Omni Recording Corporation has pressed a fascinating CD compilation of conservative folk music called "Freedom is a Hammer: Conservative Folk Revolutionaries of the Sixties." (Song above is Tony Dolan's "New York Times Blues.")
Bill Geerhart of Conelrad compiled this collection, and wrote well-researched liner notes. He conducted interviews with many of the living conservative folk revolutionary heroes of the 1960. Here's an excerpt:
BOTH SIDES NOW: The Other Music Revolution of the Sixties
Conservative folk music. This strangely dissonant term calls to mind, if anything, a couple of American comedy films from the recent past. Specifically, Tim Robbins’ titular right-wing Republican folkie, Bob Roberts (1992) and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind (2003) featuring the Up with People-esque New Main Street Singers. But decades before these mockumentaries were even conceived there was a real, if little noticed, subgenre of music rebutting the liberal nineteen-sixties protest songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, et.al. Until now the recorded evidence of this hopelessly obscure political art form could only be found by scouring thrift stores, yard sales and eBay…for years. But thanks to the esoterica-obsessed people at Omni Recording Corporation, the listener holds in their hands a convenient, single volume of the most interesting output of the stars of conservative folk: Janet Greene, Tony Dolan and Vera Vanderlaan!
For the people out there who are used to having their folk delivered from a far-left perspective, it is a fascinating and refreshing collection. Indeed, for anyone who has had If I Had a Hammer (the Hammer Song) by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays hammered into their skull since grade school, Vera Vanderlaan’s Freedom is a Hammer is—regardless of the listener’s politics—something of a revelation. In fact, all of the pro-America, anti-Communist tracks on this set are intriguing artifacts from one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. Heard today, these tunes only benefit from the distance of time and the overexposure of the folk revival hits that the conservative folk artists were attempting to answer. But how did these musical counter-revolutionaries get started? What motivated them? Where did they come from? What became of them? The answers, our friends, follow.
Folk and Buckley at Yale: Tony Dolan
“Joan Baez, you sing so soft, you sing about the falling rain, where were your songs of righteousness…when Poland’s youth lay slain?”
- Tony Dolan, Remember Bloody Budapest
After a brief, youthful indiscretion supporting John F. Kennedy in 1960, Tony Dolan (born Anthony Rossi Dolan in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1948) read Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative and never looked back. By the next election cycle the prep school teen was performing at Goldwater-for-President rallies with his folk combo The Chicken Flickin’ Three. It was at Yale University, while trying out for the school newspaper, that Dolan interviewed conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. It was a useful connection to have as Buckley wound up writing a syndicated column about Dolan’s musical ambitions and paved the way for the young man to write an article about the Newport Folk Festival for a 1968 issue of the National Review. The elder Yalie also wrote the highbrow liner notes for his discovery’s one and only LP, Cry, the Beloved Country. When asked by the Yale Daily News why he recorded it, Dolan responded puckishly, “To show that conservatism swings.” And swing it does. On tracks like New York Times Blues, Join the S.D.S. and Remember Bloody Budapest, Dolan sounds like a Bizarro World Phil Ochs—an artist whom Dolan once classified as a “good songwriter” whose politics “stink.” The November 1968 issue of New Guard (the Young Americans for Freedom rag) issued a rave review for the album: “Mr. Dolan’s main motive is revenge. Using some of the good techniques of the ‘love and flower’ New Left, he has created folk songs that conservatives can sing with soul.”
When Dolan graduated in 1970 he went into politics, working on the New York senate campaign of his mentor’s brother, James L. Buckley (who won). During this period he also found time to appear on The Dick Cavett Show and The Merv Griffin Show as a conservative singer-songwriter / right-wing provocateur. It was backstage on the latter program that Dolan had his face punched by Mark Frechette, the counterculture star of Zabriskie Point (1970). Dolan was later quoted as telling Frechette, “You don’t hit very hard.”
After a few more years laboring as a consultant for Goldwater guru F. Clifton White, Dolan returned to journalism – reporting for the Stamford Advocate where he won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on local corruption. In the nineteen-eighties the former folkie ascended to his most influential soapbox as President Ronald Reagan’s chief speechwriter. During Reagan’s two terms, Dolan wrote or was involved in the drafting of numerous presidential addresses including the 1983 “Evil Empire” speech. In 1987 Dolan was part of the team that accompanied the Gipper to the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin for his “Tear down this wall” moment. Peter Robinson, a colleague of Dolan’s, actually wrote the famous speech. During the George W. Bush administration, Dolan worked as a special adviser in the offices of the secretary of state and the secretary of defense. More recently he has contributed opinion pieces to various conservative publications including the Wall Street Journal and the National Review Online.
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Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.