Archive for mars, 2003

José, Tony, George and the chief of Portugal

søndag, mars 16th, 2003
We are a great nation.
We are the finest people on the face of the earth.
– George W. Bush

Sunday evening. The television is tuned to CNN for some reason, and I’m spoon feeding one of the small people in the sofa, trying to catch any spark of sanity should it emanate from the glowing cathode ray tube in front of me.

Four middle aged men, each one in dire need of a cold beer, something to be proud of out in the garage and a good time with their respective women. Getting drunk. Fool around. Get laid. That sort of thing.

We already had a war. Now try something else.

My mind starts to wander off. It’s a Saturday and I’m a small pub somewhere in England. It is late June, and the retired paratrooper who drove me and my friends here through the downpour talks about Suez and 1956. He explains in painstaking detail about jumping out of the transport plane and into the baking oven that is Port Said. He tells me that USA vetoed Britain, France and Israel’s military action to take the Suez Canal back from Nasser. They vetoed in the UN Security Council. Apparently, there was a quite a disagreement.

The aging soldier explains that yes, of course there was a disagreement. The CIA staged a coup to rid Egypt of the British puppet King Farouk, replacing him with the infamous General Nasser. When Nasser turned against his employers in Washington, they tried twice to assassinate him without succeeding. He then simply proceeded to declare the Suez Canal his own private property. Or something.

The solution in this case was unfortunately not your ever-present neighbourhood bully.

Sailing around Cape Town is terribly inconvenient when all you want is to go to the Persian Gulf. I can certainly agree to that. The captain on the aircraft carrier that shoehorned itself through the Suez Canal a couple of days ago also probably agrees.

There’s Tony. To the left of him is José, and to the left of him again is George. The last guy is the chief of Portugal. He’s the owner of the island they are on. What’s his name again? He says nothing.

My mind wanders off again. It’s a Friday and we’re heading towards Tel Aviv in a taxi. Muhammed is driving us into town for sixty hours of rest and recreation while telling us about Syria. We hear the story of how the CIA staged a coup, instating some army general as president. When he denied running mid-east errands for uncle Sam, the protectors of the free world staged a couple of Syrian coups without getting anywhere.The general’s name? Husni Za’im.

Syria is in the UN Security Council now.

I put my kid to bed and sing him a song about how good all the rabbits in the world are sleeping. He doesn’t know where the Azores is, and he probably never will.

This time my mind stays put. Instead, I walk over to the bookshelf and the computer to see what they have to say on the matter. Turns out they had a lot of info on US “policy” and the Middle East. With all these failed attempts, I wonder how many actually worked and why they think it’s going to work this time.

See for yourself.

The USA and the CIA and the Middle East.

  • 1953: CIA overthrows elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh from Iran. What do the world get instead? Reza Shah. Yup, the Shah. It all ended dreadfully in 1979 of course.
  • 1958: Lebanon gets a brand new pack of leaders, installed by the CIA. They stopped shooting at each other in 1991. Right on.
  • 1958: In a chaotic period of coups, murders and counter-coups, all mounted by the British and the CIA, one Saddam Hussein ends up as the Iraqi leader. More on him later.
  • 1960: After the CIA engineered the assassination of Egyptian president Abdel Nasser two years earlier, they needed a new guy. They got Anwar Sadat. Since he’s so corrupt and nobody seems to like him, he dies in a spray of Kalashnikov bullets in October 1981.
  • 1969: Libya’s King Idris - another British puppet ruler - is replaced with Muammar Qadaffi by the CIA. Nice move. When Qadaffi raises his oil prices and declares that Libya is being robbed of their oil by the west, Washington stops thinking of him as “our guy”.
  • 1980: The US and the British helps Mr. Hussein with money, intelligence, weapons and training so Iraq can invade Iran. Iranians, after all, were really bad guys.
  • 1983: In order to get rid of the Syrian influence in Lebanon, CIA attempts to install yet another regime in Beirut. It ends with 450 kgs of TNT exploding, the death of 309 US Marines and almost the entire resident CIA staff. Way to go.
  • 1986: US assassination attempt on Muammar Qadaffi. The one with bomber planes fail, as well as the three ones involving CIA-trained Libyan exiles. Hard to get good people these days.
  • 1996: Saddam is really getting on CIA’s nerves, so they set up Iraqi exiles to assassinate him. Saddam infiltrates the plot and the whole thing collapses. CIA’s entire Iraqi network of spies is rolled up, and CIA’s boss loses his job.

George is on the screen now. He says that tomorrow is the moment of truth.

George, I think the moment of truth was years ago.

Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz

onsdag, mars 5th, 2003

Once upon a time I was fourteen years old and played in a band with four of my friends. We had a good time doing jangly renditions of Black Sabbath numbers inbetween the dreams of eternal stardom and plenty of screaming girls. My guitar playing buddy used to stand next to me when we rehearsed. He owned a copy of The Beatles’ Live at the Hollywood Bowl, a record consisting entirely of screaming teenage girls. We were pretty sure our first concert would have screaming teenage girls, but first we had to stop sharing the old Roland amplifier. Real rock stars had walls of Marshall’s. We had seen it in Kerrang! so it had to be true.

Then there was the no-name bass guitar. No matter where you looked, it gave no clue as to who had made it or where it came from. To shift the coolness balance a little, I spent hours copying the Motörhead logo onto a piece of paper and applied it to the back of its body. I can only imagine what Mr. Kilmister would have said had he seen it.

My grandfather got word of my foray into the world of performing arts. He had attempted to teach me how to play the accordion when I was nine, but I gave up. I suck at learning from others.

My grandfather, all three of his brothers, my mother, all of my mother’s cousins and two of my great grandfathers was or had been musicians. Almost everyone in the extended family in the small town played some kind of instrument. I was the only one who listened to Motörhead.

One day he came to our house and told me I had gotten my first job. Him, my mother’s uncle and me were hired to entertain a crowd of senior citizens on their annual senior citizen’s club dinner. Needless to say, I was less than excited. I tried to look annoyed, but to no avail. He dragged me to his house to practice an insanely long repertoire of polka, waltz, several types of folk dance I can guarantee you you’ve never heard about, and to add insult to injury, the evergreens of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

We practiced and practiced, my grandfather, my mother’s uncle and me. An accordion, a semi-acoustic guitar and an electric bass with no name. My mother’s uncle told me the chords he played, I tried to duplicate them only to have my grandfather throw in some lessons on harmony to confuse the situation slightly more. I learnt to play things by ear that week.

On the big night I was plastered with stage fright. The old hands tried to comfort me the best they could, but their bassist was seemingly beyond rescue. At one point I overheard them discussing whether a bottle of beer would calm my nerves. That’s how sweaty my palms were. Ultimately I had to make it through the musical purgatory on drink offerings from the kids menu. Sex and drugs and rock and roll.

The job lasted until midnight, and my grandfather politely refused to do requests because of me. On the whole I got through it with my honour intact, proven by the fact that I became a hired hand for the two figures on several occasions after that. I cannot remember if I ever got paid in money.

I don’t know if it was my grandfather’s trust in me or the diversity of music I got to play that made me a more confident musician. My regular band’s distorted interpretations of Snowblind became less jangly in any case. The only thing we thought still sucked was our singer, but he was our ticket to the Disneyland of screaming teenage girls, so - well - he got to stay.

Years later I was reminded of those special times with my grandfather and my mother’s uncle while horizontally listening to The Waterboys and the casual ambience of Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz. If you need to get lost in music, earphones are a prerequisite by the way. All music has an inherent value to it, be it moshing in front of Cliff Burton (which I did in Oslo in 1986), losing my voice at an AC/DC concert (which I did in 1995), the steadfast beat requirements of a Finnish Tango or - the funniest of all - being called from the crowd to back someone singing something you really hate.

I am still the only one in my extended family listening to Motörhead though.

***

Jimmy Hickey’s Waltz is an instrumental on The Waterboys’ 1988 album Fisherman’s Blues. It’s written by Steve Wickham, Anthony Thistlethwaite and Mike Scott. The waltz clocks in at 2:07 and is played by Trevor Hutchison on an unwieldy upright bass, Steve Wickham on the fiddle, Anthony Thistlethwaite on a mandolin and Mike Scott himself on drums.

Apart from the fiddle, the waltz sounds fairly close to my grandfather, my mother’s uncle and myself entertaining a crowd of senior citizens one summer night in 1981.

And Jimmy Hickey, who was he? From 1986 to 1990 he spent his days as a roadie for The Waterboys. On the cover of Fisherman’s Blues he’s found back row centre wearing sunglasses and a beard. He also did some of the artwork on the inner sleeve.