Congo

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Africa is a training ground for the character, but also a graveyard for illusions.” -Vladimir Drachoussoff, Russo-Belgian agricultural engineer and diarist (reflecting on his time in Congo, including some remarkably prophetic writings on Congo’s future after colonialism)

(Congolese Lament – Liwa Wechi – Miriam Makeba)

It has taken me years to finish Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck. It even took me years to buy the book after seeing it in a bookstore. Once I had it in hand, it was like so many other books – I picked it up and put it down, reading the introduction more than once, but only now have I finished the entire near-600 page volume. Despite its length there are things I would love to learned about in greater depth (but perhaps can find more information on these points elsewhere). In the meantime, though, I still learned a lot of things. I could ramble on and on about it. No point.

Some notable bits (entirely leaving out discussions on the post-independence madness of an inexperienced, revolving-door government and assassinations, the ruthless power-grab of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and his rule, followed by post-Mobutu DRC and internecine civil war):

Slavery: “Traditionally, slavery in Central Africa was seen principally as a matter not of robbing you of your freedom, but of uprooting you from your social setting. It was gruesome, to be sure, but for reasons other than commonly assumed. In a society so characterized by social feeling, “the autonomy of the individual” did not equal liberty at all, as Europeans had been proclaiming since the Renaissance, but loneliness and desperation. You are who you know; if no one knows you, you are nothing. Slavery was not being subjugated, it was being separated, from home.”

Congo in WWII: “The fact that Congolese paramedics cared for Burmese civilians and British soldiers in the Asian jungle is a completely unknown chapter in colonial history and one that will soon vanish altogether.”

Post WWII: “The whites’ authority was being challenged, albeit subtly. Something had changed in the balance of power. Many Congolese were very well aware that the colony had proved stronger than the metropolis. Belgium had been crushed: Congo had remained on its feet and achieved military triumphs.”

On independence: “The chronology of events brought to light a paradox that could be noted at best, but not resolved: the decolonization had begun much too late, independence came much too early. Disguised as a revel, the breakneck emancipation of Congo was a tragedy that could only end in disaster.”

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”

Why I Changed My Mind: Ben Affleck

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My ex-boyfriend and I were at the movies in Reykjavik once when a preview for the film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck, appeared. The text that flies across the screen in the beginning of films with an authoritative voiceover read: “Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck” and my then-beau, despite hating people who talk in movies, whispered, “What? Ben Affleck won an Oscar?” At the time it was for his co-writing of Good Will Hunting, but seeing this “news” disappointed the guy – how could Ben Affleck win an Oscar? (Long before Argo won for best picture – note the guy isn’t likely to win any acting awards.)

Ben Affleck has long been the butt of jokes – we are not the first to make them, but the joking days may be (at least close to) over. After a lot of poor role and film choices and very public relationships (most notably with Jennifer Lopez), Affleck put his head down, made some good choices, started directing, married Jennifer Garner and had a family. I also would argue that he is not someone who overreaches – I respect actors who choose roles that may challenge some perceptions about them and may challenge their own abilities, but not so far out there that they become totally unbelievable. Affleck never bites off much more than he can chew.

The reason I decided to write about him now, though, is that I read in Mother Jones about his upcoming Congressional testimony on Congo. I don’t really like the way the article defends Affleck’s so-called authority on the subject:

“It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities.” (Italicized emphasis mine.)

This kind of statement makes it sound as though just showing up a few times and having a few meetings with warlords imparts expertise. How do we know that these warlords did not just meet with Affleck because they liked Gigli and Pearl Harbor – and they spent their meetings talking about that together? I also don’t want to discount his expertise – I don’t know whether he has any or what the depth of it is.

Compared to a lot of people being named as ambassadors to countries they have never visited (see The Daily Show’s hilarious take on the “diplomat buyers club”) and have no connection to or knowledge of, I’d say Affleck’s got a leg up. I would also venture to say that most of the Congressional members hearing testimony from Affleck or from the line-up of Central Africa/Congo experts know nothing about the subject, if anything, about Africa as a whole. Comparatively speaking, Affleck is bloody well an expert.

Considered, reconsidered – I used to think Ben Affleck was a joke – as an actor, entertainer and, had someone laughably suggested, as a “Congo expert”. As I stated, though, the guy does not overreach when it comes to his acting, seems to have a healthy sense of self and good sense of humor about who he is – and then “does the time” when it comes to serious issues in which he chooses to get involved – and bottom line – he really does not have to. I have a newfound respect for the guy and have come to appreciate some of what he’s done cinematically. Quite honestly, as well, any light we (or he) can shine on atrocities in DR Congo is also welcome.

Me, I am just happy to take a look at the DR Congo passport (again!)

Congo passport

Congo passport