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Author Topic: Van Dyke Parks Commented On A SMiLE/Americana Clue  (Read 997 times)
PhillyPhenom
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« on: May 13, 2020, 01:31:07 PM »

Forgive my excitement, especially if I’m woefully late to the party of further “uncovering the cornfield”, but Van Dyke Parks just affirmed my hunch (by replying to me on Twitter) that Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” was a direct inspiration (at least to his contributions) to SMiLE. I feel like this poem by Hughes is a key that unlocks so much of SMiLE...and can certainly be seen as a “railroad track” (forgive me) for interpreting AND sequencing SMiLE (from Heroes And Villains to Cabinessence to so much more)!!! The map is there! This poem, coupled with Dale Carter’s essay “All That Road Going”...and the light of understanding is shining brighter than ever.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2020, 01:36:18 PM by PhillyPhenom » Logged
thetojo
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« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2020, 02:13:37 PM »

Thanks for sharing that. You've inspired me to go and look those up.
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Bud Shaver
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2020, 02:47:33 PM »

Here's the poem:


Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
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Bicyclerider
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« Reply #3 on: May 14, 2020, 08:16:39 AM »

While it may have inspired Van to incorporate Americana themes into Smile, especially the plight of the native Indians, I don't see any direct parallels between the poem and any of the lyrics Van wrote except in the most vague general sense.
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juggler
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2020, 08:47:34 AM »

Sure, I can see some thematic inspiration from Hughes....

There's a direct reference in certain H&V lyrics to Hughes and his poem, Motto.

VDP: At three score and five, I'm very much alive and I still got the jive to survive with the Heroes & Villains.

Compare to Hughes, born in 1901 who therefore was indeed 65 ("three score and five") when H&V was written:

I play it cool
I dig all jive
That's the reason
I stay alive


Anyway, the idea of America as a destination (a new home), a culmination of something, a departure from the Old World, is certainly present in three songs:
Surf's Up, Cabin Essence & Do You Like Worms.

Columnated ruins domino
while at port adieu or die

Plymouth Rock roll over

Have you seen the Grand Coolie workin' on the railroad?  

« Last Edit: May 14, 2020, 08:50:24 AM by juggler » Logged
juggler
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« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2020, 09:05:22 AM »

Semi-crazy thought... did Hughes' death on May 22, 1967 play some weird role in Smile's demise?  The timing does raise questions.  The "three score and five" lyrics don't make the cut in the June '67 edit.... and Surf's Up, Cabin & Worms are all excluded from Smiley Smile.  Coincidence?    It's pretty well-established that Brian was experiencing paranoia during that period (numerous anecdotes, plus Brian's own statements to that effect in interviews as early as 1968).  Did Hughes' death bother Brian in some way? 
 

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CenturyDeprived
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« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2020, 09:43:10 AM »

Semi-crazy thought... did Hughes' death on May 22, 1967 play some weird role in Smile's demise?  The timing does raise questions.  The "three score and five" lyrics don't make the cut in the June '67 edit.... and Surf's Up, Cabin & Worms are all excluded from Smiley Smile.  Coincidence?    It's pretty well-established that Brian was experiencing paranoia during that period (numerous anecdotes, plus Brian's own statements to that effect in interviews as early as 1968).  Did Hughes' death bother Brian in some way? 
 



I don't think that's a crazy thought. I think it's quite possible that it's accurate and that the timing was not just a coincidence. Interesting...
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PhillyPhenom
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« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2020, 08:58:36 AM »

Juggler...thanks so much bringing Hughes's Motto poem to light! A direct reference for sure! As well as the date of Hughes death. Wow.

It's pretty well-established that Brian was experiencing paranoia during that period (numerous anecdotes, plus Brian's own statements to that effect in interviews as early as 1968).  Did Hughes' death bother Brian in some way? 
 



I too wonder if Hughes death bother Brian. At this point, it seems to me that the connection with Hughes seems to be more so with VDP.

Another thought about "THREE SCORE AND FIVE"...1865 was when the Civil War ended...thus, at "three score and five" America till had the jive to survive as a country.
"On December 2, 1865, Alabama became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment, thus giving it the requisite three-fourths majority of states’ approval necessary to make it the law of the land. Alabama, a former Confederate state, was forced to ratify the amendment as a condition for re-admission into the Union. On December 18, the 13th Amendment was officially adopted into the Constitution–246 years after the first shipload of captive Africans landed at Jamestown, Virginia, and were bought as slaves.
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All Summer Long
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« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2020, 12:02:08 PM »

Don’t know enough about this really to comment - but just want to say I definitely see a connection between Cabin Essence and the Hughes poem.
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Debbie KL
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« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2020, 10:02:48 AM »

Here's the poem:


Let America Be America Again
by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)


Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Stunning words, and so real today. That's true poetry, timeless and limitless.
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