Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Leonard Cohen: Out On The Streets

Canada's man in black has a new poem in the New Yorker to coincide with his first US show in fifteen years. The show was recorded by NPR and the New York Times also has an interview:
"At 74, Mr. Cohen is nine years Mick Jagger’s senior and two years older than John McCain. But he is remarkably limber, skipping on and off the stage during his three-hour show and repeatedly dropping to his knees to sing."

A Street
By Leonard Cohen

I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
And luck was all we had

You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
I tried to join but no one liked
The side I’m fighting for

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
And you’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage

I guess that makes us equal
But I want to march with you
An extra in the sequel
To the old red-white-and-blue

So let's drink to when it's over
And let’s drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

I cried for you this morning
And I'll cry for you again
But I'm not in charge of sorrow
So please don't ask me when

I know the burden's heavy
As you bear it through the night
Some people say it's empty
But that doesn't mean it's light

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

It's going to be September now
For many years to come
Every heart adjusting
To that strict September drum

I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Milk: It's Good For You

Sean Penn is sensational in Milk, Gus Van Zandt's biopic about the gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. It's been truly gratifying watching him become the greatest actor of his generation and he deserves the Oscar for this's hard to believe Brad Pitt's Benjamin Button is even in the running.

Harvey Milk was a courageous advocate for LGBT rights and demanded the same from his peers. As he said prior to his assassination in 1978, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Some came out, some couldn't. Tough to fathom if you've never had to choose.

Below is a mural of Harvey Milk at 575 Castro Street in San Francisco, the old site of his store, Castro Camera.

*UPDATE* He won!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Je Est Un Autre: Life In Dream City

Zadie Smith has an excellent essay in the New York Review of Books called "Speaking In Tongues" examining multiplicity and Obama's ability to speak "everyone":

"In Dream City everything is doubled, everything is various. You have no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues. That's how you get from your mother to your father, from talking to one set of folks who think you're not black enough to another who figure you insufficiently white. It's the kind of town where the wise man says "I" cautiously, because "I" feels like too straight and singular a phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream City prefer to use the collective pronoun “we.”

Throughout his campaign Obama was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of "I." By speaking so, he wasn't simply avoiding a singularity he didn't feel, he was also drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can't see it stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too. Most of us have complicated back stories, messy histories, multiple narratives.

It was a high-wire strategy, for Obama, this invocation of our collective human messiness. His enemies latched on to its imprecision, emphasizing the exotic, un-American nature of Dream City, this ill-defined place where you could be from Hawaii and Kenya, Kansas and Indonesia all at the same time, where you could jive talk like a street hustler and orate like a senator. What kind of a crazy place is that? But they underestimated how many people come from Dream City, how many Americans, in their daily lives, conjure contrasting voices and seek a synthesis between disparate things. Turns out, Dream City wasn't so strange to them."

Smith is right, of course. Most of us do come from varied backgrounds and if we're honest, contain multitudinous voices and identities. This may seem like a shock to some, but it's a fact worth celebrating for the rest of us. As Arthur Rimbaud noted at sixteen, "Je est un autre" ("I is another"). This realization is the golden key to dream city, the elixir (aka: compassion) that allows us to cross boundaries, understand and even voice the "other" if we're lucky.

Smith also references the great American poet, Frank O'Hara who put it his own way:

Monday, February 09, 2009

U2: Space Is The Place

The video for U2's first single "Get On Your Boots" turns out to be pretty sticky...and hard. It's the video equivalent of a Jeff Koons sculpture dipped in candy floss ice cream...

...or maybe it's like a trip to the local planetarium. As Sun Ra says: “The music is different here, the vibrations are different, not like planet earth...”

Edge says:

"It's based around the idea that men have fucked things up so badly, politically, economically and socially that it's really time we handed things over to women. We had our doubts when we saw a rough cut – but the finished video is brilliant. He's [Alex Courtes] really nailed it."

Eh? I guess that explains all the sexy ladies with moustaches. I prefer Ann Powers' Obama connection:
"This is U2's celebratory announcement of a new historical moment, one in which America and the world confront the catastrophes of the recent past and bust out some elbow grease to make things better."

I'm a long time, die-hard fan, but this song and now the video just reek of stale product. Sure, the riff is sticky - ear candy - but why the limp vocals? And how about these lyrics:
That’s someone’s stuff they’re blowing up
We’re into growing up
Women of the future
Hold the big revelations

At least "Vertigo" sounded like a rocket in's as though a vampire sucked all the sugar out of the band...and hard candy without the sweet is like sucking on plastic...or tinsel.

Here they are in another time, another place:

New Years Day Video

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Burmese Ways: Life In Orwell's Dystopia

My article on Burma (Myanmar) has been published with photos by Yuko. Here's the full version (pdf), via my website.
"When Soe hears my wife is Japanese he quietly apologizes. During the 2007 anti-government protests one of his fellow compatriots - a young soldier in flip-flops - shot and killed Japanese photographer, Kenji Nagai, at point blank range in the heart of Rangoon.

Deciding whether or not to travel into Burma, a nation of 50 million, wasn't easy. Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has recommended tourists stay away until "genuine progress towards democratization" is made, while others such as Thant Myint-U, an historian and grandson of former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, argue for engagement.

I made my decision after befriending a Burmese student in Hong Kong who had been confined and tortured by the regime. He urged me to go, meet the people and report back about his country. I knew to avoid any organized tours and meet the locals to prevent our money going directly to the junta."