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Mississippi Stuntmen August 7, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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by BAR poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner

Our poet in residence reflects upon the unique

and innovative skillsets deployed by those who

allegedly take their own lives in police custody

Mississippi stuntmen

by BAR poet in residence Raymond Nat Turner




Everybody knows about

Mississippi goddamn, Mississippi goddamn!”

But who knew about Mississippi stuntmen?

Hey Hollywood, get hip, headhunt,

Hire stunt men from Mississippi jails,

Recruit from backseats of Arkansas

police cruisers, Boy Scout, Eagle Scout-

like men, prepared to off themselves—

wizards using everyday objects; hanging them-





Hire Mississippi stuntmen, men with sick skill-

sets, leaping up in jail cells, NBA hops and hang-


men making Michael Jordan, Dr. J, LeBron look like

weekend-warrior/couch potatoes, defying physics,

gravity, logic, performing impossible physical feats!

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, superb actors, too—

acting normal, hiding severe depression, recurring

suicidal thoughts, until the scene shifts behind bars

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, made for mysteries,

thrillers, whodunits, horror flicks; Masters of the

suicide scene, hanging themselves with anything

on the set—gaffers tape, super hero’s cape, head-

phones, chicken bones, eagle feathers, trailer tethers—

Garbage bag geniuses!

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, …”everybody knows about

Mississippi goddamn,” but who knew about Mississippi

stuntmen? David Copperfields in orange jumpsuits making

Handguns appear out of thin air, making dash-cam video dis-


Hey Hollywood, get hip, headhunt,

Hire Mississippi stuntmen, one take wonders

who’ll bring your blockbuster in under budget!

Independent contractors in right to work states

of mind: No pensions, 401ks, no social security,



Mississippi stuntmen travel and teach in Texas,

Arkansas, in fact, all over the U.S…. Up south,





Anywhere south of the Canadian Border!

Mississippi stuntmen come certified by CWS:

Crackkkers With Stars!

Raymond Nat Turner © 2015 All Rights Reserved

Kids Who Die August 6, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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Let My People Go May 11, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I wish I knew a way to enlarge this picture.  Its bright colors and brilliant sunshine suggest the mind of an artist filled with optimism and hope.  Would you believe that it was painted by a Guantánamo detainee who has been cleared for release after years of illegal imprisonment yet languors in this hellhole because mean spirited American Republicans have the power to continue his torturous confinement?



On Thursday, CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei will be heading down to Guantánamo to visit several of CCR’s clients, including Ghaleb Al Bihani and Mohammed Al Hamiri. For men like Ghaleb and Mohammed, who have been cleared for release and yet remain trapped in Guantánamo because of politics, these visits are a lifeline and a way to hold onto a tenuous and fragile hope that they will someday be free again. “I’m working hard to recover that sense of being a human being which was stripped away from me,” Ghaleb told us in a recent letter. He was cleared for release a year ago after a Period Review Board (PRB) hearing at which he, Pardiss, and his team made the case for his release. His hopes raised then, he is fighting hard to keep them alive now. “I will not allow these conditions and circumstances to become a stumbling block into my unknown destiny. He who has will and determination has also strength.” Ghaleb’s case is playing out against the backdrop of debate in Washington around the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). House Republicans are hellbent on including new restrictions on Guantánamo transfers in the NDAA, dedicated to the seemingly sole purpose of ruining President Obama’s legacy. This week the Senate will mark up its bill, with a vote expected later this month. Politicians play games for cheap political gain while men like Ghaleb wonder if they will leave GITMO alive.

Guantanamera! May 9, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Cuba, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I scan the world news every day with particular interest in Latin America, Canada, the USA, and the Middle East; and what I see and what I put on this Blog relate largely to struggles for political, environmental and economic justice.  It is appropriate, however, to from time to time to take time out to celebrate what the human spirit is capable of.

I have a particular affinity for Cuba, which I had the opportunity to visit many times during the 1980s and early 1990s and travel around a good part of the country.  What I found in Cuba, which sets it apart from any of the other Latin American countries I have visited or lived in, is a spirit of pride, the pride of having stood up to the North American Behemoth and achieved its independence after decades of imperial oppression.  I will never forget the huge billboard at the entrance to the Bay of Pigs (Cubans call it Playa Girón) that proclaimed the “first victory over imperialism in the Americas.”  It is the same pride that showed itself recently when, after a half century stand-off, the Goliath Obama finally blinked.

As you will read below, “Guantanamera” refers to a woman from Guantánamo,  It is beyond irony that in our day Guantánamo has become synonymous with torture and degradation; but we cannot let that take away from the celebration of life and love that is reflected in the lyrics and performance of this amazing song.  Thanks to Adrian Sanchez, who posted this on his Blog.  I urge you if nothing else to click here in the first paragraph and listen to the Playing for Change performance.



A song which we all should know. Its name alone resonates deep within me and in perfect time with my heartbeat. Guantanamera. I love it when a song, its rhythms and beat, affect me with such physicality. Guantanamera is one such song. Imagine my excitement when I recently heard a new version of this Latin American musical gem. For anyone who has not heard “Guantanamera” and would like to listen: click here and please tell me what you think of it.


This  version of Guantanamera is a vast collaboration of no less than 75 Cuban recording artists. It was produced by Playing for Change [1]. They recorded and produced this track with Jackson Browne, who stated that traveling with Playing for Change across Cuba was one of the most rewarding and inspiring musical experiences of his life.

As with the most popular versions of this song, this latest recording, is based upon that of Julián Orbón (1925-1991). It was made with a selection of verses from poems by the Cuban poet José Martí’s Versos sencillos, Simple Verses, intertwined with these three very special musical words:

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

Guantanamera - Music for change

The Simple Verses are rich in profound and colourful symbolism [2]. The couplet below captures the simple power of the words; a call from the past, to today, for tolerance and respect:

Cultivo una rosa blanca
En julio como en enero
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
cultivo una rosa Blanca.

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

… …

I grow a white rose
in July just as in January
for the honest friend
who gives me his open hand.

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

And for the cruel one who tears out
the heart with which I live,
no thistle or nettle I grow;
I grow a white rose. [3]

Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera.

José Martí

José Martí’s writing (1853-1895) contributed greatly to the Spanish modernist literary movement. He is known as one of the greatest figures of the Cuban Revolution and a Latin American intellectual. He also became a symbol of Cuba’s independence against Spain in the 19th Century. In time, this song was destined to become an unofficial anthem of Cuba.

But … what do guantanamera and guajira mean and why does this refrain appear between the verses?

Both words come from the aboriginal taínos dialect, an indigenous Caribbean ethnic group, and became part of the Spanish language, as did many other indigenous words.

Women from the countryside in Cuba, mujeres del campo, are named guajiras (masculine: guajiros).


As for guantanamera, it sounds similar to the term Guantánamo, the easternmost province of Cuba; and indeed guantanamera refers to a woman originally from Guantánamo (masculine: guantanamero).

Who was that anonymous country woman from Guantánamo, who inspired such a song? She became part of the legend of this song, as the Brazilian Garota de Ipanema, the Girl from Ipanema, did with the homonymous song?

As with any myth, the origins of the song Guantanamera are lost in the mists of time. However, the controversies about the genesis, and authorship of the tune and lyrics still remain.

We do know that, by the end of the 1920’s, this song was already being sung in Cuba and nearly 100 years later it has a new lease of life and it is infusing a new generation of fans to carry it onwards.


In the hot humid afternoons of 1930’s Cuba, the radio program El suceso del día, The Events of the Day, Radio CMQ, in La Habana, became very popular. Crime stories selected from the newspaper were sung proficiently to the tune of Guantanamera by the Cuban singer/songwriter/composer Joseíto Fernández (1908-1979). Actors also re-enacted the news events live on air and for several years Guantanamera became one of the most followed radio programs in Cuba.

It is said that Joseíto Fernández would have sung variations of the refrain in other radio stations, such as guajira holguinera (woman from Holguín Province) or guajira camagüeña (woman from Camaguey Province).

According to one of the accounts, he fell in love with a woman from Guantánamo who was very jealous. It appears that the “guajira guantanamera” found him talking (or flirting with …) another woman and following a tantrum and a curse, she ran away and he never saw her again. That day, he sung the song as usual and the audience was so enchanted with that version that they called the radio station in their hundreds to request that he continue singing those particular lyrics and he did.

Guantanamera cover

The best known version of Guantanamera is the version by Julián Orbón, who used Joseíto Fernandez’s original music, including the well known refrain, intertwined with the fragments of José Marti’s Simple Verses.

The American songwriter and activist Peter Seeger (1919-2014) reworked and recorded a live version of the song on his album We Shall Overcome, at Carnegie Hall, in 1963.

In 1966, The Sandpipers recorded it, to some acclaim, and their version become a Top 10 hit in the UK. Click here to listen to their version.

When the beat of the music is with the beat of the heart, a song becomes a musical treasure. However, Guantanamera transcends its music, the words of Marti’s verses convey that perennial call for tolerance, respect, inclusiveness, equality and freedom; and it makes Guantanamera a song standing for those rights that are universal and indivisible.

Then, “in July just as in January, I grow a white rose”.

Guantanamera - The Sandpippers

— —

[1] Playing for Change is a movement founded by Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke, created to inspire and connect the world through music, with the belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people.

[2] The book Poemas sencillos, Simple Verses, comprises 46 poems written in a short form, using simple words, deliberately putting meaning over form. Besides this, the poems are of regular rhyme, scheme and alliteration.

[3] Free translation.

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About hoxton spanish tutor info

Hi, my name is Adrian Sanchez. I am passionate about words and languages, particularly Spanish, the language I learned at my mother’s knee. I am curious about how languages change and evolve. I am a qualified Spanish Teacher (CLTA) and a journalist. I have taught in literacy campaigns in Latin America and given Spanish tuition in Spain and in the UK. I would like to share some of my thoughts on the Spanish language; and particularly on what I have learned from my students, who in many ways have become my teachers throughout the years. Spanish is a vast and beautiful language and I would like you to accompany me on a journey of discoveries, so I will be presenting two blogs per month and I would like to hear from you. Here is a link to my webpage: spanish-tutor.info You can visit my blog here: spanishtutorinfo.wordpress.com Email: info@Spanish-tutor.info Thank you!

  1. Hugo Isa says : 19/02/2015 at 7:54 am la guantanamera de Joan Baez


Rest in Power, Eduardo Galeano April 16, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Latin America.
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Posted on April 13, 2015 by chrmaria


Dedicated to The Nobodies
The nobodies: the sons of no one, the owners of nothing.
Who don’t speak languages, but rather dialects.
Who don’t follow religions, but rather superstitions.
Who don’t make art, but rather crafts.
Who don’t practice culture, but rather folklore.
Who are not human, but rather human resources.
Who have no face but have arms.
Who have no name, but rather a number.
Who don’t appear in the universal history books,
but rather in the police pages of the local press.
The nobodies,
the ones who are worth less than the bullet that kills them.


Los Nadies, by Eduardo Galeano


Eduardo Galeano’s Words Walk the Streets of a Continent April 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, History, Latin America, Media, Uruguay.
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Roger’s note: Two literary giants and champions of social justice — Eduardo Galeano and Gunter Grass — passed away earlier this week.  Not surprisingly, North American media paid more attention to the latter, a European, than they did to one of the Western Hemisphere’s own super heroes, who nevertheless was not exactly a household name in the North American imperium.  Not to take anything away from Grass, the importance of the life and work of Eduardo Galeano for the peoples of Latin America and the notion of social, political and economic  justice cannot be overestimated.  If you read only one analysis of Latin American history, make sure it is his “Open Veins …”  One reviewer characterized Galeano as a cross between Pablo Neruda and Howard Zinn.  That is not an overstatement.

 “She’s on the horizon…”



The world lost one of its great writers yesterday. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano died at age 74 in Montevideo. He left a magical body of work behind him, and his reach is as wide as his continent.

During Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, Galeano’s words walked down the streets with a life of their own, accompanying every protest and activist meeting. Factories were occupied by workers, neighborhood assemblies rose up, and, for a time, revolutionary talk and action replaced a rotten neoliberal system. Galeano’s upside-down view of the world blew fresh dreams into the tear gas-filled air.

In the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, pirated copies of Galeano’s classic Open Veins of Latin America are still sold at nearly every book stall. There too, Galeano’s historical alchemy added to the fire of many movements and uprisings, where miners of the country’s open veins tossed dynamite at right-wing politicians, and the 500-year-old memory of colonialism lives on.

Up the winding mountain roads of Chiapas, past Mexican state military checkpoints, lies the autonomous Zapatista community of Oventic. One day a few years ago, Galeano’s familiar voice floated over the foggy, autonomous land, reciting children’s stories over stereo speakers.

At a World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Galeano entered a steaming hot tent where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak about the Uruguayan water rights movement in which the people had “voted against fear” to stop privatization. What I remembered most about the talk is how much he made the crowd laugh.

And one night in Paraguay, with the smell of cow manure and pesticides lingering in the air, small farmers besieged by toxic soy crops gathered to tell stories of resistance, stories they linked to Galeano’s accounts of the looting of Latin America and struggles against greed and empire that were centuries in the making.

With the small mountain of books and articles he left behind, Galeano gives us a language of hope, a way feel to feel rage toward the world while also loving it, a way to understand the past while carving out a better possible future.

“She’s on the horizon,” Galeano once wrote of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.”

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Some more tributes:






GUANTANAMERA! April 3, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Cuba, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: Since my first visit in 1980 (where on the beaches of Havana I joined in with veterans of the successful  defense of the Bay of Pigs invasion in celebrating the 20th anniversary of their victory), I have had a love affair with Cuba.  I have visited the islands many times and traveled the island from east to west.  I have lots of stories to tell, but that will wait for a future post.  For now, enjoy the recording, which in ways I could not begin to approach, communicates the joy and spirit of the Cuban people and their culture. When Obama, for the wrong reasons, agreed to resume normal relations with Cuba, the Cuban people rejoiced.  This represented a 50 year struggle finally won by Cuban David over the American Goliath, at least for the time being.  It remains to be seen if an American invasion of capital can succeed to wipe out the gains of the Cuban Revolution in a way that 50 years of economic embargo and clandestine dirty tricks could not.

I came across this recording at this web site: https://spanishtutorinfo.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/guantanamera/.  You can go there for much more on Guantanamera.  The word Guantanamera, by the way, refers to a woman of Guantanamo, and this song is the polar opposite of the Hell that the United States government has made there.




Grammys 2015: Transcript of Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Person of Year speech February 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture.
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Roger’s note: you may not agree with everything he says, you may be put off by his petulance, defensiveness and critiques, but there is no denying that Dylan outspoken, blunt, acerbic, and — above all — folksy, is one of a kind, a genuine American (in the best sense of the word) phenomenon.  Via his music he captured the ethos and spoke to a generation, a generation that found it hard to understand his primary commitment to his music over his message.  Here he tells it like it is for him, an insight into the man, a folk genius if nothing else.


Former President Jimmy Carter introduces Bob Dylan as the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year with Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, during the MusiCares concert at the Convention Center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)


By Randall Roberts contact the reporter


Transcript of Bob Dylan’s MusiCares Person of Year speech

Bob Dylan was honored by MusiCares, the charity organization that aids musicians in need, at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Friday night. After performances by artists including Tom Jones, Sheryl Crow, Neil Young, Beck, Jackson Browne and others, Dylan himself took a rare opportunity in the spotlight to deliver a 30-plus-minute acceptance speech.

Expansive, funny and insightful, Dylan didn’t pull any punches, calling out songwriters who had criticized his work while indicting Nashville and commercial country music.

He was introduced by former President Jimmy Carter, and walked out to a standing ovation. After thanking the organizers, Dylan referred to his notes and began by saying, “I’m going to read some of this.”

Because of moments of applause, and some echoey acoustics, a few of Dylan’s words were inaudible on the recording I’ve consulted, and I’ve noted as such. Though it upsets him to hear it (see below), Dylan does sometimes mumble and slur his words.

Bob Dylan’s MusiCares person of the year acceptance speech:


I’m glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn’t get here by themselves. It’s been a long road and it’s taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, they’re like mystery stories, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they’re on the fringes now. And they sound like they’ve been on the hard ground.

I should mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention John Hammond, great talent scout for Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and he was courageous. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists. All noncommercial artists.

Trends did not interest John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that’s all that mattered. I can’t thank him enough for that.

Lou Levy runs Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn’t stay there too long. Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright, there was no precedent for what I was doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like “Stardust,” he’d turn it down because it would be too late.

He told me that if I was before my time — and he didn’t really know that for sure — but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up — so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn’t judge me, and I’ll always remember him for that.

Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and he could never wait to see what I’d give him next. I didn’t even think of myself as a songwriter before then. I’ll always be grateful for him also for that attitude

I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I’ve got to say thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I didn’t even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it couldn’t have happened to, or with, a better group.

They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it — they straightened it out. But since then hundreds of people have recorded it and I don’t think that would have happened if it wasn’t for them. They definitely started something for me.
MusiCares 2015 | Concert photos
Caption MusiCares

The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher — they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn’t a pop songwriter and I really didn’t want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions of songs were like commercials, but I didn’t really mind that because 50 years later my songs were being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad they’d done it.

Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers — long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in ’62 or ’63. They heard my songs live and Pervis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs.

Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. These were the artists I looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she [inaudible] to me. She was an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer. Very strong woman, very outspoken. That she was recording my songs validated everything that I was about.

Oh, and can’t forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames — something like that. And Jimi didn’t even sing. He was just the guitar player. He took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.

Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, up in about ’63, when he was all skin and bones. He traveled long, he traveled hard, but he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. “Big River,” “I Walk the Line.”

“How high’s the water, Mama?” I wrote “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” with that song reverberating inside my head. I still ask, “How high is the water, mama?” Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing.

In Johnny Cash’s world — hardcore Southern drama — that kind of thing didn’t exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or what not to sing. They just didn’t do that kind of thing. I’m always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man, the man in black. And I’ll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice.

People would say, “What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby little waif?” And she’d tell everybody in no uncertain terms, “Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs.” We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Love. And she’s a free, independent spirit. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn’t want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman with devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back.

These songs didn’t come out of thin air. I didn’t just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock ‘n’ roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.

If you sang “John Henry” as many times as me — “John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.”

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written “How many roads must a man walk down?” too.

Big Bill Broonzy had a song called “Key to the Highway.” “I’ve got a key to the highway / I’m booked and I’m bound to go / Gonna leave here runnin’ because walking is most too slow.” I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write,

Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose

Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes

He asked poor Howard where can I go

Howard said there’s only one place I know

Sam said tell me quick man I got to run

Howard just pointed with his gun

And said that way down on Highway 61

You’d have written that too if you’d sang “Key to the Highway” as much as me.

“Ain’t no use sit ‘n cry / You’ll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away.” “I’m sailing away my own true love.” “Boots of Spanish Leather” — Sheryl Crow just sung that.

“Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down / Ten dollars a day is a white man’s pay / A dollar a day is the black man’s pay / Roll the cotton down.” If you sang that song as many times as me, you’d be writing “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more,” too.

I sang a lot of “come all you” songs. There’s plenty of them. There’s way too many to be counted. “Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my trouble on the old Chisholm Trail.” Or, “Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins a lad we all know well / The fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well.”

“Come all ye fair and tender ladies / Take warning how you court your men / They’re like a star on a summer morning / They first appear and then they’re gone again.” “If you’ll gather ’round, people / A story I will tell / ‘Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, an outlaw / Oklahoma knew him well.”

If you sung all these “come all ye” songs all the time, you’d be writing, “Come gather ’round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing.”

You’d have written them too. There’s nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that’s all enough, and that’s all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.

“When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks / Women in Deep Ellum put you on the rocks.” Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with, “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time too / And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through / Don’t put on any airs / When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue / They got some hungry women there / And they really make a mess outta you.”

All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.

Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down. You’ve just got to bear it. I didn’t really care what Lieber and Stoller thought of my songs.

They didn’t like ’em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn’t like ’em, because I never liked their songs either. “Yakety yak, don’t talk back.” “Charlie Brown is a clown,” “Baby I’m a hog for you.” Novelty songs. They weren’t saying anything serious. Doc’s songs, they were better. “This Magic Moment.” “Lonely Avenue.” Save the Last Dance for Me.

Those songs broke my heart. I figured I’d rather have his blessings any day than theirs.

Ahmet Ertegun didn’t think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ray Brown, just to name a few.

There were some great records in there, no question about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Radical eyes that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolution in style and scope. Heavy shape and color. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I’d rather have Sam Phillips’ blessing any day.

Merle Haggard didn’t even think much of my songs. I know he didn’t. He didn’t say that to me, but I know [inaudible]. Buck Owens did, and he recorded some of my early songs. Merle Haggard — “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” I can’t imagine Waylon Jennings singing “The Bottle Let Me Down.”

“Together Again”? That’s Buck Owens, and that trumps anything coming out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody’s blessing — you figure it out.

Oh, yeah. Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don’t critics say that same thing about Tom Waits? Critics say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. What don’t they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can’t carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I’ve never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free?

What have I done to deserve this special attention? No vocal range? When’s the last time you heard Dr. John? Why don’t you say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. Have you people ever listened to Charley Patton or Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters. Talk about slurred words and no diction. [Inaudible] doesn’t even matter.

“Why me, Lord?” I would say that to myself.

Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving.

After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note — that exists, and some that don’t exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was on a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.

Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don’t really think I do that. I just think critics say I do.

Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, “Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.” Think about that the next time you [inaudible].

Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that’s coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn’t understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about.

Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called “Country Road.” Tom was going off in this interview — “But James don’t say nothing about a country road. He’s just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don’t understand that.”

Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I’m not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.

It was called “I Love.” I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he’s just like you and you’re just like him. We all love the same things, and we’re all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow-moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleeping without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions.

Now listen, I’m not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I’m not going to do that. I’m not saying it’s a bad song. I’m just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.

This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He’s still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until — until — Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain’t seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat, flew his helicopter into Johnny Cash’s backyard like a typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

Well, I woke up Sunday morning

With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.

And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad

So I had one more for dessert

Then I fumbled through my closet

Found my cleanest dirty shirt

Then I washed my face and combed my hair

And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song ruined Tom T. Hall’s poker parties. It might have sent him to the crazy house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs.

You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

You say, “Who is that man?”

You try so hard

But you don’t understand

Just what you’re gonna say

When you get home

You know something is happening here

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

If “Sunday Morning Coming Down” rattled Tom’s cage, sent him into the looney bin, my song surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the minivan. Hopefully he didn’t hear it.

I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson’s done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done ’em. But the reviews of their records are different than the reviews of my record.

In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, [inaudible] they’ve got to look under every stone when it comes to me. They’ve got to mention all the songwriters’ names. Well that’s OK with me. After all, they’re great songwriters and these are standards. I’ve seen the reviews come in, and they’ll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody’s heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.

But, you know, I’m glad they mention their names, and you know what? I’m glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they’re finally there. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they’re not here to see it.

Traditional rock ‘n’ roll, we’re talking about that. It’s all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best: “Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues.” Very few rock ‘n’ roll bands today play with rhythm. They don’t know what it is. Rock ‘n’ roll is a combination of blues, and it’s a strange thing made up of two parts. A lot of people don’t know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It’s a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it’s true.

The other half of rock ‘n’ roll has got to be hillbilly. And that’s a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That’s a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Clarence Ashley … groups like that. Moonshiners gone berserk. Fast cars on dirt roads. That’s the kind of combination that makes up rock ‘n’ roll, and it can’t be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio.

You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can’t hardly play the blues, how do you [inaudible] those other two kinds of music in there? You can fake it, but you can’t really do it.

Critics have made a career out of accusing me of having a career of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do. That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations.

“What do you do for a living, man?”

“Oh, I confound expectations.”

You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations.: And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. What does that mean? ‘Why me, Lord? I’d confound them, but I don’t know how to do it.’

The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might confound expectations, but it shouldn’t. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don’t think it would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I’m thinking about singing is “Stand By Me” by the Blackwood Brothers. Not “Stand By Me” the pop song. No. The real “Stand By Me.”

The real one goes like this:

When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me

In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou who never lost a battle / Stand by me

In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don’t understand / Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me

That’s the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that’s going to be the one. I’m also thinking of recording a song, not on that album, though: “Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

Anyway, why me, Lord. What did I do?

Anyway, I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I’m honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There’s nothing like that. Great artists. [applause, inaudible]. They’re all singing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices.

I’m proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They’ve helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I’d like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn’t work. Billy was a son of rock ‘n’ roll, obviously.

He was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You just don’t stand a chance.
lRelated Rare, unusual Beatles and Rolling Stones photos surface via eBay sale

So Billy became what is known in the industry — a condescending term, by the way — as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him. And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.

He did it with style and grace. You won’t find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas — I know they’re in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan — I’ve got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet.

I’d see him a couple times a year and we’d always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we’d cross paths now and again. We’d always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I’d heard “Red Hot.” I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it’s impressed me to this day.

I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn’t bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was.

And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing — because John sang some truth today — one day you get sick and you don’t get better. That’s from a song of his called “Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days.” It’s one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain’t lying.

And I ain’t lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend’s doctor bills, and helped him to get spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can’t be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.

I’m going to get out of here now. I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that’s OK. Like the spiritual song, ‘I’m still just crossing over Jordan too.’ Let’s hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams said, “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”


Pasolini’s ‘St. Paul:’ a Prophecy of Our Times? January 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Capitalism, History, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I was deeply impressed when many many years ago I saw the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” where he employed a cast of Italian peasants as his actors and depicted a socialist revolutionary Christ utilizing only the text of the Gospel for his script.

This article will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  With a year of theological seminary under my belt (a lifetime ago) and being a born-again Marxist Humanist, I can appreciate the confluence of a liberation theology brand of Christianity with a revolutionary socialist perspective.




http://www.counterpunch.org, Weekend Edition January 16-18, 2015

Signals for Persecution


The opposite of religion is not communism. The opposite of religion is capitalism (ruthless, cruel, cynical, purely materialistic), the cause of human beings’ exploitation of human beings, cradle of the worship of power, horrendous den of racism.

— Pier Paolo Pasolini

Supposedly an atheist, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) said he was religious because he blasphemed.  He intended to “blaspheme” in a film about St. Paul.  His film would be religious, he said, because “in ancient sacred rites, as in all the peasant religions, every blessing amounts to a curse.” The script, which he composed between 1968 and 1974, was never filmed, partially because the Vatican, which had awarded him a prize for The Gospel according to St Matthew (1964), attacked his 1967 film, Teorema, the story of a god who descends on a conventional bourgeois family, near Milan. He physically seduces the members—father, mother, daughter, son, and the maid– and leaves them. The consequences of the seduction and abandonment are dire: suicide, promiscuity, madness, and a life-endangering miracle—the levitation of the maid off a high balcony.  Radical ontological transformations. Set on killing himself, the father, naked, climbs a little hill, which the Milanese call “la montagnetta” (the “little mountain”). Covered in greenery now, the hill consists of rubble accumulated from the Allied bombing of Milan in WW II.

The Vatican was not amused. It wrote in its organ, L’osservatore romano, that in Teorema, the devil had visited the family and, therefore, beware of visiting Pasolini at the cinema. In fact, in his characterization of disrupting convention and loosening the passions, the divine had been a Dionysian god, in an apocalyptic manifestation—that is, revelation. You couldn’t blaspheme more unforgivably than to deliver the message of revelation through a pagan god. So, Pasolini’s St. Paul became a casualty of Teorema and was never brought to the screen.


Still from Pasolini’s “Teorema.”

But we have the screenplay.  Translated magisterially with an excellent introduction by Elizabeth A. Castelli, published by Verso with a preface by Alain Badiou, Pasolini’s St. Paul: A Screenplay, is in Badiou’s words, “a literary work of the first magnitude.” The question at the heart of the work is this: can any revolutionary idea survive institutionalization? As Badiou aptly observes,

This scenario should be read not as the unfinished work that it was, but as the sacrificial manifesto of what constitutes, here as elsewhere, the real of any Idea: the seeming impossibility of its effectuation.

In a sort of spiritual testament, published posthumously, Pasolini wrote:

Every formal religion, in the sense that the institution becomes official, is not only unnecessary for improving the world, but it also worsens it [my translation].

For Pasolini, Christianity in its original context had been a positive social force, opposing slavery and challenging the Roman Empire, but, as the screenplay makes clear, it was a brief revolutionary moment between two laws, the old imperial law of Rome and the new imperial law of the Christian church.  In the interregnum when “the old cannot die and the new cannot yet be born” (Antonio Gramsci) it is possible for a communitarian society of popular democracy to breathe.

It took forty years for the polemical idea of a subversive Christianity to emerge backed by scholarly authority. It is a pity that Pasolini never filmed his St Paul because his treatment of early Christianity undermining Roman domination is central to a revolutionary understanding of pre-institutional Christianity.

Today, Pasolini’s thesis of an anti-colonial Christianity, rising from its eastern dominions (Antioch was the third most important city of the Roman Empire) would have fit in among new perspectives on traditional Pauline studies. Over the last thirty years, researchers and theorists in postcolonial, feminist, and political-anthropology studies have insisted on the importance of context in reading Paul’s letters.  Already in Pasolini’s time, the revision was brewing.  In 1962, a Pauline scholar in Sweden, Per Boskow, had published a study, Rex Gloriae: The Kingship of Christ in the Early Church (Stockolm: Almquist and Wiksell, 1962), which suggested that hidden modes of resistance were to be found in early Christian worship and ritual. A Paul covertly involved in the politics of Empire ran contrary to the Protestant tradition, which saw Paul as the apotheosis of homo religiosus, the “man of faith,” ever since Martin Luther had found in Paul’s Letters to the Romans his own “justification by faith” for breaking from the Church of Rome.

The emerging interest in Paul in the post-war, however, could not be divorced from the question arising about the responsibility of Christianity in the horrors of the genocide of European Jews—the Holocaust.  In the Protestant tradition stpaulparticularly, Paul’s conversion had been constructed in antithesis to Judaism. Definitionally in Christianity, a Christian was not a Jew; therefore, Paul’s origin in Judaism had to be obscured in favor of highlighting a compelling individual quest for salvation in Christ. Did this Manichean version of Paul’s dual identity—and, by extension, of Christianity’s dual identity– contribute to the Holocaust?

The impetus for reading Paul against Pauline tradition had thus become a moral imperative and a historical task. Exegetic studies uncovering resistance in the New Testament took off in earnest and bore fruit in the 1980s. Starting with Simon R. F. Price’s groundbreaking work, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, on the Roman imperial cult in the cities through which Paul travelled and preached and continuing through the work of political-anthropologist, James C. Scott, Erik Heen, et al., Pasolini’s idea of presenting Christianity as a political actor in the drama between the empire and its eastern, Greek-world subjects would have been validated. No doubt, catching up with the revolution in Pauline studies weighed in on the decision to translate and publish for the first time in English this decades-old text.

We cannot be sure that Pasolini was influenced by the theological turmoil simmering just beneath the surface of Pauline studies in the Protestant world, but we do know that for the years he worked on his St. Paul (1968-1974), he met and regularly corresponded with a sympathetic theologian in the Vatican, who must have been informed of such momentous moral crossroads traversing Christian theology as a result of the Holocaust.  Question about the Vatican’s role in the tolerance to Nazism abounded, after all.

Throughout his mature writings, Pasolini faulted the Church for becoming, as recently as the 19th century, the toy of the religiously apathetic bourgeoisie, the instrument of its legitimacy—in a survival effort, perhaps, to continue to function as a viable institution by accommodating the values of the liberal democracies ushered in by the social struggles of the French Revolution. In Pasolini’s view, the Church’s compromise with a cynical, secular, acquisitive and counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie had taken the soul out of its body. Abandoning the side of the oppressed, the Church had become irrelevant. In fact, more than irrelevant: it had become criminally repressive. But was this compromise with the ruling class singular or constitutive of the evolution of Christianity? Was the worm that turned to eat the heart out of the Church there from its beginnings?

It is, of course, extremely risky to “close the text” on Pasolini’s volatile, self-deconstructing, deliberately unstable works. In an echo of Marx, they scream out, “question everything,” including, and especially, the author. The script appears to be tossing in a furious dialectical vortex of contradictions. No sooner does one think one has grasped Pasolini’s intention than that certainty evaporates. Suffering Paul, for example, tormented and debilitated by a mysterious malady, seems to be representative of the suffering body of humanity, constituting his religious side. His self-assurance in organizing the Christian communities, resulting from his high social class, his education, his professional (and rhetorical) training represents his active, energetic, worldly side.  Who will rescue me from my split subjectivity? (St Paul, Rom. 7:14-25), Paul himself pleads, referring to his bodily needs and the duty to God.  The mental and emotional turmoil the text creates with these contradictions (at least in this reader) derives from the purest and most provocative of Brechtian “alienation effects.”  The film would have intensified this effect, placing the word and the image in a conflict of meaning on the screen.

Nevertheless, I will risk an answer: yes, the screenplay strives to confirm that the worm was there from the beginning.  The account in Acts/ Luke-Acts of the founding of Christianity mystifies history. Pasolini chooses an example: the meeting of the evangelical leadership at an event known as “the incident at Antioch.”  Not only had Paul earned the mortal enmity of the fanatic Pharisees for evangelizing the new religion but also the opposition of Peter and his adherents for converting the Gentiles without “judeiazing” them (that is transmitting the Law of Moses). During the “incident at Antioch,” the script depicts Peter and Paul in a face-off close-up nearly coming to blows over the issue of “judeizing” the Gentiles. Luke, the author of the Acts, a history of the founding of the Church, stands apart, patrician, ironic, amused as the cacophony of the mutinous meeting turns into sullen silence.

Later in his luxurious study, Luke, dispassionate, methodical, writes down, in his “elegant handwriting,” a sanitized version, a précis of an amicable resolution to this world-consequential dispute over the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, at the end of which he rises from his chair and gives a satisfied belch. Judaism lost. Luke is depicted as the consummate propagandist; Pasolini describes him as incarnated by Satan.  To Satan, invisible, Luke will demure, “The Church is only a necessity” (the stress on “only” is Pasolini’s).

To further illustrate Luke’s unreliability, Pasolini gives him an accomplice: Satan.  When the Church is all but founded, with the impending accession of Timothy to the bishopric of Ephesus, Luke and Satan (seen from the back only) toast to “their church” with a bottle of champagne:

They drink and get drunk, evoking all the crimes of the Church: a huge, long list of criminal popes, of compromises by the Church with power, of bullying, violence, repressions, ignorance, dogmas.  At the end, the two are completely drunk and they laugh thinking of Paul who is still there, travelling around the world, preaching and organizing.

In a tone reminiscent of Christopher Marlowe’s iconoclastic, poetically splendid “blasphemies” in Doctor Faustus, Pasolini narrates Satan’s thoughts:

The Church is founded. The rest is nothing but a long appendix, an agony. The destiny of Paul doesn’t interest Satan: Let him be saved and go to Paradise anyway. Satan and his hired assassin [Paul’s eventual assassin, a fascist thug who despises Paul’s “anti-Israelite” ideology] laugh sarcastically, satisfied.

Not only the course of the official church but also Paul’s fate is sealed—there will be no more need for evangelizing; the church will assume  “pastoral care” and manage its faithful from the pulpits of its now proliferating churches.

One of these is in Ephesus, which Pasolini resets in contemporary Naples. While in voice-over we continue to hear Paul’s voice composing his long letter to Timothy, bidding purity, modesty, prudence, continence, gravity, piety — all the virtues of humility that restrain pride — the camera is directed to showing us a scandal of pride, luxury, class-power, and excess:
In a grand pomp, there is Timothy, dressed literally in gold, crushed under the mitre, almost unrecognizable. And all around the multicoloured and magnificently carnivalesque chorus of other priests… A group of authorities:  high officials, puffed up like turkeys in their grand uniforms; political men, in their black, double-breasted suits, with vulgar and hypocritical old faces; the throng of their bejeweled ladies and their servants, etc., etc.  The altar encrusted in gold — a true and real golden calf — full of baroque affectations and neoclassical flourishes, work of total unbelief, official, threatening, hypocritically mystical and glorifying, clerical, of the master.

Ite, missa est. It is finished, except for disposing of Paul whose evangelical zeal seems to be unstoppable and institutionally embarrassing.  St Paul, as noted, is set in the 20th century. The places are, therefore, altered: Jerusalem becomes Paris, mostly during the Nazi occupation (the Nazis stand for the Romans; the Pharisees are the collaborating Petainists and French reactionaries, of whom Paul is one); Damascus becomes Barcelona, in the aftermath of the fascist victory in Spain; Antioch is “rational” Geneva; Athens becomes modern, intellectually shallow, “dolce-vita” Rome; and Imperial Rome is relocated in New York, the belly of the new imperial beast.

After Paul’s conversion to the Word (analogously, to the anti-fascist Resistance), which almost coincides with the end of WW II, his evangelical travels take him throughout Europe, now reveling in post-war consumerism. His travels acquire a picaresque quality. In some of the most satirically comic scenes, he preaches to absurdly inappropriate audiences: in Bonn, he preaches to industrialists, causing a Neo-Nazi riot; in Geneva, he upsets the stolid Christian sympathizers and potential donors with his excessive emphasis on sexual continence; in Rome he bores his idle nouveau-riche hosts with his antique rhetoric of a Christian faith, whereas they anticipated hearing a pop-celebrity mystic, similar to Krishnamurti; in New York’s Greenwich Village, he preaches obedience to authority to an assorted group of black rebels, youngsters high on pot, anti-war activists, feminists, and desperate young refugees from suburban, middle-class emotional and mental entropy. Here, too, he causes a riot, in which the police intervene and arrest him.

So, in the end, if only for reasons of provoking the authorities and causing bad publicity, he has to be got rid of.  Pasolini has him shot (by Satan’s assassin, the fundamentalist pro-Israelite fascist thug) like Martin Luther King—on the balcony of a shabby hotel on the West Side of Manhattan, the exact replica of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  His blood trickles down to the pavement below to form a “rosy puddle.” The events in the life of this cinematic Paul have stretched from the Nazi-fascist era to 1968, “the era of a false liberalization, actually desired by the new reformist and permissive power, which is also the most fascist power in history” (Quoted in “Afterword” by Ward Blanton; my emphasis).  In other words, to the time of our own postmodernist liberal fascism (Pasolini actually used the term “liberal fascism” in the 1970s).

But what in the end does it matter to us—this ancient crime of the institutional Church? Even the death of suffering, zealous Paul—what does it all matter? For an intellectual like Pasolini and his generation of Italian anti-fascists, wasn’t there an alternative “faith” in scientific materialism—in Marxism? There are passages in the script that expose what Pasolini called the “hypocrisy of [institutional] Marxism,” a theme he had elaborated in Le ceneri di Gramsci (Gramsci’s Ashes) in 1957. For example, he complains that the Italian Communist Party’s culturally bourgeois intellectuals (of whom he was one), are generally divorced from the masses and from Pasolini’s beloved innocent rogues of the young petty criminals of the sub-proletariat (they don’t plunder the Treasury, after all, as do the respectable senators and politicians), from the peasants and laborers, who, unlike the bourgeoisie, still managed to live by the ministrations of human solidarity—by communism, religious or scientific.  In fact, the critique of institutional Marxism, the “party,” etc., runs parallel and is analogous to the critique of the Church—both failed to nurture a proletarian, popular culture to oppose to the hedonistic, individualistic, consumeristic, and finally anti-human ideological perversions of neo-capitalist (his word) bourgeois culture.

And here, I must bring up Gramsci, one of the major and lifelong influences on Pasolini (one of the first was Rimbaud). Figuratively facing Gramsci’s grave he implores his tutor in Gramsci’s Ashes: “Will you ask me, you unadorned dead/ to abandon this despairing/ passion for being in the world?” (Mi chiederai tu, morto disadorno,/d’abbandonare questa disperata/passione di essere nel mondo?) Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), Marxist intellectual, political theorist, sociologist of culture, was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party and died in Mussolini’s prison.  He is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony (from the Greek, meaning “leadership”), which explains how the class in power maintains its status quo and reproduces it through its cultural institutions.  Lenin had used the term. It was an elaboration of Marx/Engels’ claim that “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” though the German Ideology, written in 1846-47, was not published until 1932 (and that in the USSR).  If Gramsci’s claim was valid, how was a proletarian revolution ever to occur if the consciousness of the proletariat was shaped exclusively by the education of bourgeois institutions? Or, how, even, could a peasant or labor society sustain the onslaught of the market’s mind-numbing consumerism that was to lead, in his view, to an irreversible “anthropological cataclysm,” which would transform people into things, at once exploiters and exploited, victims and victimizers?  The advent in the mid-50s of the “economic boom” in Italy, the affordability of goods, especially of television, caused the instant imborghesimento (metamorphosis into bourgeois) of Italian everyday life, chronicled satirically in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce vita, Italo Calvino’s novel, La specolazione edilizia, in Alberto Moravia’s La noia (Boredom), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura.

Written in the hedonistic years of the 60s and in the “years of lead” of the 70s, the campaign of terrorism carried out by the Italian secret services—“the parallel state”– in collaboration with the CIA to roll back popular democracy, Pasolini’s St Paul today reads like a prophecy.  Eerily, as though seeing us in the mirror of a not-so-distant future, Pasolini describes a Paris gripped by the terror of Nazi “anti-terrorism.”  Stephen, a young partisan in the budding resistance, hardly of the age of conscription (like Pasolini’s younger brother, Guido, partisan, killed at nineteen in an ambush in 1945) is executed by the Nazis. Paul, at this stage a zealous official, in fact, an uncritical collaborator with the Nazi occupation forces, witnesses the execution of young Stephen.  He is distressed, haunted even, but does not withdraw his collaborating zeal from the Nazi occupiers.  They are the law, and he’s a lawyer.  His duty is to serve the law. “In the face of Paul,” the screenplay reads,

We see something worse than evil: we see cheapness, ferocity, the decision to be abject, hypocrisy that motivates everything in the name of the Law, of Tradition—or of God. All this cannot but render that face desperate, too.

What follows the discovery of Resistance activity and the execution of Stephen is an orgy of cruelty, stretching to the genocidal limits and beyond. Starting with a quotation,  “There was as though a signal for persecution” (Acts 6:1-8:3), Pasolini describes how the obscenity of Nazi repression is to be represented:

New archival documentary material

But this time it must be found from among the most terrible, almost unbearable to watch: arrests, raids, shootings, hangings, mass deportations, mass executions, shootings in the streets and the plazas, corpses abandoned on sidewalks, under monuments, dangling from lampposts, hanged, hooked.  Departures of the Jews for concentration camps; freight cars filled with corpses.

Add head chopping, bombs and poisonous bombs, bombed hospitals and schools. Killer drones. Bombed air-raid shelters.  Medieval-style sieges, (called sanctions) exacting the lives of 500,000 children (on record). Two, three, many Abu Ghraibs: men turned into dogs, obscene sadism of the greatest democracy in the world. Add all this and more, and we see in the archival images of the fascist era the image of our own times.

Can anyone doubt that Pasolini’s St Paul was, indeed, a prophecy?

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu


Poetry Power January 7, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: I have difficulty understanding and appreciating most contemporary poetry.  It took a second reading for me to “get” what this poem was all about, and my reaction was, “wow, this is what poetry is meant to be.”


The Fall

by Jan Steckel
I don’t want to be Joan of the Narrative Arc here,
wielding my flaming sword of story to drive you out
of my personal bleeding-heart-liberal paradise,
but here’s a prompt: write a poem using the words
grant, bell, garner, brown, ford, and rice.
Employ a light touch, no sing-song or doggerel.
No sentimentality, please. No rants.
Attention to form but not formality.
Invoke all the senses. Let me see, hear, feel
what the twelve-year-old saw, heard, felt
waving that BB gun around the park.
The gold and orange leaves of Cleveland.
The smell of them rotting in rainwater.
The black-and-white pulling to the curb.
The crack. The pavement rushing up.



Mom of Cleveland boy shot by police wants accountability

Associated Press

By MARK GILLISPIE 18 hours ago

Samaria Rice, center, speaks about the investigation into the death of her son Tamir Rice, at a news conference with attorneys Walter Madison, left, and Benjamin Crump in Cleveland, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. A Cleveland police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice on Nov. 22, 2014, as he played with a toy gun outside a recreation center. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND (AP) — The mother of a 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a police officer while carrying a pellet gun said Tuesday it doesn’t matter to her who investigates her son’s death as long as the officer who killed the boy is held accountable.

At a news conference, Samaria Rice characterized the death of her son as a murder.

Tamir Rice was shot by a Cleveland police officer on Nov. 22 after police responded to a 911 call about someone with a gun outside a recreation center. The officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot Tamir within two seconds of the patrol car stopping near the boy. Tamir was carrying an airsoft-type gun that shoots nonlethal pellets.

City officials announced last week that police were handing over the investigation of the shooting to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department in the interest of being impartial and transparent. A previous use-of-force incident in which officers killed two unarmed suspects in 2012 was investigated by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Mayor Frank Jackson said he asked the sheriff’s department to take over the probe because he no longer trusts the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine concluded that a vehicle pursuit involving more than 60 police cars and the 137 rounds fired by officers at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams resulted from a “systemic failure” within the police department. One patrol officer was indicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty.

The completed investigation into Tamir’s shooting is expected to be turned over to county prosecutors, who will present evidence to a grand jury to determine whether charges should be brought against Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback, who was driving the patrol car.

Walter Madison, one of the attorneys for the boy’s family, said there are unanswered questions about what Cleveland police investigators have done thus far.

“The family is entitled to an answer,” he said.

Another family attorney, Benjamin Crump, added that there are concerns about the “symbiotic relationship” that exists between Cleveland police and prosecutors because they work closely together.

“They have no relationship with Tamir Rice,” Crump said.


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