Music Notes: February 2016

February 28, 2016 at 4:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Here’s something now.

1 David Bowie – “The Berlin Trilogy”

OK, unofficially then. The loss of Bowie in January was shocking, but at the same time, it caused many of us to reach back into his collection and re-listen; to appreciate just how influential he was. I recently relisted to the so-called “Berlin Trilogy.” I’m not going to do a track-by-track or even album-by-album analysis, but taken together in a session, these three albums , recorded over a period of three years reflect an amazing mixture of sounds from Krautrock to New Wave to Middle Eastern sounds,; orthodox pop to some very unorthodox experimentation. Upon returning to them, I couldn’t help but be struck by the nuance and subtitles that had escaped me in ealier listening. Do yourself a favour.

2 Savages – Adore Life

Savages still have that post-punk Siouxsie sound down, and as much as I liked their first album, this one is better. The band tighter, the songs more neatly crafted. Absolutely worth hearing.

3 Richard Hell – Massive Pissed Love

Read Hell’s I Dreamed I was a Very Clean Tramp a while back. Very cool. This is a collection of short pieces, reviews and essays. Something to dip into.

4 Lucinda Williams – Ghosts of Highway 20

I haven’t followed the most recent phase of Lucinda Williams career, but the prospect of seeing her at Toronto’s Opera House , a smallish club in the east end, was too much to resist, and I dipped into the new album. A laid-back, almost lazy groove. Slurred vocals throughout. It’s an album, that slowly winds its way into your head. Not immediate, but seductive. I’m more excited than ever about the show.

5 Vulva Culture

OK, you’ve chosen a name that will preclude airplay, but this Halifax band does other things right. Moody stuff. You can find their material at Bandcamp.

6  Zoe Howe- Barbed Wire Kisses

I read in Uncut that Zoe Howe had written a biography of the late Dr. Feelgood front man Lee Brilleaux. I went looking for it at the local library, but found this biography of the Jesus and Mary Chain instead. It’s good. Lots of details about the band, but it’s a little flat too. Lots of research and interviews with the key players, but it’s told in a rather matter-of-fact style that doesn’t seem to delve too deeply into the subject.

7. The Mekons – Heaven and Hell: The Very Best of the Mekons

After watching the Mekons documentary Revenge of the Mekons, you’ll want to have a listen. Heaven and Hell is a good place to start. It’s a 2 disc set from 2004 and contains a lot of the good stuff, though “The Building” may rattle a little.  Go now.

8 Glitterbust – “The Highline”

Kim Gordon’s new project. Listen to it on Soundcloud

9 The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab

Ooh, ooh, Paul Westerberg and Julianna Hatfield’s new project. Go listen to it on Youtube!

10 Greil Marcus – Real Life Rock

Like Richard Hell’s book I mentioned above, Marcus’ is a book to dip into not sit and work through. Marcus has been publishing his Real Life Top Tens for years now, and while you won’t always agree with his assessments, I’ll bet that more than a few will send you on a hunt to find that song. Annoying, entertaining, maddening, thrilling.

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Vi Subversa: 1935-2016

February 26, 2016 at 12:40 am (Uncategorized)

Last Friday was a pretty crappy day all told. Harper Lee , author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away at 89, and Umberto Eco of Foucault’s  Pendulum and The Name of the Rose also died. Less well known, but also important was the passing of Frances Sokolov, better known under her stage name Vi Subversa. Vi was the singer and guitar played in anarcho-feminist punks the Poison Girls.  She was 80.

The first record I heard by her was “Persons Unknown” a split-single the Poison Girls made with Crass as a benefit for London anarchists. (Should mention also that her two children were founding members of the Fatal Microbes). I’ll admit I never followed the band that closely, but liked the stuff I heard. Have a look at the official Poison Girls site to hear some of the stuff she produced.

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Rojava in the Vortex of Inter-Imperialist Antagonisms

February 26, 2016 at 12:24 am (Uncategorized)

This article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Internationalist Perspective

Over the past several years Rojava or Western Kurdistan, legally a part of Syria, has been seen by many anarchists, libertarians, and even Marxists as the locus of a social revolution, one that demands solidarity on the part of revolutionaries, all the more so as it has been the object of brutal military assaults, first from Daesch (the Islamic State), and now from Erdogan’s Turkey. Inasmuch as the Middle-East today is literally on fire, the scene of vicious ethnic and religious cleansing, and bloody battles between rival imperialist states and armies, it is important to determine whether we are seeing a mortal threat to capital, an anti-capitalist commune OR an inter-imperialist bloodbath in which the population has been mobilized to serve the interests of capitalism.

For the past several years, as Syria has collapsed into civil war fueled by the intervention of imperialist states (Iran, Turkey, Russia and the US), Rojava has been under the control of the PYD and its fighters (the YPG), the Syrian offshoot of the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party (sic.)), led by Abdullah Öcalan. Originally a Maoist, now in Turkish incarceration, Öcalan has had a prison conversion, and under the influence of the writings of the American libertarian, Murray Bookchin, has reinvented himself as a partisan of “communalism” and “Democratic Confederalism.” Suffice it to say that whether paying obeisance to Chairman Mao or to “libertarian municipalism” Öcalan, and Öcalan alone (his photograph is on virtually every “public” space in Rojava) rules; his word is law, and in Rojava, as secretly in much of the Kurdish regions of Turkey itself (at least by night), the Kurdish Workers Party rules. In Rojava the PYD has built a one-party state. The nature of the “democracy” to which the partisans of the PYD, both in the West and in Rojava, point, is no different – slogans aside – from that of the “people’s democracies” in the Stalinist bloc during the cold war. Indeed even the feminism to which its partisans also point, with its women “warriors,” hair flowing in the wind, gun in hand, bears an uncanny resemblance to those photos of La Pasiónaria on the front page of the Stalinist press in 1936, which Russian imperialism used so well to mobilize public support. The fact that Rojava itself has been brutally attacked by both IS and by The Turkish AK regime of Erdogan, cannot be the basis for any kind of revolutionary defencism, as so many in the libertarian “world” are calling for. The class line in an inter-imperialist war is not based on which side fired the first shot; on whose troops crossed the border first or started the war, or even the particular brutality of one or the other of the combatant armies. On such a basis, revolutionaries will always have to choose one capitalist state, one imperialist bloc, or the other, thereby guaranteeing the victory and consolidation of capitalism; and thereby precluding any possibility of either resistance to its power, or to articulating a political position that might become a basis for actual resistance to imperialism on both sides of the front line.

Is the Kurdish nationalism of the PKK/PYD, different from the Kurdish nationalism of Iraqi Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani? Certainly the ideology is different. In Iraqi Kurdistan capitalism has become a mantra in what is now a de facto American protectorate, and military base, where it is politically difficult to distinguish between the Kurdish Peschmerga, armed and equipped by the US, and the American special ops and troops based in Erbil. Yet apart from the Western “tourists” who in the recent past came to Rojava to see a “libertarian commune” in practice, Rojava too is full of CIA agents and American special ops. Indeed, when IS threatened to capture the Kurdish stronghold of Kobane, it was American air power that saved the town for the PYD. Neither in its Kurdish nationalism nor in its mobilization for inter-imperialist war at the side of the US can one make a distinction in class nature between Rojava and Erbil!

Today, the clash between imperialist states and their local allies has turned the Middle East into a veritable charnel house, in which the acclaim for Rojava can no longer be seen as naïve or politically innocent, but rather as a descent into the ideological vortex of imperialism itself, for which excuses are no longer possible. So, let us take a look at the rapidly deepening clash between rival imperialisms in the Middle East, where allies can become enemies on the turn of a dime, starting with the clash between Russian and American imperialism in the region. Putin’s Russia has a foothold in Middle East by way of its naval bases and air fields in Assad’s Syria, dominated by the Alawite minority, whose defense is essential to the retention of Russian influence and power in the region, and to its close relationship with Shiite Iran. The US has now come to see IS as a serious threat to its own power in the region, even at the “cost” of propping up the Shia government in Iraq. Indeed, though it is too early to tell, the possibility exists that the Iran nuclear deal could at some point in the not too distant future begin a process of détente with Teheran, particularly if Washington’s traditional Sunni allies (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan) remain unwilling to take the lead and provide the ground forces to crush IS. The growing disenchantment of America with its Sunni allies, applies to Sunni Turkey, and the Erdogan government too, which sees Assad’s Syrian regime as an enemy to be destroyed, along with the Kurdish nationalism that threatens the very territorial integrity of Turkey in its Eastern provinces, the same Kurdish nationalism that is a lynchpin of American strategy in Iraq and Syria. Into that tangled skein Erdogan has now sent his troops across the border into Rojava to perhaps crush the PYD and YPG there, and at the same time both challenge Syrian claims to sovereignty, as well as Ankara’s traditional enemy Russia, the protector of Assad. And, at the same time Russia and the US are seeking a “ceasefire” in Syria, which it hopes would permit Russia to attack IS, even as Assad, with Russian aid, seems to be reclaiming Aleppo, and now perhaps Idlib too, thereby turning the tide in that protracted civil war through the mass killing of their civilian populations by relentless Russian bombing. History is replete with dramatic turns in inter-imperialist conflicts, and we just might be on the cusp of one now.

Whatever turns there might be, however, one thing is clear: those who insist on seeing Rojava through the lens of social revolution are blinding themselves to the ongoing inter-imperialist slaughter which quite literally shapes events there on the ground. When you’re supporting the same side as the CIA, do you really need Google map to tell you that you’ve crossed the class line?

Mac Intosh

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Revenge of the Mekons

February 21, 2016 at 9:21 pm (Uncategorized)

A bi-continental, left-wing, class of ’77, art collective with a varying line-up and numerous side projects playing punk, folk, country, blues, dub, experimental noise and more? Does that sum up the Mekons? Not even close.

The band formed in ’77 after its founders, mostly art-students in Leeds, discovered punk and took the D.I.Y. ethos seriously, over nearly forty years later, here we are.At it’s beginning the band was a couple of friends who really couldn’t play, but the old rules had been tossed aside. They wanted to, and so they did. Now, it’s true that not everyone who followed this approach had something worthwhile to say, but the Mekons clearly did. Through setbacks and hurdles, and a huge turnover in members, the band grew, leaned to play instruments, but never quite shed that optimism and joy that the early years of a band contain. This post was going to be a part of the regular monthly “Music  Notes” feature, but it clearly deserved its own post. Without sounding too much like a fan boy (I hope), the world can be divided into two groups: those who love the Mekons, and those who haven’t heard of them. It doesn’t matter which camp you are in, you should invest in a viewing of the documentary Revenge of the Mekons. I watched the film last night, and it’s an absolute joy.

The film traces the history of the band through its punk origins, through its rebirth around the time of the Miners’ strike and the discovery of folk music, to its present day incarnation (some band members live in the US, some in Britain).  The film has some incredible footage of early gigs as well as more recent shows, and generous helpings of interviews with Mekons past and present. I saw the Mekons play at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern approximately ten years ago. Passionate, poignant, but also a lot of fun.

At the end of the film, I was left with mixed feelings. The story of he Mekons is of course, like the left, largely a story of defeat. The footage from the Miners’ strike and of Thatcher was a reminded that awful woman and the class she served so faithfully won. In a just world, the Mekons would be household names. . However, they are not. Throughout the film, anecdotes are shared of near misses with success; but perhaps, then they wouldn’t be the Mekons, and Jon Langford’s story about U2 is hilarious. As it is, the Mekons seem to know they will never have the success they deserve, but not only do they accept it, they revel in it. Like St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, the Mekons continue, making great music along the way. Seek out this film, and then seek out the band.

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Alistair MacLeod

February 15, 2016 at 11:15 pm (Uncategorized)

In the mid 1990s, I lived in small-town Nova Scotia. I didn’t know much about the area before I moved there except for the labour struggles in Cape Breton’s coal fields in the early part of the twentieth century. So, it was a process of exploration. I’m not sure where I came across Alistair MacLeod’s work, but the effect was instantaneous attraction. MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan in 1936 though his family was from Cape Breton. When he was 10, the family returned to Caper Breton, and it is Cape Breton that forms the centre of his work.

To read one of MacLeod’s stories is like meeting a new person, but within minutes you are old friends. Such is the gift of his storytelling that the characters feel like people you have always known, and though there is a sadness which colours all of them, there is also hope.

For a writer of his ability, he produced comparatively little work. For example, the brilliant dhort story writer Alice Munro has written hundred of stories of an exceptionally high quality. MacLeod published only two collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories.  Later, he published a novel (I saw him read from that before it was published) No Great Mischief. His short stories were bound into a single volume Island containing two new short stories “Clearances” and “Island.” Until a few weeks back, I hadn’t read the two new stories, but I borrowed the book from the local library and spent a couple of hours with them and some of the other old friends from my past.

I won’t attempt to review them, or provide summaries. The best thing to do is to read them. MacLeod died in 2014, so his entire body of work could be read over a long weekend. You’ll be doing yourself a service if you do.


PS After I wrote the above, I remembered that I had written a brief obit for MacLeod, and in it mentioned I first heard his name in an English class at St. Francis Xavier University.

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A Funny Thing Happened at the Forum Just Recently

February 15, 2016 at 10:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Huh? Check out those Republican dates. As the pack thins from, in the words of Stephen Colbert “so many to just too many,” the rhetoric gets nastier and the crazies get crazier.Probably the only people they hate more than Obama and Hillary Clinton are each other.

But, there was that moment when Trump stepped over the line. No, not that line; Trump’s so-called opposition to the Iraq War began after the war began not before as he claims.Easier to change sides as things get messy.

No, it was this:

“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right? George Bush made a mistake, we can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty…They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction – there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

Now that’s a pretty bold statement for a Republican to make (hell, for a Democrat) to make. That the war is unpopular and widely regarded as a costly, bloody mess might not cost Trump very much, but to further attack George Bush as lying about WMD’s, not being mistaken lying, and failing to keep America safe is to go after a sacred cow. The only thing further would have been to argue 9/11 was an inside job. And given Trump’s role in the “birther” movement and his nasty zeal in going after opponents (undoubtedly this was part of a broader attack on Jeb Bush) it wouldn’t have been that much of a stretch.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything.

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