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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's "non-negotiable:" the Demand for a Public Option

Monday, August 10, 2009

"I got a telephone in my bosom"

There's something powerful in this eminently rewatchable clip from Richie Havens' set at Woodstock...especially the moment that opens up after he sings the line "I got a telephone in my bosom":

I was curious about that line. "I got a telephone in my bosom." We know from various sources that Havens was improvising at this point in his three hour set. Havens was ad-libbing lyrics using folk and blues and gospel motifs. We also know that in the process Havens created what many think was one of the signature moments of Woodstock...when Havens called out..."Mother" "Father" Brother" "Sister"...and seemed to crack open the spiritual space for what became the Woodstock festival.

Being a language geek, I was curious about the line..."I got a telephone in my bosom"...so I googled it.

In the process, I found this amazing website, Midwest45s.org.

And that led me after a little research to this 45 from the Amazing Farmer Singers of Chicago and this powerful song:

"I got a telephone in my bosom."

Funny thing is though...per sources I could find that recording was made after Woodstock if the 1974 formation date for the Farmer Singers is right (though the song sounds to me like it could be earlier.)

"I got a telephone in my bosom" seems to be a bit of a mystery. So I kept looking.

Then I found this link. Which explained things, including the story of Haven's Woodstock set, a bit more:

"Freedom" is the name of Haven's best-known song, the one that famously evolved out of an improvisation at the end of his accidental three-hour opening set at Woodstock. He and his two-man group were meant to be fourth on the bill, but they were thrown on stage as the first because, unlike some of the other acts, Havens and company were present and accounted for, easy to set up, and all importantly, had not ingested the infamous brown acid.

"I went and did my 40 minutes, I walked off and they said, ‘Richie, can you do about four more songs?’ No one was there to go on. I went back and sang the four songs. I walked off. ‘Richie… four more?’ They did that six times until I realized, I don't have another song. I'm done. I've sung every song I know. It's two hours and forty-five minutes later… and that's when I start that long intro, that's me trying to figure out what I'm going to play, and I yell out the thing about the guitar microphone… please, let me stall a little bit more!"

After about a minute of freelancing a percussive riff in his distinctive open-D tuning, accompanied by an Afro-Cuban conga beat, he cried the word "freedom," and then repeated it eight more times. "I just went with that… all of a sudden, 'Motherless Child' came out. I hadn't sung that song in 14 or 15 years. I used to sing it early on in the Village." He also slipped in a couple of secularized verses from a song he calls "I Got a Telephone in My Bosom" (a variation on the song that became known as "Jesus is on the Mainline"), which he learned during a brief gospel education. And though he was in a state of improvisational ecstasy, Havens could still sense that by participating in Woodstock, he was taking part in history.

"They can't hide us anymore" was the thought that went through his head upon seeing the masses at Max Yasgur's Farm that day. At first observing the scene through the floorboards of the helicopter that was delivering him to the gig, and later from his vantage point on the stage, "I thought, ‘when the pictures come out in the newspaper, they'll see we are now above ground. We're no longer relegated to the underground.’"

Following that lead, I looked for the origins of "Jesus is on the Mainline" and found a reference to Mississippi Fred McDowell and the Hunter's Chapel Singers which turned up this sample clip. As much as I looked I could not find a version of "Jesus on the Mainline" that includes Haven's "bosom" lyric.

However, in the midst of all that searching, I stumbled on this Fred McDowell version of "Goin down to the River", which, while NOT the song in question was just too powerful not to share. It is a fitting place to close this post:


Thursday, August 06, 2009

PS 22 Sings

For more go here!