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Essay - Political Songwriting
Author: Eskit
Date: March 2003

The following essay was requested by the Centre for Political Song at Glasgow Caledonian University – Glasgow, Scotland. It is part of their collection, along with his CD When The Chickens Come Home To Roost.

Political Songwriting

Political songwriting has its drawbacks. It promises neither fame, fortune, or bed and breakfast. But it also has its compensations. The chief impediment to presenting the Absolute Truth is an insufficiency of words that rhyme. Otherwise, the world-as-it-should-be is all yours.

A further advantage lies with the people that you meet. No sycophants or groupies, mind you, but a far more interesting assortment than would be available to a propagator of fluffy love songs. Through my art, I have encountered radical businessmen, poetic laborers, theatrical lesbians, and an older gentleman by the name of John Olday. Herr Olday was a German anarchist who specialized in cartoons and anti-Establishment performance art. (His unconventional life story can be found at www.takver.com/history/meetings/olday.htm.) Together we started the Black Flag Anarchist Cabaret in London.

This cabaret was based on the political cabarets that John Olday frequented in Hamburg in the early 1930’s. He had been both witness and performer, until the Hitler regime totally silenced all dissent. Our own cabaret included skits, history lessons, homosexual innuendo, and of course songs that disrespected the wars and depredations of Empire. John’s egalitarian impulses demanded that everyone in the group be included - a principle that discouraged quality control, and perhaps prevented the cabaret from being the popular sensation that it might otherwise have been. [NOTE: Anarchists do not take kindly to artistic direction.] Even so, the cabaret managed to attract a like-minded assortment of activists, including Spanish Anarchists in exile from the dictator Francisco Franco. Perhaps the greatest impact was on my own education, hearing the stories of those who had experienced firsthand the abuse of Power.

Before returning to my homeland (the United States), I put together a benefit for Amnesty International. Based on a theme of "Prisoners Of Conscience", it combined an art exhibit with a dramatic presentation of music, poetry, and film. The British Government supplied visual materials attesting to the fine treatment of its Irish political prisoners. To add balance, a former prisoner of the Crown described in chilling detail the sensory deprivation that had been part and parcel of his internment. A BBC producer directed the participants, many of whom were professional singers, actors, and assorted artists. Joan Jara - widow of Chilean folksinger Victor Jara, who was murdered by the Pinochet government - addressed the crowd. I contributed two songs - one about the coup in Chile, and one based on a poem by a refugee from the Communist dictatorship in Bulgaria. (It was titled "Tri Godini: Three Years". It was written three years after the refugee’s escape from prison and exile from his family. Best I remember it began …. "Three years, Mother, three years today", and ended something like ….. "And Mother, when I open the door and see you all standing before me, I will embrace you first".)

Back in the States, I came to the conclusion that political entertainment which leaned on analysis and ideological instruction was not prompting the masses to call for more. Neither did it cause the Establishment to quake in their Gucci boots. With my abilities lying outside the arena of commercialism, I found that I provoked interest only with humor. So after a sequence of artistic differences with radio station WBUR and the Boston Park Board - I hate to be the one to say it, but they were not easily amused - I transmuted into the Reverend Hosea Hickey (pastor of First Church of the Vengeance) and ran for President of the United States. Unfortunately, I got less than 50% of the vote. At least I had a campaign song: "We want a Hickey in the White House - it’s the right house for him (put him in, put him in, put him in) ….. He’s quick. He ….. don’t miss a trick. He …. ’s Hosea Hickey for President".

That was back in 1976. I had, until recently, abandoned the notion of public performance. Yet the times seem to demand that all good citizens protest their impending demise as loudly as possible. I have therefore returned to the inner sanctum of musicology, and strive to be part of the effort to dissuade madness from consuming the world.