Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Insurgent Summer’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PETE SEEGER-Greatest Hits (2002).

Like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger has been singing for the common man since forever.  Unlike Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger is alive and well and still kicking up a fuss.

This collection of his songs is fascinating in that it shows a certain aspect of Pete’s music: his songs are designed for “folks.”  His songs almost demand audience participation.  And so, he has albums for kids (that are weird but wonderful) and other, grown up songs that kids also know, which people have been singing for generations.

And so this disc features more than “studio tracks.”  It opens with “Little Boxes” a wonderful song which features some awesome lyrics including this verse:

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there’s doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

But in addition, you get some classic tracks that define rebellious folk: “Which Side Are You On?” “We Shall Overcome” and “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”   It also has songs like “Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)” and “Abiyoyo.”

And of course, it features, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Turn Turn Turn” songs which I’ve known since I was a little kid, but whose lyrics never meant anything to me until I became an adult.  There’s even “If I Had a Hammer” with the final verse:

It’s the hammer of justice;
It’s the bell of freedom;
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters;
All over this land

For a really comprehensive collection of his “studio work” the ideal disc is If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle (where he sets the tune of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to a song called “Solidarity Forever” (Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever, For the union makes us strong.)

Pete Seeger is indeed a national treasure, and a man who fights in his own way for each of us.

[READ: August 23, 2010] Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm

After reading Letters of Insurgents, I felt the need for a palate cleanser.  Melissa suggested this title.  And it really did wonders for me.

All along while I was reading Insurgents, I felt like everyone in the book was misguided about their role in society and, frankly about their ability to undermine the world.  I never understood the idea that people were “making” them work.  They didn’t have to work.  They could have lived off the grid somewhere and eaten berries.  What else is the point of a strike than to improve working conditions, not to abolish work altogether (that whole apart about the plants’ foreign offices plugging along despite their big lockdown was particularly hilariously naive).

In many ways I felt like their opinions were on par with what I thought anarchism was, and yet their opinions were nothing I wanted to be a part of.  Bookchin argues that their attitudes are examples of Lifestyle Anarchism (this article does not address the book at all, but you can see the characters in what he’s describing.) (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: STORMTROOPERS OF DEATH-Speak English or Die (1985).

S.O.D. was a side project of Anthrax.  It was an over the top (and hilariously un-PC) collection of super fast (and super short) punk songs.  A lot of the “mosh” sound that Anthrax was experimenting with around this time is in place here (“Milano Mosh” for instance).  So it’s an interesting mix of speed metal and punk.

The lyrics were, as they say, designed to piss everyone off.  And they do.  Song titles like “Speak English or Die,” “Pre-Menstrual Princess Blues,” “Pussy Whipped,” “Fuck the Middle East” and “Douche Crew” pretty much give you a taste of the music.

And yet, Anthrax are silly.  So you know that the band is a parody (even if people took them seriously).  And the best way to tell about the serious intentions of the band are by other songs (and their duration): “Anti-Procrastination Song” – 0:06, “Hey Gordy!” – 0:07, “Ballad of Jimi Hendrix” – 0:05 (entire lyrics: “He’s dead”) and of course “Diamonds and Rust” (Extended Version) – 0:05.  There’s also a song about “Milk” which laments the fact that all of the milk in the fridge has been drunk.

My favorite track is “What’s That Noise.”  The band plays the opening chords of a song and this static crackles in.  Billy Milano slowly goes absolutely insane screaming about the noise, yelling at the band to stop playing.  It still makes me laugh, 25 years later.

[READ: Week of August 20, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Last Letters]

Yarostan’s final letter is a long one, but it is justifiably long. And in some ways it makes up for all the weird incest stuff that I had to read.   Although really nothing could make up for that.

The beginning of the letter is taken up with Mirna and Yara’s “prank” at Jasna & Titus’ engagement party. There so many details to include that I’m just going to summarize. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: AGAINST ME!-“I Was a Teenage Anarchist” (2010).

I heard this song on the radio today and thought it rather ideal for this book.  (Except for the part about the music industry, of course).

I was a teenage anarchist, looking for a revolution.
I had the style, I had the ambition.
I read all the authors, I knew the right slogans.
There was no war but the class war.
I was ready to set the world on fire.
I was a teenage anarchist, looking for a revolution.

I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient.
In the depths of their humanity all I saw was bloodless ideology.
And with freedom as the doctrine, guess who was the new authority?
I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient.

I was a teenage anarchist, but then the scene got too rigid.
It was a mob mentality, they set their rifle sights on me.
Narrow visions of autonomy, you want me to surrender my identity.
I was a teenage anarchist, the revolution was a lie.

Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?

Sums up the book (at least from Sophie’s side, pretty well.  And in 3 minutes, no less.

I rather like Against Me!  Although this song is far poppier than punk.

[READ: Week of August 13, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Ninth Letters]

The penultimate week of Insurgent Summer has everything you always wanted in a book: a teenaged girl trying to seduce her father while her mother looks on and encourages her.  And the sad thing is that that scene, and not any of the political discussions or anything else is what I will remember this book for.  This scene, as corrupt and creepy and hurtful as it was is what I will think of if anyone ever asks me if I read Letters of Insurgents.  And that, I think, is a crying shame, because there are so valid and interesting discussions about individualism in the book, but I’ll just keep seeing Yara forcing herself on Yarostan (and probably Mirna having sex with the devil). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RUSH-“The Trees” (1978).

I suppose many people know this kind-of popular song from Rush.  But lyrically it seemed relevant to Insurgent Summer.

There is unrest in the forest,
There is trouble with the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their please.

The trouble with the maples,
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light.
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made.
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade.

There is trouble in the forest,
And the creatures all have fled,
As the maples scream “Oppression!”
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights.
“The oaks are just too greedy;
We will make them give us light.”
Now there’s no more oak oppression,
For they passed a noble law,
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw.

I’ve liked this song for some twenty-five years and my interpretation of it changes every once in a while.  I’m not sure if the book influences my thoughts on the song, but it seemed relevant.

Oh, and it totally rocks, too.

[READ: Week of July 30, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Eighth Letters]

Yarostan replies to Sophia’s letter by saying that her victory is complete, that he has been looking through opaque lenses all these years.

But the main focus of this letter is the dance at the factory that Yara and Mirna have coordinated.  They decorated the whole room (moving machinery aside) to have the experience of the life that Sabina lived.  It even included signs that said “everything is allowed” and “nothing is banned.”

The dance is basically a retelling of Mirna’s story, complete with Mother with Broom, Devil, and all the other characters that we’ve heard about in their bizarre “love games”  Although the dancing part with the spinning and circling and all the music sounds like it might have been fun, I feel like the audience must have been very confused and a little bummed that there wasn’t more dancing for all.

After the dance Jasna reveals that she asked Titus to marry her.  Twice.  And Jasna reveals that Titus has said some awful things about Luisa and Vera (and, yes, Mirna) over the years.  Yara still hates him. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: WOODY GUTHRIE-This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol 1 (1997).

Protesters don’t get more powerful or more emblematic than Woody Guthrie (if nothing else, he should be forever thanked for “This Land is Your Land”).   Some of his other great political songs are “Lindbergh” (“Now Lindy tried to join the army, but they wouldn’t let ‘im in,/’Fraid he’d sell to Hitler a few more million men”).  There’ also the silly on the surface “Do Re Mi” which holds a deeper meaning: “They think they’re goin’ to a sugar bowl, but here’s what they find/Now, the police at the port of entry say,”You’re number fourteen thousand for today.”/ Oh, if you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,/Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.”

He also introduced a wider world to his “Talkin’ Blues” which were influential on Bob Dylan among others.

The thing that I didn’t know about him was that he wrote so many “silly” songs.  “Car Song” features some car engine noises (as done by a three-year old) as a verse.  “Why Oh Why” which is a nonsensical call and response song: “Why don’t you answer my questions?/Why, oh why, oh why?/’Cause I don’t know the answers.
Goodbye goodbye goodbye.” And “Talking Hard Work” is a pretty hilarious look at how hard it is to do nothing.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for on this disc is, well, Woody’s voice.  I’ve listened to this disc many times, and I have grown to appreciate it, but it was quite a shock to hear his reedy, unpolished voice and how tinny the recording it.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that this music is available to hear, but don’t expect 21st (or even mid-20th) century production or anything.

Here’s a verse that most people don’t know from “This Land is Your Land”

There was a big high wall/there that tried to stop me/The sign was painted; said “Private Property”/But on the back side it didn’t say nothing/This land was made for you and me

[READ: Week of July 23, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Seventh Letters]

Last week, Sophia wrote to Yarostan without having read his letter (which was just as well, as Mirna was pretty far off the deep end).  But Yarostan has received Sophia’s letter and is ready to write back to her.

And he is thrilled that he and Sophia are really in synch with their attitudes and events for once (things have changed a lot for him since he last wrote).

I regret much of what I said in that letter. I now have an opposite admission to make to you.  I was very moved when you said you were waiting for me to walk into your “council office.”  If such an expedition should ever be undertaken, I’ll be the first to volunteer and of course I’ll bring Yara and Mirna along as well as Jasna and Zdenek. I love you, too, Sophia; we all do; you’ve seduced us with your honesty and especially with your modest, almost shy courage (497).

In fact, things are worlds apart in Yarostan’s household.  Mirna was thrilled to get the latest letter and to learn that Sophia was on strike.  But more importantly, Mirna reveals that she herself is on strike, too!  And they will be partying!  Jasna excitedly comments that they are in the same world, separated only by geography.

Zdenek comes over and reads the letter too, but he has a hard time thinking that the unions where Sophia is are the same as unions where they are.  And Mirna jumps all over him, asking if old age is making him conservative.  But Zdenek makes what I think is an excellent point about the postal workers.  Everyone uses the mail, even rebels.  So, sure they should have rights too, but encouraging them to strike doesn’t only harm capitalists. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: AVI BUFFALO-“What’s In It For” (2010).

I received an email from Amazon telling me that their top 50 CDs of the year (so far) were online.  The second disc was by Avi Buffalo.  I’d never heard of Avi Buffalo, but they were on Sub Pop, so that’s a good sign.

I was going to listen to a sample, but saw that they had a video for “What’s In It For” on the Avi Buffalo page.

Avi himself looks about 12, which is disconcerting.  But his voice is really angelic (he sounds like one of those high voiced singer like from The Shins or Band of Horses or, indeed like Grant Lee Phillips) In fact, this song could be a B0H outtake.   And as such, that’s a good thing.

I’m not sure just how original the band is, and I’m also not sure if they are tagging onto this high-voiced folkie bandwagon (he doesn’t have a beard at least, so that’s a relief; of course, he may not be old enough to grow one).

A sampling of the rest of the songs shows more diversity than the “single?” indicates.  And, indeed, this looks like a great, quirky summer release.

[READ: July 20, 2010] “The Last Stand of Free Town”

Even though I read all the articles in The Believer, I don’t often talk about them, mostly because they are non-fiction, and I don’t tend to talk about non-fiction articles for whatever reason.

But anyhow, I’m mentioning this because it ties pretty directly to the Insurgent Summer story Letters of Insurgents that I and others are reading.

This article is about the pacifist commune that has existed in Christianshavn (part of Copenhagen, Denmark) since 1971:

That year, a group of squatters overtook an abandoned army base east of Prinsessegade, barricaded the roads, outlawed cars and guns, and created a self-ruling micro-nation in the heart of Copenhagen. They called the eighty-five-acre district Christiania Free Town, drew up a constitution, printed their own currency, banished property ownership, legalized marijuana, and essentially seceded from Denmark. The traditionally liberal Danish government allowed the settlement at first, dubbing Christiania a “social experiment.” Then it spent the next three decades trying to reclaim the area. Thirty-nine years and a dozen eviction notices later, the nine hundred residents of Free Town represent one of the longest-lasting social experiments in modern history.

Note that Christiania was founded in 1971 and Letters is from 1976, so something must have been in the air. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-“Horses” (1991).

I have mentioned the Rheostatics a lot.  I’ve even talked about this song in Melville.  And yet it works so well as a companion to this book.

It starts slowly enough, a simple acoustic guitar with the lyrics:

Word came down and it crashed through my door
From the twenty-first floor
I was thinkin’ about leavin’ early for lunch
When he told me to shut off my press
His face turned green and his white shirt was wet
Like he’d just seen an accident
We threw our masks into a pile, the trucks pulled away for good

The band kicks in a slow beat  as the song builds:

A bus pulled in and I waved at it
Before I knew what it was
We ran in its tracks chasing its tires
But the gates had been riveted shut
I looked for the foreman; his number was empty
Up to Red Deer to stay
We gathered some signs and we sparked up a fire
Gordie got burned on the high-voltage wire

A quick intense bridge:

The first thing she’ll ask me is: “How did it go today?”And I’ll tell her.

The song builds in intensity with some wild screaming guitars until finally settling down to the quiet beginning

I thought there was strength in a union
I thought there was strength in a mob
I thought the company was bluffing
When they threatened to chop us off
Ah, these guns will wilt the winter will seize
And all the bonfires will go out
The company knows when they can afford to be bold
I wish I could, I wish I could, I wish I could

All along the ringing repeated chorus: “Holy mackinaw Joe! (Holy mackinaw).”

I’m not sure if this references a specific event or not.  (Surely someone can tell me that).  But you can listen to it here.  Or, find any of the live renditions on youtube.

There’s an interview with Dave Bidini of the Rheos who tells the interviewer that he also used to do music interviews.  And once he interviewed Neil Peart who, after much chatter, asked Dave if he knew the song “Horses” by the Rheos.  Dave humbly said that he wrote it.  And Neil said that on their last tour he used to come off stage and listen to “Horses” at full blast.  (And that’s how they got Neil to play on the Rheos’ subsequent album).  Neat, huh?

[READ: Week of July 16, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sixth Letters]

Insurgent Summer is till moving along, but the insurgents have been quiet lately.  I hope the insanity of these letters and invocations of the devil will bring up the chatter.

Yarostan opens his letter with the most heartfelt emotions.  And yet, anyone who thought (as I did) that there might be some kind of rekindling of romance between the two will be sorely disappointed: (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: CRASS-Christ: The Bootleg (1989).

I had heard about Crass as being a political force to be reckoned with–they formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and on behalf of political causes.  So why not start with a CD that says on the cover: “Suggested Retail Price $4.98.”

So I bought this CD before hearing anything else by them.  It’s a live recording from 5.2.1984, and it’s a noisy muddled mess.  You can hear occasional words in the noise (although most of the clearest things are soundbites from the likes of Thatcher and other politicians).  These surround the songs which are mostly just noisy distorted guitars (more because of the sound quality of the recording I believe).

I’ve obviously never seen Crass, but this bootleg suggests that they were a visceral force (there’s so much screaming!).  There are a few moments of clarity where you can hear their anti-establishment lyrics, but for the most part this is a terrible place to discover Crass.

I suppose if you know the band, it’s a worthy addition, but I have to assume the proper albums sound better and make more of an impact.

[READ: Week of July 9, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sophia’s Fifth Letter]

This week’s reading comes from Sophia.  Her letter was nearly 80 pages long, so we get her POV exclusively.

Sophia’s tone has changed yet again. This time, it’s summed up when she dismisses Yarostan’s comparison of her life in the garage (and more about that soon) with his experiences during Magarna:

The only similarity between your experiences during the Magarna uprising and my experiences in the garage is that they both began at the same time.  But I’ll let you be the judge of the similarities and the differences; you’ve scolded me enough for my comparisons and contrasts (338).

Sophia opens with two surprises: she was just in jail and Tina has left their house.  [The way it’s worded: she is “no longer with us” (331) was rather a tease.] (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKDEAD KENNEDYS-Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980).

Punks often marry politics to their music.  And none moreso than the Dead Kennedys.  I found out about them around the Frankenchrist album, but it’s this one that introduced Jello Biafra to the world.

What I loved about the Dead Kennedys is that they set out to offend everyone–unless you actually listened to their lyrics. The first track, “Kill the Poor” seems like it a horrifying encouragement to do just that, but if you read the lyrics: “Efficiency and progress is ours once more/Now that we have the Neutron bomb/It’s nice and quick and clean and gets things done/Away with excess enemy/But no less value to property/No sense in war but perfect sense at home.”   As was recently commented, Dick Cheney may have seen the sarcasm there.

“Let’s Lynch the Landlord” is a song that Sophia and Yarostan could get behind: “I tell them ‘turn on the water’/I tell ’em ‘turn on the heat’/Tells me ‘All you ever do is complain’/Then they search the place when I’m not here.”

The biggest track of the disc was “Holiday in Cambodia,” a song so catchy that Dockers actually asked to use it in a commercial (!).  Cause nothing sells jeans like: “Play ethnicky jazz/To parade your snazz/On your five grand stereo/Braggin’ that you know/How the niggers feel cold/And the slums got so much soul.”

The thing that I especially liked about the DKs was that although they played hardcore (some brutally fast and crazily short songs), they didn’t limit themselevs to just that.  They had actual guitar riffs, they tinkered with styles and genres (surf and rockabilly among others), and they even slowed things down from time to time (all the better to hear the lyrics).

Even if the band disintegrated into lawsuits, it’s fair to say that they inspired plenty of kids to take an interest in what was going on around them.

Pol Pot.

[READ: Week of June 25, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Yarostan’s Fifth Letter]

Because Sophia’s letter is very long, this week it’s only Yarostan’s letter for Insurgent Summer.  It opens with Yara annoyed about the tone of Sophia’s letters and her surprise that Yarostan is so quick to want to open the latest one.   But indeed, Yarostan feels compelled to apologize for “the way I treated your earlier letters.  I did treat you as an outsider, as a person with whom I couldn’t communicate about my present situation.  I was wrong” (283).  [It’s very nice of him to admit that he was wrong].  But that doesn’t mean that he is going to lighten up in his discussions with Sophia: “it seems to me that …critical appreciation is not an expression of hostility but is at the very basis of communication and friendship” (285).  Mirna also chimes in (with rather high praise):

Sophia is a born troublemaker, just like Jan and Yara.  She shares Jan’s recklessness as well as his courage.  I’m glad for her sake that she was taken away from here even if her emigration caused her some pain.  There’s no room here for people like that.  If she’d stayed she would have disappeared years ago in a prison or concentration camp (283). (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Talking to the Taxman About Poetry (1986).

I’ve liked Billy for ages now.  I’ve seen him live a few times, and I’ve always loved that his accent is so prominent when he sings.  Over the years he has become somewhat less overtly political, but he is still a man of issues and causes.

This is Billy Bragg’s second full length.  He was still primarily a man with a voice and a guitar at this stage.  His melodies are strong, and since there’s no other instrumentation, all that’s left to talk about is the lyrics.

“Greetings to the New Brunette” is an adorable love song, followed closely by the anti-marriage “The Marriage”: “If I share my bed with you Must I also share my life Love is just a moment of giving And marriage is when we admit our parents were right.” (which doesn’t quite jibe with Sophia, but it’s close.

But really what you come to Billy Bragg for is the politics.  LIke in “Ideology”:  The voices of the people Are falling on deaf ears Our politicians all become careerists They must declare their interests  But not their company cars  Is there more to a seat in parliament  Then sitting on your arse.”

He also covers a public domain song which I wondered how well it would fit here.  “There is Power in a Union” seems like it’s saying the right thing, but some of the characters here would disagree about the end: There is power in a factory, power in the land Power in the hands of a worker But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand There is power in a Union.”

This album also features the great track, “Help Save the Youth of America.”

Over the years Billy would expand his sound (he even worked with Wilco on two discs), but he always sings for the people.

[READ: Week of July 2, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Fourth Letters]

As I’ve been going along in the story, I began to wonder if the two letter writers were going to be rehashing the same arguments in each letter.  I had confidence in Perlman that the story would be interesting (it sure had been so far), but I couldn’t imagine how he would keep it original, especially since Yarostan was in jail for so long–he has no information except secondhand.

This week’s reading gave two examples of how he’d do it:  Jasna comes to visit Yarostan and she updates everyone about what had happened to all of their fellow workers, and Sophia reveals a horrible situation in which she hits rock bottom–a real physical bottom, not a philosophical one. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »