Saturday, December 11, 2010

Layer 400 . . . Great Music, Frances Wood, Tom Lehrer, Jim Morrison, John Pilger, and The War You Don't See

400 blogs. It's been quite a trip, through some strange, and as John Pilger says, below, some extraordinary times.

A very interesting castaway on Desert Island Discs this week, and one that I'd love to meet:

Kirsty Young's castaway is the writer and historian Frances Wood.
As head of the Chinese collection at the British Library she is the gatekeeper to some of the rarest printed texts in the world. Her life has been immersed in the language and culture of the Far East and, along the way, she's spent time learning how to throw hand-grenades, plant rice in the paddy-fields and bundle Chinese cabbages.

First record:
Nuns and Monks of the Temple — Diamond Sutra
Composer: trad. Buddhist text produced in China in AD 868
British Library


Second record:

Georges Brassens — Ballade des Dames du Temps de Jadis
Composer: G Brassens
George Brassens: The Vent…, Philips

I love Georges Brassens. See previous blogs.

Third record:
Paco Ibáñez — Mi Nina Se Fue a la Mare – My Girl Went Off to the Sea
Composer: Frederico Garcia Lorca

Fabulous Spanish guitar.

Fourth record:
The Beatles — Penny Lane
Composer: Lennon/McCartney

By no means the best-ever Beatles track, but I can see why she chose it - as the track that's the most evocative of her year at Liverpool Art College back in the 60s.

Fifth record:
Piano Red — Right String Baby but the Wrong Yo-Yo
Composer: Finnell
Diggin' The Boogie 1950-1956, Revola

This is brilliant. First time I've even heard of Piano Red - but it's piano blues/boogie at its very best - which is very good indeed. Need more of this.

Sixth record:
[unknown] — Chinese exercise music
Composer: unknown
Chinese import, unknown

This is bonkers - but clearly carries a lot of memories of her time in China, so that's OK.

Seventh record:
Tom Lehrer — Wernher von Braun
Composer: Tom Lehrer
The Remains of Tom Lehrer, RHINO

This is fantastic, and I'm now going on a Tom Lehrer binge - hopefully on Spotify and YouTube. Genius.

Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
A man whose allegiance is ruled by expedience
Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
"Ha, Nazi schmazi," says Wernher von Braun

Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun

[The Vatican Rag: ]

Eighth record:
Giuseppe Verdi — She has no Love for Me from the Third Act of Don Carlos
Artist: Nicolai Ghiaurov (with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan

Oh well. You can't win them ALL.


Jim Morrison pardoned by Florida for his night of infamy, 41 years on

Outgoing governor of sunshine state – who was 13 in 1969 – says Doors frontman was probably not guilty of indecency

In the words of Jim Morrison: This is the end. Nearly four decades after his death, Florida's clemency board pardoned the legendary Doors frontman of convictions for indecent exposure and profanity at a Miami concert that were apparently driven by official hostility to the counterculture of the time.

The outgoing governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, engineered the pardon because he said there were grave doubts as to whether Morrison, who died in his bath in Paris in 1971, was guilty.

Morrison was arrested after a raucous performance at a Miami venue in 1969 in which he was accused of dropping his trousers and launching a drunken and profanity-laced anti-authority rant.

Loved Jim's rants, and all the music he created with The Doors.


Extraordinary Times

John Pilger's another guy who's never been afraid to take a stand and challenge authority:

John Pilger: Why are wars not being reported honestly?

The public needs to know the truth about wars. So why have journalists colluded with governments to hoodwink us?

Never has so much official energy been expended in ensuring journalists collude with the makers of rapacious wars which, say the media-friendly generals, are now "perpetual". In echoing the west's more verbose warlords, such as the waterboarding former US vice-president Dick Cheney, who predicated "50 years of war", they plan a state of permanent conflict wholly dependent on keeping at bay an enemy whose name they dare not speak: the public.

Dan Rather, who was the CBS news anchor for 24 years, was less reticent. "There was a fear in every newsroom in America," he told me, "a fear of losing your job . . . the fear of being stuck with some label, unpatriotic or otherwise." Rather says war has made "stenographers out of us" and that had journalists questioned the deceptions that led to the Iraq war, instead of amplifying them, the invasion would not have happened. This is a view now shared by a number of senior journalists I interviewed in the US.

In Britain, David Rose, whose Observer articles played a major part in falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida and 9/11, gave me a courageous interview in which he said, "I can make no excuses . . . What happened [in Iraq] was a crime, a crime on a very large scale . . ."

"Does that make journalists accomplices?" I asked him.

"Yes . . . unwitting perhaps, but yes."

What is the value of journalists speaking like this? The answer is provided by the great reporter James Cameron, whose brave and revealing filmed report, made with Malcolm Aird, of the bombing of civilians in North Vietnam was banned by the BBC. "If we who are meant to find out what the bastards are up to, if we don't report what we find, if we don't speak up," he told me, "who's going to stop the whole bloody business happening again?"

Cameron could not have imagined a modern phenomenon such as WikiLeaks but he would have surely approved. In the current avalanche of official documents, especially those that describe the secret machinations that lead to war – such as the American mania over Iran – the failure of journalism is rarely noted. And perhaps the reason Julian Assange seems to excite such hostility among journalists serving a variety of "lobbies", those whom George Bush's press spokesman once called "complicit enablers", is that WikiLeaks and its truth-telling shames them. Why has the public had to wait for WikiLeaks to find out how great power really operates? As a leaked 2,000-page Ministry of Defence document reveals, the most effective journalists are those who are regarded in places of power not as embedded or clubbable, but as a "threat". This is the threat of real democracy, whose "currency", said Thomas Jefferson, is "free flowing information".

In my film, I asked Assange how WikiLeaks dealt with the draconian secrecy laws for which Britain is famous. "Well," he said, "when we look at the Official Secrets Act labelled documents, we see a statement that it is an offence to retain the information and it is an offence to destroy the information, so the only possible outcome is that we have to publish the information." These are extraordinary times.

• The War You Don't See is in cinemas and on DVD from 13 December, and is broadcast on ITV on 14 December at 10.35pm

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