Sunday, May 21, 2006

Laura Flanders spoke with Penny Lang about the importance of music and much more

If you caught RadioNation with Laura Flanders Saturday, you heard about the military-industrial complex in a discussion the first hour with James Carroll (author of House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power). Author Charles Wilson discussed his new book Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food. Christabel Nsiah-Buadi interviewed an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights about what's going on at Guantanamo (prisoners, after years of being imprisoned without a right to trial and hidden away, are making suicide attempts -- by means other than starvation which they had already been attempting). In fact, you got a great deal more than that.

And, in the third hour, which Flanders always devotes on Saturdays to music, poetry, film or another art form, you got Penny Lang. Lang's been performing professionaly since 1963 and, last night, she performed a number of songs from her upcoming album (already released in her native country of Canada) Stone & Sand & Sea & Sky. (June 13th is the release date for it in the United States.)

Of Phil Ochs, Lang said, "He wrote songs that are revelant to the world today, not just your country, but our's [Canada]" and then went on to perform, live in the studio with Flanders, a moving version of Ochs' "When I'm Gone:"

I won't breathe the bracing air
When I'm gone
I can't even worry about my cares
When I'm gone
Won't be asked to do my share
When I'm gone
I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here.

It's a wonderful song and Lang found a way to make it her own. (We really feel that if David Letterman can release CDs of performances for his show, Flanders and Air America might look into putting out a CD with some highlights from RadioNation.)

Flanders wondered, "Can we sing louder than the guns, do you think?" Lang replied, "I think we have to" and added, "I think we got to stop watching TV so much. Get out there and start meeting people. . . . " Reconnect (or for some connect for the first time) with the world around you was the way Lang saw it.

Flanders asked, "Who do you think gave you permission in your life to be who you are, to pick up an instrument . . . to keep coming back after being kicked down so much?" That included a stroke Lang had six years ago.

The reply? "The passion . . . I always come back to this because it really truly is where my heart is."

She noted that for her family, music was a way of communicating and that its power including the ability of reaching us "and in a very special way moves us."

A working mother (her adult son Jason was with her in the studio), Lang spoke of the problems we face today when "play" is no longer free form but something restricted and regimented. Today, she explained, when you think of the word "play," you think of coaches and teams. It's highly organized.

"I think parents are too uptight about their children being perfect instead of enjoying them at their play," she said. "A child sings a tune and a parent says 'Oh that was out of tune, how horrible.'"

Her committment to song was noted in another song, "Yes," which included the line, "I will sing until I die." "Careless Love" was another strong song, one with (as Flanders pointed out) a bluesy feel.

When you think of White blues singers, you probably think of Janis Joplin and Lang had a Joplin story. Ken Pierson, the Hammond organ player in Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie band (her final band, the one she recorded Pearl with) was a friend of Lang's and, since Joplin wanted to learn more about playing the guitar, Lang, it was decided, would teach her. Unfortunately Joplin would pass away before the lessons took place. Lang noted that "Janis wanted to play the guitar real bad. They pulled the mike off onstage" when she tried to play along with "Me & Bobby McGee." (Joplin played guitar on the demo for "Me & Bobby McGee" and that can be heard on the boxed set Janis -- where she stops the recording because she can't hear the guitar and notes she should be able to hear it "even if I don't play so good." For those interested, she starts the song over and it's a wonderful document of how she originally worked through the "La-la-la"s of the song.)

She also has a connection to Leonard Cohen in that she was approached to record the song "Suzanne" with a band (for Warner Bros. Records) but declined. She jokes that a stronger manager would have talked her into doing the song. (This would have been recorded before Judy Collins offered her own wonderful interpretation on In My Life.)

Tonight, Flanders intends to discuss the results of the New Orleans mayoral race (Nagan won) and to speak with Sara Jean Rohe, the student who stood down John McCain at the New School Friday. She'll also be speaking with Greg Palast and, in her media roundtable, speak with Bruce Shapiro and Christy Hardin Smith about recent media coverage.

NYC-ers, if you're feet are itching and you don't think you can stay inside your home tonight
Penny Lang will be performing at The Living Room -- eight p.m., 154 Ludlow Street, NYC -- corner of Stanton and Rivington. It's a wonderful place to see musicians (as anyone who saw Anais Mitchell perform there in December can attest).

If you missed Lang, you missed some wonderful music and wonderful conversations. Don e-mailed and wrote, "Okay, if nothing else, I'll make a point to listen to the third hour on Saturday." Don had written us a month or so back (right before Flanders took a leave to finish the book she's working on) to ask why, on the weekend, he'd want to follow current events by listening to any program including RadioNation with Laura Flanders? We're glad he's now on board for the third hour (last night was his first chance to catch the third hour) and we hope overtime he grows curious about the other five hours offered each weekend.

Sidebar, Myles Cameron (we think that's how it's spelled) actually did a strong job on the newsbreaks Saturday. Not an ounce of fluff. We'll note that since we've noted his performance previously. (The news breaks come on the hour, every hour.)
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