plucking a chicken feather by feather

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Another bloody immigrant.

Madeleine Albright was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis occupied the country in 1939.  After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain.

Albright’s new book Fascism: A Warning “is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career …

I [Andrew Rawnsley] suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. ‘Defining fascism is difficult,’ she responds. ‘First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.’

It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting ‘the people’ against their ‘enemies’. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about ‘plucking a chicken feather by feather’ so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.”

A chilling interview by Andrew Rawnsley with the former US Secretary of State in the Guardian.


 

uncomfortable demographics

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The leader of the Free World keeping ‘Murica safe for old white men (Skynews image)

“As controversy continued to rage … about the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the southern border, the Census Bureau published new data that show why the United States will need more immigrants, not fewer, in the coming decades.

Demographers and economists have been warning that the aging baby-boomer population presents a serious challenge to the nation’s finances, as the ratio of seniors to working-age adults—the age-dependency ratio—rises … If the dependency ratio rises, the financial burden on the working-age population also increases …

In 1980, there were nineteen Americans age sixty-five or older for every hundred Americans between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four. The dependency ratio was nineteen per cent … In 2011, the first members of the baby-boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) turned sixty-five. By 2017, the age-dependency ratio had risen to twenty-five per cent—an increase of four percentage points in just seven years. In the coming decades, it is expected to rise even more sharply. By 2030, the ratio would climb to 35 retiree-age Americans for every 100 of working age . . . and 42 by 2060 …”

The demographics of white supremacy, as covered in the New Yorker.  Or, why old white America is on the skids and but still holds future generations hostage.

Après nous, le déluge.


 

best of the booker

ondatje

Sri Lankan-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatjee wins the “Best of the Man Booker Prize” for his 1992 novel The English Patient. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the prestigious prize for the best novels written in English and published in Britain and Ireland, the award was voted by the public from a short-list of five previous Booker prize winners.

Or, why the west needs immigrants.


 

the failing country club

mara lago

Image by trumpenstein

“Millennials who are burdened with loan debt often can’t buy homes,” writes Kelsey Lawrence in CityLab, “much less drop thousands of dollars on club initiation fees and dues. (Annual country-club dues run several thousand dollars on average, plus an initiation fee that’s usually no less than $5,000.)

And if cost isn’t a deterrent, many young people are put off by the image of the country club—stuffy and formal, with old-fashioned dress codes and rules about cell-phone use. Not to mention the rich history of racial and religious discrimination that accompanies many such organizations.

The traditional country club and the activity that is its mainstay—golf—are both having a hard time attracting a younger demographic. In the 1990s, there were more than 5,000 full-service golf and country clubs in the 1990s. In 2010, there were about 4,100, and now that number has dipped below 4,000 … In the ‘90s, around 9 million adults aged 18 to 34 played golf, according to the National Golf Foundation. Today, that number is closer to 6.2 million.”

Trouble in Trumpland.   You’re dying, dudes.


 

more young London jazz

 

weouthere.jpg

I’ve posted previously on the young London jazz scene (here and here).  Red Bull UK has now compiled a useful list of 21 records, selected by Tenderlonius, Emma-Jean Thackray, Adam Moses and others involved in the scene.  

“We’re living during an amazing era for UK jazz. Here’s a list of the records which have captured the energy of the new movement and pushed the genre forward. It’s undeniable that British jazz is having a breakthrough moment – but if you’ve had your ear to the ground, you’ll know the scene has been buzzing for years. Musicians are studying the greats while experimenting with new styles, incorporating elements of dub, hip-hop, Afrobeat, UKG and grime, bringing together diverse heritages and creating new cultural contexts …”

Or, why the west needs immigrants.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

T for Texas

trump mural

For more than a year, the old Walmart along the Mexican border here has been a mystery to those driving by on the highway. In place of the supercenter’s trademark logo hangs a curious sign: “Casa Padre.”

But behind the sliding doors is a bustling city unto itself, equipped with classrooms, recreation centers and medical examination rooms. Casa Padre now houses more than 1,400 immigrant boys in federal custody. While most are teenagers who entered the United States alone, dozens of others — often younger — were forcibly separated from their parents at the border by a new Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy.

On Wednesday evening, for the first time since that policy was announced — and amid increased national interest after a U.S. senator, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, was turned away — federal authorities allowed a small group of reporters to tour the secretive shelter, the largest of its kind in the nation … ” (From the Washington Post)


 

T for Tennessee

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Nataly Luna, 12, whose father, Reniel, was detained in the raid, at a march through downtown Morristown on April 12. Charles Mostoller for The New York Times

“The day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Southeastern Provision plant outside the city and sent dozens of workers to out-of-state detention centers was the day people in Morristown began to ask questions many hadn’t thought through before — to the federal government, to the police, to their church leaders, to each other.

Donations of food, clothing and toys for families of the workers streamed in at such volume there was a traffic jam to get into the parking lot of a church. Professors at the college extended a speaking invitation to a young man whose brother and uncle were detained in the raid. Schoolteachers cried as they tried to comfort students whose parents were suddenly gone. There was standing room only at a prayer vigil that drew about 1,000 people to a school gym.

Here, based on interviews with dozens of workers and townspeople, and in their own words (some edited for length and clarity), is how it happened.”  (From the New York Times.)


 

food I

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“In 1988, aged 15, I made my first expedition to a magical, otherworldly kingdom. It was cold, frosty and pale in places, like Narnia, while other parts were a Willy-Wonka-esque explosion of colour and exquisite tastes. A land of limitless opportunity, it was just off junction 44 on the M6 near Gretna. The big Asda had come to Carlisle.

For the Dent family, this was akin to a religious awakening. My mother went first, while we were at school, after hearing about it on the local news. She arrived home breathless, the car loaded with dozens of fresh white rolls, boxes of Findus crispy pancakes and family-size microwave lasagnes. She had spotted her emancipation from the kitchen and she was grabbing it with both hands. Or at least she would once she had unloaded a family-sized Sara Lee gateau and three bags of McCain oven chips from the boot of her Austin Princess …”

Grace Dent on the joy of processed food.  A hilarious (and very sharp) take on the Great British Class War.


 

food II

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President Barack Obama shares a beer in a Hanoi noodle parlor with Anthony Bourdain in a 2016 episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” (CNN)

“What really interested him about food was the sensual pleasure of eating it and the hard reality of the labor that went into it, and he never lost sight of either. His mission was to affirm the value of life, even as he saw it devalued all around him. When he traveled to war zones, from Libya to Iraqi Kurdistan, he sought to relate to the people caught in them as familiarly as anyone he met in London or Tokyo or New York. He reported on Brexit and Israeli settlements; he traveled to Gaza (probably no mainstream American TV journalist has ever produced a more humanizing segment on Palestinians); he showcased thriving immigrant communities in Houston at the height of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign … Depression can sometimes be the price paid for seeing the world too clearly, in all its contradiction and cruelty, and for being unable to endure the full weight of it. No one saw more of the world more clearly than Anthony Bourdain, and the awful tragedy is that the one thing he may not have seen clearly was his own irreplaceable contribution.”  David Klion in The Nation.


 

culture on the rocks

hanif kureishi

“The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

The industries I’ve worked in for most of my life – film, TV, theatre, publishing – have all been more or less entirely dominated by white Oxbridge men, and they still mostly are. These men and their lackeys have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, to say the least, for centuries. The world has always been theirs, and they now believe they own it …

It is good news that the master race is becoming anxious about whom they might have to hear from. At this terrible Brexit moment, with its retreat into panic and nationalism, and with the same thing happening across Europe, it is time for all artists to speak up, particularly those whose voices have been neglected.”

Hanif Kureishi in excellent form.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

For Zeese

My partner Yoke-Sum challenged me to play the 10 X 10 Facebook game.  The idea is to post an album every day for ten successive days that had significance in your life, with or without a gloss explaining why.  Not at all the same thing at all as your top 10 albums, musically speaking.  As often happens with my writing, the posts took on a life of their own, gradually feeling their way into a connected if not always coherent narrative of love and loss.   My 10 X 10 is about music that has mattered to me, but—it turns out—it’s a lament for an America that mattered to me too.  


 

#1 of 10 X 10 Diana Ross and the Supremes: The No. 1s

supremes

My father could do without music. My mother, eleven years younger and married at 18, always had the radio on. The old man would always switch it off. Mum owned a small collection of LP records that included popular classics (I can still hear Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and Romeo and Juliet) and big band jazz (Duke Ellington) as well as what would nowadays be called “easy listening”—Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Matt Monro’s Blue and Sentimental.

I must have been seven or eight when my Auntie Connie asked me if I liked Elvis and I had no idea who or what she was talking about.  I soon got a musical education.  I sang in Rochester Cathedral choir every day from the age of eight to thirteen.  I was better acquainted with Purcell, Tallis, Byrd, and Palestrina than Lonnie Donegan, Marty Wilde, and Tommy Steele.

The first rock album I can recall listening to in its entirety was With The Beatles.  My parents taped it for my 13th birthday present in the annus mirabilis 1963, the year, according to Philip Larkin, when sexual intercourse began.  A month earlier the Daily Mirror had proclaimed “BEATLEMANIA! It’s happening everywhere… even in sedate Cheltenham.”  I wasn’t overly thrilled with my present. Much as the 1980s would later, Beatlemania had passed me by.

It was the dying days of empire, and Two-Way Family Favourites, the immensely popular BBC Light Programme Sunday lunchtime show for British forces abroad (Cyprus, Kenya, Malaya) seemed to play nothing but All My Loving and PS I Love You.  The musicians’ union was powerful in those days and Family Favourites was one of the few shows that played records, as distinct from broadcasting live performances, at all.  Over the next few months I got hooked on the madness from the Mersey like everyone else but my liking for the Beatles didn’t last. They were always too cute, somehow.

My voice broke and my world broadened.  Back then there was no commercial radio in the UK and the BBC didn’t cater to teenage longings.  I started listening to Radio Luxemburg’s top thirty on my first transistor radio, under the sheets, the crackly signal fading in and out.  In March 1964 pirate Radio Caroline started broadcasting from a ship off the Essex coasts and I became an avid fan. Later there was Radio London and John Peel’s Perfumed Garden.

At thirteen albums were out of my price range.  The first single I bought with saved-up pocket money was The Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go? which reached #3 on the UK chart in June 1964.  My first EP, a couple months later, was the Rolling Stones’ Five by Five.  Their covers of Wilson Pickett’s “If You Need Me” and Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around” were revelatory.  Like those other North Kent boys Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who came from Dartford, three stops down the line, I was falling in love with an America that was only partly imagined.

I bought the Supremes’ Twenty Golden Greats (1977) on a nostalgic whim sometime around 1980.  Thrown in the suitcase as an afterthought, the cassette accompanied me for the second of three annual three-month stints teaching at the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, in 1982.  I listened to it incessantly instead of the tapes of favorite operatic arias I’d lovingly made in anticipation of solitary evenings by the Indian Ocean.

The No. 1s (2003) is an even better anthology of the procession of monumental chart-toppers that throbbed, cooed, and moaned their way through my small town English adolescence, because it has a sprinkling of Miss Ross’s later solo recordings like the incomparable Touch Me in the Morning and Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?).

No I don’t and likely never did, but Motown, R & B, and that sweet soul music are as much a part of where I came from as Pete Docherty’s gin in teacups and leaves on the lawn.


 

#2 of 10 X 10 Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde

blonde on blonde

I loved the 2013 Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis, set in New York in 1961, for both the accuracy and the affection with which it skewered the Greenwich Village folk scene.  It hit me in a tender place.

I knew most every word of every song, from Dave Van Ronk’s “traditional” Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song), Brendan Behan’s Auld Triangle, and Tom Paxton’s Last Thing on My Mind to Ewan MacColl’s (bonnie) Shoals of Herring.  T-Bone Burnett, who knows a thing or two about the history of music, American and otherwise, did the soundtrack.

In 1964 or 1965, in search of a room of her own, my mother started hanging out at the Medway Folk Club, which had weekly gigs on Wednesday nights in the upstairs room of a pub by Rochester Bridge.  She started taking me with her, I guess, when I was 14 or 15. The club was hosted by our local Peter Paul and Mary the Medway Folk Trio and the evening always warmed up with a few performances from the floor.  Hughie the docker was a favorite with his Irish rebel songs, though I did witness him once give a rousing rendition of the Ulster Loyalist anthem The Sash My Father Wore.

I got to see Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, Bert Jansch, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.  I watched Arlo Guthrie perform Alice’s Restaurant before it was released on his debut disk in 1967. Mum brought ramblin’ boy Tom Paxton and the English folkies’ darling Martin Carthy (another one-time chorister, at the Queen’s Chapel of The Savoy) home for drinks.  Dad didn’t approve.  By then they were well on their way to divorce but Mum stood by her man until her last child had left home.  Then she took off with her flying doctor lover to Australia.

I never saw Mr Dylan live until the 1969 Isle of Wight festival, his “comeback” show with the Band after his motorcycle accident.  But I sure knew his songs, every word of every album, back in the day.  Mum had Freewheelin’ and The Times They Are a-Changin’.  Her favorite songs were Corinna, Corinna and Boots of Spanish Leather.  I somehow acquired Another Side and Bringing It All Back Home.  Kids at school thought I was crazy.  Guy couldn’t sing.

Inside Llewyn Davis ends ominously, with Bob arriving in the Village and performing Farewell, a scarcely concealed and never acknowledged rip-off of the old British folk ballad The Leaving of Liverpool.  Love and theft.  Such is the “folk” process.  Within a few years Dylan had killed the thing he loved.  The coup de grâce, as Griel Marcus has written, was likely that opening snare drum shot on Like a Rolling Stone.

The first LP I paid for with money I earned was Blonde on Blonde.  It was the summer of 1966.  I was 15.  I bought the album the week it came out in the UK with half my first pay packet from a dirty summer job in a barge yard in Strood emptying bilges, cleaning off barnacles with pneumatic hammers, and painting hulls with a protective primer of red lead.  Back then the boys were paid half a man’s wage for the exact same work.

Mum didn’t much like Blonde on Blonde.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  It was not just the cascading poetry of Visions of Johanna (lights flicker from the opposite loft/in this room the heat pipes just cough/the country music station plays soft/but there’s nothing really nothing to turn off) or Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands (with your mercury mouth in the missionary times/and your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes/and your silver cross, and your voice like chimes/how do they think could bury you?)

It was that thin wild mercury sound.  The long loping guitar line on I Want You, the hard driving rock of Absolutely Sweet Marie and Memphis Blues Again.

Dylan had gone electric.


 

#3 of 10 X 10 Kronos Quartet: Released 1985-1995

kronos

The first thing wrong was the number of pickup trucks in the parkade, the second the oversized lava lamps lining the stage, the third the fact that there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. This was Edmonton, Alberta, and we were expecting the Kronos Quartet.  Out came Pablo with his guitar slung over his shoulder.  The audience went wild.  We slunk out after the first number, distinctly out of place.

I think this happened in February 2003 because Yoke-Sum photoshopped George W. Bush’s face on a Pablo poster for the Canada-wide protests against the US invasion of Iraq the following weekend.  We were among 8000 who marched in Edmonton.  It was the first demo I had been on since my student days.

When we finally saw Kronos they were incandescent—supremely hip, highly theatrical, and the antithesis of everything conjured up by the words chamber music and string quartet.  But why?  I remember the devastating use of string sections in some of my other favorite albums, like Alejandro Escovedo’s Bourbonitis Blues or Bill Callahan’s Rough Travel for a Rare Thing, recorded live with bass, drums, and three manic fiddles in a small club in Melbourne, Australia in one November day in 2007.

The ages of 15 to 17 were a fluid time when things were not so much taking shape as constantly kaleidoscoping, falling in and out of place. Not unlike 48-52, the age I was when I saw Kronos.  My later teens were less a work in progress than an experiment in trying on selfs, aided and abetted by the Beats, the Penguin Modern European Poets (Seferis, Prévert, Apollinaire) and Albert Camus (The Fall) among many others. An imagined Paris joined my imagined America.  It was all so various, so beautiful, so new.

I couldn’t wait to leave home.  But for the time being I had to content myself with a small band of friends united by our disdain for the provincialism of the Medway Towns and the jockstrap-and-Sandhurst team spirit our minor public school was trying to beat into us.  (Lindsay Anderson’s film If needs to be seen as a masterful documentary.)  Later, there were girlfriends.  Marion, with whom I went steady for a year in the time of the folk club, was the daughter of a teacher at the local art school.  His abstract paintings filled their house.  She had a thing for Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Beethoven.

Music was a big part of the rebellion.  My closest friend Peter Brewis was always bottom of the class but made it to the Royal College of Music and never looked back.  (Check him out on Wikipedia.)  It was Pete who introduced me to surrealism, Bartok string quartets, and Cathy Barberian singing Luciano Berio’s mindblowing Sequenza III for female voice.

What is interesting about this period, in retrospect, is that our musical tastes were so much more catholic than those I encountered at university a couple years later.  All the cool Essex students had all the same albums—Songs of Leonard Cohen, Hendrix, the Band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and if you were *really* cool The Velvet Underground and Nico or Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats.  Not to mention the inevitable Beatles, who had by now transformed themselves from family favorites into New Age gurus.

We now have at least a dozen Kronos albums on our shelves, but the one that introduced me to their astonishingly wide-ranging art was the sampler Released 1985-1995, which includes the haunting first movement of Steve Reich’s Different Trains and the pulsating third movement of Philip Glass’s String Quartet No. 5.  Yoke-Sum has told the story of our new red Audi A4 and our mad rush to see Philip live in Calgary in her own 10 X 10.

Every track points somewhere else.  But momentarily, everything comes together in the glorious discords of Kronos’s 1995 rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.

Footnote.  Yoke-Sum tells me I’ve mixed up two events at the Winspear Centre.  The Pablo fiasco did happen, but it was not the Kronos Quartet we were expecting to see.  We saw Kronos earlier—possibly on February 8, 1999, when (a Google search reveals) they opened the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s rESOund Festival of Contemporary Music.  She adds that the tickets cost us ten bucks each.  The ESO were selling them off cheap at the university because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by an empty house.


 

#4 of 10 X 10  Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

birth of the cool

I first got into modern jazz (as it was then known) around age 15, when I struck up a brief friendship with Tilly Haines, a nerdish boy in the year above me who was a member of the school jazz club Emanon.  (Tilly was a nickname, I have no idea what his real name was.)  Emanon—No Name spelled backwards—was run by the young history master Mr Humphries, who was a very cool cat, at least in our eyes.  He had a pretty young wife and two long rows of jazz LPs in the stereo console underneath the turntable.

The name Emanon was a dig at the very select intellectual discussion group Eranos run by the prickly old English master Mr Newman, which took its moniker from the ancient Greek word for a pot-luck dinner (ἔρανος).  The German sociologist Max Weber belonged to a Heidelberg Eranos at the beginning of the last century.  Weber’s biographer Joakim Radkau tells us that “this private gathering of men often became really boisterous and ‘all too male.'”  The same might be said of my schooldays.

I felt honored when I was invited to join Emanon, a privilege normally reserved for sixth-formers.  Gatherings took place after school in the early evening in the living room of Mr and Mrs Humphries’s lodgings in School House (it was a boarding school, though I was a day-boy).  Mr Humphries instructed us in the distinctions between bop, post-bop and modal jazz.  Free jazz hadn’t yet crossed his radar.  Mrs Humphries served tea.

Mr Humphries never lent out his records but Tilly Haines did.  I guarded them with my life.  I felt so special catching the bus home from school clutching a Monk, or Mingus, or Miles LP under my arm.

Tilly lent me Birth of the Cool.  The album is a 1957 compilation of tracks recorded by the Miles Davis nonet during three sessions in 1949-50, after Miles split from Charlie Parker.   The nonet was a larger group than Miles would use for most of the fifties and sixties—comprising trumpet, two saxophones, trombone, tuba, and French horn in addition to the rhythm section—and the compositions, as many critics noted at the time, were often closer to Ravel and Debussy than to bebop.  This was the first of Miles’s collaborations with Gil Evans.  Later they would produce Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and the sublime Sketches of Spain.

I loved the rich colors of the horns.  I loved the mysterious track titles: Jeru, Venus de Milo, Moon Dreams, Rouge.  But most of all, I suspect, I was in love with the idea of the cool.

The first jazz record I owned was Kind of Blue, picked up secondhand in a Maidstone flea market.  It has never been out of my collection since, though I must have gone through at least four copies in vinyl alone by now.  Miles was an essential part of my soundtrack to university (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live at the Fillmore) whatever the other kids were listening to.

Still is.  As our standard poodle Luci slows into a comfortable old age she has developed this evening ritual.  She snoozes, waiting for us to finish eating dinner.  As the cutlery are put down on the plate she wakes, gets up from the floor, stretches.  I take her for her last walk of the day, just around the block.  On her return she sits down by the stereo, looking at me expectantly.  I put on a record.  She settles down on the sofa, puts her head between her paws and drifts off to sleep.

Occasionally I get to play something else, but nine times out of ten Luci’s lullaby is the sweet sounds of Miles.


 

#5 of 10 X 10  Begum Akhtar: Thumrees and Dadras

begum akhtar

I recently received an invitation to a 50th anniversary reunion “for those who were at Essex University during the Academic Years 1967/8 and 1968/9 and who considered it to have been a positive experience worth celebrating.”  The website is full of posters of student protests, mostly against the Vietnam War.  I have a vivid memory of a long-haired American exchange student whose name I’ve forgotten excitedly exclaiming “It’s a call to arms!” as the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man blared from the juke-box.

It was me who came up with the idea for the “Revolutionary Festival” that features in Jean-Luc Godard’s film British Sounds, aka See You at Mao, which (the website says) started “with car-burning in the square.”  It was a bitterly cold day and we had set up a welcoming desk for the comrades on top of the ice of the frozen fountain in Square 4.

I was 17 when I went to university, one of a handful of students who had our photos posted behind the bar because we were still too young to drink.  My first year was heavy on the drugs and rock and roll but light on the sex.  I’m not surprised the girls kept their distance.  I was arrogant, pugnacious, and hopelessly immature.  I scraped through my end-of-year exams and was persuaded to take a year out for my own good.

I spent the summer of 69 in a sublet slum on Kingsland Road in Dalston.  My favorite album of the time was Ornette Coleman’s New York Is Now!  It went supremely well with dope.  A brief and passionate affair with a visiting Indian girl I met in Westbourne Park led to a flight to Bombay in December and a two-day train ride to Delhi.  The relationship didn’t last, though we parted good friends.  But my four months in India and the long road back (Lahore, Peshawar, Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mashhad, Tehran, Tabriz, Erzurum, Ankara, Istanbul) left a lasting imprint.

I tried to write about it in my book Going Down for Air, a text from another time when the pieces were kaleidoscoping and being rearranged.

At some time during those first weeks [in India] it hits me that nothing in my head has remotely equipped me to deal with the realities I am encountering.  Least of all anything I have learned in my first year at university.  My concepts are irrelevant, my images awry. Words lose their grip. The quartertones in an old woman’s voice, quavering to a harmonium in a language I don’t understand, move me inexpressibly.  A sitarist picks up the refrain of Colonel Bogey from a car horn in the street outside, weaves it into his raga, and my world—First World, Second World, Third World—unravels.

The old woman whom I was lucky enough to hear perform in Delhi (she died in 1974) was one of India’s most distinguished classical singers, Begum Akhtar.  Back in the UK I chanced upon one of her records.  I bought it but seldom listened to it.  It didn’t feel right.  The record finally perished in the summer of 1997 when the basement flooded on my acreage in Coronado, Alberta.  I haven’t tried to replace it.

Every now and again I hear that voice in my head, coming out of nowhere—a reminder that there are always more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  You could call it my very own affective turn.


 

#6 of 10 X 10 Maggie Teyte: Mélodies Françaises/French Songs

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The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street came out in May 1972, three months after I got married and a month before my final exams.  After that things could only go downhill.  The last decent Stones album was 1978’s Some Girls.  The next year Bob Dylan found Jesus.

Maybe it was the music.  Maybe it was me, settling into the comfortable ruts of marriage and career.  Either way I’m hard put to find many albums that really mattered to me in these years.  Bowie was clever but left me cold.  I had a guilty liking for Abba, which wasn’t just to do with Agnetha and Anni-Frid pirouetting in their miniskirts on an Australian stage.  Punk and reggae briefly excited me (White Man in Hammersmith Palais).  Born to Run flitted across my horizon, but it would be a long while before I properly appreciated Springsteen—or much else in popular music.  The train got diverted onto another track.

We moved to Glasgow in 1978 for my first academic job.  My wife got us a subscription to the Scottish Opera.  My first performance (Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra) had me hooked.   I saw most every production at the Theatre Royal over the next eight years, including their punk Rigoletto (Norma Burrowes sung a fabulous Gilda) and pathbreaking Janáček cycle with the Welsh National Opera.  Rigoletto was like Dylan’s 1966 English concerts.  Half the audience booed while the rest of us stood and cheered to the rafters.

I began to hunt down historic vocal recordings going back to the turn of the century.  Over the years I amassed a huge collection.  It, too, was destroyed in the great flood of 1997, but most of the dead sopranos—always my favorites—survived.  I kept them in the living room beside the stereo.  They are with me still.

John Steane asks whether we can ever get closer to the essential sound of the human voice than the acoustic inscriptions cut by a bobbing stylus on a revolving wax platter at the turn of the twentieth century.  I don’t know.  But straining to catch every note of Nellie Melba or Amelita Galli-Curci through the surface noise, I learned how to listen to music again with a focus I had not had since my teens.

I spent an awful lot of time with the divine Claudia Muzio, the tragic Meta Seinemeyer (she died of leukemia at 33), the ever-warm and eager Lotte Lehmann.  That was how I missed the eighties.

We (me, wife, baby daughter and the dead sopranos) emigrated to Canada in November 1986.  One Edmonton winter shivering at bus stops in minus 20 temperatures was enough.  When spring came I bought a Toyota Camry and learned to drive.  The next year I started teaching in the University of Alberta’s off-campus programs to earn extra money, mostly on native reserves.   It was a three-hour drive to Hinton, a pulp mill town on the edge of the Rockies with a Greek family restaurant and a motel that sported a stripper on Friday nights.

Mademoiselle Teyte was my preferred companion on the road, her voice soaring over the snow-bound prairies as I stepped on the gas and kept an eye out for the cops.  Born in 1888 in Wolverhampton in the Black Country, Maggie Tate (as she began life) first gained fame at the Opéra-Comique in Paris as Debussy’s hand-picked successor to Mary Garden as Mélisande, a role she reprised in London under Sir Thomas Beecham in 1910.  Her recordings of French song were all made in the 1940s, when she was in her fifties.

Reviens, reviens! Ma bien-aimée!

Comme une fleur loin du soleil

La fleur de ma vie est fermée

Loin de ton sourire vermeil.


 

#7 of 10 X 10 Tethered Moon: Chansons d’Édith Piaf

tethered moon

The year 1998 will always be associated in my mind with one of Bob Dylan’s greatest and darkest albums, Time Out of Mind.  That was when I rediscovered him.  It captured my mood, thirty miles out of town in cold irons bound.

Not dark yet, but it’s getting there.  Oh and yes, To Make You Feel My Love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet

Only problem was, I was married to someone else.

My marriage ended that November.  In the next eighteen months I spent more time on my own than I had since my teens.  Following in Mum’s footsteps in more ways than one, I visited her in New Zealand (where she ended up after breaking up with her flying doctor and eventually remarrying) for ten weeks in the fall of 1999.  It seemed an appropriate time to touch base again.

After Christmas back in Canada with Yoke-Sum I left for Italy to teach the winter semester at the U of A’s school in Cortona.  My own company took some getting used to.  An old Italian hill town in January and February is a bleak place to be alone.

Yoke-Sum and I had recently discovered Winter and Winter CDs.  I played one disk constantly, Tethered Moon’s Chansons d’Édith Piaf. Tethered Moon is one of the many avatars of Paul Motian, who in an earlier incarnation was Bill Evans’s drummer on Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.  It, too, crystalized my mood.

They return once in a way to the simplest possible statement of the melody. Masabumi Kikuchi plays such passages with infinite tenderness. Everything hangs on his phrasing, his timing, the unbroken line.  Gary Peacock plucks at the strings of the heart, his bass the very soul of Le Petit Monsieur Triste.  The little sparrow, her Paris—we need no more to beam us straight back. 

But the music takes us places Piaf would never have gone too.  Kikuchi turns her tunes inside out, probing, questing, trying on textures and colors and hues.  He stumbles, loses his way, finds unexpected routes home, hums, mumbles, snarls along with his piano.  Discords snag the flow, rhythms slide and shimmer between the instruments.  Holding it all together is the flawless delicacy of Paul Motian’s drumming.  He never seems to lay down a beat, nor does he ever miss one.

I quote myself in Going Down for Air, which I wrote in Edmonton, New Zealand, and Tuscany in 1999-2000 trying to come to terms with what often seemed an irreparably fractured life—even if I was in love.  I subtitled it A Memoir in Search of a Subject.

One other musical memory stands out sharp and clear from that time.  We’re in my little black Ford Ranger pickup truck driving back to Edmonton, on the stretch of Highway 1 between Banff and Calgary.  It’s a bright blue Alberta day, where the skies go on forever.

Lucinda Williams is on the stereo, the self-titled Rough Trade album.

The night’s too long; it just drags on and on
And then there’s never enough that’s when the sun starts coming up
Don’t let go of her hand; you just might be the right man
She loves the night; she loves the night


 

#8 of 10 X 10   Butch Hancock: The Wind’s Dominion

wind's dominion

Lucinda kickstarted a whole new—or better, perhaps, an old-new—infatuation with Americana, and the continent yet again opened itself up to my imagination.  After Yoke-Sum and I moved to the UK in 2004 the music took on additional freight.

At first we were seduced by the English countryside.  But before long we found ourselves missing North American landscapes—the kind of landscapes that are caught in William Eggleston and Stephen Shore’s photographs.  It wasn’t England’s pornographic prettiness I wanted but faded strip malls and back lanes lined with electricity poles, the billboards on the empty highways, the vastness of the prairie skies.

I never fitted back in the UK.  Not enough space.  I was homesick for somewhere else.

It was our Texan friend Wesley who first introduced me to the Flatlanders, back in Edmonton.  More a Legend than a Band, the 1990 reissue of their only album was called, with justice.  The group was founded in 1972 by three high school friends from Buddy Holly’s hometown Lubbock and disbanded a year later.  (They got together again in 1998 and have performed and recorded intermittently ever since.)

Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night? asks Jimmie Dale Gilmore in that inimitable sweet high tenor of his.  No I didn’t.  Dixie hadn’t yet made my bucket list.  But Lucinda, Guy Clark, and Townes van Zandt were on my case.  So were Jimbo Mathus, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Drive-By Truckers.  I was getting there.

When an unfortunate series of events involving an Icelandic volcano and a British Airways strike conspired to prevent me from attending a conference in Quito, Ecuador in 2010 I was stuck with a ticket to Houston for which I couldn’t get reimbursed.  We decided it was time to look up Wesley, who was by then working at Texas A & M University.

We took the long route from Houston to College Station via New Orleans, Bon Temps, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin.  Next year we returned and drove out west to Marfa.  We liked Texas so much we spent the 2013-14 academic year on sabbatical in Austin.  This time we flew from London Heathrow to Atlanta, Georgia, rented an SUV, and drove across country, following a musical trail through Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Memphis, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Delta, the best part of 1000 miles.  We took in Nashville on the way back.

Wesley visited us in Austin bearing a bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, most of which we downed during a long lazy sunny afternoon listening to the wailing sax of Ornette Coleman, a good ol’ Fort Worth boy.  I played him the late Geri Allen’s sublime piano rendition of Lonely Woman (on her 1997 album with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, Études), which he hadn’t heard before.  Lest we forget, Beyoncé comes from Texas too. My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma.  Roots music.

Butch Hancock sang The Wind’s Dominion at a celebration of Austin music hosted by Alejandro Escovedo at the Moody Theater and Jimmie Dale Gilmore did a set at Lucy’s Fried Chicken during South by South West.  The voice was limpid as ever.  We’d seen Joe Ely (along with Terry Allen and Ryan Bingham, billed as Texas Troubadors) at the City Winery in New York.  But we never did see the Flatlanders play together.

Later I found a secondhand vinyl of The Wind’s Dominion LP, recorded in Austin in 1979, at Reckless Records on Berwick Street in London.

Some call it the West Texas Blonde on Blonde.  The lyrics are surreal enough (try Mario y Maria, subtitled Cryin’ Statues/Spittin’ Images).  Only Born, which clocks in at just under ten minutes, is eerily Dylanesque in voice,  phrasing, and sentiment.  But it’s not that thin wild mercury sound.  Butch is backed by harmonica, a frenetic fiddle, banjo, accordion, autoharp, mandolin, upright bass, drums, piano, trombone and acoustic, electric, bass, pedal steel, and dobro guitars.  Sounds of the heartland.

And a reminder that there have always been other Americas.  You just need to listen.


 

#9 of 10 X 10  Nubya Garcia: When We Are

nubya when we are

After twelve years in the UK Yoke-Sum and I called it quits and returned to North America for good, landing in Calgary on 21 June 2016.  Two days later the Brexit referendum confirmed that Britain was no longer the kind of country we wanted to live in.

We passed through London (which is not in the UK) this April for the first time since we left, visiting family.   We had booked tickets for two shows at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club.  Ambrose Akinmusire, whose 2017 album A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard, had been on repeat on our stereo for weeks, was all we expected and more.

But 26-year-old Nubya Garcia, who composes and plays tenor sax, was something else.  This was jazz via funk, soul, calypso, grime, hip-hop and Afrobeat—though passages from her piano player Joe Armon-Jones could have come straight out of Satie or Ravel.

Though Garcia lists “Coltrane, Sonny definitely … Also Miles, McCoy, Sarah Vaughan, Billie, Alice Coltrane” at the top of her listening pile, she cut her teeth playing in “grime and garage nights in north London, dub nights across the river in south London, and … the infamous Steez performance jams” at the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham.

Nubya is one of the children of the so-called Windrush generation whose mistreatment by British immigration officials forced the recent resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.  The hostile environment policy toward immigrants, legal and otherwise, was the brainchild of her predecessor, home counties vicar’s daughter and now Prime Minister Theresa May.

The African diaspora is at the heart of young London’s current jazz explosion, with women (saxophonist Camilla George, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, vocalist Zara McFarlane) to the fore.  As well as leading her own quartet Garcia plays in the all-female group Nérija with trombonist Rosie Turtonhe, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi (both of whom in turn also play in the Afrobeat band Kokoroko).  Garcia was named Breakthrough Act of the Year at the 2018 Jazz FM awards.  She is rapidly making her mark on the other side of the Atlantic too, having played to rave reviews this year in New York, New Orleans, and South by South West in Austin.

Nubya performs on no less than five tracks of the acclaimed We Out Here, a compilation recorded in three days in August 2017 and released by Brownswood Recordings earlier this year featuring Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross, Moses Boyd, Joe Armon-Jones, and Kokoroko among others.

The sleeve notes pull no punches:

Here in Britain, where we are exceptionally adept at cultural amnesia … music reminds us of Britain’s global past, and that London has never not known migration.  With the hideous proposition of the Brexit campaign, the racism and open anti-immigrant sentiment once again garnering national populism, the ongoing migrant crisis and nearly 100 years of racist immigration laws, We Out Here is timely code for we’ve been here, we are here, because you, dearest Blighty, were there. And we’re not bloody leaving.

Nubya Garcia’s latest EP When We Are is a great sample of her work.  The cheapest copy offered on Discogs sells at 70 Euro but it can be streamed and downloaded.  The cover artwork, by the way, is by her sister.  We were lucky enough to get one of the last ten vinyls ever (unless it is re-pressed, which it should be) at her Ronnie Scott’s show, which she signed for us afterward with a promise to come to Canada soon.

I shall treasure it—not only for the exhilarating music, but as a reminder that there are other Britains, too.   And that there is so much to be gained from listening to them.


 

#10 of 10 X 10  The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome

blue and lonesome

Grant me an old man’s frenzy/Myself must I remake, wrote William Butler Yeats in his poem An Acre of Grass.

The Japanese artist Hokusai would have understood.  He once said that “my work until 70 was not worthy of attention.  At 73, I began to understand the shapes and structures of various creatures and plants.  When I become 86 my skill will become even finer, and at 90 I understand all its secrets. By 100 would my skill reach the realm of the divine?

I have long toyed with the idea of writing a book about old-age creativity.  Works made by experienced, practiced artists who have seen it all and are no longer too concerned about what the world thinks about them—and who, in the best cases, throw out the rule book and take risks like there’s no tomorrow.

Think late Cézanne, inventing a whole new language of cylinders, spheres, and cones, think Verdi’s late late shows Otello and Falstaff.   All of Janáček’s major operas except for Jenůfa were written after he turned 65.

Think Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series.  Listen to his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ song Hurt on American IV.  In American V, recorded a few months before his death, the Man in Black used all his artistry and all the frailty in what was left of his voice to wrench every last ounce of regret out of Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind.

Bob Dylan accomplishes something similar in his recent trilogy of Frank Sinatra covers.  Not so much raging (he did that in 2012’s Tempest) as crooning against the dying of the light, his pitch is far from perfect and the misses can be excruciating.  But the stripped-down arrangements of his longtime backing band give him an intimate stage on which to sing and he conjures new meaning out of the old warhorses, remaking them into something inimitably his own.  Like Billie Holiday and Willie Nelson he is a master of phrasing, caressing every line and word.

Neither Bob nor Billie ever had much of a voice to speak of, but there is more to singing than just making mellifluous sounds.  I’d take Maria Callas, in spectacular vocal decline in her 1961 Arias from French Opera, the voice rasping and wobbling and at times nearly breaking in its search for dramatic truth, over the vanilla beauty of a Kiri Te Kanawa anytime.  Like John Coltrane, Callas tested her instrument to the limits of expression.

Lucinda Williams passed 65 this year.  The bright vocal clarity I loved in her Rough Trade album is no more.  Too much bourbon, heartache and tequila.  Too much death.  She slurs her words as she gets older, so you really have to listen to catch the lyrics.

But her recent albums Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone and The Ghosts of Highway 20 are among her best work ever, and her vocal deficiencies—if that’s what they are—are an integral element in the bluesy, swampy, down-and-dirty Louisiana mix.  She sings of the crooked racist justice that is the way we do things in West Memphis, of the angelheaded prostitutes who teach their johns how to pleasure their wives, of the cruel Alzheimer’s that robbed her of the memory of her father as it took away his beautiful mind.

It is instructive to compare Lucinda’s 2017 re-recording of the 1992 album Sweet Old World with the original.  The worn and weary old voice reveals the depths in the songs, which she doesn’t so much sing as inhabit.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Blue and Lonesome, in which the greatest rock and roll band in the world cover twelve ancient Chicago blues numbers, most of them pretty obscure.  The Rolling Stones’ best album in 40 years is a loving, respectful return to their roots, where I first heard them back in 1964 when I was a thirteen-year-old boy and they weren’t too much older.

On the platform at Dartford Station, waiting for the train from Memphis to Chicago.

 

June 3-12, 2018

 

homeland insecurity

wrest park (1 of 1)

‘Heimat, the evocative German word that loosely translates as ‘homeland,’ is a conflicting term for those to whose language it belongs. Since its earlier, predominantly romantic use, conjuring associations with a love for the rolling hills of Bavaria and the lost utopia of childhood, the term’s cultural associations have shifted often. Not least with it’s adoption and distortion by the Third Reich, prior to its subsequent reclamation in the 1950s.

For Thomas Dworzak this “rejection and search for Heimat” has been a pervading influence in his life. While growing up in a small Bavarian town near the Iron Curtain, the photographer felt suffocated by the overbearing “Catholicism, provincialism, order and calm”, eventually leaving as a young man. Today, Dworzak identifies as having three homelands, one in his native Bavaria, the others in Tbilisi and Tehran.”‘

A beautiful as well as thought-provoking photoessay on homelands from a renowned Magnum photographer, whose father at age six was one of three million people expelled from Czechoslovakia in the 1945-6 odsun (“transfer”), one of the worst ethnic cleansings of the last century.

Both images and text are well worth pondering as the clever hopes of a low, dishonest decade expire with Brexit and Trump.

The photo above is mine, taken last month in the UK, about which I have similarly mixed feelings to Dworzak on Bavaria.  His images are copyrighted, but there are many on his Magnum site.


 

intimate and inconvenient truths

Montgomery-Roth-03-23

“For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.”

Zadie Smith in the New Yorker, by far the best thing I’ve read amid the welter of over-politicized and under-nuanced commentary unleashed by the great man’s death.


 

a mythic, cool America

modernism-sheeler
Charles Sheeler: Bucks County Barn, 1940

‘Instantly recognizable images dominate “America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper,” the surprisingly arresting new show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: Charles Demuth’s magnetic I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928), inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams’s poem The Great Figure, in which a fire truck speeds through the streets of New York one rainy night; Georgia O’Keeffe’s breathtakingly chilly East River from the Shelton Hotel (1928), the cool, icy blue of the water slicing through the middle of the canvas, separating the snow-topped roofs in the foreground from the smoke-clouded factory chimneys in the distance; three large Edward Hopper oils, From Williamsburg Bridge (1928), Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928), and Dawn in Pennsylvania (1942), not his most famous work, but nevertheless immediately identifiable …’

Lucy Scholes reviews a new exhibition of ‘the mythologies of an “America” that has long inhabited the popular global imagination, from the towering structures of the archetypal modern metropolis to the rustic barns, uniform fields of corn, and white picket fences of prairie farmland,’ whose images ‘speak to a desire for a sanitized version of reality that tries to master the anxieties and ambivalences associated with modern life.’


 

eyeless in Gaza

gazamisery4.jpg

Promise was that I/Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;/Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves … (John Milton, Samson Agonistes)

Borders are conventionally represented as tidy lines on maps.  On the ground things get messier.  Especially in the case of Palestine–Israel–Gaza.

‘Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from and annexed under Israel’s control,’ writes Amjad Iraqi.  ‘It is a purgatory designed to provide whatever answer is most convenient for shirking responsibility and justifying violence at any given time. This has obscured a controversial but perhaps inexorable fact: after 51 years, Gaza can hardly be described as “occupied territory” anymore. It is now a segregated, debilitated, and subjugated part of Israel; a replica of the districts, townships, and reservations that imprisoned native populations and communities of color in apartheid South Africa, the United States, and other colonial regimes. In other words, Palestinians are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state; they are being caged and brutalized inside it.’

Alongside the anatomy of compliance, perhaps we need to reconsider the spatialities of oppression.


 

preserves for life

tokarczuk olga portret gm 3_6234105

The Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the Man Booker International prize for her novel Flights.

‘“It isn’t a traditional narrative,” said chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi, pointing to Tokarczuk’s own description of her writing as “constellation novels” to describe an author who throws her stories into orbit, allowing her readers to form meaningful shapes from them. “We loved the voice of the narrative – it’s one that moves from wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture and has the ability to create character very quickly, with interesting digression and speculation.”

The book’s themes – “the nomadic life that we now lead in the world, with our constant movement, our constant desire to pick up and go, whether it’s from relationships or whether it’s to other countries”, and “the limitedness, the finiteness, the mortality of the human body, which is always pulled towards the ground” – collide in Tokarczuk’s “extraordinary” stories, said Appignanesi.’

For those who fancy a sample, Granta magazine has published Tokarczuk’s masterpiece of black humor “Preserves for Life.”


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

Featured Image -- 1594

I was recently invited by the excellent Prague-based magazine Alienist (motto: ALL SUBJECTIVITY IS APPROPRIATION) to participate in this questionnaire.  The entire issue of the magazine can be downloaded here.  I have also posted my own brief contribution, which interrogates the notion of alienation, separately on academia.edu.

ALIENIST MANIFESTO

We live, we die. In a world beset by alienation, it seems we exist in a recurring dream of disillusionment. The history of reason – history as reason – poses itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a congenital madness. And if reason is the symptom of an irrational problem, what part does the mind play in this? Bloodless revolutions have stained the pages of psychiatry, literature, art history, philosophy – if emancipation is an idea that first belongs to those who forge chains, it is not a facetious question we pose: IS SCHIZOPHRENIA A SOLUTION?

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Feelings of Structure

How places, objects, fantasies, histories, and memories get under our skin and how we understand their affective connections.


Sweatsuits and the apocalypse, the demands of a sofa, a life recalled through window frames, whale watching through cancer, the serendipity of geographical names … in Feelings of Structure, these are just some of the spaces and places, memories, and experiences addressed by the authors in writings that are multilevel explorations of the tangled-up nature of feeling and structure.

Inspired by Raymond Williams’s classic essay “Structures of Feeling” and influenced by the current discussion of affect studies, this collection inverts Williams’s influential concept to explore the ephemerality of feeling as working in concert with the grounding forces of materiality and history.

Feelings of Structure is a collection of twelve original texts that explores the weight of diverse encounters with a variety of configurations, be they institutional, spatial, historical, or fantastical. Featuring writers from a range of disciplines, this book aims for textual evocation in subject matter and approach, with essays that encompass multiple methodologies, writing styles, and tones.


Much looking forward to this unusual set of writings, out this fall from McGill-Queens University Press.  Contributors include Craig Campbell, Michael Daroch, Lindsey Freeman, Christien Garcia, Mark Jackson, Adam Lauder, Adam Kaasa, Kimberly Mair, Lee Rodney, Joey Russo, and Lesley Stern.  More details and pre-order here.


hostile environments #1

grenfell

“There was an Afghan army officer, a Sudanese dressmaker, a British artist and an Italian architect. There was an Egyptian hairdresser, an Eritrean waitress and a Lebanese soldier …”

The Guardian profiles each of the 72 (acknowledged) victims of Britain’s eminently preventable worst fire in a century.

“The Grenfell lives closely mirror the complexities of modern Britain: young families scrambling for childcare cover and extra jobs to help pay the bills; people still living with parents well into their 20s and 30s; refugees who abandoned careers and status in perilous homelands for safe anonymity half a world away; the very elderly – there were seven victims aged over 70 – grappling with disability in a crowded health system.

But Grenfell was not a microcosm of Britain or London. There were few white-collar workers among the victims and only seven white Britons, indicative of how the disaster disproportionately affected minority ethnic communities … ”

Two days later (and nearly a year after the fire) Theresa May announced that the UK government had finally agreed to provide £400m to remove Grenfell-style cladding (which had allowed the fire to spread rapidly throughout the building) from 158 high-rise blocks in the social housing sector across England.  The cladding had been chosen for its cheapness, despite its known flammability.

As of March 22, 2018, “just 62 out of 209 households needing rehousing [had] moved into permanent accommodation,” communities minister Sajid Javid told the Commons.  May’s government had previously promised to permanently rehouse all survivors of the fire within a year.


 

hostile environments #2

Grub for Sharks: A Concession to the Negro Populace 2004 by Kara Walker born 1969
Kara Walker “Grub for Sharks,” exhibition at Tate Liverpool, 2004

After Amber Rudd was forced to resign following the Windrush Scandal (discussed in Ethnographic Fragments #18) the aforementioned Sayid Javid replaced her as Home Secretary.  His first act was to rechristen the “hostile environment” policy introduced by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary—but without in any way altering any of its fundamentals.

The policy of denying suspected “illegal immigrants” access to housing, work, medical services and state benefits (and criminalizing anyone who provides them) now bears the chillingly Orwellian moniker of a “compliant environment.”

David Lammy MP, who has campaigned tirelessly over both the Grenfell Tower and Windrush scandals, sharply reminded Javid that “compliance” has a history:

“The Windrush community and its ancestors know what hostile and compliance means. We know what compliance means. It’s written deep into our souls and passed down from our ancestors.

Slaves having to nod and smile when they were being whipped in a cotton field or a sugar cane field were compliant.

Watching your partner being tied to a tree, beaten or raped, on a plantation, is compliance.

12 million people being transported as slaves from Africa to the colonies is a compliant environment.

Windrush citizens being abused, spat on, and assaulted in the streets but never once fighting back was a compliant environment.

Black Britons being racially abused at work but never speaking up because they need to put food on the table know all about a compliant environment.

Turning the other cheek when the National Front was marching through our streets was a compliant environment.

Young black men being stopped and searched by the police despite committing no crime and living in fear of the police know what it’s like to be in a compliant environment.”

Click to see video of Lammy’s speech.


 

oh say can you see

colin-kaepernick-muhammad-ali-legacy-award

I admit it, Friday Night Lights was one of my all-time favorite TV programs.  The NFL (a league made of of mostly black players performing to entertain a mostly white—and it often seems, predominantly redneck—audience) is something else.

During a campaign rally for (subsequently defeated) Alabama Senator Luther Strange, “President” Trump demanded that NFL owners faced with protesting players “get that son of a bitch off the field.”  The NFL has now agreed a new set of rules that “subjects teams to a fine if … team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Those teams also will have the option to fine any team personnel, including players, for the infraction.”

Land of the free my ass.  The only amendment that seems to count for anything in Trump’s America is the “God-given” Second.


 

the anatomy of compliance

gaza

On May 14 Palestine’s Ministry of Health in Gaza released the names of 60 people (of whom three were as yet unidentified) killed that day “as a result of Zionist targeting center for the participants in the march of the great return today in the eastern Gaza Strip.”

A week later the Ministry of Health reported that “Israeli soldiers have killed 112 Palestinians, and injured 13,190 since the Great Return March protests started on the Palestinian Land Day, March 30th, 2018.  Dr. al-Qedra said that the soldiers killed 13 Palestinian children, and injured 2096 others, in addition to wounding 1029 women. He added that 332 of the wounded Palestinians suffered life-threatening injuries, 3,422 suffered moderate wounds, 9,436 suffered mild injuries, and 5,572 suffered the effects of teargas inhalation.

Of these,
502 Palestinians were shot in the head and neck.
283 were shot in the chest and back.
225 were shot in the abdomen and pelvis.
938 were shot in the arm.
325 were shot in the leg.
1,117 suffered various cuts and bruises to several parts of their bodies.

27 of the wounded Palestinians suffered amputations in their legs, one in his arm, and four others had some fingers severed by Israeli fire. Dr. al-Qedra added that the soldiers also shot and killed one medic, and injured 323 others with live fire and gas bombs, in addition to causing damage to 37 ambulances.”

During the same period, according to the Times of Israel, “there has been just one Israeli casualty reported — an IDF soldier, who was lightly wounded by a rock.”


 

floating signifiers

britain-royals-harry-meghan

Missed in much of the global gushing over the recent wedding of Prince Harry of Wales and Ms Meghan Markle was this gem in the Czech press:

“News server Aktuálně.cz reports that the chair of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala, has called on René Franěk, a member of the party council for the Nymburk area who is also director of the zoo in the Central Bohemian town of Chleby, to apologize for a recent post he made on social networks about Saturday’s Royal Wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle. Franěk posted that ‘the heir to the throne is marrying a gypsy woman’ …

If the zoo director does not apologize, Fiala says he cannot remain an ODS party member.”

The zoo director later explained that “I meant my remarks in the context of the heir’s multicultural enrichment, which is having such resonance in the public arena.”

Right.  For a more insightful take on the significance of the wedding, see Mara Gay’s excellent New York Times article “Thanks, Meghan Marple, we needed that.”


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

ethnic cleansing, UK style

windrush

A series of recent stories in the Guardian researched by the indefatigable Amelia Gentleman have highlighted an “immigration anomaly” in which people who came to Britain as children in the 1950s and ’60s (when they were still “British subjects”) and as such have an absolute right to remain in the UK are being subjected to loss of employment, housing, health care and other benefits unless they can retrospectively provide documentation proving their continual presence in the UK.

In the words of the Home Office, “Recent changes to the law mean that if you wish to work, rent property or have access to benefits and services in the UK then you will need documents to demonstrate your right to be in the UK. The government believes this is a proportionate measure to maintain effective immigration control.”  The burden of proof lies with the immigrant, and the documentation requirements (four separate pieces of documentary evidence of every single year spent in the UK) are truly Kafkaesque.

Here are the stories of two of the people whose lives have been turned upside-down.

paulette wilson

61-year-old Paulette Wilson “moved to the UK in 1968 when she was 10 and has never left. Because she had never applied for a British passport and had no papers proving she had a right to be in the UK, she was classified as an illegal immigrant. Last October, she was sent to the immigration removal centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedford for a week, and then taken to Heathrow before deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited for 50 years and where she has no surviving relatives.

The former cook, who used to serve food to MPs in the House of Commons and has 34 years of national insurance contributions, was horrified at the prospect of being separated from her daughter and granddaughter. A last-minute intervention from her MP and a local charity prevented her removal. After Guardian publicity she has since been given a biometric card, proving she is in the UK legally, but she will have to reapply in 2024 and is already worried about the process. She has had no apology from the Home Office.”

renford mcintyre

64-year-old Renford McIntyre “is homeless and sleeping on a sofa in an industrial unit in Dudley. He has lived in the UK for almost 50 years since arriving from Jamaica in 1968 at 14, to join his mother who had moved here to work as a nurse. He has worked and paid taxes here for 48 years, as an NHS driver and a delivery man, but in 2014 a request for updated paperwork from his employers revealed he did not have documents showing he had a right to be in the UK. He was sacked; the local council told him he was not eligible for housing support or any benefits, so he became homeless.

He gathered together paperwork showing 35 years of national insurance contributions but the Home Office returned the application requesting further information. ‘I can’t tell you how angry and bitter it makes me feel. I’ve worked hard all my life, I’ve paid into the system. I’ve sent them details of my NHS pension, and HMRC records going back 40 years. They’ve got all my documents. What more do they want?’ he said. ‘How do they expect me to live? How am I expected to eat or dress myself?'”

Downing Street has now rejected a formal diplomatic request from representatives of 12 Caribbean countries for a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the situation.

This is not an “immigration anomaly.”  It is a deliberate policy.   It is called ethnic cleansing.


 

come back Enoch, all is forgiven

powell

Meantime in what looks suspiciously like a fiftieth anniversary commemoration, the BBC chose this week to broadcast in full Enoch Powell’s 1968 “rivers of blood” speech, in which the then Conservative cabinet minister warned true Brits that “in 15 or 20 years’ time, the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” and foresaw a future in which “They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighborhoods changed beyond recognition.”

The BBC media editor, Amol Rajan, who presented the program, proudly tweeted on Thursday: “On Saturday, for 1st time EVER, Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech will be read in full on UK radio.”  The Trumpian capitals were Rajan’s.

The actor the Beeb chose to read Powell’s text, Ian McDiarmid, who plays Powell in the play What Shadows?, told the Daily Telegraph that Powell was “not a racist” and was right “in terms of the numbers.”  These days, McDiarmid went on, everyone accepts that “[immigration] can’t go on in an unlimited way because the results, as he said, would be catastrophic”.


 

family values

laura + Biniyam

“Clarke and Tesfaye first got together when she was teaching English at a primary school in Addis Ababa; he was one of her colleagues: ‘We met on my first day. We were friends for about a month, and then after that, things started to develop,’ she says …

Elijah is one of an estimated 15,000 children living without a parent because of restrictions on family visas. Tesfaye would like to live with his family in the UK, but in order to apply to bring over a foreign partner, you must earn at least £18,600 a year. Clarke’s work as a college teacher and PR for a charity brings in an income that is usually “a few hundred a month” short …

The Home Office explanation is short and sharp. ‘Those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family must work hard and make a contribution,’ a spokesperson says. ‘Family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense.'”

Nice to know Mrs May is keeping the bloodlines pure.  Obviously that should trump UK citizens’ rights to marry who they want and expect to live with their spouse.


 

mens sana in corpore sano

legal aid

Best not be disabled in Brexitland either.  “The extent to which savage government cuts have deprived disabled people of legal aid in disputes over their benefit payments is revealed today by new official figures that show a 99% decline since 2011,” reports the Guardian.

“The total number of disabled people granted legal aid in welfare cases has plummeted from 29,801 in 2011-12 to just 308 in 2016-17, cutting some of the most vulnerable people in society adrift without expert advice in often highly complex and distressing cases …

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson denied the government was depriving the most needy of help. ‘Maintaining access to justice remains at the heart of our legal aid system, and last year we spent over £1.6bn to ensure help is available for those who need it most,’ the spokesperson said.”

Ethnic cleansing and eugenics always did go nicely together.  What next, euthanasia for those whose defective genes endanger the national stock?


 

a landmark republished

cunard negro

One Englishwoman who would not have appreciated Theresa May’s attempts to turn Little Britain into a sotto voce Third Reich is Nancy Cunard, whose anthology Negro was published in an edition of 1000 copies in 1934 has never been reprinted in full since.

In a timely counterpart to the BBC’s resuscitation of the racist bile of Enoch Powell, the Paris-based publisher jeanmichelplace has just reissued Cunard’s landmark anthology in full in facsimile form.

“This highly illustrated book of eight hundred and seventy-two pages dedicated to the history of Africa, Madagascar and the black Americas brings together two hundred and fifty articles by one hundred and fifty-five authors,” writes Sarah Frioux-Salgas, archivist at Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, introducing the volume.  “The contributors were activists, intellectuals, journalists, artists, poets, academics, anthropologists, African-Americans, West Indians, Africans, Malagasy, Latin Americans, Americans, Europeans, men and women; some were colonized, discriminated against, segregated.  The book melds popular culture, sociology, politics, history, ethnology, art history, and includes articles, archives, photographs, drawings, portraits, excerpts from the press, poems, musical scores, testimonies as well as statistics.”

“At no other time in the history of America,” Nancy Cunard noted in her Foreword, “have there been so many lynchings as in the past two years, so many ‘legal’ murders, police killings and persecutions of coloured people.  The Scottsboro frame-up is more than an attempt to electrocute 9 innocent black Alabamians—it is part of the effort to force into the dumbest and most terrorised form of subjection all Negro workers who dare aspire to live otherwise than as virtual slaves” (emphasis added).  Her words have unfortunately lost none of their currency.

Highly recommended.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

This is a very useful summary of recent debates on twitter and elsewhere on the UK’s RAE-REF research assessment exercises.  I’m reposting it for information.  Thank you Ian Pace!

Desiring Progress

I am writing this piece at what looks like the final phase of the USS strike involving academics from pre-1992 UK universities. A good deal of solidarity has been generated through the course of the dispute, with many academics manning picket lines together discoverying common purpose and shared issues, and often noting how the structures and even physical spaces of modern higher education discourage such interactions when working. Furthermore, many of us have interacted regularly using Twitter, enabling the sharing of experiences, perspectives, vital data (not least concerning the assumptions and calculations employed for the USS future pensions model), and much else about modern academic life. As noted by George Letsas in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), Becky Gardiner in The Guardian, Nicole Kobie in Wired, and various others, the strike and other associated industrial action have embodied a wider range of frustrations amongst UK-based…

View original post 9,810 more words

 

watch here

Emma Gonzalez

RESPECT

 


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.