New American Music — The Obama Trilogy

March 30, 2011

As an advocate of journalistic transparency, I must tell you at the start that I am not an objective reporter here. Barry Gremillion is a dear friend of mine and we have been creative colleague for many years. I’m an unabashed fan of his music. But I’m not writing as a music critic or even as a musician; I’m writing as a poet and social critic as always but if you have trusted the observations of The Poet’s Eye in the past, please indulge me now.

Mr. Gremillion has only recently issued his latest contribution to contemporary American music, a trilogy of compositions aptly entitled The Obama Trilogy. The three choral and instrumental pieces were inspired by the speeches of Barak Obama. Gremillion’s lush and arresting compositions use the recorded words of the President as scenic touchstones to his richly narrative and textural music.

Help Me Believe, which was adapted from Obama’s Tuscon speech consoling the Nation after the tragic shootings there in January, is solemnly rendered for a capella chorus. Like the speech that inspired it, the quasi-Gregorian prelude sets the perfect tone of reverence for the rest of the trilogy.

Relentless, the centerpiece of the trilogy, is also my personal favorite of the three sections. Musically it is stirring as Stravinski, stark as Glass, evocative as Copeland. The 16 minute piece is brave and satisfying and engaging from start to finish. It is written as solidly as Zappa’s best orchestral works. As an observer of Gremillion’s work for some forty years, it is clear to me that this piece represents the creation of an artist who has hit his relaxed stride as a significant voice in modern American composition.

Selmiyya is the most challenging of the three. It expresses a palpable tension between Mid-Eastern and Western voices, modernity pulling against tradition, the seething groan of liberty waiting to be born is overflown by the modulated voice of calm hope and reason singing, ‘Selmiyya,’ the chant of peace used by the Egyptian protestors this year as quoted in Obama’s 2011 speech, ┬áThe piece evokes the din of revolution that we hear today in capitols across the Mid-East and Northern Africa.

Besides being a joy for the ears and the mind and the imagination, Gremillion’s trilogy is a significant and encouraging statement about both its subject and the vitality and depth of American music. Before President Obama gave his Jan. 12 address in Tuscon, the local symphony orchestra played Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. This turgid but moving work was an appropriate prelude for Obama’s speech and it strikes me that Gremillion’s composition is the perfect epilogue. I’m also struck by the audacity of the composer’s ambitious undertaking. It reminds me of Whitman’s memorable songs of celebration for President Lincoln. Only a poet as vast as Whitman could have treated the subject with the sincere dignity it deserved. The same is true in the case of the Obama Trilogy. I’m sorry, but Eminem could not have pulled this off, folks, even if Diddy did the production.

It has been noted that writing about music is akin to dancing about architecture, so before I further demonstrate this truth, you can listen to Relentless from the Obama Trilogy for yourself by clicking HERE. The work speaks for itself. Gremillion’s remarkable composition and production skills are evident and he is assisted by a cadre of wonderfully talented and professional musicians and singers. The Poet’s Eye knows an enjoyable way to spend half-an-hour when it sees one. If I cannot write with absolute authority about contemporary chamber music in its particulars, I can assert that this piece of music should establish Gremillion as one of the most important composers in American music today.

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The Adventures of KADAFFY DUCK

March 18, 2011

Anybody who has ever driven a car knows about the ‘blind spot.’ It’s the place just behind you where no matter how cleverly you position your mirrors and no matter the breadth of your peripheral vision, you just can’t see. In life we all have our blind spots, either physical ones or mental ones. I have a blind spot, a perceptual impediment, when it comes to the subject of Libya. Here is my problem. I’m a verbal synesthesiac. It’s what dooms me to my occupation as a poet. I can see words. I don’t see them as groups of letters on a page; they are concrete things to me. They have colors and shapes and sounds and flavors. I can almost touch them. Anyway, whenever someone says ‘Libya,’ the word is so close to ‘Labia’ that the most distracting images spring to my mind. I imagine a romantic desert land full of exotic veiled nomadic women with huge collagen nether lips, pouting and puckering like moist oases. So, you see my problem. I have trouble maintaining my objectivity. But I’m not the only one.

The Poet’s Eye is wide with amazement at the many and subtle ways that the political Right can find to beat up on Barak Obama. Every world event provides a new opportunity for them to frame the questions so as to put him in a ‘damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t’ position. One of their favorite ploys is to cast him as indecisive and slow to move on important questions, “He should have done more, quicker,” is the refrain. We hear it in reference to the perceived inaction of our country in the matter of the Libyan insurrection. This is a completely specious accusation.

In keeping with my interest in megalomaniacs and millionaires, dictators and demagogues, I have long been fascinated by Colonel Gaddafi. Wait, no, that’s Kaddafi. Or maybe it’s Qadhafi? There are whole web sites dedicated to the different ways to spell his name. I call him KaDaffy Duck. Military dictators have their own genre of comedy. It derives heavily from the Theater of Pomposity. There have been so many day-time TV quality dictators in my lifetime that they become interchangeable and it’s hard to distinguish one from another. It takes a rare amount of flamboyance and panache or cruelty to stand out as a Military Dictator. Castro is hard to top for pure animal charisma but QDaffy has to take the cake for arrogance and caprice. Plus, he has an innate sense of theater.

KDaffy probably wore out his welcome with the world when he pulled the Lockerbie scam. Dictators enjoy a certain amount of immunity from world scorn if they play nice with international money and only beat up on their own people. But patience with extra-territorial adventures, especially ones which involve the violent deaths of innocents, is remarkably thin. And, if blowing up the airplane were not bad enough QDaffy had the temerity to gloat about it when securing the release of the bomber from Scotland to be ensconced as a monument in Tripoli. That move may have been the result of cold petroleum diplomacy but it didn’t play well for the Duck on the world stage.

There is a certain purity in self-delusion, especially on the scale portrayed by QDaffy. It’s almost noble… to believe in yourself or your own legend in zealous defiance of all facts and evidence. It’s why we grudgingly admire people like Charlie Sheen and KDaffy. They are examples of what happens when headstrong children are given too much money and the latitude to indulge their most frightening excesses. True insanity has no hint of self-doubt, and we are all naturally attracted to confidence. But it seems that now KDaffy’s role as brat of the world has worn thin. Even though you don’t have to leave the continent of Africa to find a half-dozen despots whose brutality exceeds the antics of the Duck, he has committed the unpardonable sin of becoming tiresome, so he has to go.

As I write, the associated powers that be have declared KDuck an international pariah and have declared a ‘No Fly Zone’ which is a Newspeak euphemism for “We’re gonna bomb yer ass if and when we feel like it,” It’s over for KDaffy. The world awaits in morbid curiosity to find out just how his demise will unfold. Often the most cinematic and satisfying thing about the story of a dictator is the fitting end he meets. Will he hang by his thumbs like Mussolini or skulk in his bunker and take the coward’s way out like Hitler? What form of poetic justice will be his sentence? Maybe he’ll surrender figuring that he can run his show in some smaller venue like the World Court for a few more seasons. I could sell tickets to that.

I’m being charitable here. There is really only one way to end a dictatorship based on a cult of personality like KDuck’s. You have to cut the head off. Exile won’t do. He must be murdered or martyred in one way or another; only the details remain. Will he be taken out by some anonymous drone attack? Will he fall on his own rattling sword? Maybe he’ll try a disappearing act and sell T-shirts to conspiracy buffs for decades to come. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of KaDaffy Duck.

All of a sudden I began to change
I was on the dance floor acting strange
Flapping my arms I began to cluck
Look at me..
I’m the disco duck — Rick Dees


R.I.P. Owsley Stanley

March 16, 2011

By the time I reached Haight-Ashbury in the magic summer of ’67 things had already started going downhill. Superspade had been murdered the week before I arrived and it was all the talk on the Street. Some said the cops killed him, others blamed the Angels and a bad meth deal. The place was crawling with underaged runaways and semi-shocked tourists. We had all arrived with flowers in our hair but those flowers were pretty limp by August. Nobody had told me how cold the night air can be in San Francisco. I claimed a big green bedspread at the Digger’s free store and it became my coat and my robe and my bed. Somehow I had inherited a sixteen year old girlfriend and we crashed a couple of doors up the hill from the Dead House in an abandoned apartment with no running water. I was forced to learn to roll my own joints. Nothing was quite like they said it would be in Time Magazine.

The whole Hippie thing was new to me, as it was to everyone, even the ones who were inventing it as they went along. The counter-culture had as many faces as the number of reporters who were trying to describe it. I looked at myself as one of these reporters. I hadn’t quite made up my mind whether or not to identify myself with the movement but I had three years of journalism experience by the time I was 18, so I felt comfortable in my role as an observer. These were also the days when young writers like Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe were putting a new face on journalism, one where objectivity was no longer the prime virtue. It was no longer enough to report the game from the press-box or even the sidelines; we now wanted our reporters to be suited up and on the field.

I had begun my research into the counter-culture movement in 1965 when I read about a drug that students were taking to expand their minds. I was a bright-eyed young reporter in his junior year of high-school attending a journalism conference in Ft. Worth. Bill Moyers and Dan Rather were the headliners at the conference and during the Q&A session after they spoke, someone asked what they thought about this new drug that was all the rage in California, called LSD. I had never heard of it. so I immediately sought to correct this deficit in my cultural awareness. This began a two-year-long journey through the annals of chemical mind expansion. I read everything I could get my hands on, gnawing my way through Huxley, Leary, Alpert, Watts, Crowley, Coleridge as well as Gurdjief, Freud and Burroughs and such examples of the new underground press as reached the bleached plains of West Texas. The subject had captured my imagination. From today’s perspective, I can’t believe how naive I was. Now any twelve-year-old can tell you what ‘acid’ is.

But this was 1965 and I lived in a town with three faith-based universities. I was a young Republican who wasn’t quite sure about the Beatles yet. Certainly there was no peer pressure on me to try LSD, none of my friends or anyone I’d ever met had tried it. The vivid words of Aldous Huxley describing his experiences with mescaline were the proximate cause in my decision to experiment on myself. My head was full of science-fiction and the Playboy Philosophy and like many of my contemporaries who were reared in the beige, repressive Eisenhower decade, I was the perfect loam to nourish the seeds of a cultural revolution. I knew that something was seriously missing from my life and I suspected it had to do with spirituality. I had already satisfied myself as to the fraud of organized religion but my spiritual quest was only beginning. The possibility of a glimpse into the hidden world of the mind was too much for me to resist.

By the time I found myself in the dog days of the Summer of Love I had taken a half-dozen LSD trips. Upon debarking the VW van that had brought my friends and I to San Francisco, one of the first things that I heard was the sotto voce of the dealers whispering ‘Acid’ as you passed them on the street. And some of them were saying something else as well. They were saying, “Owsley.” Apparently the king of the underground drug cooks, the one whose very name was the gold-standard for LSD, had issued a new batch of acid. Owsley was already a legend by that time. His product was cheap and pure and it was everywhere. With the distribution network provided by the Hell’s Angels and the publicity machine created by the Acid Tests and the Grateful Dead, he had made millions, according to the folklore. Naturally it was my duty as a responsible reporter to try it.

I think they were calling it Yellow Sunshine, but truthfully, it is hard for me to remember; there were so many colors and brand names for home-brewed drugs. I have invented several myself. I remember that it was good acid. I lolled in Panhandle Park and listened to Big Brother and Quicksilver play from the stage of a flat-bed truck while the Hog Farmers passed out free sandwiches. Owsley had cooked the drugs that were in my head and also had designed the sound system through which the bands were playing. For this I owe him a very pleasant afternoon.

So, I was sad when I heard that Owsley Stanley had died last week. ‘The Bear,’ as he was called in songs by the Dead, was one of the most influential personages of the hippie movement. Owsley didn’t invent LSD, he wasn’t even a chemist. He found the formula for acid in the basement of the UC chemistry library in Berkeley and followed it like a recipe for fudge. “Somebody had to do it, so I did,” he said. But he did it very well and more importantly, he did it at just the right time. Our culture was ripe as a pinata and acid was just the stick to pop it.

Owsley died in his adopted home of Australia at the age of 76, not of a drug overdose or the cancerous residual effects of benzine chemistry, but in an auto accident. After his imprisonment in the States in the early seventies, not for LSD but for pot, he had gone downunder to avoid further legal predation in this country. In his later years he espoused the benefits of an all meat diet. The Poet’s Eye always gets misty when one of the true iconoclasts passes to the next level. I’m getting misty now. It looks like a Purple Haze.

Purple haze all in my brain
lately things don’t seem the same
Acting funny and i don’t know why
excuse me while i kiss the sky–Jimi Hendrix


Hardware Upgrade — Viva La Evolucion!

March 15, 2011

I am working on a fifteen-year-old Mac. It had two other owners before I got it. It’s a hand-me-down but I love it because it has been a solid workhorse. And I understand it. But everything is out of date, the processor is slow and the operating system is written in Cuneiform and the applications in various other dead languages. I am told that the best porn is completely unavailable to me because I can’t update my Flash Player. I’m the picture of obsolescence. The slang of the internet has evolved beyond my quaint vocabulary.

I love this old Mac like I love our Constitution. They have both served well in their times. But they are both out of date. They have both been adaptable in a fast changing world but they are now at the edge of their capacity to change. Modifications and upgrades and cludges and amendments are no longer effective and are slowing the system with entropy. It’s time for some new hardware. It’s amazing what a short distance it is between Cutting Edge and Dark Ages.

Thomas Jefferson didn’t expect the Constitution to last forever any more than Steve Jobs thought that the Apple II would be state-of-the-art forever. In fact, Jefferson was surprised that our Republic lasted past his lifetime. He recommended a revolution every generation or so. From time to time everything needs a hardware upgrade.

We have become attached to our Constitution in the same way that I’m attached to this old Mac. I know it’s little quirks and idiosynchronicities. I know how to make it work for me. I’m comfortable with it. Nation-years and computer-years are ways to measure relative life-span much as we speak of dog-years. A decade is an Epoch in computer years. By the measure of World History, a long life for a democracy is a couple of centuries. Our Constitution and this Mac are both old. The dog has already died.

Things wear out. Clothes, machines, relationships, technologies and institutions all wear out eventually. We mend or repair them when we can but at some point they need to be replaced. Our Constitution, as much as we love and revere it, is an abacus trying to function in a world of Cray Supercomputers. When the chips for our governmental computer were designed, it took two weeks to get a message from Boston to Baltimore. There were less people in the whole country than live in NYC today and most were farmers. Our system worked very well in that world. Most government activity happened at the local level. Regional jurisdictions like States made sense. We don’t live in that world anymore.

Since the beginning of our Federal Republic, there has been systemic tension between the central government and the States. It’s built in to our Constitution. From the very beginning it has been the weak point in our Democracy, cause of strife and disagreement and even war. Today this institutional contradiction threatens to once again rend the fabric of our society. We see it in the continuing health care battle and in the budget clashes between States and Feds over who will bear the costs of our social welfare programs.

We have never quite resolved the ticklish issue of whether we are one unified nation or an association of individual states. The argument plagued the Founders and ever since it has confounded our Courts and even led to Civil War. ‘States Rights’ and National priorities have been in perpetual conflict. The two viewpoints have rubbed against each other like tectonic plates for over two centuries. We can always hear the rumbling of an impending quake. It has become the background noise for our Democracy, humming and squealing like the fan in my outdated Mac.

The Poet’s Eye sees two possible outcomes from the structural conflict between State and Federal governments. They both depend on money. One is that our Federal Government will go broke and collapse and the States will form smaller federations or become their own countries. Texas and Alaska would prosper in this scenario. The other possibility is that the States will go bankrupt under the weight of Federal regulation sans finance and become vestigial and largely symbolic entities like sports teams.

The second outcome is more likely because it better refers to our real world. Regionalism is no longer a workable option. Our world is smaller than it was in the Age of Regionalism. When there is a tsunami in Asia, it pours into the living rooms of people throughout the world. As our technology evolves, it will be harder and harder to maintain regional differences and our two-tiered system of State and Federal governments will make less and less sense. The persuasion of mass electronic media has homogenized our nation in the same way that it will inevitably homogenize the world. The memes conveyed by means of television drama and comedy shows and movies and magazines are the templates for our uniformity. Thanks to television and the advertising industry, the American Ethic is pervasively deployed in every corner of our country. We all ‘know’ the mean streets of NY and L.A. as well as Andy Griffith’s small town America. Embedded in every minute of programming are a set of coded values, the memes that we all internalize. No matter where you live in America, you have your Miranda Rights memorized. Teenagers in every zip code know the intricate and infinite implications of the word ‘Whatever.’ Regionalism is no longer relevant except in cooking or marketing.

Nothing would put a gleam in The Poet’s Eye faster than a new, streamlined, up-to-date computer and a new, lighter and more efficient government. I can go to the Apple Store for the computer, for the government, I think it will take a Constitutional Convention. Viva La Evolucion!

You say you’ll change the Constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead–Lennon


R.I.P. American Labor

March 9, 2011

A tear wells in The Poet’s Eye for the labor union movement. The plaintive wail of a lonely Woody Guthrie harmonica echoes the plight of American workers. It’s a sad grainy black and white picture.

It’s sad because workers in today’s world are so programmed and demoralized that they have surrendered their only real tool of power. Besides their sweat and their hours, workers have only one lever of power, their unity. The American Labor Movement and Unionism are largely responsible for the rise of the American Middle Class and for the past several generations both have suffered a similar decline. The final nail in the coffin of any meaningful union power in our country was probably driven in 1981 when Ronald Reagan got the government into the business of union busting by firing all the air-traffic controllers. That pretty well set the mood of the ruling class toward unions for the next generation.

Technology and the nature of the workplace and globalization have allowed management and ownership to pretty much have their way with modern workers. Assembly lines have become cubicles where workers can be effectively isolated. Plus, unionism has fallen out of fashion. We get images of red-knuckled Teamsters and corruption and gangsters.

Yes, Woody Guthrie’s song would be sad and blue and mournful as it tells of strong, able hands, hands that once made things, idly twitching on computer keys or wringing themselves in worry over how they will feed their families.

There is a good reason why Whitman wrote epic poems to the nobility of the American worker and that Copeland wrote symponies to the common man and Woody sang anthems of the suffering and endurance of the working class. It’s because our nation and its prosperity are built by the sinewy arm of the American worker. The American worker showed the rest of the world how to do it faster, smarter, cheaper and the American labor movement set world standards for efficiency, safety and dignity in the workplace. Our concept of what a job means was created from union benchmarks like the minimum wage, the eight hour workday, unemployment insurance and workplace safety standards. The union movement is the difference between twelve-year-olds working in coal mines and a workforce with a Middle Class standard of living. The union movement defined what a job meant even for non-union workers. For the past century you didn’t even need to belong to a union in order to benefit from the advances in equity achieved by the union movement.

This is why the oligarchs are so intent in their purpose of completely annihilating the labor movement. Even though they have largely defeated the unions in private industry, public workers unions persist and these remnants of solidarity are still a threat to the greed machine. They present a bad example of labor empowerment. This is why the oligarchs are spending so much money and effort in Wisconsin and various other states to break the backs of public service unions. State governments find themselves in the capitalist camp.

Somewhere the songs of Joe Hill and Woody and T-Bone Slim still ring. The recent protests and solidarity marches in state capitols throughout the country show it. We find ourselves in a time when the whole concept of what a Job consists of is being redefined. Capital and Labor and Government are all going to be forced to make adjustments. As long as collective bargaining is possible, those adjustments will be possible. If we kill collective bargaining, we kill any chance of peaceful resolution and these matters will inevitably be decided in the streets.

“When the Union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun,
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?
But the Union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever! Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever! For the Union makes us strong.”


Healthcare or WhoCares?

February 15, 2011

The insurance racketeers are about to place themselves in a truly poetic position. Through their paid legislative and judicial representatives, they have chosen to raise the Constitutional question of whether the government can or cannot mandate that individuals purchase healthcare coverage. This seems an odd tactic for an industry that rakes in big bucks from State mandated auto insurance. The Poet’s Eye was fairly wide with amazement when the State of Texas mandated that we all buy auto insurance. I was amazed that any single industry had the political suck to arrange that, by law, we must purchase their product. I imagined that if the egg industry had that much clout, we would all be required to eat omelettes for breakfast each morning. The idea of mandated insurance has plenty of precedent, every state has mandated auto-insurance. But is it Constitutional?


The attornies-general of several states are suing the government over the Healthcare Act, saying that it is un-Constitutional because of the individual mandate. In the process of this litigation, the question will inevitably arise: If it is un-Constitutional for the government to mandate that we buy health insurance, then why isn’t it also un-Constitutional for the State to require auto insurance? The standard argument used to support State-mandated auto insurance is that it’s not really a mandate because you have the option of not driving. It will be interesting to see how this argument works when they try to tell us that triple-by-pass surgery or an appendectomy is an elective procedure.

The Poet’s Eye expects to see quite a rodeo in the next year, complete with clowns and plenty of bull-pucky, as the insurance mafia saddles up for the fight to maintain their revenue stream. For what the industry is prepared to spend on propaganda and legal costs and political pay-offs to roll back ObamaCare, we could finance a gleaming new National Healthcare program which would cost us less and deliver better care. But that won’t happen because a barrage of lies and phony arguments designed to completely obscure the facts and befuddle the public into supporting nonsensical positions which are directly against their own self interest, are about to be unleashed. If they must, the insurance cartels will buy politicians, elections, whole television networks if necessary, to repeat the phony numbers and rum-headed reasoning which they hope will confuse or scare us away from the simply logical idea of a single-payer, not-for-profit National healthcare system which would cost less and deliver more.

The reason that all drivers are required to purchase insurance is to protect the typical tax-paying, Lexus driving, law-abiding motorist from being left with the bill when a drunk illegal immigrant with eight kids in the car T-bones them at the intersection of Liability Lane and Shiddowdaluck Rd. Nobody seems to be thinking about the financial car wreck that happens every time one of those eight kids gets taken to an emergency room to secure primary healthcare. Through our County, State and Federal taxes, we all bear the liability of a poorly functioning healthcare delivery system. That system is working poorly for the intended recipients of care, but it functions very well for the profiteers who are taking their share off the top. Besides the insurance gaming, graft made possible by the fractured and piecemeal nature of our current programs adds to the gross inefficiency which makes our system cost nearly 20% of GDP while other, more sensible countries get more equitably delivered healthcare for 8 to 10 percent of GDP. This is the indisputable, gold-clad, mathematical fact that you will NEVER hear uttered on Fox News.

The question remains, Is it Constitutional for the government to require that its citizens purchase a product on which someone makes a profit? In my reading of the Constitution, I don’t find anything to suggest that the government might enjoy this power. Even if What is good for GM is good for America, they can’t mandate that we all drive Chevrolets. An individual mandate also does absolutely nothing to eliminate the real problem which is that the insurance industry is an unnecessary middle man sucking the system of its viability. Their profit is the difference between paying 10 and 20 percent of our GDP for healthcare. The individual mandate is nothing more than a further capitulation to the insurance bandits who designed it and are now making a charade of fighting it in court. Plus, its just a sloppy way to move toward the real goal which is Universal Healthcare.

What needs to happen instead of forcing individuals to buy products from which others profit, is to issue a healthcare card to every American at birth which would identify them to a smooth-running, not for profit system which would dispense healthcare with an equal hand to all citizens. Anything less than this will result in some degree or version of the current two-tiered system in which those who can afford the best care will get it and the rest will stand in line for the leftovers. As a nation, it is time to ask the question, “Is healthcare a human right? Or is access to healthcare a luxury which should only be available to those who can afford it?” How, as a society, we answer this question will determine what our system looks like. The Poet’s Eye would love to see compassion conquer greed as we respond.

Oh help me, please doctor, I’m damaged
There’s a pain where there once was a heart
It’s sleepin, it’s a beatin’
Can’t ya please tear it out, and preserve it
Right there in that jar?–Stones


What’s the Point of a Revolution Without General Copulation?

February 9, 2011

One of my all time favorite pieces of theater is the Peter Weiss musical play “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.” a title which stubbornly but appropriately will not fit on any theater marquee so it’s usually called simply Marat/Sade. It is a play within a play, rather a play about an imaginary play which was supposedly performed by the inmates of an insane asylum in the suburbs of Paris shortly after the French Revolution. One of the themes of this grisly farce is that conditions After the Revolution are much the same as they were Before the Revolution save for thousands of heads in baskets. This is the sad fate of most revolutions. After a frenzy of catharsis, revenge and changes in nomenclature, the same conditions persist, driven by human nature and the indelible fact that some people are dominant while others are submissive, some are generous, others greedy, some are smart and others are stupid, some will inevitably rule and the rest will be ruled. Our American Revolution was a lucky fluke as revolutions go. There was a good, clean outcome and a fresh start was possible for the new republic on a virgin continent full of resources and possibilities. Most revolutions don’t enjoy these perfect hot-house conditions and more resemble the Second American Revolution which we call the Civil War, or the Russian or the French or Chinese revolutions where reaction to terror and chaos resulted in regimes equally as autocratic and repressive as the ones that were overthrown and after all the crying was done, the same social problems existed which caused the revolution in the first place only under different management.

Any autocrat can tell you that revolutions are usually the work of a restless or unruly middle class. Peasant revolts are easy to quell, just give them more bread and circuses and hire more police. But when a middle class arises and you have millions of over-educated, under-employed people rattling around who can read and write troublesome literature and organize themselves against you, this causes a tyrant to toss in his bed. Egypt is used to tyrants after about 3,000 years of them. Back in the Day, a pharaoh could scratch an X in the sand and say, “Give me a pyramid, right here.” But that was before the internet. Now the Israelites can go to Moses.com. and download the marching orders to their iPads which are ever so much lighter and handier than those old stone tablets.

Now we see a veritable orgy of revolutions taking place in the various monarchies and military dictatorships with which we’ve happily done business for the past half-century or so, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Yemen are all joining in. Before the left-over neo-cons from the Bush era start slapping their chests and proclaiming that their prophesies about democracy breaking out in the Middle East like a glorious disease because of our invasion of Iraq are coming true, this student of history and revolution begs a little time for reflection.

Consider for a moment, the fact that elections are simply ritualized revolutions. They are ways that we, as civilized people, have found to deal with class rivalry in the same way that we use sports events to channel the natural rivalry between schools, cities and countries. Watching the wall-to-wall cable coverage of the Egyptian uprising cannot help but remind me of other mass events like unruly soccer games and the Altamont Rock Concert and the ’68 Chicago Riots at which I was present. Revolution is 90 per cent theater. All mass events are spectacle, which is a form of theater and this brings us back to Marat/Sade. The play-within-the-play portrays the much-embellished but true story of Marat, the radical pamphleteer of the Revolution, who was stabbed in his bath by the young, idealistic country girl, Charlotte Corday. You’ve seen it depicted in David’s famous painting. Corday is portrayed by a narcoleptic inmate who keeps falling asleep before she can consummate the act of assassinating the author of The Terror. In revolutionary myth, Corday represents the disappointed hopes of the naive masses. All they had wanted when they took to the streets of Paris was liberty, equality and fraternity served with a crust of bread, much like their modern comrades in Cairo, and what they ended with after thousands of heads had rolled was a more efficient despot than the one they had beheaded. The incipient revolutions that we see in the Mid East are in the first naive stages. The Poet’s Eye hopes that they will sustain and not be as ephemeral as the sliding pages of Facebook.

The first test will be whether the simple decapitation of the entrenched military bureaucracy by deleting Mubarak will suffice to correct the demonstrator’s complaints. My guess from superficial observation is that the oligarchs who now rule will likely remain in power with the help of a few cosmetic changes and re-branding of the dictatorship. No amount of tweets will be able to repair the rotten timbers of a corrupt system. I’m sorry, but 140 characters is just not enough to define a revolution. Getting the attention of the regime and the rest of the world is only the first step of a revolution. The following steps are less glorious and successively more painful.

One remarkable thing about the Egyptian uprising is the seeming absence of a dominant leader. At least from the vantage point of the world news media, no charismatic or symbolic figure has emerged to act as spokesman for the very evident popular movement. No Marat or Robespierre is in view, If crowds the size of the ones in Cairo appeared anywhere in America, every spokes-type from Glenn Beck to Al Sharpton would be breaking out their bullhorns and trying to jump in front of the march. There doesn’t seem to be any group or faction or party providing a focal point or philosophy for the general uprising. If nature abhors a vacuum, politics hates it even more. Someone will step to the front in Egypt. We can only hope that the person will be a benign genius dedicated to the prosperity of his country rather than the dominance of his click or clan. I recommend a poet. But more likely there is a young Egyptian artillery officer gazing across the Suez Canal right now with a Napoleonic gleam in his eye.

What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?

String up every aristocrat
Out with the priests and let then live on their fat

Four years after we started fighting
Marat keeps up with his writing
Four years after the bastille fell
He still recalls the old battle yell

“Down with all of the ruling class
Throw all the generals out on their ass”

Marat we’re poor
And the poor stay poor
Marat don’t make us wait any more
We want our rights and we don’t care how
We want a revolution
Now
—inmate chorus, Marat/Sade

Listen to Lrod perform music from Marat /Sade

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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