On, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
November 8, 2021
Friday night in 1965 when I was a wide-eyed freshman at Oberlin
College, I wandered up to the student-operated radio station on the
third floor of Wilder Hall. From the lobby, or outer
office, I could look through a window into Studio A.
was amazed to see it filled with people. It was WOBC's live
Woolf was hosting. Students were playing guitars and singing,
surrounded by a happy crowd. I remember noticing a pretty girl
in white slacks sitting on the floor.
performing that night were the sister-and-brother duo of Karine and
weren't they around? Karine had graduated with a degree in
history a few months before.
brother Mark wouldn't earn his degree in religion until 1968.
As a conscientious objector who was the son of the President of the
Chicago Theological Seminary, he then went to the Congo. After
2000, he lived in Guatemala.
don't specifically recall encountering him during my years on
campus, but the strong jawline of his senior photo does look familiar.
are the Schomers mock-fighting over one of their guitars in 2008.
that time is when they discovered an old reel-to-reel
album of folk and protest songs that they had made just
before Karine graduated. Perhaps they taped it in Studio A;
WOBC did have a pair of relatively new Ampexes which were available
for student recordings.
the tape was in perfect condition. It now lives on YouTube with the
happy name Mark
and Karine's Top (and Only) Hits of 1965. Karine writes:
songs have been with us ever since even as the times have
changed, and folk music has retreated into a retro niche genre
instead of being passed on organically to next generations.
songs are a real window into the feel and spirit of those times
among our earnest and idealistic liberal college-age cohort ...
by President Kennedy's 'New
Frontier', the hopes and momentum of the civil rights movement, the
folk song revival in full swing, the voices of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan
and the Peter, Paul and Mary trio ...
yet scarred by the Vietnam War, the
assassination of Dr. King, the drug culture, increasingly
confrontational politics, the decay of inner cities, the coarsening
of culture and empathy ...
yet dominated musically by the
harsher and angrier sounds of the hard rock style that so took center
stage in the musical memories of the later 60s generation.
of our songs on the tape are sweet ballads:
We've Got Some Singing to Do
The Gypsy Rover
Kisses Sweeter than Wine
are staples of the folk repertoire:
The Midnight Special
are the gentle protest songs of the day:
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?
couple are political satire songs that probably require explanation
today. The John Birch Society [13:54] is a hilarious
put-down of that very extreme and influential right-wing
anti-communist organization, and Go Barry Go! [7:59] is a
song satirizing the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater who ran
against Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election.
even included a French song from our childhood, Les Chants
d'Autrefois [21:46], and a blues song composed by one of our
classmates, The Oberlin Finals Blues [25:53].
oh, them finals blues.
oh, them Oberlin finals blues.
night, half past one
am I gonna get all my reading done?
start on Monday morn,
can't seem to make it past Chapter One.
didn't get much sleep last night;
was working on a paper till the broad daylight.
it up at nine to the day.
another cup of coffee, Lord; I'll be okay.
do they give us finals for?
took that course and I don't want no more!
been to class almost every time,
I didn't do the reading and I got behind.
one grade, Lord? I still got four!
only trouble is, it's one F more.
will pass me if I just repent.
I need on that final is 200 percent.
Where in the world can I play my guitar?
two in the morning and I can't go far.
girls are all sleeping; the housemother too.
a girl gets the feeling, Lord, what can she do?
of course, we had the most beloved of the civil rights songs:
Woke Up This Morning
This Little Light of Mine
Wade in the Water
Hold On! Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
a treasure! What a powerful set of memories it brings back to me!
the Class Memorial Service at his 50-year reunion in 2018, Mark
helped intone the names of deceased classmates.
2021, Mark was a healthy and active 73-year-old, dreaming of new
things he wanted to do. He was finishing his
soon-to-be-published autobiography, entitled Hold On: Trying to
Help People in a Changing World.
the eighth of May, he passed
away from COVID-19.
months later, Karine remembered him on what would have been his
birthday by sharing these recordings. My musical treasure
gives me a uniquely intimate and powerful way to keep him alive in my memory.