Adios a la Ciudad de Los Angeles

April 13, 2012

If you look closely you can see a tiny Hollywood sign in the distance.

I reckoned I’d do my recollections in reverse as it’s kind of easier to piece together that way.

These pictures are from my last day in Los Angeles when, with a few hours to kill, I went on a 4 hour wander up and down the hills of the Silverlake district. It was an outrageously gorgeous sunny day, February 28th. (I thought the 28th was a good day to fly in a leap year as you essentially get the 29th to recover for free – a day out of time as it were.)

People diss on LA all the time but on my visits there in January and February of this year, I was mainly struck by how beautiful it is. In certain parts. Walking around Silverlake in what would be the dead of Winter in the UK, was like being in a Hawaiian botanical garden.

The abundance of lush, colourful vegetation was mind-blowing. I guess I took it for granted when I lived there!

Check out this enormous fluffy plant. It was taller than I am (about 5’8”).

Or this crazy cacti-cluster, many of which were to be found cascading down the hillsides.

I watched this little green bird (below) for a long time but I never could get a great picture of it. That’s because, as you can see, it kept stuffing its head inside this big pod from which it would yank out some chunks of what looked like cotton wool, which it would then hurl to the ground.

                   Even the junked cars were extremely beautiful.

And at the end of the walk, having only taken what could be spared, I was able to make a lush flower arrangement which I left in my friend’s kitchen by way of thanks. Being completely skint at the time, with barely enough cash to make it to Brighton once my plane landed, it was amazing to be able to produce this for free! I felt bad not being able to afford leaving a bottle of wine or something on the table but my friend really, really, really appreciated it. I think he thanked me about 5 times in different emails so I was well chuffed!

See you tomorrow!

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Resurrection Slightly Behind Schedule!

April 12, 2012

WELL HELLO SEXY!

What with Easter just behind us and the Spring Equinox just before that, it seemed like a good moment to kick my own ass and get this blog back up and running. To my 7 loyal readers who have pined for my words during this lengthy silence I can only apologize and make the excuse that I was out of the country for two months at the beginning of the year and had to have foot surgery in Mexico. That saga will soon be forthcoming, complete with bloody pictures! But, nitpicks the inner critic, that excuse only takes us back to the beginning of the year. The last blog post was for the Knox-Sollecito acquittal of last October. Well, um, I got busy and then a few days became a couple weeks and then I didn’t know where to begin and then there was that whole Christmas thing and, well, after that we’re into January, Mexico and the foot. There, satisfied! Like you care anyway!

I have lots of stories and pictures to share of my somewhat disaster-prone adventures of the last few months and will be doing so in coming days! In all truthfulness, many terrible things have occurred but I find that when I tell others of all the awful things that happen to me, in hopes of receiving sympathy or cash donations, these friends are frequently to be glimpsed stuffing rags into their mouths in efforts to suppress the apparent hilarity that my tribulations induce in the listener. So perhaps hearing about my rotten luck can brighten your day and put a smile on your face. If so, it’s well worth it.

I had to start somewhere and although this is not really a proper post at all, it is at least dated April 12, 2012. Thus, tomorrow, I will feel less pressured to close the enormous 4+ month gap (I just couldn’t bring myself to type “5 month gap”) and this will have the perverse effect of inducing me to make another post. And then the day after that, another one!

I was never a daily blogger (I know, that’s supposed to be the point, shut up) but now I WILL BE.

For at least one week anyway. So that someone just looking at my bog, I mean blog, will see several recent entries close together and not think I’m the sort of person who just lets their blog sit there corroding for 4+ months, like some kind of electronic barnacle.

Also, I think it is apt that this is the first entry since the righteous acquittal of Knox and Sollecito because they’ve been back in the news again, due to both of them signing book deals.

Naturally, some haters out there begrudge this maliciously wronged pair the right to profit from their ordeal, conveniently overlooking the enormous financial costs their families endured and the emotional hardship for which they’ve not been compensated.

What is wrong with some people?

A couple of days ago some total cretin of a guy wrote me an abusive email in which he called me a silly bitch and then stuck in at the end that Knox was definitely guilty and it was a travesty of justice that she got out. As if he thought this would get my goat; as if his uninformed opinion would bother me!

Actually, it did bother me.

But not for the reason he obviously hoped; I did not feel personally attacked or insulted and had absolutely no inclination to bother to set him straight. No, what bothered me was that he (a yobbish English guy, guessing from the one time we spoke on the phone) felt justified in even having an opinion on the matter, when that opinion had doubtless been formed by the types of newspapers that used to be more suitably employed as ad hoc packaging for fishmongers (before Health & Safety put a stop to the ancient practice).

To be falsely accused is horrible. I know because it’s happened to me. To be falsely convicted and imprisoned for years for a horrific act one is completely incapable of performing must be one of the most agonizing of all human experiences. The injustice of having to read the nastified depiction of one’s character by sleazy tabloid hacks; the distortion of one’s life and thoughts into something hideously unrecognizable; one’s personal and private actions and holiday photos turned into condemnations by the black arts of gutter journalism…it’s almost unthinkable how a person could stay strong through something like that.

Yet Amanda and Rafaele were both model prisoners by all accounts. Amanda never got into a single argument with guards or fellow prisoners in 4 years and when she left, the 600 inmates crowded the tiny windows of the prison waving banners for her and shouting with joy that someone who deserved to be free was going free. Witnesses said it was like seeing a football star walk out onto the pitch only with 10 times the emotion. To win the love of 600 people in a prison one should never have been in is an impressive testament to the fundamentally good nature of this accidental cover-girl.

With all that in mind, it makes me sad that guys like Arsepus (sorry, I know that’s childish but I can’t put his real name and that is close enough), guys like Arsepus – who probably devoted 40 minutes of his entire life reading about the case in one of those rags that have topless chicks on page 3 – can feel so confident in voicing their stupid conviction that the guilty have been freed.

It made me wonder if other creeps out there were still banging on in that vein so I looked on the web and was disheartened to see that the sick and pathetic websites insisting on Knox and Sollecito’s guilt are still up and running with plenty of new entries. Plenty of idiots here in the UK, including (sorry to have to say it) the victim’s family are still refusing to accept the truth: that Kercher’s murder was mundane.

It wasn’t the sensational stuff of best-selling crime novels. There was no satanic orgy, no threesome, no pretty American student hiding homicidal urges behind a winning smile, no shy Italian student with a secret knife-fetish, nothing but an embarrasingly politically incorrect scenario of a robbery/rape/murder committed by a guy of African descent. Those stories don’t grab headlines for long.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. Move along people. Nothing to see here.

To me it seems like the Kercher’s oft-expressed desire “not to let Meredith be forgotten” has gotten the better of their judgment and they’ve decided to keep her name alive by any means necessary. Even if that means ignoring the boring facts and backing the salacious fantasy that kept the story on the front page.

I don’t know what’s in it for the trolls who have jumped on their bandwagon though; I guess the same thing that motivates all trolls – increasing pain for people already in it.

Some say I shouldn’t criticize the Kercher family, that their loss puts them above reproach. To that I say bullshit. All it would take to shut up the trolls would be a statement from them that they accept the acquittal was correct, that they know Knox and Sollecito had nothing to do with it, that they were misled by an insane prosecutor.

But they haven’t. They were clearly hoping for Knox and Sollecito to lose their appeal and have backed the deranged Mignini from the beginning.

As someone who spent hundreds of hours wading through the published evidence, I am really looking forward to both forthcoming books. In particular it will be fascinating to finally learn more about Sollecito, whose wrongful conviction and ordeal were practically overlooked, even though his possible connection to the crime was even more wispily tenuous than Knox’s. His was a quiet but strong presence throughout and I for one can’t wait to finally get to read his side of the story. Amanda’s prison diaries will also be a fascinating read.

They both deserve their multi-million dollar book deals and only a troll would deny them a compensation that goes nowhere to restoring the 4 years they already lost and the lifetime of compromised privacy which faces them now.

See you tomorrow!

Justice at Long, Long LAST!

October 4, 2011

Amanda and Raffaele are finally free. I’ll do an analysis later, but this is just to show a picture of me and my Mum in our T-shirts we made today, going on Brighton beach and snapping a photo anticipating victory, a couple hours before the verdict.

I know I’m behind schedule on finishing my retrospective of September 2001 and was supposed to get to the bit where I get arrested (September 18), but it’s still gestating. I definitely will continue the tale in a few days.

Meanwhile this is happening now. And the exoneration of Knox and Sollecito makes me reflect on my own experience again and in a new way as well, so perhaps it’s good I still haven’t quite gotten round to writing that part of the story yet.

By the way – ignore the date stamp on the photo. I had literally rushed out and bought the camera moments before the shops shut so I could take this picture, as my Olympus is being fixed and my mobile was being a bastard and wouldn’t hold a charge so I couldn’t use its camera feature! Pressed for time, I didn’t bother to set the date.

Free before the next sunrise

The Time I Turned a Poetry Slam Into A Riot

September 23, 2011


OK, I admit that on my previous post, I put it out there as a bit of a tease that the second time I performed The Tower I accidentally caused a riot. Fishing, fishing! So THANKS for rising to the bait go to my lovely friend Jan of Zurich (with whom I had an affair in San Francisco many years ago, the ridiculous brevity of which was counter-balanced by its painlessness, spontaneity and sense of effortless intellectual fun…) who went ahead and asked me to tell the story. That conversation was taking place on FB, so I put it there but then thought to meself: hey, as long as I’m sort of revisiting the events of a decade ago (lagging behind by a few days because, well you know, just cuz), I really ought to put the story on 66witches, or the next bit, where the cops come for me, won’t have as good of a context. It’s important for me to convey exactly how much insanity took place in such a short amount of time. People living in the US then will remember that we were also being told that we were under a major Anthrax attack.
*
The 2nd time I performed The Tower was probably September 14th or 15th 2001. I was under the impression that I was one of the featured poets at a local poetry slam, around the corner from my house, a place called the Black Box, run by friends from grad school. I hate poetry slams by the way. In between the contestants, not a single one of whom was addressing the WTC disaster of a couple days earlier, were the featured poets who had longer sets; incidentally none of them mentioned it either.

It was the usual shit, mostly in the hip hop style, urban confessional, sexual politics yawn blah blah. I couldn’t fucking believe it. Then my name was called and so I went up there to do my thang. You’ve read the poem so you know it aint short. In fact, it’s nearly 2000 words, including the song quotes, and clocks in at anywhere from 12-17 minutes, depending on things like how I do the song bits, or if there’s a lot of audience reaction.

When I was about 3/4 of the way through you coulda heard a pin drop in that place. People were paying rapt attention. I was at the very bleakest part, the death and destruction and confusion part when all of a sudden I notice some kind of conferring going on at the back of the room between what looked like some of the event organizers. (cuz when you’re on stage, every movement in the house is like there’s a spotlight on it) This was in Oakland and the audience was pretty racially mixed, but there was a definite trend towards favouring the African-American rap style (which I love in music but don’t really like at a poetry recital…but I digress) and the MC was a twenty something black female intellectual type. (Just for purposes of setting the scene.) So I’m doing my poem but clocking what’s going on in the back of the room and then one of the persons emerges from the darkness and I recognize her as the MC. And she’s weaving her way through the crowd and coming straight towards me. I don’t know why she’s doing this, but try to ignore it and keep going. Then, she’s actually on the stage. Then she’s beside me! I try to keep going but of course I look over at her and that’s when she puts her hands on the Mic and sez:

“You know, we’re all really moved by whatchoo bin sayin’ an’ all but like, we really gotta move on to the next contestant..you’ve gone way over the 3 minute time limit…”

WHAT? What the hell was she talking about?

I don’t let go of a microphone too easily and my hand was still on it and so I say something like “I’m not in the contest! I was asked to come here and read this tonight by my friends who own this place!”

But where the fuck were they to back me up? I couldn’t see any of em.

A tussle began. This woman and I were literally having a tug of war with the microphone. She was being really nice but also VERY insistent. The audience started getting restless.

“Listen lady! I’m sorry if I broke your rules. I did not come down here to compete in your poetry slam. I came down here because in case you hadn’t noticed a KIND OF FUCKING MAJOR SOMETHING JUST HAPPENED LIKE 2 DAYS AGO AND NOT ONE OF YOUR SO CALLED POETS HAS SAID A FUCKING WORD ABOUT IT! FORGET YOUR CONTEST! THIS IS REAL LIFE! I’M TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING HERE AND YOU ARE STOPPING ME IN THE MOST HOPELESS, DARK AND EVIL PIECE OF THIS POEM. I’M SORRY I WENT OVER YOUR TIME LIMIT BUT I’LL BE DONE IN LIKE 2 MINUTES AND I PROMISE YOU WE WILL BE ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE IF YOU JUST LET ME CONTINUE! I HEREBY DISQUALIFY MYSELF OK?!!!”

Or something like that.

A few shouts started to come from the crowd. So I decided to put it to them.

“Who wants me to keep going?”

Well, quite a lot did and started to shout “let her finish!”

But there was also quite a few (most likely “poets” who hadn’t had their turn yet) who most definitely did not.

“Get her off! She’s gone on long enough!”

It started to get quite loud and heavy. Some people stood up and started shouting at each other. The MC and I were still grappling over the microphone. Then I looked out at the scene and noticed something else that really pissed me off and was so typical and indicative of the obtuse attitude I was facing and it was this: despite the place packed with people, so that they were even lining the walls and perimeter of the room, there were 3 or 4 perfectly good empty cocktail tables and chairs right at the front.

Why the fuck do people do that? I used to call it the “semi-circle of fear” and when I played in bands around San Francisco it was one of the things that really got my goat. This giant fucking hole right in front of the stage cuz…what…everyone needs to be near the exit in case it sucks and they gotta go? Are they afraid of having to have their reactions visible to others? Are they too cool for school? What’s the goddamn problem?

So imagine the above paragraph, complete with flashback pictures, happening in about 2 seconds inside my brain. Things suddenly came to a head.

With a final wrench I got possession of the mic in my left hand, simultaneously grabbing my papers and music stand and sticking them under my right arm.

I shouted my parting words into the microphone:

“GO ON THEN! HAVE YOUR CONTEST! WIN SOME PRIZES!”

And with that, I hurled the mic and mic stand into the empty front row, sending shit flying all over the shop, simultaneously (and rather gracefully, if completely dementedly) leaping from the stage and making a super-fast run for it!

By the time I got to the door the whole place had erupted into complete chaos. I took one look back and saw people one step away from fisticuffs and overheard little snippets of the many dozens of individual arguments that were now taking place.


..but she’s a fucking hypocrite, she was talking about peace but then she was violent…no you asshole she was making a fucking point…..i just wanted to hear how it turned out…..fuck you…. saddam hussein…well I didn’t vote for Bush…

They’d forgotten all about me and I ran home.

About 20 minutes later, a couple of my friends who’d been at the gig came to my house to see how I was. They told me that the Black Box had had to kick everyone out and shut down the event and lock the doors because it had gotten so out of hand that there was absolutely no chance of restoring order and returning to the regular program. So I guess nobody won any prizes.

This pleased me immensely but I was still really pissed off about not getting to finish and the whole thing confirmed how much I dislike the slam format, which I’ve stupidly proven to myself a couple more times even since then.

So I wrote another poem. This one was called “Slam Slam” and it was basically this story I’ve just told you, but in poem form.

When I finished it, about 7 the next morning, I printed it out and went and GLUED it to the front door of the Black Box.

I later found out, to my total horror, that the event had been videotaped. Several of my classmates from grad school then ambushed me at the peace concert in Dolores Park that took place one or 2 days later, where Spearhead played. Apparently these friends had been studying the tape and had a lot of advice to give me about my personality and wanted to help me through some kind of healing by watching it.

It was hard for me to accept their offer because I really couldn’t quite get past the part where a) it was on tape and b) they’d been watching it. One of these people was the very guy who ran the venue and whose crappy communication skills were actually responsible for the whole misunderstanding in the first place. I mean, why the fuck didn’t he tell me that I was booked into the slam and only had 3 minutes?

But they didn’t want to talk about that, just my reaction. It was a very new age scene and these were the very same people who had recently forced a very reluctant me into the centre of a bogus and very embarrassing forgiveness ritual that I absolutely hated and had to act my way out of. I’m sure they were right in the sense that I could have learned something from watching the tape but at that very moment it struck me as the most monumentally besides-the-fucking-point-thing to be bringing to my attention considering everything that was happening in the world, plus their own complicity in what had happened at the gig.

And then either the next day or the day after was when I was raided by the Oakland Police Force. It was an extremely intense period of my life and super-dramatic and traumatic shit continued happening for about 3 or 4 months.

Next time I’m in Oakland I am going to visit the Black Box which is still there. I have a good excuse to visit because when I left the country I also loaned them a piece of original art (a painting of Buddha reclining on a settee in a garden that I bought from the homeless people art project in the Tenderloin district in SF on a grad school field trip) that I’d like back.

But just between you and me, I’m also hoping they still keep the archive of past events in the same location as it used to be because I fully intend to find and remove that tape. I never signed a model release and while I am now finally ready to watch it, I think it should be up to me if anyone else gets to see it from now on.

I’m not sure what happened to the Slam Slam poem. This was all several corrupted hard drives and international moves ago. Pretty sure there’s a copy in my stuff in L.A. so maybe I’ll dig it out again someday. I seem to remember it as being pretty funny.

The Tower

September 18, 2011

On the same day as the events described in my previous post, September 11, 2001, I wrote the following poem, which I performed twice over the next few days, accidentally causing a riot on the second occasion. A couple of days after that happened, in fact exactly ten years ago today, I experienced my own personal Tower moment, when 5 armed thugs working on behalf of the prohibition stormed into my house, guns drawn and aimed at my face, chained me up, kidnapped me and subjected me to sexual assault (for that’s what I call being forced to strip naked roughly 20 times in front of up to 30 people at a time, some prisoners, some guards). It’s funny now to think that I wrote this poem one week earlier.

***
Lately certain songs seem to stick in me
seem to whirl around repetitiously
telling me teaching me healing me musically
spelling out that something’s wrong
and I say to myself

What’s going on?
So much trouble in the world So much trouble in the world

Today the twin towers in the land of Babylon fell
I saw it on Television
live and direct from Hell
Watched the unbelievable happen
before my sleep smeared eyes
with shock but not surprise
as kamikaze devotees of Thanatos blazed their satanic heroic exodus into adrenalin death-buzz overdose bidding for oblivion in a method most grandiose turning lower Manhattan just like this
into a soot-filled necropolis
thus begging a terrible question
oh how the fuck did this begin?
when will it end when will we end it stop pretending, stop dissembling stop this parroting of chewed clichés that revolve around retaliation and only escalate the situation this war has no fucking enemy fools! it’s an internal viral invasion
in this culture of tired boasts
“we are the most”s “let’s have a toast’s”
I say yes yes let’s let’s place some bets!
five bucks says 50,000 died
hey remember that thing with the cyanide?
that Jim Jones thing back in 89
let’s all raise a glass of Koolaid wine
to the numero uno and most divinely deceptively contrived lie that is us today us as in U.S. of A.-holes
for whom the death knell tolls
in this the land of the murdered Indian brave
the land of the bomb and the home of the slave
wow somebody out there must really be pissed
let’s all hang a proxy to get our fix
just like they did in old Haymarket
a fire just needs a flame to spark it
doomsday prophets want to Noah’s ark it
it’s Y2K II deja vu give or take a few plot points
the panic sets in
the xenophobic uglies start to burble in the din

don’t you know that it’s true that for me and for you the world is a ghetto don’t you know that it’s truethat for me and for you the world is a – people moving out people moving in why? because of the color of their skin run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
hey vote for me and I’ll set you free rap on brother, brother rap on well the only person talkin bout love thy brother is the preacher and it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher segregation determination demonstration integration aggravation humiliation time to question what’s in a nation ball of confusion yeah that’s what the world is today woo hey hey

our fix is a dose of good old-fashioned retribution
hey that’s the strongly manly solution
catch the bastards and watch ‘em die
a truth, I mean a tooth, for a why, I mean I I mean
who are these monsters who cheer in the streets?
did ya see ‘em in Palestine, waving their sheets
marked with slogans applauding this blow to their devil
but Americans never would sink to their level
oh no says the news anchor we will survive!
we’re still number one, we’re still broadcasting live
this is different from when we dropped bombs on Baghdad
watched strikes set to music to make us feel glad
that we had such good aim in this cool techy game
that we’re tough the right stuff that enough is enough is enough is enough
that the president must never be perceived as a
powder puff a sissy a wuss or a faggot
‘cause in the death culture all the spoils go to the maggot
that lives off the fat of collateral damage
so pork up the army and somehow we’ll manage
to keep building more bigger bombs than the others
to kill foreign sons before they kill our mothers..
“we’re gonna hunt down an’ punish these folks!” said the leader of the free world
in between two bad jokes
oh fuck said I we are all gonna die this is the guy
in charge of our protection?
bet yer sorry ya stole that election!
but then maybe not could it be a dark plot
is this the war from within?
if so did it just begin
if so it has barely but barely but barely begun
this twin towers thing just the first pop from a handgun
don’t you get to some people this shit is fun!
could this be some kinda sick bid for control of your thoughts of your feelings of your e-mail (!)
of your soul
no it couldn’t be that that they fabricate disaster just to crush the people faster?
Hah! They wouldn’t do it! that’s insane
you mean kill their own then cast the blame?
Now I don’t mean to be a harbinger of ruin
or imply that it’s a shoe-in
that the power’s about to do in it’s own
in its maddest ever ploy to oppress the hoi polloi
to sustain the status quo
all I am saying is that I think these thoughts but admit that
I don’t know
Whose side is which and what’s a win and who do you trust
to save your skin
and will the body count just keep rising higher
tell me again – what’s the definition of
“friendly fire”?
When your lips move are you a liar?
Or do you speak the truth though you may tire
stand when you’d like to
fall remember they made paperweights out of the Berlin wall
Yes we can be heroes everyone of us knows
hey remember how that song goes..

I I can remember standing by the wall the guns shot above our heads and we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them forever and ever
And we can be heroes
Just for one day Whatcha say

Oh and speaking of kisses and worlds and wishes
And wond’rin what’s gonna happen next
it reminds me of that song by X
where the angry eloquent punk priestess Exene
spits out poetry like lit gasoline…

danana danana nana danana danana nana
no-one is united all things are untied
guess who’s boiling over inside
they’ve been telling lies
there are no angels there are devils in many ways
take it like a man
the world’s a mess it’s in my kiss
the world’s a mess it’s in my kiss…

and yet when I saw the newsclown’s skit
seemed like some of ‘em almost relished it
seemed like they knew their time was now
camera close-up on the furrowed brow
but even the disguise was only partly intact
for the first time in my life there was a rip in the act
the mask was on crooked the hood was pulled back
that we verged on the end of times was how it appeared
like the time of Armageddon
I mean not to be weird but didn’t it kinda seem like
Judgement Day?
Or maybe just made to look that way..

Alas! alas! that great city Babylon!
In a single hour thy plagues have come
A single hour of desolation
And the merchants of the earth mourned and swore
For none would buy their goods no more
The precious stones the wealth of wheat
the souls of men the vats of meat

and so on and so forth and such
perhaps you think I’m a bit touched
In the head it’s been said
But the tower is toppled and the bodies fall down
to the ground hit by lightning that shatters the town
streets become detrituts and debris dumps
and there on the small screen
a couple clasps hands and jumps
from the one hundred somethingth floor
to be no more
so we, my friends and I , discuss this at some length
declaring it a kind of strength
I mean if you knew you were about to die
wouldn’t you step off the ledge and try to fly?
why? why not?
when one last act is all you got
look on the bright side
it’s your one and only chance
to do the 99 Storey Freefall Dance!
make no mistake
i’m not making light of death
just proposing that flight
may be the best response in a situation
requiring a choice between hurtling through space and
incineration
both are certain to end in death
think I’d take the air for my last breath
oh kids these are ancient tremendous tears
and the song that comes to mind now is
Five Years..

pushing through the market square
so many mothers sighing
the news had just come over
we had 5 years left to cry in
the newsguy wept and told us
that the earth was surely dying
cried so much his face was wet
that’s how I knew he was not lying
I heard telephones opera house favorite melodies
I saw boys with their toys electric guns and TVs
my brain hurt like a warehouse
I had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to keep everything in there
We’ve got 5 years what a surprise
5 years stuck on my eyes
5 years my brain hurts a lot
5 years and that’s all we’ve got

but wait a second friends
I didn’t come here to be fatalistic
to lose all hope in the negative statistics
the sadistic ballistics no no no!
my friends we need to get SY-NER-GISTIC
we need to combine our healthy action
we need to resist the cheap distraction
resist the urge to split into factions
it’s no longer about whose typed up the best thesis
here’s a new word
can you say SYN-AR-TESIS?
That’s a binding or a knitting together
like a creative union or a cooperative communion
like the photons with their
“spooky action at a distance”
we can combine and enjoin our energies
they will yield without resistance
which happens to be synergistic’s other definition
in other words
we can change things by our own volition
trust is our shield love is our ammunition
hope is our magic ride
our secret weapon is vision
as it turns out – we are on a mission!
so give yourselves permission to join me in a brief rendition
of a favorite rhyme I like to sing
war what is it good for absolutely nothing

war – HIUH – good god yawl
what is it good for – absolutely nothing
say it again
war – HIUH – good god yawl
what is it good for – absolutely nothing
say it again
nothing say it again nothing say it again nothing say it again..

oh you’ve been a delight so kind and polite
thank you ever so much I am touched
that you came here tonight
the envelope of hope is now open
mucho gracias for hearing what I have spoken
it’s but a token of my love
I’m kind of a nun
a none of the above
so I leave you for now with a prayer and a bow
I hope I have brought a small measure of thought
to this “tragic occasion affecting the nation”
that you leave feeling wise no need for disguise
a few tears in the eyes
and a vow of commitment to change this predic’ment

as an ally once said
in a somewhat overly dramatic voice
“we just have to dare to be brilliant
dahling
and after all,
to be daring is within everyone’s choice”

* with many thanks to the musical artists whose work I have quoted

Sharing Tragedy With a Stranger

September 8, 2011

The BBC has been airing a lot of programmes relating to the events of September 11, 2001 for the obvious reason that the 10 year anniversary is fast approaching. On their website they asked people to write in on the theme of “where were you”.

So, here is what I sent in, a story I’ve told many times but never before actually written about. If any reader thinks they can identify the people in my story, please do get in touch.

*
Very late on the night of September 10th, I dropped off a new boyfriend I’d met at Burning Man Festival at the San Francisco airport where he was taking an American Airlines flight to Chicago. Instead of driving back across the bridge to Oakland, I decided to spend the night at a friend’s place in the city, on Valencia Street in the Mission district, a sprawling sort of open-plan live-work space.

For some reason I woke up really early the next morning. It was before 6 a.m. when I usually got up around 9. But I couldn’t seem to get back to sleep and so I got up. A few minutes later the phone rang, odd as it was so early. The call was picked up by the old fashioned tape-based answering machine my friend had, so I could hear the message as it was being left. It was her mother who lived on the east coast. She had an odd tense sound in her voice as she asked Lisa to call her as soon as she got up.

I heard Lisa shift around and so I called out to her asking if she was awake.

She grumbled something about her mother never getting the hang of the time difference and how annoying it was to be woken up this early. But I’m really into voices and her mother’s sounded odd.

“You know, I really think you should call her back. It sounded like it was important.”

Some more grumbling, then she got up and stumbled sleepily to the phone.

“Hi Mom.. you know it’s super early here and…”

Suddenly she stopped talking. I was trying to make coffee and had just realized there wasn’t any so wasn’t paying that much attention, when abruptly I heard Lisa cry out.

“WHAT?”

I turned around and all the sleep was gone out of her now, she was sitting bolt upright, her eyes like saucers.

“OMIGOD, OMIGOD! DIANA TURN ON THE TV! TURN ON THE TV!”

I happened to be standing right in front of the shelf that the small TV set was on, so I switched it on, saying as I did so.

“What channel?”

Usually when people wanted you to switch on the TV it was to get a specific station.

The screen flickered to life and I saw an image of the instantly recognizable World Trade Centre in NYC, one of the towers apparently ablaze, with big puffs of smoke coming out the sides. I’d lived there in ‘93 when it had been bombed and for a moment I wondered if they were revisiting the story, only that fire had come from the parking garage, so…

Was this a movie or something? The sequel to “Independence Day” or “Mars Attacks”? I was really confused!

“Uh! What are we supposed to be looking at?!” I said, turning to Lisa, but as soon as I turned back around it was obvious: I watched in incredulous disbelief as a jet airplane glided directly into the second tower.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!”

The mute button had been on so now I hit it so I could hear the announcers’ voices: there’d been hijackings and I’d just seen the second plane hit the second of the twin towers, live on TV. It was an American Airlines flight. Wait, could this be the one my new boyfriend was on? No, he would’ve got to his destination by now! (This was before details had come through about how long the planes had been in the air or where they originated.)

I really couldn’t process this. I needed a coffee. COFFEE COFFEE! WE WERE OUT OF COFFEE!

I guess it’s a shock reflex to do something mundane in an emergency or maybe it’s just because there was something I could do about it, but I became completely focused on the coffee situation.

I ran down the long corridor to the gate to the street, remembering that the café at the corner opened really early. But when I got to the gate and opened it, I froze.

I looked out at the people walking along the sidewalk, riding on the buses, driving in their cars, pedalling their bicycles, shooting along on their skateboards…. and realized that not one of the people I was looking at knew about what had just happened. They couldn’t possibly just be going about their business otherwise!

I had a sudden premonition that I was witnessing the last moment of an entire era, of a way, of a time. It sounds corny to say “a time of innocence” but it was something like that. In a few minutes or hours, every single one of those smiling, or harried, or hurried, or hung-over people, whatever they were, whoever they were, in a very short time they would know what had just happened, what was still happening. And nothing would ever be the same.

Should I tell them? Sound the alarm? No. Why rob them of this last few minutes of ignorant bliss. What reason would I have to ruin that?

In a weird daze, I went to the corner and into the café. I ordered two coffees to go and looked around at all the people in there. They didn’t know either. They were all reading that morning’s papers that were already as out of date as yesterday’s news. Should I tell them? I was the only one who knew, the only one who knew….

Then I walked out on the pavement and I saw someone else who knew, who must’ve known. Why else would he be hugging the lamp post on the corner of 22nd and Valencia, hugging it like it was gonna save him from something, sobbing in anguished despair? But this was San Francisco, and the Mission district to boot, haven of crazies and druggies and homeless; on any other day, I too might have walked straight past the screaming, crying man who held on to that lamp post for dear life. But I didn’t because I knew why he was crying. I knew he knew.

I ran over to him and set the coffees down on the pavement. He was oblivious to me standing there.

“Hey! Hey you! Do you have people in New York!?”

Then he noticed me and turned to face me – here was someone else who knew!

He left the post and reached out his arms to me. His eyes were spinning, his face red and wet, he was blubbering with a lack of inhibition that can only be triggered by the most extreme of human crises: life or death.

“YES!” he cried, “YES! MY COUSIN!” and he fell into my arms and we clung to each other on the street while he cried and sobbed his story to me.

“ SHE’S IN THERE! SHE’S IN THE SECOND TOWER! I WAS JUST TALKING TO HER ON THE PHONE – SHE WAS IN THE STAIRWELL AND SHE CALLED ME AND I WAS TALKING TO HER AND THE PHONE’S GONE DEAD! THE PHONE’S GONE DEAD!”

We were both crying by now and must have looked a crazy sight to all those people who didn’t know. But then again, this was the Mission in San Francisco, so maybe not. Certainly nobody else stopped to find out what was wrong. Probably just thought it was something personal between us. He obviously hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell anybody who didn’t already know either.

I couldn’t think what to say to comfort him. I’d just seen the plane crash into the building, so “it’s gonna be fine” wasn’t gonna cut it. Anyway, I don’t believe in making optimistic predictions in emergencies; it’s more important to have courage to face whatever may happen.

“What’s her name?”
“Debbie. Debbie Golden.”

“OK. Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden. I’ll never forget it. I wish for Debbie Golden to be OK. I pray for Debbie Golden to be OK. I’ll always think her name I promise you I promise you! Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden! I’ll tell people her name. ”

Reading between the lines, I guess I was saying I’d remember her name whether she lived or died. That she wouldn’t be forgotten if she didn’t make it. But that I’d keep her name alive as long as there was uncertainty about whether or not she was alive. I meant all that and I know that he understood every unspoken word of it.

We were in complete hysterics by this point with him actually spasming with fear and grief as I repeated this stranger’s name like it was a holy mantra. Our fingernails were digging into eachother’s arms as we shook and trembled together on that street corner while people just walked around us.

What good was remembering this woman’s name gonna do? What did it matter if I told people her name or prayed for her or not? But for some reason it seemed comforting, both to him and to me.

I don’t know how long we were there but finally things subsided enough to release our embrace.

“I gotta go make some calls.”

“Of course. Of course. Debbie Golden. Debbie Golden..”

We parted and I picked up my coffees, now lukewarm, and headed back to Lisa’s where she was glued to the TV.

“I just met someone whose cousin is in there! They were just on the phone right when it happened! Her name is Debbie Golden!”

I told her the story and she explained that her mother, an early riser, had just happened to be watching the news when the first reports came on. She wasn’t in New York and was in no danger though. Whew. Pretty soon, my guy rang me from Chicago to let me know he was completely unaffected, so that was obviously a huge relief even though I’d sort of already worked it out. Double Whew.

But what about that poor guy’s cousin? What happened to Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden? Debbie Golden?

It took quite some time before definitive lists of victims were published and reliable. So for many years I would check and check again, seeing if the name Debbie Golden appeared on any of them. It never was but it was many years before I stopped checking and could finally feel 100% certain in the knowledge that she’d made it down the rest of the stairs to freedom, safety and life. Over the years I had occasion to tell the story many times and of course, always told her name.

In all the emotion, I never did ask the guy what his own name was, nor he mine, but I’m sure he remembers our encounter as vividly as I do. I must be the first person he saw after his phone went dead.

I’d sure like to meet him again and let him know how glad I was that his cousin got out alive and that I kept my promise and never forget her name. Could the BBC help with that? I bet a similiar scenario was played out between other pairs and groups of strangers all over the place. I see it as a tiny story with a big resonance.

Maybe it would mean something too, to this woman Debbie Golden, to know that in the middle of that awful tragedy and many thousands of miles away, specifically she (her name anyway) made a huge effect on, and thus created a weird bond with, someone she has never met. That some woman named Diana Trimble, who now lives in England, cried for her safety in her cousin’s arms on a street corner in San Francisco during those exact moments as she was anxiously making her way down that stairwell for the hope of life itself. And that I will always carry her name with me because of that moment in which I briefly shared a stranger’s anguish. I’d like to think it helped him a tiny bit. May the good luck that was fortunately hers that day ever be with Debbie Golden and her cousin, wherever they may be. And may it rub off on me a little too.

Sweet, Charming Chats about Killing?

September 4, 2011

Nothing whatsoever strange about keeping this in your bedroom.

OK. As senseles and rotten homicides go, this one is in a league all its own. Certainly if you live in the UK, you’ve come across the recent case of a 16 year-old boy, Joshua Davies, who casually murdered his 15 year old ex-girlfriend by meeting her in the woods then bashing her head in with a rock, variations on which idea he’d apparently often talked about. The “charming” horror-movie fanatic who also collected knives and was fascinated by weapons made his final decision based on a kind of sociopoathic misunderstanding of a flippant text from a friend in reply to his throwing out there “what would you do if I really did kill her?” The ludicrous query got an equally ludicrous response (“I’d buy you breakfast”) from a supposedly joking-right-back pal, who was soon afterwards taken to look at the dead girl’s body.

The story is being sold as “the boy who killed on a dare for a free breakfast” but I think that rather badly misses the point.

I went on the message boards to see what people were saying about all this and predictably there was a lot of disgust and desire for revenge, hangings too good for him etc. The victim’s family has come forward and asked for the reinstatement of capital punishment for which they have received much support. I can understand their feelings. Rebecca Aylward seemed like a lovely, smart and promising girl. Sadly, she fell for the “dangerous one” as so many females do, only in her case, there was more to it than motorbikes and ditching school.

But something else struck me, something that no one besides myself seemed to comment on. Below is what I posted. I’m interested in what others think, so do write in.

***

Um, I’m still having trouble with the part of the story where it was somehow considered normal by friends and family, including the victim herself, that the guy openly talked about various ways to kill her. Look, me and my friends did a lot o risky stuff when we were teens: group shags, LSD in the woods, shoplifting, shooting up drugs…. but we never, I mean NEVER joked around about MURDER. There was a horror show element to a certain strand of the underground punk and gay scenes (what eventually became goth and fetish) but that was all just fantasy theatrics, vampires and fun sexy nonsense. Anyone who showed a genuine interest in violence would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb.

I guess what I’m saying is, the most disturbing thing to me about all this is that everyone’s saying “We never saw it comin’! He was so sweet and charming…um, and also totally obsessed with gory murders, knives, death and um, yeah, frequently mentioned killing Rebecca in all sorts of different ways…but still we thought he was a lovely kid….”

Sorry, but it is only me that’s going WTF??? I’m the furthest thing from an old prude or fart someone of my 45 years can be but I’m genuinely scared of the REAL decline of Western civilization if nobody once suspected this kid had some unhealthy obsessions because his leisure pursuits were what, so mainstream? But then I think of the triumph of ironic consumerism, Manson girls T-shirts and serial killer collectible cards, Grand Theft Auto and movies like Kill Bill and yeah, I guess it gets harder and harder to tell because everyone’s so desensitized.

Calling for the death penalty though, rather misses the point too. Ted Bundy was right – we should’ve taken the opportunity to study his brain rather than just snuff him. We need to know what creates cold-blooded killers. Assuming one is not the product of abuse, as seems the case here, and ignoring the religious fanatics who speak of “evil”, we really have to look for answers in brain make-up.

Already strong causal effects have been proven between certain kinds of brain tumours and sudden onset of paedophiliac tendencies, for example. Something is clearly wrong with this kid and it would be good to get beyond the desire to annihilate him in retaliation for his hideous action and instead use him as a scientific subject in aid of increasing understanding about what kind of birth defect it may be that creates certain types of killers.

***

The Best Time to Die: Landesman, Winehouse and Freud

July 25, 2011

I realize that my title sounds like a legal brief by a firm of solicitors working in probate, but it is not; rather it is the product of a marathon all-night rumination occasioned by the poignant coincidence of a trio of recent deaths of significant London-based artists.

I wonder what Lucien’s grandfather would’ve made of it all.

At least Freud and Fran got to live long lives, poor Amy joined the 27 Club that seems so cool at first, until you realize it’s full of the ultimate losers…


FREUD

I admit to never caring much for the artistic oeuvre that was Lucian Freud’s. His significance as a personality of London always intrigued me much more than his paintings which I thought brilliantly executed yet verging on repulsive.

Then again, my tastes in visual arts tend to be somewhat virginal; to borrow the words of the late great John Michell (once again) who also lacked appreciation for the likes of Freud and Bacon: I just want a good picture to look at. I don’t want anything particularly challenging or horrific on my wall. I’m into beauty. (Though it occurs to me that those who’ve complained of being disturbed by my Clancy Cavnar visionary art original, an electric blue grinning tiger, might question that assertion.)

His “genius” rep aside, I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence towards Freud’s confrontational vision. It’s been said that his portraits said more about him than they did about his subject and while this could be argued as both the goal and weakness of every Great Artist, in his case the inner landscape thus revealed was a mean one to my sort of mind. It may be counter-intuitive to seek ugliness in beauty and may be true therefore that such a strategy results in arresting and unsettling images, but I confess to preferring work that does the exact reverse.

Degenerate poet Jean Genet wrote that he wished to “become a saint by puncturing the abscess of shame” and though a somewhat melodramatic pronouncement, he didn’t short-change it in either his life or his work: the things he writes about are often low and vicious, but the descriptions are heaven.

Freud’s existentialism flips this on his head and forgoes finding the diamond in the excrement, instead choosing the fly in the ointment every time. I see very little kindness in his work and the tales that circulate of his scathing, if hilarious, wit do little to alter my impression of a man for whom bitterness was as sugar.

Something about Freud’s piercing eyes always hit me as vaguely demented, carrying a whiff of the not-an-altogether-nice-person in their gaze, and it’s unsurprising that he eventually fell out with Francis “slummin’ it” Bacon who found his cultivation of aristocrats more than a bit disgusting. Freud was impressed by rank and fame. As I’m an egalitarian, this bumps my respect down a few more notches.

Some insist that you should take an artist on the merit of the work and ignore his or her personal foibles, but the job of artist carries with it a boast of special powers with which to see into the soul; it’s probably not fair but we do indeed expect improving conduct from those who claim to have such insight. Concentrating on being a good artist doesn’t relieve one of the responsibility of being a good human. If anything, artistic greatness shines a stark light on any contradictions that may exist between one’s sublime expressions and one’s quotidian actions.

So while I gaze in puzzlement upon a Freud nude in which a famous beauty looks rough and haggard it’s not long before I start to wonder what the fuck his problem was and the next thing I’m nurturing my judgmental attitude towards serial impregnators. After all, they can’t possibly be a decent father to them all, a maxim Lucien certainly proved in his treatment of the 13+ that he sired.

No, say what you like about my bad taste, Lucien Freud is not my drug of choice. Such people often live to be quite old however, if only out of spite. Even so, it’s to his eternal credit that he painted right up until his death. I may not admire the results but that he worked the way he did is the measure of a true artist and I’d have to be a bigger bitch than he not to tip my hat.

If one agrees that Freud is macabre and a little bit scary as an old man then that vision of the geriatric as curmudgeon may find its ideal opposite in the form of that most wild and wise and funny lady of jazz and poetry, whose death on the same day as Mz. Winehouse received far less attention in the press despite her many decades at the very forefront of the cultural cutting-edge: Fran Landesman.

LANDESMAN

Freud and Landesman were both denizens of a nearly extinct art+alcoholism scene of London that I was precociously introduced to by my parents, courtesy of Muriel Belcher’s liberal policy of allowing 10 year olds to hang out at the old Colony Room Club on Dean Street across from which my father kept a flat in the late 1970s.

As I read the obituaries and tributes to both Freud and Landesman, recognizing names as I went, I felt quite lucky that I’d had a glimpse of a world of personalities with direct links back to that legendary French post-war scene of arts and letters which was populated with so many of my heroes; the present-day manifestation of which I am wholly unaware. It sez in the papers that Freud painted the photographer Harry Diamond and this jogs a memory: Diamond was the man who took my mother’s favourite photographs of us children before we left for America in 1978.

It could be argued that Landesman had the most successful life of the three – not only is some of her creative work already filed in the timeless classics bin but it seems to me that she was also the most happy, brought most happiness to those who knew her personally, and will thus be remembered most happily.

Is it an unflattering reflection of humanity, and the nature of celebrity that she is also the most obscure, internationally speaking?

I mean to say, when it comes to one’s death making the front page, she’s the odd one out from this trio.

So – to correct this terrible oversight in some small way, may I please request of all who read this, that as we mourn and commemorate the passing of three highly original contributors to the arts, let us raise our glass particularly high as we toast the life of one Fran Landesman. A life well lived and fondly recalled, not to mention having earned a place for all eternity in the pages of the standard songbook – now THAT beats 5 Grammy’s and 30 million dollar price tags hands down.

Yet though she did achieve recognition, and her reputation is undeniably stellar (as Ellington might’ve said if asked: “those who need to ask don’t need to know”), she is not what one would call a household name, as are Winehouse and Freud, a situation reflected in the title of the 2009 film of her life, Almost a Legend.

Why?

Winehouse couldn’t not become famous – it’s the hoped-for / dreaded, totally unavoidable, end-result if you decide to attempt success at the most populist and commercial end of the artistic spectrum. Freud had a famous last name to begin with so that even those indifferent to the art world would have remembered his reputation if they heard of it even in passing. This explains why though he belonged to an elitist world that alienates many, his name and reputation were destined to be known to far more than were actually familiar with his work.

Their careers were just as opposite in terms of duration but the poles curiously meet at the end: his longevity, his always-there-ness, his enmeshment in the cultural landscape of London, made his death nearly as unbelievable as Winehouse’s simultaneously shocking and unsurprising fizzle-out. Lucien Freud’s long presence then sudden absence conjures up an image of a page being ripped out of your London A-Z, whereas the here-today-gone-tomorrow, limited engagement show that was Amy Winehouse was more like a flash flood or an electrical storm; a wild disturbance that is over almost as soon as it begins, leaving a helluva mess and a bunch of dazed survivors in its junk-strewn path asking each other what the hell just happened.

Fran is different in that she occupies the unusual position of having created work that has seeped so deeply into the culture and consciousness that the masses are hardly aware of her at all. It will be years before we discover if Winehouse’s compositions are true lasting classics, but we already know that Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Bette Midler – are just a few of the undisputed greats who’ve lined up to record Tommy Wolf‘s setting of Fran’s poem Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. From Chaka Khan to Rickie Lee Jones, the tippermost of the toppermost singers who love a great lyric have looked up to tiny Fran to put the witty words in their mouths.

I’m grateful to Greg Sams for getting me and my mother out to Farrago Poetry this past February just after her equally legendary husband Jay Landesman had died, to see one of Fran’s final performances of which I was lucky enough to get a decent recording. She was kind enough to remember us from the 70s and I was able to thank her for inspiring me to pursue my interest in writing. As a child, the only other female poet I was aware of was Christina Rosetti, who I loved dearly, but who died in 1894.

Given the above, isn’t it rich to read, as Cosmo Landesman claimed in his autobiography Starstruck, that his parents, Jay and Fran, were utterly and shamelessly motivated by the quest for fame when establishing their careers?

And yet, her work is deep. How did that happen?

WINEHOUSE

So now begins the inevitable debate about how “great” a talent Winehouse really was, or not. Platinum records and awards just obfuscate accurate assessment so I always make a point of ignoring things like that. Let’s just examine the work.

Literary prodigy Arthur Rimbaud hit an unlikely artistic zenith in his teens; Jimi Hendrix achieved totally complete, Beethoven-like artistry by the time he was 25, but I think Amy Winehouse coulda used a few more years to really show us, to really show herself, what she had inside, what stories she could have expressed. She had a lot of development still ahead and that to me is the saddest thing of all.

I got in an FB argument with someone who was being ghoulishly admiring of how she went in her prime to which I countered, “how do you know that?” Another “friend” must’ve gotten offended and deleted comments in which I posited that Miss Amy had died prior to attaining greatness.

I never met Amy Winehouse nor got to hear her sing live. Wish I had, but much more do I wish she had been friends with Fran and the old guard of survivors. Perhaps having idols among the elders, instead of the dearly (and prematurely) departed, would mean less young talent would go the way of never growing old. Parker, Holiday, Janis, Jimi…with heroes like these is it any wonder so many of us end up on the end of a spike?

The 27 Club member of which she most reminds me is Jean-Michel Basquiat – who tends to get excluded from these lists, presumably because his axe was a paintbrush and not a guitar – another precocious talent exterminated while still in his first flush of creative output. He also had a taste for hard drugs and destruction who wasn’t half the genius he coulda been had he lived.

You can’t tell me that at his death, Basquiat was as good as he was ever going to get, that if he’d lived a few more decades he would never have surpassed his early work. I don’t believe that of Winehouse either.

Dusty in Memphis was recorded when a 29 year-old Springfield was trying for a comeback. The album tanked at the time but is beyond dispute now as a modern classic. After an 18 year slump, she came back again, thanks to the Pet Shop Boys. One of the dudes in the Buena Vista Social Club was in his 90s before they had their first tour!

Or what about the triumphant late-blooming success of the bebop saxophonist Frank Morgan, another great I was fortunate enough to know in life? In his case, early acclaim and apprenticeship with no less than Bird himself was followed by a 30 year detour down Heroin Highway. Years in San Quentin gave him plenty of time to practice and with the help of a good woman he cleaned up his act and led the 1980’s jazz revival, playing O.G. to the Marsalis brothers and other youngbloods.

My youngest sister sent me some video clips I’d never seen before of Mz W in a very casual setting doing acoustic renditions of Valerie and a few other tunes, sitting in a chair in front of a microphone. I wept while I watched – to think she was dead – and yet at the same time I could not agree with those who say, yes I even dare to challenge Tony Bennett, that she sang from the heart. I was baffled by the Youtube comments below these candid clips that praised her emotional performance.

Though the sound of her voice – the quality of it – could not be faulted, it was all a bit blasé and uninvolved; at one point she was actually examining her fingernails while distractedly wailing, as if from no more than force of habit. Literally off-handed. Maybe she was high, I don’t know, but she sure wasn’t trying too hard. A lot of people commented that her singing sounded “effortless”. Well, yeah.

Can you imagine, say, Eva Cassidy – who in-arguably sang from the depths of her soul every time she opened her mouth – picking her cuticles while sat before a mic? When people use the same word “effortless” to describe Cassidy’s uncanny virtuosity they mean something else altogether. You could never say of her that she threw away a line.

I’d have to say I found Winehouse’s singing extremely attractive and stylish rather than honestly moving. The raw sound of it was just so yummy but I always felt like I was witnessing an easy display of a natural gift; like a double-jointed child showing off some freakish trick of the body she’d mastered to astonish the assembled.

Winehouse’s voice brings tears to my eyes when I hear it now (just had to leave a clothes store – she’s blasting out of every establishment hear in Brighton today) but it never did when she was alive.

No I never felt, as I did from Kurt Cobain‘s anguished acoustic performances for example, that Winehouse was willing to risk un-beautiful sounds in order to get to the heart of the matter. She had a distinctive and beautiful timbre and was a brilliant vocal actress who positively shimmered with attitude and sass, but wasn’t the tune always delivered with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek wink?

Listen to Kurt’s screams at the end of his priceless rendition of Leadbetter’s “My Girl” on Unplugged, not long before his death, also at age 27.

I guess what I’m saying is – I never heard the howl of pain in Amy’s singing voice and that’s ironic because pain is clearly what she was deeply in. Did she keep her tears to herself until they drowned her?

Or as one of Landesman’s poems goes:

We joke and smoke
And rock and rhyme
Through all the years
But underneath we spend our time

Close to tears

Winehouse may have penned a bouncy top-line to breezily convince us that tears dry on their own but those who indulge depression with solitude often wind up dead, as lost souls like herself seem stubbornly intent on demonstrating over and over again.

I know, I know. The beautiful tortured Kurt is dead too. So clearly getting it all out isn’t necessarily enough to escape inner hell alive, whatever Tears for Fears may claim about primal scream therapy. (Or maybe Kurt just needed to scream a whole lot more?)

I can’t help thinking that lots of attention and money when really young just isn’t good for certain kinds of people, e.g. sensitive artists. I can’t help thinking, especially in light of the recent News Of the World scandals, that the practice of making entertainment out of the private lives of public figures lives is sickening and homicidal and those who cater to it are as vile as the heroin and cocaine cartels that supply addicts with doom.

I can’t help thinking about all my dead friends who never made it past that crucial, exhilarating, difficult post-adolescent decade.

Amy Winehouse is undoubtedly set for big things in the afterlife. She will be eulogized, aggrandized, michaeljackson-ed, made better and more perfect in death than ever she was in life. Just as the bizarre canonizing of a once-disgraced and intrinsically-damaged MJ obscures the far more fascinating cautionary tale that coulda been his legacy, so too will the posthumous elevation of Mz Winehouse to the ranks of the truly great be a disservice both to the other members of that exalted company and the urgent message that her demise might more usefully transmit.

Boringly, attempts to glean lessons from the tragedy will focus on the so-called disease of addiction which this former junkie knows to be nothing more than a symptom of a much deeper void. The dubious and intellectually flawed 12 step philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between psychedelic revelation and heroin suicide will get another boost as will the war on (some people who use some) drugs.

The dis-honourable way talent is commodified by an industry that doesn’t know how to protect its fragile songbirds will be totally overlooked. How the poisonous cocktail of fame, money, and premature accolades destroys innocence will hardly get a mention. That the ways and methods of the tabloid culture and the profit-lust of the big record biz might actually be culpable in the development and exacerbation of their victims’ fatal addictions is not properly considered.

If you haven’t already and think you can stomach it, then watch this footage of Winehouse’s final shambolic performance in Belgrade It makes for harrowing viewing and looks almost like a parody of Midler’s impersonation of a seriously out-of-it Janis-type character in the film The Rose`. I was literally peering from between my fingers, and you will be too, at the sight of an utterly confused and blackout-wasted Amy coming in a half a bar late if at all, emitting weird gratuitous yelps from time to time, as if in desperate apology for the out-of-tune mashed-up way she was murdering her own hits.

An obvious question will doubtless spring to your mind as it did mine.

Who the hell let that woman onstage? Did she herself actually insist or did someone shove her out there, like in that scene from The Rose? It’s obscene.

There’s a heart-wrenching moment when she looks around completely baffled as if she’s just realized where she is and is about to cry…a pregnant pause and then some unseen hand gives the signal and the unmistakeable opening chords of Back to Black chime in from behind. Her reaction, and the look on her face reminded me of a calf in a rodeo being stuck with the cattle prod. The performing monkey jerks to life and for a few seconds, you see a fraction of a fragment of a glimmer of a spark of the natural born performer that was there before it degenerates into a sickening Dali-like distortion, her bump-and-grind dissolving into a revoltingly uncoordinated lurch that evoked a drunk truck-stop hooker hitch-hiking by the side of a dirt road.

Why is the record industry not taken to task for the growing pile of beautiful corpses its CEOs must step over on their way from the corner office to the bank? Instead, you can expect to read much hysterical nonsense in coming days about a human being that was just too good for this world. What rot. We should be taking care of such people.

In my opinion, Amy Winehouse was ever a hair’s breadth – as my friend ‘Q’ would say “just a cunt hair away” – from Greatness with a capital G; succumbing to the shadow long before she could fulfil her innate potential. I don’t dispute that the talent was Great all by itself but Citizen Kane, so to speak, was yet to come.

Amy Winehouse at 50? Now that would’ve been fucking interesting.

Imagine if Amy had matured as an artist to the point that she’d be able to deliver a tone-poem like Landesman’s “Scars” (reproduced in full below, in both audio and text) or even better – actually write a song as deep and multi-layered as that startling and stark, oddly tender ode with its opening lines of:

Don’t be ashamed
Everybody’s got scars
From our various wars
On the way to the stars

Perhaps if Amy had been less ashamed of her scars she might have been able to heal her wounds…

As it is, Amy dead in her youth will be forever stuck now as what psychologist James Hillman called the puella aeterna – never evolving past broken hearts and low self-esteem as subjects for songs. It would be as if the Beatles had broken up before they made Sgt. Pepper’s.

ME

I’m not dead, obviously. But in 1993, age 27, strung out on speedballs and courting my first record deal in New York City, I very nearly emulated those idols of mine who never hit 30. Owing to retroactive amnesia, I’m not really sure what happened but the result was 6 weeks in hospital recovering from meningitis and endocarditis simultaneously. I tell the story elsewhere and some reading this may have been around when it happened, so I won’t re-hash it other than to say that whenever I hear of an untimely death, whether due to dope, depression or disease, it causes me to recall that everything that’s happened in my life for the last 16 years might never have been.

To anyone who still thinks it “cool” to die in your prime or that death is “interesting”, the ultimate adventure, can I just tell you how fucking grateful I am to the mysterious stranger who saved my life and helped me reassess my romantic attachment to melancholy, the wrong drugs and the twisted beauty of doom.

During the preceding months and for a good few years afterwards, I lost a number of friends and friends-of-friends, some famous some not. I also experienced many years in the music industry wilderness, never achieving the goals I’d set for myself (through no fault of my own I’d like to think) ultimately feeling embittered and alienated, which mood had the happy result of leading me back to the written word.

In time, I’ve come to be grateful that the “media stardom” that was practically expected of me as a youth did not transpire when I was at that vulnerable age. And whilst on the subject may I heartily thank fucking goddess that camera phones had yet to be invented when I was croaking my way through a smacked-out set at CBGBs fronting a band called Fiend.

I’m not dead and I’m glad.

When’s the best time to die?

After you’ve done your best work,of course.

This time it’s Amy that’s the odd one out.

****

SCARS Performed by Fran and Miles Davis Landesman, February 25, 2011, RADA, London

(*recorded live at RADA foyer bar – Farrago Poetry event – February 25, 2011)


Don’t be ashamed
Everybody’s got scars
From our various wars
On the way to the stars
Don’t try to hide
Everybody’s got scars
From crashlanding on mars
With these egos of ours
Theres the one on your knee
Where you fell off your bike
Or the bite from a babe
that you love but don’t like
Theres the mess that you made
without counting the cost
Or the cut from a blade
Or the child that you lost

Don’t be ashamed
If your covered with scars
On this planet of ours
Thats the way we keep scores
So I’ll show you my scars
If you show me yours

In the streets and the bars
Everybody’s got scars
On their way to the stars
Everybody gets scars

**

Julia Butterfly Hill Joins Some Forest Defending Friends in London

July 12, 2011

Julia and Polly stickin' up for Khimki!

July 8th, 2011 FULHAM PALACE, LONDON

England-based forest activists held a vegan picnic at the site of an ancient Holm Oak in London’s picturesque Fulham Palace gardens, whose settlements go back to Neolithic times, in order to welcome internationally renowned forest defender Julia Butterfly Hill, on the London leg of her European tour, and discuss with her the necessity of globalizing the forest protection movement. Ms. Butterfly’s gracefully handled battle with the clear-cutting Maxxam Corporation a decade ago is the stuff of post-modern legend and is widely credited with forcing front pages of newspapers around the globe into giving column inches to her warning: namely, that unbridled free-market capitalism drives unsustainable exploitation of non-renewables; meanwhile casually destroying irreplaceable natural legacies that were millennia-in-the-making.

This media coup was accomplished by the impossibility of ignoring Julia’s headline-grabbing, and world record-shattering, tree-sit in the California redwood forests; a life-changing experience which forms the core of the best-selling book she later wrote, The Legacy of Luna (published on recycled paper) so called due to her pet-name for the Giant Sequoia that was her home between 1997 and 1999. Her unprecedented act of civil disobedience combined with her resistance to being overly identified with any one particular political group or mission has resulted in Julia’s name and word continuing to be relevant to a myriad of today’s urgent campaigns, with her public support invariably lending a certain undeniable gravitas that affirms the integrity of the cause.

Julia’s main work these days is lending her support to other worthy issues that stand to gain a boost from her involvement as well as training fellow “change agents” in various methods and techniques, from the practical to the spiritual, that will enhance their effectiveness. As part of her European tour this year, she was able to visit Italy, Germany and England where she heard about the situation in Khimki Forest, just outside Moscow. Julia was only too happy to add her voice to those protesting the corrupt resource-exploitation activities taking place there. Indeed, it is all too easy to draw the parallels between Charles Hurwitz’s ruthless exploitation of ancient forests in California and the motives of the mysterious oligarchs behind the Northwest Concession Company, widely believed to be a financial front that won its bid under dubious conditions that meant it had no competitors.

Meeting with Julia in London were: international lawyer Polly Higgins, founder of Trees Have Rights Too whose bid to have the crime of “Ecocide” become the 5th internationally recognized law (the other 4 having to do exclusively with human rights) will be heard before the UN at next year’s June 2012, eco-summit; Tamsin Omond, founder of direct action collective Climate Rush, who had a key role in this year’s successful campaign to Save England’s Forests from a crass sell-off attempt by Tory elements within the UK coalition government; Misty Oldland critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter of the award-winning ecology-themed funk album “Forest Soul” and author of the forthcoming children’s eco-adventure novel “The Golden Seed”; Alice Howarth-Booth, co-creative co-director of Climate Rush; and picnic hostess Diana Rosalind Trimble who campaigns on behalf of the International Simultaneous Policy which seeks to unite citizens worldwide in devising global solutions to global problems.

Specifically under discussion was the urgent matter of globalizing the forest protection movement by devising enforceable legal instruments deriving from UN-endorsed documents such as the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, proposed by Polly Higgins. After all, this is supposed to be the International Year of the Forest. If Ecocide, which Julia and others have been discussing in the USA for years, were to be made an international crime then it would not be left to individuals of conscience to consider risking their lives in order to assert the planetary rights of ecosystems, as is currently the worrying case at Khimki.

Polly and Julia displayed their solidarity with Khimki by being photographed at the old Oak holding a sign that displayed the slogan of the Russian campaign ХВАТИТ ПИЛИТЬ! which roughly translates to “Stop Sawing!”. However, in Russian there is an implicit double-entendre in that the word “sawing” can also be used as a slang term for taking bribes.

An approximate pun in English was eventually decided upon as “QUIT TAKING CUTS!” with the further clarifications of “SAVE KHIMKI FOREST STOP CORPORATE CORRUPTION” added below, followed by the URL for the Khimki Defenders website.

As a deal that nakedly serves a few private interests while being both unnecessary and enormously destructive, the illogical routing of the proposed road project means that Vinci Corporation has approved a cynical diversion directly through a grove of ancient and rare Oaks, purely to enrich a group of oligarchs running a shell corporation. This makes a mockery of Vinci’s self-hyped endorsement of the UN Global Compact, the toothless document which nevertheless does specifically state that corruption and needless environmental destruction are not to be tolerated. It also raises questions about the difference between the stated aims and actual practices of Vinci in light of the prominent website space given to its Corporate Responsibility department and Sustainable Development division.

Attempts to reach the head of Corporate Responsibility at Vinci UK, so that he may have a chance to make a statement to Julia, Polly, Tamsin, the other UK activists and the defenders of Khimki, explaining how the stated principles of his department were consistent with building a road through Russia’s ancient Oak grove, were unsuccessful; repeated calls to the switchboard resulted in dozens of unanswered rings, transfers to lines that went nowhere and terse refusals by the receptionist to either name anyone working in the relevant department, forward emails to said department, and/or take a telephone message for anyone.

(*It has since emerged that the Head of CR at Vinci UK is a man named Robert McDiarmiad.)

In protest at the threat to these healthy ancient Oaks, which since time immemorial have been a symbol of solid oaths and marked the site of ancient parliaments, the 6-strong group unfurled a hand-quilted banner reading “Trees Have Rights Too”. The sign included gingham scraps from the dresses of original Suffragettes, given to Polly by their descendants. In honour of those brave and mis-behaving women, precursors to all modern advocates of peaceful civil disobedience and the specific inspiration behind Climate Rush, the quilted banner was hung from the trunk of the old Holm Oak at the historic location in South West London.


Interestingly, the most famous former resident of this traditional home to the Bishops of London was the vehement abolitionist Bishop Porteus, who bravely obeyed his conscience by publicly campaigning against slavery at a time, the late 17th Century, when the establishment condoned it

Against the aural backdrop of the chiming church bells, the 6 women present officially signed a scroll dedicated to the principle that Trees Have Rights Too, in hopes that Ecocide will soon be recognized in International Law, so that activists no longer have to risk their lives to stand up for our old friends, the trees. A declaration on hand-made parchment was signed in purple ink with a quill pen made from a turkey feather, then stamped with 6 golden wax seals, in the shape of a star. Some poems and affirmations were shared and the scroll was then tied with a blue ribbon and hung high in the branches of the ancient oak, in the manner that petitions and talismans have been entrusted to these silent giants since before the time of the Druids.

For more information contact –
Diana Rosalind Trimble
https://66witches.wordpress.com

The difficulty in achieving decorum whilst dancing on a grave

May 8, 2011

You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama
to dislike the way that Barack Obama
announced the demise of Bin Laden, Osama
cheerfully chirpy like Bananarama
the suddenly smarmy once-charming Obama.

It’s starting to look like a well-scripted drama
The acting’s not great but what’s real is the trauma…

…Imagine the life of an opium farmer
In a world that needs morphine to keep patient’s calmer
But what about Big Bucks for bully Big Pharma?
Whose suiticals strengthen their financial armour
By making in labs from here to Yokohama
What’s wild in the land of the “desert llama”

If you don’t believe me then go ask your Mama
It just isn’t nice, maybe even bad karma
As clueless as taunting a well-known self-harmer
To celebrate death like you’re havin’ a Pajama
Party – It’s sick! Not to be an alarmer
But never trust no one especially a charmer…

Angry Mob by Peter Clarke, available at Deviant Art