Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Human Rights

The Right to Be

May 15th was a day when bloggers around the world wrote about Human Rights. I was going to, but didn't. I got stuck. Here you can find a list of some of the posts. The 27th Comrade who did an excellent round-up of posts in the Ugandan blogosphere.

The real reason for not posting was I got distracted. But thinking about a post was harder than I thought. It's easy when I'm stuck about writing simply for me to ignore the blog. Daisy of Daisy's Dead Air tagged me with a meme and maybe it's just the right prodding to get unstuck and back writing on the blog. While I don't think too highly of any of my posts, I'm extraordinarily fond of the many blogs I read. It seems only fair to participate.

Seven Songs Meme

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring-summer. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.
Oh Happy Day--From Sister Act 2
Shostakovich - Symphony No. 11 `The Year 1905' Mvt.4(2/2)--NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yukio Kitahara.
Lapowny--Geoffrey Oryema
Please Send Me Someone to Love--Jeff Buckley
Harvest For The World--The Isley Brothers
Redemption Song--Bob Marley
All Along the Watchtower--Sungha Jung

I'm all for crediting parents when their children grow up well, but am slow to blame parents when children go awry. There are many influences. I can hardly blame my parents for my many shortcomings. They tried very hard and both gave me so many gifts. Among the gifts I treasure from my mother is her lesson that everyone has a right to be.

Daisy blogs in Greenville, South Carolina. We moved there in the early 1960's and when my younger brother star started primer, my mother began teaching. It was the era of school desegregation, so in a way the dialog about race which Barak Obama speaks about in his speech A More Perfect Union (YouTube video) engaged me early on.

A memory from my mother came to me when thinking about human rights. She taught first grade at John Street School which probably isn't there anymore because it was an old school then. Her first year the school district went to a "freedom of choice" plan. What that meant for the John Street School is it went from being all white to mostly all black in a single year. The memory must be from the second year my mother taught there, and I must have been in sixth grade. Towards the end of the year she organized an excursion for her kids to the city park and I was brought along. Among the treats was a box of cupcakes with bright blue-green icing roughly applied provided by one of the children's mother. I must have looked at them with a scornful look because my mother said to me:
If you so much as say one unkind word about those cupcakes, I'll spank you in front of everybody.
I don't actually remember ever being spanked by my mother. She didn't believe in spanking in school, but certainly didn't believe she should take spanking out of her arsenal at home. Punishments at home were not very ritualized, and I'm grateful about that. In any case I knew my mother well enough to know she didn't make idle threats. And when I remember this, a face of a little girl with corn rows in her hair and missing her two front teeth is grinning widely at me. The feeling I get along with a picture of her in my head is her grin reflected schadenfreude; the teacher's boy got yelled at. It's probably just projection, I doubt my mother said that to me so she could hear. The message was clear: My mother loved every single one of these kids, just as she loved me. Beware hurting anyone my mother loved! And that's why the girl was grinning!

A song popular a year or two latter that always moves me, and I've listened two several times recently is "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Here's great version from the movie Sister Act 2 that captures something of the awkward joy of cultures interacting. The students and parents of the children she taught brought her great joy. As a child myself the great sin as she showed me was not to take joy, especially for stupid reasons of racism.

Racism is partly what got me stuck trying to write about human rights. Racism can be a personal characteristic, but there are also so many racist structures built into everyday existence. In R. D. Laing's book The politics of Experience, he writes:
It is not enough to destroy one's own and other people's experience. One must overlay this devastation by a false consciousness inured, as Marcuse puts it, to its own falsity.

Exploitation must not be seen as such. It must be seen as benevolence.
Keguro writes brilliantly and he has helped me to understand better this "wolf in sheep's clothing" quality of American politics--politics including how Americans ordinarily act. Mulling that sent my head spinning. I don't know how to deal with the cruelty my country perpetuates, but surely I can't expect my righteous indignation about other countries will wear well.

Earlier this month I went to the symphony with my father for a performance of Shostakovich - Symphony No. 11 `The Year 1905'. It was a moving performance. That clip is from the 4th movement. The reviewer criticized the balance and the brass as too loud. So you can see that the whole piece is not as quiet as the selection posted. In the quiet parts I thought of Gorecki Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Music is one way to be captured by sorrow and to heal.

I do feel sorrowful often these days, so some of the songs I've been listening to lately reflect that. I loved Geffrey Oryema's Lapowny when I first heard it. This is a great live version. It's worth checking out some of the other videos of Oryema too. From the album notes:
This song is about a school teacher whose body was found lying in a school compound. He was struck by lightening and died on the spot, just as he was getting ready to head home. He had a pile of exercise books which he was supposed to correct at home. As a tribute to their beloved teacher, the pupils composed a song that they entitled Lapwony. It rained heavily on the afternoon Lapwony died. Someone found his farewell letter, the ink all but washed away.
When I'm feeling down the great Percy Mayfield's song Please Send Me Someone to Love comes to mind:
I lay awake night and ponder world troubles.
My answer is always the same.
That unless men put an end to all of this,
Hate will put the world in a flame, (oh) what a shame.
And also this song: The Isley Brothers - Harvest For The World. The keys are, I suppose, love and gratitude. I so often am neglectful.

I am grateful that I got to see Bob Marley perform live here in Pittsburgh. Redemption Song is rather permanently in my head, and I love to hear it in all sorts of cover versions. When I think of human rights, of course I want rights of all to be respected. But rather quickly the problem those that have power over come to the fore. So the question of rights leads to how to do right. Marley's answer always moves and inspires me: "All I ever had are these songs of freedom. Won't you help me sing?"

I can't find a link, I'm almost sure that there is one at Tim Boucher's site, but I can't find it. In any case somewhere I read that when G. I. Gurdjieff was asked what we can do in the face of evil, he replied:
Create something good.
I like that very much.

One of the things I like most about YouTube is seeing people's creations. There is a young South Korean guitar prodigy named Sungha Jung. I love to watch and listen to him play. It's hard to pick a favorite, but his rendition of All Along the Watchtower is surely a favorite.

That's seven songs that have been meaningful to me lately. I won't tag anyone, I hardly know any bloggers well enough. I also know that YouTube is useless where bandwidth is low. But I would love it if others, especially in Africa, take up the meme and let me know you have.


Pingting said...

1) Theme from The Last Tango in Paris- Gato Barbieri

2) What Now- Gene Chandlier

3) Time Waits For No One- Rolling Stones

4) Party Time- The Heptones

5) The Nitty Gritty- Shirley Ellis

6) Holding Back the Years- Jimmy Scott

7) Evening Star- Fripp & Eno

Pingting said...

oh! i found evening star, too!

John Powers said...

Pingting, you know how to bring a smile to my face :-) I listened to the list backwards. I had heard of Jimmy Scott, and might have heard him sing before, but "Holding Back the Years" filled me with joy and seemed like a great discovery. The song also gave me lots of ideas for searching for music.

Thank you so much for your seven songs. I wish you a lovely summertime!

maddie said...

I don't know where to start...

but my goodness you can WRITE

I feel the being inside you
vibrating through every word ~
you bring the reader like a spell
slipping into your sea....

music...helps me move through my
moods ~ when it comes to sorrow
however ~ I move away
from music that plumbs those depths
(i cannot bear it ) so i have to
heal a bit and then
work through with music...
if this makes any sense at all


I wish I met your mother ~
just this little glimpse of her
(and her beautiful face in the photo) tell me she was a force
of love with a vibrating mind
and I am sure there must be so
much of her in you ~

the Jeff Buckley song is
utterly exquisite ~ i love that
raw pure emotion ~ as if he is
singing in his bedroom
unguarded.....such a gust.

my son LOVES Bob Marley and
I must say I quite envy that you
got to here him play:)

beautiful journey of
a post ~ so layered and rich:)

maddie said...

we will just ignore that
embarrassing typo ok?



'hear '~ not here:)

Daisy said...

I love having my blog name as a TAG!

And yes, you're right, John Street school is no more.

Blogger said...

Sprinter - Function One (160BPM)