August 30, 2002
Julius Margolin and George Mann, Producers of "Hail to the Thief: Songs for the Bush Years"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
"In the spirit of bipartisanship, let's all admit the election was stolen in Florida… then we can move on." This quote is from the makers of a new CD, "Hail to the Thief: Songs for the Bush Years" produced by Julius Margolin and George Mann -- two union organizers, separated in age by a generation, from New York City. After witnessing the theft of the presidency, the two got together and wrote some songs, asked a few friends to contribute, and made an album.
Julius Margolin is a former merchant seaman, World War II veteran and film electrician. Born and raised in New York City, he organized for the CIO in the 1930's and 1940's. Although now in his 80's, Julius is still fighting the good fight.
George Mann is a union organizer and activist. George grew up playing rock and roll on Long Island. He has recorded four previous albums of his songs and performs for numerous unions and organizations.
"Hail to the Thief" is the third album Julius and George have collaborated on. BuzzFlash was honored to interview the two musicians on August 15th, 2002.
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BUZZFLASH: How did both of you come to make or produce the CD "Hail to the Thief!"
MANN: It started after the Supreme Court stopped the recount. In the first few weeks after that decision, Julius was so angry that he wrote a song called "The Supreme Court Stole the Election." And that song was just his anger coming out. We weren't talking about or even thinking about an album. It was Julius wanting to express his outrage that the Supreme Court had stopped the democratic process.
After Bush was inaugurated is when we started saying, wait, we should do something about this. So we got in touch with some of our friends who are on the album and said, "We're thinking of putting together an album. We can't write or don't want to write a whole album of songs ourselves about Bush, but we have a few of them." At that point, I had written, "I'm George W." Julius and I put it together, got songs from our friends Bernard Gilbert, Anne Feeney, Chris Chandler, Francisco Herrera and others, and promoted it.
BUZZFLASH: It sounds like both of you have an ongoing relationship. You've been making music for a while now?
MARGOLIN: Since about 1998. But it was all fairly new to me. George really brought me into it.
BUZZFLASH: When the two of you play together, do you have a name for the band you perform under?
MANN: We perform as George Mann and Julius Margolin. Sometimes they bill us as "Young and Younger" - that was the first CD that we recorded.
MARGOLIN: He's Young, and I'm Younger.
MANN: Through the New York City Labor Chorus, Julius and I met and became friends. And I started thinking it would be great to have this guy who's lived and struggled through, you know, fifty years, sixty years of activism, and is writing his own songs at 86 years old now. We've been doing labor music for about three to four years together. Certainly, we were out there trying to express our anger at the right wing's seizure of the Presidency.
BUZZFLASH: Julius, I'll ask you first. Give me a brief biography of yourself in terms of your activism, your work as a performer and as a member of the union.
MARGOLIN: I go all the way back to the organization of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) in the 1930s. I helped in many industries, organizing mostly steelworkers, seamen -- anyplace they sent us young people. I was young in those days. And we were willing to go and organize. I went through the first depression. And like millions of other Americans, we suffered in it. I've been unemployed and employed at various times, and known deprivation and hunger. And millions of Americans throughout the country endured the same thing during that period. I was a pretty ignorant kid until I'd gotten in touch with the trade union movement and I began to learn about it, and began to help in the organization.
Many people think it was Roosevelt who gave us unemployment insurance and Social Security. It's true he did that during the height of the depression because of the pressure of the labor movement. We were the ones, since the early part of the century, who were constantly putting forward the question that, if workers were thrown out of a job, in the old days, they starved. They depended on handouts.
And we were determined to have the government provide for us with unemployment insurance, and then Social Security. That all came out of the labor movement. Roosevelt came in at a time when the country was flat on its back. He had to do something. He couldn't have the same policies that Hoover did. So he was smart enough to accept many of the policies of the labor movement. And that's how, through those struggles, we were able to build the CIO and get Social Security and unemployment insurance, which we have today, and which the Republicans are trying to destroy.
BUZZFLASH: George, tell me a little bit about yourself and your history with performing and with unions.
MANN: Well, I grew up as a rock 'n' roll kid in the seventies, loving classic rock 'n' roll, as they would say, and playing in rock bands. And along the way, I became involved with unions through college. I was active in college during the 10-year effort to get a union in for graduate student employees in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. And through that, I started becoming acquainted with labor folk music. In the last five or six years, I started writing and performing more labor-oriented music. And so the work with Julius goes hand in hand with my own sense of the development of music as a tool for struggle, for people on picket lines to be able to sing songs to bring them up.
BUZZFLASH: Tell me who your influences and inspirations have been in your music and in your work. I would imagine Woody Guthrie would be one.
MANN: Oh, without a doubt, for both Julius and myself as songwriters, I mean, you know, Woody was one of the first people to really speak and write in any serious way about labor's struggle, and social struggle, through music. I grew up hearing songs by people like John Lennon and Neil Young, among others, that had social context and messages. But I think in more recent times, artists like REM and Billy Bragg, and even Rage Against the Machine, have been able to take a political statement and then really use it in music, and still make a living doing it. I think that's wonderful to have people appreciate your message and understand that you're not just writing silly love songs.
MARGOLIN: I'd like to add someone. I think Pete Seeger was a great influence, and he still is. And Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and all of those who struggled in those days. I was a merchant seaman before and during the Second World War. And Woody Guthrie, I heard later, had become a member of the union I belonged to and organized for -- the National Maritime Union -- the seamen's union, one of the most democratic unions that existed. And it was the first union to elect a national black leader, Ferdinand Smith, as secretary-treasurer of the union. So we were a very active union.
BUZZFLASH: Do you find, after you guys perform a concert, that you in essence win people over? Are they more prone to ask questions about the Bush administration, whereas prior, they would not have been?
MANN: We preach to the choir a lot, as they say. A lot of audiences at the gigs we do are people who are already politically active in the same way as we are. I don't believe that people necessarily are called to activism just from hearing the songs. I hope that it does have an effect on them. But we do hope that the Bush album will be heard on more radio stations than it is.
There are requests coming in all over the country from people who are hearing about the album, to get it on their radio station. Certainly we'll reach some of the population. I'm glad you asked that, because it comes back to the reason we did this album -- because an election was stolen in this country. The guy who lost the popular vote also manipulated the vote and recount process in his brother's state.
I mean, it was set up six months in advance, the purge of felons who weren't really felons -- thousands of voters who reliably vote Democrat because they're African-American, and we know they vote 90% Democrat. They were blocked from voting. And yet this guy claims he won by 500 votes. That's an important thing. This is not some city council or school board election. It's the top position in this country's government. You've got to think about that. You've got to say this is wrong. We're going to remember this.
MARGOLIN: You know the interesting thing is that we are trying to tell the rest of the world how to conduct themselves and how to live. And the sad thing, and what angered me more than anything else did, to put out such an album as "Hail to the Thief," was that there was so little outrage. It could never have happened in the 1930s, when we were organizing the CIO. We would have had not only the whole labor movement out on the street protesting, we'd have had a good part of the citizenry. We brag to the world that we are the most democratic and free country in the world. And we allowed a vital presidential election to be stolen.
MANN: The reporting that people like Greg Palast have done clearly shows it was an orchestrated maneuver to lie to the public that Bush had won Florida. From the very beginning, they kept saying the election's over, all the way up to Scalia staying the recount because of the "potential harm to the winner," the candidate he had already decided was the winner in Florida.
BUZZFLASH: I think one of the great things you guys are doing is you are using your talents in the way that you know how to speak up. One of the things at BuzzFlash that we are asked all the time is: "Well, what can I do?" And we ask the people we interview this: well, what can people do? And let me put that to you guys. People are angry. What's your response to them?
MARGOLIN: Well, we must get people out in the streets, and also writing to Congress and so forth, so that it should be overwhelming. That we considered it a stolen election, and we won't get over it. I for one don't consider that we have a president. His whole administration is illegal.
MANN: I think it's important that the people remember how to be heard -- and not just by voting, though that's very important. You can armchair quarterback all you want, but for every letter you write, every phone call you make, every rally you attend -- everything you do adds to the pressure, adds to the power of that kind of movement. We have to be worried about a war in Iraq. Bush thinks he can get away with it. If he loses badly in the midterm elections, that might stop him. Or it might make him more desperate to go to war with Iraq. But there is no conceivable reason that I have heard yet to go to war in Iraq. And unless the people speak up against that in the next six months, we will be at war in Iraq.
BUZZFLASH: A good friend of mine told me one time, after years of going to church, he said, "You know, I can't remember one single sermon that I ever heard in the twenty years that I ever went to church, but I can probably remember over one hundred songs."
MANN: Well, that's another thing -- singing songs. Play this album loud and proud, and embarrass Bush as much as you can. I mean, you've got to attack something like this, as scary as it can be. And let me tell you the right-wingers are already sending us viruses on our e-mail. The hate mail comes in whenever people take a stand. But you've got to go out there and have some courage, and go out there and say, look, things are wrong here. Bush does not represent the majority opinion of this country.
BUZZFLASH: Well, my hope is that people will continue to react in whatever way their talents provide, whether it's writing poems, whether it's public speaking, whether it's writing music, whether it's producing movies and plays. It seems to me, that progressives and liberals need to reclaim the role of music and art as part of our lives and in our agenda. We don't talk about it in terms of policy. Democrats certainly don't run on campaigns of funding for the arts. But artistic expression is central to the progressive agenda when we talk about quality of life. And art, for me, lies directly at the center of that. As musicians, I'd like your comments on that.
MARGOLIN: You know, you are so right. I keep telling my friends and I keep telling the labor leaders who represent the unions in the New York City Central Labor Council, that good music and culture can organize workers better than a long-winded speech.
MANN: And I would just add that one of the luxuries of doing what we're doing is we have total control of our message. We don't have anybody telling us to tone it down. And so maybe fewer people will hear it, but they'll hear what we want them to hear, and hopefully take away a response to the lyrics of our songs.
We believe that in the folk tradition, the music is secondary -- the message is more important. I've never seen anything approaching a right-wing folk singer out there that really works. Folk music belongs to the progressive movement. We own that. We sing the best songs, certainly. They may have the best lawyers and the most money, but we have the best songs. So I think it's important to let that flower and it is flowering. I'm hearing beautiful songs when we're out there meeting other people and doing shows.
MARGOLIN: We just can't sit around and hope that things will get better. We are citizens of the United States. It is our nation, and we must take it back from those who have stolen it and who are trying to make life difficult for the majority of the people of the United States and the world. And BuzzFlash is a wonderful source to spread the word and we thank you for the work you continue to do.
BUZZFLASH: Well thank you both, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
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Get your copy of "Hail To The Thief" from BuzzFlash: http://www.buzzflash.com/premiums/Hail_to_the_Thief.html.
For more info, photos, and to hear songs by George and Julius, visit their web site at http://www.georgeandjulius.com.
You can also find streaming clips of music by George and Julius here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/georgeandjulius2/.
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