Last Monday the band got together, the whole gang showed up and from the first measure they were playing in tune with a with a nice even tempo. Steve Cross, down from Syracuse was playing a quiet but strong bass in the corner, Terry was playing lead guitar trading off solos with Joey (up from his new engagement in D.C.) and Chantelle and MD were wailing on the vocals. And the time flew. For five days we sat around the table (there wasn’t time to stand up) and created a shared group knowledge of Ed Murrow, the gang of reporters he assembled for CBS to broadcast the news of World War II – from the front lines home to an American public who sat by their radios for hours awaiting their next bulletin from London, North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany.
Our mission was to understand why and how things had changed from those days until now in the news business, and how we got from a time of heroic journalist to perpetrator of “fake news”. We wanted to figure out how to reinvent our sound so that a contemporary audience can understand and dance to this music, to feel its relevance, its importance.
It’s a work in progress right now but every day a new snatch of the melody falls into place. Here’s a small sampling of what I mean.
We learned that beginning in 1943 Ed Murrow, in his capacity as the CBS London correspondent, joined a British RAF crew whose mission was to drop their payload of “cookies” on the German capital Berlin-three hours over, three hours back to base, and half an hour over the target. Murrow was among five reporters who took part in the first Berlin raid on which press were allowed. Two of the journalists didn’t make it back. One was killed when his Lancaster bomber was shot down. The other survived the crash but was captured by the Germans. Murrow went on to fly twenty-five such missions over Berlin.
“An action-ready Lancaster Bomber had a crew of seven Pilot, engineer, navigator, wireless operator, and three gunners – front, mid-upper, and tail. A full tour of duty for those crew members was 30 missions after which, they had “earned” their pass and could be transferred to less dangerous duties. Their astonishing bravery is made obvious by the fact that the loss rate was, on average, 5% so you were lucky to survive more than 20 missions. Small wonder each of the crew was instructed to complete his will before his first mission. The three gunners were most vulnerable with the tail gunner the most dangerous of all. Attacking fighters would approach from below and in the rear.”
I learned this yesterday, courtesy of Steve Cross, who has been sending in tidbits like this ever since he took the train back to Syracuse. Each one helps to add a new color to the music we’re creating, adds new harmonies and enriches the sound.
The past week might be termed the “warm up” for the creation now taking place in each of our own studios back home. Kind of like the Beatles White Album. Warm-ups are interesting things. To be effective and get us ready to really play, they need their own time. You’re not warmed up until you are. Sometimes it takes five minutes and sometimes a week. But when you do it right all the work that follows falls into place-sometimes so effortlessly that it hardly feels like work. That’s how it’s been these last few days. And solutions have come from every member of the band. Joey contributed a scene, Chantelle found a perfect song, Terry came up with an idea for making the historical broadcasts work. Steve’s note on the Lancaster goes right into the section in which Murrow described this first flight in a broadcast entitled “Orchestrated Hell”.
And a special thanks to Marcy McGinnis, Associate Dean of the School of Journalism at Stoney Brook and long time Senior Vice President, News Coverage at CBS, who gave very generously of her time last Thursday afternoon and reminded us that the news is still important today. There’s a lot of first class reporting out there that’s, reporting in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the network evening newscasts. You just have to work a little bit harder to hear it sometimes over the din of the real “fake news.” You have to work a little bit harder. And at those helps to remember the example of and standards set by the Murrow Boys.
And now I’m sitting here putting all of this together into an organized structure which will probably change as we skype back and forth before coming together for one last day of rehearsal before we do it for you on the evening of December 6th, and you get to tell us what the story of these reporters means today.