Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bob Dylan: Beyond Here Lies Nothin'

The Ol' Man's at it again, down in the cellar making a racket with all his brass tubes and glass wire, growlin' away:
Some people preferred my first period songs. Some, the second. Some, the Christian period. Some, the post Colombian. Some, the Pre-Raphaelite.
I slowly open the door and he yells, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'! Abandon hope, all ye shits who enter here!" So I do and here's something...

God damn, he's still at it. New album Together Through Life comin' April 28th, straight outta the cellar...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Moment of Surrender: Journey Through Iran

I just made my first video with Apple's "iMovie" and U2's phenomenal "Moment of Surrender." I can't get enough of this song. It's as good as "One" or "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," if not much better. Brian Eno's influence is all over it (along with übermate, Daniel Lanois), as it is on most of No Line On The Horizon. He's always been involved in pursuing a type of secular gospel music, hymns for the galaxy, more recently with David Byrne on Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

"Moment of Surrender" captures the epiphinal flow of grace in the midst of turbulence...oi!

All the photos were taken by Yuko during our travels last summer - most are from Bam, Yazd and Shiraz.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Norūz: Happy New Year Iran!

March 21 was the first day of Spring and the first day of Norūz, the Iranian/Persian New Year.

The photo above was taken this summer by Yuko when we visited Persepolis. It dates from the 6th century BC during the reign of the Persian Empire and is the Zoroastrian symbol representing the spring equinox. The bull symbolizes the Earth and the lion, the Sun.

We're standing in the shade of a Homa, a bird from Persian mythology. Whoever the Homa landed on became king of the empire. That's me attempting lift-off:

Seems everyone's gettin' in on the Iran action - below is Obama's Norūz message:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Raglan Road: Let Grief Be A Fallen Leaf

It doesn't get any better than this. That's my favourite Irish ballad, "On Raglan Road", from a 1979 RTÉ program uniting two immortals of Irish culture - Luke Kelly & Patrick Kavanagh.

Luke sings Paddy's poem with genuine, heart stirring conviction - dangerous, revolutionary stuff - his ginger-hair jangling to the pluck of his banjo.

The original colour version can be seen on RTÉ, along with some of the song's history.

As Luke tells it:
"It was in the Bailey (pub) and he was singing in his own peculiar manner and so was I in my own peculiar manner, and he said 'I've got a song for you!' And he said 'You should sing Ragland Road.' And I'm very proud of the fact that got the imprimatur as it were..."

On Raglan Road

On Raglan Road on an autumn day
I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked
along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf
At the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November
We tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen
The worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts
And I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such
Is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind, I gave her the secret sign
That's known to the artists who have known
The true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint without stint
I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair
Like clouds over fields of May

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet
I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly
My reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should
A creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose
His wings at the dawn of day.

-Patrick Kavanagh

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Breakfast At Sulimay's: A Critic's Choice

Breakfast At Sulimay's comes via New Yorker pop-music critic Sasha Frere-Jones. He took my "Ask The Author" question last week and what a thrill it was to see my name appear in that venerable font (I'm not worthy!):

Isn't music criticism just a veiled attempt to create an exclusive canon of what's cool?

David Kootnikoff
Hong Kong, China

SFJ: I thought it was an overt attempt to get a seat in the balcony.

There might have been a canon of cool—Velvets, Miles, Rakim, etc—but it seems compromised now by the light-speed news cycle and a fragmented audience. That is: If all your friends are nuts about Conor Oberst, you might achieve coolness by being a J. Geils freak, but that won’t play as cool in the midst of genuine J. Geils fans. Some rap fans try to outdo each other by finding C-list Southern rappers to champion over Jay-Z, though they will likely fall back on Jay-Z if their uncle asks them to name a rapper who is genuinely as good as [fill in blank with sixties jazz legend]. Consensus cool, give or take a “Paper Planes” and a Radiohead, is so rare that it feels almost accidental.

Ha! I take his point - terms like "cool" or "hip" have become somewhat obsolete, but the truth remains that so much of what critics do is reinforce their own prejudices. I like what Globe & Mail critic Carl Wilson suggests in Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste - one person's cup of tea is another person's cup of meat. No one can understand/like everything - at least let's be transparent in our preferences.

As Ann says in Breakfast At Sulimay's - "I like it, yup, I like it a lot."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tibet: Autonomy Now!

The Tibetan National Flag is beautiful...it's also outlawed in China.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. The Chinese Communist Party still refuses to negotiate in good faith with the Dalai Lama despite his repeated rejection of Tibetan independence - he seeks autonomy for the region, not independence. He's the greatest hope the Chinese communists have, but they're too stupid to realize it and they've been tightening the screws, sowing the seeds of violence...for both their own citizens and the Tibetans.

In the summer of 2006 we visited Tibet - here's my piece (photos by Yuko) from the January 2007 issue of Adbusters:
"Few cultures could have survived an invasion the magnitude of which Tibet experienced at the hands of the Chinese in 1959. Everything from the basic food staple, tsampa -- roasted barley flour -- to the current Dalai Lama was targeted in the wake of the brutal takeover. The so-called liberation left monasteries decimated and claimed over 1.5 million lives resulting in cultural genocide according to the exiled Tibetan government based in Dharmsala, India.
"As the Dalai Lama escaped across the Himalayas disguised as a soldier on a white pony, Mao Tse-tung was heard to say, "In that case, we have lost the battle." Indeed, Tibet has overcome the odds and its core institutions endure, albeit in a crippled form. The Dalai Lama is still widely revered, the Potala Palace has hosted a record number of visitors this summer, and Tibetan Buddhism remains one of the world's most alluring faiths. As the carnage of the Cultural Revolution began to subside in the mid-70s, the Chinese realized that Tibet's pristine wilderness and rich traditions were worth preserving, if for only one reason - their tourist cache."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Earth Around Xi'an: Warriors & Peach Pits

My article on Xi'an has just been published. Here's the full version.
"The earth around Xi'an has revealed some amazing treasures. For over 3,000 years, Xi'an has been at the centre of the Middle Kingdom, once serving as China's capital and more recently as a hub for its burgeoning space program. Twelve hundred kilometres southwest of Beijing, Xi'an was the easternmost point on the Silk Road that connected China with Europe. For centuries, caravans carrying jewels, spices, and silks bound for Central Asia and Europe departed from here. Xi'an was China's portal to the wider world, and it still exudes a cosmopolitan charm.

The following day we visited the Terra Cotta Warrior museum, on the outskirts of the city. Housing over 7,000 life-size terra cotta figures excavated from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor, this is Xi'an's main attraction. Thousands of visitors flock to the site each day, so long lines are par for the course.

After waiting about 30 minutes we entered the museum compound, shuffling past a giant white statue of Emperor Qin, who, after coming to power in 246 BC, commissioned the warriors to protect him in the afterlife. We were immediately greeted by row after row of these ancient guardians, all facing us as if ready to receive orders. They looked as if they had just emerged from the earth, ready to engage in conversation if not combat. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight.

"The warriors are arranged as they were buried: in rows of three inside huge covered pits. The first houses about 6,000 warriors, all meticulously crafted with individual expressions. During a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu's army less than five years after the death of Emperor Qin, the warriors were smashed into pieces. Many have now been painstakingly put back together, but it may take a century or more to complete the task."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Princess Mononoke: Revenge Of The Forest

We've been enjoying a Hayao Miyazaki festival this past month with a different film being shown every week on one of the local channels here in Hong Kong. This week was Princess Mononoke, the 1997 blockbuster. It was my first time to see it and it's incredible, unlike anything I've ever seen before. I was surprised at how violent it was - heads being chopped off, limbs flying through the air - but I was also impressed with the storyline. It's set in Japan's Muromachi period in the 16th century and involves an environmental theme with humans as the evil destroyers/consumers of the earth. There are lepers, giant wild boars, metastatizing nature gods and these kodomas, or spooky little forest spirits: