Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nor Shall My Sword Sleep In My Hand

I worked in this particular dark satanic mill for a year. That was back in the seventies. I didn't actually have time to notice the counterculture falling apart. I was too busy trying to overthrow the culture. Like so many of my schemes, that one didn't work out too well.

Esteemed comrade and occasional instigator, if not leader, Mick Farren is blaming himself for selling out the counterculture. He's also worried about his health and his self image as a romantic hero. When Mick gets depressed he does it in writing and in public.

I think he's taking himself a little too seriously. Mick's version of the counterculture was being watched for some time by men who were far more guileful than him. The decision to appropriate the gains of the counterculture was made at high levels, if not consciously still quite deliberately. The symbol language of the counterculture translated into the language of marketing. With a few simple changes in form the counterculture could easily be emptied of content.

I'll go a step further and suggest that this was done best by members of the counterculture. They weren't exactly doing it consciously, like I said. They were just tired of being poor and they knew they were on to a good thing. The thing is, most of them weren't poor. Even if they didn't have much money, they were just white kids who had chosen to exercise the austerity option. They didn't sell out, they walked back in through a door that had always been left open for them.

The other problem with weeping over that one particular manifestation of counterculture is that any one person's little experience of stepping outside of custom and into the possibility of freedom is different. Even if your experience is as special as Mick's, there's still nothing that special about it. The special hairdo, the special clothes, the special music, they change all of the time. What is universal is the moment when we see before us that shining city on a hill.

John Ball saw it. So did the Anabaptists. Gerrard Winstanley saw it and The Diggers tried to build what they saw on St. Georges Hill. The Wobblies saw it. The Spanish anarchist cab drivers who rammed their cabs into the fascist's defenses saw it and died happy.

I heard the rumors of Jerusalem during Mick Farren's glory days, but I didn't see it plain until 1974. That was when I played my tiny part in The Dodge Truck Wildcat. For a few days in a few blocks of the ugliest industrial city in America it was easy to see the most ordinary people in the world, factory rats, turned into visionaries and poets. It didn't last long. It couldn't. I promise you nobody was wearing flowers in their hair.

Sometimes I get a little weepy for industrial America. There's no good reason for that. Those factories sucked. I pity the workers of industrial China. I just miss being young and feeling like I was part of something that could change the world.

The good news is that somebody is feeling that way right this minute. The good news is that somebody just caught a glimpse of Jerusalem.

If Mick Farren is feeling bereft think how William Blake would feel if he knew his magnificent poem had been turned into a bit of imperialist doggerel. Billy Bragg did what he could to restore Blake's Jerusalem to it's rightful place.

Blake's Jerusalem- Billy Bragg (buy)

No worries comrade Mick, history will absolve you and Fidel too.

I've come to believe that ukuleles can save the world. Unfortunately they can only save it sometimes and only for a few minutes and they might only be saving the part of the world that is contained by this trailer. That'll have to do. Towards the cause of momentary ukulele world salvation, here's chords and lyrics for Hubert Parry's original musical version of Blake's Jerusalem

C Am F C
And did those feet in ancient time
F C Dm Am F
walk upon England's mountains green?
C Am Em Am
And was the Holy Lamb of God
Em Am Em D G
on England's pleasant pastures seen?

G Dm Gm Dm
And did the countenance divine
F Bb F
shine forth upon our clouded hills?
Dm G G7 C
And was Jerusalem builded here
Am F C F C G C
among these dark satanic mills.

C Am F C
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
F C Dm Am F
Bring me my arrows of de-sire!
C Am Em Am
Bring me my spear! O Clouds unfold!
Em Am Em D G
Bring me my chariot of fire!

G Dm Gm Dm
I will not cease from mental fight,
F Bb F
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Dm G7 C
'til we have built Jerusalem
Am F C F C G C
in England's green and pleasant land!

Golly, what if Jerusalem really was builded here among these dark satanic mills?


Rick Nielsen said...

Love your blog Is that perchance the USSteel mill in Lorain Ohio? they all look sort of alike. If it is I have worked in it since the 20th of June 1978 till Dec.8 2008. it has been shut down ever since leaving me at 51 with no idea of what to do for the rest of my life. I'm trying to get in cdl school but they are more or less full churning out truck drivers at such a pace that they'll probably be a huge glut of them, I have serious doubts that I can pass the physical anyway.....

Jon said...

Rick, does that mean you did not quite get in your thirty years? That was the first thing I thought of.

The mill in the picture is US Steel's Southworks on the south side of Chicago. The picture is from 1949, but the mill and the neighborhood looked about the same in 1977-78 when I worked there.

I was in Lorain once. I was laid off from Southworks. I got word that Lorain works was hiring so I drove to Lorain with a couple of friends in hopes of being able to apply. The rest is a story for another day.

I don't know about driving anymore. I have a friend who is moderately successful as an owner operator, but he is fairly young, single and childless. The last time I stopped into a big truck stop full of OTR drivers things looked pretty damned desperate. Those guys didn't just look tired poor and dirty, they looked ragged.

I've managed to get ahold of a pretty good driving job, but it's an anomaly. Sometimes I think of it as a National Park where a tiny fragment of the blue collar middle class is being preserved so folks can see what it was like.

West coast ports are still working. That means a few decent jobs for Teamsters and Longshoremen but I don't know of any good deal careers in industry.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting Rick. I hope to hear from you again.

Jon said...

You know, I might have worked there in '76-'77. It doesn't matter to anyone else, but it bothers me.

ricky Nielsen said...

Well actually I was on my 31rst year but the way they have tweaked the pensions thirty years doesn't mean a whole lot anymore I still can't collect on anything till i'm 62 which gives me 11 years of what to do. But hell with all that it is a nice sunny day here in round on the ends hi in the middle so lets dance and make merry.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Golly. Farren's superb recent post, the best bit of blogging I have ever encountered, got to me too. Did not even know what to say about it, until today.

When I was a teenager I bought a yellow t-shirt that had some sort of ecology flag, a bicycle and some other hippy shit silk screened on to it. I bought the sell out and wore that shirt for years. Good thing the store I bought it from was not having a sale on bombs.

Have a good Independence Day. Try not to ram your ukulele into any fascists unless it is in self defence.

Jon said...

Beer, a question we often ask in America: Do you have a fourth of July in Canada? Also, a little known fact about Woody Guthrie: Despite the fact that he had the words, "This Machine Destroys Fascists" written on his guitar, he never actually attacked a fascist with his guitar. He preferred to attack them with a framing hammer that he kept hidden behind his guitar. In emulation of Woody, I keep a very, very small tack hammer hidden behind my ukulele, just in case there's any fascists need destroying.

Jon said...

Rick, if you're following this thread, let me introduce you to Mr. Beer And Hockey. He's a great guy and a mill rat of the Canadian variety. Sometimes I might seem to get carried away with the artsy weird or Califonicated stuff but I really want people like you and Beer to read this thing. I feel good when I hear from you guys.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Canada's Independence Day, celebrated July 1st, commemorates the day England became exasperated with us and told us to, "Piss off but we're keeping Newfoundland, for now." We thank the English for their exasperation with us every so often when we bail them out of a war they cannot possibly win without us. Happens all the time.

Jon said...

Beer, Canada, as I hope I've made clear before, is OK with me, but why do you always have to be different? Why celebrate the 4th of July on the 1st? You probably have Maple Leafs on your firecrackers too.

Alright, I'll admit that, when beer was important to me, Canada's famously "different" beer was better than our famously "SOS" beer. I was surprised to see that Canadian Starbucks do not have a maple leaf anywhere on their signs too. Is this a sign of a new "rapproachment" between our two nations? Being bilingual I am sure you know what "Rapproachment" is and how it is spelled. I am not so sure.

So, have a happy Canadian 4th of July on Wednesday. Down here we are having our 4th of July on Friday, the third, so that we can have a three day weekend.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

At the same time we are trying to shake our mounties 'n' maple syrup reality/image we continue to reinforce it. Canadian patriotism and its sick cousin nationalism continue their climb in my merry country. Most of the artifacts of this climb, save the maple syrup, are increasingly, in smaller print than ever, made in China. It is hard not to fuck it up when you are the coolest country on Earth.

Jon said...

Beer, my problem with Canada is that it is just not Canadian enough. Canada always seems overly influenced by the US. I used to go to Toronto pretty often. People there seemed to compare themselves to New York City. Toronto is not the New York of the north. It's a pretty interesting city in it's own right. Not at all like New York. Architecturally it's like Detroit and Buffalo, but culturally it is like no US city. What little I know of the Quebecois, I'll have to give them credit for creating a separate sense of identity. English speaking Canadians always seemed like America's polite and sensible cousins. I will say that I always liked the way the CBC insisted on playing a certain percentage of Canadian artists. There should be more of that sort of thing. Skip the nationalism though and don't let the Brits talk you into anything either. Oh, I will also have to say that my Newfoundland relatives never struck me as pretend Americans. I haven't met many of them, but they definitely were about something unique. Maybe that's why wannabe New Yorkers in Toronto liked to tell Newfie jokes.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

How could any country, even Canada, be Canadian enough? C'est impossible!

Jon said...

We would be less Canadian if you would come take back your geese. They are everywhere. It's rare to see a duck anymore because the Canada Geese have chased them away. Other than that, I have no suggestions.

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