This set of texts and images was part of an exhibition titled EX SITU: (Un)making Space out of Place that led to a photobook of the same title.  The exhibition was convened and the photobook edited by Craig Campbell and Yoke-Sum Wong.  

EX SITU was part of a series of international workshops/events held over the last five years in the US, UK, Germany, and Greece involving art and media practitioners, academics, and research students from different disciplinary backgrounds. These meetings have led to an anthology of essays, Feelings of Structure: Explorations in Affect (McGill-Queens University Press) co-edited by Karen Engle and Yoke-Sum Wong.

All participants in the EX SITU exhibition/photobook were asked to couple up to six images with the same number of texts, each of no more than 100 words, on any topic of their choice.  I shot the photographs in Athens, Greece in 2016.  The original photobook layout with text and image side by side can be downloaded here.

I found the form an interesting one to work with.  My intention was to set up layers of open-ended resonance and signification within a limited group of texts and images, rather than have the images simply illustrate the texts or the texts caption the images.  I wanted to convey something of what Milan Kundera calls “the density of unexpected encounters.”

I am posting this work now in eager anticipation of the latest in this series of events, the  STRUCTURES OF ANTICIPATION research creation symposium at the University of Windsor, Ontario.


 

1  athens_bank

athens1 bank

Greece’s government has said the country is “turning a page” after Eurozone member states reached an agreement on the final elements of a plan to make its massive debt pile more manageable.

The government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, hailed “a historic decision” that meant “the Greek people can smile again.”

The government in Athens will have to stick to austerity measures and reforms, including high budget surpluses, for more than 40 years. Adherence will be monitored quarterly.

Guardian, June 22, 2018


 

2  athens_bey

athens2 beyonce

The latest video by the Carters, a.k.a. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, is a treat. Filmed in the Louvre, “Apesh-t” begins with close-ups of various old master paintings. A bell tolls atmospherically.

And then, out of nowhere, comes a moment of pure swagger.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z, sumptuously dressed, stare out diffidently, like a royal couple posing for a baroque marriage portrait. Behind them, out of focus, is the Mona Lisa. The gallery (which was once, of course, a royal palace) is otherwise empty.

Washington Post, June 19, 2018


 

3  athens_aesthetics

athens3 aesthetics

Note: the word in Greek letters in the top left of the photo reads: “AESTHETICS.”

Origin Late 18th century (in the sense ‘relating to perception by the senses’): from Greek aisthētikos, from aisthēta ‘perceptible things’, from aisthesthai ‘perceive.’ The sense ‘concerned with beauty’ was coined in German in the mid-18th century and adopted into English in the early 19th century, but its use was controversial until much later in the century.

Oxford Dictionaries


 

4  athens_caryatids

athens4 caryatids

45, Asomaton Str.

The residence with the caryatids in Kerameikos has been cherished like no other not only by the Athenians, but also by the city’s visitors … When the French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson visited Athens in the 50s, he “captured” two spry old ladies dressed in black, walking under the shadow of the lissome and proud silhouettes of the caryatids. The contrast of the black and white figures, of motion and stillness, of decay and eternal beauty, created a powerful picture, one of Bresson’s most representative.

Tina Kontogiannopoulo, Streets of Athens blog


 

5  athens_magritte

athens5 magritte

The first version, that of 1926 I believe: a carefully drawn pipe, and underneath it (handwritten in a steady, painstaking, artificial script, a script from the convent, like that found heading the notebooks of schoolboys, or on a blackboard after an object lesson!), this note: “This is not a pipe.”

The other version—the last, I assume—can be found in Aube à l’Antipodes. The same pipe, same statement, same handwriting. But instead of being juxtaposed in a neutral, limitless, unspecified space, the text and the figure are set within a frame.

Michel Foucault, This Is Not a Pipe


 

6  athens_museum

athens6 museum

The definition of a museum has evolved, in line with developments in society. Since its creation in 1946, ICOM updates this definition in accordance with the realities of the global museum community.

According to the ICOM Statutes, adopted by the 22nd General Assembly in Vienna, Austria on August 24th, 2007:

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

ICOM website


 

 

 

yomiuri shimbun

I am really pleased that my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History was published in Japanese translation in September 2018 by the Tokyo publisher Hakusuisha.

The book has received what I am told are excellent reviews in several leading Japanese newspapers and magazines, including Yomiuri Shimbun (28 December 2018), Asahi-Shimbun  (“The City of Kafka and Čapek,” 6 November 2018 book page: “a great book”), Mainichi Shimbun (by Shigeru Kashima, 27 January 2019, reproduced in All-Reviews, 6 March 2019: “It is a must-read document for understanding the Czech avant-garde”), and Repre (no. 35, 2019, by Haraka Hawakame: “With a focus on Prague, the Czech capital, this book crosses literature, art, music, cinema, theatre, architecture and all cultural areas starting from the surrealism movement and draws nearly 600 pages of European cultural history in the first half of the 20th century.  It is a great book”).

I have also been told that Tosho Shimbun (the reviewer’s weekly) “recommended the book as one of the most impressive books for 2018.”

I am extremely fortunate, not to say honored, to have a leading Japanese expert on the Czech avant-garde, Kenichi Abe, as my translator, assisted by Kawakami Haruka and Atsushi Miyazaki.  An Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo, Dr Abe has translated (among many other Czech works) Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England into Japanese. Translating Hrabal must be the pinnacle of the translator’s art!  Kenichi Abe’s most recent translation, appearing this month, is of Bianca Bellová’s Jezero (The Lake). His own book Karel Teige: Poezii no tankyusha (Karel Teige: the surrealist who pursued the poiesis, 2018) is a first attempt to map the Prague interwar avant-garde in Japanese.

The publishers have done a superb job of producing this Japanese edition, with outstanding book design, many illustrations (some not in the original English edition) and a stunning cover by Junpei Niki that montages some of the book’s key motifs.

Many thanks to all!

 

japanese ed cover

japanese brochureabe teige.jpg

Ivan Margolius, author of “Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th Century” and “Prague: A Guide to 20th Century Architecture”
“There is no visitor to Prague who is not enchanted by this city.  Prague has everything: the ancient and the modern, the history and the culture, the music and the tranquility, the contradictions and the harmony.  Derek Sayer’s excellent book captures all of these facets of Prague to make any visit even more worthwhile.”
Jindrich Toman, University of Michigan
“Meticulous, imaginative, unconventional—all the way from old palaces to Little Hanoi.”

 


prague-22

I have long wanted to write a non-academic book on Prague that would both provide a readable short history of the city and act as a guide to visitors who might be interested in more than just the standard tourist trail.  When I was approached by Reaktion Books to write on Prague for their excellent Cityscopes series, I jumped at the opportunity.   This is the result.  Out this month.  It was fun to write, and I hope it serves its purpose.


Publisher’s description

Thirty years ago, Prague was a closed book to most travelers.  Today, it is Europe’s fifth-most-visited city, surpassed only by London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome.  With a stunning natural setting on the Vltava river and featuring a spectacular architectural potpourri of everything from Romanesque rotundas to gothic towers, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches, art nouveau cafés, and cubist apartment buildings, Prague may well be Europe’s most beautiful capital city.

But behind this beauty lies a turbulent and often violent history, and in this book, Derek Sayer explores both.  Located at the uneasy center of the continent, Prague has been a crossroads of cultures for more than a millennium.  From the religious wars of the middle ages and the nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century to the modern conflicts of fascism, communism, and democracy, Prague’s history is the history of the forces that have shaped Europe.

Sayer also goes beyond the complexities of Prague’s colorful past: his expert, very readable, and exquisitely illustrated guide helps us to see what Prague is today.  He not only provides listings of what to see, hear, and do and where to eat, drink, and shop, but also offers deep personal reflection on the sides of Prague tourists seldom see, from a model interwar modernist villa colony to Europe’s biggest Vietnamese market.

Hardback, 280 pages, 105 illustrations, 71 in color.


Availability
Published by Reaktion Books (UK) and Chicago University Press (in North America).
Available from amazon.co.uk (£12.45) and amazon.com ($22.00).
Preview (including Table of Contents and Prologue) here.


Is there some law that says the worse it gets in the world out there, the better it gets in the arts?  It was an outstanding year for music.  Highlights for me were discovering the incredible jazz+++ scene in diasporic London, as eloquent a fuck you to the white Anglo mean-mindedness of Brexit as I can imagine, and slowly excavating the assembled talents of the West Coast Get Down—which turns out to be much more than just (the phenomenal) Kamasi Washington.  It has also been a spectacular year for that peculiar category comprising stuff recorded way back when but only released for the first time this year, meaning it is not a reissue.  Most years I combine both in my top 10, but this year was so rich overall that I’ve made separate lists.


 

#1 Record of the Year

Janelle Monáe  Dirty Computer

janelle monae

The range of her imagination on this record is astonishing.  Not a weak track over 4 sides.  My favorite LP side of the year (A 2) has three very different varieties of joy: “Screwed” (featuring Zoë Kravitz), “Django Jane” (just Janelle, laying down the most kickass rap I’ve heard in 2018), “Pink” (featuring Grimes).  Warning: the download that comes with the LP beeps out all the fuck words.


 

The rest of the Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

Ambrose Akinmusire     Origami Harvest

akinmusire.jpg

The record company blurb sums it up nicely: “a surprisingly fluid study in contrasts that pits contemporary classical wilding against deconstructed hip-hop, with bursts of left-field jazz, funk, spoken word, and soul with help from the Mivos Quartet and art-rap expatriate Kool A.D. (Das Racist), along with pianist Sam Harris, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and saxophonist Walter Smith III.”  No, really, it’s a stunner.  Reminds me of the best of Uri Caine (like his Mahler recordings), which is high praise indeed.


 

Moses Boyd Exodus  Displaced Diaspora

boyd exodus

Recorded in 2015, i.e., just before the contemporary London jazz scene exploded internationally, featuring Theon Cross (tuba), Nubya Garcia (bass clarinet), Nathaniel Cross (trombone), and Zara McFarlane (vocals) in addition to Moses Boyd on drums.  The Bandcamp website tags it under experimental hip hop beats jazz space music London, which seems about right.


 

Brandi Carlile  The Joke 

brandi carlile

The songwriting is uniformly strong (try “The Mother”) but it’s that huge, soaring, effortless voice.  You can get lost in it.  Usually only operatic sopranos thrill me like that.


 

Alejandro Escovedo  The Crossing

escovedo crossing

I don’t usually go for concept albums, because usually the concept overwhelms the album.  This one is an exception.  The concept is the immigrant experience.  Escovedo seems hardly known outside Texas, where he is somewhere between a legend and a god.  A pity.  This album has huge musical variety and great emotional depth.


 

Nubya Garcia  When We Are (EP)

nubya when we are

We first heard Nubya on We Out Here (see below) where she plays on five tracks, and were lucky enough to see her with her own band (Nubya on tenor sax, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards, Daniel Casimir on double bass, Femi Coleoso on drums) at Ronnie Scott’s in London (where we also saw Ambrose Akinmusire).  She can honk squeak with the best of them, but its the unfailing warmth and luminosity of her tone that always gets to me.


 

Pistol Annies   Interstate Gospel

pistol annies

A top ten albums from me without a country offering is unthinkable but it was getting to look that way (see disappointments of the year, below) until this arrived through the mail this week.  Thank you Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angeleena Presley.


 

Ryan Porter  The Optimist

optimist

Recorded in Kamasi Washington’s parents’ basement in 2008-9, this triple album brings together West Coast Get Down veterans Ryan Porter (trombone), Kamasi Washington (tenor saxophone), Miles Mosley (upright bass), Cameron Graves (piano, fender rhodes), Tony Austin (drums), Jumaane Smith (trumpet), and more.  What Kamasi was before he Busby Berkeleyed it with cinematic strings and those god-awful choirs.  Great jazz.


 

Sons of Kemet  Your Queen Is a Reptile

Sons_of_Kemet

Best of British for an era when the geriatric white majority is settling for blue passports to nowhere.  An angry album, and rightly so (read the sleeve notes).  Shabaka Hutchins (tenor sax), Theon Cross (tuba), and Tom Skinner + Seb Rochfort or Eddie Hicks + Moses Boyd on drums depending on the track.  Nubya Garcia on tenor sax and Congo Natty and Joshua Idehen (rap) guest.  Heady, polyrhythmic, driving stuff.  Saw them at Vancouver Jazz Festival, a riveting performance.  Luci hates it.


 

Various artists  We Out Here

weouthere

The Brownswood compilation double-album that introduced me to the London jazz+++ scene.   If it wasn’t for Janelle Monáe this would be my undisputed #1.  These are the tracks:

A1. Maisha – Inside The Acorn
A2. Ezra Collective – Pure Shade
B1. Moses Boyd – The Balance
B2. Theon Cross – Brockley
C1. Nubya Garcia – Once
C2. Shabaka Hutchings – Black Skin, Black Masks
C3. Triforce – Walls
D1. Joe Armon-Jones – Go See
D2. Kokoroko – Abusey Junction

Nuff said.  Here is the Brownswood documentary that went with it.


 

Best five older recordings first issued in 2018 

#1  Miles Davis and John Coltrane  The Final Tour (The Bootleg Series, vol. 6)

Miles Davis & John Coltrane- The Final Tour- The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6

Trane is incandescent, especially on CD 4.  Luci would like everyone to know that this is her favorite album of 2018 and that most of that London jazz+++ stuff is *very difficult* to doze off to.

and the rest—

Bob Dylan  More Blood, More Tracks

Charles Mingus  Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden

Thelonius Monk  Mønk

John Coltrane  Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album


 

2018 Honorable Mentions

boygenius_st

 

In most other years any of these would make it into my top ten list, but it’s 2018 so they didn’t.

Boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus)  Boygenius (EP)

Lucy Dacus  Historian

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels + Lucinda Williams  Vanished Gardens

Maisha  There Is a Place

Mitski  Be the Cowboy


 

Most Played Album This Year

nubya's 5ive

Recorded in 2017, second vinyl pressing 2018.  Her first album as leader, backed by Joe Armon-Jones / Piano, Moses Boyd / Drums, Daniel Casimir / Bass, Femi Koloeso / Drums, Sheila Maurice-Grey / Trumpet, Theon Cross / Tuba


Disappointment of the Year

A close-run thing between Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour (very clever but left me cold), Joe Armon-Jones Starting Today (love his work but somehow this offering never gelled as an album), and Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth (too much concept, way too much choir—though as ever with him some great blowing).


 

plucking a chicken feather by feather

madeleine-albright-photo-credit-timothy-greenfield-sanders-7c5448653749c4890c3f6338a1388a5552cd37a6-s900-c85

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

trump-golf3

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

merlin_136918641_afbdcf1c-ebbc-4424-941d-335c582f9de6-superJumbo
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

10-processed-foods.w710.h473.jpg

“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

bourdain obama
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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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‘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

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“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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.