Archive for September, 2003

Song: “Girl by my side”

Tidying up, found an old cassette tape containing some old songs that I’d forgotten writing. These were doodles done with a Fostex 4 track home studio, a machine which played one side only of a normal cassette tape, thereby getting 4 tracks (the 2 sides’ left and right stereo tracks make 4, you see) then you mix them out and record them on another cassette. Great for testing ideas, harmonies etc before presenting them to the band.. or forgetting them entirely.

Here’s a 3-chord wonder, that Shez added bass to after I’d done the rhythm guitar and vocal line. I remember getting drunk and coming back home, plugging in the guitar and doing the guitar solo here with no planning in one take, oblivious of the overdriving of the amp or clipping the sound through the mixer. You may well say it sounds like what it is – a drunkard with no rehearsal; to me, I love the sheer nastiness of the solo that reflects the lyrics, ostensibly a celebration of the current girlfriend – but really a petulant thumbing of the nose at a previous romantic partner. Heh.

So, just when you think that it’s all cut and dried
Somebody appears for whom the rules do not apply.
I thank you for the pleasure that you once supplied;
It means very little now this girl’s at my side.
All the pain you were hell-bent to provide
Is almost forgotten now this girl’s at my side.
I thank you for the tears that you and I cried;
They made me the person loved by this girl at my side.
There are small laughter lines in the corner of her eyes
Which make me feel a tenderness I hoped I could disguise.
Unfamiliar feelings that I’d fought and then denied
Are like a runaway juggernaut, and I’m here for the ride.

So, this is mawkish and naive? It’s merely meant as an aside;
I’m not good at self-expression, but at least I’ve tried.
Sometimes I feel I’m overflowing with pride
To share something so spectacular with this girl by my side.
Blah blah blah.

Song: “Nothing Of This”

Here’s a solemn warning against drum machines, over-enthusiasm on guitar and making up lyrics in the studio after beer and amphetamines. A band composition: Andy Cope/ me / Nick Sherrard / Shez, called “Nothing Of This” because I liked the painting by Ernst.

September 11th – 2 years on, and 30 years on

It’s two years since the terrorist atrocities in the U.S., and what has changed? 6118 civilians dead as a result of the American/ British occupation of Iraq; 3000 dead civilians dead in Afghanistan, yet Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein still broadcast via Al-Jazeera. My friend’s daughter had her hijab torn off her while on a bus and beer poured over her head (“that’s for the world trade centre”); she’s 16 and a British-born muslim. The “allies” say it’s not a war on Islam – but George W.’s calling it a “Crusade”
and the initial designation of the bombing of Afghanistan as “Operation Infinite Justice” would certainly make me sceptical, were I a muslim.

I’m no anti-American; I believe there’s much in the U.S. that we British should import – the almost total seperation of religion and state, the rejection of the monarchy, a written bill of rights and a constitution (minus the absurd right to bear arms) are things that I’d love to see in the U.K. The USA seems to value liberty, equality under the law, the rule of law highly.

But, of course, there is a dirty secret behind it all. Tucked away in Guantanamo Bay are 660 men – three of whom are teenagers. Three are also British. These men are being held indefinitely (Donald
Rumsfeld:
“Our interest is in not trying them and letting them out .. Our interest is in – during this global war on terror – keeping them off the streets, and so that’s what’s taking place.”), will be tried in secret with no defence lawyers, and could even be executed. This is America’s shame; their ‘peace’ and ‘security’ depends upon curtailing that of other people; their conduct destroys their moral superiority. The claim to be upholding liberal democracy is hollow when they will not afford their prisoners of war the rights of POWs under the Geneva Convention (or even the rights granted under Magna Carta half a millenium ago).

Have you ever read the very short story by Ursula Le Guin – “The ones who walk away from Omelas”? It describes a rich, happy society – much like America – but this society is somehow founded on the misery of one small child, locked in a basement, sorely abused: “It is so thin there are no calves to its legs; its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and thighs are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.”

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the
beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery …

Often the young people go home in tears, or in a tearless rage, when they have seen the child and faced this terrible paradox. They may brood over it for weeks or years. But as time goes on they begin to realize that even if the child could be released, it would not get much good of its freedom: a little vague pleasure of warmth and food, no doubt, but little more. It is too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy. It has been afraid too long ever to be free of fear.
Its habits are too uncouth for it to respond to humane treatment. Indeed, after so long it would probably be wretched without walls about it to protect it, and darkness for its eyes, and its own excrement to sit in.

Just like le Guin’s fictional Omelas, America justifies its stamping on the rights of others by stating that those others can’t handle freedom. “They’re muslims, aren’t they – so they’re not interested in democracy and self-determination. They’re communists, thus so brainwashed that they can’t elect a government; we’re doing them a favour by governing them. It’s for world peace and middle-eastern security that we prop up and bankroll a morally repugnant Israeli government which treats some of its own citizens as second-class citizens because of their race, and which has a litany of U.N. resolutions condemning it” is the real Voice of the American government. It even uses its anti-terror laws against its own citizens for non-terrorist crimes. Benjamin Franklin wrote “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Today is also the thirtieth anniversary of the American-sponsored military coup in Chile, which saw Pinochet topple the democratically-elected President Allende.

Song: “Sweet Sadie Sings”

Done with my band The Lucies. Shez on bass, Andy on drums, Val Colman guesting on backing vocals. I keep this one because (a) I remember who “Sadie” is and (b) because I like the really cool G with an added 9th chord.

Sadie sings sweetly
about all of the things she’s done
and says, “They can’t be classified neatly
into those I’ve lost and those I’ve won.
For experience gained
My innocence has been shamed.
until only empty words remain.”
Sweet Sadie Sings.

Sadie sings softly
of the last twenty-seven times she’s been in love
and says “If you would only get off me
I could transcend this wrecked room and rise above
My stupid hopes and my facile fears
My futile dreams and my fatuous fears.
I never claimed that I was proud of these last three years.”
Sweet Sadie Sings.

Sadie is grieving
for the dreams she’s nurtured and then denied.
She said, “One November evening
I took them out and I laid them bare and there they died.
I know that I am far too small
to contemplate ever achieving them all,
so on the way some of them fall.”
Sweet Sadie Sings.

Sadie sings sadly
conscious of her words’ ambiguities.
She says “Who’s to say I’ve done so badly
when all I’ve ever really done is try to please?
For experience gained
My sense of wonder has waned.
What’s in a name when the name’s been changed?”
Sweet Sadie Sings

Words/ music ©Bruce Lawson

Nazis and Art

So, Leni Riefenstahl, film-maker to Hitler, is dead. It seems impossible to discuss her without someone, sooner or later, saying that regardless of her technique or aesthetics, the subject matter and her perceived politics render it unable to be praised. It becomes unart.

I never enjoyed her films (though I like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, allegedly the Fuhrer’s favourite film). The other day I was reading Ezra Pound’s translations from the Chinese and T.S.Eliot, two of my favourite poets. It’s well-known that Pound was a fascist, and Eliot himself was a a ultra-catholic monarchist who wrote unpleasantly about Jews:

And the jew squats in the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London ..

That latter poem I rarely read, because it makes me feel uncomfortable and destroys my pleasure at sitting reading great works. But the fact that Eliot and Pound’s politics were horrible doesn’t make them bad artists. In fact, you don’t even have to be a pleasant person to be a great artist – I’ve noticed that a lot of the songwriters whose work I particularly admire, while not fascists, aren’t exactly the most pleasant of people. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed all come across as arrogant arseholes in interviews. Maybe being a decent, balanced kind-hearted human being prevents you becoming a great artist?

Morbid? No!

While down in London to interview Bob Regan, I got the chance to get some of my old photos from my Dad’s house. These two seemed to resonate, as I realise that I’m getting old – my daughter just started school, for god’s sake… The first picture is of some of the estimated 6 million skeletons in the Paris catacombs; I really like this one because of the colours left as the water dripped across them for the last couple of hundred years.

paris skulls streaked with mineral colours RIP micheal aged 9 months - crudely made wooden cross in graveyard

I took the second one summer in a graveyard near my old flat. This roughly made wooden cross, barely taller than the grass, has “R.I.P.Michael 9 months” written on it with permanent ink. Who was Micheal? How did he die? Why no proper headstone? Who made this one?

Harvesting the young rice

Something in Zeldman’s blog reminded me of a phrase I learned in North Thailand. The area near the Golden Triangle, north of where my wife came from, is dotted with empty villages. They used to be populated by hill tribes, ex-nomads who settled and quietly grew opium for selling to the burmese and for own use. A decade ago, the US government put pressure on the Thais to eradicate these small opium farms, even providing helicopters and napalm.

If you’re addicted to smoking opium, it has no ill-effects (apart from making your teeth fall out) as long as you have a constant supply. When the opium was taken away, the people had to buy refined heroin. As the apples/ strawberries that the governement gave them to plant instead of opium didn’t pay for food etc as well as heroin, the local girls were sent with kindly gentlemen from Bangkok who came up to the villages to take the girls as bonded “waitresses”, and the money paid for lots of lovely smack. The process of touring the villages for girls is known as “Tok Khiew” – cutting/ harvesting the green (eg, young) rice.

The girls were, of course, “employed” in brothels. Many were raped to break them in, and shackled. (After a disastrous fire in a Thai brothel, the corpses of half a dozen teenage girls were found chained to their beds.) When the girls got older, or – almost as inevitably – became HIV+, they returned to the villages, to share the village’s heroin and small supply of re-re-reused needles. End result? everyone died of AIDS.

Or the girls continued to prostitute themselves back in the backward North in order to buy AIDS medicine, or the village’s junk. Coupled with the Thai belief that only ‘bad’ girls ask a man to wear a condom, the wives of men who visited these prostitutes got AIDs in this secondary manner. My wife used to work with children who were HIV+ due to a tertiary infection. The saddest of these (if there can be any kind of hierarchy of misfortune and misery) was a small child named Kgung who was horribly deformed, born of an HIV+ mother. When she realised she was pregnant, she had tried to abort him with a rod of metal, but failed, and he was born – HIV negative.