Thursday, 25 February 2016


That which doesn't kill me, makes me kinder.

(Photo courtesy of Joaquim Alves Gaspar and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

WW: 70s jars

(Anybody else remember when coffee was sold in fancy jars you could use as kitchen canisters afterward? I think half my mom's canisters – such as these – came from there. Note the US Bicentennial
pattern at right.)

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Proof of Redemption

I was leafing through the Seattle Daily Times for 26 November 1963 when I happened upon a fascinating crumb of history.

Readers of a certain age will recognise this date as one of a particularly dark and troubling string: four days before, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by a sniper, in the urban core of Dallas, as massive crowds looked on.

I was too little to remember, but the hushed recollections of elders would be a counterpoint of my youth. A pall settled on everything for weeks. Months.

Forever, to be honest.

But what intrigues me today, reading the press of the time, is how steadfastly the American people manned their stations. This was the height of the Cold War, when paranoia and drunken raving about alleged enemies were standard, even among the otherwise level-headed. And the assassin was one of the dozen-odd non-imaginary Marxists in the US: a fair-dinkum Communist Party member who'd once repudiated his country and applied for Soviet citizenship. What are the odds?

Yet even the Seattle Times – a firmly, sometimes cartoonishly, right-wing organ in those days – ran no fist-shaking diatribes, no calls to abandon civil rights or judicial sovereignty, no petitions to torture suspected terrorists, as too great a threat to entrust to America's ill-conceived, chuckleheaded law.

The contrast with today is jarring. But it gets even better.

Floating mid-page, among pieces on the subsequent sensational murder of suspect Lee Harvey Oswald, and the presidential funeral the day after that, is the following headline:

Tacoma Ultra-Rightist Quits Post Over Kennedy Slaying

Say what?

Check it out, brothers and sisters:
TACOMA (AP) A Tacoma leader of an ultra-conservative organization resigned today because of President Kennedy's assassination. He said all extremists must share the blame.
J. (Bud) Nelson said he had written Frederick R. Kluge of Burley, head of the state organization:
"Though it was a left-wing Communist who wantonly assassinated our President... I feel that every radical, left and right, had his hand on the rifle butt and finger on that trigger.
"We are all guilty (morally) of fomenting hatreds of one sort or another, thus guilty of a common act of cruelty.
"Therefore I have no choice but to hereby tender my official resignation from the Washington Council, Citizen's Councils of America. And I pray to my God that he forgive me for harboring any prejudices that I might have harbored."
Nelson, who announced formation of the Tacoma chapter a few months ago, said that henceforth he would devote his energies to fighting "those who oppose our great American ideals of freedom for all – no matter the race, color or creed – and justice for all."

Jizo H. Bodhisattva!

For those too young to have to know, Citizen's Councils of America were the political wing of the Ku Klux Klan. Originally a loose affiliation of White Citizens Councils set up to orchestrate violence against black citizens and their white supporters in Southern states, by the late 50s they'd modified their name and struck out to organise bigots across the nation.

"Ultra-conservative" is a euphemism in this context; this-here is a sho' nuff Axis of Evil.

So Mr. Nelson hadn't just bumbled into this group; this guy had a major hate on, and had pulled others like him into what must have been one of the state's largest CCA chapters.

And yet he was a man of conscience. He had, somewhere inside, that inquisitor that demands an unblinking account of one's own responsibility for suffering. It's the genetic origin of decency, and under adequate pressure it asserted itself, trumping such powerful attachments as peer pressure and fear of admitting error.

This doesn't happen every day. In this case, it's almost miraculous.

I did my best to follow up on the story, but only succeeded in verifying the man's existence. He vanishes from the news thereafter, and apparently from politics as well. There are no further memberships, no board minutes, no letters to the editor, that the Internet recalls. If he later reverted to his rightwing predilections, or continued on the path of enlightenment, he did so privately, without attempting to enlist others.

But my God, what a moment. Few have the courage to examine themselves as he did, or to atone so publicly.

I could have known Bud Nelson; he lived twenty minutes from where I grew up. He's gone now, so I'll never get to ask him what that moment was like, or what it came to mean to him over the years.

But one way or the other, his story is yet more proof that it does happen. However rarely, some people undergo a crisis of conscience, and come out the other side redeemed.

It's not just me.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

WW: Book manuscript

(100 Days on the Mountain. Fourth draught. Headed for No. 5.)

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Love Advisory

A man in yoga asana meditating in Albuquerque NM

"When you say 'I love you', you should know at least one of those people."

Oscar Brown, Jr

(Photo courtesy of Mike Tungate and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

WW: Flashbulbs

(Unopened box found in my mom's house. Hoarded and babied, because expensive. Now worth nothing. Sort of adds insult to injury to photograph it with a digital camera. By the way, that outfit the young lady is holding is pretty much exactly what I was shooting back then.)

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Good Song: Toujours debout

Renaud was one of the heroes of my youth. Equal parts Springsteen and Dylan (to whom his voice bears an unmistakable family resemblance), his lyrics have a Villonesque flourish that only a French proletarian poet could wield. Throughout the 70s and 80s he was the public conscience of his country – often much to its dismay. Calling down national hypocrisies and – unforgivably – making merry with the French language, Renaud kept the whole nation turning on a spit.

Then he married and became a father. Some whined about the conjugal turn some of his songs took, but the halogen candour he once brought to politics he now turned on domestic life. His love songs were devastating: an adulterer begs his wife not to leave, without quite being able to articulate why not; a parent forbids the child he's just beaten to run away from home.

And then Renaud just… disappeared. Much later we'd learn that he'd poured so much alcohol on his family that his wife took the kid and left. Then he lost his recording contracts. Then his friends.

One morning eight years later he woke, showered and shaved, and called his old studio to book time.

"Not possible," he was told.

Why not?

"Renaud is dead."

Renaud assured him he was not, but with that implacability only those who know the French can fully conceive, the voice on the phone would not relent.

In the end he had to call a collaborator from his previous life, and, after a similar conversation, ask him to call the studio and book time.

The result of those sessions was 2002's Boucane d'enfer (a play on "unholy racket" and "whiff of Hell"), Renaud's all-time bestselling album.

I wish the story ended there, but sadly the intervening years have brought relapses: lost weekends, lost weeks, lost months; a second wife departed with a second child. Renaud battles addiction like a rat with a boa constrictor: he survives, but he doesn't win.

And the press haven't been kind, to say no more.

Which is why this song, appearing after yet another long silence, belted out in Renaud's trademark working-Paris growl, grown breathless and broken, hit me so hard.

Because it sounds just like him, and so different. Because his voice reminds me of my past, and also of my own serial resurrections. And because I've always loved curses spat in the face of a bully.

Here-follow the lyrics. As usual the translation is mine, and it's been the usual heartbreaking grind. How do you land the one-two punch of « Qui me dépriment, et qui m'impriment » with the English "Who depress me and print me?" (You'll see what I went with below.)

There's also profound poignance in a hooligan like Renaud suddenly opting for the inoffensive; « nom de nom », a softer form of the French "God dammit!", has a pathos that "dang it" doesn't really convey.

More globally, the song just comes off as more petulant and defensive in English. The original French is more along the lines of "nice try, dickweeds", with a warm sense of renewal and reunion.

But not to translate would leave non-francophone readers in the dark, and that's not something I'm prepared to do.

So, with apologies for the treason, the gist:

par Renaud

Toujours vivant, rassurez-vous
Toujours la banane, toujours debout
J'suis retapé, remis sur pieds
Droit sur mes guibolles, ressuscité
Tous ceux qui tombent autour de moi
C'est l'hécatombe, c'est Guernica
Tous ceux qui tombent, tombent à tour de bras
Et moi je suis toujours là

Toujours vivant, rassurez-vous
Toujours la banane, toujours debout
Il est pas né ou mal barré
Le crétin qui voudra m'enterrer
J'fais plus les télés, j'ai même pas internet
Arrêté de parler aux radios, aux gazettes
Ils m'ont cru disparu, on me croit oublié
Dites à ces trous du cul, j'continue d'chanter

Et puis tous ces chasseurs de primes
Paparazzis en embuscade
Qui me dépriment, et qui m'impriment
Que des ragots, que des salades
Toutes ces rumeurs sur ma santé
On va pas en faire une affaire
Et que celui qui n'a jamais titubé
Me jette la première bière

Toujours vivant, rassurez vous
Toujours la banane, toujours debout
Il est pas né ou mal barré
L'idiot qui voudrait m'remplacer
Je dois tout l'temps faire gaffe
Derrière chaque buisson
A tous ces photographes
Qui vous prennent pour des cons
Ceux là m'ont enterré
Un peu prématuré
Dites à ces enfoirés j'continue d'chanter

Mais je n'vous ai jamais oublié
Et pour ceux à qui j'ai manqué
Vous les fidèles, je reviens vous dire merci
Vous m'avez manqué vous aussi
Trop content de vous retrouver
Je veux continuer nom de nom
Continuer à écrire et à chanter
Chanter pour tous les sauvageons

Toujours vivant, rassurez-vous
Toujours la banane, toujours debout
Il est pas né ou mal barré
Le couillon qui voudra m'enterrer
Depuis quelques années, je me suis éloigné
Je vis près des lavandes sous les oliviers
Ils m'ont cru disparu, on me croit oublié
Ces trous du cul peuvent continuer d'baver
Moi sur mon p'tit chemin j'continue d'chanter

Still alive, rest assured
Still smiling, still standing
I'm reconditioned, back on my feet
Steady on my pins, resuscitated
People falling all around
This place is a slaughterhouse, it's like Guernica
All these people falling, discarded en masse
And me still here

Still alive, rest assured
Still smiling, still standing
Ain't been born, or else just out of luck
The jerk who's gonna bury me
Don't do no more TV, don't even have Internet
Don't talk to radio or newspaper types
They thought I was dead, think I'm forgotten
Tell those assholes I'm still singing

And then all those bounty hunters
Ambush paparazzi
Who depress and im-press me
All the scams and scandals
All these rumours about my health
We won't pay them any mind
And let him who has never stumbled
Buy the first round

Still alive, rest assured
Still smiling, still standing
Ain't been born, or else just out of luck
The jerk who's gonna displace me
I gotta always look
Behind every bush
For those photographers
Who think you're all dumbshits
Those guys buried me
A bit too soon
Tell those jackasses I'm still singing

But I never forgot you
And to those who missed me
You the faithful, I'm back to say thank you
I missed you, too
Delighted to see you're still here
I want to carry on, dang it
Carry on writing and singing
Singing for all the untamed

Still alive, rest assured
Still smiling, still standing
Ain't been born, or else just out of luck
The wanker who's gonna bury me
I've been away for a few years
Living close the ground, beneath the olive trees
They thought I was dead, they think I've been forgotten
Let the assholes blather on
Here on my little journey, I'm still singing

Renaud Printemps de Bourges 1978 (crop)

(1978 photo of Renaud Séchan courtesy of Paul Kiuj and Wikimedia Commons.)

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

WW: Steel penny

(Found this on the cellar floor beneath my grandfather's house. It's a 1943 steel penny. [Here magnetically stuck to the refrigerator.] From a time when American copper was needed for other things.

And on a tangentially related note: this is Post #500 for Rusty Ring!)

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