THE SIGNAL from David Katznelson
"Loneliness is a prerequisite for freedom. Freedom depends on the ability to reflect, and reflection can only begin when one is alone."-Gao Xingjian
I ended the year by binging the WINDS OF CHANGE podcast from Crooked Media and Pineapple Street Studios. My friend Brina tipped me off to it, texting me about a story that The Scorpions’ hit song Winds Of Change…was written by the CIA. We both know some of the executive producers of the show, and that fact along with the idea that a musical story this crazy had eluded me until now blew my mind. But Barb and I were doing some long drives and it made perfect sense to us to dive into the story as told by New Yorker reporter Patrick Radden Keefe.
I am of The Scorpions generation, and the songs No One Like You and Rock You Like A Hurricane were regularly featured at Lowell High dances (even though to be honest: not the best dance numbers). After college, when my friend Chuck and I drove across the US, I brought Hendrix’s AXIS BOLD AS LOVE, he brought The Scorps’ WORLD WIDE LIVE. And while Winds Of Change came out way past my Scorpions era, there was no missing a song of that magnitude.
So we started listening to the podcast, and what became clear early on is that it was not just about Keefe’s efforts to deduce if the CIA had anything to do with the song. What it really was about…and I found it so compelling…was the power of music to change the world, and the history of the CIA using musicians to push the US agenda overseas. The Winds Of Change storyline is great…telling of how the song might have helped end the cold war…and the episode focusing on their manager and former drug runner Doc McGhee is just killer.
But even better are the stories Keefe digs up about Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone, both used by the CIA to introduce western influence in Africa. Armstrong knew he was being used and very reluctantly agreed to participate (feeling strange about preaching American values when America was treating African Americans so badly). Simone died without ever knowing that the CIA were behind a concert trip she took to Nigeria in 1961.
The power of art—of music—is real. The fact that the biggest government agencies use it to push their agendas is proof. But anyone blasting The Beatles’ Revolution, Bob Marley’s Exodus, NWA’s (or Isley Brothers’) Fight the Power, or The Dead Kennedys’ Holiday In Cambodia already knows it.
The podcast just got picked up by Hulu for a TV adaption, so more of this story is to come.
File this under “Places I would go if I had a time traveling machine.” Burris Jenkins’ apartment, one night in August, 1939. The greatest of the greats, crammed into an apartment, jamming together in the ultimate wang dang doodle. Damn.
Jenkins, whose name is not well known today, was a huge figure in the world of political cartoons (drawing throughout World War II), and did some incredible courtroom storyboard-style art that is amazing to behold. He must have been quite the scenester to get the honor of throwing an affair with the likes of The Duke, Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway.
The National Parks magazine regularly publishes great long-form journalism and over the break I had time to dig into the latest edition featuring the article about the Allen Ginsberg/Gary Snyder/Philip Whalen-started tradition of an equinox/solstice walk that takes you around Mount Tam. Writer Michael Branch does not only provide the map of the trip but a deep dive into the philosophical basis behind the hike as well as some good ole Beat history.
With January 2021 already a few days behind us, there are now a slew of incredible works of artistic genius that are in the public domain. My friend David Pescovitz runs down some highlights…
Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey are ushering in the recorded blues era in 1925…and get ready for next year, when 1926 goes public with the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Peg Leg Howell and Bo Weavil Jackson.
Above Pate Valley
BY GARY SNYDER
We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen—sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass—obsidian—
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer,
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack, and sack
Ten thousand years.