A couple of months ago, a San Francisco newspaper asked my opinion about the differences between the protests during the 1960s and the protests of Occupy Wall Street.
I discussed many difference and similarities, but noted that there are two major differences. First, the protestors of the ’60s seemed to be more joyous, more sprite-like. Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krasner, and others knew the power of humor and satire, and how to use it to make the media and the people actually believe that the Yuppies might lace the Chicago fountains with LSD or, through mental willpower of thousands, levitate the Pentagon.
The other major difference was protest music, something that is missing from much of the current protests. At one time, music was an integral part of the Movement. At one time, writers and journalists, blocked by the walls of the mainstream media, could turn to an alternative press, one that sometimes was published on ditto masters, and to music as a powerful medium to help unite the people.
Tom Paxton (1937- ) is one of the most successful writers/folk musicians. Taking the news, he fashioned upbeat musical satires to show the absurdity that was becoming an American way of life.
He was born in Chicago, but grew up in Arizona and Oklahoma. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma he joined the Army and then settled into Greenwich Village after his discharge. He played coffee houses and rallies, his music becoming one of the more important parts of the Civil Rights, labor, and anti-war movements. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and, later, Burl Ives and Harry Belafonte were his musical guides. They, and dozens of others, also covered his songs, giving them a wide popularity.
Paxton is best remembered as the writer of “The Marvelous Little Toy,” a staple of the Christmas season—and numerous other songs, including “The Last Thing on My Mind,” “Bottle of Wine,” “My Ramblin’ Boy,” and “Jimmy Newman,” the story of a dying soldier.
Today, the fifth day of Memorial Day Week, we have three Tom Paxton songs, all powerful anti-war satires. Please take some time today and listen to all three. You won’t be disappointed. You will be entertained. And, maybe, Paxton’s humor will help us all to better understand why Memorial Day may be necessary, but Peace should be our goal.
First up: “Buy a Gun for Your Son”
Next, “The Willing Conscript”
Finally, “George W. Told the Nation,” a reworking of his song three decades earlier, “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation,” thus proving that we still haven’t learned the lessons of war.