Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ben Harper, Carole King, Carly Simon and Guns and Butter

Busy week. I finally wrote the review of Ben Harper's Both Sides of The Gun -- "Both Sides of the Coin -- Ben Harper's Both Sides of The Gun vs. The Living Room Tour" -- and I finished the project I was working on. (So bills will be paid!) Jess, Ava and C.I. forwarded some of the e-mails on that from non-members of the community. Some Carole King fans are offended -- in the review, I contrast Harper's Both Sides of The Gun with Carole King's The Living Room Tour -- and, of those, my favorite has to be one where the woman tells me that King had a limited amount of space and "couldn't get to everything." A limited amount of space? She had two discs. There are 21 tracks. She does a medley on one track that contains seven songs. So, in fact, the album has 27 songs. It was Carole King, not me, who wrote:

I remember a time gone by
When peace and hope and dreams were high
We followed inner visions and touched the sky
Now we who still believe won't let them die.

She wrote that. Music and lyrics. (Not just music as it sometimes the case.) She wrote many songs like that, throughout her career. By the point some critics were grumbling that she was a "Pollyanna," it was because you knew each album would have at least one (sometimes more than one) song about peace.

We need peace now. Where is Carole King?

If 9/11 changed everything for Carole King, she needs to say so.

Or if all of those songs were just jerking off, she needs to say so.

But she doesn't need to ever put out an album (let alone one with 27 songs) without weighing in on the need for peace if she believes in it. In the sixties, working for Kirshner, et al, she wasn't he socially conscience one. That was generally thought to be Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann. They were political and aware of the world around them.

(Ex-husband Gerry) Goffin and King were just trying to rewrite the last hit a group or artist had and come up with a new one. They ended up with some amazing songs. That could be the end of it were it not for the fact that Carole King has made her solo career about singing songs of peace, calls for universal brotherhood. So I don't think it's out of bounds to point out that she's suddenly silent.

"War Got Your Tongue?" is disgusting when anyone suffers from it. It's all the more disgusting when you've spent over three decades singing about peace and suddenly suffer an outbreak.

She had little to offer musically, beyond vague statements, while Vietnam raged. Now here we are in another quagmire, she's older, she should be wiser and she can't say a damn word about peace?

She's on a small label (and I think a good guess would be to assume that she may be the label in some way). There was nothing preventing her from weighing in with a new song or dusting off an earlier song. "Peace in the Valley" wasn't overlooked by me, as one e-mail wondered. I know the song. I note it in the Harper review and the original review of King's live album.

It's the weakest choice she could have made. It's not a "peace" song and people rolled their eyes when it came out the first time (1973). It was embarrassing then. I defended her at the time, as Vietnam raged, saying to my friends, "She just wrote a dopey song." Now? Now, it goes to pattern. When our nation is not officially involved in a war, she's happy to toss out peace songs like flowers. When we are, she's got nothing to offer.

So which is it? Is she for peace or not? We've been lied into an illegal war and people are dying, Carole King has no pressure from a corporation telling her what she can or cannot record, and she offers that weak ass song?

"Love the ones I can" was seen, in 1973, as weak enough to allow "universal appeal." You could be a hawk wanting to nuke Vietnam but hear the song and nod along. "Yep, can't love them Vietnamese!" you could tell yourself. It was so weak. It was weak then and it's even weaker now.

So where's "Time Gone By" or any of her stronger efforts? When this live album was recorded, the United States people had already experienced a "Change of Heart, Change of Mind" (to put in Carole terms). There was nothing risky about including an old song (and that's if she was unable to or scared to write a new one). That's not even going into the very rare interviews that she has given over the years.

So I think it's fair to ask what's happened? Did 9/11 change her opinions? If not, were her opinions real to begin with or was it just marketing? If she believed it then and believes it now (in peace), then she's a coward for not speaking out in song at a time when others already have and when the nation's mood is against the war.

Which brings us back to Vietnam and all the criticism some gave her then. She was considered the anti-Janis, the soft woman who was pliable. A lot of that criticism was based upon sexism (she wasn't seen as a "good time" gal -- putting out). But some of it did have validity. And now that we're once again a nation at war, where is Carole King?

C.I. noted that one person wrote in complaining and stated that I wouldn't do that to Carly Simon. C.I. wrote "check with Kat" but C.I. was correct. Carly Simon's career has not included a song on every album about peace. She's written some great songs. And some have been the sort that could be read as peace songs. But she's not big on the "universal," the way Carole King is (or Bono, or Cher, or go down the list). Simon writes introspective, personal songs. (Not a complaint, I enjoy Carly's work.) But the thing is, Carly put out an album at the same time Carole put out this load of crap.

Carly's album was a dual disc -- one side was music, one side DVD. So we can say they both put out double disc albums. On Carly's DVD, she's rather clear about where she stands on the war (no suprise, against it). Why Carole King can't do the same is beyond me.

In terms of "corporate pressure," Carly's album came out on Sony. That's a huge corporation. But that didn't stop Carly from noting the war. Carole's on a tiny label (that, like others she's recorded on in the last 15 or so years, may disappear before the next CD comes out). From a marketing stand point, speaking out against the war may have actually gotten Carole some press. Instead of just counting on those TV buys (the ads), she might have gotten some press.
But either a change in belief, a desire not to offend or the fact that she never believed in peace, allowed her to release a double album with 27 songs while the nation is at war and the people have turned against it, without ever commenting on the war. That doesn't cut it. Not when you've presented yourself, year after year, album after album, as the Peace Queen.

Joni Mitchell hasn't had new material in sometime. But she's been repackaging her work. If you listen to any of those CDs, you grasp quickly that she's pulling them together to comment on today. In repackaging only, Joni Mitchell can make more of a commentary on the world today than Carole in recording a new, double disc, album.

By the way, I disagree with C.I. on one thing regarding the uproar all of this has caused among visitors. C.I. wrote that Elaine and I were the writers of our pieces. (Elaine's "My pacificism isn't a cloak I wear some days and others put on war drag" is wonderful, read it.) That's true and it's false. I understand why C.I. is saying that -- people are too often stripped of their accomplishments and, as the most visible writer in the community, C.I. doesn't want to take any credit away from what Elaine and I wrote. Check with Elaine for her thoughts, but she and I typed each word ourselves, thought about them and went through a long process, that is true. It's also true, at least for me, that C.I. was there to offer input of, "I can follow that" and "You lost me there." But it did go beyond that. Not in terms of co-authorship. But certainly in terms of sparking an idea or new line of thought. Elaine did the same for me. It was a contribution that I appreciate and want to think them both for. It wasn't co-authorship, and I think that's what C.I. was trying to get across. (I know from Ava, C.I. hit the roof over visitors saying that Elaine and I had, basically, taken dictation. C.I. felt that robbed us not only of what we'd done -- written our pieces -- but also implied that we couldn't think for ourselves.)

But both of them made contributions. That might have just been in discussions, it might have been in helping me rework a phrase. C.I. wanted to be sure that Elaine and I received the credit for what we wrote. I want to be sure that C.I. and Elaine get the credit for the help they provided me with. I wrote it, it's my name on it, it's my thoughts. But I did have input from both. Elaine and my discussion early Wednesday, she was on lunch, it was earlier here. I think I called her . . . I'm trying to think why I called her. I know I was feeling blocked on the project I was working on. And I know I was just not in the mood to stay with it at that second. (I would have destroyed it out of frustration.) So I walked away, picked up the phone and dialed her. I looked at the clock and remember thinking, "She's on lunch" or should be. But I really don't know why I called her. Fate.

But I complained about feeling blocked in the first few minutes and she spoke of the guy writing the Force Wagon piece. She spoke about how that offended her -- the idea that there we must act RIGHT NOW and that there is only ONE option. And we spoke of how peace is the first thing that gets tossed out the window when some people come up against a choice. After that, I called C.I. and I was really angry. I was angry about what the man had written and, when C.I. said "Peace In The Valley," I realized I was angry about Carole King as well. That's when it all started clicking in my mind that Ben Harper's album, which I love, was the album Carole King could have recorded. That's when I went back to work on my project and then on the review (which I finished before finishing the art project).

There was no "plan" among the three of us. But the conversations among the three of us did spark me. (I'm sure they did Elaine as well.) So I thank them both and don't understimate their contributions. I do grasp C.I.'s fear that some will read a thank you and acknowledgement and say, "Oh, Kat didn't write that!" I wrote the review. But the assistance provided by Elaine and C.I. isn't something I'll underestimate. (I'll also note that C.I. pushes away credit for everything including things C.I. writes at The Common Ills.)

Now let's talk about Guns and Butter. I was on break from everything to listen to that. I listen to KPFA or music all the time but for Guns and Butter, I sit down and listen. I'd gotten up to go to the kitchen and put my plate and glass in the sink (I'd been eating lunch while I listened) because the show was over and I come back in and Bonnie Faulkner's doing announcements in a shaky voice. I thought, "Oh my God, something's happened!" I thought maybe she was about to be evicted from the studio (a leap long term listeners of KPFA might make) or, worse, that the government was shutting her down.

I was calling around trying to figure out what was going on when I got Sumner and he told me that while I was in the kitchen, I'd missed Bonnie's statement that she'd had to run upstairs to grab her notes for the announcements and that's why she was out of breath.

The episode was a rebroadcast of an interview Bonnie had done with Ted Gunderson who is a retired FBI agent and has worked with Jerry Brown and others. Gunderson believes that the 9/11 attacks were a government plot. He felt that way when he first heard the news and his research since has only strengthend his belief. Gunderson was in charge of a division in Los Angeles, FBI, before he retired, over 700 employees. Now Lee Hamilton and others don't want to hear from him. Suddenly, he's not credible.

He walks you through the government's history, with emphasis on Oklahoma City and the original attack on the WTC, to show you how he backs up his beliefs. He believes that bombs brought down the towers on 9/11.

Guns and Butter airs each Wednesday on KPFA at one o'clock Pacific time. Hopefully, it's a show you'll check out. Bonnie Faulkner's the host and, if you can take something outside the standard line, you'll enjoy the fine work she does.

Check out Betty's latest "When friends are awarded, Thomas Friedman goes fugue," C.I.'s "NYT: A columnist can tell it's news -- why can't the reporting section?" and really all the sites. I'm rushing because C.I.'s holding an entry so that Cedric and I can post and it can be noted.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Guns and Butter, tomorrow (Weds) KPFA 1:00 pm (Pacific)

If you missed it, Neil Young has a new album ready to go. If they release it as is, he'll have a song about impeaching the Bully Boy. Hopefully, you've also heard Pink's "Dear Mr. President." (Am I wrong or didn't 4 Non Blondes do a different song by the same name?)

I've been working on getting ready to write (that's always the biggest hurdle) the review of Ben Haper's Both Sides of the Gun and also working on an art project that's important both because of the focus and because of the fact that it's bill money for the next few months. Between that and activism, there's not been a great deal of time. Add in that everytime it sprinkles, forget rains, just sprinkles, I go running for the window and stare out entranced. If there's ever a flood, I'll be the first to die because I'll be entraced by the water. (Which may have something to do with my astrology sign.)

Shawn e-mailed wondering if I didn't like Harper's CDs and that was why I hadn't written it yet? I love them. I love them too much. I still haven't listened to the third CD (the bonus one) because I keep playing the other two. (They're on right now in fact.)

But bills are the thing that keep us planted firmly on earth with a heel on our backs if not our heads. And last week was hanging out and activism so I got nothing accomplished on it. I did show it to Betty and her children. Betty gave me some really strong input and I'll incorporate at least one suggestion. (Thank you, Betty.) But that's got to be a focus or there's no food on the table, no point in switching on the light switch, et al.

I could be writing it right now but then I wouldn't be writing here. Trade offs.

On KPFA tomorrow, Guns and Butter airs. So don't forget to catch it. Also, I'm reading Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal. (We're hoping to do something on that this weekend at The Third Estate Sunday Review. I should already be done with it but I'm behind on everything.) It's a book worth reading.

And here are the details on the Guns and Butter benefit next month:

May 2nd (Tuesday)
7:00 pm
Grand Lake Theater
3200 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA
(510) 704-0268

Let me add two more things, read Ava and C.I.'s "TV: Katie Was a Cheerleader" (must read) and check out Wally's site. The Daily Jot always makes me laugh. (Cedric's supposed to post tonight, so check him out as well.)