Issue 271 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review

Arts

Review

   

Cultural currents

New York, New York

The city that has become an icon offers different views on life. Mike Gonzalez takes a closer look

Life on the streets of New York
Life on the streets of New York

I remember arriving in New York and having the odd feeling that I'd been there before. Everything was familiar, even the faces on the street. But I'm not a believer in past lives, so I knew it was no echo from a previous existence. I had the same feeling recently watching Sex and the City, which now seems to be repeated eight times a week in various slots, and the return of NYPD Blue--not to mention yet another 11 September documentary and Gangs of New York reviewed on several pages of every Sunday paper. I can't remember a week when Birmingham or Pittsburgh appeared in half a dozen places at once--and I never felt that same sense of familiarity arriving anywhere else.

The truth is that New York has become iconic, a symbol of empire and power as emphatic and unique as Rome. Even before television, I'm sure that colonials gasped when they stood in front of the Colosseum or saw the Forum appearing through the trees. But perhaps that isn't the best comparison--the feeling of hitting New York is probably closer to the awe of the pilgrim reaching the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. New York functions more like a secular temple than an urban landscape. My week of New York television brought that home very powerfully.

It was the construction of NYPD Blue that helped it to sink in. It is edgy, episodic, fast--the insistent heavy drumbeat and the sweeping, nervous camera work don't leave you time to look properly, to examine a face or take in a scene. You are allowed a brief, fleeting impression. The narrative is centred on the team of cops: the paranoid Sipowitz, loving his sick child but hating the world for making him sick, full of a rage always about to explode into a barely controllable violence; Sorensen is all clean lines and brooding strength--but he speaks with a kind of clipped formality that suggests he is always struggling to control some inner demon; Diane, Medavoy, the Captain, all have their secrets and traumas.

This is a very far cry from the sophisticated, generally quiet New York of Carrie and her friends, all pavement cafes and art gallery receptions. Theirs is a world without violence, without threat--a place where the personal overwhelms the social, and sex and shoes occupy the foreground. The camera moves lovingly away from a glistening street or a shadow on the window. The only buzz is the conversation of the other diners at the latest sushi-pasta fusion bar. No drums here--only a tinkling marimba.

The only clue that these two worlds might occupy the same space is in the title credits--The Twin Towers have been removed, but the skyline is still recognisable. The streets are still canyons, the buildings still scrape the sky. The difference, I suppose, is class. The four friends endlessly travelling the landscapes of their own bodies live in a safe city--or to put it another way, their 'New York' is a temple of consumption and achievement. Their success is taken for granted. The landscape (their world) is confidently set in the centre of the universe. Everything is available--the question is how to find it and possess it. Isn't that the symbolism of Carrie's enormous shoe collection? Their high altar is a designer outlet on Park Avenue, in a temple of plenty.

Sipowitz and the others walk a wilder side where nothing is certain. The series sometimes falls over into sentimentality, with false resolutions and dreamy excursions out of the mean streets. But it is to its credit that it always comes back, and brings back the edgy, insecure twitching camera that gives a sense of how New York looks from 123rd Street, or Harlem or the South Bronx. Because they are New York too--except that there the economic crisis is biting, and shopping is something other people do. This New York is full of potholes and sudden violence, scornful of the dreams of people who will never get closer to Carrie and her friends than the other side of the Starbucks counter, or more likely the television in the corner.

New York is the final guarantee of individual achievement, eternal beauty and, above all, the time to pursue fulfilment and desire. New York is dangerous and its pavements are cracked, and the sewers steam in summer and the pipes freeze in winter, and the American Dream is distantly visible across the Hudson. Same city, different worlds. Or perhaps it just depends on which television programmes you watch


Film

A TRIANGLE OF LOVE AND DESPAIR

The Hours
Dir: Stephen Daldry


Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf
Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf

The Hours was never going to be a low-key production. Directed by Billy Elliott's Stephen Daldry, and with a Hollywood blockbuster cast starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman and her famous fake nose, it was always going to be up for award nominations and receive a lot of attention.

Kidman, Streep and Moore play three unrelated yet linked women living at different times, who we see grappling with the ideas of what makes their lives worth living and how they can be happy within the constraints of society.

In a massive departure from her usually glamorous roles, Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf beginning to write her novel Mrs Dalloway and struggling against depression which will ultimately prove fatal. On the advice of doctors and under the watchful eye of her husband, Leonard, Woolf has been exiled from London to recover from her depression but finds the countryside stultifying. Her every movement is scrutinised and her meals are regulated. She feels unable to write away from her beloved London, her life and her friends, and if she cannot write she will die.

Julianne Moore is excellent in the role of Laura Brown, a 1950s Los Angeles suburban housewife, married to a Second World War veteran, who lives an outwardly perfect life but is suffocating in her role as wife and mother. She is reading Mrs Dalloway as an intellectual escape from her stifling life. She eventually realises that she cannot function as a person within the constraints of the family and has to make shattering choices.

Meryl Streep plays Clarissa Vaughan, a book editor living in present day New York. She has been nicknamed 'Mrs Dalloway' by her friend Richard, an award-winning poet who is now dying of Aids. We see Clarissa, like Mrs Dalloway at the start of the novel, buying flowers for a society party. Clarissa has spent her life organising parties and looking after Richard, to whom she is completely devoted, to the point of neglecting her partner. From his vantage point on the brink of death, Richard tries to encourage Clarissa to live her own life to the full, recognise her own worth and value the unorthodox but loving family that she has.

The film jumps about through time and between the three women's lives, and withholds information, giving the film an air of mystery, which is only solved when all the pieces come together at the end. The Phillip Glass score and interlinked images of the three women carrying out the same activity help the momentum of the film to flow.

All of the women playing the main characters are superb, particularly Moore and Kidman, and there is a very strong supporting cast. Kidman has broken out of her typecasting in films such as Moulin Rouge and is, unexpectedly, really very convincing in her portrayal of Virginia Woolf.

This is not the feelgood film of the year, and in some parts is quite shocking and disturbing. But it is a very thoughtful, beautiful and well acted film about women struggling to free themselves from society's expectations, and make their own way and their own happiness in the world. Go and see it, and if you haven't read Mrs Dalloway give it a try.
Sue Jones


THE TROTTERS TRADING COMPANY

Revengers Tragedy
Dir: Alex Cox


If your idea of a good night out is a movie based on a 400 year old play in blank verse, set in an imaginary and dystopian Liverpool with a cast that includes Eddie Izzard, Cherie Booth's dad and Craig who won Big Brother, all played out to the music of Chumbawamba, then get your coat now. Revengers Tragedy is what you've been waiting for.

The director of Revengers Tragedy, Alex Cox, believes that his film has more significance than a night out. Firstly, as his recent article in Sight and Sound explains, Cox sees his movie as a model for the resuscitation of the British film industry. Secondly, Cox has been quoted as saying that the movie is a contribution to the fight against the war on Iraq.

The British film industry is in a state of collapse. Outside the deadly triangle of Potter/Bond/Four Bridgets and a Notting Hill there are almost no British movies being made any more.

It's all such a contrast to the clammy optimism of 'Cool Britannia'. Then the money available from the National Lottery Film Fund seemed to offer a new dawn for British film-makers. What happened next is a scandal (or rather two scandals in one). Vast amounts of money were siphoned from working class pockets by the National Lottery and given to film 'consultants' and coked-up film 'entrepreneurs' to make movies that no one wanted to see. The figures are really quite obscene. The majority of the 104 movies made with our money were never released. That's the obvious financial larceny, but there is a parallel artistic scandal. Many (but not all) of the movies that were released were still unwatchable trash.

Until now this story has been monopolised by ideologues from the right (especially its Blairite wing) to justify their mantra of the inevitability of market-driven globalised film-making. These 'Big Picture' wonks argue that since the global market is god, the future of cinema in Britain is to make the movies that Donald Rumsfeld might want to see. This notion is now enshrined in Blair's new Film Council, fronted by Hollywood insider Alan Parker (recently knighted by Blair).

At long last someone from the left has taken up this argument and thrown it back in their smarmy faces. Alex Cox argues, 'The proposals are radical, even extreme, but not original. They are like other radical projects that we associate with Thatcher and New Labour--the poll tax, the privatisation of our public services, the London Underground PPP. Such universally disliked policies emanate from right wing think-tanks in the US and are imposed on the rest of the world via the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank...

'I'm sorry to say what Sir Alan knows but can't bring himself to say because (quite literally) his real job depends on it: American studio films are mostly bad and devoid of originality...Hollywood is like Microsoft or McDonald's: it pushes a palpably inferior product but its wealth and ubiquity give it huge power and leverage.'

It has to be said that Cox's practical suggestions (which add up to a plan for a publicly subsidised regional production base) are rather modest, yet what is refreshing about his polemic is that he is not arguing against Hollywood in the name of Little Englander nationalism. He is arguing for a film culture of challenging, inventive and committed movies that tell stories and speak in voices that Hollywood just does not get. Cox calls these 'quirky, individual and revivifying' films.

This is where Revengers Tragedy fits. It was made in Liverpool with a young, inexperienced crew and financed through a raft of subsidies. It is therefore pleasing that Cox's film delivers on his promises. The direction is constantly inventive and witty. The acting is excellent. In fact the enthusiasm of the crew is palpable. All in all it's like Baz Luhrmann without the MTV juvenilia (or Peter Greenway without the pretentiousness), which is good.

But is it, as Alex appears to think, a political film? Well, yes--in the broadest sense, in that we are given the pleasure of watching the rich bastards get their bloody comeuppance. But I would question Cox's opinion in several other ways. The decision to keep the Jacobean verse will obviously create a barrier for many audiences. More fundamentally, there is an inevitable political conundrum in transcribing a work from 1607 that Cox ignores. As Louise Kerr pointed out, the Jacobean tragedies were the product of a particularly malodorous moment in European history--it was a world of violent death, pestilence and dynastic corruption. Audiences of the time lived that reality and could superscribe it over the fictional characters. To give Middleton's play a contemporary political resonance, audiences need the same cues. In the theatre a few years ago Timon of Athens went electric when Trevor Nunn turned the antagonists into Thatcherite City-suits. Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet wired up an A-level love story by turning Verona into the venue of a modern turf war. In Revengers Tragedy the Dukes appear closer to the armed wing of Trotters Independent Trading Company than any identifiable faction of our global ruling class.

Don't expect an easy feelgood film. But do expect a film which is 'quirky, individual and revivifying'. And viciously funny.
Bob Light


AIRING THE DIRTY WASHING IN PUBLIC

The Magdalene Sisters
Dir: Peter Mullen


Victims of a terrible injustice
Victims of a terrible injustice

Margaret is raped by her cousin at a family wedding. Rose has just given birth out of wedlock and has her son forcibly taken for adoption. Bernadette is in an orphanage and is unaware that her blossoming sexuality will be used against her. All three are sent against their wills to the Magdalene Laundry.

Named after Mary Magdalene, the penitent 'sinner' of the Gospels, the laundries were closed institutions for 'fallen' women in Ireland. They were run by the misnamed 'Sisters of Mercy' on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy. More than 30,000 Irish women were incarcerated indefinitely in these institutions, and it is almost impossible to believe that the last one was closed as recently as 1996.

Set in Dublin in 1964, Mullen's film is a stunningly powerful indictment of a priest-ridden society's attitude to women--a classic example of the victims being blamed for their own misfortune. It makes for harrowing viewing, moving you to anger and tears.

In the laundries the women are used as slave labour and brutalised for their pains. All the while their 'sinfulness' is thrown back in their faces. They work unpaid for eight to ten hours a day, seven days a week, cleaning the laundries of local hospitals, hotels and other institutions. Sister Bridget, brilliantly played by Geraldine McEwan, presides over their misery and delights in counting the profits from their labour. The visiting priest, Father Fitzroy, is fawned over by the sisters while sexually abusing one of the 'simple-minded' inmates.

The other aspect of this tragedy that Mullen doesn't shirk is the complicity of the families in the incarceration of the women. In a heartrending scene Rose has just given birth to her son, and her mother, sitting bolt upright next to her bed, refuses even to look at the baby. Meanwhile her father is in the corridor negotiating the removal of the child with the local priest. And Margaret is dragged from her bed by her father after her rape and is spirited away in the night--out of sight and out of mind.

The film captures perfectly the inner torment that the women face. On the one hand they know they are the victims of a terrible injustice, yet they are still bound by their faith in religion. Many are confused, accepting that they have sinned but knowing that nothing could justify their ordeal. Out of the conflict between these two contradictory feelings grows a moving drama. The women develop a real sense of solidarity and gradually build on their spirit of resistance. But Mullen does not duck the fact that there is no automatic unity among the oppressed, and the way he expresses the complexities of their relationships prevents the film slipping into sentimentality. He is helped by extremely effective camerawork that manages to capture in the faces of the women both their inner torment and their determination to confront it. The performances of the three women in the central roles also evoke these two feelings brilliantly.

It would spoil the viewing of it if I described the ways in which the gripping drama unfolds as the young women confront their crises and their jailers. Suffice to say that they carry the scars of their experience with them throughout their lives, even though they refuse to play the role of passive victims.

This is a film that I can't recommend too highly. It should be compulsory viewing in every town and village of Ireland, though somehow I doubt if it will reach the audience it deserves. Of course the grip of the church has been loosened in recent years, but that's no reason to forget the lessons of this shameful story.
Shaun Doherty


WHEN AN OASIS BECOMES A BLUR

Live Forever
Dir: John Dower


Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher

Live Forever documents, in the words of writer and director John Dower, 'the rise and fall of one of the most visible movements in [contemporary] British music, Britpop', largely through interviews with some of the principal participants in the 'movement'--Damon Albarn of Blur, Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. Narration is kept to a minimum in an attempt to let the story flow.

Although Britpop was a spurious concept, artificially collating a group of largely (though not entirely) guitar-based bands with varying styles, it became a major cultural current through a combination of genuine public interest in the bands involved, clever marketing, and latterly (once Oasis had begun to shift Beatlesesque numbers of units) establishment endorsement. By 1997 the popularity of saleable British cultural product even resulted in a one-off Vanity Fair special issue on 'Cool Britannia', replete with a Tony Blair article, and Liam Gallagher of Oasis and his then-wife Patsy Kensit in bed on the cover. The associated nationalistic chest-beating now surrounding Britpop had many of its authors fleeing to the hills in search of lo-fi recording equipment.

That was how things turned out, but the story of Britpop and 'Cool Britannia' begins, for Dower, at the end of the 1980s with groups of disaffected youth looking for something new and exciting to do. Noel Gallagher opines that 'Britain was dead in the 80s', and Damon Albarn of Blur reveals that many of his song ideas came from the experience of living in Colchester where 'people had taken to Thatcher's dream'. The interviews are interspersed with images of where the Britpop bands came from. This is visually effective, and conveys a sense of place and context. At this stage the tone of the film is overwhelmingly countercultural, showing the contrast between the bands' initial aims and how those aims were distorted by the machinations of the establishment. Toby Young illustrates the tensions inherent in Britpop when he talks of how young Britons had grown up 'loathing mass American culture', and then says that Britpop was a 'protest movement that was British in a slightly caricatured way'. In other words, the alternative movement's eccentricities--such as 'mockney' accents and laddish behaviour--were lending themselves to exploitation.

As if to illustrate the point, the focus quickly shifts to the Blur versus Oasis chart battle of September 1995. Noel Gallagher identifies the instigators of this race for number one as men in suits and regards the whole exercise, probably quite rightly, as no more than a 'marketing scam'. Damon Albarn, disappointingly, won't be drawn on the subject.

The Britpop fallout sees Jarvis Cocker talking candidly about how he got what he wanted 'and the reality was rubbish', and then, at only 82 minutes, the film ends abruptly. The material that it does contain is interesting, principally its attempt to construct a broad sociological critique of the music business and establishment.

However, on reading the production notes the tendency is to reflect on missed opportunities--for, as Dower admits, much was left on the cutting room floor. A further exploration of the Bristol scene would, for instance, have beefed up the interview with 3D of Massive Attack, whose interesting points are lost in the periphery, with no supporting narrative. Similarly a potted history of Britpop influences would have been useful, since the impression is given of a movement that emerged fully formed ten years ago with no precedent. Noel Gallagher isn't even quizzed on his Beatles influence, let alone Damon Albarn on the Kinks or Jarvis Cocker on Scott Walker. That said, this film is still interesting and occasionally inspirational, partly because of the great music it contains.
Ian Stone


Theatre

NO HONOUR AMONG THIEVES

The Threepenny Opera
by Bertolt Brecht
National Theatre, London, and touring


This production brilliantly brings to life one of Bertolt Brecht's earliest plays. The Threepenny Opera was first written by Brecht, with music by Kurt Weill, in 1928 in Berlin.

Brecht adapted the opera from John Gay's Beggar's Opera. The play centres on the dastardly deeds of top pimp and criminal Macheath and his gang, and his close relationship with his old friend from his army days, Brown, the corrupt High Sheriff of London. The play explores how the two need each other to survive. Another important character is Mr Peachum (father of Polly Peachum who marries Macheath), who runs a criminal outfit by dressing up various poor people as beggars. He carefully selects the costume which will get the most sympathy from the public. He is a cynic who depends upon poverty and the idea that charity is a solution to these huge problems.

Macheath, Brown and Peachum are not pleasant characters, and it is difficult to feel sympathy for them. We are forced to look at what has created these people--poverty. The play does not give us a clear solution but it poses the question very well.

The play develops real tension when Peachum is unhappy with Polly marrying Macheath. Peachum wants Polly to run his business, not his arch-enemy's. Peachum decides that there is no honour among thieves and turns to Inspector Brown to deal with Macheath. He is able to blackmail Brown, but will Macheath get caught or will he get away yet again?

The National Theatre Education Department uses this production to show that Brecht is not stuffy or overly serious. The show begins with the actors reciting some of the odd responses from a survey of the audience as they came in. The actors then get different sections of the audience to shout out key lines from the play such as, 'Get up and steal from your neighbour'. This is more like a warm-up for a comedy club, and it helps to break down the barrier between actors and audience. All the music in the production is performed by the actors, blurring the distinction between actor and musician.

The script and songs have been cleverly updated by Anthony Meech and Jeremy Sams to make it more contemporary. 'The Cannon Song' is turned into a brilliant attack on the British army. This production is touring Britain and returns to the National Theatre in London.
Ian Crosson


THE MEDIA MOGULS

Vicxtory at Dirt Palace
by Adriano Shaplin
Riverside Studios, London , and touring


Watching each other, watching the news
Watching each other, watching the news

A terrorist attack has just occurred in the US, and father and daughter are live on air as rival network newsreaders. At stake are their reputations and careers--all is dependent on the television rating figures. This is merely the public face of a deep and bitter private rift that has long estranged the pair, and provided material for the tabloid newspapers.

This is the centrepiece of a play first performed at the Edinburgh Festival that seeks to satirise the news broadcasting industry through a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's King Lear. The emotional journeys and political manoeuvring of the original are condensed to revolve around four characters, who pretty much remain seated throughout. This static arrangement naturally places enormous importance on the script alone to carry the play. It just about achieves it. According to its writer, this inspiration stems from the impact that motivational speakers in positions of power have.

Written and performed by Adriano Shaplin, the script is biting, sharp, and delivered at breakneck speed by the California-based theatre company The Riot Group. It sometimes comes across as a little self righteous, but then again this blends in well with the tone generated from within the newsroom. The performances are compelling, and often so emotionally absorbing that, combined with the claustrophobia of the studio, you're left uncomfortably wondering whether you ought to leave the room.

At its satirical height it does have some memorable moments, such as during the live showdown between father and daughter, where a retaliatory declaration of war is announced one minute, followed quickly by the breaking news of a resounding victory. This simply but brilliantly illustrates the media's desire for immediate conclusions, retribution and justice--a story. Also, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack, the newsreaders struggle for the ultimate sentimental formulation to give them the edge in the ratings war, and consolidate their place as the US's trusted and compassionate face.

On the whole, though, it struggles to raise itself beyond mere observation. It comments consistently on the sensationalist priorities of news broadcasts and consequently how words are juggled to the detriment of insight and understanding, but it has little to say about the economic and social conditions that shape the news agenda. There is nothing, for example, about media monopolies, or about post 11 September bias and uncritical reporting of US foreign policy, and the curtailment of civil liberties. It's not quite political satire, but as a script it is imaginatively written and interesting--if, for nothing else, its sheer intensity.
Kevin Best


THE SHINING STAR

Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie
Barbican, London, and touring


Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight Children' now on stage
Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children now on stage

Midnight's Children is the novel that brought international acclaim to Salman Rushdie 20 years ago. Its literary style, playful use of language and multilayered storyline introduced magical realism to a new audience. Thanks to the Royal Shakespeare Company we can now enjoy this on stage. This is the story of Saleem, a young man who was exchanged at birth by a nurse in order to give a new life to a boy born on the wrong side of the tracks. Saleem is the play's narrator, born at the hour of midnight of India's independence. When the story begins he is 32 and sets about telling the story of his birth to his wife, Padma. But the story is much more than his life history, for Saleem's life is entwined with the traumatic story of post-partition India and Pakistan.

As in the novel, the play weaves historical narrative with fiction, fantasy and reality into a theatrical feast. The play vividly brings to life the horrors that marked the subcontinent in the last century: the Amritsar massacre of 1919 that saw civilians mowed down on the orders of a British commander; the butchery of partition on the eve of independence that left a million dead and over 10 million refugees; the endless conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir that has led to two wars between the two countries; and, finally, the East Pakistan War, where India sided with the Bengalis and the subcontinent was partitioned yet again. Indira Gandhi's state of emergency, the suspension of elections, the forced sterilisation programmes of her son Sanjay, and the corruption of Pakistan's political and military establishment are all objects of satire and vilification.

Saleem's family saga is played out against these events. His grandparents migrate from Kashmir at the beginning of the century to Delhi. His parents move to Bombay after the communal riots, and here Saleem is born alongside Shiva, with whom he is exchanged. Saleem grows up in a middle class Muslim household that is secular and liberal, whereas Shiva, left an orphan, turns to crime and the underworld.

Saleem discovers other 'midnight's children', and together they convene a conference to discuss how they will survive in this turbulent, violent society. The fantasy world and the magical powers of this conference seem to cushion Saleem and the others from the horror that is India. However, reality is never too far. When his father discovers that Saleem is not his son he is sent to Pakistan to live with his ambitious aunt and uncle. There he is drawn into the coup that topples the civilian government.

On his return to Bombay he sees his family growing apart. They decide to move en masse to Pakistan in the hope that, as it is a Muslim state, they will have peace and security. However, the 1965 war claims the lives of many of his relatives, and Saleem is enlisted as a scout in the Pakistani army to find Indian soldiers in 1971. The senseless waste of human life is graphically depicted as soldiers on both sides, fearful and mistrustful of themselves as much as each other, slaughter one another in the killing fields of Bangladesh. Saleem is brought back to India where he seeks solace from Parvati, the witch of Midnight's Children. However, during the emergency Saleem is arrested and tortured, and eventually betrays midnight's children, who are arrested and rendered impotent by forced sterilisation. This betrayal symbolises the dashed hopes and dreams of millions of ordinary Indians at the dawn of independence. Midnight's children represented that hope and optimism of a new generation which had to be crushed by the states that emerged after independence.

Using a young British Asian cast, this adaptation is a lively mix of stage action and film footage. It is an energetic and visually powerful production that captures the essence of the novel brilliantly, and one that should not be missed.
Talat Ahmed


Music

MASSIVE COUNTER-ATTACK

Peace not War
Various £15.00


Aktar, Pandit G and Spex from Asian Dub Foundation
Aktar, Pandit G and Spex from Asian Dub Foundation

Fusing art and politics has never been so easy. The growing global anti-war movement means that great anthems of hope and inspiration, which celebrate the joy of mass resistance, can be recorded. This fundraising CD, which is available from major retailers as well as activists, does just that. For me there was only one choice for best song--'The Unpeople', which brillantly samples John Pilger, edges it over Asian Dub Foundation's use of Tariq Ali's melodious tones.

But I have alway been a sentimental sort, and this CD is about war, its horror and brutality, and its victims' suffering. 'Nagasaki Nightmare', an old classic, is not easy listening, and nor should it be. Such songs are important for those dark moments in life, when the day to day tasks of building the movement are temporarily forgotten and we try somehow to comprehend how it must feel to be an Iraqi in Baghdad, and the immense dread and fear they must be feeling right now. The chilling reminder of the mushroom cloud, the darkest cloud the world has seen, hangs over us all as we try to stop this horror.

A good way to snap out of such morbidness is anger--raw anger directed at the bastards responsible for such atrocities. That seems to be the approach adopted by Public Enemy: 'I ain't callin' for no assassination/I'm just sayin' who voted for this asshole of the nation?' Public Enemy sound hard, and they're onto Bush--it's good to know we have such people on side as we have our own 'asshole of the nation' to deal with.

Overall it's a great feeling that many well known artists--Ms Dynamite, Chumbawamba, Asian Dub Foundation and Billy Bragg, to name a few--have all been moved to produce something for this album. This is particularly so with Ms Dynamite, as she continues to behave as we would not expect a mainstream celebrity to. A great thing about having big names produce music for a mass movement is that it takes them down off their pedestals and away from the trappings of glamour. And we don't feel like passive consumers in awe of fame--rather we sense that we matter and these people are just contributing towards our own strength, which we gain from the movement. Ginger Tom's 'Hey Hey USA: How Many Children Did You Kill Today?' was in a sense written by all of us who have marched and chanted over the last 18 months.

'So here's a toast to all the folks who live in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and El Salvador.' Ani DiFranco sums it up halfway through the first song. The Peace Not War CD is a great compilation--the perfect soundtrack to the mixed emotions of horror and hope each of us is going through every day. Hope must win out--play it in public on the streets or at gigs, use it to build 15 February and after. This is no souvenir, and it will only become a 'classic' compilation if we can halt Bush and Blair's war drive.
Tom Whittaker


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