MORE MAD Music (NSFF Pt. 6)

Not So Fabulous Fifties (NSFF)

Part 6: MORE MAD Music 

(Click here to go to the beginning of this series.)

Another Atomic Platter Blast from the Past:

“The Sun is Burning”
Singers: Simon and Garfunkel
Composer: Ian Campbell (“Ian Campbell Folk Group”)

Year: 1964, S&G first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM

On a Personal Note

I was a 19 year old Sophomore at Michigan State University when the previously little-known duo of Simon and Garfunkel hit #1 on the Top 40 charts with their haunting “Sound of Silence” in January 1966. I had married my husband, George, a few months earlier, in spring 1965. He and I were both immediately taken by Simon and Garfunkel’s easy-listening folk style and lush harmonies. So I rushed out and bought the only album available by them at that time, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM.

album sandg

None of the other songs on the album had been marketed as singles at that point, so it was a real pleasurable adventure to play through the collection.  Side One included “The Sound of Silence” and five other very folk-y songs which I really enjoyed. (The song “Sparrow” was kind of sad and poignant, but I shed a tear for a moment and moved on.) Side Two started out the same way, with track #3 being a rousing version of the old traditional Spiritual “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” It was so positive and cheerful and exuberant!

And then Track #4 started. “The Sun is Burning.”

The sun is burning in the sky
Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by
In the park the lazy bees
Are droning in the flowers, among the trees
And the sun burns in the sky

It was a soothing and pretty ballad, with just a hint almost of a calypso beat. I was entranced. It was obviously going to be something sort of like the vintage Gershwin song “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’, and the cotton is high…”

And then came verse 4. And my heart sank into my stomach!

Have a listen.

The lyrics haunt me to this day!

From 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (Politics and Protest section) “The Sun is Burning”

The power of subtlety in protest music is brilliantly expressed by one of the earliest anti-nuclear songs, an unofficial anthem of the CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1958] movement and Ban the Bomb marches. Originally sung with innocent clarity by his sister Lorna – and later covered by Simon and Garfunkel – Ian Campbell’s clever descriptiveness gradually subverts a scene of idyllic normality into a shocking climax as the sun falls to earth and “death comes in a blinding flash of hellish heat”

 By the end, the song is echoing the published descriptions of the agonies suffered by the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings in 1945.

The Sun is Burning

The sun is burning in the sky
Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by
In the park the lazy bees
Are droning in the flowers, among the trees
And the sun burns in the sky

Now the sun is in the West
Little kids go home to take their rest
And the couples in the park
Are holdin’ hands and waitin’ for the dark
And the sun is in the West

Now the sun is sinking low
Children playin’ know it’s time to go
High above a spot appears
A little blossom blooms and then draws near
And the sun is sinking low

Now the sun has come to Earth
Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death
Death comes in a blinding flash
Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash
And the sun has come to Earth

Now the sun has disappeared
All is darkness, anger, pain and fear
Twisted, sightless wrecks of men
Go groping on their knees and cry in pain
And the sun has disappeared

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is most famous today for its iconic symbol.

peace

The CND Symbol

One of the most widely known symbols in the world, in Britain it is recognised as standing for nuclear disarmament – and in particular as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In the United States and much of the rest of the world it is known more broadly as the peace symbol.

It was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a professional designer and artist and a graduate of the Royal College of Arts. He showed his preliminary sketches to a small group of people in the Peace News office in North London and to the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, one of several smaller organisations that came together to set up CND.

Gerald Holtom, a conscientious objector who had worked on a farm in Norfolk during the Second World War, explained that the symbol incorporated the semaphore letters N(uclear) and D(isarmament).

He later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater, more personal depth:

“I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”

The first badges were made by Eric Austin of Kensington CND using white clay with the symbol painted black. Again there was a conscious symbolism. They were distributed with a note explaining that in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno.

ceramic2

These early ceramic badges can still be found and one, lent by CND, was included in the Imperial War Museum’s 1999/2000 exhibition From the Bomb to the Beatles.

Misrepresentation and misuse…

There have been claims that the symbol has older, occult or anti-Christian associations. In South Africa, under the apartheid regime, there was an official attempt to ban it. Various far-right and fundamentalist American groups have also spread the idea of Satanic associations or condemned it as a Communist sign. However the origins and the ideas behind the symbol have been clearly described, both in letters and in interviews, by Gerald Holtom. His original, first sketches are now on display as part of the Commonweal Collection in Bradford.

Although specifically designed for the anti-nuclear movement it has quite deliberately never been copyrighted. No one has to pay or to seek permission before they use it. A symbol of freedom, it is free for all.

ceramic peace badge

This of course sometimes leads to its use, or misuse, in circumstances that CND and the peace movement find distasteful. It is also often exploited for commercial, advertising or generally fashion purposes. We can’t stop this happening and have no intention of copyrighting it. All we can do is to ask commercial users if they would like to make a donation. Any money received is used for CND’s peace education and information work.

On a personal note again, I think “The Sun Is Burning” hit me particularly hard in early 1966 because my husband, George, had just finished an “interpretive reading” class at college the previous semester. For his main project, he read to the class a section from John Hersey’s book Hiroshima.  Hersey, a reporter for The New Yorker magazine, had traveled to Hiroshima within a year after the bomb had devastated the city and killed and maimed tens of thousands of people. He wove a description of the bombing and its aftermath around first-person stories of six survivors whom he interviewed. The story was originally published in the magazine, taking up almost the whole August 31, 1946 issue. It was so highly acclaimed that it was published in book form later in the year.

As George was preparing to do his class reading, I picked up the book and read through it myself. It was the first time I had ever read any material that personalized the events of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Up to that point, they were in my mind just that … “events” that had a date and some data attached to them. Power of so many tons of TNT. So many buildings smashed, raw data on casualties. Names of the bomber pilots, nicknames of the planes and the bombs.

The “view” I had was just like that of the bomber crews … from high in the sky.

Hersey brought me down to the ground and face to face with human suffering. Indeed, there were vivid descriptions of “twisted, sightless wrecks of men” groping on their knees and crying in pain. To say nothing of women and children doing the same. I was particularly touched by the line in the song saying that the blinding flash and hellish heat had left a “smear of ash.” The ash, of course, being incinerated people near Ground Zero. Then again, when reading the descriptions of misery and later disfigurements and death from radiation poisoning, it would seem that in many cases the idea of instant incineration was more merciful.

Composer Ian Campbell had indeed succeeded in leaving an indelible impression with his understatement that subtly set up an idyllic scene … and then shocked his listeners with stark reality. Right after WWII that reality seemed SO far away from America, something that could only happen to alien races of people in distant lands. But by 1966 when I first heard this song,  the Mutually Assured Destruction concept of the Cold War brought this reality agonizingly close to home.

Check the next entry in this Special Report, that explores another not-so-fabulous factor of life in the ’50s:

No Room in the Motor Inn

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