Tag Archives: Orwell

Occupy movement shakes things up, wakes Americans up

It has been many years since I read Animal Farm, the book every kid had to read in high school as a warning against becoming like our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

It’s not always as easy as it should be to grasp the point of an allegory. One of my classmates wrote in a paper, “Animal Farm is a very stupid book, because everyone knows animals can’t talk.”

She obviously didn’t get it, but actually I don’t think any of us really got it, because Orwell was warning us, not just about where communism might lead, but about almost exactly what our capitalist republic has become. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” could just as easily apply to the 1% vs the 99%.

For months I have wanted to say on this blog what I thought about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but because I am leery of bandwagons and because my opinion kept changing, I’ve been watching and waiting. I have been by turns fascinated, inspired, pissed off, and encouraged all over again by this strange uprising.

It seems like such a jumble of people and viewpoints, yet it has a definite purpose and a strange kind of order. The movement’s insistence on staying leaderless is both a problem and a stroke of genius. A problem because it’s hard for the group to rein in strong-willed types who do things that are counterproductive. Genius because it’s impossible for the authorities to shut down. The police have tried to pick out the people they thought were leaders and arrested them, but it made no difference. I’m pretty sure nothing like this would exist without the Internet. A friend of mine refers to OWS as “the Bittorrent uprising.”

My opinion of the protesters rises and falls depending on OWS actions — they’ve had some big successes and some pretty serious failures. But there’s no doubt in my mind that they are asking the right questions of the right people.

Three years into a recession that’s beginning to look like it might become a depression or just the way things are going to be from now on, why is it that the lower, working and middle classes are suffering so much, while the richest Americans are doing better than ever? Why did the banks receive trillions of dollars after their real estate speculation bubble collapsed, but regular Americans got foreclosed? Why haven’t the people who committed fraud on Wall Street been arrested and put on trial for what they did? Why haven’t laws been enacted to keep them from doing the same thing and wrecking the economy even further?

The answer seems to be that the captains of banking and industry have become so powerful they are for all intents and purposes, our true government. Politicians merely give us an illusion of choice. They do what the rich want, and many times they’re the same people. Charts like the one below make it pretty clear that we have a problem.

I think most Americans realized what the problem was on some level. There has been a growing discontent, even rage, just waiting for an outlet. OWS has provided that.

Some of OWS’s proposed solutions include: 1) Reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that gave corporations the ability to pour infinite amounts of cash into the election process, 2) restoring the Glass-Steagall Act that used to keep investment banks and commercial banks separate, 3) making it illegal for members of congress to buy and sell stock based on insider information.

I’m not sure how far they will get with our deadlocked Congress. Democrats and Republicans are unwilling to compromise and both are pretty much bought. But I think they know by now that they’re on notice. People are getting tired of the talk and they want solutions.

The Occupy movement may have its flaws, but it has already had a huge impact. Before they came along, we were entering a political season with almost no mention of income inequality or unemployment. Now they can’t ignore it. I think when spring comes we will see a lot of protests and very different campaigns. The protesters might have been kicked out of their encampments, but they’re not going away.

I have a rule of thumb: When the police feel the need to beat up and abuse protesters, they must have been protesting the right thing. And speaking of which… The Occupy movement has performed another extremely valuable service: Exposed our rapidly growing police state.

The police tactics used on the Occupiers have been way, way out of proportion. Beatings, pepper spray, tear gas, LRAD sound cannons (look it up, it’s creepy as hell), media blackouts, journalists attacked and arrested. Our police forces have changed a lot since 9-11, and we no longer have the right to free speech that we thought we had.

The protesters aren’t perfect. I’ve fussed at them on more than one occasion. But even if they’re doing it wrong, at least they’re doing it. And somebody had to. We have a disturbing number of authoritarians in this country who think order should be preserved under all circumstances. But when you have serious problems that aren’t getting resolved through the establishment, it’s time to shake things up. The Occupiers have my gratitude for putting themselves on the line for me and the rest of the 99%.

If you want to get it from the horse’s mouth, visit the website for Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly in New York at http://www.nycga.net/. Or another OWS website I like to visit from time to time: http://occupywallst.org/

You might also find the Occupy protest for your city and go down in person. I went down to Occupy Austin a few weeks ago, talked to a few people, heard a very interesting lecture on Gandhi from a UT professor, and sat in on a General Assembly.

And since this is a music blog, let me end this post with a link to Occupy Radio, a collection of mixes on Soundcloud featuring cool beats and samples of protest activity, newscasts, speeches, etc.

Trip hop musicians Massive Attack also put together annother Occupy Radio, a collection of mixes in support of Occupy London. I’ll make another post at some point with some songs I think embody the spirit of the movement.

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British singer-songwriter Richard John follows his dream

There is a scene in the soon-to-be-Oscar-winning movie Up In the Air, where George Clooney’s character explains to a man who is about to lose a high-paying job –  but has a degree in French cuisine – why kids love athletes: Because they follow their dreams. I think the same could be said of musicians. At least that’s what the kid in me loves about them. Just one more reason to admire Richard John, the English singer-songwriter I discovered several months  back on the old T61 site.

Richard became a professional musician after he was “made redundant” or as we say in the States, “laid off” from a nice job in the catering business. He had always dreamed of making his living through music, and found a way to do it by teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he is developing a nice collection of songs, many of them with  a sweet Brazilian influence I simply cannot resist.

As soon as I heard his music, I thought, wow, this is something out of the ordinary. In a word, it had heart. Beautiful guitar work, soft melodic vocals. I nagged everyone I could about him and he seems to be developing a nice fan base. I have very high hopes for him.

Below is an e-mail interview that I think many people will find inspiring. It is never too late to follow your dreams. It might not make you rich, but it might be just what you need to find happiness.

MM: What first excited you about music and made you want to play an instrument?

RJ: I first got excited in music by listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, early Stevie Wonder, etc. – stuff with really big melodies. I still think of Brian Wilson as being a main influence. My mother played piano and my father sang a lot. So there was always music arod, and I remember there being a pile of Dad’s old 78 records that survived his house being bombed during the blitz, with artists like Nat King Cole, George Gershwin etc, that I also loved from an early age.

MM: How did you learn to play guitar and banjo?

RJ: I started playing the guitar when I was about 10. I had lessons then, and also about 20 years later, when I had an inkling I may one day teach the instrument. I picked up a load of finger style experience at that time.

I pick out a tune on the banjo for recording, but wouldn’t pretend to play it well.

MM: Did you always dream of being a musician?

RJ: During my years in the catering industry, and being a training officer, I would often dream spending more time on my music and maybe making some money out of my guitar. Although never really as a front man. More as a songwriter or more mundanely as a guitar teacher.

MM: Your songs often have a personal story. Are they based on reality?

RJ: The lyrics of my songs often concern wistful romance, yearnings, disastrous relationships and loneliness. All of which worries my wife a little as I’ve been very happily married for 15 years! Lyrics come secondary to me. The melodies and music always excite me the most! So there probably is reality in my lyrics, but from a long, long time ago!

MM: I know you’ve mentioned you really like the High Llamas. What is it you like about them?

RJ: When talking about the current influences on my music I always mention the High Llamas. It’s their mix of great melodies, experimentation and originality that I admire most and I guess, in my own way that’s what I’m trying to aspire to.

MM: Do you have any other big influences?

RJ: I tend to favour anything with a memorable, nagging tune. “Strange” and “interesting” is a bonus! People I’m listening to at the moment include Richard Hawley, Sondre Lerche, Orwell, Celso Fornesca (Bossa Nova), Max Richter, Keran Ann, and Stereolab. 

MM: What new bands and musicians excite you?

RJ: New artists I’m listening a lot to include, The Softlightes (tuneful, quirky, indie) , M Ward, Kassin + 2 (Latin indie), Anthony Rochester (A fine and original Tasmanian Musician), Bossacucanova (Brazilian).

MM: Could you elaborate a bit on getting laid off? What ran through your mind? Were you scared? Confident? Any advice for others going through that situation?

RJ: Being laid off is scary, especially if you’ve worked for the same company for many years., but with a little help from a redundancy pay out I was able to gradually build my guitar teaching business, make space to create music and do some local live work with several musicians. I may earn less money than my previous job but I’m genuinely very much happier than before. A cliché but true! I suppose any advice to others being laid off is try to look at it as an opportunity to work at something you love or enjoy, rather than something you fell into many years ago.

MM: What are your future plans, musicwise? Do you consider that you’re “living your dream” now, or do you have much further to go?

RJ: My musical future hopefully includes more live work and a steady improvement in my recording abilities and to make a little money selling my music would be great i.e. allowing me more time to make music.

MM: How important is teaching music? If you find a way to make enough money from writing and performing, will you still continue to teach?

RJ: Teaching music is good. Enabling pupils to gain even a fraction of the enjoyment I’ve gained from music is very fulfilling. 

MM: You once mentioned that a hosting website you were using didn’t satisfy you because there were too many artists to get honest feedback (too many people giving good reviews, hoping you would return the favor). You got to interact with fans on the old version of T61 and you’re getting some of that on Uvumi. Why is that important to you?

RJ: Self-congratulatory sites for musicians aren’t really very helpful. Sites like uvumi and the old T61 were great because they were full of “listeners,” who had no reason to say they liked your music or save your tunes if they didn’t want to. Any constructive criticism is useful – but you have to have a thick skin!

MM: What lessons did you learn about yourself and your music during your “heyday” on t61?

RJ: Lessons I leaned from the old T61 days were quite flattering, i.e. that a quite a few people actually, genuinely seemed to like my music! It was then great to chat to them and be a part of a community.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of listening to Richard’s music, check out his e-album Etched On Glass on Bandcamp, below and if you like it consider showing him a little love and help him keep the dream alive:

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