Friday, May 29, 2009

Hachidori: The Flight Of The Hummingbird

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
Haida Manga artist Michael Yahgulanaas (aka Rocking Raven) did the art for The Flight Of The Hummingbird, a beautiful parable with origins in the Quechuan people of South America, about the power of one - how doing something is better than doing nothing.

According to the Georgia Straight Haida Manga:
" traditional Haida images by adapting them into Japanese manga-styled stories. His style denotes his propensity to "play the edge between the neighbourhoods," a talent he learned growing up as a light-haired, green-eyed kid in a Haida community. True to that duality, his work expresses his social and environmental concerns with a "trickster-like sense of humour."
Above is Yahgulanaas' depiction of Dukdukdiya, the hummingbird who does what she can.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi: Case 47/2009

"I am not guilty because I have not broken any law"
While the entire world gazes on impotently, Burma's (Myanmar) military junta is trying Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - case 47/2009 - for breaking the conditions of her already sham six-year house arrest.

The unrelenting forces of evil march on with the tacit protection of big brother, China. Next to Thailand, China is Burma's most important client with Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) actively seeking access to its lucrative oil and gas reserves.

When Yuko and I visited last year, everyone we met expressed disgust for the junta. One young man from Inle in Shan State actually felt compelled to apologize to Yuko (a Japanese national) on behalf of the thugs in the military for murdering Japanese photographer Kenji Nagai.

Suu Kyi is expected to be found guilty for harboring an American who swam across Inya Lake to her home in Rangoon (Yangon), though her lawyers say she didn't invite the putz and asked him to leave. She faces up to five years in the notorious Insein Prison, pronounced "Insane." Here's an aerial view:

She'd been scheduled to be freed from six years of detention without trial today (Wednesday) before she was arrested. The phony charges were designed as an excuse for the junta to keep her locked up during polls it scheduled for next year as the culmination of its so-called "roadmap to democracy."

This is nothing but a farce, of course, that the junta has implemted to override Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy's (NLD) legitimate victory back in 1990. This is the NLD's flag, Burma's only democratically elected government:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mount Kilimanjaro: Bless The Ridge Rider

Judee Sill may not have achieved the fame of a Joni Mitchell, but the people she reached have reacted the same way those first fans of the Velvet Underground did – they run out and start a band...or a choir. She's one of those rare artists that forges an intimate bond with you as though she’s whispering directly into your ear.

She only released two albums - her 1971 self-titled debut and 1973's Heart Food - before she OD’ed in 1979 broke and unknown. But she’s the real deal, the missing link between JS Bach and Emmylou Harris with lyrics full of Christian cowboy-pokes and silver space ships.

Over the past few years Sill has enjoyed a resurgence among bands like the Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear who have been singing her praises. I first discovered her after reading an interview with XTC’s Andy Partridge:
"She's really stunning, really stunning. Leagues away from all the other kind of corny bootheels-in-the-dust, denim-flares-California-West-Coast thing of the early '70s. She just makes them eat cactus, as far as I'm concerned. She's phenomenally good.”

In 2007 Yuko and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and I had Judee Sill’s first album on repeat.

The music was gorgeous and lush and the lyrics bore an uncanny resemblance to the swirling emotions I was feeling while ascending the heights:
I heard the thunder come rumblin'
The light never looked so dim
I see the junction get nearer
And danger is in the wind
And either road's lookin' grim

- Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Bless the ridge rider,
The ridge he's ridin' is mighty thin.
I guess the ridge rider
Forgets he's travelin' with a friend.

- Ridge Rider

I put together a video of our climb with Judee Sill’s “Crayon Angel” and the Fleet Foxes’ “Oliver James.”

Crayon Angel songs are slightly out of tune
But I'm sure I'm not to blame.
Nothin's happened but I think it will soon,
So I sit here waitin' for God and a train,
To the Astral plane.

Magic rings I made have turned my finger green.
And my mystic roses died.
Guess reality is not as it seems,
So I sit here hopin' for truth and a ride,
To the other side.

Phony prophets stole the only light I knew,
And the darkness softly screamed.
Holy visions disappeared from my view,
But the angels come back and laugh in my dreams,
I wonder what it means.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Obama: Spock With Sex Appeal

The Vulcan from Newsweek:
I used to love Star Trek. You know, Star Trek was ahead of its time. There was a whole—the special effects weren't real good, but the storylines were always evocative, you know, there was a little commentary and a little pop philosophy for a 10-year-old to absorb.
Excuse me - a 10-year-old?

Okay, I get it - those questions about his citizenship are indeed well founded. And that cool detachment? It originates from Deep Space: the final frontier. Its four-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before...

Friday, May 15, 2009

City Of Life And Death: Nanjing, Nanjing

The release of "City of Life and Death" is as remarkable as the film itself. As with anything on mainland China it had to pass government censors - as a result, this version of the 1937-38 Rape of Nanjing bears the regime's stamp of approval. Here's the Hong Kong trailer:

What I found extraordinary is the way director Lu Chuan has stepped beyond the usual victimization that many Chinese indulge in. Whether it was last year's protests over the Olympics or a cropped photo on CNN, a certain segment of the population relishes a good public wailing or a boycott of a particular French supermarket. Lu seems to recognize how ridiculous this looks and how useless it actually has been:
"Japanese soldiers used to be demonized in Chinese movies. We have been making such films for 60 years, but they never had any influence in the world or affected the world's understanding of the massacre.

To continue to wail and whine to the world about the sufferings we had experienced will not work. We need to probe deeply into how and why the war happened."
So what we get is a film that broadens the official narrative of the Japanese as monsters to include them as victims as well as perpetrators. Their stories are told from the perspective of a Chinese director, much like Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," and that's a genuinely positive sign.

As for its merits as a cinematic work of art it doesn't reach the level of "Saving Private Ryan" or "Das Boot." Many of the scenes feel tacked on, defusing the narrative and smothering its power.

The perspective shifts from Chinese to Japanese soldiers to the female victims of rape on both sides. While Lu has accurately captured much of the massacre's complexity, he doesn't spend enough time developing the intimacy needed to generate the emotional resonance that great storytelling relies on.

Nevertheless, he avoids slipping into didactic reportage and there are some incredibly emotional scenes that make the film a must see for anyone with even a slight interest in the subject. But if you come to the film without any context you'll likely be lost.

Yuko and I traveled to Nanjing twice to visit the Massacre Museum, but it was closed both times...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yoshida Brothers: Shamisen Fusion

The Yoshida Brothers hail not from deep space, but from Hokkaidō, Japan's northern prefecture, and play a wicked shamisen...

The shamisen is a banjo-like instrument with three silk strings and a body covered skin, real feline flesh!

It originated in the 16th century in Okinawa as the sanshin...

...but soon after was brought to Osaka, on the Japanese mainland, where it was altered slightly to make it longer and louder. It has since entered the cultural lexicon and appears throughout Japan alongside geishas, maikos and in ukiyo-e artwork...

Here are the Bros jamming with the Canadian/Japanese band, Monkey Majik on "Change":

Friday, May 08, 2009

Zanzibar: Stone Town

We arrived in Stone Town in the late evening during a tropical rainstorm, after our plane from mainland Tanzania had been delayed for hours. We were exhausted and desperately craving a warm shower and a cozy bed. I'd made reservations at a hotel, but when our taxi dropped us off we were in for a surprise - they had no record of it and were fully booked! The owner got on the phone and after a few calls found another room in a hotel across town... (Yuko took the photos)

Stone Town turned out to be as sublime as my imagination suggested. Once known as the "Spice Islands," Zanzibar was also the center of the Arab slave trade. There are still some holding cells at the Anglican Cathedral, the site of a former slave market.

Stone Town is the historic area of Zanzibar City and its architecture is an intricate blend of Swahili, Arab, Indian, Persian and Portuguese/European styles.

The people were very friendly...

Islam is the dominant religion and the Malindi Bamnara Mosque dates from the 17th century:

Zanzibar is also a mecca for fans of Farrokh Bulsara, former lead singer of a band called Queen. There's now a restaurant called "Mercury's" in Stone Town and it specializes in pizza and pasta - alright!

After a few nights we went over to the east coast and stayed at Matemwe for some scuba and beaching.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Machine That Surrounds Hate: Pete Seeger's Banjo

"This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
May 3rd was Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. I met Pete at the 1989 Vancouver Folk Fest where he led a workshop in the warm summer rain. He sat down in the middle of the stage, big bright toothy smile on his face, and urged us to stay and sing our hearts out. We did.

His banjo and voice live on everywhere people are struggling to be free, as Tom Joad said:
I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be ever'where--wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'--I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build--why, I'll be there. See?"
Here's the great Irish folksinger, Andy Irvine, singing Woody Guthrie's "The Ballad of Tom Joad:"

I've been playing guitar for almost 30 years and writing songs for almost as long...Pete & Woody taught me what it means to write songs of social justice with love and compassion.

Thanks for the tunes - Happy Birthday Pete!