Sharp Focus on Broadside: Paul-Emile Comeau Celebrates the Underground Troubadours of a Time When an Unflinching and Less Cynical Mindset Prevailed

By Comeau, Paul-Emile | New Internationalist, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Sharp Focus on Broadside: Paul-Emile Comeau Celebrates the Underground Troubadours of a Time When an Unflinching and Less Cynical Mindset Prevailed


Comeau, Paul-Emile, New Internationalist


[Graph Not Transcribed]

during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s many people from Oklahoma were forced to pack their bags and move to greener pastures. Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen moved a bit later to escape the anti-Communist witchhunts. After going through especially hard times during the McCarthy era, the two ended up in New York City where, still impoverished but inspired by what seemed to be a burgeoning topical song movement, they began publishing lyrics and melodies to new songs in a small, aptly named mimeographed magazine called Broadside.

The couple quickly became mentors to hordes of radical troubadours and, with little distribution outside Greenwich Village, the modest publication became a major force in music while giving a strong impetus to the creation of the underground press. Sis Cunningham dutifully transcribed the songs, many of which were later compiled in book form and released on a dozen or more Broadside albums.

Initially the magazine had to be smuggled out in a baby carriage because businesses weren't allowed in the housing project where the couple lived. In a strange way this conjures up samizdat, the custom that appeared a few years later in the USSR whereby censored writers would disseminate their work by typing it with multiple sheets of carbon paper and then pass it on to others to do the same - a practice later adopted by Russian rock bands producing cassettes and asking friends to copy them.

The magazine that paranoid rightwinger David Noebel referred to as 'a folk journal of naked Communist propaganda' has now been paid the ultimate tribute: a 5-CD set in an attractive slip-case that includes a 158-page ringbound book. The package is chock-full of information on the artists and their songs, not to mention testimonials, lyrics, photos and artwork, discographies and facsimiles of original pages. It's ironic that two individuals who were ignominiously blacklisted most of their lives have now been paid such a dignified tribute by a company that is part of the US Government's most important cultural institution, the Smithsonian. …

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