Whether it be due to fear, indifference or disaffection, it's notable how few of today's popular entertainers ever make a political stand. Award wins are taken as an opportunity to thank their manager and the studio/record company, those who've made them rich and will hopefully continue to do so. It seems the spirit of the Sixties, where art went hand-in-hand with revolution and artists believed they could use their talent and status to change the world for the better, is dying.
Yet in some quarters it's dying hard. Some artists still believe, still mouth off, still endanger their careers in the name of human decency. And surely close to the top of this hallowed league is Tim Robbins. Along with his partner, Susan Sarandon, he has purposefully made himself a thorn in the side of the right-wing Establishment, fighting for the liberal cause, both with unions and on his own. Beyond this, throughout his career he has cleverly worked the system, making big bucks from the studios and ploughing it back into his own worthy projects - mostly theatre projects, but also outstanding movies like Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking and The Cradle Will Rock. These are award-winning films with something to say, that challenge popular opinions and make audiences think. And they reveal Robbins to be not just a fine actor and director but also one of the most important figures in (and out of) Hollywood today.
Unsurprisingly, Robbins sprang from an artistic and wholly bohemian milieu. He was born Timothy Francis Robbins on the 16th of October, 1958, in West Covina, California, a town on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles/Pasadena conurbation. His parents, Gil (a musician and part-time actor) and Mary (a musician and later a publishing editor in the magazine industry) had met while both were studying music majors at UCLA and had married in 1952. Tim arrived as the youngest of four children, after Adele, David and Gabrielle.
At this point, Gil was enjoying some success in his musical career. Having played with the Robert de Cormier Singers and backed the hugely popular Harry Belafonte, he'd gone on to join The Cumberland Three, a group also featuring John Stewart, who'd later write Daydream Believer for The Monkees and, in the late Seventies, score a major hit of his own with Gold. At the time, a folk revival was underway, and most record labels were seeking their own version of prime movers The Kingston Trio. The Cumberland Three fitted the bill, in 1960 releasing two albums, The Civil War Almanacs, to some acclaim.
The momentum wouldn't last, though, with Stewart soon joining the aforementioned Kingston Trio. Noting that much of the new folk scene's action was taking place in New York, Gil upped sticks and took his young family across the States to the Big Apple, where he joined another renowned folk band, The Highwaymen. These guys were softcore traditionalists, far removed from the fiery politics of folk peers like Bob Dylan, Tom Rush and Phil Ochs, and thus doomed, but they had hit Number One with a version of Michael, Row The Boat Ashore and were still going strong. With Gil onboard they toughened their stance a little, covering the likes of Buffy St Marie's Universal Soldier.