I have been trying to keep very quiet the past few days, as I have found myself increasingly disgusted by the extremism back home. It is as if we have turned ourselves into the exact mirror image of what we believe is so radical about “them”.
Ironically, during this same period, I have spent a few days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Morocco with my in-laws. It is really incredible to go to a Muslim country and see just how radically different our imaginary portrait of a Muslim country and its people are from reality. Hopefully, I will write about my first Ramadan experience in Morocco soon.
In any event, a good barometer of how people think and feel is to watch how phone companies, banks, and car companies depict their audience’s aspirations. Here are a few good commercials from Moroccan television.
I have recently finished reading The Sultan’s Shadow: One Family’s Rule at the Crossroads of East and West by Christiane Bird and Geoff Dyer’s ode to Jazz, But Beautiful. The Sultan’s Shadow was slow at the beginning, often with great emphasis placed on things that had little interest to me (like the details of the Sultan’s palaces in Zanzibar), but overall was a compelling read about a time and place in history that I know almost nothing about: Eighteen Century Zanzibar and East Africa, Omani control over the region and the entrance of European Colonialism, the East African slave and ivory trades, and the British fascination with locating the source of the Nile.
But Beautiful was more of a mix bag. At times, I felt that Dyer was simply trying too hard or that his fictionalized vignettes of the historic accounts of famous Jazz musicians did not always add to a greater understanding of musicians or their craft. For example, the story related to Thelonious Monk reads identical to the Straight No Chaser documentary. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayals of the Lester Young and Charles Mingus. If there was an overall theme it was that the the underlying tragedy of the Jazz musician — beyond even that of racial oppression — was addiction, vitally affecting each character and, instead of enhancing their performance, ultimately inhibiting it (maybe with the sole exception of Mingus whose addiction and principle personality trait was to devour everything in his path). Finally, although I did not particularly enjoy the piece on Chet Baker (mainly influenced by the haunting Let’s Get Lost documentary), I found Dyer’s analysis of Baker’s aesthetic as a sign of his inability to express either beauty or compassion as quite interesting.
And now – due mainly to the fact that for a number of personal reasons I am in a rush to read as much as possible by the end of the year – I have continued to add new books to my list. Like an insensitive ex, I have shamelessly moved on. I have already started David Mitchell’s new The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet, about the Dutch trading post at Dejima, Japan at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. As always with Mitchell, the beginning is slow as I adjust to whatever vernacular he has created for his story, and then it picks up very quickly. New on my roster are:
Nice parody of the ridiculous cry to change the Fourteenth Amendment.
Notice that these brain trusts never mention how this change (or the Arizona immigration law) will create a radical new burden on citizens to prove their citizenship at the beck and call of the state. Remember how incensed Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was when the police arrested him in his own home? Now imagine every single human being born in the U.S. trying to prove that his or her parents are legally documented? Would U.S. citizens need to get a passport before giving birth? Would all drivers and pedestrians walking down the street, regardless of citizenship, need to be able to prove residency at the drop of a dime? Heck, someone from New Jersey may sure look suspicious in Arizona.
And, of course, it goes without saying that by turning newborns into illegal immigrants, you don’t decrease illegal immigration; you just increase the number of illegal immigrants.
Every generation over the past two hundred years has made the same claims about the threats of immigration. And here we are today. The same Constitution, speaking the same language, and yet the same b.s.
Whenever there is the opportunity for the slightest fear, the brave Republicans come running to tell us to be scared out of our minds, and that fate of the nation is dependent on the following three step program: (i) restrict the rights of individuals, (ii) liberate the corporations, and (iii) send in the troops.
There does appear to be a theme; mainly that my Monk phase lives on. But, besides getting hold of In Action (a live date from a brief stint with Gigi Gryce on sax), the majority of these albums are based on Monk compositions. Steve Lacy’s Reflections, for example, was one of the first albums ever dedicated to Monk compositions, recorded in 1958 before Monk had made his popular breakthrough. The second Lacy album, Straight Horn, is made up three Monk compositions, two by Cecil Taylor and one by Charlie Parker. This leads me to the rationale behind At Newport with both Gigi Gryce/Donald Bird’s group and the Cecil Taylor Quartet: Gigi Gryce, as mentioned had been a Monk sideman, and Steve Lacy plays sax here for Cecil Taylor whose style at this early stage in his career was arguably Monk-inspired.
Finally, I acquired the smooth Paul Desmond/Gerry Mulligan combo because besides being so easy and pleasant to listen to, it serves to counter-balance the angularity of the other musicians here (and to appease the wife if she suddenly wonders why I bought even more screechy Jazz).