Why I wrote The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London – and other Stories of the ‘60s

Symbol of the worldwide struggle for women’s rights.

Note to readers: If your Bay Area book club, service group or other organization is looking for a speaker and discussion, I’d be happy to present about my books, the late 1960s, current events or any other related topics of interest! I’m available in November, December and in 2018. Please contact me at: elisefmiller68 at gmail dot com.

I’d like be able to say that I wrote my newest book, published by Sand Hill Review Press this September, in response to my utter distress at Donald Trump’s lewd comments about assaulting women, made to Bobby Bush of Access Hollywood and on view for all to hear and see during the run up to the 2016 election.

Truth is, no. The writing, editing and publishing process is a long one. I began this novella in 2015, before Trump was more than an annoying reality TV personality, always out for attention and self-aggrandizement.

Here I am back when my first novel was released, 2012!

When I finished my first novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones (2012), I swore I was “over” the ‘60s! I had wanted to research and understand the era in which I came of age, and to fathom my own feelings and decisions in the late 1960s. I left Berkeley to study in Paris in spring, 1968, albeit under different circumstances than Janet Magill, and I returned to UC Berkeley to graduate in June, 1969. Years later, with titillating and ever-celebratory stereotypes from those years of my youth taking over the mainstream media, I knew that my memories did not match those images and explanations.

So, I buckled down to study my own era. And then I had many satisfactory answers and a novel I felt good putting out into the world. I was done, wasn’t I?

When readers began to ask me “What happened to Janet Magill and Aaron Becker after Paris? Did they ‘get it on’?” – I had no reply! The answer began to gnaw at my brain. About the same time that Tory Hartmann of Sand Hill Review Press decided to give “Stones” a facelift—re-released as The Berkeley Girl, In Paris 1968 in September 2016, I made an amazing discovery.

Ford machinists strike for re-classification and equal pay, June, 1968.

London experienced an historical protest and strike the very week that the fictional Janet left Paris and went to meet Aaron across the Channel. The Ford Motor machinists’ strike for reclassification and equal pay for women is what set me up for Janet’s journey as a woman and a fighter for equal rights. This was something that my protagonist knew nothing about in Berkeley or Paris, and would have learned about only upon arrival in London! I was convinced she would want to sink her teeth into this cause.

Baroness Barbara Castle, the British Labour Party politician who supported the strikers.

So although it wasn’t the presidential misogyny which prompted my plot and the quirky British characters in The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London, the American president’s blatant disrespect for women, and the willingness of so many Americans to ignore it, confirmed my decision to make the feminist cause – needed now as much as ever – a theme in this novella-length sequel.

Aaron’s draft dilemma and Vietnam War protest, along with Aaron and Janet’s future together, are, of course, still the major themes. Never fear, dear readers, you will find out if they made a go of their romance! But my own relationship to the feminism of the late 60s and early 70s played into some of feelings, opinions and reactions of my characters.

Peter Coyote at his 60s Commune.

As I was writing the sequel, other unexplored aspects of my own ‘60s experiences flooded my consciousness and awareness. A visit to a cousin in the Haight Ashbury in 1969 became “Jazz Reflections,” in which a middle aged man looks back on his college love affair and questions the decisions he made. Memories of my own struggles with my loving mother sparked “The Wedding of My Dreams.” And out of my recent genealogy studies and a fascination with Peter Coyote’s autobiographical Sleeping Where I Fall, came “The View from Pond Hill Farm,” a story of a boy’s mixing with clashes between hippie communes and Midwest family farms in the burgeoning civil rights era.

This story collection and its look back at the late 1960s resonate today. Please write with your questions and comments, and I will respond! I hope the book will make people think deeply about all of our divisions and about our common humanity as well.

 

Posted in activism today, Sources for published works, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Confessions from the Summer of Love

OTHER people having a blast in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park during the summer of 1967.

During the Summer of Love I was in Berkeley—not in San Francisco. Recently, listening to a PBS special on the Beatles’ masterpiece, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” brought me back, as only music can do.*  The Beatles and their production team spent months in a studio, away from the adoring, frenetic crowds, creating something that had never been heard before, and that plays over and over in the mind.

That summer, I was certainly aware of what was going on across the San Francisco Bay. But ensconced as I was within a particular, private zone in the summer of 1967, I deliberately ignored the promising news that our generation over in the Haight was ushering in a better world. I had no car, my roommates were from the City and had no desire to go “home,” and the hordes of teenagers who greeted me with palms upraised for a handout every time I exited my apartment made the promised encounter with nirvana seem less appealing.

But those are just excuses. It was the “zone” that kept me in place. What kind of zone am I talking about?

During spring quarter, my roommate’s sister was in Israel before and during the Six-Day War, while my brother was off fighting in Vietnam. We developed a ritual: listen to the news, then sit on the sofa with mugs of warm milk and honey and try to recuperate. Summer classes could not come too soon. One was a painting class related to my art history major. I spent hours outdoors, sketching those ancient olive trees, twisted into enchantment, that sprung up around campus like wise old souls. And painting a building like South Hall, the elder dean of campus structures, also brought me comfort.

Art class version of twisted olive trees on campus.

South Hall, 1967

The real South Hall.

 

 

 

 

 

When I wasn’t clinging to the past, I painted a flotilla of hot air balloons, vivid orange and cyan blue, bright enough to stand out against a summer sky. I imagined myself drifting in my own basket over the Atlantic on my way to Paris, Eiffel Tower in view. For that was why I was at Cal for summer quarter: so I could leave for Paris with my other roommate the following spring. The spring and summer quarters of 1968, we would escape to the City of Light.

My painting has disappeared, so I offer you this lovely dream.

That was my zone. Painting, dreaming, listening to music, reading all the books I considered to be the must-read great literature that would surely teach me about life without my having to actually live it. And trying to absorb the tremendous shocks of world events, both the dogged disaster of the immoral war in which my brother was still embroiled, and the surprise and the relief that I then felt about the outcome of the Six-Day War.

 

Meanwhile, I listened to the Beatles’ new album incessantly, memorized the words, shared it with friends, walked about by day and dreamed by night to those tunes.

St. Pepper introduced me to details of Hindu culture, and I read Siddhartha, deciding that well (huff!), of course an old man can reject life (and sex!) to find inner peace. Fine for him to say…

St. Pepper enhanced my appreciation of sounds that were not only electronic, but electric, inspired, a harbinger of inventiveness to come.

And St. Pepper awakened me to the courage that would be required if I ever wanted to be any kind of an “artist” myself, revealing personal moments and emotions, childhood memories, the convergence of public events and private heartbreak, and the simple “answer” to world peace: the ability to explore and accept reality from multiple viewpoints.

During the Summer of Love, instead of being spurred to action, I was immobilized by events. Other students coped by opening themselves up to politics and protest, or meditation and spirituality. But in the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Cal, the arts were my protective “zone.”

And here’s my point: I bought the Beatles’ album, appreciated it, but until I heard the PBS special this week, I did not know why it was so impactful nor why I was so attracted to it.

Thirty years later, I knew what I had felt about war, politics, sex, race, religion and the arts that college summer, and felt keenly that I had stayed in my zone. But I did not know why. Then I began to research what happened behind the scenes, cultural changes and political upheavals, and thought deeply about my identity and anguish, and about how I did and did not fit into the San Francisco love-fest scene.

In 2012, I found Sand Hill Review Press and launched A Time to Cast Away Stones, which was fated, in 2016, to become The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968. This fall, The Berkeley Girl: Rendezvous in London and Other Stories from the 1960s will be published. This book continues to draw on more of those memories—of the stirring challenges of Eastern spirituality and feminism, and how we conjured love, another sort of balm, in those years of dislocation and anxiety.

*You may want to re-visit my blog onMusic Stirs Public Movements and Special Private Moments,” (https://elisefrancesmiller.com/2016/09/23/music-stirs-public-movements-and-special-private-moments/music blog).

 

Posted in Arts and society, Music and society, Summer of Love 1967, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Perspective on yesterday’s Women’s March from 49 years ago

boy-on-postWhen Jay and I, with our friends Mary and Stu, joined 100,000 Bay Area protestors yesterday at Civic Center, I was struck by how similar the rally and Women’s March were to events I witnessed in Paris nearly 49 years ago. There will be many renditions of yesterday on Facebook today, but I felt mine would draw a unique – and hopeful – comparison.

flowers

Our friends wanted to know, naturally, why I compared them. Was it merely that I have written The Berkeley Girl, a novel about 1968 in Berkeley and Paris? Was it my memories crowding in, even as the crowd yesterday thickened to enlightening proportions?!?

Immediately, I realized that it was the bouquet of flowers placed in the hands of the female figure in Civic Center’s1894 Pioneer Monument that triggered the memories. And the boy clinging to the lamppost to get a 9781937818302-Perfect rev1.inddbetter view also inspired my comparison! Those visual images touched something small inside me, then like Proust’s taste of madeleine dipped in tea, the images opened up the whole experience of exciting and terrifying sights, sounds, smells and heart-pounding ideals from that Paris protest long ago.

There are many points of comparison:

generations-togetherParis, 1968: A million citizen march headed toward the Place Denfert Rochereau with its central bronze of the Lion of Belfort. Poignant images, whether from that particular march or others in Paris or in cities and towns all around France, are lodged in my memory in association with small boys clinging to lampposts for a better view and colorful bouquets popping up in the intractable hands of timeless bronze.

her_city-hallSan Francisco, 2017: As in Paris, a tremendous turnout of every generation and persuasion of people. And a totally peaceful day, with smiles and expressions of consideration and kindness mixed with lips set in grim determination. Weary arms raising placards, communities of people sharing the burden of banners.

The diversity of issues/causes: I remember being struck in Paris by the various causes expounded on the placards and banners. Everyone was out for their own particular issue. In America then, protests were mostly about two issues, anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights. Today, we stand to lose in so many ways it boggles the mind. Small signs, placards and giant posters were raised, even in the rain, on these issues:

What can I say? My granddaughter, son and Jay and I all like Harry Potter.

What can I say? My granddaughter, son and Jay and I all like Harry Potter.

Nuclear armament and peace, environment and climate change, Women’s rights and Planned Parenthood, healthcare, and freedom, justice and safety for women, blacks, LGBT, Muslims, the Disabled, immigrants, and LGBT. And of course, the implication that Putin had anything to do with the election, or even merely that our new president admires him. And dignity and civility in public life.

The similarity of the target: Charles DeGaulle was a fascist, controlling the media and every aspect of life in 1968 France, despite being duly elected as its President. Charles DeGaulle ruled by fear of the “boogie-man” of French Communism (an actual, legal party in France) and distain for labor, youth and the Algerian population. He represented and respected only corporations and the wealthy.

Bullseye: And here is the hope part. Charles DeGaulle was re-elected in June, 1968, but less than a year later, in April 1969, DeGaulle resigned, and a special election was held in France.

 

And here we are! Thanks Mary Burns and Stu Gardiner for sharing out day.

And here we are! Thanks Mary F. Burns and Stu Gardiner for sharing out day.

Yesterday’s worldwide marches protested the political outcome of our recent election and expressed fear for our future loss of freedom, peace, justice and dignity. I was proud to be a Californian by birth, a San Franciscan by adoption, and a friend to all those around the nation and the world who would stand up to preserve the social justice that we have worked for all those 49 years and more to achieve.

 

Posted in activism today, Protests today and in 1968 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reading Proust with Friends – The Celebration!

2016-12-17-23-02-57

(l to r) Marilyn, Stuart, Jay, Elise, Helene, Larry

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, also called In Search of Lost Time, is a multi-volume novel, the story of a man’s journey through life, starting when he is a boy.”

 

L'Ardoise Bistro

L’Ardoise Bistro

 

So began our presentation last night, three women trying to explain four years of reading Proust together to our husbands. Not only did Jay, Larry and Stuart listen attentively (and that after imbibing red wine, pâté de foie gras, and all manner of rich French hors d’oeuvres and entrees), but they had questions which kept the conversation going, even as we toasted with Veuve Clicquot champagne and reveled in desserts fit for any of the elegant Parisian salons described by Marcel.

Marilyn and Stuart brought desserts from La Farine Boulangerie Patisserie in Berkeley. Jay and I brought the champagne!

Marilyn and Stuart brought desserts from La Farine Boulangerie Patisserie in Berkeley. Jay and I brought the French champagne!

After 4 years of meeting every six to eight weeks for an inspiring French lunch and conversation about our reading, Helene, Marilyn and I have finally finished all 3,300 pages of Proust, plus supplementary readings. We began our celebration with a couple of weeks of furious back-and-forth emails and one conference call, preparing the presentation and the evening.

Dinner at L’Ardoise Bistro on Noe was an authentic French feast. It was fun to “dress up,” the three of us showing off our finery, from petit point beaded bag and kid gloves, to minks, sequins, Chanel and “bling.” The guys got into the spirit of the evening, Stuart in a velvet jacket and turtleneck, Larry with his pleated shirt, and he and Jay in suits and shiny new ties. The conversation flitted from the food to couture to Paris, New York, art, music and literature.

After this playtime, we adjourned to Helene’s house. We had invited the men, who we assumed would never read Proust, to a “show and tell, including a synopsis, readings, and the music and paintings referred to in Proust’s masterwork.

proust-cartoon_new-yorker-07

“That’s the guy I hired to read Proust for me.” I clipped this cartoon from The New Yorker way back in 2007.

For those of you who have ever been curious about this undertaking, celebrated in New Yorker cartoons, kitsch posters and innumerable literary and lowbrow references since Proust’s death in 1922, here are some excerpts from our half hour presentation:

Elise:

Through the minutae of everyday life, the author builds a scene, an ambiance, and characters who the reader can remember vividly a thousand pages later. At the same time, he also makes insightful comments on timeless subjects and contemporary controversies. Through imagery, he imparts his vast, encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of history and the arts, and the politics, science, and technology of his day. The reader is exposed to the entirety of French life between the 1890s and the end of World War I.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) as a party-going young man.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) as a party-going young man.

Proust’s three central themes, which intertwine and reinforce one another, are: love, social status, and art. We proceeded to share our favorite readings from the three themes.

 Marilyn:

Proust’s novel is a very visual work, devoted to detailed descriptions of people, their manners and their arts. It teems with references to painters and paintings. We were fortunate that the book, Paintings in Proust, was published recently by a local Bay Area author Eric Karpales, who identified and located every painting mentioned in the novel. Reading the novel with the book as a companion made the descriptions really come alive. Marilyn shared reproductions and relevant readings from both Karpales and Proust.

Helene:

The novel is also full of references to music, both classical and popular. As with painting, music preserves the “time” that our memories distort and prevents the past from disappearing. Helene with technical assistance from Larry, presented numerous wonderful musical and YouTube selections.

All seven volumes actually tell the one story of Marcel’s journey, along with everything and everyone he encounters, and the discoveries he makes, over many years.

Elise:

Through periods of intense seeking of love and social status, the narrator comes to realize the futility in the first quest and the irony in the second. Along the way, he has gained secret insights involving forms of memory, time, perception, illusion and death. These secret insights, such has how a sense impression can trigger a powerful “involuntary memory” from any part of his life, bring him full circle, back to his childhood. He finds his way forward in his career as writer. He then begins to write the book we have just read.

3-ladies-with-3-dessertsThroughout our years, the three of us encouraged and inspired one another. We all contributed from our individual strengths and backgrounds. I have contributed from my background in art history and as a novelist. Helene is an old friend, going back to 1966, our Berkeley sorority days. She spent many years teaching Comparative/French Literature at San Francisco City College, which is why I thought to approach her for my “retirement” project, already a dream of many years. Marilyn is a new friend, brought in by Helene from her other more “normal” book club, who had already taken an Osher Lifelong Learning course on Proust, though like us, she had never read it all the way through. Friendship between the three of us—including stories from our own “remembrances” and sharing grandchildren anecdotes and cellphone photos—has grown along with our understanding of what makes amazing literature. Proust gave us patience and a sense of commitment, and he made us feel, understand, laugh, cry, and yes, remember!

 

 

Posted in literature, Reading groups, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

One of the lucky ones – one fine day in America

Dragon Theatre, Redwood City CA

Dragon Theatre, Redwood City CA

This is true story about a meaningful and blessed day in today’s America, this past Saturday.  The last part first. If you are one of my writer friends, or if you are a reader, a lover, or a liar, go see the production of Fiction by Steven Dietz, through next weekend at the Dragon Theater in Redwood City. “I’ve grown interested in the fact that there are really three ‘pasts,’” said Dietz for program notes, “the past we remember, the past that we record and the past that actually happened.” We were treated to an excellent production and one of those complex, well-resolved and beautifully written scripts that you won’t want to miss.  Get schedule and tickets here.

And it made me want to ask about every fiction that I read: where does it help, where does it hurt, and whom does it hurt? I leave it to you to extrapolate.

Jay and I saw Fiction with our friends, neighbors Carolyn and Darryl Compton. Carolyn is involved as a board member at the Dragon Theatre, and is an accomplished actor and supporter of Bay Area regional theatre.

Sproul Hall and Campanile, UC Berkeley.

Sproul Hall and Campanile, UC Berkeley.

At dinner, we talked with our friends about many pleasant things, including our morning at one of the UC Berkeley Class of ’68 Quarterly Gatherings. As a Cal ’69 alum, I have joined Jay ’68 and classmates at Gatherings and trips to Washington D.C. for over a dozen years. Yesterday morning at the Career Center, we listened to the Dean of Students Joseph Greenwell talk about all the many necessities outside the classroom provided by his division, which help students overcome difficulties and succeed at college and after graduation. This includes a whole unit to support the over 200 women a year who experience some kind of gender harassment or worse; letters sent to selected populations who might have felt threatened by election rhetoric; and preparations for the inevitable protest turnout on inauguration day. Generally speaking, our alumni group enjoys learning about both the academic and student support sides of campus, and to strategize about offering financial, mentoring or other assistance. Our principle project has been founding support and partner for the Center for Civility and Democratic Engagement in the Goldman School of Public Policy.

2011-uc-berkeley-protest

Student demonstrations are in our future.

Back to dinner before the theatre, despite our day with people devoted to “civility and democratic engagement,” we were soon bemoaning changes ahead for America. And how the new president’s election will encourage bad behavior—police to harass more blacks, bigots to further marginalize and threaten Muslims, and on college campuses, greater numbers of young men to terrorize young women.

uc-berkeley-rally

Despite post-election tremors and blues, many are thinking ahead, myself included, trying to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, I know that my perspective is a gift, only partially earned, mostly a matter of luck.

That is my one fine – and conflicted – day in America. The true story of our lives today. Difficult to believe, but unfortunately, not fiction.

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Granny’s Baby Grand – From the Winter of My Discontent to the Joy of the Winter Concert

grannys-piano

The highlight of our recent trip to Seattle was our granddaughter Rina’s “Winter Concert.” She played a melodic classical piece called “First Flight” by Lisa Moore, and she played it with feeling and to perfection. In my day, this would have been called a “recital,” but really, this was a true concert. Rina is eight, and has been taking piano for only a year, but there she was, up on a real stage in a proper concert hall, appearing poised and dressed for the part, along with her fellow students at Kristina Lee Music.

But this is not a blog about Rina. This little story is about her piano, and about Ann, Tula, Elise and Rina, the players of that piano.  When on the morning of the concert, Rina gave me her “preview” of the piece she would play in public that afternoon, she had a big smile on her face. I mean a grand, sparkling smile. And that was when she said, “Granny would be proud of me!” as if it were Granny sitting there for the preview, not me, her Grandma.

In fact, Rina never knew “Granny,” my mother Tula Ruth Greenberg Friedman, who passed away at 93, three years before Rina was born. But what she knows about is the history of the piano she plays, and how Tula felt about music and the instrument.

Tula at 17, 1929

Tula at 17, 1929

My own Grandmother Ann, Tula’s mother, studied at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and sang in the chorus of the Kansas City Opera. She purchased that Kroeger baby grand piano in 1915. Tula Ruth, as she was called in midwest fashion, grew up learning to accompany her mother’s soprano voice. My mother could sight read any piece as if she’d been practicing for days! And decades later, when we kids had a holiday, a dance practice, or a party that called for song, or the grownups had a party or a PTA show, it was always Tula they called on for rehearsals, performances, and just plain fun. All on Grandmother Ann’s baby grand, which by then graced our living room in Los Angeles.

Tula and my dad, George,on their 35th anniversary, New Years Eve, 1973

Tula and my dad, George,on their 35th anniversary, New Years Eve, 1973

But Tula didn’t just play, she also sang, both solo and in choruses. I have a tape of her singing “There’s a Song in My Heart” and operatic “art songs” in a trained, operatic voice in the early 50s, then later in the decade switching to a more jazzy voice and rhythms for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Cockeyed Optimist” and “Side by Side.” The jazz singer still sounded like her, but with an entirely different, more “modern” inflection. She compared her new style to the way Frank Sinatra had aligned his 1940s tenor (think Bing Crosby) to suit the times during the 50s.

On that tape, Tula also displayed her talents when she did practice and perfect a piece – the difficult Roger Williams arrangement of Autumn Leaves, popular in those days.

Beginning at aged 4, I was given lessons on that same piano. Now comes the heartbreaker. No way would I ever accompany my mother as she did hers. I had no talent for it. My sense of rhythm was there, and I could sing on tune. But I struggled with reading music. I hated to practice. I hated being alone in the living room, failing over and over again at that monstrous piano. We switched teachers several times over the next nine years. 9. Was I clear about that? When I was a teenager, a psychologist informed my mother that although I lacked nothing in intellect, my one low score on the IQ test was “eye-hand” coordination. Did I mention I was a washout on the playground, too? I could have kissed that aging psychologist! At last, I had a real reason that I could never be what my mother wanted me to be.

But Tula’s hopes revived when my son, Rina’s father Corey, took up the guitar in the 1980s. He would accompany the family for holiday singing and give little living room performances whenever the grandparents were on hand to ooh and ahh. I was now twice-redeemed.

Rina's concert preview

Rina’s concert preview

I have absolutely no expectations of Rina where that baby grand is concerned. After several years in storage (it never fit into our living room décor – and I certainly did not push the matter), my son and daughter-in-law pulled it out, had it rebuilt, moved to their house in Seattle and tuned up. It sounds stupendous. It looks beautiful in their home. Its carries loads of family photos, including one of Granny Tula, on its back, just as it did in Granny’s day. And it has carried the additional freight of family history into the heart of our granddaughter.

Rina’s smile was genuine, I could see that. She loves shining in public, doesn’t feel shy, and has the poise of a girl much older than eight. She is also a loving sweetheart of a sister, daughter, granddaughter. Okay, I can stop now. Her two younger sisters are in the wings, listening. Perhaps they will prefer the violin?

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Music Stirs Public Movements and Special Private Moments

Does music play the same role as the visual arts or literature in inspiring social or political action? Listen to “Do You Hear The People Sing” from Les Miserables [press “Skip Ad”!]. We can barely hear the lyrics, but as it escalates, the music thumps deep inside us and stirs us profoundly, whatever our politics.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables

Is it the rhythm in Les Miz that sets us up? Or other elements of the music? Elements such as melody that you can’t get out of your head the rest of the day (the “ear worm”); tempo or pace, which in Les Miz builds gradually; dynamics, loud or soft, also building; and timbre, the character of the young, choral collaboration of voices.

This music, written by Claude-Michel Schönberg, inspired, motivated, and even sustained participants through the inhumane revolutionary bloodbath that followed. Given the extent of relatively peaceful and legal American protests over the years and what they have accomplished – albeit, far from everything – let me go on record as opposing violent, bloody, destructive “revolution.”

What about the protest songs of the 1960s?

Peter, Paul and Mary at the 1963 March on Washington

Peter, Paul and Mary, 1963 March on Washington

Pete Seeger in his prime.

Pete Seeger in his prime

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1960s, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and many others composed specifically for peaceful demonstrations, not full-blown revolution. It was difficult to keep protestors out on the streets marching arm in arm with the only goal to change people’s hearts and government policies. Protest songs like “We Shall Overcome” kept people marching and hoping. This kind of song persists in today’s American music, but sadly, less in its public actions. Where is the protest music today?

Paris, May Revolution, 1968, Place Denfert Rochereau, where Janet's march began.

Paris, May Revolution, 1968, Place Denfert Rochereau, where Janet’s march began.

Protest songs play a role in The Berkeley Girl, in Paris 1968. Janet Magill’s guitar is with her in both Berkeley and Paris. Janet is also inspired by the 19th century socialist standard, L’Internationale. Here she describes the music’s ability to keep her in the march with her new friends, and in the cause:

Up front, a group had started to sing L’Internationale… The catchy tune flowed back and picked up strength as it rolled our way, until it reached us and we added to its intensity. I still did not know all the words, but I sang la-la to fill in the gaps. We were walking with our arms linked, everyone in high spirits and full of energy, and by the second verse I was singing my la-la’s to the rousing march rhythm in as resonant a voice as my tiny soprano allowed. The full feeling in my chest surprised me. By the second time around I could join in with most of the words, “Debout les damnés de la terre,” I sang. If my friends and I were the damned of the earth and I had been buried my whole life, at least now, as the song commanded, we were rising together, resurrected.

 Music in this writer’s life

I don’t listen to music when I’m writing, though many writers do. I find it distracting. I listen to music as a warm-up before writing, like stretching before exercise. And when I go to live performances, or listen to a favorite CD in my living room, emotions begin to percolate and then ideas and eventually imagery and distinct words flow from an emotional state into my consciousness.

Jay and I go to hear lots of live music, especially jazz and classical. Folk rock and protest songs are only available these days in our album collection. SF Jazz, SF Symphony, Yoshi’s in Oakland, and Café Stritch in San Jose are our favorites, but we get out to many other venues around the Bay Area.

Marcus Shelby

Marcus Shelby. Photo: Jay Miller

Jazz has figured prominently in many of my short stories, including “Playing by the Rules” in Fault Zone: Stepping Up to the Edge (2011), in which our friend Marcus Shelby, a Bay Area jazz composer, bassist and conductor, plays at the Fillmore Jazz Festival.

Marcus’s music is often based on historically significant figures, and his CD “Soul of a Movement” is a tribute to how music impacted MLK Jr. and the whole of the civil rights movement. It is expressive on many levels.

 

Marcus Shelby quintet at Cafe Stritch, 1916: Dylan Barrows, Sly Rudolf, Joe Warner, Tiffany Austin, and Marcus.

Marcus Shelby quintet at Cafe Stritch, 1916: Dylan Barrows, Sly Rudolf, Joe Warner, Tiffany Austin, and Marcus. Photo: Jay Miller

Anyone open to musical experience can enjoy the kind of private moments I describe above as a writing warm-up or stimuli for ideas and imagery. Recently, at Café Stritch, Marcus’s quintet featured Tiffany Austin, singing the Abbey Lincoln song “What I have Lost.” Tiffany, Marcus, Abbey, and so many others offer up the quiet, passionate and meaningful songs that may inspire – quite forcefully – a revolution in the personal soul.

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