the American political landscape post-Katrina

There’s been a heck of a lot of coverage of the battle for the ideological mind of america in its collective response to Katrina. The left have been very quick to target the incomprehensibly slow response of the Bush government, while the right have looked to lay the blame with local politicians and the looters (or at least the black looters, who were overwhelmingly portrayed at thieves, compared to the footage of white survivors foraging for food.. I’m guessing the divide between those trying to survive and those ‘looting’ was not strictly racial…)

However one area that seems to have come up for discussion more than most has been the effect that America’s welfare system has had on things. One article that I had forwarded to me from a few different sources said that what the aftermath of Kartrina demonstrated was that the welfare state had bred an entire sub-society of spongers and freeloaders with no sense of their place within society, who didn’t see hard work as the answer, but instead looked to the government for handouts etc. etc. It was a particularly poorly written piece, heavy on the appeals to America’s pioneer heart and generalisations about the nature of people on welfare, and very light on the reasoning behind the welfare state or any sense of responsibility for the nation’s poor.

On the other side, this article on the BBC website expresses the hope that Katrina will expose the rotting heart of the American social darwinian project, and that Americans will be able to relight the social concience that got them through the depression.

The responses at the bottom of the page are fascinating from the overwhelmingly supportive, to the scathingly critical, to those who just seem aggrieved that any damn Euro-Commie would dare to comment on the majesty that is the USA.

I’ve never been able to understand the American reaction to the notion of ‘welfare’ – surely the word itself is overwhelmingly positive – an institution to look after the WELFARE of the people. A recogntion of our collective responsibility to the people who share our laws and economy. It seems there are many in the US political elite who refuse to recognise the role of the upwardly mobile in stepping on the heads of the poor. The fallacy of ‘worldwide economic growth’ is writ large across the US political scene, with lots of talk of trickle down economics and a rising tide floating all the boats, and all that horseshit. It clearly doesn’t work. The net has too many holes, the trickle down structure isn’t porous, too many people have no boat to start with, so are drowned.

Katrina has placed the faces of the poorest of the poor on the TV screens of america for the first time. The dark underbelly of the American dream, those for whom it’s been a nightmare, are now on the nightly news. A lot of people seem to be alarmed that so many people were without transport to get out, or without the technology to even know fully what was going on. I’d love to know how many of the ‘looters’ had mental illnesses which they couldn’t afford to get any help for.

It truth, I think arguments about the welfare state in relation to Katrina are a bit of a red herring. The lack of funding for the reinforcing of the levees is a far greater question hanging over it. The lack of any coherent disaster plan, the utter confusiong that permeated the post hurricane planning and led to no-one doing anything except bussing people to the Superdome to die. (actually, that’s where the welfare system comes in – with a decent welfare state comes government-paid doctors, locally practicing, who would have had more chance of knowing what was happening with their patients… The image of people in wheelchairs left outside the superdome, many in desperate need of medication, abandoned to die, is one of the most harrowing TV images I’ve seen since the first pictures of Darfur came through. That alone should be grounds for a total governmental shakeup.)

But why the richest nation on earth should balk at the idea of taxation to help the poor is utterly beyond me. A nation that hold claim to a ‘christian’ heritage, but where the christians overwhelming vote for a party of lower taxation and less assistance for the poor (who’s the Good News meant to be for exactly?) It all leaves me rather bewildered. As I’ve said before here, many of my favourite people in the world are Americans, I love visiting the country, and there are things about the american way of life that we in Britain could really do with a dose of, but the political landscape still leaves me utterly bewildered, incredulous that such a country could put up with the festering sore of abject poverty within its own borders.

Latest news on the bombings…

From the BBC new site – that’s a page that acts as a bit of a hub for the latest news on the bombing. The death toll has risen to ‘more than 50’ – they still don’t know how many are going to be pulled out of the Russell Square crash.

One of the odd things that happens with tragedies and disasters is that place names take on a different resonance – Columbine, Lockerbie, Hungerford, Dunblane, Burnley (forever tainted by getting a BNP councillor in a local election a couple of years ago), Aberfan, Faluja, Dresden, Hiroshima…

Kings Cross already has had a huge fire which took a lot of lives.

Now Russell Square and Tavistock Square – two of my favourite places in central London – have a new resonance. Russell Square is where I get off the tube when I go into town. It means that a) I get to walk through the lovely square itself, and round past the British Museum and b)I get some much-needed exercise, walking a mile further than I would otherwise walk.

Tavistock Square is a particularly tragic place for such an event, as it’s a peace garden. There’s a statue of Ghandi in the middle of the square, and I’ve been there for candle-lit peace vigils before now. You can’t get much further from peace than a bus being blown to bits. I can’t imagine what the people who saw it happen must be feeling. That’s going to stick with you a long time. We’re so used to footage of people in the middle east crying hysterically at the sight of buildings and vehicles that have been blown apart. When it happens in London, it all seems like a bad dream. But it’s the same pain, the same trauma, the same confusion. Maybe we’ll see the pain of bomb-footage from round the world with fresh eyes again after this… who knows.

here’s some eye-witness accounts of what actually happened – the reporting on this has been so mixed, with some news agencies being guilty of the most heinous speculation, like they are hoping it’s going to be a bigger and bigger story. The BBC news web-site remains just about the best place for up-to-date info.

SoundtrackKris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Tom Waits, ‘Real Gone’.

The Man In The Van With A Bass In His Hand

Went to see Mike Watt at the ICA this evening. He’s a bit of a punk legend, particularly in the States, where his first band, The Minutemen, inspired a whole generation of American punk bands in the 80s. In the mid-90s he made his first solo album, on which a who’s who of the American alternative scene paid their respects to Watt – members of Nirvana, The Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, The Pixies, Black Flag, The Rollins Band, Sonic Youth, Porno For Pyros etc. etc. all appeared on the record with him.

I met Watt a couple of years ago at The Bass Bash in Anaheim during NAMM, where he played a set with Kira, as ‘Dos’ – just two basses and voices – a resolutely low-fi punk set at an evening of fusion twiddling. Great subversive stuff. We also chatted alot that evening, and he revealed himself to be a deep, intellegent musician commited to maintaining his integrity as an artist, and staying true to his original punk ethic – DIY, and don’t take shit from anyone – even when signed to a major label.

Tonight he played all the tracks from his latest album – The SecondMan’s Middle Stand – from start to finish. It is, he says, a ‘sickness opera’ – a song-cycle based on his near-fatal illness, in three sections; hell, purgatory and heaven.

The music is very difficult to describe – very intricately written but playing with a punk abandon, the arrangements stop on a dime, switch time signatures, have unison phrases for all three musicians (the line-up is a trio of organ, bass and drums – not your typical punk lineup!) and then switch to full on dissonant avant garde scariness, and back to more conventional song forms. The dynamic range is huge, from a whisper to ear-splitting rock-out, and at the heart of it all is Watt’s aggressive, adventurous bass playing. All in all, marvellous stuff, impossible to accurately pigeonhole, deeply personal, and definitely music that rewards repeat listening.

He’s on tour in the UK for another week – go and see him if you can, but leave any preconceptions at the door. Do take earplugs though – it gets very loud! I’m so out of practice with ‘rock’ gigs – the volume scared the life out of me til I got my plugs in.

Watt’s tour diary makes for great reading too, though be warned, he speaks his own language, so the Pedrospeak Primer might help!

SoundtrackMike Watt, ‘The Secondman’s Middle Stand’; Mike Watt, ‘Contemplating The Engine Room’.

Life affirming music

So last night I went to see Gary Husband’s Force Majeure band play at Ronnie Scott’s. Unbelieveable. Truly marvellous, energising, inspiring, life affirming music. Very dense and complex and spooky at times, but never less than awe-inspiring. The quality of the musicians is one rarely seen on one stage – Matthew Garrison was obviously a big draw, being one of my favourite bassists in the whole world, a great player and a lovely guy. He played really really well, and the rest of the band, made up of some of America’s finest fusion musicians were all on top form.

The audience was chock full of lovely bassists, including Mo Foster, Dave Swift, Nick Fyffe, Oroh Angiama, Michael Mondesir, Nathan King, Dave Marks – it’s rare that we all get to meet up, so much fun was had.

If you can get to any of the gigs, please please do – it’s not easy listening, it’ll demand your attention and energy, but it’s a band not to be missed, playing Gary’s beatiful compositions.

Go on, go and book tickets!

More great live music in England

…and I don’t just mean my upcoming gigs! :o)

is probably best known as drummer extraordinaire with Level 42, Alan Holdsworth and a whole bunch of other people. He’s also a stunning piano player, and has assembled a remarkable band under the name , featuring one of the finest bassist on the planet, , along with Jim Beard, Randy Brecker, Elliot Mason, Jerry Goodman and other top level fusion cats.

I saw them play last year at Turner Simms theatre in Southampton, and the gig was outstanding – very challenging complex music, but marvellous and uplifting too.

They are back on tour starting this Saturday in Milton Keynes, and I urge you to go check them out – click here for the tour dates, which include a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London, and gigs in Manchester, Gainsborough and Gateshead.

Chances to hear music this great outside of the major London concert halls doesn’t come along to often, so please support it. There’s been a thread on the forum about great bassists often bypassing the UK on their European tour dates – if tours like this don’t get supported, it just proves why we’re so often overlooked.

countdown to release day…

…so the CDs should arrive here on Wednesday – how exciting! I need to buy a nice big box of Jiffy Bags tomorrow and start addressing them, cos it’s going to take ages! Thanks to all you lovely people who’ve been ordering the CDs, it’s going to be quite a big job…

Was in Italy this weekend, which was great fun! I was playing at an event called Sound Expo ’03, organised by a HUUUUGE music shop in Verona called Musical Box. I was there playing on behalf of Ashdown, so as well as the two performance sets that I gave on the main stage, there were various amp demos in the Ashdown corner of the shop… Also had plenty of time to check out the rest of the gear that was on show, to see some music (most of it was the usual trade fair stuff – very fast, not many tunes, but there were some gems in there too…) and to just hang out with Luca. Fortunately I also got a chance to catch up with some other lovely friends – Giovanna, Albano and Renate, as well as Luca and Gio’s cats, Blue and Ompy (not sure about the spelling of Ompy, but as neither is he, I’m not too worried…)

The Ashdown distributors in Italy are Proel – known over here for making cables, connectors and stuff, but actually a freakin’ huge company!! Scarily huge in fact, but very very helpful, with great staff.

It was a flying visit – out Saturday morning, back Sunday night – and in that I managed to do rather a lot. Of the music I managed to see at the show, my favourite was Massimo Varini – a very talented Italian fusion guitarist – sort of Satch meets Phil Keaggy with a bit of Holdsworth thrown in. His trio were fantastic, and hopefully I’ll get to do some shows with them at some point. Another highlight was an italian singer doing Cornflake Girl who had apparently just learnt it phonetically as the words she was singing were incomprehensible… If I ever suggest singing in Italian, someone please punch me in the face.

Soundtrack – Massimo’s album, Billy Bragg’s best of, and the recordings from my last trip to Italy (thanks to my new RAM strip I just fitted to the computer, I can stream it all off the DVD quite happily…)