Tax avoidance?

I’m a little late on this one, news-wise, but someone mentioned to me over the weekend that U2 have moved a load of their business affairs to Holland To avoid paying tax back home.

I’ve always found this kind of tax exile behaviour pretty reprehensible. You choose where you live, and render unto caesar what is caesar’s. Taxation isn’t the great evil – it is, until someone comes up with something better, the least-worst way to redistribute the wealth a little, based on the assumption that no-one makes money on their own, we’re all beholden to eachother to some extent, and if you’ve got a shitload of money, there’s zero evidence that having an even bigger shitload of money will make you happier. In fact, the misery of bitterness over how ‘unfair’ it is to be taxed is likely to make you more miserable if you’ve got loads of money.

So, when a band famed for their campaigning stance on the insidiousness of certain aspects of global finance, to do something that so clearly directs wealth away from their country of birth, of residence, of nurture seems not only fiscally suspect, but displays a scant lack of gratitude…

I just asked BDB about this via MSN, and his comment was ‘it depends what you’re planning on doing with the money’, which seems to be the american ‘compassionate conservative’ argument against higher taxation – let people earn more, and choose where to donate it.

the problem is, free markets are never free, and we’ve already got a world where charity fund-raisers are paid daft amounts of money to access all that financial goodwill that is out there. When individuals take it on themselves to do the redistribution themselves, certain hot-button charities do incredibly well, and others fall apart, regardless of how vital their work is.

The role of governments in this is to redistribute based on need, not on how effectively an advertising campaign tugs at the heartstrings. Yes, central government can be deeply inefficient, beaurocratic, non-sensical etc. etc. but it is still the least-worst option.

Within this web of life, the rich do bear some of the responsibility for the poor – neither riches nor poverty exist in a vacuum, and sharing the love benefits everyone.

So shipping your business dealings off-shore strikes me as complicity in the worst two tier-ism of globalisation. The rich end up paying a much smaller percentage of their wealth in tax than the poor, so those trying to feed their kids on one crappy McWage are struggling, while U2 and the Stones get to keep a few more million a year… yeah, that sounds like compassionate conservativism to me. What a crock.

Anyway, has anyone seen a response from the U2 camp on this? I’m certainly open to the notion that there’s a reasonable excuse for this, but I’m buggered if I can tell what it’s going to be…

Bob Dylan – closet mullet-rock fan??

So Bob Dylan has said that no good records have been made in the last 20 years. So far, so typical for aging rockers who don’t get modern music.

But wait a minute – twenty years? That takes us back to 1986.

Yes, 1986. One wonders quite what the work of musical genius was that piqued the great Dylan’s interest in 1986. So I did a search of albums released in 1986, and found this Wikipedia entry. Some highlights –

Who Made Who – AC/DC (hardly their best work)
Scoundrel Days – a-ha (not a patch on Hunting High And Low)
Rapture – Anita Baker (a great record, but Dylan’s favourite album of the last 20 years??)
Licensed to Ill – The Beastie Boys (Fight for your right… to be a tragic old curmudgeon?)
Slippery When Wet – Bon Jovi (yeah, his Bobness is definitely down with the ‘Jovi)
Third Stage – Boston (overblown codswallop? oh yes, in spades)
In America EP – Britny Fox (gimme an M, gimme an ‘ullet’…)
Solitude/Solitaire – Peter Cetera (I am a man who with fight for your honour… my arse)
Night Songs – Cinderella (debut) (uh-huh)
Constrictor – Alice Cooper (not so much billion dollar babies as £2.56 worth of teenage nonsense)
From Luxury to Heartache – Culture Club (Bob’s a spender of the pink pound?)
Into The Light – Chris de Burgh (the Lady In Red… no, please, stop)
Notorious – Duran Duran (another great record I’d never have associated with Mr Grumpy)
Emerson, Lake and Powell – Emerson, Lake and Powell (WTF?)
Wonderland – Erasure (pink pound pt II)
The Final Countdown – Europe (maybe Bob didn’t realise that Joey Tempest was a guy?)
August – Eric Clapton (Clapton at his best? Not. Even. Close.)
Whispering Jack – John Farnham (You’re the Voice. Not any more you’re not.)
The Divine Punishment – Diamanda Galás (yup, another certain Dylan fave).
Invisible Touch – Genesis (ewwwww)
Shot in the Dark – Great White (ha-ha!!)
Somewhere in Time – Iron Maiden (Somwhere.. in the mid 80s)
Rendez-Vous – Jean-Michel Jarre (yeah, this is clearly the one bob had in mind)
Control – Janet Jackson (What has Bob done for you lately?)
Psychocandy – The Jesus and Mary Chain (Yay!)
Raised On Radio – Journey (see Boston entry)
Turbo – Judas Priest (how did we not know Rob Halford was gay?)
Trilogy – Yngwie Malmsteen (wheeeeedly wheeeeeedly)
Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? – Megadeth (chugachug)

…and so on.

Bob, 86 was not even close to being a year of great albums. Try again.

What a tool.

A short tennis related intermission…

Now y’all know I’m not really much of a sport lover. Ambivalent would normally be an understatement.

However, I does love me some tennis, so hearing that Andy Murray had beaten Roger Federer yesterday was a pretty amazing moment. This is quite the biggest event in UK sport for quite some time, and it came second on this morning’s news to some football thing (I didn’t even know that England were playing yesterday til I heard the result this morning).

Roger Federer is pretty much the greatest Tennis player to hit the scene since Pete Sampras. He’ll go down in history as one of the all time greats, no doubt about that. His unbeaten record on grass is second to none. Ever. So for Andy to beat him is pretty amazing. And within only a few weeks of signing up with Brad Gilbert as his coach. Given that Brad’s last two high profile charges were Andre Agassi and that other American bloke with the huge serve – whassisname? Andy Roddick, that’s him – Andy Murray could really be onto something. If he does well in this tournament, it may well put him inside the world’s top 20! Amazing stuff.

OK, back to blogging about music and me.

Life Lessons From Songs

TSP bought the DVD of Love Actually on Ebay last week. I’d seen it before, but watched it again. I quite like Richard Curtis, despite thinking Four Weddings was largely nonsense, and Notting Hill suffered from the much-publicised lack of black people in a very heavily black part of London. I like the fact that he wrote Blackadder – that’s a good thing. And I like his commitment to the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anyway, this isn’t meant as a review of the film (though it must be said, the scene where Hugh Grant disses the American president is a blinder… sad that he had to be inspired to do it by the pres. hitting on his tea-lady, rather than just out of some kind of moral response to the evil horse-shit that American presidents are so often involved with, but viewers can’t be choosers, and it’s a sweet moment, nonetheless). the interesting bit of the film is in the extras.

Richard Curtis does a little talking head slot about each of the featured songs in the film, and makes the comment that he’s spent his life learning about emotions and being instructed in human relationships by female singer/songwriters. And it was a point that struck home. Particularly because two of those he picked were Joni Mitchell and Mary Chapin Carpenter – two of my favourite singer/songwriters, and also lyricists that I’ve learnt loads from.

So I’ve just been listening to ‘Come On Come On’ by MCC, which features the first song I ever heard by her, ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her’, which I bought on single when I was 18 or 19, and played to death. I think the album was one of the first CD albums I ever bought, and I’ve been collecting her stuff ever since. But I was struck by the lyrics, about bored housewives in loveless marriages finally having enough and leaving, and the husbands being all surprised at the end of the relationship. And it made me think, made me aware to some degree of how things are. As did so many other songs by her, and a whole host of other great female songwriters – Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega, the Indigo Girls, Jonatha Brooke. Some times the lessons were political, like ‘War’ by Jonatha Brooke. Sometimes just about feeling alive, like Gallileo or Watershed by the Indigo Girls. But all of them vital lessons.

And then it got me thinking about what happens when that isn’t there. Where instead of strong, intelligent female figures, you’ve got faux-feisty soft-porn-alikes, telling us that a man ain’t no man if he ain’t buying me bling, or coming out with imbecilic horse shit like the Pussycat Dolls. ‘Don’t You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?’ – no, you moronic, corporatised, tragic shell of a human being, I don’t wish my girlfriend was anything like you at all.

Lads are growing up with this as their lessons from women. was it much better in the 80s? Who were the equivalents of these totems of fuckwittage that parade across top of the pops? Mel And Kim, the Bangles, Janet Jackson before she apparently went on the game, Salt And Pepper, Kylie, Bananarama… a mixed bag, for sure, but not half as bad as the genetic detritus that passes for celebrity today. Who is there to save the day? KT Tunstall, at least. She’s fab.

So if you’ve got kids, get them into singer/songwriters. Buy them some Joni CDs, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, James Taylor and Paul Simon, Carly Simon, Bruce Cockburn, KT Tunstall, Suzanne Vega, Jonatha Brooke, Kelly Joe Phelps – story tellers not clothes horses, observers of the human condition not shills for the corporate dollar.

In a world where the bardic tradition is all but lost, we need surrogate poets and story-tellers, mythic historians and reflectors of who we are, who we want to be and who we can be if we get it together. And it’s not even about them being amazing people – John Martyn’s a disaster as a human being, but a great weaver of poetic magic. James Taylor was a violent smack-head when he wrote ‘Shower The People You Love With Love’. We just need story tellers to show us the way.

So, a comment thread – favourite songs for telling how it is, should be or could be? at least one from each of you, dear bloglings, thankyou. ;o)

Brian McLaren on The DaVinci Code

While large sections of the church are getting all het up over a popular work of fiction, we can always rely on the ever-wonderful Brian McLaren to talk sense. He’s interviewed in the latest Sojourners SoJoMail newsletter, and it’s great stuff. Here’s the first couple of Q and As –
What do you think the popularity of The Da Vinci Code reveals about pop culture attitudes toward Christianity and the church?

Brian McLaren: I think a lot of people have read the book, not just as a popular page-turner but also as an experience in shared frustration with status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented, cover-up-prone organized Christian religion. We need to ask ourselves why the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book is more interesting, attractive, and intriguing to these people than the standard vision of Jesus they hear about in church. Why would so many people be disappointed to find that Brown’s version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church’s conventional version? Is it possible that, even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional version of Jesus may not do him justice?

So you think The Da Vinci Code taps into dissatisfaction with Jesus as we know him?

McLaren: For all the flaws of Brown’s book, I think what he’s doing is suggesting that the dominant religious institutions have created their own caricature of Jesus. And I think people have a sense that that’s true. It’s my honest feeling that anyone trying to share their faith in America today has to realize that the Religious Right has polluted the air. The name “Jesus” and the word “Christianity” are associated with something judgmental, hostile, hypocritical, angry, negative, defensive, anti-homosexual, etc. Many of our churches, even though they feel they represent the truth, actually are upholding something that’s distorted and false.

I also think that the whole issue of male domination is huge and that Brown’s suggestion that the real Jesus was not as misogynist or anti-woman as the Christian religion often has been is very attractive. Brown’s book is about exposing hypocrisy and cover-up in organized religion, and it is exposing organized religion’s grasping for power. Again, there’s something in that that people resonate with in the age of pedophilia scandals, televangelists, and religious political alliances. As a follower of Jesus I resonate with their concerns as well.

Top stuff, and heartening to read in the midst of mad people trying to sue Dan Brown and The film-makers for blasphemy or some such nonsense. I still can’t be bothered to read the book – I none-too-bothered by messianic conspiracy theories, especially as he’s rehashing all that ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’ stuff from a few years back.

This disturbing case of Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith

This has been in the news a lot of late, the case of an RAF Doctor who has refused to go back to Basra on moral and ethical grounds. Jyoti’s blog on this is a fantastic piece of journalism so go and read that first.

He was quoted from the trial, in The Guardian as saying,

“I have evidence that the Americans were on a par with Nazi Germany with its actions in the Persian Gulf. I have documents in my possession which support my assertions,” he told the court. “This is on the basis that on-going acts of aggression in Iraq and systematically applied war crimes provide a moral equivalent between the US and Nazi Germany.”

How much more damning could an assessment be? This isn’t some peacenik, this isn’t me calling the government fascist scum, this isn’t John Pilger getting all hot and bothered again about some foreign place where people are dying. No, THIS IS A MILITARY DOCTOR, WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN TO IRAQ TWICE. He’s seen this shit with his own eyes. He’s just put his total career on the line in order to follow his conscience, a conscience that previously led him to join the RAF. That is a huge huge thing.

And that the legal system in this country (I initially wrote ‘our country’ there, but who are we kidding?) would jail him for this rather than applaud him and have him head up an investigation into the war crimes he says he can document (along with those that are already only-too-well documented), is a tragic tragic indictment. What a hateful regime. How can that happen? He’s apparently appealing the sentence, I just hope he can appeal to a civilian court where he might get a fairer hearing at least, if not a standing ovation for exposing the corruption, murder and deceit that is the illegal occupation in Iraq.

Margrave Of The Marshes

I finished the John Peel autobiography, ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ last night. I say ‘auto..’, he actually wrote just under half of the book, his wife Sheila finishing the rest of it. The changeover between the two, the sudden nature of his part stopping and her picking up the story, is one of the saddest moments in any book I’ve ever read. It’s odd to think of a 65 year old man as having so much unfulfilled potential, especially one who was already arguably the most important figure in the development of pop music in the UK. I’d argue that anyway.

His life story is candid, heartwarming, beautifully written as you expect from the presenter of Home Truths, full of his love for music, his family, tales of his frankly insane youth and young adulthood. I’m not sure I’d have liked him if I’d met him in the late 60s, though even then, the excerpts from his diary that Sheila quotes reveal a man I have an enourmous amount of empathy and respect for, despite his opportunist deceptions involving the Beatles and deflowering numerous american highschoolers…

His marriage to Sheila is an inspiration, his love for his family equally so. His impact on me as a musician and music fan has been written about here before, but it bears repeating – growing up in Berwick on Tweed, pre-internet, music information was pretty hard to come by. There was the mag trinity of NME/Sounds/Melody Maker which, whilst nowhere near the cheap nasty nonsense they are now, were still pretty trend-driven, even if those trends were a little more underground that they are today. No, the only real source of information about music-without-boundaries was Peel, and I devoured his show voraciously, recording it onto Tandy cassettes, making compilations of Pixies sessions before they were released, and collections of tunes by The Wedding Present, Bongwater, Napalm Death, The Stupids, Rob Jackson (not THAT Rob Jackson, sadly), Billy Bragg, The Bhundu Boys, Extreme Noise Terror and hours of obscure Soukous and strange German techno squawks.

The overall effect was that of removing all possible labelling from the process of making music. This allowed me to be simultaneously a fan of BoltThrower, Weather Report, The Cure, Wet Wet Wet, George Benson, John Zorn, The Alarm, Yes, The Housemartins and just about anything else that came along. I was often being accused of having ‘no taste’ – not bad taste, just no discernment about what to listen to at all. Truth was I did, I went through obsessive phases (just as Peel did), and kept the best of it as I moved on. In 1986 I voted the Mission and The Smiths the worst bands in the Smash Hits readers poll. By the 1990, I had every album the Smiths had ever released, along with having cultivated a near-obsession with The Cure and The Pixies that lasts to today. Only this week I’ve been introducing various students of mine to the majestic delights of Kim Deal’s bass playing via ‘Debaser’ and ‘Hey’.

The more poignant, funny, engaging and revealing the book became, the greater the pain at John’s loss. The greater the sense of anguish for the family at having lost him – as much as I miss his broadcasting, and regret never having met him, it quite obviously is nothing compared to the excuciating pain of losing a parent/husband/brother/friend.

The tributes when he died were effusive, though not a surprise. I was one of millions of teens from the laste 60s onwards who saw the world of music though Peel-tinted specs, who dispensed with the style fascism of most teen music-factions and took on the mantle of music-lover. I think it’s safe to say that without that exposure, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. My relationship with music would have been very very different indeed, and that desire to explore as a listener would never have spilled over into that desire to explore as a player that lead to me playing solo.

So go, read the book, remember John, tell your kids about him, make them read the book, and buy them a copy of the new Billy Bragg boxed set, the Hardcore Holocaust’ Peel sessions compilation, The Shed Sessions by The Bhundu Boys and any other weird nonsense you find in the hope that they’ll grow up to view labels like ’emo’ and ‘goth’ and ‘pop fan’ to be as erroneous as they really are.

John, you are missed.

If this isn't civil war, what the hell is???

The former Iraqi ‘president’, Iyad Allawi has said that iraq is in a civil war. Seems like a fairly obvious thing to say, given that scores of people are being killed every day, there are two definable sides to this both with military capabilities, that are daily bombing, shooting, slaughtering one another.

However, those genius revisionists in the White House and Downing Street are claiming that there’s no civil war, with Bush claiming that things are looking up for the Americans to ‘win’ the war, and the UK Defense secretary John Reid saying the terrorists are “failing to drive Iraq into civil war.”

Both Bush and Reid come off like Pike from Dad’s Army – ‘Don’t panic Captain Mainwaring’! The barefaced cheek of the US/UK axis of international bullying are once again making themselves look utterly stupid, ill-informed, in denial and ridiculous by claiming that the truth that anyone with a TV can see is in fact all made up, and denying the reality as voiced by their own jumped up puppet ruler in the area, Allawi – they chose him, he was clearly ‘trustworthy’ back then. Now he aparently knows less about the situation than special-needs-Bush and the wanker that is John Reid.

Having just been watching David Attenborough’s latest spectacular programme Planet Earth, I was marvelling at the wonder of creation, at the mryiad beauties of the natural world, and feeling like somewhere the midst of all that beautiful complexity, we’ll work it out. Then the news comes on, and a handful of powercrazed fools in positions of unmerited influence are driving us headlong into a world war to protect the financial interests of a handful of their fucked-up billionaire friends and financial backers. It’s as wrong as wrong can be. Watching a nile crocodile drag a wildebeast to its death shows nature to be red in tooth and claw, but also shows the balance, the circle, the richly woven tapestry of a self-sustaining natural world. Watching the power-mongers in Drowning Street and The Shite House drag the situation in the middle east further into a downward spiral of murder, torture, imprisonment without trial, terrorism – state sponsored or otherwise, car bombs, cluster bombs, anti-diplomacy and thinly veiled white supremecy, is just about as depressing as life can get.

As my mum said only last weekend, ‘isn’t it about time for a revolution?’ I don’t think she was joking.

Soundtrack, Brian Houston, ‘Sugar Queen’.

Antiwar march on Saturday

Saturday’s anti-war march was a fab event – met up with Jyoti, which was a delight, always nice to put a face to a blog. The march itself seemed rather upbeat, pretty huge (biggest one I’ve been on since the BIG ONE three years ago – organisers estimated 100,000, the police laughably suggested 10-15,000. Using the patented ma lawson method of doubling the police figure, halving the organisers and splitting the difference brings it to 40,000, but I’d say that was on the low side.)

The issues were a bit simpler than for the last few – people get very tetchy about protesting about military situations where there are British soldiers committed, as though it’s somehow treason to complain once they are there. Not much thought given to how little they want to be there, and the legality of them being there in the first place… This one was easier because of the dual themes – troops out of Iraq, and don’t attack Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran is just nuts. Sure, the Iranian president is a crack-pot, but if anything is likely to bring together the myriad disparate factions in Iranian politics, it’s an attack by the US/UK Team America-stylee crack commando team. A damn fool thing to do, for sure.

So, I got to protest the lunacy of our jumped up nobhead of a prime minister, and hang out with lovely peoples all day.

And now I’m breaking my own rule and am using TSP’s laptop to access the net, as my desktop has bizarrely decided not to connect to the web. It’ll access email, chat, ftp, just nothing with an http in front of it. There are no proxies set up, and I can’t find any changes to the firewall settings (and switching it off doesn’t seem to change anything either) – any suggestions, lovely blogling geeks?

Here’s me on the march, from Jyoti’s photos –

California catch-up

So what have I missed from NAMM?

Well, I posted about Thursday night – that was fun.

Friday – er, can’t remember much about during the day, other than doing some Looperlative demos, and playing on the Accugroove stand. Oh, and did a set at Modulus as well, though where Modulus is stationed, it’s all but impossible to play anything due to them being flanked by hair-metal amp companies and opposite the Taylor booth who have a stage set up with acoustic bands playing all the time. Accugroove and Looperlative are both down in Hall E where the noise level is much lower, so more people could stop and listen to what’s being played. And on both those stands I had AccuGroove speakers to play through, which made all the difference. I just don’t like using regular bass amps any more. The only bass cabinet company that comes close to AccuGroove is Glokenklang – they make some really lovely uncoloured speaker cabs. Great stuff.

Anyway, what else? Ah, Friday evening, Sabian had a big show, featuring some celeb drummers – Dave Weckl, Terry Bozzio and Joey Heredia. Terry being the interest, not just because he’s already more interesting than the others, but because he had the wonderful Doug Lunn on bass. Doug’s one of my closest american friends, and him playing also meant that his wife Vida was at the show on Friday, so we had lunch – that’s what NAMM’s pretty much all about for me, catching up with the lovely people here that I only get to see once a year.

The gig itself started and was unintentionally funny – I was there with three lovely bass people – Peter Murray, Jeff Schmidt and Janek Gwizdala – Weckl came on and it took us a while to work out what it sounded like, but we hit the name on the head with ‘game show themes’ – not my bag at all, I’m just not into clever twiddly fusion like that…

So we wandered outside, and hung out, chatted, laughed a lot – all good.

Back inside for the Bozzio band, which was a whole different proposition. Some seriously dark, difficult music, that owed more to Pierre Boulez or Edgar Varese than to the usual guitar trio reference points. Alex Machacacek who wrote most of the material is a remarkable guitarist, writing incredibly dense structured music, with multiple time and tempo changes each bar. Scary stuff. Doug acquitted himself admirably, playing this scary mathematical music with a serious amount of groove and flair.

Saturday at NAMM is mayhem – way too many people there, lots of celebs showing up (eg Gene Simmons shows up with film crew in tow – I saw him there up close last year and he looks like a pile of offal from a butchers floor that someone has mushed together and re-animated. Not a good advert for ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ living.) So I stayed down in Hall E for a lot of the time, and escaped over to Subway for lunch. Didn’t even think about playing on the Modulus booth, but did a fair amount of stuff down at Looperlative, including some fun duets with Tal Wilkenfeld – a fab Australian bassist living in NYC – I blogged about seeing her play last year.

Saturday night at NAMM means ‘Muriel Anderson’s All Star Guitar Night’ – one of the best gigs of the show. Sadly this year, I missed a lot of it due to heading up to Hollywood to see Bozzio’s trio again at the Baked Potato. But not before I’d gone in to meet Patti Larkin – Patti’s a huge favourite of mine, a stunning singer/songwriter who has worked a lot with Michael Manring over the years and I’ve been wanting to meet for years. A few connections were used, and I got a chance to say hello and briefly discuss the possibility of her coming over to play in the UK – that’d be great!

then off up to Hollywood for more Bozzio/Lunn/Machacek craziness. top stuff, but a very late drive back to Bob and Alison’s in Costa Mesa.

And then Sunday – the quiet day, I arrived late at the show, and left early, but not before filming the Looperlative demo and saying goodbye to some lovely friends for another year. And I headed off into Hollywood again to see another old friend, Tanya, who I’d not seen for three years, feeling dried out and exhausted (me, not Tanni) by four days of vicious air conditioning and walking miles.

Soundtrack – in the car here, I’ve been listening to lots of music by friends of mine, to keep me from feeling homesick – Juliet Turner, BJ Cole, Mark Lockheart, Thomas Leeb… it works.

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