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Happy Burns Night: Here’s a documentary on the People’s Poet Rabbie Burns

Today is Robert Burns’ birthday, and across the world traditional suppers are held to celebrate the life and poetry of Scotland’s national Bard.

I have never been one for those couthy ritualistic gatherings, where toasts are given to the lads and lassies, and where some elder with a tartan to match his face, gives an address to the haggis. For me these suppers have little to do with Burns the man and poet, who could write such beauty as:

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom
is shed;

Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white - then melts
for ever;

Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;

Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. -

Nae man can tether time or tide;

No, I prefer to see Robert Burns as great poet, a revolutionary, a socialist, an egalitarian, who believed ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ and wrote to inspire a better world:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

That man to man, the world o’er,

Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Burns’ idealism was often compromised by the financial demands of his everyday life - and what a life. A poet, a ploughman, a lover, a drinker, a revolutionary, a government lackey, a hero, a destitute. As Andrew O’Hagan points out in this excellent documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet, Burns was the equivalent of a rock star in his day, a writer of songs (“Auld Lang Syne”, “Ae Fond Kiss”, “My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose”, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”) and poems (“Tam O’Shanter”, “Holy Wuillie’s Prayer”, “To A Mouse”, “Cock Up Your Beaver”) that enchanted a nation and the world.

It was his ability to touch the heart and mind of his readers and to make them empathize with his subject matter, whether this was love, revolution in France or simply a mouse:

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

He was idolized by the public, and was a hero and inspiration to the likes of Beethoven and Byron. At a time of great oppression he spoke out against slavery, inequality, and poverty. Burns wanted liberty and fairness for all. Yet he died in poverty, hounded by creditors, and near-broken as a man.

That Rabbie Burns is still read, performed and celebrated 200 years after his death, says all about his importance as a poet and the relevance of his belief for a better world, where all are equal and share the common wealth.

O’Hagan’s documentary Robert Burns: The People’s Poet is no hagiography, but controversially questions many of the assumptions made about this radical poet, and examines the incredible dramatic and often tragic circumstances of his life.

A selection of Burns poems read by the likes of Brian Cox, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Cumming.

Portrait of Burns by Calum Colvin.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre

They first met through a love of theater, at a production of The Flies. It drew them together, this collective experience towards a creative good. And then, of course, their love of literature and writing, and during the war through the Resistance, and endless conversations in the cafes, which later became famous through association with their names. Jean-Paul Sartre was the leader. Albert Camus the talented writer, a leader in waiting.

Though close, there were early signs of division - Sartre knew Camus was the better writer, something he would never acknowledge publicly - and when the war finished, it wasn’t long for their friendship to fail.

Against the background of Cold War tensions and the threat of nuclear war between East and West, Sartre took the side of the Soviet Union, while Camus said he was on “the side of life”.

“I’m against a new war. To revolt today means to revolt against war.”

But it was Sartre’s blind acceptance of Russia’s concentration camps that proved too much for Camus. He wanted Sartre to denounce them, in the same way they had once denounced the German concentration camps. Sartre refused.

This led Camus to question the idea of rebellion and revolution, in particular the value of the Russian revolution, this at a time when writers on the Left held it up as the socialist dream.

In The Rebel Camus wrote:

‘In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself.

“In contemplating the results in an act of rebellion we shall have to ask ourselves each time if it remains faithful to its first noble promise or whether it forgets its purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny and servitude.

“In Absurdist experience suffering is individual, but from the moment that a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience, as the experience of everyone. Therefore the first step towards a mind overwhelmed by the absurdity of things is to realize that this feeling, this strangeness is shared by all men, and the entire human race suffers from a division between itself and the rest of the world.”

Camus’ intention with The Rebel was to change accepted ideas about rebellion, with a new concept of questioning revolutionary action. For many it was too abstract and too damaging to the communist cause.

Sartre, therefore, decided something had to be done to redress Camus’ apparent attack on Soviet Communism, and by implication all communist belief, and he organized a damning and high-handed response. It proved to be a devastating blow to Camus.

While Sartre could separate the world of ideas from his personal friendship, Camus could not. He believed friendship was essential, and depended on his friends like the strong camaraderie shared by a theater company. Camus believed friendship united people together in the struggle for a better world. He therefore saw Sartre’s actions as the worst kind of betrayal, and it finished their friendship.

This is a short but fascinating extract examining the friendship between Camus and Sartre.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Rule Britannia’ from Derek Jarman’s ‘Jubilee’, 1978

There have been few films as truthful about the state of MerryEngland as Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. Here is a world bought by bankers, sold by politicians, all with public money. A world where everything has its price, and liberty is defined by our Right to Shop. A world best described in the film by the wonderful creation, Borgia Ginz:

“You wanna know my story babe. It’s easy. This is the generation that grew up and forgot to lead their lives. They were so busy watching my endless movie. It’s power babe, power. I don’t create it, I own it. I sucked and sucked and I sucked. The media became their only reality and I owned their world of flickering shadows. BBC. TUC. ITV. ABC. ATV. MGM. KGB. C of E. You name it, I bought them all and rearranged the alphabet. Without me, they don’t exist.”

After its release in 1978, Jubilee was denounced by some of the people who should have supported it, but were horrified by its nihilism. Jarman explained his motivation to the Guardian‘s Nicholas de Jongh:

“We have now seen all established authority, all political systems, fail to provide any solution - they no longer ring true.”

As true today, as it was then.

Here is Jordan as Amyl Nitrite, giving it laldy with her rendition of “Rule Britannia”.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rebellion in Spain
02:36 pm

Current Events


Forget the Rapture, Spain is where the action is, as tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the street for a sixth day. In Madrid, some 25,000 protesters occupied the Puerta del Sol Square, while others gathered in Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.

The protests, which started last Sunday, are against the the austerity measures implemented by the current government, the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), in May 2010. The government’s policies have been blamed for the steep rise in the country’s unemployment to 21.3%, and for the calamitous state of the economy.

The demonstrations come ahead of the May 22 Municipal and Regional Elections, when it is expected the ruling Socialist Party will take a “drubbing”. Political rallies are banned under Spanish law on the day before elections, in order to allow a “day of reflection”. Though a police crackdown was feared by some protesters, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said the police were “not going to resolve one problem by creating another”.

The main issue with the protesters is a desire for change:

One of the protesters, Carlos Gomez told the BBC:

This is an historic moment. Thousands of people have been camping in Sol since last Sunday with no flags or affiliation to any party.

Young people, old people, families, it does not matter. Everything is organised. There are tents to place your suggestions to the movement.
There are tents with food, where people are giving to the campers, tents with political debates, even one for childcare. We are not just asking for jobs. We are asking for a change in the political system.

We have no option but to vote for the two biggest parties in Spain, who are more or less the same. They are unable to solve any problem, it is just a nest of corruption.We are tired. In short, we want a working democracy. We want a change..

Paco, Valencia:

The protests are not really anti-government, but rather anti-big political parties, both the one in power and the main ones in opposition.

It’s an anti-capitalism, anti-market ruled society, anti-banks, anti-political corruption, anti-failed democracy, anti-degraded democracy and pro-real democracy protest.

It’s a protest that wants a better, real future, not the future that the government or parties in opposition seem to be able to provide.

The manifestos and proposals are quite left-leaning ideologically, but not linked to any political party, because right now, most of us don’t feel represented by them.

Paula, Vigo, Spain:

The protests began against Spanish electoral law, as we want that to change.

Then other movements started joining in and many political parties tried to make the protests their own.

But this movement is affiliated to no political party whatsoever.

There are young people, old people, unemployed, civil servants, pensioners, immigrants, campaigners for local languages, freelancers, right-wingers and left-wingers all taking part.

It is a beautiful movement.

The protests have brought comparisons with the recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. However, there is a major difference - Spain’s economy is tied into the Eurozone, which means if the country is bailed out, they will be “owned” by the EU. Where previously Spain could have devalued their currency, this is no longer possible as the Eurozone, which is made up of 17 member states including Spain, has one shared currency - the Euro. Deputy Prime Minister, Alfredo PĂ©rez Rubalcalba has said Spain won’t be another domino (like Greece, Ireland and Portugal) but a “dam protecting the eurozone.”  It may all be just wishful thinking on the government’s behalf, but whatever happens next, tomorrow’s Municipal and Regional Elections will be the first small step towards change; and while demonstrations may be nothing new in Spain, it will be interesting to see where this one goes over the coming days.

More pictures from the protest in Madrid here.

Live stream from Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid, here

Vlog from inside Madrid’s Puerta del Sol Square, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Huey Newton: Prelude to a Revolution

Prelude to a Revolution features prison interviews with Huey P. Newton, co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Newton was born 17 February 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana. The youngest of seven children, his family moved to Oakland, California in 1945, where they lived at various addresses in the Bay Area. Though poor, Newton later claimed he and is family never did without food or shelter. However, he did claim in his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide he was “made to feel ashamed of being black.”

“During those long years in Oakland public schools, I did not have one teacher who taught me anything relevant to my own life or experience. Not one instructor ever awoke in me a desire to learn more or to question or to explore the worlds of literature, science, and history. All they did was try to rob me of the sense of my own uniqueness and worth, and in the process nearly killed my urge to inquire.”

In October 1966, after involvement with various radical groups, Newton and his associate, Bobby Seale formed the Black Panthers, an “organization working for the right of self-defense for African-Americans in the United States.” The Panthers changed American politics, and famously drew up a “Ten Point Plan,” a manifesto which called for, among other things, “black community self-determination, full employment, decent housing for black people, an end to police brutality, and an immediate end to all wars of aggression.” They also brought in a series of social programs (community schools, free breakfasts, self-defense classes, armed citizens’ patrols) that offered an alternative to the capitalist system. At the time, it was said Newton “could take street-gang types and give them a social consciousness.”

In 1967, Newton was involved in an incident that led to the death of a police officer. Newton was shot in the stomach, and though no gun was found on his person, was charged with manslaughter. In 1968, he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to 2-15 years. In 1970, the California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. After two subsequent mistrials, the California Supreme Court dropped the case against Newton.

Huey Newton: Prelude to a Revolution was filmed while Newton was in prison, it is a powerful and thought-provoking film, and gives great insight into Newton’s ideas and hopes for the Black Panther movement:

“We view each other with a great love and a great understanding and we try to extend this to the general black population and also oppressed people all over the world. I think that we differ from some other groups simply because we understand the system better than most groups understand the system. With this realization we attempt to form a strong political base based in the community with the only strength that we have and thats the strength of a potentially destructive force If we don’t get freedom.”


Previously on DM

Huey Newton compels William F. Buckley to side with George Washington, 1973


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Gotta revolution
05:11 am

Current Events


Gotta revolution if you want it. Click here and watch the future unfold in real time on your computer. The concept that we’re all in this together has never been truer or more immediate. Governments, Egypt’s and our own, are playing catch up. Information is power and it makes us all equal.

Blogs not bombs!

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Videograms of a Revolution: The Romanian revolution televised

With the current uprising in Egypt, and the recent events in Tunisia, it is timely to have a look at Videograms of a Revolution, which documents Romania’s popular revolution that led to the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Complied by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica from over 125 hours worth of amateur footage, news footage, and excerpts from a demonstrator-controlled Bucharest TV studio in late December 1989, their documentary tells the story of “how the mediated image not only records but engenders historic change.”

With thanks to Ana Lola Roman

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Deconstructing ‘Revolution’: Hear The Beatles in the Studio, 1968

It’s the Kennedy moment for a generation, who know where they were, and what they were doing when they heard about John Lennon’s murder thirty years ago today.

I was woken from sleep, and half-awake, half asleep, the news was dreamlike, “John Lennon’s dead. He was shot.” It didn’t make sense, and three decades on, still doesn’t.

Lennon’s loss is immeasurable, for we are left with unfulfilled expectations. That said, Lennon’s creative work as a solo artist, but more importantly with The Beatles changed everything. John, Paul, George and Ringo were the most revolutionary and influential quartet since Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

To celebrate their revolutionary drive, here is “Revolution” deconstructed.

Lennon started writing “Revolution” in early 1968, when off on retreat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Arguably, it was the first real political song The Beatles produced, and was a considered move away from the lovable mop-top image, as Lennon explained:

“I thought it was about time we spoke about it [revolution], the same as I thought it was about time we stopped not answering about the Vietnamese war. I had been thinking about it up in the hills in India.”

1968: the Vietnam War, My Lai Massacre, Grosvenor Square demonstration, student riots in Paris, Rome and Brazil, Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin start a bombing campaign, Russia crushes the Prague Spring revolt in Czechoslovakia, Martin Luther King assassinated, Bobby Kennedy assassinated. It was a hell of a year.

In May The Beatles recorded Take 1 of “Revolution”, a slow almost Blues-like number with Lennon singing his vocal while lying on the floor. During this recording Lennon included the word “in” at the end of the line “You can count me out” as he was undecided about supporting violent revolution. Even so, Lennon was keen to have this version released as the next Beatles’ single. McCartney, however, was against causing any controversy, and argued, along with Harrison, that the track was far too slow to be a hit. It was eventually released, with lots of overdubs, on the White Album

A longer version (Take 20), lasting over 10 minutes was recorded and begins with Lennon shouting “Take your knickers off and let’s go.” Yoko Ono can be heard on this track, saying “Maybe it’s not that,” to which Harrison replies, “It is that.” Parts of this were later incorporated into “Revolution No. 9”.

Lennon was still adamant about releasing a version of “Revolution” and a faster, more up-tempo version was recorded on 9 July. It begins with “a startling machine-gun fuzz guitar riff,” with Lennon’s and Harrison’s guitars prominent throughout. Their distinct fuzzy sound was achieved by plugging the guitars directly into the recording console, and then routing the signal through two microphone preamplifiers, almost causing the channel to overload. Lennon overdubbed the opening scream, and double-tracked some of the words “so roughly that its careless spontaneity becomes a point in itself.” This version of “Revolution” was released as the B-side to “Hey, Jude” in August 1968. Highly controversial at the time, dividing both Left and Right, “Revolution” is now regarded as one of the “greatest, most furious rockers” with “challenging, fiery lyrics” where the listener’s “heart immediately starts pounding before Lennon goes into the first verse.” Rock critic Dave Marsh included “Revolution” in his 1989 book of 1001 greatest singles, describing it as a “gem” with a “ferocious fuzztone rock and roll attack” and a “snarling” Lennon vocal. Who can disagree?
John Lennon - Vocals

More tracks plus bonus clips of The Beatles after the jump…

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