Sing Those Blues, Sita!

My piece on the brilliant movie Sita Sings the Blues, including an interview with animatrix/writer/director Nina Paley is up on Coilhouse:

Sita’s magnificence is a testament to the tireless hard work and innovative vision of Paley, a longtime alternative cartoonist, who made the whole film on her home computer over five years. The ideas for the movie stem from a particularly harsh break-up (that story’s also told in the movie). Her struggle still isn’t over either: her creation still faces numerous hurdles, both from Hindu fundamentalists and corporate music juggernauts. This thankfully hasn’t stopped it from tearing up the festival circuit across several continents, getting much acclaim at big name fests like Berlin and Tribeca.

So how did something like this come about? Paley was kind enough to talk about the movie’s genesis, its challenges and why audiences these days are doing more than just buying tickets.

Monks build beer bottle temple

Buddhist monks build temple from beer bottles:

Fifty years ago the Heineken Beer company looked at reshaping its beer bottle to be useful as a building block. It never happened, so Buddhist monks from Thailand’s Sisaket province took matters into their own hands and collected a million bottles to build the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple. It puts every other bottle building we have shown to shame.

Now that’s innovation.

Heavy Metal East: “Music is the weapon of the future”


Moe Hamzeh of The Kordz during the Cedar Revolution, photo by Lynsey Addario

My piece on the growing heavy metal culture in the Middle East is up on Coilhouse:

In 2007, the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad chronicled the trials of Acrassicauda, dubbed “Iraq’s only heavy metal band.” No doubt many did a double take at trying to reconcile visions of headbangers with environs like Iraq or Lebanon.

Part of that surprise comes from the tremendous heaping pile of bullshit out there about the Middle East. This is, in mass-media world, the land of They. Here is one teeming mass of zealots, driven as by incomprehensible creeds towards destroying you, dear viewer. Fear! Cower!

This is a lie. Growing from the very real repression and devastation faced in these lands, metal of all varieties is thriving from North Africa to Pakistan. As Moroccan metal founding father Reda Zine proclaimed: “we play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal.”

The resulting fusion sounds both old and new. Middle Eastern metalheads have gathered in the hundreds of thousands, rivaling the Islamist rallies that induce so much hand-wringing in the West. In defense of the most basic freedoms they’ve had showdowns with dictators and fundamentalists. Sometimes, they win.

Rundown, evil cackle edition

* I found out today that someone recently called me power-hungry. I’ll take that as a compliment, especially in this city.

* I have a craving for steak.

* Kathleen Sebelius is coming to Asheville

* While I’m on the topic of this fair town, what it really needs is a fetish/latex fashion place with some decently affordable stuff for us proles too. Combined with Genesis P-Orridge moving here, that could herald a new subcultural dawn: hippie bullshit out, shiny, driven occultists in! Bring the jubilee!

* You know what’s fascinating? Memory Palaces. Immensely so. Giordano Bruno had one. Much as I find technology and the change it can bring compelling, a lot of non-techne based talents and skills deserve far more exploration than they currently get.

* “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
-Eric Hoffer

It’s not there


I wrote a rough draft of the following in 2005 after a visit to Ground Zero — looking at it over three years later, I find that it sums up my thoughts on this day.

My first visit to New York was years ago. I went as a gangly kid, smack dab in the middle of high school. It was a United Methodist Church trip. I was awkward, with that seething discomfort in one’s own skin that’s the hallmark of any adolescence. Many of the things I have become now were just seeds then, waiting to come into form.

While there, we visited the World Trade Center. I remember the elevator ride first. Long. On one side of me were two well dressed, burly Hasidic gentlemen, laughing. To the other a group of Asian businessmen, speaking in their own language. What they thought of the young group of wide-eyed Southern teenagers behind them, I do not know.

The view from the top was magnificent. It was before dusk, the lights had just started to come on. Spread out almost into infinity, the buildings were so vast and beautiful. I could see everything: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building — everything.

It hit me right then: this was a miracle. Here spread before me were thousands upon thousands of peoples, ambitions, cultures, thoughts, foods, languages. All of it. And it worked.

It was chaotic, dirty and sprawling, occasionally violent even, but it worked. Despite all the critiques of the venal nature of humanity all this managed to exist without rending itself apart.

Waves of immigrants, political turmoil, a civil war and the weight of three centuries had pushed onto it. New York was still standing there, strong as ever.

When I returned, it wasn’t what was there that struck me, it was what wasn’t. Just a space. Even if I had been an alien visitor, I still would have known that something just wasn’t right, that there should be something there instead of a massive, gaping hole and some twisted metal.

It was too quiet. It is still hard for me to comprehend it, just on a personal level. The old view I remembered so fondly, the one that made me realize how breathtakingly huge the world was, is gone. Those Hasidic gentlemen beside me in the elevator may well be ash by now. The steel I trod on? Torn into nothing.

The world has heard about 9/11 nearly non-stop for the last few years. The event still leaves marks, pulls up old, raw emotions. I knew what was coming when I decided the visit Ground Zero and its still hard for me to take in.

All the memories are tinged with a sadness, not just for the event itself, but for what has come after. How such an tragedy, almost so vast and terrible it defies comprehension, has become something for fat cowards to invoke to justify torture, lies, greed and fanaticism.

In a better world, we would have the leaders we deserve. In a better world Osama bin Laden’s head would be on a pike and George W. Bush would be a washed-up political failure. In a better world the nation that miraculously came to be would have taken an awful tragedy as a reason to rise from the ashes, not a fear to cower from. In a better world we would not have forgotten who our true enemies were.

But we live in this one. Bin Laden still lives and we have thrown fuel on his fires instead of snuffing them out. George W. Bush is President. Some days it seems that the same country that survived through so much is intent on undoing everything it has gained.

But New York still survives and so can we. What was torn down can be rebuilt, and one human can undo what another has done. There is a new age and a new generation in the workings.

The miracle I witnessed from atop the world trade center has gone nowhere and it waits to spring forth again, today or tomorrow.

Gaza. Is. Metal!


Johann Hari finds out what the kids in the Middle East are listening to:

I first realised that my never-quite-abandoned adolescent taste for heavy metal had a political edge in – of all places – the Jaballya refugee camp in Gaza. I was interviewing teenagers about their strangled lives and expected to hear the usual Hamasnik lines reeled back at me. But instead, they kept using words from Metallica and Slipknot to explain how they felt. “I am dying to live/Cry out/I’m trapped under ice,” one of them said. They showed me their carefully-stashed CDs and T-shirts – liable to be seized by Hamas-militia at any time – and begged me to send more.

After I returned home, I discovered this was no anomaly. It turns out that the biggest market for Heavy Metal outside the US is across the Muslim world. In underground car parks in Tehran, in barns in Peshawar, in graveyards in Cairo, Muslim mosh-pits are springing up. We are constantly told that people born in Muslim countries are a homogenous sharia-seeking mass, represented by foul mullahs. But in his study, Heavy Metal Islam, Alan LeVine gives a startling statistic: in Morocco, only two forces in living memory have brought out crowds of more than 200,000: the Islamist opposition, and heavy metal bands raging against religion. To head-bang to a band called Deicide may be inane fun in London; in Iran or Egypt or Pakistan it is a strikingly brave political act.

This is absolutely fascinating and bears more research for future writing. Hari also has some interesting stuff to say about the rebel’s roots in country (the good stuff, not the tripe that passes now). Which, if anyone ever needs a reminder, Mr. Cash is more than happy to provide:

Thought for the night

I am human, nothing human is alien to me.
-Terence