People all around the world greeted 2017 with a very, very cautious sense of optimism. Which was mostly pessimism disguised by indifference and a few stiff drinks.
Will we have more terrorism? A less stable economy? Will the whole world simply explode?
On the positive side, it's been more than 50 years since the team of Flanders & Swann lowered their masks of comedy and soberly recorded "20 Tons of TNT."
Since you know who they are, my choice is the stark cover version from the unknown New York folkie, Marion Wade. She was as traditional as Peggy Seeger, and even made a point of accentuating the lyrics by going a cappella.
As the small circle here know, I'm perversely fond of SOME a cappella singing, especially idiotic college choirs. Most of the time (The Persuasions and The Mills Brothers would be exceptions) it's an art form that is very hard to take. The more voices added, and the more "arty" the performers are, the more laughable it becomes.
Here, as in the Irish tradition, a cappella is a weapon. You're supposed to pay attention, and even be uncomfortable with that solitary voice rising defiantly out of the silence. You're not being seduced by melody, you're forced to deal with the uncompromising lyrics, and a "voice of doom."
Marion Wade didn't have a Joan Baez voice, and that becomes evident very quickly!
Now WHO was Marion Wade?
An amateur enthusiast who was part of the Pinewoods Folk Music Club, Marion was a book seller, a writer, a mom, and one of the partners in the People's Voice Cafe. She didn't really become a touring performer until she retired. Then she had the time to go off and attend folk festivals, volunteer to sing in schools and public libraries, and self-press a souvenir album.
In 1983, the "folk boom" over by 20 years, Marion wasn't playing The Bitter End, like young Bob Dylan did. She was welcomed at...her own People’s Voice Cafe down in the Boho section of Manhattan, West Broadway near Spring and Broome Street. As late as 1989 she was still playing there, although it had moved a short distance to 133 West 4th. Yes, positively 4th Street. It was still a hippie (not hipster) part of town, with plenty of bookstores and record shops.
Marion offered an eclectic mix of traditional folk songs, oddities (like "20 Tons of TNT," which is the amount each person would be blasted with if the planet got Nuked), and her own material. For "What a Day of Victory" she added political lyrics to an old Protestant hymn, something a Dylan might do.
Like John Lennon, she ended up dying at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. She did linger long enough for her folkie friends to stop by, and if you want the romantic view, then, yes, "she died peacefully surrounded by family and friends." The date was September 9, 1990. She is remembered long, long after her death, and this little download is more proof of that.
She was also remembered shortly after her death, too. Back on September 9th, Marion's minister arrived...too late to pray but not too late to mourn. As Marion's friend Carole Rose Livingston recalled, the minister said, "Her body has just been removed to the hospital morgue. I will not feel right until I go to visit her. Does anyone wish to go with me?"
Carole and another friend joined the minister:
"In the morgue, an attendant pulled open a green metal drawer, and there, swathed in a sheet, with only her face visible, was Marion. We had come to the hospital to sing to Marion--so there in the morgue, the three of us sang her song to her. After her well-lived life, and her gallant struggle with cancer, it was indeed her day of victory."
MARION WADE: 20 TONS OF TNT