(This is the 9th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on June 10, 2020. It has been edited and expanded for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)
The Move to Denver and Charon Blue
In the Spring of 2000, I got a job offer in Denver and moved there. After settling in, I started looking for a band to join. I joined a band called Charon Blue in late 2001 or maybe early 2002 and played lead guitar. We made a demo CD (available exclusively for members of my fan club, The Misfit Club to download). We played three gigs, two at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver and one at a bar in Aurora, Colorado, whose name I can’t remember.
I quit Charon Blue in late 2002 or early 2003 for a couple of reasons, one of which was that I had decided to take up songwriting. That will be the subject of the next chapter.
Folk Music and Pub Songs Demo CD
I discussed my interest in folk music in previous chapters– see The Missing Years, Part 1, and The Missing Years, Part 2. From the age of 18, I’ve always had a split musical personality– half electric, half acoustic; half rock, half folk. I never really fit in in either, but I fit in both.
Since the 1970’s, I would get out the acoustic guitar and play songs for friends who came over to hang out, or at parties. By the 1990’s, before, during, and after Faded Innocence, I began taking it more seriously, taking singing lessons, and developing a repertoire of folk songs I liked. During this time, I was invited to play a couple of “gigs” at friends’ parties. After Kurt left and Faded Innocence ended, I got myself a solo gig at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
My repertoire was a mix of the songs I had learned in the 1970s– Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc.– and Irish pub song bands that I had been turned on to in the 1980’s, especially The Dubliners. And in the 1990’s, my mandolin-playing boss, Dave Firestine, turned me on to some funny folk songs. My repertoire followed the Irish tradition: the songs were either political, funny or sad. I don’t like happy songs, or inspirational songs, or love songs. Still hate that shit. I like songs that are real; songs about real life; songs I can relate to. Love? Gimme a break. What does a guy like me know about that? “Everything’s gonna be alright”? Bullshit. That’s not the world I live in. I like songs that tell the truth, either with humor and sarcasm, or let the sadness come out in all its glory.
Even though I had decided to start writing my own songs, I knew that it would take awhile before I would have enough to play a whole set. So, while building up a supply of my own songs, I went searching for a bar in Denver that would let me play my acoustic cover songs. So I made a home demo CD and called it “Pub Songs.” (This album is available exclusively for members of my fan club, The Misfit Club to download.) I played these songs at a few bar gigs in 2005 and 2006. But as I wrote more of my own songs, these cover songs began dropping off the set lists. About the only ones that remain from those days is “Please Don’t Bury Me” by John Prine, and “The Beer Song.”
By 2007 I was ready to make a home demo of my own songs, which would be called “Some Songs I Wrote.” That, and the followup CD, “Me,” will be the topic of the next chapter.
(This is the 8th chapter in my autobiographical series. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on June 3, 2020. It has been edited for this blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)
In 1994 I met songwriter, singer and bass player Kurt Loken. I can’t remember if I answered his ad, or he answered mine. Kurt had written a bunch of songs on bass. I figured out guitar parts to go with his bass lines, and also made arrangement suggestions. I wasn’t really a songwriter yet, although working with Kurt motivated me, and I wrote two songs. We recruited a drummer and began practicing. We played one open mic, and then I decided we needed a demo tape to get gigs. I bought a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder and other equipment, and recorded and mixed the songs. We had our photos taken, and sent the master cassettes off to companies to reproduce and for the artwork. But when the tape was done, and it was time to get gigs, the drummer had disappeared, never to be heard from again. I wanted to get a new drummer but Kurt wanted us to just play as an acoustic duo. I think we just played one gig, and then Kurt took a job in California and moved away.
The first Faded Innocence album, with the drummer, is called “Charlie’s Dream.” The cover photo is of me at Boy Scout camp in Mississippi when I was 11 or 12. I thought the photo captured the Faded Innocence band name well. It contains two of my early songwriting efforts– “Coward (Fear of Love” and “Just Another Sheep.” The other 7 songs were written by Kurt, with me creating the guitar arrangements. I incorporated everything I had learned about “modal” chords into these arrangements– you won’t find a 3rd on this album very much (see Part 1 of this series for more about that). I’m quite proud of my guitar playing this record; it was a milestone in my development as a musician.
The second album is called “Seasons Change.” It was made after the drummer disappeared. Since the first album had a childhood photo of me, for this album, we used a childhood photo of Kurt walking on the beach with his father. Perhaps an even better example of “Faded Innocence.” For the drums, I bought a Boss Dr. Rhythm drum machine, and programmed the drums for the songs on Side One. Side Two is acoustic songs with no drums. These were all Kurt’s songs, although I had a lot to do with the arrangements. In fact, I’m quite proud of my arrangements and guitar playing on this tape as well.
Last Years in Tucson
After Kurt moved to California, I was thinking hard about leaving Tucson, too. I needed a change, and wanted a city with a bigger music scene. I visited Denver in 1997 and liked the vibe there. Meanwhile, I met another songwriter named Shanna Kovacs and played a similar role with her that I did with Kurt, playing lead guitar and helping with the song arrangements. I think we only played one open mic because I moved to Denver. I recently found some 4-track cassette recordings that we had done. I hadn’t heard these in 21 years. It was pretty cool to hear those songs again.
I have made the Faded Innocence songs, and the demo recordings I made with Shanna available to members of my fan club, the Misfit Club You can join the Misfit Club for as little as $5/month.
(This is the 7th chapter in my autobiographical series. It overlaps with, and supplements the previous chapter. This chapter was initially in the form of an email sent to my music fan email list on June 3, 2020. I have expanded on it for the blog. All the previous chapters in this series can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning.)
Music Moves to the Forefront of my Life
While working at National Semiconductor in Tucson, I had become friends with Gary Roberts, another technician at work, and played casually with him. Gary was a much better musician that me at the time, and was playing some paid solo gigs in Tucson. Here’s a photo of me playing with Gary at a birthday party I organized for myself at my apartment clubhouse in Tucson.
Towards the end of the years at National Semi, I got an idea for a song about the work environment while driving home from work. I wrote it as a parody of the old Muddy Waters blues tune, “Hootchie-Cootchie Man.” When I got home I got out a pen and paper and wrote down as much as I could remember, and then added to it. It was my first song. The company Christmas party was coming up, and they were having a talent show contest. I rounded up Gary to play bass, and another guitar player/technician to play lead guitar. I sang and played harmonica, in my best Muddy Waters imitation. The song ridiculed the company management and got a huge applause. It drove home lesson I already knew from 60’s rock music: the power of combining music with political organizing.
Early Attempts at Joining Bands
I remember auditioning for a New Wave cover band, and playing “I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls. But they never called me back, and I realized I needed to get better as a guitar player if I wanted to be in a band, so I took some advanced guitar lessons. I learned songs by The Police and The Church. Up until then, I only knew how to play triad chords– major and minor chords, at the root position and as barre chords. But now I was learning what I was told were “modal” chords– chords that had other tones besides the root, third and fifth. I remember reading an interview with Andy Summers, guitarist for the Police, where he said his motto is to “avoid the 3rd at all costs.” The 3rd is what determines if a chord is major or minor. If you leave it out, the tonality is ambiguous. Andy’s chords would have the root, 5th, and maybe the major 2nd, suspended 4th, and minor 7th. I found out later that Andy had been playing jazz before he joined The Police; these were jazz chords. It opened up a whole new world for my guitar playing. It was the secret to learning how to play the music I loved.
I ran an ad for a band and met a young woman singer. We then recruited a drummer and bass player. I was very clear in my ad that I wanted the band to cover melancholy New Wave songs by bands such as 10,000 Maniacs, The Cure, etc. But after a couple months of practicing and learning the songs, the drummer and bass player said we should do happy dance songs. I packed up my guitar and amp and walked out.
I also joined a band during this time that played original songs– generally melancholy songs. I liked that. There were 3 songwriters in the band– the drummer, bass player (a married couple) and keyboard player. The bass player and keyboard player sang. I played rhythm guitar and there was another guy who played lead guitar. We played one outdoor gig on 4th Avenue in Tucson, and then the band broke up.
Tucson Bands in the Late 80’s and Early 90’s
Meanwhile I continued going to see local original bands in local Tucson venues. Some I especially liked were If…, The Onlys and the Sand Rubies. I remember seeing the Phoenix band The Gin Blossoms before they got signed.
I was searching. Trying to figure out what to do. How can I get into a band? A band that will play gigs at Club Congress and other places? I didn’t care about making it “big.” I just wanted to be in a band that played locally at the small clubs. Even that was proving hard to do, if not impossible. Why is it so hard? What do I have to do? How do I find people?
My Silly Search for a “Career”
I mentioned in the previous chapter (The Missing Years, Part 4), that I had quit National Semiconductor and taken a job at Burr Brown in Tucson, in 1990 or 1991. But after only working there a year, they were hit by layoffs, and being the new guy, I was laid off. The layoff package included free career counseling. I met with the counselor, and took various tests, such as the Briggs-Myers, and followed the exercises in the book, What Color is Your Parchute?
I had made the conscious decision to end my career as a radical political activist– a “professional revolutionary.” What should my career be now? I didn’t want it to be electronics, or anything technical. I had mainly become an electronics tech for the purposes of union organizing. I had no great passion for it; it was practical, that’s all. It was paying the bills.
You walk through this world, but you can’t find your song Doing what you should, not what you want –from the title song on my 2012 album, The Other Side of Nowhere
In hindsight, it’s obvious that I had chosen a new career– music! In fact, I remember the counselor telling me at one point, “Seems to me that your career should be music.” But I dismissed the idea; I saw no hope of making a living playing the kind of music I loved. I didn’t know how the other bands did it. I didn’t know any of the people in the bands, and I was too shy to go up them after a show and introduce myself; I didn’t “network.” To me they were stars, and I assumed they would never talk to a nobody like me. In hindsight, that was a mistake. Some of them might have had rock star pretensions, but I bet there were some who would have helped me. Maybe one of them would have served as a songwriting mentor, or helped me find people to start a band with.
It wouldn’t be until 2007, at a class at the Rocky Mountain Song School, that it finally dawned on me– you need a plan. While you have a day job to pay the bills, you work hard at your music career, build a fan base, and then maybe eventually you can transition to doing music full-time. I wonder how much more I I could have accomplished, and how much further along I would be, if I had realized that in 1991 instead of 2007? If I hadn’t been too shy to ask for help?
You just need a little help
but you’re too shy to ask
You don’t want to be a burden
You’re afraid they wil laugh
–from my song, Apollo’s Little Bastard, on my 2011 album, Misfit
A Fun Job
After going through the career counseling– and rejecting music as a career– I took another electronics technician job at a small company in Tucson in March, 1992. The company was called Lightning, Location and Protection (LLP). They made lightning detection systems. My plan was to work there for just a few months until I figured out what I wanted to do for a “career.” I was also thinking about moving to another city, since the whole reason I had moved to Tucson was no longer relevant (see the previous chapter). But I ended up working there for 8 years. Unlike my previous jobs, this was a small company. Thanks to my previous year of work with the engineering department at Burr-Brown, I was now a pretty good electronics technician. My input was valued, and I was allowed to use my creativity on this job. There were 3 other technicians in our group, and we got along great and laughed a lot. My boss was David Firestine, a mandolin player who ran the Irish jam sessions in Tucson. Dave was the greatest boss I ever had, probably because he never wanted to be a boss in the first place. He kept the environment fun and loose. That’s why I kept working there for so long; that’s why I never decided on a “career;” I actually enjoyed my job.
Meanwhile I continued my efforts to get into a band. I also began composing music ideas on the guitar and recording them to cassette. I tried to write lyrics but struggled. I needed help with lyrics but didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know any songwriters. I didn’t know about any lyric-writing books. I didn’t know about any “song schools.”
Then, in 1994, my music career would take a big step forward when I met songwriter, singer and bass player Kurt Loken and we formed Faded Innocence. That will be the subject of the next chapter in this series.
(This is the sixth chapter of my autobiographical series. It covers 1983-1991, after I moved from Phoenix to Tucson and resigned from the SWP. The others can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning. This chapter was initially sent to my music fan email list on September 12, 2020. I have edited it slightly for the blog.)
Independent Political Activist in Tucson, 1983-1991
After resigning from the SWP in the fall of 1983, I continued as an independent activist for the next several years. At the time I resigned, there was a copper workers strike going on in Arizona. The other copper companies had reached settlements with the Steelworkers union, but the Phelps-Dodge corporation demanded more concessions from the union. The union went on strike, and for the first time in decades in the copper industry, the company tried to continue operating during the strike with scab labor. The scabs were met by mass picket lines by the workers, and the liberal Democratic governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt, called out the National Guard to keep the mines open and break the strike.
The two mining towns in Arizona where the strike was based were Ajo and Clifton/Morenci. (Morenci was a company town, entirely owned by Phelps-Dodge, and Clifton was an adjacent independent town). These were close-knit communities, where generations of people had worked in the mines. The majority of the labor force was Mexican-American. The importation of out-ot-town scabs made the strike not just a labor issue, but an issue of defending one’s community from outsiders trying to destroy it.
The union leadership, being tied to the Democratic Party, didn’t see the danger, and didn’t really do anything to rally support for the strike. So my best friend, Eduardo, and I formed a support organization. (Eduardo had quit the SWP right after I did.) We organized a food drive for the striking mineworkers, helped tell their story to the media, and organized support rallies for them. I wrote a series of articles about the strike for Labor Notes, a newsletter of the progressive wing of the labor movement. But despite the soladarity of the workers and people of the communities, and the efforts of us and others, the strike was eventually broken, and the unions destroyed by the partnership of the New York-based Phelps-Dodge corporation and the Governor Babbitt. It was yet another lesson in the treachery of the Democratic Party.
When I moved to Tucson in 1983, I took a job at National Semiconductor, an electronics factory. The job paid barely over minimum wage, which I think was $3.75/hour at the time. That’s because the electronics industry in the US was largely non-union. I decided to go back to school at the local community college for a two-year degree in electronics, so that I could become an electronics technician. I didn’t have much interest in electronics; I’ve never had a technical personality; but I did it for two reasons: one, since I didn’t want to use my college degree to teach, if I didn’t want to work shitty low-paying jobs the rest of my life, I would need to learn a skill. The other reason was that I had decided to try and organize a union, and technicians moved around, fixing machines, so I would be able to meet and talk to a lot more workers.
By 1988 I had my electronics degree and had been working as a technician, and had an underground organizing committe of about a dozen workers. We launched a petition campaign to get a refrigerator in the break room to store our lunches, and won. But soon after that, layoffs began. During the 1980’s, the deindustrialization of America had begun. Electronics and other factories were being moved overseas. Even the pathetically low wages we got were much more than the companies paid in other countries. Many of our organizing committee were laid off. The union drive fizzled out.
Music and Fun!
After the union organizing committe ended, I decided to give up political activism and be “selfish” for the first time in my life. I was now 34-35 years old. I had given my youth to the “movement.” It was time to live a little before I was old. I was now free from the incessant SWP meetings and activity, and– with my Associates Degree in Electronics completed– more free time, I started to make up for what I missed the last 10 years. The workforce at National Semiconductor was young. The factory was on Tucson’s southside, which was mainly Mexican-American. So were most of my co-workers and new friends. I made a lot of friends there, and we partied together. I was digging the New Wave music of the 80’s– The Cure, The Church, Modern English, Berlin, Missing Persons. I was started going out to hear more live music in Tucson. There were only a few live music clubs in Tucson, but I made the rounds of them. The main one was Club Congress downtown.
I was also dusting off my neglected acoustic guitar, electric guitar and amp, and starting to play more music. I wanted to get into a band. I took guitar lessons, and later, vocal lessons. This will be covered in more depth in the next chapter.
Coming out of Activist Retirement to Protest the Iraq War
In 1990 or 1991, I quit National Semiconductor and took an electronics technician job at Burr-Brown. This was a better job– I was working as an engineering technician, assisting the engineers. While I was working there, the first President George Bush decided to invade Iraq. Although I had sworn off political activism for music a couple years earlier, I was so angry that I got back into it, and joined the Tucson coalition of people and groups to organize protests, this time operating as an independent. I became a leader of the group. We organized a march and rally in downtown Tucson. I created a mixtape cassette of political songs to play as the marchers entered the rally site, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s antiwar anthem, “Born in the USA.”
The antiwar coalition ended with the war. I decide to really quit political activism for good, and focus on music, and joining a band.
This concludes the chapters in this series called “The Missing Years,” so-called because I was reluctant to talk to them about anybody I met after 1991. I suffered a mid-life crisis when I turned 39, in 1993. I felt that I had wasted my youth, pretending to be a revolutionary, accomplishing nothing. I became very depressed. I had a great girlfriend, and she broke up with me because she didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who was depressed all the time. I can’t blame her. But I snapped out of it six months later, deciding that what’s done is done, so why not make the best of the years to come? And that meant moving music to center stage.
(This is the fifth chapter of my autobiographical series. It covers 1978-1983, after I moved from Houston to Phoenix. The others can be found on the column to the right. Go here to start at the beginning. This chapter was initially sent to my music fan email list on September 6, 2020. I have edited it slightly for the blog.)
In my last email I mentioned that I had gotten away from rock music in the 70’s. I still hate most 70’s rock. But after I moved to Phoenix in the Fall of 1978, I got back into rock music, thanks to the arrival of Punk and New Wave music. Punk bands like The Clash were raw rock with angry political lyrics. I still remember being at a friend’s apartment when he put on The Clash’s first album. I had never heard anything like that before but I loved it immediately. “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” Hell yeah.
New Wave music was totally different than punk, both musically and lyrically, but I loved it also. Musically it was much more interesting than the boring 70’s rock music, and lyrically the songs, while usually not political, tended to be emotional and introspective. When I first heard The Police on the radio, I was blown away. They didn’t sound like anything I had heard before. The guitar style was so different and cool. And I still remember being in my apartment when U2’s “New Year’s Day” came on the radio. I had never heard that style of guitar playing before. It was so different, and so cool. Other New Wave bands I loved included The Pretenders, Berlin, Modern English, 10,000 Maniacs, Missing Persons and A Flock of Seagulls.
But playing music then was an impossible dream. All my time was spent going to meetings and doing political activity, and working. A couple of Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) members turned me onto political folk music, and I would sometimes get out my acoustic guitar and play at parties but that’s it. But when I would go see a New Wave band at a local club in Phoenix, I couldn’t help but think “I wish that was me up there.”
Political Activism in Phoenix
In 1978, the SWP leadhership realized that the Sixties were over, and began a campaign to get members to take jobs in factories and join unions to build the party among blue-collar workers. Since I didn’t want to teach high school, and needed a job anyway, I took a job at Capitol Castings, a steel foundry in Tempe, just outside of Phoenix. I worked there for the next 3 years and was a member of the Steelworkers union. I was pretty freaked out the first time I saw a giant bucket of molten steel being poured into sand molds. The work was hard and dangerous; I went to the emergency room twice because my fingers had been smashed by the machinery. I shudder to think of that now; I came close to never being able to play the guitar again.
I got a one-room apartment and a beat-up old car I work in a factory a disgrace to my family –from my song None of the Above, to be recorded on my new album
The Sandinista Revolution in NIcaragua
In July, 1979 a popular uprising led by the Sandinista guerilla movement overthrew the longtime US-backed Somoza family dictatorship in Nicaragua. The Sandinista revolution generated a lot of hope and enthusiasm around the world. The Sandinistas setup a coalition government of all those who had opposed the Somoza dictatorship, and scheduled–and held– free elections for a new government. There was freedom of speech and press. Opposition parties were not suppressed. The Sandinistas were for a mixed economy, with some industries nationalized but most private enterprise. The death penalty and life sentences were abolished.
Sandinista leader Tomas [ add accent ] Borge had been imprisoned and tortured by the Somoza dictatorship. He became Minister of the Interior in the new government. But rather than do the same to his torturers, he forgave them, and wrote a poem, My Personal Revenge, explaining why. Jackson Browne turned the poem into a very beautiful and moving song.
I Travel to Nicaragua for the Revolution’s First Anniversary
A year later, I travelled to Nicaragua with two friends from Phoenix to celebrate the first anniversary of the revolution. My second teaching field in college had been Spanish, so I was mostly fluent at that point, and one of my friends was a fully bilingual Mexican-American. So we were able to converse with the people there. It was great to see what an actual revolution was like. That could be the subject of an entire chapter in this email series, but for now let me just say what impressed me was that the revolution was led by young people– teenagers even. I was 25 at the time, and I felt old. They told me stories of erecting barricades in Managua, the capitol city, to repel the dictator’s army. I travelled to two other cities, including Estelí, where some of the fiercest fighting had taken place. It was sobering to see all the bullet holes in the walls of almost every house there.
I had loaded my camera with color slide film and took a lot of photos there. When I came back to Phoenix, I put on a couple of slide show presentations about the trip. Unfortunately, I can’t post any here for you because they’re slides, so I can’t scan them. Maybe someday I’ll take those slides to a shop and have them converted to digital photo files. You’ll have to settle for these old buttons I found.
Reagan Organizes to Destroy the Revolution
The Reagan administration began re-organizing, funding and training the former dictator Somoza’s army in the border nations of Costa Rica and Honduras. These groups conducted terrorist operations against civilians inside Nicaragua. The Socialist Workers Party and YSA formed coalitions with other organizations and individuals to protest the US government’s actions. The pressure from our efforts and internationally was enough for Congress to cut off aid to the counter-revolutionaries, or Contras, as they were known. Reagan’s team, headed by Oliver North, then organized a scheme to allow the Contras to smuggle cocaine into US cities, especially Los Angeles. The CIA/Contra leaders used Black street gangs to sell it. This led to the crack cocaine explosion in Black communities in the US. All this was exposed by the journalist Gary Webb. The Reagan administration organized a slander campaign against Webb, which resulted in his death, officially pronounced as a suicde. His articles were published as a book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, The Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion. The movie, Kill the Messenger, was made based on the book. The movie is excellent.
The Iran-Contra Scandal and the Overthrow of the Nicaraguan Revolution
Another aspect of the Reagan/North fundraising campaign for the Contra terrorists was to secretly sell arms to Iran and fund the money to the Contras. Arms sales to Iran was illegal. So the Reagan/North gang was breaking a whole series of US laws in order to raise money for terrorists– drug smuggling and illegal arm sales to Iran– not to mention organizing and directing mass murder. When this became exposed, Congressional Democrats held hearings and pretended to be outraged, but, of course, they did nothing about it. To this day, Oliver North heads a company that provides mercenaries to the US military. Other key operatives in this criminal operation, such as John Negroponte, served as US Ambassador to the United Nations under George Bush from 2001-2004 and helped orchestrate the fake “weapons of mass destruction” excuse for the US invasion of Iraq. Another, Elliott Abrams, continued to hold responsible posts in the US government, and is currently serving as President Trump’s Special Representative for Iran.
The Nicaraguan government finally caved in to the terrorist campaign, and new elections were held in 1991. The US government funded an opposition party linked the Contras. (The Democrats did not object to this.) Naturally, they won, and began reversing the gains of the revolution, and restoring Nicaragua to a third-world country serving the interests of foreign corporations. So when the Democrats profess outrage at “Russian interference” in US elections, I call bullshit. And I call them what they are– hypocrits.
Rob Roper: Socialist Candidate for US Congress
In 1980, the SWP chose me as their candidate for the US House of Representatives, running against John Rhodes, the long-time leader of the Republicans in the House. The Democrats didn’t even field a candidate. I participated in a live TV debate with Rhodes, and with the other candidates for national office. A former Democratic staffer who had recently come over to the SWP did research on Rhodes voting record, and so I was prepared with notecards on various issues. When someone from the audience asked Rhodes about supporting veterans, Rhodes claimed he did. I countered with the exact bill number and date when he had voted against an increase in veterans benefits. I swear I could hear Rhodes audibly groan. I then stated that I was in favor of supporting veterans who had been wounded physically or psychologically in this country’s wars.
I enjoyed being a candidate, and public speaking. I worked hard at it. I learned from listening to recordings of the speeches of Malcolm X. I also learned from hearing the speeches of Peter Camejo, the SWP’s Presidential candidate in 1976. Camejo was the greatest public speaker I had ever heard in person. Both Malcolm X and Camejo used humor and historical anecdotes to make their points. And they didn’t read their speeches. I tried to do that, too. I prepared my speeches in outline form, with historical anecdotes (easy for me since I was a history major) and left room for improvisation. Most of the other SWP candidates wrote out their speeches word-for-word, without humor or anecdotes, just giving the party line. Boring. My speeches were more like musical performances. Needless to say, I got a better reaction from the audiences that the other candidates, and recruited more members. My popularity grew, and I was now a leader of the YSA and SWP. I was oblivious at the time, but my popularity was viewed by the national leadership and their local followers as a threat to them.
The Decline of the Socialist Workers Party
The national leadership of the SWP had mostly come from college students active in the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960’s. From there they went straight on to the SWP full-time staff. They had no experience working real jobs with real workers. By 1980, they had been “going to work” in their office in New York City for the past 15 years or so. They were completely isolated from the American working class. But they styled themselves “proletarian” leaders and handed down decisions to the local branches that were increasingly out-of-touch with reality.
Despite my conflicts with the party bureaucrats, they still chose me as the SWP’s candidate for US Senate in 1982. I guess nobody else wanted to do it. That was fine with me, it allowed me to speak to union meetings and at other events, and bring working-class people around the SWP. But as members began to question the NYC leadership’s policies more and more, the New York leaders became more paranoid and repressive. Two years later, they cancelled the party convention in 1983 rather than face criticism of their policies, which was a blatant violation of the party constitution. They expelled members who expressed opinions different from the leadership. But mainly members just quit. The workers I had recruited began dropping out. I tried to work within the SWP to reform it, but by 1983 it had become clear that was impossible. The organization I had joined at 18 and devoted the last 10 years of my life to– the best years”– according to most people, was dying and I had to admit I couldn’t save it. All that was left was the out-of-touch and paranoid NYC leadership and their local ass-kissers who did what they were told. Not the kind of organization that would ever make a difference.
I Move to Tucson, Resign from the SWP
I had moved to Tucson in 1983, because tension between me and the local leadership and reached toxic levels. I wanted to get out of that atmosphere and make sure that it wasn’t just a local problem. It quickly became clear that the problem came from the top, and I resigned from the Socialist Workers Party in the fall of 1983.
Next: Tucson 1983-1991: I continue political activism as an independent, but eventually end my career as a political activist in favor of a new one in music.