Archive for the ‘Disturbed Music’ Category


December 16, 2018

*** Updated Jan 31st ***

In which the author finally gives way to his inner hippie…

#1 – ‘The Manchester Rambler’ by Ewan MacColl:

A song from the 1930s inspired by his participation in the mass trespass action on Kinder Scout, demanding greater rights of access to wild spaces for the general public, not just the notional landowners and their gamekeepers.

MacColl was a keen rambler, travelling out of Manchester by bus into the Peak District, like thousands of other young unemployed people with time on their hands. For MacColl, rambling was integral to his politics; he did not simply find nature beautiful and the urban world ugly: instead, it was an objective of the hoped-for revolution: ‘to create a world that would harmonize with that other one that you enjoyed so much… If the bourgeoisie had had any sense at all they would never have allowed the working class into that kind of countryside. Because it bred a spirit of revolt.’ –

Recorded by P in Italy, August 2018.

#2 – ‘Mountainside’ by Yours Truly:

My one complete song. A bit of amateur ethnography coupled with observations of rewilding and thoughts about its possible futures. Fluffed the last verse a bit but like the feel of the performance otherwise. The sausages weren’t my idea!

Recorded by P in Italy, August 2018.

# -‘El Cóndor Pasa (If I Could)’ music by Daniel Alomía Robles, lyrics by Paul Simon:

Footloose travel song which Simon tacked onto a 1913 composition by Robles, ‘based on traditional Andean music, specifically folk music from Peru’ which he heard being played by a band called ‘Los Incas’ in Paris. That’s a charango you can see on the table and I also recorded the song using that, which comes closer to a ‘traditional’ South American sound (the Incas’ arrangement used to back the S&G version also uses charangos) but I prefer this performance over all. A nice tune to play over this last year living out of my rucksack, often with the travel-friendly charango as the only available instrument.

Recorded by P in Italy, August 2018.

#4 – ‘Something’ by George Harrison:

Thought I’d better include a charango video. I think I learned this without ever looking up the lyrics, which would be why they’re a little ‘off base’ at times!

Recorded by A in the Czech Republic, November 2017

#5 – ‘Anděl’ by Karel Kryl:

I managed to learn two songs in Czech, this classic Karel Kryl tune and ‘Darmoděj‘ by Jaromír Nohavica (no recording yet). People seemed to appreciate the effort when I played it in public over there, and it was a moving experience to have them singing along in the way Czech people do (everybody seems to know all the words to all the songs). Spot the deliberate mistake in the melody which the audience gets right! Kryl has a big resonance over there because of his history of protest songs against the communist regime and his subsequent exile until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, see: . This is a more dreamlike song describing an encounter with an angel in an abandoned church, their debates about God, watching the birds and envying their freedom, and the singer’s attempt to replace the angel’s broken wings with new ones made from shell casings (ending their friendship after the angel flies out the window). I’ve struggled to find a good translation online, but a commenter on this thread makes the best effort, interpreting it as a song describing the boredom of military service in which ‘Forging souvenirs of empty cartridges was common amusement of soldiers’.

Recorded by A in the Czech Republic, November 2017

#6 – ‘Where’er You Walk’ by G.F. Handel:

From his oratorio ‘Semele‘, first performed in 1744. Jupiter tells Ino, Semele’s sister about all the wonderful things she can expect after he has brought her to Jove’s palace, where Semele is staying. Have sung this off & on since I was a boy and thought it might be nice to arrange it for guitar.

Recorded by O (video) & A (audio) in SE England, June 2017

#7 – ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ – much loved folk song recorded and adapted by W.B Yeats and put to the traditional Irish tune of ‘The Maids of Mourne Shore’ by Herbert Hughes in 1909:

Yeats called it ‘an attempt to reconstruct an old song from three lines imperfectly remembered by an old peasant woman in the village of Ballisodare, Sligo, who often sings them to herself’. Some think this would have been ‘The Rambling Boys of Pleasure‘ which has a similar verse.

It has been suggested that the location of the “Salley Gardens” was on the banks of the river at Ballysadare near Sligo where the residents cultivated trees to provide roof thatching materials. “Salley” or “sally” is a form of the Standard English word “sallow”, i.e., a tree of the genus Salix. It is close in sound to the Irish word saileach, meaning willow. –

Also, ‘As well as providing willow shoots for thatching, [willow gardens] doubled up as a meeting place for young lovers’. I used to sing the Ivor Gurney version which has a beautiful alternate melody and piano arrangement, but haven’t found a satisfactory way to play it on the guitar. The Benjamin Britten arrangement is nice too.

Recorded by O (video) & A (audio) in SE England, June 2017

#8 – ‘Mountainside’ (again):

My first attempt at recording this song (see #2). I’m happy playing it at a slower pace these days….

Recorded by O (video) & A (audio) in SE England, June 2017

#9 – ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’ – by Richard Thompson

My fingerstyle isn’t up to Thompson’s speed or accuracy (watch slack-jawed here, documentary discussion of the song here) so I’ve gone with this halfway house arrangement with a plectrum. When I was working as a gardener we used to stop for lunch at a cafe by the same Box Hill that gets namechecked in this song. So even though I know nothing about motorcycles, singing this reminds me of all the leather-clad bikers we’d see getting their bacon sandwiches and cups of tea with the hillside trees looming large behind us. The story of the song also makes me think of a friend of mine who lost her husband to cancer.

Recorded by A in SE England, July 2017


More to follow… vimeo has an upload limit of 1 video about this length per week so check from Feb 7th.

Folk music, folk language

August 6, 2017

So – again – long time no speak, loyal readers! Plenty of things going on behind the scenes, but it seems to be a period of reflection, re-evaluation, re-alignment etc. with not much emerging resolved enough for me to want to show off in public.

For now I just wanted to share one of the few things I’ve discovered worth watching on TV, the Transatlantic Sessions folk music series, where folk musicians from the British Isles (mainly Scotland, Wales & Ireland) team up with counterparts in the various folk & country music scenes in America. You can’t watch them on the BBC website any more, but I found the full episodes up on youtube – here’s the first episode from back in 1995 and you can click around from there if you like what you see. The songs they choose are a bit hit & miss to my mind, but there’s no denying the amazing musical talent and the friendly warmth and generous, congenial atmosphere in the room when they play together. Here’s a stand-out tune which will appeal to rewilding sensibilities:

Cha b’ e sneachda ‘s an reòthadh bho thuath,
Cha b’ e ‘n crannadh geur fuar bho ‘n ear,
Cha b’ e ‘n t-uisge ‘s an gaillionn bho ‘n iar,
Ach an galair a bhlean bho ‘n deas
Blàth duilleach is stoc agus freumh
Cànan mo threubh ‘s mo shluaidh.

(It was not the snow and frost from the north,
nor the acute cold withering from the east,
it wasn’t the rain or the storms from the west,
but the sickness from the south
that has faded the bloom, foliage, stock and root
of the language of my race and my people.)

Thig thugainn, thig cò-rium gu siar
Gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nam Féinn,
Thig thugainn, thig cò-rium gu siar
Gus an cluinn sinn ann cànan nan Gàidheal.

Come, come on, come with me westwards
until we hear the language of the Fein;
Come, come on, come with me westwards
until we hear the language of the Gaels.)

Uair chìte fear-féilidh ‘sa ghleann
Bu chinnteach gur gàidhlig a chainnt
Ach spion iad a fhreumh as an fhonn
‘N àite gàidhlig tha cànan a Ghoill
‘S a Ghàidhealtachd creadhal-nan-sonn
‘S tir-mhajors is cholonels ‘n diugh th’ innt’.

(Once, if a kilted man were seen in the valley
it would be certain that Gaelic was his language;
but they have torn his roots from the ground,
in the place of Gaelic is the foreigner’s language,
and the Gaeltachd, cradle of heroes,
today it is a land of majors and colonels.)

Far a nuas dhuinn na coinnleirean òir
‘S annt’ caraibh coinnlean geal céir
Lasaibh suas iad an seòmair bhròin
Tìgh-‘aire seann chànan a’ Ghàel
‘S sud o chionn fhad’ thuirt a nàmh
Ach fhathast tha beò cànan a’ Ghàel.

(Pass over to us the golden candlesticks
and put in them white waxen candles.
Light them up in a grief-filled room
in the wake-house of the Gael’s old language.
That’s what its enemy has long been saying
but the language of the Gael is alive yet.)

Ged theich i le beath’ as na glinn
Ged ‘s gann an diugh chluinntear i ni’s mó
O Dhùthaich MhicAoidh fada tuath
Gu ruig thu Druim-Uachdar nam bó
Gigheal, dhi ‘na h-Eileanan Siar
Bi na claimheamh ‘s na sgiath’n ud dhòirn.

(Although it has fled, along with life, from the valleys,
although it’s rare today that it’s heard any more
from Strathnaver in the far north
right down to Drumochter where the cattle are,
nevertheless, for it in its Western Isles
the swords and shields there are taken in hand.)

Lyrics and translation borrowed from this page, which provides some explanation and background, along with the rest of the verses in the original poem. It was composed by Murdo MacFarlane (Murchadh MacPharlain) probably ‘some time between 1970 and 1975’. The man had an interesting life, becoming highly influential to musicians in the Gaelic revival who continue to perform his songs in their own various styles. ‘Cànan nan Gàidheal’ is even taught in schools it seems, judging by footage in this BBC Alba documentary, which is well worth watching for its insights into the history and culture of the Scottish islands (MacFarlane came from the isle of Lewis):

Some choice quotes:

I was never ashamed that I couldn’t speak fluent English. I would be if I wasn’t able to speak fluent Gaelic, because English is not my mother tongue, but Gaelic is. So why find fault with me?


There’s my father and mother. They couldn’t talk English, with the result that their Gaelic was richer, of course. My mother, when she’d see a traveller coming down the brae, she’d close the door for the simple reason that, ‘Well if he comes inside he’ll be talking to me in English, and I can’t talk English, so the best thing I can do is close the door.’


How I envy you people here, who are not faced with my problem. Just imagine if you were going home tonight, and you were saying to yourself “The language I’m speaking will be dead in another sixty years.” Just imagine yourselves in my position. And, you see, it’s so discouraging. But still we sing and still we make songs, in spite of everything.

If you’re struggling to see the connection with rewilding, perhaps here would be a good place to mention the Terra Lingua / WWF study that found ‘a very significant overlap of the biodiversity-richest areas of the world with high concentrations of distinct cultures’:

Traditional peoples have accumulated vast amounts of ecological knowledge in their long history of managing the environment; and such knowledge is embodied in languages. With language extinctions, associated traditional ecological knowledge is lost as well, especially since in most traditional cultures this knowledge is not recorded and is only passed on to other groups or new generations orally. The loss of local languages means the loss of the main means of knowledge transmission.

No surprise, then, that the loss of languages across the world mirrors the shocking obliteration of species and decimation of wildlife populations we’ve talked about on these pages so many times before. According to a report by UNESCO in 2003 (pdf), an estimated 90% of the 6-7,000 languages then recognised were expected to go extinct by 2050:

About 97% of the world’s people speak about 4% of the world’s languages; and conversely, about 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by about 3% of the world’s people […] Most of the world’s language heterogeneity, then, is under the stewardship of a very small number of people. Even languages with many thousands of speakers are no longer being acquired by children; at least 50% of the world’s more than six thousand languages are losing speakers. We estimate that, in most world regions, about 90% of the languages may be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st century. (p.2)

They too note that ‘The extinction of each language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural, historical, and ecological knowledge’, pointing to the internal and external factors driving this loss. Mostly it appears as direct and indirect forms of genocide perpetrated by surrounding expansionist societies. This is reasonably well understood in the context of, for example, aboriginal Australia where a ‘stolen generation’ of indigenous children were taken away from their families and put in boarding schools with the deliberate intention being to ‘breed out the black’, or the similar ‘residential schools‘ forced upon the native people in Canada. In both cases there was special emphasis on forbidding the use of the native mother tongue or performing any kind of ancestral ritual or tradition. Not so well-known is the fact that the same abuses were visited on the ‘internal colonies’ of the British Isles before the English-dominated empire culture then visited the same techniques on other indigenous peoples across the globe. Alastair McIntosh tells the story in Soil and Soul:

But it was Article VI of the Statutes [of Iona] that probably caused the greatest cultural dismemberment. This decreed that the traditional leadership had to have their eldest sons educated in the English language. This, of course, meant sending those who would inherit away to England or the Lowlands. The effect was to alienate them from their own culture. Following a MadDonald rebellion in 1616, a further education act made the policy of cultural genocide against the Celtic world quite explicit. [King] James decreed that traditional leaders were to send all children, not just the first-born, away to English-language schools at the tender age of nine. Nobody in the Isles unable to speak, read and write in English was to be allowed to inherit property or to tenant Crown Lands. The Act required that

… the true [Protestant] religion be advanced and established in all parts of this kingdom, and that all his Majesty’s subjects, especially the youth, be exercised and trained up in civility, godliness, knowledge and learning, that the vulgar English tongue be universally planted, and the Irish [i.e. Gaelic] language, which is one of the chief and principal causes of the continuance of barbarity and incivility among the inhabitants of the Isles and the Highlands, may be abolished and removed … [thus] in every parish … a school shall be established.


The process of modernisation of the Scottish Highlands rolled on relentlessly for three hundred years. Finally, in 1872, it reached a symbolic zenith with the passing of the national Education Act. This made a de-Gaelicised education compulsory for all children. The ‘Scots Enlightenment’ ideas of [Adam] Smith and a few other elite thinkers were now canonised and taught as our mainstream Protestant heritage. Religious instruction and collective daily acts of worship were made compulsory in schools. Corporal punishment — which had had little place in traditional ‘ceilidh-house’ education — became routine, continuing in state schools right through into the 1980s, when it was abolished under pressure from European human-rights legislation.


‘Do you see that school?’ repeats Torcuil MacRath […] Torcuil had been a pupil in that school between the two world wars. He was left-handed. To force him into the uniformity of using his right hand, the teacher would physically tie down the left to the desk with string.

It was commonplace in those days for children to be punished for speaking Gaelic in the playground. In some schools they had to hang a spoon round their neck. This could only be got rid of by informing on some other poor kid, who in turn inherited it. Whoever had the spoon at the end of the day got sent home with a thrashing. […] ‘That school…’ said this man, voice trembling with emotion now; this man who had one faced Hitler’s forces in the Royal Navy and risked his life fighting for freedom. ‘That school … was a concentration camp!’ (pp.56-7)

People in the Gaelic regions of Britain thus have a clear path in their rewilding journey, already being taken up by the language revival which has made significant progress in Scotland, Wales & Ireland where people once again take pride in speaking their ancestral languages. This will maintain a connection for them back to previous ways of living which, while not perfect (references in ‘Cànan nan Gàidheal’ to battlefields, swords and shields, even cattle are all hallmarks of civilisation, thus undermining claims to true indigeneity – the Celts were Iron Age immigrants, if not conquerors, in these lands too after all) still settle them deeply into the body of the land they inhabit, the language providing the means of relating with keen sensitivity to the surrounding animals, plants and elements in a way denied to people speaking an alien language.

What about people in England? Where can they find aspects of their own cultural traditions untainted by the land-hunger and brutality of imperialism? (Not in the national anthem for one thing – ‘rebellious Scots to crush’ and all that!) A further problem, which even MacFarlane might not have envied: what if you’re a second-generation immigrant with parents from two different foreign countries – where then are you supposed to find and maintain your cultural roots? Do you go looking to those different motherlands with the consequent alienation to the place where you were born and raised, or do you abandon all of that and bury the roots of your newly-transplanted self into the soil of the culture you found yourself in? Or do you have to create something new, bastardised from the two approaches to the best of your abilities and then try to hand that down to those who follow you? It’s a tough one… I’ve been mostly playing it by ear when it comes to music, which means I accept songs from all over the world and try to adapt them to my own playing style. Here’s one I might work on, which the Anglarchists should be happy with. It’s written in the Dorset dialect but the melody was written only a few miles away from my current residence:

And some essential reading to finish with from a recent favourite of mine Chris Wood, writing about ‘Music and Loss‘, the ‘English Diaspora’ and what prevents the English from opening the ‘treasure chest’ of their own ancestral traditions. I won’t give a taster quote because it’s all gold – go read it and then listen to everything he’s ever sung!

4-Track Recordings #2

June 16, 2011

Had this pattern on my mind on & off for the last 3-4 months, especially during difficult times. Thought I should try to put something of it down, so here’s the rather unpolished result:

I did about 20 takes on the lead part and still wasn’t entirely happy with it (spot the obvious drop-in). I know, boo-bloody-hoo, right? 😥 Stupid perfectionism: I’m only gonna change everything about the way I play it by this time next week anyway…

In case you forgot: #1

Gil Scott Heron RIP

May 31, 2011

Like the forest buried beneath the highway
Never had a chance to grow…

But the people know it’s Winter
Winter in America…

Ain’t nobody fighting
Cuz nobody knows what to save…

Where will another one like him grow from?

Shock: Top Musicians Lack Moral Integrity

March 5, 2011

via the media lens message board, I see that ‘stars’ are ‘[lining] up to apologise for Gaddafi gigs‘.

[Picture taken down: I can’t bear to see it here. It was the first one from the above link – ed.]

Believed to have sung four songs at a New Year’s Eve party for Gaddafi’s son Mutassim on the Caribbean island of St Barts in 2008.
Paid: Reportedly $1m
Apologised: Yes
Money returned: No, but will donate proceeds of forthcoming single to human rights charities
Comment: “I feel horrible and embarrassed to have participated in this mess.”

I notice that, of course, they’re only apologising now that Gaddafi’s name has been suitably blackened in the press.  I’m waiting for the day Beyoncé begs our forgiveness for singing to Barack Obama (did Noel Gallagher ever show regret for shmoozing with Tony Blair?) Likewise I don’t see any of the big names refusing to take Israel’s blood money (thereby granting them a form of cultural legitimacy, one assumes), in spite of significant grassroots pressure.

Further, I notice that it’s only the women who have apologised and/or given the millions of dollars they received from the Libyan dictatorship to charities or ‘good causes’; presumably it doesn’t damage the male brand so much to ‘hustle’ with strongmen in this way and then stay silent about it, like it was the most normal thing in the world. In some ways it probably is the most normal thing in the world – musicians are practically raised on a diet of “never turn down work”. Certainly they were never trained to be picky about who employs them and for what reason. Having a conscience will impede the growth of their careers.

For one commentator on the message board, all this shows ‘The complete moral (and artistic) bankruptcy of the ‘music industry’ ‘. For me it’s more evidence of the depressing, unforgivable, Good German inability of people (at least of those selected to ‘make it’) to question the social role of their line of work, whether it’s fluffing up the rich & powerful, distracting the masses with glitter & flash, supporting myths of aspiration (‘New York / concrete jungle where dreams are made of / there’s nothing you can’t [or is that ‘can’? – ed.] do‘) or whoring their talents to advertisers and manufacturers that pollute our minds and toxify the total environment, etc etc etc… The manifest lack of politics in their lives and in their music* makes a political statement in itself. They will sell themselves to anyone.


I’m going to go play my guitar now.


* – In ‘What happened to rock under Blair?‘ Alexis Petridis writes:

Plenty of artists have political causes, but they don’t seem to write many songs about them. Chris Martin wants to Make Trade Fair, but he clearly feels it’s more expedient to write that on his hand than to sing about it on a Coldplay album. Dozens of artists recently put their name to a CND advert decrying the replacement of Trident – everyone from Razorlight and Kaiser Chiefs to rappers Sway and Roots Manuva – but I’d bet none of them write a song about it.

I remember seeing Razorlight play at a climate change rally in London once. They did the one that goes: ‘in the morning you won’t remember a thing’. It seemed strangely appropriate.

Breaking News: The Naked Servility of Religion to Power

February 7, 2011

Overheard in a local parish church where I was singing yesterday evening, the second ‘Proper Lesson’ from the Anglican liturgy for ‘the Anniversary of the day of the Accession of the Reigning Sovereign‘ which comes down to us from ‘reformed’-tax-collector-turned-Apostle Paul and his letter to early Christians in Rome:

1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

8Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

9For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

10Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:1-11, King James Version)

It takes a lot to jolt me out of my dead-eyed trance when somebody is reading something out in church, but this rabble-dousing howler really took my breath away. Nice one Paul – I bet you made your old bosses proud with this one!

I should confess my part in singing the special responses:

Priest. O Lord, save the Queen.
Answer. Who putteth her trust in thee.
Priest. Send her help from thy holy place;
Answer. And evermore mightily defend her.
Priest. Be unto her, O Lord, a strong tower;
Answer. From the face of her enemies.

… along with the William Byrd’s beautiful and obsequious anthem, ‘O Lord, make Thy servant Elizabeth’*, and assenting with resounding ‘Amen’s to statements like:

O GOD, who providest for thy people by thy power, and rulest over them in love: Vouchsafe so to bless thy Servant our Queen, that under her this nation may be wisely governed, and thy Church may serve thee in all godly quietness; and grant that she being devoted to thee with her whole heart, and persevering in good works unto the end, may, by thy guidance, come to thine everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ…

… and barely having the courage to sing ‘long to reign over ARSE’ (certainly not refusing to stand or sing) in the national anthem. All of which ‘normalises the unthinkable’† of renouncing personal sovereignty to people who have anything but our best interests at heart.

I’m not offering any excuses (eg: “I’m just doing my job as a professional musician who happens to be employed by the Church”). At base I don’t know why I keep going there to sing in a strange voice and join others in reciting strange words that have little or no connection to my authentic personhood. I like some of the people. The money (£25 per service) comes in handy. The physical sensations of relating to other beings through harmony and rhythm are sometimes still enjoyable. There is a ‘safe’ sense of community that I don’t currently have anywhere else in my life, whether congregated around Truth or Lies (as I perceive them). I get revelations like these about my inherited cultural traditions which help to clarify and put into perspective my struggle for independence from them. It feels better than ‘doing nothing’ (eg: watching TV) on a Sunday evening, even though by doing ‘something’ I recognise that I’m still ‘doing the done thing’, hence not really ‘doing’ anything truly productive…

I will probably continue to participate in these activities until I discover, am offered, or make my own better alternatives. How ’bout you?


* – King’s Singers performance on youtube. The piece was

[…] most likely composed either as part of an effort to secure an appointment with the Royal chapel in London (partly the result of certain tensions that had grown between him and the powers-that-be in Lincoln, where he resided and worked until 1570) or during the years shortly following his successful attainment of such a post in 1570. Certainly the direct homage to Queen Elizabeth is of far more than just vague rhetorical expression, while the actual music to which the text is set is of the densely contrapuntal kind that features into so many of Byrd’s youthful works.

The text of O Lord, make thy servant is drawn from Psalm 21, suitably adapted to refer to Queen Elizabeth rather than King David:

O Lord, make thy servant, Elisabeth our Queen, to rejoice in thy strength; give her her heart’s desire, and deny not the request of her lips; but prevent her with thine everlasting blessing, and give her a long life, ev’n for ever and ever. Amen. (link)

† – read Edward Herman on ‘The Banality of Evil‘:

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public.

& now for something completely different…

December 30, 2010

I got my hands on a 4-track tape recorder (thanks Robin)! Here’s my first attempt at combining two electric guitars, one steel-strung acoustic guitar and a mandolin on an old Mercury Rev cassette:

Spanish-Blues 4trk by Ian M

Happy winter festival and changing of the Roman calendar!

Control & Slavery

July 19, 2010

Get myself a car, I feel power as I fly
Oh now I’m really in control
Press any button and milk and honey flows
The world begins behind your neighbour’s wall

It all looks fine to the naked eye
But it don’t really happen that way at all
(The Who – ‘Naked Eye‘)

‘Don’t you just love being in control?’, the woman asked, speaking on behalf of British Gas in the early nineties before clicking her fingers to magically (or so it appeared) produce a blue gas flame, shooting from the top of an extended thumbs-up – a signal of reassurance that Everything’s Okay:

The image of this slogan came back to me from childhood memories after musing a while on the notion of ‘energy slavery’. If you never heard of the concept, Richard Heinberg illustrates it with typical, punchy succinctness in The Party’s Over:

Suppose human beings were powering a generator connected to one 150-watt lightbulb. It would take five people’s continuous work to keep the light burning. A 100-horsepower automobile cruising down the highway does the work of 2,000 people. If we were to add together the power of all of the fuel-fed machines that we rely on to light and heat our homes, transport us, and otherwise keep is in the style to which we have become accustomed, and then compare that total with the amount of power that can be generated by the human body, we would find that each American has the equivalent of over 150 “energy slaves” working for us 24 hours each day. In energy terms, each middle-class American is living a lifestyle so lavish as to make nearly any sultan or potentate in history swoon with envy. (pp.30-1, crediting John H. Lienhard)

The woman in the British Gas ad is demonstrating the amount of power she can command merely by clicking her fingers. As power trips go it probably only comes second to having somebody carry out a command which you haven’t even verbalised: “All the work household appliances perform for us at the touch of a button… wouldn’t it be simpler if they learned to anticipate our every whim so we never had to suffer a moment’s dissatisfaction?”

Slavery never went away. Neither did all the attending attitudes and power-relationships. The bulk of the burden simply shifted onto the backs of ‘lower’ lifeforms; upon the exploitable energy which industrial society found in the bodies of plants and animals interred millions of years ago. How do they feel about this? ‘We’ who burn their remains; who drain, extract, deplete, exhaust them as a ‘natural resource’ do not ask. ‘We’ cannot ask: to view them as people ‘just like us’ would fast undermine any continued exploitation to the point of impossibility. Questions of empathy don’t survive in entrenched master/slave relationships. Americans could start to think about what the Africans went through AFTER it became possible to obtain more energy more cheaply and from different sources.

‘Being in control’ – what does this mean? Why did British Gas hold it up to early nineties television viewers as a desirable state for them to ‘be’ in; an unquestionable Good which they must surely crave for, or aspire to? Translating the slogan into E-Prime helps it make some sense and gives it more honesty, as in ‘Don’t you just love having control – over others?’ I suppose that message could appeal to middle/lower-class Britons more used to having the power wielded against them. Perhaps they might enjoy feeling like a sultan or a potentate for a change. (Although, somehow, I think these historical characters would much prefer to be on the top of their small pyramids to being somewhere in the middle of a much larger one.) But what’s so great about that? If slaves get no rest, then neither do the slaveholders: you’ve got to feed them, clothe them, look after them when they get sick*, break their spirits, punish ‘misbehaviour’, fight wars for more of them when your appetites increase, etc, etc. No energy comes without cost, even if you ‘only’ measure this in terms of hardened, calloused personality traits and the inability to relate honestly and openly to others.

Another part of the supposed benefits of the slaveholder lifestyle lies with the idea that “It’s better to get somebody else to do something than it is to do it yourself”. Hard Work may be morally virtuous (according to popular mythology), but the ultimate goal is to manipulate or coerce another person into handing you the world on a platter while you get fatter and lazier and more stupid as each day passes. I find it curious, this idea that we were born with bodies – arms, legs, hands, feet, muscles, bones, nerves, tendons – and we’re meant to strive to use them as little as possible… The more I look at this the more I see a lose/lose scenario. Slaves lose their freedom to live their lives as they please; slaveholders lose the joy of building their lives with their own hands. ‘The best thing since sliced bread’, they say, but really it manifests as a theft & centralisation of personal autonomy – a loss of tactility, coordination and skill in a thousand arms, hands, eyes; another loss in all the energy taken up in building, maintaining and feeding the complexity of one central machine.

I feel more ‘in control’ when I slice my own damn bread! Likewise who has more command over their destiny: one harvesting local fuel for their own use or for the use of their community, with all the knowledge and experience of how to do this in a sustainable manner; or one who makes monthly payments to have North Sea gas pumped into their house by a privatised utility company – into a cooker they didn’t build and can’t repair without expert assistance? To my mind ‘Push-Button-Make-Good-Thing-Happen’ represents practically the highest form of dependency. Where’s your control if you click your fingers and nothing happens?

I get this from people watching me process various wild foods: “Why expend all this energy when you can buy something similar at the supermarket for a fraction of the cost?” To me this would just mean that, economies of scale notwithstanding, someone else had done the work instead of me and they were getting screwed by having to cater exclusively to my ‘needs’ (or rather, those of the supermarket) at the expense of their own. I’m starting to hear an underlying attitude: “This dirty physical work is beneath you. Leave it for the slaves.” Last Autumn it took me several hours of gathering and then several more over several days of processing to produce around 2 kilos of acorn flour (you have to de-husk them, coarse-grind them, leach them in around 5 changes of water to get rid of the tannins, roast them dry and finally fine-grind to finish). While I was sat in the living room, cracking each nut in turn over the head with a small stone to get at the meat inside, my mum informed me that she could get a bag of (wheat) flour for a few pounds down in town. Later we happened to be watching a program about industrial bread manufacturing, and for once I had my wits about me enough to remark that “I didn’t have to build a windmill to grind my flour” before the moment passed. I think I made my point…

I owe Urban Scout and his post, ‘Colonization Vs. Rewilding‘ for seeding a lot of these ideas. Here was a key passage for me:

During the physical enslavement of African Americans, white people who disagreed with slavery, because of their privilege, could help slaves escape slavery. While those white people disagreed with the enslavement of those people, they lived as members of the culture of enslavement. They worked to change the culture they lived as a part of. They could help the slaves escape precisely because they lived as a part of the culture of slavery.

While I don’t identify with Civilization as my culture (i.e. I don’t think of Obama as “my president”, the troops in Iraq as “my troops”, the police force as “my police force”, etc) I make up a part of this culture. I have a job, therefore I pay taxes, which go to support the military that keeps us all occupied. Even if I didn’t pay taxes, I still buy food from the grocery store, pay for movies, coffee, clothes, etc. etc. etc. All of which help the economy stay in place. While I may not feel like part of this culture (I certainly don’t!), I live inextricably as a slave to it, and therefore a member of it. It doesn’t matter what people believe on a personal level, but what we do as a whole culture. The personal level provides a platform for abandoning this culture; it stands as a starting point, but not yet differentiated from it.

I commented, saying that ‘I’ve focused a lot on wringing out my submissive slave blood as part of this process of ‘de-colonising the mind’, but maybe I forget too often to deal likewise with my inherited slaveholder blood, coming as I do from a privileged position (not that it feels that way) near the top of the imperial pyramid.’ I see re-engaging with wild foods and medicines as one way to set off this win/win process of de-colonisation†: on the one hand regaining autonomy in my individual life, on the other lessening my dependency on (and, to an extent, sapping the viability of) the industrial modes of production that enslave us all. I’d love to control that process with a click of my fingers, but somehow I don’t think it’ll be so easy…


* – Less of this with wage slavery.

† – Other ways might include anything from learning how to cook, cutting your own hair to harvesting rainwater or composting your poo.