News that Russian military forces have moved into areas of the Crimea didn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise anyone else old enough to recall what happened in 2008 when the republic of Georgia decided to reclaim South Ossetia by force.
For a week that August foreign correspondents abroad and news editors at home were all speculating on the possibility of another Cold War stand-off between the West and Russia after the latter sent the 58th Army and airborne units into Ossetia to repel the Georgians. For a short but intense period of nostalgia and alarm we were once again on the slopes of the big Red glacier.
The reality was less catastrophic. In all some 275 soldiers were reportedly killed and about 1,500 wounded. Civilian displacements were given as 158,000. French President Nikolas Sarkozy, in his role as European Union President-in-waiting, helped broker a cease-fire with Russian President Medvedev. There was a six-point peace plan. Russian forces were withdrawn from all but 20 per cent of Georgia.
Western Europe did not freeze over, probably to the disappointment of global doom-mongers. Far from it, our part of the EU heated up as thousands of Eastern Europeans poured westwards. Life went on and we soon forgot all about Red Armageddon.
For outsiders like myself, the Cold War was John Le Carre's best spy thrillers and the sort of idealised trips to Eastern European countries undertaken by western poets and novelists that John Updike wrote about so well in his Henry Bech stories. Those on the receiving end of Russian military intervention will have a radically different view of it.
Ukrainians can point to 90 years or more of it. But then not all Ukrainians have the same feelings about Russia in its incarnation as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But whether you belong to the faction who thinks the people's flag is deepest red or the faction who thinks it is stained with innocent blood, Russia is never going to stand by and watch the world's 44th largest country steal away to enrich the European Union.
It was unwise for anybody to believe that could happen. Egypt and Syria may have inspired a rush of blood to the head of those who dreamed of independence, but the outcomes of the revolutions in both countries appear to have caused more problems than they have solved, principally the problem of freelancing Islamic insurgents. Vladimir Putin is not going to permit another Chechneya to happen.
In comparison with what was taking place across the Dnieper, Angela Merkel's away day in London - tea and biccys with the Queen at Buck House, more tea but without sympathy for the Head Prefect at Number 10, followed by giving Peers and MPs a good talking to at the Palace of Westminster - must have seemed like visiting the Cubs.
All those sherry-faced cherubs with floppy hairdos smiling admiringly up at her, as though Germany's Chancellor was a dominatrix in a blue bum-freezer. How many of them miss the verbal spankings that Margaret Thatcher handed out? Next, in spite of current posturings about sanctions and the like, it will be Vladimir Putin, bare-chested, riding a horse up Whitehall. Won't the prefects love that (oohh, talk tough to me tovarich, talk dirty real politick!). I'd be surprised if they didn't miss the Cold War too.
For is it not true that a common enemy, real or imagined, is a god-send for keeping warring factions in check? I believe that in Brussels' diplomatic Euro-speak this is known as the beneficial crisis.
Saturday, 1 March 2014
News that Russian military forces have moved into areas of the Crimea didn't surprise me and shouldn't surprise anyone else old enough to recall what happened in 2008 when the republic of Georgia decided to reclaim South Ossetia by force.
Monday, 24 February 2014
But because I am a bear of astoundingly little brain I thought I'd better Google back to refresh my diminishing little grey cells. In 1992 the New York Times carried a report, parts of which I reproduce here:-
In a triumph for German foreign policy, all 12 members of the European Community, as well as Austria and Switzerland, recognized the independence of the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia today.
In a series of separate statements, various European governments asserted that the Belgrade Government no longer had a right to rule the two republics.
"Slovenia and Croatia have held referendums that showed clearly that their people want independence," a statement issued by the Danish Foreign Ministry said. "It is now time to fulfill the desire their people have expressed."
In Belgrade, the Serbian-dominated Government denounced the decision on recognition as "contrary to the sovereign rights of Yugoslavia." The Government said it would continue to function until all six Yugoslav republics reached an agreement on their future relations.
Mr. Genscher said in a radio interview today that he was "very happy" with his success. He asserted that Croatia "has achieved the highest imaginable standard of respect for minority rights."
Leaders of Croatia and Slovenia today expressed gratitude for Germany's support. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia said recognition of his republic's independence was due largely to "the wise policy of the German Government."
But Serbian leaders deplored the European Community's decision and singled out Germany for special criticism. Vladislav Jovanovic, the Serbian Foreign Minister, described Germany's role as "particularly negative," and said he regretted that other European Community leaders had decided to follow the German lead.
"It is a very serious precedent to encourage unilateral secession in one multinational state," Mr. Jovanovic said in an interview broadcast on British television.
Although most European governments favored eventual recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, some had sought to postpone today's announcement so recognition could be part of an overall peace settlement in the Balkans. But German officials insisted that recognition was the only way to force the Serbs to accept a settlement.
Germany's decision to press for quick recognition of the two republics, disregarding appeals from the United States and the United Nations, marked a new assertiveness that some Europeans find disconcerting.
Quite apart from the novelty of European Community members, as they were called then, taking the moral high ground on the principle of supporting the outcome of referendums, there is the suggestion that the EC embodies the principle of national sovereignty. I fear that people in the western half of Ukraine, at least, believe that. We should not encourage them in that chimera. But I daresay we will.
Remember what happened next in what was then Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1999? I can remember Srebrinicia, the term "ethnic cleansing", and television pictures of Sarajevo under Serbian artillery bombardment and sniper fire. I remember NATO warplanes over Belgrade and Kosovo. I daresay centuries of sectarian hatred and tribal mistrust played a big part in the killings - more than 100,000 - and the destruction. You would have thought the wise men of Europe would have realised that after the death of a strong leader, in this case Yugoslavia's President Tito, the destructive forces that he had contained were bound to explode at the slightest encouragement. Newly reunited Germany gave it, and boom!
If the freedom fighters on the barricades in Kiev ever do get their way and find themselves embedded in the European Union they will find that they have swapped the devil they know for one they are not familiar with.
Monday, 17 February 2014
I must have corresponded with him before I met him at the re-launch of The London Magazine in London in 2002. Sebastian Barker had been appointed editor by the new owner Christopher Arkell, following the death of Alan Ross and the closure of the literary journal.
The event took place at Christie's, if I remember rightly. Never having been invited there before I excitedly assumed this could be the start of something big. It wasn't. However, under Sebastian Barker's enthusiastic stewardship, I did have a number of pieces published; moreover, I got paid modest but welcome amounts for them.
The first piece he accepted was an essay on T S Eliot's masterpiece Four Quartets. Eliot finished the fourth poem Little Gidding in 1942. Fearful that the sixtieth anniversary of Eliot's finished work would pass unremarked, I asked Sebastian if he was interested. He told me to send it. To my surprise and pleasure he published it in the October/November 2002 edition.
Five years later, in the October/November 2007 edition, he published my final submissions: two poems called Swans and Homily For a Prodigal. The following year he resigned as editor, deeply unhappy with the Arts Council's decision to cut the magazine's funding. The Labour Government wanted to promote social cohesion and probably thought literary excellence was an elitist idea.
After that I met him one more time, on a Saturday in north London. Thereafter there was a desultoty exchange of seasonal cards. He sent me a card from France and a manuscript when he returned from the small house that he and his wife Hilary had been renovating in Greece. And then, today, I learned that Sebastian had died on the last day of January, the very day that I went to see the worthless Wolf of Wall Street. It was raining as well.
Among my unpublished essays is an entire volume called Dead Poets' Society - Almost. It's a mixture of biography, chronicle and criticism. The penultimate chapter, In Conclusion, includes a few thoughts on Sebastian's poetry. As a salute to a good man here is what I wrote:-
Sebastian Barker did not have anthologised immortality in mind when he was compiling the ninety-six poems that make up his book Damnatio Memoriae. Barker, one of the sons of George Barker and Elizabeth - I Sat Down at Grand Central Station and Wept -happens to be one of the few modern English poets to whose work I have given a considerable amount of time and attention.
As he had been kind enough to publish a couple of my poems and an essay about T S Eliot...I wanted to recriprocate by saying something about his books. I would not have done so had I disliked The Dream of Intelligence, his book about Nietzsche. I read all or most of it at least twice and still go back to it on occasion. It is too European and too bloody serious to be English in the sense of modern English poetry as evinced by Ian McMillan, John Hegley and the rest of the Blackpool Pier school of poets...
Sebastian Barker struck me as being deeply concerned with spiritual and philosophical themes. He later told me he had spent seven years writing The Dream of Intelligence. "I had fifteen thousand sheets of paper," he said. He'd have needed a bursary just to pay for that. An American foundation provided the essential. He was building a house in the Greek mountains at the time, Beethoven's string quartets resounding from speakers under the roof. I am glad that the book, 205 pages, 150 pages of poetry, was well received - made book of the year by a couple of publications. The edition sold out.
The fourth part of Damnatio Memoriae - he says the title means the recovery of what has been forgotten or lost - consists of sixty sonnets, modern psalms on the themes of God, love and history. The intent is spiritual; the poet is not interested in the circumstantial alone, only how the circumstantial is transformed into the universal. His pamplet The Matter of Europe refers to a period before time and, of course, before history (history can only be recorded through time). Is that Pascal's God-shaped hole, that place of inexplicable yearning of which we are conscious especially on beautiful summer days? The sonnets in Damnatio seek a common spiritual language. Barker says he drew upon the voices of 145 historical figures to achieve this.
"Where will I find
a language capable of rendering
religious comprehension of the world?"
This poem, The Agony of Faith, echoes The Dream of Intelligence in part V of Nietzsche's twelfth dream-song:-
"This is the artistic labour of the age,
To take the hateful content of our lives,
And turn it into everlasting proof
Of what we are, through which we are, redeemed."
Love draws us closer to knowledge:-
"Steeped in the depravity of conceit
the language of men
heaven or hell.
The world is lit by the sunlight of the word,
the holy word..."
No man has joy unless he lives in love:-
"I turn, I return, I repent
to the green olive tree, fair with fruit,
These sonnets remind me somewhat of the serious intent of John Berryman's modern sonnets, when he managed to achieve lift-off from the incidentals dragging him back to earth. I think Berryman would leap up, as was his wont, to show his affirmation of:-
"Silenced by articulated rapture,
no one blest with happiness will say
why I myself in poverty and pain,
aching heart in ice cold rooms alone,
wasted whole summers, if not for him..."
I also think of Berryman's Eleven Addresses to the Lord, a more forceful, colloquial, expression of spiritual doubts than the elegant ruminations of Arhur Hugh Clough:-
"Surprise me on some ordinary day
with a blessing gratuitous. Even I've done good
beyond their expectations. What count we then
upon your Bounty?"
But Barker's sonnet-psalms are not as contorted , neither spiritually nor linguistically; nor do they suffer from a drunk's stylistic over-confidence and balancing doubt:-
"I want nothing, yet lack everything,
the writer's hell.
Just as a poet chooses words
to release people from the tyranny of words,
so must I return to the genius loci
who first taught me the sacred language..."
Barker asks not to be deflected by the voice of his ego into a berrymanesque odyssey. At this point it is worth pointing out that the title page of Damnatio states:-
"A poem in six parts
scored for many voices."
Let Mr Barker's scored voices in turn be scored by John Tavener, the true interpreter of his soul. Failing that Henryk Gorecki, if he is still alive, in the mode of part III of his miraculous Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
Monday, 10 February 2014
...there's a stray cat trying to get out. If you've seen the Coen Brothers latest film about the folk scene in wintry New York City in 1961, the tale of the cat will make sense of a kind.
Folk singer Llewyn Davis (an American with a Welsh name...Bob Dylan, a middle American Jew called Zimmerman with an adopted Welsh poet's surname) is an up but not coming singer of folk songs ("they're not new, but they don't die"), a regular cat in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, especially The Gaslight.
Like Simon and Garfunkel, he once had a singing partner, Mike, who called it a day by jumping from the George Washington Bridge. When the film opens Llewyn, played pretty convincingly by Oscar Isaac as a sad-eyed, dark curly-haired, bearded former merchant sailor, is trying to make a career onshore as a troubadour.
But all he's achieved is a solo album which his tight-fisted manager has not circulated or promoted and making one if not two women pregnant. And he accidentally loses the marmalade cat of a married varsity couple who allow him to bunk down in their apartment. Seemingly without a home of his own, he sleeps where he can in the homes of people he hasn't pissed off.
He is driven almost all the way to Chicago where he auditions for a music impresario who says: "Play me something, from inside Llewyn Davis" - Inside Llewyn Davies is also the title of his solo LP. The impresario - named Grossman, perhaps with the late Albert Grossman in mind - wants to hear if Llewyn's heart has a dollar sign stamped through it. "I don't think there's much money in it," he says, or words to that effect, after the song and Davis hitches a ride out of freezing Chicago back to New York.
That's enough explanation. The first part of Bob Dylan's faction novel Chronicles and the first part of Martin Scorsese's Dylan documentary No Direction Home came to mind, although I've read that Joel and Ethan Coen's original source of inspiration was Dave Van Ronk's memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street. From the photographs I've seen, Oscar Isaac's character was fashioned in Van Ronk's image.
None of which tells you what's going on Inside Llewyn Davis. A friend who saw the movie with us said Llewyn Davis was yet another Coen Brothers character who was on the receiving end of life, getting by without getting on, making his mark. Perhaps that's true of many of the folk-singing fraternity of Greenwich Village in the years of President Kennedy's New Frontier America. Maybe the legacy of Dave Van Ronk, Rick Von Schmidt, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and others is that they were enablers. My distant view of it would be that they enabled Bob Dylan to pass rapidly through his musical incarnations - would be Rock 'n' Roll singer, folk singer, protest performer, folk-rocker, electric visionary poet. The last performer at the Gaslight in the film is a young Dylan. He embodies the future just as Llewyn Davis embodies the past.
The muted colour cinematography, the period cars, street signs, dress style and street scenes, are complemented by T-Bone Burnett's canny soundtrack choices, a dozen songs about struggle and loss including Dominic Behan's The Auld Triangle, Ewan MacColl's The Shoals of Herring and the English folk ballad Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song).
Fare Thee Well is the film's trailer music. I heard it once and the sound it left behind stayed with me for a couple of days. The music in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, especially George Clooney's lip-sync version of I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow, eventually persuaded me to watch a batch of films by the Coen boys. I'd never been taken by their work before. That's changed. Of the seven or eight I've watched in the past few weeks I'd say that Fargo is the one I'll revisit first. That too is set in wintry North America, Minnesota I think. There's not much sunshine in Miller's Crossing either. Maybe moody subdued colours and tones best suits their film-making.
I'm pleased I saw this film, on a wintry Monday night in Bradford. It suited the mood of the time, what with large areas of southern and south-western England flooded or threatened by floods - homes washed out or under water, fridges exploding, toilets backing up, communications fractured or broken, wild-life sanctuaries preferred to people, rivers deliberately left undredged. Real subjects for real folk singers to write about.
Thursday, 6 February 2014
I did three things this week which I regret. At the weekend I persuaded myself and Lesley to attend a birthday party in spite of the fact that I do not like parties of any kind. The people who invited us were surprised, perhaps even astonished, when I turned up. They appreciated the gesture but were not surprised when we left after 25 minutes.
The second mistake occurred when the newsdesk asked if Bradford's current Bishop, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, was likely to be chosen by 10 Downing Street to be the bishop of the Church of England's newest and biggest Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. I said no. He had gone on sabbatical and, anyway, I thought he was after another post. Next day, of course, the news of his appointment was released.
My third blunder of the week, and by far the most regrettable, was watching Question Time tonight. Bradford's Respect Party MP George Galloway was on the panel, so I thought I'd better. The programme came from Gillingham, Kent. The panel was asked four questions. The first one was, in light of Coronation Street actor William Roache being found not guilty of rape and sexual assault, should the accused in rape cases be granted anonymity until the charge was proven. The second question concerned Education Secretary Michael Gove's pronouncement that there should be no difference between state schools (in reality public schools) and public schools (in reality private schools). The third question sought the panel's views on whether public sector workers such as London Underground staff should be barred from going on strike. The fourth question was why weren't there more women MPs in Parliament - as though that mattered. They may have been a fifth question but as I didn't stay for answers to the fourth I don't know.
While I quite enjoy George Galloway putting himself out there as the people's tribune, and I wonder at David Starkey's self-regard, I would have been better off researching the background to the Coen Brothers 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, which we'd just watched. Instead I was revisited by something I had banished from my life several years ago: the mistake of thinking that Question Time is an open public debate with the purpose of generating more light than heat on matters of public interest and concern. Wrong, stupid: it's entertainment.
A measure of my exasperation may be gauged by my reaction to the question about women MPs, which was: 'Wasn't Margaret Thatcher enough for you?' 'Isn't it enough to see Harriet Harman nodding her head behind Ed Miliband?' Listen: there are far too many MPs, male and female, in that Westminster club, nodding their heads as EU directives pass unexplained and unchallenged into law. It's also a measure of how London is still regarded as the epicentre of the country by people south of Watford and north of the Medway. While the panel and the audience were blathering on about Bob Crow and Boris Johnson and the inconvenience the two-day tube strike caused business people, doctors and teachers (the rest of the population don't count of course - the Queen never uses the Underground and Peers pop into the Lords by cab), I imagine the beleaguered people of Somerset and Dorset were cheering them on, saying to one another, 'Thank God we live in a democracy'. No one mentioned the flooding, the emergency rescue of animals from waterlogged farms in Somerset, the battering of the Western coastal railway through Dawlish. Nah. Who cares about country bumpkins when Londoners have to undergo a minor inconvenience for a couple of days? The £100m pledged by David Cameron is but a spit in a bucket. The Environment Agency has probably saved that over the past 14 years by not dredging rivers. If 44 acres of inner London were under water that would be treated as a national emergency.
Last year Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire was badly flooded and the reason given by locals was that the River Calder that runs through the town had not been dredged properly, causing the riverbed to silt up, forcing water from torrential and persistent rain storms to overflow. The same applies in Somerset, in those 44 or more acres under water. Priority has been given, it seems, to following an EU directive on the creation and promotion of wetlands for the benefit of wildlife. Regular river dredging has therefore been stopped. I'm only surprised that the people of these affected areas aren't in Brussels dumping slurry and sewage outside the well-appointed offices of the European Commission. Still, as none of the people on Question Time thought this was a matter worthy of public interest and concern, I don't suppose it matters.
I'll pass on the question about schools. The whole purpose of what these places are for needs to be debated, not merely whether state schools are worse than Eton and Harrow. The question is irrelevant for those who don't believe that this satellite state of the EU is run by the best and the brightest. The Cabinet is full of public school boys. If you think they are fuck-ups why would you want your child to have the education they had? There is only one reason and that's to come out at the end of it socially well-connected with easier access to sources of lucrative employment. Education ceased to be about love of learning long ago.
Should alleged rapists be granted anonymity? There was a row between George Galloway and David Starkey about what rape was. Starkey, ever the scholar, declared that the word in its Latin root meant 'violence'. Galloway said he was appalled. Rape was a criminal offence whether it was violent or not. Starkey had a point when he said that the law had become a mess. When women alleging rape were believed without question the presumption of innocence disappeared from the scales of justice.
I was nodding my head at this idea until I thought, 'What about that female soldier who killed herself because the British Army refused to believe her accusation against two male soldiers? Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement hanged herself after the Army refused to press charges. Then I found that a couple of days ago Tracey Shelvey, a 41-year-old mother, had jumped to her death from a shopping centre in Rochdale after a former soldier was cleared of raping her. Are these two women to be dismissed as neurotic or hysterical fantasists? Neither of them were mentioned either by the panel or the Question Time audience - at least not in the version that was broadcast.
Those who make the mistake of thinking women as the fair sex, as though they are soft and fluffy toys, seriously patronise and under-estimate them. They can be every bit as vile as men and they are quite capable of killing others, including children. While there are men who live in fear of women, I'd say there are many more women, including Asian women, who are fearful of men, particularly their husbands.
But before anyone is publically accused of rape, murder or any serious crime likely to outrage public decency, shouldn't the evidence first be tested by judges before a case is brought to be answered in open court? I thought that was what the Crown Prosecution Service was supposed to do. Don't forget, the CPS was set up after life sentences imposed on the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four were revoked or quashed because police evidence was found to be unsafe. If you can't trust the forces of law and order, MPs, and the BBC, who can you trust?
Why, the European Union of course. And the royal family.
Friday, 31 January 2014
If you take the view that all people are basically feckless greedy assholes willing to do anything for mega bucks, you'd be likely to see Martin Scosese's biopic of rogue stockmarket trader Jordan Belfort as a satire on the vanity of human wishes.
The only thing that surprised me about The Wolf of Wall Street was the realisation that I, the misanthrope of Bradford, don't feel like that about people. I'm sure Mr Scorsese doesn't feel that way about his mother and father and scores, if not hundreds, of other people too.
I remembered a line from Robert De Niro's fine film A Bronx Tale, about a kid growing up in New York torn between his poor but honest father, a bus driver, and a charismatic local hood. In one scene De Niro's character takes the boy aside and explains to him that real bravery means getting up every day, no matter the weather, and doing an honest day's work to support your family. No cheap shots, no short cuts, and little thanks either. That's what a real man does.
A Bronx Tale came out in 1993, six years after Oliver Stone's Wall Street in which Michael Douglas excelled as the charismatic "Greed is good" stockmarket asset-stripper Gordon Gecko. De Niro's film felt like a corrective in case Americans thought Gordon Gecko was basically right, or as he said about himself in the film, "I am not a destroyer of companies: I am a liberator of companies!"
Stone had another go in 2010 with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a less interesting film than the 1987 original, I thought. By that time of course the world's banking system had been brought to the eve of destruction, to coin a phrase, by real-life Geckos - investment bankers, insurance brokers and stockmarket outlaws - aided and abetted by governments in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, that had deregulated financial services.
His film was infintely less shocking than Charles H Ferguson's documentary about Wall Street's Sub-Prime scam, Inside Job, which also came out in 2010 and won an Oscar. Some of the people Ferguson interviewed revealed how Wall Street's corporate raiders ripped off the public, made multi millions, and celebrated with cocaine and hookers at every opportunity.
It wouldn't be fair to compare The Wolf of Wall Street with Wall Street and Inside Job because it doesn't tell us anything we didn't know or take us on a journey of any kind. For that to happen there has to be a degree of empathy with the human drama or comedy being played out. At the end of The Wolf of Wall Street I left the cinema saying: "Everyone's an asshole, everyone - except the FBI man." You can admire what Leonardo DiCaprio puts into the role of Jordan Belfort, but unless you're a secret admirer of Wall Streets's Geckos, you won't give a damn about his character's fate, the fate of his friends and associates, family or anybody else connected with his view of the world.
And because the film is told exclusively from Belfort's point of view - he is also the film's narrator - you might just wonder what the point of it is supposed to be. It can't be a salute to the American work ethic because Belfort and his cronies work hard at making their money by ripping off investors, breaking the law and behaving like a bunch of drug-crazed adolescents, banging their chests - even the women - and making predatory animal noises. They chant "Wolfie!" At one point Belfort motivates his burgeoning force of market raiders by making an analogy with a US Army M16 rifle. "Make them invest or make them die!" he yells, eyes bulging. This is reminiscent of Gordon Gecko's glib, "We're in the kill zone, pal, lock and load." But when the law threatens to topple their empire they shout "Fuck the USA!" That's when you think perhaps this is a modern Vanity of Human wishes satire.
I don't think it is because, hey, these are crazy people portrayed as larger than life, who like to party on the job, in every sense. Women are sex toys. Some of their druggy party antics caused merriment among the cinema audience. And in truth there were times when the film felt like it wanted to be Police Academy when clearly the idea was to outdo Wall Street by ramping up the excesses. In this respect the film was more like The Look of Love, the biopic of Paul Raymond starring Steve Coogan. I thought that was a pretty vacuous piece of work. The Wolf of Wall Street, though it has bags more drugs, sex, swearing and high-energy acting, is likewise pretty vacant. Wolfie's a turkey.
Trouble is, unlike Wall Street, the film doesn't have Martin Sheen playing a blue collar man of the people, a contrast to the red-braces amorality of Gordon Gecko. The FBI man flits in and out but his appearances are diminished by the ever-present Belfort, presenting the story his way. The film needed another perspective. The narrator should have been the FBI man, not Belfort.
I'm not morally against stories about rogue traders and twisters. I thought Leonardo painted a masterly portrait of real-life forger Frank Abagnale in the 2002 biopic Catch Me If You Can. But that film was directed by Steven Spielberg and also starred Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken. I started watching that for want of something better to do and ended up absorbed by the story. I'd willingly watch it again.
I won't be watching The Wolf of Wall Street again. The story's too slight and I don't need to sit in a cinema for nearly three hours to learn that, given the opportunity, some people will behave like assholes. Best thing in the film was the sound of Howlin' Wolf''s Smokestack Lightning.
Wednesday, 29 January 2014
This is a picture of Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan. He's here in this short tribute to Pete Seeger because I think his version of Seeger's great song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is one of the stand-out tracks on the double CD of Seeger songs by other artists that I bought God knows how many years ago. It came out in 1998 and included the Indigo Girls singing Letter to Eve. Another outstanding track.Waist Deep in the Big Muddy is about the folly of blindly following orders.
Great songwriter though he was I generally preferred other people's versions of his songs. I'm more of a guitar man than a banjo man. One exception is If I Had a Hammer. That song seemed to be to him what Chimes of Freedom was to Bob Dylan. We Shall Overcome was, is, a song for Everyman and embodies Pete Seeger's never-say-die spirit. In one of the obituaries I read to day, I can't recall by whom, he was described as always optimistic with an unquenchable belief in the power of song to "make a difference".
My impression, from a distance, was that no matter how bad things got - Vietnam, Watergate, the assassinations, 9/11, the wars, the Credit Crunch - Pete Seeger steadfastly believed that, given a chance, most people would choose to follow the good angels of their nature rather than the bad. Eddi Reader said she learned from him the importance of talking to people you disagreed with.
I wished I had learned that early on in life. To this day I still shy away from people I don't like or whom I think might not like me. At least I know that to be swayed by one's prejudices is unreasonable and usually contrary to experience. Outcomes are seldom as bad as you imagine or fear. Pete Seeger probably imbibed that with his mother's milk and for 94 years went on being who he was, who he felt himself truly to be, fulfilling his destiny.
Pete Seeger's no longer on the road ahead, but what a lot he's left behind. It will be the same when Bob Dylan finally disappears.