Sunday, May 22, 2011

Layer 469 . . . Dylan, No Direction, New Labour, The Beat, The Rapture, and a New Morning

Thought For Today

It's often through teaching that the teacher learns more about a subject.


"He's got the holy spirit about him. You can tell just by looking at him. He can't help what he does."

This was said about Bob Dylan by one of the people interviewed for Martin Scorcese's film, No Direction Home, broadcast (again) on BBC4 last night and the night before (parts 1 and 2).

Bob himself was filmed speaking directly to camera, giving simple and straightforward opinions about his life and times, and his work. The man, of course, is a genius, and of course he's driven by a spirit that neither he, nor anyone else, can control. As were Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. As is Leonard Cohen.

You'd have to say that this is in contrast to someone like John Lennon, whose desperation for love and acceptance put him in thrall to Yoko Ono. Also Paul McCartney, who needed people like Lennon to give him musical direction, and also needed his wife Linda to keep his ego intact. I pretty much can't bear to look when potentially strong, capable and independent people put themselves under the influence - if not the command and control - of partners who reinforce their weaknesses and sap their strength.

Part of the genius of Dylan is that he called himself "just a song and dance man", and he long ago realised that living as a hermit - afraid of and in retreat from the world's madness - was no way for a genius and an artist to live.

To live in the world you have to be part of it - you have to participate in it and you have to interact with it. Otherwise - what are you going to write about, or make art about? What's going to stimulate, feed and ultimately move your soul and spirit? How, as an artist, are you going to describe the world if you're not out there experiencing it?

Therefore, even at the age of 70 - like John Lee Hooker before him, and BB King and Leonard Cohen in the present - Dylan constantly tours and constantly makes music . . . he practices his art and offers his genius to those of us who seek inspiration, stimulation and nourishment for our souls and our spirits.


The Beat - live at the Half Moon last night - were good, but not great.

Their ska-based music is still tremendously lively and energetic - with lots of audience interaction and participation. The drums, bass and sax work together extremely well, and the lead vocalist is a great character as well as a good singer.

However - the acoustics of the Half Moon are crap, and the quality of the amplification was extremely poor. The keyboards were totally inaudible, the guitar was rarely at a high enough volume to be heard properly, and the vocals were muffled and incomprehensible.

All in all, very disappointing - though worth going to - to see a very good band and in order to support live music. This country desperately needs a  good live music scene, and as many venues as possible to support it. Music is good for the soul, and brings people together. South London desperately needs to bring its people together.


The thrilling thing about this morning is that the world is still in existence, in spite of the line-up of planets, and forecasts that it would come to an end yesterday because of this rare cosmic configuration. This morning started off wet and dull, but the sun's already broken through and we have another beautiful morning of blue skies and sunshine.


Ed Miliband: Labour must win back middle classes

Labour leader sets out mission to regain trust of voters by admitting to past mistakes and pledging to tackle inequality
What's this about winning back the middle classes? Labour has an awful lot to do to win back the working classes, or indeed anybody. Particularly socialists and the Left in general. Labour has a problem with anyone apart from its core vote of uncritical deadheads. Who else could support what the Labour party became, thanks to the Blair/Brown years?

Still, Ed Millibean, in spite of his posh-boy-with-an-Estuary-inflection voice and his schoolboy looks, is making a steady start. And of course he's dead right that Labour MUST admit to its past mistakes AND must pledge to tackle inequality - things that New Labour could never, ever, do.

"In a speech to the Progress thinktank in London, Miliband pledged to tackle the "new inequality" between the rich and the rest of society, but also admitted the gap had grown under the last Labour government."

In a direct pitch to middle-class voters in the south of England, Miliband said their living standards were being squeezed in the same way as those in poorer parts of the country.

Labour needed the humility to acknowledge that the inequality between "those at the top and everyone else" had grown under the last Labour government, although the coalition was exacerbating the problem.

"Inequality is no longer an issue just between rich and poor. But between those at the top and those both in the middle and on lower incomes," he said.

"Since 2003, those at the top have seen their living standards continue to rise at extraordinary rates, while those of the rest have stagnated."

He said he was committed to tackling Britain's budget deficit, but that the current government's austerity measures were loading more of the financial burden on to those who were already struggling.

Improving jobs and wages would mean "asking less of the state", although he did not eloborate on whether this meant something akin to Cameron's "big society".

"The truth is that we cannot create a society that is equal to the aspirations of the British people in a world of wide and growing inequalities – a world in which there are bailouts for bankers and austerity for the rest.

"Asking more of our economy, good jobs and wages, means asking less of the state. At times, we hung on to a picture of Britain in which people were either poor, and desperately in need of our help, or affluent, aspirational, and doing OK.

"We failed to understand that for millions of people in the middle, life was becoming more and more difficult.

"In the future the Labour offer to aspirational voters must be that we will address the new inequality by hard-wiring fairness into the economy."


Our ignorance was bliss for Fred Goodwin

A supine and compliant judiciary has allowed too many corporate wrongdoings to go unpunished

by Nic Cohen

As a journalist, I have learned to notice the stories that aren't printed and the witnesses who don't come forward. Chief among the people we ought to hear from but never do are bankers not only at RBS but also at HBOS, Barclays, Lloyds, Goldman Sachs, Abbey National and Northern Rock prepared to tell us about the blunders their banks made and how they might be avoided in future.

Bankers know that the judges would issue a gagging order if they spoke out. Their employers would fire them and no other bank would hire then because they had broken the omerta of the City. Privacy law does not work in isolation. It meshes with commercial confidentiality and fear of the sack to form a conspiracy against public understanding.


This is Andrew Rawnsley's article from last Sunday, which might have given Ed Milli the push he needed to get going with his latest speeches -

To have a hope of power, Labour must turn from dull into dynamic

Ed Miliband's party needs to forget complacent assumptions and remember that the task is both big and urgent

The most recent meeting of the shadow cabinet turned into a long discussion of Labour's performance in the local and devolved elections. A rigorous postmortem is certainly required.

Let me suggest five things that Ed Miliband and his party ought to forget and five things they need to remember if Labour is to look serious as a contender for power.

The time frame to think about is the mid-term of this parliament. By then, Labour ought to have demonstrated that it has learned from its mistakes in office, developed a persuasive critique of the coalition's record, and started to look like a convincing replacement. Even if this parliament goes the full five-year stretch, the midterm is now only 18 months away. That is not long at all. In fact, for the Labour party, I'd say it is frighteningly little time to establish themselves as a credible alternative government.

Remember parties get the attention that they deserve. Labour frontbenchers moan that the media won't pay them any attention. With a few honourable exceptions, watching slow-drying paint is more gripping than most of the output of Labour spokesmen and women.

Labour's transport team should be getting out more, travelling the world to learn what works best abroad. Ditto the education team and the health team. They ought to be hungry for new ideas and seek them from people you would not always expect Labour to engage with. And they need to be seen doing so.

The anniversary of the coalition has been marked by a welter of pieces saying that David Cameron looks good in the part of prime minister. Voters prefer Mr Cameron to Mr Miliband on questions such as charisma and strength, and they do so by big margins. Building himself into a more prime ministerial figure is the Labour leader's greatest personal challenge. An operation on his adenoids isn't going to be enough. He needs to demonstrate much more verve and daring, and articulate a much clearer sense of direction, if he is to show the stuff of successful leadership. Given a more dynamic lead by its chief, his party might then start to follow and look interesting again.

Or Labour can carry on being what it is now: risk-averse, ill-defined, dull and complacent in its assumption that the failings of the other side will coast them to power. Well, that worked a treat in Scotland, didn't it?


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