual revolution; too bad most current activists were unfortunately born too late to be involved. That proverbial decade of upheaval—the historic period which began around 1954 and ended late in the 1970s—has had more than its share of written documentation: memoirs, essay collections, and analysis filling whole sections of libraries. Studies of "the Sixties" have become a cottage industry as common as the proverbial "white on rice," and just about as fulfilling and ethnically diverse.

It is therefore especially striking that not one but three new books offer special and significant insights on those turbulent times; each of these titles contain insights which, unlike so many of their predecessors, suggest humble paths for the current struggles-occupations and otherwise. The fact that they each grow out of the context of white anti-war and human rights activities is amongst the only similarity with their countless companions. David Gilbert's Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond (PM Press, 2011), Amy Sonnie and James Tracy's Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times (Melville House, 2011), and Harry Targ's Diary of a Heartland Radical (ChangeMaker Publications, 2011) share important insights on combatting racism, building alliances, and designing campaigns based on solidarity and creative linking of issues.

The core weakness of our inter-connected movements-discussed at every Occupation, Social Forum, and networking space where an honest confrontation with "what is to be done" is addressed-is clearly articulated in Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz' foreword to Hillbilly Nationalists.

"What neither Marx nor the abolitionists nor later leftists and oppressed nationalities in the United States have fully grasped," she correctly asserts, "is the reality of the United States as a colonizing state in which, as historian William Appleman Williams phrased it, empire has always been a way of life." The common, vital, and unusual contributions of all three new books is their detailing of how anti-imperialism-in different forms and for different peoples-became a way of life for various white folks struggling to support self-determination for the national liberation struggles which were such a prominent feature of the end of the twentieth century. Sonnie and Tracy use oral history and substantial research to recover an almost-lost history of poor and working class whites who built grassroots organizations in direct solidarity with the Poor People's Campaign, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and other local efforts.

Documented in this eminently readable book is the work of Chicago's Young Patriots Organization and JOIN Community Union (Jobs or Income Now), the October 4th Organization in Philadelphia (named based on a 1779 expropriation of hoarded food and clothing, distributed to the community during the American War of Independence), and the Bronx group known as White Lightening. The late 1960s and early 1970s alliances built by these efforts were, as the authors describe, the first real "rainbow coalitions" for social change across both race and class lines.

Peace studies political scientist Harry Targ has been an institution at Purdue University in Indiana for over four decades. His books and essays have long been essential reading for many movement "insiders," and/Diary of a Heartland Radical/ happily collects many insightful short reflections on life as a rural-based revolutionary. Less a diary than an assembly of blog posts written since 2008, Targ nonetheless covers some of the fundamental lessons of his years in the struggle, connecting all to the contemporary urgent tasks that still need our committed work. Also focused on the contours of race, class, empire, and resistance, Targ is at his best when he combines his "scientific" thinking with a stridently anti-militarist approach and a good eye for socio-cultural commentary. His point is well taken, as he reviews the early days of the Obama administration, that the Department of Defense—as in the 1960s—has a "blank check," with academic researchers (now more than ever) providing the data and theories which lead and/or justify disastrous foreign and military policy. The new techniques of "humanitarian" imperialism are explored, as Targ writes about the truly global, growingly privatized, largely antiseptic (weapon delivery through pushing buttons on a computer) nature of twenty-first century empire-building. Targ is also deeply concerned about the strategies and tactics of resistance, evidenced in a wonderful piece on the political economy of the bagel (that Jewish projectile of working class origins) and most significantly in a longer essay on the anti-racist, class struggle history of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), another almost-lost part of U.S. left history. Commenting on his own involvement in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), Targ understands that our task is to build as broad a network of progressives as is possible, and his book takes us some meaningful steps in the right direction.

Perhaps the most significant of these new books, however, is Gilbert's evocative review of his days as a leader of the Columbia University anti-Viet Nam war movement, his days underground with the Weathermen, and his life just before beginning the 75-years-to-life sentence which he is still serving in the prisons of New York State. Love and Struggle pulls no punches-at the movement which led Gilbert to move away from his early commitment to nonviolence or at himself for the consequences of the choices he made. But, more than in any individual, self-aggrandizing life stories found in most autobiographies I have read, Glibert's reflections are not presented to spotlight or defend his actions, but rather to carefully review the tumultuous times which were a feature of his youth. He dispassionately discusses events he obviously felt passionately about, in order to provide some food for thought to the activists of today. Gilbert's story, and the book, begins in a context familiar to many of us; his Massachusetts upbringing was in a nice, liberal family where the lessons of "American democracy, with liberty and justice for all" were the cornerstone of his early education. "It sounded beautiful," Gilbert recalls, "still does." But he admits that some naiveté must have been at work for him to have "missed the wink" which lets us in on the dirty secret that the "all" referred only to white males with money. "When the myths were later exploded by the eruption of the civil rights movement," Gilbert writes, "I became deeply upset."

A common feature amongst Gilbert's supporters and detractors alike is that he was (and is) one of the much-vaunted "best and the brightest" of his generation. It is of little surprise that he rose to the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society, well-liked by his peers and faculty members alike, praised for his analytic achievement (author of some of SDS's core pamphlets and positions) as well as for his generous and loving demeanor and organizing abilities. The surprise, therefore-beyond the fact that Gilbert, then and now, maintains a humility uncharacteristic for leaders of those heady times-is that he chose a life not of academic comfort but of on-the-ground street action and revolutionary sacrifice. Throughout the book, Gilbert gives insight into these choices, but none so poignantly as when he reflects upon the common late-1960s question of whether there could be a "revolution in our lifetime." In the analysis of many in the student movement, Gilbert remembers, "the majority of white people in this country had been deflected from the class struggle by the benefits, the privileges compared relative to Third World people, from the spoils of empire and white supremacy at home." In reflecting on the idea that the empire's strengths-global reach and plunder-could now become its weakness (with an over-extended military overseas and a growing resistance movement at home), the notions of hope and possibility are not unlike our own twenty-first century moment today. While Gilbert forthrightly admits to the mistakes which led him and others to costly circumstances, he does so without giving up the sense of hope that social change can and must come through mass political action.

It may seem strange for a magazine committed to revolutionary nonviolence to give a glowing review to Love and Struggle, or any book coming out of the Weather experiment. But Glibert's basic treatise—that it is "our job is to win large numbers of white people to solidarity with people of the world" in order to create alternatives to "bloody wars" and "less wasteful" lifestyles—is the call to our own critical times. He has forthrightly stated his apologies and regrets, noting that "the colossal social violence of imperialism does not grant those of us who fight it a free pass to become callous ourselves." Like any true adherent of revolutionary nonviolence (and Gilbert's life-long friendship with Dave Dellinger gives testimony to this), Gilbert see no contradiction between the need for continued militancy and intensity in fighting against imperialism on the one hand, and, on the other, "the need to take the greatest care to respect life and to minimize violence as we struggle to end violence." Any humanitarian observer of the United States at this historic juncture must surely see that David Gilbert-and all U.S. political prisoners must immediately be freed if we are, as a people, to arrive at a moment of reconciliation and justice. Any contemporary activist wishing to learn from the exciting achievements (as well as the mistakes) of the 1960s needs to read this essential book.

Noam Chomsky, in his recent acceptance of the 2011 Sydney Peace Foundation prize in Australia, cited the work of A.J. Muste. Reminding us that Muste "deplored the search for peace without justice," Chomsky re-asserted Muste's urging that "one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist." These three important contributions to our understanding of the past and our engagement with the future will undoubtedly help us head their sage advice.

Matt Meyer, WRL ACC member and founding chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, is also a founder of the local anti-imperialist collective Resistance in Brooklyn (whose acronym RnB has sometimes been interpreted to stand for the title of this essay). This essay is from the forthcoming issue of WIN Magazine, Winter 2012.

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The World Turned Upside Down Reviewed on Folkword

By David Hintz
Folkword Online

As a part-time collector of Leon Rosselson, I am pleased to see this comprehensive dour CD set spanning a full half-century of original folk music. Like Dominic Behan and others, he actually started playing well before some of the more famous acoustic guitarists in the UK. In fact he was twenty-five years old in 1961 where this collection starts. His work with vocalist Roy Bailey in the 1970s is some of the strongest folk material from the UK in that era. There is plenty of bite in the lyrics of his songs, yet the delivery is comfortable and welcoming. His guitar work is excellent in a classic style, lacking the audacity in Davy Graham's style making him more of a fitting partner for Martin Carthy. There is an intelligence and wit to his music that seems to set the stage for an artist luke Robyn Hitchcock).  Although his hard left protestations are more prevalent and less ambiguous, reminding me more of Phil Ochs.

The first CD covers the sixties and begins in 1961 with good topical folk music. Martin Carthy and Liz Mansfield assist on the gorgeous "Across the Hills" with Carthy present in several songs including full folk band cuts The 3 City 4.  There is a nice mix of songs and even some jazz piano and bass that sneaks in. The second CD moves into the 1970s with Roy Bailey joining in on many of the vocals. The themes are still sharp edged and topical. There are some nice nearly experimental vocal moves on "Plan" which features John Kirkpatrick and songs stretch to five and seven minutes. CD Number Three heads to the 80s with Martin Carthy still assisting at times. Frankie Armstrong joins in on vocals with a piano also featuring in several songs. The synthesizer is odd, but the Oyster Band electrifying things on one song is a nice touch. Finally, the fourth disc covers the past twenty years. The style and lyrical bite is similar, but there is a more forceful message sung politely, but by a crusty older man. "It's Just the Song" is directed my way (as a critic) to tell me that he does not need me to tell me his songs are good and that we have it all wrong anyway.

Even if I do have it all wrong, this is a compelling set of songs. If you are not politically hard to the left, some of the lyrics will push you more than you like. Of course, any perspective over four discs will get a little tiring. But each song is strong in its own right and most are thought provoking. The sound quality is uniformly excellent and the booklet with lengthy explanations of the songs is interesting even by itself. Hopefully this release will help elevate Rosselson's status around the world, as he does not seem quite as well known as some of the other famous UK guitarist singer/songwriters.

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The World Turned Upside Down Review in Taplas Magazine


Making a Noise/ Gwneud swn
By Iain Campbell
Taplas.co.uk

Fifty Years of Thought-Provoking songs

Leon's excellent four CD, seventy-two song, boxed set The World Turned Upside Down (PM Press) with his extensive notes selecting highlights from his output over five decades as, arguably, Britain's best singer songwriter. His influence has been broad and wide. Many of his songs have been covered but probably, none more famously than Billy Bragg's version of "The World Turned Upside Down." The words to this song were also painted on a wall in People's Park in Berkeley, California during a protest to keep the park open to the public.

I first came across him when, as callow youths, a friend and I hitched to the fourth Cambridge Folk Festival. There were many outstanding acts there that year, but Leon made an abiding impression. I cannot say that I have always followed his career since then, but our paths through folk music have been entwined. He always seems to write songs pertinent to the issues of the time, which then remain relevant through subsequent years. His "Palaces of Gold" became more resonant for me when I moved to attend the University in Cardiff in 1969. It was only a few years after the Aberfan tragedy and memories were still sharp. Other songs important to me include: "Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party," "She Was Crazy," "He Was Mad and Jumbo the Elephant."

When I discovered him he was already an established name. He had been performing with Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor in a trio The Gallards. Later he was in a band called The Three City Four, which included Martin Carthy, Marian McKenzie and Ralph Trainer.

He wrote "Don't Get Married Girls" as the women's movement grew during the seventies. I first heard it sung by the lat Ray Fisher who, as patron saint of our school folk club, had earlier been instrumental in opening our eyes to folk music and encouraging the trip to Cambridge. This decade also saw him working with Roy Bailey and Frankie Armstrong notably on two shows; the anti-nuclear "No Cause for Alarm and Love," "Loneliness and Laundry," which dealt with a big topic of the decade, personal political. Important songs were "The Ant and the Grasshopper," "The Man Who Puffs the Big Cigar," "Stand Up for Judas" and, of course, "The World Turned Upside Down."

I rather lost touch with him during the eighties. A young gaughter meant my attention was directed away from music. But his songs broke through the sheath of parenthood from time to time. This was the Thatcher decade and it provided so much fuel for his songwriting: "Jackboot Democrats" and "Ballad of a Spycatcher," for example. He was touring at home and abroad again with Roy Bailey and Frankie Armstrong and occasionally, Sandra Kerr. He and Roy put together two more shows; one about Tom Paine and the other one the Spanish civil war. Important songs included "Who Reaps the Profits? Who Pays the Price?," "Song of the Old Communist," and "General Lockjaw Briefs the British Media."

That the nineties and nougaties have been compressed onto one disc does not mean that his output has weakened. "A Very Busy Man" spoke to me as I was writing this after a long and trying work week. General Lockjaw made another appearance, this time "Briefing the Troops (As Reported by a Skeptical Soldier)." Important songs from this era were "Harry's Gone Fishing" and "Where are the Barricades?"

It was during the last decade that he wrote two of his most important and, for our time, most resonant songs. "In My Father's Jewish World" celebrated the views of his parents and his own Jewishness and he writes: "It's not a nation, not a religion. This Jewish spirit is still unbroken . . . it's like the spark that signals rebellion. It's like the dance that circles unending," and I wonder what to me his Jewish legacy has been" . . . That precious strand of Jewishness that challenges authority and dares to stand against the powers that be: . . . The Jewish anarchists and socialists who fought to free the poor; the ones who meet unjustices with anger . . . who defend the weak against the strong. It's for these rebel Jews I sing my song".

The second, and to my mind, one of the best songs ever written, is "Song of the Olive Tree," about the fate of a tree and the people of Palestine. It's a song that is at once beautiful, depressing, anger-inducing and finally, hopeful and inspiring.

Although Leon has celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday and does not intend touring as much, I suspect and hope that he will continue to write and put his beautifully crafted songs out to inspire, remind, amuse and entertain us.

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Leon Rosselson Interviewed in R2

By Roy Bailey
R2 Magazine

History lesson


Homegrown singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson is currently celebrating fifty years of songs with a conscience. Sean McGhee leads the tributes

I first became aware of the name Leon Rosselson back in the summer of 1986 when a friend put together a compilation cassette tape of, in his words, ‘radical folk singers’ for me. On the tape, amongst names like Peter Nardini, Dick Gaughan and Alex Glasgow were recordings of a duo, Leon Rosselson & Roy Bailey, performing evocatively titled songs such as ‘Whoever Invented The Fishfinger’, ‘Barney’s Epic Homer’, ‘The Ugly Ones’ and ‘The Diggers’ Song’. I was particularly taken with Rosselson & Bailey.

At the time I was absorbing as much of this type of music as I could, alongside a steady musical diet of Christy Moore, Billy Bragg and The Pogues. In my mind’s eye I’d imagined Leon Rosselson (the songwriter of the duo) as some radical young folk singer, for the timelessness of his songs and the sentiments seemed perfectly suited to the period. A bit of library research (pre-Internet) and asking around revealed that Rosselson was in his early fifties and had, as I discovered, been writing, recording and performing since the late 1950s.

When I decided to set out on my youthful musical evangelical journey with Rock’n’Reel (now R2) back in early 1988, Leon Rosselson seemed a perfect interview subject for the launch issue. I managed to obtain his address via a letter to the press and publicity person at Topic Records (a certain John Crosby, these days a contributor to R2) and duly sent off my hand-typed questions to Leon on a page of A4 paper.

Consequently, Rosselson became one of the first-ever artists to be interviewed, albeit in my own idiosyncratic way, in the pages of a fledgling Rock’n’Reel. Since then, the magazine and its editor consistently kept abreast of developments at Rosselson HQ as he continued to record, perform and occasionally participate with our old friend (and sometime R2 contributor) Robb Johnson.

This year celebrating his fiftieth year of recording, PM Press in America (whose Ramsey Kanaan discovered Leon Rosselson through our pages) and Rosselson’s own label, Fuse Records, have combined to produce an ambitious boxed set, The World Turned Upside Down. Comprising four CDs and a lavishly illustrated eighty-page booklet, the collection contains seventy-two songs that span the years 1960-2010.

The release of the boxed set gave me an excuse to speak again to the man The Guardian described thus: “His songs are fierce, funny, cynical, outraged, blasphemous, challenging and anarchic. And the tunes are good, too.” In the extensive booklet notes that accompany The World Turned Upside Down Rosselson alludes to fame and fortune several times, albeit in tongue in cheek manner. I wondered whether there was a little bit of pride at play … disappointment that he hasn’t (yet) become more widely known.

“Fame and fortune were certainly not what motivated me to write songs, though I guess that in the folk/protest boom of the 1960s, when I was assigning songs to publishers and recording for major record companies, the idea of fame might have been at the back of my mind. But it’s not so much that I want to be better known as that I would like some recognition of what I have achieved in the world of songwriting. But that’s not going to happen in a culture where song is not taken seriously as an art form and where the media’s assessment of songs is based on commercial success. Song in this country is not really valued as on the same level as, say, poetry. So why should taking songwriting seriously garner any popularity? I think that, with better access to the media, my songs could have reached and touched more people. And that’s a regret.”

While recording in the 60s for major labels CBS and Decca, neither seemed too concerned about his more overtly ‘political’ songs of the period and in fact it’s likely they simply considered that the ‘protest song’ was the latest fashion amongst songwriters. Rosselson tends to agree with such a conclusion. “All that [major] record companies are interested in is making money. And if ‘political/protest song’ seems like it might sell, as it did for a time in the 60s, they’re happy to market it. Revolution – or the sound of revolution – also turned out to be quite a saleable product in the 60s for a time. They might have balked at ‘Stand Up For Judas’ or ‘On Her Silver Jubilee’ but I hadn’t yet written them then.”

Rosselson has never sat comfortably within any genre: folk singer, singer-songwriter, political songwriter, musical satirist or even, as Ewan MacColl famously labelled him, ‘cabaret’. Where does Rosselson feel is his natural musical home?

“There’s been an attempt to invent an English equivalent to the French category of chanson but it hasn’t exactly caught on. So, like some other songwriters, I’m given labels, because the media need labels, which I think are misleading. I’m a songwriter. I write songs. That’s it. Poets write poems. Nobody thinks to sort them into different categories.”

As a socialist songwriter there are lots of references to work and employment in Rosselson’s songs. In the 60s, and for a time into the 70s, Leon Rosselson taught ‘O’- and ‘A’-Level English three days a week in a tutorial college in Earls Court. “It was pretty flexible so didn’t interfere much with gigs and writing. I’m sure there was some input from it in my writing. Since then, my only job has been writing – plays as well as songs for a time in the 1970s, children’s books in recent years – and performing.”

Rosselson is dismissive of any suggestions that, either from frustration or otherwise, he perhaps could have attempted to pen a pop song or suchlike that might secure radio airplay, in the hope of reaching out to more people.

“Reaching out to more people for what purpose? What can you say in the pop song form? You have to ask yourself how song in the marketplace communicates with its audience. Not surely through the power of the content and the intensity of the words. Words in pop songs are just part of the packaging, part of the overall sound. Having said that, in the folk boom of the mid-60s, when I was with The 3 City 4 and Gerry Bron of Bron Music came looking for songs that might sell, always ready to oblige, I wrote a kind of pop-folk song called ‘Coming Home Again To You’. It was, unlike most pop songs, not entirely unrelated to reality. Gerry Bron was not impressed. Nor were The 3 City 4. I recorded it on The Word Is Hugga Mugga Chugga Lugga Humbugga Boom Chit LP and it’s now preserved on the boxed set.”

As a songwriter with over five decades of composing behind him, he’s not averse to revisiting his recorded canon and occasionally listens to some of his songs after a long absence from them, primarily he says, “to see how they’ve stood the test of time”, although “favourites change over the years”: ‘Harry’s Gone Fishing’, ‘Postcards From Cuba’, ‘Who Reaps the Profits, Who Pays The Price?’, ‘Not Quite But Nearly’, ‘Bringing The News From Nowhere’, and ‘Barney’s Epic Homer’ come to mind as recordings that still get favourable reviews from the man himself.

As a songwriter who cares so much about the construction, composition and delivery of his songs, unsurprisingly he’s not too forthcoming with compliments when asked about other people’s versions of his songs (of which there have been many). “I like some and not others. Don’t ask me which. I like an interpretation in which the singer re-creates the song to suit his or her own personality and voice.”

Rosselson began his recording career way back in 1958 with two releases, Zimra Ornatt’s Israeli Songs ten-inch album and Stan Kelly’s Liverpool Packet seven-inch EP (both Topic Records, playing guitar on the former and guitar, banjo and accordion on the latter). He has had a prolific recording and writing career that continues today, fifty years after his debut solo record from 1962, the Songs For City Squares EP (Topic). He’s been oblivious in the main to the changing fads and fashions of the music industry, as he explains.

“I’ve never really been in the mainstream … not in the folk world, nor in the commercial world. I’ve never been particularly fashionable, which means I’ve never entirely gone out of fashion. At times – in the 60s, when I was involved with publishers and major record companies, and then in the 80s, the era of punk rock and Billy Bragg – ‘political’ song was said to be in tune with the times and there was a spurt of interest in my work. But mostly I’ve done what I do, which is write songs and sing them, without regard to changing tastes in the music business or in the folk world.”

As a songwriter who has existed chiefly beyond the gaze of the mass media and under the radar of the vast majority of music fans, releasing material many miles away from formulaic commercialism, it makes sense that he founded his own label, Fuse Records, back in the very late 70s, and continues to run it today. “On one level, it’s a time-consuming nuisance since it means doing stuff I don’t really want to do. But it’s essential if you want to keep control of your songs and your recordings. No one can tell me to delete a CD because it’s not paying for the space it’s taking.”

As a songwriter of biting social comment and concise lyricism, perhaps it doesn’t seem such a natural next step to writing children’s books. I was interested to hear how he ended up as a children’s author, and how that differs from songwriting.

“A friend who was working for a children’s book publisher at the time thought, since I wrote children’s songs, I might like to have a go at writing children’s books. This seemed like an interesting challenge so I wrote ten stories about Rosa and her singing grandfather, who was loosely based on my father with his embarrassing habit of singing anywhere at the drop of a hat. I sent them to the only children’s book agent I knew and, to my amazement, she sold them to Puffin. They came out in two books, the first of which was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. So encouraged by that, I carried on for another fifteen years or so, having about twenty books published as well as many stories in anthologies. Then it more or less petered out. I blame Harry Potter.
 
“At the beginning, I found writing children’s stories a relief after songwriting. Song is such a restricted form, such a tight condensed form, which is why it’s so powerful and children’s stories seemed, certainly at the beginning, to offer more space, greater freedom to say what I wanted to say. And it was fun creating an imaginary world for children. Of course, I soon found there were restrictions, many based on the demands of publishers and on what, it was assumed, children of this or that age could or should read.”

Rosselson has worked with a wide array of performers: Dominic Behan, Martin Carthy, Sandra Kerr, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Frankie Armstrong, Oysterband and many others.

“Dominic Behan? Oh, yes. I accompanied him on a Topic LP [Down By The Liffeyside: Irish Street Ballads, 1959] in the distant past when I was known mainly as an accompanist on my old nylon-strung Kessler guitar. ‘Thunder and lightning is no lark/When Dublin City is in the dark’.  I remember it well. I also worked, futilely as it turned out, on a single with Vanessa Redgrave once upon a time. I bet you didn’t know that.

“But to be accurate, I’ve collaborated long-term, as opposed to collaborating just on studio recordings, with Roy Bailey and Frankie Armstrong, with Sandra Kerr, with Martin Carthy in The 3 City 4 and on pretty well every record I’ve ever made, and in recent years with Robb Johnson. And with Liz Mansfield on a children’s play with songs adapted from one of my children’s stories. And before any of that, with Robin Hall, Jimmie MacGregor and Shirley Bland in The Galliards. They’ve all been, give or take the odd tension, fruitful and enjoyable. More than that, they’ve been essential in keeping my brain active, working on projects, scripting shows, arranging songs for different voices. Performing solo and singing with a group are different. I don’t have a preference.”

Rosselson rarely listens to other performers. “Radio 3 when I’m shaving, and I’ll play the occasional CD.” But asked to recommend any contemporary songwriters or performers, he humbly suggests: “I don’t think anyone needs them [recommendations] from me. I bought Stephen Sondheim’s book of lyrics, Finishing The Hat, which also contains criticisms of many dead songwriters but not, on principle, any living ones. Interestingly, he is hard on song/lyric writers that I like – Noel Coward, Lorenz Hart, WS Gilbert – and praises highly Cole Porter who I think is basically dishonest. He also berates sloppy rhymesters. I have a long note on that in the booklet that comes with the boxed set.”

It should be no surprise to anyone au fait with Rosselson’s songs and his Jewish heritage that he opposes the criminal acts of the state of Israel, although it may surprise them to know of his youthful interest in Zionism.

“I’ve written seven songs, as well as a number of articles about Israel/Palestine, so anyone who wants to know my views should listen to the CD and read the notes to The Last Chance [subtitled Eight Songs On Israel/Palestine]. This isn’t the place to go into Zionist history. All I will say is that I’m anti-Zionist, because Zionism says that Diaspora Jews live abnormal lives and should all go to Israel and because Zionism is a colonising project predicated on the dispossession and oppression of the indigenous people.  

“I’m also against a Jewish state – though I’m not sure what exactly is meant by that – in the same way that I’m against a Christian state and an Islamic state, because it casts a section of its population into second-class citizenship. As you may know, there is no such thing as Israeli nationality, only Israeli citizenship. This is because the nationality is defined as Druze, Arab, Jewish … not Israeli, and the Jewish state is not for its citizens but for all the Jews in the world.

“I was in a Zionist youth movement in the 1950s and spent a year in Israel in 1958-59. The turning point for me was the Six Day War in 1967. I might also add that if you’re confused about the rights and wrongs of this particular conflict, it’s probably because you’ve been listening to the BBC. Try Al Jazeera. Or read Noam Chomsky. Or Israeli journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levy and Uri Avnery.”

Perspectives

“Leon Rosselson is something rare and marvellous, a British performer with stylistic links to the European traditions of leidermacher and chanson. He may not display the emotional intensity associated with such performers, but he certainly shares their gift for making the political personal.”

Billy Bragg

“Leon is a still small voice among the general cacophony. Someone who rages against people ‘filling their ears with music so they can’t hear the screams’ may not sound much like an optimist, but that in fact is what he is. I think that he believes that people are born with the potential to be heroic. I also think that this might make him laugh.”
Martin Carthy

“A writer and performer who has unwaveringly stuck to his principles and beliefs. His writing cuts through all the crap and brings clarity in a time of very muddied waters. He has been a much greater influence on me than he would ever suspect.”
Dick Gaughan

“Discovering Leon’s albums in the early 1980s was possibly the first time I understood that contemporary protest music didn’t have to be rock’n’roll, loud guitars, and barked vocals. I used to get his albums from an anarchist bookshop in Nottingham – I couldn’t find them on sale in any of the normal record shops we had in Leeds. It was powerful stuff … wordy, literate, clever, thought provoking. And he was funny, too – something there wasn’t much of in the protest side of punk.

When we covered one of Leon’s songs, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, in 1993, we heard that he wasn’t happy with our version because we changed the line ‘we need no swords’ to a decidedly un-pacifist ‘we take up swords’. That was probably typical of us, switching a tiny but important part to serve our own ends. We didn’t want to be dishonest about our support for armed struggle. Still, we’ve met Leon a few times since then and we’ve always got along. He’s an amazing character and great songwriter.”
Boff Whalley, Chumbawamba

“My foremost response is that he has given me intelligent and powerful songs to sing! Leon and I met some forty-seven years ago when he invited me to join his group, The 3 City 4. For the next twenty-five years we worked together in various formats, as a duo – or a trio when Frankie Armstrong joined us and, occasionally, with Sandra Kerr. We toured in various countries, including the UK, Sweden, Canada and the USA. We managed to record three LPs together: That’s Not The Way It’s Got To Be (1974); Love, Loneliness, Laundry (1977) and If I Knew Who The Enemy Was (1978).    

In all the years I have known Leon his songwriting has been extraordinary. Perhaps one of the outstanding qualities of his writing is his consistency over all these years. After fifty years he continues to write great songs that make you laugh or make you angry yet always encourage you to retain the spirit of that ‘voice that lives inside you’. I know of no other writer who can match his enduring ability to give us songs that entertain and educate us.” 

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5 Star Review in Songlines of The World Turned Upside Down

By Julian May
Songlines
January/February 2012

Here are seventy-three songs lasting almost five hours, written over half a century. This is a life's work. It's the life's work of one of Britain's finest contemporary writers—not just songwriters, but writers in any form. Each CD is devoted to a decade, except for the fouth, which extends from the 90s to 2010. The collection begins with a recent song, however: the terrific Conversations on a Mobile," placed here because stylistically (though not technologically), it is a song he might have written at the outset of his career: a satirical social commentary, meticulously constructed, about the compulsion to talk but the inability to say anything. It's sad, angry and very funny. There are several songs that, while not hits, have entered the repertoire of other singers and become classics. Typical is 'Tim McGuire', a song about an arsonist whose actions are presented as a rational response to society, rather than pyromania. McHuire is, like most of Rosselson's creations, a lot more than a political cipher. He "loved the leaves of autumn/ The red leaves of autumn/ Loved a slender girl/With a smile like a flame." McGuire is an intriguing, dramatic character, brilliantly written.

Rosselson was emboldened in his work by the example of chansonniers George Brassens and Jacques Brel, who had an understanding of the potential of song. Like them he relishes giving voice to a person, such as the woman whose husband simply doesn't see her in Invisible Married Breakfast Blues." Brecht is an influence, too. For all his Englishness—his irony, self-deprecation, and his anger—there is a cosmopolitan, European aspect to Rosselson's work. Rosselson is staunchly anti-monarchist, anti-nuclear, anti-capitalist, gender-politics aware and pro-Palestinian. It occasionally gets wearisome—some performances sound dated now—and there are finer singers. He is, however, rarely ever merely pat, and his finest songs, such as his most famous, "The World Turned Upside Down," are informed by an acute historical awareness. Coming from a Communist, atheistic Jewish family, Rosselson engages thoughtfully with his sometimes uncomfortable inheritance. In a song from 2002, '"My Father's Jewish World," he marries the personal and the political movingly. Neither will he allow, especially as he grows older, a political allegiance to blind him to experience. His "Postcards from Cuba," aren't all stunning views and happy workers laboring for the Revolution. As well as solo work the CDs draw on many recordings made with long-time collaborates such as Roy Bailey, Martin Carthy and Fiz Shapur. The World Turned Upside Down concludes with "The Power of Song," to which this magnificent retrospective, in a little box, is a living testament. 

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5 Star Review from R2 of The World Turned Upside Down

By Ken Hunt
R2 Magazine

The World Turned Upside Down is a seventy-two-track anthology of what Leon Rosselson endearingly calls "Rosselsongs." Four CDs, organized into The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties and The Nineties to 2010, and a booklet are packed into one of those CD-sized boxes.

This collection is not, of course, the complete Rosselson. There is nothing of him from his session guitarist years accompanying Stan Kelly, Zimra Ornatt and their kind, when he, Steve Benbow and John Hasted were The Few.

The World Turned Upside Down is a one-stop concentration of material from one of the pioneers and finest exponents of English-language chanson-strength song creation.

Leon Rosselson applied the jump leads that got the stalled engine of socially engaged, literate song racing. And then got it purring and spitting.

The selection rounds up his best known songs like "Stand Up For Jesus," "The World Turned Upside Down," "Ballad Of A Spycatcher," and "Battle Hymn Of The New Socialist Republic" alongside slipped-through-the-interstices observational and/or satirical songs like "Whoever Invented The Fishfinger," "The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar," "Bringing The News From Nowhere" and his mocking "Talking Democracy Blues."

Listen to "It's Just The Song," "The Ghost Of George Brassens," and "The Power Of Song" for insights, manifestoes or confessions about what got his creative juices flowing. That last song, a rousing evocation of the big-voiced excitement of bygone and present-day socialist choirs, brings us back to one of his early inspirations. All with Rosselsong annotations to contextualise the near-perfection of this extraordinary set. 

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