B.B. King — the king of the blues — is dead. He made his transition from time to eternity on May 14, 2015 at age 89 leaving behind a legacy of artistic expression that helps us all to hear and feel and know the complexity of our humanity. His life was an interpretation of the wisdom Jesus the Christ taught: “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
We live in a world that mistakes meekness for weakness. We think humility is humiliation, and we count gentleness equal to cowardice. This is a deception. The Greek word that is translated as meek in several versions of the Bible – praus – also means humility and gentleness. To be meek is a kind of power, the power to endure, the power of patient striving, the power to bear the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to and then wait for our just due. The life of B.B. King shows us a man born into a context of grinding poverty and vicious racism, but he was also born into a family of faith. His mother took him to church as a child, and it was within his faith community and a community of family and friends where he found his sense of self-worth.
A preacher friend of his family came over to eat on Sunday afternoons and brought his guitar. The preacher taught young Riley B. King how to play. Later, as a young man, he joined a gospel singing group. During the week, he worked from can to can’t (from first light in the morning until dark.) On the weekends, he went into Indianola, Mississippi to sing for passersby to put money in the hat. During the day he played gospel. At night, he played the blues. The blues people gave him the most money.
He was told that at some point he would have to make a decision, that he could not play God’s music and the devil’s music. Time passed and one day while working as a tractor driver, he thought he had turned the tractor off, but it kept going and was damaged. He ran away to Memphis. While there he found a group of guitar players who gave him master’s classes in blues guitar. About six months later, he decided to go back to Mississippi and to work off the debt he owned to the farmer whose tractor he had damaged. He was proud that when he left Mississippi the second time to start his career in Memphis, he started correctly.
by: Silver Scharlach on March 31st, 2015 | Comments Off
One More Shot UK, a breast cancer benefit music festival, will be held over the weekend of April 24-26, bridging the overstated gap between country music and social justice. Headliners include Christian Kane, Steve Carlson, and The Life of Riley. Credit: OneMoreShotUK.com.
When people on the left side of the political spectrum think of country music, the phrase ‘social justice’ rarely comes to mind. Nonetheless, the second incarnation of the One More Shot music festival combines just these two seemingly disparate entities. One More Shot is to be held in Birmingham, UK, over the weekend of April 24-26. Headlining this event is Christian Kane, known for starring in television shows including Angel, Leverage, and Steven Spielberg’s award-winning miniseries Into the West. Kane, star of recent breakout hit The Librarians, joins singer/songwriter Steve Carlson, bands including The Final Wish, and others in this event held to raise money for breast cancer research.
Artists hold tremendous social and financial capital in this society. For artists to be willing to spend that capital in the service of others is an all-too-rare phenomenon. Christian Kane has made a habit of doing just that in his career, covering topics including domestic violence (“Mary Can You Come Outside”), poverty (“Something’s Gotta Give”), and disenchantment with capitalism (“Pretty as a Picture”). He has also directly challenged colonialism from the perspective of his own Cherokee heritage (“Spirit Boy”). I feel pleased and proud to see my faith in him renewed as his efforts give rise to such powerful positive results.
by: Robert Cohen on January 8th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Credit: 2 Unite All
I was asked to write a review of the new benefit album for the people of Gaza. During the violence of last summer more than 2,000 Palestinian were killed, the vast majority civilians and the casualties included more than 500 children. Many more people were left permanently injured, physically, mentally or both, and thousands lost their homes.
I’d already downloaded all twenty-six tracks of 2 Unite All (126 minutes of music from more than thirty artists) before I realized that the task was impossible.
Writing about a project motivated by peace and love is a complete minefield. What’s the point of saying anything about the music when the real aim is not artistic but humanitarian. In such circumstances, is it ethical to be critical?
But then it occurred to me how much else there was to say about this particular endeavor, even before a single song is considered.
What should the relationship be between the artist and the recipient of the aid that they raise? Is it possible to separate out the humanitarian need from the causes that created it? Is it enough to just sing about peace and love?
by: Arlene Goldbard on October 25th, 2014 | Comments Off
I forgot to notice that this past May was the tenth anniversary of my blog, which I started in 2004 to coincide with the publication of my novel Clarity. It has a small but devoted following. And if you’re interested, you can buy it used for a song. I still think it would make a good movie…
I started thinking what I might have learned in this decade-plus.The first thing that came to mind was this: people have been calling me an optimist for most of my life, but I didn’t accept it as one of my true names until quite recently. Partly, that was about expanding my definition of the word. An optimist, I now believe, is someone who sees great possibility in the human project (not someone, as I once supposed, who is certain that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, pace Voltaire).
Still, I don’t totally get this about myself. I grew up in a world of low expectations and lower hopes, where adults understood themselves as refugees from and survivors of history, and I was regularly counseled not to want too much. I asked my husband to help me think about it: why, with my history, am I an optimist when so many others who have walked similar paths are anything but?
His answer made perfect sense to me: “Because you’re all about changing things. You have to believe it’s possible. A person can’t be as oriented to change as you are and be a pessimist. What would be the point?”
Pete Seeger performs at the Clearwater Festival in 2007. Credit: Creative Commons/Anthony Pepitone.
I could scarcely believe my ears when staff members at Tikkun told me that Pete Seeger had just called to ask if he could perform at the first national Tikkun conference in New York City in 1988. I had raised my son on Seeger’s music, and had myself been moved by some of his radical songs. He was already a legend, and I was already a fan when I was in high school.
Seeger understood that the kind of Judaism we espoused was rooted in the universalist and prophetic tradition that had led so many Jews to become deeply involved in the movements for peace and social justice – not the chauvinist nationalism that was becoming dominant in large sections of the organized Jewish community – and he told me that he had followed my case in the 1970s when the Nixon White House had indicted me (at that time I was a professor of philosophy at the University of Washington) for organizing anti-war demonstrations. The trial was called “The Seattle Seven,” and eventually all charges were dropped after spending some time in federal penitentiary for “contempt of court” – a charge overturned by the 9th Circuit Federal Appeals court.
Seeger became a fan of Tikkun and a supporter of our activities, and his appearance at our conference was one of the highlights of the event. Even Jewish folksinger Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who also performed at that conference, told me he felt joy and awe at Seeger’s presence at the Tikkun conference.
There’s been an art-blogworld swirl lately about need versus want. You can find a summary with links to relevant posts by half a dozen bloggers in this entry in Barry Hessenius’s blog.
In this context, I find the distinction nearly meaningless. Need how? To sustain life, we need air, water, nourishment, sleep, and shelter. To thrive, most of us need caring, connection, pleasure, meaning – the myriad things that account for the difference between mere survival and a life lived fully into our capacities. To keep up with the Joneses, one’s home needs a new car in the driveway or a new coat of paint. The further from survival’s necessities we get, the more we use the word need to signal intense wanting or intense obligation: I really need that pair of shoes; I really need to kiss you right now; I really need to wash my car; I really need to see the dentist. Sometimes want elides into need without noticing. The archetypal experience my young self shared with many other artists jumps an arc from the spark of awakening interest to the strong current of desire-drenched need: I needed to paint, and now I need to write.
by: Jack Gabriel on December 3rd, 2013 | Comments Off
You can usually tell if a recording is inspired from the opening twenty seconds. There is a certain energy, a certain élan, that takes you from the ordinary to the special, from genesis to realization, quite quickly, perhaps in two dozen heartbeats.
There are many such songs on the new CD ,”The Human Project”, the first solo release by Gabriel Meyer Halevy. There are striking anthems, which celebrate the diversity and harmony of humanity. There are delicate ballads, and gracefully rhythmic pieces, that mesh South American, Arabic, Mizrachi and Far Eastern nuances. Their fusion sounds organic and natural. Paul Simon’s Afro-Gospel-Doo Wop and Idan Raichel’s Ethiopean-Spanish-Israeli pieces come to mind. The lyrics very much support the music. It is as if the words and melodies are passed from voice to voice, in Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, effortlessly enriching songs with multiple translations. It draws you into a sweet and exciting space. That’s no easy feat, and that’s what makes this recording so successful and special.
In the emergent world – the one I call The Republic of Stories – we don’t have to shrink ourselves to the scale of widgets to interact with corporations and institutions, modeling our own ways of being on the machine logic of our inventions. At any moment, we can open the gates of perception and understanding. We can treat each other as whole beings. We can assess and consider the full price of our actions, then act accordingly.
That world already exists; it’s just that the way is sometimes blocked by those so loyal to Datastan’s values that they can’t imagine an alternative. It’s a matter of time before enough people bring the new reality into focus, and I am determined to put my energy on the fulcrum of paradigm shift. It’s amazing how much even a single exercise – allowing a piece of music to enter us fully – can help engage the tipping-point.
In Vancouver recently, I spoke at the Zero Waste Conference, a gathering of scientists, officials, academics, and activists devoted to eliminating waste. I was deeply impressed to encounter Michael Braungart for the first time. His talk was frank and amusing, calling into question many of the aims implicit in zero waste and other action focusing on environmental impact reduction. Braungart’s points sounded obvious once you heard them, generating mind-changing implications. For instance, he compared the goal of “zero emissions” to the reality of a tree, which emits helpful substances into the atmosphere and earth. He questioned sustainability as a value, suggesting that it sets the bar pretty low: “Would you want to answer a question about the quality of your marriage by saying, ‘It’s sustainable’?”
Credit: L.A. Kurth.
Recently, I had an experience of solidarity so precious it stands out as a significant moment of my life. And it wasn’t associated with victory. On the contrary, it was accompanied by virtually nothing but defeat. At a recent Working Class Studies conference, I heard from and sang with members of the Wisconsin Solidarity Singalong, an overlapping and unofficial group who have sung historic and updated protest songs in the Wisconsin State Capitol every weekday noon (so as not to disrupt official business) for over 600 days. Let me pause and ask: What would it take for you to protest every weekday noon for 600 working days – without ever being successful? How about if you were ticketed hundreds of times (the “conductor” of the singers had personally received 140 tickets), harassed, punched in the face, sent to trial? This is in the context of spectators being “tossed from the chambers for things like taking a picture, displaying a sign, reading a newspaper or wearing a hat.”
What happens to freedom of speech when you can’t put tape over your mouth to express protest at not being allowed to sing? What happens to you as a result of this commitment? I think the answer is your life changes – and the world around you changes, on an almost invisible yet vitally important scale.
by: Teresa B Pasquale on August 18th, 2012 | Comments Off
Left to right: Richard Rohr, attendees dancing, Brian McLaren. Credit: Wild Goose Festival Website (www.wildgoosefestival.org).
I have been watching, with rapt envy, the many blog posts, articles, photos and videos filling the virtual airwaves since the Wild Goose Festival closed its second year this past June. A conglomerate of issues (scheduling, funding, timing) kept me from attending but next year it is already locked in on my calendar.
The Wild Goose Festival launched last year, after five years in the planning and making of it, with over 1,000 attendees camping out in Shakori Hills, NC, for an event meant to intersect faith, justice, art, and music in a very particular way. While there are great teachers from all faith traditions (predominantly Christian but increasingly more persons from other faith traditions and no faith tradition are joining the conversation) who present in their own faith areas of expertise the festival is also an organic grassroots experience where speakers step down off their stages and into the crowds for community discussions on the subject matter. It is a live thing, this festival, not just entertaining but engaging and creating in each moment of the community experience.