Live at Town Hall
Rarely has a record risen to meet the challenge of world history. The event in question is, of course, the destruction of the World Trade Center, a short cab ride away from NYC's Town Hall. And the response was written by Laurie Anderson 20 years earlier - in a reaction to a very different situation.
No-one could have guessed how exact, how poignant and humane - her work would become in the wake of 11 September. One cannot listen to those lines in 'O Superman' - 'Here come the planes/ They're American planes/ Made in America' - and remain unmoved by the strange admixture of calm and despair, the frightful foresight. Listening to this double CD, one is also struck by the recurrence of airplane and travel images, where flight becomes a symbol of magic, modernity and retribution.
Anderson has always refused to shirk political engagement in her work, tackling the relationship between humans and technology, military proliferation, censorship, aids and gender inequality.
She recently authored an open letter to President Bush that criticized his 'war on terrorism' and which was signed by scores of leading US radicals, artists and intellectuals. The letter said: 'We refuse to allow you to speak for all the American people. We will not give up our right to question. We will not hand over our consciences in return for a hollow promise of safety... We refuse to be party to these wars and we repudiate any inference that they are being waged in our name or for our welfare. We extend a hand to those around the world suffering from these policies; we will show our solidarity in word and deed.'
London is the Place for Me
A quavering piano replicates the chimes of Big Ben and then, as if by some sleight of hand, the London fog parts and a small calypso band - far closer to the feel of Buena Vista Social Club than one might expect - swings into its first impressions of 1948 Britain.
'Simply magnificent,' pronounces Lord Kitchener (real name Aldwyn Roberts) fresh off the ship that brought the first migrants from the Caribbean, 'Hampton Court is my residence.' If the music weren't so upbeat, the irony would shine through like a black sun.
Bringing together 20 now little-heard songs, this CD celebrates Trinidadian calypso's arrival in London in the 10 years or so after 1945. Over 50 years later, it's tempting to look back with rose-tinted glasses. But London is the Place for Me reminds us that the British Empire's capital city wasn't so ready to take its new citizens to its heart. Lord Beginner's 'Mix Up Matrimony' is optimistic, to say the least. Lord Kitchener makes a huge joke out of London's welcome to its black immigrants; he repeats the joke in 'My Landlady' ('restrictions to break your heart') but, once ensconced, the calypso starts to raise a voice of opposition. Elsewhere, the calypso is a link to home, thematically ('Jamaica Hurricane') and more
subtly. In the lilting voices, the muted trumpets and soft, still danceable rhythms, one hears the siren call of a land far away in time and distance.
A woman plants a bomb in a Turin office. But instead of killing the company boss, the bomb kills three visitors and a cleaner.
Police investigators accuse her of belonging to a terrorist organization but, she claims, her intended victim is a drug baron, responsible for the deaths of her husband and several children in her school - she's a teacher. The police clerk who knows of her - his brother is in her class - believes her, and offers to help her escape.
Heaven was written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. They wrote, and Kieslowski directed, some of the best films made in Eastern Europe in the last decade of Communism. A Short Film about Love, for example, and A Short Film about Killing which sparked a debate about the death penalty in Poland and led to its abolition. Later, in France, they made the acclaimed Three Colours trilogy - Blue, White and Red. People in their stories are often lonely and cut off in some way from human warmth and fellowship. Sometimes they find redemption: they learn to open out, to trust.
This theme is evident in Heaven, but the difference here is the directorial absence of Kieslowski, who died in 1996. Tom Twyker, who directs, made the pulsating Run, Lola, Run and handles pace, space and suspense superbly. Yet he can't quite summon the emotional depth of Kieslowski's direction, the focus on interior life - and the revelation that change is possible. The film veers away from the teacher's acute grief and becomes plot-driven - an escape drama cum love story. Although the ending is a cinematic coup, this isn't the film it might have been.
There is no hint of defeatism in this title, no sense of merely ending up where you began. The full circle instead represents the unity and comprehensiveness of the rich, ancient tapestry of indigenous Australian kinship, land and culture and how this has survived decades of forced assimilation.
Edie Wright has compiled the stories of her family over three generations. She uses these oral histories to trace her family's connection with the remote Kimberley coast and re-establish ties with her Cape York people. Biography
fleshes out the daily realities of living as aliens
in your own land and provides insight into indigenous history over the entire 20th century.
During three generations her family lived through no fewer than 40 different government acts and amendments, many of which were overwhelming in impact. Government policy dispersed indigenous families, bringing both grief and hardship, and included the forced removal of native children from their families: the 'stolen generation'.
The scale of this tragedy of displaced lives is only slowly coming to be understood, especially in terms of how powerfully it affects indigenous Australians today. There have been huge disruptions in communities and culture. The tapestry has been scuffed threadbare in some patches and wantonly vandalized in others.
Edie Wright's style is powerful and unpretentious. Reading these stories is like sitting in on a family get-together - but thanks to her openness and generosity, as a welcome guest rather than voyeur.
This is a slender work, more of a pamphlet than a book, which nevertheless packs a hefty punch. Chenjerai Hove is a Zimbabwean writer whose output has included novels, poems and essays. Palaver Finish brings together some 21 of his recent columns from the Zimbabwe Standard, one of the last newspapers to carry material critical of Robert Mugabe's regime.
Hove's incandescent anger and contempt for the lies and platitudes of the time-serving politicians, opposition as well as government, burns off the page. The squandered potential of Zimbabwe is crystallized in a heartbreaking essay of less than three pages entitled 'Zimbabwe's Lost Visions' in which Hove excoriates the bad faith of a political élite intent only on self-enrichment as the infrastructure of the country crumbles and violence takes root at the heart of society.
There are words that recur in these pieces whose repetition beats out a rhythm of rage and despair while speaking of an alternative possible future: 'culture', 'censorship', 'creativity', 'control', 'conscience'. For Hove the rulers of his country are thugs and vandals who have knowingly created a climate of fear in which each individual is beset with 'mini states of emergency which reside in the heart'. This is an impassioned polemic from a writer agonizingly aware of the catastrophic path his country is taking and doing his utmost to alter that course.
Red Poppies, the first novel of Alai, an ethnic Tibetan, comes garlanded with China's premier literary award, the Mao Dun prize. The book manifestly delivers on its subtitle's promise: 'An Epic Saga of Old Tibet'. It is a thoroughly old-fashioned yarn, full of evil landlords, downtrodden peasants, court machinations and stealthy assignations. The setting is Tibet in the early 20th century which, as described by Alai, is hardly a pastoral idyll. It is instead a feudal world of casual brutality where masters view their servants as livestock and sagely advise each other that 'you can ride them like horses or beat them like dogs, but you must never treat them like humans'.
Sitting atop this pyramid of misery is the ruling Maichi family, headed by the all-powerful clan chieftain. The story is narrated by the chieftain's second son, widely regarded as an 'idiot' but possessing both wisdom and cunning. Following a border dispute, the Chinese Nationalists provide weaponry and advice to the Maichi family. A heavy price is demanded, however, and soon the Maichi lands are growing not food crops but opium poppies.
It is debatable, to say the least, whether this book presents a rounded view of pre-occupation Tibet. Its sympathetic portrayal of the Communists and its official publication in China certainly raise legitimate questions. However, viewed simply as a novel it is an elegant and impressive work. When the subsequent volumes of the projected trilogy dealing with trade and religion are published, we will be better equipped to judge the author's political agenda.
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