Sunday, February 21, 2010

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

By most newspaper accounts the January passing of historian/teacher Howard Zinn was greatly overshadowed by the death of J.D. Salinger, but it would be hard to say which writer has had more of a continuing impact in American letters. Zinn's A People's History of the United States was just one of twenty books by the prolific Boston University professor, whose writing explored the issues of civil rights, anti-war movements, and the place of Socialism in 21st-century America.

Both authors share another less-literary distinction. It would be a shame to memorialize the man without noting that, like Salinger, Zinn's work appears in the hallowed halls of the school of rock -- most notably in songs by Pearl Jam and System of a Down, as well as others like the hardcore band NOFX.

Laurence Hughes has a new blog called Classics Rock! detailing the connection between literature and rock and roll, with a recent post about Zinn followed closely by one on the musical echoes of J.D. Salinger. Here's part of Hughes's post -- and be sure to visit Classics Rock! for more unexpected reading on such rock luminaries as Harper Lee, William Burroughs, Graham Greene, and William Golding. Hughes has recently written about ClassicsRock on HuffingtonPost, and the site is worth return visits for anyone interested in the relationship between the written word and the big beat.

" ...he wrote more than twenty books altogether, including a 1994 autobiography called You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. The title comes from a line Zinn used in his teaching to get his students to understand that they would be getting his point of view in the classroom. 'I didn't pretend to an objectivity that was neither possible nor desirable,' he wrote in the book. 'Some were baffled by the metaphor. . . . Others immediately saw what I meant: that events are already moving in certain deadly directions, and to be neutral means to accept that.' The line appears in the lyrics of the Pearl Jam song 'Down' , available on the 2003 album Lost Dogs, acknowledging the band's friendship with Zinn."

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