Posts Tagged ‘Tom Lehrer’

Flanders and Swan on Pretencious Smut

June 18, 2016

Okay, I put up a piece a few minutes, which used Tom Lehrer’s satirical song ‘Smut’ to attack the moral panic about pornography on the Net. I share the same fears as the people worried about the exposure of children to porn and other unsuitable material. However, I’m also afraid that these perfectly natural, perfectly decent fears are being used to justify a broader campaign of censoring anything of which the Right disapproves, even if it has little or nothing to do with the sex.

The other side of this issue, is that a lot of intellectual and cultural pseuds have promoted some real rubbish as being high art or great literature, when it’s just basically filth. This pretty much describes, in my opinion, nearly everything ever produced by Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin and many of the rest of the Young British Artists, as promoted by the Turner Prize and Nicholas Serota. The best comment on this came a generation ago with Flanders and Swan and their song, ‘Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers’, commenting on the risqué literature coming out of the pens and typewriters of Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsburg and the Beat poets, and the rest of the artistic avant garde at that time. Here it is:

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Tom Lehrer and the Tories’ Political Use of Smut

June 18, 2016

Also in the news this week was a report in the I that about half of all children in Britain had seen porn on the internet. There was justifiable outrage that pornography should be so available to minors, and deep concern about the skewed ideas about sex, relationships and misogynistic attitudes towards women that could result. All this is entirely right, and I do share these concerns. What also concerns me is the cynical political use the Conservatives have made of decent people’s perfectly natural fears. Remember a few years ago when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition pushed through an act, which basically defined offensive materials in such a broad way, that it gave them carte blanche to ban and censor just about anything they didn’t like, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with sex or porn. Pagans and occultists got worried because it criminalised ‘the esoteric’, which for those, who put the law together probably just meant anything weird and bizarre that they couldn’t think of at the moment, but which was probably out there somewhere. However, ‘esotericism’ is also another term for the magic and the occult, and so a community that was already fixated on persecution and the witch hunts of the medieval and early modern period once again found themselves apparently facing renewed persecution.

This legislation could also extend to political discussion. Tom Pride found access to his site blocked, after one post was deemed too ‘adult’ for general viewing. Much of the material at Pride’s Purge is adult, in the sense that it deals with adult issues, by which is meant, issues that confront adults, such as politics, poverty, unemployment, economics, privatisation and social welfare, rather than porn.

I found this piece by the great satirist and musician, Tom Lehrer. It’s called ‘Smut’, and just about describes the way I feel about the hysteria about on-line porn. There are serious issues there, but they need very careful handling rather than handing the Tories another moral panic which they can exploit.

Vox Political: Stephen Crabb, IDS’ Replacement, Believes People with Progressive Degenerative Diseases Able to Work

March 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written about how the latest sputtering from the new head of the DWP have effectively ended satire. Stephen Crabb, apparently an expert on such diseases, has declared that sufferers of brain tumours and progressive degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone are able to work. And so, presumably, they should not get any PIP or ESA, but the normal jobseeker’s allowance, until they are eventually sanctioned for not trying hard enough to get a job.

Mike states that this is beyond satire, because he commented in an earlier post about Crabb’s bizarre views on homosexuality. Crabb believed that homosexuality could be cured, and supported CARE, a Christian organisation that claimed it could cure gay people. In fact, gay cures don’t work. There have been a series of scandals in American involving these organisations, as well as concerns in the UK apart the potential harm they can do to the mental health of vulnerable people. Mike commented after Crabb announced his belief that there was a cure for gayness, that perhaps the new minister thought that Parkinson’s could also be cured.

And now he does.

Mike quotes Tom Pride as saying that satire died the moment this vile crew took power. Just like the pianist and satirist, Tom Lehrer, pointedly gave up satire after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize after the bombing of Hanoi.

Mike’s article can be read at:http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/25/after-this-blog-joked-about-it-stephen-crabb-has-said-people-with-parkinsons-can-work-satire-really-is-dead/

Go there and be amazed at this pratt’s immense medical ignorance.

Now, I’m aware that some people might be able to work with Parkinson’s and Motor Neurone disease. Many years ago, I was interviewed for a place at Uni by a lecturer, who suffered from Parkinson’s. As I was told about his condition by one of the students, who was showing us around. He kindly told me about this gentleman’s condition so that I would not be alarmed when he did not stand up to greet me. It wasn’t because he was being hostile. It was because he was physically unable. I’m sure there are others like him that are able to keep working.

However, one of my own uncles, as Mike has already mentioned in the comments to his piece about Crabb, suffered from Parkinson’s. He was, like the lecturer, confined to a wheelchair and very definitely could not work because of the disease. It’s a progressively degenerative disease, which means it gets worse. It’s the reason we no longer see the American actor, Michael J. Fox, on our screens any more. He also suffers from this disease. It’s why he had to leave his hit series, Spin City. Crabb possibly believes people with Motor Neurone Disease can work, because he’s seen the severely disabled Stephen Hawking zooming around in his wheelchair and talking through his computer. Hawking is able to do so because he has the benefit of excellent care and computer engineers, which most people probably can’t afford. He has also been lucky enough to outlive vastly other sufferers from the Disease. I’m not expert, but from the reports about it on TV and the papers, it seems to me that most of the poor souls, who contract it only live for about two or three years at most.

My point here is not that there aren’t some fortunate souls who are able to carry on working, but that many, the majority of sufferer’s, can’t. And this should be enough for the government. If a doctor, a properly qualified doctor, not some paid clerk with Unum or Maximus, who just ticks boxes, says that a sufferer cannot work, then that should be enough for them. Anything else is pure bureaucratic quackery and pseudoscience based on right-wing wishful thinking.

As for Crabb himself, his occupation of the place vacated by IDS reminds me of another quote from the Surrealist artist, Fascist supporter and pervert Salvador Dali. During his sojourn in America, Dali declared that his aim was ‘to cretinise the public’. Dali was, however, despite his considerable personality flaws, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century. Looking at the Crabb and the current members of the cabinet, his desire to reduce the public to sheer imbecility seems to be pointless. Cameron and his big business paymasters have clearly found a better way to lower intellectual and moral standards by promoting the culpably stupid, like IDS, Osbo, and now Crabb.

The Young Turks, the Democrat Primaries, and the War Crimes of Henry Kissinger

February 13, 2016

Oh Henry Kissinger,
Oh How we’re missing yer!

Monty Python’s Henry Kissinger song.

The hideous political ghost of Henry Kissinger reared its head the other day in the Democrat debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on PBS. Hillary was proud that Kissinger complimented her on the way she had run her department, and basked in the old politico’s compliment. Bernie Sanders, however, made it very clear what he thought of this pillar of the Nixon administration, and said he was proud that Kissinger was not his friend.

In this clip from The Young Turks, John Iadarola presents the argument that Kissinger is a war criminal, exactly as his detractors allege. Actually, on this issue, there isn’t much to ponder: the old bastard’s actions and statements speak for themselves, and indict Kissinger as one of the great monsters of the late 20th century. Iadarola sums it up by saying that he is a man no-one should want to have as a friend, and especially not someone who wants to be a presidential candidate.

Among the facts against Kissinger are the following:

* When he was in the State Department, Kissigner worked to prolong the Vietnam War as long as possible.

* He encouraged Nixon to bug and intimidate his political enemies.

* He supported the secret bombing of Cambodia and Laos, which killed untold thousands of people and destabilised the country, leading to the rise of a murderous regime that butchered millions.

* He also engineered the 1973 Chilean coup, and similar military interventions in Rhodesia, East Timor and Argentina.

Iadarola also gives some damning quotations from Kissinger’s own mouth. These range from the simply cynical – such as his belief that intelligence isn’t necessary for the use of power, and is sometimes an impediment, to the truly monstrous. He stated that military men were dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy, which possibly explained why he was so massively unconcerned about their deaths in the Vietnam War. In 2000 he said approvingly that he could think of no better way to unite America than behind an terrorist attack an American overseas target, and that George Dubya was the man to do this. He also asked during the Vietnam War why Americans should ‘flagellate’ themselves for what the Cambodians were doing to each other. He was also quite prepared to work with the Khmer Rouge regime, despite the fact that he knew they were massacring ten of thousands of their own people. Indeed, he himself called them ‘murderous thugs’.

During the 1991 race riots on the West Coast, he stated that although Americans weren’t prepared to accept UN troops there today, they would tomorrow if they promised to restore order. He said people feared the unknown, and to protect themselves from it the peoples of the world would willing plead for their leaders to take power, so that individual rights would wither before the world government. He also stated that the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union was not an American concern. And if the Soviets stuffed them into gas chambers, that wasn’t an American concern either. He did, however, concede that ‘perhaps [it was] a humanitarian concern.’ This is particularly cynical, considering that Kissinger was himself Jewish. The 1970’s were the decade that saw an increasing interest in the Holocaust, including a TV series of the same name. This is particularly shocking because of the profound horror the Holocaust justifiably still evokes for Europeans and Americans.

I began this article with a quote from Monty Python’s Henry Kissinger song. And the correct answer to those lines should be ‘No. We are not ‘missing yer”. It was Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace prize after the bombing of Hanoi that made Tom Lehrer, the great satirical song writer, to give up. After all, what’s left to lampoon if reality does something that grotesque.

Russell Brand: Why Is Tony Blair Not In Jail as War Criminal?

March 16, 2015

Tom Pride this morning put up the post, which I’ve reblogged here, satirising Bliar’s position as a Middle East Peace envoy, and how it conflicts with his role as the Antichrist. I thought after that it would be appropriate to put up Russell Brand’s own thoughts on the same issue.

I realise that many people, including myself, have mixed feelings about Russell Brand. I can’t say I’m a complete fan of his, particularly after the childish and offensive stunt he and Wossy pulled several years ago now making that prank phone call to Andrew Sachs. I also don’t agree with his position that people shouldn’t vote. That’s simply a way of making sure the people in power will ignore you. In fact, far from acknowledging how alienated people are, they then claim the opposite: people aren’t voting, because they’re entirely satisfied with the way things are being run.

On the other hand, Brand in his ‘The Trews’ videos commenting on the news and serious issues does make extremely good points, backed up with his characteristic cheeky wit. In this edition, Why Is Tony Blair Not In Jail? I literally Don’t Understand, he comments on the iniquity and absurdity of the Bliar being awarded the title of ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ by Save the Children after the horrors he created in Iraq with his participation in Bush’s illegal invasion. He cites some chilling statistics on the carnage and chaos the invasion has created. Two million dead. Millions more displaced. Children living in fear and poverty. Bliar’s award thus becomes an extremely sick and very unfunny joke.

It’s not the first time an award for philanthropy has been given to a politician many would regard as a monster. Tom Lehrer was so shocked and disgusted by Kissinger winning the Nobel Peace Prize after the bombing of Hanoi that he gave up writing satire. Well, after an event of that magnitude, there really doesn’t seem to be any more you can say.

Here, however, is Brand on Bliar:

Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.

1.

We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.

2.

“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.

3.

“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.

4.

“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;
http://pronoblem.com/iwwlrs.pdf

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here
http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o6tbi8b3qf6dgbw

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here;
http://www.radicalglasgow.me.uk/strugglepedia/index.php?title=Tom_Anderson ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.

The Daily Mail Song by Paul Bicker on Youtube

October 5, 2013

Just to show that the tradition of writing satirical songs with wit and humour didn’t go with Flanders and Swan and Tom Lehrer, here’s a piece I found on Youtube. It’s by a gentleman called Paul Bicker, responding to the Daily Mail’s allegations about criminality in Welfare UK. I don’t really remember the precise incident to which the song is a reply, but it’s pretty much an accurate summary of the sheer anti-welfare, anti-immigrant bile and its readership in Middle England of the Daily Fail. And there’s a nice line just at the end:

‘If you gave a pen to a chimpanzee
You’d likely get less lunacy’

Here it is:

And if you want to see it on Youtube, where they have the words, it’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq4-U-FYPS0.
And played on the uke, it shows that the spirit of George Formby continues to live on!

Another Angry Voice on the Delusional Liberal Democrats

September 14, 2013

The Angry Yorkshireman has posted up another piece commenting on the declaring by the Libdem MP, Sarah Teather, that she intends to resign after the next election in protest at the party’s betrayal of Liberal values. The Angry One raises the following very good questions about her proposed resignation:

‘If she is truly opposed to the illiberal tendencies of the coalition government, why doesn’t she resign immediately, rather than hanging on as a Lib-Dem MP until 2015? If she doesn’t want to quit parliament before her time is up, why doesn’t she quit the Liberal Democrat party, cross the floor and serve out her time as an independent, or join a genuinely left-liberal party like the Green Party (if they would even have her after her decision to oppose equal rights for gay people)?

Another question is why now? I mean, it was absolutely obvious that the Lib-Dems had abandoned any pretence at being a liberal party when they backed the fascistic Justice and Security “secret courts” Bill earlier this year. Sarah knew all about this betrayal of the liberal values that the Lib-Dems misleadingly continue to advertise in their name. In fact, she was one of the few Lib-Dem MPs with the requisite liberal values to vote against her party backing of this Kafkaesque legislation back in March 2013. Why has she waited until the week before the Lib-Dem conference to announce her resignation, when March 2013 was clearly a better moment.’

Her statement has provoked a storm of indignation from the Clegg loyalists, who still seem to see their party as centre left, despite its adoption of extreme Right-wing, and in the case of the secret courts, Fascistic policies. He goes on to state that the Libdem President, Tim Farron must be extremely deluded to continue to think of themselves as a centre left party after they have adopted the following policies:

‘•Further commodification of university education through the introduction of £9,000 a year fees (the highest public university fees in the World).
•Privatisation of huge swathes of the NHS (much of it into the hands of Tory party and Liberal Democrat donors).
•The introduction of ridiculous immigration rules that openly discriminate against British citizens and their families on purely economic grounds.
•Retroactive amendment of Workfare legislation in order to rob thousands of people of the compensation they deserved for having been unlawfully stripped of their benefits (legislation designed only to save Iain Duncan Smith from having to resign in disgrace).
•The introduction of Kafkaesque secret courts.
•The destruction of Legal Aid.
•The introduction of numerous house price inflation Ponzi schemes to funnel even more taxpayers’ cash into the private sector.
•Giving Britain’s 13,000 Millionaires an average £100,000 a year tax cut in the very same week that some 800,000 of Britain’s most vulnerable families were first hit with “Bedroom Tax”.
•The introduction of numerous bits of pro-corporate, anti-worker legislation.
•Support for moves to retroactively amend the terms of existing student loans to hike the interest rates so that the Student Loans Book can be flogged off to the banks (at an enormous long-term loss to the taxpayer).
•Governing during the longest period of deliberate wage repression in recorded history.
•The introduction of gagging legislation to silence criticism of the government by charities, trade unions, protest groups, religious organisations and community groups, whilst allowing the right-wing press to continue openly propagandising for the Tory party.
•Privatisation of the Post Office, despite widespread public opposition.’

The article is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-delusional-liberal-democrats.html#disqus_thread.

The Libdems effectively threw out any Liberal values they had when they leapt into forming the Coalition with Cameron. In one of my last posts on Syria, I included Tom Lehrer’s ‘Send in the Marines’, as, after about half a century, it was still an excellent comment on the current situation and the political use of military force. I include here another of Lehrer’s songs, this one aptly describing the current moral stance of the Libdems: ‘Selling Out’.

Tom Lehrer: ‘Send in the Marines’

September 13, 2013

I’ve reblogged on here my brother, Mike’s satirical song sending up the government and particularly the head of the DWP in Iain Duncan Smith, the Musical! Here’s another piece of classic musical satire by one of the great masters of the genre, Tom Lehrer. Great songs don’t age, and, as the British political comedy Yes, Minister, showed most political issues remain constant across the decades and from government to government. Lehrer’s pointed lyrics are as sharp and relevant as they were when he wrote them back in the 1960s. As America and Britain once again contemplate another attack on the pretext of defending democracy, this time in Syria, I thought Lehrer’s song ‘Send in the Marines’ accurately describes the present situation. The Civil War in Syria and its atrocities are no laughing matter, but the duplicity and warmongering of the Western governments which seek to exploit this really does need to be sent up and ridiculed.