As we close out Black History Month, and my two efforts to say something worthy of the subject ended up in the e-trash, I was thinking about giving Nina Simone the final word on the month here on my blog. A question struck me; has anyone covered “Mississippi Goddam?” Would anyone dare?
But I sure do like the song. I recall the original from my childhood. We lived in a small redneck town in Colorado back then, and the music was the perfect soundtrack for a part of my childhood spent on the back of a horse rather than a bicycle.
Of course, the rock&roll chased almost everything else out of my musical tastes for a time, and I have to admit I was slow to put anything by Hank Williams back in my personal playlists (kicking myself there), but I don’t think there has ever been a moment I heard him on the radio, or in a movie, or on some friend’s stereo that I didn’t smile a little and enjoy the music. Hank Williams was full of amazing tunes.
But Lonesome is in a class all by itself.
Puts a lump in my throat every damned time!
I actually think what brought me back to the original was the cover by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes back in the oughts. That song did more damage to my truck speakers driving back and forth from Flagstaff to the middle of the Navajo Nation. Their version was made to be loud, very loud! They probably took a small portion of my hearing down along with the speakers, not that Black Sabbath hadn’t already vandalized my hearing well before they added their two cents of post-punk goodness.
All is forgiven though. They led me back to Hank.
A few years back, I added one more version of this wonderful tune to my playlist, a cover by Hurray for the RiffRaff. Moni always says this version is a little too slow for her taste, which is odd, because she loves the RiffRaff even more than I do, but their version of Lonesome is just a bit too slow for her.
I love Moni anyway.
I know this tune has been covered and re-covered by many great artists, but these are the versions I know and love.
Right wing patriots love their country in much the same way that an abusive spouse loves his wife.
“I love you baby, now do what I say or else!”
When one of those participating in the riots on the 6th picked up a flag used it to beat an officer, that struck me as rather par for the course. Independent of all the other crap perpetrated by those engaged in this insurrection, Francis Stager’s choice of a weapon might have seemed ironic to some, but for me it actually seemed rather telling. An American flag used as a weapon makes a fitting symbol for right wing politics.
It makes a fitting symbol of right wing patriotism.
This morning I started thinking about another image of a flag used as a weapon.
Was it the hard had riot of the Nixon era?
After digging around a bit, I fount it. This iconic photo, “The Soiling of Old Glory,” captures a moment in the busing riots of 1976. This time the flag wielder was a student upset that his friends would be bused away in an effort to desegregate the schools. His target wasn’t a cop, it was a random African-American.
Luckily, he missed!
I don’t know if Joseph Rakes, the flag-wielding student, fits the right wing stereotype quite so well as Francis Stager, but the meaning of the moment seems comparable enough. As does the outrageous nature of the action. You’d be hard-pressed to avoid seeing in either conflict some sense of the defense of privilege; harder to still to find any meaningful excuse for the decision to turn the arguments of the day into a physical assault against a momentarily defenseless victim. Whatever the cop might have done in some other context, he was hopelessly outnumbered when Stager attacked him. Ted Landsmark, the black man in the 76 photo hadn’t done a damned thing; he too was hopelessly outnumbered and already realing from another blow. Neither deserved to be attacked with a deadly weapon.
Not any weapon.
Still, the weapon in each of these cases does seem to make a statement.
I grew up listening to Green Manalishi, the Priest version of course.
To say that I loved that song is hardly the half of it. I recall waiting by the stereo with a cassette recorder, hoping it would play soon, and hoping the damned DJ would announce it in time for me to his record. That and “You Got Another Thing Comin'” led me to Judas Priest. Combined with a few other things, it led me to Heavy Metal. To say that I took an interest in the genre is putting it mildly. For an adolescent male back in the 80s, Heavy Metal was more like a religion than a musical genre. I didn’t just embrace metal on account of this song and others like it, I instinctively renounced others. To love music from another genre just felt wrong; metal was my music. I made exceptions, but they were few and far in between for a few years there. My interest in metal back then was an oath of allegiance. Remembering now what it was like to sit in front of my dad’s old stereo with a tape-recorder waiting for a Green Manalishi to make an appearance, I can’t help but chuckle at he foolishness to come even as I wish I could have (just for one moment even) the magic and the intensity of my initial interest in this song.
I don’t know when I first learned that one of my favorite Priest songs was actually a cover. I imagine, I must have responded with something like; ‘cool’, but I don’t think I sought out the original. As with Diamonds and Rust, I was happy to know that there was a history to this song, but I didn’t make too much of an effort to learn what it was.
I think I listened to the full version of this song only recently. It was a Fleetwood Mack song, made long before Stevie Nicks brought her own haunting vocals to the band. This was one of Peter Green’s final contributions to the band.
What is a Green Manalishi?
To Green, it was a green dog, if you can imagine that, a green dog and a dead one at that, dead but still barking. The dog, according to Green represented money.
Yes, drugs were involved.
In its own way, the Green version of this tune is just as hard hitting as the Priest cover. It’s slower, more minimalist, and yet so much more haunting. Anger always came through loud and clear in the Priest version; in the original it’s dread. I always imagined Rob Halford angry at some old flame who wouldn’t go away. I would never have imagined the Green version was an old lover; every note suggests something more sinister, more arcane. I wouldn’t have guessed it was a dog or a money, but listening to the tune now, death and worse seems quite likely the point of the song.
I have two versions of this song in my favorites list now.
I see this image from time to time circulating about the net. It passes, I suppose, for a kind of homage to Lozen, one of at least three women who fought beside Geronimo at one time or another in the course of his campaigns. Lozen, it seems was with him at the end. She was sent to Florida along with the rest of his warriors (and some of the scouts who had helped bring him). As mentioned in the meme here, the picture above was taken as she and the other prisoners waited in front of the train to be taken away.
So, what has me griping about this?
Well, take a look at the original. Lozen is the 6th figure from the right on the back row.
…and here is another close-up derived from that same photo:
So, just take a moment to compare the two and you might be able to tell what’s bothering me about the first photo.
Yeah, …they sexed her up.
The computer rendering in the first pic definitely lightened up her skin, brought her eyes out more, and gave the overall impression of much more delicate features. Hell, you can practically hear the photographer asking her to lick her lips and work it for the camera. The woman in this meme is a modern heterosexual (white?) male’s dream girl. From what I gather of the stories told about her, Lozen was no such dream.
Far from it!
The problem here isn’t necessary a question of objectivity. People make choices when they render a photo or tell a story. Maybe I’m being a little too cynical here, but I can’t help thinking the choices made in producing the image for this meme aren’t entirely in keeping with the spirit of the woman it portrays.
One of the more iconic images we get from The Searchers, features John Wayne standing in the doorway of a home, the majestic landscape of Monument valley behind him. It’s a recurrent motif in The Searchers, looking out through a doorway; it makes a great metaphor through which to view the content of a western. Those of us watching in the present look out into the wilderness beyond, almost as if we were viewing the frontier from the shelter of civilization itself. Men like John Wayne move back and forth across that threshold, but we don’t. We view the mythic American frontier from the safety of the hearth while dangerous men, real men, like John Wayne transform the world beyond into the safe environments we now call home. After standing in the doorway a bit in the final scene, Wayne saunters off back out onto that wilderness. He may be an agent of civilization, but he’s never quite at home in it. Wayne belongs out there, in the desert with all kinds of wild men. It’s about as powerful a statement as anyone ever made in the western genre.
This image returns to us in Malaglutit, a remake of The Searchers by Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Angalaaq featuring an all-Inuit cast. This time what passes for an entrance is a hole torn into an igloo by men for the explicit purpose of taking women by force. Just as in the John Wayne/John Ford version of this story, the raiders have carried women off to parts unknown. The effort to reclaim these women will of course provide the substance of the story itself, but that moment when the men in either film return to find carnage in what should be a home is one of the more powerful scenes in the story. In The Searchers, Wayne enters the wrecked home and pauses in a small doorway, clearly distraught by what he sees. In Malaglutit, the porthole isn’t even a doorway it’s a gaping wound. This porthole isn’t about frontier mythology; its symbolism is more direct, far more graphic, and it speaks far more directly to the violence that has occurred inside, the violence still occurring somewhere out there.
This film has been on the festival circuit for a couple years now, but it’s still rather hard to come by. I finally got a chance to watch it when we showed Malaglutit at the Motif Film Festival in Fairbanks last month. Zacharias Kunuk may not be that well known south of the arctic circle and outside of indigenous circles, but he probably should be. His movie, Atanarjuat (Fast Runner), is perhaps the most well known of his creations. Now THAT film you can get ahold of. It’s well worth the watch. Angalaaq is best known for playing the lead role in Atanarjuat, though he was also excellent in The Necessities of Life. And it’s one of the reasons I have been looking forward to Malaglutit. The Searchers is easily one of the greatest westerns ever made. To see it remade as an indigenous production raises all manner of interesting prospects. To see it done by people as talented as Kunuk and Angalaaq makes them all that much more interesting.
Oh yeah; Spoiler alert!
It’s difficult to make a sustained comparison between the two films, though that seems to be where I am going with this. Kunuk’s cast is all Inuit. The villains, the heroes, the heroines; all of them are Inuit. So, the many racial themes present in the original Searchers just don’t enter into this version of the story. Along with the absence of race, I think you’d have to say the essential themes of an American western are largely missing here (though at least one critic has referred to it as a Northern). It seems that some of the landscape Kunuk filmed might echo the rock formations of Monument Valley, but if so, the resemblance is slight. Most significantly, the central protagonist here is doesn’t carry the moral complexity of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards. At least, we don’t have to wonder if Kuanana (the hero in Malaglutit) will kill his wife and daughter instead of rescuing them. That was a big part of the original Searchers, and it’s not present in this story.
What is present here, what is new to the basic-story-line, is an extraordinarily frank meditation on rape. In the original Searchers, violence between men is all over the screen, but the rape and torture of women takes place off-screen. We are invited to imagine its horrors, but what we see are men shooting at each other in a plot-line shaped by those horrors. In Malaglutit, we see much (though not all) of the sexual violence. From the moment of capture to the actual rape of the women in this film the camera lingers; we are forced to watch this play out slowly on screen. I wouldn’t say that the scenes are all that sexually explicit, but I would say that they are emotionally explicit. What we see isn’t body parts; people struggling with one another. Perhaps the most disturbing scene in the whole film, at least for me, occurs shortly after the initial capture when the kidnappers pause for a break in their travel, their captives still tied to the sleds. Ostensibly a chance to eat and rest, it is also the first time they and their victims are alone together with enough time to contemplate the prospects ahead of them. It is a moment of calm, and yet one thoroughly saturated with violence.
There is something about the stripped down nature of this story line that helps us focus on the violence against the women here. Yes, there men struggling to save these women, but the epic battle between good men and evil men doesn’t eclipse the struggle between the captors and their captives in this story. We are never afforded the luxury of thinking about this as a story about men. The unimagined horrors of The Searchers have been put right there in front of us in Malaglutit. In the original, John Wayne’s character is driven made at the thought that his niece might have gone native so to speak, that she had been sullied by a Comanche and (worse) that she might have grown to accept it. Racial themes play a big part of the horror through which Wayne’s character views the events in question. In Malaglutit, racial differences are non-existent, and the violent process by which a captive might be made to give up hope unfold right there on the screen in front us us.
But do they?
Do they give up hope?
That was the question that occupied my attention throughout this story. Of course I also wanted Kuanana to rescue them, and I wanted the bastards who committed these terrible acts to be punished. But more than anything else, I wanted the women, Ailla and her daughter, to come through themselves. I wanted to see them hold on, not because Kuanana would have wanted them to, but because I saw enough of their story to care about their own struggle, their own part in this story-line.
At the end of the day, this really is its own film
Like most any white kid in the suburbs of the 70s and 80s, I listened to hard rock. As I got older, I came to understand there was some kind of relationship between the blaring guitars and thundering drums making their way into my ears and the old blues artists of what then seemed to me like ancient times. In college, I learned a bit more about it from a History of Rock&Roll class, and from a friend with a good stash of old blues albums, but it wasn’t until I started buying those albums myself that I realized just how much my favorite bands owed to the old blues artists. In time, I came to see just how much of what I loved about Rock&Roll was already there in blues.
Needless to say, this meant I had a whole new range of music to explore.
One of my favorite songs, then and now, would have to be Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks.
I’m sorry, I meant to say that one of my favorite songs has always been the Led Zeppelin version of When the Levee Breaks.
Zeppelin absolutely nailed this recording, but listening to four British guys play the song, I always had the sense that the lyrics didn’t quite fit. Sure, it was Robert Plant’s vocals on the albums, but it wasn’t his voice (in the literary sense) that animated the story. No. The voice that shaped the lyrics belonged to Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, the original artists to record the song. Realizing this, puts the tune in a whole new perspective. Minnie and Joe were singing about the great Mississippi flood of 1927, an event far closer to their own lives than those of the Mighty Zep. Zeppelin may have carried their story forward a bit, but not without taking a few ghosts along with it.
I still love the Zeppelin version, but I feel just a little better knowing where it came from. No. I don’t always need that to enjoy a song, but in this case, the story itself keeps pointing back to its beginnings. The song keeps alluding to an origin that doesn’t sit well in the mega-hit from the early seventies. For me at least, the song is a little more interesting when you can grasp the traces of dialogue within it, when you can hear at least a trace of Minnie’s voice in that of Robert Plant.
Lately, my favorite version of the song comes from Buckwheat Zydeco. I didn’t expect that. Really, When I first hit play on this version, I fully expected to mumble ‘that’s interesting’ and switch half-way through the tune to something else (something louder and meaner). But no! He frickin kills it! Zydeco seems to keep a lot of the Zeppelin version in his own approach to the song, but of course he adds something new to the mix, something rather cool. Hearing Zydeco’s own vocals onto the blaring guitars and thundering drums makes for an interesting twist in the story. Without erasing the classic rock influence, Zydeco manages to bring the song back closer to its original home. It all gets a little more interesting when this version of the song turns out to be a nod to the hardships brought on by Hurricane Katrina. You can hear a lot of history in this recording, both in the lyrics and the in layers of musical style.
Statue of Liberty Doll Sealskin, velour, cotton, rabbit, simulated sinew, thread, wire, Cup’ik, Maker: Rosalie Paniyak, UA 2001-008-0003
Back in May, I made a stop at the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Lots of interesting stuff in there, but this one piece in particular caught my attention. The information card next to Miss Liberty had a nice note from the museum director. It reads as follows:
“I’m a Native New York who 13 years ago left the big city for the paradise of Alaska. Rosalie Paniyak’s Statue of Liberty doll is, for me, one of the funniest works of art in the entire museum, and the embodiement of what I left and what I have now.
“When I lived in lower Manhattan, my dog and I would walk along the Hudson River.There was Ms. Liberty, tall, strong, and noble, an image that took itself very seriously. Moreover, it welcomed people to a Very Important City.
“Rosalie’s Statue of Liberty is soft, with a face that is anything but dignified. She holds her torch askew. She is the Cup’ik version of an American icon, humorous and irreverent.
“After I enjoy its visual irony, what does this doll say to me? On the lighter side, that New Yorkers’ sense of self-importance is a bit silly. And more seriously, that this privilege of liberty has not always been enjoyed by everyong, such as Native Americans.”
Okay we’ve all seen the original, and if you haven’t, then shame on you! Watch it 5.8 times and then come back.
What I don’t think we’ve all seen in the Nigerian version of the parrot sketch. Apparently, this is the result of a prank played on some 419 scammers. That said, I actually think they did the scene justice. The customer is particularly good.
I have fond memories of Zeppelin, the dreaded version of course. Don’t worry I love the leaded version of zeppelin too, but there is something about an Elvis impersonator belting out Robert Plants lyrics to a slightly more rhythmic version of the standard Zep. tunes, …it was hilarious and beautiful at the same time. I’m talking about Dread Zeppelin of course. If you don’t know what I’m talking about the, not even Jah can save you.
I saw these guys at a New Year’s performance at Calamity Jane’s in Las Vegas many many years back. They put on a Hell of a show, and yes I still inflict their tunes on my friends whenever I get a chance. I always thought the most brilliant thing they ever did was this little gem For those insufficiently familiar with the original Zeppelin canon (shame on you again!), the name of the tune is of course, Moby Dick.
…a fact that has had me laughing for about 2 decades now.