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Our Dreams

May3

by: Ilan Stavans on May 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

A new poem from scholar and author Ilan Stavans:

Our Dreams

Every night, as we close our eyes,

we are free

and the world starts anew.

 

In the realm of dreams,

there is no past,

everything happens at once,

night is day,

people are ghosts,

we are happy

and the world is ours.

 

Every night, as we close our eyes,

we are out of Egypt,

lead by Moses

onto the Promised Land

 

In the realm of dreams,

the lamb sits next to the lion,

the land is plentiful,

the air is clean,

and the water fresh.

 

And then our eyes reopen.

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Let Them Talk: The Piano Prince

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

If I asked you to name a prodigiously talented, extravagantly flamboyant, African American, sexually fluid musician with a body like an exclamation point and a taste for the rococo whose premature death left the world a little grayer, of course you’d say “Prince,”and you’d be right. Or half-right.

Every since Prince’s April 21st death was reported – ever since a tidal wave of mourning began to gather force, leaving testimonies and tributes and tall tales in its wake – I’ve been thinking surfing the Zeitgeist, thinking about James Booker.

If you don’t know Booker’s music or his story, start with the 2013 film Bayou Maharajah (it streams from all the usual sources), which traces the pianist-singer’s life from its 1939 start, his coming up in the home of Baptist-minister parents in Bay St. Louis, Louisiana, to its sad, sorry end in an emergency room waiting-area in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, where he was born. His story is full of twisted luck and uncanny moments: the film’s sequence where a dozen friends relate contradictory stories of how Booker lost his eye. The sequence where Harry Connick, Jr., demonstrates Booker’s baroquely syncopated piano technique, which Connick as a child studied firsthand (Connick, Sr. was a New Orleans District Attorney who traded Booker a get-out-of-jail-free card for his son’s piano lessons). The sequence where a young guitarist struggling to keep up with Booker onstage describes how the musician maintained his almost unfollowable pace – more notes than any ten fingers could possible play – all the while trying on a succession of glitter-studded eyepatches, hoping to find the one that most appeal to a man in the audience he hoped to attract.

After his 1954 debut as “Little Booker,” he played with just about everybody from Fats Domino to Freddy King, Aretha Franklin, even Ringo Starr and the Doobie Brothers before issuing an amazing string of live and studio albums, many solo. Booker taught Dr. John to play the organ. He studied classical piano as a child. He played a version of “The Minute Waltz” (dubbing it “The Black Minute Waltz”), a ton of standards (I love his “Angel Eyes,” for instance) adaptations of pop songs (Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue”), classic blues like “St. James Infirmary,” and original songs like the mysteriously allusive “Papa Was a Rascal,” opened and closed by these lines:

There was a sweet white woman down in Savanna GA
She made love to my daddy in front of the KKK.

You know we all got to watch out for the CIA.

Booker’s addiction to opiates started in childhood, in the aftermath of a terrible and traumatic auto accident. In 1970, he spent time in Angola for drug possession. The rest of his life he rode a surreal roller-coaster: successful gigs in the U.S. and Europe; throwing it away by ditching recording sessions to get high as soon as he got paid; worshipped by astounded fellow musicians; treated like dirt by every racist, homophobic institution that crossed his path. Knowing how good he was made it all worse. By Booker’s last years, he was seeing the CIA around every corner, tapping into not only his deeds but his thoughts. You can call it paranoia, and it would be hard to argue with that, except to say that the thicket of everyday hostility a black, gay, one-eyed, drug-addicted musician would be expected to hack his way through in mid-twentieth century America could make it very hard to see the world as a welcoming place.

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Agenda 21 for Culture

Apr8

by: on April 8th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Ed Carroll, a friend in Europe, sent me a query:”How come there was not one mayor in the USA that was prompted to submit an application to the Agenda 21 for culture? … The absence on the Map is quite extraordinary.”

My reply? “What a good question!”

“The map” is a graphic on the international award page for cities and regional and local governments that have adopted cultural policies “linking the values of culture (heritage, diversity, creativity and transmission of knowledge) with democratic governance, citizen participation and sustainable development.”

This time around, 83 cities and local governments submitted proposals.As you will see when you click on the map, not a single one came from the United States.

You could say this is unsurprising, since no U.S.-based local government association takes part in the sponsoring organization, the committee on culture of the world association of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), “the global platform of cities, organizations and networks to learn, to cooperate and to launch policies and programmes on the role of culture in sustainable development.” Its mission is “to promote culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development through the international dissemination and the local implementation of Agenda 21 for culture.”

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The Boys Who Said NO!

Apr8

by: on April 8th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

At the Indiegogo site for The Boys Who Said NO!, a film-in-progress directed by my old friend Judith Ehrlich, you can read producer Chris Jones’ 1967 letter from his draft board in San Jose, warning him of the penalty for refusing to register with the Selective Service System. A week before, Jones had sent this note to the draft board:

My non-cooperation by many will be considered traitorous. But I assure you all that it is the only course of action which I can conscientiously take. My beliefs are founded in a deep love for America, for the democracy it can be, for the lasting peace and prosperity for all people, and for the joys of little children which force me to say: Stop the war. End the draft. I refuse to register.

With a glad heart, Christopher Jones

I anticipate the film will live up to the inspiring clip they have posted for prospective donors,and hope that many others will join the folks who’ve already contributed nearly half the target amount in exchange for perks provided by the filmmakers and key characters such as Joan Baez, Daniel Ellsberg, and David Harris. The footage I’ve seen features a wonderful conversations between Harris, founder of the The Resistance and deeply committed to nonviolence, and SDS/Weather Underground veteran Mark Rudd, who now wishes he had chosen a similar path. I saw plenty of familiar faces interviewed and kept scanning the crowd scenes for more.

You see, I worked for years for a draft counseling service in San Francisco. It started out as an activity of the associated students at San Francisco State University, then got pushed off campus during the 1968 strike, settling a block or so from Mission High in San Francisco. The people who did this work of counseling young men facing the draft had different motives: one man’s conscience had been awakened while on active duty, and he wanted to help others avoid paying the same price; others were lifelong pacifists; some opposed the war on political grounds and wanted to make it impossible to fill induction quotas. I’d started out helping my husband apply for conscientious objector status and discovered it was something I could do for others. And to a great extent, we were successful: protests were massive; it indeed became impossible to fill draft quotas in the Bay Area; widespread refusal and disruption cost the system a lot; and by 1973, the baroque structure of deferments mostly gave way to a lottery as the war wound down.

No matter how we draft counselors came to the work, we all recognized a responsibility to disrupt the class and race biases that ran the system; and we all saw something sacred in these encounters with men who had been forced to interrogate their consciences, knowing that the choices they made could affect not only their own futures but the future of this country.

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Fiddler on My Mind

Apr5

by: Roslyn Bernstein on April 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Theatre Marquis. Photo: Shael Shapiro

Fiddler on the Roof has been on my mind these days, the plaintive strains of the violinist leading me uptown to the New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), then midtown to experience the current revival of the musical on Broadway starring Danny Burstein, and finally back to the MCNY on March 28th to hear a lively panel on Reimagining Fiddler.

The lights dimmed and the actors who play Tevye’s rebellious daughters, Chava, Tzeitel and Hudel, appeared on stage, belting out Matchmaker, as the warm-up act for a panel moderated by the exhibit’s guest curator, Edna Nahshon, a Professor of Jewish Theater and Drama at The Jewish Theological Seminary. The lyrics were perfect, Sheldon Harnick at his best, with clever rhymes—”I’ll bring the veil, you bring the groom, slender and pale”—and puns at the end. The audience smiled when the sisters delivered the line: “Playing with matches a girl can get hurt.”

My memory flashed back to 1965 when I saw the original musical, one year after it opened in 1964, with Zero Mostel commanding the stage. Fiddler broke records and ran for over 3,000 performances.

The big question of the evening: Why was Fiddler such a sensation?

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From Holocaust to Protest: the Poetry of Tuvia Ruebner

Mar28

by: on March 28th, 2016 | No Comments »

Not this did we want, no no, not this.
Without them, who are we and what is ours
Not this did we want, not thus did we think it would be
how the Land would devour and devour.

~ Tuvia Ruebner, from “One Plague and Another”[1]

March 24th, 2016 / Yud daled bi’adar: an Introduction

Uncharacteristically, I begin this essay with the date on which I am composing it – yud’daled in the month of Adar, Purim. This holiday has always felt to me a difficult, even dangerous, one: on the one hand it commemorates how the Jewish people were saved from destruction; on the other hand, it is a holiday marking the Jewish people’s own violent impulses and need for revenge (as expressed in the gratuitous killing of all of Haman’s sons). The violence of the day is fully evident in its ritual expressions – the noise, the drunkenness, the deliberate inversion of order – that have blotted out for me the levity of costumes and even the generosity of mishlochei manot and Purim tsedakah.[2]

This year, Purim’s danger feels to me heightened. Two days ago, bombs exploded in Brussels, killing over 30 people, wounding hundreds. The terrible images of carnage and destruction claimed our television screens and newspapers yet again, announcing the new age of terror that is changing life in Europe forever. Fear is the common lot now, as terrorist bombs make no distinctions in race, religion or nationality; inevitably, fear for oneself becomes fear of the other, with all its accompanying prejudices and even hatred.

But it is the response of the Israeli government to the Brussels bombings – specifically, the response of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu – where I feel my fear of Purim and all it signifies come most forcefully to the fore. In a video message to the AIPAC conference on March 22nd – just hours after the bombings – then in a press conference aired on Israeli news on March 23rd, Netanyahu asserted the following: the terror of stabbings that have made Israeli streets bloody these last six months is identical to the terror now sweeping through Europe; the uprising of Palestinians (who have been oppressed and denied basic rights for almost 50 years) is the same as the indiscriminate violence of ISIS and its fundamentalist objectives. Conflating completely the Palestinians and ISIS, Netanyahu stated the following: “[They] have no resolvable grievances…what they seek is our utter destruction and their total domination.”

The obscenity of this conflation, the obscenity of this claim, is born of decades of lies. The obscenity of this conflation and this claim is born also of generations of utilizing the violence visiting upon us, the Jewish people, as absolute justification for the violence we have visited and continue to visit upon the Palestinian people, and our refusal to allow them to create an independent state on the West Bank for their own homeland.

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Ancient Grief

Mar8

by: Hannah Renglich on March 8th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

I can’t keep up with all the tragedies.

What do I do
to carry,
to embrace,
to hold
all this despair?

I am emptied.

Swollen with
uncomfortable silence,
pregnant with futility,
overwhelmed,
nauseous,
and numb,
I’m left mounting
scraggly defenses
to keep from caving in.

and then I remember

the gentle nudge
of a memory,
edging in sideways
from the Great Beyond
(or was it
the Great Before),

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Tell Your Story Now!

Jan26

by: on January 26th, 2016 | Comments Off

It’s simple! Open a blank email, write a story from your experience that illuminates the state of our union, add your name and location, and email it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com.Read on to learn why.

The People’s State of the Union has another week to go, and we already have some amazing stories to share. All of the quotes below are excerpts from stories that have already been uploaded to the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

For this nine-day National Action, people around the country are forming Story Circles in their homes, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and community groups. They are telling their own stories their own ways, either in response to the #PSOTU2016 questions or questions they choose themselves:

  • Share a story you think the next President absolutely needs to hear.
  • Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you an insight into the state of our union.
  • Share a story about a time you felt a sense of belonging – or the opposite – to this nation.

Even if there’s no Story Circle planned for your own community, you can share any story that helps shine a light on the state of our union. Just type your story into a blank email, add an image if you like, and send it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com. It will automatically become part of the feed that goes to the #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

If you add your name, location, and email, anyone who is moved by your story or wants to connect with you will be able to find you.

This woman asked me to explain to her how it was possible that Islam justifies killing so many people in the name of religion. She said all she knew of Muslims was what she saw in the media, and she wanted to know more. And I realized I had a huge opportunity to give this woman some insight, to help shift her thinking and to show at least one person some of the beauty in a religion whose capacity for beauty is so rarely discussed in this country, during this short time we had together.

And I thought: what can I do in my life to make these opportunities come up more often? It’s so rare to be able get to a safe space in the conversation where people feel they won’t be judged, where they’ll be able to engage in a way that they might otherwise be afraid to, and ask questions that allow for the possibility of growth and understanding instead of unexamined fear. (Mia Bertelli, Santa Fe, NM)

It’s not too late to host your own Story Circle either. You can sign up here to download a free Toolkit and find other resources to host a Story Circle before #PSOTU2016 ends on January 31.A Story Circle event can be a few friends around a kitchen table or a hundred people dividing into circles of folding chairs in a high-school gym. It’s an amazing experience of democratic dialogue where everyone’s story counts and every story deserves attention and respect.

It wasn’t until 1995 that I got involved in Labor organizing in Chinatown. There was a case with a restaurant paying their workers 75 cents an hour. This was 1995. I was 16 years old and thought I’d see a bunch of hippies in Birkenstocks protesting. I had no idea I was going to see people who looked just like me – Chinese immigrants, working class families. I felt, for the first time, a sense of belonging. My family got involved. The workers won that case, winning back $1.1 million for nearly 60 workers in 1997. (Betty Yu, Brooklyn, NY)

Most of us are full of opinions (myself included). When you ask about the state of our union, we quickly tell you it’s solid or in need of repair, who’s helping and who’s not. Of course, our assessments don’t always agree. Sometimes the disagreement is so profound that discussion turns into argument and friends into foes. But when we share actual stories instead of opinions – specific moments we’ve seen or experienced – several things change.

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World So Undivided: John Trudell

Dec30

by: on December 30th, 2015 | Comments Off

I sat down to write about John Trudell’s music, thinking to write the second in a series I’m calling “A Life in Art.”Back in November, I described the blogs in this series as “turning on a work of art – painting, sculpture, music, poetry, film, maybe even cooking – that has sustained me in a moment that yearned for consolation or fulfillment or the reassurance of beauty, the presence of the sublime.”

I sat down to think about Trudell dying three weeks ago, too young at 69,and then the news came through that the police officers who killed 12 year-old Tamir Rice would not be indicted. Rice’s mother heard the news along with everyone else, via an official statement from the prosecutor’s office. Across the U.S., people are calling on the Department of Justice to prosecute Tamir Rice’s killers.

I sat down to listen to the song called “Tina Smiled,”an achingly beautiful loving lament in Trudell’s characteristic spoken-word style, backed by the yearning guitar of the late Jesse Ed Davis and the drumming and chanting of Quiltman and others who later made up the core of Trudell’s band Bad Dog. Like so much of Trudell’s work, the song layers the exquisite and the shattered, the artist’s memory of love and pleasure side-by-side with his awareness of a deep brokenness at the heart of this society.

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Normalizing The Extraordinary in Medellín, Part Two

Dec28

by: on December 28th, 2015 | Comments Off

Note: This is the second of two parts on Arlene Goldbard’s visit to cultural development projects in Medellín, Colombia, in early December; you’ll find the first here.

Ana Cecilia Restrepo, the director of La Red de Escuelas de Musica de Medellín – that Colombian city’s network of music schools that are much more than schools, as you can read in Part One – was driving me back to my hotel on the last night of my stay. Medellín is widely recognized as a city that has successfully launched its transformation from a place terrorized by drug lords and their gangs, in which going out at night was basically not an option, to one explicitly and assertively aligned with its own remaking. See Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times piece from 2012, for instance, or this account of Medellín being named Innovative City of the Year in 2013, particularly for its new transportation infrastructure.

As she drove, Ana told me one of the city’s famous rejuvenation stories. Below, I share it with you. But first I want to tell you about my visit to an amazing cultural center in Medellín.

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