"It's not the best book of its kind, it's the only book of its kind" proclaims archivist, music producer, scholar, A & R Director, journalist, and author Pat Thomas. "There have been plenty of books exploring the sociopolitical meaning of the Black Power Movement and there are obviously tons of music books out there -- but never before has anyone blended the two -- especially with a focus on the actual political recordings of the era."
Thomas' riveting Fantagraphics book (and companion CD/MP3 on Light in the Attic Records), aptly titled Listen Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 is a stunning culmination of Thomas' five year journey to compile the definitive aural document of the Black Power Movement. History continues to repeat itself. Many crucial issues of the era which Thomas' tome vividly recounts: war, racism, sexism, economic inequality, and concern for the environment, among others, are still with us in 2013. And the music and poetry inspired by the Black Power Movement never sounded better - or more timely -- despite the fact that these recordings are nearly a half century old.
Thomas diligently researched Huey Newton's archives at Stanford University and extensively interviewed activists and leaders of the Black Power Movement. The author has retrieved a veritable gold mine of obscure LPs and tapes that recount a seemingly lost chapter of American history. Among the numerous gems Thomas presents include Bob Dylan's little known 1971 single "George Jackson;" long out-of-print spoken word releases by Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Jesse Jackson, The Last Poets, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes; historical platters such as Guess Who's Coming Home: Black Fighting Men Recorded Live in Vietnam, Ossie Davis and Bill Cosby Address The Congressional Black Caucus; among scores of others.
Featuring 200 exquisite images of album jackets, magazines, pamphlets and advertisements - Listen Whitey resurrects the perceptions of musicians of a certain ilk as revolutionaries: and revolutionaries as pop cultural icons. A shirtless, muscular Huey Newton clutches Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited on the wrap-around glossy cover. (We learn that Newton was obsessed with Bob's "Ballad of a Thin Man" -- as he interpreted Dylan's character of Mr. Jones as an upper class white man and the circus freaks as "disadvantaged ghetto residents who are not interested in entertaining Mr. Jones.")
Recalls Thomas "ah, yes, the long-gone era when rock stars were actually political activists and militants like Eldridge Cleaver and Jerry Rubin were seen as 'pop stars' for many disenfranchised college kids!"
Thomas infuses his passion for the music, poetry, and recorded rhetoric with a weighty reverence for the events and attitudes that shaped a generation. His mission started out quite innocently. "In the early 1970s, I wasn't even a teenager yet when my brother, who was ten years older than me, brought home a copy of Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book. The subversive politics mixed with the outrageous 'stoner' humor sent me on a path to discovering iconoclastic poet Allen Ginsberg as well as Abbie Hoffman's fellow Chicago Eight comrade, Black Panther Bobby Seale."
By the end of the 1990s, Thomas had migrated to Oakland and began to search out members of the Black Panther Party. "I got to know them, and began to blend my deep love of jazz, rock, and folk with their outspoken history. I realized that there was a story crying out to be written." Thomas fascinates with tales of Dylan and Lennon/Ono's meetings with the Panthers; behind-the-scenes of Marvin's What's Going On, Motown's revolutionary Black Forum imprint; the progressive jazz works of Sonny Sharrock, Miles Davis, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Eddie Harris, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and much, much more.
The CD/MP3 version of Listen Whitey is equally riveting. Musical selections such as Dylan's rare acoustic reading of "George Jackson;" John Lennon & Yoko Ono's weepy paean to Ms. Davis entitled "Angela" from their reviled and misunderstood masterpiece Sometime in New York City; Gil-Scott Heron's "Winter In America;" Elaine Brown's "Until We're Free;" The Lumpen's funky "Free Bobby Now;" are segued with incendiary missives by Dick Gregory ("Black Power"), Stokely Carmichael ("Free Huey"), The Watts Prophets, and the Original Last Poets among others.
in many ways, I think I achieved my goals, to write a provocative, yet entertaining book that explored the musical connections of the 1960's and 70's with the Black Power Movement, but at the same time, to educate people that, for example, the Black Panthers were not Black Nationalists, they had no desire to wear dashikis or change their names to ones with African-origins. Frankly, my primary audience is probably white bleeding heart liberals -- as my Dad used to call them, but I've been humbled by the attention and respect that I've received by Black communities in Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, and New York City. When people who actually lived this book tell me they like it or that I "got it right" -- that feeling is incredible.
Note to readers in the Greater New York City Area: Pat Thomas will be discussing Listen Whitey: The Sights and Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975 at Revolution Books in New York City on Monday, November 4, and at The Brooklyn College Student Center on Tuesday, November 5.