Garland Jeffreys’s “El Salvador” and “the cost of living in a country that’s tearing itself apart”

By on November 6, 2018

Americans are heading to the polls to vote today — Tuesday, November 6, 2018 — in the U.S. midterm elections, so we thought it might be appropriate to take another look at this vintage “Take Off to Politics” episode.

We were in a very different place politically when this episode originally aired (on September 9, 1983), but one video we featured — Garland Jeffrey’s “El Salvador” — still feels as timely today as it did some thirty-five years ago.

Watch it again on Night Flight Plus.

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“… War and political conflict takes its toll at all levels, and for all ages,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott in her introduction to “El Salvador,” a single from Jeffreys’ eighth solo album, 1983’s Guts for Love.

‘Today, America’s concern has shifted from Southeast Asia to the turmoil in Latin America, especially in El Salvador. Until 1979, El Salvador’s was ruled by the world’s oldest military dictatorship. For the past fifteen years, a brutal civil war has raged in the Central American country. Garland Jeffreys and his video ‘El Salvador’ takes a personal look at the cost of living in a country that’s tearing itself apart.”

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The lyrics for “El Salvador” ring as true today as they did in 1983:

“Heartless crimes lately fill my dreams,
Headlines scream ‘cross the world,
Lifelines end but fill an endless file,
Widows writhe under the sun…
El Salvador, El Salvador”

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Here’s Garland Jeffrey’s performing “El Salvador” on the UK’s “Top of the Pops” in 1983:

Just last week, nearly 2000 migrants set off on foot from San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital, joining the latest caravan heading north to seek political asylum, to search for better work opportunities and hopefully find the peace of mind in America they can’t find at home.

These immigrants — including women pushing baby strollers and men carrying their small children on their shoulders — are leaving their home countries behind in order to escape poverty, violence and political corruption, just like they did in the 1980s.

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We’ve all read President Trump’s recent fear-mongering, racist and xenophobic threats, further inciting racial-cultural tensions that continue to tear our own country apart.

We’ve also read Trump’s threats about sending 15,000 troops (a stunt, really) to the U.S./Mexico border — which is already heavily policed by border guards — and his threats to “substantially” slash foreign aid — more than $200 million annually — routinely given to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

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We’ll have to wait until the election results are in, to see whether Democrats will regain control of Congress or whether Republicans will keep their stranglehold on the legislative branch.

For fuck’s sake, vote BLUE today for big changes, and hopefully we can figure out what we can all do as a country to help the people of El Salvador and other Central American countries.

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Read more about Garland Jeffreys below.

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In the early Sixties, New York rock ‘n’ roller Garland Jeffreys — born and raised in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn — struck up a lifelong friendship with Lou Reed when they were both students at Syracuse University.

effreys would later tell the UK’s The Guardian: “After I graduated, I came back to New York City and enrolled in graduate school in art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. But when I saw Lou [Reed] was starting to write and perform music it made me think: ‘Well, if he can do it, maybe I can do it. And he can hardly sing!’ I dropped out of grad school and never looked back.”

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Jeffreys graduated in 1966, and began performing at folk and rock clubs around NYC, at places like Gerde’s Folk City, the Bitter End, Gaslight, and Kenny’s Kastaways.

He later formed Grinder’s Switch, who became John Cale‘s backing band on Cale’s first solo album, 1969’s Vintage Violence.

Grinder’s Switch ended up signing to Vanguard Records and released an album not long before breaking up in 1970.

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As a solo artist, Jeffreys signed with Atlantic Records, and released his self-titled 1973 solo album, Garland Jeffreys.

The album was considered a disappointment, sales-wise, but a non-LP single, “Wild in the Streets,” became an FM radio hit single. Jeffreys had written the song after hearing about a pre-teen rape and murder in the Bronx.

The track was later covered by the Circle Jerks (appearing in the 1986 film Thrashin’), British guitarist Chris Spedding and a slew of others.

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Jeffreys’ next album, 1977’s Ghost Writer, was released by A&M Records, who would also release One Eyed Jack (1978), and American Boy and Girl (1979).  A single from the latter, “Matador,” gave Jeffreys a big UK and European hit.

At the time, Jeffreys was appearing in New York clubs alongside Patti Smith, Television, the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band. His love of reggae came from seeing Bob Marley open for Springsteen at Max’s Kansas City in 1973.

He and Marley became friends and Jeffreys would also perform on bills with Jimmy Cliff.

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In 1981, Epic Records released Escape Artist, which featured backing from members of Graham Parker’s Rumour and Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, as well as guest appearances by Lou Reed, David Johansen, and Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Jeffrey’s cover of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears” would become an MTV hit, and a minor U.S. charting single.

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Check out Night Flight’s “Take Off to Politics” — which also features videos by Men at Work, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Joel, John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band, Donald Fagen, and a little-known promotional clip for the 1982 film WarGames by Crosby, Stills & Nash — over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.