Random Gum: Raising the Bar 2017

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Getting late & losing track of time – December 2016/early 2017

For no real reason except that I’ve been abnormally into music for a few months (yes, I always am, but even more than usual these days), I have already collected a new mix that makes up the soundtrack of my life for the last three months or so (since my last mix went out). The songs are all listed below; almost the entire playlist (minus the songs not available at all on Spotify, such as track 01, from Vorderhaus) can be found among my Spotify playlists. Those people whose addresses I have can trust that a physical copy is on its way to you as I write.

01. Vorderhaus – “Faintly …future’s looming in the afterglow…
02. Big Search – “Love in Return …river, the warmth has gone/the trail’s not been cold for long…
03. The Passions – “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” …playing the part of a real troublemaker/but I didn’t care – it really moved me…
When you fall out of love with the dream

04. Steve Mason – “Planet Sizes” …the universe makes me cry…
It could have been a ‘date’ in Oslo… or not. The fates only know

05. Wand – “Fire on the Mountain (I-II-III)”

06. The Fat Tulips – “Where’s Clare Grogan Now?”
Courtesy of lovely William; reminders/mentions of Enumclaw & Scotland all in one

07. The Fall – “Lost in Music”
For Naomi, for S. Put the original on a recent Halloween mix after hearing it on the dreadful show Looking. Made fun of it (i.e. “Get a job, dancing, music-obsessed losers”). What can take it all up a notch? A version from The Fall, of course!

08. Alvvays – “Archie, Marry Me” …You’ve expressed explicitly your contempt for matrimony…
What started as a casual recommendation led eventually to a little heartbreak every time this song came on: “We spend our days locked in a room content inside a bubble
And in the night time we go out and scour the streets for trouble”

09. British India – “I Thought We Knew Each Other”
“Fifteen years of fighting in the dark/Empty hands the only thing I’ve got/All the times I’ve tried to walk away” – it’s the words, not the generic sound

10. Cats on Fire – “Poor Students Dream of Marx …Hated London nightlife, so I’ve heard…
“Go on, get out/I am sharing your doubts”; “last words are for fools who haven’t said enough” (Oh, and it may interest some to know, like Naomi, that these dudes are FUNNISH)

11. The Crayon Fields – “Mirror Ball” …You are still my-y mirror ball/I look at you/and suddenly I’m a virgin/In a dance hall…
“Would it flatter you to know/That mostly it’s you/That makes me so slow”

12. Courtney Marie Andrews – “How Quickly Your Heart Mends”
“The jukebox is playing a sad country song,/For all the ugly Americans,/Now I feel like one of them,/Dancing alone and broken by the freedom”

13. Maud Lübeck – “J’oublie”
With thanks to Laurent S. When music is a conduit to escape dark times

14. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
Had been meaning to listen but didn’t until it got the “Travis seal of approval”. Love to Billy & Travis xox. And my god, is there anywhere that Donald Glover isn’t right now?

15. Junip – “Line of Fire” …No one else around you/No one to understand you/No one to hear your calls/Look through all your dark corners…
Gothenburg

16. The Church – “Under the Milky Way” …I think about the loveless fascination/
Under the Milky Way tonight…
I often forget how much I love the sound of The Church

17. Roosevelt – “Montreal”
Skåne del Sol adventures (no beheadings) w/ Kyle & musical influence of Mr Bridge

18. Dead or Alive – “You Spin Me Round” …I’ve got to have my way now, baby…
RIP Pete. If the losses of 2016 haven’t spun us all around, I don’t know what will

19. Margaret Glaspy – “You and I” …I think you might be harboring a heartache/I think you might be crying when I’m gone/You and I have been a mistake/I let it linger too long…
Endings that drag on; “I don’t want to see you cry/But it feels like a matter of time”

20. Foxygen – “Follow the Leader” …I know sometimes everyone wants to be someone else…

21. John Lennon – “Watching the Wheels” …when I say that I’m okay/well, they look at me kinda strange/surely you’re not happy now, you no longer play the game…

22. Lianne La Havas – “What You Don’t Do”
Thanks to Esteban and Ana

23. Kula Shaker – “Persephone”
Naming conventions, unconventions & the depth & meaning of a name. Not a Kula Shaker fan

24. Lia Ices – “After is Always Before” …I don’t know after and before’s almost gone…
Missing Jane

25. Grandaddy – “Clear Your History”

26. TV21 – “All Join Hands” …I feel so used or was I just your servant?…
Many thanks to William; thoughts racing while racing through Oslo outskirts

27. Leonard Cohen – “So Long, Marianne”
RIP Leonard Cohen. Generic Cohen to choose but has its reasons. Staple soundtrack of the Indian (why?!) place by my old office in Iceland where I spent so many lunches with old friends. And of course, the Norwegian namesake, Marianne, who preceded Cohen in death by only a few months

28. Diego Garcia – “You Were Never There” …Girl you never cared/You were never there…
“You hide yourself/behind a wall/and it shows”. Such truth

29. Cate le Bon – “Love is Not Love” …And the bars go/And it keeps me high/But I don’t know how to love you…
“I won’t let you, I won’t let you, sing my name again, love…”

30. Laura Marling – “Hope in the Air”
With manifold thanks to MP

31. Tomten – “Nothin’ Like Bein’ No One
Love for the little-known Seattle band. I will include them whenever I can
32. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – “When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle…you better pack up & run…
RIP Sharon. “Every dog has his day, uncle, and it just can’t go on this way…”
33. The Boo Radleys – “Wish I Was Skinny”
Love to Naomi – only Boo Radleys fan I know/can think of!

34. Mitski – “Your Best American Girl”
“If I could, I’d be your little spoon/And kiss your fingers forevermore/But, big spoon, you have so much to do/And I have nothing ahead of me”

35. U.S. Girls – “Island Song”

36. George Michael – “Freedom! ’90”
Holy shit – could 2016 be more brutal? RIP George. I was not a huge fan but what a piece of the 80s landscape and the collective memory of my generation

37. Os Mutantes – “Baby”
For R, always the wrong things to say at wrong times; on occasion knows the right things to do

38. Shonen Knife – “Elephant Pao Pao” とても悪いこと
Totemo warui koto/Japanese-language camp and those old days and ways

39. Low – “Just Like Christmas” …by the time we got to Oslo, the snow was gone/and we got lost, the beds were small, but we felt so young
Conjuring an unfathomably lovely future or a cocoon-like bubble? (Nevertheless, can’t go to Oslo without getting lost and finding an endless array of hi-fi stores)

40. The Verve – “History”
Poetry and history, with gratitude on many fronts to M

41. Nirvana – “Pennyroyal Tea” …Give me Leonard Cohen afterworld…
RIP Leonard Cohen – again

42. Martha Wainwright – “Take the Reins …if you take the reins, I will never look back…
43. Cowboy Junkies – “To Lay Me Down” …To lie with you/Once more to lie with you/With our dreams close together/To wake beside you…
Revival from illness in the cocoon of an illusory under-the-covers world “with our bodies entwined together”

44. Bess Atwell – “Cobbled Streets” …Should it be this hard?/Should it feel like disconnecting?…
“Well I’m afraid I’ve led you to believe I’m not what I am”

45. Steve Mason – “Run Away” …I know you’ll run away/But when I find this I don’t mind anyway…
“Will the love I think, I think I felt/Run away in a day or two?” O, to be pierced through the heart

46. Tori Amos – “Toast” …With a toast he’s telling me it’s time/To let you go…
Losing a brother, stories of toast. For Mom, RIP Paul, ML toastmonster and MP

The end of 2016 particularly was fraught with pain and fear. I can only do what I can: continue on my own path, offer sanctuary to those who have reasons to be fearful of what their current country may become, offer love and sympathy to my remaining family members (whose numbers are dwindling) and love unconditionally. The end also offered a glimpse of light and understanding, which remains unclear. The pain, uncertainty and momentum of all of it inexplicably motivates me as we stumble into 2017.

Photo by the incomparable late, great Paul Costanich.

African Ramblings: Putting a Human Face on Distant Lands of News Stories

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That “Africa”, nebulous netherworld and neverland that it is in my imagination, is comprised of little, uninformed portraits, characters and blurbs on the news (usually about something horrible), is little wonder. I have written before about how Africa is something massive, which – even if trying to absorb the idea and place systematically – would take time and only be possible in increments.

Africa is an idea more than a reality to me. Not just because I have not been anywhere on this vast and ridiculously diverse continent but also because “Africa” as a concept is kind of an idea. One giant landmass it may be but this very vastness and diversity makes it impossible to categorize or talk about as one giant entity. People may refer to themselves as “African” but can there be an “African” identity in the same way there is an American one? It strikes me as more like trying to convince Europeans to identify as “Europeans” before their nationalities. It is not that one never identifies as “African” or “European” but neither label tells an observer much of anything.

As usual I am consuming Africa-related matters in small bites, like geographical, cultural, historical amuse-bouche. Not always a tasty sampling.

Today’s thoughts inevitably turn to the most newsworthy of Africa’s countries.

Rwanda

The 20-year mark since the genocide in Rwanda has sparked a virtually endless flow of news and related content, ranging from reconciliation (and photography projects chronicling that complex and painful process) to the “miracle” of modern Rwanda, from the firm and perhaps dictatorial hand of President Paul Kagame, to the growing power of women (who are the majority of Rwanda’s population once the massacre ended), from restoration, reconciliation and commemoration in societies torn apart by this kind of catastrophic human damage as well as individual stories about personal conscience, reminiscent of World War II-era stories of people who took in and hid Jews at considerable personal risk to themselves (and how those stories often came to late quite a long while after the war).

“It’s now 20 years after genocide,” Kamuronsi says. “And in every commemoration, every movie, we see stories of survivors, we see stories of perpetrators. We see less stories of rescuers.”

Those stories are particularly important, he says, for the more than half of the country’s population born after the genocide, to see that not every Rwandan played their ethnically assigned role of killer or victim.

Yet most of Rwanda’s rescuers are not officially recognized. A government program to give rescuers an official “thank you” was put on hold after canvassing just 20 percent of the country and identifying fewer than 300 of them. In comparison, Yad Vashem — the Holocaust memorial and research center — was seeking out the stories of German rescuers, the “righteous among nations,” by the 1950s — less than 10 years after the war.” (From NPR)

Before the genocide (and the film, Hotel Rwanda, which chronicled the 100 days of horror that ensued – and of which the first ten minutes were ruined when I saw it at a cinema in Iceland because the idiot projectionist let some horrible George Michael music play right over the top of the film and its soundtrack. Iceland: home of the world’s worst film projectionists – you heard it here first), all Rwanda was to me was mountain gorillas at Karisoke Research Center, Dian Fossey and a brief story an election-monitor colleague, Randall, had told me about being in Rwanda and how the air there – and in every African city – always smelled like diesel fuel.

After the genocide, unfortunately, genocide is almost all Rwanda is in the collective public memory. But it should and could be so much more. How does a country referred to as “nonviable” become a “success story” (despite the dark side of that success)?

“During Kagame’s two-decade rule, Rwanda has made spectacular progress. A country famously deemed “nonviable” in the mid-1990s has become one of Africa’s best-run, most orderly, least corrupt, and safest states, with a booming economy (Rwanda’s GDP has grown by an average of eight percent in recent years). But Rwanda’s success has come with a darker side: opposition politicians have been jailed or killed under mysterious circumstances, journalists complain of harassment, and Kigali has been regularly criticized for meddling in neighboring Congo’s long-running civil war.” (From Foreign Affairs)

“Kagame is said to admire the limited democratic models of Singapore and South Korea, where economic competence is valued over political liberty. As the world observes and judges Rwanda, they will find a country tenuously balancing its need for stability and growth against the virtues of open democracy.” (From Harvard Politics)

Maybe this autocracy is good enough for the population for now – certainly craving stability, growth, opportunity and tranquility over “personal freedom”.

UGANDA

Uganda often comes up – whether because of its own problems with dictatorship (a story also told in the film The Last King of Scotland), conflict and disease (both positive and negative – Uganda had considerable success in controlling the spread of HIV but this appears to be moving backwards now; it is one of the countries in Africa to have had an Ebola outbreak as front-page news; or because of issues like Uganda’s notables (such as Joseph Kony) or issues (homosexuality is illegal and can carry a maximum life sentence in prison).

I sometimes joked that I would, if given the chance, exile people to Uganda. And that was (apart from a few of the aforementioned highlights) the sum total of my Uganda-related knowledge.

Recently, though, I saw a report on Al Jazeera about pain management and the world shortage of morphine – and what role Uganda plays in this. It is not really an issue I would have considered – I had no idea that there was any shortage of morphine or that this is in large part due to the ill-conceived and long-running “war on drugs” waged mostly by the United States. Likewise, I had no idea that there was some kind of stigma attached to its use.

“Red tape and misinformation are to blame for the world’s unequal distribution of medical morphine, and it is patients in the developing world who are losing out.

But Uganda has become the first country in Africa to allow nurses to prescribe morphine to patients.” From AJE)

It is hard to imagine that palliative care, particularly in Africa, where the disease burden is so high, in the form of pain management would be such a difficult matter. The Pain Project has documented this struggle.

“The International Reporting Program traveled to Ukraine, Uganda and India to find out, and to document the human toll of this hidden human rights crisis. It turns out a combination of bureaucratic hurdles and the chilling effect of the global war on drugs are largely to blame, leaving humanitarians scrambling to work outside the law — or change the law — to bring relief to suffering patients all over the world.

The Pain Project has produced documentaries on this issue for CBS Sunday Morning, Al Jazeera People & Power, and Global 16×9, reaching millions of people and gaining international media attention.” (From The International Reporting Program)

GUINEA

Finally, there’s Guinea – frankly not a country I thought about at all (other than an occasional mention of it, and a follow-up question in the form of, “Are you sure you don’t mean Guyana?” Not even the same continent! Even Wikipedia has to caution the reader not to confuse Guinea with Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea or – seriously! – Papua New Guinea!) until it appeared in recent news reports about its Ebola outbreak and attacks on treatment centers and universal airport screening for Ebola upon departure from Guinea. In Guinea, the death toll has topped 100, and worries about its spread are on the rise.

As the disease has traveled, neighboring Liberia has reported 21 cases, Mali reported a few, and bordering Senegal closed access to and from Guinea, citing outbreak fears.

Incidentally it is through these kinds of stories that I learn other things about these countries – under the siege of an infectious disease outbreak or a civil war or a massacre/genocide, the human face of these countries comes to light.

And while the human face is exactly what I want to strive to see, I did come across this map that should help with rethinking Africa in some ways – I have seen it before but came across it again just as I was writing and decided to share it again.

Cleansed of the past – 2005 in soundtrack form

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