Archive for August 7th, 2010

Ground Zero

As further proof that the Obama administration is absolutely indistinguishable from the George II administration—what: you mean it’s not?—the United States Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, was dispatched to the official Japanese ceremony mourning the obliteration of the city of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb. This marked the first time that a US ambassador to that country had ever attended such a ceremony.

Until Friday, American officials had always skipped the annual ceremony, fearing their presence would renew the debate over whether the United States should apologize for the World War II bombings, which together killed more than 200,000 people in explosions so intense that many victims were vaporized, leaving only ghostly shadows on walls, while others died in agony from burns and radiation sickness.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also attended, also for the first time, and also called for the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. It is time, he said, to move from “ground zero to global zero.”

While Roos did not speak at the ceremony, the US embassy in Tokyo issued a statement reaffirming the Obama administration’s position that “for the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons,” and that in Hiroshima “it is fitting that we renew our determination to ensure that such a conflict is never again repeated.”

Obama is set to visit Japan in November. In light of his April 2009 speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, many Japanese, and other enlightened peoples, believe that a stop in Hiroshima would be appropriate and right.

A new sense of hope that the world’s nuclear powers, and particularly the United States, may finally share a desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons seems to have permeated this city. In front of City Hall, a large sign proclaimed Hiroshima to be part of an “Obamajority.”

However, because a majority of the people in this nation seem to be immured in ignorance, knuckledragging Know-Nothings, a visit by Obama to Hiroshima would be politically dicey. While an actual apology for the unnecessary slaughter occasioned by the atomic incineration of Hiroshima would probably be a form of political seppuku. Too many Americans are not ready for either. Too many believe that nuclear weapons are “necessary.” Though they are anything but. As too many are wedded to the persistent fiction that it was “necessary” to detonate nuclear weapons in Japan in order to stop WWII. Though it was not. And too many are determined that the United States shall never apologize for anything. Even when, as here, it was in the wrong.

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The Gift Of Life

I am not alone, see? This tree and the stray animals who come to visit me are all my friends. Even the sun, the wind, and the rain are my friends. Do you recall Hanuman’s parting words to Rama in Ramayana? Beautiful words that speak to the oneness of creation, he said, and, picking up a book beside him, read aloud: Dear Rama, we are indeed your old friends from long ago, and your companions of ancient days come to help you. We are your forefathers. We are your ancestors, the animals, and you are our child man. As for our friendship, we have known you a long time, Rama, and the number of those days is lost in silence.

Ah, the silence of being, said Guatma as now he took his eyes off the book, sighing. Human dreams have no end. Oh, if we would stop hate and wars we would inherit not just the earth but the universe. Listening to what the universe is telling us is the only way for the nations of this our earth to come together and find union with life. Light comes from the sun. Let there be universal light. Space is our refuge. Let’s oppose all intents to take death to space.

They went away wondering if what they had just saw and heard was not coming from a man who had lost his head over the loss of the Mars Cafe.

Clouds were darkening; rain seemed imminent. They passed near Paradise. They drifted from group to group till they came to a crowd around a storyteller with a single-stringed violin.

At that very moment, A.G. shouted, “True! Haki ya Mungu, that is exactly what the Wizard of the Crow did.”

The people listened as he sang the story of his search for the Wizard of the Crow, hoping for a blessing from him: the thing of life. “Let nobody lie to you—the Wizard of the Crow will never die. True! Haki ya Mungu!”

A.G. appeared crazed, and Nyawira thought that he feigned that to be able to say the things he was saying without interference.

“It’s him,” Nyawira whispered as they walked away.

“A.G., who once chased us from the gates of Paradise?”

“And also snatched us from the gates of Hell!”

Kamiti and Nyawira went homeward holding hands, a mixture of teardrops and raindrops running down Nyawira’s face, the sound of the one-string violin and the man’s voice following them. To the sound of the violin Nyawira added her own from her guitar, and the two blended inside her. She let the fusion linger in her mind, knowing that they might never meet him face-to-face to say: “Thank you, A.G. Thank you for the gift of life.”

—Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Wizard of the Crow

So Strung Out

Last year on this date, August 6, Willy DeVille passed. I knew he’d been sick, but not that sick. While undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C, DeVille was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He went fast. DeVille lived hard, and American men who live hard often have a hard time making it through their fifties. DeVille didn’t make it. He died at 58.

Though he inked his first record deal with Mink DeVille, a five-piece performing in the mid-’70s as “house band” for the NYC punk club CBGB, DeVille was never punk. Or “new wave.” He was a romantic troubadour. Working in a style all his own, one combining, among other things, rock, soul, Cajun, blues, R&B, New Orleans second line, Tex-Mex, cabaret, mariachi, and salsero. The music always in service of his one lyrical preoccupation: Big Love. “What I usually do,” he once said, “is try to shoot for the heart.” That he did.

I was only a few months into rediscovering DeVille’s music when he fell ill and passed. I’d found on these here intertubes work from him I’d never knew existed, for I’d lost track of him during that long period when his records were released in Europe, rather than the States. I’d bookmarked in my life his “Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl” when it was first released back in 1977, but in the weeks before his death I came across the performance of that number embedded below, from 1994 in Montreux, and it’s been more or less at the top of my personal hit parade ever since. It renders the original, compelling as it is, something of a rough draft. In 1994 in Montreux, DeVille had found the right arrangement and the right players, and he knew exactly what the song was about.

“Mixed-Up Shook-Up Girl” is of a genre of songwriting I’m particularly fond of, one wherein young males think they’re writing about women, when they’re actually writing about themselves. If and when they belatedly discover that fact, the songs take on renewed power. Probably the classic example is Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman,” which, when initially released, came across as one of his many smug put-down songs. But by the time he performed it for the Concert For Bangladesh, he knew that it was himself who “breaks just like a little girl”: there was real, raw, naked pain in his performance.

DeVille claimed as late as 1994 that “Mixed-Up Shook-Up Girl” was “about a woman I know who was a drug addict. She was mixed up and she was shook up. That’s what it’s about.” But when he spoke those words DeVille knew that explanation was bogus—because that’s the same year as occurred the performance offered below. And in watching it, it’s clear that he long ago learned that the song is about him, Willy DeVille. He’s the one mixed-up, shook-up, strung-out in his love. He’s also the one strung out on the opiates. For at this point DeVille was closing in on 20 years of heroin addiction (he would finally, permanently kick about two years later). This is at once one of the most beautiful, and one of the most sad, pieces of music I have ever witnessed. It is astonishing, in the old and reverent sense of the word. From out of agony, conjuring ecstasy.

I never wrote about DeVille when he was alive, and for that I feel like a heel. But DeVille saw such things coming. “I have a theory,” he said in 1991. “I know that I’ll sell many more records when I’m dead. It isn’t very pleasant, but I have to get used to this idea.”

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When I Worked

August 2010
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