Friday, January 26, 2024

Notes From A Holocaust WINTER TOUR 2024


On Sunday I fly to Los Angeles with my daughter, Leila, on the occasion of her 18th birthday.  The last time I took a trip like this with Leila -- just the two of us, with no other family members -- was, I think, when I could still pass her off as what the airlines call a "lap baby."

When a kid is under two years old, at least in the US, you can just fly with them on your lap, they don't even need ID.  I flew with Leila like that frequently, up until she was 2-1/2.  By that stage, when she was clearly six months too old to be an official lap baby, I was just hoping as we boarded the plane that she wouldn't say anything too sophisticated, that might make the airline workers wonder, but if any of them ever suspected she was over two years old, they never said anything. 

Soon after those early travels together, Leila started going to kindergarten.  By the time she was old enough to decide whether she wanted to go on tour with papa or stay home with her two mamas and her friends at school, there was apparently no contest, and my offers to take her on tour somewhere were consistently rejected, understandably enough.  Adults are pretty boring, after all, when you're a kid and you have the easy option of hanging out with other kids.  And when you're an academically-inclined kid, taking weeks away from your studies might not be such an attractive idea, either.

But now Leila is done with high school and not yet in college, where she seems to be heading by autumn, and months earlier she had brought up the idea of joining me on the road sometime.  Of course I was overjoyed by the notion.

It was just an accident of timing that we're going where we're going together, for the most part.  We had at one point been planning on a different trip, mid-2023, but then there were scheduling conflicts with that one, and I suggested the next trip I had planned, which happens to be mostly in France.

It's a happy coincidence, because unlike her monoglot father, she speaks not only English and Japanese, but French, as well.  Her grandmother Nadia was from Alsace, and generations later, thanks in no small part to the support of the French government to support French nationals studying in the French language internationally, French fluency in the family continues.  The French government paid her tuition for the French International School she went to for most of elementary school, here in Portland, Oregon.

As can be readily observed by anyone looking at the tour graphic up there, there aren't a lot of gigs, for us being away for a whole month.  There's an exciting reason for this, which is that most of the time we're spending in France -- most of the first 18 days of February -- we'll be working on a new album project, spending time all together in a big house with other musicians from elsewhere in the US as well as from France, Ireland, and Australia.

After Leila and I spend a few days in southern California -- along with concerts in Topanga and Los Angeles -- we fly to southern France.  There will apparently be a lot of documenting of various kinds going on surrounding the album project, and I'll be sharing things along the way, I'm sure. 

On February 18th, if the train drivers aren't on strike, we'll head up to London.  In addition to doing concerts in London, Hastings, Leicester, and Portsmouth, we'll also be in London for what supporters of imprisoned journalist Julian Assange are calling Day X, the dates at the Royal Courts of Justice that may be his last chance at avoiding extradition to the US. 

If you're in California, France, or England, I hope to see you somewhere over the course of the next month!

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

PRESS RELEASE: Notes From A Holocaust album is out

Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter David Rovics has released a new album, in remote collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and studio wizard, Chet Gardiner, in Hawai'i.

David has written dozens of songs about the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination, or just existence, over the course of the past 24 years, since he wrote "Children of Jerusalem" during the very notable and horrific events in September, 2000 there at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Notes From A Holocaust is unique, however, in that every one of the 20 songs on the album was written between October and December, 2023, and each one documents a somewhat different angle or covers a particular horror story from the still-unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people.

Songs on the album appear in the order in which they were written.  "As the Bombs Rain Down" was the first song he wrote in the cycle, on October 13th, and it attempts to portray the reality of the Israeli bombardment that has been largely censored from the coverage of the biggest western media outlets.

The next track, "Stop the Genocide," documents the massive worldwide protests that began with the unprecedented bombing campaign.  "From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea" explains the meaning of this phrase that western pundits and politicians have intentionally misconstrued for propaganda purposes.

"Wounded Child -- No Surviving Family" tells the story of the acronym, WCNSF, that doctors have written on so many of the youngest residents of the Gaza Strip since October 2023.

"Humanitarian Pause" highlights the farcical nature of taking a break from a genocidal carpet-bombing campaign to distribute a little food and medicine before resuming the slaughter.

"Once the Last Palestinian's Killed" explores the possible future in a world where Palestinians are treated the way other victims of genocide in the past have been treated, such as European Jews or Native Americans, with their artifacts displayed in museums.

"Famine and Disease" is a musical effort to disseminate the statements coming from the many UN agencies that have been trying to raise the alarm for months now that famine and disease will soon overshadow the numbers killed from the bombing.

"The Pogroms of Judea and Samaria" highlights what's been going on in the Occupied West Bank while Gaza has getting carpet-bombed.

"The Apocalypse Will Be Televised" explains that although it is being broadly censored in the western press, the Palestinian Holocaust is being covered in full color by hundreds of incredibly brave Palestinian journalists.

"Baby Jesus Lying in the Rubble" is a musical illustration of the nativity scene displayed at the Lutheran church in Bethlehem.

"Just Like the Nazis Did" is a verse-by-verse description of some of the many and extreme similarities between the Israeli regime and the Nazis.

"They're Killing Off the Journalists of Gaza" names some of the over one hundred Palestinian journalists who have been killed, along with their families, in Gaza since October, and before October.

"They Were Raising A White Flag" tells the story of the Israeli soldier-hostages who tried to get rescued by Israeli troops, but were instead all shot to death by them.

"Where Did All These Terrorists Come From?" is a satirical spoken word piece that takes a solid jab at the media outlets and Israeli spokespeople referring to the thousands of resistance fighters in Gaza, Lebanon, and elsewhere as "terrorists."

"Song for the Houthi Army" thanks Ansar Allah in Yemen for their courageous stand in defense of the Palestinian people, on the Red Sea.

"Land and Freedom" is a song reminding us of what the Palestinian struggle, and every other struggle for national self-determination, is really all about.

"Indiscriminate" illustrates the targeting of doctors, ambulances, journalists, children, and others in Gaza who are being killed in massive numbers.

"It's Christmas Eve" is the second song on the album about a nativity scene in Bethlehem.

"Antisemite" is a satirical song about the many false reasons why anyone who is against the genocide of Palestinians gets labeled as Jew-haters.

"If A Song Could Raise An Army" is a song that wishes it were an army that could go defend the people of Gaza against their genocidal killers.

The album is currently out on Bandcamp., and is available to download for members of David's Community-Supported Art program.  By the end of January it will be out on Spotify, Apple Music, and all the other music streaming platforms.

David will be on tour for various stretches of 2024, playing in Oregon, California, the northeastern US, France, England, and Australia.  Anyone interested in organizing a show, doing an album review, or doing an interview is most welcome to contact David directly.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Mold, the Dust, and the Bathtub

And other things that trigger powerful memories.

The most unsuspecting activities can produce the most powerful recollections.  The smell of a certain kind of soap can give me a rush of memories from a squat in Copenhagen twenty years ago, like it all happened last week.

The dangers of mold and dust are things I've learned about for the first time, over the past decade.  It may be the case that our apartment complex is particularly prone to mold because of shoddy design, lack of maintenance, and the fetid pool of water that usually lays beneath the building.  But I've also discovered, perhaps belatedly, well into middle age, that mold tends to happen in places where you have, say, a bunch of boxes sitting next to a wall for years.

I have lived a very mobile life ever since leaving home at the age of 18 or so.  A rolling stone gathers no moss, mold, or dust.  Why would anyone live in a small apartment and have boxes of stuff that they are storing in closets and under beds, for goodness' sake?  I certainly never used to do that sort of thing.  In any case, I have learned to make sure there's a bit of space in between the boxes and the wall, for air to pass through, and then the mold doesn't grow.

It's the same kind of thing with dust.  Dusting and other forms of cleaning is surely a fine thing, but again, if you're moving all the time and using all your few possessions on a regular basis, dust just doesn't tend to accumulate much.

I have a couple of friends in Toronto, one of whom developed a very serious dust allergy.  She and her husband are both big readers and book collectors.  They hated the idea of getting rid of their extensive book collection, so instead they put all the books behind glass, and installed an air circulation system in their house.  Even serious readers don't touch most of those books often enough if they have thousands of them, to prevent dust from being a serious problem.

In our apartment it's not the books that are the problem.  Like the mold, the dust is related to the boxes.  What's in the boxes?  There may be a box or two with other things in them, but at least 95% of any boxes in this apartment contain CDs.

When Spotify started their free tier in 2013, I never got the note about it, and I figured I'd keep on selling CDs like I had been doing in 2012.  So in 2013 I ordered another 1,000 copies each of three different albums that I was running low on.  This sort of thing was normal for me at that time, and had been for decades.

I've still got most of those boxes.  Initially, because it was a large re-order of CDs, I hijacked space wherever I could find it.  Beneath our bed, beneath our daughter's bed, in our closet, in her closet, a little in the living room.  Initially.  

But then they just sat there.  2013 was the beginning of the end of touring for me regularly within the USA.  With the CD income gone it was no longer financially viable.  You gotta come home with more money than you left with, or it doesn't work for very long.

There they remained, and remain, as a constant reminder of the death of my performance career, or to be more charitable about it, its transformation from a career that involved constant touring to one that involves producing online content and begging for donations in return.

This would be a painful enough reminder in itself if not for the fact that my seven-year-old son has a dust allergy.  The air filter we got last time there were big forest fires nearby has helped.  But if Yuta is coughing one morning and cleaning the air filter doesn't make it stop, the next thing to try is getting a damp cloth and wiping down all those many boxes of CDs, which will have developed another film of whispy grey matter on top by then.

What reminds me most often and most intensely of the career as a touring performer in my own very large country that I once had, though, is the bath.

I gather not everyone's memories work like mine does.  Many people experience trauma and then get reminded of it all the time and remember it all the time, and their lives are pretty rough.  For me, the occasional traumatic experiences get less painful over time and I eventually largely forget about them.  While the most wonderful memories can easily be provoked with the right kind of stimulation, such as being immersed in hot water.

It's not that triggering the memories makes everything better -- far from it.  These are indeed happy memories, but they last a matter of seconds, before being replaced by the awareness that my reality these days, although full of domestic loveliness, is otherwise so isolated and atomized, the feeling of being part of anything bigger than a nuclear family unit usually seeming like little more than an unrealistic longing now, or something I can only experience vicariously online, or when I leave the USA.

But wow, how good it once was, I'm reminded every night, as I enter the bath.

I take baths so often because of family life.  Reiko is Japanese, and in Japan the whole family takes a bath together every night, when the kids are small.  As with many other Japanese traditions, this is a very nice one, a pattern very easy to fall into. 

Our eldest daughter, now almost 18, still has boxes of my CDs under her bed and in her closet, along with several of my musical instruments.  She's used to it by now.  Though she teases me about it now and then, good-naturedly, she knows it's just the price of having her own room, since that's been the case ever since that ill-fated CD reorder over a decade ago now.

She stopped bathing with the whole family a long time ago, which is good, because it's a small bathtub.  Our youngest two are seven and five, and they still fit in the tub with Reiko and I, just barely.

It used to be, for many, many years of living on the road as a touring musician, playing at protests and college campuses and lots of other places, I would shower regularly, just because that was my preference.  I'd never take baths, unless it were in a hot tub or a hot springs, and generally outdoors, as these generally are.

As a traveling musician I became familiar with lots of different corners of the country, including where to find the nicest and most affordable hippie hot springs resorts.  I haven't been to Harbin Hot Springs in northern California since long before the fire that destroyed it, though I've heard it's back running some form, but that's the place I used to visit most often.

I first went to Harbin in the 1980's, when I was living in Berkeley for a time.  All the local folks knew about it, and if they had a car, it was the sort of place most people could afford to go for a weekend now and then, and they did.  You drive inland for a couple hours, through some very windy roads after you pass through Calistoga, and then you're in the middle of the woods, at Harbin Hot Springs, where there used to be cozy wooden structures nestled between the trees where you could rent a room for less than you'd pay for a Motel 6 for a night, but what an impossible comparison.

Down the walkway from the various places where people might spend the night, which included lots of even more affordable camping possibilities, were the actual hot springs.  

There was a big pool with room for a couple dozen folks at a time, which was around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), which in my book is the perfect temperature for an outdoor hot tub or hot spring.  This is also a common temperature for a hot tub, and I've been in many hot tubs, particularly when traveling on the west coast, and they're usually kept at around 104 degrees.  So there are lots of possible memories that might be provoked by a bath that's around that temperature.

Just beyond the big pool at Harbin was another, much smaller pool, with a cave-like feel to it.  This pool was 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 Celsius), which is much hotter, the kind of temperature that makes your toe nails feel like they're going to curl up and fall off.

Reiko likes to run very hot baths, which our children have long become accustomed to.  They may or may not consistently hit 112 degrees, but they're way over 104.  As soon as I feel that sensation in my toenails, I'm momentarily transported to Harbin Hot Springs.

Sometimes it's like every visit I ever had to the place, from the 1980's to the 2010's, flashes before my eyes, like when you're looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.  Other times I'm struck with a particular memory from a visit to Harbin.  A particularly wonderful intimate moment.  Holding her in the hot spring, floating.  Walking along a wooded trail and feeling the dew from the leaves brushing off on my face.

When most of my touring was in the United States, which was the case for the first twenty years of my musical career, it would be hard to say how often I'd end up in California, but suffice it to say that out of a typical year of touring the country, I'd do gigs all over that giant state at least twice a year, often much more than twice.  It got to the point where even though I might have been ostensibly living at the time in Connecticut or Texas, I had a membership at Harbin, because I was going there often enough that the discount I got through that was worth it.

I remember once traveling on my own, in some situation where I was in fact considering paying for a room in a Motel 6 one night, somewhere in northern California.  Then I looked at a map and realized I could drive to Harbin Hot Springs and get there within two hours, and pay about the same amount, which is what I did.  Usually, though, I traveled with someone, because touring is often more fun that way.

The last few times I went to Harbin, after maybe 15 years of me going there multiple times in a given year, there would sometimes be an uncomfortable moment as I drove into the place with whoever I was traveling with.  As relaxing and wonderful as the environment there was, I began to have a brief sense of shame sweep over me as I'd approach the little structure with a person in it who would check your reservation and all that.  It was a less stressful version of the same kind of feeling I'd have when attempting to cross the Canadian border.

In normal life, even people who know you quite well only know so much about you, in terms of the nitty gritty details.  Certain people will tend to know a lot, about certain areas of your life, which sometimes means knowing more about yourself than you do.  Like when you visit a doctor who might be looking at your whole medical history.  That doctor may be the only person alive other than me and my mother who knows that I had surgery on my big toe when I was 16, for example.

Crossing the Canadian border and handing over my passport, you can see the expressions on the faces of the people from Immigration when they look at my file.  There may be various statutes of limitation on criminal records.  Your past transgressions may not be visible to a potential employer, if it was more than seven years ago.  This is not the case with the border authorities, who are seeing a record of every time you've crossed the border in your entire life.  Which times you were found with a roach from a joint that you didn't manage to find on the floor of the van.  Which times you were turned away because you hadn't done your work permit filing correctly, or you were trying to cross the border without one.

Crossing the checkpoint into Harbin, if the person in the little hut was a woman, as was usually the case, I'd eventually be prepared for the possible momentary glare.  On the occasions when I'd get one of those, I could only guess at what she was thinking, which always remained unspoken.  But the gist of it seemed evident.

Everyone who enters has to show ID, and whether it's a driver's license or a passport, they write down the name and number.  And every time they would pull up my file, they'd be faced with a list of the names of the people I had come to Harbin with over the years, what countries they were from, and their passport numbers.

In my mind I would translate those glares into words, and feel a bit sheepish.  What if I told this nice young lady sitting in your passenger seat that she was the fourth woman you've brought here who had an Australian passport?

My lovers were generally well immersed in the cult of polyamory.  I was happy, though, that this list of names and passport numbers was confidential information.

Here at home in Portland I often get into the bathtub first, and I'm the only one to experience the hottest moments of the bath.  It's not a hot tub or a hot spring, and it's not a heated bathtub like they have in Japan, either.  The water cools rapidly, and by the time the temperature has descended by a few degrees and become reminiscent of more normal-temperature hot tubs, like the ones I've been in frequently with the kids, the memories of Harbin fade again.  

I settle back into the present, deeply appreciating the beauty of each member of this lovely little nuclear family.  It's a wonderful domestic life, so rewarding in so many ways.  But in decades past, living in America at a different time, and maybe more relevantly in different parts of it, domestic tranquility could mix just fine with regular public activities nearby as well.  

That changed a long time ago, somehow or other.  As I soak in the water, and soak in the beauty of the beings in the bathtub with me, I find myself once again reflecting on modern life in the USA for formerly-touring American artists like me -- and, according to statistics, for so many other people out there -- and wishing modernity here did not seem almost inevitably to come hand-in-hand with such social isolation.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Life and Death in the Shadow of Genocide

As the bombs continue to rain down on Gaza and the world races ever closer to World War 3, in the rest of the world, life goes on, as does death.

For my entire lifetime and far beyond it into the past, my country has been perpetrating unspeakably terrible crimes around the world, involving long periods where you can wake up every morning knowing that since you went to bed, your country's foreign policies have definitely and violently taken the lives of several hundred or more innocent people, whether due to carpet-bombing in Vietnam, rounding up and slaughtering communists in Indonesia, killing all the Indians in Guatemala, demolishing entire cities in Iraq, or any number of other things.  

No matter how involved you may be in trying to change the ways of your government with concern to such abhorrent policies, no matter how deeply you feel the pain of the victims of the empire you live in, you somehow have to continue to get up in the morning, brush your teeth, make breakfast for the children, and live another day of life, such as it is.  For all of us, to one degree or another, we must compartmentalize the suffering of others, or we'd stop reliably doing things like eating, sleeping, and being good parents.  But unless you're a member of the blissfully ignorant or successfully brainwashed sectors of society, the compartmentalization is always only a matter of degree.

For whatever combination of reasons, perhaps because of the scale of the carnage, the industrial nature of the slaughter, the plainly genocidal rhetoric coming out of the Israeli establishment, matched by practice, perhaps also in combination with the iconic position Israel holds in the popular imagination of the US establishment and all the high-tech weaponry we're constantly shipping over there, events of the past three months have tended to cut through any efforts at compartmentalization for me, and for so many other people I know.

It surely also makes a big difference that there are journalists on the ground in Gaza filming their own deaths and the deaths of everyone around them.  I recently heard from someone from Sudan who was wondering if I might have a song to write about what's happening there, the thousands killed and the millions displaced by the fighting between two factions of the military that's been going on since last April.  I don't have a good reason why I haven't written a single song about that war, while I've written twenty about the war on Gaza.  I'm sure it would be different if there were an English-language TV station covering events in Sudan the way Al-Jazeera is covering Gaza.

Like so many others in my somewhat Palestine-oriented social circles around the world, I go through the motions of living another day of life, appreciating more than usual the wonderful little institutions full of other happy children and fun, engaged adults working and playing with them.  Not only because the scene contrasts so unbearably with the wounded survivors of massacred families huddled together and shivering in the sewage-flooded streets of Rafah.  But also because with the children taken care of, I can focus entirely on whatever I'm going to do that day to try to bear witness to and raise awareness of the genocide that is unfolding in all its horror by the day, forever hoping that the next song might somehow have an impact.

Meanwhile, life in all its beauty continues, along with death with all its regularity.  Beauty that at another time I would have captured in photos and videos and shared on Instagram.  Death that at another time I would have written a remembrance about and published it somewhere, had only one person died.

Yesterday it was taking longer than planned to get home from an outing with the little ones, and they were talking about going home, and why they were looking forward to getting there.  My seven-year-old said "I love home because there are video games and board games in it."  My four-year-old said "I love home because it's warm, and there's a heater."  

It's easy to imagine why Palestinians have the highest rate of heart attacks in the world.  I'm not Palestinian and I don't live under Israeli occupation or bombardment, but my heart could barely stand the contrast between how part of it was melting due to these adorable children talking about going home, and part of it was frozen with the thought of the clattering teeth of the toddlers with no blankets suffering through another freezing night in Gaza while the bombs fall around them.

There were a couple of gatherings with family and friends during the holidays, but these were houses with a Palestinian flag planted in the yard in one case, and a "boycott Israel" bumper sticker on the car in the driveway of the other one.  Nonetheless, this was a week with more than a little shopping, cooking, and gatherings involving visitors, good food, and merriment, along with a lot of very dire adult conversation on the sidelines.

As bleak as I feel so much of the time lately, the idea of disrupting holiday events in order to tell shoppers that there's a genocide going on always feels to me like we think we're telling them something they don't know, which seems arrogant.  Sure, I don't feel much like partying these days, but most of these shoppers have kids that they're trying to give a good life to, just like parents everywhere want to do for their kids.  The fact that they're out singing together or visiting Santa isn't necessarily an indication that they don't care about Gaza.

In other societies, when people take over the streets it's not seen as a disruption to business as usual by most people, because it is society itself that's in the streets, which is abundantly obvious to anyone there, in cities like London, or Havana, or Amman.  The football fans in so many countries around the world displaying massive banners in the stadiums aren't disruptive fans -- they are the fans.  Particularly when it comes to certain football clubs with a reputation for being leftwing or associated with a national independence movement of one sort or another, these banner-hangings are not at all controversial.

In any case, whether we're disrupting shoppers in the US or taking over the stadium in Spain, while we try to do what we need to do, feed the children and such, it's not just life that goes on, but death as well.  Not only the deaths of hundreds of women and children each day under the rain of Israel's bunker-busting missiles, but all the other random people who live and then die, some of whom happen to die during a time when a whole lot of other people are doing that, in a more dramatic fashion.

A number of people have died in other parts of the planet, since my attention has been obsessively elsewhere.  By far my least favorite of them, and the only one that I publicly acknowledged thus far, was Henry Kissinger, in song.  But around the time he died we lost Shane MacGowan, as well as the woman with whom I first heard Shane MacGowan's band live, Jo Custy.  And then in the past 24 hours or so, both John Pilger and Klee Benally.

Henry Kissinger famously became a centenarian before he died.  John Pilger made it to 84.  I have been reading Pilger's essays, watching his documentaries, and reading his books since I can't remember when.  Supporters of imprisoned journalist and fellow Australian, Julian Assange, will be familiar with Pilger as one of the ones who consistently stood by Julian, regardless of what kinds of wild accusations were being made about him at the time.

I guess it was a couple years ago now that I was on top of an open-air double-decker bus that had been rented by the Don't Extradite Assange campaign, providing a bit of musical infotainment about the imprisonment of Julian Assange through the very loud sound system built into those buses you can rent.  As the sound from the bus bounced between the tall buildings we were driving past, we occasionally had to duck to avoid the branches of trees that had grown downward faster than the tree-trimming crews could keep up.  

At some point during the ride I noticed that John Pilger was sitting nearby, and nobody was bothering him at the time, so I did.  It was my first and only time meeting him in person.  I thanked him for all his great work, particularly for writing the history of Australia, A Secret Country, which was where I first got the low-down on how the CIA overthrew the Australian administration of Gough Whitlam in 1975.

The awful bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip had been going on for seven weeks when the headlines informed me of the death of Shane MacGowan.  It was during the same week that I also learned of the death of Jo Custy.

Coincidences happen, of course.  But this was a fairly strange one, as they go.  Shane MacGowan, for those who don't know the name, was the leader of the Pogues as well as the Popes, and was one of the greatest band leaders of modern times.

Many people would credit MacGowan and the Pogues with being the musical pioneers of a sound that is sometimes referred to as Celtic Punk or Folk Punk.  You can read about the Pogues, and me, among others, on the Folk Punk page on Wikipedia.  Giving them the credit for inventing this musical genre is probably more about the workings of popular culture, who gets a hit and who doesn't -- for the record, Alistair Hulett's band, Roaring Jack, was absolutely doing Celtic Punk in Alistair's adopted home of Australia back in the 1970's.  One of their great songs was about the CIA's overthrow of Gough Whitlam, "The Days of '75."  But they never had a hit.

In any case, Shane MacGowan and all of his bands were amazing.  The one time I heard MacGowan live was post-Pogues, in the summer of 2000.  

I was doing my first tour of England and Ireland.  I had been living in Germany, briefly, and so I thought I should try to do more gigs in other European countries, and I organized a tour from emailing contacts in folk music-oriented publications that listed folk clubs and who to contact about playing a gig at them.  No one in England knew me or my music yet, and most of the gigs barely had attendance in the double digits.

The first gig on this little tour was at the Crawley Festival.  I think it's the only festival gig I ever got by emailing the festival organizers.  The main thing I noticed at a small festival in England, there in a mostly working-class suburb in between London and Brighton, was that you could sing songs related to the labor movement without people thinking you were from Mars, which was very refreshing.  Otherwise the gig itself was nothing special.

Being at the festival was, though, because that's where my traveling partner and musical accompanist Rich Caloggero and I met Jo Custy. 

One of the first things I noticed about Jo, aside from her being small, energetic, and wearing leather, was that she was Irish.  Until just recently I thought Shane MacGowan also grew up in Ireland, but he actually was largely raised in another London suburb, by Irish parents.  Jo did grow up in Ireland, but had been living and working for years in England.

Her enthusiasm for this little suburb and for this little festival were a joy to be part of that weekend 23 years ago.

There are different sorts of festivals.  Some are off on a farm in the countryside, from small ones like Glastonwick to huge ones like Glastonbury, and most people coming to the festival bring tents and camp there for the duration.  Then there are festivals hosted by little towns like Crawley, where most people are coming for the day from some nearby suburb, to which they will return at the end of the evening.  But a few people were using the space allotted for camping at the Crawley Festival, and although she lived very nearby, Jo was one of them.

We waited at the front of the stage along with 200 or so others for Shane and the Popes' set to begin.  They eventually arrived, two hours late.  Consistent with his reputation, Shane appeared to be staggeringly drunk.  At times I wondered whether he was as drunk as he appeared, though, because the performance, though not on schedule, was fabulous, featuring some of the best accordion-playing I've ever heard, whoever that accordion player was.  A man in a wheelchair directly in the front of the stage shouted "rubbish!" enthusiastically after every song, I remember.

Jo decided to join Rich and I on our visit to Ireland, and to set up a gig for us as well, at a pub in the city of Ennis, where she grew up.  The crowd was large and enthusiastic, and included many relatives and friends of Jo's.  I remember meeting her brother, who was as big as Jo was tiny.

I also remember that after the gig we were all upstairs in another section of the pub, hanging out.  Some drunk guy was flirting with Jo in a way she did not appreciate, and so she took what probably seemed like the easiest way out of that situation at the moment, and sat down on my lap.  I held her affectionately and the conversation with various folks including Jo's brother continued.

While Jo was sitting on my lap, the drunk guy who had been harassing her sat down next to me and slightly behind me, and whispered into my ear.  

"You're a dead man."

I remained calm.  He was drunk, I reasoned, and he was also surrounded by friends and relatives of the woman who was sitting on my lap, for whom I had just given a concert.  I don't think this guy had been at the show.

Having gotten no reaction from me, he whispered the phrase again, adding the question, "did you hear me?"

"Yes, I heard you," I replied, without moving, Jo still sitting on my lap.

The drunk guy left, and I never saw him again.

Shane MacGowan made it to 65.  Jo died much younger.  I recall the Jo I met as being younger than me, so I think she might not have hit 50 yet.  After our travels together in 2000, I saw her a bunch of other times, in those southern suburbs of London as well as in Wales, where she lived for a time.  From the many lovely remembrances of her that can be found on her Facebook account since she died, no one has mentioned how she died, though I believe she was having some kind of health issues, which may or may not have been related to her penchant for alcohol, another quality she shared with Mr. MacGowan.

If my recollection of the timing of things that happened so long ago are correct, it was a few months before I met Jo that I met Klee Benally.  He was speaking at a rally for Big Mountain in Flagstaff, Arizona, at a time when there were hundreds of people who had come from other parts of the world to stand with the people there, in their struggle against the total destruction of their land by a coal company, and their eviction from it.

I had come to Arizona at that time by way of Germany, traveling with a number of Germans who were organizing around solidarity with indigenous struggles in North America and elsewhere, and Germans who were specifically focused on what they call "the nuclear chain" -- starting with the uranium mines that then and now litter Navajo country.  The Germans and I, along with a particularly large contingent of activists from Minnesota, and others from France and lots of other places, spent time on the reservation, helping the folks known locally as "the grandmothers" make their stand, keep their land, and herd their sheep.

Within a few months of meeting Klee, I found myself on a tour of Europe, opening for his band, Blackfire, traveling with them and a small contingent of German anti-nuke activists who had organized the tour.  We were also traveling with the band's parents -- Klee, Jeneda, and Clayson were all siblings from Navajo country, raised by a Navajo man named Jones and a New Yorker named Berta, who had left New York long ago, but was still a quintessential New Yorker, talking as much as her husband didn't.

The siblings were all in their twenties then.  The concerts we were doing began with a hoop dance performance from Jones and his adult children, which always impressed the crowds, whether they had any idea they were going to be witnessing such a performance or not.  Whatever expectations audiences had from a band of siblings from Navajo country were generally shattered within seconds of Blackfire's shows, as soon as the screaming, distorted guitar kicked in and Klee's gravelly, shouty, death metally singing began. 

At the time, Klee was the one who was particularly immersed in the global justice movement of the day.  Like so many other people around the world that I knew then, he was involved with running an infoshop in Flagstaff, and involved with the Indymedia movement.  I saw Klee a couple times since that tour of Europe way back when.  Once playing at that infoshop a long time ago, and marveling at the backpacks they were producing to distribute to Indymedia activists in Indian country, which had solar panels on them, to try to contend with the chronic problem of the lack of electricity access on so many of the reservations, such as in the sprawling Navajo nation.

Another time was in San Francisco, where there was something happening in the federal court there, and dozens of folks came over from Big Mountain, along with their supporters.  This was also a long time ago.

When I first got an Instagram account, many years after all that, Klee was one of the first people I followed.  I don't remember if I was just looking for people I knew on the platform that I wanted to follow, or if he came up somehow, but I've been following him on the platform for a long time.  One of so many people I've known in life who I started following on Instagram, thinking regularly of getting in touch, dropping them a line more substantial than just "liking" a post, but never getting around to it.  And now it's too late, as with so many things.  Klee was 48.  I don't know the details about how he died either, but a friend from Arizona sent out an article from the Navajo Times.

Since I began writing this blog post yesterday, hundreds more women and children have been killed in Gaza, and 2.3 million people there are on the brink of famine, or already starving.

Linda Wiener's Echo

When people die, they leave behind many different kinds of echoes. There were a lot of people back in the 1960's like Ken Kesey who, for...