Dave Powell

Check here for new playlists to listen to every week. Most have a direct link to the things we’ll be reading, watching, and discussing in any given week, and all should offer you new ways to peer into the past and see it through the eyes of others. Simply click the link next to your preferred music service each week to start listening, and feel free to save them to your personal library too!

W2: Rise Up, Old Joe Hill!

This weeks playlist focuses on songs of the labor movement––songs of solidarity meant to bring workers together and keep them organized––and also songs that offer powerful comments on the impact of company politics on everyday people. Featuring all the greats: Woody, Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, Hazel Dickens, Sarah Ogan Gunning, Aunt Molly Jackson, the Almanacs, and more. Listen on: Apple Music | Spotify

W3: Forward, Not Upward

“The way to think about the significance of the human adventure,” wrote philosopher Richard Rorty, citing the philosophies of Dewey and Whitman, “is to look forward rather than upward: to contrast a possible human future with the human past and present.” This week: songs encouraging us to get down to business and take the bull by the horns. Why wait around for deliverance when we can deliver a better world for ourselves? Listen on: Apple Music | Spotify

W4: The Open Road

Historian Frederick Jackson Turner, in 1893, formulated what came to be known as the “Frontier Thesis”: he argued that American democracy was “born of no theorist’s dream” and wasn’t transported to Virginia or Massachusetts or anywhere else fully formed. It was made on the frontier––and because it was, the frontier, according to Turner, has played a pivotal role in shaping the American psyche. The idea that there’s always a chance for a fresh start, a new place to go, an opportunity to rebuild is deeply embedded in the lives of many Americans. So this week we’ll take a slight detour from protest music to listen to some songs that speak to this impulse. Enjoy the ride. Listen on: Apple Music | Spotify

W5: Warming By the Devil’s Fire

This week we’re offering up songs featured in and inspired by Charles Burnett’s film, “Warming By the Devil’s Fire,” about the education a boy named Junior received when he was kidnapped by his Uncle Buddy at the bus station in New Orleans and taken to Mississippi to learn things about his culture he never could have imagined. These songs, organized here by their original release date and flanked by later versions, beg the question: what, exactly, is the blues? Like they did for Junior, the protagonist in Burnett’s film, these songs should lead you toward the realization that the blues are lots of different things––an amalgam of styles and tones, drawn from an exceptionally wide array of sources––but also, simultaneously, just one thing. As Willie Dixon once said, “The blues is the truth. If it’s not the truth, it’s not the blues.” That’s about as good a definition I’ve ever heard for anything. Listen on: Apple Music | Spotify

W6: The House I Live In

This week: the protest blues, with shades of the coming Civil Rights Movement. As Leadbelly says in the intro to “Jim Crow Blues”: “We’re in the same boat, brother. Why don’t we be kind to each other? What difference does it make?” Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W7: FYS Picks the Hits, Vol. IV

Songs we’ve listened to and discussed––not all protest songs, but all songs about America and the American alternative voice––as chosen by students in FYS 143-2, version 4, at the midterm. Fall, 2018. You can get it all here: everything from Civil Rights-era movement songs to the “original” protest song that some consider to be the greatest song of the 20th century. And some biting, supremely sardonic Randy Newman as well. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W8: How Can I Keep From Singing?

The songs of Leadbelly and Woody––two sides of the same American coin––sung by them and interpreted by others. With a bit of the Carter Family for good measure. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W9: Woody Guthrie, American Radical Patriot

The life of Woody, in song. And what a life it was. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W10: Songs to Woody

The best of Woody, sung by others. With two bonus tracks, both of the tributes written by two of the most famous protest singers of the 1960s. The songs on this playlist should help you appreciate the timeless nature of many of his songs, even as some of his most topical songs are reinterpreted and given new life by others. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W11: Protest Dylan

Dylan gets his own playlist. This honor is reserved for two types of people: people named Woody Guthrie and people who have won a Nobel Prize. Dylan, of course, is one of the figures most closely associated with 1960s-era protest music, and his early catalogue contains a number of powerful songs written in the tradition established by Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and other members of the “Old Left.” But Dylan asserted himself as a new kind of political artist, partly by saying that he didn’t want to be political at all. You can sense that in his music, especially after 1964. Go give it a listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W12: A Change is Gonna Come

The Civil Rights Movement had deep roots in American culture––its first expressions date surely to the time before the Civil War, and the earliest stirrings of what would become a full-fledged movement began well before the famous markers of the movement occurred––but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the movement really began to take hold. Music, of course, was central to it. Here’s a group of songs that run the gamut from the early stages of the movement in the late 1950s to its late stages, as it continued to evolve, with 1970 on the horizon. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W13: Long Time Gone

In class we spent a good bit of time talking about the transition in the 1950s and early ’60s from the “Old Left” of Woody Guthrie’s generation and earlier to the “New Left,” which was embodied at first by Bob Dylan but also by a new generation of activists focused especially on civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Last week we heard some songs, both “old” and “new” about the struggle for racial equality; this week, we’ll take a long look at the anti-war movement and its lasting impact on our culture at large. This is John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe and the Fish, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Edwin Starr, CCR, and several others. Some of these songs will be familiar to you, but I’ve also tried to select some hidden gems that speak to the discord engendered by our adventure in Vietnam. Note especially the last few songs, which speak to the long-term collateral damage left in the war’s wake. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

W14: We Can’t Make it Here Anymore

As the semester comes to a close, we take a look at several contemporary protest songs––songs by artists commenting on everything from the Iraq War to police brutality to scarping by in a society where a gaping chasm exists between the haves and the have-nots. From the opening strains of James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here”––which casts a harsh light on the rising inequality of an America in its second Gilded Age––through the full-length commentary on war and American adventurism offered by Todd Snider (who also serves up a humorous ode to “Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Males”), and then through dead serious mediations on the impact of war and the brutality that surrounds us in a world marred by political violence that is amplified by the proliferation of guns…it’s an American tour-de-force, 21st century style. We finish the semester, though, roughly in the place where it began: with Steve Earle. Earle started us off with “Christmas in Washington,” a cry for the return of Woody Guthrie and other heroes of the past who fought to make the world a better place, and in the process he established a core theme of our course: we’d do well to look forward, not upward, when it comes to solving our problems. Here Earle celebrates the life of another great troubadour, Pete Seeger, singing: “One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down…when the war is over and the union’s strong, won’t sing no more angry songs…when there ain’t no hunger and there ain’t no pain, I won’t have to swing this thing.” Until then, the hammer swings. And, as he closes us out, he reminds us: the revolution starts now. Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

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