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While I’m Here
Red House 286
Theo Bikel’s While I’m Here is a magical trip down Memory Lane. If this name rings no bells, your cultural/musical education contains a gap that this double-CD can bridge. Bikel (1924-2015) was a seminal figure in the middle period of the Folk Revival (1947-1965).
Bikel was born in Vienna, fled to Palestine during the Nazi years, moved to London to become an actor, immigrated to the United States in 1954, and became a citizen in 1961. His contributions to the Folk Revival notwithstanding, he was even better known for his acting chops. How many folk singers do you know that have been nominated for Academy Awards and Tony Awards, served as president of Actors’ Equity, and played Worf’s father on Star Trek? His is the record-holder for portraying Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof), and the role of Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music was invented for Bikel to display his vocal prowess. Ever hear the song “Edelweiss?” Of course you have; it was penned by Oscar Hammerstein especially for Bikel
If it strikes you as odd that Bikel also picked up an acoustic guitar and sang at folk clubs, another short history lesson. During the Folk Revival, stories were as important as the songs, and no music devotee dreamt of yelling out, “Shut up and sing!” Who better than an actor to spin good yarns? To mention a few others who went a similar route, Alan Arkin was one-third of The Tarriers, who had several best-selling records; and most of The Clancy Brothers hit the boards before they hit the charts. (Contemporary actors such as Steve Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Creed Bratton, and Kevin Bacon tread in these footsteps in reverse, and tons of actors rock or rap.)
Bikel hit the USA at time during the Folk Revival when Americans were discovering the world: Alan Lomax trotted across the planet to record international folk music, Pete Seeger whistled both traditional and revolutionary Chinese ditties, and country singers discovered that “Appalachian” music had English or Scottish roots. Bikel fit in well—he was the genuine article, a Jew with an inherited trove of Yiddish and Hebrew songs, facility with 21 languages, and a born shanachie. The first CD of While I’m Here is entirely storytelling—most of it autobiographical in content but spellbinding in nature. Imagine a Yiddish Garrison Keillor and you begin to conjure the worlds Bikel recreates. One could teach an awful lot of immigration history through Bikel’s words—especially the lure of America in the post-World War Two years.
Some listeners may find Bikel’s songs too mannered. This too was common during the Folk Revival, with Bikel fitting the mold of other “stagey” singers such as John Jacob Niles. He was not a songwriter; Bikel interpreted the compositions of others, including the album’s title track, penned by Phil Ochs. One of his signature songs, “The Lady is Waiting,” came from Paul Williams, and Bikel wasn’t particular about original sources, as long as he liked the song. Another favorite was “Pourquoi Je Chante,” from Egyptian-French-Italian-Greek composer Giuseppe Mustacchi. Bikel also fashioned sets that contained Yiddish songs, contemporary international folk, and show tunes. He cofounded the Newport Folk Festival (1959) and inspired such next-wave Folk Revivalists as Judy Collins, Peter Yarrow, and some guy named Dylan, as well as Jac Holzman, who went on to produce everyone from The Doors to The Stooges.
Bikel belonged to the generation of folkies defiant of the 1950s Red Scare and 1960s reactionaries. He was an unapologetic Zionist and remained an activist even when it passed from fashion (which is more than can be said of Dylan). The second CD opens with “Wasn’t That a Mighty Day?” which Bikel reworked to protest the ill treatment of Hurricane Katrina survivors. Bikel was a lifelong civil rights activist; hence the collection also contains “Oh Freedom.”
In brief, Theo Bikel was an important figure—an icon of artistic achievement, creativity force, and humanitarianism. Bikel passed last year, but continues to inspire folks such as Cathy Fink, who co-produced this retrospective, and Judy Collins, who wrote a loving tribute. If you already know about Bikel, spread the word; if not, time to complete your education, friend.
PS: I’d recommend buying the CD, not a download, because the 24-page liner booklet is an education in its own right.
LOVE BETWEEN THE COVERS: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c924.shtml a film about women filmmakers, is now available.
Romance novels comprise over a billion dollars a year in book sales, outselling science fiction, fantasy, and mystery combined. So why is the genre so often dismissed as frivolous “scribble” rather than elevated as a radical literary form that pushes the envelope on gender, race, and diversity? The heroic characters, prolific writers, and voracious readers that dominate romantic fiction are primarily women. Witty and intelligent, these lovers of the written word form a collaborative, supportive, and dynamic community where readers and writers inspire one another. Emmy Award® Winning director Laurie Kahn (Tupperware!) takes a comprehensive look at what goes into publishing a romantic novel, from the author’s inspiration and writing process to the photo shoots for those distinctive cover designs. Speaking with literary scholars, romance fanatics, aspiring writers, and award-winning authors, including Nora Roberts, Eloisa James, Beverly Jenkins, and Radclyffe, this documentary offers fascinating insights into this female-centric literary world.
You can get more information from: Amy Aquilino, Women Make Movies, 115 W. 29th Street, Suite 1200LS, New York, NY 10001
WMM Catalog: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/new_releases.shtml
Special Collections: http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/special_collections.shtml
Our friends at Syracuse University Press have just put a 3rd edition of Watching TV: Eight Decades of American Television, a popular text from Harry Castleman and Walter J. Podrazik.
For more information go the Syracuse University Press Website.
Two doctoral students in the History Department at the University of Kentucky, Dara Vance and Cody Foster, have started a podcast series called “Long Story Short: A Brief History of History” that features UK historians reflecting on and summarizing fascinating stories in history. The target audience is local, regional and global audiences as well as, in particular, 14-19 year old youth who might be interested in learning more about history and historical topics.
The series started with “The Power of the Vote, with Mark Summers” and “The Voyage of Chistopher Columbus, with Erik Myrup” and has several others in the line-up now, including one on Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 Presidential bid and relating that to today’s chances for a woman to become President of the United States.
Subscribe to the podcast series in SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/ukarts_sciences/sets/long-story-short-1.
You can hear a radio interview on WUKY with Dara and Cody on October 29th where they describe their goals and aspirations for the podcast series.
Dara Vance and Cody Foster
University of Kentucky
1713 Patterson Office Tower
Department of History
Lexington, KY 40506-0027
Department Office Telephone: (859) 257-6861