Anyone who still believes music isn't an influential and integral part of the peace movement needs to meet Tom Neilson. Referred to as "the bard insurgent," Tom started singing at the age of 3, and at the age of 8, was singing with community choirs around his home town in Northwest Massachusetts. Tom credits his mother for his talent and love of music. At 89, she still plays the organ in their hometown church community.
Tom's first paying gig was a funeral in northern Idaho where he was paid $35 to sing two songs. In the 1960s, Tom bought a guitar for $20 and started writing protest songs, although he prefers a more affirmative connotation and calls them songs of social significance. He truly regards himself as one of the bards of long ago who traveled the country singing the news and educating the masses through poetry. Tom likes to encourage people to think for themselves and often performs satire and parody like "When Freedom is Outlawed, only Outlaws will be Free." One of his favorite songs is "Nothing Like A War" sung to the tune of "Nothing Like A Dame" from South Pacific.
Travelling to places like Africa and South America has greatly influenced Tom's writing and ideas that encourage citizens to do what they can to understand and appreciate other cultures as well as the priorities of simple needs. Tom commented to me that coming back to America was more of a culture shock to him than actually leaving the country. The consumerism, obesity and lack of higher education were staggering.
While Tom's most impressive and probably favorite work is with the environmental community (his songs are featured in at least 4 environmental documentaries), he has been traveling since the 1960s as part of the antiwar movement and has had the distinction of being on Homeland Security's watch list. He more recently had his passport taken and denied entry into Canada, influencing his reference to being "Another Pacifist Under Surveillance," also the name of one of his many albums.
Tom's most effective environmental challenge came in Rowe, MA, where a nuclear plant (Yankee Rowe) operated from 1951 to 1993, keeping the Deerfield river so warm that it never froze and maintained increasingly higher cancer rates. Michael Holroyde, University of Mass, Amherst, radio station host and friend of Tom's claims that, "Tom wrote the song that shut down Yankee Rowe." When I asked Tom if that was true, he indicated to me that he thought it was Michael's way of thanking him for lots of hard work over many years in the anti-nuclear movement. However, Michael claims that 3 days after Tom appeared on his radio show to sing his song, the plant was shut down.
When it comes to Obama, Tom believes, as many other members of United Progressives, this is no time to let up the pressure for progressive issues. It's evident that Obama is simply continuing policies incurred for years by previous administrations and we don't have time to simply hope.
Tom endorses United Progressives and looks forward to meeting with Tulsa Peace Fellowship and United Progressives in presenting his smart and funny songs of social significance. Please join us Friday, March 27th at 7:00 p.m., UU Church of the Restoration in Tulsa, as we host "..the Jon Stewart of folk music" and encourage everyone within the Tulsa area to attend the event.