Wow! Someone who hates the hypocritical, Wall Street cheerleading, media whore and muzak monger – and lover of warmongers Tony Blair and George W. Bush – Boner more than we do! Well, aside from South Park!
Nice work Dave!
Don’t call Dave a “Trotskyist” though! Billionaire scumbag U2 manager Paul McGuinness did and now has a contract out on him!
Bono’s yelped vocals are another matter, his hollow lyrics – where every platitude yields to an obscurantist pretension and back again – yet another.
by Dave Marsh
from the excellent ROCK & RAP CONFIDENTIAL
(to which can subscribe free of charge by sending your email address to email@example.com )
As RRC disclosed in September, last May U2’s Bono confronted Irish journalist Gavin Martin and myself in the lobby of Dublin’s Merion Hotel. He asked what I’d been working on. I said “the premise that celebrity politics has been a pretty much complete failure.” Bono replied that he wanted to debate the topic in public. He reiterated the challenge the next evening. The witnesses included U2’s manager Paul McGuinness and my wife, Barbara Carr, among others.
I made sure that Sirius Satellite Radio, which was to broadcast the debate, knew about Bono’s invitation. By mid-June, U2’s New York office confirmed the plan, asking only that it be delayed until U2 finished recording its next album. I kept it public via RRC and my Sirius show, Kick Out the Jams.
In November, U2 manager Paul McGuinness rang me. After some brief personal palaver—I like Paul even though I know he’s alluded to me as a “Trotskyist” behind my back—McGuinness sheepishly said “Bono has asked me to ask you if he can withdraw” from the debate.
I said “Sure.” McGuinness expressed gratitude that I was taking it so well.
“Of course,” I added, “this was a public challenge. Backing out’s not gonna be private.” I did not ask why Bono ducked the debate. Maybe he’d come to his senses, as his apologetics for world capitalism disintegrated with the stock, housing and employment markets. Maybe he was too busy preparing the banalities he’d blare on the new album.
In the wake of the New Depression generated by Bono’s tutors in world finance, it’s hardly necessary to issue a point by point refutation of his statements about how the world works,. Based on Bono’s response to criticism of U2’s tax avoidance, he plans to carry to the grave the ardently stupid globalization orthodoxy of Forbes, the Wall Street cheerleading rag he co-owns. Can there be anyone else who’s ventured a deep thought in the last several months who still believes that the only path to change involves bending the knee to the powerful?
As for the lyrics, don’t jump to the wrong conclusion. It can’t be denied that Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton and the Edge can still make fascinating music. Bono’s yelped vocals are another matter, his hollow lyrics–where every platitude yields to an obscurantist pretension and back again–yet another. Unfortunately, even if he’d come up with a lyric as great as “One,” Bono also carries into each project his off-stage political pronouncements, and his fawning affiliations with war criminals such as Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
I don’t know why Bono spit the bit on debating these issues in a public forum with a well-informed antagonist. Maybe he decided that he’d fucked up and was about to lower himself by going head to head with a journalist. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal on the spot with descriptions of his repeated appearances at the conferences of the leading capitalist nations where he’s yet to ask his first hard question about anything but Africa; about his settling for promises from world leaders that patently weren’t going to be kept, and never doing more than mewing when they weren’t; about why it is that Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, by no means an anti-capitalist, observes that she met him “at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me,” or why so many other Africans have complained that he claims to speak for them but has never so much as asked their permission. In regard to the last, I did receive more courtesy than Andrew Mwenda, the Ugandan journalist Bono cursed for raising such questions at an economics conference. (But then, I’m white and Celtic-American.)
It certainly isn’t my fault that I have to say “maybe” about all of this. Bono never got back to me, or had any of his handlers get back to me, about the ground rules for our projected “debate”–his term, not mine. I’d have settled for an honest interview although “debate” would have been more fun, even though the result was inevitable. No matter how many people sided with my being able to see through the kind of thing William Burroughs once poetically dubbed “a thin tissue of horseshit” it wouldn’t be enough to outweigh Big Time Pop Star status.
I don’t know. More to the point, you can’t know either.
U2 could be in a fair amount of trouble. The band is old by rock standards, and on the cover of Rolling Stone Bono looked much older than the rest because of a physical makeover that tries to deny it. No Line’s first single flopped on the radio. The band’s decision to have its song publishing company flee Ireland for a tax haven in the Netherlands has been subject to protests in the streets of Dublin and has no obvious justification, despite Bono’s fatuous counterclaim that it is his critics who are the hypocrites because free-market values were what created the “Celtic Tiger” of Dublin’s capitalist boom economy. The Tiger’s death throes look to be particularly messy, in part because of capital flight of just U2’s kind. The band’s attempt to alter the Dublin skyline with its Clarence Hotel expansion is another example of its ruinous distance from everyday Irish reality.
Bono’s self-promotion fares much better on this side of the Atlantic than at home. For instance, he got away scot-free in the American press after declaring during the Inauguration Concert, “What a thrill for four Irish boys from the north side of Dublin to honor you sir, Barack Obama, to be the next president of the United States.” But Shane Hegarty wrote in The Irish Times that only one of the band now lives on Dublin’s working class north side while Bono has lived more of his life on the south side.
“During the band’s performance of ‘In The Name of Love,’” wrote Hegarty, “he described Martin Luther King’s dream as ‘Not just an American dream–also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream, an Israeli dream . . .’ And then, following a long pause reminiscent of a man who’d just realized he’d left the gas on, he added, ‘. . . and also a Palestinian dream.’ This was his big shout out to the Palestinians… You can’t help but marvel at this latest expression of Bono’s Sesame Street view of the world. Hey Middle East, we just have to have a dream to get along.
“Just ignore the sound of those loud explosions and concentrate on Bono’s voice.”
So listen, Bono, if you decide to suck it up and face me, I’m still available. I can’t win a debate, we both know that, and why you’d want to continue to look feeble and cowardly when you have virtually nothing to lose… well, that’s another question I suppose you’ll never be asked.
It doesn’t mean that those questions are going to go away. Maybe for the tamed tigers of the American pop press, but not for me, or for those people in the streets of Dublin calling you a tax cheat, or for the Africans who feel insulted by your ignorance of their lives, or for that matter, the fans who wonder why you insist on siding continually, if slyly, with the powerful against the powerless.
We Hate Truth
by Richard M. Dolan
Blaise Pascal once wrote that unhappiness in this world could be eliminated if only people learned to sit quietly in their rooms. We constantly pursue outside stimulation. Anything will do. From all types of games and trivial pursuits, right up to joining the local navy and engaging in wholesale plunder.
The reason, Pascal argued further, is that most of us are unable to bear the poverty of our own minds. We have few thoughts to begin with, and when we do ponder our lives, we realize our weaknesses, our immoralities, and especially our mortality.
I think Pascal was exactly right. How long can we bear to sit quietly and reflect on our life, before allowing some distraction to take over? How much time do we spend reflecting on the fundamentals of our existence? Questions such as, “what am I doing here?”, “what is good?”, “how can I strive to live in accordance with goodness?”, “do I approach other people as objects to manipulate, or as fellow human beings in a spirit of love?” “What do I need to do with my short life in order to make this world a better place, or at least not to mess it up?” “Am I living in accordance with my highest ideals?”
Of course, our own society, dominated by a crass gimme gimme culture, actively discourages such quiet pursuits. If you do insist on becoming such an oddball, the first thing you should do is unplug your television and radio. Controlled utterly by a centralized corporate structure, these media spoonfeed us like children so we can (a) spend our money on useless products; (b) worship the State as a loyal imperial subject; and (c) not think too hard.
Internet is also suspect, since – like TV and radio – it is largely dominated by the same corporate entities. But at least in cyberspace, there remain a few pockets of freedom where you can still breathe fresh air.
Most people – and by most I mean about 99 percent – don’t set aside even ten minutes a day to reflect quietly on matters of truth and honor (yes, honor) in their lives. How can a person think when the car radio is on? Or when watching a t.v. commercial?
The effort of those who would wish to get inside our heads is unrelenting. These people have lots of money at their disposal, and they use it. They have sophisticated knowledge of propaganda, and they use it. They want to shut our minds down.
And most of us, quite frankly, want them to do it.
We do not want truth. What we usually want is information, usually of a specific kind. What did the Mets do last night? What’s on for dinner? How do I remove that zit? What’s the best school for my kids? Should I move to Atlanta, Vegas, or Phoenix?
You want information? No problem. This is, after all, the Information Age.
However, this is most definitely not The Age of Truth. When it comes to meaningful issues, the things that really matter, people prefer to be fed palatable illusions for the duration of their lives. I have to think hard to find a few people I have known who genuinely and regularly tried to challenge their worldview. Who wants to discover, at the age of forty, that some foundational belief they’ve held all their life is … wrong?
I grew up believing all the typical things about my country. That America was the world’s land of “freedom.” That America’s wars were all just. That people naturally seek truth and freedom.
Most Americans still tell themselves these things. How many people really want to know what their society is doing? Who wants to put the pieces together and question whether the entire social and economic structure of … well … our civilization is not only suicidal (increasingly, a few of us are figuring that one out) but also immoral?
That the shallowness and emptiness of American culture is itself largely to blame for the horrific and apparently widespread instances of torture of (innocent) foreign civilians? That the constant spread of faux-grand mansions in our never-ending suburban sprawl (complete with double-wide driveway and SUV) is an affront and assault on what was once a beautiful natural world? That by dropping our kids off in daycare or even many (most) of our public schools, we abdicate the job of parenting? That by spending our entire lives deluged with poisonous advertising and commercial culture, our commitment to things has outweighed our commitment to people?
Can you imagine what someone of the past – anyone more than a century ago – would think upon seeing our society?
Our technology would amaze them, of course. The gadgets and goodies we have would appear to be nothing less than a direct gift from the gods. But once they turned their attention away from the technology and directly to us, I think the most common reaction would be disgust: “I broke my back trying to create a better world, and ended up with … you?”
I fear that world civilization has already gone past the point of no return. If you think that humanity may one day strike up a relationship with alien beings – whether you believe this will happen in some idealized, future setting, or is going on secretly today – what is it exactly that humans would contribute to the mix?
We did not evolve in a concrete jungle. We evolved in a real jungle, which is fast becoming obliterated within the blink of a cosmic eye. Our rapacious gobbling up of all that we see around us cannot and will not last indefinitely, nor probably even for another few generations.
All things must end, including our lives, including our civilization. When the big ship finally goes down, will it even be worth saving?
‘When the World Bank thinks its financing an electric power station,’ it’s really financing a brothel.’
– Dead Aid
‘If you wanna save the planet, jump up and down!’
– Madonna at “Live Earth”
‘Saint’ Bono loses the rag in Africa and a look at the new book “Dead Aid” which looks at the futility of most aid programmes for Africa, and indeed the damage this aid actually causes.
“Dead Aid” was written by Dambisa Moyo, who was born in Zambia, and who has a doctorate in economics from Oxford, a masters from Harvard, and who, for several years, has worked for the World Bank in Washington DC.
Comic relief? Top black academic argues western approach is not working for Africa
By Christopher Hart
Daily Mail (UK)
10th March 2009
We are accustomed to bizarre outbursts and posturings from multimillionaire celebrities, especially when they spot a chance to portray themselves as concerned philanthropists with almost painfully big hearts.
Their favourite method is to drop in for a few hours at some televised charity event – Comic Relief, Live8 and Live Earth.
Perhaps the best-known, and certainly the loudest among them, is U2’s Bono. His efforts have won him an honorary British knighthood, no fewer than three Nobel Prize nominations and the adulation of Tony Blair. Yet one of Bono’s most significant outbursts – rude, heckling and laden with expletives – took place away from the world’s TV cameras at a small conference it Tanzania recently.
Not so funny any more: Lenny Henry and Davina McCall lark about in their Comic Relief red noses but a voice from Africa argues western aid is not the best way to help Africa
Bono had been enraged by a Ugandan writer called Andrew Mwenda, who was presenting a powerful case that international aid, far from helping lift Africa out of poverty, might in fact be the very cause of its troubles.
Even the suggestion that this might be the case sent ‘Saint’ Bono into a foul-mouthed rant, accusing Mwenda of being a comedian rather than a serious contributor to political debate.
For his own sake, then, one can only hope that the pop star never comes face to face with the author of an incendiary new book. Called Dead Aid, its very title is a bitter mockery of that great institution and celebrity bandwagon, Live Aid.
Voice of reason? Sir Bob Geldof has done much to highlight the plight of Africa
But what it contains – particularly at a time when people are generously giving time, money and enthusiasm to this week’s Comic Relief fundraising events – is even more provocative. It argues that for 50 years the West has been giving aid to Africa – and in so doing has ruined the continent it professes to help. The author of Dead Aid is no lightweight courting controversy for its own sake. She is a highly qualified economist. More importantly, she is herself African – and what she has to say is as unsettling as it is important.
After years of listening to Western ‘experts’ such as Bono, Bob Geldof or Angelina Jolie pontificating about what Africa needs, here is a refreshing voice from Africa itself.
Dambisa Moyo was born in Zambia, where her family still live. She has a doctorate in economics from Oxford, a masters from Harvard, and for several years worked for the World Bank in Washington DC.
She is now head of research and strategy for sub-Saharan Africa at a leading investment bank. But here, you feel, is one banker who is still worth listening to, not least as she has witnessed the way her home country has become blighted by poverty. At independence in 1964, Zambia was a fresh, optimistic young nation, eager to embrace the future. Its GDP was around a quarter of the UK’s.
Today it is one-26th, and the country is mired in corruption, poverty and disease. So what went wrong?
One by one, Moyo examines the usual lame excuses for African backwardness, and dispatches them with ruthless efficiency. Africa has a harsh, intractable climate, with huge natural barriers such as jungle and desert? Well, so does Brazil, or Australia.
Many African countries are landlocked, always an obstacle to economic growth? That hasn’t done Switzerland or Austria much harm.
Happy birthday tyrant: Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe celebrates his 85th birthday with wife Grace
African countries are too ethnically and tribally diverse? So is India, and its economy is booming.
Africa lacks democracy? So do China, Thailand and Indonesia, all Asian tiger economies.
As for any lingering mutterings about Africans simply not being up to it, or inherently lazy, she doesn’t even consider them. She herself is eloquent proof of the idiocy of such Victorianera racism. No, the problem can be summed up in one short word – aid.
Aid isn’t Africa’s cure, she believes. It’s the disease.
Let’s be clear, though, Moyo is scrupulously fair about distinguishing between three different types of aid. There is emergency relief for famine, which many of us support through donations or charitable fundraisers, which is not only well-meaning but absolutely necessary at times of international crisis.
Heartbreaking: malnourished children continue to die in Ethiopia
Then there is the everyday work of the charities themselves, about which she appears neutral, although she quotes one cutting comment from a senior economist: ‘They know it’s c**p, but it sells the T-shirts.
‘ This year, it is Stella McCartney’s Comic Relief T-shirts – featuring images of The Beatles and of Morecambe and Wise – that have become the must-have accessory of those who like to wear their conscience on their sleeve.
Despite the cynics, it is worth remembering that since its creation in the mid-Eighties, Comic Relief has generated £600 million – roughly two-thirds of which has gone to fund charities working on the ground in Africa (the other third goes towards charities in the UK).
That is an awesome achievement that has made a genuine difference towards alleviating suffering on a local scale in some of the most deprived nations on Earth. No one should belittle that work.
But charities are ‘small beer’ compared to what Moyo perceives to be Africa’s real problem: the billions of pounds’ worth of aid poured into the continent by Western governments.
Consider the figures. In the past 50 years, the West has pumped around £35 trillion into Africa. But far from improving the lives of ordinary Africans, the result of stateadministered charity on such a colossal scale has, argues Moyo, been ‘an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster’.
The effects are easy to see, yet always ignored. Over the past 30 years, the economies of the most aiddependent countries have shrunk by 0.2 per cent per annum.
Yes, in the UK we have been in recession for six months or so now, but countries like Malawi and Burkina Faso have been in recession for three decades. How is this disaster related to thoughtless Western aid? Directly.
All smiles: Madonna performed at Live Eight in 2005 – but has celebrity endorsement really improved the lot of ordinary Africans?
And Moyo cites a brilliant example of how the whole concept is flawed. Imagine there’s an African mosquito-net maker who manufactures 500 nets a week. He employs ten people, and this being Africa, each of those employees supports as many as 15 relatives on his modest but steady salary. Some 150 people therefore depend on this thriving little cottage industry, producing a much-needed, low-cost commodity for local people.
Then, Moyo writes: ‘Enter vociferous Hollywood movie star who rallies the masses and goads Western governments to collect and send 100,000 mosquito nets to the afflicted region, at a cost of a million dollars. The nets arrive and a “good” deed is done.’
The result? The local business promptly goes bust. Why buy one when they’re handing them out for free? Ten more people are unemployed, and 150 people are without means of support.
Not just a pretty face: Angelina Jolie has visited much of Africa to highlight the poverty faced by its people
Like all such aid hand-outs, it’s an idiotically short-sighted way to treat a complex problem.
And that’s not all. In a year or so, those nets will have sustained wear and tear, and will need either mending or replacing. But the local net-maker is no longer around.
So now those previously independent and self-sufficient Africans have to go begging the West for more aid. Intervention has actually destroyed a small part of Africa’s economy, as well as its spirit of enterprise. Thus aid reduces its recipients to beggary in two easy moves.
Yet despite this ongoing disaster, we still have the celebrity harangues, the self-applauding rock concerts, ‘making poverty history’ from the comfort of your private jet.
At some point in the Eighties, as Dambisa Moyo observes, ‘Public discourse became a public disco’, reaching its eventual nadir, perhaps, with Madonna addressing her audience at Live Earth as ‘motherf***** s’ and declaring: ‘If you wanna save the planet, jump up and down!’
Moyo is blisteringly critical about the ‘Western, liberal, guilt-tripped morality’ that lies behind these jamborees, about the tax-avoiding Bono lecturing us all on poverty and advising world leaders at summits, and Blair’s craven admiration for him. Ordinary Africans do not, on the whole, have much admiration for Western pop culture at its noisiest and most foul-mouthed.
So what do they make of the bizarre spectacle of some ill-qualified Western pop star moralising with such supreme arrogance on ‘what Africa really needs’? Africans themselves have ideas about what they really need, if only someone would listen. But as one such African comments: ‘My voice can’t compete with an electric guitar.’
Another effect of aid, well known in the West and yet consistently and shamefully ignored, is that it props up the most thuggish and kleptomaniac of Africa’s leaders.
That parade of grotesques who have filled our TV screens almost since independence, it seems – Idi Amin in Uganda, Mobutu in Zaire, Mengistu in Ethiopia, the ‘Emperor’ Bokassa in the Central African Republic – were always the greatest beneficiaries.
Bokassa spent a third of his country’s annual income on his own preposterous ‘coronation.’ The genocidal Mengistu benefited hugely, it is said, from the proceeds of Live Aid.
Today we have Mr Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace, 40 years his junior, going on £75,000-a-time shopping trips to Europe or the Far East, while her people starve, inflation runs at 230 million per cent, and Zimbabwe’s Central Bank issues $100 trillion banknotes.
Such tales echo Mobutu’s reign of terror in Zaire. He once asked the West for a reduction of his country’s colossal debt. The West, feeling guilty, promptly granted it.
Mobutu’s response? He hired Concorde to fly his daughter to her wedding on the Ivory Coast. In all, Mobutu may have looted £3.5billion from his country’s coffers. Nigeria’s President Sani Abacha stole about the same.
Even the World Bank itself reckons that 85 per cent of aid never gets to where it’s meant to. ‘When the World Bank thinks its financing an electric power station,’ says one jaundiced commentator whom Moyo quotes, ‘it’s really financing a brothel.’
Out of control inflation: a young boy holds the new 1 million Zimbabwe dollar note
So the aid industry causes poverty, corruption and war. Yet it continues. Why? Could aid just be something the West indulge in to buy itself an easy conscience – regardless of what effect it has on Africa?
Whatever the case, we should turn the taps off immediately, says Moyo. Would this mean the end to the building of new roads, schools, hospitals? No.They’re mainly built by investment, not aid.
Would it be the end to many a kleptomaniac despot? Most certainly. But would millions would die of hunger within weeks? Of course not.
The aid we send doesn’t reach them anyway. Life for them would in the short term be no different, but in the longer term immeasurably better.
What makes Dead Aid so powerful is that it’s a double-barrelled shotgun of a book. With the first barrel, Moyo demolishes all the most cherished myths about aid being a good thing.
But with the second, crucially, she goes on to explain what the West could be doing instead.
We all share the well-meaning belief that ‘the rich should help the poor, and the form of this help should be aid’. The first part of this is plain morality. But the second part, as she so forcefully demonstrates, is false – lethally false.
Another grim day: Children collect stagnant water in Zimbabwe as cholera continues to claim lives in the southern African country
We shouldn’t be giving aid to Africa. That’s not what Africa wants. We should be trading with it, and idle chatter of ‘economic imperialism’ be damned. She has no time for such Left-liberal pieties. Of course we should be using Africa’s vast pool of cheap labour to make our clothes, assemble our cars, grow our foodstuffs. In fact, one country already is – it’s called China.
China is building roads in Ethiopia, pipelines in Sudan, railways in Nigeria. It’s buying iron ore and platinum from South Africa, timber from Gabon and Cameroon, oil from Angola and Equatorial Guinea. China is pouring vast sums of capital investment into the continent, enriching both itself and Africa in the process.
Dambisa Moyo is not much bothered by Western concerns that China does nothing to further democracy in Africa. An villager with six children doesn’t lose sleep over not having the vote, she loses sleep over what she will feed her children tomorrow.
Address poverty first, says Moyo, and democracy later.
The greatest example for Africa today, she believes, could be the Grameen Bank, which means, ‘The Bank Of The Village’, in Bangladesh. Moyo hopes that, in time, the nations of Africa can develop such a bank for themselves. For it is an extraordinary and heart-warming success story.
It was devised by Muhammad Yunus, who quite rightly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts. Yunus’s inspiration was to ask: ‘Where lies the wealth of the typical Bangladeshi village?’
A village may not have money, goods or assets. Yet it is a wonderfully tight-knit, loyal little community, where nobody locks their doors at night, nobody steals, everyone knows each other. This is a tremendous kind of wealth – but how to translate it into money for these impoverished, decent, hard-working people?
Yunus realised you could lend money to such a community and be sure of getting it back if you worked according to a plan – a plan with the simplicity of genius.
You lend not to an individual but to a group, but only one member at a time. So you might lend one woman £20 (and an amazing 97 per cent of the Grameen Bank’s customers are women. That’s enough for her to buy a new sewing machine, and so start a thriving little tailoring business.
A year later, she repays the amount, with interest. At which point, the original £20 is passed on to the next person in the group.
But if she doesn’t repay the loan – and here Yunus saw how to turn the village’s ‘social capital’, its trustworthiness and deep-rooted sense of community, into economic value – then the next person in the group, quite possibly her next-door neighbour, her sister or cousin, doesn’t get it either.
The result? This humbly named Bank Of The Village now has 2.3 million customers, and a portfolio worth a colossal £170 million- in one of the poorest countries on Earth.
There is something deeply moving about it, especially when you learn that the reliability of the Grameen Bank’s customers has proved to be virtually 100 per cent.
No greater contrast between our own inept but limitlessly greedy banks and Bangladesh’s Bank Of The Village could be imagined.
The failed fat-cat Cityboy still awards himself a £500,000 bonus for his own incompetence, while these trustworthy women care for every single cent of their precious £20 loan.
More than that, though, it is a humbling example of the way that trade – not aid – can help Africa lift itself out of poverty. Certainly, there is still much that we can do to help Africa help itself. We should act, and fast. But pouring billions more in aid won’t change a thing.
Moyo concludes her book with a wise old African proverb. ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.’
By all means give to Comic Relief when the fun gets under way this Friday. It is a worthwhile humanitarian cause that makes a real difference to people in desperate circumstances.
But as for a long-term solution to Africa’s immense problems – that may require a new way of thinking.
DEAD AID by Dambisa Moyo (Allen Lane, £14.99). To order a copy (p&p free), call 0845 155 0720.
Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us.
A beautiful speech given by Karl Paulnack to the Freshman class at the Boston Conservatory, and their parents.
A sublime philosophical exploration of the timelessness and immense power of music.
“As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
Welcome address to freshman class at Boston Conservatory given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory [September 2008]
“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, “You’re WASTING your SAT scores.”
On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.
The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.
One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the
most famous masterworks in the repertoire.
Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”
On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter?
Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.
And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.
At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around firehouses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.
From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.
Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heartwrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.
I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.
Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself. What he told us was this:
“During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”
Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects.
This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:
“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevys. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a
government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
The 74-year-old songwriter is touring America for the first time in 15 years. Why now?
Reporting from New York
Bathed in the indigo light, Leonard Cohen leaned forward like a man eager to feel the wind on his face and, as the crowd at the Beacon Theatre in New York cheered, the 74-year-old singer narrowed his eyes and delivered another one of his unhurried, deep velvet threats:
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
Ten nights ago, Cohen performed his first U.S. concert since 1993 at the restored and resplendent Beacon, which instantly became the stuff of legend — at least in the music circles where Cohen is regarded as one of the great living titans of songwriting. It didn’t hurt, either, that the Montreal native arrived backstage with tantalizing mysteries tucked in that guitar case.
This is the man, after all, who in the 1990s walked away from show business to wear monk’s robes at a Zen monastery near the resort village of Mount Baldy. Then, after returning to his old fedora, he announced in 2005 that he had been robbed blind by his longtime manager.
Either of those life experiences might have led the poet and troubadour to the Beacon stage with a humorless severity. They did not.
“It’s been a long time since I stood on a stage in New York,” Cohen told the adoring, star-studded crowd. “I was 60 years old then. Just a kid with a crazy dream . . . “
The marathon concert (almost three hours) at the Beacon was the 99th performance by Cohen and his supple band during their recent tour of the world, but just the beginning of a major return to America. The 28 dates now announced include an April 10 show at the Nokia Theatre (tickets for that show go on sale March 9) and, one week later, a performance in an unexpected setting — the massive Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. There, the dapper songsmith will share a bill with Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Paul Weller, but also with bands such as the Killers, the Cure and My Bloody Valentine.
The day after the Beacon show, Cohen was clearly pleased with the warm ovations from the night before. His hotel suite at the Warwick Hotel afforded him a view of a Manhattan afternoon that was as crisp as his tailored suit and, when a visitor arrived for an interview, he turned down the twangy country music from his laptop computer and offered a cup of coffee.
“It’s been a great trip, man, a lovely time,” he said. “Have a seat.”
Cohen had a considerable contingent of family and friends at the New York show (as well as recognizable fans such as Harvey Keitel, Rufus Wainwright and Richard Belzer) and he said that “all of us felt a sort of special edge on the night, all of us wanted to do good.”
Cohen looks fantastic, trim and graceful, which is worth pointing out not just for reasons of chronological age, but because of the previous night’s late labors and the long touring road that led up to it — beginning in Canada and then going on to Ireland; Bucharest, Romania; and other European stops, before a run through New Zealand and Australia. “The next one, in Austin, Texas, in four weeks will be our 100th show,” Cohen said, “and it’s just grand. And then we’ll do another 100.”
Finding his niche
The music career of Cohen was a second-chance affair since the beginning. His childhood home in Canada was alive with music and, despite the cultural distance, he found a gripping emotion in the forlorn rhymes of Hank Williams and other Nashville heroes; he had a band as a teen with a sort of buckskin sensibility. But at McGill University in Montreal, his attentions turned to the written page, and he gained national attention for his poems and two novels. When the money didn’t follow, he reached for the guitar.
His big break came when Judy Collins recorded his “Suzanne” for a 1966 album and made it one of her signature songs. More followed, but John Hammond, the esteemed music executive with Columbia Records who had been a key figure in the careers of Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday, believed in Cohen not just as a composer but as a performer.
His songbook, though, has towered far beyond his singing, and a staggering list of artists have interpreted his classics, such as “Bird on the Wire,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Hallelujah,” “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan.”
Cohen, these days, has the mien of a profoundly centered man. Part of that comes no doubt from his studies of Buddhism, which date back to the 1970s, and the period of time in the 1990s that he was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk so he might serve in an austere setting as the personal attendant to his teacher, Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi.
“The first and most discernible lesson is to stop whining,” Cohen explained. “And I don’t really need to go much beyond that. It was sort of like boot camp. It’s a rigorous life, it’s cold and it’s above the snow line. Four-thousand feet was the snow line, and we were up around 7,500 feet. A lot of it is involved in surviving the winter. There’s a lot of shoveling of snow. There is very little private space. There’s a saying in Zen: ‘Like pebbles in bag, the monks polish one another.’ Those rough edges get smoothed out.”
Cohen never went to Buddhism seeking enlightenment, it was more about survival, he said. He came in as a patient, not a pilgrim. “I needed something. Things weren’t working in my life. I had drugs and promiscuity, many things. I wasn’t happy. I needed a new way. But it wasn’t about anything holy.” And what about the more recent financial calamity? A court judgment has awarded him more than $9 million — the touring is not a desperate lunge to pay his bills, and when he holds out his hat on stage there’s a smile on his face.
Cohen had a question for his visitor: “I’ve never been to Coachella. How do you think our band will go over there?” Told that his band will find a smart and eager audience and desert splendor, Cohen smiled but still held on to a bit of distance.
“We’d played festivals in the past, and I’m not crazy about the setup. You’re on a roster with a whole lot of other people. You don’t have the evening. I like to be in a room with people for three hours, have a beginning, middle and an end. We can’t do our whole set, it’s not our rhythm. But we have heard it’s a special hospitality there. We’ll play our best and look forward to it.”
He launched into an extended explanation of where the stage magic lies for him, the sweet spot between the practiced and the unexpected. Then, unhappy with the long route to an answer, the poet shrugged and took a four-word path: “There is a flicker.”
No fretting over his legacy
Cohen turned to his computer to play some new music, a somewhat ghostly shuffle called “Amen,” a song laced with religious imagery and heartache, as so many of his compositions have been through the years. Cohen said he is more interested in the next song than pondering the legacy of his past work. He talked about how puzzled he was by McCartney’s decision a few years back to change the credits on certain Beatles classics to “McCartney & Lennon” as opposed to the familiar “Lennon & McCartney,” as if anyone didn’t know who wrote “Yesterday.”
Cohen said he views his work from a different vantage point — his most famous songs now belong as much to the audience and to other singers as they do to him.
“I find I’m feeling much friendlier to my earliest work than I ever did,” he said. “There was a certain time when I knew that the audience wanted to hear ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,’ but I didn’t want to play [them]. Now I really do.
“I think that contrary to Sir Paul’s experience, my sense of proprietorship weakens as I get older. I’m happy the songs exist and that I know them and I know the chords and how to sing them.”
The subject clearly stirred up something for Cohen.
“A poet, one of my closest friends, Irving Layton, probably the best Canadian poet and one of our best North American poets, he was very concerned with his legacy. He was very concerned with his immortality and what would become of his work. I loved the man, so I listened attentively and also with a sense of curiosity. I could never locate that appetite for posterity within myself or think what it means anyhow.”
After a pause, he chuckled, his mind considering all the poets that his late friend Layton would have to conquer to achieve his hoped-for perch in the history books. “You’re up against some heavy competition. King David, Homer, you’re up against Shakespeare, Dante, Donne, you’re up against Whitman. It’s like going up against Muhammad Ali if you’re a pretty good neighborhood boxer, and that’s what I think of myself as. I’m just a pretty good neighborhood boxer. Legacy? I never thought that it would mean anything to me when I’m dead. I’m going to be busy.”
WELCOME BACK: Cohen connects with his crowd Feb. 19. Photo credits: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times
BIOGRAPHY : Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits By Barney Hoskyns Faber, 640pp. £20
TOM WAITS is one of the greatest artists America has ever produced and this is his story, a story Barney Hoskyns is well qualified to attempt to tell.
A native Angeleno, Waits was born on December 7th, 1949, to Mrs and Mr J Frank Waits, and weighed in at 7lbs 10ozs. “All they ever wanted was a showbiz kid,” he would say years later, and in Tom they got what they were looking for. Waits later claimed he’d been “conceived one night in April 1949 at the Crossroads Motel in La Verne amidst the broken Four Roses bottle and smouldering Lucky Strikes . . .”
His dad, Frank, was a wild one, a boozer who left home early for the high stool. This left its mark on Waits, who throughout his life was prone to looking for surrogate father figures; these included manager Herb Cohen, producer “Bones” Howe, movie director Francis Ford Coppola, and theatre director Robert Wilson. Tom also became an alcoholic. The disease consumed his life until 1992 when he became sober. “Sometimes you have to quit being a vagabond and being drunk every day. One day you just wake up and realise there’s an empty space in your soul. It’s not cool, just weird. My wife said ‘I want you to stick around godamnit’.”
Years later, he admitted he was in AA. “I am in the Programme. I am calm and sober. Hooray. But you know it was a struggle.”
Hoskyns takes us on a ride around the world of Waits. He succeeds in penetrating it further than Patrick Humphries did in his book, The Many Lives of Tom Waits , published in 2007. Hoskyns has form; he graduated from the NME school of rock journalism and has several weighty titles to his name ( Across the Great Divide: The Band and America; Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys In The LA Canyons 1967-1976; Waiting For The Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and The Sound Of Los Angeles to name a few). His research is exhaustive if not exhausting and so it is with Lowside of the Road.
Tom Waits was signed by David Geffen out of LA’s Troubadour club as another singer-songwriter, in the golden age of singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor and many more, onto the Asylum label. This was 1973. But no way was Tom just another singer -songwriter.
Admonished by father Frank that if he ever adopted a ducktail hairdo he would “shoot him”, rock’n’roll simply passed Tom by. Country music, Mexican music, old bluesmen, Harry Smith, Sinatra, James Brown, Ray Charles, Dylan and Captain Beefheart all sang to the gangly young man, who was all ears and reading everything he could lay his hands on. More thrilling to Tom than anything else was disc jockey “Wolfman” Jack Smyth, who was broadcasting soul and r’n’b from XERF, across the Mexican border south of Del Rio, Texas. “The first station I got on my little two-dollar headphones was Wolfman and I thought I had discovered something that no one else had. I thought it was coming in from Kansas City or Omaha, that nobody was getting this station and nobody knows who this guy was and nobody knew what these records were.”
Setting out to make a life for himself in the business called show, Waits was focused and energetic. From the folk clubs of San Diego to the open mic night at LA’s Troubadour, Waits kept his eyes on the prize. Always going against the hippy grain – no buckskin flares, no Laurel Canyon smoke – his was the consciousness of the Beats: Kerouac, Corso, and later Bukowski. With a copy of On the Road and a hip flask in his pockets, he burrowed his way under the skin of America and met those who walked on the lowside of the road. These he referred to as “the gravel we walk on everyday”.
Signed to Asylum in 1973, he turned in an album a year until 1980. Each and every one of these is parsed and analysed by Hoskyns in considerable detail. Some of the finest songs of the decade are there: Ruby’s Arms, ( Looking For) the Heart of Saturday Night, Kentucky Avenue, Jitterbug Boy , and the peerless Tom Traubert’s Blues . Throughout the 1970s, as he honed his craft, he became a daytime sleeper at the Tropicana Hotel, fell in love with Ricki Lee Jones, dated Bette Midler, kept cement in his fridge, and grew to hate the road. “Sometimes when I think about touring I would rather be attacked by a school of hagfish . . . hagfish eat another fish from the inside out. That’s sometimes what touring does to you.”
By now he was tiring of his old milieu of “mortuary piano” and “cocktail hairdos” and the decision to work with Francis Ford Coppola on One From The Heart was, he said later, “ a step backwards”. It was no doubt the most important step of his life.
On the set of the movie he met Kathleen Brennan, fell in love with her, got married and began a new phase of his life. In music, his journey from chromatic to serial now began in earnest. Ever the sonic expeditionary, now he had a mate and a collaborator who gave him the confidence to go to work. The Brennan/Waits relationship became something of a talking point, much discussed, resented in some quarters. To quote Hoskyns, “she rebranded him”. Tom describes the dynamic thus: “I hold the nail and she swings the hammer. In a good way. I’m alive because of her. I was a mess. I was addicted. I wouldn’t have made it. I really was saved at the last minute. Like a deus ex machina ”.
It was now that Chris Blackwell and Island Records appeared on the scene. The Waits/Brennan output for Island is an enormously creative, imaginative and challenging body of work. For Waits, songs carry emotional information and can transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. So it is with this music, from Swordfishtrombones , which Hoskyns says was a “shot in the arm for all true music believers” to Raindogs, Frank’s Wild Years , and Black Rider . The drums were no longer played with brushes but hammered with tyre irons and lumps of four-by-two. Marc Ribot played guitar prepared with crocodile clips while Tom dragged screeching chairs across the concrete shed floor and growled through a bullhorn. Historian Simon Schama has described Tom’s take on American life as Shakepearean in its scope: “he pushes his furious refusal of songster indignation to the edge of self parody”.
Waits’s movie career is well documented here, as is his relationship with Robert Wilson. Hoskyns sees Wilson as beguiling, guru-like and seductive – and a significant influence on the second act in Tom’s career.
According to Hoskyns people may worry that “his (Waits’s) recent adoption as National Public Radio’s National Treasure threatens to swaddle him in cultural approval”. But Tom raves on, through Mule Variations, Alice,Orphans etc, creating and playing music with a heaving heart and a knowing soul.
Hoskyns became captivated by the Waits allure while dropping the needle on his discs in a druggy Paddington crash pad he shared with Nick Cave. He follows his hero all the way, always a mile or so behind. Waits, the shape changer, like mercury will never be snared.
The Lowside of the Road is a fine biography, though unauthorised. Perhaps because of this it is shot through with mild resentment. Hoskyns vents his frustration with what he sees as the Waits/Brennan spin, achieved through control of their immediate circle of friends and collaborators, none of whom, according to Hoskyns, will risk displeasing the pair. E-mailed requests for interviews garner only negative replies. Hoskyns is irked. He cannot resist sourly commenting “certainly Kathleen Brennan got her wish, which was to change her hubby from Jazzbo self-caricature to sui generis art house eccentric ”.
Hoskyns is no Kitty Kelly or Albert Goldman though. He is too much of a fan for that and has no appetite for dirt digging. He is perhaps one of those “zealots of explanation” as Denis Donoghue would have it. They give us the “arts without mystery”. As for Waits: “I don’t know if honesty is an issue in show business – people don’t care whether you’re telling the truth or not; they just don’t want to be told something they don’t already know”.
Philip King is a film maker, musician and director of South Wind Blows Productions
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“I Went Down To The Crossroads…” – Did Robert Johnson sell his soul to the Devil?
Introduction to Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson (1911-1938) is a blues musician from Mississippi. He is known for playing some of the best blues ever, emulating the sound of two guitars with one.
He is often called the “Father of Modern Rock and Roll,” because his songs influenced many people, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Muddy Waters.
Johnson was often scolded for not working enough in the field. He would spend most of his time in old juke houses, watching Son House religiously, and trying to learn everything about the guitar. When Son House would go out on breaks, young Robert would pick up the guitar and try to play. House would get a lot of complaints, as nobody liked Roberts playing. However, he was never discouraged.
Robert Johnson’s young wife died during child birth, so he packed up and left to play music up and down the Delta around 1930.
He left mysteriously for about a year. When he came back, his playing, songwriting, and singing were all extraordinarily improved.
He started traveling from town to town, playing for tips on street corners. He eventually got to record in San Antonio, Texas circa 1936. He recorded songs such as Come On In My Kitchen, Crossroad Blues, and Terraplane Blues. The latter became a regional hit, selling 5,000 copies. In 1937, he had another recording session in which he brought Sweet Home Chicago and Love in Vain, two of his most popular songs.
Johnson and the Devil
What happened to Johnson when he disappeared in 1931? He left as an average musician at best, but came back as a lean, mean, blues-singing machine. How could anyone gain such an incredible amount of skill in just a few months?
Well, several explanations have popped up. The most practical is he started taking lessons with Ike Zinnerman. However due to Johnson gaining such an incredible amount of skill in a short time, some have dismissed this. The other explanation is that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.
Legend has it that while working on a rural farm in Mississippi, he still had a burning desire to become a great blues musician. He was instructed to take his guitar down to the crossroads in the dead of the night. There, a large black man (the Devil), will take his guitar, tune it, and play a few songs. He will then hand the guitar back, with the owner gaining mastery of the instrument. In return, the Devil would then own the players soul.
The legend has grown in time, but that is the core of it. Many variations of this tale have been told, including this actually happening at a graveyard. Johnson seems to have occasionally suggested that he did, in fact sell his soul. However, the myth may have grown from fellow blues musician Tommy Johnson, who repeatedly and publicly claimed he did sell his soul:
“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”
Evidence in His Songs
In Crossroad Blues, Robert sang:
“I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees/I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees/I asked the Lord above, have mercy, save poor Bob if you please/Uumb, standing at the crossroads I tried to flag a ride/Standing at the crossroads I tried to flag a ride/Ain’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by.”
In Hell Hound On My Trail, he shows fear of the devil.
In Me and the Devil, he sang:
“Early this morning when you knocked upon my door/Early this morning, umb, when you knocked upon my door/And I said, ‘Hello, Satan, I believe it’s time to go,” before leading into “You may bury my body down by the highway side/You may bury my body, uumh, down by the highway side/So my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride.”
It is possible that he made the whole thing up as a publicity stunt, but he mentions the Devil in six of his songs, so it is hard to tell. Many people have tried it, but some say you have to honestly really want to sell your soul, not just say you do.
The effects of the myth are still relevant today. You see references or re-enactments of the crossroads scene everywhere in pop culture. It was even documented in the film Crossroads.
Robert Johnson is a great musician, and the folklore behind him just adds to his popularity.
Did he really do it, though? Did he really disappear, sell his soul to the Devil, and gain super-natural musical prowess? Or did he just learn really fast? For now, no-one will ever know. Sometimes it is fun to believe something like this could happen. Either way, it makes a good story. For those that believe in the supernatural, this seems a lot more possible than others. Johnson died at a young age, maybe the Devil was behind it all.
“I once received a bra with ‘I Love John’ embroidered on it. I thought it was pretty original. I didn’t keep it, mind you – It didn’t fit.”
Fascinating interview with Jack Lennon – sorry John Lennon – during the Beats’ seminal 1964 North American tour – from the excellent Beatles Ultimate Experience
Some wonderful, typically Lennon, ripostes and banter! You can see the genesis of John’s love affair with the States.
ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW:
On this date, the Beatles arrived in Maryland for their performance at Baltimore’s Civic Center. John Lennon was interviewed by Larry Kane as part of an on-going series of interviews with the group. Kane was the only American reporter allowed to travel with the Beatles during their 1964 North American tour, and also accompanied them on their 1965 tour.
Larry Kane has authored the insightful books, “Lennon Revealed” (2005) and “Ticket To Ride” (2003) documenting his conversations with the group and also his first-hand accounts of behind-the-scenes events as they happened.
– Jay Spangler, Beatles Ultimate Experience
Q: “John, occasionally we see magazine articles, like last night, one that had your name as ‘Jack Lennon’ and all these irregularities. What do you think of this when you look at them?”
JOHN: “Well, I just think the people are stupid, you know, if they’re not gonna bother to take enough time to do a job and find out what our names are… and try and get the facts right, you know. They must be a bit soft.”
Q: “There are alot of people who have albums out with your music on it, like this ‘Chipmunk’ album, and the ‘Boston Pops.’ Do you find this a credit to you, or an abortion of your songs.”
JOHN: “No, we enjoy it! We always try to get a copy of these people that do our songs. The thing about the ‘Chipmunks’ and the ‘Boston…’ they do it so differently from us and from each other– it’s very interesting. And also we, Paul and I, get alot of money when they make these so it’s very good for us, you know.”
Q: “There is a cut in it for you when they do record these songs.”
JOHN: “Yeah, ‘cuz we compose them, you know, so we get the… a good lot of money.”
Q: “John, when you were in New York, what did you like best about it?”
JOHN: “I just like cities, you see, and preferably big ones. That’s why I liked it. And we met some good people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, you know, and I enjoy meeting people I admire.”
Q: “Do you like to play better indoors or outdoors?”
JOHN: “Indoors. I don’t like playing outdoors. You can’t hear and you get blown to pieces.”
Q: “Like last night.”
JOHN: “Oh! That was dreadful!”
Q: “John, any particular reason that you chose the songs that you did for the current concerts?”
JOHN: “We took a sort of aggregate of the most popular ones in the States over the last couple of months.”
Q: “Your early songs and your latest songs.”
JOHN: “Yeah. We missed-out alot of the earlier ones, like uhh… I can’t think of any, but I’m sure we missed some out.”
Q: “There’s so many rumors going around and one of the jobs I like to do is either to confirm them or dispel them. There’s a big rumor in alot of magazines and papers that you’re coming back (to America) in January.”
JOHN: “Well, I don’t know… might be true. I haven’t a clue. Nobody’s told me if we are, you know.”
Q: “Everyone asks what you like… What’s your pet peeve? What is the thing that you dislike the most in the world?”
JOHN: “Having things thrown at us on-stage. Jellybeans and rubbish and that.”
Q: “This is your pet peeve in your whole life.”
JOHN: “Yeah, ‘cuz it hurts.”
JOHN: (giggles) “You can’t carry on singing and laughing with things hitting you.”
Q: “How many other instruments do you play if you play any?”
JOHN: “A bit of piano, and a bit of mouth organ.”
Q: “Have you played the organ… umm… mouth organ on any of your songs?”
JOHN: “Well, all the… yeah. There’s quite a few we did with mouth organ. I played it on the early hits– ‘Please Please Me,’ ‘From Me To You,’ ‘Love Me Do,’ ‘Little Child’ from the LP, ‘I Should Have Known Better’ on the film– I stuck mouth organ on that.”
Q: “When you’re over here, do you miss England? Do you ever get a little homesick even though you’re achieving great success over here, and you’re having some good times?”
JOHN: “Oh yeah. You get homesick, alright. Every other day (laughs) only!”
Q: “What about the gifts? I notice more and more you’ve been getting more and more gifts from fans. What was the most unusual gift you’ve ever received? I know there’s so many– Is there one that sticks out in your mind?”
JOHN: (laughs) “I once received a bra…”
Q: (laughs) “You did?”
JOHN: “…with ‘I Love John’ embroidered on it. I thought it was pretty original. I didn’t keep it, mind you– It didn’t fit.”
Q: “How did you like Key West?”
JOHN: (jokingly) “It was alright for a swamp. (laughs) No, it wasn’t bad, you know.”
Q: “When you’re out there, you do alot of lead (vocal) on most of the songs. Have you ever had a point during your concerts where you ever had a loss, a mental-block in your head as to what to do next?”
JOHN: “Yeah. I’m the one that often gets it– suddenly go blank and I don’t know what I’m singing or playing or anything, you know. I just forget, and all the rest sort of tell me what’s happening.”
Q: “You mentioned these jellybeans and everything. Does it hamper your work… besides making you frightened of the fact that it might hit your eye or something… does it hamper your work?”
JOHN: “Yeah. You can’t play if they keep hitting you, you know. You keep stopping ‘cuz it’s natural– you sort of duck, you know, and you stop playing. But it’s been quite good– it’s stopped now. So I suppose we should stop talking about it.”
Q: “Here’s a question alot of people will think it kind of ridiculous to ask entertainers this, but I’m going to because alot of people are interested in your opinion. So much of these world conflicts going on– everybody’s fighting each other. What would be your personal solution to stopping war? What way or method?”
JOHN: “I don’t think there is one, you know. Not if everybody was all rich and happy, and each country had all they wanted, they’d still want the next bit. I don’t think there’ll ever be any solution… only, just, you know, a sort of power block where everybody’s got the same weapons.”
Q: “There was a big rumor out around the country– as you know there’s so many rumors– about Ringo having a throat operation. And this was cleared up last night with this ‘tonsil’ bit.”
JOHN: “Yeah, he’s having his tonsils out when we get back to Britain, then go after the British tour.”
Q: “Has there ever been one rumor that’s particularly peeved you?”
JOHN: “Umm, me leaving the group… and my wife being pregnant.”
Q: “You mean, having a baby next month?”
Q: “There’s been alot of criticism by Americans of the fact that there’s so many groups that are coming out that have no originality, from England, that are all trying to copy you. Now we know there’s a handful that are really doing very well over here, as well as you…”
Q: “…Does it ever bother you that certain groups will copy you completely whatever you do?”
JOHN: “No, because everybody knows, you know. Only the dumbest people don’t know that they’re copying us, you know. So it’s just a laugh when you see a big imitation of you going ’round. They never really make it. They might have a hit, but nobody’s fooled for long.”
Q: “Does anybody ever ask you for advice– another group, let’s say?”
JOHN: “Younger groups, you know, that are just sort of forming. But there’s no advice you can give really. Just keep playing and hope for the best.”
Q: “I notice that you have this guitar with you, and I notice you strum it quite a bit. Where do you get your ideas for songs? Do you ever get them sitting in a dressing room, or in a hotel room? Is it a planned session, or do you just come across an idea?”
JOHN: “No, I just come across one. I could happen any minute… (strums wildly and yells) Noww-yyo-oumpfff!!! You see… like that!”
Q: (laughs) “Have you written any on this current tour?”
Q: “You don’t have the names or anything like that?”
JOHN: “I know the names, but we don’t give them ‘cuz people turn out songs with the same name, you know.”
Q: “I’m not that familiar with the music business, myself.”
JOHN: “Well that’s what happens. You think of a name that’s original, and you broadcast it, and somebody will make a record with the same name and a different song. And it gets confusing, you know.”
Q: “When you first came over to this country in February and I met you briefly in Miami, were you shocked by the reaction? Were you worried about your reaction over here, personally– the crowds and everything else?”
JOHN: “Well, we never expected to… didn’t expect to sell records or anything over here. So we were just amazed. (giggles) And we still are, you know.”
Q: “Was the American market your main goal after conquering England”
JOHN: “Yeah, well, every British artist used to imagine trying to get… you get the odd hit from Britain, or you get the odd hit from Germany– there’s alot of freak records. But nobody ever sort of made it in America, and we were dying to be the first.”
Q: “I know there’s a record over here of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ in German, or ‘She Loves you,’ one or the other.”
JOHN: “Both of them.”
Q: “Have you done them any other languages”
JOHN: “No, the Germans are the only ones that won’t buy you in English. You have to kow-tow to the Germans. But after you’ve made a couple of records they’ll buy anything.”
Q: “I know the police have generally done a great job on this current tour, but what do you think personally about some of them trying to get autographs and going out of the line of duty? You know, you’ve seen so many of them come back in the plane– and to me, this may be a little strong, but it’s sort of a bribe. What do you think of this?”
JOHN: “Well, some of the police do sort of– ‘You sign this or we won’t help you’ but most of them are just normal fellas, and you get sort of lousy people in any organization. You get a couple of lousy cops who sort of threaten you or… not threaten you with violence, but sort of ‘Unless you sign me eighty of these I’m not gonna look after you.’ But they’re no worse than any people in any organization. You get bums everywhere.”
Q: “This is your first tour that you’ve actually seen all of America, and up to now you’ve seen about every section. Off your role as a performer, what do you think of America as a country– the cities and the land and the people?”
JOHN: “I think it’s marvelous, you know. I like it, and especially places like New York and Hollywood, you know. I like the big places. And it’s amazing to see a place like Los Vegas. Who ever thought of building a place in the middle of a desert, (giggles) you know. Things like that are marvelous.”
Q: “Do you ever have any differences on-stage or off-stage?”
JOHN: “Off-stage are the same differences that normal people have or friends have, you know, but they’re never violent or they never last long. We always settle our argument, you know.”
Q: “Everybody says you’re gonna break up. This is another rumor. It’s all over.”
JOHN: “That’s alot of rubbish, you know. It’s just rubbish. We’ve never even thought of it.”
Q: “We were reading those fan magazines, and I plan to show you a few more because some of them are unbelievable.”
Q: “I don’t know who prints them. I know you laughed when you saw the name Jack Lennon on the page the other night, and I laughed too. Has it ever really bugged you that they get your name wrong?”
JOHN: “No. It’s always made me laugh when people get my name wrong. Like, there was one DJ today who said, ‘This is so-and-so from so-and-so station, talking to John Harrison here,’ and I just creased up but I never told him, you know. He found out by himself at the end. But it’s just funny, you know. If they can’t get your name right, well, (comical voice) God help ’em, that’s what I say!”
Q: “You talked about playing in-doors and outdoors. I noticed the other night, even though you had a forty mile an hour, or thirty mile an hour wind in Jacksonville– I don’t know if you knew it was that high…”
JOHN: (giggles) “It felt like a hundred mile an hour one to me.”
Q: “…you still didn’t have any trouble getting out the song. Do you try to acclimate yourself to this, or did it really bother you the other night?”
JOHN: “Yeah, you know. We’d never been through a thing like that. We were most sort of awkward with… all our hair was blowing up– we all looked like four Elvis Presleys or something. (giggles) We just felt uncomfortable with all that wind.”
Q: “John, thank you very much. It’s been nice working with you.”
JOHN: “Great working with you, Larry.”
Source: Transcribed by the Beatles Ultimate Experience website from audio copy of the interview
What the hell’s wrong with young folk nowadays!
A UK study suggests that more than 60% of young people would rather give up sex than music, rising to 70% for 16-19 year-olds!
Put away those damn i-pods and get banging for f*ck’s sake!
The most interesting fact in the article is the clear evidence of the paradigm shift in how music is sourced and also, importantly, in the attitudes to this. Stuff like how 70 percent said they don’t feel guilty for illegally downloading music from the internet, while 61 percent feel they shouldn’t have to pay for music.
The muzak biz needs to adapt properly to this irreversible force. They need to focus on rebuilding a sadly defunct and badly outdated business model rather than hounding kids who may have shared a few mp3s and rather than attacking blogs for posting found links to pre-existing, freely available content!
By MediaGuardian –
Tue 17 Feb 2009 04:31 AM PST
By Jemima Kiss
What would you rather go without: sex, or music? For most young people, the answer is sex. More than 60 percent of young people would rather give up sex than music, rising to 70 percent for 16-19 year-olds. Marrakesh Records and Human Capital surveyed 1,000 15 to 24-year-olds highlighting not just how important music is to young people, but their changing attitudes to paying for content. 70 percent said they don’t feel guilty for illegally downloading music from the internet. 61 percent feel they shouldn’t have to pay for music. And around 43 percent of the music owned by this age group has not been paid for, increasing to 49 percent for the younger half of the group.
This age group felt £6.58 is a fair price for CD album, but that a downloaded album should be just £3.91 and a single 39p – almost half the price charged by Apple’s iTunes Store. Music is as important as ever, but this survey demonstrates the changing behaviour in consuming that music. In the past three months, 75 percent have watched a music video online, 70 percent bought a CD, 62 percent played music on their phone (out loud on the bus, probably), 52 percent had paid for a music download and 45 percent had played music on their games console. One piece of good news for old media was that radio is still the best medium for hearing about those new bands in the first place at 67 percent. 63 percent said they relied on recommendations form friends and music channels like MTV was preferred by 49 percent.
Newspapers and music mags were rated by 21 percent and 17 percent, and blogs just 14 percent. Surprisingly, YouTube was the most popular site for exploring new music for 38 percent of those surveyed. MySpace was cited by just 15 percent, tying with official band sites, Facebook followed at 8 percent and NME trailed along with Last.fm at just 4 percent. These results aren’t revelatory but illustrate the rapid shift in consumer behaviour – and these are the Fifty Quid Blokes of tomorrow. The challenge for the music industry is to work out how to adapt their businesses to suit these attitudes while retaining a viable business. To date, that is something record companies have been remarkably backwards in doing.
One thing this survey didn’t touch on though is live music – probably the brightest area of growth in the industry. Perhaps craving a unique, individual experience that digital music can’t provide, more punters than ever are seeking out live music and the festival circuit. It would have been interesting to compare the perception of a decline in the value of paying for pre-recorded music with the attitude to paying for gigs.
Taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse, according to the head of the UK Government’s drug advisory body!!
We had to recheck the heading again as at first sight we thought it read “taking ecstasy is less dangerous than riding a horse that’s just taken ecstasy“! That would make more sense!
We notice that the name of the expert is none other than Professor David Nutt!
Professor Nut? Anything that guy says has got to be right!
Anyway, Professor Nut says there are plenty of other “risky activities such as base jumping, climbing, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, motorcycling” which were worse than “many illicit drugs”. He forgot to include “listening to Robbie Williams or to the Black Eyed Peas or to Van Morrison albums made after 1979” !
This guy also wants to ban horse riding! Did they check whether Professor Nut was high on E when he said this? Yap, that’s just plain loco, Prof!
We’re no experts in this field. However, during the wild years, which lasted from the age of sixteen until, let’s see, erm …. until yesterday, we once or twice may have imbibed something starting with the letter ‘e’. It didn’t do any damage though. Aside from isolated memory loss. It didn’t do any damage though. Aside from isolated memory loss ….
And that was just an egg! Thank f*ck we didn’t take ecstacy!
Yap, horses are dangerous. Especially talking horses. Like the one that confronted me in the wee hours when drunk after downing a bottle of Jack Daniels last month! That damned nag was crazy! He told me he planned to become an international terrorist bomber, but couldn’t obtain a passport.
What a dangerous horse! Definitely more dangerous than ecstacy!
We understand what the report is trying to say, but really using horse riding as an analogy makes no sense! And what’s worse, Prof then goes wildly off point along the road of that dumb analogy!
E may be less harmful than what the scaremongering would have us believe, but it’s still a crazy chemical compound, totally unregulated and created God knows where by God knows who with God knows what ingredients!
E still causes quite a few deaths. Of course too, it causes significant mental damage to a number of people. Nutt conveniently ignores the mental damage in his analysis.
Writing in an academic journal, Professor David Nutt said taking ecstasy was no worse than the risks of “equasy”, a term he invented to describe people’s addiction to horse-riding.
Prof Nutt is the chairman of the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which next week is likely to say that ecstasy should be downgraded to a Class B drug.
Campaigners last night called for him to resign, suggesting that he was on a “personal crusade” to decriminalise the drug.
Prof Nutt, who is an academic at Bristol University and Imperial College, London, wrote the article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last month.
He said he wanted to compare the risks of horse-riding with the drug to open a debate about drug abuse and risk taking.
Prof Nutt told The Daily Telegraph: “The point was to get people to understand that drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life.
“There is not much difference between horse riding and ecstasy.”
In the article, titled “Equasy: An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms”, Prof Nutt wrote that “equasy”, short for “Equine Addiction Syndrome”, had caused 10 deaths and more than 100 road traffic accidents a year.
Through hunting, it also led to “gatherings of users that often are associated with these groups engaging in violent conduct.
“Dependence, as defined by the need to continue to use, has been accepted by the courts in divorce settlements,” he wrote. “Based on these harms, it seems likely that the ACMD would recommend control under the MDAct perhaps as a class A drug given it appears more harmful than ecstasy.”
He wrote that the risks of horse riding showed that society “does not adequately balance the relative risks of drugs against their harms”.
He said: “Making riding illegal would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do.
“This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates – indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use.”
There were plenty of other “risky activities such as base jumping, climbing, bungee jumping, hang-gliding, motorcycling” which were worse than which “many illicit drugs”.
Campaigners said Prof Nutt’s comments were ill-judged, coming ahead of the council on whether to downgrade the drug from A to B.
David Raynes, an executive councillor at the National Drug Prevention Alliance said: “Professor Nutt has made numerous unwise comments prejudging the ACMD review of Ecstasy. Is he on a personal crusade against the laws enacted by Parliament?
“He is entitled to his opinion, but if his personal view conflicts so very strongly with his public duties, it would be honourable to consider his position.
“If he does not, the Home Secretary should certainly do it for him.”
The advisory council insisted that Prof Nutt was writing in the journal “in respect of his academic work and not as chair of the ACMD”.
A spokesman said: “Prof Nutt’s academic research does not prejudice the work that he conducts as chair of the ACMD.”
There are 500,000 regular users and between 30 million and 60 million ecstasy pills in circulation in the UK.
If the advisory council recommends downgrading ecstasy next week, the Government can over-rule it – as happened with cannabis this year.
The council heard last year that deaths among ecstasy users had trebled from 10 to 30 a year over the past 15 years. The cost of pills had slumped from £15.50 to £2.30.