Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Remembering Guy Clark: 'I believe everything you're saying, just keep on, keep on playing...'

Guy Clark with songwriter and wife Susanna.

Guy Clark, the godfather of an incredibly creative Texas music scene who died on May 17 aged 74, is described, at his official website as a "master songwriter".

There are few who could make such a claim without it jarring as an unseemly boast. But there's no empty boast or inflated ego here. It is simply an accurate description of Guy Clark, who built a stronger bridge than anyone else between country music and poetry.

To mention "poetry" suggests pretensions, but there is zero pretense to a Guy Clark song. They are stripped back, recorded simply and featuring lyrics filled with straight-forward yet vivid images. I hear a Guy Cark song and I can see every bit.

Clark sings his most famous song, "Desperados Waiting for a Train", and I can see the scenes clearly. The old men in the Green Frog Cafe with beer and dominoes; the kid hanging off the old driller, absorbing everything he sees, driving the elder's car while the drunken man slumps in the passenger seat; and the bemused sadness and nostalgia taking over the fully grown Clark as he watches his hero disappear irretrievably into the black hole of old age.

He sings "The Randall Knife", a story about his father told through his relationship with a famous brand of knife, and I see the knife. I see Guy Clark as a boy managing to snap off half an inch off the prized possession when, in his youthful incompetence, he tries to "stick it in a tree". And I see the adult Clark, opening the bottom draw in his dead father's study, taking out the knife from where it has long sat, being overwhelmed by tears.

That song is as good as any an example of Guy Clark's mastery of the form. It is filled with sentiment, yet never becomes soppy, or even damp, with sentimentality. It is like Clark's songs were carved from granite and he delivered them with the dirt still on.

Legendary Texas country singer Ray Wylie Hubbard noted of Clark:

"LA Freeway and Desperados – they were like [Sam] Peckinpah movies, they were that powerful. Then he had this ability too to write these incredible love songs that were just so simple in what they said. And turn around and write Dublin Blues that would make you cry."

The simplicity and directness of Clark's songs is not accidental. He crafted them with care and everything extraneous was cut off or filed away, until all that is left is all needed to tell a heart-rending story with a well-packed punch. The result is a collection of songs that, each of them, sound like a picture of the sun setting on a lone tree in the Texas outback that has survived a century of battering storms.

Friend and fellow country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell said:

Guy Clark was the best self-editor I've ever come across. He had lines that other songwriters could hang a career on, but Guy would throw them out if they didn't fit the narrative. That was the technical part of his skill as a writer.

To consider how consistently great Guy Clark was, his final album (2013's Pictures of You) is of the same quality as his debut, (1975's Old No. 1). If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, implying he hadn't developed over his career, then you clearly haven't heard the debut.

Few debuts can have contained so many classics -- "Desperados", "LA Freeway", "Old Time Feeling", "Anyhow I love You", "Let Him Roll"... Not even Tom Waits, who can make the rare claim to being a better storytelling songwriter than Guy Clark, had a debut of the same calibre. It took Waits probably four albums (until to 1976's Small Change) before he developed from "promising" to "brilliant". Clark's first album was already there.

On "Let Him Roll", Clark sings a chorus in which a wino declares that "Heaven was just a Dallas whore" -- and manages to make the listener feel genuine empathy for the characters, the wino and aforementioned sex worker both. Not for nothing does discussing Clark bring to mind Tom Waits (whom Clark pays tribute to in the bitingly ironic "Cold Dog Soup").

A perfect measure of the quality of Clark's early music is the fact that Johnny Cash covered two songs from his debut ("Let Him Roll" and, with the Highwaymen, "Desperados") -- and then covered a third from his second album. Cash covered many songs from many artists, but I doubt too many could claim such a hit rate with their initial recordings.

It is hard to talk about Clark without raising his late friend and fellow Texas country singer Townes Van Zandt, who died in 1997 aged 52. Hubbard notes:

Guy and Townes – that was the level that everybody aspired to. I don’t think anyone reached that level of writing that the two of them did. But if your heart was in the right place, you would aspire to that caliber of writing.

It can be frustrating to consider the relative obscurity Clark enjoys; in his field he is a giant, but outside is little known, except perhaps some who may have heard "Desperados" at some point. From Sydney, Australia, where there seems an ingrained hostility to country music unless you can package it up in some cool label like "" or "Americana", that obscurity can seem overwhelming.

Van Zandt, on the other hand, although hardly a household name, has a cult following Clark never developed outside his own genre. Partly, this might be explained by the "doomed romantic" side to Van Zandt -- the genius poet who drank himself to death (unlikely to have felt very romantic to anyone who knew him).

Clark, no stranger to some heavy drinking (just look at the boozy scenes in the great 1976 documentary about the Texas country music documentary Heartworn Highways), was far less a "burn bright and burn out" character.

But partly Van Zandt's cult comes not from myth, but the very real spark of genius that seems to enliven his songs. Clark, on the other hand, was much more the hardworking craftsman. He fashioned songs like a master carpenter fashions a beautiful-yet-functional chest of draws. They last.

Clark was a giant in the history of Texas music and country music more generally -- both for his own music and his role as mentor to more than one generation of up-and-coming songwriters. Clark was a huge source of direct inspiration to a whole generation of songwriters in Texas and Nashville and beyond. You can see his status as the head of a rambling troupe of younger performers in Heartworn Highways .

For instance, one succesful country singers (and I reject bullshit labels like "roots music" or "Americana", which are just ways to try to make country music sound cooler to ignorant dickheads who think "country" means OTT country pop singers with stupid cowboy hats leading line dances, as opposed to one of the most vivid and alive forms of folk music) Gillian Welch wrote on Facebook after Clark's death:

Guy was one of my most vocal, and inebriated, supporters when I moved to Nashville. He used to recite my lyrics aloud at dinner parties and barrooms to people who said they had never heard of me. He took Dave and I out on the road with him for our first tour through Texas, where I learned more than I could ever say. I could never thank him enough for his support and his artistry ... 

As his official website noted when he died:

For more than 40 years, the Clark home was a gathering place for songwriters, folk singers, artists and misfits; many who sat at the feet of the master songwriter in his element, willing Guy’s essence into their own pen. Throughout his long and extraordinary career, Guy Clark blazed a trail for original and groundbreaking artists and troubadours.

When I hear the likes of Guy Clark -- when I hear his song about a woman's dash for freedom in "She Aint Goin' Nowhere", for instance, fill with poetic humanism -- I always think that letting this world be destroyed by corporate greed is too insane for words. Who could let a world that produced such beauty be killed off.

Below is my playlist of 21 songs by Clark, but below that is a handful of songs of other artists covering Guy Clark (or in the case of Hayes Carll, singing a song he co-wrote with Clark).

But most likely if you are not already a Guy Clark fan, you aren't going to listen to most of these, if any. So if you want one Guy Clark song that best captures his simple, heartrending poetry, then go for the song Guy Clark calls, in the clip below, his own "favourite song". When you listen to it, consider whether, like New South Wales where I live, the government is cutting women's refuges.

'She had a way of her own, like prisoners have a way with a file...'

'That old time feeling goes sneaking down the hall...'

'I wish I had a dime for every bad time, but the bad times always seem to keep the change...'

'And I'd rather die young than to live without you. I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew...'

'There aint no money in poetry, that's what keeps the poet free. I've had all the freedom I can stand...'

'How dark is it? It's so dark the wind gets lost...'

'One man's angel is another man's ghost'

'And everything's forgiven that did not wash away ...'

Not a cover but a song that the brilliant contemporary Texas country singer-songwriter Hayes Carll co-wrote with Clark for Carll's 2005 album, Little Rock. Carll was just one of many beneficiaries of Clark's mentorship and collaboration.

'To me, he was one of the heroes of this country...' 

Well, Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Kris know a classic song when they hear one. There is not much that can be said when they cover you.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Another beautiful day in Sydney! Enjoy it! While you still can!

'Well the Earth died screaming, while I lay dreaming...'

'What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies ... we're chained to this world and we all gotta pull.'

'Has every well I've drilled run dry?' Life made into poetry

I think the most frightening thing about Guy Clark, probably the very greatest of the very fertile Texas songwriter scene who died after a long illness at 74 on Tuesday, is his songs were generally true stories. The real world is not meant to be such pure poetry. This one was about his grandmother's boyfriend named Jack Prigg.
Desperados Waiting For A Train

I'd play the Red River Valley
And he'd sit out in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through seventy years of livin'
And wonder, "Lord, has ever' well I've drilled run dry?"
We were friends, me and this old man
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
He's a drifter and a driller of oil wells
And an old school man of the world
He let me drive his car
When he's too drunk to

And he'd wink and give me money for the girls
And our lives were like some old western movie
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
From the time that I could walk he'd take me with him
To a bar called the Green Frog Cafe
There were old men with beer guts and dominos
Lying 'bout their lives while they'd played
And I was just a kid
But they all called him "Sidekick"
Like desperados waitin' for a train
Like desperados waitin' for a train
One day I looked up and he's pushin' eighty
And there's brown tobacco stains all down his chin
To me he's one of the heroes of this country
So why's he all dressed up like them old men
Drinkin' beer and playin' Moon and Forty-two
Like a desperado waitin' for a train
Like a desperado waitin' for a train
A day before he died, I went to see him
I was grown and he was almost gone
So we just closed our eyes and dreamed us up a kitchen
And sang another verse to that old song
"Come on, Jack, that son of a guns are comin' "
Like desperados waitin' for a train

'To me, he was one of the heoros of this country...' Johnny, Willie, Waylon and Kris know a classic song when they hear one.

Friday, May 06, 2016

An Open Letter To Jacobin Magazine On The Matter Of Merle Haggard: Please just shut the fuck up before you embarrass the Left any further

"Merle Haggard meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people but to me he was THE songwriter of California. Not the California of Malibu, Silicon Valley or Beverly Hills but the California of Highway 99, migrant workers and the struggle to survive in the promised land. All the political ambiguity and one dimensional stereotypes aside, Mr Haggard was one of the giants of modern American Music."
So said Dave Alvin, from roots rock/rockabillly band The Blasters, on Merle Haggard, who died on April 6.

For his part, Tom Waits, not just one of the greatest songwriters but one of the best writers in any form in modern America, noted about Haggard:
"He takes the lives of common folk who we had all stopped seeing and put them in songs and gave them a voice, and kept them alive ... their particular poetry can only be born out of hard times lived through and then remembered."
You might think that any self-respecting left-wing magazine seeking to speak about -- if not give voice to -- the downtrodden might actually try to capture some of these points in any piece they ran on Haggard and what he represented.

In the case of US radical publication Jacobin you would be very wrong. So wrong, I wrote the bastards a letter. Bizarrely, it got no response, so I will include it below -- edited to increase the degree of spite and hatred I feel, as there is no point being polite now...


Dear Jacobin Magazine,

As you are know, Merle Haggard, a giant of American country music, died on April 6. You decided, God only fucking knows why, to run a hostile, distorted and factually wrong article on this man who was a huge part of American popular culture (in quite contradictory ways).

Haggard's influence was massive, not just on country music but far wider. He was beloved by huge numbers of people, deeply respected by other artists across the popular music spectrum for his groundbreaking contributions, and he gave dignity and voice to some of the lowest of the low in our society -- prisoners.

How do you, as a respected left publication, respond? You publish one of the worst, most distorted hit pieces, combined with the most disgustingly staid, dogmatic Stalinist attitude to popular culture I have ever fucking read.

Honestly, "Merle's America", by Jonah Walters, comes across as absurd, outdated, should-never-be-heard-from-again Stalinist socialist realism.

I mean, if your thing is whinging that Haggard's songs about working people were not about them struggling for their "liberation", then just be fucking done with it and go buy the entire fucking back catalogue of that paradigm of pointlessness that is dull folk singers with acoustic guitars who sing of nothing else. (And no, in the interests of public health and safety I won't link to any such song, I will just note that whatever you think of another very contradictory singer, ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey, he did have a point when he sung: "I used to think if you had an acoustic guitar, it meant that you were a protest singer/Oh I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible".)

The insulting piece's factual errors or omissions are so many -- and significant -- as to question how the author felt he could write on this topic. Jonah Walters appears so ignorant as to be unaware of how ignorant he is.

Haggard was a contradictory figure with a shifting relationship to, and attitude towards, society -- one that evolved well beyond the two key songs the author highlights to prove he was just a reactionary (a redneck in the 60s, a Nixonite in the 70s, a Reaganite in the 80s, apparently...all actual evidence to the contrary conveniently ignored.)

Walters' picture just isn't true -- as a simple investigation of the commonly known facts shows, such as that provided by this blog post.

Walters notes Haggard's impoverished background as a child of "Okie" refugees -- the impoverished people who fled the Dust Bowl poverty during the great Depression and lived in terrible conditions in labour camps in places such as Bakersfield, California.

Haggard, like Buck Owens, became a major proponent of the "Bakersfield sound" in the 1960s -- a type of country music that was much rawer, harder-edged and less polished than the commercial country sound pushed by the Nashville establishment. It was a sound developed in Bakersfield's working-class bars.

Yet Walters managed to mention this only in passing -- as he does the decisive years Haggard spent as a young man in prison, serving a term for armed robbery.

Haggard first saw Johnny Cash while jailed in San Quentin in the early '60s, a gig that changed his life and convinced he could and should make a career in music. (Cash's prison shows have always struck me as a truly radical act -- to go to San Quentin and sing directly to the prisoners songs like "San Quentin" in which he condemns the prison and, to cheering crowds of San Quentin's victims, sings: "San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell/May your walls fall and may I live to tell".)

Walters fails to mention Haggard's multiple prison songs despite this being absolutely central to his life and his early music career.

Haggard wrote many songs about prison and its impacts. The article states that Haggard's two breakthrough hits were the right-wing "Okie" and "Fighting Side of Me", but actually he had already had a string of number one hits before then, and several were quite humanist prison songs.

The best example is "Sing Me Back Home" --  a major song the author misses entirely. It was released by Haggard in 1967, two year before "Okie". It was a number one hit in the country charts.

It is a true story from Haggard's time in San Quentin, involving the death penalty. There was a prisoner (known as "Rabbit") that Haggard knew who planned an escape and asked Haggard to join him. Haggard decided not to, Rabbit escaped and, after two weeks on the run, was captured again -- but not before he had killed a state trooper, for which he was sentenced to death.

The song is about the prisoners, including Haggard, watching him being lead out to be murdered by the state -- an event that deeply affected the future country star.

Haggard said: "Even though the crime was brutal and the guy was an incorrigible criminal, it's a feeling you never forget when you see someone you know make that last walk. They bring him through the yard, and there's a guard in front and a guard behind — that's how you know a death prisoner.

"They brought Rabbit out ... taking him to see the Father ... prior to his execution. That was a strong picture that was left in my mind."

The song, while not explicitly political, is profoundly moving and deeply humanist. If you can watch Haggard singing it without being moved in the general direction of tears then... I don't know if I can trust you as a human being, you apparent fucking psychopath.

'I stood up to say goodbye like all the rest...' WHAT A FUCKING REACTIONARY ARSEHOLE!

The truth of Haggard is he was neither a progressive saint nor reactionary devil -- but a contradictory human being who was a product of his circumstances and times in a constantly shifting fashion.

And what he was is so far from the piece in Jacobin as to be ridiculous. The piece, for instance, bizarrely states: "The America Merle Haggard sang about was an ugly, indefensible place ... where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites. "

Clearly the author knows nothing of Haggard's anti-racist songs. He must have no idea that Haggard wanted the B-side to his anti-hippie hit "Okie from Muskogee" to be "Irma Jackson" -- a song about inter-racial marriage at at time when it was still a hot issue in the South and among Haggard's fans who took him at face value over "Okie".

His record company overruled him on the understandable grounds it would upset his new, redneck, fan base. Haggard spent the next three years fighting to get the song released -- he finally won, and, of course, upset his right-wing fan base.

Wikipedia records: "According to American Songwriter, 'some conservatives who had flocked to 'Okie' were shocked by 'Irma Jackson', Haggard's pro-tolerance take on interracial romance', but Haggard was 'unfazed' by this."

But I mean who gives a fuck for such minor trivialities of an artist going to war with their record company for the right to release an anti-racist song at the time the country was on fire with huge struggles over racism, when his own fans tend to be based among the still-solidly racist sectors.

Obviously not worth mentioning. That just gets in the way of a fucking false, fake, bullshit projection of an artist that fits nothing more than the author's own prejudices, which he is clearly happy with coz he bothered to do zero research before spitting on the grave of a giant of popular music beloved by millions!

That is how Jacobin thinks the left should do popular culture is it? GOD FUCKING HELP US.

Haggard released other anti-racist songs, including a song in the late 70s called "The Immigrant" that was entirely pro-immigrant and hostile to racist attacks on them. Pointing out it is the "illegal" migrant labour that keeps the US economy going, Haggard tells the migrants: "Viva La Mexico, go where they let you go/And do what you can for the land."

He continues a bit later about the gall of the "gringo" complaining about migrants when "he stole this land from the Indian way back when..."

Yeah. What a racist piece of shit that Haggard was with his world vision "where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites". Jonah Walters...

Walters highlights two songs of Haggard's -- songs that are undeniably right-wing and were hits in the late 60s -- "Okie" and "The Fighting Side of Me". The songs were aimed at anti-war protesters -- hippies especially.

"Okie" was clearly a joke that got taken far more seriously than Haggard intended -- though his comments over the years about how much he supported its message are contradictory. "Fighting Side" was a deliberate attempt to cash in on the popularity among rednecks for "Okie".

"Fighting Side" is unambiguously right-wing and actually threatens violence against those who "run down" the country Haggard loudly insists he loves. But Walters piece over-reaches itself when it tries to blame "Fighting Side" for contemporary country right-wing "patriot" Toby Keith's pro-war songs around time of the Iraq War.

In what is becoming something of a big fucking trend, Walters somehow fails to mention that at the same time as Keith was releasing his right-wing pro-war nonsense in the aftermath of 9/11, Haggard -- having moved a long way from the days of "Okie" -- was releasing songs against the Iraq War.

And actually, as terrible as the politics of "The Fighting Side of Me" are, it is nothing compared to how bad Toby Keith's song "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" is, because not only is "Fighting Side" a better song musically, it contains a clear crack, a clear point at which, for all its bluster, the singer gives a sign of ... God forbid ... contradiction. This is when Haggard sings:
"An' I don't mind 'em switchin' sides,An' standin' up for things they believe in."
You cannot imagine Toby Keith singing anything like that. Singing that he didn't "mind" anti-war protesters post 9/11 supporting the other side. Admitting they were "fighting for what they believe in".

Haggard's song is clearly hostile to anti-war protesters from a jingoistic perspective, yet is also not "pro-war" in the way Keith is when the 21st century country star sings: "we'll put a boot in your arse, it's the American way".

As objectionable as the politics of "Fighting Side" are, there is more going on here, with contradictions clearly working within Haggard that are absent in the mindless patriotism of Toby Keith.

To note this is not in any way to defend what was Haggard's most right-wing song -- which threatened violence to anti-war demonstrators. It is just to note the fact that Haggard was always more than, and better than, the politics of that song, and that the song itself contains the hints.

Haggard's songs like "Okie" and "Fighting Side" have to be understood in a certain context. "Okie" was a joke song that took off in an unexpected way. Haggard cashed in with "Fighting Side", but he was already trying to undercut his association with the Nixonite "Silent Majority" with songs like "Irma Jackson".

That is not to say Haggard disagreed with what he sung, just that he also wasn't a hardened reactionary either. His attitude appeared to be something along the lines of a contradictory "well a man has got to eat" -- cashing in while seeking to move to undercut being stuck in that corner. He tried to exploit the "silent majority" label and rebel against it simultaneously.

So, Haggard's political consciousness was contradictory. Was one Jonah Walters born with some sort of pure consciousness? Or, like everyone else, is his consciousness a moving thing?

If Walters has said things over his life that he would not, right now, wish to be held to, he probably won't be, as no one knows about them. Haggard, however, put his sentiments in songs that became hit singles, so he could never escape association with those views. This is despite the fact Haggard later described a song like "Okie" as a "documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time" (and he meant himself as much as anyone).

Walters makes the even more bizarre accusation that Haggard was a "hypocrite" or "maybe just confused" because he sung a line in "Okie" against marijuana, but later became a daily pot smoker and proud advocate for the drug. (The last film clip Haggard appeared in was the pro-marijuana song "It's All Going To Pot" with Willie Nelson, the video for which features the elderly Willie and Merle sharing joints.)

Maybe there is a different explanation than "hypocrisy". Maybe Haggard's views did not stand still. Maybe Haggard wrote a line against marijuana when he didn't know any better (which is Haggard's own explanation), and later had a totally different attitude towards the drug -- one he pushed, as even Walters admits, in public!

As to the idea in Walters' piece that Haggard sings of the working class as martyrs rather than in a context of a struggle for liberation -- well, that is how most working class people experience their condition. That is just a fact. And Haggard's songs gave them dignity.

This also applies to his songs about being heartbroken. Yes, there is a tendency for them, as Walters notes, to play into sexist stereotypes that reduce women to the role of heartbreakers or the heartbroken, but that is hardly unique to Haggard. It is not even unique to country music, but popular culture in general. By all means criticise it -- but don't imagine that it is any particular argument that Haggard was nothing more than a Reaganite reactionary.

And Haggard's "heartache" songs were also frequently really well-written songs. For instance, a Haggard classic like "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" was a genuinely original take on the hardly original country music trope of the heartbroken character drinking hard in some dive bar.

In Haggard's tale, not only is the singer heartbroken, in a bar and drinking to forget... but worse... far worse... the fucking booze has stopped working. What an unspeakable nightmare!

'The one true friend I thought I found... tonight the bottle let me down!' May I never experience such horrors.

Yes, I know. It is not about workers storming barricades or whatever visions help Jonah Walters sleep better at night, but it is a well-written angle on the "heartbroken and drunk" trope to which many people can actually relate.

(It was also cleverly re-imagined by young, contemporary country singer Lydia Loveless in her 2014 track "Head" — on the surface seemingly just a song about getting laid, but in reality a bold, sexually-explicit updating of Haggard's "Tonight The Bottle". No doubt Walters doesn't care for it -- after all, it may be a young woman vacillating between proudly owning her sexuality and dealing with heartache and alcohol abuse, but the track also features absolutely zero examples of a worker seizing their workplace and demanding its nationalisation under workers' control, so like whatever.)

Haggard's nostalgic songs for the "good old days" are also not as automatically reactionary as Walters says. The fact is, life for most people has gotten worse -- the "good times" have long felt over. The idea that Haggard's songs are reactionary for noting this ignores the facts that he tended to be either silent in terms of who is to blame, or contradictory on blame and consequence.

For all the contradictions and twists in Haggard's politics and their public presentation, he gave some of the lower ranks of the working class -- such as those jailed -- some real dignity. For all sorts of cultural reasons, the appeal of Haggard was often largely to the lower ranks of the white working class, but unless you think the lower ranks of the white working class are nothing more than scum, so who cares... that is surely still worth doing.

Plus, as Dave Alvin noted, he also had a strong appeal among migrant workers, too.

Maybe, rather than the ignorant and insulting muck Jonah Walters wrote, Jacobin could start by taking a lead from left-wing country singers like Steve Earle or Kris Kristofferson -- whose attitudes to Haggard are very different.

Or take a lead from those singer songwriters who know something of the craft, and who are not reactionaries, like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

Dylan, who pointed out he was at the opposite end of the "cultural wars" to Haggard in the late 60s, pointed out that Haggard had shifted and was with "the counter culture" in later years. Dylan said: "Merle Haggard has always been as deep as deep gets. Totally himself. Herculean. Even too big for Mount Rushmore."

And as Waits said: "He takes the lives of common folk who we had all stopped seeing and put them in songs and gave them a voice, and kept them alive."

Not "liberating" enough? Well maybe another Tom Waits quote is valid here:
"The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering. It cheapens and degrades the human experience, when it should inspire and elevate..."
Haggard's writing inspired and elevated. If only the same could be said of Jonah Walters. I appeal to Jacobin to never, ever run anything as stupid and factually wrong as this again.

I can only conclude that the author is one of a specimen of fucking middle-class university educated hipster "to cool for country music like LOL those cowboy hats" privileged pieces of shit who knows nothing about what they talk about once they move beyond their comfort zone of soft, comfortable rubbish of the sort pumped into late monopoly capitalism's empty void like Mumford and Sons or Bon Ivor.

And maybe that judgement is a little unfair... but I will bet my life it is nowhere near as unfair as the deeply absurd hit piece the author did on Merle Haggard that your magazine chose to fucking publish.

Thank you for taking the time to fucking ignore my letter.

best wishes,
Carlo Sands

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Panama Papers just proves how right Jarvis Cocker was about who runs this fucking world

"The Panama Papers are a massive and historic leak of confidential documents that reveal how the rich and powerful from many countries around the globe use tax havens to hide their wealth."

So says TeleSUR English, which goes on to note: "About 140 high-level officials and millionaires, and about 113,000 shell companies are exposed in the documents, including at least 12 current or former heads of state."

In other words, the rich and powerful are a bunch of dodgy, greedy pricks whose morally offensive activities strip wealth from whole nations -- many trillions in badly needed revenue. It is almost as if the poverty affecting billions is directly related to the obscene wealth of a tiny minority, while all the while the same system enriching these corrupt fuckers is rendering the planet increasingly uninhabitable at a rapid rate.

Well, who could have guessed they could be so mean? Asides, you know, from Bernie Sanders and any other politician, journalist or just plain straight up human being not in the pocket of these pricks.

One individual exposed by this massive leak is Iceland's prime minister, whose government took over failed banks and was the centre of countless fucking Facebook memes about the heroic acts of the Icelandic government in standing up to the banks and the IMF and probably for slaying all the fucking trolls on the island (with no concern about the Icelandic troll-based tourism industry). Yes, it seems leaving the same corporate, financial and political elite in charge of a country that helped cause a disaster, whatever concessions they may give you, doesn't actually change the nature of that elite or the system they run. A bastard is always a fucking bastard.

The lesson here is two-fold:

1) Facebook books memes are not fucking history or news or fucking anything other than grossly over simplified points aiming to distort facts and/or reinforce the meme sharers pre-existing prejudices. WHO THE FUCK KNEW? WHO THE FUCK KNEW FUCKING SOCIAL MEDIA MEMES WERE JUST EMPTY BULLSHIT AND NOT FACTUAL HISTORY??? WHAT NEXT??? BUZZFEED IS NO ACTUAL SUBSTITUTE FOR FUCKING NEWS?????

2) Jarvis Cocker was right.

Former frontman of 1990s Britpop band Pulp, Jarvis Cocker was right way back in 2005. Watching the G8 summit summit with its smiling politicians and rock stars pledging "debt relief" to African countries, while putting forward a deal that actually worsened the debt slavery of the poorest  African nations, an angry Cocker immediately wrote a song in response. It is especially targetted at the smug grinning "New Labour" clique running Britain's government at the time,

It is below and it remains to the point*.

Well did you hear, there's a natural order
Those most deserving will end up with the most
That the cream cannot help but always rise up to the top
Well I say: Shit floats.

If you thought things had changed
Friend you'd better think again
Bluntly put in the fewest of words
Cunts are still running the world...

* POSTSCRIPT It is worth noting there is a particularly cynical line in the song about the prospect for popular protest to achieve anything.  Just after the glorious line "The free market is perfectly natural -- do you think that I'm some kinda dummy?" Jarvis sings: "if you don't like it then leave or use your right to protest in the streets. Use your rights but don't imagine that it's heard..."

The line is hardly surprising, coming just two years after the largest global protests in human history failed to stop the criminal invasion of Iraq. But Cocker later took the sentiment back and argued popular protest was all we had left, that it was essential to protest against the cunts to have any chance at saving the planet.

In a 2014 op-ed in The Guardian entitled "Climate change is real. Want to live? It's up to people like you":

Remember 15 February 2003? If you’re taking the trouble to read this, then you probably went to an anti-war march that day. Didn’t turn out so well, did it? Nothing really changed. The “largest protest event in human history”, as we remember it today, was effectively ignored. That left a nasty taste. It might even have put you off the idea of protesting forever. The marching boots were thrown to the back of the cupboard and you went into a major sulk. Maybe you even wrote a song about it ...
And you thought: “Yes! Smash the system!” And then ... time passed. Until you got this email [about globally coordinated l climate change protests...
Can you be arsed? Do you risk being disappointed again? Or do you sit this one out?
Back in 2008, I sailed the coast of Greenland on a vessel chartered by the organization Cape Farewell and saw the effects of global warming firsthand. It exists. On the way home, we spent a few hours in Reykjavík’s international airport waiting for a connecting flight back to the UK. I bought an ashtray made out of lava. When I got back home, I turned the TV on. It was the morning of the stock market crash and I learned that Iceland, the country I had been visiting not four hours previously, was effectively bankrupt.
That gave me a strange feeling because I hadn’t noticed. The sun had still been shining as I walked through the airport terminal. People had gone about their everyday business as usual, there had been air to breathe and nothing to betray the cataclysm that had befallen the entire country. How could that be? This was a financial crisis! The Big One! THE ECONOMY was at risk! Why was the world still turning?
You whisper now, but could it be that there is a higher power than … THE ECONOMY? I know that sounds a bit sacrilegious, but could it be that THE ECOLOGY is actually the biggie? That maybe having air to breathe, water to drink and land to inhabit could be more important than the fluctuations of the FTSE or the Dow Jones? It’s just a thought – a thought that most people instinctively understanding, but that the political classes have yet to grasp ...
Exactly when did “government for the people” become “government of the people”? When did the function of government change from public service to crowd control? From protector to pimp?
The People’s Climate March this Sunday is important. Because governments won’t put the case for action on climate change too strongly – no, that might be interpreted as being “anti-business”. It might dissuade corporations from building factories in countries that sign on to climate agreements. It might be harmful to THE ECONOMY. So once again it will be left to ordinary people to point out the blindingly obvious fact that destroying the place you live in is not a good idea. It really isn’t. And the powers that be would do well to heed the cold, hard truth that there are more of us than them, that we are heartily sick and tired of being ignored.
That’s not a threat, you understand. I just thought I’d point it out.

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 "". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article.

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: 
 "". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

At least St Patrick's Day is an excuse to plug The Dubliners so here's a playlist

Barnie McKenna, Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly and John Sheahan.

Saint Patrick's Day, every March 17, is a day where the whole world seems to come together to celebrate the culture of an ancient peoples that has survived invasion, occupation and genocide by binge drinking beer artificially turned green while wearing novelty leprechaun hats.

But it might also be one of the rare days people feel obligated to pay some attention to you banging on about the glory of Irish folk music legends such as the Dubliners. Or maybe not, but one can but try.

The Dubliners emerged out of the post-war period that saw big ruptures and innovations in various cultural in Western countries. In Ireland, the Dubliners, with a raw energy and rough edge that owed something to the same spirit of the times that led to the rise of rock'n'roll, helped lead a crucial traditional Irish folk revival. they took folk music out of stuffy concert halls being performed by the stiffly middle class people put the music back into smokey pubs. And from there, to England's Top of the Pop's and well beyond.

Often political or bawdy, the Font of All Knowledge that is Wikipedia informs us that the band "drew criticism from some folk purists and Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ had placed an unofficial ban on their music from 1967–71."

Having disbanded after 50 years in 2012, the band's members and output was wide and varied — with banjo player Barney McKenna (said to have revolutionised tenor banjo playing) and fiddle player John Sheahan the only two members to have been in the band from start to finish..

My play list focuses heavily on the definitive line up featuring singers and founding members Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew.

Kelly, who tragically died in from a brain tumour in 1984, was a left-wing activist one of the greatest folk singers of his generation, able to impart such passion and personality in his rendition of songs to render many of his versions definitive.

Ronnie Drew... well no one has ever accused the man of having the "greatest" voice, but, described as the "sound of coal being crushed under a door", it was certainly one of the most original — and perfect for story telling.

The two weren't song writers. They interpreted songs written by others, whether traditional standards or a new generation of folk song writers like Pete St John and Phil Counter, but the band created definitive recordings of wide array of songs.

What the Dubliners did in the 60s, in revitalising an old tradition with new energy, bringing it to a new generation in a way they could relate to, The Pogues did in London in the 80s, infusing Irish folk music with the energy and attitude of punk. Not for nothing did The Pogues record with the Dubliners in 1987.

And when The Pogues recorded a track like "Dirty Old Town", they weren't just covering Ewan McColl's folk standard, they were specifically, clearly, covering the Dubliners' version featuring Luke Kelly.

This is ap lay list of 20 songs that I think give the best overview of the quality of the Dubliners -- and their two most defining and distinctive singers, Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew. A couple of tracks such by Barnie  McKenna are also thrown in, as is a version of traditional song Carrikfergus sung by Jim McCann, who replaced Ronnie Drew in the band for a chunk of the '70s, simply because ... well when you hear it you'll know why.

Done right, there is little to match Irish folk music in its capacity for affecting or amusing story telling, for bringing to real characters drawn from every day life. And few have done it so well as the Dubliners.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Let's ask a country singer why the US is fucked and Sanders making ground

You know, I sometimes wonder if my polemicising days are behind me. I mean... life is just too short, especially with the fucking ever-hastening ecoholocaust bearing right down on us.

But... there is one fight I feel compelled to wage before the very basis of human civilisation is destroyed so a handful of corporate giants can accumulate more wealth and any human being can even drink. And that is that country music gives you the answers.

YES I know it it is a bit of an absurd proposition because it is really just a fact that any form with an emphasis on lyrics will include those using the form to tell stories of ordinary people in pain, which, after all, is the story of human existence. And that is every form of folk music (of which country is one) plus others like hip hop, which all tell different aspects of human pain and struggle and defiance and even some happy shit sometimes.

But still... country is not just the one I like a lot, it is particularly maligned and misunderstood so, you know. I'll give you an example of a country singer who, a decade before the rise of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders with his call for a political revolution against Wall Street, called out the reality that calls for a political revolution against Wall Street. Yes, just one of many, in various genres... but still. THIS ONE IS COUNTRY, wildly misunderstood by many as some sort of reactionary hillbilly bullshit. It isn't.

I know you all think country music is right-wing rednecks with American flags and 10-gallon hats with OTT drawls... but you are wrong. Here is Texas country singer James McMurtry with his 2005 classic tale of the billionaire class's destruction of the economy, while sending the working class to die in wars overseas and using racism to divert anger. Class war to a few simple cords, sung by a man who told the press last year: "I'm much more of a socialist than my characters are".

McMurtry was described by Stephen King as "the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation", but for god's sake, don't hold that against him. And, in fact, while we are at it, do yourself a favour and just look up "Texas country music" in general...

'Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
We can't make it here anymore...'

Can't Make It Here Any more 
Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one's paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget's stretched so thin
And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war
We can't make it here anymore 
That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore 
See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
They're just gonna set there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore 
The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore 
High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore 
Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore
Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war
And we can't make it here anymore 
Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore 
And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why
In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore


Here is Jame McMurtry singing a cheery happy song about a guy trying to make it in the methamphetamine industry.

Sells his hardwood timber to the chipping millCooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sellHe cooks that crystal meth because the shine don't sellYou know he likes that money, he don't mind the smell