Thursday, March 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Why was Bernie Sanders going on about some US war on Nicaragua? Let's ask Corb Lund and Kris Kristofferson

If there is one thing my time on this godforsaken Earth that is rapidly racing towards an eco-holocaust of unimaginable horror, it is that there are very few things that country music cannot explain.

And so it is with a recent issue that suddenly exploded into the US Democratic presidential race on March 10 in a debate in Miami between self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders and Democrat establishment figure Hillary Clinton. Sanders was asked about statements back in the 80s when he supported the revolutionary Sandinista government in the small, impoverished Central American nation of Nicaragua against active attempts by the wonderful humanitarians of the Reagan administration to the destroy the popular revolution like it was just one more trade union to smash.

Sanders said: "The US was wrong to try to invade Cuba. It was wrong to support people trying to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. It was wrong trying to overthrow, in 1954, the democratically elected government of Guatemala ...

"Throughout the history of our relationship with Latin America we've operated under the so-called Monroe Doctrine, and that said the United States had the right do anything that they wanted to do in Latin America.

"So I actually went to Nicaragua and I very strongly opposed the Reagan administration's efforts to overthrow that government. And I strongly opposed earlier Henry Kissinger and the [plot] to overthrow the [democratically elected socialist] government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

"I think the United States should be working with governments around the world, not get involved in regime change."

That is really not the sort of talk you expect to hear from a serious candidate for the White House. They're the words of a man campaigning to take the formal head of an Empire whose actions he just strongly condemned. No wonder his "populism" is causing some angst elites like the Goldman Sachs CEO who called him "dangerous".

But what the fuck actually happened in Nicaragua back in the 1980s that caused the US to wage such a savage, if largely hidden, war that the International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled the US should pay Nicaragua $17 billion in reparations (of which, of course, the US has not paid a cent)?

Well, in the US's self-proclaimed "backyard", the people of Nicaragua had the sheer gall in 1979 to succesfully overthrow an infamously brutal US-backed Somoza dictatorship in a popular revolution. Led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the revolution began a process of changing the economy away from one virtually entirely owned by the Somoza family and its cronies. Instead, health care and education were dramatically expanded, land was redistributed to poor farmers, workers' wages and conditions were improved, poverty was cut.

This was not just down from the top down, but was the result of a mass revolutionary movement in which the oppressed poor began taking over their own society, Democratic rights and freedoms were extending and the FSLN was twice elected. Finally, in 1990, witht he poor nation's population  ground down by a decade of US-fuelled war justified by "stopping communism", voted for the US-backed opposition just to get some peace 

This opened the way to neoliberalism in the country -- a social disaster. In 2007, the Sandinistas returned to government and they remain in  power. The Sandinistas of today not those of the 1980s and face some real criticisms, but also some very real gains for the poor, gains upsetting, as ever the Untied States. If there is anything the US empire seems to hate more than anything, it is seeing the poor get health clinics and schools.

Now if you want to know what the hell happened, you can watch a long interview with Bernie Sanders in the '80s talking about his trip to Nicaragua, you can even watch an on-the-spot documentary by John Pilger from the '80s that provides detailed information and essential background.

Or you can just ask a couple of country singers, and get the same story only shorter and put to catchier tunes. First of all, via the Canadian country singer from Alberta, Corb Lund, second via the legendary singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, whose most famous songs are "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down".

Corb takes a looks at what the Yankees did, through the story of one US special agent who was himself a victim of the US government's cynical games. Kris,meanwhile, takes a look at what the Sandinistas meant... and speaks movingly of being asked to sing his song by Nicaragua's Sandinista President Daniel Ortega at celebrations for the revolution.

'Did Reagan give the order, did cocaine pay the bill?'
Student Visas 
They took away our dogtags, they had us grow our hair
They gave us student visas when we were over there
They staged us out of Hondo al este del Salvador
I guess you'd call us Contras but no one calls much no more
There ain’t no fun in killin’ folk and I don’t wanna do no more

My great great rode at Shiloh and Grandpa drove a tank
Daddy was air cavalry, flew choppers in the Nam
I worked mostly clandestine, the branch I should not say
We played with better guns and I could use the extra pay
Did Reagan give the order? Did cocaine pay the bill?
They said we's fightin' communists but it was kinda hard to tell
There ain’t no fun in killin’ folk and I don’t wanna do no more

This was before Blackhawks and RPGs were king
My buddy on the door gun, he never felt a thing
When our Huey caught a rocket and both the pilots killed
And it pitched us over sideways on some Nicaraguan hill
My back felt like it’s broken, my legs I could not feel
I kept on shooting communists but it was kind of hard to tell
There ain’t no fun in killin’ folk and I ain’t gonna do no more

I never did heal up right from injuries sustained
Officially in Germany, officially while we trained
I remember all their faces, I dream about them still
I guess we's fightin’ communists but it was kinda hard to tell
There ain’t no fun in killin’ folk, and I don’t wanna do no more

I speak the cold logistic that warriors speak so well
Foxtrot tango whiskey alpha golf tango hotel
A soldierly bravado, an unspeakable guilt
That village, it was communist but it was kinda hard to tell
There ain’t no fun in killin’ folk and I don’t wanna do no more
Believe me, I’ve done plenty boys and I ain’t gonna do no more
But of course if they back me in the corner they’ll be dead before they hit the floor

'Sandinista, you can hold your head up high...'
Sandinista, you can hold your head up high
You have given back their Freedom
You have lived up to your name

Sandinista, may your spirit never die
Hold the candle to the darkness
You're the keeper of the flame

Sandinista, keep believing in the dream
The truth is stronger than the shadows
Keep it shining in your eyes
Sandinista, may the soldiers disappear
May your children live forever
May their laughter fill your lives

Sandinista, los fuerzas de la oscuridad
Nunca pueden extinguir la puridad de tu llama revolutionara
Con su terror y sus mentiras
Con su dinero y sys maquinas
La libertad en tus ojus
El amor caliente en tu corozon
Son fuerzas mas poderosas
Que las armas de la guerra 
Sandinista, you can hold your head up high
You have given back their freedom
You have lived up to your name
Sandinista, may your spirit never die
Hold the candle to the darkness
You're the keeper of the flame


On the same album as "Sandinista" --  1990's Third World Warrior album, Kristofferson also recorded this track about the horror of the US war on Nicagua and other Central Amercian nations (like El Salvador and Guatemala where the US were still propping up horrific dictatorships) -- and the need to stand against it.

'They're killing babies in the name of Freedom...' 

Don't Let The Bastards (Get You Down) 
They're killing babies in the name of Freedom
We've been down that sorry road before
They let us hang around a little longer than they should have
And it's too late to fool us anymore

We've seen the ones who killed the ones with vision
Cold-blooded murder right before your eyes
Today they hold the power and the money and the guns
It's getting hard to listen to their lies.

And I've just got to wonder what my Daddy would've done
If he'd seen the way they turned his dream around
I've got to go by what he told me, try to tell the truth
And stand your ground

Mining roads
Killing farmers
Burning down schools full of children
Fighting communism

And I've just got to wonder what my Daddy would've done
If he'd seen the way they turned his dream around
I've got to go by what he told me, try to tell the truth
And stand your ground

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Think you're having the worst day ever? Here's some pictures of Graham Arnold to prove you wrong!

So you're having a bad day. Maybe your car broke down, you got fired, your spouse left you, you got evicted and the out-of-control oligarchic capitalist system is increasingly destroying the planet's very capacity to actually sustain human civilisation just so they can further stuff over-stuffed bank accounts with cash stained with the blood of the world's impoverished majority.

Yes, you've had better days. Fear not! Here are a bunch of super-cute photos of Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold looking like super furious, sad or frustrated! LOL! His day is much worse than yours, every day!

Poor Grah-Grah, nothing ever goes right! Not with those evil referees whose deliberate and sustained conspiracy against his team is so severe, sports journalists across the country have programs that just automatically insert "Graham Arnold angrily slammed the refereeing tonight... " into every article about every game in which his moneybags Bling FC team under-performs! Poor old Whinging Graham Arnold!

Oh no! The ref has given a free against his team just because it was a free!

When the ref gives one of your players a yellow card just because it was a blatant yellow that was lucky not to be a red!

Oh so that's a red just because it was, technically, to go by the so-called "rule book", a textbook red?

An opposition player not been given a red just because it wasn't a red card offence? Again?

''That player should be given a red because I say so!"

Having a bad dad day? Not as bad as this A-League coach whose team has somehow keeps conceding no matter how many defenders he starts! Oops!

"Where are the fans? Don't I coach a major team? Where the fuck are the fans?

"Oh shit ... there are the fans. Christ, just look at all those whitebread rich kids!" 

"I don't get it. We're rich. We're big. We're entitled."


"...did it..."

"...all go wrong?"

"I'd have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those meddling refs."

So just remember... no matter how bad your day is, at least you aren't Graham Arnold! Unless you are, in which case... fuck, dude, I'm sorry. The world is hurtling towards an eco-holocaust threatening the capacity of this planet to sustain human life and you're Graham Arnold. That's pretty rough.