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07 December 2013

Amandla!


In 1995 Jennifer and I traveled South Africa for three weeks to check out this "new" nation under the presidency of Nelson Mandela.  Suffice it to say, it was a remarkable experience. 

Americans hadn't yet begun to travel much to the new South Africa, so we encountered many people who had never met Americans. Our itinerary took us from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown to Johannesburg to Durban and to a bush camp on the edge of Kruger National Park.  We traveled with our Lonely Planet guidebook and Nadine Gordimer novels, by car, bus, and on foot and saw we it all: The Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet; the beauty of Stellenbosch and the grinding poverty and shebeens of Crossroads Township; the police station in Port Elizabeth where Steven Biko was tortured and murdered; Umtatu (Mandela's birthplace); the Indian community of Durban where Ghandi practiced law; and the bush... lions, bush babies, hippos, jumbos (elephants), baboons, rhinos...all up close and personal (at times a little too damn close and a little too damn personal...).

So, I guess I feel like we knew Mandela a little if only because we were able to obtain some understanding of his country, of his people, of that Xhosa click.  Before Thursday, I'd never cried upon hearing of a world leader's death.  But when I heard the news on December 5, of Madiba's passing, I wept. 

On her second album, "Crossroads," Tracy Chapman included a wonderful tune about Mandela that is one of my all time favorites.  So here's a live version of it, followed by the lyrics:



They throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping soon he'd die
That his body and spirit would waste away
And soon after that his mind

But every day is born a fool
One who thinks that he can rule
One who says tomorrow's mine
One who wakes one day to find
The prison doors open the shackles broken
And chaos in the street

Everybody sing we're free free free free
Everybody sing we're free free free free
Everybody sing we're free free free free

They throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping his memory'd die
That the people forget how he once led
And fought for justice in their lives

But every day is born a man
Who hates what he can't understand
Who thinks the answer is to kill
Who thinks his actions are god's will

And he thinks he's free free free free
Yes he thinks he's free free free free
He thinks he's free free free free

Soon must come the day
When the righteous have their way
Unjustly tried are free
And people live in peace I say
Give the man release
Go on and set your conscience free
Right the wrongs you made
Even a fool can have his day

Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free

Free our bodies free our minds
Free our hearts
Freedom for everyone
And freedom now

Freedom now
Freedom now
Freedom now

Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free


03 November 2013

Transformer

Well, well. The Economist got it right this time. The E's obits are almost always interesting, and this week, I am happy to report (about a very unhappy death) that the newspaper beautifully told of Lou Reed's passing.  They even managed to quote a verse from one of my favorite Lou tunes: "Romeo and Juliet."

Below is the obit, in it's entirety, but first I want to add my two cents.

I fell in love with Lou Reed in my early 20s, which would put us in the early 1980s.  My college buddy Beamer introduced us by spinning the Velvet Underground's Loaded (1970) one evening. I heard "Sweet Jane" and I was in love.  At least that's how I remember it.  Maybe it was Rock 'n Roll Animal that Beamer played for me. My recollections of college days have grown opaque. 

Then, a couple of years later, my wonderful law school classmate Rona Morrow (herself, like Lou, a musician and recovering heroin addict; and, like Lou, now deceased) gave me a tape of Lou's then-new CD New York and that was IT for me.  You know what I mean when I say "IT" right?  I mean that album -- every tune -- hit me like a ton of bricks.  You know how that happens, right? When you hear a tune or an album and you're at a crossroads in your life and the tune or album just tells you what decision to make, or that the decision you've already made was the right one. The latter was my situation. It's sort of what I think angels really are. Angels are messengers. It's how they operate.

The raw power of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Dirty Boulevard," both on New York, reminded me that I was about to become a lawyer so that I could work for the people Lou described in those songs and work against people like those he described in "Good Evening Mr. Waldheim." 

If I told Lou Reed that he was one of my angels I'm sure he'd slug me. I'll have to find out in a few years when we finally have a chance to meet.  I hope it will be at the Pearly Gates Bar and Grill and that he will be jamming.

Google New York and, if nothing else, read the tunes' lyrics.  Lou articulates important values and tells great stories with a biting wit. Then, turn up the volume.... all the way up... and blast "Dirty Boulevard" or "Busload of Faith." 

Here's "Dirty Boulevard" (note the audio edits...love that 1989 broadcast TV! Like I said... read the lyrics):




 And now, the obit:
 

Lou Reed

A walk on the wild side

Lou Reed, songwriter and musician, died on October 27th, aged 71

HE HAD to get there, wherever it was. Wade through seas of blood if necessary, like Macbeth. Or, in his case, wade through New York streets filled with rain-soaked mattresses, prostitutes, transvestites, exploding Uzis and men selling heroin at $26 a time. You had to push past the rage to get to the light, fight past the flames to get to the open door. And if you found a bit of magic in that “wonderful fire”, then some loss would even things out.

The world of Lou Reed was one of continuous contradictions, a good thing cancelled by a bad thing, and vice versa. His music heavily influenced the rock and punk bands that followed him, so much so that he was said to have revolutionised the scene; but he and the Velvet Underground, the band he formed and led from 1965 to 1970, never sold that many records. He stayed subversive, a dark force, a cult. Parents did not approve of him, if they even knew. His songs became the soundtrack of lives as raddled by drugs and sex as his was; but also, when smuggled by Vaclav Havel into Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, the underground anthems of liberty.
He sang of drug overdoses in lurid detail, “blood [shooting] up the dropper’s neck”. He mused dreamily on fellatio and random black girls, “doo de-doo de-doo”. When Havel wanted to take him as a guest to Bill Clinton’s White House at the height of the Monica Lewinski scandal, aides paled at the prospect. But he also produced in “Perfect Day”, his most popular song, an apparent hymn to sweet, simple, times:
Just a perfect day
Drink sangria in the park
And then later, when it gets dark
We go home
Lines so innocent could not mean what they said; and, sure enough, the kicker came:
You made me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
Someone good
The last line, many times repeated, was: “You’re going to reap/just what you sow”. Everything had its opposite, just as the euphoria of the spike in the vein, when he felt “like Jesus’s son”, was followed by the low. His style was often to mismatch melody and words, or sing flat, or comment as if he was on the sidelines, rather than in the song. Critics struggled to grasp what he was up to, but he couldn’t have cared about their “receptions, deceptions, hellos, goodbyes, huzzahs, hurrahs”. He wrote for himself, and if it was ugly to others, “you think what you’re making is beautiful”.

At his best, as on the “Transformer” album, his songs could be lyrical, as well as witty and sharp; at his worst, he was just dissonant and tedious. The first song that got him into trouble, “The Black Angel’s Death Song”, which the Velvet Underground performed once too often (having been told not to) at the Café Bizarre in Greenwich Village in 1965, was a long toneless lyric over screeching electric viola. (Happily, though, it caught Andy Warhol’s attention, and hanging out at Warhol’s Factory made the band famous.) His album “Metal Machine Music” (1975), forced out of him (it was said) by a recording contract, was four sides of feedback from an electric guitar. He said he knew no one who had listened to the whole thing.

The man could be just as perplexing, and played it up. Was he really a badass city boy? In fact he came from the New York suburbs, and for two years—between leaving the Velvet Underground in 1970 and making his first solo albums, helped by David Bowie, in 1972—he worked as a typist in his father’s accountancy firm. Did he really take so many drugs? No, he didn’t take them at all (he blurrily told a circle of reporters at Sydney airport in 1974), but he thought everyone else should, because they were “better than Monopoly”. Was he homosexual? He had a very public transvestite love affair once; in the mid-1970s he adopted leather jackets and short blonde curls; later he wore nail varnish and mascara. But there were heterosexual marriages too, paired with romantic songs.
 
The twisted stars

He was clever, and a poet; that was a fact he wanted everyone to know.
Caught between the twisted stars
The plotted lines the faulty map
That brought Columbus to New York
Betwixt between the East and West
At Syracuse University (briefly subdued by electric-shock treatment ordered by his parents) he had studied English; after that he went to Pickwick Records to write hit songs to order, which he found he couldn’t do. He approached his lyrics like a novelist, he said, or as Tennessee Williams might have done. Shakespearean echoes were everywhere (though “You can’t be Shakespeare and you can’t be Joyce/So what is left instead/You’re stuck with yourself,” he had concluded).

Tantalised by literary greatness, but labelled as a rock musician, he was crushingly rude to those who tried to analyse him. He preferred to leave them in confusion. Perhaps, as his songs said, he wanted to “nullify” life; or perhaps, contrariwise, he was high on it. The world he sang of was very often vicious, decadent and dirty. But, he said later, “My heart was pure and my soul was pure too,” as he passed through the fire to wherever he was going.
_________________________

Addendum...

One last thing. On the flip side of the tape Rona gave me in 1989 was an album from a new band called Cowboy Junkies.  It contained a cover of Lou's "Sweet Jane."  They killed it:





14 April 2013

Oh, Maggie, Maggie what did we do?

Margaret Thatcher's death last week has brought on a considerable wave of reflection from different quarters. 

This week's cover of the The Economist proclaims Maggie a "Freedom Fighter," which -- for those of us who've actually done some freedom fighting and worked for and with freedom fighters -- just feels downright offensive.  Perhaps Maggie did some good things for the UK, but freedom fighting wasn't one of them.

The Economist print cover
Really? Let's ask Mr. Mandela.
An alternative, critical perspective is in order; one taken from the time during which Maggie served as PM. In 1983, Pink Floyd released its album, The Final Cut: Requiem for a Post War Dream. It is a scathing commentary on Thatcherism, and the title of this post is taken from the the last line of the album's first cut, "The Post War Dream" (pun certainly not intended!).

The Final Cut was accompanied by a wonderful 19 minute video EP, presented here.

One of the tunes on the album, but not featured in the EP, is "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert." Here are the lyrics:

"Oi...Get your filthy hands off my desert!"
"What 'e say?"

 Brezhnev took Afghanistan.
Begin took Beirut.
Galtieri took the Union Jack.
And Maggie, over lunch one day,
Took a cruiser with all hands.
Apparently, to make him give it back
  
Short and to the point. You get the idea.






10 April 2013

A New Politics for Israel and the Jewish People? New Member of Knesset Ruth Calderon Thinks So

Check out this wonderful speech from Yesh Atid's Ruth Calderon. 

It's not about Israelis versus Palestinians or Jews versus the World.  It's about "family" matters.  Courageous, learned, and moving. Full of love, hope, and compassion. 


21 March 2013

"I'm Pissed Off" A Haiku for a Fender Bender by Hanna Weissberger

I'm pissed off. 
They blame me.
Alas, there are more important things in life.
During the day I’ll forget about it.

01 February 2013

A Monologue from "Albert's Bridge" by Tom Stoppard, Featuring Sam Sherman

Recorded at Bloombars DC on January 25, 2013.