Friday, June 29, 2007

POUND (a short film by Evan Bernard)

The ultimate inside handshake:

DJ Oakenfold Plays Concert w/Boston Pops

Pioneering DJ sets sights on Hollywood

By Jason Szep2 hours, 3 minutes ago

Paul Oakenfold is famous as a DJ, but this week the pioneer of "trance" dance music assumed the unusual role of playing with a 75-piece orchestra for well-heeled, champagne-sipping classical music lovers.

By playing in one of America's oldest symphony halls with the Boston Pops, he is remixing the conventional image of a DJ -- a job that has itself morphed from obscure nightclubs to celebrity status as DJs tour the globe like rock stars, put their spin on popular music and produce original work.

In an interview with Reuters, the 43-year-old Briton said his Pops performance reflected the evolution of DJs and dovetails with his work scoring music for Hollywood films such as "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Collateral."

"I'm comfortable with an orchestra because of working in film. I'm just trying to attempt more and more," said Oakenfold, who moved from Britain to Hollywood five years ago.

"From these couple of shows we are already in talks maybe to tour something around the world and hook into local orchestras," he said. "It's a challenge for me and something that I would enjoy doing."

But playing with the Boston Pops in such an intimate setting caused him some anxiety.

"I'm so used to people dancing right here in front," he said from the stage of Boston's Symphony Hall, surrounded by CD players, a turntable, synthesizer and mixer.

"They are just going to be sitting there looking up at me, so I'm a bit worried," he said before performing.

Oakenfold, one of the most influential figures in global club culture of the past 15 years, is known for remixing songs by Madonna and U2. His audience has developed beyond nightclubs into stadiums filled with thousands -- at fees as high as $50,000 a gig.


The Boston performance, touted as a world premiere by the Boston Pops, was ambitious.

Oakenfold mixed samples and pre-recorded drum tracks, "scratched" on a turntable by nudging a vinyl record back and forth against the stylus, and played a synthesizer as the orchestra performed and a drummer kept pace with an electronic drum kit and another synthesizer.

The piece, part of a nearly two-hour "EdgeFest" concert by the Pops, was written by Los Angeles composer Felix Brenner and drew loud applause.

As Oakenfold played, some of the electronically produced parts were barely audible over the orchestra, creating moody atmospherics, although one section featured thundering electric bass drums that clearly startled the audience.

"You're talking about human versus the machine," said Brenner, describing the addition of a DJ to the orchestra as a live "symphonic remix."

"We're pushing that envelope. I approached a lot of different people to do this but most were scared of the idea. But Paul said 'That sounds cool.' So we got together with it."

Oakenfold's two-day Pops performance comes as classical music is gaining popularity.

Thanks to "crossover" acts such as Josh Groban, classical was the fastest-growing musical genre in 2006, with album sales up 22.5 percent. Meanwhile, many popular genres fell, including rap which dropped 20.7 percent, and R&B, which was down 18.4 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Oakenfold, who last year toured with Madonna and remixed Justin Timberlake's single "My Love," said the music that made him famous -- house and trance -- will never be as mainstream as hip hop and other music popularized by the likes of MTV.

"You just don't have the artists and the videos, radios are not playing it," he said.

The Boston Pops, famous for light classical music, is in the third year of its "Pops on the Edge" series that has also featured singer-songwriter Aimee Mann and soulful Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket as it seeks a broader audience.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Indigenous Mexican Seri versus National Tourism

Ancient Tribe at a Crossroads
Mexico's Reclusive Seri Confront the Inevitable March of Development

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 28, 2007; A18

PUNTA CHUECA, Mexico -- Gloria Sesma clamps tough stems of desert limberbush between her front teeth, shredding the plant into the floppy strands she needs to weave graceful baskets.

Sesma's lifelong work has worn her top teeth down to tiny stubs, much like the teeth of other women in this remote Gulf of California village, home to Mexico's most reclusive indigenous people, the Seri Indians. She and her daughters adhere to traditional techniques, so it can take 10 months of shredding and weaving to make a single basket.

But Sesma's family also reflects new realities for the Seri, a tribe at a crossroads. While eight of her children married within the tribe, a ninth -- her son, Ezekiel -- piqued the family by breaking with tradition and moving away last year to marry a non-Seri woman.

Now, the Seri desire for insularity is being tested on a larger scale. The inevitable march of development is forcing the Seri to confront fundamental questions about their future, questions that will help determine whether one of the last truly autonomous tribes in Mexico melds into the greater society or stays walled off from the world.

"The community is really at this huge crux point," said Jay Roberts, a professor at Earlham College in Indiana who studies the Seri. "They're a case study for what's happening to indigenous people around the world."

The tribe's two villages -- Punta Chueca and Desemboque -- lie directly in the path of the largest Mexican tourist development in a quarter-century. Under a still-evolving plan, hotels and condominiums will sprout along the coastline in much the same way that another generation of Mexicans transformed Cancun and Acapulco from sleepy outposts to resort havens. Change seems inevitable here, whether the development pierces the Seri's land or merely spreads up to its borders.

The Seri hold dominion over more than 450 square miles of heavenly coastline, where for centuries they have scooped crabs, prowled the desert for medicinal plants and fought to keep away outsiders. They once lived nomadically, moving between fishing encampments on the mainland and their main settlement on Isla Tiburon, Mexico's largest island, which is separated from Punta Chueca by a narrow but treacherous waterway known as Little Hell Channel.

In the 1960s, the Mexican government declared Isla Tiburon a nature preserve and forced the Seri off the island, resettling the tribe in squat cinder-block homes in Punta Chueca and Desemboque. The tribe, which now numbers less than 1,000, lives in harsh desert conditions -- fresh water has to be trucked in, and there is very little modern plumbing.

The Seri make money off the scallops and crabs they take from Little Hell Channel, as well as their baskets and ironwood carvings. Under an agreement with the government, the tribe also receives income from the sale of permits to U.S. hunters, who pay $50,000 or more annually for the right to kill bighorn sheep on Isla Tiburon. The money doesn't go far, though, leaving the Seri in garbage-strewn villages.

Punta Chueca, a four-hour drive from Tucson, is a place of unexplained contradictions. Shiny new cars -- some allegedly stolen -- sit in front of ramshackle homes where the occupants sleep on dirt floors. Stray dogs roam about, while children with dirt-smudged faces go days without soap or water for bathing. Some youngsters return to homes outfitted with satellite television dishes and watch Mexican soap operas.

Though their territory is in Mexico, the Seri don't consider themselves Mexicans -- Mexicans, they say, are people who live outside Seri lands. There have been occasional gunfights between the tribe and authorities from the state of Sonora entering Seri territory to investigate crimes. Sonora's governor, Eduardo Bours Castelo, has complained about "the backwardness of the Seris."

"We're hardheaded," Sesma's husband, Ernesto Molina, 58, said one recent afternoon. "We don't even want visitors. We don't have much contact with the people of Mexico. Mexicans are not welcome here."

Molina, who ekes out a living from fishing and guiding the few tourists who can find his village, shuffles between Spanish, which he learned from Mexican fishermen, and the obscure Seri dialect, which Roberts estimates is understood by as few as five non-Seris. The dialect is said to be at its most lyrical when a leatherback turtle beaches and the Seri sing ancient melodies to coax it back to the sea.

Molina considers such traditions sacrosanct and is bothered by the intrusions of outsiders and their ideas. That's why it was so hard for him to swallow what happened a few years ago during another Seri rite, the New Year's celebration on June 30, the end of the tribe's calendar year. A young Mexican visitor caught the eye of his son, Ezekiel, during the festivities.

A romance flowered, and not long afterward, Ezekiel announced he wanted to wed. A few other Seri had married outside the tribe, but Molina never thought it would happen in his own family.

"I was sad," he said.

Ezekiel, though, could not be dissuaded.

"For me, she was a person, even if she wasn't Seri," Ezekiel Molina, now 33, recalled recently. "I don't think that way -- I'm not racist. I reject discrimination."

He left Punta Chueca, crossing the 20 miles of rutted desert path that connects the village to the small beach town of Bahia de Kino. But life outside the village has unfolded badly. He can't adapt to regular work schedules and struggles to raise his daughter with the few pesos he earns from occasional work as a tattoo artist. He says he feels uncomfortable in a society where drug use is common, though in the years since he left his home village, illegal drug use has become a major problem among the Seri.

He has thought about moving back, but he isn't sure. Outside the village, he and his family use modern medicine when they get sick. When he returns to the village, he sees his father at the medicine woman's hut, picking up remedies derived from desert plants. His daughter doesn't understand his brothers and sisters -- she speaks only Spanish.

Ezekiel's departure from this village is part of a trickle of Seri, most of whom migrate between Punta Chueca and Bahia de Kino so that their children can attend better schools. Pedro Torres, 41, the only Seri to earn a doctorate, relocates his family at the beginning of each school year to Bahia de Kino. There, his children discovered Power Rangers cartoons and have become fluent in Spanish.

His wife, Blanca Lidia Monroy -- Seri women do not take their husband's last name -- sat in a side yard of her home one recent afternoon weaving baskets while one of her sons flipped through a recently published Seri-Spanish dictionary, the first of its kind. Monroy smiled, flashing the dentures she got to cover the damage done to her teeth by stripping limberbush stems.

At the end of each school year, when she returns to Punta Chueca, her neighbors give her funny looks, she said. Some shun her.

"Things never change there," she said. "They don't understand why I would leave Punta Chueca for my children's education. They don't understand that I want something more for my children."

Torres, who works an hour's drive away in the city of Hermosillo as a state indigenous education specialist, calls the retirement developments sprouting north of Seri territory a "red alarm" for his people. He shivers when he hears the village elders urging his people to insulate themselves further.

"We have to face reality," Torres said. "Sooner or later, we're going to have this conflict with all this development. They're going to come down here and want to build hotels and we're not going to be prepared to stop them."

The only way to save Seri culture, Torres said, is for young people to leave the villages, get an education, then return empowered by new ideas. Other indigenous peoples in Mexico have done the same, he said, salting local governments and businesses with young professionals while retaining their sense of tribal identity.

But the Seri, he said, are mostly content to wall themselves off. Even the road into their village seems unwelcoming, he said. One recent afternoon, an SUV full of non-Seris rolled toward Punta Chueca. Three young boys waited at the entrance. When they saw the vehicle, they launched a hail of rocks.

Defacing Street Art as Protest

June 28, 2007
As Street Art Goes Commercial, a Resistance Raises a Real Stink

The covert campaign targeting street art began about seven months ago, with blobs of paint that appeared overnight, obscuring murals and wheat-pasted art on walls in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Arcane messages were pasted at the sites, but it was difficult to ask for an explanation. The author was never identified.

Then in November, during a panel discussion on women and graffiti that included a street artist called Swoon, a figure wearing a hooded sweatshirt flung a sheaf of fliers using similar language from a balcony overlooking an auditorium at the Brooklyn Museum. Swoon was among those whose work had previously been struck by paint, and some couldn’t help wondering whether the person who threw the fliers was also the Splasher, as the perpetrator of the paint attacks had come to be known.

Web sites, magazines and newspaper articles reported about the splatterings. Some wondered about the motivation and identity of those responsible, but the Splasher — or Splashers — remained anonymous.

The most recent episodes came this month, in two incidents involving what seemed to be stink bombs lobbed at shows of street artists on the Lower East Side and Dumbo. And some in the art world believe the identify of the Splasher may have been revealed. Last Thursday night James Cooper, 24, was arrested at the Dumbo show after witnesses accused him of attempting to ignite a homemade incendiary device in a metal coffee canister.

Mr. Cooper was charged with third-degree arson, reckless endangerment, placing a false bomb, criminal possession of a weapon, harassment and disorderly conduct. He was arraigned and released on his own recognizance, a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said.

That show featured works by Shepard Fairey, who had been one of the prominent targets of the street splatterings. Mr. Fairey said there wasn’t yet enough evidence to tie Mr. Cooper definitively to the paint blobs, but acknowledged apparent parallels.“Maybe the stink bomb thing was their way of being disruptive without using paint and while penetrating a more controlled atmosphere,” he said.

Two days after Mr. Cooper’s arrest, a group of people showed up at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in Chelsea, where a reception was being held for Mr. Fairey. Without identifying themselves, they distributed copies of a 16-page tabloid with the title “If we did it this is how it would’ve happened,” with a cover photograph of an image created by Mr. Fairey defaced with paint.

Inside were reproductions of the communiqués that were pasted next to the sites of many paint attacks and appeared to draw inspiration from the writings by the Situationists, a group of political and artistic agitators formed in the 1950s, and a 1960s anarchist group called Black Mask.

In often bombastic language those fliers condemned the commercialization of art and included statements saying that the wheat paste used to affix the fliers had been mixed with shards of glass. An essay in the paper given out at the gallery scoffed at those who had difficulty understanding the fliers and added footnotes clarifying parts of them. One footnote stated that the tabloids had been dusted with anthrax.

In a series of essays and in text that appeared under the headline “Interview With Myself” the anonymous authors said that the splashings were committed not by an individual but by a group of men and women, and offered some explanation of their motives.

The authors wrote that street art was “a bourgeoisie-sponsored rebellion” that helped pave the way for gentrification, and called it “utterly impotent politically and fantastically lucrative for everyone involved.”

The writings also criticized people prominent in the world of street art, including Mr. Fairey and Swoon, the art collectives Faile and Visual Resistance, and Marc and Sara Schiller, who run a Web site about street art called the Wooster collective (

“There is a very strong viewpoint there, and there’s an element of interest I can’t deny,” Mr. Schiller said. Still, he said, “I don’t agree with the perspective and I don’t think the assumptions are accurate.”

Previous incidents of agitprop were described, and the authors claimed responsibility for assailing a mural in Williamsburg by the reclusive British artist known as Banksy, and for hurling paint at a billboard advertising sneakers on Lafayette Street made by an artist called Neckface. Because the authors are unidentified, it isn’t known for sure whether they are indeed the Splashers. An e-mail address was published in the paper but a message sent by a reporter to that address on Tuesday night went unanswered.

The distribution of the paper at the gallery and its mailing to two Web sites that write about street art has stirred speculation, but many artists remain focused on Mr. Cooper, who so far is the only person who has been publicly identified as having a possible connection to the art attacks.

In a brief interview on Tuesday morning conducted near his home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Mr. Cooper declined to discuss details of his case but said that he was not guilty of wrongdoing and that he was not the Splasher.

Still, Jonathan LeVine, a gallery owner who was at the Dumbo show, insisted that Mr. Cooper was one of two men seen trying to light a device and who fled when approached.

“One of the two people came back and guys I know grabbed him,” Mr. LeVine said. “The two people were together by all accounts.”

The man who was grabbed was Mr. Cooper. He waited, crouched in a corner of the 6,600 square-foot space, as some of the 14 security guards hired for the event stood nearby. Then the police arrived and arrested him.

The man who was said by witnesses to be with Mr. Cooper made it out of the show. But people involved in street art said that detectives are searching for a second suspect and are also inquiring about the newspaper.

Although the paint splashings have been viewed with a mixture of aggravation and amusement, Mr. LeVine said that the attempt to light an incendiary device during a crowded art show was foolish and reckless.

“They could’ve killed someone,” he said. “It’s not O.K. to jeopardize people’s lives.”

The earlier suspected stink bomb attack took place June 7 when a show in an exhibition space on Chrystie Street displaying work by a two-man street art collective called Faile was disrupted by a noxious odor that witnesses said smelled like sulphur. Firefighters arrived, said a member of Faile, and said that somebody had called in a report of a gas leak.

“This kind of thing is silly,” said the Faile member, who declined to give his name. “They’re hiding themselves so you can’t have a discussion with them.”

Perhaps the street artists will eventually have a chance to confront their antagonists directly. One of the last pages of the newspaper published by the self-proclaimed Splashers sounded a note that could be interpreted as ominous, or optimistic, depending on your point of view.

“Don’t worry,” it read. “You’ll be hearing from us again.”

Al Baker contributed reporting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Today is Juneteenth. Check it out here or here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tavener: Christian Composer, Inspired by Allah’s 99 Names

June 17, 2007
Christian Composer, Inspired by Allah’s 99 Names


FOR anyone in Britain and for millions of television viewers elsewhere, a defining image of the year 1997 was the aerial view of the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, inching through the darkness of Westminster Abbey. And the defining soundtrack to that image was a stark lament sung by the abbey choir that captured the moment with heart-stopping potency.

Overnight the worldwide exposure of “Song for Athene” transformed John Tavener from a distinguished classical composer into a public figure. New fans registered his odd appearance: tall and thin, with long hair parted in the middle and the ’60s-pop-star look of shirts unbuttoned to the navel. He was re-evaluated. He was knighted. And for many he became almost a spiritual guide: All his work was steeped in Christianity. Or, as he liked to say, “primordial tradition.”

Although English-born and -bred, Mr. Tavener, 63, turned in the 1970s to Eastern Orthodoxy, mirroring its stark, sluggish severity and tonal structures in his music, which, like his conversation, came with allusions to St. Dionysus the Areopagite, St. Gregory of Nyassa and other blissfully obscure divines. His scores bore titles like “Diodia,” “Apocalypse” and “Agraphon.” And being slow, spare and repetitive, they earned him the affectionate but slightly mocking label Holy Minimalist, a term that survivors of his three-hour “Resurrection” or seven-hour “Veil of the Temple” might challenge.

Most of his output these days tends toward the huge, praising God across long time spans with enormous forces in vast spaces: more events than concerts. And the event to have its premiere in Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday could be considered one more example, but it does something likely to unsettle Mr. Tavener’s devotees. Instead of Christian words it sets a text from the Koran.

Given the times, this is newsworthy, and variants on “Tavener Goes Muslim” headlines have already surfaced in the British press, along with items that report his loss of faith and disenchantment with the Christian church. None of which is true.

But for Mr. Tavener to have written “The Beautiful Names,” a meditation on the 99 names of Allah, commissioned by no less than Prince Charles, for performance in a Roman Catholic cathedral does raise certain issues. For one, the charge of opportunism. For another, the risk that Muslims, who don’t exactly value music in worship, might not be appreciative.

“Well, if you look at it like that,” Mr. Tavener muttered in his endearingly distracted way recently, “I suppose it could be a can of worms I’m opening. I’ve no idea what Muslims will make of it. I haven’t really asked. But right after the London premiere, it’s being done in Istanbul, and no one seems to have raised any objection there.

“All I can say is, it’s a wonderful text — basically a list of names, some of majesty, some of mercy — that I’ve set as theophanies: as soundings-forth on the nature of the divine, with music that reflects their meaning. The Beneficent, the Opener, the Subtle. ...”

And the Dangerous?

“Yes, that’s one of the names. The Koran can be quite fierce at times. Not that I’ve read it all, or in the original Arabic. That’s beyond me. But I have a brother who’s a Sufi, and he finds God in the Koran in ways he can’t in the Bible. A loving God. That’s there as well.”

The matter-of-factness with which Mr. Tavener talks about his brother the Sufi is disarming, since the Tavener family is in every other respect quintessentially English middle-class business stock: respectable, patrician, people who drive vintage Jaguars and Bentleys. There is one of each parked on the grounds of Mr. Tavener’s home, a comfortably disordered farmhouse by the parish church in an attractive Wiltshire village, with (when I was there) what looked like several years’ supply of cat food piled up in the hallway. It’s the stuff of Country Life magazine. Or Horse and Hound.

But enter the barn, and you discover that it has been turned into the kind of Orthodox chapel you would more likely find on a Greek hillside. Enter the stables, and you see the huge American Indian powwow drum that appears with regularity these days in Mr. Tavener’s works. It all contributes to the incongruity of a contemporary composer who with some justification considers himself “rather radical” for writing music that echoes the distant past. A composer who, like Bach, devotes his life and work to God but who keeps the pop-star look.

In a sense the unbuttoned shirts pay homage to the past. Mr. Tavener first came to attention with a noisily iconoclastic entertainment called “The Whale,” which was first performed at the debut concert of the London Sinfonietta in 1968 and was seized on by the Beatles, who had started dabbling in the avant-garde. Recorded on their Apple label, it propelled the young Mr. Tavener into fashionably swinging circles.

Then along came Orthodoxy, with a vengeance. Always drawn to Christianity, Mr. Tavener spent his youth playing the organ in a Presbyterian church and programmed spiritual content into early works: even “The Whale,” which was built around the biblical story of Jonah. But his discovery of the Orthodox faith concentrated all that into an artistic identity. And with the zeal of a convert he became, as he now says, “dramatically” Orthodox.

His works were not for entertainment; they were “icons”: musical correlatives of timeless, emotionally impassive Byzantine portraiture, conceived as aids to prayer and windows on the world beyond. Mr. Tavener dismissed the idea of progress or development as meaningless; all art had reached perfection in “primordial” times, so everything the modern West had produced — even the spiritually motivated West of Bach and Bruckner — was in error.

And he morphed into a cultural ayatollah: popular with general audiences who were pleased to find a “serious” composer writing music that was easy to absorb, but isolated among his professional peers.

“It bothers me,” he said, “that I don’t really have any composer friends. It would be nice if I did.” But maybe the time is approaching. As “The Beautiful Names” makes clear, Mr. Tavener has changed. He hasn’t abandoned Orthodoxy. He remains devotedly Christian. But his mind and ears have opened out.

“I reached a point where everything I wrote was terribly austere and hidebound by the tonal system of the Orthodox Church,” he said, “and I felt the need, in my music at least, to become more universalist: to take in other colors, other languages.”

It was a gradual process in which his devotion to the East as the true source of God-centered art began to absorb elements of Hinduism, Islam, even Shamanism. But it was specifically during composition of “The Veil of the Temple” — his 2003 all-night vigil, first performed at the Temple Church in London before a reduced version at the Lincoln Center Festival — that a defining event occurred.

Mr. Tavener had, he says, a vision. And in the same unremarkable way that he talks about his brother the Sufi, he explains that his vision involved a visit from an Apache medicine man. “I’d been looking everywhere for this big powwow drum, a wonderfully primordial sound, to use in ‘The Veil,’ and a friend rang me up to say she’d found one and would bring it over. When she came, she brought the medicine man too. I think he’d been performing healing ceremonies at Stonehenge or something like that. And after he’d gone, I had a visionary dream, which I’m told is common after contact with such people who have a purity and intensity that Western man has lost.”

The dream, Mr. Tavener said, was a visitation, from the spirit of the mystical philosopher Frithjof Schuon. And what Schuon told Mr. Tavener was, in two words, loosen up. Be open, musically at least, to other possibilities.

A simpler, more straightforward reading of what happened might just be that here was a composer in his 60s softening with age. When I suggested this, he smiled good-naturedly and said, “It’s possible.” During his hard-line years he faced successive crises: serious illness, serious drinking, serious demons. Now his life is settled, brought to order by a lovingly no-nonsense, younger wife, his second, and the arrival of a third child. “I’ve become a peaceful family man,” he said. “It helps.”

Whatever the reason, he is no longer “dramatically” Orthodox or anti-Western. He listens to Bach with pleasure. He plays it on the organ of the church next door, which he happily tells you is the instrument on which Arthur Sullivan composed “Onward Christian Soldiers.” And primordial tradition?

“Well, it’s important,” Mr. Tavener said, “but you have to find a way of honoring it that communicates with modern man. It used to be a sort of tyranny for me. Now I feel free to wander further, so long as it makes metaphysical sense.”

His wandering into the Koran has taken time. According to the score “The Beautiful Names” was written several years ago. Has he been sitting on it, hesitating while political events unfolded?

No, he says. It has simply taken that long to fit together the large forces the piece requires, which include the Westminster Cathedral Choir, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (strategically placed in different parts of the building), the baritone soloist John Mark Ainsley and of course the powwow drum, which is ceremonially struck every 99 beats: one beat for every name.

Essential now to Mr. Tavener’s sound world, the drum will also surface in his next big work: an orchestral “Mass of the Immaculate Conception” that has its premiere in Zurich in December and travels to St. Thomas Church in Manhattan next spring. Congregants may be surprised to hear invocations to Hindu goddesses inserted into the Latin text. “A bit of a stir,” Mr. Tavener predicted.

So far there are no plans for the drum in what he is working on now: a comparatively modest hymn for the queen, intended, he says, to address the dearth of good new hymns since Ralph Vaughan Williams but also signaling his close connection with the royal family.

That Prince Charles was eager to commission “The Beautiful Names” is understandable in someone who has spiritual interests at least as exotic (some would say eccentric) as Mr. Tavener’s, and the prince has floated the idea of changing his monarchic title Defender of the Faith to the subtly more inclusive Defender of Faith. The two men have much in common: not least, a maverick, mockable sincerity that people laugh at from a distance but find curiously compelling face to face.

But the prince doesn’t put his money where his heart is. When I brazenly asked Mr. Tavener how much he had been paid for the commission, the answer was ... nothing. “That’s not how it works,” he said. “He gets somebody else to write the check. For this it was a lady from Japan, but I forget her name.”

Presumably it is beautiful.

80,000-year-old bling

Even the very first modern humans may have spruced themselves up with beaded bling.

Twelve shell beads discovered in a cave in eastern Morocco have been dated at more than 80,000 years old, making them one of the earliest examples of human culture. The beads are colored with red ochre and show signs of being strung together.

Similar beads have been found in other parts of Africa and the Middle East, suggesting the first Homo sapiens literally carried their penchant for baubles with them as they populated the world.

"If you draw a triangle covering the three furthest known locations of Homo sapiens between 75,000–120,000 years ago, that triangle stretches from South Africa to Morocco to Israel," said study co-author Chris Stringer of London's Natural History Museum.

"Shell beads are now known at all three points of that triangle," Stringer added. "So such behavior had probably spread right across the early human range by this time, and would have been carried by modern humans as they dispersed from Africa in the last 100,000 years."

The findings are detailed in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Oxford University's Institute of Archaeology and Morocco's National Institute for Archaeological Sciences led the project.

The beads found in Morocco aren't the oldest in existence. That title belongs to two tiny shells discovered in Israel in the 1930s and dated at 100,000 years old. The shells are pierced with holes and were probably also hung as pendants or necklaces, archaeologists say.

Combined, the finds hint at the extent of the culture and symbolism being practiced by the earliest modern humans. Art and decoration like the beads are considered good indicators of how human behavior evolved from Africa to other parts of the globe.

"A major question in evolutionary studies today is 'how early did humans begin to think and behave in ways we would see as fundamentally modern?'," said co-author Nick Barton of Oxford University. "The appearance of ornaments such as these may be linked to a growing sense of self-awareness and identity among humans."

Some researchers have suggested that humans didn't become culturally modern until they reached Europe about 35,000 years ago. But Europe, which doesn't show evidence of similar jewelry or customs until much later, actually lagged behind in cultural development, Stringer said.

"This research shows that a long lasting and widespread bead-working tradition associated with early modern humans extended through Africa to the Middle East well before comparable evidence appears in Europe," Stringer said in a 2006 prepared statement, commenting on the just-released, very ancient dates for the Israeli beads.

"Modern human anatomy and behavior have deep roots in Africa and were widespread by 75,000 years ago, even though they may not have appeared in Europe for another 35,000 years," he said.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bulgaria's last 3 dancing bears freed

Bulgaria's last 3 dancing bears freed

By VESELIN TOSHKOV, Associated Press Writer1 hour, 35 minutes ago

After a lifetime of brutal treatment, including walking on burning embers, Bulgaria's last three dancing bears will get to rest their paws at a mountain sanctuary, in an apparent end to the centuries-old performance tradition in the Balkans.

Activists on Friday bought the freedom of Mima, 8, Misho, 19, and Svetla, 17.

Bulgaria is believed to have been the last country in the Balkans where dancing bears still performed, even though the practice was outlawed in 1993, when there were 20 to 30 such bears in the country.

The three bears will join another 20 brown bears on Mount Rila at a 30-acre sanctuary for former dancing bears 110 miles south of Sofia.

"Our aim is to make their life more bearable in their remaining years," Ioana Tomescu of the Austria-based Four Paws Foundation, which created the sanctuary, told The Associated Press.

Throughout the Balkans, families — mostly among the Gypsy or Roma community — have long earned a living through performing bears. But the techniques to train them led the practice to be banned, and animal rights activists have moved to find the bears new homes.

The bears are captured while still young. Their nose or lips are pierced, and a metal ring attached to a chain is inserted; the pain ensures instant submission.

The cubs are forced to walk on burning embers or a hot sheet of metal, and hop from one hind leg to the other in order to escape the burning, while their trainer beats a drum. The process is repeated until the bear learns to connect the drum to the pain.

Because dancing bears are illegal, authorities could simply have taken Mima, Misho and Svetla away from their owners in the eastern village of Getsovo.

Instead, the Four Paws Foundation decided to pay for their freedom by giving their owners small grants to set up new businesses. It did not reveal how much was paid. In return, the owners signed declarations pledging never to take up the bear dancing business again.

Death Over Heavy Metal

Jesse Reklaw has any interesting website that he refers to as a "collective dream diary." Basically, people send in descriptions of their dreams and he turns them into four-panel comics at the rate of one per week. Some of them are hysterical, others merely fascinating. Every once in awhile there are music ones (there are great ones featuring Steely Dan, Snoop Dog, and Prince). Here's one from years ago that hasn't been posted to Reklaw's site yet because his archives don't go back that far. He also has books of his work, as well as the original artwork itself. Click on comic to read, then visit Jesse's site.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Aesthetics of Police Sirens

June 15, 2007
Earsplitting Symphony, With the Maestro in Blue

There is the yelp, an electronic yodel that grabs attention at intersections or kicks off chases. There is the wail, more traditional; it sounds like the windup police sirens of yore. There is the “ hi-lo,” dubbed the “European” siren by some, because it evokes the police chases seen — and heard — in French and Italian films.

The air-horn siren works well, officers say, for clearing intersections of pedestrians and getting the attention of speeding drivers. And the fast, or priority, siren sounds like an asteroid blaster from an old video game, and feels like a jackhammer assault on the ears.

That is the menu of sirens available to New York City police officers, each one making a specific impression, each at an officer’s fingertips. The sirens allow officers to choose sounds with a personal touch, like the conductors of a screeching, sound-bending orchestra.

And there is something new. Christened with a tantalizing name, the Rumbler, it sends out low, bone-rattling vibrations, so it is not only heard, but also felt. One has been tested on the streets of New York, but the jury is out on whether it is effective, offensive or terrifying.

Taken together, the sirens of the Police Department provide a remarkable — as well as cacophonous — audio record of policing today.

Every time you hear that distinct and invasive wail, which may not technically be a wail, chances are the police officer behind it has made a deliberate, even aesthetic choice.

The decision is wholly subjective; there are no guidelines. Officers are simply told to mix the sirens up.

On a recent spin around Manhattan, up the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and then down the West Side Highway, Officer Spiros Komis, who has been with the highway patrol for 20 years, offered up an aural palette of what sirens he uses, and when. What would he do if he were chasing a speeding driver?

“I go through the whole mode,” he said, his fingers hovering above a dash-mounted keyboard that controls a police car’s lights and sounds.

“But I might start with a wail,” he said, pressing a button. The air filled with a familiar nasal drone. “And then I’d go to a constant yelp,” he said, and the car began bleating. A red Acura driving ahead promptly pulled right, into the center lane, its driver nervously checking his speed. “Then I’d give a little bit of the air horn; I’d give it a little toot,” he said, and gave it a little toot.

“Most highway officers hit the air horn,” he said. A gray Toyota RAV4 that had taken the Acura’s place ahead of the squad car quickly swung out of the way, too, as its driver stared fixedly ahead. The car in front of the RAV4, a gray Volvo, also pulled out of the way.

“Like a hot knife through butter,” Officer Komis said, satisfied.

But sometimes sirens have no effect, no matter what they sound like.

“Elderly people are trickier,” Officer Komis said. “You might need to pull out the public address system. And an individual attempting to flee is not going to respond to anything.”

New York officers face stiff competition from other sounds, and few people are more accustomed to a constant assault on the ears than New Yorkers. Wearers of iPods are cocooned behind personal walls of sound, and drivers are snug inside hermetically sealed luxury cars.

Summer presents its own challenges: Car windows are up, air-conditioners blast and music usually does, too. Then there are cellphones, the near-constant honking of horns and all the other sirens: fire trucks, ambulances and so on.

“You live in New York, there’s too many sirens,” said Lt. Luis Perez, the commanding officer of the Police Department’s driver education and training unit. “We just hear too much.”

Police departments began using manual windup sirens early in the last century, and models with electrical motors around the Depression years. In the early 1970s, manufacturers introduced sirens with different patterns and frequencies, to address a growing problem: Officers in different police cars using the same frequency often could not hear each other when approaching the same intersection, a dreaded phenomenon known as the wash-out effect that is a recipe for a crash. The yelp, the wail, the fast and the hi-lo sirens were born.

During their four-day drivers’ training courses, police recruits are taught the importance of mixing up sirens. New police officers also tend to overestimate the power their sirens have, said Officer Daniel Donza, a driver trainer.

Another trainer, Officer Paul Cacioppo, said, “You can never be visible enough or heard enough.” (Still, officers are not allowed to use the siren without good reason. If they do, they can lose vacation days.)

Now comes the Rumbler. Maybe.

To experience it is to feel a little earthquake beneath one’s feet.

Robert S. Martinez, director of the department’s fleet services unit, says the Rumbler has brought pedestrians and traffic to a dead stop every time he has tried out the test model. Departments in Alexandria, Va., and elsewhere in the Washington area already have Rumblers, according to Tom Morgan of Federal Signal, a leading siren supplier. It works like a bass-heavy boombox, sending out vibrations through two woofers.

But though the Rumbler is bound to grab the attention of even the most jaded New Yorker, it may frighten too many people, Mr. Martinez said.

“It’s debatable whether this would be good or bad for New York City,” he said. “You don’t want to hurt people’s ears. Even though it’s a lower decibel, it almost seems offensive.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Horror of Disco Excess

I often defend disco music from its detractors; I love the analog beats, Latin influence, and the serious grooves laid down by many a rhythm section. But believe me, I am well aware of the horrible excess that was disco. I clearly recall my disgusted disbelief of seeing Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" on American bandstand, and the crap of the Village People, Xanadu, and the like. Even as a young,insecure teenager, I knew this stuff was crap. Here at Andrew Sullivan's website is a YouTube clip of a godawful movie appearance by the Village People, circa 1980. The film? "Can't Stop the Music." Well, somebody should have.
The horror...the horror...

If you survive that, the film version of YMCA is also astounding.

Okay, to continue this tour of disco pain, here is the aforementioned Rick Dees appearance on American Bandstand, one of the lowest points in music history. Of course, the reason this was on American Bandstand is because it had topped the charts.

SF? How Laurel Canyon Dominated the Summer of Love's Music

June 9, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
(Don’t Go Back to) San Francisco

Los Angeles

SHAKE the stems and seeds out of the Persian rug and put some flowers in your hair: the Summer of Love is 40 years old. The patchouli-scented commemoration has fixated on San Francisco, the Summer of Love’s blissful nexus. What wretched Midwestern longhair-in-waiting in the summer of ’67 could resist the siren of Scott McKenzie’s Top 5 hit, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”? Untold VW microbuses from Ann Arbor to Amherst chugged west on little more than the song’s purple-hazy promise: the tribes were gathering, and they were gathering in San Francisco.

But as a lasting cultural artifact, San Francisco’s Summer of Love can’t hold a stick of incense to the rafter-shaking sounds coming out that same year from a Los Angeles neighborhood 370 miles south, above the Sunset Strip. If we measure ’60s pop-cultural landmarks by the epoch-producing music they generate — and, from Liverpool to Woodstock, we do — then Laurel Canyon was the more evolved and influential destination that summer.

Laurel Canyon had been filling up with the baby boom’s brightest musical lights since 1965, when members of the Byrds, Los Angeles’s seminal folk-rockers, moved in, just as their version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” was a triumphant, worldwide smash. Soon, it seemed, every musician of note in Los Angeles had moved next door: members of the Mamas and the Papas, the Doors, the Seeds, the Turtles and Love were later joined by Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Frank Zappa, Carole King and untold transient rock royalty from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones.

By the summer of ’67, the Laurel Canyon mafia had defined the budding West Coast counterculture with an avalanche of generation-unifying songs that blended the last vestiges of the folk-music revival with the impudent exuberance of the British Invasion.

Laurel Canyon and Los Angeles were home to the murderers’ row of rock: alongside the Byrds — “America’s Beatles” according to the not entirely undeserved hype — lived Buffalo Springfield, from whose ranks would come Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay. The Mamas and the Papas, Laurel Canyon’s house band, had already recorded a string of landmark hits starting with “California Dreamin’.” The revolutionary flower-punk of Love produced the blistering “Seven and Seven Is,” a slap to the face masquerading as a hit single. The Turtles bounced the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” from No. 1 with “Happy Together,” and a couple of months later, The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” with brooding couplets that juxtaposed sexual longing and funeral pyres, rode the charts for weeks during the putatively flower-strewn summer.

San Francisco’s music scene developed under conditions vastly different from those in Los Angeles. Unstructured gigs at the city’s acid-drenched ballrooms encouraged epic jams of the sort perfected by the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Jefferson Airplane, along with a naïve anticommercialism — hit singles were for the hacks in Laurel Canyon. The irony is that San Francisco’s bands are remembered today chiefly for the few times they made commercially successful music, as with Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 “Surrealistic Pillow” album and its Top 10 singles “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.”

Where San Francisco’s music scene was administered by a handful of show-business novices, Los Angeles was home to Capitol Records, the Beatles’ label, as well as the world’s finest recording studios, producers and engineers. Laurel Canyon’s proximity to this infrastructure — the unsparing proving ground of the Sunset Strip’s clubs was a five-minute hitchhike away — instilled in the musicians a professionalism that stiffened the spine of the material they wrote and performed.

In the end, 1967’s most prescient generational temperature-taking can be found in yet another Los Angeles song that hit the Top 10 just before the Summer of Love took off. Buffalo Springfield’s chilling “For What It’s Worth,” inspired by Stephen Stills’s eyewitness account of police officers brutalizing longhairs on the Sunset Strip, questioned the motives of both the establishment and the self-congratulating counterculture. Given the turmoil that lay just around the corner in 1968, the paranoia of “For What It’s Worth” strikes deep and true: “there’s a man with a gun over there,” it turned out, would have as much to do with the baby boom generation as would wearing flowers in your hair.

The Summer of Love will forever be entwined with San Francisco. But the rock critic Robert Christgau predicted in 1967 that “the real music would come from Los Angeles.” And he was right. The songs that came out of the Haight that summer now seem fixed in amber, as temporal as a Fillmore poster, while the music from Los Angeles and Laurel Canyon soldiers on, impervious to age and ridicule.

Even the Summer of Love’s anthem, Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco,” was written and recorded in Los Angeles. The song was conceived by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas expressly as a come-on for the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, which Mr. Phillips and Lou Adler, the Los Angeles record producer, were organizing. The lyrics vividly imagine a hippie-sanctified San Francisco, but the flowers in the title are literally from Los Angeles: Mr. McKenzie recorded the song while wearing garlands of wildflowers plucked in Laurel Canyon.

Michael Walker is the author of “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock ’n’ Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood.”

From MySpace to the Radio: LaLa

From the Los Angeles Times
Just your average homie, really
LaLa sings about family, her neighborhood and her friends. On the cusp of breaking through, that won't change.
By Agustin Gurza
Times Staff Writer

June 9, 2007

LaLa was a struggling singer with a MySpace page, just a cool Valley girl posting some homemade music on the Web, when one of her songs was played on the radio last year. Fans started e-mailing that they'd heard her on the air, and she couldn't believe it.

"No, people must be trippin'," she thought. "They're confusing me with somebody else."

But they weren't. Bilingual DJ Julio G of KDAY-FM (93.5), a veteran of L.A.'s underground Latino rap scene, had stumbled across LaLa's website and was seduced by her sound, a sweet and smooth blend of West Coast hip-hop beats, a golden oldies groove and "a street L.A. Latina vibe," as her bio puts it. The afternoon DJ downloaded and then aired "La La La," a song that starts: "Let me tell you where I grew up at/ In the 818, straight true 2 that."

The radio play suddenly amplified the buzz surrounding the singer-songwriter, a gardener's daughter also known as Sad Girl whose Web page ( now has more than half a million views. At a time when the music industry largely ignores Southern California's massive Mexican American population, LaLa's story shows how the new democratic digital media allows overlooked artists to get noticed, no matter their ethnicity or social class.

"My success has a lot to do with the love that I got on MySpace," the singer, whose real name is Casey Romero, told me while she sat at the home studio of Pocos Pero Locos, the weekly Latino hip-hop show on Power 106. "It was just me, my computer and one or two producers that I worked with. So it was kind of like the voice of the people pushing it along."

Julio G, one of the first to play N.W.A in the late '80s, eventually introduced LaLa to Bryan Turner, former owner of Priority Records, the label that launched the seminal rap group from Compton. Turner signed LaLa to a management and production deal with his new film and music venture, Melee Entertainment, elevating the 26-year-old into a new orbit that could accelerate her career.

This week, the singer was shooting her first video — on location in the Valley, of course. She invited fans to participate in the shoot of her song "Homegirlz," an irresistible, finger-popping tribute to her barrio friendships.

"The girls love me on my MySpace and they hit me up because they like that I'm just like them," LaLa says.

But at 6 feet tall in heels with raven-black hair, white short-shorts and long, ooh-la-la legs, LaLa stood out like a goddess on grimy Van Nuys Boulevard. She may want to nurture an image "just like the homegirl on your block," but she sure knows how to act the part of a star.

On Tuesday, the crew set up on the sidewalk in front of Big Taco, a funky Van Nuys fast-food shack with security gates, peeling paint and delicious steak en molcajete. LaLa sat at a metal sidewalk table, gabbing and high-fiving with her homegirls over carne asada tacos. Later, she leaned coquettishly against the take-out window while singing the chorus into the camera with mesmerizing sincerity.

"Real homies always ask what's good wit you/ Real homies are the ones tellin you the truth/ Real homies even roll when they know you wrong/ My real homies know that this is their song."

LaLa doesn't disguise who she is and where she comes from. But references to her barrio background didn't always sit well with producers and record labels, she recalls.

"Two years ago when I first started to do music, I was really pushed to leave the references out. Producers were like, 'You need to think of a broader audience. That niche might be too small, LaLa. You're not going to sell that many records focusing on that.' "

That niche was her family, her neighborhood, her homies. It was all she knew. Why would she want to write about something else?

"I don't want to do this if I'm not gonna do it my way," she says. "Other artists rap [about] where they're from and their culture. They have a distinct sound and they use their slang, what's cool for them. Why can't we?"

LaLa grew up the oldest of five daughters who crammed into a two-bedroom house and shared a single bath, at times with their abuelita. Her father, Mark Manuel Romero, is an L.A. native with New Mexico roots who worked as a meat cutter and gardener to raise the family.

The household was so noisy that LaLa had to study with headphones on. Around the time she graduated from Van Nuys' Birmingham High School, two nieces and a nephew had also moved into the family home. The crowding was typical for the barrio, but hardly conducive to creativity.

"I was crossing out the days until I turned 18 so I could move out," she says. "It was just too hectic, too crazy. You can't really think in that kind of household, and you can't write."

On her home page, she lists influences from the freestyle of Debbie Deb to the rap of Snoop Dogg and the Latin rock of Santana. But she wouldn't be an L.A. Chicana without her love of lowrider oldies, what she calls a "doo-wop, Brenton Wood kinda sound" that gives her music an old-fashioned, high-stepping happiness.

LaLa's music is for cruisin' down the boulevard on a summer night or just chillin' on a lazy Sunday in the backyard. The gangsta life is not for her.

"I made it a point only of talking about positive things," says LaLa, who majored in Chicano studies during two years at UC Santa Barbara. "I don't carry a weapon, so I don't have to talk about any of that because that's not me."

All along LaLa has had a hard time explaining to producers who she is. There wasn't much in the way of media about Chicanos to show them, besides Lowrider magazine and DVDs of "Mi Familia" and "Mi Vida Loca." So she also tried taking them to Art Laboe oldies concerts and lowrider car shows, a lucrative circuit for Chicano performers.

"There are just a lot of stereotypes and stigma attached to the culture that mainstream producers haven't been able to get past," she says. "And it's so hard to explain because I'm so limited in the resources I can pool to give somebody a glimpse of where I grew up. It kind of goes to show where we're at, culturally. We're just not there yet."

Turner, who was unavailable to comment for this story, has been quoted as saying that LaLa "speaks to the contingent of disenfranchised Latinos that J.Lo and Shakira aren't speaking to," and represents a market that is "struggling to grow."

Melee is seeking major label distribution for LaLa's first album, due later this year.

Attitudes are starting to change, she says. But for Chicanos, a breakthrough is overdue.

"People are now opening their eyes," she notes. "They're like, 'Oh, there's something here that we've been sleeping on.' "


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Audio History of the Linn Drum Machine

Broadcast in England, apparently, a neat little history of Roger Linn and his influential Linn Drum Machine. From Music Thing.

Cuban Influences on New Orleans Music

This outstanding essay by Jack Stewart, a New Orleans historian, makes an excellent case for Cuba's influence on early jazz. I'm not sure if it has been published in print anywhere, but it was commissioned by Arhoolie records to go along with a release of early-twentieth-century recordings of Cuban music. Great essay.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bill Clinton's 2007 Commencement Speech at Harvard

It's a beautiful speech that I found linked at Andrew Sullivan's website. Read it

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

LA Times Reporter Describes Being a Woman in Saudi Arabia

Los Angeles Times
In Saudi Arabia, a view from behind the veil
As a woman in the male-dominated kingdom, Times reporter Megan Stack quietly fumed beneath her abaya. Even beyond its borders, her experience taints her perception of the sexes.
By Megan K. Stack
Times Staff Writer

June 6, 2007

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — THE hem of my heavy Islamic cloak trailed over floors that glistened like ice. I walked faster, my eyes fixed on a familiar, green icon. I hadn't seen a Starbucks in months, but there it was, tucked into a corner of a fancy shopping mall in the Saudi capital. After all those bitter little cups of sludgy Arabic coffee, here at last was an improbable snippet of home — caffeinated, comforting, American.

I wandered into the shop, filling my lungs with the rich wafts of coffee. The man behind the counter gave me a bemused look; his eyes flickered. I asked for a latte. He shrugged, the milk steamer whined, and he handed over the brimming paper cup. I turned my back on his uneasy face.

Crossing the cafe, I felt the hard stares of Saudi men. A few of them stopped talking as I walked by and watched me pass. Them, too, I ignored. Finally, coffee in hand, I sank into the sumptuous lap of an overstuffed armchair.

"Excuse me," hissed the voice in my ear. "You can't sit here." The man from the counter had appeared at my elbow. He was glaring.

"Excuse me?" I blinked a few times.

"Emmm," he drew his discomfort into a long syllable, his brows knitted. "You cannot stay here."

"What? Uh … why?"

Then he said it: "Men only."

He didn't tell me what I would learn later: Starbucks had another, unmarked door around back that led to a smaller espresso bar, and a handful of tables smothered by curtains. That was the "family" section. As a woman, that's where I belonged. I had no right to mix with male customers or sit in plain view of passing shoppers. Like the segregated South of a bygone United States, today's Saudi Arabia shunts half the population into separate, inferior and usually invisible spaces.

At that moment, there was only one thing to do. I stood up. From the depths of armchairs, men in their white robes and red-checked kaffiyehs stared impassively over their mugs. I felt blood rushing to my face. I dropped my eyes, and immediately wished I hadn't. Snatching up the skirts of my robe to keep from stumbling, I walked out of the store and into the clatter of the shopping mall.


THAT was nearly four years ago, a lesson learned on one of my first trips to the kingdom. Until that day, I thought I knew what I was doing: I'd heard about Saudi Arabia, that the sexes are wholly segregated. From museums to university campuses to restaurants, the genders live corralled existences. One young, hip, U.S.-educated Saudi friend told me that he arranges to meet his female friends in other Arab cities. It's easier to fly to Damascus or Dubai, he shrugged, than to chill out coeducationally at home.

I was ready to cope, or so I thought. I arrived with a protective smirk in tow, planning to thicken the walls around myself. I'd report a few stories, and go home. I had no inkling that Saudi Arabia, the experience of being a woman there, would stick to me, follow me home on the plane and shadow me through my days, tainting the way I perceived men and women everywhere.

I'm leaving the Middle East now, closing up years spent covering the fighting and fallout that have swept the region since Sept. 11. Of all the strange, scary and joyful experiences of the past years, my time covering Saudi Arabia remains among the most jarring.

I spent my days in Saudi Arabia struggling unhappily between a lifetime of being taught to respect foreign cultures and the realization that this culture judged me a lesser being. I tried to draw parallels: If I went to South Africa during apartheid, would I feel compelled to be polite?

I would find that I still saw scraps of Saudi Arabia everywhere I went. Back home in Cairo, the usual cacophony of whistles and lewd coos on the streets sent me into blind rage. I slammed doors in the faces of deliverymen; cursed at Egyptian soldiers in a language they didn't speak; kept a resentful mental tally of the Western men, especially fellow reporters, who seemed to condone, even relish, the relegation of women in the Arab world.

In the West, there's a tendency to treat Saudi Arabia as a remote land, utterly removed from our lives. But it's not very far from us, nor are we as different as we might like to think. Saudi Arabia is a center of ideas and commerce, an important ally to the United States, the heartland of a major world religion. It is a highly industrialized, ultramodern home to expatriates from all over the world, including Americans who live in lush gated compounds with swimming pools, drink illegal glasses of bathtub gin and speak glowingly of the glorious desert and the famous hospitality of Saudis.

The rules are different here. The same U.S. government that heightened public outrage against the Taliban by decrying the mistreatment of Afghan women prizes the oil-slicked Saudi friendship and even offers wan praise for Saudi elections in which women are banned from voting. All U.S. fast-food franchises operating here, not just Starbucks, make women stand in separate lines. U.S.-owned hotels don't let women check in without a letter from a company vouching for her ability to pay; women checking into hotels alone have long been regarded as prostitutes.

As I roamed in and out of Saudi Arabia, the abaya, or Islamic robe, eventually became the symbol of those shifting rules.

I always delayed until the last minute. When I felt the plane dip low over Riyadh, I'd reach furtively into my computer bag to fish out the black robe and scarf crumpled inside. I'd slip my arms into the sleeves without standing up. If I caught the eyes of any male passengers as my fingers fumbled with the snaps, I'd glare. Was I imagining the smug looks on their faces?

The sleeves, the length of it, always felt foreign, at first. But it never took long to work its alchemy, to plant the insecurity. After a day or two, the notion of appearing without the robe felt shocking. Stripped of the layers of curve-smothering cloth, my ordinary clothes suddenly felt revealing, even garish. To me, the abaya implied that a woman's body is a distraction and an interruption, a thing that must be hidden from view lest it haul the society into vice and disarray. The simple act of wearing the robe implanted that self-consciousness by osmosis.

In the depths of the robe, my posture suffered. I'd draw myself in and bumble along like those adolescent girls who seem to think they can roll their breasts back into their bodies if they curve their spines far enough. That was why, it hit me one day, I always seemed to come back from Saudi Arabia with a backache.

The kingdom made me slouch.


SAUDI men often raised the question of women with me; they seemed to hope that I would tell them, either out of courtesy or conviction, that I endorsed their way of life. Some blamed all manner of Western ills, from gun violence to alcoholism, on women's liberation. "Do you think you could ever live here?" many of them asked. It sounded absurd every time, and every time I would repeat the obvious: No.

Early in 2005, I covered the kingdom's much-touted municipal elections, which excluded women not only from running for office, but also from voting. True to their tribal roots, candidates pitched tents in vacant lots and played host to voters for long nights of coffee, bull sessions and poetry recitations. I accepted an invitation to visit one of the tents, but the sight of a woman in their midst so badly ruffled the would-be voters that the campaign manager hustled over and asked me, with lavish apologies, to make myself scarce before I cost his man the election.

A few days later, a female U.S. official, visiting from Washington, gave a press appearance in a hotel lobby in Riyadh. Sporting pearls, a business suit and a bare, blond head, she praised the Saudi elections.

The election "is a departure from their culture and their history," she said. "It offers to the citizens of Saudi Arabia hope…. It's modest, but it's dramatic."

The American ambassador, a bespectacled Texan named James C. Oberwetter, also praised the voting from his nearby seat.

"When I got here a year ago, there were no political tents," he said. "It's like a backyard political barbecue in the U.S."

One afternoon, a candidate invited me to meet his daughter. She spoke fluent English and was not much younger than me. I cannot remember whether she was wearing hijab, the Islamic head scarf, inside her home, but I have a memory of pink. I asked her about the elections.

"Very good," she said.

So you really think so, I said gently, even though you can't vote?

"Of course," she said. "Why do I need to vote?"

Her father chimed in. He urged her, speaking English for my benefit, to speak candidly. But she insisted: What good was voting? She looked at me as if she felt sorry for me, a woman cast adrift on the rough seas of the world, no male protector in sight.

"Maybe you don't want to vote," I said. "But wouldn't you like to make that choice yourself?"

"I don't need to," she said calmly, blinking slowly and deliberately. "If I have a father or a husband, why do I need to vote? Why should I need to work? They will take care of everything."

Through the years I have met many Saudi women. Some are rebels; some are proudly defensive of Saudi ways, convinced that any discussion of women's rights is a disguised attack on Islam from a hostile Westerner. There was the young dental student who came home from the university and sat up half the night, writing a groundbreaking novel exploring the internal lives and romances of young Saudi women. The oil expert who scolded me for asking about female drivers, pointing out the pitfalls of divorce and custody laws and snapping: "Driving is the least of our problems." I have met women who work as doctors and business consultants. Many of them seem content.

Whatever their thoughts on the matter, they have been assigned a central, symbolic role in what seems to be one of the greatest existential questions in contemporary Saudi Arabia: Can the country opt to develop in some ways and stay frozen in others? Can the kingdom evolve economically and technologically in a global society without relinquishing its particular culture of extreme religious piety and ancient tribal code?

The men are stuck, too. Over coffee one afternoon, an economist told me wistfully of the days when he and his wife had studied overseas, how she'd hopped behind the wheel and did her own thing. She's an independent, outspoken woman, he said. Coming back home to Riyadh had depressed both of them.

"Here, I got another dependent: my wife," he said. He found himself driving her around, chaperoning her as if she were a child. "When they see a woman walking alone here, it's like a wolf watching a sheep. 'Let me take what's unattended.' " He told me that both he and his wife hoped, desperately, that social and political reform would finally dawn in the kingdom. He thought foreign academics were too easy on Saudi Arabia, that they urged only minor changes instead of all-out democracy because they secretly regarded Saudis as "savages" incapable of handling too much freedom.

"I call them propaganda papers," he said of the foreign analysis. "They come up with all these lame excuses." He and his wife had already lost hope for themselves, he said.

"For ourselves, the train has left the station. We are trapped," he said. "I think about my kids. At least when I look at myself in the mirror I'll say: 'At least I said this. At least I wrote this.' "


WHEN Saudi officials chat with an American reporter, they go to great lengths to depict a moderate, misunderstood kingdom. They complain about stereotypes in the Western press: Women banned from driving? Well, they don't want to drive anyway. They all have drivers, and why would a lady want to mess with parking?

The religious police who stalk the streets and shopping centers, forcing "Islamic values" onto the populace? Oh, Saudi officials say, they really aren't important, or strict, or powerful. You hear stories to the contrary? Mere exaggerations, perpetuated by people who don't understand Saudi Arabia.

I had an interview one afternoon with a relatively high-ranking Saudi official. Since I can't drive anywhere or meet a man in a cafe, I usually end up inviting sources for coffee in the lobby of my hotel, where the staff turns a blind eye to whether those in the "family section" are really family.

As the elevator touched down and the shiny doors swung open onto the lobby, the official rushed toward me.

"Do you think we could talk in your room?" he blurted out.

I stepped back. What was this, some crazy come-on?

"No, why?" I stammered, stepping wide around him. "We can sit right over here." I wanted to get to the coffee shop — no dice. He swung himself around, blocking my path and my view.

"It's not a good idea," he said. "Let's just go to your room."

"I really don't think … I mean," I said, stuttering in embarrassment.

Then, peering over his shoulder, I saw them: two beefy men in robes. Great bushes of beards sprang from their chins, they swung canes in their hands and scanned the hotel lobby through squinted eyes.

"Is that the religious police?" I said. "It is!" I was a little mesmerized. I'd always wanted to see them in action.

The ministry official seemed to shrink a little, his shoulders slumped in defeat.

"They're not supposed to be here," he muttered despondently. "What are they doing here?"

"Well, why don't we go to the mall next door?" I said, eyes fixed on the menacing men. "There's a coffee shop there, we could try that."

"No, they will go there next." While he wrung his hands nervously, I stepped back a little and considered the irony of our predicament. To avoid running afoul of what may be the world's most stringent public moral code, I was being asked to entertain a strange, older man in my hotel room, something I would never agree to back home.

I had to do something. He was about to walk away and cancel the meeting, and I couldn't afford to lose it. Then I remembered a couple of armchairs near the elevator, up on my floor. We rode up and ordered room-service coffee. We talked as the elevators chimed up and down the spine of the skyscraper and the roar of vacuum cleaners echoed in the hallway.


ONE glaring spring day, when the hot winds raced in off the plains and the sun blotted everything to white, I stood outside a Riyadh bank, sweating in my black cloak while I waited for a friend. The sidewalk was simmering, but I had nowhere else to go. As a woman, I was forbidden to enter the men's half of the bank to fetch him. Traffic screamed past on a nearby highway. The winds tugged at the layers of black polyester. My sunglasses began to slip down my glistening nose.

The door clattered open, and I looked up hopefully. But no, it was a security guard. And he was stomping straight at me, yelling in Arabic. I knew enough vocabulary to glean his message: He didn't want me standing there. I took off my shades, fixed my blue eyes on him blankly and finally turned away as if puzzled. I think of this as playing possum.

He disappeared again, only to reemerge with another security guard. This man was of indistinct South Asian origin and had an English vocabulary. He looked like a pit bull — short, stocky and teeth flashing as he barked: "Go! Go! You can't stand here! The men can SEE! The men can SEE!"

I looked down at him and sighed. I was tired. "Where do you want me to go? I have to wait for my friend. He's inside." But he was still snarling and flashing those teeth, arms akimbo. He wasn't interested in discussions.

"Not here. NOT HERE! The men can SEE you!" He flailed one arm toward the bank.

I lost my temper.

"I'm just standing here!" I snapped. "Leave me alone!" This was a slip. I had already learned that if you're a woman in a sexist country, yelling at a man only makes a crisis worse.

The pit bull advanced toward me, making little shooing motions with his hands, lips curled back. Involuntarily, I stepped back a few paces and found myself in the shrubbery. I guess that, from the bushes, I was hidden from the view of the window, thereby protecting the virtue of all those innocent male bankers. At any rate, it satisfied the pit bull, who climbed back onto the sidewalk and stood guard over me. I glared at him. He showed his teeth. The minutes passed. Finally, my friend reemerged.

A liberal, U.S.-educated professor at King Saud University, he was sure to share my outrage, I thought. Maybe he'd even call up the bank — his friend was the manager — and get the pit bull in trouble. I told him my story, words hot as the pavement.

He hardly blinked. "Yes," he said. "Oh." He put the car in reverse, and off we drove.


DRIVING to the airport, I felt the kingdom slipping off behind me, the flat emptiness of its deserts, the buildings that rear toward the sky, encased in mirrored glass, blank under a blaring sun. All the hints of a private life I have never seen. Saudis are bred from the desert; they find life in what looks empty to me.

Even if I were Saudi, would I understand it? I remember the government spokesman, Mansour Turki, who said to me: "Being a Saudi doesn't mean you see every face of Saudi society. Saudi men don't understand how Saudi women think. They have no idea, actually. Even my own family, my own mother or sister, she won't talk to me honestly."

I slipped my iPod headphones into my ears. I wanted to hear something thumping and American. It began the way it always does: an itch, an impatience, like a wrinkle in the sock, something that is felt, but not yet registered. The discomfort always starts when I leave.

By the time I boarded the plane, I was in a temper. I yanked at the clasps, shrugged off the abaya like a rejected embrace. I crumpled it up and tossed it childishly into the airplane seat.

Then I was just standing there, feeling stripped in my jeans and blouse. My limbs felt light, and modesty flashed through me. I was aware of the skin of my wrists and forearms, the triangle of naked neck. I scanned the eyes behind me, looking for a challenge. But none came. The Saudi passengers had watched my tantrum impassively.

I sat down, leaned back and breathed. This moment, it seems, is always the same. I take the abaya off, expecting to feel liberated. But somehow, it always feels like defeat.


Stack reported in Saudi Arabia repeatedly during her tenure as The Times' Cairo Bureau chief from September 2003 until last month.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Paul McCartney on his new album

From the Los Angeles Times
Paul McCartney is a man on the run
He has a new album, a new record label, new living arrangements and even a new plan about putting the Beatles' music catalog online this year.
By Kim Murphy
Times Staff Writer

June 3, 2007

Winchelsea, England — HE noticed it when his cellphone, stuffed with too many text messages, voicemails and phone numbers, started flashing at him: "Memory almost full." It was remarkably like his own brain, weighted down with half-written songs, daughter Bea's schedule, the lyrics to old Beatles B-sides, the blurring faces of long-buried loves and friends.

Delete? Re-record? Which parts go, and which — the carpets of bluebells outside Liverpool in spring, sitting on twin beds in a hotel room with John Lennon writing "She Loves You" — stay locked in the hard drive of time?

"Your memory is always almost full these days. There's so much going on, so I thought it was a poetic way to sum up modern life. Just overload, information overload," Paul McCartney says of his 21st solo album, "Memory Almost Full," which explores the persistence of memory, preparing for the settling of scores and a life too full to hold it all.

"It's been pointed out to me that since the album is heavy on retrospective stuff, there's a sort of finality about it. 'Memory almost full,' any second now it will be full, and, 'Goodbye cruel world.' It's not what I meant about it at all, but I can see that meaning, and I like, you know, people to have different interpretations. "Abbey Road" to us was a crossing outside the studio. I'm sure to some people, it meant Monastery Lane, and we liked that sort of quasi-religious feel of it too."

The album (out Tuesday) marks the 64-year-old McCartney's plunge into another kind of digital age. Ending his relationship with Capitol Records/EMI that began in 1962, McCartney has hooked up with Starbucks' new Hear Music Label and unlocks the new album (along with the rest of his solo catalog) for online downloads. McCartney also says the Beatles catalog is on deck for online release near the end of the year, although EMI has not announced a date.

The video for "Dance Tonight," the party-tune, mandolin-laced foot-tapper that opens the record, made its world premiere on YouTube, in a bid to charm a third generation with the kind of winsome songs their grandmother should know.

"I was bored with the old record company's jaded view," McCartney says, plopped on a sofa in the large, comfortable farmhouse that doubles as a rehearsal studio here in the rolling, tree-studded hills of rural East Sussex. Outside, there is an old windmill, and in the near distance, the hazy blue carpet of the English Channel.

"They're very confused, and they will admit it themselves: that this is a new world, and they're a little bit at a loss as to what to do. So they've got millions of dollars and X budget … for them to come up with boring ways — because they've been at it for so long — to what they call 'market' it. And I find that all a bit disturbing.

"I write it, I play it, I record it, and that's all fun. And you go to the record company, and it gets very boring. You sit around in rooms with people, and you're almost falling asleep" — he rolls his head down midchest —"and they're almost falling asleep.

"My record producer [David Kahne] said the major record labels these days are like dinosaurs sitting around discussing the asteroid. They know it's going to hit. They don't know when, they don't know where it's coming from. But it's sort of hit already. With iTunes, and all of that."

McCartney heard that Starbucks' content development guy, Alan Mintz, loved his music; better, he was a bass player. They arranged to meet in New York, along with Howard Schultz, the chief executive who turned Starbucks from a high-fallutin' bean roaster in Seattle into a multibillion-dollar global purveyor of expensive coffee drinks and cool ambience.

The vision from Starbucks and its Concord Music Group partner in Hear Music: Roll out "Memory Almost Full" across time zones on the in-store music systems at more than 10,000 coffeehouses in 29 countries (copies available as you pay for your latte, and at dinosaur record stores too, of course). That means an estimated 6 million people get a listen on the first day.

"We felt we were in a unique position to really transform the way music is discovered and delivered to the music consumer," said Ken Lombard, president of Starbucks Entertainment in Los Angeles.

"When we heard the album, we just knew it was really a landmark in a number of ways. Musically, it's the most personal and revealing album that Paul's created in his solo career. Thematically, many of the songs are a reflection of his life, his career, his jobs and the tragedies, a reflection of the remarkable journey his life has been."

McCartney had the same reaction to Apple founder Steve Jobs — with whose company Apple records was locked in trademark litigation for years — as he had to Schultz. "He too is very cool, very passionate, they really care about working with your music.

"I just thought, right, I'm going to put a package together on that side of things that will keep me and my producer excited. And that's what we've done. So we're working with websites, Internet things, young kids. Just people who are hungry. People who come up with ideas rather than people who've been at it too long and are frightened for their jobs."

Contrary to British media reports, he said, longtime Apple Corps chief Neil Aspinall's departure in April had nothing to do with clearing the way to the online music market.

"He wanted to retire. Simple as that. I've known Neil longer than I've known anyone in the music business, including all the Beatles. Neil was at school with me when we were 11, he was in my class. But he just wanted to retire. He's 65. So he did. So we have a new guy now [Jeff Jones], he's very good. Nobody considers he's going to replace Neil, you know, emotionally, because we grew up with Neil…. But there are new sorts of things, new openings, the online thing is a huge opening, and so it's a new chapter now."

McCartney and the band are rehearsing for an upcoming trio of "surprise" live gigs in the U.K., New York and Los Angeles, and there is a definite bachelor air around the place, now that wife Heather has split in the messiest divorce to hit the London tabloids since Chelsea soccer team owner Roman Abramovich dumped his wife for leggy young "Dasha" Zhukova.

The band is playing with enough volume these days that they're annoying daughter Bea, a frequent visitor. "We play a bit loud, just because we can," McCartney says with a sly smile. "We're allowed to, there's no grown-ups around. We're allowed to turn our amps up, you see?"

The off-limits topic

WHAT he won't talk about are Heather Mills McCartney's allegations about what went on during their four-year marriage: that McCartney slashed her arm with a broken wine glass, ordered her not to breastfeed Beatrice because "I don't want a mouthful of breast milk," and refused to let her keep a chamber pot in the bedroom, forcing her, because she is missing a leg, to crawl to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

"I don't like to talk about it, because we're still in the middle of a divorce," he says. "A somewhat public divorce. And you know we have a 3 1/2 year-old daughter. So I'm trying to make every effort to say as little as possible about it. I'm moving through it, hopefully with some kind of dignity."

It's hard not to find a hint of Heather and the apparent pride McCartney once must have felt in his determined and ambitious young wife in "See Your Sunshine" from the new album: "Step out in front of me baby / They want you in the front line / They want to see your sunshine."

But many of the songs were written even before 2005's Grammy-nominated "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," and the memory files they plumb go deep into a boy's lush and lovely summers (on the exquisite "Tell Me"), McCartney's days as a Boy Scout, beaning his friends on the head with chestnuts. Then, less-ancient files: the Beatles "sweating cobwebs" and playing the Cavern Club in Liverpool. In a final, five-song suite similar in form to the "Abbey Road" medley but progressing through the milestones of a life, McCartney reaches the surreal and unsettling "House of Wax," where "poets spill out on the street / To set alight the incomplete / Remainders of the future."

And there is the "End of the End" — a swan song so McCartney in its essential optimism: "It's the start of a journey to a much better place / And a much better place would have to be special," he reassures. "No reason to cry."

He has buried Linda McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. By now, he is surely accustomed to partings. Yet he seems to remember, like the bluebell forests of England (that once formed the backdrop to a frolic in "Help"), the tender times, the days when it was easy to bend over a guitar with Lennon on the other rumpled bed and work magic on cue.

"We were writing 'She Loves You' because we'd been told by our manager that we needed a single. And we were just, 'OK.' It was great. We just responded well to direction. They'd say, 'You're going into studio next week, so you'll need to write the album.' And we'd go, 'OK.' Ha! Never once do I remember us going, 'A whole album in a week?' Which, you know, we should've thought.

"But we go, 'Yeah, great, OK.' We were just so innocent and enthusiastic. So yeah, that's what we did all the time. We wrote just under 300 songs, and that was done in about 300 sessions. We never had a dry session."

How could that be?

"Because we were bloody brilliant. Pure genius, that's all. 'We were very good,' he said modestly,' " and he smiles for his failure to conjure up the requisite humility. "The good thing is, now you can say that. People used to say, 'Don't you think you're a bit conceited?' And I'd say, 'I know what you mean, you could say it's conceited, but I really do know we're good. I can feel it every time we write a song.' Because John and I were very good collaborators. We really helped each other massively and admired each other greatly."

He thinks for a moment. "It was a joy," he says.

He trips into the rustic farm kitchen, where the band is swallowing whole a spread of mozzarella sandwiches and samosas before heading back to the studio. He cuts a few roses from the garden and rummages for a glass to put them in water, singing the trippy chorus of "The things I think I did / I di-i-di-i did" from "Ever Present Past" under his breath.

Almost time for the imperious and charming Bea to show up. Time to play "very, very, very quietly," he says.

M&C note: here's a great quote from his New York Times story:

The major record labels are having major problems. They’re a little puzzled as to what’s happening. And I sympathize with them. But as David Kahne said to me about a year ago, the major labels these days are like the dinosaurs sitting around discussing the asteroid.”

Mr. Colón's Opus: 1970s Bandleader Johnny Colón

Village Voice
Jazz Supplement
Mr. Colón's Opus
The heyday of Johnny Colón's venerable East Harlem Jazz School may be yet to come
by Carol Cooper
June 5th, 2007 12:37 PM

The creeping commercial disillusionment that caused East Harlem bandleader Johnny Colón to stop recording in the early '70s may have been the best thing to ever happen to music education in New York City.

He scored his first hit, the Latin/blues hybrid "Boogaloo Blues," in 1966 for George Goldner's newly formed Cotique label. Rumor was that George had lost his previous company, Tico, to rival Morris Levy on a bet, and was determined to make his new Latin imprint even hotter. Established Latin acts like Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri initially frowned upon the fusion of r&b, jazz, and Latin preferred by younger players like Colón at the time, despite early breakthrough fusions like Mongo Santamaria's "Watermelon Man" and Pete Rodriguez's "I Like It Like That." But the youth market, already grooving to rock and soul, were ready to hear new hybrids, and Colón, who was influenced as much by the Moonglows, Horace Silver, and Cal Tjader as by the infectious Charanga trend then challenging the Latin Boogaloo movement, was always more adventurous and idiosyncratic than his peers.

Convinced by Johnny's club performances that the public would go for his bold, fresh sound, Goldner put all his street muscle behind the single. " 'Boogaloo Blues' had a controversial lyric," Johnny admits now over dinner at an easygoing bar & grill on East 79th Street. "It was, 'L.S.D. has a hold on me.' We always said it meant 'Love, Sincere, Divine,' but radio jocks told Goldner they didn't want to play it. Only Symphony Sid at WEVD said, 'No problem.' "

After Symphony Sid broke the record, massive caller requests made other jocks follow suit. Johnny was immediately in demand on all the right stages and hot radio shows. He was working more than ever before, but the money wasn't right—no royalties or increased concert fees. A staunch member of the musician's union, Johnny went public with his discontent, questioning the Latin industry powers that be. But his band lost important gigs and radio support as a result. He recorded five more albums, first at Cotique and then at Fania's request. But by the early '70s, Johnny was convinced that teaching music and playing noncommercial community gigs were better ways to serve his muse.

Although he didn't incorporate his nonprofit East Harlem Music School until 1972, he'd already been giving free music lessons out of his mother's apartment for almost a decade. Expanding this initiative into a rented workspace with phones, a staff, and a sign over the door was to prove his life's calling. Johnny, an avid multi-instrumentalist who mastered the guitar by age 8 (and bass, piano, trombone, and the human voice before he left high school), still gigged with his band, but he poured everything he made into running his school. Music theory and instrumental instruction remained completely free for many years, until some of his official funding sources demanded the school charge something, if only to remain eligible for various grants. So by 1988 or '89, kids (ages 8 and up) were paying $1 a week, while adults paid $3.25. "Funny thing was," Johnny recalls wryly, "class attendance during summer months improved the minute we began charging a fee!"

The wider renown that eluded Colón as a pop star eventually fell on famous alumni like singer Tito Nieves, percussionist Robin Loeb, pianist/arranger Hilton Ruiz, and Marc Anthony, who stars opposite Jennifer Lopez in the upcoming Hector LaVoe biopic El Cantante. Johnny remembers Anthony coming to the school with his siblings as an earnest young 7-year-old, hungry to learn every aspect of the music business; Johnny also recalls once sharing a stage with salsa legend LaVoe himself, and later teaching LaVoe's son at the school.

But it's not just his world-famous graduates Colón remembers. Johnny still sees ex-students who thank him for facilitating their more modest goals: a central Harlem woman who learned to play piano for her church, a young man who'd almost dropped out of school but now feeds his family by playing music, and various teachers and administrative staffers he trained who went on to help establish similar programs elsewhere. Furthermore, what always made EHMS special was the presence of working musicians like pianist Charlie Palmieri (Eddie's brother), who taught piano at the school for three years. Johnny was especially proud of that hire, since decades earlier Charlie had been among the first pros to encourage Johnny as a 16-year-old bandleader. These circles of mutual empowerment and mutual obligation are part of the value system Johnny instills along with every music lesson.

In 1994, Johnny's second wife, Stephanie, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, leaving him without the administrative backbone of his organization. Public funding had never allowed them to purchase a building or pay competitive wages to retain permanent supplemental staff, so while Johnny was able to limp along without Steph for a few years, by the start of the new millennium he'd had to reduce the scope of his school's operations to a shadow of what they'd been.

Then, around 2004, when his band was asked to play a benefit for several community organizations, he met with Lewis Zuchman, executive director of SCAN New York, who asked Johnny if he'd be willing to outsource his teaching staff and technique in partnership with specific SCAN initiatives. The Supportive Childrens' Advocacy Network is funded to devise and administrate educational programs serving at-risk youth in various urban locations; they struck a deal, and through them Johnny now runs daily classes for second graders at P.S. 114 in the Bronx, and teaches a group of teens at the Isla del Barrio BEACON program, part of the Academy for Environmental Sciences in East Harlem. "I would say without reservation that Johnny is the best music educator in the city," enthused Zuchman by phone. "Especially in using music to teach math and literacy skills."

While Johnny has travelled as far as Germany to demonstrate his unique pedagogic style, his technique still intimidates those who prefer dull, dictatorial, rote strategies. He believes he can get anyone to read music in 15 minutes. "In Germany, I taught 'Jingle Bells,' " he says. "I taught the rhythmic structure first, and in minutes they were reading basic rhythm notation." While he is always willing to outsource his methodology to anyone who asks for it, he finds that more traditional institutions reject his core idea that learning should always be fun and liberating to the student. But recent lecture/presentations he's done for the Caribbean Cultural Center and the Jazz Museum in Harlem suggest that now, when cities most need better music education, Johnny's name quickly comes up.

Eventually, someone may come along to offer the funding and infrastructure needed to relaunch his own institution. But until then, Johnny's decided to start recording again. He's already completed one album of modern American standards as a singer with his jazz trio, and plans to return to the studio soon with his Latin orchestra, in part to challenge some of the foreign reissues of his early work that have been circulating without his permission (or compensation) since the 1990s. The industry's malfeasance hasn't gone away, but Johnny's disillusionment has.