Wednesday, September 29, 2010


"Sing out!"

In the early folkie days, most any pad with no heat up on Sullivan Street would probably have well-creased copies of "Sing Out!" and "Broadside" lying around. Irwin Silber (October 17, 1925 – September 8, 2010) was the co-founder of "Sing Out!" and helmed it from 1950 to 1967 (it's still around). It was there that "Sixteen Tons," "This Land is Your Land" and many other classics were published.

"Sing Out," was a phrase in "If I Had a Hammer" (aka "The Hammer Song") written by half of The Weavers, Lee Hays and Pete Seeger. Folk singers were supposed to sing out danger, warnings, and love "between my brothers and my sisters." The order was up to them. Like most of those ardent Commie lefty troublemakers producing and promoting folk music, Silber was Jewish…and his main concerns had nothing to do with Jews and most everything to do with blacks, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, coal miners and others he felt were doing a lot worse than himself.

Silber was so much a part of the hardcore folk movement that he was among the critics of Bob Dylan for going electric at Newport. Silber put it down in black and white, in the notorious November 1965 issue of "Sing Out!" In his open letter to Bob, he declared "you…somehow lost contact with people," due to "the paraphernalia of fame." ("Chords of fame" would've been Phil Ochs' line!) Silber added, "Your new songs seem to be all inner-directed now, inner-probing, self-conscious - maybe 
even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion. And it's happening onstage, too. You seem to be relating to a handful of cronies behind the scenes now - rather than to the rest of us out front."

Dylan's knee-jerk reaction was to forbid his song lyrics from appearing in "Sing Out!" About three years later, Silber came around to realizing Dylan's vision as a rock star, and wrote "Dylan is our poet - not our leader." And Dylan, circa 2009, allowed, "I liked Irwin, but I couldn't relate (to the criticism)."

Although Dylan and most of the other young folkies had migrated away from Woody Guthrie and "The Grapes of Wrath," as folk and "folk rock" were replaced by simply "rock," Silber remained "old school," and in 1970 co-founded Paredon Records with his wife Barbara Dane. She produced and he marketed over 50 albums in 15 years, protesting the war in Vietnam, champing independence for Puerto Rico, and being as iconoclastic as possible. Dane contributed her own album, "I Hate the Capitalist System," which arrived in 1973.

Irwin spent the 80's as co-editor of Frontline, and finished up his career (1990-1995) as an associate editor at Crossroads magazine. He was slowed by Alzheimer's, and you can see more about that at the KQED website, where Barbara Dane is interviewed, along with Irwin, about "early stage Alzheimer's." Irwin was asked how he felt about the progress of the disease, and if he was concerned about living another five or ten years, and he replied, "I've lived my life…I'm satisfied no matter what. I did something, and I feel good about it." And at the time, he still remembered.

And speaking of brain damage, since you're already familiar with the anthemic versions of "If I Had a Hammer" popularized by Trini Lopez and Peter Paul and Mary, your download is the Leonard Nimoy version.

"If I Had a Hammer" by LEONARD NIMOY Instant listen or pop-ups, pop-unders, porn-ads, Russian website spyware or wait-time extortion.

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