Friday, June 29, 2012

The History Club is a group of readers and raconteurs. They love Page Smith's multi-volume history of the United States, and gather from time to time to loosen up and spin tales about America from their varied and personal points of view.

As club secretary, Diesel Cats presents here the minutes of one such meeting.

Diesel Cats was an amateur recording artist working out of his bedroom studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He recorded eight albums between 1975 and 1993 using 4-track and 8-track tape recorders. History Club Minutes, his fifth, was praised by Page Smith and is very well liked by at least three other people.  Check out album four and album eight online.

All songs and lyrics copyright 1989 Dennis Criteser except italicized lines in Walt Whitman Suite, which are the words of Walt Whitman.  All rights reserved.

All illustrations copyright 1989 Joan Landsberg. 

Diesel Cats - lead vocals and "drums" on all songs, keyboards on all except where noted.

Very special thanks to Steve Kirk for mastering and transfer to digital files from DAT copies of the oritinal analog masters.

History Club Minutes




We are the members of the History Club
We're mighty happy when we're down at the pub
We put on our glasses, and order some beer
And then we roll up our sleeves and discuss Robespierre
We are the members of the History Club
Come out and join us tonight

I am the secretary of the History Club
I'm the one who's always writing
In the midst of the hubbub
I'd just like to capture it all,
The finest moments of our club
We're not comprehensive and
We don't have all the facts
But we make up with emotion
What our intellect lacks
I hope you'll enjoy
These few renderings of American acts

We are the members of the History Club
We're might happy when we're down at the pub
When the topic gets hot
And the passion's in our eyes
We jump up and dance around
What's that feeling in my thighs?
Hey!!
We are the members of the History Club
Come out and join us tonight




The History Club - vocals; Tom Hassett - real drums, middle section; Graham Bruce - lead trumpet; Jeff Massanari - trumpet; David Matchett - trombone; Diesel Cats - bass.

Thomas and Sally




Thomas was torn between his country and his home
His heart would want a woman,
His head would want to roam
His wife and his mother could never let him go
But a slave child would never say no
So Sally and Thomas lived separate but near
On and off for 39 years
The half-black daughter of Tom's wife's dad
Sally got privileges most slaves never had
Like learning how to read, and living in Paris
Being loved by the President, ah ma cherie


     Sally must have felt it was a strange love
     Thomas must have felt it with a passion
     Black, white, loving out of sight
     Keeping from the daytime what their bodies knew at night
     Black, white, living separately
     Black, white, wanting to be free


Beneath Tom's brilliance and political ideals
His heart was touched by every hurt a human heart feels
He lost his wife and many a good friend
And 'twas no easy love he harbored til the end
Well some say it's completely untrue
It upsets their notions of red white and blue
But the neighbors must have known
What the nation would deny
And blacks take for granted what the whites have called a lie
That Sally bore his children and Sally served him tea
Sally loved the President, oh my cherie


     Sally must have felt it was a strange love
     Thomas must have felt it with a passion
     Black, white, President and slave
     Down in ol' Virginia that's just how the folks behaved
     Black, white, loving desperately
     Black, white, loving to be free




Pastiche - backup vocals and arrangements (Pastiche is Sandy Cressman, Becky West and Jenny Meltzer); Jeremy Cohen - fretless bass; Raz Kennedy - vocal solo; Diesel Cats - acoustic guitar.

Ante-Bellum New Orleans



Come on and take a trip down to New Orleans
When life was rich, though the Massah might be mean
We could dance the baboula at the ball of the quadroon
We could jump around naked 'neath the Voodoo Moon


     That's when I want to be American
     To be American through and through
     Let the chains and the lash
     Turn me red, black and blue
     Let me feel American through and through


Back in the times before the blues was blue
Way before the Civil War was through
Way way before Storyville
When all that jazz would come along
I want to know how it felt
To be dark and smart and strong


     That's when I want to be American
     To be American through and through
     Though the chains and the lash
     Make me red, black and blue
     Got to feel American through and through




Jeff Massanari - electric lap steel guitar; Erik Walker - piano solo; Diesel Cats - ukulele.

U.S. Grant




What's the big joke about Grant and his tomb?
The man has been diminished, I want to change the tune
All that we remember is his seamy side
With all that whiskey, I'm amazed that he could ride
But he rode across the South
And he kicked 'em in the mouth
And for ten or twelve years
The South could only run and hide


     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man
     He wasn't just a drunk
     With some scandals on his hands
     He believed in justice and he fought real well
     He should be remembered like the Liberty Bell
     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man
     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man


He did what he could to protect the freed blacks
The Civil War was finished, but the South still fought back
And so Grant sent the troops to protect the voting rights
He really did a number on the old Southern whites
There were soldiers throughout the South
Who were kickin' 'em in the mouth
So those good old boys just stepped aside
And did their ragin' in the night


     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man
     He did the best he could
     For the Reconstruction Plan
     He treated good people with real respect
     It wasn't his fault that black freedom got wrecked
     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man
     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man


Let's look at what happened when the War was through
Black power blossomed and it grew and grew
They promoted education and they humanized the laws
But the black flower stuck in the Southern man's craw
So Grant, he took a stand, to try and stop the Klan
But it didn't take too very long for the South to rise again


     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man
     It never could have happened
     If he didn't take a stand
     He gave the black man a brief moment in the sun
     So of course he's remembered as a son-of-a-gun
     Ulysses S. Grant was a real good man
     Ulysses S. Grant was a good man




Jeff Massanari - electric guitar; Mike Bacile - acoustic bass; Tom Hassett - real drums.

Shotgun





I am as white as white can be
But I am different from my family tree
Can't bear to know what they might have done
With a black man and a shotgun


     I want to dance
     The black man makes me want to dance
     Give him that shotgun he can make us dance
     He'll make you jump if he gets half a chance


I am nervous and shy as can be
When I am hangin' with a black family
I think they're lookin' at what history's done
They see a black man and a shotgun


     Please make me dance
     Shake my bones with some black romance
     Remake my ancestors to happenstance
     You take the shotgun I just wanna dance


The white can take the black spirit free
He knows just how to turn it into big money
But inside he must be on the run
From a black man and a shotgun


     He'd better dance
     He'd better let the black man make him dance
     Give up his shotgun and his white trance
     He'd better jump if he gets half a chance
     Dance, dance, dance
     Give up that shotgun and dance
     Dance, dance, dance




Jeff Massanari - electric guitar; Bruce Unsworth - tenor and baritone saxophones; Diesl Cats - electric rhythm guitar.

Train Song





Have you heard the story of how we laid those rails
From sea to shining sea
Dispossessed the Indians, and hired the cheap Chinese
We stapled steel into the ground
To let our spirits roam around
With cash and blood and whistle stops
We built ourselves a home


     So here we are, on the bones of the buffalo
     We've come so far, far
     And when we're home
     We like to leave all our troubles behind
     We've come so far, far, far


Have you heard the story of how they try to stop
The slow trains carryin' death
They put their bodies on the rails
To bring the cargo down to rest
A train with bombs and missile parts
Face to face with a few strong hearts
And like old Indians take a stand
To keep us safe at home


     So here we are, on the bones of the buffalo
     We've come so far, far
     And when we're home
     We like to leave all our troubles behind
     We've come so far, far
     So here we are, on the bones of the Indians . . .
                                                                          Africans . . .
                                                                          immigrants . . .
                                                                          patriots . . .




Linn Brown - harmony vocals; Graham Bruce - trumpet; Diesel Cats - acoustic guitar, bass, alto sax.  Train sounds courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Productions of Nevada, copyright 1987, available on Bainbridge Records "Sounds of Trains, Volume 2," used by permission.

Walt Whitman Suite





     I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them
     And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them
     I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
     But I saw they were not as was thought . . .


Walt Whitman is known for his rhapsodies
On the spirit of his times
Open to both pain and pleasure as one
He was a witness to our great Civil War
In the heat and the cold of the Capital
Caring like a saint for all the casualties brought there to die
Beholding and feeling the guts of America's boys
Holding and healing the guts of their spirits
On each of their dying days
In the bloody display of the war-torn bodies
Of the boys of the blue and gray
Walt Whitman could still see hope for the American way
Walt Whitman could still see hope for the American way


     Over the carnage rose prophetic a voice
     Be not disheartened, affection
     Shall solve the problems of freedom yet,
     Those who love each other shall become invincible,
     They shall yet make Columbia victorious.


     When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd
     And the great star early droop'd
     In the western sky in the night,
     I mourn'd,
     And yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.


When Abraham Lincoln was shot
Walt Whitman mourned his passing
With the song of a thrush
And a star, and lilacs, blooming in the dooryard
Every spring after Lincoln was shot


     Ever returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring
     Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west
     And thought of him I love
     And thought of him I love




I'm thinking of the Kennedys and King
Their Peckinpah deaths reverberate around
Snapshots lodged in the spine of my brain
I've got images like bullets in the spine of my brain


Images of blistering Japanese:  Hiroshima
Images of death through the back of a child:  My Lai
Images of fields of Cambodian bones:  Pol Pot
Images, television, bullets, I've got
Images like bullets in the spine of my brain


     Passing the song of the hermit bird
     And the tallying song of my soul . . .
     Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
     I leave thee there in the door-yard,
     Blooming, returning with spring . . .
     For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands -
     And this for his dear sake,
     Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
     There in the fragrant pines and cedars dusk and dim.




Healing is scarce in the land of America
Even with Spring coming up from within
And finding its way to a place in the sun.
Healing's not easy, Walt Whitman, in America
For poisons have entered the bones of your thrush
And taint the hearts of the lilacs each Spring,
And taint the blossoms in the door-yard,
Mr. Whitman, each Spring.


     I see behind each mask that wonder a kindred soul
     O the bullet could never kill
     What you really are, dear friend
     Nor the bayonet stab what you really are:
     The soul! yourself I see, great as any, good as the best
     Waiting secure and content,
     Which the bullet could never kill
     Nor the bayonet stab O friend




I love to hear you, Walt Whitman, so open and high,
Caressing the War with hope in your eyes.
You witnessed the worst, and yet you prophesied the best.
Those were the days when in God you could trust.
I can't help but love you
Though a nation like yours is long since gone.


We've put our trust in weapons, and hammered our love
And trust not the sun or the moon from above.
I can't help feeling cheated, with my ear to the ground,
The bullet and bayonet, their mark finally found.
Your words make me long for
A nation like yours, but a nation like yours is gone.


America's gone, Walt Whitman,
The country you loved has slipped away.
America's gone, Walt Whitman,
The spirit you loved has passed away.


Benn Bacot - voice of Walt Whitman; Mike Bacile - acoustic bass; Jonathan Jacobs - harmonica; Jeff Massanari - electric lead guitar; Mike Telle - electric rhythm guitar; Phil Hildreth and Marty Bateson - vocals at end; Diesel Cats - acoustic guitar.

Cowboy Song





All this time I been thinkin' that cowboys were real
All those wide open spaces and every bit of dust, I can feel it
But I've been reading history, and you see
There's a certain fiction about it
The cowboy ridin' the range with his lasso and spurs
Ropin' all them doggies and retirin' when the moon hits the sky
You know that rugged look that's in his eyes?
Most of what you see is a lie
Just a little romanticized
'Cause there was no home on the range


     The cowboys were mostly a miserable lot
     Their bosses were mean and they worked cold or hot
     The only freedom they probably knew
     Was the freedom to curse at the longhorns beneath skies of
     Blue, blue, endlessly blue
     The work of a cowboy was never quite through
     Paid a mere pittance, he died on the trail
     Where his spirit rose up 
     Finally freed from his prairie travail


You know that Karl Marx's daughter was real smart
And she wouldn't lie
And when she traveled to America 
She looked at all the workingmen's lives
And so she came upon our great Prairies, and you see,
She found a certain fiction about it
She saw poor proletarians, ridin' on the range for 24 hours a day
Just to fatten up the cattle for the big rich ranchers
Who refused to even buy them their spurs
Oh how she wished that they could organize!
But union cowboys wouldn't be hired
They gave their lives or else they were fired
'Cause there was no home on the range


































Mike Bacile - acoustic bass; Tom Hassett - real drums; Jeff Massanari - electric guitar; Ned Selfe - pedal steel guitar; Diesel Cats - acoustic guitar.

Bird Song





Wilbur and Orville knew they could fly
They knew they could make it if they'd only try
Now flying's a part of everyone's day
Big shiny birds in the sky


America's love is up in the air
Wheeling and soaring as high as a dare
The birds and the planes and a whole space crew
Sometimes I wish I could soar that way too


     But my bird has been broken
     And I'm down on the ground
     Hey hey I'm broken, but my love has been found
     There's a pain in my breast
     And I'm down on the ground
     My bird has been broken, but my love has been found


To fly through the air with the greatest of ease
Above all the problems, above all the trees
All 'round the world and through history
It's been like a yearning for peace


Well we were the first o'er the fields of Kitty Hawk
A few hundred yards and the dream was unlocked
And now America's love is up in the air
The best planes and brains, as high as a dare


     But my bird has been broken, and I'm down on the ground
     Hey hey I'm broken, but my love has been found
     There's a pain in my breast, and I'm down on the ground
     My bird has been broken, but my love has been found


Great clouds in the sky, and freedom's in the air
Purple mountain's majesty and liberty to spare
But after all that, love is in the ground
Crash and survive and you just might be found


     Yes my bird has been broken, and I'm down on the ground
     Hey hey I'm broken, but my love has been found
     There's a pain in my breast, and I'm down on the ground
     My bird has been broken, but my love has been found
     My bird has been broken, but my love has been found


































Linn Brown - string arrangement; Carol DeArmant - bowed acoustic bass; Ned Selfe - pedal steel guitar.

Indian Dream Song





There's an Indian standing on my mother's front lawn
She wants to shoot
Ragged and colorful, dirty and wild
She can tell from his eyes that something is wrong
She's getting worried 'bout her roses and flax
"Call the police!" He looks sullen and strong
What would you do with someone so free
Out on your suburban lawn?


     Someone so free, someone so free
     I want the Indian to be a friend unto me


They appeared in my neighborhood from out of the West
They let out a whoop
Riding their horses with lances and bows
Wrecking up my garden, then fleeing like crows
I've read the history between them and us
And I swear to the sun, I can't stand what was done
But I never ordered no Wounded Knee
So why do they do this to me?


     Someone so free, someone so free
     Why can't the Indian be a friend unto me?


Now that most Indians are dead
We can see that the Indians were good
We can read about their cultures
Keep a few on as pets
And long for their brotherhood
We never really trusted what was wild and free
But I sure wish the Indian
Could be a good friend to me


     Someone so free
     Someone so free


































Pastiche - vocals and vocal arrangement; Bruce Unsworth - alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Tom Hassett - cymbal; Diesel Cats - electric guitar.

History Club Minutes (Reprise)



We are the members of the History Club
The night is over at the History Pub
Everybody's sleepy and it's time to go home
We can curl up with a hist'ry book
And dream the buffaloes roam
We are the members of the History Club
Thank you for joining us
























The History Club - vocals; Erik Walker - piano.

The History Club is:  Diesel Cats, Secretary; Joan Landsberg, Painter Laureate; Raz Kennedy, President and Liaison to the Surfer's Club; Terry Quinlan, Director of Literary Affairs; Jeff Massanari, Chief of Canine Operations and Wankmeister; Jo Dee Burton, Treasurer Extraordinaire; Richard Freeman, Chief Legal Counsel; Marilyn Hilary, Head of Wardrobe; Diane Frohman, Queen-and-Keeper of the Groove; Sandy Cressman, Head of Sports Division and Liaison to the French Club; Jeff Cressman, Chief Translator of Latin Hieroglyphics.