Saturday, October 04, 2014

Country Club 56: "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" or Merle Travis and Commodity Fetishism

Just as Bob Wills taught political economy, I wonder if Merle Travis understood the theory of commodity fetishism or maybe he exemplifies it.  Let's examine this extremely clever, often covered, song by Merle Travis. 

Wikipedia writes

"So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed" is a 1947 song by Merle Travis, written by Travis, Eddie Kirk, and Cliffie Stone. The song would be his second number one on the Folk Juke Box charts where it stayed at number one for 14 weeks and a total of 21 weeks on the chart. In the same year it was a #3 hit for Johnny Bond and a #5 hit for Ernest Tubb.

Instrumentally this track is very interesting and different from our template of what a country song should sound like. It leads off with trumpet from Alex Brashear (who played with jazzers Jack and Charlie Teagarden as well as Bob Wills and, later, Merle Haggard) and includes nice little riffs from violin, steel guitar, and accordion! as well as little classic Travis picking.

(Both the  Tubb version on YouTube and Johnny Bond's emulated Travis' sonic mix, with the later adding a clarinet solo to Travis' sonic mix. I think these songs tell us something important about country and popular music in the mid-twentieth century.)

Again according to wikipedia

The song describes a woman using advertising slogans. The slogan "So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw" was used in Lucky Strike cigarette advertising of the time, since at least 1945. "I'd walk a mile" is a slogan for Camel cigarettes. "Just ask the man who owns one" refers to Packard automobiles. "She's got the pause that's so refreshing" is a reference to the Coca-Cola slogan "The Pause that Refreshes".

I think there are some additional advertising slogans referred to in the song which aren't mentioned in the wikipedia article and should be annotating. A few I've found are "Avoid 5 O'Clock Shadow" (Gem Razors/Blades),  "(Pepsi-Cola) Hits the Spot", and "Toasted by the Sun" (another Camel ad.) A few cultural allusions as well should be tracked down.  Bobbysoxers were young female fans of musicians, most notably Frank Sinatra.

And is the song a subversive critique of male supremacy or an expression of patriarchy.

Early lyrics, playing on a Packard automobile advertising slogan, demark a woman as property

If you don’t think she’s a lot of fun
Just ask the man that owns one
and end with a double reference to woman as property, as cattle  and
Won’t be long ’til she wears my brand.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Remembering when cigarettes were so cool...

that even religious leaders trying to make religion cool and relevant would feature a cig on a book cover.

Here is the cover of the paperback version of Malcolm Boyd's 1965 Are You Running with Me, Jesus?

Boyd was an Episcopal priest active in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements.  He became famous for his  religiously-themed poetry-reading sessions at the Hungry i nightclub in San Francisco and was labeled the "Expresso Priest".

Later, Boyd came out as gay.  He is still living and writing and, even, has a website.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Country Club 55: Twin Mandolins

You've heard of twin guitars and twin fiddles in Western Swing,  how about twin (electric) mandolins!

This is Al Dressen's Super Swing Revue performing Johnny Gimble's tune "Mandolopin'" with Jason Roberts and Paul Glasse on mandolin.  It was recorded at the 18th Annual Texas Natural & Western Swing Festival  held on May 15 2010 in San Marcos, Texas.

The mandolin is typecast as a bluegrass instrument, but it actually has lots of versatility.  Electric mandolin, while not an essential instrument in Western Swing, have a long history in the genre.  Most famously, Tiny Moore began playing a Gibson electric mandolin with the Bob Wills band in 1946.  Instead of using the eight strings of the standard mandolin (four courses tuned in unisons), Moore used only four strings.  In the 1950s, Moore, playing in Billy Jack Wills' band, commissioned a 5 string electric mandolin from Paul Bigsby. Before Moore, Leo Raley played electric mandolin in the 1930s with the Western Swing band of Cliff Bruner, most likely the first electric mandolin.  The legendary Johnny Gimble, composer of the tune featured above, played electric mandolin and violin with the Wills band. There was an overlap in their tenure and there must have been some twin mandolins.  Most likely, the Tiffany Transcriptions captured some of this.

Here's a picture of Moore (second from right) with Bob Wills from the early 1950s. There is another mandolin player, possibly Gimble to Moore's right.  (Photo is from Musings Of A Muleskinner--Deke Dickerson's Blog.)

Because the mandolin is tuned identically to the violin, many Western Swing double on the two instruments.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Plan, Market, and Freedom

I'm doing some reading in The Problems of a Planned Economy, a 1990 paperback theme selection from the first edition of the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.  The essays were written after the beginning of Perestroika but before the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, some phrasing and assumptions are dated, but there is still a lot of interest and value in the many of the essays. Tadeusz Kowalik then professor at Waraw University and who passed in 2012, has an interesting analysis on "Central Planning" and at the end presents this intelligent perspective on planning, market, and freedoms.

PLANNING AND FREEDOM. Ever since its inception, the question of economic planning has set off disputes about democracy and individual freedom. In its original purely ideological concept, planning used either to be equated with democracy or presented as democracy's exact opposite: suffice it to mention the New Leftist utopia of a social system based on the belief that production and distribution can somehow be planned by the people with a total absence of market and state. The eternal Kingdom of Freedom was to come simply as soon as market and state alike have been abolished.

More elegant, albeit no less utopian, is the free-marketeers' blueprint for rejecting any governmental planning as a threat to efficiency and freedom. Although quite fashionable (and not only in the West), this mode of thinking is nonetheless outside the mainstream of disputes over planning versus freedom.

In fact, most major currents of social thinking have' undergone a process of radical re-thinking in the course of recent decades. This holds for liberalism (Mannheim, 1940; Galbraith, 1973; Lindblom, 1977) and for non-Communist socialism (Crosland, 1956; Crossman, 1965; Nove, 1983) as well as for Marxism (Brus, 1975; Horvat, 1982; Kornai, 1985). Whatever differences may divide all these currents of thought, as indeed individual thinkers within each current, all of them are aware of two kinds of threat to freedom one that comes from all-embracing, hierarchical and bureaucratic planning, and another that comes from the failure to plan anything at all. The market mechanism is regarded a something like a barrier to bureaucratic arbitrariness. But its failure in turn may put at hazard not only economic but even political stability, thereby destroying the foundations of the desired social order. Planning, within given limits, thus turns out to be an indispensable condition of freedom. While making a plea for a polycentric model of economy—both in the sense of providing for different forms of ownership and of decision making - all -these currents of thinking believe that society as a whole should have an authentic say (via its representatives) the main lines of investment and general rules for national income distribution.'
Of course, there is nothing inevitable in the long-run direction this movement will take either in the West or in the East. The chance to create a social order which would be based upon the three main tiers of plan, the market and freedom would be much greater if it were clear that each of these is a necessary condition for high socio-economic efficiency, and that freedom too can be viewed not only as a value in itself but also as a specific kind of production factor. Some authors have questioned this dependence of economic efficiency on political democracy (Gomulka, 1977). However, neither studies of this relationship in many Third World countries (Adelman and Taft, 1967) nor the record of previous reforms in the Communist world supply any definite answer to this question. On the other hand, the analysis of pressures on, and prospects of, the evolution of Communist systems in Eastern Europe has led to a rather persuasive argument (Brus, 1980) that with democratizing internal political relations these systems will be unable to remove (or at least to reduce substantially) central planning's chronic deficiencies, such as insufficient and distorted information flows, negative selection of managerial personnel, chronic investment failures, labour alienation, etc. The stagnation threatening the Communist countries presses the ruling groups to more radical reforms which would combine plan, market and freedom. At the same time, repeated setbacks of neoliberal economic policies in the West may well generate fresh and strong public pressure for changes in a similar direction.

Adelman, I. and Taft, C.M. 1967. Society, Politics and Economic Development: A Quantitative Approach. Baltimore.Johns Hopkins Press.
Bauer, T. 1978. Investment cycles in planned economies. Acta Oeconomica 21(3), 243-60. Brus, W. 1975. Socialist Ownership and Political Systems. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Brus, W. 1980. Political system and economic efficiency: the East European context. Journal of Comparative Economics '4(1), March, 40-55.
Cave, M. and Hare, P. 1981. Alternaiiv~ Approaches to Economic Planning. New York: St Martin's Press. r " ',; .'.
Crosland, C.A.R. 1956. The Future·~j Socialism. London: Jonathan Cape; New York: Macmillan, 1957. .
Crossman, R.H.S. 1965. Planning and freedom. In R.H.S. Crossman, Essays in Socialism, London: Hamish Hamilton.
Davies, R.W. and Carr, E.H. 1974. Foundations of a Planned .E.conomy 1926-1929. Harmondsworth: Penguin. '~ ,
Ellman, M. 1983. Changing views on central economic planning: 1958~1983: The ACES Bulletin, A Publication of the Association for Comparative Economic. Studies (Tempo, Arizona) 25(1), Spring. . >
Galbraith, J.K. 1973. Economics and the Public Purpose. Boston': Houghton Mifflin.
Gomulka, S. 1977. Economic factors in the democratization of socialism and the socialization of capitalism. Journal of Comparative Economics 1 (4), December, 389-406.
Horvat, B. 1982. The Political Edonomy of Socialism. A Marxist Social Theory. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. ., .
Kornai, J. 1972. Rush versus Harmonic Growth. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Kornai,1. 1985. Contradicttons and Dilemmas, Studies in the Socialist Economy and Society. Corvina: Kner Printing House.
Lange, O. 1965. Od bilansowania do wyboru optymalnego planu (From balancing the plan to the choice of optimal plan). Nowe Drogi (Warsaw), No.2.
Lewis, W. A. 1949. The Principles of Economic Planning. London: Allen & Unwin, 1956. Lindblom, C. 1977. Politics and Markets. The World's Poljtical-Economic Systems. New York: Basic Books. 0,
Mannheim.jk. 1940. Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. Studies in Modern Social Structure. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Mises, L. von. 1947. Planned Chaos. Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education.
Nove, A. 1983. The Economics of Feasible Socialism. London: Allen & Unwin.
Robbins, L. 1947. The Economic Problem in Peace and War. London: Macmillan.
Tinbergen, J. 1964. Central Planning. New Haven and London: Yale University Press


Here are two articles on Kowalik that should be of interest.

 An appreciation of  Tadeusz Kowalik on the Beyond the Transition website which provides "critical analysis of the social, political and economic changes occurring in Central-Eastern Europe – with a particular focus on Poland."

Jan Toporowski, "Tadeusz Kowalik and the Accumulation of Capital" Monthly Review.