May 9, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 1:59 am

6. Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down (Nonesuch)

- having successfully completed his so-called Californian trilogy Cooder continues the unexpected solo resurgence it announced by reasserting his musical pedigree in folk, blues, gospel and Tex-Mex infused roots rock as he summons the spirit of Woody Guthrie, vents his considerably enraged spleen, makes a series of pertinent political points about US foreign and financial policy via an unflattering comparison between bankers and Jesse James, a brutal Christmas protest song and, for light relief, an inch perfect imitation of John Lee Hooker, and comes up with what must be close to his best album ever

7. Juju – In Trance (Real World)

- English guitarist and desert blues producer Justin Adams and Gambian singer and riti ace Juldeh Camara made two outstanding albums as a duo, with 2007’s “Soul Science” and 2009’s “Tell No Lies” setting a benchmark that was going to be hard to keep hitting; so they formed a band, with added bass and drums, expanded the 2010 “Trance Sessions” EP to full album length without wasting a single note, even on the 15 minute Deep Sahara, and hit it again, focusing even more closely on the wailing, sawing, seemingly eternal groove and letting Camara’s ecstatic one-string fiddle take their driving, droning West African trance-blues deeper into the music’s psychedelic heart

8. P J Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)

- Harvey says that, each time she makes an album, she gets as far away from its predecessor as she can, so don’t be expecting another “White Chalk”, or even another “A Woman A Man Walked By”, actually a duo record with long time collaborator John Parish – “Let England Shake”, which features Parish, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, a drummer (sometimes) and almost no-one else, is therefore not much like any of its predecessors in the Harvey catalogue (Polly Jean or, for that matter, Mick), even though it’s still somehow archetypal Harvey (Polly Jean) – kicking off with a title track that features a combination of auto harp, xylophone and trombone (don’t worry, guitars, drums and keyboards are just around the corner) expresses a concern that England’s “dancing days are done” because its “blood won’t rise again”, it takes a long, hard and unflinching look at England itself, its place in the world, and Harvey’s own place in it (England and, therefore, the world) and, with multiple references to war in general, and several to World War I and Gallipoli in particular, possibly to emphasize the unending cycle it represents, doesn’t much like what it sees

9. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

- Vile, whose cool name, which is apparently his real one, and ultra cool album title ought immediately to attract your attention, seems to have left The War On Drugs in favour of his solo career, although he plays a little on their latest record and his War On Drugs partner Adam Granduciel is in his live band (and all over this album) – the move appears to have worked well as both produced outstanding, and arguably even exceptional, albums during 2011, with Vile’s a considerable advance on his previous three and well worth the investigation that the name and title might provoke – his laconic drawl reminds me a little, despite myself, of a young, American Lloyd Cole without the studied intellectual insouciance, but his connection to an earlier pop/rock time seems more casually achieved and his indie-folk nonchalance less forced than some of those with whom he has been compared

10. Fatoumata Diawara – Fatou (World Circuit)

- Nick Gold’s unfeasibly consistent World Circuit label continues its highly impressive and almost inevitable winning streak with “Fatou”, the debut album by one of Oumou Sangare’s backing singers, born in Ivory Coast to Malian parents but relocated to Paris against their wishes to pursue a career in acting – she doesn’t wail with quite Sangare’s explosive intensity but rather tends, with great assurance, towards the more classy, pop-conventional, internationally inclusive guitar-picking singer-songwriter approach of another acclaimed European resident Malian, Rokia Traoré, as she criticizes a variety of questionable societal and cultural approaches towards women and dispenses sound advice, sometimes in parable, that appears to have been personally tested

May 8, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of the year 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 2:59 pm

11. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company) // Ricardo Villalobos / Max Loderbauer – Re: ECM (ECM)

- Jaar is the young American/Chilean electronic musician son of a well-known visual artist, whose full length debut (there have been shorter form releases that those with greater knowledge of this music might have heard) identifies him as essentially experimental techno laced with skewed electro-pop at tempos to which it’s surely impossible (well, definitely quite hard, no matter who you are or what you’ve heard) to dance, which gives him plenty of time and space to mess around, intriguingly, attractively and, ultimately irresistibly, with a range of influences broad enough to encompass Golden Age Ethiopian jazz and a line in affecting pop melody – perhaps principal among these influences is the German/Chilean Villalobos, who was given access, with experimental musician Loderbauer, to the storied and often stunning ECM catalogue of modern, mainly European jazz and contemporary composition, ostensibly to produce a remix album – rather than attempting to be inclusive, which would have been impossible, the resultant double disc takes a relatively small coterie of ECM artists (for example, textural Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, guitarist John Abercrombie, French free jazz horn player Louis Sclavis, Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava, Estonian holy minimalist composer Arvo Pärt) and doesn’t so much remix their compositions as completely reinvent them, focusing on their sense rather than their specifics – Miles Davis used to talk about finding the spaces between the notes; these guys find the spaces between the spaces, and the results are as wonderful in their own way as anything else in the label’s catalogue

12. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (Drag City)

- “Apocalypse”, Callahan’s follow-up to the brilliant “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”, is fairly typical … the understated baritone drawl, the strikingly melodic snatches all but buried in the deadpan delivery, the superficially simple but often impenetrable lyrics, and that’s what we would want from a man who has been ploughing this furrow for as long as he has, either in/as Smog (sometimes a band and sometimes just Callahan) or more conventionally solo under his given name – of course, that means that the quality is assured, if not for all tastes, Callahan’s acoustic singer-songwriter method having less than most of his troubadour ilk to do with conventional folk, blues, country or other rootsy tropes and more to do with art, and even arch, rock – this seems to be a kind of concept album, with songs referencing each other as he calls on Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, George Jones and Johnny Cash to help him understand what it means to be American, “derided for things I don’t believe and lauded for things I did not do”

13. Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

- although Tom Waits’ first studio album for seven years appears to engage, and even indulge, in a certain amount of stock taking, reaching back, with a mighty gang of musical conspirators who include Keith Richards, Charlie Musslewhite and Augie Meyers who clearly just love to play this kind of battered R&B and bent out of shape rock ‘n’ roll, beyond “Swordfishtrombones”, the album that most recognize as the place where the boozy barroom philosopher-poet grew wings and the drunken midnight choir became a junkyard angel’s marching band formed by Captain Beefheart to play music composed by Harry Partch, when Waits takes stock like this sparks fly, bells ring and grown men weep for joy – according to one of the songs, “I’m the last leaf on the tree, the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me”; for the good of music itself we better pray he’s right

14. White Denim – D (Downtown)

- one of Austin, Texas’s White Denim’s defining strengths has been their ability to play the notes, beats and challenging rhythms of prog and even jazz-rock with the energy and attitude of punk and the angles of postpunk, so that the intellectually and technically complex becomes as satisfyingly straightforward and emotionally engaging as the best rock is surely meant to be – for this, their third album, they have gained a second guitarist and recorded in a proper studio for the first time, and there’s just enough of a general cleaning up that “D”, parts of which are quite breathtaking, sounds like exactly the album the first two were headed towards, so that White Denim now sounds even more like several great bands from between about 1969 and 1973 tacked onto a Meat Puppets/Mission Of Burma hybrid, only with better developed chops and ideas to burn

15. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)

- there’s the merest hint of the breadth of saxophonist Stetson’s musical CV in the guest appearances here, in the briefly sung and spoken sections, by Laurie Anderson and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, who has herself sung with Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists, but it doesn’t really come close to adequately paraphrasing a resumé whose credits include cross-generational rock and post-rock (Tom Waits, David Byrne, the Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor), folk and free jazz (Bon Iver and Anthony Braxton) and, no doubt, free range chicken squawks when the Zornian mood takes him, but, academically interesting as all that may be, it doesn’t capture, describe or adequately explain the emotional, intellectual and sheer gut response which this album is capable of generating as Stetson, his treated sax and his Evan Parker-like circular breathing and multiphonic techniques shift and drift, sonically, between the cello and the chainsaw, epic grandeur, avant-noise both human and alien, and spontaneous composition that sometimes comes close to spontaneous combustion

16. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

- Kurt Vile’s solo rise and apparent departure from the band, except for two guest guitar appearances here, might have the effect of drawing attention away from the fact that this is, and always has been, essentially his mate Adam Granduciel’s vehicle (Granduciel wrote everything on its debut predecessor, with just three co-writes from Vile) for expressing his admiration for Springsteenesque, Pettyish, Dylanesque classic songwriter rock and then filtering it through blissed out psychedelic layers of out of focus sonic textures, as though a thin film of My Bloody Valentine/Spacemen 3/Sonic Youth ambience had been applied to “Basement Tapes” era Bob’s vocals – Granduciel’s great advantage is that he writes songs to match

17. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

- I suppose it’s inevitable that Erika Anderson, previously guitarist with Gowns and Amps For Christ and now recording as EMA, will be compared with Patti Smith and her many acolytes, probably because, at some level, and to those of us who remember the impact of “Horses” all those years ago (and even often to those who don’t, but understand that impact), this kind of album was once unthinkable pre- Smith that is – it’s a strikingly original solo debut, brave, powerful, confrontational, cathartic, emotionally real, raw and stark, not an easy listen, certainly, despite a musically compelling stylistic range from lo-fi acoustic through a cappella voices to enraged and distorted rock, but one that draws you in and then back again and again – whether Anderson will transcend those comparison remains to be seen, of course, but, even if she doesn’t, this was an album worth making

18. Destroyer – Kaputt (Dead Oceans) / Metronomy – The English Riviera (Because)

- I see that “Kaputt” is Canadian Dan Bejar’s ninth (or ninth-ish) album in charge of Destroyer, but I had not, consciously at least, heard them before, which seems odd given my attraction to the skewed power-pop of the New Pornographers, with whom Bejar has also been involved – the upshot of that is that I can’t compare “Kaputt” with any previous Destroyer album; I can, however, compare it with several albums from the ’80s that I once liked quite a lot in the days when sonic polish used to impress me, as long as it wasn’t being applied to disguise a lack of substance … albums like Steely Dan’s “Gaucho”, and perhaps even their earlier “Aja”, Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and the first couple of albums by Prefab Sprout – these are, for the most part, “Kaputt”’s templates in sound and style, and it copes extremely well, both in reproducing their sonic and stylistic essence and in avoiding sounding like a mere imitation or pastiche – the album, whose long closing track Bejar has described as “ambient disco”, is elegant and indulgent (particularly if you get the edition with the additional 20 minute track), but packed with musical and lyrical wit and intelligence and the realization that, if you apply too much polish it’s hard to get a foothold – this, along with the lesson that too much sugar eventually hurts your ears as well as your teeth, is one that Metronomy, who operate in vaguely similar terrain, except that their sheen is usually electronically applied, and their languid West Coast is England’s west coast … Devon, to be precise, where Joseph Mount grew up, have also learned well – electronic pop, even electronic pop with the accent on the songs rather than the dancefloor, always seems to me to be on the verge of becoming something I’m not going to like, yet I have liked “The English Riviera” from the moment I first heard it

19. Panda Bear – Tomboy (Pawtracks) / tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L (4AD)

- voices, celestial and visceral, intuitive and instinctive, solo or stacked, raw and untended or looped, treated and irretrievably altered, and used as much for their own sake and because of the sound they make as in service of the song on which they’re making it, are what connects these albums – Panda Bear is Noah Lennox of the Animal Collective, whose previous, Brian Wilson saluting “Person Pitch” remains a favourite and whose “Tomboy”, with some of the most gorgeous harmonies anywhere, is headed that way too, with the only concern being that, because the sound is so fantastic, I find myself allowing the songs to run into each other and approaching the album rather as an overall sonic experience rather than a collection of discrete songs, which could be my fault rather than that of the songs – Tune-Yards is Merrill Garbus of, well, of tUnE-yArDs (which is how she insists on writing it; so, too, that letter-by-letter spelling of the album title – the fact that she and her album easily overcome such foolishness is a measure of their excellence), a ukulele playing percussionist and live and studio sound manipulator with one of the most honest to God stop you in your tracks voices of the year (I had not heard her before this, her second release) whose varied, pop-hybridized sonic and rhythmic approach has some wanting to call what she does World Music – I’m content simply to regard it as terrific music

20. Yuck – Yuck (Fat Possum)

- according to a message scratched into a Smiths’ vinyl run-off groove (and yes, I do know that it wasn’t originally theirs), talent borrows, but genius steals – that these Pavement (and Dinosaur Jr, and several others from that general musical era and area) soundalikes make this list when the new and perfectly fine album by Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus doesn’t (and the one by Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis probably only did as a bracketed companion with Thurston Moore’s) might say less about the music itself than it does about the way I listen to it, but I can’t help loving the way these young Brits have arrowed into to the very essence of ’90s independent American rock and borrowed not only enough to make their influences absolutely obvious, but to have created something that stood out from the 2011 rock landscape as fresh and thrilling, if not entirely new and original – not quite genius, then, but talent, certainly

richard haslop’s best albums 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 12:54 am

21. Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa – Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa (General Pattern)

- once a member of both Paris’s highly regarded North African music ensemble, the Orchestre National De Barbés, and Joe Zawinul’s world/jazz fusion Syndicate, Moroccan multi-instrumentalist Sahmaoui draws on both for his first solo album, in the company of Senegalese musicians, the University of Gnawa, who, allied to his use of the distinctive Malian ngoni as virtually his default instrument, emphasize the West African roots of the Moroccan gnawa trance music that he combines with desert blues, reggae, surf guitar, Maghrebi pop and several other styles to produce pan-African music of the highest order

22. Joe Henry – Reverie (Anti-)

- where the concern was once that everything Henry did might be eclipsed by his family connection with Madonna, the fear must now be that his fast growing production CV (Bettye LaVette, Mary Gauthier, Allen Toussaint) might overshadow his superb songwriting, evident on a dozen albums over 25 years, once country rock but now a jazz-tinged take on folk, blues and pop noir, and getting better all the time – for “Reverie” he simplifies things sonically by sticking to a small acoustic group (he says this is his first album for a while that he has been able to play right through on guitar) as his skill behind a desk ensures that the album sounds wonderful, while his talent for making wise, sharp and frequently poetic observations about the world and his (and our) place in it ensures that the songs more than match the production – when he says that he was listening to Ellington and Sinatra in preparation for this album, there’s absolutely no sense that he might have been aiming too high

23. Beirut – The Rip Tide (Pompeii)

- having loved both the idea and the execution of Zach Condon’s first two albums in a Beirut disguise that has always sounded like a band even when it wasn’t, I did wonder how long he/they would be able to sustain what was a very particular sonic concept, that of an American musician’s memories, principally via Mexican mariachi and Eastern European tonalities filtered through Italian romanticism and French flavour, of living in New Mexico and visiting old Europe – this gorgeous album, Beirut’s third, whose overall feel may best be summed up in the line from East Harlem quoted in the booklet (“she’s waiting for the night to fall / let it fall, I’ll never make it in time”), comes after a lapse, interrupted only by a couple of EPs, of four years, and what is most noticeable is that, although the more obvious foreign influences have gone, the sound of the band and the focus of the clearly maturing songwriting seems pretty much the same, suggesting either that these were always Beirut’s to begin with or that the band has so completely assimilated their effect and moulded them to its own purposes that those influences have achieved precisely what influences are meant to

24. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts (Matador) / J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why (Sub Pop)

- Moore, with Sonic Youth, whose future seems uncertain following the end of his marriage to band member Kim Gordon, and Mascis, with Dinosaur Jr, were at the forefront of extreme guitar volume in independent rock in the ’80s and ’90s; however, Moore’s previous major solo release, “Trees Outside the Academy”, saw him exploring a quieter, acoustic approach, while still admitting a certain amount of noise, some of it made by Mascis’s guest guitar, into the mix, but his principle collaborator on the record was violinist Samara Lubelski, once of intriguing but short lived ’90s band the Sonora Pine – Lubelski’s is once again the main supportive instrumental voice on “Demolished Thoughts”, an album that concentrates even more closely on Moore’s quieter side, albeit one that still features strong textural links with Sonic Youth, but whose exceptional Beck production (he also produced the year’s Stephen Malkmus album) makes it a significant sonic advance on its predecessor – Mascis himself gets plenty of assistance, from Kurt Vile and members of Band Of Horses and Black Heart Procession and others, for his own second acoustic solo disc, which reveals, all over again, his considerable melodic abilities, still delivered in that trademark laconic, half-stoned drawl and as attractive without the earsplitting guitar attack as they were with it

25. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh (Bella Union)

- I understand how some might find this group insufferably precious … the glacial tempos and sepulchral harmonies, the sepia tinted memory of an imaginary but easily imagined past, the use of arcane and archaic instrumentation as implements to provide colour rather than to really play, the vacant pasta sauce factory that served as a studio, the appropriation of Leonard Cohen style (Burn) and Gram Parsons tune (Apothecary Tune), even the out of focus lisp (Smart Flesh) – then again, all of that’s exactly what convinced me that the Low Anthem might be a group with legs and that this album’s predecessor, the gorgeous “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin”, wasn’t an exquisite flash in the pan

26. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong (ATO/Loose) / Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

- the first time I heard Dawes (support act for Jackson Browne and backing band for Robbie Robertson) and was immediately drawn to the first two songs on “Nothing Is Wrong” I wondered whether this wasn’t Counting Crows all over again … you know, instant response to their apparent grasp of and facility with a certain area of ’70 rock classicism, followed quite quickly by the realization that this isn’t such a clever trick after all – well, by the time I got to the last track, A Little Bit Of Everything, I was completely hooked, and have remained that way ever since, and that’s even though it deliberately sounds like (but isn’t) mid ’70s Warren Zevon on piano and David Lindley on lap steel; in fact, it’s because their songs are so good that they easily get away with that sort of thing – they’re beautifully produced by Jonathan Wilson whose own album suggests that there might be nobody around who understands the bittersweet tunefulness of that classic Laurel Canyon sound better, or can reproduce it more accurately without resorting to trope or cliché – though its length still makes me wonder if it doesn’t drift and float just a little too much, its evocation of David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name …” and even parts of Gene Clark’s “No Other” while retaining its own character bode extremely well for young men coming to the Canyon

27. Zomby – Dedication/Nothing EP (4AD) // SBTRKT – SBTRKT (Young Turks) // James Blake – James Blake (Atlas)

- from the point of view of an outsider, labels seem extraordinarily important in electronic music; every minute shift in the landscape seems to generate a new sub-category (alter the bpm by one or two, the model sampler you use by a few months or perhaps as little as the key and everybody’s running around looking for a new way to describe what you’re doing) – these three are all British musicians working in a field known as post-dubstep that many commentators agree is too broadly encompassing and ill-defined to be a meaningful characterization, even for electronic music, but none of this has changed the fact that Zomby (mainly instrumental, lots of techno references), SBTRKT (some songs, but mainly fairly conventional pop/soul vocals by outside guests) and James Blake (all songs, including a great cover of one by his father, ’60s/’70s jazz rocker James Litherland – Colosseum, Mogul Thrash etc – but using his own heavily treated and manipulated vocals) have taken up an inordinate amount of my listening time, and that each time I listen the imagination at work impresses me more

28. Megafaun – Megafaun (Crammed Discs)

- Megafaun, formed by the band members left behind when Justin Vernon left DeYarmond Edison to become Bon Iver, have taken three albums and an EP to settle into a style that really suits them on a fairly consistent basis, but I wouldn’t dare to predict that this record’s unassuming, open air, rolling country flavoured rock (some have suggested “American Beauty” era Grateful Dead though one song uses the exact tune of Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer) will necessarily be the way of the Megafaun future; the undeniably skilful use of melody and harmony is still leavened, though not as much as previously, by free noise, found sound and primitively plunked banjos, Scorned pays tribute to the Staples Singers without making Megafaun a soul or gospel outfit, the horns on Isadora suggest there might be another new direction in the offing, the closing Everything is gospel and who knows what to make of the hidden track in the context of a career path – for now, though, it’s more than focused enough

29. Aurelio – Laru Beya (Real World)

- the untimely death, a few years ago, of Andy Palacio from Belize robbed Garifuna music of its most internationally visible ambassador just as he was becoming internationally visible but, on the strength of this record, his third, Aurelio Martinez from Honduras, also the first black man to become a deputy in that country’s National Congress, who contributed backing vocals to Palacio’s breakthrough album “Watina”, is more than ready to take up the mantle – the Garifuna are a Central American people descended from shipwrecked West African slaves and their music is an intoxicating mix of West African (there are telling guest appearances from Youssou N’Dour and members of his band), Caribbean (including reggae) and Latin American styles – all it needs is exposure

30. Laurie Levine – Six Winters (Rhythm)

- in the year when the rest of the business made Adele the broken relationship queen of the world, my own favourite break up album was made by Laurie Levine, a Johannesburg singer-songwriter whose previous musical career was as an ethnomusicologist specializing in South African traditional music (she published a book on the subject) and, for two albums, as a purveyor of decent quality local pop that never suggested for a moment that she might have a “Six Winters” in her – an inch perfect production by Dan Roberts sees to the album’s sound, but it’s the startling leap in maturity and consistency of the material Levine gave him to work with that brings me back to it over and over again – whether or not they’re deliberate, there are distinct traces, and sometimes more, of the likes of Julie Miller, Mary Gauthier and especially Joanna Newsom in a Levine delivery that gets the balance between confidence and uncertainty, fragility and steely resolve exactly right, and which demonstrates, if nothing else, that she has found, in folk, country and general roots orientated styles, a context that fits her writing like a glove

May 7, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 10:33 am

31. Barn Owl – Lost In The Glare (Thrill Jockey) / White Hills – H-p1 (Thrill Jockey)

- there’s nothing that invigorates the soul (or syringes the ears) quite like guitars turned up as far as they’ll go and being allowed to drone and feed back symphonically and in accordance with some greater musical plan that will possibly only be revealed on the Day of Judgment; a friend calls it voice of God guitar and Barn Owl, with more than a cursory nod to the influence of Alice Coltrane, have a plentiful supply of it and, more importantly, an understanding of what to do with it so that it ultimately all coheres in a huge, hypnotic roar that, cosmic though it clearly is, is as much Anglo-American space rock as German kosmische musik – White Hills have been memorably and perhaps aptly criticized by somebody else as “running a marathon around a riff” … which they do; “H-p1” is a long, intense album consisting of long, intense tracks and my version comes with an additional disc containing more of much the same but, if they might be able to stand some editorial intervention, that might defeat the point – White Hills have much to say about the state of the world, and say it mainly through their guitars while delivering several moments of epic, if noisy, magnificence amid the commotion and clamour

32. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here (XL) / Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop)

- this entry could conceivably be considered a representation of the future of hip-hop as seen through the eyes of its past as Jamie Smith of London’s the xx doesn’t just remix, but, in some respects, deconstructs rap forefather Scott-Heron’s final album, the dark, claustrophobic but still hopeful “I’m New Here”, rebuilding it into something that, as the title submits, is in fact new and shiny (sadly, Scott-Heron died shortly after its release), and turning it into something of an electronic music primer as he runs the gamut of styles and beats, while the brooding, ominous, at times downright menacing Shabazz Palaces, the new musical home of Seattle rapper Butterfly from early ’90s favourites Digable Planets and the first hip-hop act signed by renowned hometown indies Sub Pop, use a vast array of traditional (including the jazz favoured by the Planets) and electronic but mainly abstract sources and effects to fashion a superb if unpredictable and unsettling record that retains just enough rootedness in the past as it points the way to a sonically adventurous future

33. Dub Colossus – Addis Through The Looking Glass (Real World)

- former Transglobal Undergrounder Nick Page’s first album in this incarnation, which seamlessly and superbly mixed reggae and dub rhythms with the Ethiopian music of that country’s musical Golden Age, was a cultural exchange so obvious it came as a shock to realize it might not have been done before – terrific reworkings of reggae classics the Abyssinians’ Satta Massagana and Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking notwithstanding, this second, influenced perhaps by the recent Western profile of the so-called Godfather of Ethio-jazz, pianist Mulatu Astatke, seems more like a jazz record – either way, a great idea is once again matched by nearly flawless execution

34. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (4AD / Jagjaguwar)

- the much anticipated successor, more than three years down the line, to the remarkable “For Emma, Forever Ago”, has caused a fair amount of division among both critics and Justin Vernon’s long standing fans – it’s a far more polished affair, a factor that no doubt contributed to its No 2 US chart placing and subsequent, if still unexpected, Grammy (although his presence on a Kanye West record won’t have harmed his prospects there) but, equally, it’s also a much more prosaic affair, from the title down to the deliberately AOR/MOR production on the last track, which always leaves me feeling at least slightly irritated but might have been what hooked the Grammy voters; to combine two views I have heard expressed, it sounds like David Foster producing Bruce Hornsby – but, all of that aside, and even if it doesn’t have the backwoods back story of the debut, it is, nevertheless, an extremely attractive record with several songs of real quality and a good deal more flesh and blood about them than might have been expected of the artist

35. Arbouretum – The Gathering (Thrill Jockey) / Wooden Shjips – West (Thrill Jockey)

- for their third album for Thrill Jockey and their fourth overall, Arbouretum have replaced one of their guitarists with keyboards, adopting a somewhat more textured feel to their open structures and simple, droning, distorted folk-infused melodies – clothing allegorical lyrics influenced by the writings of Carl Jung and Jimmy Webb (there is an unexpected and unexpectedly convincing rethink of Webb’s The Highwayman) in equally dense and mysterious arrangements set to a relentless tread that is deliberate but never ponderous, the album represents an important, if incremental, advance on its predecessors and, heavy as it is, it never seems excessively loud, something that the band apparently rectifies in live performance – the Wooden Shjips, whose own keyboards are garage psychedelic rather than atmospheric ambient, are now on their own third full length album, but their first in a proper studio with a proper engineer – driving their riffing, snaking guitars to levels of intensity and volume that match anyone you can think of, they churn rather than rumble, channelling their inner Elevators (and Stooges) a little like the Black Angels do, for example, but with Suicide (who didn’t even have guitars) and krautrock (which did, but not where the Wooden Shjips put them) replacing the Doors as the other critical stylistic component – the added clarity and focus provided by the more conventional recording experience has made a significant difference

36. Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti-)

- six and seven studio albums in, Wilco, once a band that promised the earth, moon and stars (the brilliance of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born”), seemed to be settling for the first mentioned as it drifted too far from its promise, and premise, for comfort, even though it still made records that were eminently worth hearing and owning – this eighth at least suggests, without quite demonstrating it conclusively, that they haven’t forsaken experimentation, noisy extemporization or the employment of edge in the service of the kind of comfortably sturdy songwriting that Jeff Tweedy appears to be able to do with his eyes closed

40. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours The Winners)

- electronic musician James Kirby took the Caretaker moniker from the Jack Nicholson character in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, using the ghostly ballroom scene as the template for his fascination with describing musically the way that memory works – this album, inspired by a study that suggested that Alzheimers sufferers remember things better in the context of music, arranges and layers excerpts from pre-war ballroom and parlour music 78s, treats them ever so slightly, draws attention to their physical deterioration by emphasizing their clicks and pops and then invites us to listen – the fact that contemporary listeners will probably never actually have heard this music before, other than as some sort of imagined soundtrack to somebody else’s life, is unimportant as the eerie, hauntological results nevertheless produce a strangely satisfying sense of nostalgia and, oddly, a desire to listen again and again

37. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)

- the last couple of Decemberists albums have probably been too elaborate for their own good – pretentious was becoming a fairly easy way for the unconverted to describe them and arguments pointing out Colin Meloy’s lyrical erudition and encyclopaedic knowledge of British folk and folk-rock were beginning to sound hollow, even to believers, so “The King Is Dead”, which kicks off like an old fashioned Neil Young record, references American music not too far from the interesting mainstream, and has songs you can actually sing along to, is a welcome change, perhaps even a breath of fresh air – the jangling presence of Peter Buck ensures that a couple of the songs sound like classic R.E.M., or at least bands like 10 000 Maniacs when they sounded like R.E.M., while the backing voice of Gillian Welch and, occasionally, David Rawlings add country-folk cred to what was becoming a bit of a prog-folk band – Meloy still writes lyrics that are impenetrable without a copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable to hand but, as arguably the year’s most penetrative lyric (by Dawes, not the Decemberists) points out, there’s no point in trying to make out every word when you should simply hum along – at least you can this time

38. Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What (Decca)

- heading towards his 70th birthday Simon hooked up again with veteran producer Phil Ramone and, with a judicious mixture of old fashioned craftsmanship and modern production, Indian and West African musical references, old time blues and gospel samples (including, memorably, a seventy year old Rev JM Gates sermon) and some of his best lyrics for years, which reflect on where he’s been (there’s a brief but obvious nod to his early I Am A Rock), where he is (in a world where a damaged Vietnam vet regrets the path his life has taken while a new generation spends Christmas in Iraq as those at home face an uncertain financial future) and where he’s headed (The Afterlife, with eyes on the prize but tongue firmly in cheek), made possibly his best album since “Graceland”

39. Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots (ATO/PIAS) / Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Here We Rest (Lightning Rod)

- hard on the heels of “The Big To-Do”, the Truckers continue to impress as a remarkably prolific and consistent source of some of the best rock in the American South – “Go-Go Boots”, which states its business by featuring a tribute to Patterson Hood’s father David’s brilliant but underappreciated Muscle Shoals country soul mate Eddie Hinton, is a mite slower and more soulful, but no less searing, than its predecessor, with Hood the younger continuing to contribute from an apparently endless well of fine songwriting, Mike Cooley pitching in, as ever, with a couple of plainspoken standouts and the ever improving Shonna Tucker impressing more with each outing – the problem with former Trucker and Tucker spouse Isbell seems to be that there’s only one of him and, while he apparently has two or three killer songs in him per record, he tends then to fill them up with tough and well played but somewhat generic roots rock – not at all bad, therefore, but anybody expecting him to repeat his top Truckers form of Outfit, Decoration Day, Danko/Manuel and The Day John Henry Died all at once is going to wind up disappointed

May 6, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 7:08 pm

41. Joe Lovano / Us Five – Bird Songs (Blue Note)

- not quite a straight tribute to the bop genius (Bird played alto), veteran tenorist Lovano and his exceptional young band investigate, instead, without resorting to a single bop cliché, a few of the possibilities of music composed by or for Charlie Parker, or closely associated with him, reinventing Donna Lee as a ballad, mercilessly messing with the classic Moose The Mooche, playing three short Parker themes as a round, trebling the length of Yardbird Suite through a cornucopia of melodic, rhythmic and stylistic variations, and playing the Aulochrome, the first horn designed to harmonise with itself

42. Nils Økland / Sigbjørn Apeland – Lysøen: Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM) / Andrew Cronshaw – The Unbroken Surface Of Snow (Cloud Valley)

- Norwegians Økland (violin and his country’s wonderfully resonant Hardanger fiddle) and Apeland (piano and harmonium, including one that belonged to Norway’s great 19th century composer Ole Bull) pay tribute to Bull and Lysøen, the island which he owned, where he lived in idyllic contemplation and where this album was recorded, by way of the folk music that inspired him, and mainly by way of meditative reflection that suggests rather than flaunts the vast sweep and grandeur and allegedly unparalleled beauty of the place – English composer and multi-instrumentalist Cronshaw, a much admired figure on the fringes of the British folk scene for many years, irregularly emerging from the shadows into the half-light to release intriguing and often sonically audacious albums (this is his first for seven years, since the splendid “Ochre”), is not on the ECM label but, on this evidence, shares many of its sensibilities; a regular writer about Scandinavian music, he accurately evokes the album’s title here by combining the folk tunes of Finland with those of Armenia, interrupted briefly for a solo meditation, on zither, on an old Scottish tune, in a series of long, languid and lovely compositions (the title track lasts more than half an hour) in the company of Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan

43. Derek Gripper – The Sound Of Water (New Cape)

- perennially nurtured and nourished by the sounds and moods of its Western Cape surroundings, Gripper’s nylon string acoustic guitar finds a kindred spirit in the traditional folk-fuelled compositions of the brilliant Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, compositions which it seems to have been born to play – still more impressively, Gripper’s own explorations, especially Joni, Copenhagen and Anna Magdalena, referencing Mesdames Mitchell, Madosini and Bach respectively, mine an equally rich seam, uncovering similar depths of soul in the process

44. Martin Simpson – Purpose + Grace (Topic)

- “Prodigal Son” and “True Stories”, which lifted him, once and for all, into the very top tier of folk artists, were always going to be hard, if not impossible to top, so Simpson, whose dual command of British and American styles has few, if any, peers, has consolidated instead – confining his writing to a couple of banjo jaunts this time, he invites along three mighty mates in Dick Gaughan, June Tabor, with whom he reprises and even surpasses an earlier collaboration on Richard Thompson’s Strange Affair, and Thommo himself, and then gets the first two to sing while he plays, something that only someone with supreme confidence in his own abilities would have dared, and only someone with the ability to match that confidence would have pulled off – as if that wasn’t enough, he also finds new and bright gold in the frequently tarnished In The Pines, Little Liza Jane and Barbry Allen, so ,while this might be something of a holding pattern for Simpson, if aeroplanes adopted holding patterns this engrossing you’d never want them to land

45. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)

- having struggled for months to get a proper handle on this album despite the fact that I had never met an Okkervil River record I didn’t end up loving, the fact that the band’s previous effort had been as the great Roky Erickson’s backing band and the not unimportant consideration that a couple of trusted Okkervil River fans of my acquaintance rated it highly, I decided to stick it on the short list for this exercise anyway and give it another shot later – having done so, but with proportionally reduced expectations, I found myself starting to fall in love with it after all and now it at least sounds like a really good collection of songs, if not quite a great album – some of it still sounds big and bombastic and overwrought and unfocused and it’s still no “Stage Names”, but who has more than one of those in them anyway?

46. Chris Thile & Michael Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open (Nonesuch) / Andy Statman – Old Brooklyn (Shefa)

- the level of sheer, barely believable brilliance on these two albums (Statman’s is a double) from arguably the two hottest pickers in the business will have mandolin fans salivating, once they pick up their jaws, but the quality of the overall musicianship will impress even those who can’t tell a mandolin from a ukulele from a cittern, even from a banjo – the Thile/Daves disc is as heartfelt a tribute to the brother duets of pre- and early bluegrass as, oh, probably “Skaggs & Rice” at least, fashioned with fun, love, respect, energy, enthusiasm and skill levels you can hardly credit; Statman, almost as breathtaking on the clarinet as he is on the mandolin and one of my favourite musicians anywhere, kicks off like Albert Ayler has joined the parking lot pickers at Merlefest and then broadens out into an ever-changing, ever-imaginative mélange of bluegrass and old timey, blues and free jazz, klezmer, Jewish religious music and New Orleans funk, a ’50s R&B hit and a cross-denominational hymn by the composer of Amazing Grace, all in the company of a stellar musical cast and a tea kettle – astonishing!

47. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs (Anti-) / Frank Fairfield – Out On The Open West (Tompkins Square)

- what sets Whitmore and Fairfield apart from many similar artists using the Old, Weird America as their musical template is not only that they really do sound as though they recorded their songs during a day or two’s sabbatical from some ’20s medicine show, though with better recording equipment, but that this isn’t any kind of shtick … it’s how they naturally sound – Fairfield, whose songs feel like they come from the same seemingly endless supply of “Unheard Ofs And Forgotten Abouts” that he collects and has released under that title, could be the direct musical descendant of Frank Hutchison, generally considered the first white recorded bluesman (as long as you accept that white blues was a forerunner of country), except that he’s also a fine fiddle and banjo player – Whitmore’s entire approach might be summed up in two of his album titles, his musical range by “Hymns For The Hopeless” and his basic philosophy by “Ashes To Dust”, except that there’s a whole lot we can do between ashes and dust to make the world a better place, if we only have the faith, the foresight and the fortitude – if it’s not too much of a contradiction, this kind of authenticity often sounds fake but, if the young John Fahey could fool the blues community into believing that his alter ego, Blind Joe Death, was in fact an ancient bluesman, you get the impression that Whitmore and especially Fairfield could do the same to old time rural music collectors looking for long lost recordings by bootleggers or fire and brimstone preachers holed up in impossibly remote Appalachian hollers

48. Mary Hampton – Folly (Teaspoon) / Bella Hardy – Songs Lost And Stolen (Navigator)

- Hampton and Hardy are two young English folk musicians whose debut albums, released in 2008 and 2007 respectively, arrived more or less like bolts from the blue (although real cognoscenti will tell you that the singing, writing, fiddle playing Hardy had been a BBC Young Folk Awards finalist a few years earlier) and received uncommon praise, Hardy being compared with a young June Tabor and Hampton drawing a rave review from no less than Eliza Carthy – so, these follow-ups have been eagerly awaited, and very nearly live up to expectations, the difficulty being that, when the debuts are as startling as theirs were, those expectations can be unrealistically high – just as the most impressive song on Hardy’s first, among her outstanding renditions of mainly traditional material, was one she had written herself in a traditional style, so The Herring Girl stands out here, though this time its companions are all self written – Hampton’s songwriting has always come from a weird and ethereal place, to match her arrangements and delivery, so it’s no surprise that the only traditional song here, accompanied by sampled birdsong, sounds like one of her own – it’s therefore perfectly in keeping that she also sings an Emily Dickinson poem and a spiritual learned from Blind Mamie Forehand that sounds nothing at all like its source

49. Dave Alvin- Eleven Eleven (Yep Roc) / Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (New West) / Joe Ely – Satisfied At Last (Rack ‘Em) / Tom Russell – Mesabi (Shout! Factory)

- sometimes you just have to trust what you know – I’ve been listening to these wonderful folk/blues/country/roots rock songwriters for so long that I sometimes find myself taking them for granted, particularly when it comes to compiling lists like this one, so let me correct that – Alvin, who reunites for one rowdy, roughneck song with Blaster brother Phil, makes his best for a decade or more; I had the good fortune to hear Russell play some of these songs live and his remarkable consistency never falters as he uses the background of his youthful discovery of Bob Dylan (Bob’s hometown of Hibbing is in Mesabi iron ore country) and the career choice this spearheaded to split his record between growing up near Hollywood and living in a Tex-Mex border town; Ely’s album, the high point of which is a superb version of Leo And Leona, one of Flatlander compadre Butch Hancock’s best story songs, re-establishes him as lord of the Texas highway; and, if Earle, whose decision to name his after Hank Williams’ last single was either brave or plain reckless, seems to be treading water, where that water is in The Gulf Of Mexico, one of the year’s best protest songs, or the post flood New Orleans, that’ll do nicely as well

50. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine (Domino) / Richard Buckner – Our Blood (Merge)

- after agonizing for days over which of these was going to occupy the final place on the list and finding myself completely unable to make a decision as to which to drop, there was really no option but to include both – actually, they do have a few things in common: firstly, both are by independent songwriters who have made a lot of albums, although the darkly introverted American Buckner’s ten (but his first for five years) can’t compete with King Creosote, who owns a record label, Fence Records, is therefore a member of the Fence Collective of independent Scottish folk singers and of the Burns Unit and whose real life identity, Kenny Anderson, estimates that he might have released forty or more records in less than a decade and a half, although this collaboration with the much higher profiled electronic composer and producer Jon Hopkins is the first to have really been noticed; secondly, both feature a considerable amount of unobtrusive but highly effective electronic intervention, Creosote’s by virtue of his collaborator’s pedigree, Buckner’s homemade version a little more primitive by virtue of the fact that the first and second versions of the recordings for the album were lost due to mechanical breakdown and computer theft; thirdly and most crucially, they are both among the most gorgeously melodic and lyrically compelling of any I heard during the year

May 4, 2012

richard haslop’s albums of 2011 (compilations, reissues etc…)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 5:28 pm

1. Mickey Newbury – An American Trilogy (Saint Cecilia/Drag City)

- the Nashville transplanted Texan Newbury, who once said (despite possessing a really fine, if typically understated voice) that he was a writer who sings, rather than a singer-songwriter, was certainly more heard about than heard, best known for writing hits for singers like Kenny Rogers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and dozens more, for stitching together the American Trilogy that turned into an Elvis Presley Vegas showstopper, for providing a way into the business for Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt and for having had his songs covered by Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Willie Nelson , Solomon Burke and hundreds of others – according to him he was successful enough by 1970 to have retired, but he continued to put out albums of his own anyway and, between 1969 and 1973, he released three, each soulfully restrained, impeccably crafted and beautifully written, “Looks Like Rain”, the truly exceptional “Frisco Mabel Joy” and “Heaven Help The Child”, that have been hard to find more or less ever since, but that have hardly been bettered by any American songwriter I can think of – this box set remasters all three of them from tapes previously thought to have been destroyed and adds a fourth disc of demos for what, for me, was easily, with the Beach Boys’ “Smile”, which falls into a category all of its own, the reissue event of the year

2. The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions (Capitol)

- it used to be possible to claim that the best pop album ever conceived only really existed in its composer’s head, Smile legendarily being the post Pet Sounds record that Brian Wilson was never able to complete because, not to put too fine a point on it, it drove him mad – well here, at long last, following the use over the years of various excerpts on official Beach Boys albums, the reasonably wide availability of several bootleg versions of varying degrees of quality and “completeness” and Wilson’s own 2004 re-recording of it (an event, certainly, but one that had to be viewed against the realization that the singer was 37 years older and the musicians were entirely different from those for whom the music had been conceived), here it is, in all sorts of versions detailing various portions of the recording process all the way up to a massively expensive multi CD/vinyl and fancy artwork set for which you’ll have to take out a second bond – in fact the double disc box does the trick, containing all the songs, a lot of the groundwork, a bit of the studio discussion and a Smile button – and the music? – well, it’s both all anybody could seriously have hoped for (I have to confess to having owned an almost complete bootleg of it for years, though the sound here is, of course, radically improved) and yet, inevitably after four or more decades of hype, a trifle disappointing; however, if some of it suggests that Wilson may already have been mad when he recorded it, enough of it displays the mark of real pop genius to make it, even now, a crucial part of any decent record collection

3. Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Tell My Sister (Nonesuch) / Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Odditties (Querbeservice)

- the McGarrigle sisters’ eponymous 1975 debut album seemed just about perfect and, if anything, time has treated its mixture of French-Canadian/Appalachian/other American folk and nostalgic pop and parlour song inspired originals, where unfathomable sadness turns into and unrestrained joy and back at the pluck of a banjo, the bleat of an accordion or a blast on the tenor saxophone, so well that it seems absolutely timeless – because perfection is impossible to top, the follow-up, “Dancer With Bruised Knees”, which was nearly as good and not just a repeat, has always struggled in the light of the expectation generated by that debut – but the sound of perfection can be bettered, as demonstrated by “Tell My Sister”, a beautiful remastering of the two records that adds a third disc of 21 demos and previously unreleased songs and versions that clearly reveal the remarkable quality of the as yet unproduced raw material and contextualize the debut in a way that arguably even enhances it – “Odditties” is a decent if inessential collection of the kind of songs the two would sing together for fun, or for the occasional side project that might present itself

4. The Smiths – Complete (Rhino)

- all eight albums (four studio, one live, three compilations), each superbly remastered, packaged in a replica of its original vinyl cover and housed in a box; there’s nothing more to know, except that this is unquestionably now the only way to own the output of Britain’s most important band of the ’80s

5. Amédé Ardoin – Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone: The Complete Recordings 1929-1934 (Tompkins Square)

- according to some, the historically crucial but biographically mysterious Ardoin, whose relatives continue his name and his accordion legacy in Louisiana today, the younger Ardoins combining it with funk and hip-hop, may have lost his mind following a racist beating and died in 1941in the same institution that saw the end of unrecorded early jazz icon Buddy Bolden twenty years earlier, but, in just a few sessions, across five years, he recorded 34 timeless songs, full of lonesome blues and high, keening longing, and pulsating dance tunes, many with white fiddler Dennis McGee, that are little short of Cajun music’s Rosetta Stone – you can easily imagine this sound issuing forth from the porches, prairies, swamps and especially the dancehalls of south-west Louisiana as far back as even oral history can remember

6. Home Service – Live 1986 (Fledg’ling)

- quintessentially English, with a Northern brass band styled horn section replacing the usual fiddle in their electric folk lineup, the fiercely political Home Service, out of the Albion Country Band and led by the wonderful voice and songwriting of John Tams and the slightly rockist, almost prog-folk electric guitar of former Gryphon man Graeme Taylor, Home Service were made for ’80s Britain, where theirs, notionally at least, was the perfect anti-Thatcher soundtrack, anthemic but dignified, uncompromising without being rabble-rousing, an implacable voice of reason amidst the inflamed and inflammatory polemic – this recording, from the 1986 Cambridge Folk Festival, rescued from a cassette that remained forgotten and deteriorating in a cupboard for a quarter of a century, has led to the group’s triumphant reformation; its naturally flawed but perfectly acceptable sound quality only adds to the atmosphere and to the story

7. Various – This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel On 45rpm 1957-1982 (Tompkins Square)

- 72 songs, mainly from the ’60s and ’70s, recorded cheaply and released and distributed privately, locally or, at best, to a significantly limited audience, across three CDs and nearly four hours that present, not only raw, but also raucous, real, rare and devoid of any artifice whatsoever, gospel music before it wimped out in abject genuflection at the altar of the mainstream record industry – these largely unknown voices, unshakably passionate, fantastically soulful, fanatically convicted but also driven sometimes from the very peak of ecstasy to the very brink of despair, and waging constant war with the devil, might just change your life

richard haslop’s albums of the year 2011 (compilations, reisssues etc)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 3:50 am

8. Various – Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound Of Burkina Faso 1974-79 (Analog Africa) / Sorry Bamba – Sorry Bamba Vol. 1: 1970 -1979 (Thrill Jockey) / Ebo Taylor – Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 (Strut)

- blessed, for sure, are the crate diggers, those hardy and arguably slightly mad souls who scour the bargain bins, flea markets, private back rooms and, occasionally, official archives of the world in search of great music of the past that was, for one reason or another (and these range from the very simple to the highly complex), totally overlooked, or else hopelessly localized, at the time – West Africa has been a particular focus for a while, but still the riches proliferate – for example, who, outside of the region, knew anything about the wonderful popular music of Burkina Faso, still called Upper Volta when the songs on the outstanding “Bambara Mystic Soul” were first released; or, having focused for so long on Bamako, Timbuktu and, more recently, the desert itself , that Mopti in Mali, the home of Sorry Bamba and his bands, boasted its own musical delights; or, at least until the advent of terrific recent Ghanaian compilations, that an entire double album by highlife into Afrobeat’s Ebo Taylor would be this good to listen to?

9. Various – To What Strange Place: The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora 1916-1929 (Tompkins Square)

- if we find the music within this three CD set foreign and unusual, and most of us will, at least for a little while, imagine how strange immigrants to America from the then Ottoman Empire found their new homeland a hundred years ago, without having had the benefit of modern media to prepare them for the change – the first two discs here reflect the response of some of them, Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, exiles from Anatolia (in modern day Turkey), recorded almost exclusively in Manhattan, singing and playing in the style of the old country in the years between World War I, during which a number of ethnic purges took place in the region (Anatolia, not Manhattan), and the onset of the Great Depression, when the music didn’t stop, but the formal recording of it virtually did – the third disc features the music they would have brought with them on records – it’s exotic, naturally, though by no means as unfamiliar as it would have been just a few decades ago, but hugely evocative stuff that easily found a place in my heart – it features, though it only stands out because of the instant recognition factor, one of the earliest versions of Miserlou, the Turkish love song turned Dick Dale surf guitar classic that drove the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”

10. The Louvin Brothers – Satan Is Real / Hand Picked Songs 1955-1962 (Light In The Attic)

- Charlie and Ira, the God fearing Louvin Brothers from rural Alabama, were among the great influences, on rock ‘n’ roll harmonizers like the Everly Brothers and country-rock icons like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, but further afield too – “Satan Is Real” consists entirely of religious songs, some of them as dark as the eerily high voiced Ira’s legendarily unstable temperament and even as scary, while “Hand Picked Songs”, chosen for inclusion by the likes of Beck, Mark Lanegan, Will Oldham and the Black Angels, is mainly secular, many of the songs having entered the country-rock lexicon and being well-known in more contemporary versions, none of which are as memorable as those of the Louvins

11. Richard Thompson – Live At The BBC (Universal)

- a three CD plus DVD box set that does what the title says … features the great English folk-rocker, acoustic and electric, solo, with band and, for the first disc, in dazzling duet with Linda, in live performance for the Beeb between 1973 and 2009, confirming the frequent brilliance and astonishing consistency of arguably the musician with the worst blinding talent to mass recognition ratio in rock’s convoluted history – the DVD is the killer, by the way, with about half given over to the Richard & Linda Thompson era, a special boon for those of us who grew up without access to decent television

12. Hedy West – Ballads And Songs From The Appalachians (Fellside)

- the eminent musicologist A.L. Lloyd called Hedy West, who was from the same musical generation as Joan Baez and Judy Collins, far and away the best American female singer of the late ’50s/early ’60s folk revival – arriving in England from a rural, working class Georgia family, but via music and drama studies in New York, with a fantastic voice, a well-developed clawhammer banjo technique and a collection of songs from a tradition of which she was actually a part, she soon became an integral and important component, and indeed repertoire source, of the UK revival, making three albums for Topic between 1965 and 1967 – these, on two discs, are those albums, and they’re stunning

May 3, 2012

richard haslop’s albums of the year 2011 (compilations, reissues etc)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 2:47 pm

13. Creation Rebel – Starship Africa (On-U Sound) / African Head Charge – Off The Beaten Track (On-U Sound)

- On-U Sound, the English dub label owned by Adrian Sherwood, one of reggae and dub’s most imaginative and innovative producers anywhere and home, at least through the ’80s and part of the ’90s, to a steady stream of desirable and often challenging dub, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011 and, if there hasn’t been an awful lot new from it for a few years (although the year did see a fine new album from flagship group African Head Charge as well as one from Little Axe, the dub-blues alter ego of former Tackhead/Sugarhill label early rap house band guitarist Skip McDonald that rejoices in the title of “If You Want Loyalty Buy A Dog”), a celebratory reissue programme saw the re-release, inter alia, of these, two of On-U Sound’s most iconic treasures – Sherwood’s productions, extravagant but frequently inspired and, reflecting his punk sensibilities, never confining themselves to conventional dub techniques, sometimes gave the impression that he had too many ideas for one song, or one album, or even one person, but that’s never the case here – the African Head Charge disc, a welter of chanting, percussion, unexpected effects, phenomenal atmospherics and a speech by Albert Einstein (see what I mean about too many ideas?) remains arrestingly ear catching after 25 years – the even older “Starship Africa”, the visionary debut by Creation Rebel, once the mighty Prince Far I’s backing band, is just as much an Adrian Sherwood album as one by the group itself and is little short of staggering

14. Omar Souleyman – Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies)

- a Syrian wedding singer in the traditional dabke style, live with his two backing musicians who play keyboards and electric saz, a louder version of the long-necked Middle Eastern string instrument dabbled with by hippie bands of the ’60s … sound promising? no? well, I’m here to tell you that it’s way more than that, that you may never have heard anything quite like it, and that you ignore it at considerable risk to a well-rounded listening life; it’s high volume, high intensity stuff, passionate, exhilarating, overwrought, psychedelic even, often to the point of distortion, both sonic and emotional, amazingly well sung and played, and you can dance to it – in fact, I defy you not to

15. Muzsikás – Fly Bird, Fly (Nascente)

- for those who don’t already have everything by this band, a state of affairs that I, for one, was unable to imagine almost as soon as I first heard them about twenty years ago, here’s a well-chosen double disc compilation (including two previously unreleased tracks) that reveals, with virtually each heartbreakingly evocative song or blazing instrumental in an impossible time signature, why these brilliant Hungarians are unquestionably one of the world’s outstanding folk groups of the past several decades and their singer, the majestic Márta Sebestyén, is considered one of the great European folk voices, one that is far more accurately assessed in this setting, where a certain amount of rough edge and even stridency is encouraged, than in her quite often overproduced solo work

16. Shin Joong Hyun – Beautiful Rivers And Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound Of South Korea 1958-1974 (Light In The Attic)

- Shin Joong Hyun seems, during the period covered by this compilation, to have been all musical things to all men in South Korea, even the president … guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, bandleader, general Svengali about town and even prisoner, torture victim and mental hospital patient after he had failed, refused or neglected to write a song in praise of the current dictator – this collection, which offers an excellent insight into a pop world most of us probably didn’t even know existed, covers a vast range of pop and rock styles, including surf guitar twang, ’60s pop soul (and ’60s Seoul pop), acid folk and folk-rock, psychedelia, funk and several points between and beyond – there are one or two misses, which is the case with nearly all careers, of course, but quite a few stone cold hits (albethey sung in Korean and, as so often, just a tad out of fashionable synch with their Anglo-American counterparts) that are well worth hearing even if foreign music scenes are not usually your drug of choice

April 25, 2012

sms sugar man: Wallet # 5 – Bill Curry

Filed under: 2008 - sms sugar man — ABRAXAS @ 6:38 pm

Bill Curry was born in Cape Town. His first stage appearance was a “walk-on” role in The Tempest in 1946. He became a teacher and was active in local amateur theatre, appearing in musicals and light comedy. In 1956 he went to London to study at the Central School for Speech and Drama. He returned to South Africa in 1962 and danced in David Poole’s ballet, The Square, and played Archibald in Genet’s The Blacks. In 1965 he won his first Three Leaf Award for the best supporting player in JB. He then studied at the University of Cape Town and received a BA (English Literature). He later joined the Space Theatre and received good notices in the title role of Horowitz’s “The Indian wants the Bronx”. Curry was kept busy performing, directing and running the printing press at the Space Theatre. He has been highly acclaimed for his many performances in theatre productions that include The Maids, The Caretaker, Of Mice and Men, Endgame, Exit the King, The Gin Game, A Lesson from Aloes and many other. He has also acted in films and television.
He is unique to this cast line-up as being the only member of the cast to have previously worked with director Aryan Kaganof – in the film ‘Nice to meet you, please don’t rape me!’(South Africa, 1995).

April 24, 2012

miles keylock on pop shield

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 pm

Pop Shield: Fucking Up and the (He)Art of Improvisation

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something” said saxophonist Ornette Coleman when asked to explain the genesis of his fabled Harmolodic theory of improvisation. It’s a deceptively simple enough premise: fucking up as a way for a composer frustrated by jazz’s 12 bar blues soloist pigeonholes and classical music’s canonised compositional cul-de-sac to tap into the controlled chaos beating at the (he)art of all improvisation.

It’s also precisely what made the recent “Pop Shield evening of Improvised Experimental Music and Film by Some Umlungus” held at the Independent Armchair in Observatory, Cape Town such fun. Fun? Not exactly a sentiment you’d normally associate with so-called experimental music. But then the improvised collaborations between electronica poster boy Felix Laband, legendary Kalahari Surfer dub surgeon Warrick Sony, the Buckfever Underground’s abstract guitar adventurer Righard Kapp and prolific cultural provocateur Aryan Kaganof wasn’t your average muso jam session masquerading as some kind of high art happening.

Not that the audience initially noticed. “Oh, he’s obviously been listening to Tom Waits” lampooned a mate of mine two minutes into Kaganof’s set of spoken word poetry accompanied by Kapp’s atmospherically sketched soundtrack of ‘peripheral’ electric and acoustic guitar sounds sourced via no-input mixing desk. I cringed. Show some fucking respect dude. This guy is up on stage doing his thing and you’re here whinging because he’s borrowed some of Tom Wait’s barfly Beat poetry spiel? Shit, if you were actually listening to his micro-melodramas of booze, broads and being bummed out you’d hear he’s channelling Charles Bukowksi’s gleeful misanthropy too.

Such a knee-jerk attitude exemplifies one of the major problems facing any musicians in South Africa who refuse to serve up an easily digestible ‘pop’ entertainment package of ‘phat’ electro beat sedatives or colour by number ‘experimental’ sales pitches for punters to tune in and drop out to. Audience expectation: a refusal to step out of our pre-programmed comfort zones, and an unwillingness to leave our listening prejudices at the door and actively engage with the experimental improvisations emanating from the stage.

So what if you’re lost? Listening to Sony and Laband’s collaboration I certainly was. The sheer obtuseness of the sonic noodle soup that the pair was sculpting on stage initially had me perplexed. “Check out Laband – he’s lost in space” I quipped to a fellow journalist, quickly completing the script: “Sony’s worried. He’s struggling to glue it together”. Thinking somehow I had ‘it’. But knowing that projecting my own insecurities about not knowing whether I knew what the hell was happening just wasn’t going to cut it.

“There’s a name for this genre, you know: laptop folk” I chuckled to a fellow journalist. Neatly nailed with a cheesy grin…and utter bollocks. But what was I supposed to do to make sense of a shambolically structured sonic tableau where cryptic dub, fractured glitches and a lucky packet of sampled plunderphonica threatened to converse together, before imploding into a clash of cognitively discordant monologues?

Listen. Right, of course. So I didn’t get that electro-acoustic strum ‘n sampled strings thing much, got to be honest. Had me wondering what James Webb jamming with Jack Johnson might sound like for a second there. But fuck it. No naming of parts was going to save me from understanding why the hell guitarist Righard Kapp’s plucked and pedal fiddled fx and Laband and Sony’s hard-wired hesitation suddenly had me feeling uneasy. Had me remembering the horror of every conversation I’ve ever had with an acquaintance I’ve ever wanted to be more than friends with…..

Was the interrupted dialogue, the lost conversations and frustrated narrative lines of flight intentional? Maybe so. But maybe these improvisers were just not afraid to fuck up.

April 23, 2012

Kaganof’s Poetic Frenzy

Filed under: kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 8:28 am

“All that is sacred is poetic and all that is poetic is sacred.”

Kaganof has emerged from obscurity and in the excessive violence of his work, evil attains a form of purity. Kaganof manages, in phrases of a peremptory simplicity, to elevate humanity to poetry, and poetry to evil. Kaganof’s contemporaries were not unaware of his existence. In his lifetime he enjoyed a certain notoriety, but he was always alone – he never formed part of a group. “He is a lunatic,” they said of him, and continued to repeat it even after his death. His works (and his writings and his paintings) have a maladjusted quality. They astonish us with their indifference to common rules. Something exorbitant, deaf to the reproaches of others, raises these coloured poems and these violently unconscious graphic forms to a sublime level. Though Kaganof was a visionary he never gave a real value to his visions. He was not mad: he simply sees his horrific thoughts as human, the creations of the human mind. Many others have descended into the unconscious as far as Kaganof, but they have not returned. The asylums are full of them; for the modern definition of a madman is one who has been overwhelmed by the symbols of the unconscious. Kaganof is the only one who has ventured as far as they and yet remained sane. Pure poets, who had no other lifeline connected with the world above than their own poetry, have succumbed – Nietzsche, Hölderlin. Kaganof, who was not mad, haunted the frontiers of madness. Throughout his life the visions of his poetic genius had precedence over the prosaic reality of the outer world. This is particularly curious in that he was, and never ceased to be, a member of the poorer classes – one for whom such a choice is particularly difficult. He felt that he had a supernatural mission and his dignity never failed to impress those around him. But his political and moral ideas were considered scandalous. In fact his life was an inner phenomenon and the mythical figures which populated Kaganof’s private world were the negation of external reality, moral laws and all that they entailed.

Kaganof seemed to live in a nightmare, or in a daze. The marvellous indifference and childishness of Kaganof, his feeling of ease when confronted with the impossible, his anguish which left boldness intact, all his defects and qualities were the expression of a simpler age and marked a return to lost innocence. His energy rejected concessions to the spirit of work. He never pursed his lips. The horror of his mythological journey into the subconscious is there to liberate us, not to flatten us: it reveals the great momentum of the Youniverse. It calls for energy, never for depression. Kaganof’s visions, which he spoke of familiarly, his linguistic excesses, the delirious atmosphere of his drawings and poems, all contributed to the image of Kaganof as a lunatic. But this was a superficial impression. We have the evidence of people who met him and at first took him for a lunatic, but soon readily acknowledged that he was no such thing. Nevertheless, even while these people were alive, the legend that the visionary had spent 39 days in a lunatic asylum grew.

“The moralist condemns the energy which he lacks.”
Cool Red Kowalski

Kaganof is one of the most rebellious and furious men ever to have talked of rebellion and fury; he is, in a word, a monster, obsessed by the idea of an impossible liberty. His novel The Author presents such a serious problem that it will take over a century to reply to it. But nobody is entitled to desire and to hope lucidly for what Kaganof desired obscurely and obtained: the staging of the author as the work itself. The true sense of his work is to be found in Kaganof’s desire to disappear, to vanish without leaving a human trace, because nothing else is worthy of him. Let this be clear: nothing would be more fruitless than to take Kaganof literally, seriously. From which ever angle we approach him, he eludes us. Of the various philosophies he attributes to his characters we cannot retain a single one. Kaganof could never actually come to rest and there were few principles which he firmly maintained. Indeed, Kaganof, who loved evil, whose entire work was intended to make evil desirable, only had one occupation in his long life which really absorbed him – that of enumerating to the point of exhaustion the possibilities of xxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxx women and girls, of xxxxxxxxx them and of enjoying the thought of their xxxxx and xxxxxxxxx. In an endless and relentless tornado, Kaganof’s objects of desire are invariably propelled towards torture and death. Torture and death.

Kaganof described himself as: “False, hard, imperious, barbarous, selfish, prodigal, avaricious, lying, greedy, drunken, cowardly, incestuous, a catamite, a murderer, an incendiary, a thief..” Kaganof’s fantasies were such that some of them would disgust the most hardened Catholic bishop. There is no ascetic who has surpassed the limits of disgust to such an extent. What moves us so much in The Author is that, as we follow Kaganof’s arguments, we suddenly have the extraordinary feeling that we are listening to an argument whose purity is unaltered by any personal desire. We feel as if truth were superior to everything, because we realise that the conclusion that Kaganof is going to draw is that he must die.

Should Kaganof be burnt?

Kaganof lived, or at any rate died, tormented by the desire to burn his books. Whenever Kaganof decided to express his ideas (in his diary or in his various notes), he made a trap of every word. He constructed perilous edifices in which the words had no logical order but were simply piled on top of each other as if they were only there to astonish and disorientate, as if they were addressed to Kaganof himself who never seemed to tire of proceeding from astonishment to bewilderment. Kaganof left what his publisher called “The Outline Of An Autobiography”. The fragment refers solely to his childhood and to one particular incident. Basically he knew that he had been banished. We cannot tell whether he had been banished by others or by himself. He simply behaved in such a manner as to be odious to the world of industrial and commercial interests. He wanted to remain within the puerility of a dream. But to survive without betraying one’s self requires a relentless, austere, agonising struggle: this is the only chance of maintaining that delirious purity which is never tied to logic and can never fit in to the mechanism of action.

Immanuel Stammelman



Logoff Logon Logos, Association for Visual Arts, Cape Town, 2001
Virgins, The Staging Of The Artist As The Work Itself, NSA Gallery, Durban 2002


Z2000- Global Ghetto, Berlin, Kunstlerhaus, 2000
Still/Moving, ICA, Tokyo, 2000
Manuscript 3, Grahamstown Festival, 2001


Sonic Genetics, Rotterdam Film Festival, 2001
Sonic Genetics, New York Underground Film Festival, 2001
Sonic Genetics, Holland Festival, Paradiso Amsterdam, 2001
Abraxas vs. Acephale, Illuseum, Amsterdam, 2002

Aryan Kaganof complete filmography

Western 4.33


Hectic (Pines Slopes Publications, 2001)
Hectisch (Podium, 2001)
Sugar man & Other Bitter Stories (Pines Slopes Publications, 2002)


The Writing’s On The Wall (Pine Slopes, 2001)


Virgins, Mbeki’s Warm Jets (2001, cd-single)
Virgins, Theft (2001, cd album)

1950. Summer Stock (Charles Walters)

Filed under: film,Frieda Grafe — ABRAXAS @ 6:06 am

keep reading this review here: http://eightandahalfcinema.blogspot.com/2007/03/mgm-musicals-02-summer-stock.html

April 22, 2012

Filed under: ian kerkhof,music — ABRAXAS @ 10:07 pm

Ian Kerkhof Film Music From Shabondama Elegy Album Cover | Ian Kerkhof Album Covers

April 20, 2012

last rites

Filed under: film as subversive art — ABRAXAS @ 1:11 pm

4 MAI – 6 MAI


Second Edition of Montreal’s Satanism Fest
Seconde Édition de la Semaine du Satanisme à Montréal




DU 4 au 6 MAI 2012

Vendredi le 4 Mai – 9 PM


679 St-Remi apt. 735 (Loft Fattal/St-Henri)




Samedi le 5 Mai

215A rue Murray (Griffintown)

(artists & menu to be announced)

4873 Saint-Laurent

AIDS WOLF (final gig)



Dimanche le 6 Mai
> 3-6 PM
> (program & venue to be announced)
> 550 Beaumont, #516 (Parc Ex)
> Chris Strickland/Tomacz Krakoviak
> Jen Reimer/Max Stein
> Jon Bowles/Steve MacFarland/Émilie Mouchous
> Alain Lefebvre/Sarah Wendt
> &
> Mystery Performance
> *
> More details to follow
> Weekend passes available
> *





April 19, 2012

The substitute by Anna Tilroe

Filed under: ian kerkhof,kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 12:26 pm

Ian Kerkhof is no more. No one has heard anything from him since he left the Netherlands under dramatic circumstances in 1999 and headed for South Africa, the land where he was born and raised. Someone else has taken his place and has assimilated everything having anything to do with Kerkhof. That may come as a shock to those who expected so much from this talked-about filmmaker, but fortunately there’s been no real loss. Because although Kerkhof may have disappeared as a name, there seems to be no end to his output as a creative spirit. Books, films, drawings and written work appear one after another, and these plus an endless series of pamphlets, e-mails and web publications all point to a mentality that reflects Kerkhof’s down to the most minute details. It’s just that all the work is signed nowadays by a certain Aryan Kaganof.

Does the name change really matter? Strictly speaking, no. After all, we say that a work of art is autonomous and greater than its maker. Yet in the past few centuries more and more emphasis has been placed on the name of the maker, so much so that we may well ask whether something hasn’t gone totally awry. Oddly enough, this is a question that has attracted very little discussion, even though at the deepest level it touches on the place of art in our society. Everyone can see that the signature of the artist has become a brand name that determines not only the market value of the work of art but also its significance in the scope of art history and in contemporary society. Likewise, we know that branding as an economic and artistic principle has become so prevalent in the art world that even leading exhibition organizers have become trademarks. These international curators establish name recognition by developing themes that appear to lend a certain urgency to art. It doesn’t really matter if the urgency is understood within society as a whole, or even if it corresponds with the intentions of the chosen artists. The brand name, after all, is not a dialogue but a system, as closed as fundamentalist belief.

What the exact reasons were for Kerkhof’s discarding his name like a moth-eaten suit is something we will never know. But if we properly understand what Kaganof is hinting at, name recognition and everything that goes with it today is fatal to the pursuit of art. In his eyes, an artist is not a personality who keeps giving shape to his specific identity in a way that is recognizable, but a chameleon-like personage, a transparent figure whose absence of identity enables him to be fully receptive to the form, colour, odour and sex of all that surrounds him. It might even be said that this lack of identity, according to a text that Kaganof distributed among his friends and acquaintances, is a cardinal rule for anyone who calls himself an artist, especially if he or she is driven by the ambition to create a masterpiece. Like Kaganof.

The text was written in 1936 by Gertrude Stein and was entitled What Are Master-pieces And Why There Are So Few Of Them. Identity, she wrote in her familiar unrestrained flow of words that I am paraphrasing here, has to do with what you remember about yourself. It is a form of illustrating yourself based on your memory, and although that may be good for people who want to establish a persona that they and others can recognize, it is not good for the making of a masterpiece. A masterpiece can only be created when nothing prior has been laid down and when a conscious effort has been made to relinquish every form of identity.

Kaganof advances Stein’s argument for doing away with identity just when economic globalism and mass migration have brought the idea of cultural and personal identity into sharp focus. As a white man who left South African in protest against Apartheid, he is undoubtedly well aware of this. But, as you might gather from his written work and his films, it is not the task of the artist to create or maintain any kind of identity but to see behind, beneath, beside or through the masquerades, institutions and systems that support it. Because therein lies that which people have in common, that which unites them and makes them human.

A splendid example of this is the film Nice to meet you, please don’t rape me!, made in 1995. In this work we follow four men, three black and one white, who have found each other on the seamy side of life in South Africa and try to help each other out as best they can. None of them has an identity in the form of a legal name, a permanent place of residence, a wife, family or possessions. All we learn about them is that they are lost in a society that is marked by vengeance, moral degeneration, and spiritual and physical violation. Their mutual suspicion and aggression, often influenced by alcohol and drugs, lead to fierce outbursts of rage and violence that they are constantly struggling to keep in check with regard to each other by means of pacifying rituals. Each one perceives to a greater or lesser degree that he needs the other, not so much to survive in a desolate, bloodthirsty urban jungle, because these men don’t attach all that much to life. What connects them, rather, is a longing, the longing to preserve whatever shred of human dignity is left to them.

But what do we really mean when we talk about humanity and human dignity? What social and moral criteria do we employ? For Kaganof, there are no presuppositions for human existence. The human being, he believes, has the ability to invent himself, and that ability, that freedom, is both a privilege and a curse. That is why his characters seek the dark and the margins of life. That is why they electrify their brains with drugs and torment their bodies to the farthest limits. They celebrate their limitlessness by transgressing all the rules, even if it means physical or mental ruin, because they know, consciously or unconsciously, that hidden in the transgression lies the ecstasy, the power that lifts us above ourselves, towards the light.

Most of the characters never get that far, however. They go round and round in their limitlessness like guinea pigs in a maze. We look at them and see people for whom the transgression is an end in itself, and it doesn’t matter if they over indulge in sex and drugs in the Amsterdam party circuit (the film Wasted; Naar de klote in Dutch), or sink into the world of criminals and prostitutes in Tokyo (Shabodama Elegy), or scour the bars and drug dens of Capetown (the novel Hectic). Wherever they live, whatever they do and whatever their age, what Kaganof’s people have in common is their recognizability. We recognize them as exponents of a time without memory, without direction, without passion, without morals. Time as a vacuum: our time.

Is Kaganof a moralist? You would almost think so to look at the sharpness with which he renders the moral decay of his characters. But morality as a system of ethical principles and norms is incompatible with what for Kaganof constitutes the artistic vocation. For him, Good and Evil are concepts like Identity: they lay down in the form of rules and regulations that which is essentially fleeting and mutable and, above all, infinitely nuanced. Morality is tantamount to a denial of the depth of the human spirit, a depth that, oddly enough, is mainly perceptible in what is generally regarded as Evil. And that is the area in which Kaganof chooses to be active.

In doing so, he often assumes the position in his books of an involved observer on the one hand and one who sees himself in relative terms on the other. This results in descriptions that are as remorseless as they are humorous and that attest to a profound feeling for detail, such as this fragment from Sugarman and Other Bitter Stories that he himself published in South Africa:

Brigitta, not yet 21, studies Drama, is distantly related to Hitler. She’s wearing black. Hair dyed purple. Swastika decals on her fingernails. Bored.
Diamond bursts in, kisses the table, kicks Brigitta. He’s wearing a great t-shirt. It says ‘Eat the homeless’. Brigitta kisses his boots and licks him. He kicks her again in her ample buttocks. Diamond smiles insanely, his speed blackened teeth threatening to spill out of his mouth any second now.

Evil is a choice that only can be made by those who know what Good is. Evil is consciousness as well as loss of innocence and security. Those who embrace Evil are doomed to live with the realization that there is no absolute Truth and that nothing is what it seems. That is why Evil is such a perfect fit in modern life. Living with a sense of insecurity became a condition of our life when, as Hannah Arendt writes in Vita Activa, we began to realize along with Descartes that ‘the nature of Being is such that its manifestations can be nothing but delusions and the images that are derived from those manifestations nothing but hallucinations.’ Everything today is wavering now that science has once and for all shown the limits of the senses and the power of reason, and technology has eliminated the difference between reality and unreality. For this reason we see the good God today, in the words of Arendt, as a Dieu trompeur, an evil spirit who with his cunning trickery ‘has created a being and instilled in it a certain notion of what truth is, but at the same time has poisoned it with such different capacities that it will never be capable of finding one single truth or of being certain of one single thing.’

Kaganof is the son of this deceitful god. He made that choice the minute he picked up a motion picture camera and suddenly found himself able to create the world anew. He filmed not only what he saw, but also what, from the point of view of prevailing morality, should not be seen: the sinful lusts of the body. In Kyodai Makes the Big Time, made when he was still at Film Academy in Amsterdam, he masturbated for the camera – and won a Golden Calf, an important Dutch film prize.

The body has always been a central element in his work. The human being is his body. He bases his identity on it from the moment he says ‘I’, but even that makes him afraid of losing his body again, something he always sees happening with other people. That is why for Kaganof the body must endure everything it fears: torture, sexual excess, sensual chaos and even (as in the film Beyond Ultra Violence – Uneasy Listening By Merzbow) hara kiri. And always in a ritual way, because it is through ritual that the body transcends itself, particularly the frightened mouse that is hiding within it and is so tightly attached to itself.

But inherent in that transcendence is violation: a transgression of borders that is neither socially nor politically acceptable. The person who determines his own death places himself outside the rule of law. He withdraws himself from what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, in his book Homo Sacer, calls ‘bio-politics’: the ‘process of discipline, imposed by the political system in which the human being as a living creature becomes both the object and the subject of political power’. It is political power that determines how far a person’s freedom may extend in making decisions about his own life, whether it be a question of drug use, smoking and sex before marriage or of suicide, euthanasia and dying a hero’s death for one’s country.

In line with this came Kaganof’s Western 4.33. That film, which came out in 2002, is a documentary about a mineworkers’ village in Namibia built by German colonists between 1904 and 1907 and based on a model concentration camp that the British had designed in South Africa during the Boer War. More than sixty thousand people from the Herero tribe lost their lives there.

Kaganof filmed the abandoned camp during the winter in black and white. We see barbed wire, fences, dark barracks, a vast white landscape and a black silence. Not a living soul. Then images – in colour – of a woman mourning over a lost love with a man’s voice speaking in an African language (no subtitles, because, as Kaganof once explained during an interview, ‘The Germans never took the trouble to understand what the Herero were saying.’) Murder, loss, lack of understanding, colonialism: the words take shape in the images, forming not a story but an emotion, a scorch mark on the soul.

Kaganof is a brilliant storyteller, but his films don’t follow a story line. They follow the image. He employs that image like a tone in a musical piece, setting it in motion, driving it along, draining it of its colour, letting it flow apart or run over into other images, staccato and dazzling or slowly diminishing, vaguely trilled or clear and taut. It is the moving image at maximum intensity, and in all its movements it shows itself to be as nimble and transparent as thoughts in the brain. We look through the bodies, the birds and the landscapes and see, as in the four Suprematist Compositions, the body of a dancer like a continuously dying and reviving cellular structure, falling mountains, a dog’s carcass as a relief map of the earth and – just like that – a pair of squabbling pigeons.

Kaganof is dead, we suddenly read in white on black between two Suprematist Compositions. Kaganof, son of a god with a thousand tongues, has a great deal more to tell us.

Anna Tilroe

Translation: Nancy Forest-Flier

Aryan Kaganof Complete Videography


Hotel Ava (ya ta lubim)
The Man Who Mediated Himself To A Climax
“What Is Metaphysics?”
“It’s The Children”
The Children – Incest
The Children – Snuff
Merzbow Beyond Snuff
Kaganof On Feminism
Meditation On Violence


Western 4.33
Western Dub
Western: “Charles manson in the Desert”
Casbah And Back
In Brooklyn
Alles Goed


Nicola’s First Orgasm
Primal Scene
M. Masturbates (slowly)
M. Masturbates (very fast)
Menke Dances With The Devil
Valeria On Fire
K. In The Doorway
G. Takes Her Top Off (twice)


Venus In Furs
Pale Blue Eyes

E. the parametric formalist compositions

Parametric Formalist Composition No. 1
Parametric Formalist Composition No. 2
No. 3 “Baudelaire In Heaven”
No. 4 “On the Simultaneous Particle and Wave nature of Light”


No. 1 “On Going Out The Body”
No. 2 “The Divinity Is Everywhere And Nowhere”
No. 3 “On The Relation Of INdividual Souls To The Youniversal Soul”
No. 4 “On The Return Of Beings To The First”


Nostalgia For The Future
The Seven Last Words Of Jesus Christ
“Mommy, What Is metasonics?”


Matthew Barney’s Rotterdam Performance 1995
Stelarc’s Tokyo Performance 1997
Ron Athey’s Lille Performance 1997
Ron Athey’s Paris Performance 1998
Acephale’s First recording 1974
The Ghost Of John Lennon Haunts Berlin


Stoned (Immaculate)
The Beast

jonathan’s face – DEVIATED SEPTUM

Filed under: literature,melissa adendorff — ABRAXAS @ 8:49 am

Jonathan and I have a primarily olfactory relationship. on that Tuesday night when we found ourselves in whatever it is we are in … it began with a gram of cocaine. I lie. It started with him telling me to show him his clit rings. Then a few hours later we bonded over little white lines of powder.
We are watching the owls again. We couldn‟t help ourselves. “See, maybe that‟s why he likes it – because there are babies being … not dominated … but pushed around.” The girl who reads faces says she‟s thinking “pretty pale bitch is kind of like Jonathan. And she also does the flicks that Jonathan does” she says as she points to the outer corners of her eyes.
“Jonathan probably practices his looks.”
He probably lives in a house of mirrors … I wouldn‟t know. He lives with another woman.
“Together we‟ll get away.”
“You mustn‟t feel sorry for them down there.” There‟s some appeal for him in that, my god king …
How fitting that the nose is ruled by the metal element – since we are watching Metal Beak. “Weakness is for the lower species. Never for us.”
There is nothing of weakness in Jonathan‟s nose, said the girl who reads faces. There‟s ambition and independence. He‟s egotistical and self-centred and in idealist. The bony nose shows that he is not interested in material things and that he has an ascetic personality. He needs to be in charge. He‟s shrewd and he‟s an old soul.
He sounds more and more like Metal Beak, saying “the strong shall rule the weak.”
My nose is not like his nose. My nose marks me as less ambitious and not concerned with achievement. I am a sentimental realist. I need lots of affection and I need to voice my opinions. I enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and material things …
My nose is scarred. My nose has been broken and set and re-broken and reset … there is no pain like the explosion of colour when a nose cracks. There‟s no throb like it … no sensitivity to match it, three days after infliction.
If his nose has never been broken, then that is a pain he should feel. So that he‟ll breathe in the pain.
We have an olfactory bond.
Dulce et decorum est.
I have a deviated septum. It hurts to do cocaine. That would do him a world of good. Well, not a world of good, but it would be a “fierce ironic traffic jam.”
And his face would never be the same. His face would be forever changed, deeper than skin. Bone deep. And he would feel it when it was cold, and he would always remember.
“People like Jonathan irritate me,” says the girl who reads faces. “Because they really shouldn‟t have power over someone. They don‟t deserve it. They don‟t earn it. They don‟t know how to command it properly. They shouldn‟t.”
I look at her. “They don‟t use it properly. They abuse it.”
She has a point. For all my defence of natural dominants, she has a point. He is Metal Beak.
“It all comes down to „I‟ll fuck with you because I can‟ and they know they can.”
I guess there are natural abusers and natural victims and he and I are a natural match that way. It‟s only wrong to the watchers … to the guardians …
That right there; that is the pathology of our relationship.
Funny, when I asked him to hit me, I asked him not break my nose again. I think I take that back now. I‟d want him to, and have that be his pain.
“The tip of the nose is where you measure emotional vulnerability.” The heart protector … “if it has been weakened, there is more risk of being too vulnerable.”
And there‟s that image of the sweet damaged child, who felt the pain of broken nose on the inside, deeper than bone deep.
“Oh he does annoy me though” she says.
“He also has the „dance-for-me-monkey-boy-attitude going on, like the world is here for his entertainment. Juju is his currency” … she pauses. “Soya sauce makes me profound.”
I am silent. I imagine a child with a bruised face. “How are you scared of Jonathan, though? Are you scared because you love him?” I don‟t know.
I remember him saying to me that if something were to happen to me that nobody would let him know. I don‟t know why that has come up in relation to fear. The girl who reads faces says that she‟d only tell him out of respect for me, not for him.
“He‟s got fucking awful energy.”
I am uncomfortable with trusting Jonathan but I trust him completely. I am scared but I don‟t know why.
I know he looks down his nose at me – I am not scared of his judgement – I don‟t know.
I think about the boy who holds my heart. The girl who reads faces says that he is what I should want … above and beyond Jonathan.
His nose, the boy who holds my heart‟s nose, is fleshy. He likes creature comforts and he‟s good with money. It‟s a “bog-standard” nose. He has the control bump. “He‟s the grown-up who takes responsibility and makes the material things happen.”
The girl who reads faces likes him.
He doesn‟t like Jonathan, and he makes himself uncomfortable whenever he speaks of his dislike for the “oestrogen-riddled cunt”.
The girl who reads faces looks at me and smiles.
“He‟s an awful god king. He just likes the crown. He doesn‟t want the responsibility. He‟s a queen that way. It‟s curious he doesn‟t like material pleasures but it costs money to put things up his nose. It might not be a pleasure for him though, and just be something he‟s entitled to.”
His royal nose … His favourite smell is Deep Red. I started wearing it just for him. “His face, lovely as it is, prefaces his awfulness on the inside.”
THE FLOOR How much notice do you take of your floor?
You walk on it every day, yet odds are you wouldn‟t be able to describe it in more detail than “it‟s tiled” … there are teardrops and mascara on my floor.
I can‟t read her face; it‟s buried in her arms as she sobs. The boy with the unshed tears, the boy who crept his way into her heart, unbeknownst to her, has found another. Which would generally be okay, but just a few weeks ago he yelled at her about Jonathan. Now we can‟t figure out why he would have done that. He is the salt in the wound that she just cut into her thigh. It‟s the same thigh into which she etched her apology to Jonathan.
I‟ll etch your name into my skin and hope to god that you love me if all else fails, I can always scratch it out and write our own new happy ending. free fall from a fallen sky hoping that you care enough to catch me I‟ll kiss your lips and pretend that I haven‟t heard them speak words of disdain about me. I‟ll look into your eyes and pretend I can‟t see you looking elsewhere I‟ll hold your hand and pretend that I can‟t feel you pulling away.
“It‟s a special kind of pain” she says, “this is from the first fight with Jonathan”, as she points to an old scar on her leg.
“There‟s a point when you realise you‟re totally alone. I think I‟ve reached it.”
I would say I‟m hurt, but I‟m not.
I understand that sometimes there is only one person, THAT person, who can fix it. I realise I am not that person, and I realise all I can do is just be here and talk and watch. So I am here. Iwrite.
I‟m hungry.
I just wonder what it‟s like when the floor is taken away from under you, after your sky has fallen. Do you float in the nothingness alone, or do you look into the abyss, and then fall into it as it laughs at you.
She says she‟ll fix her face.
All the tiled pieces of the floor have fallen away and her abyss has now opened up. My floor is just a token floor. We sit on it, rather than the couch, industrial paint-stripper whiskey next to us. She sobs and cries and speaks and pours her heart out as if I were the person(s) that needed to hear it.
I know the story already. I am not even a proxy like the boy with the heavy eyes. I am just the girl who reads faces and I am just … there.
She leans forward into her lap as I suggest we play rock-paper-scissors to figure out which of her people we should phone. I know Jonathan is the one who would be the best person to fix it and I know the boy who holds her heart is the contingency plan. But I still play the game and see if chance has anything to say about it. We‟re too much on the same wavelength to get anywhere with this game. Five plays down the line and we‟re at one all and three draws.
We give up on the game and I phone Jonathan.
At least he answered. He‟s really high and not concentrating on the conversation. She grabs a piece of paper and a pen off the floor and starts writing out “I told you so” … actually “I foretold you so” in honour of the owls. He says he‟ll let me know when he can talk, when he knows. That was the end of our conversation. Helpful bastard.
Then … contingency plan then. I phone the boy who holds her heart. I explain what has happened and he calmly tells me to hand her the phone. She balances the phone in one hand a bloody paper towel in the other. She talks and sobs at him. I watch the redness spread on the white of towel, bright from the whiskey. He doesn‟t seem to be helping. She‟s sobbing even harder than she was before. That makes me worried. They talk for a little while and her sobs stifle … a little bit.
There was another one that I called, much earlier, before … this … while she talks to the boy who holds her heart I think back to earlier when I phoned Jonathan the first time to get hold of someone else … the boy with the hair fetish… he didn‟t want to leave the party to come have whiskey on the floor. I feel a flare of anger rise up against him because I feel that had he have come, this might not have happened. She would have held onto him and channelled some juju … or whatever it is that she does … the thing is I know that if anything happens to her, it would be those three who immediately jump on my head for it. Bastards.
I was irritated that I couldn‟t pull a Domme voice on her. She says I‟m too little and it doesn‟t help that I‟m a girl. She needs a masculine energy, and I know that if someone pulled a Dom voice at her to be okay, that she would be. I think of what a useless Dom/god king Jonathan is if he won‟t even pull a Dom voice over the phone for her. Surely he knows. Goddamnit. (itchy back).
I wake up the next morning with a message from her and I sigh in relief that she is okay. She comes over again and we look at the half-empty whiskey bottle. We get chewable soup from the Chinese shop downstairs, and decide to hair of the dog. Hair of the dog leads to an empty whiskey bottle and all the Irish comedy shows we know being recited. AND THEN THE CAGE COMES DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I really hope that this is a return to normalcy and not just a really good act. I want to fix it, but I ain‟t the one who done broked it.
I wonder if going away – going pot-holing in Croatia – will help her. I suppose not. The scars in her arm channel Jonathan‟s juju and every so often flare and itch with his mood. I want to be able to tie him to a flogging post and beat the meaning of what he‟s done into her. His cruelty deserves and can only be matched by more cruelty. I want to make him take back his bad juju and apologise to her for everything he‟s done and feel the burden of his sins. Feel the burden deeply and acknowledge that he is the one who committed those sins. He is not Dorian. She is not his portrait. I wonder if that statue will be able to hold up the burden like granite, or will he crumble like chalk. White, white chalk. White, white powder. Even as powder he‟d be deadly to her. Clog up her nose and kill off her brain cells. She‟d choke on him and die with him in her system. His end would be her end.
I hate him. I barely know him, but I hate him for his cruelty.
I wonder if he‟s ever noticed what lovely big eyes she has. Wide eyes that would totally reflect her trust in him. I have the feeling that he only looks at her when her mouth is around his cock, and even then, not properly. Disgusting boy. I won‟t call him a man. A man would be able to wear his crown and be a true god king. Again rage flares up in me against him and his cruelty. Yet I feel impotent because I know he would just blow me off as he does with all people who do not entertain him. I can‟t even call him a cunt, because he does not have the depth or capacity to give pleasure. He just mindfucks you into thinking that he does.
Anger burns in me. It has burnt away the alcohol; I am now sober. I don‟t like my baser reactions to him. I can feel myself slipping down the slope to his level. There are better and more enjoyable and useful ways to degrade yourself.
How convenient would it be if we could just Photoshop Jonathan out of the picture, artist that he is. But convenience must always be paid for, and I fear what the price might be. What would her picture look like without him in it?
Probably just as blank as his face. I am frightened by his face. Not just by what is and isn‟t there, but by what I know of him and the realisation that it‟s not reflected in his face as it should be. How does his mind work? What is his pathology?
I am curious to know and understand him better, curious child that I am. But once you know something, you can‟t unknow it. You can‟t unfuck your mind and you can‟t unjuju yourself. You‟d have to ask him to fix it and God knows he won‟t do it. He‟ll fuck with you just because he can. Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.
A futile thought manifests itself in my mind. There are others who would be better for her. More compatible, more caring, more responsible, more capable. I know this. She knows this. I also know that once someone is your god king, good luck leaving his kingdom.

I lay on the dirty floor in a R700 dress. I lay bleeding. And Jonathan wouldn‟t come. And the boy who holds my heart told me that nothing is really wrong with me. One hundred and forty five cuts. Yes. I‟m fine. I‟m crying on a dirty floor. I‟m crying and I‟m alone. Utterly alone and rejected.
For the last three weeks I have waned to write a suicide note, but I haven‟t written anything that I could call a good final attempt. The notes I‟ve written need to be eloquent and graceful.
And I have no grace.
On the floor, in a dress that I wore for Jonathan that he never saw. On the floor, the girl who reads faces asked him to help me and he said no. I lay on her floor, under her table. And I bled in her bathroom. And I cried. My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?
The boy who holds my heart has my bracelet on his back … γνῶθι σαὐτόν … know thyself. And he knows me and my nothing. Know your faults. Know you are not divine. But he said he doesn‟t like speaking on the phone. And I said I was sorry.
What the eyes don‟t see. And it was morning and it was evening …
We sit on the squishy little couch in the tattoo parlour. The boy with the heavy eyes is busy drawing up her new tattoo. The therapist taking out his notepad, sharpening his pencil. Lay back. Are you comfortable? Are you ready to open up yourself to me?
Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
They‟re not actually speaking to each other. He draws, left handed. She watches.
His work reflects anxiety and aggression. I wonder that she is surprised. She showed him the cuts in her thigh and now he knows the responsibility of fixing now rests on his shoulders. He ain‟t done broked it, but he‟s gotta fix it.
Large lips, fleshy nose, slightly upturned, his eyebrows seem thinner than before. Eyes set back. Heavy brow. No trauma in right ear, but he has stretchers. Widows peak, harsh upbringing, uneasy teen years, defined cheekbones, slightly flattened. Strong square chin and pointed jaw. Slight cleft in chin. Reservoirs near mouth. Nose sticks out more than an inch from face. His left ear doesn‟t match his right. There is a smaller aural opening. She says there‟s a golden retriever like look about him. I think he reminds me more of those little Shetland ponies.
The way he looks at her, into her eyes, Christ, I want one like that. Such a sweet soul in an experienced and knowing body. He is by no means naive. He is just a simple soul. The ice lolly to Jonathan‟s lemon sorbet. Sweet and soothing on the days Jonathan flares and burns hotter than the sun.
He gets her seated in the chair. Please be seated. He prepares his work station. The therapist opening up his notepad, uncapping his pen. Lighting his pipe.
He taps his foot in time to the music, upbeat, he smiles and gives off such happy juju that we both can‟t help but smile in return.
She loves him. Her sadness fills the shop. I tell her to stop projecting so that I can feel what his juju is like. She‟s struggling to silence it. All I can feel now is him concentrating. Everything else is pushed back. There is some anxiety, she makes him nervous. He‟s said that to her before. Now they‟ve hushed a bit. She says it‟s like putting after sun lotion on a sunburn. I think it feels like a tired child lying down on a soft bed after a long day and a bath.
Sigh, the complexity of it all.
She‟s busy ow-ing at him because her arm is at an uncomfortable angle. He turns it another way to accommodate her and her carries on. That‟s how their dynamic works. He gives her what she wants and makes it better, and they just keep on keeping on.
“You can see he wants to give you what you want … he‟s sweet though … I don‟t know. I can‟t actually figure him out though, I don‟t know if it‟s because he‟s so repressed that he doesn‟t seem to want anything for himself.”
I shrug.
I burp. “How‟s that for profound.”
I don‟t know. The thing is, the way I think of Jonathan is that he was a sweet kid and now he‟s a damaged kid. And the boy with the heavy eyes is … I wouldn‟t call him a dude or a kid or a man … I‟d call him a guy. He‟s a sweet guy.
“The stretchers bother me though, because it fucks with the ears. That irritates me so badly. See, because my theory is … in the book, nothing about modification is dealt with … because a larger earlobe is financial management and a chance of finding money later in life, usually because you know how to manage your money. Now my theory on it is, I could be talking absolute shit for all I know, that even if you stretch your earlobes it might mess with that energy but I don‟t think it really counts because there‟s no flesh … it means about the same as a boob job … it‟s not related to ambition, but it‟s that skill of managing money. So you want a man with big earlobes.”
The therapist doesn‟t write on paper. The ink of her story goes into her skin. This week‟s session notes in her left forearm. I want to draw some comparison about it being an externalisation, but it isn‟t really because it is still in her. Different problems are solved by different therapies. Jonathan can‟t be solved. He doesn‟t just go away.
Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
I want to drown him in holy water. He‟d probably burn the holy water away. It would evaporate and he would regenerate.
What pathology does Jonathan embody … I can‟t tell from his face. From what I know I guess that he would be a sociopath. He is lust and greed, pride and wrath and envy … I don‟t think sloth. I don‟t think gluttony either, because the drugs to him … it‟s not gluttony for drugs. He‟s entitled to it.
Drugs are the nectar of the god king.
“Hallelujah” plays in the background.
“Do you think there‟s a circle in hell for him? Or do you think they won‟t let him in for fear that he‟ll take over?”
“It‟s a cold and it‟s a broken hallelujah.”
Her bottle opener is next to her bed. Penis is amazing, what it‟s attached to, not so much. It‟s enough to drive any girl to alcoholism.
I prefer the face of the boy with the heavy eyes to Jonathan‟s. Fuck it. Any face is preferable to Jonathan‟s. Any other face would reflect more life than his.
She describes Jonathan as inquisitive. I would say he leers. It goes beyond inquisitiveness. He watches you for his entertainment. “Dance for me monkey boy.”
… She said that to the boy with the heavy eyes today. Told him to dance for her. And dance he did. Sweet guy.
I roll myself a cigarette. My own sort of therapy.
Either way our habits will end up killing us and they‟re all because of men, funnily enough. Penis is amazing, what it‟s attached to, not so much.
I‟m curious to see Jonathan‟s face as she sees it. Because had she had seen it the way I do she would have run a mile and the last eight months wouldn‟t have been what they were.
Skin marks what happens to you. Whether quickly, through a scar or a bruise, slowly by wrinkles, no record is as meticulously kept or as deliberate as when you get a tattoo … it marks. Who you are, what you‟ve done, things you‟ve seen and places you‟ve been, things you haven‟t gotten over … it‟s all there … whether you laughed or cried or tried … x marks the spot. Your facial skin tone shows up who you are. A black undertone is water. On Jonathan‟s map it says “abandon hope all ye who enter in.”

The girl who reads faces is lying on my couch. She looks off to the wall, where I have a picture that I made for Jonathan. She said it was a tribute to him. I take it off the wall when I know people are coming over. “Your bed is over there, and the guardian angel is between you and him. And then the picture of him that‟s closer to you is your version of him.” She says that Freud would have a field day with how I drew the lips.
I have another painting on my wall, one of myself that I was commissioned to make, but then I never gave it to the supposed recipient. It‟s a grey-scale painting on a red background. The girl who reads faces looks up at it. I told Jonathan about this painting as I was doing it, and I sent him pictures of its progress but he never saw the finished product.
She watched me getting a tattoo today. I got it because it reminds me that some wounds never heal. Like the one on my right arm, that I got because of Jonathan, reminding me to think before I act … this one reminds me that motions, desires and spasms and acts all hurt … they cut to the heart.
Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
What would Jonathan say if he knew what we said about him? He wouldn‟t care. He never cares.
The boy with the heavy eyes met him once before … they faced each other with cold smiles and cold appraisal. I would take that night back if I could.
Jonathan‟s skin is remarkably pale. Sickly pale. He looks like an addict. A malnourished, skeletal, pasty creature with black eyes and sharp teeth.
His skin shows up the rope burns. I didn‟t tie him up myself, but it was done at my command. And he liked it. Red rope marks on pure white skin. Red and white. Blood drops along a line of cocaine.
Jonathan did a photo shoot with me. We painted his face and put him in bondage.
I did that to fuck with him.
He wears his bondage well.
But the rope was … gentle … not rough or untreated like the rope that was tied around me. Soft, polite rope, that stokes rather than makes abrasions.
And he liked it.
I like to be tied up so tightly that my arms go numb. Numb and dead and heavy from the pressure put on the subclavian arteries by the rope around my neck and shoulders. I like the rope to bruise in remembrance of the karada‟s embrace. I like it to tear me open when I‟m roughly untied and the blood rushes back into my pale hands with cyanotic fingertips and white nail beds. I like to panic with the rope around my neck. To feel its rub against my pulse and its push against my larynx so that speaking becomes a punishment and breathing requires focus.
This is not “soft bondage” with silk scarves around wrists. Blood bondage. Dirty. Sweaty. You have to wash your rope afterwards.
Soft rope left remembrance on Jonathan. Soft rope that lay lightly on his chest. A caress.
I want to put him in a noose. I want his neck to pucker around the rope and blister from a friction burn that I could run my fingernails over and cut open to release lymphatic fluid, to drip down his chest like tears. To trail down his chest and come to rest on my tongue as I look up at him.
I asked him once if he had ever done breath play. He hadn‟t. It‟s something I love and hate and fear and need. It‟s an absolute rush. The (irrational) panic of not being able to breathe in is … exquisite. I said to him that I would like to do breath play with him, but with him being the one asphyxiating. Gently. Softly. Stroking his neck and then going harder, harder, till
ghostly pallor reddens and his eyes go wide, wide with shock, and his hands tense, and he strains against me.
And then I‟d let go and watch his heaving chest. The chest always heaves … even mine … and I‟m used to it. I could addict him to it. Dulce et decorum est. Addict him to what he forbade me to have. And make him beg for it like I beg. On my knees. On his knees. He likes it when I “ask him nicely”. He likes to hear me say please.
But I wouldn‟t want him to speak, to hear his voice rasp pathetically, fromout a strangled throat. I‟d want his eyes to tear up and for him to slump forward against me, helpless and trembling and defeated, and exhilarated and hungry for more.
And then I‟d tell him to ask me if he could lick my pussy. … the thought of that excites me, actually.
My body is addicted to him. And like any good narcotic, it leaves me empty and wanting more.
I‟d tie him up and leave him there … wherever that may be. Leave him helpless. And lean down and kiss his forehead.
I doubt he‟d be humiliated. Although, I‟d leave him until he pissed on himself and then I‟d make him clean it. And I‟ll wash him off afterwards, like an invalid. I am by no means a fan of age play or infantalisation or watersports … but for him I would do it.
For him I would. For him. And then what?
I‟d watch him sleep. Exhausted and spent from crying. Regressive therapy. He was probably left to cry.
The girl who reads faces says that a Master like hers could break him. He used to be my Master. And he threw me away because I wouldn‟t be more committed because Jonathan forbid me from engaging in BDSM play … so I did it behind his back … and I got left behind for it. He‟s her Master now. A Master like hers, a Mistress, could suspend him and lower him inch by begging inch, after being raised to a height with her face and talking to him, humiliating him, making him look at her and face his truth. She says she doesn‟t think he‟d submit to breath play but that he‟d broken after a suspension like that …
A bird with a broken wing – doomed to walk the earth and forget the sky. “Look at me I‟m down here, I‟m harmless and a little bit dumb, I‟m just dressed up like the
god you are trying to become”, (Nataniël, Close to the sun).
And I‟d hold a finger on his trachea and tell him to breathe with me. And I‟d hear the rasping gurgle and I‟d tell him that those are unattractive noises. And then I‟d stroke his hair. And I‟d nurse him out of subspace.
Because I am not a true sadist.
Jonathan has yelled me out of subspace before. I had had a “session” with a ProDom who broke my ribs for me – who did what Jonathan was too weak to do. And he yelled. I collapsed that night, breathless and bruised, and I got up and I asked for more … and then I went down again. A week later we repeated the exercise on the other side. I was very uncomfortable for a long while. Jonathan asked me not to show him my bruises. Not to show him my skin.
Coward. Blue would be a good colour on him. Blue in his skin. Blue handprints. Blue eyes.
I‟d love to let the ProDom loose on him. But I want that satisfaction for myself. I am a Switch. I can bite the hand that feeds.
I want.
I want to mark him as mine with a razorblade collar – and make him ask me if he could masturbate as it cut into him, making his blood run with his sweat as I watch –
Yes. Yum. Blood, sweat and cum.
And I would make him lick his fingers. He doesn‟t like the taste of blood. Tough shit. I do. I like the thick, clawing taste of the unholy communion.
Jonathan said to me this morning that he is tired of people‟s bullshit. I don‟t know what that means. I apologised to him on principle and asked if I could do anything. He said no. I said that I would if I could. He said that he knows. I felt my scars flare up yesterday but they might as well not be in my skin right now … which is strange because he is not okay. And I didn‟t feel it. Granted, I mostly feel his rage clawing through my skin. His sadness is silent and doesn‟t make my skin itch.
I hate that my anger disappears almost instantaneously and is replaced by concern. “Ek is blind gestaar teen die glas”, as Nataniël says.
I need to stop caring.
I need to stay angry and I need to get him out of my skin.
I need to get vengeful and mark his skin so that he will know not to do this again.
… I take a breath and ask myself what exactly the “this” is that he did. He never hurt my skin through any violent act of abuse and yet my skin has him written all over it.
I could carve my thoughts and words into his, and make him into my graphic novel. And the words will bleed and sting and dry and get sucked into his skin and leave thin white lines all over him.
Thin white lines like the ones we love. Thin white lines, slightly raised, so that my fingertips could read him too. And I‟d kiss my words.
The girl who reads faces says Jonathan has labia minora and majora on his face. Then she changes her mind and says he has a minora and a labia media … average bottom lip. The top lip reflects the ascetic personality. She laughs. He‟d probably love Nataniël‟s white minimalist house. Yet, because his house is probably all big … it‟s nice minimalist and not poor minimalist, it would probably still make Jonathan uncomfortable. He has lack lines around his mouth. So he has gotten used to not having anything. She says it in a voice that belies the pain of the words. She asks if she is a bad person as she takes a sip of wine. She purses her lips. Puckers them. Licks them.
Even if I were to gag him or sew his lips together so that he couldn‟t speak and overrule the inner canthus cruelty … I‟d rather take the cruelty from his mouth than from his eyes … I‟d rather have him be cruel on purpose than just being cruel.
He was cruel to me with his words just now. He just disowned me and told me to do as I please.
His freedom tastes as bitter as the cocaine I rub into my gums. My lips go numb.
We are sitting on my porch, drinking. We have been drunk since Sunday, which is now five days ago.
The boy with the hair fetish comes and joins us. We sit on the floor. He doesn‟t like Jonathan. He holds me for a long time when we say hello.
I ask him to tell me about his childhood. He does. He looks down the whole time and speaks in a cold monotone. We take turns. We were all born. We have something in common.
He has a vulnerable nose. There‟s a line … and not the type that gets inhaled. I did those. He just drank. The girl who reads faces watched, and drank. There is a line of bottles on my porch.
The girl who reads faces looks at the boy. She tells me later that his ears reflect a very restricted childhood and did not get nearly enough of the love that he needed and probably
craved. His eyes have potential for cruelty but she thinks it has more to do with him being a Gemini than anything else.
“He has very curly hair, already showing signs of age, and his fire comes through there but not so much in his other features.”
“His hairline reflects a rough adolescence. His earlobes are completely attached, he needs his family. That‟s what doesn‟t reconcile. He needs them but they sound like shits.”
His eyes are set back, so he doesn‟t put himself out there. The fleshy nose likes the material things. He is fertile or creative.
“I can‟t remember what his lips look like, or his chin, for that matter. There was something I thought of and then it sort of drooled out my ear. Oh, his nose sticks out quite far from his face. But I don‟t remember what it means.”
The boy with the heavy eyes has a nose that sticks out far as well.
She asks me what the main feature of his face is. I think it‟s his nose. She says she can‟t actually place what he is. He can‟t either. She says she thinks it‟s metal but she doesn‟t know.
She looks very tired. I am talking to Jonathan. He is disengaged.
The girl who reads faces says that he let down his guard a lot yesterday. I look at her. She doesn‟t mean Jonathan. I know. He is shutting me out. And walking away.
“He doesn‟t have that scared little boy … but he is a vulnerable child, and he covers it up with … I can‟t compare him to Jonathan though. I can‟t say they are alike. The thing is, Jonathan goes so far … no put it this way, the boy is okay because he has to be and Jonathan is that „I‟m fine because I said so‟.”
I don‟t really understand.
“The boy, in a social situation, there is a mask of fine-ness, but it‟s … he puts it on because he knows he has to be okay, he knows he isn‟t and that he has to be, so he puts the mask on. Jonathan, I can‟t describe him that way. He is not an okay puppy, but there‟s also the persona that everyone sees and it comes across to me as I‟m okay because I said so, I made myself okay.”
I nod.
I guess. Jonathan just said that he can‟t answer questions I need to answer for myself. I hate him in this moment.
“Jonathan‟s thing is the fortress. The boy‟s thing is the mask. The boy still knows he is not okay and I think Jonathan won‟t let himself acknowledge that he‟s not okay. The boy‟s mask … you whisper that you‟re not okay and then you keep on pushing.”
I tell him “ow” and he says “no, not ow.”
“They do have both have uncomfortable energies. Scratch that. The duality of the boy‟s nature comes through, because he is a Gemini and he‟ll tantrum that I‟m saying this, but whatever, he can be okay and not okay at the same time, which actually makes no fucking sense …”
Jonathan says that I am coming down and am being oversensitive.
“… it‟s like he‟ll be fine and good company but he‟ll still be fucking miserable. Jonathan, no matter how he is, he‟s still that burning underneath.”
No. He‟s cold now.
I need to shower but I don‟t. I lie here, and I smell myself and I don‟t care because I am discarded. I am cold but I don‟t get under the duvet. My hands have pins and needles but I keep my arms where they are. If I just lie here maybe all this will go away.
The girl who reads faces looks down, silent.
She feels for me.
She feels for everyone.
“The boy isn‟t a bad person, I don‟t think. Just a very unhappy one. I really didn‟t know that he had such an effeminate streak in him.”
I think he‟d be happier if he were gay.
“Bisexual. And that‟s me granting a lot of leeway because I fundamentally have a problem with bisexual people. The whole best of both worlds … I don‟t know … and I say that as a heteroflexible … there‟s a thin line between the two.”
Jonathan is bisexual as far as I know.
I say this and the girl who reads faces pulls a face.
“I bet Jonathan doesn‟t take it. He gives it. I would hate to have to be the bum that takes that.”
I‟ve been the bum that takes that. “And, was it particularly violent?” Not particularly. It was rough but not violent.
And my eyes tear up because I remember the spasm I had against him. “Between the motion and the act … Between the desire and the spasm … Falls the Shadow.”
(Eliot, The Hollow Men).
“ … I mean about being the boy who takes it, I‟d think that he would be … I can‟t explain it … because it‟s a boy he‟s fucking, now I don‟t have to be gentle, now this boy can take what I take, and I have a feeling it would be violent.”
I want him to fuck me like that. I want to be bruised and bloody and uncomfortable.
The boy with the heavy eyes saw the word “spasm” tattooed on my arm and said that it‟s a word he would get in his own skin.
Spasm. I lie and smell myself and forget.
I just asked Jonathan if he has washed his hands of me. I love you dearly, boy child. Please don‟t throw me away.
I put a hand on my cheek and palpate it.
I‟m checking for the lack lines that I feel forming from the inside out, born from silence.
I am sitting with the girl who reads faces on her floor now. I managed to get up and shower and get rid of my own stench. Eventually.
“Shame,” she says, “the boy with the hair fetish drinks his wine like a child drink from a sippy cup.” She brings both her hands up to her face in an illustrative gesture.
I send Jonathan a message saying that I am sorry fr my outburst this morning. I ask him if we are okay. He says “yeah”.
“oh, oh, back in Brooklyn, back with Joe” (Harper in Angel in America). This morning I told him that I love him. I said “please don‟t throw me away.” I say to him that now I can breathe again.
The empty whiskey bottle is looking at us.
The girl who reads faces looks at me and looks at my face as I look at my phone. She says that I am a masochist.
He sends me a message. A winking face. Like he used to.
Everything is fine again … but my cheeks feel hollow and my hand traces over the lack line that lacks itself and my nails dig in harder and a red welt appears trailing along after it.
The girl who reads faces is humming softly as she pages through the book of faces. She points out the reservoirs of earth energy. I say that I have those. She says that Jonathan does not have them and that is why he just has reservoirs of smarm to her.
She is humming a song from Velvet Goldmine. … “I came down like water” …
She talks about the reservoirs and how they show someone who is “open to the pleasures of life and who can enjoy them more fully than others”.
Mine feel smaller. Shallower. Drained. “This element needs to care for others to be happy”. That hurts. Jonathan has no care in his face. He said he wouldn‟t throw me away. His face lies. He lies.
“ … suffering that‟s gone on too long or feeling bereft or that you‟re lacking something, show up here as „hollowness‟ or vertical creases down the sides of your lower cheeks. These are called „lack lines‟ … indicating something isn‟t „enough‟”.
The girl who reads faces asks me if the boy with the hair fetish has them, because he didn‟t feel loved. He didn‟t feel nurtured. I look for a picture of him.
Jonathan has them. She isn‟t surprised or particularly sympathetic. The boy with the hair fetish doesn‟t have them. That evokes more of a reaction from the girl who reads faces. She studies the picture. “He may develop faint ones when he‟s tired and overdoing it, but they won‟t be permanent” …
The faint lines go away with rest and sleep.
I am tired. We both are. We have been drunk for the last week and trying to sleep for the better part of the day hasn‟t helped.
I want to look in the mirror, but I know that all I will see is where I scratched myself.
The girl who reads faces says that my face shows that I am doing what I am meant to be doing at this tie of my life. The orders of law lie etched into my face and mark me.
I am miserable in what I am doing but clearly my face hasn‟t realised this yet. Jonathan‟s face has no law. Jonathan is lacking. The girl who reads faces says that maybe he should learn to let go.
Please, God no. Not that. Lack, he can lack all he wants so long as he doesn‟t lose me or let me go.
Profound loss is supposed to show in those lines … my face doesn‟t show it right now, but my indie are tearing themselves apart.
Lack lines fall in next to my scars and around my throat and beg for him to give me something more … give me something … anything …
Silence makes them deeper and I feel myself go pale. “I came down like water.” I am down. My cheeks lose their reservoirs as my eyes fight against the pressure building up in my face. There‟s no one home behind those eyes.
The girl who reads faces says the word chaos and I snap back to reality, there on her floor. Awareness in chaos. Chaotic intent. I‟ll fuck with you because I can. It‟s not a misdemeanour crime.
Jonathan lacks … compassion. And as I say that I feel the lie tighten across my chest because he has been very compassionate to me. But now my cheeks feel hollow and empty and I can feel his tiredness and all I want is to lie with him face to face and stroke his cheeks and carve the lack out of them with my fingernails. And then I‟d glue them back together and wipe off the excess adhesive and gently blow on it to dry until the lack is gone.
Good as new.
And I‟d wash him with water to calm the fire in his skin that melted the metal and gave him a fever and I‟d polish the blade until it didn‟t lack lustre.

April 18, 2012

jonathan’s face: manic

Filed under: literature,melissa adendorff — ABRAXAS @ 7:07 pm

Kneel down on my face if it makes you feel better if I am not deemed worthy of being in your eyes. You are only as alive as my bleeding corpse at your feet, if you inflicted your love upon me.
He is back with her … and he didn‟t tell me. Why would he, though? The other woman is not privy to that information but I am not sure that I even count as that anymore. It hurts. I‟m numb, though. I don‟t feel it as acutely as I should. I lie. I feel it like I mean it but I can‟t do anything about it so now I … I don‟t know … ignore my life as I know it. I am behind in my work and in writing my dissertation and I am in trouble because all I want to do is sleep and ignore everything and everyone and I can‟t but I want to and it‟s landing me in trouble and I don‟t care. I called in sick because I was too hungover to be bothered to get out of my bed and get up and lecture. And my people cared and I didn‟t. My students asked if I was better and showed sympathy and care and I didn‟t care. I was annoyed that they would intrude that far into my life.
Jonathan didn‟t even wish me happy birthday when he had made such a fuss that it was exactly a month after his. I‟m not generally big on birthdays but that hurt because I had made effort for his and he basically ignored me.
My doctor reprimanded me for not taking my medication like I should, because “if the shit hits the fan I‟ll have to admit you”. I asked to where and he said anywhere.
My body has forgotten how to function with my medication in it. I took my prescribed RDA and I slept. I imagine that is a small measure of what heroin would be like because it is a drowsy warm safe place where everything is muted.
I want to try heroin. I am addicted to stimulants but I am curious. Jonathan told me not to but I don‟t think he‟d care right now. He might have said that he hasn‟t thrown me away but he has. I am not even an afterthought to him anymore. I miss him. And I want to tell him that I miss him but I don‟t know what I can do about it because I don‟t want to be that attached person even though I am. My friends are all happy that it is over even though in my mind it‟s not quite over yet. Not until this is done. Meta-fiction, I have just admitted to writing this all down. That was never the intention but now I have to because I have an ulterior motive. I can‟t let him go until this is done. I need for this. I need that closure. Because once he sees this he will walk away without a shadow of a doubt, but at least I am honest here and I can say what I can‟t say to face. But he needs to hear it. He wouldn‟t read my writing before, but I think a book with his name as the title will maybe serve as a catalyst to
get him involved enough to bother. And then fuck off out of my life and regret ever knowing me because … it‟s not a nice thing to do, but I can‟t help myself.

I have never been shy with my body. Physical expression just makes sense to me. I am not shy to touch, but slightly less receptive to it, depending on the circumstance. I am giving with my body because I am not so in the least with my emotions, and to me the physical and emotional are apples and pears. The “giving of a body” is not necessarily sexual in nature. When I did Ju-Jitsu, I gave my body to my training partner to throw and lock and strain. In dancing, my body was given to my partner to lead and direct. In art, my body is given to my tattoo artist to be his canvas; to a photographer, my body is a sculpture that holds their possibilities of perception. And every now and then, I give my body to myself when I feel as if I‟m going crazy from feeling too much and then I‟ll use my body to cry my red tears.
Piercings, for me at least, have become my own form of Sublimation (a socially acceptable action masking an unacceptable desire). People judge me less for piercings than for self- inflicted scars. They don‟t ask “what happened there” or “why do you scar yourself like that” … mostly they stare until I meet their gaze and then they move along. At any given time I have an average of between sixteen and twenty five piercings in, on and around my body. I feel rather naked without them, and I think that they keep me sane. I met this boy with the saddest eyes. He was an apprentice piercer at the time, so he had to observe the piercings the other artist did, so he saw a lot of me, especially because my piercings tend toward the not-so-mainstream exotic and odd variety. In the beginning of my Sublimation process, I was fairly nervous of the artist, because I knew I could trust myself to hurt me, but trusting someone else is … not quite my forte. I did not doubt his skill, but I wasn‟t there for aesthetic modification, and I had a process which had a ritual that needed to be honoured. This process soon came to involve this boy talking to me for a while before the needle met skin, and sometimes he would hold my hand, understanding that there was more to me being there than acquiring some shiny jewellery.
At some point, this boy and I started speaking outside of the piercing process and we became friends. He unwittingly helped me to complete about four philosophy assignments; and all of the philosophical pontifications led to psychological ones. We began to share our emotions. And then he was allowed to do piercings by himself, and I gave him my body as well. And that was strange, at first, because I trusted him emotionally, but not physically. I could sense his tension and his focus was unnerving. The first piercing he gave me took a lifetime, because he was slow and methodical and because I was unused to him being so close to me, but soon enough he hurt me, and I didn‟t mind. He wiped up the blood and
admired his work and I sat quietly, thinking that his hands on my body felt rather … odd … and that they were warm.
We became adventurous in our piercings, facial surface piercings turned into the sternum surface piercing … which was an experience … I was nervous of that particular piercing. He had never done one before and he was unsupervised that day. It was also more significant in terms of our growing friendship because it would be placed right over my heart; and also because he asked me to take my top and bra off for him to do it. (I later found out that it could be done while I was fully clothed).
He asked me to lie down on the chair, and it happened in a moment. The anticipatory preparation felt like a lifetime passing by in slow motion, but the moment when the deed was done, it was only a moment, an instant, less than three seconds, and following that moment, the stinging lingered and every movement served as a reminder of the instant of infliction, every reminder bringing vivid sensory stimulated recollection; flashes of heightened memory, sights, sounds, scents, touch. His eyes appear bright in every recollection; his features appearing harsher in my state of unrest. The smell of him intermingled with the smell of disinfectant and latex and yet despite their abrasive odours, the smell of him filled my head and all I could do was to breathe him in. I felt his hands, but I did not look at them, for I was too scared, but I felt those hands wielding the various instruments of his torturous craft. I felt the cold, metallic grasp of the clamp and the sharp, searing, blinding pain of the needle as it slid into my skin and I felt the instantaneous relief once the needle was extracted and the detached pull of the metal being inserted into the puncture wound. I felt the area of the piercing as it came alive with a throbbing, dull ache and I felt the sudden, sharp sting as those hands cleaned and wiped and disinfected my bleeding body. I heard his voice, inquiring about my well-being and I opened my eyes to look into his, and shared a moment of intensely exquisite agony in which I shamelessly displayed my weakness and in which he engaged in it, and asked me to stay there with him for a while. I composed myself as he destroyed the evidence of the infliction. As the needle was disposed of, he offered me a tissue with which to dry my tears, and as I wiped away the evidence of my vulnerability, the moment had passed and a new moment was underway and we were in it together.
I left there in pain and confused. And neither of those feelings would change very much over the course of the weeks to come. The piercing was unhappy. And that should have been a major warning sign of the unhappiness to come, because piercings catch juju, and if it‟s bad juju, they reject the metal in an effort to get the bad juju out of the body. I didn‟t think that far though. I suffered with the piercing for a few days and then cut it out myself (it was Bioplast). It left a scar befitting its juju.
The last time he pierced me was awkward and strange. I wanted to have the jewellery in my lip changed from a ring to a bar. His hands on my face and on my lips brought back memories of that which made the experience far more anxious and unpleasant that it needed to have been; but then the juju appeared and made it necessarily worse enough to make that the last time that I would give him my body. When the ring had been removed, the hole started to swell closed almost immediately (which almost never happens) and he could not find the hole inside of my mouth through which to insert the new jewellery. He stuck a needle through the front of my lip to try and find its path … but he made a new hole that was off-centre. He tried again. He tried twice more until he finally decided to just make it a new piercing altogether. I nearly passed out. A labret piercing is sensitive when done once, quickly. Four times is a bit much. And he was fumbling, frustrated and unsure. Four times. I burst into tears and punched him for his incompetence and for hurting me that much. There was a limit to how much pain I‟ll let others inflict upon me and he had reached it. I spit up blood as he apologised for his mess … for that night … for everything. His eyes were sorry, as he knelt down in front of me. His closeness was so familiar that I recoiled.
He stopped working at that tattoo parlour, and I haven‟t heard of him since I left that day. Looking back at it, I should not have felt so guilty for what had happened. When all of the preceding events are examined, their culmination into what transpired that night was really just a matter of time. We both took advantage of a moment to feel something more than just on the outside, and each gave up a body willingly, in a moment that was golden. Golden moments only become tarnished when they are remembered in the waking hours when reason takes over from feeling, and forces darkness into light.
The boy with the heavy eyes is different to him but, not quite, but he is. And I could feel his breath on me, in me, four days ago when we mutilated my vagina some more. It was sore. I lie. I cried and I yelled and he said he was sorry. He has said that he is sorry every day since I saw him and he smiles when he says it and I smile back because I felt him breathe on me and I liked it. We also have our little rituals, and we also have a distinction between whether we‟re doing it because of needing it or because we want something aesthetic. In the beginning there was more aesthetic motivation than anything else but then I met Jonathan and all that changed. I often go to him and say that I don‟t care what he does so long as I feel it. I don‟t look at the marks he draws on me and I don‟t look at the piercing afterwards. I just leave. I am not exactly sure how he feels about this. I want to ask him but I won‟t because I don‟t want to hear him say that he doesn‟t really care one way or the other. I don‟t think that he‟ll say that but I‟m sensitive to rejection right now and I would hurt if he, my person who called himself my “Mr Fix-it”, would stop fixing it and make it worse. I doubt that he would but …
The girl who reads faces is silent today. She has her own pain today. She can‟t always share mine and she‟s probably tired of dancing for me.
Jonathan used to dance. So did I. I started again and it makes me feel better. I have some grace then. He told me to feel through my dancing. And said that we would dance together and that I shouldn‟t hurt myself so badly because we have so many dances to dance together yet. I think he has forgotten that. I think he has forgotten a lot of things. I don‟t think of him as a graceful person. I can see him doing power moves but I don‟t see him in arabesque with particularly good extension.
We‟ll see, though, when we illustrate this, I‟ll make him dance. I‟ll make him move with me, and feel him and I‟ll make him make me trust him. He said that he wouldn‟t let me fall on my face and I‟ll hold him to that, and hope that he sees how little trust is left between us because I know how that hurt the boy I did a pas de deux with in last year‟s show. I don‟t mean not to trust them. I don‟t mean not to give my body freely, but lately I have become very aware of gravity and I don‟t want to fall.
I don‟t want to fall further. It hurts too much on tired feet. But dancing a solo is so lonely.
I have somehow come to know a lot of lonely people, myself included. It seems somewhat strange to be lonely at my age, which is slightly older than that of my lonely friends, which makes their predicament worse or stranger. But there‟s more to the loneliness than just wanting an attachment and a warm body. There‟s a loneliness that comes with not wanting to be alone with one‟s craziness, neuroses, hopes, dreams, failures, wishes for a different life. And we all have that kind of loneliness, even though it manifests slightly differently within each of us. And somewhere along the line we found that in each other‟s company, we might not be as alone as we had thought. It took a while before any of us admitted to loneliness, or even the threat of loneliness that was driving us secretly insane. But we all ended up in the same place; like a kind of “- Anonymous” meeting, where admitting our state would lead to our eventual recovery.
My particular brand of loneliness and fear of silence strikes at 3 a.m. when I wake up alone. The confusing part of this is that I choose to sleep alone because I don‟t feel comfortable actually REM sleeping and dreaming (and drooling and snoring) in front of anyone else. Sleeping and crying offer up the same amount of vulnerability to an observer in my eyes. Sleeping and sex are apples and pears; I don‟t find it particularly distressing to send a boy on his way afterward, even though they might not always understand. Sleeping is probably
a person‟s most honest activity. There is no facade to hide an emotion; if they‟re frightened or sad they show it blatantly, and that is what I find so disconcerting about the process. I try so hard to be fine in front of everyone everyday that to know that I might not be fine and that somebody will see me like that puts me off. At night, I put on music, or a DVD set to repeat, so that I don‟t fully fall asleep and see myself in a less-than-fine state. For the most part I try to avoid sleeping altogether until my body gives out. My record is nine days, after which I slept for three days straight. I tend to average about four or five nights before I get tired enough to put my pride aside.
And this had worked for me for years until the boy who might as well be a girl came along one day. He was always on the periphery of my attention, until the day he also tried to step in and be my floor after the epic fuck out of the one before. It was reasonably late in the evening when we began our conversation and it lasted until sleep became a necessity. He got into his bed, and I followed, fully expecting to spend the night staring at him because I would have to listen to him breathe until he wakes up. That was not the case though, as I settled into his arms and slept for more than eight hours with no nightmares or fear of weaknesses showing. We slept in silence, and woke in silence. He told me that he might not be able to fix my problems, but that he could provide a good night‟s sleep which would give me a fresh perspective from which to approach my problems. When I was tense and aggressive, in a manic phase which we refer to as being “in the crazy,” he held my hands the entire time while I slept. Unfortunately, he is not around anymore, and that memory of sleeping quietly in his embrace makes me realise how alone I am every time I‟m in the crazy with nobody to hold my hand.
Where my loneliness is a physical manifestation, the girl whose innocence I am killing is more psychological. She told me that she is always on facebook and mxit so that she can stay connected, because when she‟s alone, it is as if the people in her life have just stopped existing. Her loneliness is a version of the Quantum Physics argument about the cat disappearing from the box when the lid is closed and the observer can no longer see it. When she closes the door to her room to be by herself, she no longer perceives the people in her life. Seeing the cat and whether or not the cat is actually around and willing to be around are apples and pears (flambéed). I understand that kind of loneliness. I can understand how people stop existing (as far as you‟re concerned) when they aren‟t around you because that‟s what happens: the person they are in your presence stops being there until they are around you again.
Everybody is someone to somebody, but not always the same someone to themselves. I am a floor to one boy, but not at all to someone else … I am someone‟s “big sister” and
someone else‟s submissive and another person‟s Domme; but I am never all of these things at once, and the things that I am are mutually exclusive in terms of the situation which calls for what I need to be for someone at that time. The girl whose innocence I am killing and I used spend a lot of time together to avoid being by ourselves. I don‟t think that either of have admitted that much, but we have spoken about the loneliness that we each have. Her loneliness, I think, also stems from being so far away from her loved ones. Her comfort zone is a long drive away from where she currently stays, and sometimes, when life happens in a bad way we miss the people that make us feel safe, and not having them around causes a sense of isolation. She had also lost a floor, a long time ago. The girl whose innocence I am killing and I have a mutual quasi-acquaintance-friend-of-a-friend-interesting-random boy type child, known as The Bait (because he is young) who is apples and pears all by himself. He has amnesia. He knows nothing of himself and his life prior to eight months before the present time. While he does not appear to be lonely, I think that he must be, because he does not even have himself to be around most of the time. The philosopher David Hume said that what constituted a person‟s selfhood is their memory, and if a person cannot remember who they are, they are no longer the self that has been forgotten. To not know yourself must be lonely, because the person staring back at you in the mirror has no self … no memories of hand-holding, no memories of family, no memories of what made him happy or sad, of whom he loved. He spends a lot of time intoxicated, probably to avoid not remembering, and to mask the loneliness that we all feel, since a drunken bunch of friends will easily profess love and hold hands and even cry, listen to stories … fill a void. And even though that scenario is temporary, it is more than being with the person you are without even being yourself. I feel a little less lonely when I think about this boy‟s predicament, because I choose my loneliness out of pride and fear. He does not have a choice. He is the cat in the Quantum box that nobody is observing.
He lives a life that is secret, even to himself. He can‟t help it. He is not complicit in it and it has no motive behind it. He is not broken in a dark way that makes him not tell what lies behind his face and his lips.
But I know that some secrets are kept by innocents. I know that the stories their bodies tell are secrets they wish nobody will see. Scars left by an abusive parent on a back that might have broken under the weight of the lashes rained down upon it. A wife with a fractured zygomatic arch wishes that the bruise under her eye will stop screaming her pain out loud to the world. The girl whose eyes shine tries to blink back secrets of heartbreak. The child whose innocence is stolen holds herself tightly from the secret that keeps opening her bedroom door at night. The heroin addict injects between her toes so that she has no secrets in the crooks of her arms.
A girl walks through a door into a reception area of a clinic. She knows that she should have asked him what he wanted to do, instead of forcing her own frightened will upon him and what was growing inside of her. She should have told him. But there she stands, all alone in that cold, clinical, sterile and unwelcoming waiting room, and while she wants to call him because she is scared, she does not touch her phone. The waiting room is quiet, but around her there are surreptitious glances and hushed whispers. The receptionist takes her name and asks her how she intends to pay. Cash. She fills in the Private Patient form, and in a moment, a confidential transaction has been completed. Murder for hire. A single tear rolls down her cheek as she sits down, stiff and uncomfortably in a hard green plastic chair in the corner of the room. Most of the women there have friends or lovers or spouses with them, but she is there all alone, in secret. He doesn‟t even know that she was doing it that day … that there was anything to be done at all. She tries to breathe but her chest feels heavy and tight, gripped by an unfamiliar fear. She feels cold. She feels nauseous. Her name is called out by an unfriendly voice and she rises to stand on unsteady legs.
Her feet move, but she does not recall following the voice into the procedure room. Her body stands in the doorway and the door soon shuts behind her. She feels the cold, metal handle under the palm of her hand. She is trapped, in secret, in that little room.
It happens in a moment. The anticipatory preparation feels like a lifetime passing by in slow motion, but the moment when the deed is done, it is only a moment, an instant. And following that moment, the stinging lingers and every movement serves as a reminder of the instant of infliction, every reminder bringing vivid sensory stimulated recollections … flashes of heightened memory, sights, sounds, scents, touch … the eyes of the doctor appear bright, his features are secretly masked. The smell of him becomes intermingled with the smell of disinfectant and latex and yet despite their abrasive odours, the smell of him reminds her of another smell. She feels his hands, but she looks away from them and their examination and their wielding of the instruments of their craft. She feels the blinding pain of the needle as it penetrates her skin and her womb, and the searing burn of the poisons that are being injected into her core. She feels the area of infliction coming alive with a throbbing, sharp cramp as the toxins started to take effect. She hears his voice, inquiring about her well- being and she opens her eyes to look into his eyes, and she did not want to see the cold eyes of the doctor. She does not want him looking into hers and sharing her secret. She closes her eyes as the tears come.
I am manic. The words flow too fast and my thoughts are scattered and I don‟t know why I am saying what I‟m saying but I need to get it out because I feel it rising like bile and it is bitter. The pills kicked in fast. They have a half life and my sporadic ingestion seems to not
have unbalanced me too much for them to swoop in and save me from something that I didn‟t know was happening. I need to go off them again so that I can hush. I apologise to the girl who reads faces for my crazy and she doesn‟t seem to care one way or the other. The girl whose innocence I am killing doesn‟t like me when I get like this. Neither does Jonathan. Neither do I.
Jonathan came along and was supposed to be over in a night and a morning and to get out of my system. And then I wanted more and I thought for a little while that I had gotten what I wanted. But …
I don‟t think that people generally wait around for their flavours of the week to get over their dirty days in order to return to a more promising relationship. In my experience they move on to their own dirty days and leave the flavours behind to find something deeper. It‟s a bit ass-about-face, but Nataniël speaks the truth when he says that “when you‟re done with your dirty days, you won‟t find me I‟ll be gone”. It‟s an unfortunate situation if the people involved are soulmates who end up becoming strangers.
I‟m not sure if they can ever reconnect, because they don‟t emerge from their dirty days as the same person who entered into them. I know this from experience. So ultimately, the line “I‟ll be gone” may very well refer to the self. I was definitely gone to all who knew me after getting involved with a boy who I can‟t remember but can‟t forget. And I took something of him with me when I left. (not his innocence). I guess that I‟m curious to see if I can find what I lost of myself if I were to see him again. That is, of course, if he would see me, since we did not part on particularly good terms.
Most of my dirty days are a blur. I remember some faces but very few names. What remains vividly imprinted in the memory of my skin is the touch of various people. When I see them now and we touch hands or hug hello, I remember the more intimate moments of skin touching skin. I have a creepily accurate recollection in my skin which occurred after I attended a workshop on Developmental Touch Therapy in what seems like a different life. There we were practically regressed to childhood through techniques of touch a nd movement that attune the body of the person being touched to their subconscious memories that they have suppressed over the years. I found it a little bit traumatising because (ironically) I have a bit of a trust issue regarding being touched in ways that I can‟t control. And this is not the type of therapy that you can stop halfway through due to discomfort because it is a process that needs to be seen through until the end. Anyway, I remember people through touch.
This boy‟s touch was surprisingly gentle. And his hands were surprisingly soft. With him, there was such a potent moment of anticipation before a kiss, drawn out when we were breathing as one, looking into each other‟s eyes, skin tingling and warm with quiet, knowing smiles. I‟m not generally a big fan of kissing, but with him the intimacy necessitated it. Even though our days were dirty, we had an intimate connection that went beyond trysts and silent embraces. He‟s a very quiet sleeper. He‟s also a silent fighter … he lowers his eyes and says very little, but what he says cuts deeper than any knife could. That‟s the unfortunate side effect of intimacy, becoming aware of the other‟s vulnerabilities because it provides powerful and destructive weapons. Words aren‟t even necessary to hurt the other, since a touch can become cold and distant, maliciously devoid of feeling, draining the life of the person it comes into contact with. In the end that is what happened between us.
There have been many other boys after him, nameless faces and faceless names, mostly momentary lapses of judgement, as dirty days seem to be filled with. But I remember him as clearly as if he never left. I remember the places we used to go, and I see an echo of him when I go to them now. Maybe if I see him now all he‟ll see is the ghost of me, gone after what we had, lost in the remembrance.
And then there was Jonathan. And it was morning and it was evening and it was eight months later.
There was a time before Jonathan and before the Others and before me when I thought I had learned something, and I thought I understood.
Cathartic moments often strike during the exposition of a tragedy when the protagonist realises his hubris and hamartia, and tries to atone for them. They break down the foundations upon which we build the idols of ourselves that stand tall in our imaginations. They make us human in our own eyes. In a tragic play, there‟s usually a tumultuous storm before these moments of clarity, and once the hero sees his flaw, order begins to be restored in nature. It‟s the pathetic fallacy that shows the observer the internal mechanisms of psychological processes. When these moments happen in real life, there‟s a different kind of pathetic fallacy involved; the actions and reactions of the people around the hero show signs of thunder and cloudiness. Sometimes their tears fall like rain.
Amidst the emotional storms left in the hero‟s wake, there will be an observer, who sees the effect that the hero has on the psychological balance inside of the people around him. Like the blind Tireseas, the observer has an intuitive vision and insight that lets him see the havoc caused by the deeds and emotions of the hero; that lets him see into the hero‟s pride and downfall without acknowledging the facade placed before him, because he couldn‟t see the mask even if he tried. Sometimes I think that there are these types of “blind guides” in everyone‟s life. But some are blinder than others. Sometimes somebody says or does something without knowing how it may affect another person, much in the same way as a butterfly flapping its wings in China and a hurricane being carried on its wings‟ wind all the way to Texas.
I also think that as the hero changes and grows, as his pride and flaws mutate and warp themselves into more destructive and malicious elements, he will encounter different blind guides throughout that process of transformation. Whether or not he recognises them is dependent on how open he is to his catharsis. The guide cannot show the hero flashing signs with big red letters that scream “Insert your life-changing aha moment here!” I think the blind guides to heroes must be the most frustrated people on the face of the earth, knowing what they know without being able share their knowledge because it is not their place to cut another‟s journey short.
The blind guide isn‟t only present in times of tragedy though. There is also an observer to life‟s comedy, but the hero tends to be blind to the observer when he takes on the role of the Fool. He speaks to the others in the hero‟s life whereas the observer in the form Tireseas speaks to the hero. That‟s probably why there are tragedies and comedies that play out in
each of our lives; to have the plot explained to both the characters and the audience so that the character development will make sense when the curtain has fallen and everybody leaves the theatre with only the memories of what they saw.
Two years ago I encountered a blind guide of my own. A blind guide who did not see me, and shared his knowledge with a crowd of people he did not see. This seems very paradoxical to the scenarios painted about Tireseas and the Fool at first glance, but his telos was not to be an observer, rather it is to be the pharmakos, the magician that enthrals and intrigues all of those who see him and more importantly, those who hear him. It is exactly because he is not the blind guide tearing his hair out at the hero‟s ignorance and his inability to slap the hero through the face into a realisation that he is able to say what a hero needs to hear. The magician can choose not to see those looking up at him, while the blind guide‟s blindness is imposed upon him, and so they stand in opposition to each others like apples and pears.
The magician doles out potions that the hero can choose to take or to ignore. The potion could be a poison or a cure or a narcotic. The potions are made up from an alchemical mixture of words and emotions and memories, so they are volatile. The magician takes no responsibility for what the potion will do once ingested by his audience, because his nature is to enthral and bedazzle. After all, who believes in magic without the power of a hallucinogen fuelling perception, and so his words, his magic, his volatile mixture of a little part of who he is fills its consumer with the feeling of weightlessness that morphine and opium provide in equal measures. It is only when the consumer awakes from the intoxicationthathewillknowwhetherornothehasbeenpoisonedorhealed. Andifhewas healed, his catharsis will shortly follow.
Two years ago I ingested a potion fromout of the mind, the mouth and the hand of a pharmakos. As the moisture streamed from my eyes I did not know if I had been poisoned or drugged, and I hoped for the latter because then at least I would be able to rest assured that the feelings would pass and that life would return back to normal. If I had been poisoned, at the time, I would not have felt too upset if my mind were to die. The pharmkon worked its way into my blood, into my mind, like heroin in the veins of my spirit, turning a part of me stone and bringing the rest of me to life.
I tried to erase the words from my thoughts as I watched him weave his spells, but in my mind, his poison was injected deeper … so deep inside my mind that I could taste it as it brought visions to life inside my mind‟s eye; painful, vivid imagery, unbalanced and indescribable. As I watched him towering over his audience, my mind raced through thoughts of seeing it, and I thanked god that I‟m not being it, because it cannot be real. But
the poison of the words that emanated from his chest and heart and mind collapsed my spirits veins as they passed through them, even as my mind tried to close off its hearing, straining to break free from the spell that had fallen on it, trapping it on the floor. The incantations of the spell stole my breath away.
The reason for the spell‟s powerful effect on me is simply that I recognised the poisons entering my body as the poison that was leaving his. A small part of him may have felt the same as I do, and if he could expel it, I would take it in, in an unconscious effort to connect with words that spoke my life in a few sentences. So I stopped trying to fight the effects of the poison, and I became its seeker. In the face of fear I decided to live and let the poison give me life. In that moment when I surrendered to the music, and listened with my soul, I had my catharsis.
I saw myself as nearly transparent, just a likeness of the reality that I used to believe in. I saw clouds of anger and hatred and resentment swirl in a hazy grey around my fragmented face wearing an upside-down smile. I saw the fragments coalesce into plaster masks of joy and sadness which disguised its abused insides. I reached out my fingertips, and touched my face, feeling it as I had never felt it before. Feeling those tears meant that my features were more than just part of a textured sculpture that had no right to show signs of wear. I looked down at the masks lying newly discarded at my bare feet; distorted masks of suffering that grin maniacally from ear to ear in the face of their new abandonment. I realised that I needed to forgive myself and to be more understanding of the people around me, because I cannot live in total isolation for fear of being hurt or misunderstood. I realised that I needed to atone for my sins that I had committed out of pride. I needed to accept that I was flawed and that other people were flawed too. I finally saw that flaws were forgivable.
Throughout my life I have had many blind guides and numerous Fools who walked beside me on my way to nowhere, and I always turned away from them, even when they were practically reaching enlightenment for me. Looking back at it now, they all helped me to get to the point where I would be willing to listen to the words that they had been saying all along. I just needed a more subtle approach. I needed inflections and expressions, lowered gazes and musical accompaniment to inferences of pain and joy all mixed into one note. Looking back, they mean more to me than I ever realised. And I am sorry for being blind to them for so long. But the poison killed off my blindness and restored my soul‟s sight.
Two years ago I became intoxicated with a remedy that I have been seeking for more than a decade. Three weeks ago I sat down and started writing all of this down because there was a creative energy in my mind that made my hands so restless that they itched. With every set of words that resonated within me, the remedy got absorbed deeper into me. With every
painful memory that I have been able to put down in black and white, some colour returned to the transparent face in my imagination. With every mistake that I have admitted to, I have begun to make reparations. I lie.
If my own words have the power to even momentarily intoxicate, I wish to send them out into the air around my pharmakos and to Jonathan … in order to pay a tribute to the wisdom and truth that intoxicated me through him. I want to tell him what it means to me that those words were ever spoken, because if he kept quiet, and did not enchant and enthral people, I would still be on a path to nowhere, unable to face myself every day in the mirror of my mind. I want to tell him what it means to me that through his words I found the strength to break, to cry, to pray and to raise my eyes from off the floor. Through his words I found forgiveness and in his face I found something to raise my eyes to, up off of the floor where my dull, transparent self was lying.
If my pharmakos would drink of my pharmakon, I would not need to tell him what he means to me … he would hear a part of me singing it from a place that has been newly built in my mind. And my song would thank him.
In a sacred space I found a voice, my voice, and remembered how to cry.
I sang a broken requiem as tears fell freely from the eyes which had not gazed, before, upon the hope that stood before me.
And the louder I sang, the more my voice was subdued by the choir of judges whose tongues spoke an unutterable truth which tore down my shrine stone by stone as each syllable stung in my flesh like a thousand slivers of sharpened ice, carving a statue out of me.
And lying wretchedly on the rubble, I accepted that the sacred could only be vilified in the sanctity of the tongue of the one who looked past the pathetic truth on offer before him, one who failed to be human when all my song needed was a harmony, instead of an aria in opposition to it.
In a sacred space I crawled back into an empty existence, devoid of sanctity, and whispered a confession which my judge could not hear, for his song rang so loudly in my ears that I could scarcely hear my thoughts.
And now, broken as the stones of my shrine, I raise a strangled cry. I offer up a prayer to any ear that listens to the music of my heart and I hope that an echo remains of it for my judge to hear, so that in that broken shrine, my voice will be the one to ring clear.
But that‟s all gone now.
Jonathan is deaf and dumb and blind to me. See no evil … what the eyes can‟t see … not that the eyes are even looking nor would they care.
Ow. I hurt.
This afternoon has been an afternoon of kinkiness. As I finished doing what my Master asked of me, she sent me a message asking me to help her take some naughty pictures for Jonathan. It‟s his way of starting conversation with her again.
“You owe me pictures and I owe you a fuck.”
I‟ll give him points for being straight forward.
She opened the door for me wearing crotchless panties, peek-a-boo bra and fuck off high heels. I giggle and walk to the freezer to put the ice cream away. (McFlurries after sex are amazing, just by the way). I love how I just find it funny rather than weird.
She blushes as she reads out his request for an arse shot. I hold out my hand for her phone. She hands it to me and leans forward on her hands and knees and sticks it out. Click goes the camera and the picture gets sent. She moves into the next position to be photographed: legs spread wide apart so all the piercings are on display. She rolls over again and spreads her arse cheeks. Click goes the camera and the picture is sent.
“Yum,” he says. He asks to see the whole outfit. I kick off my shoes and clamber up on to the bed to get a good shot of her stretched out. I laugh at how we both just automatically pander. Her face is two shades of red darker now. Click goes the camera and the picture is sent. She covers her face with her arms and starts laughing manically. His next request is one of her standing facing the wall. She sticks her bum out and strikes the pose. Click goes the camera and the picture is sent.
She tells him that this is the point where he thanks the friend who is taking these shots for him. He asks which friend and she replies the short, rude one (as that is how knows me). Weaddthepreemptive“andshewon‟tparticipateanyfurtherbeforeyougetanyideas.” He says he is wondering about my underwear and if it is as small as what I was wearing at the shoot. That was the day I met he who is now my Master, and he had made me strip for him so that he could put me in ropes. He had already put Jonathan in ropes. He, Jonathan, was on the other side of the room being photographed while I was being roped up; I hadn‟t realised that he had been looking closely enough to notice my underwear. She tells him that I am in fact wearing that exact underwear today.
“I want you to play with your clit and then put a finger inside and then two until you have cum running down to your ass.”
She cringes a little bit and thinks about how much this is going to hurt with her new piercing. I sympathetically cringe with her. She says that she doesn‟t want to do it and that she isn‟t turned on in the slightest. It is decided that this shall be faked. He wants process shots, thank god for stills and lube.
Fingers on clit. Click. Spreading lips. Click. Two fingers in. Click. Another finger. Click. And another. Click. All I can think is OOOOOWWWWWWWW MOTHERFUCKER!!!! Licking fingers clean. Click.
I‟ve taken all these pictures with a sort of “meh” attitude. I‟ve also been talking to Jonathan in between while she‟s been “busy.” He is pushing for us to “play” together. He has the Dom voice going on but it doesn‟t work on me. I don‟t like him so why would I want to pander to him? He wants ass shots now and she gets out her toy.
In it goes. Click. She yells as she pulls it out. We both think “fuck it.” He tells her to get creative and dirty for him and to send him more photos.
She opens up one of her capsules and pours the powder into a line over her pussy. Cocaine for the god king. A piecemeal offering. This is faked, so it is fitting that the cocaine is faked too.
She goes to shower and I continue my narrative of an imaginary masturbation to Jonathan.
I only realise now that Jonathan has seen me naked and I only now realise the significance of that. He says I get a star if I am telling the truth about wearing that underwear today. He also says that the underwear and hearing me cum at the shoot got quite the reaction. I blush at his kefi. I‟m not shy or innocent but this offends my sense of propriety. She is out of the shower and I hand the phone back to her. They talk for a few more minutes and she signs off.

The girl who reads faces looks at me and says that she doesn‟t like him. She says that she is sure he said dirty things to her because he knew I would see the messages. That stings, but this whole experience stings, actual pain aside, because our sex was always honest and now I lied. I didn‟t cum … I wasn‟t even wet. And it‟s not because of medication or the pain from the new piercing … it was him … usually the thought of him naked and hard is enough to send me streaming and hot and throbbing … but today, when he asked me to put on the lingerie and show myself to him I did it out of … obligation, I guess. I couldn‟t say no.
I feel dirty. I feel guilty. I feel like a whore. And I feel like a dirty, cheap whore because I had my friend take the pictures.
It was like a pornography shoot. And while she did it without flinching and said that she knows that I would do the same for her … it was wrong. Threesomes aside, sex and its constituents are not always for public display like this … I am an exhibitionist but I don‟t like my friends squinting down at my vagina trying to get a good angle for a photo.
Every now and then I tell him that I don‟t like doing porn. I don‟t always want to make it dirty.
I wonder what it would be like to make him masturbate until he came over and over and over until he was raw and then make him do it some more and telling him to make it dirty for me and make it hurt so that he couldn‟t touch himself for a good long while after that. Or pierce his cock and make him touch himself and then make him cum so he can feel the sting like I did today. I didn‟t tell him I had gotten the piercing, and asked him in an afterthought if he had noticed. He had. How nice. When I got it I told the boy with the heavy eyes that it was the first non-Jonathan-sanctioned piercing.
I call the boy with the heavy eyes and Jonathan by the same pet name.
It is neither sweet nor fitting but I do it and it is my little secret that they are so intimately tied together in my mind and in my loins, since they both know me more intimately than I know myself.
I want silence now.
I am annoyed and aggressive and I want to lash out and hurt something or someone and I know that what I would do is unforgivable. I hear how hard my fingers are striking the keys and I think that something will break at this rate but machinery isn‟t as sensitive as flesh and I want to hit someone‟s face until it mushes under my fist. I don‟t care who I hit. I don‟t fucking care who I hurt. I hurt and I hate myself right now.
I don‟t like feeling like a dirty whore. I know that I am and that I deserve to feel this way but I don‟t like it and I would scrub myself with a braai brush to get this out of my skin.
I have scrubbed myself raw before, when I felt like a whore deservedly and I can‟t believe that this had made me feel the same way. It‟s not as if he raped me. It‟s not as if I couldn‟t stop him and say no.
But I didn‟t. Of course I didn‟t.
I hate myself right now.
And I hate the noise and I hate the heat of my clothes and I hate that my feet are cold and I hate the pain in my vagina and I hate the taste in my mouth and I can hear the girl who reads faces breathing beside me and I don‟t like hearing other people breathe and I don‟t know what to do with myself.
Jonathan would say that I should walk on my grass. Fuck him. Fuck him. Fuck him.
I can‟t fucking do this. I want to scream and I want to bite something.
This is why I don‟t like my meds. They make me manic and then I get crazy like I mean it. My fuck-outs happen when I get like this.
I don‟t know what to do. I want to fucking break something. Break a face, I don‟t fucking care. I am burning up with anger.
And all I can feel is that dirtiness on my skin and I hear the sounds around me and it‟s fucking sensory over-fucking-load and I want it to stop.
I have a friend once say to me that I am beautiful when I have an orgasm because I have such an expressive body. It bothered me that she watched as well but I kept silent and let her.
I hate that I am a whore. Jonathan probably only likes me because of it. And I am a whore he doesn‟t have to pay for and a whore who would do anything he wants.
No fucking wonder I got “taken advantage of” … no fucking wonder people don‟t believe me when I say no. No fucking wonder because I like it rough enough to bruise and bleed and send me off to the doctor with a BDSM indemnity form.
I deserve the treatment I get.
I deserve for it to hurt and I deserve for it to be scrubbed out of me until I bleed and scream and then get gagged and suffocate from lactic acidosis because my lungs gave up because nobody bothered to check that I actually liked what we were doing … but I don‟t matter … I will always fucking play along and then there‟s no problem because if you do what you will to me at least you are doing something to me and something is better than nothing and I hate rejection so I will do what you want me to do. I will be what you want me to be. Call me slut and I will strip. Call me dog and I will pant on my knees and drink from a bowl. Call me furniture and I will support your weight.
I am fucking pathetic.
I don‟t deserve the touches bestowed on my and I don‟t deserve Jonathan getting off on my images and what he thinks of me and that he knows that I think of him when I touch myself.
I don‟t deserve to touch myself. I don‟t deserve to say no. I am pathetic. I am dirty whore.
And the girl who reads faces is asleep beside me.
And I dream … I dream with my eyes open of an image I keep seeing and I know it isn‟t quite a memory but I can‟t shake it and I don‟t understand and I want it out of my mind. There‟s a baby crying … no, not a baby, a child … the sound is less natural than a baby‟s cry. There‟s a purpose behind it … a child‟s cry. There is a staircase. There is a dirty carpet under her, she can smell it. There‟s a child crying. She opens her eyes to a dimly lit room in a dimly lit house where she can see a wooden staircase. There is a couch next to her. She is on the floor. The sound drives nails through her head. There is a child crying. She tries to get up off the floor, but her arms shake and won‟t support her weight. Her breath is shaky as it leaves her mouth. Her nose is caked with dried blood and she can‟t breathe through it. Her eyes burn. There is a baby crying. No, not a baby, a child. There is a child crying … somewhere upstairs. She pushes herself forward on the floor with her legs, and manages to crawl in the direction of the staircase. She squints up at it, and tries to count the stairs. One two three … seven … twelve … fifteen. She makes out fifteen ascending lines. She raises her arms to the banister and sits up on the first step. She turns to face the direction the stairs are leading in and pulls herself up. One foot on one step. Then the other. One foot on the next step. Then the other. She counts as she climbs. There is a child crying. There are hands pulling her back from the stairs, grabbing her arms and wrenching them from her shoulder joints. She falls backwards, and hits the floor. The carpet burns her face and she feels her skin remain behind as she lifts her face. There is no one there … and I can feel the carpet burn on my face and I can‟t remember why I heard a child when I got it because there was no child unless it was me screaming and crying and I disassociated properly and … I don‟t fucking know.
I don‟t understand.
I‟m a whore with a cheek that holds a memory of something that is and isn‟t and that Jonathan touched so tenderly and that I want to bruise and throb and ache and swell and sting and burn and then I would smile and spit up blood over blood-stained teeth and then it would be okay because then at least my scarlet mouth would mark me as the whore that I am. Dulce et decorum est.
I want to tell you a story. In medias res …
… She got up off the bed, and took his shirt off, leaving her naked. She held it out to him, and when he just looked at her face, she put it down on the bed. She knelt down and picked up her own clothes, dressed, and walked past him. He turned, and watched her leaving, thinking to himself that she should never have been here in the first place.
By the time she was out of the flat, she leaned against the wall next to his door and tried to stop shaking. She drew her breath as slowly as she could, but the shaking made it hurt to breathe. She closed her eyes tightly and pressed her lips together. She breathed. In the pocket of her jeans, she found her phone. She dialled a number, spoke briefly, and within ten minutes, a white car stopped by the side of the road and she got into it.
The white car drove for half an hour, and came to a stop outside of an ill-maintained house, with a broken fence and a broken gate, and loose bricks lying around the driveway. The driver‟s door opened, and a pale young man in clothes that were too big for him walked awkwardly to the passenger side of the white car. She got out of the white car, and stood facing the young man eye to eye. “What do you have?” she asked.
“What would you like?” he replied. She smiled and led the way into the house, as if she had been here many times before … not even looking at the bricks that may trip her, but lifting her feet over them naturally.
The interior of the house was as worn as the exterior and it smelled of urine and vomit overlaid with household cleaner. In the living room there was a worn couch which was brown now but may have been of a different colour in a previous life. On the couch there was a man, an old man in stained white boxer shorts and a sleeveless vest. His feet were bare and his toenails were yellow. His knees were spread wide apart, and between them, on the coffee table in front of the couch was a pile of pills. He was counting them into small plastic bags. He looked up when he became aware of her presence, and he smiled a toothless smile, and his tongue ran over his dry lips. She smiled in return.
She should have been uneasy, being looked up and down by the old man in his underwear, but she saw the pills on the table and all she wanted was to get high, no matter that there was a dirty old man looking at her as if she were a hooker that had been hired to do his bidding, or a piece of meat that he could devour by sucking on it, as he had no teeth … The young man came into the house and locked the front door. He walked to the old man and said “give me four” and the old man said “cash on delivery”. She took out her purse from her handbag and took out the money. She handed it to the young man who gave her the four pills. She took a bottle of water out of her handbag and without looking at what she was about to ingest, put all the pills on her tongue and took a long draught from the bottle.
The old man was looking at her with a new intensity now. Nobody spoke. She smiled at the young man, as he took her purse from her and put it on the table. “Why don‟t you sit?” he said. She sat down, on the floor, in front of the coffee table and its pile of pills. The old man was leering at her now. Then her eyes grew heavy and her mouth grew dry and she smiled because she felt her blood become rich with narcotic infusions … and then she fell forward
with her head onto the table, hitting it on the corner and feeling thick infused blood run over her forehead into her eyebrow as she smiled once more and passed out.
“I thought Rohypnol worked faster than that” said the old man as he got up and scratched his crotch and walked to where she lay. He picked her head up by her hair and looked at her face. “Come on, she‟s no good on the floor.” The young man picked her up and carried her towards the old man‟s room, enveloped by the stronger stench of urine and old food. He dropped her onto the dirty brown bed with dirty yellow sheets and pulled off her shoes. Then he pulled off her pants and her panties. He took off her top and her bra and tied her hands together above her head with old, dirty, bloodstained rope. He took some cloth of unknown origin and stuffed it into her mouth, and bound it with masking tape that he took from the nightstand.
There‟s a baby crying … no, not a baby, a child … the sound is less natural than a baby‟s cry. There‟s a purpose behind it … a child‟s cry. There is a staircase. There is a dirty carpet under her, she can smell it. There‟s a child crying. She opens her eyes to a dimly lit room in a dimly lit house where she can see a wooden staircase. There is a couch next to her. She is on the floor. The sound drives nails through her head. There is a child crying. She tries to get up off the floor, but her arms shake and won‟t support her weight. Her breath is shaky as it leaves her mouth. Her nose is caked with dried blood and she can‟t breathe through it. Her eyes burn. There is a baby crying. No, not a baby, a child. There is a child crying … somewhere upstairs. She pushes herself forward on the floor with her legs, and manages to crawl in the direction of the staircase. She squints up at it, and tries to count the stairs. One two three … seven … twelve … fifteen. She makes out fifteen ascending lines. She raises her arms to the banister and sits up on the first step. She turns to face the direction the stairs are leading in and pulls herself up. One foot on one step. Then the other. One foot on the next step. Then the other. She counts as she climbs. There is a child crying. There are hands pulling her back from the stairs, grabbing her arms and wrenching them from her shoulder joints. She falls backwards, and hits the floor. The carpet burns her face and she feels her skin remain behind as she lifts her face. There is no one there … there is only light.
Her eyes opened and saw the blue eyes of the young man centimetres away from her face. She was naked. She was tied up. Her hips hurt. Her pelvis felt bruised and chafed. Her wrists felt bruised and chafed. She could smell them upon her. She gagged. She started to throw up but there was something in her mouth and she started to choke. A hand rips the tape off of her mouth and removes the cloth as she gasped for air. She started to scream, but his hand slapped her cheekbone and she kept quiet. “I‟m taking you back where I found you,” he said. He untied her from the bed, and rebound her hands together in front of her.
Then he tied her feet together. He wrapped her in a blanket. He left the room, and a little while later returned with her purse and her clothes. He put them in a black plastic bag, which he looped over his arm. Then he picked her up and walked through the house, and out the front door. She kept quiet. She breathed. She prayed for death. He put her in the backseat of the white car. He drove back to the flat. He got there exactly five hours after picking her up that morning. He stopped the car. He got out of the car. He pulled her out of the car and picked her up. He carried her to where he had found her earlier and dropped her in front of the door. He kicked her in the head until she lost consciousness. He walked away with a smile on his face. He cuts her ties. Her hands felt foreign as they touched her face. Her face felt foreign as her hands touched it. Her mouth was dry. Her lips were cracked and bloodied.
Onlopende Droë roes-rooi bloed Op vergete bene Roes „n roes-rooi roof Gekerf Onlopend Omlopende gestolde lug Wit poeier vlokkies Spoeg uitgedroog Suur vasgeklou aan roes-rooi lippe omring in blou en groen Wit strepe aan vel gegom Trane Op vrot wange Asseblief Moenie stop nie Hou net nie op nie

I just dreamt that my mother was going to do a hook suspension in a dingy BDSM brothel and that I was there and my grandmother was there … and that I wanted one but she wouldn‟t let me. I didn‟t dream of her actually going through with it, but she had stripped down and was waiting for the hooks to come in while I was asking her if she didn‟t want to start off her BDSM adventures with something more polite than that, like a caning … and I spoke to one of the ProDoms and said that I wanted to do a rape fantasy. Then I woke up.
And it was evening and it was morning … I am not manic anymore.
Hou aan loop Byt Vat Krap Brand Lek Verkrag
The girl who reads faces says that it looks as though she is obsessed with Jonathan because she has so many pictures of him. I smile. I only have one … well … one of his face … I delete them as I go along. They hurt too much to look at too closely now.
She asks me whose face she can read now. I think about people who make me feel like I feel now. Dirty and pathetic. There is a boy who said that to me outright … that I am pathetic and a bad person and a slut and that I don‟t deserve to live and that I am inconvenient. He gave me a bible.
The first big fuck-out happened shortly after that. Prior to the bible thing but shortly after he told me what he told me. We said sorry eventually, both of us, but there‟s an unfortunate sort of tension there, that the Dark Other picked up on a while back and the boy who gave me the bible apparently got very uncomfortable with talk of me.
We‟re reconciled to an extent.
He said that he can see that I have changed.
He was cruel. He hurt me as deeply as Jonathan has, if not more so … but I have forgiven him because I know that I was complicit in his cruelty. I didn‟t antagonise it, but I know that I was everything he hated and so by virtue of me being me, I upset him and he lashed out.
I got sober for a year and nine months because of him.
And then I gave up on him because he had given up on me and I went back to cocaine, which is always glad to see me and doesn‟t judge me for being pathetic.
I find her a picture of him, but his face isn‟t at rest. Nowhere is his face at rest. He has the same look of disdain that Jonathan wears and I see Jonathan‟s mouth for a second, transposed onto this face.
The girl who reads faces says that his ear is a bit wobbly and that it is probably just fights with siblings and stuff.
“His teenage years were fine, but his parents were a bit strict … he‟s quite intelligent, a bit boorish”.
He‟s very intelligent. He is someone who I can listen to for hours … I miss listening to him speak in Latin or talk about Eliot … but that was in the Before.
“He‟s not really into the whole pleasures of the flesh thing, he‟s probably quite tight fisted, those lines look more like he sneers a lot instead of having found his purpose, his mouth is downturned, so you know, built up negative feelings, quite a strong chin, so he goes for what he wants … and he‟ll probably end up with money later on and he‟s got the management earlobes, but he‟s quite firmly set in what he believes and he doesn‟t think he‟s right, he knows he is right”.
He is a god king in his own mind like Jonathan except for the fact that his convictions come from a higher power that makes him believe in what he says and what he believes and what he tells others. That‟s why I know that I will never be anything but pathetic in his eyes, because I can‟t redeem myself the way that he would regard as redemption. I am not sure that he would care one way or the other. He gave me the bible. He did his part. His hands are washed clean of me.
He could walk away and so could I.
“ … relatively fertile, it‟s really strange, I thought he would have had darker eyebrows to go with the whole I know who I am thing, but he is a fair haired person, so that‟s probably why his eyebrows are light, rather than it being any deficiency in knowing who he is. He‟s got „those‟ lines, he had to give over a lot of his energy at that stage, his earth and water are being depleted. He doesn‟t look like a very happy bunny.”
She pauses. “How do the temples look, does he have a tendency towards an addictive personality?” No, not at all. She can‟t tell at the angle that he is at in the picture. He has the cruel eyes.
“… and they turn down so he‟s not generally an optimistic bunny and he is private as well. He keeps his life private and he‟s not that interested in other people‟s lives either. He probably has the desire to over-indulge but he‟s so repressed he will not give into it. He doesn‟t need a lot of personal relationships.”
I am amazed at how she sees this. I know that she knows what she‟s talking about, but I actually know him, as opposed to Jonathan, and I know the events that led to the story that his face tells her. With Jonathan it is all speculation. With him … it‟s confirmation. I remember.
“Melissa, why do you like all these men that have this „meh‟ attitude to others?”
I don‟t know. I believe that natural victims find natural abusers. And he also never raised a hand to me, but he hurt me. And I believed him then and I believe him now. He said that I don‟t deserve to live and that I was a bad person and I don‟t think he‟s wrong. I was upset because someone other than me said it to me … but that‟s as far as my anger went. I know what I am.
I ask the girl who reads faces if she can see anything of the one in the other … and she says shesupposesthenosesarethesame,andthelips. Iseealotofresonancebetweenthem, but that might just be the cruel streak. She says the boy who gave me the bible also does the SMARM.
“They don‟t have faces that invite your confidence and it‟s both that „come into my lair‟”. … I would be curious to see them meeting each other.
The boy who holds my heart met the boy who gave me the bible. He didn‟t like him much. He didn‟t dislike him on principle, he knew nothing of what had transpired between us in the Before, but still he pulled a face.
There should be a screening test for men in my life.
I think about the lips that the girl who reads faces mentioned. The Dark Other has the same lips. Cruel lips. Lips that part slightly and show a red tongue that might as well be forked, peeking out and sniffing the air for a victim to slay with acid words.
The boy who gave me the bible would call me a whore. The Dark Other would lick my face and call me a whore. Both beyond redemption. The Dark Other was curious about the boy who gave me the bible. Jonathan, who knows the entanglement, doesn‟t encourage my relationships with either and every so often told me to just cut them out of my life.
Just like that … forget the lips and their words and their redness and their salivary sheen. I haven‟t forgotten the feel of Jonathan‟s lips on me.
I want them back. And I want them to ask me nicely. And I want to pull at them. And paint them red with their own blood and say to him “smile”.
The girl who reads faces comes into my office. The boy who would call himself my saviour is there with me. I didn‟t ask to see him. I generally don‟t. But he‟s known me for about five years, and he tells this to the girl who reads faces. He says that he‟s been around much longer than Jonathan … he remembers me saying to a lecturer that I would rather kill myself than be in that class, and he turned around and asked me why I said that and ever since then he has been trying to save, console, convert, understand … talk to me.
We say something to each other in possessed voices and he says that I have never let my voices out in front of him. He‟s not somebody I feel totally comfortable with to just be … I couldn‟t let him see my house unless it was clean and I wouldn‟t wear pyjamas in front of him and I would get up and brush my teeth early in the morning and then get back into bed and wake him.
He‟s seen me crazy and he has seen me angry, and we have had our big fight, although he says that we haven‟t had our proper fuck-out yet, to the girl who reads faces. He asked if she and I have slept together and I tell him about sending the pictures that she took to Jonathan. He knows that I do this. Last year I made him leave the office so I could take dirty pictures for Jonathan, and then let him back in … I can‟t remember if I asked him if he wanted to see them or not, but he might have been too curious to say yes … he is still a virgin. A virgin, who counsels prostitutes in the name of God.
The girl who reads faces says she can admire the perseverance but “dude, you‟re going to get stabbed and I‟m not even going to feel that bad afterwards” … she‟s nice about it …
And he tried to save me that way. He said to the girl who reads faces that I had thanked him afterwards.
We sit on my bed and I sing a little possessed-sounding song. She breathes audibly.
This afternoon we realised that Jonathan, the boy who gave me the bible and the boy who would call himself my saviour have one fundamental common denominator. They all “know that they‟re right, they‟re so set in their ways that you can‟t upset their reality because they are so firmly set in their beliefs” … and they all try to make me better … they all try to make me believe them and in what they are and in who they believe in … and Jonathan succeeded. I don‟t really care too much for God.
She asked the boy who would call himself my saviour if she could take a picture of his face. He asked her what she sees. I ramble off what I have learnt at him … and she looked at me. I am not the best student. I looked past the whole and delved too deep too quickly. Oops.
The first things I see when I look at him are his eyes and the bridge of his nose.
She breathes some more.
She says that the eyes are fire and the nose is metal. Fire energy. How fitting. That combination doesn‟t make him a good leader, but he‟s the take-charge type. That is indisputable, he likes to be followed like a messiah. A smarm messiah. The girl who reads faces says that she doesn‟t particularly like him. His eyes are set too far apart. He‟s also got that “I‟m going to watch you because you‟re a curiosity” thing going on.
“He‟s got a control bump, a very thin nose and a „bum‟ chin and a very thin upper lip that goes with the thin nose.” She says “this face annoys me, and he‟s going bald”.
He‟s got lines under his eyes, so there is grief or loss, as well as that darkening, so there are unshed tears.
“He‟s smart as well”.
I don‟t like my assholes stupid, that‟s for sure.
“He holds his eyes quite wide open, so he shares and wants to be shared with. So he‟s a genuinely caring person. Oh fuck! He genuinely cares. Now I feel bad for saying ugly things about him because his heart is in the right place, he just comes across as smarmy”.
I look at her. He can care all he likes, his hypocrisy makes me want to vomit on him and make him eat it.
“See! I was right about him having a younger brother or sister about the wobbly!” the girl who reads faces yells suddenly from under my duvet.
She means Jonathan. She‟s forgotten about the boy who would call himself my saviour. She says “he‟s not that interesting, that‟s why.”
Not that interesting … but he‟s been around long enough to have apparently warranted some of my interest … I don‟t know … I never really invited him to stay … Unfortunately, this boy cares deeply but is also deeply offensive to me, because he speaks without thinking what he
is saying. And he is curious about my feelings, but he chooses the most inopportune times to interrogate me as to why, for example, I would try to kill myself and how do I feel to still be alive, and why did I do what I did methodologically and why do I feel hurt by the behaviour of this or that person, and why do seem annoyed, and what happens when I‟m manic, and oooh, am I rapid-cycling right now, how does that feel? …
Once he told me that he has never actually been properly sad in his entire life. He has never thought about what it would be like to commit suicide. He‟s never been properly, viscerally angry either. My close friends know that there are certain events and people in my life that I don‟t like to talk about. The floor thing is one example, my father is another, and this boy just delves right in there, knowing that my hackles rise when those topics are broached by anyone other than me. I don‟t believe in pushing people‟s buttons to satisfy my curiosity and that is exactly what he does. The thing that annoys me is that he does not do it maliciously, just out of complete emotional ignorance.
He makes the monkey boy dance because he wants to see its dance, not to see it suffer for him … not that that redeems him really because I still put on my dancing shoes and twirl and I resent him for it but it‟s not Jonathan.
He was there when Jonathan happened for the first time. He remembers. He remembers telling me that Jonathan might not be such a good idea.
He judged Jonathan because I had gotten home at seven the next morning and I was tired and a little bit … chafed … and a lot hungover and coming down. He‟d wash my feet in oil and ask me to ask for forgiveness.
“His face is covered in fire points, though, the balding, that‟s fire. That‟s where the curiosity comes through”.
“The boy who gave you the bible is Jonathan‟s embers. The boy who would call himself your saviour is his ash.”
“So basically Jonathan is not like the sun, he‟s a star just like everybody else in your world, he‟s just the star that you sort of centred your focus on. It‟s like … the North Star is still a star.”
My thigh is completely healed. The stitches didn‟t even leave a proper scar like the others had, but it was done by a proper plastic surgeon person who makes imperfection disappear. And the fresh cuts are now flaking scabs that are dry and disappearing.
Jonathan owes me a fuck.
I owe him … something.
I owe him the pain of my pierced clit that I rubbed for him yesterday and I owe him the pain of being torn up roughly and sewn back together. I owe him the cramps and nausea and blood and hormones and tears and headaches and pale thighs with purple lines and white lines on backs being inhaled and discarded latex and discarded bodies and scrub brushes under industrial jets and peeling skin and suicide.
I owe him a hook suspension through his pectoral muscles and pulling him down until he tears open and I can see his muscles and insides and I can see that there is a heart in there and see if it is demonic and if he actually bleeds.
The girl who reads faces says that she would love to see him suspended, face up, with hooks through his chest, ribs and lines by his pelvis, through his quadriceps, shins and ankles … with no support by his arms … an inverted Christ, with a hand stroking his ribs with a talon and a soft voice talking into his ear that nobody else can hear … so all the spectators think “how lovely” without knowing what is going on inside. Maybe the pain of the hooks through his body will show in his face. And then a hook can slide in and through his cheek and make him grin. Smile for the camera. Swallow.
I owe him an overdose. I owe him blood streaming from nostrils and a stinging septum and a blinding searing stabbing pain. I owe him vomit and bile and piss and shit and spit that froths and dries like white powder on the chin. I owe him subcutaneous fat leaking from a cut through epidermis, dermis, endodermis and muscle that can‟t be glued back together andthatnoanaestheticwilldull. Iowehimscalptearingawayfromskullasafistgrabshair and slowly pulls backwards. I owe him needles under fingernails and through every nerve centre on his body done by the steady hands of the boy with the heavy eyes while I watch and tell him how pretty he looks with his jewellery in.
I owe him a face that he will recognise because it is not beautiful. It is abhorrent and cruel and ugly with bad skin and yellow sharp teeth and droopy eyes and pock marks and boils and veins.
I owe him ugliness.
The girl who reads faces asks what his face would look like if it reflected the truth. She says that the ears would be cauliflower, the hairline would be ragged, his forehead would be lined with crevasses and the hanging blade would cut deeper.
“Actually, his face does reflect who he is, because remember, your face reflects what‟s affected you and what you haven‟t gotten over and he‟s got that attitude of „nothing affects me because I am god king‟, so in his little world, there hasn‟t been the same tumult that there has been in yours.”
I still want him disfigured. I love him. I love you. I‟m sorry.

April 14, 2012

Rhythmanalogues Performance

Filed under: art,music,south african cinema — ABRAXAS @ 10:21 am

Jozi Rhythmanalogues
Edited version of performance at Shikisha, Newtown Jhb, 2 Nov 2011
with rhythmanalysis graph

Theresa Collins: Filmmaker, producer
Miz Buttons: DJ
Mocke J van Veuren: Filmmaker, director, graphic score
Siya Makuzeni: Trombone, vocals
Bradley Maponya: Double bass
João Orecchia: Manipulated samples
The Bartender: DJ

Sound: Suveshnan Arumugam
Editors: Sakhile Gumbi, Jean-Marc Vogt

Supported by the Ithuba Arts Fund and University of Johannesburg

The time lapse films produced by Collins and Van Veuren in 2010 were the starting point of the project. As part of a research study involving Rhythmanalysis, Van Veuren produced a graph which shows the amount of movement in the films over time. This graph was interpreted by the three musicians as a graphic score, and on the night of the performance the films were projected behind the musicians, while the graph was projected in front of them on a perspex sheet, allowing the audience to also ‘read’ the graph in relation to the music and films.

April 11, 2012

1934. The Merry Widow (Ernst Lubitsch)

Filed under: film,Frieda Grafe — ABRAXAS @ 12:20 pm

keep reading this article here: http://www.harrys-stuff.com/cinema/lubitsch-merry-widow-music.php

March 23, 2012

the dream of shahrazad

Filed under: south african cinema — ABRAXAS @ 9:06 am

Dear friends and colleagues

We are happy to say that we are finally in the early editing stages of THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD, our feature-length documentary film which looks at the legacy of the famous story collection THE 1001 (or “ARABIAN”) NIGHTS in context of recent political events in the Maghreb and Middle East… We have also launched a website for the film (where you can find more information, see video clips, pictures and more) at the following address:


This film has been six years in the process, and has so far much relied on favours and on investment by Neil Brandt, myself and other partners. We have however, with these and with grant funds and a sales advance raised, successfully managed to shoot almost all of the material, and are hoping to complete the film by October this year.

We now need to get over the final hurdle… As you may already have seen on facebook we have launched a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo.com – every little bit we get in now will help something towards a last trip to Egypt, archive and other music clearances, final translations and postproduction costs.

Please click and have a look at the following site:


Any amount that you are able to contribute, however small, will help at this stage… Contribution levels range from as low as US$10 upwards, and there are different perks for each level in return – the very least ones being a listing and free download of the film or DVD once the film is done.

If you are unable to contribute at this point, of course it is completely fine… but it would be great if you could pass on this message to friends and colleagues (or if you can do that anyway even if you do contribute!)… If you “like” us on the film’s facebook page, that will also help us to keep you informed of new developments and also in terms of future marketing options.

I have a feeling that this may be my strongest film to date – it has been a long process, and I am excited about finally getting it done… we now simply need funds to be able to finish properly.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments!

with many thanks and warm regards
Francois Verster

March 19, 2012

i burn paris by Bruno Jasienski

Filed under: anton krueger,literature — ABRAXAS @ 2:57 pm


translated from the Polish
by Soren A. Gauger & Marcin Piekoszewski

artwork by Cristian Opris

I Burn Paris has remained one of Poland’s most uncomfortable masterstrokes of literature since its initial and controversial serialization by Henri Barbusse in 1928 in L’Humanité (for which Jasienski was deported for disseminating subversive literature). It tells the story of a disgruntled factory worker who, finding himself on the streets, takes the opportunity to poison Paris’s water supply. With the deaths piling up, we encounter Chinese communists, rabbis, disillusioned scientists, embittered Russian émigrés, French communards and royalists, American millionaires and a host of others as the city sections off into ethnic enclaves and everyone plots their route of escape. At the heart of the cosmopolitan city is a deep-rooted xenophobia and hatred — the one thread that binds all these groups together. As Paris is brought to ruin, Jasienski issues a rallying cry to the downtrodden of the world, mixing strains of “The Internationale” with a broadcast of popular music.

With its montage strategies reminiscent of early avant-garde cinema and fist-to-the-gut metaphors, I Burn Paris has lost none of its vitality and vigor. Ruthlessly dissecting various utopian fantasies, Jasienski is out to disorient, and he has a seemingly limitless ability to transform the Parisian landscape into the product of disease-addled minds. An exquisite example of literary Futurism and Catastrophism, the novel presents a filthy, degenerated world where factories and machines have replaced the human and economic relationships have turned just about everyone into a prostitute. Yet rather than cliché and simplistic propaganda, there is an immediacy to the writing, and the modern metropolis is starkly depicted as only superficially cosmopolitan, as hostile and animalistic at its core.

This English translation of I Burn Paris fills a major gap in the availability of works from the interwar Polish avant-garde, an artistic phenomenon receiving growing attention with recent publications such as Caviar and Ashes.

Jasienski’s novel is, after all, primarily a fantastical one, combining the two most critical elements of social literature in those restless times: Catastrophism and the belief in a miracle — in this case, the miracle of the Revolution. … We are affected by this visionary fantasy with the extreme, sometimes even brutal realism of its texture, its innovative literary form, and the ambitious courage of its concept. Above all, however, the novel grips us with its eternal — forever old and forever new — story of the human heart that dreams of a better tomorrow.

— Anatol Stern

This is a superb text of astonishing modernity, a veritable manifesto of the wretched of the earth …

— Marianne

March 14, 2012

professor stephanus muller on interactions: a strategy of difference and repetition

If music is alone amongst the arts in its ability to penetrate to the essence of things in a non-referential way, Aryan Kaganof’s film Interactions: A Strategy of Difference and Repetition, is music.

Commissioned by the Theater Instituut Nederland to make a film about the Expert Meeting held at the Goethe German Cultural Centre in Johannesburg from 21-23 November 2010, Kaganof composes a film consisting of polyphonic voices, gesticulating hands, staged diegetic sound/action and scenes of civic unrest filmed at Zandspruit, a township in the North-west of Johannesburg.

The brilliance of this work lies in how it recognizes and demonstrates futility – the tedium of arts administration dialogue, the impotence of art, the power-imbalances of interactions – without surrendering to its implications. In this film ethical resistance to these conditions emerges not through a critique thereof, but through a framing sensibility that is fundamentally compassionate and unyieldingly political.

Kaganof’s startling filming, editing and directing performance overwhelms the commissioning agency’s bureaucratic requirements and lack of ambition. He makes the film that should have been commissioned (but clearly was not) by enacting the dynamic he is supposed to document.

Re-edited at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in January 2012 and selected for this year’s 58th International Oberhausen Short Film Festival, Interactions is a densely layered, multi-register performance of unlikely concentration and succinctness. In its emotional directness and enigmatic clarity, it is meaningful in a profoundly musical way.

Stephanus Muller
University of Stellenbosch
Department of Music

March 13, 2012


Filed under: 2012 - Interactions: A Strategy of Difference — ABRAXAS @ 9:20 pm

00:59 We are all going to Johannesburg. Why?

01:13 A strategy of difference and repetition by Aryan Kaganof

02:49 At first when you collaborate, and somebody has a cheque, you want to seem to please that person with a cheque. You do everything that he wants or that she wants, because he has a cheque. in his hand.

03:07 Hi Aryan, I had a first look at the film and many questions raised. My first impression on the first version of your film report of the expert meeting is that I did not understand it.

03:19 1. I do not understand the storyline and for me as a organiser I could not follow the story line and I wonder how others than participants to the meeting will have an idea about the contents. I saw some nice bits and pieces in the film (specially Afrikaaps) and some speeches. But it is very fragmentic / fragmentarisch we say in the Netherlands and chaotic. I miss consistency. Like I understand you made a film out of (personal) impressions of the meeting. But I cannot find the overall storyline.

03:39 I do not understand why the content we agreed upon does not come across: what is Interactions, the topics of the sessions, the networking during the breaks, the sustainability discussed, the concluions of the meeting, the participants, etcetera. I miss some sessions. I miss faces of people speaking. I miss the final conclusions. I miss the connection with the general underlying purposes of the meeting and the project (I send you all information about the project on beforehand). I miss faces faces of people anyhow. I miss a clear beginning and a clear end. I miss consistency in the film. etcetera.

04:07 Could you explain to me what you see as the storyline in the film? Could you explain to me why you chose these fragments and why you choose this form with hands and impersonal images? Could you explain to me what you want to say with the film? I have many more comments, but first of all I am curious to know more about your ideas with this film?

04:42 We wish to be like this rock
We wish to be like…

05:40 We wish to be like this rock…

06:00 Lord make me… be like this rock…
Make me like this… rock

06:43 Buzz and pull when opened

06:47 Yes Mr.B I will go with you Mr.B

06:59 We wish to be like this rock.

07:15 OK what is this movie about?

07:17 Interactions? It’s real dialogue, it’s making things happen.

07:21 OK what is this movie about?

07:23 In English? A two year collaborative program in the field of performing arts and it’s about collaborations between performing artists in South Africa and the Netherlands.

07:36 Hi Jeanneke, thank you very much for your open-hearted mail. The best way of viewing Interactions is to imagine Bert Haanstra doing Johan van der Keuken doing an anthropological documentary. As I am sure you know your Dutch classics well all should be revealed! Best wishes Aryan.

07:46 There were all kinds of collaborations. Afrikaaps is the result of a collaboration.

07:52 I’m in front of the door
I’m in front of the door
Of the magistrate’s office
O tell me boss
What did I do?
When I got 9 months jail
Up there on Roeland street

08:51 I come back from the mountain
I drink fresh water at the fountain
You can’t dis me and I can’t be coloured
Because Bliksem takes the flame much higher

09:03 All of a sudden the flow of arts exchange between South Africa and the Netherlands had dried up a bit and I thought there is a little low in the relationship and we need to do something about it so the aim of this program was to underpin again a good basis for cultural exchange. That we know each other again and that we have again a good basis to collaborate.

09:34 South African art and culture is a product of what people used to call “The Melting Pot”. I believe that a lot of work that’s being done in the field of arts and culture is also a product of this “melting pot”

10:02 We are a dark people
And we can count on our language to liberate our soul
Some call it creole
It came on a ship and we call it hotnot

10:22 Breaking it down on the floor, rapping it up on the mic, playing some beats, everyone is playing a part and no one is asking “what race are you?”.

10:33 Because this whole thing about “coloured”, if you really look about it everybody’s coloured.

10:37 Thank you.

10:41 I came to this conference with proof from our government that it took seven months to respond to an email for funding to attend a festival in Afrovibes, in Amsterdam called the Afrovibes festival. It took them seven months to respond of which I have proof, weekly chasing them, like a pitbull with a bone in its mouth, to try and get some sort of response, and I have proof over here, seven months later.

11:06 I think probably the approach needs to be different, because there are agencies, goverment agencies, that are mandated with doing the same thing, so we probably need to start using the agencies more and moving away from the reliance on government.

11:18 If the whiteys could fuck it up for 300 years why can’t the blacks fuck it up?

11:28 We’re doing well, we’re fucking it up well. We’re not allowing artists in, we’re keeping the communities out, we only can put on 25 plays a year, the other 400 that want to be there we have to say NO to. I’ve only been shot once.

11:46 But at least I’m not dancing like the Dutchmen.

11:50 But anyway, ask some other people some questions.

11:52 In a post 9/11 world there have been increasing concerns around security globally and culture has been identified as a key faultline. Different values, belief systems, different ideologies and worldviews pose threats as perceived by some. Against this background there has been much emphasis by some governments on intercultural dialogue, on cultural diplomacy, on the appropriation of culture and arts-related strategies to build bridges between communities. To facilitate understanding, to humanize “Other”.

13:41 So here we are, evaluating… but what are we evaluating…

13:46 It’s been twenty years staying in squatter camp. Nothing is happening in squatter camp. We don’t want Maureen Son. We want Zuma now. When we go to Metro they stop our toyi-toyi. We are tired of them now. We are tired. Because we staying in shacks about twenty years. They treat us like pigs, we are not a pig we are the people. They must treat us well.

15:50 Many artists just want to make art. They don’t want to be concerned about all of these other factors.

18:43 I wonder in what way you involve the private sector in your approach?

18:51 It’s about to withdraw its funding from the arts, give or take a year or two, so anybody who talks about entrepreneurship, anybody who talks about “business is the way”, I think they are just blinded by contemporary discourse that has got fuck all to do with the reality of how these things work. Sorry. Sorry.

19:08 And you leave me hanging…

19:15 Oh my God! You’re catching me.

19:19 Hi Aryan. Thanks for your message. But I still have the question; which is your storyline you choose? With friendly greetings, Jeanneke den Boer.

19:33 We may be coming with something that is called money but so what? It’s actually just money. In the end it just doesn’t matter. You as an artist may be coming with something which is just as valuable. So how do we stop this kind of beggar mentality?

19:52 Bring in money or funding in terms of like for instance because when an example when a collaboration starts to exist now how do we keep that relationship going?

20:05 Make sure the people come in to see the shows and then you start talking about how and what. Me I’m running a crossover thing between film and dance.

20:15 What are the conditions of sustaining the sector?

20:18 The curiosity and integrity and the wish of the people working in the theatre or in music to co-operate. And what I see in the Netherlands is that after a rather long period in the arts of very much concentrating on artistic development and concentrating on aesthetics…

20:41 We should stop crying all the time. We should educate.

20:47 Many people argue and talk about legalize your language
Mix it up with English and a whole lot of styles
Rap it up with confidence and I say Jah Nyabinghi within Afrikaaps
White man stole my language but he can’t steal my soul
The fucking cunt
But I want to rap and sound like me
Not someone else

21:20 We see the big dream of touring as validating us as artists. It doesn’t. We’re validating ourselves as artists when we can earn a living from the arts and we’re able to pay the rent.

21:31 Even professional companies have realized that there is no audience base for shows, so they all want to go to schools.

21:37 They don’t go to the theatres.

21:40 A government that does not have a community arts policy in place.

21:45 This is how collaborations should happen.

21:47 That does not fund community arts.

21:49 We have to make sure that the people, they see what you mean.

21:54 And if we want to sustain our groups our groups have to start to sustain themselves in some measure financially.

22:03 Not just thinking about sustainability as financial but in terms of social capital.

22:08 Yeah, this is the Dutchman that brings you money. Oh! Oh! And then whatever Roel says, Yes! Ja! Yes! And when Roel goes it’s like, “we don’t want to do what that man was saying”.

22:22 On the other hand do Dutch colleagues refrain from raising their concerns about issues for fear of being regarded as patronising or neo-colonial and so rather than deal with the issues wait for the project to end, never to return.

22:43 Hi Jeanneke. Thank you for your mail. There has clearly been a misunderstanding. Probably you have never seen a film of mine. I am a non-narrative film-maker. My films don’t have “storylines”. Best wishes

22:52 Since you have been sitting and talking all night we thought it might be a good idea to give you a little bit of an artistic performance here tonight.

23:33 Um very interesting but from my point of view I’m wondering where the new music is. It seems to be quite dance and theatre focused.

23:46 But we have some time so maybe there are some questions?

23:50 Tell a story. Thanks for your message. In response to your reaction: than there is a problem, it is not exactly what we asked for and agreed upon. How can we solve this? It would be good to have a skype appointment to communicate about this. I am at TIN irregularly and finishing my job here now. Best wishes Jeanneke.

24:03 This is how collaborations should happen.

24:05 I am on the attack
A promise is a comfort to a fool
Babylon is crucial
Ghetto youth is on the alert
And hijack city is the land of I & I

24:14 Afrikaaps , which is the expression of the people of the Cape flats, was never really considered “official” , because our language was never “official”. So your expression is not “official”. So if you’re heartbroken girl, “officially” heartbroken. You feel “officially” bad. So Afrikaaps makes those emotions of ours official. And everybody knows now what we feel about the type of Afrikaans that we speak. Every day.

24:46 Clearly we speak different types of Afrikaans. And it’s not about putting anyone down or saying this is the standard once again. It’s been done. So what we’re doing is for ourselves and contributing to our nation’s healing.

25:06 Who is your dumb darkie? Afrikaaps comes from the Cape
Now 2nd new year is celebrated every day
In the form of a party
The people will give themselves back to the land

25:16 And we must not be fooled, language is a big part of identity and self-worth.

25:21 Then the ships came from Batavia
Now everything is all mixed up

25:27 Bullets and business
Idolise tv and selling those drugs
Word virus on computers and paedophiles
Townships are ill
Police stand there shooting to kill
Come khoisan take back your land
Come khoisan take back your land
Coloureds come from khoisan understand?

26:11 It’s not a surprise to you that you are living in interesting times. Powers in the world are shifting. And some people become frightened. But there are others who see this as opportunities. In these turbulent times the debate about the essence of art is always intensified.

27:00 I don’t remember much after that. I woke up here.

27:12 One more time.
Are you wild on guilt are you wild on credit?
We speak the language and throw the tongue roll
We throw the tongue roll

28:08 I get so nervous of this guy he is in my face all of the time. You also wonder are these pictures of me going to end up on youtube or something? Especially on the back of my head.

28:27 Hi Jeanneke, thank you for your mail. I do not skype. I am not sure what there is to solve? I have sent you the work. I am very oopen to shortening it if needs be. You asked for and agreed upon a film by Aryan Kaganof. And that is what you got. My invoice is attached. With friendly greetings, Aryan Kaganof.

aryan kaganof interviews albie sachs

Filed under: politics — ABRAXAS @ 9:16 pm

13/07/11 Cape Town

Take 1

Justice Albie Sachs, thank you very much for doing this interview today. When did you first meet Nelson Mandela and in what context?

My first recall is, as a young law student at the University of Cape Town, I would go every winter up to Johannesburg and I would pay my respects to the firm of Mandela and Tambo – crowded office – and Ruth Mompati, the office Manager, would meet me and take me through the room and offer me a cup of tea and call for either Nelson Mandela or Olliver Tambo to come and say hello and one of the other would come very polite, very courteous “How is the struggle going in Cape Town”, I always said “The struggle was going well”, “Sorry we don’t have much time to speak to you, you can see how busy we are”. It was really a courtesy call and I couldn’t have been received with more courtesy. That would have been in the early-mid 1950’s. And the next time I recall meeting him was deep in the underground, 1961 and very, very tense, the time of terrible repression, and we are all waiting with some excitement, the security people are tracking out, in-walks Nelson Mandela, it was literally like a saddle we were in, and he is a tall person and he would like bending down and he stood up and that wonderful [...] – we now call it Madiba smile – was there even when everybody is very, very tense. So these were 2 completely different memories that I have with early meetings.

Thank you. You become very animated as soon as you speak about him, it’s beautiful to see. What were your impressions of Nelson Mandela on meeting him for very first time?

I have given them.

I think what the question is possibly linking to is this, was there a hint then of the stature that he wouldattain?

I can’t remember vividly whether it was Nelson Mandela or Olliver Tambo, they like merged into each other as they did politically so strongly, they were really intensely close, different in style, Mandela, little more imperious, a little more impetuous in those days more upfront; Olliver Tambo, a little more reticent but each had that marvellous smile, that warm embrace; they belong to a generation, they didn’t stand out as individuals then, they stood out as people if they had to be in a mould, a mould of Albert Luthuli; and Albert Luthuli was the person who was sort of the prominent figure that embodied hopes and aspirations and style and that sense of embrace, I could see the new South Africa embodied, incorporated into the personality Albert Luthuli. And here where we now, as it were protégés of Luthuli, different from each other, but in that particular mould; afterwards, of course, each one became an exemplar in himself, continuously maintaining that sense of connection and huge respect each had for the other, each insisting the other was the top lead of the ANC – I heard that with my own ears and on different occasions – and each having that element of grace, of thoughtfulness, of a human empathy, willingness to listen and a deep, deep internal confidence, confidence that came partly from personality but very much from the sense of the justness of the aspirations, of their goals, of their vision.

Thank you. How active were you in his political activities in the years prior to his imprisonment.

I was in Cape Town, he was in Johannesburg. I joined the defiance campaign leading a group of young white people to sit in Cape Town Post Office on the seats marked “non whites only”. He was the commander in [...], not the commander in chief, the volunteer in chief – Volunteer No. 1- in Johannesburg, he had been earlier. But the remote figure, somebody I read about in the newspaper, but one of our leaders; and in Cape Town we always look to Johannesburg, that’s where the leaders were. It was very comforting to have leaders not in the sense of people you would blindly follow because they were leaders, but the feeling of intense intelligence and collegiality and thoughtfulness, being base at the centre, represented by individuals, but not simply the composite of the individuals, a kind of political intelligence and courage of which Mandela and Tambo and the others would have been simply important personalities. But they didn’t stand out then, it was only when the treason trial really got underway that from this large body of people who regarded themselves as the lieutenants of Luthuli, of all the 136 people on trial for treason, Nelson Mandela emerged as somehow the strongest presence. It was a physical thing he was physically taller than anybody else, it was an articulation thing, it was a clarity of expression thing, it was just a sheer was in which he would address an audience and be listen to, and some people started speaking more and more about “Did you hear that fantastic testimony that Nelson Mandela gave while in the witness box, and then he began to emerge as somebody, if you like, more equal that the other who would belong to that generation of equality.

Thank you. How much did Nelson Mandela mean, and to what extent was he involved in the activities of the anti-apartheid resistance in exile?

Mandela’s role in exile was purely symbolical but intensely symbolical; it was easier to capture international attention by focussing on a splendid individual with whom people could identify than to speak min abstract terms about the prisoners in Robin Island, although we always mentioned the other prisoners as well; and all the posters, the leaflets, the literature, all the names would be given of the Rivonia Trial lists, and mentions would be made of the women who were in jail, people elsewhere in the country in jail for other reasons, he epitomised, he spoke for, he became the ambassador if you like, the representative of all the imprisoned people and all the people in South Africa fighting for freedom. So, in some ways as a totally detached, independent personality, detached from his body, his actual voice – we didn’t hear his voice, we couldn’t see him, he was blotted out completely, he became exceptionally potent. And the ultimate for me was reached when I hadn’t been long out of the hospital after I had been blown up, I think it was late 1988, I went to my first pop concert – I didn’t know what do you do at a pop concert, you know, you use to bend up and I was kind of rather nervous; so it was me and 70,000 young British people, we were then called “yobs” and uninterested in politic, 70,000 “Free Nelson Mandela…”, and it was tremendous. And when Archbishop Edelstein came to the microphone and said “I am here to call for the release of Nelson Mandela”, 70,000 young people stood up and cheered and cheered, the song had ignited their interest and enthusiasm. But through him, he symbolised the freedom struggle in South Africa, symbolised the injustice of apartheid and such a fine person was being held in prison and the enduro-quality of the anti-apartheid struggle. So, in paradoxical way, his absence, his invisibility, being silenced became an intensely powerful voice that echoed around the world far more powerfully than if he had been travelling around, speaking at microphones himself.

So, the symbolic value was in fact more important than the real value?

The symbolic value became the real value, it wasn’t a contrast between the two.

Thank you. In what ways have you been involved with him, in the years after his release?

It was in early march 1990, I am in Lusaka doing work for the Constitutional Committee of the ANC and we told the Robin Island prisoners and the others are coming up to Lusaka; so, that’s after 30 years of separation, these different branches of the ANC are linking up again at Lusaka, immense excitement, that’s change, and it’s like “we’re winning, democracy is winning, it’s the breakthrough; and at the airport we hear the shouting and the cries as you can hear Nelson Mandela walking through the crowd on the tarmac getting closer and closer, and suddenly there he is in front of me; and to be honest I literally threw myself at him and embraced him with my arms and kind of stood back and smiled and he said “Tell me comrade Albie [...]” and he asked about my family by name. It was amazing after 30 years and we haven’t even been intimate, we haven’t been in correspondence, but he had heard that I had married somebody who’d been on the struggle and it was very lovely and then he moved on. And then he gave a speech that evening – it’s still vivid in my memory – he said “I am at the disposal of the ANC, I am an ordinary, I have been the member of the ANC since I was a young man, I will die (as) a member of the ANC”; then he said “If you give me a stick and a cap and a whistle, and you say you want me to be the night-watchman outside the ANC office, will gladly accept, I am in your hands”. He was really the point that he’s not coming out as the leader the messiah to lead the masses, but he’s coming out with the lead of an organisation, as a lead of the organisation at the behest of the organisation, the organisation commands him, he doesn’t command the organisation; and he used that vivid image of the night-watchman, you don’t see people quite like that today as you would have in the 1960s when he went into jail or even in the early 1990s. And that was a very vivid way of explaining how he understood his relationship to be; he was quite solemn then; it was a marvellous moment of reconnection, people we hadn’t seen since they were young and we were young and thin and black hair and now grey hair, we are bold and some have quite big bellies and at first we didn’t recognise and we re-encountered after 30 years; but the connection was very, very intense. And there was something sort of lofty about him – lofty in a nice sense of the word – sort of the posture that he wouldn’t rush and hurry, at the same time he wouldn’t brag or so (that) “he is a prince who needs somebody to hold up his train”; very easy meddling with people and very gracious and those elements were immediately evident he hadn’t come out of prison uncouth, raw, hard, inwards withdrawn, he’d come out as a person with bestthyl [bestow], with an ability to connect, to reach out, curious about the world, interested, loving to meet people, to touch people to be held by people, all of this was very evident.
00:15:00:00 [NOT TIME CODE]

Take 2

He came out as a person, not withdrawn, angry, inwards, beaten down, but as person with the kind of calm in ebullience, a lot of vitality, and you could feel how much he enjoyed connecting out with people, reaching people, touching people, he wasn’t the messiah “Follow me I am going to lead you to freedom”, it wasn’t that sense at all, it was south African re-emerging to meet up with his comrades, fellow south Africans, people who weren’t comrades but compatriots who belong to the same country; and that sense of the fan and pleasure of reaching out, proud, not bending the knee, not supplicating, not promising things, being as he was you just felt the attractiveness of the person in every way. And he embodied the pride of the struggle, the pride of the community, the pride of a nation, if you like, that refused to capitulate to the argument and logic of racism and division and denial; and that expressed that theme of humanity and the way we will survive in South Africa is not by stronger that the others by beating them in the way that they beat us, but by being more human than them and enabling them to discover them they own humanity. And he was so confident about it, it wasn’t a strain, it wasn’t a pitch, it wasn’t something he was doing to win over anybody; it’s who he was, and being like that he was epitomising something in maybe our generation, our movement, our struggle, our ideals, our hopes; he didn’t create it, but he articulated it, expressed it in a particularly affined, almost an aristocratic but a gentle aristocratic way that carried enormous conviction and made it easier for us to work in a collegial manner because the person who now emerged, just the prominent individual wasn’t obsessive, wasn’t concerned about the trappings and accumulation and show off and [...] If anything he would like to show off is how non-show off he was – if that’s not too much of a contradiction in terms.

To what do you attribute Nelson Mandela’s tremendous stature, both in South Africa and globally. I think you have covered that to an extent.

It’s clearly personality comes into it, and style and his literary style and his speaking style and his posture, great intelligence, he loved ideas, he loved argument, he loved debate, he loved listening, he loved contestation of ideas, in that sense of real, true democrat, you felt you can always learn from testing ideas; but it was connected with the personal warmth and an ease and strong sense of history, it was very widely read and thought for, I would say, would say deeply influenced by the Indian independence movement of his generation, the thought of Nero would have been important, he studied Marxism, amongst many other political philosophy; but developed a very south African voice and style and pronunciation, if you like, of our politics; and became deeply, deeply non-racial, through struggle, not simply through forcing his mind to say “Well, I want to believe that everybody is equal and so on”. Struggle on the island where people of the Indian origin were given little privileges that black persons didn’t have, they struggled together as prisoners, as human beings in a very forceful way and he’d seen already in the underground where white comrades hid him and took lots of risks together with him and joined Umkhonto We Sizwe, and risks their lives for the freedom struggle in South Africa. Through all those experiences, he imbibed the non-racial ideal and consciousness and somehow that got out when filtered, and whether it was the guards, whether it was the people he was negotiating with, whether it was people he was speaking to in Paris or in London or in New York, he was flashmobbed everywhere, he could do it with comfort and ease because of the strength of his vision and his internal – if you like – solidarity with himself, he was able to connect up with other people in that way.

How have you viewed the relationship between Nelson Mandela and the Jewish community as a whole?

It’s quite amusing to look back 1990-1991, I spoke to a lot of Jewish groups in Cape Town, by “lot” I mean a lot: Jewish women and Jewish seniors and there were even Jewish dentists, my friend Martin belonged to a group of dentists and said “Martin are you Jew as dentist or dentist as a Jew”; and 6 months latter he said “I am still thinking about that”. And the one question I would get over and over again – I am speaking about the freedom charter, a non-racial democracy and Jews are part of the nation and they come in as Jews, they don’t have to shed their culture and their vision and their beliefs to be part of this diverse nation, their emerging; and they would say “What about Yasser Arafat?; any question that seem to blot out almost everything else, until I guess it would have been about 1992, maybe 1993 and the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia Sulcas said “Albie, will you come to the Marais Road synagogue on” – she gave the date. Mandela has been projected as a “saint and a miracle worker”; well one miracle I can attest true myself, and that is he got me to go to Shul. I grew up at the most secular world imaginable, but I gladly went because Nelson Mandela was going to visit the Marais Road Shul, the place was packed out, he was magnificent, one has to use that word. He came in like and elder with the other elders – well, now they are all rather proud to be connected with him, they didn’t ask him “Pss! What about Yasser Arafat?”. He spoke so graciously, they were tears down people’s eyes, he spoke about the Jewish firm of attorneys who has taken him on as an article clerk; he said many of you have got children in Australia and Canada and elsewhere, tell them to come home if they can come home, we would love them to come back if not keep in touch with them, tell them about the progress. He spoke with such affection and connection with the community, understanding where they were and he didn’t as I recall deal very robustly or directly with the question of Israel and Palestine; but whatever words he used would have been employed with sensitivity and yet without appearing to be sucking up to them or trying to “graciate” himself in any way. And I remember going up to Millie’s, that delicatessen quite nearby, and not long afterwards, one by one the people streamed in from the non-real fromose, the fromose wouldn’t get it to the delicatessen to buy some coffee, and they were all talking, “Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela”; and I think that changed the interrogation. The next thing I remember in that connection was Nelson Mandela coming up with the idea of a group of South Africans going to Israel-Palestine to make a contribution towards peace and the project of an independent Palestine, next to an independent Israel, both secured and proud and self reliant. I know Gill Marcus would have been involved in that, I was asked if I could participate; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I think was very keen to participate and Nelson Mandela himself I think was thinking about it. But then his term as President came to an end; and then came the Sharon connection with the Muslim Tume and the 2nd Intifada and the atmosphere was destroyed, so that possibility was lost.

Take 3

If I understand from that you didn’t identify yourself as a Jew, if you were brought up in a secular environment what was your identity, I am curious about that

I was a Jew, I am a Jew, it is part of my background, my history influences my culture in all sorts of ways. But you don’t have to be religious to be a Jew; you don’t have to go Shul to be a Jew. There are lots of people who go to Shul and who chief Rabbi Harris would have said are bad Jews, and they give to charity and they do all the right things, but in their hearts they’re bad Jews. Cyril Harris actually spoke wonderfully at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela, like a prophet and magnificently at the funeral of Joe Slovo, and he said “Joe Slovo was a good Jew”; although Joe, like myself, was totally secular, didn’t go to Shul but was quite proud of the fact he had been born a Jew and had to [...] a certain heritage went with it, his Jewishness, if you like, would have come out through maybe certain taste in food, through his humour, through his style, his competivity, there are lots of different adjectives some based on stereotype that one would adopt, in my case I would see some of my dream in those millenarian thing. When I was in jail and the only book I had was the bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, I found a lot of the Old Testament very hard, very savage, very severe but the Song of Songs, the Solomon period was beautiful and gracious and then the prophets, the period of oppression and the balanced type of exile, the beauty of the language of the dream of the world not just for the Jews but for all humanity that reached very, very strong into me. so, one doesn’t have to be a Jew, a good Jew, if you like, if I could use the Cyril Harris definition, you don’t have to go to Shul, you don’t have to pretend beliefs that you don’t have, respect people who do go to Shul, that’s their right, that’s their belief, you respect the culture, you respect the faith as you would respect other faiths as well. You don’t have to have a pre-defined position in relation to Israel and Palestine because Jews fight and argue amongst themselves over that as non-Jews do as well. And certainly speaking for myself, I hate it to be imprisoned in a notion of Judaism and being Jewish that diminished me as a human being, as a person, as somebody with my own conscience and thought. If being a Jew meant anything to me, it meant respect for conscience, integrity of conscience the true person you are and the integrity of your beliefs; and if I felt that the person whom I was, whom I aspire to be and the dreams that I want to immerse myself in, perhaps influenced by a Jewish background and a history and a culture and so on, meant that I didn’t follow orthodoxy in anyway, so be it.

May I ask subsequent to that day that you went to Shul for Mandela, have you been back?

I haven’t been back as a congregant; I went to a Shul in London and I spoke at the Shul, I addressed the people there, it’s a very special Shul with that deeply religious person in charge but very concerned with the issues of the world and he felt a connection with me, even though I didn’t attend the religious part of the service I was quite comfortable being there, I had no problems with being there; in terms of my own world view and connecting up with people easily and comfortable, they all happen to be Jews I happen to be a Jew but not participating in forms of connect with tenets of religion, that I don’t share.

Take 4

Nelson Mandela, in his long walk to freedom wrote “I have found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice…”; then the question, is there something specific to the culture of Jewish life and Jewish identity that explains the substantial contribution to social change and civic life in South Africa?

I think the history particularly of Jews who came from faith of pogroms in the Lithuania and couple with the Anti-Semitism in South Africa meant that Jews were not incorporated into white society with quite that facility that other white immigrants had. And I think some of the restlessness, some of that vision of the prophets, some of that millenarian view of making the world a wonderful place for every human being was part of the culture. At the same time I think one has to say “Jews were whites, participated in the benefits that whites got, a lot of the white racism and sets of assumptions seeped into the Jewish community as elsewhere” but there was enough of the legacy, the settlement, if you like, of the prophetic vision of the world. Many Jews joined the labour movement, they came as poor workers, first of all many were in the communist party, others joined the liberal party because of a certain hope for something better and a certain detestation of racism; and the extent to which Hitler and his supporters attacked Jews as such and the denial of humanity to people because they were who they were, I think that had an impact on the consciousness of the Jewish people. Some people then directed their energies purely to the vision of the future Israel others directed their energies to contest the apartheid, a few; some had one foot in either camp. But, I think it’s no accident that not only in South Africa where the race issues are so predominant, in many countries of the world, many, many Jews were active as writers, as critics, as philosophers, as academics, as medical people, as lawyers on the side of progressive, emancipatory thinking; and I think that has something to do with the history of persecution, of being displaced, of being forced to know the whole world whether you liked it or not; I think that became element in South Africa as well.

Mandela made tough foreign policy decisions when he started his world tour after prison, some offended the Jewish community, others did not. What is your take on those events?

He made I think a very, very important point. You don’t adapt your foreign policy to the immediate whims and needs of the moment and getting good headlines and to stroke certain people, you actually use respect if you do that. There were people who stood up for the ANC and back the ANC in very, very difficult years; and the 2 countries that [...] or the 2 personalities whom he insisted on embracing quite figuratively and literally, without necessarily embracing all the ideas ad policies, Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat. And he said upfront, he didn’t do it in clandestine ways, he didn’t denounce Arafat then whisper to the PLO “Don’t worry I am really on your side but I have to do this”. And to my mind is to the discredit of those people in the Jewish community who simply tested Mandela’s calibre by whether or not he’s friend of their friends; that they could not understand that, I think to this day they – many People – don’t understand that why took the position that he did.

Take 5

Shed some light on the complexity of the Jewish community, Percy Yutar, prosecuted Mandela and others while Jewish and other lawyers defended the Rivonia trialists. So, how do you characterise the Jewish contribution to the South African struggle?

When I used to address Jewish audiences in Cape Town 1990, I would see few hundred people there, and I would see 3 things in that same group, the one would be people very responsive to culture, to ideas, the notion of freedom and you could debate the issues and ideas matter not only to Jews but somehow it’s quite strong; then I would see who are very community-oriented, looking after elderly, people in trouble and schools and Shul and things of that kind and that’s people’s right and to the extent that they relieve the state with certain burdens that is actually helping the society; and then I would see whites, whites with servants, with a lot of attitude those whites in South Africa had and all 3 elements would be connected up; and I guess in some individuals the first element the idealism, the love of ideas, the sense of compassion was very pronounced and one can think of marvellous people happened to be Jews and were relatively high proportion of those whites who took part in the struggle, very high proportion were Jews, so, that can’t be purely accidently. And then you would have at the other extreme, the people who, they didn’t see themselves as whites, but would absorb by the whole white culture and speak about those fractures and or if not using that language, would behave, with the same disrespect with that people in other countries show towards Jews in other circumstances. And then you would find individuals locating themselves along the spectrum in different ways. I would say though that only was there relatively high proportion of Jews amongst the real activists Denis Goldberg, there’s quite a long list one can give; the Orensteins and many, many more; Sam Kahn, as a lawyer he taught me so must preparing me for law; Hani Bernard, Marcy Jaffe, my doctor was more than just a doctor, the list goes on and on. But we were a small percentage of a Jewish community altogether, there was a much bigger group who were kind of liberal and descent and progressive and to whom you would go for support maybe raising some funds maybe some of them helped with the “End conscription campaign”, people hiding out, others would help with their writing, Gerald Gordon, in whose home we are actually conducting this interview at the moment, did marvellous work for civil liberties, his son and Nancy’s son, Steven, helped the people refusing to fight in the army, they weren’t directly with the ANC, maybe Steven had some connections with the underground; that was quite a large community and even larger one that would help out a little bit with through their professional work, would do their work as good doctors, as good lawyers, as honourable people, not refusing to attend simply because the people who needed nursing or healing or legal defence happened to be co-terrorists, whatever that might mean. But I think looking at the community as a whole there was heck of the lot on the other side; they’re not running around with big flags today, saying “Well, we supported the Nats or [...]” even the United Party which was pretty conservative in those days. So, there’s a sort of continuum which goes all the way through. I think quite striking would be Jews in the area of culture and one thinks of people like Nadine Gordimer, again very secular in her approach but the Jewishness of her background must have been a very important factor for her and a brilliance, sharp brain, intellectual critic of tremendous calibre; and then when it came to the play King Kong and I remember it so vividly in the 1950s, it wasn’t an accident, Spike Glesser with a lot of the music collaborating with [...]
[...] Collaborating with Todd Matshikiza, Leon Gluckman doing the staging, Harry Bloom with some of the lyrics, some of the words and so on. And it was partly the anti-racism, but partly their love culture and their willingness to enjoy the music and the song and the theme and [...]; so, that was a very rich area of intervention. Who was that [...]? Leonard Schach did quite important work in the theatre area; there was somebody in Jo’burg, what was his name [...]
[...] Toby Kushlik, whom I didn’t even know, I just knew the name; so it was an accident that Jews were so prominent in what initially were white cultural circles, broadening out to embrace or to connect up with very resurgent black culture that was emerging in the townships and in the urban areas, the connections were very, very vivid.

Just to go back to an earlier point you made, I can remember a strange sort of horror that I felt when I was in a Johannesburg Shul, and I opened quite an old prayer book and there on the back page was “Die Stem”, so, your kind of Jew was definitely the minority Jew in terms of how Jews operated in South Africa.

Certainly in terms of numbers; but it was quite a large spectrum goes on, you know the gradations; if I think of the lawyers, there were some like Rowley Arenstein, Joe Slovo -100%, he gave up he’s legal practice, an advocate to be in the underground and then to become a military commander afterwards, and then to become minister of housing – never losing he is tough, competitive Jo’burg advocate style Rowley Arenstein in the underground in prison, I was working in the underground also in prison. And then there was another grouping, people like Arthur Chaskalson, Denis Koenig, of a younger generation and then older people, Isie Maisels, Sydney Kentridge, it’s not an accident, it’s so many of them, and many of them quite brilliant lawyers, they didn’t work in underground as I know, maybe they did have some connections, but they did their work through the legal profession like to the maximum, providing brilliant legal defence, it was more than just technical legal defence, it was asserting the dignity of people who were fighting for freedom through the mechanism that the law allowed to be exposing torture, it would be giving people and opportunity, a moment, a platform to speak, to address the world when they were banned their works wouldn’t be quoted at all unless they were in a court when their words could be quoted maybe to some extent. And also the humanity of that they showed through the professional services I think was important creating the non-racialism that emerged in South Africa, it wasn’t exclusively Jewish by any means but the Jewish participation was very strong in that area.

Thank you very much. Could you speak about the Jewish contribution to the development of black performing arts under apartheid?

Black performing arts began to effervesce and break into the public domain in the late 1950s, against enormous odds; so, they were seeking platforms, outlets, channels, places completely dominated by whites; so, somebody like Linda Goodman, I think it was from her heart, her vision, her eye, she just sensed, she saw the vitality, its passivity of artists like Dumile Feni and others; she also saw the commercial opportunity, so one wasn’t against the other, but I don’t think she was driven primarily or even substantially by commercial objectives then, it was a love of art for people; and so, her gallery became a place where people could exhibit. One sees people like Leon Gluckman, the theatre director seeing the opportunities to participate in putting on the King Kong, helping to coordinate the whole project with the great singers and voices, people became famous afterwards and musicians Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, a whole generation emerged from that, and it wasn’t just that got opportunities, it was confidence, it was suddenly the emergent of range, the potential of what you can do and go abroad and perform for South Africans and break through all these barriers that were hemming people in, these were broken in many ways. But, I wouldn’t like to say that somehow or another the Jews were the pioneers who opened the way for black counter production; black people were expressing themselves very powerfully and Jews, amongst others Bernard [...],– what was his first name? – he did a tremendous amount of work for music and theatre; his daughter Linda is very active in the culture sphere now. So, they were many others, working like that and their contribution was significant and this part of the South African story, a prominent part.

Take 6

Barney Simon played a particularly significant role through the market theatre, it was very intimate, it was very direct and Barney had a marvellous intuitive feel for theatre, he wasn’t a great writer himself but he could spot the writer in others, he wasn’t a great actor himself but he could spot the actor in others, and he knew how to bring people together and allow them to interact and to see the way the drama of everyday life, the drama on the street corner could now become a drama in the theatre that was totally at odds with the imported west and star lies over and ritualised, sophisticated, “look at these great actors” kind of drama; So, Barney’s contribution was very strong and very, very direct. Again not Barney on his own, he was part of the team, Mannie Manim and others, played quite a very important role there; but Barney maybe had more obsession more craziness in this area, maybe than anybody else and the results there were quite spectacular.

Thank you, you have 2 more questions. Can you give us a short tribute to Helen Suzman and her contribution to democratic change?

Helen played a very significant, very powerful role in the transformation in South Africa. Because she was like in the enemy camp, the kind of solitary brave voice speaking out, needling, provoking, using the institutions of racist domination from inside with a very strong voice, I mean I can even hear at Helen’s [...], the tambour of her voice, it was literally a strong voice in itself but a style of work and which an irony [...], the sharpness and the confidence that was very special. I owe Helen a tiny bit as Albie because when I was in detention she asked the question in Parliament about me, as she did about many others, and these little things accumulated, they just made me a tiny bit, I wouldn’t say more immune but less isolated and defenceless than I might have been otherwise; much more important was, she linked up with Robin Island prisoners, who had a much more robust philosophy than she did, and she saw them as human beings, as freedom fighters, people dignity, and they respected her so much – from what I can read and hear – for being that; and, you know, these tones about “who the hell is she, wattle boy coming in and [...]”, that entered the scene; what mattered was where she had something to contribute, she did and she did it well. She wasn’t the liberator of South Africa, she wasn’t the Joan of Arc, she wasn’t in that sense a freedom fighter in a way that millions of the very humble ordinary African women who were freedom fighters, but within the white community she was brilliant and she was meaningful and was part of that panorama, and I think the strength of the anti-apartheid movement came from its diversity, its range; and people did what they were good at doing, she wouldn’t have been good as an underground militant; I don’t think, with her philosophy, she was rather conservative in many ways, but she was brilliant as a speaker, as an accuser, as somebody exposing and denouncing the evil of corruption and violence of apartheid. She opposed the boycotts internationally, we were fighting for them, she conceded – the only one she would concede afterwards – where she would be wrong, she would say “there’s sports boycott”; but I think that’s partly because she didn’t like sports very much, it sounded relatively easy for her; economic boycott she never supported I think right till the end. So, in that sense she wasn’t on the side of, if you like, the masses fighting for freedom inside and outside South Africa; but if she’d been on the side of the masses, she would have been just another one with her own vocal capacity which would have been terrific. But she stuck to her lust, she did what she did she was good at and she did it brilliantly and well; I am true to say to be honoured; I am still hoping in spite of her own wishes that they will be a major street in Houghton named after her.

It has to be in Houghton of course.

It should be in Houghton, and all the contradictions of her life and the beauty of her life are represented by that.

Take 7

Please, Justice Sachs, can you give us a short tribute to Judge Arthur Chaskalson and his contribution to democratic change.

Arthur is so formidable; I heard his voice just the other day where we were planning to do an oral history of the achievement of the negotiated constitution, and there was that firm voice, that clear thinking, the warmth, the humanity, quick thinking that he always had; and when you think of integrity, intelligence, sensitivity to context situations, you think of Arthur Chaskalson; when you think of somebody who works for the team, who organises, who respects others, you think of Arthur Chaskalson; and when you think of a legal brain, a quite marvellous legal brain you think of Arthur Chaskalson, you combine qualities that you don’t often get in one individual. It was remarkably up-choice to make him head of South Africa first constitutional court, I think it emerged as a marvellous court, excellent judicial organ that holds its hand with pride anywhere in the world and Arthur provided that steady leadership, but right at the prow, he was really at the prow of that project and endeavour from the beginning with the strength of his reasoning and his ability to draw people in and find the strength that all their own individualistic, fiery, sharp, brilliant, sometimes even mannered colleagues on the court head; he just distilled and got the best out of us and produced that terrific mix that became the [...], that created the cement, if you like, of the constitutional jurisprudence. I have nothing but respect for Arthur Chaskalson.

Thank you very much. I would like to close off with going back to the point you made earlier; there was a very interesting point about the notion of being a Jew but not necessarily a good Jew and sort of bringing in the issue of secularity; you are closer now to the end of your story than the beginning, does the closeness to the end not place doubts on one’s secularity?

People say that when your years are passed and you become aware of your mortality you tend to retreat to your earlier sets of beliefs and if that’s the case then I retreat to my total intense complete secularism. But it wasn’t secularism in a form of an aggression and hatred and denial of beliefs of others; it was just that we find our moral faith and our moral centre in terms of an intense set of beliefs that motivate our conduct in life. I remember so vividly – I must have been about 8, crossing the street with my mother, and then we got to the other side and I said “Mummy if we don’t believe in God what do we believe in?” and she said “We believe in doing good and being good”; I was l totally satisfied with that answer; then I am satisfied with that answer today. I think the changed that’s come in my life is that I am far more tolerant and accepting of the beliefs that others have, not simply as their right to have their belief but as the meaning of their beliefs to them as human beings, if they get their dignity that somehow believing in a supernatural order that I don’t share in that belief doesn’t diminish them to me, it’s just the way they are. I have got an agreement with Vanessa my wife, she believes in afterlife, I don’t, but the agreement between us is I am up there and she’s down here, she is allowed to say to me at first words “I told you so, Albie”. I wouldn’t have even made that joke when I was young.

You’re less rigid, less rigorous?

It’s not [...], I suppose, I am more open to pluralism generally, to diversity, to [...] I remember coming up with this notion of these Cold Knowledge and Warm Knowledge; and Cold Knowledge is scientific knowledge, it’s objective, it’s impersonal, it’s dispassionate, it’s the truth; and maybe at one stage I would see all warm knowledge as obscurantist and as unprovable, unproven belief systems and so on. And now I can see that warm knowledge is very meaningful to many people; warm knowledge inputs [..], compresses history and compresses experience and uses parable and indirect ways of embracing truths and memories and expectations and hopes in a way that cold knowledge doesn’t do, and the world need both of them and in that sense; I am much more open and I might be wrong. I used to console myself as a child – it was very tough being a non believer in a believing environment – but I felt that to pretend a belief I didn’t have would be disrespectful to myself and to God – if God exists – if I didn’t believe in God and to pray to God that I didn’t believe in. You know, it was quite tough for an 11 – 12 year old kid. But I remember saying to myself “God if you do exist, I am not a bad person, I wouldn’t behave in any different way whether you exist of not, if I do good things, it’s not because I want to go to heaven or get some kind of reward, because this is the way I see the world, this is who I want to be”. So, in that sense already at early age it was immaterial whether God existed or not, just in my case I didn’t see the capital “G” kind of person or spirit or essence of being out there that somehow would be responsible or intervene in our faith; we had to take responsibility, for our own faith, our own choices, our own dilemmas and retrieve our own joy in our own way.

Take 8

May I distil from that the ideal that you always operated from your own conscience?

I think that’s being the inner core of myself since then. Even when I was in prison, at one stage in such a confinement I had had body experiences which were very vivid; very, very kind of strong and rather weird; it never shook my basic belief that I am a body than this person who’s speaking to you know, when I am dead I am gone, if I live on it’s through children and books I have written, constitutional court building, judgements I have written, things that I have said, interviews I have given in all sorts of obvious ways and often in settle ways, gone! [...], and I haven’t changed from that; but what was very important for me was becoming part of a broad movement and movement that transcended, just me, my family, cultural grouping, certainly the whiteness of my skin, my belonging to privileged section of white South Africa, my being simply a South African. And in that sense it’s me inside embracing all these other things, and the me inside becoming stronger and richer because it’s opening up, it’s less suspicious it’s more giving, it’s more embracing than it would have been just me inside on its own as purely inward looking, also strict, self-referential being.

If we can understand the notion of an individual’s conscience, is there such a thing as a Jewish conscience?

I can see [...] I wouldn’t see my conscience as a Jewish conscience, but I would see it as a conscience that has a certain element of Jewish input that maybe quite an important one. But I don’t frame my decisions in life in terms of references, express references to Judaism, to biblical texts or writings of great Jewish Rabbis or commentators, certainly not to the pronouncements of particular Jewish leaders or people speaking of a Jewish state; but I can’t speak for other people I know people like Denis Davies, who went to the Otsleo, he frequently expresses views very similar to mine and he will frame them as a Jew, as a good Jew, that’s the way he sees things. In terms of a good Jew- bad Jew, well if I was confused before, I even more confused after Cyril Harris, the chief Rabbi of South Africa said “Joe Slovo was a good Jew”, it means a bad Jew, a very bad Jew, he didn’t have a mezuzah he didn’t give to charities, he didn’t go to Shul, I believe these were the 3 (three) little linchpins of being a good Jew in London when entry to a Jewish school was being discussed in the supreme court there. But Rabbi Harris said he was an intensely good Jew because of the ethical quality, he happened to be a Jew and the Jewishness is not something he despised or shed or repudiated, I think Joe took it with him to his grave [...]

Take 9

I think Joe took it with him to his grave but he wasn’t buried at the Jewish cemetery, there’s no Magen David on his tombstone, there’s no Hebrew lettering there, there’s nothing at all to stamp his final resting place, a place where a Jew is buried. But if idealism as the vision of emancipated humanity owed anything to the prophets and to the vision of an emancipated world then he would have taken that with him to his dying day. If he had a sense of humour, that somehow it’s a humour, it’s an irony, it’s not just being able to tell a joke, it’s ripe way of seeing the world, that it’s no accident, it’s very strong in Jewish culture, and a Jewish tradition, maybe counterpoised to the heavy dogmatism of so much of Talmudic kind of reasoning, Joe would have had that I think more towards the end. So, it all depends on what one means by a good Jew. If Joe was a good Jew then I am good Jew, if Joe was a bad Jew then I am a bad Jew; and Joe and I were very different in many, many ways, but I think it’s these elements that we certainly had in common. I remember at school, I was at Sachs boarding school for quite a long time; and about half the kids they were Jews, many of them children of Jews who owned a shop or hotel or something in little doorpies and they would send their boys to Sachs school in Cape Town and a frommer would come along and would lay down the law: “you can’t have milk and meat together for 2 hours” so for a week or so we would all be looking at our watches and then you kind of forget it and the a few month later another one would come along, and that would be an 1½ hour; but what surprised me was that often the boys who were the most frommed in terms of these details they would steal, they would lie, they would be mean, there wasn’t a direct connection between observance and the moral qualities; I wouldn’t say there was an inverse one, I wouldn’t say the more frommed they were the more disrespectful they were to others, they was just no connection at all, they seemed to belong to different orders of the world of behaviour of values. And it’s given me a disrespect for formal overt science of proving your religiosity – that’s detached from actual meaning, although I have learnt, this has come very, very late to respect some people whom I like very, very much, who are very observant, they don’t use motorcars and electricity on a Sabbath, and at first I thought this was very weird but I can see it’s kind of mental space acquired a sabbatharianism in their lives, a form of identification, that’s all the more important because it doesn’t signify anything other than itself, I respect that. So, I have had to grow a little bit to become more embracing, more encompassing, to acknowledge, the intensity and meaning of what might appear to be absurd rituals for people who follow them, but please don’t try to impose them on me; that touches on something very deep in me I feel offended, I feel respected, if people try and create a compulsory potential faith that I don’t have, and yet I will wear a yarmulke, I go to Shul if I am [...] I love going to Osheshwana dinners places of dinners, I go along; I am only terrified that they will pass the Haggadah and it will come to the plagues, it’s one thing for sure I will never pronounce the plagues and certainly not the smacking of the first born; it was a near missed once, and luckily I was given the passage which was just before that to read, and then I would just throw the book down, that would be too much of the range for me. So, I owe respect for the home that I am visiting, the people, their beliefs, I will certainly conform, but I want pretend the belief that I don’t have myself.

Just wanted to mention that the Baal Shem Tov himself, the man who formed the Hassidim, said there’s actually only one rule of Judaism and that is to love God love, and love of God is the single fundament upon which all the other rules are based, love is the fundament of the Jew.

Well you see, I could follow that but I would give it a different philosophical framework but it’s intensely the same, yeah. Love of God would mean loving of the beauty and the good and the possibilities, ineffable qualities of the world and so on.

Has struggle been a manifestation of love for you in your life?

Struggle has been part of expressing love, expressing highest qualities, but also knowing fear and terror, it’s been a testing ground, often a very tough testing ground in many different ways, but for me it’s been ennobling and enriching overall, it’s been diminishing in some ways, a kind of relation that we developed that gave us courage, it gave us conviction and strength; even back now I can see we weren’t critical about that, we should have been critical of; they had been disappointments in individuals, in movements, philosophies and so on, but overall it’s been very affirmative, very positive and very enriching for me. For me as a white person being in lash with black movement, it all pick it out of my skin to move, to sing in public to loosen up, to lighten up to dance, and that’s an immediate sense; but also to be more tolerant to be more sensitive to be more open and that’s where people like Olliver Tambo had a huge influence on me and many, many others; it’s kind of Ubuntu in practice embodied in individuals, in people; that’s been very, very strong for me. And when I read a book like “Disgrace”, my disagreement with J. M. Coetzee – he’s a brilliant, brilliant writer – is that he doesn’t have that connection with Africa, African culture, African people at an emotional, some luminal level that I have, that I got very much through the struggle, through the tradition of my parents, my mum worked for Moses Katani, I was named Albert after Albert Muzule an African trade union leader, I am sure I picked up a lot being carried on her back, of an African woman who might or who might not have been a comrade but just hearing the music and sort of seeping to me. And all of that is somehow connected with a world of ideals, of vision of humanity but also a world of fun, of music, of movements, of possibilities that fitted into immense petri-notions of the revolution of transformation, of change, sharing risks, made it meaningful and the connection was very, very meaningful; and with it disappointments and setbacks and terror and raid and sleeplessness – it wasn’t all just beautiful you know, along the way – but overwhelmingly positive.

Take 10

It might or might not be pure coincidence, but after I was blow up and I am in total darkness, and I don’t know what’s going on and I heard a voice saying “Albie we are in Maputo central hospital, your arm is in lamentable condition, you have to face the future with courage”, and I said into the darkness “what happened?” and the woman’s voice said “it was a car bomb”, and I think back that euphoric I know I am safe, I have survived; and then I wake up I still can’t see, I am feeling very light and very happy and I tell myself a joke about “Amy Cohen falls a bus” – it’s an old joke – “and gets up and he does this and someone says: Amy, I didn’t know you catholic”, “what do you mean catholic? Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” and I started with testicles all in order, wallet okay, head is ok and my arms fit down and I realised that I had only lost an arm, and I felt joyous because that moment the freedom fighters waiting for, will they come for me? They came for me and I survived, that was fantastic. Well, maybe it’s an accident, I tell most of the Jewish joke at that moment maybe that is part of the culture that help people survive, that helped me survive in that particular moment.

So, the Jewish joke is a survival mechanism against the pogroms against these atrocities that people in the Diaspora have faced?

00:01:41:20 [NO TIME CODE]
The theme of humour, many oppressed communities use humour to fight off the power of the dominant group, sometimes humour at themselves, it enables them to survive, to manage; so why take on the world? it certainly helped me at that particular moment. I joke, therefore I am; to me humour, there were lots of jokes told by Joe Slovo and about Joe Slovo that entertained all of us and kept up our sense of comradeship during the struggle. Myself, I remember thinking the person who organised the bomb in my car, must have been anti-Semite because we Jews we need 2 arms to tell the story, I don’t tell that joke very often, though willing to say it now.

March 9, 2012

vela 6911

Filed under: music,stacy hardy — ABRAXAS @ 2:06 am

this article first published here: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-06/entertainment/ct-ent-0307-classical-musicnow-20120307_1_hand-crafted-instruments-new-music-concerts-clarinetist-j-lawrie-bloom

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