Inspection- Janis Ian and The Great Divide

by Ken Carman

  The 60s and I think it was channel 13 out of NYC, or what we now call PBS. Young girl singing a song about dating a Black man, Society’s Child. I had started listening to folk music in my brother’s bedroom as he studied, about 58. By 59 I was singing in hootenannies. I was the “cute kid who knows all our songs” they pushed up front. It has led to a life as an entertainer and educational service provider.
  But back to Janis. I thought, “I’ll have to keep an eye on her,” but lost her in an era of Eric Anderson, PP&M, the soon to be renamed Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.: John Denver, Lightfoot, Phil Ochs, Jim and Ingrid Croce, Cashman and West, Tom Paxton, The Kingston Trio and We Five: started by John Stewart’s brother… let’s just say I was swimming in an ocean of music I adored. So, sorry Janis, you got lost in the mix.
  College, the 70s. Honestly: it wasn’t At Seventeen. It was a very insightful song called Watercolors: insightful for a college student who had been through too many breakups that tore him apart. Let’s just say the dating ethos of the era was funky, though is there ever a time it isn’t?
  That’s when I started to collect Ian records from the ones I missed up to her last before she moved to Nashville, or at least all I knew of. I met Janis a number of years ago at Corner Music and told her, “You’re the only artist I know whose records got better and better than the last.”
  “Do you realize what a compliment that is?”
  “Why, yes, I do.”
  And five CDs since I realize that even more, even though these are CDs mostly for friends and my customers as I tour.
 One of the newer Janis Ian CDs I bought in the mid-2000s was quickly lost in our house. If you saw our house, you’d understand. Recently my wife found it and brought it to Florida with us. Listening to a song called The Great Divide I realized it was the Times They Are a Changin for our era.

There’s a tide of greed that knows no shame
and a tide of money that holds no stain
A tide of men who worship pride
and will not be denied

While politicians lie and cheat
to get to higher ground
we follow them like sheep
and salute them as we drown

  Politically I come from a different place than Janis. My father was a Conservative activist and candidate during the 60s: partly my doing. A Bill Buckley fan I simply pushed in a direction he wanted to go. But, and this is important, like Buckley noted about himself, my friends were mostly on the left. They would smoke, I would smoke: only we smoked different things, and debate, discuss, laugh: I loved it all.
  I was less happy with the Right. I saw the beginning of the religious Right taking over the conservative movement, including the head of my father’s ticket being stopped by a cop who belonged to the church group that funded our run for office. You see, as he told me, “They’re helping us, but after the election I’ll thank them, but tell them it’s still our party.” The church group had already contacted him to tell him him how and when to run next time, what he must say. He told me they were very specific. He said he would say, “Thanks for the support, but…”
 I wasn’t in on the meeting, but I knew of it. I helped set it up. The next day, after the meeting, their group member who was a cop stopped him and, surprise! …kiddie porn was found in his trunk.
  My politics started to change after that and after I saw so much more. I saw those who were attempting to divide and conquer by encouraging hate and fear. Ironically they were often the same ones who claimed to follow the prince of peace…

While churches counsel patience
and heavenly reward
they sub-divide our nations
by the shield and by the sword
and every congregation
has a pipeline to the lord
but there will be no salvation
and no place to hide for those who lied
and buried us alive to build the walls
of the Great Divide

 By Reagan and the 80s I was voting the other way. And it got worse after that. The new crew on the right made Buckley look “quaintly” civilized. I understand in my time we had our Joe McCarthys and such, but we also had our Everett Dirksens. Nixon was sleazy sometimes, but Goldwater proved himself far more civilized when it came to issues like military and gays. During my time on the right we didn’t have the drive to say, do anything: spin any lie, if it got what you want.
 ”Saddam kicked the inspectors out of Iraq.”
 ”We know where the WMD are.”
 It’s all the post office’s fault… if we make insist that they live up to impossible obligations no business could survive?
 There’s a basic dishonesty that has turned the movement into an army of talking point zombies. And they do insist on trying to consume the brains of the politically incorrect, they often hunger for what they seem to use less and less as the movement appears more and more childish, petty and hateful in the ways they frame issues.
 It was only a few years ago where, if you questioned going into Iraq, you wore a peace shirt in a Schenectady area mall, you told the truth about WMD, lies were told about you, your life was destroyed and you were labeled a traitor. I believe the 2000s will become known as the return of the McCarthy era. Title will have to be catchier, but probably well deserved: something like, “The Time of the Great Divide?”
 It continues. Even now we hear that Barack Obama hates white people. They come to this conclusion, how? And gee, so many comments, or signs that feature an altered Barack and Michelle with huge lips, or claim the White House should be kept “white.”
 They have nothing, so they must divide us.
 But recently I’ve noticed a trend among the youngest voters where, for example, being gay no longer works to divide us. Being an immigrant doesn’t auto translate into, “Be very afraid.” And liberal is no longer considered a curse word. The cliche’s, the stereotypes that divide us election time, and other times, simply aren’t working like they used to. And those I used to have pleasant debates with, but now mostly agree with, seem back: a new generation.
 The Republican Noise Machine now faces those who doubt everything they say, and for damn good reasons.
 I feel the right has spent the past decades building their political house on the sand. I have little pity for a party that has become one of less reason and debate, one motivated by ignorance, cynicism and hate.
 But I have new peeps now, and I’m glad I’ve found Janis again, glad she’s still here to offer her incredible talent, provide a soundtrack.
 So hello new friends, and greetings to old friends, as we watch the rising tide…

The tide’s already risen
The deluge is at hand
Don’t sit there by the ocean
while it sucks away the sand
‘cause you’ll be left with nothing
but the memory of land
while we sit high above the tide
and watch the walls begin to fall
as one by one our children wave goodbye
to the Great Divide

                                                     -30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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