So sometime not long before they went underground and started working in earnest to overthrow the United States government, Weatherman—the radical revolutionary fringe faction of Students for a Democratic Society—put together a songbook. Yes, a songbook.
And it wasn’t a collection of old activist songs, either. There were no union hymns or indigenous folk songs. It was a book of song parodies.
As best as I can figure out the Weatherman Songbook was written for the group’s December 1969 “War Council,” the six-day meeting at which the group formally endorsed a strategy of armed struggle against the government. It consisted of a dozen parodies of pop songs and show tunes, each given revolutionary lyrics.
“White Christmas” became “White Riot.” “Stop in the Name of Love” became “Stop Your Imperialist Plunder.” And in honor of North Korea’s dictator, “Maria” from West Side Story turned into this:
Kim Il Sung
I just met a Marxist-Leninist named Kim Il Sung
And suddenly his line
Seems so correct and fine
The Weatherman Songbook has always been a weird touchstone to me—an indelible artifact of an astonishing moment in American activist history when violent domestic rebellion and dorky rewrites of old Supremes songs could somehow go hand in hand. So wrong, so dumb, and yet somehow adorable.
Anyway, I recently read a memoir by Weather veteran Cathy Wilkerson. Sharp, insightful, passionate, critical. Great book. And she mentioned in passing something I’d never known: Who wrote the songbook.
And it turns out it was Ted Gold.
Ted Gold was a New York City kid. Born and raised on the Upper West Side, child of a doctor and a schoolteacher. In the early sixties his dad visited Mississippi to volunteer medical services for the civil rights movement, and Ted started a Friends of SNCC group at Stuyvesant, the city’s best public high school for really smart kids.
Gold went to Columbia after Stuyvesant, and joined SDS there. He did tutoring with Harlem kids in his spare time, and wound up becoming a teacher. He stayed involved in SDS after graduation, helping to organize a short-lived spinoff, Teachers for a Democratic Society.
And on March 6, 1970, he died in the Weather townhouse explosion in Greenwich Village, when one of his comrades touched two wires together while assembling a bomb.
The sixties were so weird.