Friday, September 14, 2007

Little Folkies

Update: I rewrote line three. It's either clearer or more heavy-handed, depending on your preference.

Tom Lehrer called "Little Boxes" the most sanctimonious song ever written. I hadn't stated it so bluntly, but the sentiment has been in my mind for some time. The lyrics deplore the sameness of 1962 suburbanites and their houses, which "are all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same." It is supposedly Levittown that inspired Malvina Reynolds to write the song. Many others have recorded it, but Pete Seeger's version is the best-known.

I thought it was snide, and perhaps a bit unfair, when I first heard it years ago. But it was snide and unfair to the right people so I really didn't mind too much. Offending bourgeois sensibilities was what being a folkie was all about. Looking down on such people was what reminded us how superior we were.

I am uncertain what prompted my slow reverse on the song; perhaps becoming a homeowner myself had something to do with it. But long before I left liberalism I had decided that this song revealed a rather poisonous attitude of contempt. Maybe all these suburbanites weren't all fascinating and eccentric people, I reasoned, but they were decent working folk, bringing up families and enduring the difficulties that life brings. What was Reynold's beef with people who wanted to own homes? Many were likely children of immigrants who had never owned property in America. A modest house on a little plot, with a bit of garden and some shrubbery - what on earth is the problem here.

I eventually decided that the reverse was true. People in Levittown gradually added dormers and carports, porches and fences, and made the little boxes individual. Homes. The Malvina Reynolds of the world, however, changed not at all, and spent their time in mutual self-congratulation with other folkies. Reynolds was a PhD in English from Berkeley, and a communist organizer left over from the 30's. Just regular folk, y'know? Friend of the working man, and all that. Seeger, product of a fashionable Connecticut boys school and journalism major at Harvard, is drawn from the same pool: Arts & Humanities Tribe, with contempt for the Business Tribe, and Science & Technology Tribe. Hoping that they were burgeoning communists if they could just be made to see the light, folkies were good to the Union tribe, at least up until the 70's.

That's all we folkies ever were: A&H snobs who really believed that bad poets were worth more than good homebuilders - though we said the opposite.

The song "Little Boxes" has lingered in the back of my mind, hated but hummed, these forty years. Perhaps I can exorcise it with this parody.

Little folkies on the hillside, little folkies made of ticky tacky
Little folkies, little folkies, little folkies, all the same
There’s a white one, and a white one, and a white one, and a white one
And they’re all made out ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

All the people who are folkies all know how to say “diversity”
But they all think in boxes, little boxes, all the same.
And there’s artists, and there’s journalists and there’s teachers of social sciences
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

They believe the TV newscast and the newspaper editorials
But they never believe conservatives so they can’t be taken in.
Now they don’t all wear gray ponytails and they don’t all wear Birkenstocks
But they wear them on the inside in the boxes in their brains

And the houses look like summer camp and they all buy organically
And they don’t have any children, except okay, maybe one.
There’s a Green one and a Pink one, an old Red one and a Rainbow one,
But they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all think just the same.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

You really do need to write The Ten Step Program for Recovering Hippies.

tomb

Class factotum said...

Perhaps John Lennon and "Imagine" could be #2 on this list?

Dr. Mercury said...

With all due respect, you're as deluded as the neocons over at Maggie's Farm, where I got the link. All they have to do is see the words "hippie" and "bad" in the same sentence and their knee-jerk reaction is to link to it. The truth of the matter is, none of them are old enough to have been there during the late 60's and early 70's and all they're doing is repeating what other people who weren't there have written. They have, in the final analysis, bought into a neocon lie. To the best of their belief, all hippies were smelly, filthy, anti-war zealots who did nothing but sit around all day smoking pot and drawing psychedelic "Make Love Not War" posters.

They couldn't be more wrong.

I should know. I was there.
_____________________________________

Three comments about your article, if you will:

1. When the song came out, I heard it was about Daly City, a rather sordid suburb just south of San Francisco. In one area, in row after row after row along the hillside, was an endless string of junky little houses all exactly the same, with the only difference being the gaudy paint color. There was a green one and a red one and a blue one and a yellow one, and they were all made out of the same crappy stucco, and they all looked just the same.

It was an architectual disgrace, and deserved as much ridicule as could be heaped upon it, including the people who would buy such monstrosities.

2. You seem very desirous to portray the author of the song as a Communist. ("Reynolds was a PhD in English from Berkeley, and a communist organizer left over from the 30's. Just regular folk, y'know?") So answer me this:

Why would a Communist mock something that looks exactly like the Communistic Utopian ideal? Were the Commies big on individualism and creative expression? No, not hardly. If they had built a bunch of houses in Daly City, they would have looked exactly like the ones the song spoke of. So why would a Communist mock them?

3. If all it took was some passing time and the purchase of a house to cause you to do a 180 on your earlier hippie values, then I suggest you were never much of a folkie or hippie to begin with, despite what your memory tells you.
__________________________________

Do us a favor. Next time write about something you understand. Unless you're over 55 and were living in the S.F. Bay Area back in the late 60's, you really have no idea what went on back then. All you have, like the self-deluded souls over at Maggie's Farm, are the words of other people who weren't there. You neocons have picked the hippie as some kind of symbology for the anti-war crowd, yet nothing could be further from the truth, and for two reasons:

1. The vast majority of us were interested in drugs, music, philosophy, unexplored areas of the mind, and all the rest. The war was just something we saw on the TV news at night. It was as remote then as it is today.

Yes, there was a very vocal anti-war movement, just as there is today. But to say "All hippies were anti-war" is just as stupid as saying "All Democrats are anti-war." Making such a statement is the very definition of the word "neocon".

But that's the statement you and Maggie's Farm are making.

2. And what people like you would never, ever, admit (if you even know) is that a vast number of people who were "against the war", such as myself, were against it because it wasn't a "war". Confused? Lost your history book? It was a "police action", and it was disgusting. Most people felt we should have gone in there and kicked some gook butt, just like we did in World War II. Instead, they stuck this tiny little contingent of soldiers over there who, understandably, got chewed to pieces. Was the war "immoral"? From a military standpoint, you bet it was.

Did we see the same thing unfolding when they sent a minimal amount of troops to Iraq?

You bet we did.

Thank God someone wised up and upgraded to a "surge", which, translated, means "the number of soldiers we should have sent over there in the first place." Things may still go sour, but, unlike Vietnam, at least this time we've given ourselves a fighting chance, however belatedly.

Oh, and one last thing. The next time you paraphrase some lyrics, show some class, will ya?

Best regards,
Doc

Sam L. said...

I've read the post and the comments, and lived thru the 60's. I lived in Edgemont, CA (now a part of Moreno Valley, CA) in a house in a development that had 3 house designs (you could say 6, if you think mirror images are different design--I don't), which took me a while to realize due to the additions and landscaping and trees and shrubbery in the early 80's.

I can't really comment on the song itself, but the best version I ever heard was by The Grubers, a group of 4 Strategic Air Command missile launch officers from F.E.Warren AFB, Wyoming (early-to-mid-70's)--who changed it to be about Minuteman missile launch control centers ("There are green ones, and green ones, and green ones, and green ones...") and those who serve in them.

Similar to the military uniform--we look pretty similar in it, but still we are different people. Some people can't see past the apparent uniformity, and think it's like "Metropolis" (the movie) or that great first Macintosh "1984" commercial.

Tad said...

AVI,

I liked your "Little Folkies" just fine. Of course when making general statements, there are exceptions. However, I WAS living in the Bay Area and saw more than my share of "hippies". I am over 55 AND I actually served in the Vietnam War...which, has never been described as a "police action" (that was the Korean War).

What we did in the late RVN was more moral than those who came afterward. What we're doing in Iraq is more noble and decent than those that espouse a woman's right to choose....but, will say damn little about filthy and violence encouraging lyrics in too many CDs and videos.

Today's Liberals are soft, lazy, and pampered. They cry out for more and more big govt. to take care of them and all others. They doth not study history and see that socialism nor communism just flat do not work.

We have to deal with people as they really are, not what the protected children (albeit, many with grey hair...or none) spout that we ought have.

So, having lived in a tract house in Lafayette, CA (yes, last time I was there, they'd go so "upscale" as to be frightening) and delivering papers - everyday, rain or shine - to other tract houses, I would say the occupants therein in those days, while hardly perfect, were less violent, more decent and more worthy of our trust.

Born in CA, as was Mother and Father. Finally, flat got sick and tired of it. Left.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Merc, the one-third of the people who read this blog and also know me personally are laughing in glee at how far wrong you are.

Listen to yourself - you upbraid me for saying all hippies were antiwar because that is a generalization, and then two sentences later use a "never, ever" about me. Based on exactly zero data, as I know I have never commented on the undeclared nature of the Vietnam war, which was indeed a big issue at the time.

Reynolds was a communist. That is not an opinion on my part but a repetition of her own statements. As to why she would criticize the communist ideal, that is precisely my point. She didn't think that was the communist ideal. The long kilometers of city concrete apartments that grace Eastern Europe, built because of the well-meant but misguided communist idea that everyone having their own modern apartment was a step toward the efficiency and improvement desired. People didn't have to be serfs and propertyless. They could have something of their own by owning it communally. Reynolds and the other American communists were blissfully (though perhaps semi-intentionally) unaware of what the communist ideal was actually producing.

It ended up worse than Daly City, though, didn't it?

The foreign communists were indeed not big on individual expression, which is why the support of American lefties was so bitterly ironic.

I love the overgeneralizing about how the people over at Maggie's farm overgeneralize. It's called projection, doc.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Tad posted while I was writing.

Thanks.

David said...

"Unless you're over 55 and were living in the S.F. Bay Area back in the late 60's, you really have no idea what went on back then"...by similar logic--unless you're over 80 and were around during the WWII era, you have no idea what went on back then. Unless you're over 200 and were around during the industrial revolution, you should not comment on it.

Wyman said...

My generation knows the song because it is now the theme to "Weeds," a show about how the suburbs are a soul-deadening wasteland hiding discontent and dissatisfaction with life. It hides its intentions with constant profanity and supposed street-cred, but it ultimately hawks the same basic ideals your basic hippie was hawking 40 years ago. "Little Boxes" is about as perfect a tune as you can imagine for the show.

Naturally, since the show is littered with f-bombs and the white characters spend appropriate amounts of time befuddled by the slang all the black characters say, the show gets to be considered quite edgy, especially because so much of it is about marijuana.

Ultimately our generation will realize that all our breaking-from-the-mold and not-being-tied-down rhetoric has been heard before a million times. But we're not there yet.

Anonymous said...

I've actually spent time in a couple of those ticky tacky concrete monstrosities in East I don't think they would appeal to Hollywood socialists.

While I was somewhat left in the 60s and 70s, my friends and I found the hippie pothead types absurd.

Pastor_Jeff said...

"It was an architectual disgrace, and deserved as much ridicule as could be heaped upon it, including the people who would buy such monstrosities."

There's the telling quote right there. Those homes aren't aesthetically pleasing to my sensibilities, so people who can afford nothing better should be ashamed to live in them. People who live in houses I find unattractive deserve my scorn.

Nice.

Granddaddy Long Legs said...

'...is the very definition of the word "neocon"'

Really? Exactly what does "neocon" mean to you? The very definition of the word describes a former liberal - turned conservative. So what exactly are you suggesting?

And let me clue you in on one thing, dr. mercury, it's hard to take someone seriously when they start bandying the word "neocon" about. It's usually a signal that the speaker is about to take a leftward turn into the realm of "no blood for oil" and the misnamed "9-11 truth movement."

Dubbahdee said...

Or...it might sound like this:

Little neocons on the hillside, little neocons made of ticky tacky, little neocons on the hillside and they all look just the same.
They are frothing at the mouth and they might just have rabies and if they bite us we’ll get infected and then we all will die.
And we can’t afford the healthcare, cuz government didn’t buy us any so we’ll all get put in boxes and be buried just the same.

Cousin Dave said...

dubbadee, I guess goverment should just buy for you anything your little heart desires, shouldn't it? Maybe it should buy you a dictionary, so you can look up the definition of "meter".

granddaddy: It's evident to me that whenever a leftist uses the word "neocon" in an out-of-context manner, it means they are using it as a code word for "Jew". Now, I have no clue as to the AVI's religious preferences... but, like the word "Nazi", the leftists today don't much care who they smear with it. They just use the word to refer to anyone they don't like.

And, regarding pastor jeff's excellent comment, and the question as to why Reynolds would critize the supposedly communist ideal of Daly City: I think the word "homeowner" explains it all. Had Daly City been built and owned by govermnent, and its occupants been government dependents, it would be proclaimed a "project" and praised to high heaven, and the only criticism that the Left would have ever levied was that it didn't get more money. In the topsy-turvy world of leftism, the absolute worst sin a human being can commit is to own property. The Left has been fighting a war against suburbia since it began, and is still fighting that war today ("suburban sprawl"). Why? Because it turned urban renters, utterly dependent on the whims of their "betters", into independent homeowners. For many of the people who bought into Levittown and Daly City, they were the first people in 4-5 generations of their family to be able to own property -- their parents and grandparents lived in the slums of New York and San Francisco, while their great-grandparents hailed from the slums of London, Paris, or Rome. It wasn't supposed to happen that Levittowns provided them with an economic escape hatch and put them on the road to middle-classhood. Those people were all supposed to be confined to "workers' paradise" hovels for the rest of eternity. The Left was completely blind-sided by Levittown. Hence their visceral rage, which they've now spent a half-century trying to rationalize.

Colonel Robert Neville said...

Dear Assistant:

You are old sport, completely correct in your analysis. Bloody great and starkly, profoundly sad.

When the Beatles were still young hard rockers, they and the other energetic lads used to call folkies the 'La dee dah crowd'.

"It was all fucking middle class, with cider, bleeding scarves and songs about going to New South Wales. We all thought it was total bollocks and naff". (Naff meaning Twee, faux, contrived, embarrassing and utterly pointless.) In short, museum piece shite.

I'm a performing musician, a business, student and working family man.

And as I'm no longer 17 or 22, I have left acne, polarisation, hyperbole, cant and ignorance hopefully behind, but not the ability to dream, be enthusiastic, hopeful and decent.

I don't look down on the ordinary people whom I was often desperate not to be. I have now found the lack of change, evolution, tolerance and the lack of plain good manners in my old groover friends, peculiar, hilarious, meaningless and damn stupid.

I find that too many of the people who believe themselves artists, musicians and actors, are often not as special as they imagine. In fact, they can quite frustratingly often be well, dumb, bigoted and dull, but in the approved way, so it seems ok to them and there circle.

They possess the very things that they believe much of 'untalented' and unworthy masses are.

Yep, without a moral centre or discriminating rational judgement, you merely circle back in a Left wilderness to where you started sans any strength of improvement.

Odd innit? Betraying all the good things you were, all your human potential for a mechanical package of useless ideology, posture, moral vanity and guff...

The Left and Liberal of mind can deny anything and deny what they have just denied. It's a kind of endlessly boring, empty abstracting that never touches ground. The mental gymnastics and moral gnomery required is exhausting. See Chomsky, Penn, Moore, Fonda, Gore, Kerry etc, etc.

A blogger, Gagdad Bob said: "One of the appeals of Leftism is that you can never be called a hypocrite. That is, if you have no standards, then there is no standard by which to judge you".

Even the name ‘Folk’ is instructive. It says so much about the Left and Radical fantasists. It means the people, the ordinary working class people, the one class they know nothing about, are uninterested in except as a handy cipher and ultimately despise. Lennon said we played real folk music of the time, mostly rock and roll of the working class.

Left, Liberal Radicalism is now completely bankrupt as they have had too much power, sway and influence for to long. It seems to have done what it always does, corrupts utterly. Butthat’s showbiz.

All the best from Melbourne Australia. (Not New South Wales!) colonelrobertneville.blogspot.com

Any chance of adding my shabby blog to your roll? I’d very much appreciate it.

Colonel Robert Neville said...

Dear cousin dave; loved your post and would love to hear from you. We dig the same clarity I believe.

colonelrobertneville.blogspot.com

Colonel Robert Neville said...

Dear Dr Mercury;

Who do you imagine you are to judge, jury and ridicule ordinary working people who have never harmed you and that you will never want to meet?

Oh, that's right, a Left, Liberal and stale old deluded 'once was radical', bursting with over ripe arrogance, conceit and smug assumptions. Yeah, they should put petty potential semi martinets like you in charge, right?

Yeah, the anti Vietnam crowd were a real success story. Not to my Vietnamese friends. 2 million refugees, half a million dead and drowned in the South China Sea, thousands tortured and murdered. I thought ya said it would be better when the Americans went? That was the WHOLE premise wasn't it?

It wasn't true, it was a clear lie. But why should they care? They were affluent and free in LA, California and New York, not a dump in Saigon.

How many hippies that said they 'cared' so much about the Vietnamese, went to Vietnam to 'help out' after 1975? Zero. Why? Because it was all fake, and no longer all about them. Phony to the core.

All platitudes, posture, guff, wind, theory, fashion, moral vanity and narcissism, that's the Left Liberal of today. Those with such bankrupt views are Fisked royally on dissectleft.blogspot.com

Smile and right on!
colonelrobertneville.blogspot.com
Melbourne Australia

Sam L. said...

As Col. Neville said:
"I find that too many of the people who believe themselves artists, musicians and actors, are often not as special as they imagine. In fact, they can quite frustratingly often be well, dumb, bigoted and dull, but in the approved way, so it seems ok to them and there circle."

Echo chambers make small groups sound so much larger--and don't admit other opinions.

Sam L. said...

I started to read the comments and saw that I had commented. Four years ago--hadn't realized I've been reading here that long.

I liked Dubbadee's rewrite.

I now live in Oregon where we have a LOT of unreconstructed hippies and other lefties. They don't age well.

Sam L. said...

I think what this is, is the typical response of those who think they have better/more-refined/superior taste than those tacky people who have made something popular or fairly wide-spread. (I remember, suddenly, a guy who played jazz piano--though I never heard him do it--complaining about someone who was currently popular [making money with a hit tune] as being "commercial").

This is the "we're so intelligent and highly-educated and know better than most, so if you don't agree with us you must be a hick from the sticks" schtick. Assumed superiority of the "in" crowd.

Pauly Shore said...

It seems like your problem isn't with liberals so much as the human condition. We all get smug. We all get superior. Especially the author of this blog post!

Really though, it's a damn catchy song, and I just learned to play it on guitar even though I'm an ignorant business student from the boonies.

Anyway, have fun with your silly partisan politics that only serves to blind you to truth and destroy my once great nation.

Peace!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Hey, Pauly, I've had thousands of comments here. Every time someone signs off with "peace," they really mean "Fuck you, but I'm a nice person and you're not." Just a little something I picked up over the years. It's been 100% accurate whenever I have tried to pursue further discussion with them.

As for being partisan, I started as a full-socialist liberal, and left them because of their meanness. And the coolness of something being "damn catchy song" is exactly what draws them in. Whether I became partisan in the other direction is another matter - one that may be true, but you are in no position to answer from reading 1 of 5000 posts. I am at least writing from inside knowledge.

I've been in this discussion many times before, and have a clear idea how partisan, blind, destructive and how smug I am. You are just guessing and showing off. Your danger is greater than mine.

Mike Ripple said...

The original song is about social conformity, however manifested, and the relinquishment of individualism.
We are all told what to do since the second we break ties with the womb...what to wear, how to speak, how to act, how to live in chronological order. The author of this editorial is an idiot.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Somewhere in that collection of cliches there's a point, Mike. But I suspect not a very good one.

No, my complaint is actually a little different. You use words inaccurately.