Sunday, February 26, 2012

Performance/CD review - Cal Massey Tribute

The ‘60s Jazz Revolutionary Who’s Time Has Finally Come
Performance and CD review by John Pietaro

Performance: February 22, 2012, the Red Rooster, New York City
Compact Disc:  Mutable Music, NY. Produced by Fred Ho and Quincy Saul, Scientific Soul Sessions –

Harlem’s historic Red Rooster was a house afire as the music of radical jazz composer Cal Massey commanded the space within. In honor of Black History Month and coinciding with the birth anniversary of Malcolm X, the outspokenly dissident musician Fred Ho feted the music that leapt off of the manuscript through the fifteen hand-picked musicians under his direction. The walls appeared to almost quake under the weight of this band, driven not only by the expansive vision of Massey’s composition but the deft improvisatory ear of the leader who included free sections within the already post-modernist score. Ho demonstrated a form of conduction that appeared much like upper-torso modern dance as he waved in cues and embraced the sheets of sound about him.
Though the music being presented was written more than forty years ago, it remained urgent, immediate. Cal Massey was a trumpeter and composer who worked with a who’s who of jazz greats including Coltrane, Parker, Monk, Billie Holiday, Carmen McCrae, McCoy Tyner, Jay McShann, and most notably Archie Shepp who recorded the greatest number of Massey’s pieces. But the composer’s name will not be known to most jazz connoisseurs as he, like other militant African American artists before him, has largely been erased from music history.  He was a leader of the Black Arts Movement and a close associate of the Black Panther Party who had come of age in the heat of the 1960s’ political conscience. Largely blacklisted by the jazz industry and major labels, he embarked on a career based in the concept of Black self-determination, producing concerts independently.

As is the case with much of Massey’s work, it was written in conjunction with Romulus Franceschini, a socialist musician who specialized in chamber jazz composition. Both worked with artists such as Shepp and Coltrane and their bond was a testament of the progressive scope, Black Nationalist and Italian-American radical standing together. Franceschini is another marginalized figure in jazz history, most noted for conducting Coltrane’s Africa Brass recording. He worked closely with Massey, usually in the role of orchestrator but their collaboration also involved co-writing credits and the two led the RoMas Orchestra together. Unfortunately they would have little chance to continue this relevant work as Massey died in 1972, a mere 44 years of age. Franceschini updated the arrangements in 1986 in preparation for an earlier series of concerts Ho produced in honor of Massey.

THE CONCERT AT THE RED ROOSTER was not only about the welcome resurfacing of Massey, but of his work The Black Liberation Movement Suite, commissioned by Eldridge Cleaver in 1969. Massey wrote this 9-movement work for expanded jazz ensemble of reeds, brass, strings and rhythm as a fundraiser for the Black Panther Party. It has rarely been heard beyond the tumult of those times and only segments of it have been recorded—by Shepp--before this project undertaken by Ho and two younger musicians, the baritone saxophonist Ben Barson and clarinetist Quincy Saul (who does not perform in this piece as the arrangements were kept true to the original, but acted as a producer). As explosive as it is introspective, The Black Liberation Movement Suite stands out as a sonic tour through the African American revolutionary experience, brandishing movements with radical fervor:  Prayer, (Hey Goddamnit) Things Gotta Change, Man at Peace in Algiers (for Eldridge Cleaver), the Black Saint (for Malcolm X), the Peaceful Warrior (for Martin Luther King Jr), the Damned Don’t Cry (for Huey P Newton), Reminiscing About Dear John (for John Coltrane), Babylon, and Back to Africa (for Marcus Garvey). Appropriately so, the Suite includes various sounds evoking jazz history with points of defined free jazz, be-bop, swing, New Orleans and ‘third-stream’ jazz which incorporated contemporary classical traditions. 

As Fred Ho stood before them, the musicians played with an intensity that spoke of the piece’s inherent activism. The ensemble passages and solos, swinging, cruising the airspace, exploded with passion and rage. The music not only reflected 1969 but the radicalism of now, from anti-war and labor struggles to Wisconsin to the Occupy Movement and the ongoing fight against racism. Among the primary soloists of the evening were tenor saxophonists Bhinda Keidal, who brought an almost Dexter Gordon-like quality to the proceedings with her smoky, searching instrumental voice, and Salim Washington (who doubled on flute), noted free jazz musician and scholar who offered a point of chaotic intensity that slowly rounded out into a haunting melody and then disappeared into a whisper. However, the first solo of the evening was deftly executed by alto saxophonist Darius Jones whose fingers raced over his instrument’s keys, soaring over the orchestral mass each time he stood to play. Ben Barson’s baritone saxophone offered a fresh voice, pulled from the lower depths of his horn and then upward. The brass section included Nabate Isles, Satish Robertson and James Zollar’s trumpets as well as Aaron Johnson’s trombone and David Talyor’s bass trombone. Each offered masterful solos, ranging from the growl trumpet sound with plunger mute to Gillespie-ish flights to gutbucket bursts. Charles Burnham, violin, and Adam Fisher, cello, comprised the string section. Both were visionary soloists whose ensemble parts emphasized the textural possibilities, blending into and then leaping out from the winds.

The rhythm section of Arthur Hirahara, electric piano, Julian Litwack, electric guitar, Wayne Batchelor, upright bass and Royal Hartigan, drums and percussion functioned as much more than support. One moment laying it down, the next kicking it up over the heads of the house, they were equally comfortable in every mode. Special attention must be paid to Hartigan, a learned percussion master who embarks in world music explorations each time he sits down at his drumkit, which includes temple and wood blocks and other ‘traps’ including a talking drum and a gong. Of note to percussionists (including this writer), Hartigan can often be heard playing his gong like a ride cymbal for a ‘kerr-ang’ that no cymbal can supply. Ever the traditionalist in a setting comprised of musical emulsion, Hartigan said that he often feels a sense of guilt playing ethnic instruments apart from their tradition. But this evening was about the amalgamation of sounds that spoke to the people at large.

The compact disc, ‘The Music of Cal Massey: a Tribute’, was officially released at the Harlem concert. This disc is the first complete recording of Massey’s monumental Suite and thereby stands as historic unto itself. But Ho, who produced this recording with Quincy Saul, took the tribute further still. He also arranged a series of shorter Massey compositions for the CD, Goodbye Sweet Pops (for Louis Armstrong), The Cry of My People and Quiet Dawn, which was originally composed for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. These works together with the Suite serve now as the ultimate Massey compilation. For the recording, Ho brought in conductor Whitney George and much of the band heard at the Red Rooster, but for the record, the disc line-up is: along with Bobby Zankel (alto saxophone), Binda Keidel and Salim Washington (tenor saxophones), Ben Barson (baritone saxophone); Jackie Coleman, Nabate Isles and James Chandler (trumpets), Frank Kuumba Lacy and Aaron Johnson (trombones), Art Hirahara (piano), Wes Brown (bass), Royal Hartigan (drums and African percussion), Melanie Dyer (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello). A revolutionary artist like Massey, lost to time and by the hand of the reactionaries, is in need of rediscovery by a new generation hungry for the culture of dissent. Add this CD to your collection and file it along with your ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’, collection of Langston Hughes poetry, your favorite old Woody Guthrie records and DVD of ‘Salt of the Earth’. 

Here’s a recording that will stand the test of our time and place…..and as you read of the latest hateful, divisive rhetoric of a Rick Santorum, a Newt Gingrich or an Eric Cantor, it will remind you of the need for real social change in our current society. Speak to us Cal Massey, speak. 

-John Pietaro is a musician and writer from Brooklyn NY. His website is This piece was originally published on The Cultural Worker blog


Tuesday, February 14, 2012


This is a collection of Pietaro-penned material in retrospect. The first poem is from 2010, very soon after my wife and musical partner Laurie Towers and I arrived back in Brooklyn after living upstate in Beacon NY for five years. The collection extends back through the period immediately following September 11, 2001. Along the way find many politically-charged works, from Valerie Plame to Hurrican Katrina.............

Reaching Outward
Above you stands the mountain, casting massive shadow
High above the city limits.
Like a giant swath of darkness
It cuts deep into the light of day.
How majestic is its reach, how consuming
Its breadth.

Drink it in, drink it in, the sound of outdoors, the scent
Of nature.
The din beneath calls out loudly, can you hear its clamor?
Can you feel its draw?
Reaching upward, back toward the cloud-splitter,
The height is dizzying.
And then the imagery escapes.

You stand apart from the vision, now;
Beyond the dream, the sky is small again.
The sky is small again and you,
You are microscopic in its wake.
Straining your neck to look above the rooftops,
through the pulsating walls about you,
The thick clouds are but fading into the grey
And the swarm of motion has eclipsed all.
---January 29, 2010, 12:17 AM, Brooklyn NY; written for Laurie’s country heart--reflecting back on the view of life from NY’s  Hudson Valley.

Ballad of the Big Wind
The big wind blew away New Orleans;
Took lives and homes and reality.
The Gulf never knew blues so blue,
It sure looks like murder to me.

The big wind could not be predicted;
No gauges, no charts could ever see;
No armies could fight, no doctors could save,
No statesmen could care, they let it be.

The big storm engulfed all the houses
And poured over poor people’s dreams.
The big wind drowned out all the voices,
Killed the animals and innocence, it seems.

It broke men and took down the women
Who’d known more of struggle than most.
For a while it silenced the music;
It roared as it took down the coast.

A warning to all weather stations:
The gauges and charts speak to us!
The big wind that blows through this nation—
The chill factor’s goddamned corrupt.
The big wind blew away New Orleans;
Took lives and homes and reality.
But nothing was done by the fortunate son—
The storm in this Right-wing regime.
October 28, 2006, Beacon NY. Written in a rush of inspiration after listening to reports on the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans---and the very human failings of the government’s national rescue efforts. As is well-recalled, George Bush appointed a completely inappropriate person to head up emergency response duties and an endless list of people lost their homes and their lives, let alone lifestyles in the wake of this horrendous storm. Feel free to read what you will into the ‘big wind’ symbolism; no problem. The melody and also the lyrical style were very influenced by the work of Woody Guthrie, evidenced by the recording of this piece on the disc ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’.

Un-American Gothic
This unrequited logic outcast from covert project
In times of hidden frolic-- Un-American Gothic.

The We who stand alone here sweat the sweat and pay the loan, dear.
There’s no time for upward striving, we’re too busy just surviving

In times of scorn and maiming, alabaster self-proclaiming;
Batten hatches, pull the bridge in; light the fuse, boil the fission.

Oh, they play Un-American Gothic with a smile and twist of fate.
And they bank un-American profit; with sleight of hand, manipulate.

Oh, they play Un-American Gothic; today’s smile is tomorrow’s hate.
While they bank un-American profit it’s the deal they stipulate.
-June 1, 2006, Beacon NY. Commentary on the machinations of George W Bush’s cowboy capitalism as well as his continued appropriation of our post-9/11 fear.

Lost in time, faceless twins;
Mirrored lives and nameless sin.
Do they know? Do they know?

Born of one, an age apart:
Rebel son, sister heart.
Do they know? Do they know?

Contrasts, Contrasts.

Another side, another look--
Conquer, divide, re-write the book.
From Red Scare one to Cold War times
Dissent is shunned, now thought’s a crime.

Here’s to life and twists of fate
From corporate reach to fascist weight;
Do we know? Do we know?
It’s been the same through all of time:
Manipulate, create the crime.

Lost in time, the pawns of war;
Silence them and close the door.
So we go, so we go.
Nothing’s changed but who and when;
Plant the fear and start again.
So we go, so we go.
-March 3, 2006, Beacon NY. Originally a song which was written as part of a music therapy group project in 1993, albeit with a non-political content and one reflective of one’s inner struggle, the lyric was adapted and the song ultimately recorded by the composer’s ensemble, the Flames of Discontent on their 2007 release, ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’

Who’s To Blame?
Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for Valerie Plame?
Joe Wilson’s wife; the White House claimed
There was no leak! How could there be? We do not speak, oh, no--not we.

Now, Valerie Plame of the CIA
Was brought to light, by force, to pay
When Joe was loud and rightly so, said What is this war? and Why did we go?

So who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for Valerie Plame?
There’s no Deep Throat, the sources claimed; There was no word! It was not spread!
So what was over heard was from that figure-head??

Who’s to blame? Who? Who’s to blame?
Was it Cheney from the depths of his secret lair? Or Condie from the view of her awful stare?
Was it ‘Rummie’ and his toys in the big War Room or Kenny and the boys?…oh, they’re George’s corporate doom

Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame? Who’s to blame for exposing Valerie Plame?
We’ll find out!, the Dems ascertain, Perhaps we’ll stand tall and speak from our base.
Ohhhh, that’s one way they can finally save face.

It might be the Christian Right or Fox News that composed this secret government blues.
Was it in a sound-bite or misinformation?? Let’s get the rubber hose and start the interrogation.

Was it Mouthpiece Fleischer or perhaps McLellan? No this plot belongs to the real felons.
Then it had to be Rove, little Dubya’s tutor or
Could it have been a grown man who calls himself…’Scooter’??

Ohhhhhhhh, what a brood, it’s so hard to choose; this insidious bunch has control of the news!
When did it get away---how did we fall?
They’re taking the courts and winner takes all.

Who? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who’s to blame?
Who’s to blame for breaking our trust--and outing Agent Plame?
Joe Wilson’s wife. The White House claimed: There was no leak. So how could it be?
And yet---WE do not speak. Oh, no…not WE.
-November 4, 2005, Beacon NY. This was one of those pieces that comes out like a stream of consciousness and is almost born complete. The news reports of the leak about veteran CIA agent Valerie Plame—payback by the White House for her husband Joe Wilson’s vocal protests against the Iraq invasion—was amazing fodder for a topical piece. It was the afternoon of one of our Flames of Discontent performances and there was no time to think about composing a melody and harmony---we played it then and always as modern day Beat poetry, I dramatically recited over a searing bass line by Laurie. It was recorded this way too.

Your Assets on the Line
Fight’s in the air, the anger’s shared
As we march into the streets.
We’re speaking out in rebel shouts
No, we’ll not accept defeat.

Your call to war has made us sure
Democracy’s over due
You act alone, but from your throne
The whole world’s watching you.
-May 4, 2003, Brooklyn NY. Composed in a fit of anger about the Bush Administration. The style being overtly 1920s-30s Leftist, purely in the mold of the agitational fight song but with a directly confrontational and accusatory approach indicates some leftover bravura from May Day; several days prior, we were performing radical labor songs in Union Square Park!

September’s Divide
Each night I watch the evening news
It shapes my mind, feeds on my blues;
Reports to me with charm and grace
The need for pride and tears and faith.

The headline screams, the crawl reports
While talking heads speak double talk
And graphic flags’ red, white and blue
Reach from the side, obscure my view.

What guides me through times like these?
The City quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.

Broadway still shines through darkened stage
And black smoke refines the fits of rage
While the protestors call out for peace
And march proudly down Fourteenth Street.

New York labor speaks union of race,
We can’t seek the blame on the foreigner’s face.
“America first!” the angry man cries,
But war only calls for workers to die.

The war to end wars led to the next
And the one again st Reds they called the best.
The fight for our rights continues still
So how do we march while refusing to kill.

Avenging the deaths of friends once here,
Amending the reign of corporate sneer.
Rebuild the skies! Our hearts decide
But what’s left to fix when the soul divides?

What guides me through times like these?
The City quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.

What guides me through times like these?
The whole world quakes, west to east.
No “us”, no “them” and we’ll survive
And so we close September’s divide.
-September 10, 2001, Brooklyn NY. This piece was composed in the weeks immediately following the 9/11 attacks; prior to writing this, I was unable to release any emotion about that day through my music. When the attack on the World Trade Center occurred, I was working on the Psychiatry unit of a hospital located in the heart of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, not far from lower Manhattan. From the windows of the unit, I stood and watched the towers burn and implode and then had to find the right words to discuss it all with a ward full of anxious, understandably desperate people.


A collection of Pietaro-penned poetry, 2001 back through 1990, bridging my output based on the HIV/AIDS case work, to my labor and other social justice-based pieces from later in the period. Beneath each poem is a brief descriptive paragraph cataloging the place and time it was composed in...........

The Rage
I guess I’ll never know just where I stand
On how it comes to be that man still eats man.
Soft beneath the skin, or so we are told.
Alas, already dead from pains of old,
Alas already dead from innocence sold.

The numbing of his pride just shuts him down,
Freezing deep inside without a sound.
It’s such a shame, he’s come of age,
Releasing all the while hot fits of rage,
Releasing all the while hot fits of rage.

A wise man once claimed it let’s mankind survive:
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”

I thought I’d never see the likes of this
Broken lives in parts and parts and bits,
Divided he from all the rest,
Oh how we’re wont to profess,
Oh how we’re bound to regress.

The numbing of the times should surely cast some doubt
But it’s only casting out
All humanity, there’s just so much disparity
And insanity, unbridled opportunity.

A wise man once claimed it let’s mankind survive:
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”, yes
“Bestial acts keep mankind alive”
-May 23, 2001, Brooklyn NY. The initial inspiration for this piece came when I was working on an in-patient psychiatric unit at a hospital and one of our staff members had a bizarre violent episode, but most of the body of the work was as a result of a series of violent events which occurred in the greater society. The quote in the refrain came from a Brecht poem of 1928.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Pretend atom spies

Much confusion has surrounded
The nature of atomic secrets
Not withstanding the efforts of
The scientists to clarify the
Public thinking.

For there exists the sorry notion
That the formula was just our nation’s
No other land could
Discover it.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Demonized atom spies

Is American pride just so fragile that
Government lies must be so agile?
They deny what they don’t know;
Close our minds and
Just Say No!

Manipulate and castigate,
Impregnate and then castrate;
The people learn to tolerate
What you feed them.
What you feed them.

Revenge of the Atom Spies
The end of Cold War lies.
Defend and organize
Pretend atom spies.
-April 4, 2001, Brooklyn NY. Parts of this piece came to light in January of 2000, during George W Bush’s ‘coronation’, but the rest practically wrote itself after I read historical documents from the 1950s and with respect to the Rosenberg case in particular. This song has been performed often as an uptempo post-punk piece which celebrates ‘60s pop. It also serves as the tile song from the ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ album.

She’s mean, so cold, so out of touch.
Stands high above the rest of us.
This sentry guards the privileged few and the rest of us stand alone it’s true.

With shielded eyes and stone-grey face
She hides her hate and her grimace.
HUAC’s right-wing faith fuels her fire to litigate.

With a King Midas touch
She’ll divide and she’ll crush
And she’ll bequeath this promised land to supply and demand.

She’s blind and deaf to those apart;
Maligned in depth by those of heart.
Imbalanced scales tip the weight, the struggle pales our nation-state.

She’s mean, so cold, so out of touch,
Stands high above all of us.
This sentry guards the privileged few and the rest of us stand alone, it’s true.
---February, 2001, Brooklyn NY. Early into the George W. Bush years. Nuff said. But the prototype for this was actually a protest against the draconian policies of then NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whom I dedicated a few topical numbers to, including a reworking of ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ called ‘Bring Back Humanity’ (its key line compared Giuliani to Mussolini as back got the trains running on time). ‘Injustice’, was finally recorded on the 2007 album ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’.

America, Once Beautiful (parody of “America the Beautiful”)
O beautiful, the endless hype of our democracy.
We close our eyes to bald-face lies, perverted liberty.
America, America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
Divide and crush then shyly blush with cold efficiency.

So dutiful, with mindless speech, this son of destiny.
He’ll scratch his head, still bottle-fed with Reagan’s legacy.
America, America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
He’ll keep the wealth for corporate health, no thought of you or me.

Old money’s sworn for bluebloods born with silver spoon in mouth
The favorite child of fascist-mild, a righteous Mickey Mouse.
America. America, Bush cast his fate on thee.
The Court descends, there’s no defense of civil liberty.
-January 12, 2001, Brooklyn NY. This parody was in honor of George W Bush’s inauguration, the event that progressives all over the world had dreaded. After weeks of struggle about a stolen election, with hanging chads and manipulated Rightist anger in Florida taking center stage, the Supreme Court placed Bush into office and laid-down the groundwork for his reign. This piece ended up on various internet sites at the time, including in activist threads which hailed from points as far off as Tasmania. Everyone felt our pain, this much is true.

The Tin-Man is You
You are part of the machine;
You are bound by steely seems;
You’ve become cold to the touch;
You buckle and bend because you weight too much:
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.

You have eyes of iron gaze,
You are wound in corporate maze;
You are tarnished by capital sin.
Where do you end and the system begin?
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.

Walking gold-paved streets with yellow-brick feet,
It’s easy to drown.
Your lungs gasp as your breaths rasp;
Your head’s underground.
(Programmed man, programmed man, programmed man, programmed)

You now speak only machine;
In passion you release metallic gleam.
You stand high, no one can touch,
But, outmoded, you’re soon to be hushed.

You invest on gold-rush days;
You dress your children in per capita grays.
You will rust and fester within.
The start of the end---the system moves in!
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.
The Tin-Man you, you. The Tin-Man you.
-August 7, 2000, Brooklyn NY. This song was written in response to the symbolism contained in L Frank Baum’s ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, which includes the character of the Tin-Man, meant to represent the factory worker in the industrial revolution. The early machines were so dangerous--in light of the caustic, indeed savage, greed of the factory owners--that endless injuries occurred in that period, often creating a fallen workforce with false appendages and a variety of metallic rigs in plain sight. Baum saw the workman as becoming a part of the machine, literally, but taking the symbolism much further, the inhuman level of gluttony that comes from today’s moguls and corporations, deemed “persons” by law, are the truer tin-men in our midst.

Times That Try Workingmen’s Souls
Though they keep reporting that things are looking bright…
The experts all agree: everything’s alright…
There’s nothing left to protest now, nothing left to fight…

The WTO just leaves me cold and
The IMF keeps me out of the fold,
The World Bank says it’s got it under control but
These are times that try workingmen’s souls.

The Domino workers shovel sugar all day
Breaking their hearts for no overtime pay.
Come in so early, go home so late;
Now they hold the line, South Second Street gate.

Those Domino workers toiled many a year;
Strong, stony-faced, no worse for the wear.
ILA’s tradition is pride
At the sugar plant gate unity’s their guide.

Their corporate overseers make an art out of greed:
Take from the worker all that they need.
Busting the union is a goal of the Right,
But the folks of this union give one hell of a fight.
Some spirits are broken but maintain their stand,
Though one brother’s taken by his own hand.
They’re closing the ranks together as one
And staring down scabs who hide from the sun

So the people have learned to fight back anew,
Taken to the streets, the movement just grew.
Status won’t divide us nor the color of skin;
We’re a Red, green, multi-headed coalition.

We fought in Seattle, fought back in DC
And marched together through New York streets.
It’s a US tradition for the masses, you see;
The Class Struggle started solidarity!

The WTO just leaves me cold and
The IMF keeps me out of the fold,
The World Bank says it’s got it under control but
Now’s the time to break the Right-wing hold.

–April 21, 2000; Brooklyn NY. Originally published in ‘the People’s Weekly World’ at that time. This song was written in honor of the striking workers, members of the International Longshoreman’s Association, of the Domino Sugar plant in Brooklyn. It was performed at their picket line in April 2000 and at their mid-town Manhattan rally two months later. The lyric was later changed to be representative of a wider swath of struggling workers and in that version it was sang at numerous events and ultimately recorded on the ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ CD (2007) by the composer’s ensemble, the Flames of Discontent.
Song of the Translucent Liberal
What has become of free speech?
What has become of voice?
Where in hell is the Bill of Rights
In light of lack of choice?

Why do you think with dollars?
Why do you shun dissent?
“Liberal” means nothing now
You speak Establishment.

The greatest fall is from within,
Paranoia is the heart of sin.
Please notify the next of kin:
The spirit’s fading fast.
The greatest fall is from within;
Work the system with a grin.
Please notify the next of kin:
Tenacity won’t last.

You’re speaking of reform now,
High praise to Camelot,
But the place you live in is the land
Of Have and Have-a-Lot.
When did you stop the dreaming?
When did you lose your sight?
When you did you drop all ideals
Of fighting the good fight?

So stop this speaking in sound-bites
And no more hiding mid-way.
You globalize and terrorize
With what you call free trade.

The Democratic Party
Has lost its goals you see.
There’s little now to distance them
From the heartless GOP.

So speak of real reform now,
Let’s socialize this place.
For get missile systems, let’s recondition
Your goddamned means of trade.

The greatest fall is from within,
Paranoia is the heart of sin.
Please notify the next of kin:
The spirit’s fading fast.

The greatest fall is from within;
Work the system with a grin.
Please notify the next of kin:
Tenacity won’t last.
-July 31, 1999, Brooklyn NY. This song, performed with a pop-calypso feel (think Trini Lopez) was written during the latter part of the Clinton Administration, when the DLC reigned supreme and the Dems had dropped all allusion of true liberalism. So much of the Left had high hopes, but during his years in the White House Clinton came to embody the accusation liberals often get hurled at them—phony, plastic, conservative-light. With the dismantling of anti-trust laws (completing the job Reagan had begun) and the creation of the so-called “free trade” agreements which saw labor dwindle in this country, much of the hope for any kind of real social reform was gone. I struggled hard on this song: even more than feeling rejected by the centrist ways of the Democratic Party, I was sickened by the Republicans lying in wait; naturally we know now what THAT brought to our working people. This song was ultimately recorded on ‘Revenge of the Atom Spies’ (2007), but by then was signaled as a warning to the Dems who’d just retaken the halls of Congress.

41 Echoes That Night
All that glitters is poor man’s sweat;
And life embitters, repays no debt.
Those dreams deferred leave him cold.
Standing alone, he feels exposed.

All that glitters is poor man’s sweat;
Like broad cloud-splitters pain knows no end.
Forty-one echoes that night so dark,
Ricocheted deco, bite of shark.

Ethical bankruptcy
Still can’t deceive me
Empty inside,
Empty inside.

All that glitters is poor man’s sweat.
His freedom lingers on slender thread.
Fists of outrage reclaim the street;
Heed the call-----resist defeat.
--February, 1999, Brooklyn NY. Written while listening to news reports of the police slaughter of Amadou Dialo. Diallo was an immigrant worker who was shot 41 times by members of the NYPD anti-crime task force as he stood on the stoop of his Bronx, NY home. He was never a suspect and had no criminal history; the injustice rocked all of New York City and its ripples were felt globally.

Song Born of Struggle
Song born of struggle,
Life lived in toil;
Verse sang in peril;
Trumpets sound for thee.

Song born of struggle;
Life lived in toil;
Verse sang in peril;
“Strength in unity!”

Now choose your weapon in
The Class War.
For this struggle is much the same as
The last war.
Sound the call, sound the call
Your strongest arms will be
Your art-form.

So touch the masses as
You reach out through the muses
With a loud shout.
Words of conflict
Turn to blue songs
And the true songs
Shall be yours.
And the true songs
Shall be yours.
-October 6, 1998. Dedicated to all of those used their art as a weapon.

The Jungle – from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
It’s cold out here in the jungle;
It’s cold out here in the dark.
Can’t fight the fear of the jungle;
Can’t reach the fear in my heart.

In the cool of the night of the jungle.
In the swift urban blight of the jungle.
We must heed flight or flight in the jungle,
In the cold of the dark of the jungle.
-November 22, 1996, Brooklyn NY. The Jungle: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS was a rather epic piece, a song-cycle for soprano and small chamber ensemble (featuring violin, piano and my own percussion and banjo), which grew from my direct work as an HIV/AIDS case manager and music therapist. But it also grew from my involvement in AIDS activism, something which many in the arts came to as a result of the great losses experienced in the ranks of artists. This concept of “the jungle” grew from the battle for justice for those afflicted, especially those in the earliest years of the fight for treatment and research funding, a battle the original activists had to take on alone. During the first period of the illness, then-president Ronald Reagan refused to even utter the word AIDS, let alone deal with the realities and needs of its brutal assault on those who acquired it. When I composed the Jungle I thought back to various matters and issues surrounding HIV/AIDS as well as to the proud but often broken men and women who were living within its boundaries. The piece was premiered on December 6, 1996 at the UBU Repertory Theatre on 28th Street in Manhattan. The performance was part of ‘the Performance Zone’ annual festival of new arts.

Outside - from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
Outside, stand alone, feel no pain.
Outside, stand alone, feel no pain.
Inside, feel so cold, can’t go home.
No, no…and I’m tired. Oh so…

Feels so good when I cruise the skies,
Like I’m really somewhere.
I prepared to say ‘goodbye’,
Can’t go home now, maybe Monday.

Lost out here;
And I’m tired. Oh so.
-November 22, 1996, Brooklyn NY. Another lyric drawn from the song-cycle the Jungle. Again, this was largely written based on actual conversations held with clients while I was working at a Lower East Side facility for people with AIDS. This particular piece came almost wholeheartedly from discussions with a very sick man named Oswaldo who was bed-bound and only thrived during sessions involving guided imagery with music, especially those visualizations involving birds in flight.

Why Recall?- from the song-cycle THE JUNGLE: A Musical Portrait of Life in the Age of AIDS
The after-effect of last night’s medication
Helps me forget, but then I must recall.
The after-effect of my life’s situation…
It’s enough to make me say “damn it all”.

One look about this place and I’m confused;
It all seems so familiar but then I just don’t know.
One look about my face and one can feel my blues.
My friends are all gone. Let me go.

Fleetingly I’m angry; suddenly I’m sad.
Defeatingly I’m sorry; at times I’m still glad.
And when I least expect it things they turn bad.
For then each day I must start again.

There is no effect from all this arbitration.
They’re making decision s for me that I’ll never hear.
I tried to remove the I.V.’s penetration.
Now I’m way past “damn it all”.

When I look inside I still know civilization;
I reach out to touch and I know that I can feel.
My racing thoughts seek out some justification;
Where life leads, I don’t know, but I’m still here.
Where life leads I don’t know, but I’m still here

Fleetingly I’m angry; suddenly I’m sad.
Defeatingly I’m sorry; at times I’m still glad.
And when I least expect it things they turn bad.
For then each day I must start again.
For then I arise and start again.
-August 17, 1995, Brooklyn NY. This song grew from bedside therapy sessions I held with Walter, an elderly African-American man who was then residing at the AIDS facility where I was then employed. Walter was a wonderful, sensitive gentleman who’d led a regret-filled life, one which was guided by the force of substance abuse and saw the dissolution of his family and a long period of disconnect from his adult children. In younger days he’d been a jazz saxophonist and the sounds of Lester Young and Charlie Parker carried him through the worst of times during his downfall. By the time I came to know him, Walter was experiencing not only the physical decline the illness brought but also some serious side-effects to the still rustic AIDS medications which ultimately proved toxic; Walter came to demonstrate notable mood swings, confusion and even hallucinations and then needed to be treated for this condition. As a result, he experienced several hellish nights filled with distortions—this in accompaniment to his depression and fear about the illness were nearly debilitating and he later said that our sessions greatly helped his re-emergence into the here and now. The lyric of this piece was largely derived from his statements and I put them into a blues-inspired melody which Walter and I later sang together. This piece was incorporated into the song-cycle THE JUNGLE.

Edith Piaf,
Known through all of Europe!
Edith Piaf
Sang to the stars.
Dietrich, Garbo
Were in her eyes.
Regret nothing,
Even the lies.

Edith Piaf,
I remember.
Lonely woman
Deep in a crowd.
Lost in time.
Lost in her mind.

Edith Piaf
Sings to the stars.
-February 22, 1993, Brooklyn NY. This lyric was written after its very quirky melody was composed, one inspired by the sounds of Paris in the 1920s. Though Edith Piaf was not a radical figure per se, her large presence in the community of free-spirited artist of the day, many of which made powerful statements for social justice, remains an inspiration.

The Fool’s Hymn from the song cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Why must I stand and watch those
Far and dear
Fall and then fade away?
It’s a lie when they say
It’s not I who has tasted fate.
Scratch, why did you leave me behind?

I, the fool, must stand by
While the beast marches on, marches on…
So the fool waits and
The fool prays
While he sits idly by.
Idly by.
-October 30, 1992, Brooklyn NY. This piece and the four which follow it are lyrics from the song-cycle and suite entitled ‘Winter on West Street’, a commentary on HIV/AIDS as I observed it while employed as a case manager in AIDS services. It is a product of its time in that its content embodies the concerns, fears, hopes, prejudices still running rampant in the period which marked the tenth anniversary of the illness. Many of the lyrics were inspired by conversations I had with clients as well as care-givers, activists, ombudsman, doctors and nurses. The piece was never actually performed live but the instrumental Winter on West Street Suite was recorded on the album ‘Music Never Heard at the Graystone Ballroom’, credited to John Pietaro and Collected Musicians. The album was due for release on the independent Arrest Records label but the company was unable to sustain itself and it fell apart prior to release.

The Savage Din from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Hear the roar of the savage din.
The roar is my wrath, the pain is your sin.
Hear the cries of the beguiled and benign.
You ask: “What for?”,
I respond: “Your time”.

I move in a hush,
The lull of the scream;
I move in a rage;
A slither in dreams.

I move out and seek and
Take what I will.
You push and you pull and
Make room for my kill.

So listen to the roar of the glorious din.
Its monstrous cries are those from within.
Hear not the song of the savage din?
Its music is mine, staged for the shut-in.
So bring out your cardinals to lead in the hymn.
-October 20, 1992, Brooklyn NY. Another selection from Winter on West Street. This song lyric offers a historic reference is the final line: the ‘cardinal’ was New York’s Cardinal O’Connor who became the target of AIDS activists’ ire.

Foray from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
In the night it came;
In day’s light it came
It boldly arrived while we watched,
Never seeing it.

In the night I wait;
In day’s light I wait.
Watch as they come,
come one by one:

Caseworker and doctor,
Protestor and nurse.
To aid me and prod me,
To mold me, sans mercy.

No say, no more rights;
No strength, no more fight.
No voice, no dignity.
I’ll have nothing then but…
It will have me.
-September 18, 1992, Brooklyn NY

Behind the Wall from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
It’s me, they say, behind
Where none can be
But they will stay confined
so none can see.

I see he and he through me.
I am she when no one’s there.
He is me.
I am here; I must be.
I am here; I must be.

My self hurts for no one’s touch.
I look down but feel none such.
All alone while you stand near,
You stand here.
It is clear.

It’s me, they say, behind
Where none can be
But they will stay confined
So none can see.
-May 23, 1992, Brooklyn NY. Both this song and the one which follows were inspired by the same client, Maria, who was demonstrating pronounced effects of AIDS dementia. Her hallucinations involved seeing and hearing people living within her apartment’s walls. I accompanied her to psychiatric ERs on two different occasions.

Wild Eyes from the song-cycle WINTER ON WEST STREET
Wild Eyes are soul-searching
Wild Eyes watching me;
Mild cries,
Somber from questions
Bringing me down.

Wild Eyes roll in passion;
Mild cries
Spoken through wild cries,
Savage now.
Strength must be found.
-May 1, 1992, Brooklyn NY. During one of my regular visits to the apartment of a client, Maria, a young woman residing on an upper floor of a NYC Housing project, I encountered a powerful dilemma. Maria exhibited paranoia and refused to open the apartment door for me. Her paranoia had been rising and she refused psychiatric help: Maria had been complaining to me on the phone about her hallucinations and delusions of people living behind her walls and now, fully convinced that these phantoms were real, had become almost violently paranoid. When she’d barricaded herself in the apartment and told me she had a gun my biggest fear was a suicide attempt as she’d been dysphoric and isolated before this. I notified the city Housing office and they called in the NYC Housing Police who in turn notified NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit. Within a few minutes the hallway outside of Maria’s door was filled with men in blue uniforms and busloads of ESU cops—in military regalia—took charge. The street below was filled with ESU trucks, fire engines, ambulances and more and more police cars, marked and unmarked. ESU was able to get into her apartment but Maria then barricaded herself in a back bedroom and had broken her windows in a fury, screaming that she had a gun and would kill anyone who got near her. ESU made earnest attempts to talk to her, but she was now unreachable and so they had to bring me into the apartment to convince her to open the bedroom door. Once she did, they rushed her, knocking her to the ground and cuffed her immediately. Of course there was no gun, just a terrified and angry woman who I had to now accompany to Kings County’s psych ER. Handcuffed to a gurney Maria stared into my eyes, waiting to be seen by a doctor, now fully distrustful of the system she was embroiled in.

Are We In America?
Are you an American?
Are we in America?

Are you an American, do you possess the proper spirit and
Uphold certain family values?

Are we in America?
Does it look that way from Bed-Stuy
Or Compton
Or East LA?
Does it look like America from

Are you an American when you close your eyes?
Are you an American when you look down your street?
What do you see?

This is America,
Land of conquest and freedom,
Monopoly and pauperism,
The have, the have-not, the once-had and the have-never;
The speaker…and the censor.

Is it American to be proud?
Is it more American when we’re not?
This is OUR America: Blinded, silenced, closeted and crippled.

Are you an American?
Are you an American?
Are We in AMERICA?
-Written sometime around 1990, Brooklyn NY. This poem spoke to the eight years of Reagan (and its continuation via the Bush Sr. reign) when “patriots” ran about hiding behind flags and revising slogans like ‘Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out’. During the 1980s social service and community programs were slashed to the bone while an overwhelming number of homeless roamed the streets and occurrences of senior citizens eating from garbage cans became increasingly common. Reagan actually stated that the homeless were homeless simply by choice—this was a national disgrace, a “Let them eat cake” for the good ol’ red, white and blue. Also in this time, the arts became suspect and a wild censorship shredded funding for the NEA, shuttering long-standing programs because Reagan and his cultural pit-bull Edwin Meese were fearful that AIDS and gay rights issues were being voiced through a national arts endowment. Add to this tax cuts for the wealthy, secretly funded Contra wars, the close alignment of a far-Right with corporate America and Christian fundamentalism, and a frightening deficit which hailed greed as good and you have the era in a nutshell. Sadly, it sounds all too much like what came a generation later! Happily, many a progressive offered appropriate fight-back, many an artist took a bold stand against Reagan’s conservative dogma and his strange bedfellows found on Wall Street and within the so-called Moral Majority. My poem was written in the heat of much of this and then inspired me to compose a piece of contemporary concert music around it, also called ‘Are We In America?’, which featured a speaker (my wife Laurie Towers), piano (a gifted pianist named Jean Pugni) and a small, select ensemble. The piece was recorded for the ill-fated ‘Music Never Heard at the Graystone Ballroom’ disc by John Pietaro and Collected Musicians.

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