AS IF HE didn't have enough problems keeping house, President Reagan has now been cast in vinyl on "Jellybean Blues: Songs of Reaganomics." It's the work of Joe Glazer, longtime political gadfly.
Glazer, who recently retired after 17 years as a labor specialist with the United States Information Agency, has been writing, singing and recording labor music for almost 40 years. Taught to play guitar during the Depression by an out-of-work musician on a Works Progress Administration project, he began writing union tunes when he went to work for the textile workers in 1944; in 1950 he moved to the rubber workers' union, where he stayed until joining the USIA in 1961.
"Jellybean Blues" is Glazer's 23rd album ("Ballads or Ballots?," released at the dawn of the Kennedy campaign, was his first); most have been released on his Silver Spring-based Collector label, which specializes in songs of labor, politics and social commentary.
Backed by local musicians Mike Auldridge and Phil Rosenthal of the Seldom Scene and Terry Leonino and Grez Artzner of Magpie, "Jellybean Blues" features such pointed titles as "Ronald Reagan Had a Ranch" (to the tune of "Old MacDonald"), "A Sweet Fellow Like Me," "Don't Blame Me," "The Fox Is Not Our Friend" and "Don't Wake the President Up." Many of the songs are gentle pokes at the president's foibles, but some are quite barbed, in the tradition of Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie.
"I'm strong for using humor and sarcasm," Glazer confesses, "sort of like Tom Lehrer, though he was never political. He was sort of above the battle; he gave everybody hell. This is a straight political record about Reaganomics, which for my money is a good musical target."
Glazer feels it's far easier to write negative than positive political songs, though he tries to keep his songs "above the belt even when they may be hard-hitting. It's just easier to make sarcastic songs about the other guy than to make good, positive songs about your guy."
Several songs on the new album are revamped chestnuts, including "The Social Security Song." "I wrote that in 1950 and it's still sung around, and it's in labor song books," Glazer recalls. "The original was done when Social Security paid, if you can believe it, about 35 bucks a month and the unions were trying to get supplemental benefits from the companies. There were big strikes among the auto and steel workers and others. That's before there were any pensions for workers; the bosses and supervisors had pensions, but the workers didn't. Walter Reuther the late United Auto Workers president made an important speech, 'When you're too old to work and too young to die' the song's original title and still its refrain , and I wrote it for one of the big strikes. It sort of became a standard. And now it's a big hit with senior citizens. I sang it recently at a rally and got a standing ovation . . . from those who could stand."
Glazer, who describes himself as a "Harry Truman/Hubert Humphrey Democrat," was often caught up by the Hatch Act, which states that government workers can't be active in politics. "I couldn't sing at political rallies," Glazer points out, "but since I was a 'labor specialist' I attended many of the big labor conventions; and sometimes I'd sing at a rally . . . during lunch hour or by taking some leave."
It may be a sign of the times that an early book, "Songs of Work and Freedom," has been retitled "Songs of Work and Protest." And while snippets of the "Jellybean Blues" album have appeared in news segments, Glazer has yet to hear any Republican reaction. So, like the president, he has come up with a few "illustrative examples" of imagined responses:
Jerry Falwell: "God does not listen to this kind of music."
Spirit of Harry Truman: "Give 'em hell, Joe!"
And the Great Communicator: "Shut up, Glazer!"