Classical music performers take a stand against Trump’s travel ban

Budapest Festival Orchestra in New York

By Fred Mazelis
11 February 2017

Performers in the classical music field have joined the widespread protest over the Trump administration’s attempt to ban the entry of refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries that he has branded the sources of terrorism.

Symphony orchestras in major US cities (and many smaller cities as well) have large and growing numbers of immigrants in their ranks, and the music they perform is international in scope and history. Visiting orchestras, of course, consist almost entirely of non-US citizens.

Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

In the case of the highly regarded Budapest Festival Orchestra, currently in the midst of a five-city US tour, the travel ban nearly prevented the participation of one of its members. Only the last-minute intervention of BFO conductor Ivan Fischer succeeded in securing the entry into the US of an Iraqi-born Hungarian cellist who is a vital part of the ensemble’s string section. The cellist is a Hungarian citizen, but holds Iraqi citizenship as well.

The Budapest orchestra’s tour brought it to Newark, New York, Boston, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its programs, featuring the Bronx-born Richard Goode, one of the greatest American pianists, consisted of Beethoven symphonies paired with some of his piano concertos.

Ivan Fischer is a Hungarian conductor and composer whose work, especially with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, has attracted acclaim and wide recognition. He is known as an outspoken opponent of extreme nationalism and the growth of ultra-right elements, both in the government of Viktor Orban in Hungary today, and elsewhere as well.

The 66-year-old conductor, of Jewish ancestry, lost some of his grandparents in the Holocaust. He told the New York Times that he saw echoes of the past–when Jewish musicians were removed from such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic and later exiled or in some cases killed–in the current conditions of the rise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred. “Having learned this lesson,” he is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong determination not to allow that ever to happen.”

According to the BFO website, the orchestra has for a number of years been performing in abandoned synagogues in Hungarian towns and villages where the Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust. The local community hears a free concert, and also a brief talk about the synagogue and the history of the local community. Fischer sees this as part of an effort to combat the danger of renewed anti-Semitism, along with hostility to immigrants and refugees.

Fischer is also known for his unusual and imaginative attempts to break down barriers that have been allowed to grow between classical music and today’s audiences. These have involved fresh presentations of important classics, without violating the content and spirit of the compositions. In Budapest he has sometimes held concerts where the programs are not announced in advance, and he has also attracted audiences of tens of thousands for open-air performances.

On his current tour, the Times reports, the BFO’s performance of Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony saw music students from New York’s Juilliard School and Bard College suddenly move onto the stage to join with the older musicians in the work’s closing measures. In a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth, choristers appeared in different parts of the auditorium for the Ode to Joy choral finale.

Conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim is also known as a defender of the rights of immigrants and refugees, as well as an opponent of the brutal and longstanding Israeli occupation of the West Bank. He joined Fischer last December for a fund-raising concert for the Budapest ensemble’s “synagogue project.” The orchestra’s official funding was cut back last year, possibly as retribution for its conductor’s outspoken political stance.

American orchestras have issued statements or otherwise indicated their opposition to the travel ban. One of the more prominent examples was the special program presented by the Seattle Symphony on February 8, a program which originated at the initiative of the musicians themselves. The concert, titled “Music Beyond Borders,” consisted entirely of music by composers from among the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban. The composers included two Iranians, an Iraqi, a Sudanese and a Syrian.

The principal trumpet for the Seattle Symphony, introducing one of the works, noted that about one-quarter of the 80 musicians of the orchestra were immigrants, hailing from 15 countries. The music on the program reflected a cross-fertilization between Western and Middle Eastern classical traditions, and included a large number of instruments not usually heard in US concerts, among them an oud (a stringed instrument related to the lute) and a santoor (an Iranian instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer).

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/11/musi-f11.html

The Doors took their name from the title of Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Doors of Perception’

Feb 10, 2017

The Doors, one of the most influential and revolutionary rock bands of the sixties, were formed in Los Angeles in 1965 by UCLA film students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek.

It all started on LA’s Venice Beach in July 1965, when Morrison told Manzarek that he had been writing songs and sang ‘Moonlight Drive’ to him. Manzarek was speechless; he had never heard lyrics to a rock song like that before.


Promotional photo of The Doors.

Manzarek, an organist, had just formed a band called Rick & the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim, and since they were searching for a vocalist and drummer, he asked Morrison to join them. Drummer John Densmore of The Psychedelic Rangers joined the band and soon after they recorded six Morrison songs: Moonlight Drive, My Eyes Have Seen You, Hello, I Love You, Go Insane, End Of The Night, and Summer’s Almost Gone. Manzarek’s brothers Rick and Jim didn’t like the recordings and decided to leave the band. John’s friend, guitarist Robbie Krieger, who was previously also a member of The Psychedelic Rangers, then joined the band. They never found a new bass player, so Manzarek played bass on his organ. They renamed the band to “The Doors.”

Let’s break on through to the other side and find out what influenced The Doors to name their band. It was Jim Morrison who proposed the name The Doors to his band mates. He was inspired by William Blake via Aldous Huxley’s book on mescaline, The Doors of Perception.

Morrison chose the band’s name after reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which got its title from a quote in a book written by William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” The quote is as follows, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”


One of the copies of William Blake’s unique hand-painted editions, created for the original printing of the poem. The line from which Huxley draws the title is in the second to last paragraph. This image represents Copy H, Plate 14 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell which is currently held at The Fitzwilliam Museum.

Apparently, the works of William Blake and Aldous Huxley influenced not just Jim Morrison, but also Ray Manzarek. In 1967, Newsweek published an article about the Doors titled “This Way to the Egress,” where Manzarek was quoted discussing the name of the band:

There are things you know about,” says 25-year-old Manzarek, whose specialty is playing the organ with one hand and the bass piano with the other, “and things you don’t, the known and the unknown, and in between are the doors – that’s us. We’re saying that you’re not only spirit, you’re also this very sensuous being. That’s not evil, that’s a really beautiful thing. Hell appears so much more fascinating and bizarre than heaven. You have to ‘break on through to the other side’ to become the whole being.”

The Doors went on to become one of the most famous rock bands. In January 1967, their debut album was released and was a massive hit, reaching number two on the US chart. The same year in October they released their second album ‘Strange Days,’ which was also well received. ‘Waiting for the Sun’ was released in 1968 and that year the band made their first performance outside of North America.

They performed throughout Europe, including a show in Amsterdam where Morrison collapsed on stage after a drug binge. In June 1969, they released ‘The Soft Parade,’ and next year they released their fifth studio album, ‘Morrison Hotel.’ In 1971, soon after ‘L.A. Woman’ was recorded, Morrison moved to Paris to concentrate on his writing. On 3 July 1971, his body was found in the bathtub in his apartment. The rock legend apparently died of a drug overdose.


Jim Morrison’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Photo Credit

The rest of the band tried to continue without him and released two more albums, but the band eventually split in 1973.

 

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?

The cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power

Why do conservatives want the government to defund the arts?
Vinila Dasgupta retouches her art during India Art Fair in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The four day art fair brings together a number of modern and contemporary artists to present their works. ((Credit: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal))
This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Recent reports indicate that Trump administration officials have circulated plans to defund the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), putting this agency on the chopping block – again.

Conservatives have sought to eliminate the NEA since the Reagan administration. In the past, arguments were limited to the content of specific state-sponsored works that were deemed offensive or immoral – an offshoot of the culture wars.

Now the cuts are largely driven by an ideology to shrink the federal government and decentralize power. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argues that government should not use its “coercive power of taxation” to fund arts and humanities programs that are neither “necessary nor prudent.” The federal government, in other words, has no business supporting culture. Period.

But there are two major flaws in conservatives’ latest attack on the NEA: The aim to decentralize the government could end up dealing local communities a major blow, and it ignores the economic contribution of this tiny line item expense.

The relationship between government and the arts

Historically, the relationship between the state and culture is as fundamental as the idea of the state itself. The West, in particular, has witnessed an evolution from royal and religious patronage of the arts to a diverse range of arts funding that includes sales, private donors, foundations, corporations, endowments and the government.

Prior to the formation of the NEA in 1965, the federal government strategically funded cultural projects of national interest. For example, the Commerce Department subsidized the film industry in the 1920s and helped Walt Disney skirt bankruptcy during World War II. The same could be said for the broad range of New Deal economic relief programs, like the Public Works of Art Project and the Works Progress Administration, which employed artists and cultural workers. The CIA even joined in, funding Abstract Expressionist artists as a cultural counterweight to Soviet Realism during the Cold War.

The NEA came about during the Cold War. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asserted the political and ideological importance of artists as critical thinkers, provocateurs and powerful contributors to the strength of a democratic society. His attitude was part of a broader bipartisan movement to form a national entity to promote American arts and culture at home and abroad. By 1965, President Johnson took up Kennedy’s legacy, signing the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964 – which established the National Council on the Arts – and the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, which established the NEA.

Since its inception, the NEA has weathered criticism from the left and right. The right generally argues state funding for culture shouldn’t be the government’s business, while some on the left have expressed concern about how the funding might come with constraints on creative freedoms. Despite complaints from both sides, the United States has never had a fully articulated, coherent national policy on culture, unless – as historian Michael Kammen suggests – deciding not to have one is, in fact, policy.

Flare-ups in the culture wars

Targeting of the NEA has had more to do with the kind of art the government funded than any discernible impact to the budget. The amount in question – roughly US$148 million – is a drop in the morass of a $3.9 trillion federal budget.

Instead, the arts were a focus of the culture wars that erupted in the 1980s, which often invoked legislative grandstanding for elimination of the NEA. Hot-button NEA-funded pieces included Andre Serrano’s “Immersion (Piss Christ)” (1987), Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo exhibit “The Perfect Moment” (1989) and the case of the “NEA Four,” which involved the rejection of NEA grant applicants by performance artists Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes.

In each case, conservative legislators isolated an artist’s work – connected to NEA funding – that was objectionable due to its sexual or controversial content, such as Serrano’s use of Christian iconography. These artists’ works, then, were used to stoke a public debate about normative values. Artists were the targets, but often museum staff and curators bore the brunt of these assaults. The NEA four were significant because the artists had grants unlawfully rejected based upon standards of decency that were eventually deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998.

As recently as 2011, former Congressmen John Boehner and Eric Cantor targeted the inclusion of David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly, A Work in Progress” (1986-87) in a Smithsonian exhibition to renew calls to eliminate the NEA.

In all these cases, the NEA had funded artists who either brought attention to the AIDS crisis (Wojnarowicz), invoked religious freedoms (Serrano) or explored feminist and LGBTQ issues (Mapplethorpe and the four performance artists). Controversial artists push the boundaries of what art does, not just what art is; in these cases, the artists were able to powerfully communicate social and political issues that elicited the particular ire of conservatives.

A local impact

But today, it’s not about the art itself. It’s about limiting the scope and size of the federal government. And that ideological push presents real threats to our economy and our communities.

Organizations like the Heritage Foundation fail to take into account that eliminating the NEA actually causes the collapse of a vast network of regionally controlled, state-level arts agencies and local councils. In other words, they won’t simply be defunding a centralized bureaucracy that dictates elite culture from the sequestered halls of Washington, D.C. The NEA is required by law to distribute 40 percent of its budget to arts agencies in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions.

Many communities – such as Princeton, New Jersey, which could lose funding to local cultural institutions like the McCarter Theatre – are anxious about how threats to the NEA will affect their community.

Therein lies the misguided logic of the argument for defunding: It targets the NEA but in effect threatens funding for programs like the Creede Repertory Theatre – which serves rural and underserved communities in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and Arizona – and Appalshop, a community radio station and media center that creates public art installations and multimedia tours in Jenkins, Kentucky to celebrate Appalachian cultural identity.

While the present administration and the conservative movement claim they’re simply trying to save taxpayer dollars, they also ignore the significant economic impacts of the arts. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the arts and culture industry generated $704.8 billion of economic activity in 2013 and employed nearly five million people. For every dollar of NEA funding, there are seven dollars of funding from other private and public funds. Elimination of the agency endangers this economic vitality.

Ultimately, the Trump administration needs to decide whether artistic and cultural work is important to a thriving economy and democracy.

The Conversation

Aaron D. Knochel, Assistant Professor of Art Education, Pennsylvania State University

http://www.salon.com/2017/02/08/why-do-conservatives-want-the-government-to-defund-the-arts_partner/?source=newsletter

1967 – 6 Hour Selection 50 Years On

John Lennon by Richard Avendon 1967

I wanted to do something to mark the 50th anniversary of 1967 – a truly magical, myth-laden, musical year when so much changed, separating old from new and leading to a seismic cultural shift, especially via the recording industry – artists becoming increasingly ambitious, with pop music no longer regarded as throwaway fodder for the kids, but the great artistic statement of the age.

1967 provides the pivot point in my personal mapping of the 20th century – June 1st if I want to narrow it down to a specific date. This was when ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles was released, an album that would soundtrack the psychedelic ‘Summer Of Love’, blowing minds and inspiring countless other artists to up their game, whilst The Beatles’ interest in lysergic acid diethylamide and eastern mysticism, altered not only their own states of consciousness and perception, but, pied piper like, they led a whole generation down the rabbit hole.

https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?feed=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mixcloud.com%2Fgregwilson%2F1967-6-hour-selection-50-years-on%2F&hide_cover=1

*Due to the compilation falling foul of Mixcloud’s agreement in the US regarding the amount of tracks by an individual artist, the podcast is unfortunately not available to stream there. To resolve this we’ve now also uploaded the podcast to the Hear This platform, which can be accessed in the US: https://hearthis.at/hazy-cosmic-jive/1967-6-hour-selection-50-years-on-compiled-by-greg-wilson-2017-192/

However, you won’t find any of the tracks on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ in the compilation I’ve put together in tribute to this momental year – the reason being that none of its inclusions were issued as singles. I’d originally thought about approaching this as a selection of my favourite tracks from the year, but whilst I was researching I decided that I’d only feature singles that had made the top 50 of the UK chart during 1967, and in the order in which they appeared. This has resulted in a 6 hour epic, available to stream via Mixcloud.

The 7” singles only format, is in line with my 24 hour Random Influences project, covering the ’60s and the first half of the ’70s,, which is available to stream via Mixcloud:
https://www.mixcloud.com/gregwilson/playlists/greg-wilson-random-influences

Whilst, of course, being a subjective selection, I felt that this format would provide a reflective representation of what people were listening to in the UK that year. It meant that I missed out on some tracks that we’re hits in the US, but not here, not least the Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ and Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, both key US countercultural anthems, plus Soul classics including Jackie Wilson’s ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher’ (which would be a UK hit thrice over, but in ’69, ’75 and ’87) James Brown’s Funk blueprint ‘Cold Sweat’and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ ‘Tears Of A Clown’, hidden away as an album track in ’67, but destined to become a transatlantic #1 hit 3 years on.  Then there’s a whole heap of now Northern Soul classics that were complete obscurities at the time of their release, only to be excavated in the ’70s by obsessive British DJs.

CONTINUED:

http://blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2017/01/1967-6-hour-selection-50-years-on/#more-10988

Bad times make great art?

 Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

The claim that good art comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking

Bad times make great art. Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) (Credit: Kino International)

On election night a murmur started just as the last gasp faded, “Well at least we can expect some great art.” At first the sentiment was a fatalistic one-off, a brave face, a shy hope that something good would come from the dark days forecast for the Trump presidency. It didn’t take long for the statement to acquire a predictive tone, eventually a waft of desperation was detectable and, ultimately, shrill fiat.

The art of protest is provocative, no question. It’s often brave, usually fierce, sometimes compelling and occasionally inspirational. But is the appeal of the books, films, poetry, painting, television and sculpture produced in response to tyranny, oligarchic pomposity or a fetishistic prioritization of the bottom line universal or simply reactive? How durable is the art birthed from protest? The following essay is the second in a series for Salon exploring the question Do bad times really inspire great art?

On Nov. 6 of this year, just two days before the presidential election, aging American punks Green Day took the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards to perform their 2004, Bush II-era modern pop-punk staple, “American Idiot.”

Singer Billie Joe Armstrong snarled in the vague direction of then-presidential hopeful, now president-elect Donald J. Trump, asking the audience of largely Dutch citizens possessing close to zero influence on the American political conversation, “Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Apart from the lyrics not making a lot of sense, it also had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. However well-meaning, Armstrong and Co. would have been just as effective by writing “DO NOT VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP” on a piece of paper, cramming it in a bottle, and chucking it into the ocean, or by whispering “Trump is bad” into a hole.

The clear lesson: punk is dead. And not only that, but it’s been poisoned, drowned, hanged, beaten, stabbed, killed, re-killed and killed again, like some slobbering Rasputin-ish zombie. So when people claim, desperately, that Trump’s America will somehow lead to a resurgence in angry, politically charged guitar music, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.

* * *

To claim that good art — that is: stuff of considerable aesthetic merit, which is maybe even socially advantageous — comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking, as if mass deportations and radicalized violence are all in the service of a piece of music. Of course, even the idea of what qualifies as “good times” must be qualified. Given that Trump won the election, it stands to reason that for a majority of Americans (or at least for a majority of electoral college representatives) the prospect of a Trump presidency is a beneficial thing, which will usher in a new epoch of prosperity and big-league American greatness.

There may be truth, or at least the ring of truth, in the idea that objects of artistic value can be produced under the pressure of hardship. While it may be true that an artist like, say, the late Leonard Cohen was able to mine the fathomless quarries of heartache and longing for his music and poetry, it is also true that Cohen was blessed with socio-economic privilege, both in the form of family inheritances and grants from a liberal Canadian government that supported (and continues to support, in various respects) art and artists. His heart may have been hard, but the times weren’t.

At the cultural level, good art tends to emerge from good times. It’s not even about having a well-managed social welfare state (though that, of course, helps). Rather, it seems to be a matter of liberal attitudes reproducing themselves in certain contexts, leading to greater degrees of freedom and greater gains in artistic production and sophistication.

So forget Green Day for a second. Take, as an example, the Weimar Republic of Germany’s interwar period. It was a short-lived heyday of liberalism and representative democracy, flourishing smack between two periods of staunch authoritarianism: bookended by the post-unification German Empire on one side, and Nazi Germany on the other. It was in this context that some of the twentieth century’s most compelling art was created.

* * *

It’s tricky to even think about Weimar Germany without being ensnared by the sickly succour of cliché. You know: leggy chorus girls high-kicking in all-night cabarets, gays and lesbians fraternizing freely, women in short hair lighting cigarettes while the zippy strains of jaunty jazz wafts hither and yon on in a smoky hall — a populace caught in full thrall of freedom. Fritz Lang’s 1922 film “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,” the opening titles of which describe it as “A Picture of the Times,” depicts Berlin’s underworld as equally rococo in its bourgeois elegance, and chaotically debased. As the proprietor of an illegal casino puts it, summing up the free-spirited ethos of the era, “Everything that pleases is allowed.”
Emerging from the horror of the First World War, and the 1918 November Revolution that saw the imperial government sacked, the nation’s consciousness was in a state of jumble and disarray. But it was an exciting  jumble, full of possibility. The philosopher Ernst Block compared Weimar Germany to Periclean Athens of the fifth century BCE: a time of cultural thriving, sovereign self-governance, and increased social and political equality. Germany became a hub for intellectualism, nurturing physicists like Einstein and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. Art indulged experimentalism and the avant-garde, united less by common aesthetic tendencies and more by shared socialist values. It was era of Otto Dix, Bertolt Brecht, the Bauhaus group, Arnold Schoenberg and a new, expressionist tendency in cinema.

Robert Weine’s 1919 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodied the spirit of this new age. It told the story of a small community preyed upon by the maniacal carnival barker Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), whose newest attraction is a spooky-looking sleepwalker named Cesare (the great German actor Conrad Veidt). By cover of darkness, Caligari controls Cesare, using him to commit a string of violent crimes. With its highly stylized sets, and comments on the brutality of authority, the film presented a whole alternative vision of the world. Both stylistically and thematically, “Caligari” imagined the splintering of the postwar German psyche, presenting a sense that reality itself had been destabilizing, and was reconstituting itself in jagged lines and oblique curlicues. The movie’s lasting influence is inestimable.

In his landmark work of cultural analysis, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” film critic Siegfried Kracauer described the “collapse of the old hierarchy of values and conventions” in Weimar-era Germany. “For a brief while,” Kracauer writes, “the German mind had a unique opportunity to overcome hereditary habits and reorganize itself completely. It enjoyed freedom of choice, and the air was full of doctrines trying to captivate it, to lure it into a regrouping of inner attitudes.”

Certainly, German cinema of the era often explicitly figures authoritarian characters attempting to seduce the public: from Weine’s madman Dr. Caligari, to Lang’s huckster Dr. Mabuse. For the reforming national consciousness, authority served as a kind of siren song, luring the public out of the rowdy cabarets and nightclubs and back on the straight and narrow. By the early 1930s, attitudes seemed to be shifting. In Fritz Lang’s classic thriller “M,” from 1931, police sniff out a serial killer in part by trying to determine a psychosexual basis for his crimes. It was at once a strike against the unfettered sexual libertinism of the Berlin cabarets, and a sinister intimation of Nazism, which was notoriously marked by its pseudoscientific quackery about the biological basis of criminality and depravity. The hallmarks of Weimar — its authoritarian disenthrallment, its slackening attitudes toward sexual repression, its intoxicating cosmopolitanism — were curdling.

* * *

Weimar poses a number of compelling questions around the subject of historical and cultural Golden Ages. Such rigidly compartmentalized, epochal thinking leads inevitably to collapse. How, after all, can a “Golden Age” be defined without presuming its emergence from, and collapse back into, periods of relative darkness and doom? It recalls Karl Marx’s thinking on historical stages, outlined in volume one of “Capital,” and the idea that each historical period carries within it the seeds of its successor. And it is force, according to Marx, that serves as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

In the case of Weimar, the sense of expanded liberty was undercut in several respects. While the upper and middle classes grew in prosperity, the working poor were afflicted by hyperinflation, and by and large unaffected by new gains made in left-wing modernist painting, cabaret culture and avant-garde cinema. Sexual libertinism bred syphilis outbreaks. Old-stock Germans balked at the moral and aesthetic degeneracy of the new art movements. For such people, Weimar was regarded less like Periclean Athens and more like the ancient African port of Carthage: fit to be sacked, razed, and have its earth salted so that no memory of it could possibly proliferate.

It speaks to a certain historical tendency. To revise Marx, it’s not just that a given society is pregnant with the next one, but that it’s pregnant with resentments and reactions. With Weimar, expanded cultural and political liberalism emerged as a reaction to the authoritarianism of imperial Germany, with the even fiercer authoritarianism and violence of Hitler’s regime emerging as a response to that. Stereotypes of left-leaning artists cavorting in cabarets found their negative image, their doppelgänger, in nationalist thugs roving the streets.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a period of growth and advancement, artistically and otherwise. Rather, it’s a historical reminder that even periods that usher in all manner of artistic and cultural headway need to be relentlessly qualified. It’s not that good times don’t make for good art. It’s that, really, there’s never been such a thing as a distinctly, determinedly, wholly unequivocally “good time.” Even the most shimmering epochs exist in contradiction, conflict and often out-and-out hypocrisy. Like the backdrop of “Caligari,” ours has always been a world of light and shadow. Something to keep in mind as the world stumbles into what’s shaping up to be a new Periclean Golden Age of American Idiocy.

John Semley lives and works in Toronto. He is a books columnist at the Globe & Mail newspaper and the author of “This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall” (ECW Press).

Elegy for a Year of Death in America

CULTURE
If Nietzsche was right about “what does not kill me,” we’re stronger now. Facing the darkness is the way forward.

Photo Credit: By The original uploader was Nagelfar at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Peace, peace!” wrote Percy Shelley in the climactic stanza of his great poem about the death of his friend and rival, John Keats. But Shelley’s poem, “Adonaïs,” is not about peace — rather the opposite. If anything, it’s about the strife and anguish from which human life is never free.

He is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awaken’d from the dream of life;
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

This is a form of consolation common to poetry and religion, one much in demand over the past 12 months as we have lost David Bowie, Muhammad AliPrince,Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (just off the top of my head) and have suffered the not-entirely-metaphorical death of our democracy, which has been sick far longer than any of those people. If you grew up amid Anglo-American pop culture of the 1970s and ’80s, and if you once held a burnished view of American tradition and American possibility — that describes, I think, a large number of people — this has been a tough year. I can’t promise I can make any of it better, but I can assure you that all the emotions we now feel have been felt before. Maybe that counts for something.

Confronting the mortality of famous people is always a way of confronting our own, I suppose, just as the tales of their marriages and divorces and affairs seem to echo and deepen our own histories of relationship success or failure. If you belong to the micro-generation that assumed that most of the people on that list would always be part of our lives, as I do, then 2016 has offered an especially pungent reminder that there is no such thing as “always,” and that our day is coming sooner than we would like. If your year was also not easy for other, more personal reasons (as mine certainly was), that seems to go with the territory.

As a child, I rushed out to the driveway for the newspaper on the morning after Ali’s big Madison Square Garden fight with Joe Frazier, and was crushed to learn that the mighty hero had fallen. A few years after that, Bowie’s late ’70s records offered me my first glimpse into a realm of bohemian adventure that actually existed, in real life and on the same continent where I lived, and not just in books about the 1920s or the 19th century. Add a few more years, and Prince emerged as the perfect distillation of white and black pop, a symbol of racial and cultural liberation sent to free us from the Reagan years. I didn’t learn to appreciate Cohen’s music until adulthood, when (again, along with many other people) I realized that he was not some folk-rock phenomenon constrained by the ’60s but something closer to a modern-day prophet.

Each of them, like the other people on that list, had a long and complicated life with many conflicting currents, and I won’t even try to do justice to that complexity here. But it did not occur to me that I would live to see them all dead, or that those deaths would all occur in a year that had so many other ways to make us mourn for lost time and lost opportunities, so many ways of reminding us that time is fleeting, and to gather our rosebuds while we may.

I didn’t have the same personal relationships with other people on that list, or with others I haven’t mentioned (Edward Albee or Elie Wiesel or George Martin or Gloria Naylor or Maurice White or Mose Allison — we could go on). But you may, and people each of us knows almost certainly do. Someone close to me was really broken up over Alan Rickman, who was one of the greatest screen and stage actors of our time, and I don’t begrudge anyone, gay or otherwise, for perceiving George Michael as a sui generis figure — a Keatsian figure, if ever there was one — who broke new ground in pop music. (“Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1” is simply a great record, so great it seemed to have defeated its creator in some ways.)

I don’t want to dwell too much on the perhaps-terminal decline of American democracy, which this publication and everyone else in the media has been worrying over for the last year and a half, like a dog with an old mutton bone. It’s not as if people who supported the incoming president are incapable of grief and sorrow (although I suspect they are underrepresented in the Bowie and Prince fanbases). But for many of us the inexplicable political events of 2016, which remain difficult to believe, even now that they have happened, are at once the atmosphere, the subtext and the inner meaning of all this death. I was not an especially avid supporter of Hillary Clinton, but for many American women (and men) the perverse tale of how she was denied the presidency yet again in her final campaign is another of this year’s great losses. The vision of a woman president came so close to reality, but remains a dream deferred.

We have a way, as human beings, of staring into the darkness and seeing light. We’re going to need that now. In some ways, what Shelley has to tell us in “Adonaïs” is highly conventional: Whatever you believe awaits us on the other side — something or nothing, heaven or hell — at least the struggles of this life are over. Mourning is essentially a form of self-indulgence; it is we who suffer, not the dead. Shelley wrote that poem, of course, while still amid the mad trance of life, locked in unprofitable strife with phantoms: He had one eye on his dead friend and the other on posterity, and was clearly trying to go head to head with John Milton’s “Lycidas,” written nearly two centuries earlier, the first really famous pastoral elegy for a dead friend in the English tradition.

Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat’ry floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him that walk’d the waves …

Milton refers us back to Christian redemption as the reason not to feel depressed about death and loss, or at least he thinks he does. (I’m inclined to argue that he invented Romanticism without meaning to, and was constantly at war with his own faith.) But the idea at work here, that light must come out of darkness and hope can be found amid deep personal despair — the belief in literal or allegorical transcendence — is such a cultural constant across literary and religious traditions that it has to mean something. Admittedly, that “something” might just be that biology drives us onward, and those of us who find ourselves still living while others die make up reasons to keep going, because our brains are over-evolved and we can’t help thinking about these things. Cats and beetles, so far as we can tell, don’t ask themselves these questions.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous maxim that “what does not kill me makes me stronger” has been repurposed so much by football coaches and military strategists that its original ambiguity has gotten lost. Like most of the mad German’s pronouncements, that one is double-edged and purposefully unclear. Nietzsche knew from experience, for example, that physical illness does not make you stronger in any ordinary sense. (That passage, in fact, comes from “Twilight of the Idols,” his next-to-last major work.) I take his statement to mean that confronting death and mortality directly, as we draw nearer to our own deaths, fortifies us to better use the hours and days we have left.

Nearly everyone I know is coming out of 2016 beset by deep feelings of grief and loss. If we have been made stronger in that sense, we will be more than strong enough for whatever lies ahead: death or transformation, political or cultural or personal. Walt Whitman was thinking of something like this, in a more optimistic key, in perhaps the greatest of his poems, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” He imagines making friends with death, holding hands with death, and even arriving at “a sacred knowledge of death,” as a way of dealing with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (named in the poem only as “him I loved”), a grievous loss that did not quite kill America and may, for a while, have made it stronger.

And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent — lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

 

15 musicians share the art they loved the most in 2016

Be grateful for what was good:

From Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” to Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” here’s an art offering to smile about

Be grateful for what was good: 15 musicians share the art they loved the most in 2016
(Credit: Getty/Kevin Winter)

For much of November and December, critical consensus is dominated by analysis of (and debate about) the best art released in a given year. These lists are big business these days: As of Dec. 19, the blog Largehearted Boy — which annually compiles a comprehensive collection of rankings across multiple art forms — counted a staggering 904 online “Best of 2016″ book lists. In other words, at a certain point, keeping track of the best “best of” lists becomes an exercise in futility — or at least information overload.

To make things simpler, Salon decided to ask a handful of musicians to share what 2016-released art — across mediums such as music, movies, TV, books and podcasts — resonated with them the most this year. Although certain items cropped up on several lists, their answers generally varied and reflected the embarrassment of cultural riches that redeemed the year.

1. Laura Ballance, Superchunk/Merge Records co-founder

Most recent release: Merge’s 2016 release calendar

I read “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead, and am amazed at how it keeps popping back up in my thoughts. Given the rampant killing and imprisonment of black people in modern America, it is a very timely book. Whitehead created surreal versions of South and North Carolina that seem less and less surreal as the convoluted political machinations of today unfold.

2. Allison Crutchfield

Most recent release: “Tourist in This Town” (2016)

I keep coming back to “Shrill” by Lindy West. I was just really affected by this book. I actually felt differently when I finished it. I’m obsessed with her brain.

3. Sadie Dupuis, Speedy Ortiz/sad13

Most recent release: sad13’s “Slugger” (2016)

Megumi Igarashi, who makes art under the name Rokudenashiko (or “good-for-nothing”), is a Japanese artist and sculptor who was arrested and jailed in 2014 for creating artwork featuring the shape of her vulva, a violation of Japanese obscenity laws. She tells that story in “What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy,” an autobiographical and decidedly anti-censorship manga about Rokudenashiko’s career in manko (“pussy”) art, which celebrates the vagina and pushes back against the idea that genitalia is obscene.

The story is interlaced with essays, interviews, criminal justice statistics, legal transcripts from Rokudenashiko’s trials, and photos of her bright and hilarious sculptures, one of which is a 3D-printed rainbow kayak in the same shape as her vulva. “My ideas have infuriated a bunch of small-minded men,” she says, “but the number of people who think it’s fun, silly, happy, and hilarious have also grown.” It’s an in-depth — and also very cute — exploration of sexism, corruption, taboo, and the importance of art and humor as a force of love and acceptance.

4. Kam Franklin, The Suffers

Most recent release: “The Suffers” (2016)

The film “Moonlight” absolutely took my breath away. I found myself attached to each character in a way that I rarely feel with other films. It was simply incredible.

5. Robbie Fulks

Most recent release: “Upland Stories” (2016)

My wife and I sat in the theater smiling ear to ear for almost the entire running time of Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” Back home afterward, when I tried to imagine how a screenplay, consisting mostly of dialogue and character names, could have been the finished thing’s premeditated blueprint, I was awed and mystified.

This is a comedy grounded not in cleverness or concept, but in a perfectly sunny view of life, and one in which every laugh comes out of character and is sweetly edged by gorgeous production design, period music and impeccable ensemble acting.  Also, a plot with zero conflict — no bullshit to tie your stomach in knots in the second reel. This is one of those movies, like “Breaking Away,” that manages magically to feel just like everyday American life, while improving on it in every detail.

6. Patterson Hood, Drive-By Truckers

Most recent release: “American Band” (2016)

2016 was such a ridiculously terrible year on so many levels. But it did produce some seriously fine works of art. I was blown away by the film “Moonlight” (along with perhaps everyone else who saw it). Loved Springsteen’s autobiography [“Born To Run”] and Bob Mehr’s book on the Replacements [“Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements”]. Adam Johnson’s short story collection, “Fortune Smiles,” was truly one of the greatest things that I have ever read.

Like most everyone else, I was blown away by the albums of Beyoncé [“Lemonade”] and Bowie [“★”], but was also in love with the albums from Solange [“A Seat at the Table”], Hiss Golden Messenger [“Heart Like a Levee”], Angel Olsen [“My Woman”], Radiohead [“A Moon Shaped Pool”] and Cass McCombs [“Mangy Love”]. I pretty much missed the year in television (as I didn’t have a properly working TV) but I’m about to get one and intend to binge-watch Ray McKinnon’s final season of “Rectify,” which I hear is the best yet.

7. Kristin Kontrol

Most recent release: “X-Communicate” (2016)

“Certain Women” felt simple, truthful, and quietly stunning. I love Laura Dern more than water. “Christine” was shocking and leanly executed. Rebecca Hall’s performance was incredible. Knowing the history of the narrative beforehand made it no less compelling. “Nocturnal Animals” is still ruminating in my head. I felt like I was smashed in the head with it, and don’t know [if] that was a good thing, though it certainly was beautiful.

[Music-wise] “Blonde” by Frank Ocean, “Freetown Sound” by Blood Orange, “ANTI” by Rihanna, “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West, “Views” by Drake, “★” by David Bowie, “A Seat at the Table” by Solange — these were all my favorites this year, because they all sounded incredible. More important, they all made me think and feel. To enable and encourage an experience — be it pure fun [and] enjoyment or something much heavier — that is success.

8. Lydia Loveless

Most recent release: “Real” (2016)

I loved the movie “Sing Street.” I think we all have a tendency to get a bit cynical these days, and watching a movie about a poor, nerdy Irish kid starting a band was enough to move me out of that, if even for a moment. Watching kids make art for the sake of art and find joy in it, with little reward, that’s a feeling I’d like to find again. Plus, it was hilarious!

9. Shirley Manson, Garbage

Most recent release: “Strange Little Birds” (2015)

[The book] “Fight Like A Girl” by Clementine Ford outraged me. It nourished and amused me. And it lit a fire under my ass. What more can you ask from a piece of literature? I’m giving it to everyone I love for Christmas.

10. Jonathan Meiburg, Shearwater

Most recent release:  “Jet Plane and Oxbow” (2016)

An instrumental band called Battle Trance made one of the best records you probably didn’t hear this year, called “Blade of Love.” They’re a tenor sax quartet, but they don’t make the sound you might be thinking of — or they do, but only on the way to sounds you’ve never imagined coming from saxophones. “Blade of Love” is a single, thrilling 40-minute piece, a beautiful and frightening journey that seems to contain almost every kind of feeling you might have about our world right now — all its promise, beauty, darkness, and terror. Seeing them perform it in a small church in New York this year was one of the most transcendent listening experiences I’ve had in a long time, and disquietingly timely.

11. Mitski

Most recent release: “Puberty 2″ (2016)

I was a bad artist and watched close to no new movies this year. But I went to see “Hail, Caesar!” because I was in dire need of a proper night out at the movies, and this seemed like a real movie-y movie that would offer the full popcorn experience. And it did! Also, Alden Ehrenreich is a goddamn star.

12. Tegan Quin, Tegan & Sara

Most recent release:  “Love You to Death” (2016)

Nothing resonated with me more this year than [the podcast] “Two Dope Queens.” I HEART Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams! I like podcasts, but this felt different. It fused together some of my favorite things: comedy, politics, women and U2! I anxiously awaited each new episode and was mesmerized each week. I learned so much; I laughed out loud; and I was introduced to so many new writers and comedians. I truly think they have created something deeply funny and also super important. Consider me obsessed. Side note: Phoebe’s book, “You Can’t Touch My Hair,” was also SO funny and beautiful and smart.

13. Tommy Stinson, Bash & Pop/The Replacements

Upcoming release: “Anything Could Happen” (Jan.  20, 2017)

One of my favorite records to come outta 2016 would have to be the new Lydia Loveless record, “Real.” She slipped me a copy of it when we played a show together this past summer. [The record has] really great songs, and she sings her ass off! I recommend this to anyone looking for a great record to give someone as a holiday gift!

14. Matt Sweeney, Chavez

Upcoming release: “Cockfighters” (Jan. 13, 2017)

“Censorship Now!!” by Ian F. Svenonius is a 2016 book that rang my bell hard. It has the joyful fury of ’70s MAD magazine; they weren’t kidding back then, even if it was “satire” for “kids.” The essays in this book had me calling up my friends to remind them that Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.

15. Mish Way, White Lung

Most recent release:  “Paradise” (2016)

J.D. Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance grew up in the Bible Belt with a mother who struggled with addiction, and was raised by his grandmother. Through his own life story from poor, white trash to service in the military to Harvard law graduate, Vance tells the story of the Americans that we often just write off. It’s the perfect continuation of Jim Goad’s 1994 book, “The Redneck Manifesto” and, moreover, a compelling story about family and community values, and this conservative pride many people in middle America hold close. I wish everyone, especially now, would read this book.

 

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.