With folks marching against Nike at the summer Olympics, truck drivers blockading fuel supply outlets in England and anarchists all over the world attacking corporate politics, the right to protest is obviously alive and well. But what fuels these movements is seldom seen on the evening news. The day-to-day consciousness-raising activities, the benefit parties and concerts that bring in funds for protests, and the people who put their outrage into intellectual or artistic action just aren't sexy or violent enough to compete in the ratings war.
If you want to know how movements are built and nurtured, you usually must go underground, but now Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has put together an above-ground primer on how Civil Rights, the anti-war movements and the cultural revolution of the 1960s were fed and made to flourish. It's a five-CD set, The Best of Broadside 1962-1988, that revolves around Broadside magazine, a publication that celebrated topical songs of the era.
The tunes of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Janis Ian, Tom Paxton and a host of lesser known songwriters made the pages of Broadside, but the mimeographed 'zine was more than a publication. The founders, Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friessen, gave these writers and performers a place to crash, held workshops and concerts and, through Folkways Records, brought the songs on their pages to life. It is from these records and from a handful of other recording companies that the 89 cuts on The Best of Broadside are drawn. While some of the tunes are gospel, some folk, some blues, all of them are topical, taken from the pages of the news of the day and the social and civil acts of the time. But many of the songs are also timeless. Janis Ian's potent "Shady Acres" takes on the now rampant institutionalization of the elderly, Wes Houston's "To Be a Killer" still rings with the wages society pays for poverty, Malvina Ryenolds' "Little Boxes" continues to perfectly describe the vast, anonymous, suburban sprawl, and Peggy Seeger's "Gonna Be an Engineer" is as pertinent as ever to a woman's struggle for equality.
Though the music in The Best of Broadside stands on its own as a homage to the link between artistic expression and progress, the packaging of the set elaborates what is within. The lyrics are all printed within the coil-bound book that contains the CDs. There are also pictures of the artists, essays that put the songs in context and articles, drawings and photos taken directly from Broadside. While this set will be snapped up by activists everywhere, it would also make a great gift for anyone who has grown complacent with success or bitter with failure.