The Beauty of the Blacklist: In Memory of Pete Seeger

by Corey Robin on January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger’s death has prompted several reminiscences about his 1955 appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). And for good reason. Two good reasons, in fact.

First, Seeger refused to answer questions about his beliefs and associations—up until the 1940s, he had been a member of the Communist Party—not on the basis of the Fifth Amendment, which protects men and women from self-incrimination, but on the basis of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.

While invoking the Fifth was not without its perils—most important, it could put someone on the blacklist; individuals who invoked it frequently found themselves without work—it had the advantage of keeping one out of jail. But the cost of the 5th was clear: though you could refuse to testify about yourself, you could not refuse to testify about others.

So Seeger invoked the First Amendment instead. A far riskier legal position—the Court had already held, in the case of the Hollywood Ten, that the First Amendment did not protect men and women who refused to testify before HUAC—it was the more principled stance. As Seeger explained later, “The Fifth means they can’t ask me, the First means they can’t ask anybody.” And he paid for it. Cited for contempt of Congress, he was indicted, convicted, and sentenced to a year in prison. Eventually the sentence got overturned.

Second, not only did Seeger refuse to answer questions about his associations and beliefs, but he also did it with great panache. [click to continue…]

The Suspense Breaks

by Belle Waring on January 29, 2014

What Todd Rundgren song is my favorite power pop song you ask? Which? Which Todd Rundgren song?! Clamor has been building up on the blog for some time now. I really thought that would have been obvious, but tastes differ an all. It’s: Couldn’t I Just Tell You. What happens that’s very special? At 2:40 things quiet down; 2:50 all the instruments cut out except the guitar, pretty much, and then they come back, in the form of the drummer coming in and knocking the entire kit over in the business at 2:59. (This latter, by the way, is the perfect length for a song according to The Clash’s Hitsville UK, which notes that “the band went in/and knocked ’em dead/in two minutes fifty-nine.” I loved this song inordinately when I was young, even though in retrospect it sort of has an excess of singers and maybe xylophones or something. No, wait, definitely an excess of xylophones.) The outro has a perfect bend you weren’t expecting.

There’s a playground near John’s parents’ house and I remember going there with his mom and letting her play with then-toddler Zoë while I swung on the swings, pumping my legs back and forth under the overcast, metronome back and forth and just hitting << when the song ended, for more than half an hour. This soft/loud thing at 2:40 sq is a classic power pop move, and in general: having a killer bridge, being relatively short, and not overusing your “rock trick” are the keys to power pop awesome IME. (This track has 16 sec of Todd & co forgetting to start playing after the guitar intro and exhaling bong/nitrous hits at the start, making it in truth a deceptively slim 3:19. It was put out in 1973, a time when people thought things like “sure, keep the tape rolling while you guys do whippets” and “let’s give Todd Rundgren the money to make a double-album!” seemed like good ideas.)

What if I just randomly played other power pop songs from the 90s, 2000-2010 (noting is springing to mind for the last three years) that pulled these moves off well even though it digressed from my 70s-80s power pop thing and put off my epic discussion of the metaphysics of Cheap Trick? What then? Could I get you to argue about that? Or about Todd Rundgren sucking? I feel as if this were a challenge to my blogging powers. If I can possibly induce anyone to argue about Todd Rundgren, well. Oh, shit I could get you to argue about The Strokes thought right? That would be tedious and idiotic of you. DONT BOTHER.
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