La Nit de Sant Joan

La nit de Sant Joan, és nit d’alegria
Estrellat de Flors, L’estiu ens arriba
De mans d’un fillet que li fa de guia.
Primavera mor, l’hiverm es retira.
Si arribes l’amor, mai mes moriría.

Yesterday night was the Nit de Sant Joan and Jaume Sisa composed this song in its honour. Jaume Sisa, composer and singer, has created some of the most iconic songs of contemporary catalan popular music. El setè cel, Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol or Nit de Sant Joan belong already to the catalan collective subconscious.

Among the catalan festivities, there are two that, in my view, stand out as faithful “avatars” of the “catalan soul”.  One of them, el Dia de Sant Jordi, the day on which men give roses to their significant ones and everybody gives books to everybody, is quite well known even outside of Catalonia. Not so much with la Nit de Sant Joan, celebrated on Saint John’s eve, the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June, around the summer solstice. With roots in pagan times (probable but not proven), it is a night not to sleep…but to eat, drink, dance…a night of love…and pleasure…of fire, of fireworks and bonfires…a celebration of excess and of life.

There is a saying stating that the character of Catalonia fluctuates between el Seny i la Rauxa. El Seny, “reasonableness, integrity, common sense, right action”, would be Sant Jordi. La Rauxa, “passion, excess, sentimentality”  would be la Nit de Sant Joan.

If you ever visit our land, care to include one of these 2 festivities (or both!) in your schedule. And if it is la Nit de Sant Joan be ready to let loose because…”Si arribes l’amor, mai mes moriría.”

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The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a song by The Band, recorded in 1969 and released on their self-titled second album. Joan Baez’s cover of the song was a top-five chart hit in late 1971.

The song was written by Robbie Robertson. The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and the suffering of the South. Dixie is a nickname for the Southern Confederate statesConfederate soldier Virgil Caine “served on the Danville train” (the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia from Danville, Virginia, and by connection, the rest of the South). Union cavalry regularly tore up Confederate rail lines to prevent the movement of men and material to the front where Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia was besieged at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman‘s forces “tore up the track again”.

The song’s lyric refers to conditions in the Southern states in the winter of early 1865 (“We were hungry / Just barely alive”); the Confederate states are starving and defeated. Reference is made to the date May 10, 1865, by which time the Confederate capital of Richmond had long since fallen (in April); May 10 marked the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the definitive end of the Confederacy.

Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “Na,na,na…”

Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me
“Virgil, quick, come see, there go the Robert E.Lee”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood, and I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “La, la, la”

Like my father before me, I will work the land
And like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave, but a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, na”

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, na”

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Pete Seeger one of the fathers of american folk music, loved and revered by so many, died yesterday. In 1955 he wrote and composed Where Have All the Flowers Gone? The song has become a classic pacifist hymn. We publish 2 versions, one by Pete Seeger and one by Marlene Dietrich.

Seeger recalled about the song:

“I had been reading a long novel – And Quiet Flows the Don – about the Don River in Russia and the Cossacks who lived along it in the 19th century. It describes the Cossack soldiers galloping off to join the Tsar’s army, singing as they go. Three lines from a song are quoted in the book: ‘Where are the flowers?/The girls plucked them/Where are the girls?/They’re all married/Where are the men?/They’re all in the army.’ I never got around to looking up the song, but I wrote down those three lines. Later, in an airplane, I was dozing, and it occurred to me that the line “long time passing” – which I had also written in a notebook – would sing well. Then I thought, ‘When will we ever learn’. Suddenly, within 20 minutes, I had a song.”

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the young girls gone, long time passing?
Where have all the young girls gone, long time ago?
Where have all the young girls gone?
Gone for husbands everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls have picked them everyone.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Cavalleria rusticana (Intermezzo)

Lim Kek-tjiang conducts the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra

Cavalleria rusticana is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, adapted from a play and short story written by Giovanni Verga. Considered one of the classic verismo operas, it premiered on 17 May 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.

The opera’s symphonic Intermezzo has figured in the sound track of several films, most notably in the opening of Raging Bull and in the finale of The Godfather Part III, the latter of which featured a performance of the opera as a key part of the film’s climax.

Alexandra Leaving, Alexandria Lost

Suddenly the night has grown colder.
The God of love preparing to depart.
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,
They slip between the sentries of the heart.

… … …

Even though she sleeps upon your satin;
Even though she wakes you with a kiss.
Do not say the moment was imagined;
Do not stoop to strategies like this.

As someone long prepared for the occasion;
In full command of every plan you wrecked
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
That hides behind the cause and the effect.

And you who were bewildered by a meaning;
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to alexandra lost.

Say goodbye to alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to alexandra lost.

Today Financial Times publishes an article by Philippe Sands, “Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson: a special relationship”, that describes and explores the nature of the friendship between the poet/musician Leonard Cohen and the songwriter/vocalist Sharon Robinson. In it the process of creation of the song “Alexandra Leaving” is described. This song is based on a poem by Constantine Cavafy titled “The God Abandons Anthony”. Some excerpts:

“As we explore the lyrics of “Alexandra Leaving”, I ask whether she might sing the song. “Right here, in the bookshop?” Yes.”

“Downstairs, in the shop’s poetry corner, I come across a copy of C P Cavafy’s Collected Poems, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn, whose commentary on “The God Abandons Antony” explains that the title is taken from Plutarch’s Life of Antony. The poem describes the last night on earth of Mark AntonyCleopatra’s lover, as his troops desert him. As Mendelsohn notes, “All Alexandria knew that Antony’s cause was totally lost.” Subsequently defeated, and believing Cleopatra to be dead, Antony takes his own life. Plutarch’s account emphasises the importance of the act of hearing, a “vehicle for apprehending the true significance of what is taking place”. ”

“The connections between the song and the original poem are close. A beloved city (Alexandria, in Egypt) becomes a beloved woman (Alexandra), offering what Cohen has described as “a certain take on loss”. ”

Also today Monty Pelerin’s World publishes “Tyranny Rules”, where the unrelentless process by which the American Republic slides into tyranny is explained. Some Excerpts:

“The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of power and were especially concerned about preventing abuses. They established boundaries beyond which government and its agents were not to exceed. These constraints were codified by laws, a government made up of three equal branches and strong independent states. The Constitution provided the initial laws and defined allocation of power and responsibility among the branches of government and the federal and state governments.”

“Over the course of more than two centuries, these constraints have been under assault by those desiring more power. Time and opportunists have seriously eroded the original intentions and boundaries. “

“Historians in the future will use the concept of freedom to explain America’s decline. Just as increasing freedoms brought success, the diminution of this freedom (tyranny) will eventually be used to explain the downfall. The fall of freedom is the same as the rise of tyranny.”

“America is now run by political sociopaths, unrestricted by laws, ethics or tradition. That characterizes both political parties. It does not matter whether we elect a “good man” next. No country survives dependent on the masses electing the right man.”

“Countries survive with systems that protect them against the wrong man. We have lost that protection.”

Aware of this process it is difficult to avoid the feeling that what Cavafy’s poem and Cohen’s song both convey, of something valuable irretrievably lost, can also be applied to us, that our Alexandria, in western societies, is also lost, and that some of us, too, experience “a certain take on loss”.

Across the Borderland

“When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
’cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline”

Ryland Peter “Ry” Cooder, born March 15 1947, is an American musician. He is known for his slide guitar work, his interest in roots music from the United States, and, more recently, his collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries. Ry Cooder grew up in Santa Monica, California. His solo work has been eclectic, encompassing folkbluesTex-Mexsoulgospel, rock, and much else. He has collaborated with many musicians, notably including Eric ClaptonThe Rolling StonesVan MorrisonNeil YoungRandy Newman, and The Doobie Brothers. He briefly formed a band named Little Village.

Across the Borderline is a 1993 album by Willie Nelson. It includes songs written by Paul SimonJohn HiattPeter Gabriel, Bob DylanLyle Lovett, and Nelson himself. The title track, “Across the Borderline”, was written by Ry CooderJohn Hiatt, and Jim Dickinson. It is a remake of a song by Freddy Fender, which was featured on the motion picture soundtrack for The Border starring Jack Nicholson.

Wasteland of the Free

In 1996 Iris DeMent released The Way I Should, an album containing ”Wasteland of the Free” a blunt indictment of the right-wing political and social agenda dominating in the US. As Richard Phillips reports, “ Iris DeMent explained that “Wasteland of the Free” was a difficult song to perform because it was so direct. “But I can’t keep quiet about these things,” she added”. 17 years later, it sounds prophetic.

Living in the wasteland of the free…

We got preachers dealing in politics and diamond mines
and their speech is growing increasingly unkind
They say they are Christ’s disciples
but they don’t look like Jesus to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got politicians running races on corporate cash
Now don’t tell me they don’t turn around and kiss them peoples’ ass
You may call me old-fashioned
but that don’t fit my picture of a true democracy
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got CEO’s making two hundred times the workers’ pay
but they’ll fight like hell against raising the minimum wage
and If you don’t like it, mister, they’ll ship your job
to some third-world country ‘cross the sea
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let’s blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

We got little kids with guns fighting inner city wars
So what do we do, we put these little kids behind prison doors
and we call ourselves the advanced civilization
that sounds like crap to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We got high-school kids running ’round in Calvin Klein and Guess
who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
but if you ask them, they can tell you
the name of every crotch on MTV
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

We kill for oil, then we throw a party when we win
Some guy refuses to fight, and we call that the sin
but he’s standing up for what he believes in
and that seems pretty damned American to me
and it feels like I am living in the wasteland of the free

Living in the wasteland of the free
where the poor have now become the enemy
Let’s blame our troubles on the weak ones
Sounds like some kind of Hitler remedy
Living in the wasteland of the free

While we sit gloating in our greatness
justice is sinking to the bottom of the sea
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free
Living in the wasteland of the free