Monday, May 21, 2012

The Real Rebels: Don Fardon: "Indian Reservation"

If you haven’t noticed already, this year is a rather uneasy one, one where the accumulated angst of a whole decade seems to be seeping out, one song at a time.  Liberation was the cry of the 70s, as the idealism of the 60s hardened from flowers and psychedelics – an altering of perception in order to conceive of that better world – to the less glamourous but necessary hard looks at what has been happening and how it can be changed in a practical way.  The personal was becoming the political, whether ordinary folks liked it or not. 

This is laudable, though it could (and as we know, did) lapse into narcissism and solipsistic thinking; the surest way to actually appreciate what you have is to think of others, particularly their history.  And here is a song of what happened to the Cherokee Nation, a century and a half before.  Migration was common back then, especially as (as taught to me in almost all my history classes) Europe was getting crowded and there was a whole new continent out there, sans monarchy and religious repression, waiting to be populated by anyone who showed up.  And as this had been happening since the 1770s or so, by the 1830s things were already starting to get crowded in the Atlantic states, and farmers were itching for new pastures, literally and figuratively.  The US government (who had been, shall we say, "kindly instructing" the Cherokee in how they should live – i.e. in the American way – for decades) basically kicked the Cherokee out of their homelands and drove them out, by force if necessary.  Manifest Destiny was the claim of the US; this act was one of many justified by it.  The fact that the Cherokee had been there for a very long time didn’t matter; from the American perspective they were in charge now, and that was pretty much that.  The Cherokee Nation continued the best it could, and even wanted their own state; a perfectly reasonable request, all things considered, that got nowhere in Washington D.C.  By the 1900s the Cherokee were segregated against just like African Americans, and by the time Don Fardon recorded this in 1968, they too benefitted from the civil rights movement and various laws passed just years before. 
Just what a freakbeat singer was doing recording this is less clear; it had been written by John D. Loudermilk in the 50s and recorded by Marvin Rainwater – himself ¼ Cherokee – but that recording (“The Pale Faced Indian”) in 1959 didn’t really get anywhere.  Perhaps he had heard about the Red Power movement; maybe he just liked the song.  Why it only got into the charts at this point is also a mystery, but it fits the general sense of unrest and injustice of 1970 better, I think, than the rather lachrymose charts of ’68, in general.  Fardon makes this a tough record; there is a freakbeat stompiness and menace in the horns at the start; the intensity that made his old band The Sorrows just a bit too much for the public is certainly here, his voice quiet, the song building up and building up to “War” like levels of disquiet.  A whole way of life is wiped out before the song ends, but the people stand strong, ready to return.  A guitar stings and “will return…will return….” comes back with horns loud and a lone drum skiddering off, as if to say, we will indeed return, and for that matter, we’re still here, dammit.  If rock 'n' roll is all about rebelling against The Man, well, there's nothing like a song where The Man's actions against not just one person but a whole people is catalogued.  That Fardon had no Native American roots to speak of may make some uneasy, but then neither (that I know of) did the song's writer, and rock always roots for the underdog, in any case.  Fardon sounds sincere, angry even; and the song was a big enough hit for Paul Revere and The Raiders to cover it and take it to #1 in the US in '71 (lead singer Mark Lindsay was part Cherokee himself; thus his interest). 

Historical perspective is a way of comprehending where we are now by looking at what happened then; the US was about to go through a turbulent decade wherein wrongs would be recognized and righted - through politics, through cultural shifts, through art itself. You cannot change things for the better if you don't know how they got messed up in the first place; that a UK singer brought this song back to the public's acclaim (it was an NME #2) and thence via a similar version to the US's attention is a good thing, almost a public declaration. Rock has grown up a lot here, able to make this a hit and become that public art that helps, if only in a small way, to give some perspective to what is really worth rebelling about, what is really at stake in life.

Next up:  who needs a loaf of bread or a thou?

1 comment:

wichita lineman said...

I had no idea the song was so old. Marvin Rainwater's version is several times better than his one major hit. Thanks for the tip-off.