Halloween Random Gum soundtrack – Better late than never

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Everyone who knows me knows that I put together at least one “soundtrack” of the songs (i.e. “random gum that holds the year together” – here’s a link to all the previous soundtracks on Spotify) that popped up in one meaningful way or another during the year, put them on a CD and send them out the old-fashioned way via postal mail. Some years, I am organized and get the things in the mail early – this year, I got them done just in time to go out on American Thanksgiving. I had the track listing done ages ago but never had time to deal with the rest of the process – burning CDs, making the simple but nevertheless handmade (thus time-consuming) Halloween cards, printing out all the notes and track listings and folding it all up and shipping them. It also did not help that in the early days of my November vacation, a time I planned to devote to this card-production process, my internet connection went dead for several days, making the songs for the soundtrack out of reach (needed to download a good proportion of them). But finally – finally – the whole thing is finished.

scottish spring – troubled summer – falling down – getting up
random gum – 2014

The full playlist on Spotify (except for songs that don’t exist on Spotify).

Nine Inch Nails – “We’re in this Together” if the world should break in two/until the very end of me, until the very end of you
Had no idea when this year began how true the sentiment would be. “We will make it through somehow” “Even after everything/you’re the queen and I’m the king/nothing else means anything”. For S.

Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Hey Joe”
We didn’t know we needed a breathy Charlotte-sung, Beck-produced version of this song, but we did!

Angel Olsen – “High and Wild” you’re here, you’re here, but your spirit’s disappeared/off to some place that i don’t know, some human thing has squashed your soul
Another dark Berlin summer, emerging in the light. “You might as well be blind, cause you don’t see me anymore/And you, you can’t tell me that you love me, when I’m standing in your way”

Dum Dum Girls – “Take Care of My Baby”
For S, and getting through all the rough times and worries. Takes on unforeseen depth.

Le Prince Miiaou – “Hawaiian Tree”
For Aurélien, who long ago won the battle, in quality and number, of track-listing mentions.

Tennis – “It All Feels the Same”
“We could be good but we don’t live the way that we should/Constantly told we’re imperfect and cannot be good/Tired of waiting around for you to intervene/Tired of wishing that you even knew what I mean”. Pain and strain of repeated mistakes

Wild Flag – “Romance We love the sound, the sound is what found us/Sound is the blood between me and you
“Back when I had no story, nothing to form me/You got under my skin/You were my maker/my re-creator/My reason to live”

The Saints – “(I’m) Stranded”
For Stephen and those half-hour conversations (“wee chats”) that never lasted less than all night.

Sonic Youth – “Kool Thing” I just want you to know that we can still be friends
High school. “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?”

Angelique Kidjo – “Lay, Lady, Lay”
Angelique from Benin, one of those countries in Africa I learned about only incrementally

Crowded House – “Not the Girl You Think You Arethe bathroom mirror makes you look tall/but it’s all in your head
Always loved this song; takes on new meaning as life passes into new phases. “He won’t deceive you or tell you the truth/he’ll be no trouble. He won’t write you letters, full of excuses…”

Circuit Object – “Hollow Words”
For and by ML. Sometimes things just change, and we can’t do anything about it.

Tamaryn—“Violet’s in a Pool” the sound is moving in
Soundscape for late-night drives in western Sweden – evokes Bengtsfors, of all places!

Aimee Mann – “Amateur” I was hoping that you’d know better than that

Angel Olsen – “Stars” I wish I had the voice of everything
“To scream the feeling til there’s nothing left”. Such beauty…

Patti Smith – “Don’t Smoke in Bed”
“Take care of everything; I’m leaving my wedding ring, don’t look for me – I’ll get ahead. Remember, darling – don’t smoke in bed”. Elegiac words for the sad endings of sad entanglements

Damien Jurado – “Amateur Night” It’s me who made you/It’s me who will take you
“I am not an evil man/I just have a habit I can’t kick/It starts with an urge and ends with this/Hang up the phone, I ain’t finished yet”. Another song whose meaning deepens w/experience

The Smiths – “I Won’t Share You”
Toasting the end of my rural man harem and W, the Smiths-quoting filth peddler

Tadpoles – “Sunrise Ocean Bender”
This makes me feel like I am in the 1990s again.

Glasser – “Shape”
“And I look out longingly/over the beach./There’s an ocean making life/beyond my reach,/and the vastness is/too much for me to stand.”

Warpaint – “Love is to Die” I found a way/To look towards this day/But it all hooked up/This could only go one way/I’m not alive, I’m not alive without you

The Fall – “Life Just Bounces” life just bounces so don’t you get worried at all
An unusually warm and bright February day. Watched a BBC show about the mad, inimitable Mark E. Smith. Blasting The Fall on high all the rest of the live long day. For Naomi

Sydney Wayser – “Geographer”
It’s just beautiful

INXS – “Don’t Change” I found a love I had lost/It was gone for too long/Hear no evil in all directions/Execution of bitterness/Message received loud and clear
Beautiful and bittersweet nostalgia – tangentially thinking of Michael Hutchence, his late wife Paula and Paula’s late daughter Peaches… will tragedy ever stop dogging that family?

Rolling Stones – “Miss You”
For obligatory naked pre-Mogambo balcony dancing

Sonic Youth – “Youth Against Fascism” I believe Anita Hill/that judge will rot in hell
I still believe Anita Hill; pop culture references – some timeless, some a flash in the pan, some culture/country specific, made immortal in song.

Cat’s Eyes – “Over You” I’m over you/Soon I’ll be rid of you and your ways/And I’ll forget all those/wasted days/And I wonder what took me so long/to finally let you know that I’ve begun

Lia Ices – “Thousand Eyes” We are a starry sky/Gazing down with a thousand eyes/And we know that we go on
Multilayered beauty. “Flash your flood, set your fire/You were born to overflow/And we know that we go on”

Buried Beds – “Stars”
For S. You may come upon the blackest stone/What passage lies beyond is still unknown/And sleep won’t come, cause you never close your eyes/Like stars above us we are on fire”

Hefner – “Love Inside the Stud Farm” Girl, you’re a teaser/what on earth did I just do to deserve a girl like you?
“You don’t know what you’ve done to me, with that voice, with those eyes, with that smile, and that smell…” All those auspicious beginnings when things are perfect, before the unraveling of reality

Miriam Makeba – “Liwa Wechi – Congolese Lament
Much love to Zaki

Neneh Cherry featuring Robyn – “Out of the Black” I fear what’s gone before will come right back and slap me

XVIII Eyes – “I’ll Keep You”

Otis Redding – “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember”
“Nobody knows what I feel inside/all I know – I walked away and cried…”

The Boxer Rebellion – “Both Sides are Even” You don’t need a reason/For I know that what I’ve done is wrong/No one there to warn you/About the way that our moment’s gone
“These are my suspicions/And I’ll never know how this was a lost cause/And both sides are even/They are even and alone/Yeah, it’s the same/Right or wrong”

Angel Olsen – “Unfucktheworld” Here’s to thinking that it all meant so much more/I kept my mouth shut & opened up the door
“I wanted nothing but for this to be the end/For this to never be a tied and empty hand/If all the trouble in my heart would only mend/I lost my dream I lost my reason all again”

The Doors – “Love Her Madly”
For S. and poetic comparisons.

Robyn Hitchcock – “Everything About YouI love everything about you/I love your crooked smile/The way I try to please you/And have done for a while

Sonic Youth – “Wish Fulfillment”

George Jones – “The Grand Tour”
For S and the riding lawn mower future. This type of twangy country tune makes me laugh – the “woe is me/she left me” whining, but I don’t think for one minute that “she” left without cause.

The Hat, feat. Father John Misty, S.I. Istwa – “The Angry River”
“The awful cost of all we lost/As we looked the other way/We’ve paid the price of this cruel device/Till we’ve nothing left to pay”

Angel Olsen – “Hi-Five” But I’m giving you my heart, my heart/Are you giving me your heart?

The Kinks – “You Really Got Me”
Meant for playing at insanely loud volume

Angel Haze – “New York” calls from overseas like a motherfucking crusade
For Jill – finally leading the New York life. And for Annette, the vigilante! “I run New York”

Pulp – “Lipgloss”
For M, my lipgloss and girly-stuff provider extraordinaire

Nirvana – “Love Buzz” Would you believe me when I tell you/That you’re the queen of my heart?
20 years since Kurt Cobain died – hits harder now, in middle age, than when it happened

Sondre Lerche – “Bad Law” When crimes are passionate/can love be separate?

Travis – “All I Want to Do is Rock”

Wild Flag – “Something Came Over Me”
“Yeah, you were always headed down the wrong path/But you’ll be back, you’ll be back around/Summer’s creeping up slowly/We’re gonna let the good times, let the good times roll”

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – “B.S.A.” it’s gonna be a long cold winter/but I feel so warm when I’m in her arms
“She goes off like a shotgun/she’s got me begging on my knees/she’s like a kiss from Jesus/make me forget my disease”. An S song

Merry Clayton – “Gimme Shelter”
Proves that this should have been a woman vocalist all along

Belle & Sebastian – “Your Cover’s Blown”
For Jill. For Inga and days in the poopbarn when Boring Guy did not want to “blow my cover”.

Trentemøller – “Still on Fire”
Cool sound + opening to TV show Halt and Catch Fire

Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians – “Queen Elvis” People get what they deserve,/Time is round and space is curved./Honey, have you got the nerve,/To be Queen Elvis?

Sam Phillips – “I Can’t Stop Crying” In dream I scream but you can’t hear me calling you
Floods of tears when circumstances tear something or someone from your hands, your life

Angel Olsen – “Forgiven/Forgotten” all is forgiven/all right, you are forgiven
“If there’s one thing I fear/it’s knowing you’re around, so close but not here”

The Platters – “Twilight Time”
Memories of the old pre-internet days when wild goose chases ensued looking for songs we could not quite place. What on earth did we do without Google?

Townes Van Zandt – “Lungs”
The late, great Townes.

Roxy Music – “More than This”

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”
“And rise w/ me forever across the silent sand/the stars will be your eyes & the wind will be my hands”

Barbara Lewis – “Baby, I’m Yours”
For S.

Aaron Neville with Linda Ronstadt – “Don’t Know Much”
My joke song with S, who does not know where his face is going. “And that may be all I need to know”

Neil Diamond – “Love on the Rocks”Love on the rocks/ain’t no surprise/just pour me a drink/and I’ll tell you some lies
Top-floor flat in Berlin; drunken torture and misery – hatching an escape plan. Traumatic memories of high school teacher and her laminated Neil Diamond posters

The Go-Betweens – “Quiet Heart” And what did I say that made you cry?/Our dream won’t die/Doesn’t matter how far you come/You’ve always got further to go

A Fine Frenzy – “Almost Lover” shoulda known you’d bring me heartache/almost lovers always do

Angel Olsen – “Windows” won’t you open a window sometime?/what’s so wrong with the light?

Sinéad O’Connor – “Just Like U Said It Would B” when I lay down my head/at the end of my day/nothing would please me better/than I find that you’re there

Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris – “Love Hurts”
For S. and the tragic loss of the Gram Parsons shirt. At least there’s still “Yeah!” to wear.

Tomten – “Wednesday’s Children

Johnny Cash – “Hurt” And you could have it all/My empire of dirt/I will let you down/I will make you hurt
I don’t think I can listen to this again without crying; Berlin summer disaster and near endings

Moby with Damien Jurado – “Almost Home”

Africa 101: Togolese radio, stereotypes and Africa in small doses

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“What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?”

-Countee Cullen – “Heritage

Like many “westerners” (or whatever you want to call us – which is a group of mixed, all-over-the-place folks), I never used to give much thought to the specifics of the African continent. It was some “other place” I had not seen, dreamt of or had feelings about one way or the other. It was not really included in any appreciable way in my education, and I did not know anyone from Africa or who had been to Africa. Thus, it was a nebulous concept – just “Africa” without subtlety and nuance. It was not unlike the application of this blanket term “westerners”. What does it even mean?

Of course when I got older, it dawned on me that Africa is a vast place and the diversity was something I could not even begin to fathom. If each state of the American union, sharing a common language and currency, can each be as different as they tend to be, then the countries and regions of Africa would have to dwarf American diversity in some ways (although of course America is a land of immigration, making it a strange concoction as well. In fact most western countries, through years and years of immigration activity, have become their own strange concoctions).

Still, despite the few little tidbits of specific information I gathered haphazardly – nothing systematic about it – Africa was still just a jumble of faces in magazines or on tv, stereotypes, unusual names, places with ever-changing borders, names and leaders but nothing cohesive.

I could swear I had written about this “incremental introduction to Africa” in a previous blog entry before but cannot find any evidence of it now. All I can find is someplace that I wrote: “It seems that it does not matter how much one protests that Africa (especially sub-Saharan Africa) is not just one monolithic entity. Most will continue to treat this massive and diverse continent as though one remedy, one answer, one strategy works for the entire place.” Not that I was ever that different before really giving it some thought and consideration and a lot of time learning.

Where did all the questioning start? I cannot pinpoint an exact moment. In elementary school, when I was a child, I had absolutely no exposure to Africa or anything of direct African origin, other than some carved wooden turtle knick-knacks my grandmother gave me. They were “made in Kenya”, which she informed me was a country in Africa. It sounded so far off and exotic – very hard to comprehend. Later, in elementary school, our social studies textbook mentioned “Mba, Aubame and Bongo” – the only thing I learned about Africa in my entire public school education. The fact that I remembered only their names and a picture but nothing about where they came from shows only how disconnected this piece of information was from anything else. It was as though the textbook creators wanted to mention Africa but did not really have anything to say about it. (Later, of course, with these disconnected names floating around in my head, I checked into it to discover that these men were figures in la politique gabonaise.)

Later, as late as university, I felt a real elevation in my consciousness about this idea of “Africa” as a monolithic entity. A musician from Ghana, Obo Addy (RIP, 2012), came to my university and lectured about this topic – and it was, even though obvious, as though a light came on. The light of ignorance versus stupidity. Haha. No, I wasn’t stupid – I just didn’t know and, like most people, had no reason to think about these things. How did Ghana differ, I started thinking, from Nigeria, or from Gabon? How, even, did North Africa differ from sub-Saharan Africa? As ridiculously surface-level and limited as this sounds now, for 17-year-old me, it was all new. Meanwhile many of my classmates had spent parts of their lives in places like Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire (I want an Ivorian passport – it has an elephant on the front!) and thus had this air of experience and of being cosmopolitan. They had such a different worldview – or seemed like it – and I had no reason or circumstance to know more than I had before this point in time. I suppose this is partly what filled me with an awkwardness and feeling of inadequacy – that my life then was so sheltered and limited in scope. Even my aspirations, reflecting on it, were so puny and plodding. In a comparative light, my experience, despite being mine, just felt like nothingness. My closest encounters with Abidjan were little French-language profiles in my high school French-language text when we were optimistically introduced to all kinds of characters in le monde francophone. (Naturally I also enjoyed our little vignettes of the Swiss, Canadian, Tahitian and Martinique francophones!) To this day, it is hard to imagine spending part of childhood in some part of Africa (again, high school viewing of the Claire Denis film Chocolat should fill that gap in some one-dimensional, take-a-quick bite kind of way).

But then, all my knowledge about “African things” comes from “take-a-quick bite”, almost accidental approaches. From the strange trend in my life of meeting a string of strange men from Gambia (either in the Turkish fruit-and-veg store I frequented in Oslo to being seated next to a Gambian on an Icelandair flight) to the unusual way that Congo (formerly Zaire) keeps popping up in my life (watching When We Were Kings, reading a book about Congo that I found in Trondheim, Norway, seeing a film about Patrice Lumumba and thinking that maybe – just maybe – there was a mention of Lumumba in a schoolbook in my childhood, but that might just be wishful thinking. It’s hard to resist a story with names like Lumumba, Kasa-Vubu and Mobutu Sese Seko), it is as though I am meant to absorb Africa in small doses.

There was the strange flood of postal letters in both English and French that I received from misguided but hopeful suitors from Togo that put Togo on the map (quite literally) for me. Years ago when I was very active in the postal pen pal community, I used to exchange “friendship books” – small, decorated little booklets one might make for herself or a friend that included some info on interests and the postal address. You would send this to a pen pal, who would include his/her information and forward it to another of their pen pals and so on, until theoretically, this little booklet would be full of decorated pages and addresses of new potential friends. Occasionally these booklets would make their way, somehow, to African destinations. Normally this resulted only in a few unwanted letters (many people actually made a point of specifying on their friendship book pages: “No Africans!” – it still strikes me as kind of a horrible generalization but I imagine people had their reasons). In many cases – and very likely for a good many others – it resulted in a few weeks of receiving 50+ letters, daily, from men in Togo who were, according to their letters, “very excited for our marital relations to begin”.

I had no idea who these men were – where were they getting my address? Eventually one of the letters explained that they had heard an ad on the radio – someone was selling the addresses of women in the once-again-undefinable “west” seeking African husbands. All these guys had paid some undetermined amount of money to get their hands on addresses of women who had no interest whatsoever in an African husband. I imagine some enterprising, entrepreneurial type got his hands on one of these friendship books and used it to make a bit of cash. (Advertising on the radio seems a bit weird, but then I don’t have a clue if the radio in Togo is a normal means of advertising.) After seeing probably 400 or more letters come to my postbox, I really could not take it anymore. I just started throwing them away without opening them. Receiving the letters suddenly felt at once creepy and sad.

But I had my little slice of Togo and took in information I would not otherwise have had.

I met a French guy who had African parents (from Ghana and Benin); I knew quite a bit about Ghana by that time, but Benin was a bit mysterious. I managed to learn that Benin is the only country in the world (or at least at that time) which counts voodoo among its state religions. Voodoo, widely associated with Haiti, is only so associated because of the slave trade. It actually came from places like Benin.

I worked with a guy who was part Tanzanian, part Norwegian, who remarked on the “personal space bubble” of northern Europe. If you were to get on a bus, for example, in Tanzania and sit alone, the next person who got on the bus would sit down next to you – somehow being alone or perceived as lonely or wanting personal space is not perceived as “normal”. Life is much more about being a part of a community.

Eventually getting into development studies, Africa is often at the core of this discipline. My studies have taken me (virtually) to Mali (warfare and the films of Malian-Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako – such as Bamako, which was a film I watched several times for its multilayered commentary). My obsession with news and tendency to watch AlJazeera English (which focuses a lot of attention on Asia, Latin America and Africa – all under-reported on American news channels) has given me insight into Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Mali – among a million other things, including France’s continued influence in the African sphere, as evidenced by its eagerness to jump into military conflicts and/or peacekeeping (most recently in Mali and CAR).

But it is still a slow and incremental learning process, especially because I am only doing it on screen or paper. I still have not travelled to Africa. But because Africa, African geography, African issues are all so distant and perceived as so esoteric, if you happen to know one or two facts about a given African country, people – sometimes even people from that country – imagine you are an expert. Comparatively speaking, maybe I have become a pseudo-expert – but I am still a novice with so little expertise or experience. After having eaten Ethiopian food perhaps once and knowing that the spongy bread is called injera and is made from teff flour, an Ethiopian guy decided I must know everything about Ethiopia (he was just impressed perhaps that I was not one among the multitudes of insensitive assholes who always reply to comments about Ethiopian food with, “I didn’t know Ethiopians had food.”)

Most recently, I watched a film, Rêves de poussière (Dreams of Dust), which was about a man from Niger who travels to Burkina Faso to try his luck as a gold miner in horrific and dangerous conditions. Cinematographically beautiful, all these films, I am still a geography dunce. I find – still – I always have to look at a map.