On July 21, 1950, the subject, thought “to be self-employed as a composer of music,” is reported linked to communist front groups. Within six months, he is classified outright as a communist.
So begins the government’s surveillance of Aaron Copland, one of the country’s most important composers, creator of such stirring music as Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, Billy the Kid and the patriotic Lincoln Portrait.”
And so begins a far from simple news item in the May 11, 2003 edition of the “Los Angeles Times”Noted Composer’s FBI File Is Both Sharp, Flat Government monitored Aaron Copland for 25 years, documents show. Hoover sought CIA help,” By Darlene Superville What inspired it was the recent release of the records of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s notorious “witchhunt” for Communists in the 1950’s, who were supposedly undermining every aspect of American life. And Aaron Copland was one of many targets, as he had supported numerous left-wing causes in the previous decades that were also trumpeted by hard-line communists. Now they were to be viewed as “tainted” by that communist connection — regardless of the actual political beliefs or actions of the individuals involved. And so American citizens who had not been charged, or even accused, of any crime were spied upon by their own government.
The result is an inch-thick FBI file, replete with blacked-out passages, released to the Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from late 1997.
The papers make clear that the government’s interest in Copland did not end with his 1953 testimony at Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist hearings — transcripts of which were released this month.”
And now we get to the heart of the matter:
Aaron Copland was gay. HELLO! It’s 2004! The biographical information is voluminous. There are even living persons who could, if the need warrant, “testify” to Copland’s orientation — including his former protege, writer-director James Toback. Can’t the “Los Angeles Times” and the “Associated Press” bring itself to mention this very simple fact? No. That’s not how the Heterosexual Dictatorship works. Gayness must be elided even unto the grave. Even when so many figures in what has come to be known as “The McCarthy Era” were same-sex oriented themselves — like J. Edgar Hoover, Roy Cohn, and Joe McCarthy.
Oh yes, we can look to the history of our chief “Coalition of the Willing” ally, Great Britain, and those gay commie spies like Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. But then there’s that home grown example of Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers and the role that their sexual orientation played in that famous libel case — a role that Chambers apologist Sam Tanenhaus scrupulously avoids dealing with in his biography of the noted pumpkin farmer. Happily, out of “left field” (in every sense of the term) Joe LeSueur’s recently published memoir Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara brings it back again, due to the fact that LeSueur had an affair with a young man named Timothy Hobson, cheekily identified as a “stepson” of Hiss’. One awaits a full account, which is certain to be coming down the road sooner or later.
Meanwhile no one has to look any further than the “Army-McCarthy Hearings” (captured in Emile deAntonio’s splendid documentary Point of Order ) in which the Senator from Wisconsin launched an investigation of the U.S. military for “Communist subversion” simply because it wasn’t giving special treatment to Roy Cohn’s boyfriend G. David Schine. Legendary in the history of media spectacle are the fateful words of U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch “At long last sir have you no sense of decency?” when McCarthy decided to forego a pre-arranged “Gentlemen’s Agreement” not to bring up the past leftist affiliations of another lawyer working on the case.
Traditionally this was seen as marking McCarthy’s end. But the real climax of the hearings came over a discussion of a photograph in which Schine can be viewed standing alongside a high-ranking military official. McCarthy was using it to prove that this otherwise undistinguished private was a Very Important Person. The photo was, however, cropped to create that impression — as Welch proved by bringing out the full original which showed that Schine was standing with many other soldiers as well and was in no way a V.I.P. McCarthy, in full-blusterous form expressed outrage and demanded to know how this happened.
“Well who do you think did it?” Welch inquired. “A pixie?”
And when a suddenly deflated McCarthy claimed ignorance of such a term, Welch delivered the coup de grace:
“Well it’s my understanding that a pixie is a very close relative of a fairy.”
He was, needless to say, looking directly at Mccarthy and Cohn — the “Pixie” and “Fairy” in question –at the time. The “Have you no sense of decency?” exchange soon followed, and the hearings ended shortly afterwards in much disarray (there’s a memorable shot in DeAntonio’s film of a Mccarthy aide named Robert F.Kennedy making himself scarce when the shit hit the fan.)Marrying his secretary and adopting a child did nothing to repair McCarthy’s fortunes — alcoholism having undermined his health leading to a relatively early and quite ignominious grave. G. David Schine went on to produce films ( the most noteworthy being The French Connection ), and Roy Cohn went on to “Studio 54″ and AIDS — the “last word” about him being provided by Tony Kushner in his Angels in America.
So let’s get back to Aaron Copland —
“Copland has been abroad for some time and on June 25, 1951, he arrived in New York from Bombay, India, on TWA flight 6022-C,” Hoover wrote to the CIA chief. “It would be appreciated if you would furnish the bureau any information you have received concerning Copland’s activities while abroad.”
Copland’s music was pulled from President Eisenhower’s inaugural concert in 1953 due to the suspicions about his politics. He denied ever being a communist when called to testify to Congress.”
But such denials mean nothing in the America of Nancy Grace. You’re guilty until proven innocent. And while Copland’s music is virtual synonymous with “America” the man himself, being a Pinko-Jew-Commie Fag, was not — as far as his government was concerned.
“Although I am free to go,” Copland wrote, “I would not wish to attend the convention without the advice of the department.” The file suggests that he did not make the trip.”
How thoughtful of him. One wonders whether the department’s “advice” was delivered politely or threateningly. Happily times — and investigative imperatives — changed for the great composer.
But the scrutiny of his activities continued. For nearly two decades after that, memos and newspaper clippings trickled in with details of Copland’s doings.
The investigation ended in 1975. A three-page FBI memo concluded that there was “no additional pertinent information concerning the captioned individual.”
Left unanswered, however, is the question of whether Copland was ever a communist.”
And an answer in the affirmative would prove. . . .what exactly?
“He was involved with the Communist Party up to his ears,” Teachout said. “Whether or not he was an actual card-carrying member of the party, nobody knows.” Teachout noted, among other things, a 1934 speech by Copland to Minnesota farmers suspected of being communists.
Copland also supported the 1936 Communist Party presidential ticket, the FBI file says.”
In other words he was a Liberal — which now as it was then is the True Crime. One recalls George Orwell’s little list of Communist “sympathizers” which included the incessantly reviled Charlie Chaplin — another Liberal forced to walk the plank.
Quincy Hilliard, a composer and University of Louisiana music professor who has studied Copland’s life and music, laughed at the notion of him as a closet communist.”
(Insert your favorite “closet” joke here.)
Copland “was very interested in writing music that sounded American and that most people would recognize as American,” he said. Indeed, Copland blended jazz rhythms of the South, Appalachian folk songs and cowboy tunes from the prairie to create a distinctly American brand of classical music.
That did not seem to matter much to the government.
Confidential government sources and newspaper reports helped document Copland’s alleged communist involvement in the 1930s and 1940s, suggesting guilt by association.
One newspaper report says he was “one of 450 persons who signed a statement urging the president and Congress to defend the rights of the Communist Party.” The FBI file also includes a list of more than 40 “communist projects” to which the composer was linked.
Scrutiny of Copland peaked on May 26, 1953, with a two-hour, closed-door hearing before McCarthy’s investigations subcommittee, which was examining communism in the United States.
Copland repeatedly denied affiliating knowingly with communists and said he withdrew from some organizations when they were branded as communist-controlled. Copland said he signed many petitions in support of liberal causes, but told McCarthy that his involvement was superficial.
“I spend my days writing symphonies, concertos, ballads, and I am not a political thinker,” he said.
Copland was called to testify because he had been hired by the State Department to lecture overseas, and he complained at the hearing about having to appear just days after receiving a subpoena.
Copland seemed to take that period of his life in stride.”
Which is more than can be said of some others. The HUAC testimony of a Pinko-Commie-Jew-Fag named Jerome Robbins is replete with his nervous insistence that his chief thematic concerns were “American” — as if the “spirit” of this country could be splattered freely on everything, like ketchup. Copland was more reserved, but scarcely unscathed for all his pains.
“It was not a happy time. What can one do but go through it and carry on.”
Copland declined to discuss McCarthy in the interviews with Perlis.
“He was just very proud of his honesty and his integrity, and I think he was very hurt by the whole thing,” Perlis said.
Three months after the hearing, Copland again denied being a communist in an affidavit submitted with a passport application. The statement went against information provided by the government informants, and formed the basis of the FBI’s perjury and fraud investigation.
Copland had said he began cutting his ties to leftist groups after learning that some of them might be “communist or communist front.” This may explain why the FBI ultimately dropped the perjury investigation.
In December 1955, Assistant Atty. Gen. William Tompkins concluded in a memo that there was “insufficient evidence to warrant prosecution.”
Or perhaps someone clued them in to the fact that the composer most identified with the American spirit was not a suitable punching-bag to stoke their hysterical fantasies. In any event, no one listening to to the soaring harmonies of “Appalachian Spring,” “Fanfare for the Common Man,” or “Billy the Kid” need worry that they might promote Communist ideology.
As to whether they may inspire “strange twilight urges” — well that’s another matter.
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