Award-winning writer Jesse Jarnow visited Fairfield University’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Oct. 30. His 2018 book, “Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, the Blacklist, and the Battle For the Soul of America” was discussed for the intimate audience in the Wien Experimental Theatre.
The Open Visions Forum event, supported by Connecticut law firm, Cohen and Wolf, P.C, counted as an Inspire Event for first-year students, according to Life@Fairfield. Jarnow drew a crowd of Weaver fans from the Fairfield University community as well as the surrounding town. While some students came for class credit, others in the audience attended to relive glory days and learn more about the influential singers of the ‘60s and beyond.
Junior Felix Brisuela stated, “I had to attend this event to gain credit for my Art History Class.” In regards to the Quick Center for the Arts, Brisuela further explained that he wasn’t new to the venue, and has visited in the past to support peers performing there.
Life@Fairfield provides further information about Jarnow’s book, which tells the story of The Weavers, one of the most significant popular-music groups of the postwar era. The Weavers saw their career nearly destroyed during the Red Scare of the early 1950s. Even with anti-communist fervor in decline by the early 1960s, the Weavers’ leftist politics were unfortunatley used against them in many instances.
Philip I. Eliasoph, Ph.D. a professor of visual and performing arts at Fairfield University, was one of two professors that introduced Jarnow. Eliasoph impactfully related the past to the present. On the topic of music, he quoted “The Doors” album called ‘Strange Days’, saying, “These are indeed strange days,” as he spoke on current events like the California fires burning through the state, the president impeachment inquiries and even added, “A straight arrow, decorated purple heart military officer is being accused of being a double agent by white house allies.”
From there he further stated, “So these are strange days, and these strange days remind us of the darkness of the period of the Red Scare and it makes us shiver in our spines recalling that very dramatic confrontation in the US senate on June 9th 1954, when attorney Joseph Welch asked Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy saying, ‘I have never really gauged your recklessness, have you no sense of decency sir?’”
Elisoph’s colleague, professor of music Brian Q. Torff, further introduced the concept of The Weavers and Jarnow’s book by stating, “It is more than a book about an activist folk singing group, The Weavers, who had pop success as well in the ‘50s, only to become blacklisted. It is a study in American patriotism, courage and defiance. It is speaking up and out in song.”
Following that statement, Torff powerfully explained that, “It’s not just ‘protest’ music, this is what I like to call ‘open your eyes and think’ music…the book reminds us that history doesn’t repeat itself, people do.”
Once Jarnow took the floor, he opened his talk with a presentation highlighting The Weavers career. He displayed photographs of the band, old newspaper headlines and significant events that occured. Most importantly, he opened with one of The Weavers first enormous hit singles from 1951, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena.”
Three years prior to the single, Jarnow explained the event that pushed The Weavers into action was a riot that occured at a Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, NY. He stressed the importance of famous folk singer Pete Seeger, as Jarnow used Seeger to bring the audience through an eventful timeline. Singers like Seeger used music as their tool, one to bring people together.
Just as Torff said prior, “The silent generation of the ‘50s became inspired, I believe, by The Weavers and groups like them…This influenced people like Bob Dylan, the folk movement and folk rock.”
Jarnow’s writing on music, technology and culture has appeared in the New York Times, Pitchfork, Wired.com, Rolling Stone, Dupree’s Diamond News and more according to Life@Fairfield. While he was always a writer, Jarnow has had an underlying passion for music from the start that allowed him to dive deeper with the two passions.
When Torff closed, he referenced Jarnow’s writing, stating, “When Mr. Jarnow observes that the attacks of the anti-communists in the McCarthy era were really not that [a facist], he says “They were just scared Americans” and FDR warned us, didn’t he? In his first inaugural address in 1933, he famously said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”
On top of writing, Jarnow is a music critic, blogger, radio host, podcaster and a DJ at WMFU on Monday nights based in New Jersey, New York City and the Hudson Valley. He has written another book called “Heads,” a biography on psychedelic America in addition to other works.
According to Life@Fairfield, Jarnow’s book achieved critical and popular acclaim, including a review by Academy Award-winning actor Alan Arkin who stated, “Wasn’t That a Time reads more like a Dickens novel than the history of a folk group. God, what a wild ride. And I remember it well.”