Thursday, June 12, 2008

Old Chords

The Labor Arts website presents and preserves the stories of working people's struggles. Its latest offering, "Play it Again, Sam": Lost Chords of the Progressive and Labor Movements of the 1940s, continues the good work.

Last night, "Play it Again, Sam" was celebrated with a concert at the Workmen's Circle in Manhattan. Some 250 people crowded into an auditorium to hear old and young singers, foremost among them Henry Foner, sing numbers like "Gee, But I'd Like to be a G-Man" and "Charlie and the MTA."

There was a time when the socialists of the Workmen's Circle and ex-communists like Foner were bitter adversaries. Nevertheless, the collapse of the Soviet Union, a shared devotion to progressive Jewish culture, and a shared hostility to much of what is wrong in America today, have brought veterans of both movements together in recent years. It's a welcome trend.

Yesterday's concert had the intimacy of a living room singalong and the passion of a political rally. Most of the participants were getting along in years, but there were enough young people there to make me think that this kind of music might have a future as something more than a historical remnant.

Foner himself is a living link to the progressive music of the Thirties and Forties, and his singing in the show and on the website is good enough to make the old tunes come alive. The next step should be a performance with a full jazz band.


Peter Eisenstadt said...

Quick comment--those who love this sort of music should check out the 10=CD set on Bear Family, Songs for Political Action: Folk Music, Topical Songs, and the American Left, with a hard cover by folksong expert Ronald D. Cogen. (It is rather expensive, but anyone who loves this music an essential purchase.)

Peter Eisenstadt said...

errata--That's Ronald D. Cohen.