First off, I want to encourage all readers to check out the new Matthew Lyons essay in the publication Three Way Fight on the ruling class strategies towards insurgency. Matthew explores the carrot and stick approach to co-optation. He deals with the late 1960s period. In a nutshell, the article outlines liberal measures that enjoyed a lot of press, and their more violent actions that included assassination and didn’t get so much coverage. I believe it is essential reading, right now.
Memory, or sometimes the lack thereof, can either play tricks or serve one well. What follows is a series of recollections that all connect to the theme of this particular exercise. To the best of my knowledge, this is all true.
Matt Lyons is an old Brooklyn buddy from the middle 1980s. He recently wrote me, recalling the times we would listen to records and watch films together up in my Eastern Parkway digs. His roommate and another pal who joined us was John Goetz, who scarpered off to East Berlin, Germany and became an investigative journalist. His first job there was to translate episodes of the western series Rawhide for East German television. When the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was originally interviewed by journalists from The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel, John represented Der Spiegel. Apart from exposing old Third Reich war criminals and CIA pilots involved in renditions, John follows his nose, sniffing around for stuff that needs to be told. Both Matt and John have attained higher ground. But in those days, we followed the attractions of younger men. Rock and roll music was one of them.
Last week, I pulled out the old vinyl records of Pittsburgh’s favorite sons, The Iron City House Rockers. This band came from the rust belt and their music oozed the collapse of the American steel industry and the horrible effect that had on all the facets of life in a city like Pittsburgh and its surrounding environs. Their first album was entitled Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive. Their second was Love’s so Tough, their third Blood on the Bricks (all late 70s to early 80s). Bruce Springsteen is often regarded as the rock and roll chronicler of the travails of the working class in this country. The Iron City House Rockers gave him a good go. On their first record, they performed a song called We’re Not Dead Yet. They were the meat and potatoes of rebellious music…Saturday night specials,
I remember this because I made Matt and John pay attention to it. I must have been quite a pompous bore back then. I would like to think that some of it rubbed off. When I read Matt’s article on McGeorge Bundy, I was thoroughly impressed. Why can’t I articulate those sentiments that way (too much Iron City House Rockers, I suppose)?
Matt explains some very important arguments. One is how the ruling class will create clusters of organizations and individuals that appear to have poor, black or working class credentials and interests at heart. Many of these groups were corrupt the day before they were invented. This is happening again today. There is a whole lot of governmental and NGO conglomerates that get bandied around as avenues to solutions, the Congressional Black Caucus, black business coalitions, black entrepeneurs, even multi-national corporations that now have more black board members or middle management. This is a tried and tested strategy used in the 1960s.
Meanwhile the Iron City House Rockers are wailing away on the turntable. In the song Watch Out, they explain the universal predicament. “When the steel mills shut down, your feet are buried in this town.” We had a plan for seeing them regularly. In the 1990s, my old comrades from Chicago and I would meet in Alliance, Ohio, exactly half way, and only on weekends when the Iron City House Rockers were slated to play. This could be at a club in Pittsburgh, a bar next to the waterbed store on the West Virginia line, or a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) gig in a small Pennsylvania town. The VFW dates were favored. A healthy shot of Jim Beam and a pint of Iron City beer were a mere $5…old man bar prices.
Matt is not unfair on the reform issue. He posits that reforms are important and necessary. Often they are a result of the capitulation of the bosses on key questions that they would rather not have had to cave in on. But he warns of reforms becoming the end game, which is their intent. We need to be on our toes here. We cannot outpace those at the helm, they have an unlimited amount of resources. We don’t. The ruling class can throw all sorts of sops at us, but as long as we know that they are sops, we stand a chance. It’s the old identification of the duck problem.
I have left John Goetz out of the guts of this essay, and that’s not fair. My favorite tale about his accomplishments involves tracking down the home address of a CIA hired rendition pilot somewhere south of the Mason Dixon line. John pitched up on the flyboy’s front lawn one morning and asked him directly if he was behind the stick that day. Many of the rendition flights were originally detected by bird watchers at Heathrow Airport. The bird people couldn’t figure out the extraordinary amount of non-commercial air traffic. I don’t think John found out his information this way. His revelation had something to do with monitoring unlogged flights out of the Iberian Peninsula and a helpful air traffic controller. Whatever, it was a pretty smart piece of gumshoe work.
I Won’t Apologize is another Iron City House Rockers gem. The song describes a fellow visiting his brother in the state pen. It’s on an album called Swimming with the Sharks. This is not the age-old story of professed innocence. Rather, it is a confession with an important aside. Such a huge part of the American justice system is built on the myth of rehabilitation and taking responsibility for wrongdoing. This turns all of that nonsense on its head…I still won’t apologize (even if I should, but definitely not to my jailers).
Matthew makes the point that extreme violence is always an option for those in charge. This is the stick alternative. Witness the murders of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton and George Jackson. Lyndon Johnson, considered to be a liberal progressive by some, is a great example. While he was signing civil rights bills and waffling on about de-escalating the Vietnam War (a lie), he managed to knock off the Dominican Republic with the US Marines in 1965. Forked tongues are vital for them here.
I miss those days, when Matthew, John and I would partake of the Thai Lagoon take-out duck, sip on the old Irish cough mixture, watch something like High Noon, and listen to the Iron City House Rockers. These might be more interesting times, but those are the ones that you never forget.