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BOOKSMITH: Jesse Jarnow / Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America
November 6 @ 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
Booksmith hosts Jesse Jarnow (Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America) for his new book Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America. Please join us!
Following a series of top 10 hits that became instant American standards, the Weavers dissolved at the height of their fame. Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle for the Soul of America details the remarkable rise of Pete Seeger’s unlikely band of folk heroes, from basement hootenannies to the top of the charts, before a coordinated harassment campaign at the hands of Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee and the emergent right-wing media saw them unable to find work and dropped by their label while their songs still hovered on Billboard’s lists.
Turning the black-and-white 1950s into vivid color, Wasn’t That a Time uses the Weavers to illuminate a dark and complex period of American history. Emerging while a highly divided populace was bombarded and further divided by fake news — and progressive organizations and individuals found themselves repressed under the pretenses of national security — the Weavers would rise, fall, and rise again. With origins in the radical folk collective the Almanac Singers and the ambitious People’s Songs, both pioneering the use of music as a transformative political organizing tool, the singing activists in the Weavers set out to change the world with songs as their weapons.
Using previously unseen journals and letters, unreleased recordings, once-secret government documents, and other archival research, veteran music journalist and WFMU DJ Jesse Jarnow uncovers the immense hopes, incredible pressures, and daily struggles of the four distinct and often unharmonious personalities at the heart of the Weavers. With a class and race-conscious global vision of music that now make them seem like time travelers from the 21st century, the Weavers would transform material from American blues singer Lead Belly (“Goodnight Irene”), the Bahamas (“Wreck of the John B”), and South Africa (“Wimoweh”) into songs that remain ubiquitous from rock clubs to Broadway shows.
Featuring quotes about the Weavers’ influence from David Crosby, the Beach Boys’ Al Jardine, and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, Wasn’t That a Time explores how the group’s innocent-sounding harmonies might be heard as a threat worthy of decades of investigation by the FBI — and how the band’s late ’50s reformation engendered a new generation of musicians to take up the Weavers’ non-violent weaponry: eclectic songs, joyous harmonies, and the power of music.
Jesse Jarnow is the author of Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock and Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. His writing on music, technology, and culture has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Relix, Wired.com, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York and hosts the Frow Showon the independent Jersey City radio station, WFMU.
This is a free, all-ages event.
If you cannot attend the event but would like to request a signed copy of Wasn’t That a Time, and/or any of Jesse’s books, order below and put your request in the comments field.