Saturday, July 25, 2009

Observations on an Insurrectionary Saturday

1. It was not an embarrassment to see the low level of Iran support activity in the United States July 25, compared to huge demonstrations throughout Europe, Canada, and the Middle East. In fact, it was a wise political strategy. The government and people of the United States are both the Great Satan, so anything we say is discredited. Instead, people closer to Iran are uniting to say down with the clerical leadership.

2. The broad internationalization of the struggle creates an interesting, but potentially dangerous dynamic in Iran. When nations surround a nation telling it its government is not acceptable, the people have a greater chance to rise up - but the nation can adopt the 1990s Serb game of saying "Us against the world." The balance can tip either way right now.

3. It is time to stop making posters equating Ahmadinejad with Hitler. The Populist Podunk was always a simple tool of the clerico-military junta. And Khamenei's action July 24 to force Ahmadinejad to fire Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei indicates that the Iranian president is almost as much a victim of the Council of Guardians as the people of Iran. Our demands should not involve a particular political leader, we should demand the ouster from the nation of the Shia religious leadership of Iran. (Personal wish list - could someone please assassinate Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami - quickly, por favor?)

4. The obvious difficulty of the next steps cannot be underestimated. Urban reformers represent large numbers, but the rural and suburban devout of Iran probably constitute a majority. How much will they listen to either an outsider or insider telling them their most sacred leaders represent the biggest threat to their survival? Think of what would happen if far-right evangelicals attained a huge majority in the United States, and they took over a vetting role to oversee government functions. What if the other nations of the UN told the people of the U.S. they had to arrest or kill all their preachers before things would get better? The authors of the Left Behind series would no doubt charge the entire UN with being a creature of Satan, and would probably get millions to believe it. What the hell? Maybe we should wear buttons proclaiming "We are all the Great Satan."

I know one thing. I had no problem wearing a button in 1979 saying "Hang the Ayatollah," and I would have no problem wearing one in 2009 saying "Hang All Ayatollahs." Maybe no one in Iran would listen. But the Iranian revolutionary road has been a long, long one since 1979, and the road ahead is probably longer still. Buckle your seat belts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

No Buddhist Silence: Terra Naomi, Sarah Gill, Edith's Paper Chain, and the Road to Shambhala

Appropriate, somehow, that I got my first glimpse of the Stupa honoring Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche this past week. Both the Tibetan Buddhists and my Methodist preacher made presentations in recent days on the value of silence, and the way that activity and experience intrudes on the Being There. Well, shit, flunked that bardo pond. There has been more bizarre and inexplicable experience in the last few days intruding on any potential meditation, the only answer is to just ride the flow until it stops, then absorb it.

Moving backwards from Sunday, the afternoon at Colorado Springs Pridefest was supposed to be a simple ACLU task of passing around Mardi Gras beads and cardboard fans. (Video of a rain-spattered parade is here.) My back was to the stage at Acacia Park, and it seemed odd that I heard a singer apparently covering Terra Naomi's "Vicodin." It didn't occur to me until the final half of "Say It's Possible" that the person in question really was Terra Naomi, who had been flown to the fest for a single Colorado gig - right here in our little duckburg. Shit again. Missed the direct experience, but Trungpa was whispering "be still, be still."

Besides, I was a wreck from too many margaritas the night before, celebrating and mourning the departure of the dynamo of Denver, Sarah Gill, organizer for AFSC, who was heading to Atlanta and the CDC. Had a wonderful chat with an organizer from Fort Collins. Here's Eric Wright singing a farewell song to the tune of "Streets of Laredo," and yes, that's Jamie/Jonny 5 on the porch, who assured everyone after the last verse that Flobots would inform the poor Sarah-less masses when something was going on.

The entire day on Friday was spent driving Patty (Carol's friend from high school), Deb, and Susie to the retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center at Red Feather Lakes - an astonishing drive west of Fort Collins. It's like the song says, "how does the light shine," etc. You can watch the thrilling walk around the Stupa here.

Oh, and the night before, Abby came home from Australia, surprise of surprises. Before going to DIA to pick her up, it was necessary to see the free studio show of Edith Makes a Paper Chain and Electric Illuminati, two truly illuminating Colorado Springs bands. There's a single Edith sample below, you can find more at the usual YouTube hangout, but I honestly have to stop experiencing and start the silence, or I'll be stuck on this wheel of karma forever. If so, I'll carry the Flip video along to this bardo stage so it's all on the record with a film at 11. But for now, the rest is silence.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Death Cab for Cutie and Andrew Bird at Red Rocks

A dazzling night at Red Rocks July 14. Andrew Bird opened with a full band and plenty of whistles, and Death Cab for Cutie played a majestic and surprising set with plenty of very old songs from 1990s albums, as well as brand-new songs from The Open Door EP. A friend from Florida got to see Red Rocks for the first time, and was greeted by a double rainbow.

(As usual, there are many more videos at the YouTube library.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Denver Opportunity to Wake the Dead

Good friend Maureen Brennan has played Celtic harp for the last few years in a Celtic/Grateful Dead tribute band called Wake the Dead. I'll admit to never being a huge Deadhead, and to having my sensibility lean more toward Mars Hotel than American Beauty or Workingman's Dead, but hearing a couple studio recordings convinced me this band would be great. They came to Denver this past weekend to play to Colorado Irish Festival. (The festival was immediately adjacent to the infamous Columbine High School, next to the memorial site for 1999.) We met for dinner Friday night in torrential rain, came to Denver Saturday in torrential rain for the first day's set, spent the evening poolside with sippin' whiskey, and came back to the fest Sunday (this time in only occasional rain) for more WtD. I recorded a couple dozen tunes, which I won't try to sample here, just point you to the YouTube library.

But I will show a song that meant a lot to Maureen, which Wake the Dead does not often do:

...And show a Saturday night acoustic free-for-all jam with more than 30 aspiring Irish musicians:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beyond the Gun?

The biggest story in Honduras July 5 may not have been the numbers of people that surrounded the Tegucigalpa Airport, but the fact that so many of them left their guns at home. The situation in Urumqi, Xinjiang province in China may have been more violent, but the Uighur protesters were not idolizing their terrorist comrades who were recently sent to Bermuda from Guantanamo.

For several decades now, followers of Gandhi have been hoping and wishing for a turn from revolutionary armed struggle to nonviolent mass movements. The global shift in favor of immovable bodies over guns was masked somewhat by the rise of catastrophist terrorists, beginning with Tamil suicide bombers and leading inevitably to September 11. But meanwhile, in the background, people on all continents seemed to be rejecting the effectiveness of armed struggle against an oppressive state. Part of the shift may have little to do with people seeing nonviolent methods as being effective, but with realizing that armed struggle in conditions of modern "asymmetric" warfare is as close to hopeless as one could imagine. And there seems to be fewer radicals outside the catastrophists who "celebrate the bullet."

I am not suggesting that this movement operates in all times at all places, nor am I saying that mass nonviolent struggle is always a romantic unconditional good. We will still see plenty of rebel movements arise in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, though many more in the 21st century seem to be financed by an opposing state, rather than rising indigenously from a group in the mountains espousing some kind of radical ideology. And if we look at Thailand, where two sides both employ relatively nonviolent mass-movement methods, each side is guilty of corruption and using the language of Thomas Paine to enrich themselves. Half the folks hollering "Power to the People!" may be hoping for a payoff or a date with Flo from Progressive Insurance.

But the fact that a movement in the heart of Central America, defined by its armed-struggle rebel groups in the 1980s, chose to operate in a way that emphasized nonviolent mass movements, is a positive sign that we are slowly moving beyond the gun in populist movements worldwide. This kind of trend was far more interesting in Iran (and probably will continue to be) than counting the number of protesters using Twitter or SMS. Now comes the hard part: sticking to the nonviolent principles while trying to disarm the people in power.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Paul Baribeau's Denver Booya Hootenanny

Paul Baribeau is a bona-fide hobo rail-rider folk singer, the kind I would expect to own a guitar e that says, "This machine kills fascists." But his songs are intensely personal , and he hails from my town of Grand Ledge, Michigan. Even produced a ten-song EP in 2007 called Grand Ledge. And toured the east with Ginger Alford in 2006 and 2009 singing Springsteen covers. So of course a visit to Denver turned into a profound event. This summer, he's wandering the west with a fascinating singer from Columbus, Ohio, Kari Jorgensen, who records under the name The Boy Who Could Fly.

Kevin and I headed up north, sure from the advance publicity that "Booya Beaugeau" was bound to be a house-concert venue, and we weren't disappointed. In fact, this house was a sustainable-energy, local-food-growing ambitious-hippie house, the kind of place where Baribeau said too many residents get up at 6:30 in the morning. Eat your medicine, it's good for you.

What blew us away was the remarkable quality of even the local Denver singer-songwriters, led off by our home-host Mark, who records under the name Papa Bear. Below is his song "Photographs of Spring," and you can hear two other songs here and here.

A remarkable woman known only as Bonnie followed, and I can't decide whether her writing, singing, or song-styling is best. Click on the song titles for "Be My Husband," "Arrow," or "Jezebel," and I've embedded "Driftwood Husband" below. Abe Abraham followed Bonnie with a wonderful set of concise and passionate songs - I didn't get any titles, but there are samples of his work here and here.

Kari "Boy Who Could Fly" Jorgensen began her set with some Nirvana bass lines, then did haunting pieces that used an electric guitar as an underlying foundation for some wonderful poetry. Here are "Here Together" and "Homesick," though my favorite was the song "Trash", below, with its brilliant re-purposing of Brian Wilson's "Don't Worry Baby."

Paul has some new songs! He performed "If I Knew" and "The Mall" from a new Demo Tape EP he has (on cassette, of course). Familiar favorites included "Only Babies Cry," "I Thought I Could Find You," "Brown Brown Brown," and "Strawberry." And I'll leave you with his ode to mid-Michigan holidays from the Grand Ledge EP, "Christmas Lights." Thanks, Booya hosts and patrons!