Saturday, August 1, 2015

Chicago Loop and Songs Inspired By The 1968 Democratic National Convention

Begin Route 66 Sign
(Flickr user Tony Hisgett/CC)
For most of its life, Route 66 began at the Buckingham Fountain, as we looked at in our last post. These days, due to one way street alignments in the central city, the route West now starts at a block or so away from the fountain on Adams Street between Michigan Avenue and Wabash Streets.

Going West on Adams on the left we have the 274 foot tall Borg-Warner Building and to the right we pass the Mid-Continental Plaza on the right. It is a 583 ft tall high rise that is the 52nd highest tower in the city.

The El Train over Wabash
The Elevated Train
(Flickr user theycallmetelly/CC)
The intersection of Adams and Wabash is a station stop on the famous El Train that makes a loop around the core of the city thus gaining the downtown's nickname of The Loop. In front of the station we find a street musician jamming on his clarinet.

Chicago is known for many things, not the least of which are trains and skyscrapers. Modern steel frame skyscraper architecture was born here and for many years the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) reigned supreme as the tallest building in the world.

Adams Street/Routte 66 West
Looking Up Adams
(Flickr user (vincent desjardins)/CC)
Trains also figure hugely in the development of the city. Located between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, Chicago was destined to be a transportation hub. When the railroads were being built it was a logical choice to build to an already busy trade corridor. As more train lines converged on Chicago, it drew more lines to build to there as well.

As the city grew the rail lines built depots at the edge of the city center. In cosmopolitan late 19th century style a cable driven trolley system had a large pulley in the downtown area that was nicknamed The Loop. In 1897, when a an elevated train was build in a loop around the downtown core to connect the various terminals, the name The Loop began to be applied to the train.

The center of one of Americas largest cities, The Loop is packed with skyscrapers, public art, plazas, and government buildings. One of the plazas in the loop is as well known for its mention in the film The Blues Brothers as it is for the Picasso sculpture that graces it. That is the Richard J. Daley plaza, named after one of Chicago's most known mayors, He presided over the city for 21 years from 1955-1976 and his name will come up again in the Playlist Additions for this post a little later on.

Chicago Picasso
 Chicago Picasso at the Richard J. Daley Plaza
(Flickr user Jaysin Trevino/CC)
Here are several short videos that explore the Loop.

Playlist Additions
The 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention Riots And The Songs That Followed
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As promised, Richard J Daley will play a role in our playlist addition this week. The year was 1968 and one of the most divisive and bitterly fought presidential primaries was underway. The Democratic National Convention where the president  would be named was due to take place in Chicago during the last week in August.

This is a complicated story and the music is the point. Please forgive any lapses in the narrative, as well as the lack of discussion of events happening inside the convention. Here is a nutshell version of the lead up and the scene on the streets that week. If you find it interesting, I urge you to explore the many other reports that have been made about the events in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

1968 would have been a spirited primary season in a normal election year because the incumbent president Lyndon Johnson was stepping down from the presidency, leaving a contestable candidacy.

This was no ordinary year. 1968 was the most turbulent year of the decade in many ways. In fact, it was one of the most turbulent years in the second half of the 20th century, The youth counterculture had been driving a mighty wedge between older and younger Americans. The Anti-War movement was gaining more and more strength. And there were other societal issues challenging the nation. This led to the heated convention atmosphere,

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The murder angered the nation but especially the black communities in cities around the country. While peaceful memorials occurred in some places, many cities black communities exploded into rioting to express the outrage against the racism in America that led to the death of such a peaceful man.

In over 100 cities rioting occurred, with damage in excess of 50 million dollars. Hardest hit were Baltimore, Maryland, Washington D.C., and Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago, the riots continued for 48 hours a 28 square block area was that looted, vandalized and burned, Between 4 and 10 pm on the night the rioting began, over 36 fires were reported in the area burning.

In the end, it took over 20,00 combined police, National Guard and Army troops to restore order. By then 11 Chicagoans were dead and 48 were wounded by police gunfire. The police received 90 injuries and 2150 people were arrested. Two miles of Madison Street were reduced to rubble. 

Other events helped to drive up tensions leading to the Chicago convention. In June of that year the Democrats front running candidate, one with tremendous youth appeal, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at a fund raising dinner in Los Angeles. 

After the death of Robert Kennedy, his older brother President John F Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr all  killed by assassins bullets, concern for the safety of the convention delegates was in the forefront of the minds of Chicago's leadership. Richard J. Daley had hoped to use the press from the convention to make a leap from city politics to the national political stage. 

Meanwhile, college students who had been mobilized by the civil rights and anti-war movements wanted to go to Chicago to make a statement to the delegates about their issues. Abbie Hoffman, on of the founders of the Yippies, the radical hippy political party, called for a "Festival of Life" to be held in Chicago in Lincoln Park near the Convention Center.
 "Join us in Chicago in August for an international festival of youth, music, and theater. Rise up and abandon the creeping meatball. Come all you rebels, youth spirits, rock minstrels, truth-seekers, peacock-freaks, poets, barricade-jumpers, dancers, lovers and artists! . . . Bring blankets, tents, draft-cards, body-paint, Mr Leary's Cow, food to share, music, eager skin, and happiness. The threats of LBJ, Mayor Daley, and J Edgar Freako will not stop us. We are coming! We are coming from all over the world!"
The youth movement had been becoming more political for a few years. During that long hot summer major rock festivals were held across the country which produced a fairly large nomadic hippy population. A lot of them headed to Chicago to speak out for peace and to just groove on the scene and the free festival.

During the first day of the convention the Yippies, including folksinger Phil Ochs, protested. Marching and chanting, they caused a scene and brought a pig into the Loop area of the city. The pig was named "Pigasus the Immortal" and he was offered as the Yippie presidential candidate.

From City Hall, Daley wanted to make sure that the crowds were kept in line. He did not want this to open up into a reprise of the rioting the city experienced earlier in the year. Daley instructed his police to act with authority and shut down any protest gathering.was worried that the protesters who were expected to arrive would turn to rioting. 

The Yippies had announced an occupation of Lincoln Park camping out for the duration of the convention. However, Mayor Daley's office denied permits stating that the police would enforce the parks closing time of 11p.

During that first day of the festival Phil Ochs performed. His song I Won't Go Marching Anymore was requested by Yippie founder Jerry Rubin. The crowd was in a militant mood, many of the having attended civil disobedience training earlier in the day hosted by the anti-war group Mobe.

The police were tasked with dispersing the crowd, by force if necessary. As protesters chanted anti-police slogans, the police swept in with billy clubs and in riot formations. Soon tear gas was fired on the protesters. All of it happened live on the network news.

The riot would continue for four days, yet the festival continued featuring most notable the MC5 later in the week. Inside the convention, things were heated and contentious as well, The American public seemed to feel shock, concern, and rage over the events inside and outside of the convention.

From the website Chicago '68:
The arrest count for Convention Week disturbances stands at 668. An undetermined number of demonstrators sustained injuries, with hospitals reporting that they treated 111 demonstrators. The on-the-street medical teams from the Medical Committee for Human Rights estimated that their medics treated over 1,000 demonstrators at the scene. The police department reported that 192 officers were injured, with 49 officers seeking hospital treatment.
Public opinions were decidedly mixed. Some felt the protesters to be Un-American communist sympathizers. Others saw the police as jack booted storm trooper thugs.

The film Conventions-The Land Around Us was created shortly after the incidents of the convention \ for The University of Chicago. It is is long but has many amazing images from the Convention and the surrounding chaos. as well as a certain late 60's hippy vibe that is undeniable.
Conventions-The Land Around Us from Jerry Swatez on Vimeo.
Yippies! against the system. The Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations. With music.

Information documents about this video can be found at
The excerpted Phil Ochs music from the film is in this clip:

An audio report from the Festival of Life exists as well:

After the convention was over a trial was held for Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, and Lee Weiner, known as The Chicago 7. Originally it was the Conspiracy 8 on the Chicago 8, but the 8th defendant Bobby Seales, was severed from the group charges, ultimate being charged with 4 years in prison for contempt of court.

Chicago 7 Protest Sign
The Chicago 7  was charged with conspiracy, inciting a riot and an assortment of minor charges. During their trial a number of celebrities testified, including Phil Ochs, who was given a fine for his role in bringing the pig into the city without a livestock license. During his questioning it was implied that Jerry Rubin requesting his performance of I Won't Go Marching Anymore was a deliberate move to incite the crowd.

Here is Hollywood's version in a trailer from the 2011 film Chicago Eight:

To start our playlist additions this week, we have Phil Ochs in the studio performing I Won't Go Marching Anymore. It appears that he also performed Power and The Glory that day as well. We'll add it to our playlist.

A song written after the events by Ochs, describes the events in Chicago.William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park And Escapes Unscathed. The song is a poetic description of the festival. A young couple fall in love only to get separated in the riots where she is killed. the song closes with a reprise that radically changes the tempo to a festive campaign tune that mocks those who claimed to be in Chicago but were not.

After plenty of searching, I could not find out who Ochs was referring to when he sings "I was in Detroit".It is obvious that this is a punch line, Perhaps he was referring to the race rioting in Detroit after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, which also occurred in Chicago. If you get the joke, please explain in the comments.

The reprise is strong enough  that the band Kind Of Like Spitting chose to cover it under the titel Where Were You In Chicago for an indie tribute compilation dedicated to Phil Ochs that came out in 2010 called Learn: The Songs Of Phil Ochs.

To be fair, it seems right to include the police officers opinion. WFMU on their 365 Day Project featured a minor label record Chicago Policeman by Harry Burgess The song has a mock sincerity, I think. In the song, the policeman celebrates the departments actions during the rioting and how it helped keep the city safe from hippies and communists,

We conclude our playlist additions with a song that inspired me to start writing this post, before I got caught up in the Phil Ochs story. The song is Graham Nash's Chicago. We are adding the version from the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live album Four Way Street. 

Chicago calls out his fellow band members, and ultimately much of the rock community, for not appearing in Chicago. The song also holds many references to the Chicago 7 trial. and the injustice that Nash felt the trial was,

  • I Ain't Marching Anymore The Early Years Phil Ochs  2:37
  • Power And The Glory There But For Fortune Phil Ochs  2:17
  • William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park And Escapes Unscathed Farewells & Fantasies Phil Ochs  3:31
  • Where Were You In Chicago Learn: The Songs Of Phil Ochs Kind Of Like Spitting 0:43
  • Chicago Policeman WFMU The 365 Days Project 2003 Harry Burgess 3:33
  • Chicago Four Way Street  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 3:12

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