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.
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.
I arrived in Medellín, Colombia a few days after a man who claimed to be acting with divine guidance killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.The very next morning I learned that 14 people had been killed and 22 seriously injured at an attack on a holiday party at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.
A day or so later, “The Daily Show” ran a montage of clips of President Obama responding to a series of mass shootings. Watching that, you start to ponder the normalization of terror.
Many people in the U.S. like to think of Americans as civilized. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone righteously condemn the barbarism of another society without noticing the scale of our own. So I can’t imagine a better place than Medellín – whose name evokes in the minds of my fellow citizens images of the narco-terrorism that allowed drug lord Pablo Escobar to hold sway over the city until he was killed in 1993 – to explore the question of how to transform a society in the grip of fear and violence into a functioning civil society.
Are you surprised that the answer is art and culture?For decades, I’ve been asking people to envision the commitment to communal creativity fully expressed in public programs, to dream into a future shaped by their largest vision.
Are you surprised when I tell you that in Medellín, I saw this future and felt as if I had walked into a dream, the extraordinary made real? I promise you I am not romanticizing: Medellín is a city of 2.5 million with a significant share of poverty, gangs, and crime. For some of the poorest, Escobar was seen as a Robin Hood and “civil society” doesn’t exactly ring a bell. The challenges of class, race, and gender privilege persist. I am not claiming to have discovered heaven on earth, but something almost as extraordinary for an observer coming from the U.S. circa 2015: a public sector that has embodied and supported the public interest in culture with tremendous forethought, intentionality, and caring; and results to match that intention.
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.