Friday, 13 January 2012

Adorno interview about a Joan Baez singing Oh Freedom


Adorno speaking about Joan Baez song 'I believe, in fact, that attempts to bring political protest together with ‘popular music’ – that is, with entertainment music – are for the following reason doomed from the start. 
The entire sphere of popular music, even there where it dresses itself up in modernist guise is to such a degree inseparable from the Warencharakter(A commodity character) from consumption, from the cross-eyed transfixion with amusement, that –er-attempt to outfit it with a new function remain superficial
And I have to say that when somebody sets himself up, and for whatever reason (accompanies0 maudlin music by singing something or other about Vietnam being unbearable….I find, in fact, THIS SONG unbearable, in that by taking the horrendous and making it somehow consumable, it ends up wringing something like consumption-qualities out of it.

My take:  Joan Baez -  I think her live long devotion to using her music as a form of education and protest to create social change is a testament to the fact she was not trying to use the 'Vietnam war' for her own gain.  She certainly was not trying to reduce something horrnedous into a Consumable.  AT the time of the interview possibly '67 maybe this was how she was viewed by some?


 'Cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the comic strip Li'l Abner, during the 1960s satirized Baez as "Joanie Phoanie". Joanie was an unabashed communist radical who sang songs of class warfare while hypocritically traveling in a limousine and charging outrageous performance fees to impoverished orphans. Capp had this character singing bizarre songs such as "A Tale of Bagels and Bacon" and "Molotov Cocktails for Two". Although Baez was upset by the parody in 1966, she admits to being more amused in recent years. "I wish I could have laughed at this at the time", she wrote in a caption under one of the strips, reprinted in her autobiography. "Mr. Capp confused me considerably. I'm sorry he's not alive to read this, it would make him chuckle" Capp stated at the time, ""Joanie Phoanie is a repulsive, egomaniacal, un-American, non-taxpaying horror, I see no resemblance to Joan Baez whatsoever, but if Miss Baez wants to prove it, let her." 


In 1973 she released 'Where are you now, my son?'which featured a 23-minute title song which took up all of the B-side of the album. Half spoken word poem and half tape-recorded sounds, the song documented Baez's visit to Hanoi, North Vietnam, in December 1972, during which she and her traveling companions survived the 11-day long Christmas Bombings campaign over Hanoi and Haiphong.


However only in the context of her life since the 70's can one perhaps view her sincerity and values for what they obviously are? 


Comments off YouTube:

'I tend to like adorno but his views on music and society where too all-encompassing. He was right about consumerism in cultural structures but he didn't realize that even popular music could be subversive to a degree because consumption is only a tool of the state apparatus, not its aim.'


'Mainstream songs should not be used by you during the act of protest.

Buying such songs only fuels the capitalistic system that you detest.
Adorno was talking about how corporations use culture to gain capital as a means to gain power over people. As such, he thought it was counteractive for people to buy music and use it during the act of protest since they would be fueling the very system they were seeking to disband.'

I think that "popular music" has expanded to the point where some of it has actually left the popular music arena. Some of what was "popular music" has become "authentic" as Heidegger would put it. The vast majority of it does fit Adorno's description though.

'Adorno's saying a little more than "they control us through culture".
You need to understand the difference between a mythical symbol and an abstraction, and its relatation to utilitarianism and the reduction of people to numbers.
You gotta think about existentialist views of freedom and the limiting factor of style in the art work.
You need to think how science has become an inversion of myth, and how extreme positivism has limited our ability to constantly reinterpret the inanimate world.'

'Good points, but maybe Dylan (and popuplar music) didn't satisfy Adorno's other criteria you mentioned: an image of a better world. Or as Marx said:..not to interpret the world but to change it.'
mrfreudable 7 months ago
'I totally disagree with Adorno here. And I feel that he is in disagreement with himself.
Aesthetics: art, music etc. in the Frankfurt School, as I understand, has two functions. Firstly, it is a way accuse/confront the existing social framework. Secondly, it should link us up to an image of a better world beyond the now.
The popular folk music in the 60's ( esp. Dylan) is much more powerful than a mere commodity as he explains here. Protest and Freedom are there, intrinsic within the music!'


'By the 70's, it'd've been more clear to him that an entire war had been stopped solely by protests of the citizens, and that music had been an important part of the solidarity and dissemination of the protestors' ideas.

I also wonder if he would have expressed the same feeling about a song like "Strange Fruit," or if he dismissed absolutely all politically-powerful songs as mere "entertainment" if they lacked the forms of classical art music.'


An interesting article about Marx, music and politics On New Music Box
The song that is playing on the video and which I assume Adorno is referring is Oh, Freedom which is in fact a Civil War African 
American song.  She actually had been performing that song since 1963 when she sand it at The March on Washington:



Oh Freedom” by Lucy Kinchen
Chorale
Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more moaning, no more moaning, no more moaning over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
No more crying, no more crying, no more crying over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
There'll be singin', there'll be singin', there'll be singin' over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
There'll be glory, there'll be glory, there'll glory over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free
Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me
And before I'd be a slave I'll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free

Another article about Joan Baez and her life


On the whole her Album artwork has not been expressive of her political activism apart from 1971 'Blessed are' and 1972 Come from the shadows' The cover photo features an elderly couple being arrested at an anti-war protest, holding hands and flashing peace signs as they are led away.From the album's liner notes:

"...In 1972 if you don't fight against a rotten thing you become a part of it" - Joan Baez







BBC news coverage about 1967 arrest
An BBC article about Protest Music 

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