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Make Bush & Cheney Pay for Their Abuses - December 1, 2008

from THE POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL, Letters to the Editor, 11/29/08:

"Make Bush, Cheney Pay for Their Abuses"

Our civil liberties have been under assault since an ideologue has taken control of our government.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their political lackeys have been among the most corrupt administrations in American history, and while they will go down in shame, it appears they will get away with possible criminal behavior: an illegal war, spying on the citizenry, lying to Congress and all of us. Bush and Cheney's willingness to offer no-bid contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries time and time again only clarifies their sense of being well above the law.

Somehow, now that it has become clear that Bush, et al, expect to ride off into the sunset unscathed, the public needs to act. At the very least we are owed a thorough investigation into these matters so closely tied to corporate bloat - the same kind of bloat that has devolved into the current economic crisis.

At the very least we need to have the politicians who dared break our trust explain their actions, their behaviors, their machinations of our very Constitution. At the very least we deserve to see that justice has not once again been manipulated by the powerful few. Congress needs to take a stand and demand an explanation for our fallen soldiers in Iraq - as well as the fallen non-aggressive people of that country -and for the state of affairs globally.

Don't let the rascals once again walk away laughing about our inability to act lest we be declared unpatriotic.

John Pietaro

CD Review: THE CLASH: "LIVE AT SHEA STADIUM" - November 29, 2008

CD Review by John Pietaro

2008 Sony

From my seat in the upper reaches of Shea Stadium, I never felt a drop of rain. The small cadre of friends I was with on October 13, 1982 couldn’t afford to buy the good seats either, so we’d plunked down $16. each to sit up in the nosebleeds, just under the stadium’s partial overhang. Perhaps too high up to feel the heat that radiated off the stage, but our proletarian view at least kept us dry. However, the primary class-consciousness of that autumn evening in Queens was really not in the stands at all. You see, most all of us had come out to witness “the Who’s last concert”, as they were then billing that finale, but we didn’t realize that there was a louder death-knell to be heard that night. The opening set by David Johansson, founder of the New York Dolls, offered some insight into the new sounds, the new generation. But by the time the Clash commandeered the stage, ‘classic rock’ devotees began to wonder. Ironically, the evening’s headliners had already spent years amidst a decidedly corporate rock scene, belying their rebel roots. Never could the Who have imagined that their opening act would steal the mantle from them, from the generation that gave birth to rock as we knew it. Never could we in the audience—cheap seat and box seats alike—have imagined that the Clash were already on their way to a slow, painful dissolve. But well beyond the parameters of Shea Stadium, the Clash really was the only band that mattered.

The Clash was born of the Punk movement’s initial British uprising, itself a response to the sounds of rebellion in New York’s East Village. Deeply influenced by the urgency and radical politics of Punk, singer/songwriter/guitarist Joe Strummer broke up his successful club band and found new comrades among guitarist Mick Jones, bassist Paul Simonon, and (ultimately) drummer Topper Headon. The Clash was surely not just another Punk band, another refaced Sex Pistols –who’d already become the fallen poster children of the movement across the Atlantic. Whereas the Pistols spouted out venomous anger like a Gatling gun on overdrive, the Clash sang about revolutionary ideas and incorporated reggae, dub and other world sounds into a fabric of the day’s proletarian songbook. The songs of Strummer/Jones spoke openly and harshly about racial and class divides in the UK, economic destitution in British cities, the fall of aristocracy and the power of the people. The Clash headlined shows like ‘Rock Against Racism’ and partnered with Leftist organizations. Theirs was a particular type of radicalism in which the songs not only offered agitation but inspiration, answers and activism. Strummer was particularly devout in his sympathies, wearing the symbol of various communist factions at concerts and speaking openly about his philosophies.

By the time of the concert at Shea, the Clash had already come to great critical acclaim with the release of London Calling, perhaps their greatest work, and Sandinista!, a tome of songs that spoke directly to the raging conflict in Nicaragua that had been devised by those champions of global capital, Reagan and Thatcher. While Ronald Reagan could tell Americans straight-faced that the ultra-right Contras were “the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” in their battle against the elected Sandinista government, the Clash reminded us that this was a real-time example of Cold War imperialism. They pulled no punches. While never losing the spirit of Punk Rock, the band was sure to incorporate the sounds of the streets into their music, including Hip-Hop, intricate drum machine inspired patterns (played by live drummer Headon) and dance-oriented studio technology, all sitting comfortably alongside their brand of roots rock, reggae, R&B and Strummer’s own blood-curdling vocals. Combat Rock, the album released next, offered more protest sentiment albeit within a stripped-down collection which produced several hit records.

By October of 1982, the Clash was falling victim to Punk’s most visceral irony: how can a movement designed to break the structure of corporate rock survive once it becomes a part of the industry? The effects of celebrity had already taken the gifted drummer Headon from the band that year, and Strummer, Jones and Simonon would all comment later that once the classic line-up was altered, the band began to unravel. But for the hindsight of history, one would never know. If Strummer was suffering from a crisis of conscience, it never slowed down his performance at Shea Stadium; likewise for the rest of the group including replacement drummer Terry Chimes who played with precision and ferocity. From the opening staccato of “London Calling”, which opened up the set, through powerful versions of “Police on My Back”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “Rock the Casbah”, “Train in Vain”, even the cult fave Spanish Civil War tale “Spanish Bombs”, the Clash exploded with headliner might. Here was a band born of rebellion performing for a screaming rain-soaked crowd in the heyday of the excessive and greedy 1980s. Shea Stadium’s bleachers trembled that night---trembled with the sound of the mantle being torn out of the hands of the 1960s.
Punk wouldn’t live much longer, but oh did it sound eternal from where I sat those 26 years ago.

(published in 'Political Affairs' magaine, 11/08)

CD Review: PETE SEEGER, "AT 89" - November 15, 2008

CD Review by John Pietaro

Appleseed Recordings, 2008

".a time of peace, I swear it's not too late"

It's a busy Saturday afternoon on a main drag in New
York's Hudson River Valley and Pete Seeger can be found
standing vigil aside a flurry of traffic as he's done
each week for five years. Gripping a `pace' banner, Pete
is brightly smiling at speeding passersby who serenade
him with a symphony of horn-honks. And though some of
the passing cars instead sport angry drivers shouting
pro-war, pseudo-patriotic slogans, Seeger has seen too
much in his lifetime to falter. He quietly smirks at the
rest of this peace vigil's participants and shakes his
head. Pete's lived through union-busting assaults, the
Peekskill Riot, HUAC, the Blacklist, agitated flag-
wavers and violent Klansmen. He's seen a hell of a lot
and usually comes out of the experience with a song.

While 'At 89' does not attempt to chronicle all of the
folk legend's life, it certainly offers the listener an
excellent overview of much of its most colorful moments.
Starting with the powerful cover photos of elder
statesman Seeger, captured in time by photographers Econosmith, here's
a collection that offers a brilliant picture of how much
one can accomplish in a near-ninety year period.

Featured prominently throughout this 32-selection CD is
Pete's trademark 5-string banjo, an instrument he nearly
single-handedly brought to light. But of course his
renowned "split tenor", shakier than in previous decades
but still earnest, remains what we most recall about
Pete's stage presence. Not only as a singer, but as a
speaker, and this disc also presents his recorded
descriptions of how some of these songs came to be. To
offer up an aural image of the classic Seeger concert,
several vocal groups can be heard throughout much of At
89, including Work o' the Weavers (the group best
described as the `Beatlemania' of Weavers' music), the
Walkabout Clearwater Chorus (an offshoot of the
Clearwater organization Pete founded), the After Hours
Quartet and the Hudson River Sloop Singers. The extra
voices allow Pete to be in his favorite element and of
course help out with some of the high notes he has
trouble with these days. But Seeger just cannot stop
leading groups of people in song.

The selections included here are an interesting mix of
the known and the little-known, as well as some brand
new compositions. Song subjects include
environmentalism, peace, family, sustenance and
spirituality, but he throws surprises into this
collection, as one would hope. Some of the songs are
those Pete would probably prefer to not have to sing any
longer, but in light of current times, he reproduces
here "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" (the 1968 performance
of which on the Smothers Brothers television show helped
to break that damned blacklist), "Bach at Treblinka"
(performed beautifully by Martha Sandefer, sounding like
a latter-day Ronnie Gilbert) and "When I was Most
Beautiful", his song written to a Japanese poet's post-
Hiroshima piece, performed by his niece Sonya Cohen.
There's also a spoken word selection given from the
perspective of Native Americans responding to the
original European settlers, a lesson unto itself, which
includes music by the Menominee nation.

Throughout this album, Pete cites problems and
solutions, challenges and celebrations. Naming a few
villains along the way (including Rudolph Giuliani,
infamous hawk and community garden destroyer), the songs
remind us of why we fight. And long-time Seeger fans
will rejoice at a new version of the Weavers' classic
"Tzena, Tzena, Tzena", performed by Pete and the
Walkabout Clearwater Chorus. The original Hebrew lyrics
are here but, complimented by Arabic words as well, this
piece rings with soaring harmonies and the message of
peace in the Holy Land.

A point of interest is that Seeger also uses this disc as an opportunity to make a statement on his past, allowing the song "False From True" to serve an ironic function. While the song's
lyrics simply speak about the need for us to look beyond
the words of politicians, his liner notes go to the
conflict of Communists during the period when the crimes
of Stalin were becoming known. Oddly, he appears to be
fully refuting any and all work the Communist Party USA
has ever done, ignoring its fights for unions, civil
rights, peace and the struggle against fascism, all by
inference, and writes simply about how many members ran
from the Party ranks at that point. True, Seeger has
called himself a follower of Rosa Luxemburg in recent
decades, not a Marxist-Leninist, but this topic should
have been given more thought than one line in a CD
booklet. Pete was a Party cultural worker for many years
and engaged in some powerful activism in this manner;
such a shame to overlook his very foundation as well as
the core issues of the CP in the decades which bridged
the Great Depression and the Vietnam War.

At 89 allows listeners the chance to look into the heart
of one of the very founders of the folk revival, to hear
his latest compositions and some songs from over the
generations, twenty-six of which are now recorded for
the first time. Crystal production by David Bernz,
another Beacon NY-based musician/activist, brings it all
into the 21st century without struggle. Clearly, Pete
Seeger remains a deeply relevant figure in 2008 and
there's little opportunity for him to take that much-
needed rest. Just ask the anti-war crowd at the Saturday
peace vigil brandishing `Honk 4 Peace' signs. Better
still, ask the malignant Archie Bunker clones flipping
but half a peace-sign as they harshly screech by
Seeger's non-violent revolution.

(published in 'Political Affairs' magazine, 11/08)

A NEW DAY, NEW CHALLENGES - November 5, 2008

Sisters and Brothers,

No deep, lengthy piece here; it's all been said in a whirlwind of excitement
and pride. I just want to add that I am so deeply moved by the history that our nation made last night---the thousands who voted for the first time, the thousands who voted for the first time without cringing, the inspiration and the hope and the vision and the collective voice of the people speaking. Loudly.

After spending a very long day cavassing for Obama in suburban Pennsylvania yesterday and then taking nearly 3 1/2 hours to drive home, the news broadcasts that came rushing in felt almost surrealistic. Yes, there is a strong chance that we will finally have a progressive agenda in politics for the first time since FDR. Yes, we will see an end to this war and the tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, the global economy will now have a fighting chance. Yes, the Labor Movement will finally have
not only an ally in government, but a government which embraces workers. Yes. Yes.
Yes. The importance of the changing face of exactly what a president should look like is matched only by the changing perception the world's citizens can once again have for our country.

But as President-Elect Obama said in his victory speech last night, all of the work that many of us did to see this day come, is very far from over. Just as we have been saying for decades that we need to really organize a grass-roots movement, Obama has told us that we need to be involved in the rebuilding of this nation. We on the Left must be up for this. Let's pick up on where the Old Left were forced into hibernation by the Cold War and the New Left imploded due to internal
rupturing and governmental machinations. This really is our time, but only if we,
all of us, are willing to do the work.

But we still have a little while left before all of this comes into direct play.
For now, let us just bask in the sunlight of what's already been achieved. I
am still reeling.

In Solidarity,
John Pietaro -


Sisters and Brothers,

Below is a letter I sent out to a movement friend, in response to an email he sent me entitled '12 Reasons to Not Vote for Obama'. Reading over this list brought to mind the typical quandary we on the Left go through each election cycle: whether or not to vote for the Democrat or to go ahead and vote for the independent or 3rd party candidate who may speak more directly to our issues. Ah, to have proportional
representation on our ballots....but, no we live in the USA. When faced with a far-Right
that's been in power for so long, much has to be considered. I assume that many of you may be struggling with this issue or know others who are, so I thought I'd share this.

In Solidarity,


By John Pietaro

We are at the cross-roads again. It seems that we on the Left always end up in this situation, wherein we have to choose between supporting the "lesser of the
two evils" or sticking by our guns and voting for a hopeless but well-meaning
independent candidate. This has been troubling to me and so many other progressives,
for years and years.

But this time it really is not that situation. Barack Obama's vision for this
country is as close to a new New Deal as we've come since, well--the New Deal. His tax plan alone would right many of the 8 years of wrongs that we've suffered under Bush's trickle-down economics and cowboy capitalism. Obama will refute
that which Reagan turned into Republican gospel. Further, his plan toward national healthcare is one hell of a start to get us all insured. But even if you doubt this, you cannot question the realities of the Employee Free Choice Act---Obama has already
publicly declared that he will sign it into law (Bush refused; McCain said he'll
never sign it). Once this is done, organizers can actually work on creating unions, in the truest sense of 'union', instead of constantly battling with employers against their vicious anti-labor campaigns. This country can have a formidable Labor
Movement for the first time since before the Cold War. This is the first positive
Labor reform since the 1930s---and you feel that there's no reason to vote for Obama? How can any thoughtful progressive overlook this?

Of course Obama is in no way the socialist that the right-wing is claiming; I keep
thinking: "if only". But he is a community organizer at heart. He has great ties to many community organizations and unions. In fact, the union I work for can count TWO of our Political Action staff among his closest advisors. Our
Political Director was asked by his campaign to come on board as Obama's National
Political Director, and he has as of course done so. Imagine the possibility of
having a Secretary of Labor from within the ranks of Labor! Now compare that
to Bush's anti-union Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, who's presided over the
damage to workers for 8 years. Look at the destruction of the NLRB. Look at the jobless rates, factories closed and careers gone abroad. Look at the damned economy.
And look at the criminal administration under Bush. The illegal war and crimes against humanity and the environment. Look at the way every other country in the world now sees us, and then tell me if none of this matters, if all Democrats and Republicans really are the same. And as the first African-American candidate in a major party, Obama is making history. His standing on the world stage has already made such a loud statement against the racism which was part of the founding of this nation.
Yes, this too matters a hell of a lot.

As a Marxist, I have to tell you I'd love to vote for someone who's not just an accused socialist, but an actual one. But at this juncture we have SO MUCH
to fight against and so great a chance for change. The far-Right has been very strong and inflicted so much pain on all of us. Let's break down some of that pain, let's establish some good in the country and the world. But this time, let's keep pushing Obama--should he be elected--to the Left. He has pledged to end the war in Iraq, so let's be sure this occurs as planned, and then deal with other volatile situations. I will be voting for Barack Obama on the Working Families Party
line to make sure he knows that class-conscious people are behind him--- but we're
watching him. We need to begin the actual organizing after we have a reasonable
person in power. No roses for the Democrats--especially when it comes to the continuation of war--but let's not cause the gunfire to end up with us shooting ourselves in the foot either. A McCain presidency would strengthen the massive gap between the rich and the rest of us. It would be hawkish and the war in Iraq will go on for years, perhaps decades to come. All that, and Sara Palin in the wings. There'll be no separation between church and state, women's rights will be trampled and what's left of our economy will be sliced to ribbons. Joe the Plumber, Hockey Moms and the First Dude will become national icons. Imagine the outcome, consider the very serious possibilities, and then decide.

It is gravely dangerous to create an argument against reason just to stand by our
principles, all the while ignoring the everyday needs of working people and the generations to come. Every vote is vital now. Our votes not only elect the president
but they send a message to the world. That's why on November 4, I will happily
vote for Barack Obama and then drive to Philadelphia to encourage Pennsylvanians
to Get Out The Vote.

The Passing of Michael 'Moose' Dmoch - August 16, 2008

The Flames share in the sadness of the passing of beloeved Hudson Valley folksinger/activist Michael 'Moose' Dmoch. We enjoyed sharing performances with Moose as much as we enjoyed his company and radical conversation. He will be sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.


Yes, sisters and brother, here's the tail-end of the Bush Administration (well, its all been tail-end of course, and filled with droppings, too). We have much to celebrate---and a world to win. The Flames of Discontent will be engaging in several special events which we plan to use as a means to mobilize others, because its always possible that we wake up on Nov 5 and learn the horrifying news that McCain has won. WE JUST CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

So, we have been working hard registering people to vote because that's where it all begins. And then there's the music----

During summer and fall, you can find us at a fundraiser for the People's Weekly World newspaper ( 8/23 near Albany NY), at a Poetry for Peace event ((9/20, Goshen NY), and at our annual Dissident Folk & Arts Festival with a great cadre of cultural workers (10/11 Beacon NY). Other events may pop up, and we'll also be on hand--sans instruments--for the 'No War On Iran' rally on Woodstock's famous Village Green (8/1 Woodstock NY). Beyond this, John will be engagin in much political action work in his duties as a union organizer (campaigning not just for Obama, but NY Congress members John Hall, Kirsten Gillibrand and Paul Tonko too). We have to work together to close the book on the corruption, greed and war-mongering of George Bush and Dick Cheney and then fight like hell to never again allow the US to have an imperial presidency. Register to vote and then be sure to vote against John McSame in November. Vote against endless war and a US that is only fit for the wealthiest. Vote for peace, universal healthcare, tax codes on behalf of working people, labor rights, and a people's agenda. No, we'll never find everything progressive in any mainstream candidate, but with a President Obama we'll have a brilliant, caring, man of conscience in a position of great power of responsibility. After electing him, its our job to keep our grassroots coalitions organized and strong, as he'll need the Left's help to fight for what we know is right. And then we'll never have to be ashamed to be Americans again.

ReadNex Poetry Squad: Revolutionary Word - July 7, 2008

ReadNex Poetry Squad :Revolutionary Word
By John Pietaro

ReadNex Poetry Squad takes the stage, not quite by force but surely with the command one would expect of revolutionary cultural workers. The four young poets of color stand in line facing their audience, offering performance that is equal parts concert and recital, education and entertainment. The quartet also pairs a welcoming interaction with a loaded challenge---a challenge to our assumptions about Hip-Hop, about youth, about the power of verse, and about African-American and Latino artists. This is a decidedly radical group of very gifted artists who have pledged to give their product to the people’s movement. ReadNex, you see, embody the spirit of a wide variety of “dangerous” artists—not only the Last Poets, but the Beat poets; not only Public Enemy but the blacklisted Communist writers deemed enemies of the state; not only Immortal Techniques and Sistah Soulja but Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and Brecht. They defy the question, “where are all of the progressive performers?”

Hailing from New York City and points north, ReadNex Poetry Squad met as students at SUNY New Paltz, but there’s no doubt that this group has understood history long before they got to college. So Decora, Cuttz el Colombiano, Free Flowin (the group’s lone female) and Latin Translator began to work together to create an outwardly dissident Hip-Hop based music. They often perform as spoken word artists, with no background music, but when they bring on their own “5th Beatle”—DJ H20—everything falls into place. The evocative words turn into poetic athleticism as rapid-fire lyrics about social injustice and the need for unity ricochet off of the rhythms of drum machine and multiple turn-tables.

This is performance art by any other name. Without hesitation, the poets duel and then exchange verses like Jazz musicians trading fours. This particular brand of protest music is as alive as any born in the trenches. It’s this combination of throbbing Hip-Hop and dramatic spoken word, all bathed in the colors of revolution that makes the ReadNex so welcome right now. We have needed this kind of radical music for a long time.

Following numerous dates throughout the Hudson Valley, including a recent Poughkeepsie ‘Juneteenth’ celebration and a New Paltz May Day Jam, the group has had some great successes in their still brief career including touring as an opening act for Rage Against the Machine and headlining on ‘Rap Against Racism’ events. They are now embarking on a tour of another kind. It is called The FrontLines Tour, one which brings them almost exclusively to working class neighborhoods across the US. The tour recently kicked off with some dates in NY and they are working their way across country (and some to cities in Mexico) over the course of months, over thirty dates in all. There will be workshops in the hours before the actual concerts and teach-ins at all events. They will inspire young working class people to find the talent and creativity within themselves, even in the most depressed locations, offering a means toward self-empowerment. They will also dedicate a portion of their tour to voter registration, to make certain that their fan-base never resorts to armchair activism. Add to this, pieces that speak of the people’s history by way of Howard Zinn, and you have a powerhouse ensemble which takes no prisoners.

For more info, or to purchase a copy of their latest CD, Social ISsUe, please go to Here’s just the group to quell older rad’s fears of rap and to educate young radicals on the rules of engagement and solidarity.

Concert Raises $5800.00 for Utah Phillips - April 23, 2008

"Concert Raises $5,800 for Utah Phillips"

A benefit concert held Sunday in Rosendale for folk singer and labor activist Utah Phillips raised $5,800.

On the bill for this concert were Pete Seeger, Dar Williams, Redwood Moose, Flames of Discontent and others. Nearly 300 people packed the Rosendale Community Center on Route 32 and many stood for the show.

Seeger dazzled the audience and led the full house in group sing-alongs. "This Land is Your Land," was a highlight. Seeger, dressed in jeans and a denim shirt with a rainbow over his heart, grinned through his entire set, which brought the crowd to its feet several times.

Phillips, who has recorded two albums with alternative musician Ani DiFranco, is battling several health issues and can no longer make a living by performing. The concert held Sunday was organized by Rosendale Café co-owner Mark Morganstern, Moose Dmoch of Redwood Moose, John Pietaro of the Flames of Discontent and Sarah Underhill, who was pivotal in getting Seeger and Williams to perform.

For information, visit and
-John Barry

UTAH PHILLIPS BENEFIT CONCERT--Hudson Valley Music, - April 20, 2008

"Utah Has Left the Trade!"

Pete Seeger, Dar Williams & the Folk Community
Come to Rosendale In Support of Utah Phillips

Community Center in Rosendale
Sunday, April 20, 2PM

Story by Gary Alexander

"You bet I do! You're darn tootin' I do!" he said when asked if he had any thoughts on the health care situation in America, prompting reflection on who else could credibly drop a phrase like that these days.

Although a guy named "Utah" in a town called Nevada City in the State of California was feeling "a little rocky at the moment" on Sunday, his voice on the phone came out in the mountains of New York as clear and strong as ever when he spoke about the people staging a benefit in his honor at the Community Center in Rosendale.on Sunday, April 20, at 2pm. (The show is headlined by our national treasure Pete Seeger and Dar Williams, along with the Flames of Discontent, Sarah Underhill and the High Meadow Larks, Redwood Moose, Jude Roberts & Lily McCabe, and Woodstock's Norm Wennet.)

"I'm living with my wife Joanna in this old gold mining town of about 2800 people up in the foothills of the Sierra," Utah explained. "We live on the edge of town on a rural lane in an old grove of cedar and oak trees that's never been logged. It's a very small house but it suits us just fine." Even on a "rocky" afternoon?

"That's the way it goes, kind of like a roller coaster but I did get out to speak in church today," said the legendary performer of his excursion Sunday to oblige a request from a new minister at the nearby Unitarian Church he had helped to found. Recovering from a recent attack of gout which periodically attends the condition of congestive heart failure that underlies the reason for the fund-raiser, Utah was one of three charter members she, (the minister), had asked to speak briefly about the basis of their spiritual life. "That's something I do very, very seldom but I had a few words."

By reputation, any time Utah Phillips stands to speak is an occasion. Known around the world for the monologues and tales woven into and around his songs, Red House, a leading folk music label, has even released a Phillips CD (The Moscow Hold) of mostly spoken word which rivals the work of many of today's stand-up comedians. Almost everyone consulted while priming this article used the word raconteur to describe him, even though he was born in Cleveland. So, how did he become such a highly respected folksinger?

"I got backed into it," Said Utah, who moved west from Ohio with his mother in 1947 before getting into some old fashioned ramblin' 'round, running away so often, it is said, that his mom started wrapping his lunch in road maps. "I always sang and, when I left Utah in 1969, I was an unemployed organizer. I was on the lam. I had a head full of songs I'd made up and all kinds of songs I'd learned. I'd worked picket lines and migrant councils in the migrant camps but it was only when I got into the east that I was told that I sang folk music. I didn't know what that was."

Long before his tune "Green Rolling Hills" became a hit for Emmylou Harris or "Rock, Salt & Nails" lit up recordings by Joan Baez, Steve Young, Waylon Jennings and others or "Going Away" showed up on a Flatlanders CD or Tom Waits and other artists recorded his songs (including a Grammy-nominated album drawn completely from the Utah Phillips songkit by husband-wife duo Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin); long before he received the 1997 life-time achievement award from the North American Folk Alliance or was Grammy-nominated himself for his mesmerizing collaborations with Ani DiFranco (bringing the work to a new generation); long before his weekly syndicated show Loafer's Glory- Hobo Jungle of the Mind lost its National Public Radio slot; long before all of this, Bruce Phillips, a Unitarian from Utah and card-carrying Wobbly whose name can be mentioned in the same breath as Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill, Jack Elliot and, of course, Pete Seeger, took a dip in the American political pool.

"See, in 1968, I ran for the U.S. Senate in Utah as a peace candidate and as a veteran who had put my time in over in Korea," Phillips continued. "At that time I was working for the State of Utah as a mole down in the basement of the state archives. When the campaign was over and we took 6,000 votes as a peace candidate during the Vietnam war, my job vanished at the state (level) and, in fact, I found I couldn't get work in the state anywhere. Someone had always called ahead. It was a blacklist and a friend suggested that I leave and try to make a living telling stories and singing songs-which, in Utah at the time, seemed absurd or illegal."

With $75 dollars in his pocket, Utah headed east in an old German VW bus he called "Hitler's Revenge" that November, "crossing the belly of the continent toward an uncertain future and that's when I discovered the folk music community; the whole folk music world. I discovered Pete. I discovered Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, where so many singers started out with Lena Spencer.

"Pete doesn't agree but I've told him a number of times 'Pete, you invented this trade here.' While I know that all over the South and Southwest there were cowboy singers or people who had been cowboys who were traveling and singing there with the radio folks, the Carter family and all of the traditional people. But, for people from a different walk of life, who simply learned the music because they loved it and then set out to travel around the country to perform it for people who also loved the music, as a kind of missionary activity- sort of our 'People's Music'- Pete invented that- the whole idea that it could be an honorable, productive and useful profession.

"Just working, sleeping on couches and floors, building to better halls and larger audiences over the years and living right close to the ground," Utah said, "I learned from this folk music family that I don't need wealth and I don't need fame or power. What I need is friends and that's what I found and that's what's coming through for us in our time of need."

Sarah Underhill, a Banshanachie (woman storyteller and song collector), who will perform on Sunday, met Utah after she had come from the West Coast in the late '70s to sail the Hudson on the Clearwater sloop and wound up staying. She vividly recalls a Clearwater journey in Long Island Sound with Phillips to protest the building of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant at Portsmouth, New Hampshire and welcomes the opportunity for the community to raise awareness about the nation's health care situation and celebrate Utah's music and work as a devoted activist.

"He's an incredible humorist who wrote a lot of songs about hopping trains and being out on the great western plains that wound up being sung by the Clearwater crew even though we were usually singing our sea shanties and nautical stuff," said Underhill. "Now that some of us have settled in the Hudson Valley, we still sing his songs when we get together."

"We sailed from Beacon on the Clearwater, down the Hudson, around and out on the ocean," Phillips recalled of the mission Underhill mentions. "The Clearwater had never been out on the ocean and we sailed the coast of New England, around Cape Cod to Seabrook to a big anti-nuclear rally. I crewed on that and Peter Wilcox was the captain then. He wanted to take the sloop into the harbor under sail and radioed ahead to have the drawbridge over the harbor's entrance raised. So, here we were, under full sail, bearing down on a bridge that was rising rather slowly and he realized we were not going to make it, so he threw the anchor overboard to slow the sloop down. It caught, then broke but it did slow the vessel down. Captain Peter and the rest of the crew were diving for that anchor while I was on stage singing."

Singer-songwriter Norm Wennet was involved with the Cornell Folksong Society in Ithaca when he floored by the song "Daddy, What's A Train" when Utah came in for a concert over 3 decades ago and met him at festivals in the Northeast afterward, forming a friendship.

John Pietaro, core of The Flames of Discontent with his bass wizard wife Laurie Towers, is also a Wobbly, or member of the historic IWW- Industrial Workers of the World union, and feels Utah is perhaps its best known living member.

"I've been a labor and protest singer quite a few years. IWW has long been a 'singing union'," said Pietaro, an arts columnist for New England's progressive Z Magazine whose group has an album titled I Dreamed I Heard Joe Hill Last Night...A Century of IWW Songs featuring workers' standards redressed in modern rhythms. "It was a group of people that came together and said 'We can allow women, we can allow blacks, immigrants and unskilled workers and we want the same union here as for people in Germany, South America, anywhere.' And, in order to really cross that barrier, they sang. Joe Hill said 'One song speaks louder than a thousand pamphlets' and Utah Phillips is rooted in that tradition. He carries the torch of Joe Hill."

Pietaro, who runs an annual "Philfest" at The Colony in December on Rock City Road to celebrate the songs of Phil Ochs and a Woody Guthrie Tribute there in July, specializes in topical and protest message songs.

"It's ironic that I work for a health care workers' union and much of what I've been doing as part of my own job is fighting for universal health care," he said. "Now, here is this great man who wrote classics like 'All Used Up' who can't afford his treatment and there are millions less visible than him suffering as the Bush administration pushes away at Mediaid."

Dar Williams first met Utah when she opened some shows for him 15 years ago. Their friendship developed further at festivals and concerts through the years like a large fundraiser for the famous free speech radio station KPFA in Berkeley as they underwent their management shake-up in 1999 with Joan Baez, Spearhead and other artists sharing the bill.

"I'm a big fan of Utah and there are things he didn't do in general and specific ways in his career that helped him keep things on a human scale," said Williams of a man who scorned the "parasites, and money grubbers who own the music machine" in his assessments of the music industry. "His motto was 'Make a living, not a killing' and, in order to navigate the whole medical scene, it's almost as if you need to have made a killing. If you stick to the human scale, you look to your friends and we're his friends and he always gave generously of himself and passed on things where he really could have climbed another kind of ladder. I certainly don't do as much as he did but I try to do a lot of fundraisers and I'm in line with that sense of responsibility because of people like Utah, and specifically Utah."

Because of his heart condition, Utah has attempted retirement a couple of times in the past few years. In October, last year, the inevitable could no longer be put off.

"My heart is enlarged and very weak," Utah said. "I was sent down to California-Pacific Hospital, the best cardiac unit in the country, for a heart transplant. This was at the beginning of Feburary (2008), and it was determined by a group of experts there, and myself, too, that I would not survive a transplant... So, the alternative was to keep me there for the whole month of February, run a variety of medicines through my heart-electrolytes, coreg and so on, to see what I would tolerate, eventually to get it right and send me home with the alternative to a transplant- which is continuous home medication.

"I'm getting used to carrying this shoulder bag around with my life support in it and people around me have to get used to it, too, but I'm doing okay...It has a bag of medicine in it, which shows up here on dry ice every other day in several packages, and an electronic pump which all sit pretty nicely in this small shoulder bag. There's a tube that comes out of the bottom and goes up to a permanent IV implant in my chest and that catheter ablation goes directly to my heart to pump a continuous supply of that medication 24 hours a day to keep my heart beating more regularly, help my breathing and send the right signals to my kidneys not to eliminate all that fluid- which was a big problem with me.

"So, that'll be for the rest of my life that I'll be carrying this around, besides taking a lot of oral medications nine times during the day," he summed up. "So, I guess I really have left the trade- which I regret enormously"

Then Utah reached the part which in his estimation made me "darn tootin'"..."I think there's a lot of people out there who assume the reason we're up against it here is because of the tremendous high cost of medical care and that's why there's a benefit happening with Pete and Dar Williams and some other good friends in your part of the country.

"I'm 73 years old. I'm on Medicare...The month in the hospital, the pump, the oxygen machine I sleep with that makes oxygen out of the air and rumbles every night in my bedroom, my pacemaker-defibulater on the other side of my chest- I'm a cyborg now, all of that was covered by medicare...Medicare is something that, during the 1930s, enormous numbers of American working people, who were all up against it, developed so much pressure from the bottom that it forced the government to create it. It's something that American workers got together and created for ourselves- to take care of each other. That's why there's never been any problem being in the medicare system.

"And, besides other good things like minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workman's compensation; things that are unheard of any place else in the world, the people here got those things but medical social security is the centerpiece of all of that...What I'm saying is socialized medicine works. Anybody who's got an argument with that, send 'em to me and I'll tell 'em. It works. Here I am, okay? I should be dead but I'm not and I'm getting excellent care. As much as an anarchist as *I am, I realize that it's through the help of my fellow workers all over the country through the tears that has enabled this to happen...It does work. There shouldn't be any argument there. The object is to lower the age requirement to zero. And stop fighting these dumb wars. And stop the money pump that's pumping waelth from the bottom to the top at a furious rate, impoverishing the working class. Reverse that, get that money back and put it to work, giving everybody exactly what I've been able to enjoy through medicare."

Utah also wanted to clarify his current circumstance: "The reason these benefits are happening throughout the country is that I had to leave the trade. I can no longer be on stage. I left, after about 40 years, fairly close to the high end and I'm not talking about 'the industry.' I always worked at a 'sub-industrial' level. I was a journeyman at my trade, working close to the street- small clubs, small concert halls; making a living-not a 'killing,' which is all I ever wanted... I was doing fairly well and, when I finally decided I couldn't do this anymore, our income went from a reasonably good one to zero. So, that's what stranded us here.

"My medicines are covered. We own the house we live in, thank God, or we couldn't afford to live here. But we've got property taxes. We've got to heat the place. We've got to keep the lights on and keep ourselves fed... My wife, Joanna, and I are giving ourselves a year to get on our feet- to decide how we're going to make a living from here on and the good people in the folk music world- it's a family, behaves like a family- are coming together and helping float us over this year until we get on our feet."

There is scarcely anything more that needs to be said about Pete Seeger, who turns 89 next month, than here is an opportunity to see him perform in person. Rosendale Cafe proprietor Mark Morganstern, who originally organized the event for his cafe and acquired use of the community center due to public response, advises that there will be no advanced sales or reservations.

Utah said he would try to arrange a live phone hook-up to speak to the audience directly and, if you've got some Utah Phillips CDs you've been meaning to get, now would be a great time to do it. Go to or

-Gary Alexander



Its easy for us all to use humor as a means of dealing with the realities of George Bush. He's a terrific embarressment and people living in other countries cannot imagine how this man became leader of anything. He's a humiliation to anyone of conscience, so we often chuckle around his stupidity. But if you lay all of his so-called accomplishments out, resume-fashion, there's a lot to just be furious about. Here's something that was sent to me and should become a staple of internet political commentaries. I felt the need to add a couple of entries to this one...

Enjoy, er---Seethe,
John Pietaro


1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20520


Law Enforcement:
I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for driving under the influence of alcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record has been "lost" and is not available.

I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL.
I refused to take a drug test or answer any questions about my drug use.
By joining the Texas Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam.

I graduated from Yale University with a low C average. I was a cheerleader.

I ran for U.S. Congress and lost.
I began my career in the oil business in Midland,Texas in 1975. I bought an
oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas. The company went bankrupt
shortly after I sold all my stock.

I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land
using taxpayer money.

With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry (including
Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.


I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making Texas the most polluted state in the Union. During my tenure, Houston replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America.

I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in
borrowed money.

I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American

With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida, and my father's appointments to the Supreme Court, I became President of the United States, after
losing by over 500,000 votes.


I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.

I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one billion dollars per week.

I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S. Treasury.

I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.

I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month

I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of the U.S.
stock market. In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their
jobs and that trend continues.

I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleezza Rice, has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

I worked hard to stay in good favor with corporations by appointing an anti-labor secretary, Elaine Chao, to head up the Dept of Labor. Together we hand-picked an NLRB that would refuse to hear cases unions brought forward and we also were sure to make airport security "union-free" when we reconstructed that department. In all of my years in office, I am proud to note that the few times I vetoed a bill the proposed bills were pro-worker. I also made sure that construction workers in post-Katrina New Orleans were not paid at the prevailing wage.

I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President.

I am the all- time U. S. and world record - holder for receiving the most
corporate campaign donations.

My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends, Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in US. history,

My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure
my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.

I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation
or prosecution. More time and money was spent investigating the Monica
Lewinsky affair than has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate
rip-offs in history. I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.

I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S.history.

I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded
government contracts.

I appointed more convicted criminals to my administration than any President
in US. history.

I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the
history of the United States Government.

I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history. What Kyoto Treaty? Oh and speaking of that, I was sure to appoint Gale Norton to be sure to keep US-based corporations from worrying about pollution laws at home.

I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law.

I refused to allow inspector's access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees
and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election
inspectors (during the 2002 US election).

I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President
since the advent of television.

I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period.
After taking off the entire month of August, I presided over the worst
security failure in U.S. history.

I garnered the most sympathy ever for the U.S. after the World Trade Center
attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in
the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for protests against any person in the history of mankind.

I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. Citizens and the world community.

I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty
benefits for active duty troops and their families in wartime.

In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking
Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends.

I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%)
view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.

I am supporting development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD.

I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice.


All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's library, sealed and unavailable for public view.

All records of SEC investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt
companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.

All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended
regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for
public review. I specified that my sealed documents will not be available for 50

"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the
country who determine the policy, and it's always a
simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist
dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the
pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger."

-- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials


I am writing this shortly after my return home after a 10-day stay in Cleveland, Ohio, on the campaign trail. I am an organizer with a militant healthcare workers union on the east coast and was part of the activist army deployed to various cities on behalf of Barack Obama. Over 700 of us were on hand in Ohio and Texas,
courtesy of our international, and though Barack lost both states to Hillary Clinton, the forces came away stronger.

I arrived in Cleveland a week prior to the primary and hit the streets for our GOTV effort immediately. Cleveland is very cold in winter, but during our stay there was unexpected snow which piled up to about two feet in most places. We were wet, cold and tired. On primary day there was also endless freezing rain to contend with. But each time we rang a door bell and received a positive, excited response as we discussed Sen. Obama, we were revitalized. Foolishly, I thought my heavy work shoes would be adequate and I ended up with frigid, soaked socks during much of the canvassing. My coat quickly became stained with salt and my wool cap was frosted over, the campaign button afixed to the front glistening. Yet, the warmth of solidarity was truly in the air. Our staging area was the hall of SEIU Local 3, a great group of Ohio building service workers. We came to see that these are some terrific folks who greeted us as sisters and brothers.

A few days prior to the election, we were all called to a rally sponsored by the
Change to Win federation. Present were 1199 SEIU-United Healthcare Workers East, 1199 SEIU South, Local 32 B-J, Unite-Here, United Food and Commercial Workers, more than one Teamsters local, and others. The room was brimming with excitement as the rally kicked off with several members' intense chanting, leading the crowded room in hearty, throaty call-and-response. It spoke volumes of the masive united effort to bring Barack to the general election.

During the canvassing, which was our full-time job for the week (but necessarily encompassing much, much more than 40 hours), we looked into the eyes of Cleveland's
working class, poor and diminishing middle class. Many houses were standing vacant, boarded up as foreclosures swallowed up families. Most told us that they were big fans of Obama and very excited to have him in the race. Sure, we also came across
some folks, both African-American and white, who were rooting for Hillary, but all also agreed that this is the first time in many years that we've had excellent candidates in the running.

But the MOVEMENT around Obama is still more unique....and it's amazing to be a part of it all.

In Solidarity,

John Pietaro, Beacon NY


A Note To All of Our Friends and Comrades...

As of this writing, the Flames will be having to offer a much slimmer schedule than in the past. Usually we pick up on a busy performance calendar once the snow begins to clear, but this year things will be less involved than in the past. Recently, John began a new job with 1199 SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, as a Community Organizer. As he's a part of the Union's Political Action Department, things are heating up already and he's being deployed to hot spots in the Democratic primary race. So while the Flames will continue to host the May Day event in New Paltz, the Woody Guthrie birthday concert this July in Woodstock, the Beacon-based Dissident Folk & Arts Festival in October and the December 'Woodstock Phil Fest', there otherwise-schedule will be lean. We need to cancel our March 1 gig in Kingston as a result of a deployment to Texas (hopefully its not to Crawford!); jury is still out on Nov 7 gig in Woodstock. Duty calls!

POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL: 'Upstate Writers Strike Support Rally Draws a Big Crowd" - January 29, 2008

At least 100 union members turned out to support striking screenwriters at a rally held in the historic Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie on Friday.

The crowd included more than 50 Hudson Valley-based members of teachers’ union NYSUT as well as union sheet metal workers, commuter railway workers, communications technicians, stagehands, musicians, Actors Equity members and local Writers Guild members.

Bardavon director Chris Silva welcomed the group warmly, stressing the theater’s long history of supporting writers, from Mark Twain to Bob Dylan.

Musicians’ union member and labor organizer John Pietaro kicked off the rally with a Pete Seeger-ish banjo and rousing chorus of "Solidarity Forever."

Hudson Valley Area Labor Fed. AFL-CIO organizer Jen Fuentes addressed the assembled crowd, saying, "The issues at stake and the stand the writers are making are important, because in the labor movement, we are never afraid of a David and Goliath battle ... We will stand behind them 100 percent."

Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner presented the strike issues succinctly and with humor, noting "the guy who manufactures the plastic box for the DVD earns more per copy than the guy whose head the movie came out of."

The entire crowd moved onto the street outside the theatre, holding up signs, greeting patrons as they entered for a sold-out screening of "The Blues Brothers," and handing out Writers Guild informational flyers. Spirits were high in spite of temperatures in the low teens, and as audience members streamed into the theatre, several cars slowed down to honk in a show of support.

THE PASSING OF RON OSENENKO--Woodstock Music Shop - January 3, 2008

By John W. Barry
Poughkeepsie Journal

A light snow fell on Rock City Road in Woodstock, just a short walk from the village green where the band Rusted Root gave a free concert in August 2002, on a day off from dates with Carlos Santana.

Over at Levon Helm's barn Sunday night, the former drummer for The Band, Grammy nominee and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member was taking a night off after holding one of his Ramble house concerts the night before. But as he rested up for a sold-out New Year's Eve Ramble, many of the musicians who play in his band were giving a concert of their own.

One of the most famous little towns anywhere, Woodstock owes a lot of its notoriety to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair. For many, the name Woodstock conjures images of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Bob Dylan, who did not perform at Woodstock the concert, lived for many years in Woodstock the town.

Woodstock may have secured its place in history for the coming centuries, but this past Sunday night did not belong to Jimi or Janis or Bob. For more than four hours at the Colony Cafe, friends and musicians remembered with fondness the guy who ran the Woodstock Music Shop at 18 Rock City Road.

Died Dec. 26

Ron Osenenko, 58, co-owner of the music shop, died suddenly the day after Christmas. He was a former South Florida resident who worked in marketing for 25 years.

At the Colony Cafe Sunday, songs were sung, hugs were shared and laughter lingered.

"The loss of him leaves an emptiness in this community and in my heart, which will never be filled," singer-songwriter Tom Pacheco said from the stage.

Inside the Colony Cafe, two doors down from the music store, dozens of Christmas lights had been strung and a warm fire blazed. The mood was somber, but the memories were happy.

Osenenko was a man credited with inspiring a sense of community, serving musicians well and offering solid service.

"It's hard to describe the Woodstock Music Shop without sounding clichéd - unique, personal, different,

intimate, special ... all of that," said keyboard player Pete Levin, who has performed with Annie Lennox, Paul Simon and Gil Evans. "But the best part was walking in and getting a big smile and hello from Ron Osenenko from behind the counter. A good-natured gentleman and profoundly generous, Ron was wonderfully supportive of local musicians and the Woodstock music scene."

In between songs Sunday night, some of the songwriters who make up the backbone of this Catskill Mountain town spoke of Osenenko in terms of guitar picks and microphone stands, the little things that mean so much to musicians, who live for their craft.

There were also memories of a friend, someone with whom you could share a pleasant conversation, someone who was much more than just a local merchant.

"Ron was a gentle soul and he just always made you feel good," said Charles Lyonhart of Woodstock. "Ron was a special person."

Of Osenenko's business flair, Lyonhart said, "It wasn't a rush job."

Backed by guitar and bass Sunday night, Lyonhart played a spirited set of songs. Also hitting their musical mark Sunday night was The Flames of Discontent, a Beacon-based duo. Guitarist and vocalist John Pietaro had high praise for Osenenko, who sold CDs by The Flames of Discontent, advertised their shows and let them stage a protest music workshop in the store over the summer.

"Ron Osenenko was a shop-keep that seemed out of place in our plastic, sound bite-driven era," Pietaro said. "But then, Woodstock is often like that. Ron harkened back to a time when a merchant was really a member of the family and a music store a haven for musicians and aspiring musicians alike. When The Flames of Discontent first made the pilgrimage to Woodstock, we knew we needed to go into that store, which seemed like it should always have been there. That warm gentleman behind the counter greeted us - and all who ventured inside - like an old friend. So we kept going back."

Richard Prans of Woodstock, who also performed, said, "I felt good when I was talking to him."

"I'll miss him," Prans continued. "I'll miss him."

Vocalist Amy Helm, a member of the band Ollabelle, whose father is Levon Helm, spoke warmly of Osenenko at Saturday's Ramble. Helm and her husband, horn player Jay Collins, subsequently sent an e-mail to the Journal, detailing their thoughts on Osenenko.

"We remember Ron for his gentle soul and his kindness," the couple said. "He was a shining example of generosity and service to his community. He will be warmly remembered for helping every musician who crossed his path."

During a conversation Wednesday, Ron's brother, Woodstock Music Shop co-owner Derek Osenenko, said his brother "poured heart and grit into this shop." Ron Osenenko ran the shop.

"He was really honored to work with so many fine musicians up here," Derek Osenenko said, "and he really approached his work sort of as a duty to help support musicians in this area as best he could."

IWW Phil Ochs Remembered - December 1, 2007

IWW Phil Ochs Remembered
By John Pietaro

Though the right-wing would remain happy if we forgot about Phil Ochs, history will demonstrate that he was one of our nation’s most profound voices of protest, active in the fertile period of the 1960s to mid-seventies. For an artist of conscience, there was much work to do, so his songs called for peace and an egalitarian society. His songs damned the establishments that begat the murder of Medgar Evers and allowed organized labor to forget its true mission. He cried for our nation and praised its promise.

Ochs’ songs unashamedly revealed our faults but also offered the means to rectify them. His music was a brash call to those he’d encountered while performing at rallies, for Phil was a presence at such radical actions, not merely a voice on a recording. Always a labor activist—Ochs was a member of the IWW—he traveled to Hazzard, Kentucky during a period of bloody strikes in the earliest 60s, boldly performing for the pickets and in ear-shot of threatening goon squads. Several songs document these human struggles, including the hauntingly beautiful “No Christmas in Kentucky”. Shortly thereafter, Phil became entrenched in the Civil Rights-era Freedom Rides, traveling to many points on the Klan’s radar, but living to tell the tale. His periods in the Deep South are chronicled in songs such as “Freedom Riders” and the brutally blunt “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” .

Ochs sang his protest and commentary-- some of the most important music of his period or any period. On “Crucifixion” he emoted about the loss of John Kennedy, but wasn’t he also singing about the loss of innocence, perhaps conscience itself? And “One More Parade”, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” and “The War is Over” gave us anthems that would carry the peace movement. “The Power and the Glory” spoke of his pride in our nation’s mission and greatness—even as the FBI began an investigation of him that would span a decade and fill 410 pages. “Cops of the World” spit back into the faces of the reactionary government.

Though bedeviled by the pain that comes with clinical depression and bi-polar disorder, Ochs maintained his principles and activism. He was a major part of the protest surrounding the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago, performing his best topical material right in Lincoln Park. Ochs stated that he spiritually died in Chicago, as the police riot rained blows upon democracy. Later, he would also befriend the great Chilean songwriter Victor Jara. Shortly thereafter, the CIA-backed coupe would take the lives of Jara and thousands of others; this was a terminal assault to the faltering Ochs. By 1976 Phil Ochs would die by his own hand.

The protest song’s grandest voice dared to speak back to the criminals in US government. He alerted his audiences to corruption and brutality. He dared us to care, at the expense of himself. And now, in view of the December 19 anniversary of his birth and over thirty years since his passing, the silence has become deafening. So let’s make some noise about it…



WOODY GUTHRIE: 95 Years Later, His Machine Still Kills Fascists
by John Pietaro

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born on July 14, 1912. This month, he would have celebrated his 95th birthday. Had he not been silenced decades ago through the trials of Huntington’s disease, one cannot imagine that he would not still be composing ballads about struggle and social justice. The Bush Administration could have given him a whole new repertoire…

"I have decided long ago that my songs and ballads would not get
the hugs and kisses of the capitalistic experts"
-Woody Guthrie

The hot and dry plains of Okemah, Oklahoma bared witness to the birth of Woody Guthrie. The area’s spacious straights and windy hills shaped his formative years, that which was spent in the company of the high-lonesome sounds of rural white America, the church and blues music of African-American culture, and the customs, dialects and plight of Native Americans. With the introduction of basic guitar, harmonica and mandolin skills, Guthrie dealt with the pains and poverty of his young, tragic life through music. The sad ballads his mother taught him before she succumbed to the awful symptoms of Huntington’s Corea (as it was then known), as well as old-time songs, fiddle tunes, blues, and popular song quickly enveloped Woody’s budding repertory. But it would not be long before he began composing new words to traditional music, words that reflected his immediate surroundings and the formidable struggle of working people. In this regard, Woody stands as our prototypical protest singer.

In the 1930s, Woody Guthrie was among the many who climbed out of the western states’ disastrous Dustbowl; he brought with him original songs that catalogued the sights and emotions of his time: “So Long, Its Been Good to Know You”, “I’m Blowin’ Down This Old Dusty Road”, “Talking Dust Bowl Blues”, "Vigilante Man" among many more. Landing in California, Woody soon learned that it was no land of milk and honey, and that te plight of his fellow migrants was nothing if not horrific. However, instead of toiling in fruit orchards, he quickly became a radio performer, offering his old-timey and topical music to the southerners who’d moved up the west coast. While the station manager tried desperately to hold Woody to the country standards, somewhere in the mix was an original called “Mr. Tom Mooney is Free”. This 1939 composition told of the recently pardoned labor activist, a cause celebre in Left circles, who’d been wrongly imprisoned for 22 years.

Through Left journalist Ed Robbin, who’s own radio program aired just after Woody’s, Guthrie was invited to a Communist Party dinner to welcome Mooney home. Back-woods, lanky and unkempt, Woody stood out in sharp contrast to most Party cultural workers--at that time, largely academic poets or Modern classical composers. Yet almost immediately Woody walked into the role of “a Communist Joe Hill”, that which had been called for by Daily Worker columnist Mike Gold months prior.

Actor/activist Will Geer, also based in Los Angeles at the time, saw Woody’s potential and the two began working in tandem at events for the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and other Left-wing labor organizations. Several months later, Geer was on Broadway starring in “Tobacco Road” and alerted Woody to the opportunities in New York for progressive artists. During the winter that bridged ’39 to ’40, Woody made his way across country via train, bus, hitchhiking, even by foot when necessary. It was all of the inspiration needed to write the first sketch of “This Land is Your Land”, then called “God Blessed America for Me”, an acerbic response to the Irving Berlin-penned number one hit, “God Bless America”. In a bold statement toward socialism, Guthrie wrote this verse, lost for many Cold War years:

"Was a big, high wall there/that tried to stop me/a sign atop it said/'Private Property'/But on the other side/it didn't say nothing/That side was made for you and me"

Several years later, Woody would comment, “Singing and working and fighting are so close you can’t hardly tell where one quits and the other begins”. Woody’s career as a musician was based on the larger needs of our society, even when his own family had to pay the terrible price of his ‘rambling’. Living on various coasts, performing for union meetings or in honor of progressive political candidates, offering songs about the poor in Manhattan and then the construction of Grand Coulee Dam in the northwest, singing for those wandering out of the south or rallying against Hitler or ceasing homegrown racism, Woody laid down the foundation for the generation to come. He stated, “I learned all I could from the speeches of William Z. Foster, Mother Bloor, Gurley Flynn, Blackie Myers. I heard them all and played my songs on their platforms”.

By 1940, Woody had joined forces with Pete Seeger in the Almanac Singers, an ensemble dedicated to writing and performing a music of the people. This was the original urban folk/protest band, founded by Seeger (whose father had been a cornerstone of New York radical music circles as well as a force in the WPA Arts Project), bass singer Lee Hays (a graduate of the Highlander Folk School) and singer/songwriter Millard Lampell (who would go onto become an important author and playwright). Quickly, others would join in including Guthrie and the powerhouse musician/organizer Sis Cunningham. Woody toured with them, performing for striking workers all over the coutry and aiding greatly in the CIO's drive to organize industrial unions without segregation.

As per Sis Cunningham's recollection from some years ago (the authror's interview), the group joined the Communist Party together, gaining membership in a NYC cultural branch which engaged in the fight for labor, racial equality and peace. However, following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the Japanese assault of Pearl Harbor, Woody’s guitar became adorned with the hand-painted epitaph, THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS, a slogan which held great metaphoric power. In the face of World War Two, the group separated as most members were drafted or anxiously enlisted. The fight against fascism took on massive proporations, especially for those on the Left. Woody joined the Merchant Marine, offering two tours of duty, and then was briefly drafted into the Army as well.

Following military service, during which time he also struggled against Uncle Sam’s imposed segregation of the troops, he returned to cultural work. He performed in a mixed group called the Headline Singers, which included Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGee and others. He also made a series of records for Folkways which became legendary, including the brilliant concept albums, “Songs for Sacco and Vanzetti” and “Struggle”. Guthrie also became a columnist for the Daily Worker and created several tomes of songs, articles, sketches and visions in his ‘down-time’. These post-war years found Guthrie relatively stable and living in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn with his wife Marjorie Maza (a Martha Graham dancer) and their children, Arlo, Nora and Joadie (named, of course, for Tom Joad). Sadly, it would not be long before the illness would affect his mind—and then his body. By the mid-1950s, Huntington’s disease would slowly and painfully steal his ability to make music. With bedside visits by the likes of Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan slowly turngin into vigils, he died in 1967. But forty years hence, Guthrie’s legacy remains unshakeable...

"Revenge of the Atom Spies" reviewed in the Daily Freeman - April 28, 2007

Please check out a wonderful review of our new CD in the Kingston NY-based Daily Freeman newspaper. The review was written by David Malachowski----whom we will be forever grateful to! Check it out in our "Press" section of this site!

CD Review: FREEDOM ROAD, John Mellencamp - April 1, 2007

Music Review by John Pietaro
CD: John Mellencamp, Freedom’s Road
2007 Universal Music Group

Singer-songwriter John Mellencamp has long since grown out of his 1980s ‘John Cougar’ persona, yet the 55 year-old’s latest release expresses a new maturity. With “Freedom’s Road” he offers a realistic view of the United States in these times, through the metaphor of the all-American road-trip. And he takes the listener along for the ride. Hard to say exactly how the heartland will respond, but suffice to say that this album works on many levels, from social protest to flag-waver.

Yes, this album is filled with Americanisms—Country & Western-tinged radio-ready anthems (complete with the occasional fiddle and female choir) that intermingle with classic rock trappings. A strong and solid rhythm section lays down the foundation for crisp guitar leads whirling Hammond organ and gritty vocals. But the star-spangled road is one which careens along lost, dusty highways that travel through forgotten places.

The Midwest of Mellencamp’s youth—or rather the idealized Midwest of his youth—has been replaced with a hard reality. Even the CD packaging speaks volumes: though adorned with wonderfully cliché photos that wreak of “brotherhood week”, good times and road travel, the sepia stain belies the tail-gait party. Closer inspection reveals what’s hidden beneath the family values…a burning cross here, a hanging tree there, a snarling police dog and a few other choice relics of the pre-Civil Rights years in small town America.

Musically, Mellencamp is probably not treading new ground here, still it’s good to know that he’s never at a loss for pop sensibility. This is a damned listenable album. It is accessible to all, even if they had to be led in through the airing of “Our Country” on a commercial before it was heard on radio (ah, John, the irony is not lost that this bitter drive through Americana was paved with a Chevy ad). No matter; once you’re in the passenger seat, you’ll listen. And I guess that’s the whole point. In recent interviews, Mellencamp stated that, but for the constant airing of his song as a jingle, his new album may have been dead on the charts upon release. Sad, but probably very much the case.
“Our Country” is far from a pedestrian number. The songwriter masterfully grafted a topical song onto a prideful Country tune which calls for bigotry to be replaced with equality, and for science to stand alongside religion. Much like a Thomas Hart Benton painting in a WPA gallery, this song speaks of a people’s USA in gritty but positive terms. Further, Mellencamp seemingly crowned the album’s title as a result of the final verse in Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is Your Land”, which includes the line, “Nobody living can ever stop me as I go riding down freedom’s highway…”.

Mellencamp puts more than a bit of old-style populism into his music, like the founders of the folk revival. It all speaks of—and to—you and I. And what could be more American than dissent? (try telling that to a Republican back home). This emotion extends into the CD’s opening number, “Someday”, a call-and-response major-minor introduction to this journey through the back roads of the US. Its positive yet urgent message is compelling; almost a “How long? Not long” wrapped in formulaic Country-rock. With ease, it pulls the listener in.

Mellencamp pulls no punches, and expresses no patience, in cuts such as “Ghost Towns Along the Highway” (small town runes) and “Rural Route” (harsh dysfunctions and abuses masked by country secrets). And he demonstrates marked irony in “The Americans”, which expounds over-the-top American virtue.

Mellencamp has explained that this lyric does not indicate the reality of human relations in the Midwest and south, but what needs to occur there. Acceptance, inclusiveness and equality are still a far-off goal for many, he explained, but the song offers no visible sign of the composer winking into his microphone. Listeners will take this at whichever level they choose to, or are ready to.

This album’s other points of immediate interest include the title song (which declares that “Freedom’s Road must be under construction”) and the powerfully significant “Jim Crow”, a duet with folk legend Joan Baez, so much a part of the Civil Rights era. Here’s a daring piece which reflects upon today’s racism, disguised as it may be beneath acceptable smiles. How easy it is for many of us to rest on the laurels of the past forty years, ignoring the various hatreds in our midst.

And that’s really what this pocket of the American experience in 2007 seems to be about. Yes—we can fight to take it back from the bigots, the corrupt leaders, the manipulators and the reactionaries, but we first need to realize that it’s gone.

Otherwise “Freedom’s Road” is just more background music at a ballgame, barbecue….or a Chevy spot.

New CD "Revenge of the Atom Spies" NOW AVAILABLE - March 11, 2007

"Revenge of the Atom Spies" was given its official release party in Beacon NY on Saturday March 10. The disc is available at all Flames performances as well as through these means...

On the internet, you can purchase it through either the Labor Heritage Foundation or CD Baby (see the "Buy" button on this site). It is also currently available at Woodstock Music Shop (Woodstock NY), Oblong Books & Music (Rhinebeck NY), Alternative Bookstore (Kingston NY) and the Howland Cultural Center (Beacon NY).

The album contains fourteen new cuts, eleven songs and 3 spoken word pieces, plus liner notes by noted historian and writer Paul Buhle. We are extrememly proud of this disc as it documents the struggle against the injustices of the Bush administration largely through the metaphor of the Cold War. Featured selection include "Viva La Quince Brigade", "Sixteen Tons" and the title cut.

"Where is the Phil Ochs of These Dangerous Times? - December 7, 2003

“Where is the Phil Ochs of These Dangerous Times?”
by John Pietaro

We are living in a time of seemingly endless, certainly senseless war. There has been an upsurge of unrest, as we see our streets marked by an increasing number of protests. The cries are for peace, against imperialism, for human rights and civil liberties, against police violence and corporate encroachments, and with regards to our natural environment. A woman’s right to choose is in peril. People are losing faith in government, indeed, the very concept of elections. All this, even as much of the US population is lost within a frightened or dutiful mindset of nationalism.

It wouldn’t be hard to draw parallels with another period, not quite so long ago: the era of the Viet Nam War. Perhaps the primary difference is that our once-bold media seems to now function as just so much public relations for White House policy. Oh, and we also don’t have Phil Ochs anymore.

For those not fortunate enough to recall, Phil Ochs was one of our nation’s most profound folk singers in the period that bridged the Civil Rights, anti-war and feminist movements. His songs called for peace and an equitable society. His songs called for equal rights and celebrated an egalitarian philosophy. His songs damned the establishment that accepted the murder of leaders such as Medgar Evars and allowed organized Labor to abandon its true cause. His songs unashamedly pointed out our faults and tried to demonstrate the means to repair them. His songs were brash calls to the youthful protesters and Ochs was a presence—not only in song, but in person—at such historic events as the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. Some of his music was heard at campuses and rallies as commonly as those of his contemporaries Dylan and Baez; the latter even scored a sizable hit with the Ochs composition “There But For Fortune”. This and other titles remain in the common vocabulary and surely the repertoire of today’s folk singers. So, how is it then, that this vital, powerful, gifted songwriter of sonorous voice and darkly handsome features could be but a fading image to the general society? Phil who??

If pressed one can easily draw the romantic conclusion that Phil Ochs was the Joe Hill of the 1960s. It would be accurate to point out that both were fierce Labor activists; both were members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Though Ochs correctly saw the AFL-CIO of his time as a burgeoning, top-heavy global business (the very thing that real progressives tried hardest to fight), he maintained a strong association with the workers. Frankly, he was unique in this regard, as his New Left contemporaries largely avoided the Old Left staple of singing for unions. Ochs was indeed similar to Hill, the Wobbly bard. Both men died young and by dubious means. Both had lives embroiled by mystery, struggle and wanderlust. Both men knew the power of song. And both men fell victim to the forces of reaction.

Yet, the stronger case could be made that Phil Ochs was more so the Paul Robeson of his generation. In addition to the dedication to Labor and social change, Ochs also shared many aspects of the finality of the latter: Robeson was taken by a choreographed, concerted dissolution of the artist followed by a destruction of the man.

It has been well-documented that Phil Ochs suffered from a crushing depression and also apparent swings of mania. The intensity which propelled him to hold audiences breathless would also become too much to handle when Ochs would find that the mass social change he sought was not to be. Still, he pressed on. From the comfort zone of the New York Greenwich Village folk scene to the national stage, Ochs sang his protests. Albums such as ‘All the News That Fit To Sing’ and ‘I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore’ spoke volumes. Though the songs kept coming, he seemed unmarketable (in this sense he stood firm with Woody Guthrie as well). Somehow the corporate media kept missing—or trying to dismantle—the point. His move to California, following the debacle of Chicago, allowed him more breathing space but little solace. He toyed with us by titling an album of this era ‘Rehearsals for Retirement’, the cover of which offered his own gravestone.

Continually plagued by demons inner and outer, Ochs’ performances often became arguments with the audience, best documented by the concert album ‘Gunfight at Carnegie Hall’ in which he can be heard berating a taunting audience with statements like, “Don’t be like Spiro Agnew”. And through all of the pain, Ochs maintained contact with the issues that mattered most. For a while at least, he was beating the power elite’s offensive. Into the early 1970s he organized large-scale benefit concerts that would serve as the model for the later No Nukes and Live Aid events. He traveled to South America and met with the doomed songwriter-activist Victor Jara. The terrible murder of Jara at the behest of the right-wing dictator Pinochet was an awful blow to the already faltering Ochs. By the mid-seventies, unable to prevail in the battle on every front, he would die by his own hand.

Phil Ochs dared to speak back to the criminal Nixon administration through his music, uncovering and exposing with anger and wry humor. He alerted his audience to police brutality and corruption and the manipulation of “the American dream”. Wisely, he warned us that a protest song was, “something you won’t hear on the radio”. He dared us to care, at the expense of himself. But some of us will never forget.


The Cultural Work Has Just Begun - September 11, 2003

By John Pietaro

The notion of the Cultural Worker, the artist-activist, walking among the ranks of radicals, is an idea that has been well-developed over many years.

During times of strife, revolutionary music, poetry, prose, theater, dance, and visual art seem to develop organically. Each and every movement of a people’s fight for justice has its legacy of art, often outlasting the cultural workers who created it, if not the movement itself. In a perfect world, the radical art form would outlast the need for continued actions in that movement.

So, if people’s movements have always made such great use of its artworks, why then is the cultural worker so often relegated to the role of entertainer, passing point of interest or mere filler?

Even the Industrial Workers of the World, that which came closest to producing a “singing Labor movement,” used their musicians as organizers (or worse, organizing aids), while their speakers stood among the leadership. We may recall Joe Hill as one of the foremost Wobblies, but in his time, Hills role was much smaller than one might assume. While his legend had always loomed large, it was most fueled by the 1940 song, 'Joe Hill', a creation of two cultural workers: composer Earl Robinson and lyricist Alfred Hayes. Once again, it falls on the artists to mark our history.

All too often, it is a great challenge to secure a spot for music and/or cultural work among speakers and dignitaries at many events. Next time you see a performer at a rally, fundraiser or some other event, remember that he or she probably got the call just before the event, arrived early to set up, is responsible for an opening set while guests socialize, will be asked to stay to perform a piece or two midway, and may also be asked to close the evening with yet another. And, of course, he or she will rarely, if ever, be paid.

So why do we keep coming back? Gallantly noble or simply insane, we are here to stay. Our calling is from two irresistible forces – art and the movement. We are the product of art beyond art's sake. So the next time youre planning such an event, why not give extra consideration to the artists who might make that occasion truly memorable?

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