July 1998

Malvina put out a newsletter to her mailing list of friends and fans during the last few years of her life. It came out sporadically for two reasons: she waited till she had something to say, and in the days before personal computers a mailing was even more of a chore. It had to wait till a lull in her active schedule. We will be quoting from the old Sporadic Times in this successor and add news of concerts of her songs and of the biography that is now being written. And, as was her practice, we will put in interesting tidbits that cross our paths, and an order form for the songbooks and two lps of hers that are still available. From time to time we will add a song of hers that is no longer available in print. Here is also the place for her friends to send in memories of her that you would like to share and to tell us how you are using her songs.

From Malvina's Sporadic Times Vol. I, No. 5, September 1976

Audiences always ask me to sing “Little Boxes”, and I have to fight off TV and radio programmers on this matter. The life style of the American middle class, conformity, standardization of products, the wiping out of the individual, are important matters. But wars go on all over the world, with our own para-military in there heating them up; the ocean is dead (The Nation, Aug.28, 1976), and radiation and chemical calamities are happening all over the country, all over the world. These matters make most other issues moot. Maybe I'll sing “Little Boxes” with an additional verse something like this:

Monster atom plants by the riverside,
Monster atom plants made of ticky-tacky,
Monster atom plants by the seaside,
Monster atom plants all the same,
In New York state and Michigan,
Oklahoma and California,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they leak death all the same.

Nuclear power plants continue to be an issue into the next millennium. The following is an excerpt from an article called The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation?   by John L. Petersen, Margaret Wheatley, Myron Kellner-Rogers. See entire article and Y2K information here.

While there isn't enough time or technical people to solve the Y2K problem before the end of next year, we might hope that critical aspects of our infrastructure are tackling this problem with extreme diligence. But this isn't true. America's electric power industry is in danger of massive failures, as described in Business Week's February '98 cover story on Y2K. They report that "electric utilities are only now becoming aware that programmable controllers -- which have replaced mechanical relays in virtually all electricity-generating plants and control rooms -- may behave badly or even freeze up when 2000 arrives. Many utilities are just getting a handle on the problem." It's not only nuclear power plants that are the source of concern, although problems there are scary enough. In one Year 2000 test, notes Jared S.Wermiel, leader of the Y2K effort at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the security computer at a nuclear power plant failed by opening vital areas that are normally locked. Given the complexity and the need to test, "it wouldn't surprise me if certain plants find that they are not Year 2000-ready and have to shut down." [www.igs.net/~tonyc/y2kbusweek.html]

News from Australia

Subject: Western Australian Abortion Laws
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1998 23:04:29 +0800
From: bernard and eleanor carney carneybe@cantech.net.au

Dear Sisters,

We,the Lilliths, sang Malvina's “Back Alley Surgery” and “Do Something Strong” at the Perth Rally to celebrate International Wimens's Day to protest against our antiquated abortion laws here in Western Australia. These laws are currently being reviewed due to criminal charges being laid against two Doctors. At a rally today hundreds of women stood in the rain to affirm their right to choose and to demand that the law, which is at present being reviewed by mostly men in our Parliament, is repealed.

I bet Malvina would never have believed that we still have to fight so hard for control of our own destiny.

Greetings from “Down Under”
Eleanor Carney

Malvina Songs from Rosalie Sorrels

Rosalie Sorrels is planning an album of Malvina songs and stories including the more political Malvina songs that Rosalie sings at rallies but not at concerts. She'll need a hunk of money to do it right (with Nina Gerber and other favorite musicians) so she's starting a fund and asking for contributions to be sent to her at Box 1204, Boise ID 83701. (This is not tax-deductible.) She just did a terrific concert at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley including “No Hole in My Head.“ She said she'd been using it in her programs for re-entry women--older women returning to their interrupted education--and that seems like a perfect use for it:

Everybody thinks my head's full of nothin,
Wants to put his special stuff in,
Fill the space with candy wrappers,
Keep out sex and revolution
But there's no hole in my head.
Too bad.

© Malvina Reynolds 1965

God Bless the Grass

Hooray! Columbia has reissued Pete Seeger's 1966 album, God Bless the Grass, on CD. The lp had five Malvina songs on it: “Seventy Miles” and “From Way Up Here” both co-written with Pete, and “Cement Octopus,” “The Faucets Are Dripping” and the title cut. For the CD, Malvina's “There'll Come a Time” was added, along with two other previously unreleased bonus tracks. Not only is this album nearly one-third Malvina, it is Pete's environmental album, unfortunately as relevant now as it was in 1966. Pete's “Dirty Stream,” the Hudson, has been cleaned up, but in Chualar, California, agricultural runoff has so contaminated the water supply that drinking water must be trucked in (San Francisco Chronicle, front page, May 12, 1998).

Songs for Earthlings

Two of Malvina's songs (“From Way Up Here,” a collaboration with Pete Seeger, and “If You Love Me”) appear in a brand-new collection, Songs for Earthlings: A Green Spirituality Songbook, compiled and edited by Julie Forest Middleton (Emerald Earth Publishing, 1998). Three of my songs are also included: “Trees of the Wild,” “Just Like We Do” and the rap, “Who's Gonna Save the Ark.” This good-looking, carefully edited book has over three hundred pages of songs, chants and rounds celebrating the elements, animals and plants, various passages in human lifetimes, the seasons, etc. The compiler hopes that people will learn the songs and put the book down to sing. I agree. I go to song circles and see everyone singing with their noses in Rise Up Singing (a words-only book that has several Malvina songs) and I don't want to go back. Pete Seeger says of Songs for Earthlings: “If you are a music teacher, or music counselor at a summer camp, or in any kind of church, it will repay you to leaf through this book. You may pass by twenty songs, and then find one that is exactly what you're looking for.” The book is sprinkled with lovely quotes; my favorite is from Lily Tomlin:
"Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it."
-Nancy Schimmel

Available through your local independent bookseller or from Emerald Earth Publishing, PO Box. 4326, Philadelphia, Penn. 19118.

Malvina Biography Benefit Concerts

Ellen Stekert, folklorist and English prof at the University of Minnesota (and friend of Malvina and Bud's) has done years of research and interviews for a biography of Malvina. She is now taking time off from her job to pull it all together. Two benefit concerts were held to help raise funds for the Biography project.

January 25th
Brian Bowers, Rebel Voices, and Mary Litchfield performed at Seattles funky Tractor Tavern. Mary and her friend Larry covered both Malvina standards and lesser known songs. Rebel Voices, two women with powerhouse voices carried on the Malvina tradition of finely crafted topical songs. These included pro union lyrics to Sousa's “Stars and Stripes Forever” and a song about an Irish grocery clerk who refused to ring up produce from South Africa. Brian Bowers, a fine singer/songwriter played the autoharp like I never knew was possible. He sang a moving love song to the northwest and a song reinterpreting Adam and Eve which included the line, “Eve said to Adam, 'get down from that tree, You'll pick the fruit and they'll blame it on me.'”
-Nancy Ibsen

March 15th
Nancy Spencer, her daughter Lisa, Crystal Reeves and I did a concert of your moms songs last month. I think you knew about that. Anyway, it went great, with a large and loving crowd. It felt kind of like a house concert as it didn't have that “us and them” energy. I think those songs lend themselves to that feel. We've been asked to play again in the fall as a benefit for the women's health center, and may just repeat that concert.
-Thanks again, Pam Vellutini.