Frank Gutch Jr: Read It Now: A Look at the Edward R. Murrow I Remember… plus Notes You Should Read…..

FrankJr2This will not be like any other column I will write for DBAWIS.  I will sound different and write differently and will, in all probability, mimic the style of one of the most influential people in my life outside of my immediate family.  That style may seem outdated in this world of soundbytes and visual chicanery, a world in which you have seven seconds to catch a potential reader/viewer’s attention.  It is solid and straightforward enough but would be looked upon certain pundits of pop culture as dull and outdated.  Seven seconds.  For most music programmers for the chains of radio stations gathered under the ever-growing corporate umbrellas, that is how much time you have to make your case.  It would be enough to make Edward R. Murrow‘s eyes roll back in his head, though I am pretty sure they never did.  Roll back in his head, that is.  Murrow was never surprised, or didn’t appear so onscreen.  And he was seldom caught off guard.

murrowcigaretteA couple of years ago, I remember reading comments about Murrow which made me shudder.  Young angry people writing negative comments which said no more than “no man deserves god-like status” though it really meant no man of the boomer generation.  Sometimes too much is too much and while I agree with the sentiment, I respond with this.  We should be forgiven our love of Murrow and all he stood for.  Unlike the journalists of today who, on the whole, have little to say in defense of the onslaught against freedoms of the press and the individual by neo-cons and mental cases, Murrow stood his ground on so many issues, in many places putting his career on the line.  He suffered the wrath of sponsors who pulled advertising and unkind words from those who did not understand him.  He fought for everything he believed in and, to my knowledge, never abandoned a friend.  He was Everyman, but an everyman who could put into words and pictures that which most of us could not.

Of course, youth have a way of discounting the previous generations’ worth and who could blame them?  They have their own paths to blaze, which is why that old adage which goes “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” means so little today.  George Santayana wrote it but we have now changed it to “learn from” rather than “remember”.  Somewhere along the line, it served someone’s purpose to change the wording and, in effect, the meaning.  Murrow would never have accepted the altered version.  Words meant too much to him.  Words were his life.

So, yes, we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past and unfortunately not the all of the successes.  It is the way of the world.  Today’s generation did not experience life during the Viet Nam War nor did the boomer generation experience World War II.  If Santayana’s statement holds water at all, each generation is destined to repeat the past, both the bad and good, for we are all human (though at times it hardly seems so) and have to see things for ourselves.

If Murrow did anything worth remembering, he saw things and reported what he saw to us, the collective entity which is the United States.  He told us of England’s wartime restrictions and the struggles of a people under attack.  He painted pictures of what it was like to watch as bombs fell, powerless to stop them;  what it was like to walk the deserted streets of London after blackout;  what it was like to fly over Europe in a “flying coffin”, a huge and unwieldy bomber somewhat at the mercy of the Luftwaffe when Germany had planes enough to raise an air defense;  what it was like to live with restrictions, something the United States would learn as ration books for meat and gas and every other commodity utilized by the military became commonplace.

murrow A+Reporter+Remembers+Vol+1++The+War+YearsI sit here listening to Murrow now, slowly working my way through a two-record set I purchased in the dark ages:  Edward R. Murrow, A Reporter Remembers, Volume One: The War Years.  I am captivated by the situation and the man and the progress of the man as reporter.  It is basically a collection of broadcasts from London, telephoned to CBS Radio in the States, at first a disjointed effort to glean the important aspects of a possible oncoming war (for Murrow stepped into the assignment directly after graduating from Washington State College where he had studied with a lady who would influence him for the remainder of his life— one Ida Lou Anderson).

(This is a trailer from 2005 using Murrow as an example of Washington State’s legacy re: journalism.  While they talk the talk— “Today, the need for integrity and courage in the media has never been greater”— it is doubtful that they walk the walk.  Indeed, the university systems throughout the world have made fundraising their number one priority, something for which Murrow would never have stood.  Not meant as a negative toward WSU, but a statement about the skewed priorities of business vs. educational systems in this day and age.)

As the reports continued, from August of 1939 through 1940 and beyond, the real Edward R. Murrow emerged— confident, observant, humble, but most of all, fluent.  It becomes apparent as I listen that from this baptism of fire came the legend which is larger than life and which the youth mentioned above despise.  I find it ironic that young people quote rock stars on subjects way beyond their ken and disregard the wisdom of a Murrow, but hasn’t each generation done so?   Each generation has its own heroes.  A few months ago, a young lady whom I love dearly, in explaining my importance to her and her brother and sister, brought me to my knees by saying that “you were our rock star” and though I held it together, my insides turned to jelly.

Murrow is one of my rock stars and as I listen to his radio broadcasts, I am both amazed and humbled.  He was a man as full of holes and dichotomies as the next, but he, like my father (the best man I will ever know), knew right from wrong and that, ultimately was what he was all about.  Here are my thoughts about him, in video and broadcasts.

McCarthy— and I Don’t Mean Charlie

Annex - Bergen, Edgar_02For those in the dark, Charlie McCarthy was a wooden-headed foil of Edgar Bergen, a comedian/ventriloquist of no mean repute in the early days of radio, TV and film.  Joseph McCarthy was a wooden-headed senator from Wisconsin hell bent upon destroying everything American in the name of everything American.  (What the hell is it about Wisconsin, anyway?)  The man would have been a joke had he not wielded power, not unlike the idiots who today place roadblocks in the States’ attempts to move forward.  He was an opportunist and a demagogue and would have been another Huey P. Long but for the fact that Long at least did something for his constituents.  All Sen. McCarthy ever did was destroy— mostly people.

(It is no wonder I love Canadian television.  They have produced more excellent documentaries and news programs than any organization outside of the BBC.  This documentary regarding Murrow’s battle with McCarthy, is only one of many fine examples.)

mccarthybruntonMcCarthy, you see, had this obsession with communism.  The United States had recently emerged from WWII and, though limping, was beginning to pick up steam.  Unfortunately, the country found itself tied to the fortunes of the looming Red Menace, Mother Russia, by default.  We shared the spoils of war with them, we shared enormous debt with them.  What we did not share was political doctrine.  While the United States attempted to support democracy (if only in its own interests), Russia was on a quest to own the world.  If McCarthy was anything, he was an opportunist.  He became a defender of freedom (by attempting to take away all of the freedoms an individual is supposedly granted via The Constitution) and a fighter against the Godless Communists.  Like the Neo-Cons of today, he addressed what he wanted to address and ignored truth when it pleased him and his cause.  He was, to my mind, Benito Mussolini in a cheap suit.

One of my earliest remembrances of McCarthy was of the Army-McCarthy Hearings.  Not every station broadcast them in entirety, but for 36 days in the Spring of 1954, the hearings were televised to the nation through any station which wished to broadcast them.  This was not a case of McCarthy calling out the Army, though that was a part of McCarthy’s counter-charge.  This was a case of McCarthy being investigated for pressuring the Army to give special consideration to one G. David Schine— a conflict of interest case, if you will.  The hearings were what you might expect— a couple of cameras placed at strategic points and following the actual everyday (and every minute) activities of the hearings.  36 X 8 = 288 hours of ums and uhs and statements so broken up that by the time the politicians and defendants got to the end of a sentence, you had forgotten the first part.  It sucked by all standards of entertainment.  The politicians were ugly and poorly lit and were, on the whole, country bumpkins.  The arguments were sloppy and at times without merit on both sides but an indication.  An indication of what, I never knew.  I was seven.  I was pissed because they preempted my cartoons.

(This is long, true, but is an overview of what the Army-McCarthy hearings entailed.  I walked by the television a few thousand times waiting for this to be over, but I was a kid.  I had no idea how important these hearings were.)

It is a popular misconception that See It Now‘s “expose” on McCarthy was an indirect result of the Army-McCarthy hearings.  Not true.  The hearings began a month and a half after that broadcast.  Some of the clips See It Now used were from previous hearings, of which there were more than a few.

(Yet another overview of the McCarthy “expose” and the situations which surrounded it.  The fact that the McCarthy See It Now was broadcast at all was a miracle.  In those days, the broadcast media were walking on broken glass regarding anything related to The House Un-American Activities Committee and/or Sen. McCarthy.  To be cited was death knell to a career.  Sound familiar?)

In retrospect, while the McCarthy “expose” is the yardstick of Murrow in today’s world, he left behind a library of work— enough to have stunned me when he died in 1965 at the young age of 57.  I began a look backward and found a plethora of broadcasts I had somehow seen or maybe just discovered through school.  And many I hadn’t.  Like Episode 5 of See It Now broadcast 16 Dec. 1951 featuring the same Joseph McCarthy.  Like Episode 12 in which Murrow and crew looked at Irving Berlin.  Like Episode 18 (16 Mar 1952) which also included McCarthy.  Like Episode 21 (6 April 1952) in which he looked at Alben Barkley, Harry Truman’s VP.  There were 188 Episodes in all, each a look at a specific character or characters or at a moment in time.

icanhearitnowTelevision’s See It Now grew out of a radio series involving Murrow, Hear It Now, originally produced on record  as I Can Hear It Now.  It was an early collaboration between Murrow and a man to be permanently linked to Murrow’s history, Fred W. Friendly.  In magazine format, the two set about putting into words actual historical events– an audio documentary, if you will, to be released on vinyl.  After a short run on radio, by the time it hit television, the revamped See It Now hit the ground with four wheels and while not a huge financial success, became a feather in the Columbia Broadcasting System’s cap.

See It Now eventually evolved into CBS Reports which later, long after Murrow had left, evolved into 60 Minutes.  I remember one program, Harvest of Shame, distinctly.  It centered on migrant workers and the poor conditions in which they lived and worked and the incredibly low pay they received.  A few years after the broadcast, I watched it again courtesy of what I considered an excellent school system at the time— Sweet Home Union High.  The teacher set up a 16 MM projector and ran the two reels in one class.  Though the screening ran through the bell, the doors were blocked so we could see it uninterrupted to the end.  Here is what we saw:

 

I have seen various comments about the program, most notably claims that Murrow had little to do with the actual program itself— that David Lowe did most of the legwork and conducted the interviews.  There is truth in that, but you need to understand how the system worked.  Without Murrow, there would have been no program.  Without Murrow, the groundbreaking works “Murrow’s Boys” did would never have happened.  I guess you could say that Murrow was to CBS what Casey Stengel was to the ’50s Yankees.  Indispensable.  At that time.

Eventually, problems “with corporate” led Murrow in a completely different direction.  Newly-elected President John F. Kennedy asked Murrow to head the United States Information Agency.  Murrow, seeing an untenable situation at CBS, took the position.  It was 1961.  To me, CBS was never the same. 

The Real Edward R. Murrow

Portrait of Edward R. MurrowMurrow’s legacy is not in what he did, though he did so much.  It is in who he was and is, if I carry a small portion of him with me (and I feel I do).  Over the years, he was forced to dampen his emotions while reporting injustice and at times utter horror.  It seemed as if the man had no emotions, one friend in one of my broadcasting classes implied. It may have seemed that way, but it was not so.  The people who knew him knew better.  Cigarettes and alcohol allowed him to dampen life a little, but the bombings in London and the horror of the concentration camp at Buchenwald and the plight of the little man at seemingly every corner of life took its toll.

Murrow died with his wife at his side on April 27, 1965.  I would say that I have fond memories of Edward R. Murrow and the effect his words had on me, but the most important came at a price.  When I was younger, I thought that The McCarthy expose might be my pick for Murrow’s greatest moment, or the stunning Harvest of Shame broadcast for CBS Reports.  As I age, neither of those have even come close.  Murrow’s greatest moment, as far as I can see, was his report from Buchenwald, words carefully curtailed to hide the staggering reality.  This was not a result of war, he seemed to be saying.  This is way beyond that.  This is malicious barbarism— something so repugnant as to make us all ashamed for our species.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when I first heard this.  It is hard for me to not cry right now.  It makes me beyond sad.  It makes me hurt.  People who knew Murrow as well as anyone have said that this experience and broadcast affected him for the rest of his life.  There are some ghosts that we as humans should never attempt to evade.  As much as it hurts to hear this, I am thankful that it was Murrow who drove it home.  Read behind the words.  What makes people do things which result in such horror?  I don’t know.  I know Murrow didn’t either.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I’m still watching Charlottesville closely (it seems to be a neverending source of musical surprises) and discovered this little gem of a video from Sally Rose featuring a young’un dancing with a skeleton.  I think the kid’s name is Leander, too.  Don’t find many Leander’s in today’s world.  I need to look deeper into The Sally Rose Band, methinks:

Under the heading “Cool as Hell”, Impose Magazine is right now offering a free download of a brand spanking new track by Oakland’s The Hot Toddies, one of my favorite all-girl bands.  Just click here and you will be taken to a page which will not only allow you to listen and download the song, but gives you a basic background of the Toddies.  I recommend these ladies.  If you have a chance to see them live, don’t miss it!  New album scheduled for release shortly after the first of the year.

Down under’s Munro Melano is finishing up his next EP.  Should be ready right after the first of the year.  If you’ve not heard Munro, here is a video of a track from his last EP:

Am being steamrolled by a band out of Montreal known as Tracer Flare and I’m not really sure why.  Maybe nothing new, but I love the way the music is put together.  Semi-commercial but with enough musicianship, vocals and production to make me want to listen again and again.  At present, they have two EPs out— Among Us and Black Box.  The latter is at this moment available as a free download.  Click here to listen and download.  And let me know what you think.

L.A.’s Rich McCulley just posted a video of a track from his latest album The Grand Design titled The Gift.  It features shots of McCulley and son Jarvis and is, in fact, about Jarvis.  I had the great pleasure of watching McCulley play a show solo this past Summer at the Bombs Away Cafe in Corvallis, Oregon.  The man, himself, has a gift:

A few years ago, I got sucked into this contest.  What it was was a contest to pick bands to support artists on a Canada-wide series of concerts— to pick supporting acts, in fact.  Whilst stumbling through a few thousand pages and listening to hundreds of songs, I happened upon a band known as The Abramson Singers, a song called Fools Gold, to be precise, and I figure I must have listened to it a hundred times.  Not to vote, which you did every time you clicked on the song— but to listen.  The harmonies had me entranced:

I hadn’t heard a word about them when that contest ended.  Until now.  Turns out, they have a new album, Late Riser, and it is happening all over again— the bookmarked page to a video just posted.  I don’t know why, but Lea Abramson has a way of soothing my soul.  From the new album:

And before you go thinking that this band is hiding behind the windows of a recording studio, here is a video filmed live at Chapel Arts in Vancouver BC.  I have got to see these guys:

THIS is why you need to see Jon Gomm when he plays somewhere near you.  From his new album:

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS_ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

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