7/31/2005

U.S. Busts Canadian In Canada For Pot

According to reports published by Canadian Press today well known Vancouver Marijuana activist Marc Emery and two associates have been arrested at the request of the American Drug Enforcement Agency(D.E.A.). The warrant for his arrest was issued under something called the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. Marc Emery, Gregory Keith Williams, and Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek have all been charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, to distribute marijuana seeds, and money laundering. The warrant calls for their extradition to the States to face these charges. If the trio are found guilty they could face from ten years to life in jail. Why Vancouver police waited for the U.S. to take action against the trio is slightly unclear. When asked the spokesperson said that they had known about Emery’s operation for a while, but that they had been acting on U.S. information and investigations take time. Judging by the vindictive nature of the American attorney general’s statement it seems like the U.S. justice system wants to get their hands on them. The obvious reason for this is that Canada has no where near the punitive laws or attitude against marijuana that currently exists at the federal levels of government in America. The D. E. A. has already given Emery a catchy nickname for the popular press and C. N. N. In the warrant sworn out by the judge they had referred to him as the “Prince of Pot.” They are setting him up to be some sort of drug King Pin. A sort of Canadian version of the Columbian Cocaine Cartels. But Marc Emery’s crime in their eyes goes far beyond what he sells from his store, “The Toker’s Bowl” in downtown Vancouver. He is the head of the British Columbia Marijuana Party which pushes for the decriminalization of possession and cultivation of the drug. With Canada flirting with decriminalization of simple possession after already legalizing medical marijuana, Emery must be seen in their eyes as a key force in the upcoming debates on the matter. They probably hope that by removing him from the picture it will take a while for another outspoken advocate to rise up in his place. But arresting a person is one thing, getting him extradited is another. According to the laws of Canada we will not allow a person to be sent to their own country to stand trial if they face punishment that is significantly crueller and unusual than what they would face here. In this case we are dealing with the request for Canadian citizens to be tried in a country whose attitude and penalties for the crime in question are significantly more draconian than ours. The charges in of themselves are, save the money laundering charge, are relatively insignificant. They are not being charged with shipping thousands of pounds of the drug across the border, or even directly cultivating it on their own. They have been selling seeds. Nothing more. Any of you out there who have tried growing your own will know that it is fraught with difficulties, and your chances for success and quality of return are significantly long. Even growing your own vegetables is not something everyone can do, so the process of growing a tropical plant in a temperate climate is fraught with difficulties. The idea that this is a crime equal to that of actually cultivating and selling of the final product is ludicrous, and the D. E. A. zeal for an arrest and trial speaks of a vendetta against the individuals. In fact this was made obvious by there spokesperson’s comment about “his(Emery’s) overwhelming arrogance and abuse of the law (which) will no longer be tolerated” What is even more interesting about this case is the fact that Emery has been running his operation since 1994 without any harassment or arrests by the Vancouver police force. It’s only now that the D. E. A. has become involved that any action has been taken. In Canada nothing that he has done is considered important enough to warrant jail time, or wasting police resources on. What’s next? Will they start issuing warrants to arrest the people running needle exchanges and demanding their extradition? Charge them with conspiracy to promote the use of intravenous drugs? From the way the American officials were talking these people sound like hardened criminals who are a threat to the very fabric of society. Get a grip. It’s not like they’ve killed anyone or pose any sort of serious threat to American safety. With all the supposed terrorists that Canada is harbouring why wait to these people to make use of their ability to seek someone’s arrest? The only thing I can think of is that they are trying to pressure Canadian officials not to relax marijuana laws any further. In their eyes we are probably a bunch of spineless liberals without the guts to do what’s needed in the “war on drugs”. (How come everything is a “war”?) I’ll be very surprised if Stephen Harper, head of The Canadian Conservative Party, a group of social conservatives, doesn’t come out with an anti pot statement in the near future. There have been no reports about the substance of what Steven Harper and George Bush talked about in their recent meeting, but I’ve got to wonder why Bush would bother meeting with the leader of the opposition party in Canada. Maybe he was only expressing his condolences on their failure to bring down the sitting government, or preventing the legalization of same sex marriage. But I can’t get over the feeling that the matters of substance and mutual interest they were discussing have a lot to do with George issuing orders to his subordinate in the war against social justice. Briefing him on what things he needs to concentrate on in the upcoming year that are near and dear to George’s heart. Steven has proven himself a more than willing puppet, oops, ally in the past. If George wants to promote his zero tolerance on drugs in Canada he’s got to make sure that his sycophants know what to say. Fortunately this will be a matter for our courts to decide, and no matter what either Mr. Harper, Mr. Bush or the D. E. A. want if they find the extradition request violates the spirit of our laws it will be turned down. We are still after all a sovereign nation and have the right to have laws that are different from other countries. The three accused individuals were carrying their crimes out in Canada, are Canadian citizens and therefore should be subject to the laws of Canada. If they were ever foolish enough to enter the United States than the Americans could have their go at them, like any other individual indicted by a grand jury who lives outside of their borders. If Canadian authorities did not think Mr Emery and his associates worth of their time and effort than I can not see how anybody can justify them being extradited to the United States to stand trial. I admit stranger things have happened, but in this case there is little or no evidence to warrant this action. cheers gypsyman

An Insidious Plot

Late one night someone showed up at my front door. He was conspicuous for wearing a trench coat in 40 degreeC heat. He was pale and sweaty, looking as if he could pass out at any second and he stunk of sweat and fear. Furtively looking around the street, he whispered out of the side of his mouth “Gypsyman?” which surprised me. Nobody knows that identity except a trusted few. I was about to reply that I didn’t know anyone by that name when he cut me off. “Don’t be stupid” he said “Of course “we” know who you are” He stopped and began to cough so hard that he doubled over. When I reached out to help, he waved me away with an impatient hand and continued. “There’s not much time, they may already know that I’ve run and with the information I know they’ll be after me.” With that he stuck his hand into the pocket of his trench coat and pulled out some crumpled, stained sheets of paper. He passed them to me with trembling hands. As I opened them , I noticed their was a red sticky substance on a corner of the front page. Horrified I looked at him. “Cherry Coke” he said “That’s not important, just make sure people get to know what’s going on. They have to be stopped.” He doubled over in a coughing fit again, pulled a large Canadian flag handkerchief form his pocket, and mopped his brow. He stood up and nodded goodbye. As he walked away I heard a slight jingling sound. He was wearing riding boot and spurs! When the door was closed behind me I thought I heard the faint sound of hoof beats retreating into the distance. The contents of this highly secrete memo are short but shocking. I have decided the best recourse is to reproduce it verbatim. It sounds pretty far fetched but that’s part of it’s insidiousness. I only hope the people who have the power to do something about it will believe me. The date and location of where this letter was written was obscured by the spilled Cherry Coke. But it’s safe to assume it’s fairly recent, and probably originates from somewhere in the Ottawa area. UPDATE AND REVIEW: File # 0023ZA1. Infiltration of mass culture CC. Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Australian Surveillance Service(A.S.S.) All appears well on track with our plans for undermining and controlling the ways in which American’s think and behave by insinuating ourselves into their mass culture. The method of not seeking out positions of obvious power, studio heads, producers and such, seems to be paying dividends as nobody is the wiser as to the nature of our program. I don’t think any of us could have realized how successful this operation would become when we inserted our first agent back in the twenties. As the forerunner to sending over the big guns from Britain Mary Pickford was ideal. We knew that she had achieved her objective when she obtained the title “America’s Sweetheart” It was Mary who brought Fay Wray on side for us. She had been born up in Alberta but had been brought up in the States. Mary was able to use a mix of promises and threats(Fay had a cow she had particularly fond of still living Back home. A single ground beef mention was enough)She had no problems carrying out her patriotic duty after that. It was after the success of our two ladies that the Brits started to pay attention. We had a real struggle retaining control of the operation, what with them insisting that us colonial types were hopeless at running things. It was only when we threatened to pull the plug that they allowed us to stay in charge. Their first wave of operatives hit Hollywood like a storm. Led by Larry Olivier they immediately began monopolizing screen time. Vivian Leigh although effective early, latter proved unstable and was threatening to expose the plot due to her relationship with an American actor and divided loyalties. We had to take steps to reduce her validity, hence her rapid mental collapse. Aside from her the success of people like David Niven can’t be denied. With their suave manners and gentle speech nobody would even dream of questioning their covers. The plot to subvert and stunt the growth of American Culture was off to a roaring start. While the British field agents were in place, we were going ahead with our master stroke. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation(C.B.C.) under the guise of being a nation wide radio station(and then television broadcaster)became our key training facility. It was here that Lorne Greene was prepared for his mission. His success exceeded our wildest expectations. Pa Cartwright’s and Bonanza’s influence can still be seen today in American foreign policy and the behaviour of their President. The popularization of the cowboy mystique on the television screen was our biggest single influence on the American psyche to that day. We were so beyond suspicion that when Joe McCarthy started his investigation of Hollywood they went in the totally wrong direction of seeking out Communist influences. Not a single one of our people was touched. We were a little worried until they started blacklisting the people who could have actually prevented our success: intellectuals and thinkers. Once the dust had settled we realized that we had succeeded in our attempts to ensure American mass culture would appeal to the lowest common denominator. They were scared of people who were not “plain spoken” or used words of more than one syllable. All that we needed to do now was ensure our continued control. Fairly early on it was decided that Canada would emphasise television and the mother country would take care of film. There has been a little over lap over the years. as operatives have had to follow career paths that ensure their influence, but in general this division of labours has been stuck with. We have ensured a steady supply of script writers and actors for the small screen, while the Brits have been able to supply some big guns for the films. But their biggest impact has come through the supply of raw material for American films. The James Bond industry; a high percentage of children’s movies(Harry Potter is only the latest in a long line) have all come from British novels. With emergence of the Australians and the New Zealanders as forces in movies we have been able to expand our operations. Heath Ledger, Kate Blanchette, Hugo Weaving, and Geoffrey Rush have all made their presence felt on the screen of America. In fact it was a New Zealander who instituted one of our best special projects in years. Peter Jackson in the guise of shooting an epic movie Lord Of The Rings brought a group of American actors under his direct influence for over three years. Aided and abetted by some of our abler operatives he was able to corrupt a variety of American stars. Viggo Mortensen’s outspokenness against the Bush administration dates from his time spent overseas. Of course there has been previous success in cultural immersion projects before. Norman Jewison continually invites actors he works with back to his “farm” in Canada under the guise of relaxation and informal gatherings. While there he plies them with maple syrup and other intoxicating concoctions in an indoctrination effort. But both of these pale in light of the results we have achieved through the deliberate devaluation of the dollar and intensive technical training programs for our operatives. Both Vancouver and Toronto have turned into major filming centres for movies and television. We have now had over twenty years to directly exert our influence on American popular culture. We have reached the point where our continued dominance of the U.S. airwaves is assured. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network is outlasting it’s founder’s demise; Canadian’s are anchoring newscasts all across the United States and our actors continue to make their presence felt across the networks. With eight Canadian ladies having important roles on prime time shows, both generation of Sutherlands working, and our ever present script writers still churning out most of the material produced, our influence is probably at it’s peak. For that reason it becomes increasingly important that secrecy about this issue be maintained at all costs. While none of our operatives in the field are a worry, they all have family living in Canada, we need to monitor inside staff. Any leaks must be dealt with forcibly and immediately. Please ensure that this memo is properly disposed of so that it doesn’t fall into inappropriate hands. Well there you are. I don’t know what kind of risk I’ve taken publishing this, but I can only hope that when it is read it is believed. What happened to my mysterious visitor I’m not sure, but there have been no reports of mysterious deaths in the papers yet, so it’s to be hoped that he has gone undetected. Of course this publication may place him in further jeopardy.(Alex Trebeck must be another one of their agents, having got his start at the C.B.C. doing high school quiz shows) Please don’t let that brave man have risked his life in vain. Wake up America to your real enemy before it’s too late. cheers gypsyman

7/30/2005

The I. R. A. Disarms

Earlier this week the Irish Republican Army(I. R. A.) announced it’s long delayed decision to not only lay down their guns but to actually allow for the decommissioning of all stockpiled weapons and miscellaneous armaments scattered throughout Ireland. It makes you wonder what in hell they had hidden around the country. On top of that, what were they planning on doing with it all? I have to wonder what reactions will be like when these stockpiles are revealed. It’s long been known they have plenty of munitions, explosives, and small/ light arms but what might they have been storing up for a rainy day. A few surface to air missiles, anti personnel mines, and any number of the newer and lighter methods of inflicting harm on your fellow human beings that are available these days. The I. R. A. has long ceased to have any real relevance as a political force. Their brand of terrorism in the name of nationalism has always had the scent of a protection racket about it. Recent events like the murder outside of a pub of somebody who had made derogatory remarks about them only served to further tarnish their image. I don’t think there is any coincidence concerning the timing of this announcement either. Coming as it does only weeks after the largest bombing to hit London since the I. R. A’s last wave of bombings it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out which way the winds blowing. They have to realize that people’s enthusiasm for their “armed struggle” has waned to almost non existant. The thing that has always puzzled me is how people have romanticized the I. R. A. Throughout North America they were turned into some heroic figures standing up to an invading force. Pour a few pints of bitter down somebody’s throat, sing a few sad songs about the potato famine and everybody is ready to throw money in a jar to pay for guns to kill women and children. But when the same people talked about the Palestine Liberation Organization, or The African National Congress they called them terrorists. The only difference being the colour of their skin and their religion. Nobody in mainstream North America ever referred to Yassar Arafat as plucky or heroic, words nearly always associated with the I. R. A. by their supporters. Up until recently a common element of St. Patrick Day parades would be some sort of semi secret show of support for “the lads”. How many of those people knew or cared that St. Patrick was a British born child of Roman parents? Or that the snakes he drove out of Ireland were the original Irish people who refused to give up their traditional way of life and surrender to the invading Christian church. Irony has never been the strong suit of the fanatical. Now this is not to deny the injustices that have been served upon the people of Ireland. There is no doubt that over the centuries that little island has suffered sufficient indignities for a country ten time their size. Even the myths of the country obsess with it’s occupation and conquest. The Book Of Invasions a mythic history, details six invading races , five of them prior to the Celts.(The Celtic Tradition: Caitlin Matthews pg. 11-12: Element Books Ltd. 1995.) The Celts were the first people it seemed who were capable of repelling invaders, as they managed to keep the Roman’s at bay. It wasn’t until Norman England had been established that Ireland came under the influence of the British Throne. But the real problems didn’t begin until Henry Vlll decided he wanted a divorce. The birth of a Protestant church, or at least a church that didn’t recognise the pope as it’s leader, was the spike that drove the biggest wedge between the two islands. Queen Elizabeth l instituted what has since become known as the Plantation of Northern Ireland. With the final conquest of Ulster in the North and the exile of it’s land owners, colonists were lured to Ireland with the promise of free land. The native Irish were exiled to the bogs and mountains, while the English speaking Protestants were given all the farming territory. A whole new culture was transplanted and installed. But the Irish wouldn’t give up easily and it wasn’t until Cromwell usurped King Charles l in the 1600s that they came completely under the thumb of the English. In one of histories lovelier examples of ethnic cleansing the Puritan armies descended upon Ireland bent on stamping out the papists. The invasion was accompanied by the usual incidences of murder, rape, and butchery that we have come to associate with religious driven warfare. Lands were seized and deeded over to Protestant nobility. This began the establishment of the class structure existent until even this day of poor Catholics and ruling Protestants. By 1703 all but 5% of land in Northern Ireland was in the hands of non Catholics. Elizabeth’s plantation was complete. Pretty much since that time underground rebellion has existed in one form or another. Various efforts of the English to repress Irish nationalism have met with little or no success. The attempted banning and elimination of the Irish language in the 1700’s only resulted in a strengthening of resistance. That which we now euphemistically refer to as “The Troubles” can be traced back to the horrors of the potato famine. When blight destroyed the one cheap staple of the poor Irish people, thousands died, and thousands more fled into exile either across the Irish Sea to England or the Atlantic Ocean to Canada and the United States. Not surprisingly very few wanted to go to still British Canada and ended up in the new republic south of the border. It was these expatriate Irish people who became the hot bed of nationalistic support for the “boys back home”. Initially they were more than just financiers, and formed brigades of Fenians(named for the legendary Irish warrior Finn MaCool)to fight the British in Canada. The Fenians were just another in a long line of fighters trying to resist against British rule for a variety of reasons. Some people viewed it as a class war, the poor against the rich. Others saw it as a fight for freedom of religion, while for others yet again it was all about nation hood. These internal divisions plagued the 19th century and early twentieth century nationalistic movement in Ireland. One of their leaders Nicholas Parnell was hounded to death by the clergy for an extra marital affair. Others like Michael Collins were killed by fellow nationalists who felt that agreeing to the partitioning of Southern and Northern Ireland was a betrayal. It was in 1921 that the partitioning of Ireland came into effect. The six counties of Northern Ireland were given over to the rule of the Protestant majority who had lived there since the times of Elizabeth. With their population only representing a third of the total, Catholics soon became marginalized first by circumstance, and than by policy. With the police, education, social services, and local governance all in the hands of Protestants they had little or no say in any matters of governments. With permanent state of emergency laws in effect giving the police carte blanche, and a system of economic discrimination in place against Catholics it is no wonder that Irish nationalists in the South were continually struggling for unification. But it wasn’t until the British government who oversaw Northern Ireland introduced a series of reforms, including free schooling that any base of support could be found amongst the Catholics in the North. Obviously the preceding was a rather simplistic and skimpy retelling of those events, leaving out highlights like the Easter rebellion of 1916, and many other incidents of significance. Conflict In Northern Ireland is a wonderful site where I gleaned these highlights. For those interested in more historical data I would direct you there. It was this mess that caused a resurgence of “The Troubles” for the past thirty years. Who came up with this romantic name for the killing of on average a couple hundred of people a year during that itme I don’t know. But as romance has always been a major factor in the I. R. A’s popular appeal abroad I would hazard a guess that they are behind it’s origins. Northern Ireland was created as a sop to the Protestant minority within the whole of Ireland. They were the descendants of the people who “colonized” the land during the reign of Elizabeth 1. They were used to positions of wealth and power and did not want to lose their sway over affairs in their fiefdoms. Under a unified Ireland they would just become one more citizen subject to the same laws and responsibilities as any other. The maintaining of this last colony is an insult to the people of Ireland and one of the more backward situations in the world. It is as if after South Africa gained majority rule one small enclave was retained where apartheid continued. While the majority enjoyed freedom and rights, a minority continued on as virtual slaves. But the activities of the I. R. A. have never accomplished anything except to put people’s backs up against the Catholic Irish minority in that region. The trust that is needed to continue the reunification process is next to non existent. Acts like the murder of Lord Louis Montbatten, a cousin of the Queen, and a much beloved public figure, are hard to forget. Now that the pendulum of public opinion has swung so far away from supporting any type of terrorist activity, they may have finally woken up to the fact that they will never accomplish their goal of reunification through violence. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the upswing in one brand of terrorism actually results in the resolution of a centuries old situation? Stranger things have happened in the world’s history, and it would be nice for something good to come of all the horror we have lived through in the past little while. But one thing is for sure, that when peace is finally worked out for the people of Ireland, and their country is unified again, it will have been in spite of the I. R. A. not because of them. cheers gypsyman

7/29/2005

Going Nucular by Geoffry Nunberg

How often do we consider the implications of the words we use in everyday conversation? Probably not at all. The most any of us try to do with language is communicate some sort of message to another person. We use those words that are accessible and able to convey our meaning. But sometimes a word will carry a hidden meaning or connotation beyond it’s simple requirement of fitting into a sentence. In Going Nucular Geoffrey Nunberg talks about the way he sees words demonstrate our changing ideas and sensibilities; one word replaces another, an old word is adopted to a new point of view, or sometimes it’s just the way little words like and or of are used.
“Words usually have something to hide—you have to shake them until the top pops off and some revelation tumbles out, an insight into some attitude that it would be hard to put your finger on by any other means.”:Going Nucular Geoffrey Nunberg pg.xiii Public Affairs 2004, 2005.
Like a detective revealing clues in a mystery novel, Nunberg creates his case through the republication of essays that examine and cite different examples of his search for hidden meanings. While light hearted in tone, and quite funny at times, his topic is far more serious. Unlike his fellow linguist, Chomskey, he isn’t looking for some massive conspiracy which he can blame on somebody or other. Instead he shows us something equally as insidious; that manipulation of thought and emotions can be carried out with just one word. In building his argument he examines the different environments that words function in: politics, business, media, technical, and culture. He also broaches areas slightly less definable; how words are used within the context of symbols, warfare and in society in general. The book is divided up into sections that correspond(as in agrees with not writes to) to the above categories. Nunberg than looks for and cites examples of each of his three ways words reflect changing ideas and sensibilities. By this means he is able to build his case one layer at a time, and establish the pervasiveness of the problem. He is primarily concerned with American society and the English language. Although he does examine some of the texts from bin Ladin’s telecasts and speeches by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas their inclusion is only due to their relevance to the United States today. Those words which either have been replaced or received a makeover are given a historical background to emphasise the significance of their metamorphosis, but only within the confines of America’s internal political strife. For international readers this is important to keep in mind because Nunberg is only representing one side of a political argument, and is basing his observations on a body of knowledge derived from a specific place within American society. A person from the other side of the political spectrum would no doubt refute the findings presented in this book. Those who had their awareness shaped differently than Mr. Nunberg, whether through economy, education, or upbringing, would probably offer views differing from those presented in Going Nucular. That being said the point of contention would not be his overall thesis, rather the examples cited. Even then the examples themselves wouldn’t be the problem it would be the values placed on them. What Nr. Nunberg criticizes others might laud. Although I personally am in complete agreement with the views expressed in this book, the author is in some ways doing exactly what he decries. By his shaking up words to see what pops out as a meaning or implication he is manipulating opinion to reflect his values by discrediting their current usage. What difference is there in George Bush’s deliberate mispronunciation of the word nuclear in an attempt to sound like “plain folk” and Mr. Nunberg’s pointing out of the foible? Each man is manipulating opinion to their point of view. In his introduction Mr. Nunberg makes very clear where he stands: “If changes in words are often the sign of changes in values and attitudes, then we can deplore the first by way of condemning the second” Going Nucular Geoffrey Nunberg. pg.xv Pulbic Affairs. 2204-2005.
When reading these types of books I often wonder who they have been written for. Whether conservative or liberal in point of view they are not going to win any converts to their cause. Primarily they seem to just add more kindling to the bonfire of political discourse. Something new to inflame the invective of the opposition and fire up the believers. Each new salvo serves to delineate divisions rather than restoring harmony. There comes a point when preaching to the converted stops serving any constructive purpose for society as a whole. No matter how valid or worthy the topic would not all of our intellectual energy be put to better use looking for ways in which to bridge gaps and not make them deeper? I’m sure that when Mr. Nunberg wrote his columns, or when he compiled this book, he did so out of a genuine interest and passion for his topic. He could not write so thoughtfully and comprehensibly on this subject otherwise. Dealing with a subject that has the potential for the language of academia he is able to maintain a high level of accessibility without ever sounding condescending. By never stooping to finger pointing or blaming, just describing and explaining, he manages to smooth the sharp edges from his criticism. He lightens the tone even further with his gentle wit. He comes across more like a kindly schoolmaster remonstrating with students than a political columnist. As a person with a fascination with words and how they are used and abused(I’ve even written on the subject myself)I personally enjoyed reading Going Nucular and was in total agreement with all he said. On the other hand I’m sure that George Will and Rush Limbaugh would not share in my evaluation. This book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but even if you disagree with Mr. Nunberg’s evaluation of the results of what’s occurring with language, if you are interested in the evolution of word meaning and implication Going Nucular is worth picking up. Who knows, you may end up finding you have a word or two in common and it’s not too great a leap from there to a conversation. cheers gypsyman

7/28/2005

Heartaches & Highways: The Very Best Of Emmylou Harris

There are some days when you wonder if getting out of bed was such a wise idea. This morning I opened my email to find myself being accused of hatemongering in a comment left on one of my posts. Considering the source I should have just let it roll off my back, but those are the type of comments that really suck the soul right out of you. Thankfully an antidote had arrived in yesterday’s mail: Heartaches & Highways: The Very Best Of Emmylou Harris Emmylou Heartaches & Highways It was early in the morning so not wishing to disturb anyone else I plopped the disc in my disc-man, covered my ears with headphones and immersed myself in the soothing sounds of soul restoring Emmylou. From the opening bars of her duet with Gram Parsons on “Love Hurts” to the final notes of the previously unreleased “Connection” this disc is an ideal tonic for a troubled heart. Heartaches & Highways is a compilation of songs encompassing Emmylou Harris’ entire career. After Chris Hillman of Birds fame saw her singing in a folk club in New York city he hauled his old buddy Gram Parsons out to see her. One month latter Parsons was on the phone to her asking her to come out to L.A. to record and tour with him. One year and two albums later Gram Parsons was dead. But those two albums gave her all the exposure she needed to launch a solo career. It’s only fitting that the second song of this retrospective, “Boulder to Birmingham” which she co-wrote with Bill Danoff, was in part an elegy to her former singing partner. The disc takes us on a steady progression of highlights of her career. In the informative booklet that accompanies this collection Emmylou talks about the process she went through for selecting the songs.
“It was really like a jigsaw puzzle trying to figure out how to represent all of those phases...I started working on including songs that I thought were artistically important. But I am proud of the hits too...I wanted ... a combination of them, plus..(ones)..that were...pivotal, groundbreaking,...pointed the way”
It’s easy to forget the influence Emmylou has had on female vocalists, and country ones especially. While Kris Kristoferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings were breaking free of the constraints of Nashville and crossing over into a more mainstream audience for the men, Emmylou was the forerunner for the women. She was even steps ahead of the men, releasing a version of “Pancho and Lefty” six years before either Willie Nelson or Merle Haggard turned it into a hit on her 1977 Luxury Liner release. The songs she has chosen for this retrospective highlight her vocal versatility, from country crooning on “One Of These Days”, “Beneath Still Waters”(both previously recorded by the original bad boy of country music, George Jones) and “If I Could Only Win Your Love” to rocking pieces like Paul Kennerley’s “Born To Run”(don’t go digging out your Springsteen albums, it’s not the same song) on her Cimarron album and Delbert McClinton’s “Two More Bottles Of Wine”. No compilation would be complete without the inclusion of Emmylou’s collaborations with other singers. From the soundtrack of the 1980 movie Roadie comes her duet with Roy Orbison on “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again” and the 1987 hit album Trio recorded with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt gives us the Phil Spector penned “To Know Him Is To Love Him” As with any artist whose career has spanned decades, and this disc tries to cover thirty years of recordings, Emmylou has continued to evolve both as a singer and a songwriter. The final third of Heartaches & Highways is culled from her most recent years output. Emmylou_Photo Whether her own “Michelangelo” or Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl” these songs show a willingness to experiment that is so often lacking in contemporary music. But the highlight from this period has to be her a cappella rendition of “Calling My Children Home” Accompanied by her band at the time, The Nash Ramblers, this song was recorded live at The Ryman Theatre in Nashville. The six voices soar and rumble through the song. Emmylou’s voice like a bird amongst oak trees, flying in and out, occasionally perching, but always on the move and prominent. It was breathtaking. I’m not a big fan of country music, with it’s artificial sentiment or new found glitz. But as in every genre there are artists who transcend their so called labels. Emmylou Harris’ voice has long distinguished her from the rest of the pack of female country vocalists. This retrospective pays proper homage to both her song writing abilities and the unique quality of her voice. The booklet accompanying the disc is lacking in bibliographical material beyond what is applicable to the songs, and I would have enjoyed the inclusion of a lyric sheet. But with twenty songs that probably would have doubled the amount of pages and so was probably impractical. She’s embarking on two tours this summer, one with Elvis Costello, and the other with Buddy Miller. Either one of these concerts is bound to be wonderful. You can get tour dates and listen to songs from Heartaches & Highways here. The disc is available in stores now. If you don’t own any of her music this is the perfect addition to your collection. If you do, you may want to buy it anyway, just to have so many of her important songs collected in one place. Take my advice the next time your feeling a little down, put this disc on and plug into a better world. cheers gypsyman

7/27/2005

Doonsebury In Trouble Again

So Gary Trudeau is at it again. His comic strip Doonesbury has been pulled by twelve newspapers for having a caricature of George Bush referring Karl Rove as a “turd blossom.” I confess as to being uncertain which word it is that caused offence: turd because of it’s bathroom connotations, or blossom, because of feminine associations. Probably the latter because Rove sounds like the type who would welcome being called a shit, but would be offended by anything to do with femininity. Whatever the reason it’s interesting to see that after years of quiet acceptance from all parties that Trudeau is getting to somebody again. Oh I’m sure people will dismiss it as “toilet humour” and in bad taste. It will have nothing to do with the fact that the administration is extremely sensitive about the behaviour of Karl Rove right now. But in the past whenever Doonesbury has been either censured by vote in State houses or Senates, or pulled by newspapers, it’s because what he has been saying has been a little too close to the bone for most people. On three previous occasions that I can think of he has never been prosecuted for libel just had his strip either criticized or pulled. In our litigious society if they don’t sue there’s usually a good reason. The main problem is that Mr. Trudeau has a nasty habit of telling the truth, even if it is unpleasant to some people’s ears. His first major conflict with newspaper editors was in the early 1970’s during the Watergate era. It was when the accusations against various Nixon administration officials were flying fast and furious. Former Attorney General John Mitchell(the man who ordered the National Guard onto the grounds of Kent State University resulting in the death of four university students)who had overseen Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign was being investigated for all sorts of irregularities. In one strip Trudeau had a character rant repeatedly that Mitchell was guilty. It was amazing how many people took a comic strip so seriously. Newspapers dropped it like a hot potato. Comments like “ It’s not the place of a comic strip to find a man guilty or innocent...” appeared in editorials through out the country in explanation of Doonsebury’ssudden disappearance from the daily funnies. The irony of course is that by censoring the cartoon they increased it’s impact and audience. When a short time latter Mitchell was cut loose by the administration in an attempt to protect Nixon and other higher ups, and found guilty Trudeau and his comic strip were elevated to a status unprecedented for a cartoon strip. Only Pogo had ever managed to integrate political commentary into a daily comic strip with such effectiveness. But the little opossum and his buddies never reached the same level of popularity asDoonesbury Nixon and Ford came and went and Jimmy Carter proved that Trudeau didn’t just target Republicans. Billy Carter was an irresistible target for every comedian and satirist in America at the time and he was no exception. But he didn’t find himself running afoul of the authorities until the next administration. When Ronald Reagan was elected president he brought with him his associations with Hollywood personalities. One that stood out above others was Frank Sinatra. Regan went so far as to award him a Congressional Medal of Honour for his body of work. Now there have always been rumours about Mr. Sinatra’s ties to certain criminal elements. From the novelGodfather with it’s character loosely based upon Sinatra, his associations with convicted mobsters, and his connections to the hierarchy in Las Vegas people have commented and speculated. When that was combined with reports of Sinatra’s boorish behaviour at the time(trying to get a dealer at a casino fired because he was losing) Trudeau couldn’t resist. He ran a series of strips dealing with Frank’s supposed dealings with the mob. While Sinatra’s own comments rivalled Hunter S. Thompson’s “I’ll rip his lungs out”(about the character Duke who’s name is derived from an alter ego used by Thompson occasionally and loosely based on Thompson) it was the response of legislators that was most over the top. How often are motions of censure proposed for a cartoonist? Shortly after when another series ran critical of Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband Senator John Warner of Virginia motions were proposed in the Senate calling for Trudeau’s censure again. What’s interesting is that no one ever issued outright denials concerning the content of either the Sinatra or Taylor strips. Well those halcyon days are past. How the mighty have fallen. Gary Trudeau must be wondering what has happened to the world. Has it grown that jaded that the worst that can happen to him now is that only twelve papers out of 1400 are editing or pulling a strip where he calls a senior official in the administration of the President of the United States a “turd blossom” Maybe it’s because people have learned two things. Censoring a comic strip usually backfires, and ends up drawing more attention to the issue than did the original offending item. Secondly that in the past Trudeau’s assessments have turned out to be correct, and you just end up looking foolish. Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury is a liberal cartoon that appeals to a specific audience. It’s not going to change anyone’s mind about any issue. Just as Rush Limbaugh appeals to conservatives and liberals don’t watch or listen to his show, anyone is free not to read Doonesbury. People need to lighten up and not take it too seriously. I know I don’t take Rush seriously so why can’t they do the same with Trudeau? Could it be that he’s right? No it couldn’t be that. cheers gypsyman

7/26/2005

The Mariposa Folk Festival: Memories

Maybe it’s an age thing, but I seem to be waxing nostalgic these days. It doesn’t even take that much to get me thinking through rose coloured glasses about things that happened twenty years ago or more. Today’s trigger was the weird juxtaposition of two articles in the entertainment section of the Globe And Mail newspaper. The first was the announcement of the nominees for this years MTV Music Video Awards, the second was an account of this year’s Calgary Folk Festival. Going from the corporate speak of promoting the lifestyles of the rich and vacuous(descriptions of how attendees will be able to park their yachts at the hotel or how those arriving by car will be giving personalized tours of their vehicles made me realize once again how far popular music has descended into the corporate maw) to descriptions of workshops on how to play bluegrass mandolin is enough to give your brain whiplash. I suppose this dichotomy has always existed, but for some reason it really struck home this year. It also made me think with longing of the days when I used to attend “The Mariposa Folk Festival” when it was located on the Toronto Islands. The Festival which Me 1979had it’s beginnings in Orillia Ontario moved down to Toronto in the sixties as the folk scene moved into full gear. For those of you unfamiliar with Toronto a little background is probably in order. In the early sixties Toronto had it’s own little bohemian scene starting. Like a miniature Greenwich Village, Yorkville was a Mecca for artists, musicians, and writers. Cheap rents and some small cafes were the main drawing cards. On a given night you could go down to the Riverboat coffee house and see Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, or any number of Canadian and American folk artists. This was the club where so many Canadian artists got their start. At the time Toronto was just starting to wake up from it’s sleepy provincial status and explore being a “Big City” While Montreal may have had Leonard Cohen and a host of French language singers Toronto had Glenn Gould and “The Perth County Conspiracy”. While the former is well known the latter may need some explaining. “The Perth County Conspiracy” was the musical wing of an artistic commune located between Toronto and Stratford Ontario in Southern Ontario. It’s members were actors at the Shakespearean festival in Stratford, artists, and a variety of others. They would swoop into Toronto and perform concerts and generally liven things up. Many of their number were involved with the formation of the first of the small theatres that began to dot the landscape in Toronto in the late sixties and early seventies. Through their efforts, and others of like mind, was born what is now one of the largest theatre centres in North America. About a mile south of Toronto in Lake Ontario lie the Toronto Islands. A sprawling mass of four interconnected island it has long been a summer escape from the heat for Torontonians. Four old fashioned fairy boats make the trip to and fro throughout the summer months carrying families to picnics and relaxation. What better location could you think of for a folk festival than on an island amidst trees with a breeze off the lake to beat the summer heat? So from 1968 to 1979 this became the festival’s permanent home. By 1979 dwindling audiences and competition from other summer attractions spelt doom for the folk festival on the island. Since then there were times when it looked like the venerable lady would just fade away. But now she is safe and sound again back in her home town of Orillia. From the onset the festival has had the goal of bringing folk music to the folk. Every year they have continued to expand on what defines “folk” music to include hip hop and forms of musical expression from all over the world. They have worked out a combination of main stage performances and workshops so as to entertain and educate. Artists from genres ranging from blues to gospel, bluegrass to hip hop, and Inuit Throat singers have all led workshops in their specialty. With as many as eight stages going at once the hardest thing was trying to decide what to attend. Although there was a firm commitment in the early days to stay away from big name acts the festival has featured performances from Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Joan Baez. At one point Bob Dylan showed up, not to perform, but to simply watch. The crowd control problems caused by these events resulted in the return to a stricter commitment to education and less main stream performers. By the time I attended my first festival in 1978 the stay on the island was in it’s last days. But even than it was still drawing people like Leon Redbone, Steve Goodman, and John Prine as performers and workshop leaders. Memories of those two July weekends are ones that I will always cherish. Sunday morning gospel with the “Zion Harmonisers” from New Orleans and the sound man ripping off his headphones in amazement at the bass note throbbing in his ears from just a voice; sitting in the shade of a tree listening to five mandolins trading licks during a bluegrass workshop; Leon Redbone wandering around in his white jacket and hat, plastic cup full of bourbon looking at peace with the world; my one and only time watching Steve Goodman perform his song City of New Orleans; the walk back to the ferry docks where Morris Dancers entertained us as we awaited the trip back to the city; and that final boat ride across twilight still waters, serene reminder of a peaceful weekend. I haven’t been to a Folk Festival since. After 1979 when Mariposa left the islands and moved into the city it just didn’t seem the same anymore. Than there just never seemed to be the time for a number of years even when the venues started to become a little more attractive then bars and pubs. Now with her located out in Orillia again the likelihood of ever going back is slim. A younger musician friend of mine went this year and came back enthusing over everything. There were performances by Gordon Lightfoot(still going after almost dieing on stage from a stomach aneurism a few years ago)and newer Canadian and world folk artists like Sarah Harmer and Harry Manx. Aside from a stronger emphasise on concerts, it sounded not much different than the festival I had attended almost thirty years ago. Sometimes memories and nostalgia discolour realities and distort the true image of the past. Other times they bring a sense of comfort into a world that sometimes seems less and less comprehensible. The two years 1978 and 1979 were not particularly good ones in my life for a lot of reasons, which only places the idyllic memories in even starker relief. I have no illusions about those days being any better or worse than today, which in my mind gives my remembrances of Mariposa all the more potency. Even if those weren’t the good old days, there were some damn good days. cheers gypsyman

7/25/2005

What About Egypt?

Nearly thirty years ago a leader of a country that had been at war for the previous thirty years took the courageous stand of extending his hand in peace. That he was Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the person he extended his hand to was Menachem Begin the Prime Minister of Israel made it all the more courageous. For the first time since the formation of the state of Israel a peace treaty between them and an Arab nation existed. One of the five countries that had sworn to drive them into the sea had reversed their stand and opened the door to the possibility of peace for the region. While there can be doubt that for both parties this involved an immense leap of faith, Anwar Sadat was stepping the furthest into uncharted territory. Just five years after the Yom Kippur war in which Israel had once again fought off a determined attempt to conquer their land by their neighbours, neither side could be blamed for mistrusting the other. But Egypt was truly on their own in this foray. Perhaps they had tacit understanding from Jordan, but publicly every other Arab League nation condemned them as traitors. We may never know what truly prompted Sadat’s change of heart. Probably it was a combination of realizing how crippling continuous warfare was becoming, the need to establish better relationships with the U. S., and perhaps a little of “if you can’t beat them join”. Whatever the motivations the fact remains that from that moment on they have been the one guaranteed not openly hostile Arab country within the region towards Western and Israeli interests. Certainly there have been falling outs at times, disagreements that have threatened the fragile peace, but it has never collapsed in spite of pressures on the Egyptians from countless sources. Even the assassination of Anwar Sadat by Islamic fundamentalists did nothing to shake their resolution. Egypt has a long history of being a secular nation, and there in perhaps lies some of the answer to the desire for peace. Even prior to the signing of the Camp David Accord in March of 1979 they had experienced outbreaks of violence similar to those that ended up toppling the Shah of Iran in 1980. By expanding the economic opportunities available to his country through peace with the U.S. and Israel Sadat may have hopped to improve the lot of his people. The fewer people who were discontent the less chance the fundamentalists would have of whipping up discord. There is also no doubt that he clamped down very hard on those sects advocating violence against Israel and in doing so probably sealed his own doom. President Mubahrek has continued this hard line against fundamentalists while working to build on the peace process started by his predecessor. He walks the tightrope between keeping his Arab allies happy and maintaining ties with both Israel and the U.S. He was a key player in prodding the Palestinian leadership away from terrorism and into recognising the right of Israel to exist as a nation. His ability to do nothing and keep his Arab allies in check has prevented escalations of retaliatory actions. His refusal to allow the fundamentalists any sort of toehold within his country, mainly due to self interest, has served as a bulwark for the region against the more radical elements. Mubahrek and his government have been fighting the war on terrorism long before George Bush thought of it. Next to Israel they have been the favourite targets of suicide bombers and other acts of terror. For more then a quarter of a century they have been under these attacks and have not once wavered in their commitment to the peace process. Hundreds, thousands even, of civilians have been killed. The armed forces and the police devout themselves to the prevention of attacks and rounding up potential threats. But what recognition do they ever receive from the west? During the last two weeks bombs have exploded in both London and Egypt. When the bombs went off in London we were inundated with pictures and stories. The brave Londoners carry on with business as usual; personal stories of some of the victims; statements of outrage; and avowals of revenge. When the bomb went off in Egypt killing eighty eight people and injuring hundreds more we got the story. Nothing else. To their credit George Bush and Tony Blair’s government both issued statements of support and condolence. No other world leaders said a word. No condolences, no personal stories, no guarantees of support. Nothing but silence. It was the same people doing the bombing, or at least people with the same motivations and interests. Yet it was treated as having nothing to do with us. Egypt has been on the front lines of the war against terror for twenty five years and nobody acts as if it matters. If you were an Egyptian and compared the reactions of the Western press and leadership to the bombings of London and the most recent killings in Egypt how would you be feeling right about now? I think I would be pretty pissed off. It smacks of indifference of the worse kind. I don’t believe in coincidences. The people behind both bombings knew what the reactions would be like and they’ll use it against us. “Look, why are you doing anything for them, they don’t care about you” they’ll say. They’re is already enough distrust for us in the Middle East that it wouldn’t take much turn more people against the West. Anger and emotions are dangerous and easy to manipulate. There will be enough people willing to listen to that kind of talk that it is dangerous for us to take it for granted. The Egyptian government has a hard enough time as it is without us compounding their difficulties by giving short shrift to attacks on their people. While Tony Blair may be George Bush’s buddy in the occupation of Iraq and he feels obligated to make a big display over the terrorist actions in London(as well he should)Egypt has been working for peace in the Middle East for close to thirty years. They have been on the receiving end of countless acts of terrorism including the assassination of their leader. Hasn’t that earned them some sort of standing in our eyes? Without Egypt the Middle East would be in a lot worse shape than it is now. Our reaction, governments, press, and individuals, to the events of the past week there have been shameful. We can not continue to display indifference to our allies in the Muslim world. That just plays into the hands of the terrorists. cheers gypsyman

7/24/2005

Harry Potter And Story Telling

While I wait for my copy of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince to be delivered I have had plenty of opportunity to witness the reactions of a variety of people to the phenomenon that is Harry.(No this is not a week late in being posted: I’m a weird bibliophile and have ordered my copy from Bloomsbury Books in England. I prefer their publications, the binding is better and the paper is higher quality)From the new pope’s condemnation, (if he can’t tell that this book teaches between right and wrong it certainly explains a lot of the Catholic Church’s moral stands)to treatises on declining sales of books written for adults. It’s funny how the publication of a new Harry Potter always brings about soul searching on the part of so called serious writers. They ponder and pontificate about the state of the novel, and how sales are down with a few obvious exceptions. Like Hollywood moguls discussing diminishing box office returns they comment on the new competition for the entertainment dollar and other societal factors. But they all seem to be ignoring a key factor in their considerations. People don’t buy what they don’t like. After reading one heart rending article by a writer wondering what would happen to his books about urban life, they sounded sort of like field guides to thirty some things of the eastern sea board, I began to wonder if the problem wasn’t with the public but with the people producing the product. A new hardcover book in Canada will set you back $40.00 with %7 tax. Even a mass market paper back can be as high as $9.99 plus tax. That’s quite an investment to ask anybody to make. To ask them to make it on the speculation that they might like what’s being sold is quite the risk. The number of times that I’ve dished out thirty to forty dollars and been disappointed is probably equal to the times I’ve been satisfied. I hate to say it but invariably the books that seem to fall well below my expectations are those most heavily touted by critics, or the ones on everyone’s best seller lists. Very rarely now will I go out and buy a book on the recommendation of something I’ve read about in anybody’s book section. I usually end up trolling through the aisles seeing if anything rises to the surface and takes my hook. A cover, or even a flash of colour from a cover, catches my eye. I’ll scan the back or the fly leaf, look at the author’s picture(many the time a book has been rejected because I’ve taken an instant dislike to the author because of their picture)and a quick scan through the book in an attempt to discern style. Far too many writers seem to be under the impression that the more oblique their writing the better. As if incomprehensibility is something to be achieved. Any book that makes vague promises about structure and perception is rejected almost immediately. I don’t need to read any more books about three generations of poor Irish farmers told in a stream of conscience from the cow’s point of view. Why does everybody thing they are either the new James Joyce or Virginia Wolfe? This whole post modernist deconstruction of the novel has gotten tired. It had very little appeal to most people in the first place. It always seemed like an in joke for tenured English Professors anyway. Now it’s just boring. The books I find myself being attracted to are the ones which promise the best stories. For me that is a combination of the events portrayed and the characters who are propelled through them. I’m not looking for so called realism or escapism, although they might be considered both. Real characters in unreal situations makes as fine a story as any you’d read anywhere. If you look back on the original purpose for story telling it was primarily educational. Sitting around the fire at night the story teller would pass on the information that was important to the tribe. They would tell the stories of their history, the beliefs, and that exemplified the qualities needed to lead a good life. Story tellers seem to have been universally important throughout our history. Repositories of wisdom and information they were held in high esteem and excused from all other tribal responsibilities. I seriously doubt they would have offered up a post modern analysis deconstruction of that day’s hunt to the assembled folk around the fire. People want to hear stories, or read them. The problem is that very few writers seem to know how to tell a story well anymore. The only ones who do nowadays are primarily thrown into the science fiction of fantasy category. Not that very many of them have anything to do with space or even science, nor do they deal with the elves and little people’s associated with fantasy. “Real Novelists” seem to look down on their story telling contemporaries. They are not allowed to share shelve space with them, as if they had some sort of disease. But if they ever got off their high horse long enough to check out their neighbours they would discover something. That these are the people who are recreating the story teller role in our world. These books sell because they strike a chord with their audience. The more universal the chord the more they sell. While it’s easy to dismiss these books as “light fiction” or other pejorative labels, it’s not as easy to deny their success. Why would so many adults of all backgrounds read the Harry Potter books if there wasn’t something in them that was missing from so called serious novels? Sure they are escapist to some extent, but so are a lot of things which don’t attract that large an audience. It wouldn’t be because they are well written and talk about things which we can all identify with would it? Novelists need to look at themselves and what they are writing if they want to answer the question of why aren’t we selling books. Sure there might be more competition for the entertainment dollar these days then before, but as J. K. Rowling has proved, if you write it(a good story)they will read. cheers gypsyman

7/22/2005

Last Dance With The Band: The Last Waltz

The BandFour Fifths of The Band: Richard Manuel(sitting)Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, and Levon Helm. It’s funny how time flies even when your not having as much fun as you’d like. My wife brought me home a present last night, a copy of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. I flipped over the DVD cover to check out the rest of the package and saw the date: 1978, 27 years ago. I guess somewhere in my mind I knew that it had to be that long ago, but it was still shocking to do the math. I still think of “The Band” as one of my favourite groups and to realize that they had stopped officially playing that long ago sort of took me by surprise. You see that was the premise of The Last Waltz. The guys were burning out from being on the road for close to twenty years and this was going to be their final hurrah. They had started playing back in the late fifties with Ronnie Hawkins at the old Nickelodeon bar on Yonge St. in Toronto. Four Canadian kids, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel plus one Arkansas ex patriot Levon Helm. They had been promised not much money but “more pussy than Frank Sinatra” by Romping Ronnie as enticement for playing in the juke joints of Ontario and New York. Initially they were called the Hawks as have been all bands ever since that play with Ronnie, but that was changed to “The Band” when they began playing with Bob Dylan in 1965. They called themselves that because that’s what they were, the band that played behind the front man. They went from being Ronnie’s band to Dylan’s band. Robbie was the lead guitar player, Rick bassist, Garth was on organ, Richard Manuel piano, and Levon Helm drums. They were the band on Bob Dylan’s infamous 1965 tour where he was booed off stages across England and North America for plugging in a electric guitar. (a person I know who was at that Newport Folk Festival in 65, says the problem wasn’t that the people didn’t like the music, but the sound system was so bad that those not sitting in the first two rows only heard a garbled mess of noise) Here they were on their first big break playing for more than drunks in bars and they were getting booed at every show. It’s funny how we now think of albums like Highway 61 Revisited as classic, but it was the material from that album that was the cause of all the fuss. People wouldn’t even listen they were so irate. It seems the only good that came out of that British tour, if rumours are to be believed, was Dylan smoking up with The Beetles. It was on their return to the States that The Band first began recording their own material. Part of the reason being that after Dylan nearly killed himself in a motorcycle accident he went into seclusion and they were at loose ends. It has been suggested that perhaps the accident was not nearly as severe as has been thought but he played it up to get away from the madness that had been spawned by him going electric. No matter what the reason they were without a front man for the first time since they began playing together. As accomplished musicians they must have always felt some desire to “do their own thing” but the opportunity had never been there until now. So they rented this funny pink house up in Woodstock New York and the rest, as they say, is history. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “The Weight”, “Crippled Creek” and other classic rock tunes were written in that house. Dylan joined them and the resulting tapes were bootlegged for a while, than they edited them up and released them as the great Bob Dylan and The Band double album The Basement Tapes. Interestingly enough that was one of only two albums ever officially released as Bob Dylan and The Band, the other being a double live album featuring one disc of The Band and one of them backing up Dylan. They wouldn’t appear in public together again until The Last Waltz. That’s what the concert and the movie were about after all. A chance for them to get together with people they played with and some of the friends they had made over the years. Sing a few songs, and be “The Band” for some famous front people one last time before packing it in and going their separate ways. From their very beginnings there was Ronnie Hawkins clutching his heart and bouncing around the stage. Joni Mitchell elegant and cool, singing on her own, and than sitting backstage harmonizing with Neil Young on “Helpless”. The sound of his eerie falsetto and her soprano mingling as they sing about Northern Ontario still sends shivers up my spine. There are moments of absurdity: Neil Diamond looking like some lounge lizard who got lost on his way to Las Vegas, and moments of awe: Muddy Watters singing “Mannish Boy”, Eric Clapton’s famously starting a guitar solo and his strap breaks and Robbie Robertson picks up the solo without missing a note. But no matter who’s playing in front of them “The Band” relentlessly proves they were the best at what they did. On occasion Scorsese takes the cameras away from the live concert and onto a sound stage. Emmylou Harris joins the boys to sing “Evangeline”, her sweet voice providing a delicate counterpoint to Rick Danko’s gravel. “The Weight” becomes the gospel tune it was always meant to be when The Staple Singers bring their soulful presence to bear and let their voices soar. Back on stage things are starting to draw to a close with Bob Dylan making his long awaited appearance. Looking relaxed and at ease he runs through “Forever Young’ smiling and nodding at people in the audience who he knows. Then suddenly it’s over. Everyone comes on stage, with Ringo and Ron Wood putting in appearances to help out, they join together to sing Dylan’s anthem “I Shall Be Released.” I Shall Be Released “The Band” was definitely a group that was the sum of all it’s parts. Of all of them only Robbie Robertson has enjoyed the kind of success as an individual performer that he did as a member of the group. Richard Manuel ended up committing suicide because of depression, assumed to have been brought on by the dissolution of his career. Every so often some of the survivors attempt to reform for a gig or two, but usually it’s without Robbie Robertson. This has to be one of the best concert movies I have ever seen. One thing that was of interest for me was that the last time I saw the movie Woodstock I happened to notice the name of the 1st assistant director; Martin Scorcese. He seems to have a history of being involved with notable concert films. In September of this year on P.B.S. his three hour plus documentary on Bob Dylan will be airing. Interestingly enough it focuses on the years 1961- 1965. So we will get to see footage of “The Band” hard at work doing what they became famous for. Making others look good. cheers gypsyman

Unions Are Not The Villains

There’s a lot of things that most of us take for granted. The eight hour working day, child labour laws, overtime and workplace safety. But if you were to leave North America you would find that outside of western Europe and one or two other countries we are the exception not the rule.
”Where do you think these came from... generous and benevolent bosses?... Utah Phillips Fellow Workers
In Canada, United States, and Europe the last couple of decades of the 19th century marked the real shift in economic life from agrarian to mass industry. The process had started before that, but it wasn’t until after the American Civil War that it really began to flourish. This was the time which saw the formation of most of the countries of Europe as we know them today, and the first real period of extended peace for most of the industrial world. The invention of the steam engine had made the Atlantic crossing easier and international markets more accessible. When it was combined with the proliferation of rail across the United States and Canada the domestic markets were now only days apart. For the United States the timing couldn’t have been better. The Civil War had devastated the country in a lot of ways, but it had also hastened it’s industrialisation. Both sides had utilized the new technologies available during the war for the production of arms, the movement of troops, and for battles on the water. Rail lines had been laid for troops which now could be used for shipping, and the steel hulled battleships had proved effective enough that steam and steel would soon be replacing wind and wood in the shipping industry. But the work was dangerous and dirty. There were no rules governing how an employer treated the workers under his control. In a lot of cases conditions and jobs were little less then indentured slavery. Small children were employed to go into the mines which were too tight for full grown men. If you got sick you lost your job. If you were injured working you were doomed. There wasn’t even any guarantee that you’d get paid. Sometimes if you were unlucky enough you could end up owing your employer money. If they supplied you with a shack to live in and gruel twice a day it would be docked from you wages. If you were being paid on a quota system and for some reason, anything form equipment failure or bad weather, you fell short of your mark you wouldn’t get your full pay and couldn’t cover the cost of your board. It could take a person months to work out from under that debt. If you didn’t pay you could get arrested. It was against this background that the first unions were formed. These weren’t like the unions we know today where the heads look and talk just like the head of corporations. They hadn’t gone to school and studied management techniques, they were coal miners and lumber “beasts”(so called because in those days they didn’t have cabins they just slept on the floors of the forests like the beasts of the woods)factory workers and stevedores. They were people who were tired of risking death every time they went to work, who wanted to be paid fair value for their labour, who wanted a future for their children, and wanted to do more than just work all day long. They wanted quality of life, they wanted bread and roses. Of course the heroes of American industry, Rockafeller, Carnegie, and the rest of the “Robber Barons” as they came to be known were not all that keen on sharing the pie with others. They used every means at their disposal in an effort to keep the workers under their thumbs. If you thought that modern day corporations have the ear of the governments, well it’s nothing to what it was like back then. In Colorado the state legislature had passed a law guaranteeing an eight hour work day for the coal miners. But it turned out to be one thing to pass the law and another to enforce it. When the mines owned by Rockafeller refused to comply the state government did nothing. When the unions went on strike to try and make the companies obey the law, the militia was sent out to bust up the strike. Not by the government but by Rockafeller who owned the state militia. The unions were fighting against a deck that was heavily stacked against them. Pinkerton’s security was created as a private police force by Rockafeller for the sole purpose of violence against the unions. They would beat up organizers, burn down the homes of striking miners, and shoot striking workers. If the unions fought back at all, or a Pinkerton’s man was hurt in retaliation, they would be arrested. But the Pinkerton’s men were allowed to get away with murder, literally. To prevent organizers from speaking in public, ordinances would be passed prohibiting free speech. Any time someone would get up to talk about workers rights he or she would be arrested. When one town tried this the union got together 4,000 workers, some who could speak no other English than “My fellow workers”, and had them all try and give a speech. After they were all arrested the people of the town refused to pay to feed all of them in the variety of jails that had to be created, and the law was repealed. In spite of the heavy odds against them the unions fought on and through sheer perseverance and numbers they began to win their fights. In the end it would usually come down to the bosses realizing that paying the workers a little more, and working them a little less was still more profitable then not having them work at all. These brave men and women who fought and died so that people who work in factories today are safe and paid fair value for their labour are largely ignored by the histories of our countries. If they are mentioned it’s only as dangerous people who precipitated acts of violence like the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 which descended into a riot when the mounted police were ordered to disperse the marchers. We write up and idealize the men who tried desperately to ensure that people would be treated like cattle and slaves with no rights and dignity. Even the term “Robber Barron” is used in affection. They’ve left tokens of their benevolence bearing their names for posterity: Carnegie Hall, The Rockefeller Centre and so on. Edifices that were paid for with the blood and sweat of thousands of men and women who died from black lung and exhaustion in their twenties, from inhaling the dust in the weaving mills, and being shot on the picket line. These aren’t places of culture and beauty, they are tombs to the unknown soldiers in the wars for the rights of workers. Maybe unions aren’t what they used to be. Maybe some of them are now as corporate and corrupt as the people they are supposed to be fighting. Some of them are probably even in cahoots with management to swindle the people they supposedly represent. But don’t let that diminish the work of their predecessors. The next time you hear some corporate type slamming a union for forcing him to close his plant, or Wal Mart closes a store rather than let it’s employees unionize. Ask yourself what are they trying to deny the people who work for them. More and more the workers in North America are facing the real threat of seeing their jobs disappear out form under them as corporations close factories and reopen them where there are no laws governing their behaviour. Unions are still being made out to be the bad guys just as they were a hundred years ago. Take a look at what was happening then and tell me who was the bad guy. Maybe we should be asking the same questions about today’s circumstances. Too many times unions have given concessions on salary in exchange for job security only to see the factory closed and the jobs moved anyway. A fifty something year old person who has worked in the same factory for most of their life facing the prospect of starting all over again has entered into a personal version of hell. Most of these new jobs being created pay far less than what they had previously made and are primarily in fields in which they have no experience. Since no one else seems to care about them or their situation it is falling once again to the unions to fight for the rights of workers who are being tossed aside like dead wood. What’s so villainous about trying to guarantee security for people who have worked hard all their lives? Isn’t there some possibility that the blame could lie with those closing the factories? Think about it. cheers gypsyman

7/21/2005

The Right To Die

You are paralysed from the neck down. Your mind is filled with the agony of half alive nerves screaming in their attempts to work. You have no control over any of your bodily functions so you are constantly filling the diaper you wear and smell like shit to yourself. There’s a feeding tube stuck down your mouth and oxygen going up your nose. You sit tied into a wheel chair otherwise you and all your wires would slide onto the floor. You are kept in a semi coma state from the amount of pain medication prescribed. You sit in your chair and drool. As you retain control over your face muscles occasionally you’ll exert the effort to suck it back into your mouth. You call that exercise. Any time you receive a visitor you sit and stare at each other. You look into their eyes and see your agony reflected back at you. You know they are suffering in their own way just as much as you are. You love them and want to help. When a doctor deigns to come look at you inevitably he will let you know what a miracle it is that you are alive. If it wasn’t for the latest in technology there would be no means of keeping you here. You want to curse the person who invented the stuff but the effort is too much. The nurse comes in three times a day to change your diaper, check your feeding and breathing tubes, and makes sure all your wires are properly connected. They wouldn’t want anything going wrong now would they? The easiest way to change your diaper is to run a hoist under your armpits and lift you out of the chair to dangle in mid air. They check on the catheter attached to your penis, and clean up the excrement that has puddled in the seat because the diaper doesn’t completely keep everything in. The two things you can still do are feel pain and embarrassment. Even though the nerves can’t send a signal through the mess of your spinal column strong enough for even the smallest of involuntary twitches they still feel pain. Damaged nerves cause an increase in pain because of their efforts to work. Like a signal from a broken amplifier the harder they work the greater the distortion, or in your case the pain. Sometimes as you hang twisting slightly in the harness and listen to the nurses talk about you and their lives as if you were not there. Which of course your not really. You feel like a side of beef anyway, waiting on its hook to be hauled into the next phase of slaughtering. How “there” can you be if all you can do is drift in and out as the ear in a conversation? You have no response to make save for staring at the other’s face. Sometimes you are able to manage a gurgle that could be taken as an affirmative or a negative. No one is quite sure. You try to remember whether you had said to anyone what to do if this ever happened. Hadn’t you said something about a non resuscitation order. But the doctor’s had explained to you, in one of your lucid moments, that it only applies to a person in your situation if you were to stop breathing. All this gear was post-operative, you have yet to stop breathing, have heart failure, or experience anything that would hasten your demise. What all that means is that anybody who unplugs anything could be charged with murder. If you could laugh you would. Murder. Of what? Murder implies that there is a life to be taken. Slabs of meat waiting for butchering don’t have much of a life. Hell at least they have the benefit of being life giving. You just feel soul destroying Your own soul dies a little more each time someone sees you for the first time. You see their pity, fear, and revulsion staring into your face from their eyes Why is this alive? The ones you love and who love you wither and harden like pieces of dried fruit baked in the sun. They feel guilty because they can’t love you like this; they barely even know you. Once by accident, some happened to be visiting when a doctor stuck his nose in. They gathered in a corner whispering, the doctor shaking his head emphatically over and over again. When he finally escaped their circle he fled less they corner him again. Someone standing behind your chair mutters under her breath: “It would be a mercy” You want to turn around and shout out yes, but of course you can’t. You stare at the wall and suck in some drool. Currently the state of Oregon in the only locale in North America that has a form of “right to die” legislation. George Bush’s administration is seeking to overturn that law in the Supreme Court and have filed suit already. This should come as no surprise after their efforts to intercede in the Shiavo case. What is surprising is how someone who boasts of how many people he had executed while governor of Texas can justify denying anyone the right to die. But he’s just a reflection of the double standard that’s so prevalent today when it comes to so called “moral” issues. People who have no problem supporting or ordering the deaths of thousands of other people through the deployment of high explosives and weapons quail at the thought of someone choosing to die with dignity. They call it murder. Those who are proponents of allowing people escape from their suffering are considered not to far from being murderers. In Canada where suicide is legal a man who was still able to control his own destiny took his own life by pushing his head into a plastic bag until he suffocated. He had previously phoned the police to notify them of his intentions, so that none of his family could be implicated. He also decided to use himself to publicize the issue, and to let the world know that if it were allowed he would have preferred to wait a little longer. But doing so would have left his family open to murder charges because they would have had to assist him. As it was his family had the legal obligation to call an ambulance after his suicide attempt, or they could have been charged with being accessories after the fact. The horrors that family must have gone through waiting for the ambulance to show. Hoping and praying their loved one would be sufficiently gone so that resuscitation would be impossible. Can you imagine their agony of having to relive all of this again in if he had survived? As a society it is time for us to grow up when it comes to dealing with the terminally ill. Not only do we let them suffer needlessly by not providing adequate pain medication we force them to stay around long after they have any desire to be here. After life what greater gift can we give our loved ones than an easy death? What right do we have to deny their desire to end their suffering? If we claim to have any compassion as a people we would find a solution to this problem. Isn’t there enough pain in the world as it is without us denying succour to those most in need?

7/20/2005

Environmental Health

When I first started blogging I had in mind doing a weekly bit on the environment. I even got as far as giving it the catchy, to my ear anyway, title of Enemies of the Environment. Just jumps out and grabs you doesn’t it? I would pick some business or product to write about each week and point all the ways it was harmful to health of the planet. After two weeks of this it dawned on me that everything I was going to write about had one key element in common. It’s obvious isn’t it. I mean if George Bush can spot it why couldn’t I have? Oh well as Hunter S. Thompson used to say in reference to Hubert Humphrey: “Even a blind pig will find an acorn once in a while” So it is with our George. As he so succinctly admitted a week or so ago, human’s cause pollution. What’s the use of itemizing all the different ways in which we do pollute the world if we’re not willing to step up and admit that without us around there would be none of the current worries about global warming, water pollution, air pollution, deforestation, loss of animal habitat and so on. Every single environmental problem on the face of the earth can easily be linked back to something we’ve done or are doing. Sure there have been attempts to deflect the blame on to others. Ronald Regan referred to fallen leaves as pollutants, but since he also considered ketchup and relish as vegetables he’s probably not the most reliable of sources. But when you come right down to it, who else is there. Who else pours goodness knows how many tons of carbon dioxide into the air from internal combustion engines, coal burning electrical plants, and the smokestacks of thousands of businesses world wide? Who else dumps massive amounts of raw sewage, chemicals, insecticides, fertilizers, and whatever else comes to hand into the rivers and oceans? Is there any other creature on the face of the earth who will wantonly destroy whole forests to create grazing land for a fast food companie’s cattle? Does anybody know of one other species who will poison their own food supply by feeding herbivores the brains of another animal or growth hormones? What kind of a species are we that we think nothing of a company spending millions of dollars to invent pills that will make it easier for men to get an erection and women to increase their fertility when our population has become so huge that we are running out of room to put them all. Even our self culling projects like war and genocide can’t keep up with our rate of reproduction. Well part of the answer is: dreadfully selfish. When that is combined with short sighted, impatient and greedy everything becomes easier to understand. All of our decisions are made on the premise of providing a quick bang for the buck with no thought of any long term consequences. Not only do we have no regard for any of the species we share the planet with, but we ignore the peril we leave for our future generations. The impression I have(I’ve been known to be wrong before, but this time if I am it will make me feel good)is that everyone of the world’s major religions condones this attitude, either by implication or directly. All the children of Adam and Eve were given dominion over the natural world. Most Christians, Muslims, and Jews have over the years taken this as carte blanche for doing what ever they want with the resources at hand. While the Buddha may have sat perfectly still out of reverence for all life; not wanting to risk treading on even one ant, the indifference practiced by those seeking reincarnation out of this plane amounts to benign neglect. What do you care really what happens here on earth if your trying to leave? Take a careful look at a bonsai tree or a Zen garden sometime. If that isn’t a denial of nature’s spontaneity and wildness what is? The expression of domination comes in all shapes and sizes, but the end result is still the same. Destruction of all that isn’t is human. When man was just another species fighting for survival alongside everyone else we considered ourselves no better or worse than those we depended on for existence. Whether hunter gatherers or farming communities the impact we effected on the world was reflected in the laws governing society. Who was hunted and how planting was done were controlled by the need to ensure the requirements of tomorrow’s generations as well as the present. Fields were allowed to go fallow so that soil could regenerate. Certain animals were not hunted during their breeding seasons, and pregnant females were spared to ensure continuation of the food supply. The relationship between man and nature was considered a partnership. The latter provided us with the means of survival so we treated her with respect and honour. With each advancement in science, with each step on the road of civilization, we have distanced ourselves from the means of obtaining food and living in partnership with world around us. The words: “A boon for all mankind” have become five of the most dangerous words in their connotations for every other species. When have we ever considered the effect of our actions on the rest of the world’s life forms? Hell some of the time we don’t even stop to consider their effect on ourselves. So many pharmaceutical companies rush drugs onto the market without considering complications that can occur even five years down the road. How can they without waiting to see what happens to someone who takes it for five years? Hypothesis, precedent, and good intentions can only guarantee so much before it all becomes guess work. It’s probably expecting too much of a species that doesn’t even care enough about itself to demand safety measures for it’s own good to care about those they feel superior to. Each new “boon” comes with a price. Usually revolving around what do we do with the waste once we are done with it. Nuclear energy, p.c.b.s used as coolants, mercury used in the manufacture of paper, and pesticides to name a few all hang around long after they’ve done their job in one form of another. Our world is only so big, it can only take being treated with no consideration for so long. I’m not suggesting a return to the stone age, or giving up on our technology, but we have to stop thinking of ourselves only. We need to remember that no matter how far we travel in our technological advances we are still dependant on the good health of the world we live in. Food, water, and oxygen have not changed all that much from 10,000 years ago. Only the way we treat it. If we want to keep enjoying them maybe we should start considering what boons we can grant them.

Johnny Depp: An Appreciation

For the past couple of years my wife and I have been unable to share a bedroom. Due to both of us having a variety of health issues are sleeping patterns are such that it would be torture for anyone sharing a bed with either one of us. As a loving husband I thought it my duty to ensure her some sort of compensation for her loss of companionship. On the outer side of my bedroom door, which when placed on a particular angle she can look at from her bed, is a large full colour poster of Johnny Depp in complete Captain Jack pirate regalia. Each night as I go to bed I have the reassurance of knowing that someone is looking out for my wife. She of course gets to fall into dreams of dashing pirate’s whisking her away on adventures. Johnny Depp is one of the few actors around who could have rescued a mediocre Disney movie like Pirates of the Caribbean through the strength of performance and personality alone. Like Viggo Mortensen in Hidalgo, without him it would have just been another formulaic flick that had no reason for existence save making Disney a few more bucks. I still wish I could have seen the frozen grins on executive’s faces when they saw the first dailies of good old Jack. Oh to have been a fly on the wall that day! Some people may not be able to appreciate the good Captain properly so maybe a little history lesson is in order. If you go back in time about twenty five years ago to the end of the eighties and earlier, to the first days of Fox’s intrusion onto the public airways you’ll remember, or not, the teen hit Twenty-One Jump Street. Young hip cops infiltrating high schools to break up trouble. Sort of a Just Say No to Drugs version of the Mod Squad it featured a very young Johnny Depp in the lead role. He was being moulded into a forerunner of Jason Priestly and Luke Perry by producers desperate for the publicity a teen idol can generate. Covers of “Tiger Beat” and “Teen” featured his brooding face for the run of the show as they tried to define his career for him. But in 1990 he took the step that would set him irrevocably down a path from which there would be no return. He took a roll in the John Waters movie Cry Baby satirizing the very pretty boy-tough guy image that the studios had made for him. Once you play opposite Divine there’s no going back. There would be no more “Tiger Beat” covers for Johnny. After a couple of roles in The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise he was again in the spotlight for his first teaming with Tim Burton in Edward Scissorhands. His depiction of the strange puppet creation of Vincent Price marked the beginning of what has become the distinguishing mark of his career: the ability to make the outlandish outsider sympathetic and acceptable in our eyes. No matter the character, no matter the situation, there is never the slightest hint of him stepping out of the role to share a wink with the audience at the expense of his creation. There is a feeling that Mr. Depp would, if the opportunity presented itself, upon meeting these people on the street, treat them with the utmost respect and deference. This turns what could have been a caricature into a human being. If verification of this is wanted one only need look to the time he portrayed a real person in Blow. Our stereotyped vision of what a big time cocaine dealer is supposed to be like is dealt a severe blow in Johnny’s powerful portrayal of George Jung. He takes us behind the facade of wealth and parties, pretty woman and luxuries that the script depicts. In the hands of a lesser actor this could have been just a tamer version of Scarface. Drug lord starts out, drug lord makes big, drug lord falls. Instead we see the human being behind the shades. As the realization sets in that his marriage is a loveless as his parent’s was, and all the money and power won’t change that, we see something wither in his eyes. In an interview included on the DVD version of Blow Jung talks about seeing himself warts and all on the screen. He thanked Johnny for not glamorising the life, and for having the integrity to not judge while depicting him, but just playing it straight. The audience are left to make their own decision based on Johnny’s abilities as an actor. Someone once said of Gene Hackman that no matter what kind of creep he was playing in a movie he would always find a way to love his character. This ability allows him to offer the most honest of portrayals possible. Johnny takes this trait and adds the caveat of “there but for the grace of God go I”. With the possible exception of Edward (and even there maybe) his characters all suggest the potential exists for any of us to have turned out the same given the circumstances. When we saw Pirates of the Caribbean in the theatre two summers ago and Johnny Depp made his first appearance on screen my wife’s voice could be heard ringing out across the audience: “Holly F...” The titters of laughter that echoed in response was more than enough to signify that he still maintains the ability to turn heads with his looks and magnetism. But unlike others he resisted the temptation of the easy route of becoming a “star” Ironically it was this very refusal that has led to him becoming one of today’s more celebrated actors. As his depiction of J. M. Barrie in Finding Neverland proves he does need the outlandish to create a unique individual. Even more unusual is his ability to made the outlandish into an universal that all will find familiar.

7/19/2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A Review

Roald Dahl was a prolific writer. Short stories, full length novels, plays and poetry. It seemed that during his lifetime(1916-1990)he made forays into all the means of written expression at his disposal. But in the end he is best remembered as a writer of children’s fiction. To this day James and The Giant Peach and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory remain two of the best know English language books for children. Of the two the latter seems to have had the more lasting appeal. What could be more compelling than the image of children set loose in, not just a candy store, but a candy factory. All our wildest dreams of childhood come true. But that’s the thing about Dahl, he had a way of twisting dreams and showing some of their darker side. Always stopping well short of turning them into nightmares, but impinging them with enough reality to let some of the air out of the balloon. Who better for directing a new adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory than the man who gave us Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Sleepy Hollow, Tim Burton. Dreams and myths twisted and made strange are his specialty. In this instance he faced the massive challenge of not only adapting a beloved story, but competing with people’s memories of a previous, cherished, film version of the same story. Not only would he face the obvious comparisons to the forerunner, the very notion of the need for a remake would be questioned. Faced with such an imposing task some people either would quail and walk away with their tails between their legs, or even worse play it safe and produce a staid copy of the original movie. Instead of either of these Mr. Burton has gone back to the original source and mined Dahl’s darker imagery for his inspiration. Adhering almost religiously to the story line of the original movie, he has judicially pruned in places and padded in others. Gone are all the saccharine moments of sentimentality that peppered the original movie. Nobody, save for the Oompa, Loompas, bursts into song, and their songs have taken on a darker, more ominous tone than before. He also gives Willie Wonka a back story of a tyrannical dentist father(Christopher Lee). Only Tim Burton could stand two movie conventions on their heads in one short flashback. When young Willie finally finds the courage to stand up to his father and declare his intention of becoming a chocolate maker, he’s warned that he can go but his father won’t be there when he gets back. We are next treated to the usual montage of a person travelling; flags of various countries whirling past. But then young Willie is shaken from his reverie by a security guard to tell him the museum is closing; he hasn’t travelled at all, just been in a museum looking at flags. On his return home, Dad has made good on his promise. Not only is he not there but the whole house has been torn from the row it stood in, leaving a large gap like a missing tooth in a smile. Everything about this movie reflects Tim Burton’s macabre take on the world. From the sheer massiveness of the factory and the opening montage of the machinery at work making and packing the chocolate bars, to the magic edible tropical wonderland through which the chocolate river runs. While everything is still fantastic and awe inspiring, one just can’t picture anyone breaking into song about it. There’s a hint of sadness, or some other shadow, that hangs over everything within the factory. While it maybe everyone’s childhood fantasy to live in a candy factory, a grown man living all by himself in wonderland, is made to look a little pathetic. Pathological is probably the first word that comes to mind when the assembled children and parent figures meet Willie Wonka for the first time. The wrap around shades, artificial looking complexion, forced laugh and high voice put me immediately in mind of another troubled man who lives by himself in a make believe wonderland. Johnny Depp has created a Willie Wonka both strange and appealing. He has no social skills what so ever. The only time he ever seems to act with spontaneity are the occasions where he shows flashes of anger or sarcasm directed towards either the parents or children. The emotional shield that he has built around himself is reflected in his almost plastic appearance and stiffness of movement. It’s Charlie(Freddie Highmore once again giving a stellar performance opposite Johnny Depp) who first starts to breach Willie’s defences with his innocence and honesty. The man who can’t even say the word parents or family finds an innocent question about whether he can remember his first piece of candy bringing back a flood of memories from childhood. Burton flirts dangerously with sentimentality at times in the movie, but manages to always step back from the brink just in time. Mostly this is due to Johnny Depp’s consistency in portraying Willie as a real child in a man’s body. After playing the man who created Peter Pan, he’s showing us the flip side of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. He’s desperately searching for the love he missed out on as a child. Never having been allowed to be a child he latches on to the superficial trappings of childhood for pleasure. His creations are all reflections of a child’s version of an ideal world. Waterfalls of chocolate, wild rides, a meal in a stick of bubble gum and ice cream that will never melt are all the things that any child would die for. Of the five children who enter the factory as winners of the contest only Charlie has learned enough about life to know what is important. When he rejects Wonka’s offer to move into the factory if it means he must abandon his family, Willie is stunned. How can there be anything more important then candies? But on his return to the factory he falls into a funk and so does his candy. He returns to Charlie who then reunites him with his long lost father. Again Burton defies sentimentality by having father and son’s reconciliation hug be offset by the refusal of either party to doff their latex protective gloves. It is the measure of an artist’s capabilities as to how they respond to a challenge. Neither Johnny Depp or Tim Burton have shown themselves to be ever easily intimidated. This production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fine example of their ingenuity. Neither settled for simply recreating what had previously been done. For that reason this movie far exceeds it’s predecessor in both quality as a movie and faithfulness to the original book. I gather there has been much debate about whether there was a need for a new version of this movie. To mean that is a pointless question. It is sort of like asking is there a need for more then one painter to paint a picture of an apple. Just because the object is the same does not mean there can only be one view of it. In any case this version of the movie is far superior in my opinion to the previous one. The script is better, the acting is better, and on the whole it is more reflective of the spirit of Roald Dahl’s original story. The difference between the two movie is like the difference between eating a commercial chocolate bar and a hunk of Belgian bitter sweet chocolate. While the first was a nice confection, it was sort of bland and indistinct from other similar products. The new version was dark and rich with enough flavour to set it off from any other so called children’s movie on the market. I highly recommend it to children of all sizes. cheers gypsyman