Review: THE BALKANS IN FLAMES; YUGOSLAVIA FROM BIRTH TO DEATH 1919-99

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This three-part PBS documentary explains how and why the ill-conceived state of Yugoslavia descended into chaos and barbarity not once but twice, first in the 1940s and again in the 1990s.

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, re-named Yugoslavia in 1929, was established in 1918 at the end of the First World War. It brought together Serbia and Montenegro, which had been independent before the War, with Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The King of Serbia became Head of State and both the army and administration were dominated by Serbs. There were problems from the beginning. Serbia and Montenegro had fought on the Allied side in the War, the other nationalities on the other. Serbs and Montenegrins were Orthodox in religion and used the Cyrillic script, Croats and Slovenes were Roman Catholic and used the Latin. Although Bosnia-Herzegovina contained large numbers of both Serbs and Croats they were outnumbered by Bosnian Muslims (known as Bosniaks). In addition the Kingdom had large Hungarian and Albanian minorities. Not exactly a recipe for stability, as was demonstrated when on a state visit to France in 1934 the King was assassinated in Marseilles by Croat separatists.

The German and Italian invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941 led to its disintegration. An independent state of Croatia was established controlled by the Ustase, an extreme Croat nationalist movement led by Ante Pavelic, whose aim was to produce an ethnically pure Croat state targeting Serbs, Roma and Jews. Concentration camps were set up, the most notorious being Jasenovac. The Serb minority in Croatia, concentrated in the Krajina and Eastern Slavonia, was terrorised and massacres took place, with as many as 200,000 Serbs killed. The northern Serb province of Vojvodina was occupied by Hungary. Civil war erupted in Serbia and Bosnia between a collaborationist Royalist regime, Serb nationalists (known as Chetniks) and Communist partisans led by Tito. Communist support grew as the War progressed and when German and Italian forces withdrew in 1945 Tito`s forces took control of the whole country and carried out violent reprisals against collaborators, Ustase and anti-Communists.

Tito ruled Yugoslavia until his death in May 1980. Under the slogan “Brotherhood and Unity” he hoped to overcome national divisions by establishing Communist administrations in Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, under the authority of a central government in the Serb capital Belgrade. Serb influence was further diluted within Serbia itself by the creation of separate administrations in Vojvodina and Kosovo. Under Tito`s iron hand this appeared to work well. Having broken with Stalin in 1948 Tito assumed leadership of Non-Aligned countries affiliated with neither the U.S.A. nor the Soviet Union, thereby giving Yugoslavia a prominent role on the world stage. Industrialisation, worker participation in state-run companies and the rapid growth of a tourist industry on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia produced apparent stability and relative prosperity in the 1960s. The re-emergence of nationalism in the Croatian Communist Party in the early 1970s was countered by the imprisonment of its leaders. However the economy faltered in the 1970s. Prosperity was unevenly spread, with Slovenia and Croatia resenting subsidising the other republics. Albanian unrest simmered in Kosovo. There were growing fears that Yugoslavia might not survive after Tito`s death.

Tito

Was its collapse inevitable? I do not think so, but the circumstances certainly existed for ambitious nationalist politicians to exploit. The atrocities committed in the 1940s were well within the living memories of millions and passed on to their children and grandchildren. As economic problems grew worse in the 1980s it was Yugoslavia`s tragedy that such politicians emerged, notably Slobodan Milosevic, who became Head of the Serb Communist Party in 1986, and Franjo Tudjman in Croatia. The first crisis erupted in Kosovo, where demonstrations by the Albanian majority against discrimination by the Serb-dominated administration led to counter-demonstrations by Serbs. Milosevic visited Kosovo and championed the cause of the Serbs, making him a nationalist hero not only in Serbia itself but amongst the large Serb minorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Predictably, this in turn produced a counter-reaction. By mid-1990 both Slovenia and Croatia were threatening to secede from Yugoslavia, followed shortly afterwards by Bosnia-Herzegovina. Albanians in Kosovo demonstrated for the right to secede from Serbia. Old hatreds were being re-kindled. The result was a decade of warfare and ethnic cleansing involving the deaths of hundreds of thousands and atrocities not seen in Europe since the end of the Second World War, ended only by the intervention of NATO forces in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia and again in 1999 to bring hostilities in Kosovo to an end.

Why was this? Slovenia`s secession in 1991 was almost bloodless because it was homogenously Slovene, but this was not the case in either Croatia or Bosnia. Almost 40% of Serbs lived outside Serbia as minorities in either Croatia or Bosnia. This didn`t matter as long as they remained all together in Yugoslavia However, when in 1990 Croatia elected a government led by Franjo Tudjman`s HDZ party committed to independence, Serbs who formed a majority in the Krajina region of Croatia, backed by Milosevic`s government in Belgrade and the predominantly Serb Yugoslav Army, declared their own secession from Croatia. For them, Croat nationalism meant the Ustase, and the hatred and fanaticism can only be understood in the context of memories of the 1940s. Sporadic fighting in that region continued until August 1995, when the Croatian Army, trained and equipped by the U.S., recaptured the region in Operation Storm. The Serb population fled in their cars and tractors and were eventually re-settled as refugees in Serbia proper. There was also extensive fighting between Serbs and Croats in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, eventually settled by the Dayton Peace Agreement (see later) in December 1995.

Milosevic`s aim was to bring together all Serbs in former Yugoslavia in the same state. Inevitably this involved conflict with non-Serbs in both Croatia and Bosnia, which declared its own independence in April 1992. Fearing minority status under Bosniak (Muslim) rule, Bosnian Serbs set up their own state, Republika Srpska. elected their own President, Radovan Karadzic, who in turn appointed Ratko Mladic as commander of a Bosnian Serb Army which commenced a 3 year bombardment and siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo (where a memorable Winter Olympics had been held as recently as 1984). Some 20% of Bosnia was predominantly Croat. For a year Croats and Bosniaks fought side by side against the Serbs, but in the spring of 1993 the Croats changed sides, Tudjman and Milosevic plotting together to divide Bosnia into Serb and Croat regions at Bosniak expense. In 1994, under U.S. pressure, the Croats changed sides again in return for U.S. backing for an independent state of Croatia. Finally in August 1995, after the massacre of some 8000 Bosniak men and boys by Mladic`s Serb forces in Srebrenica, NATO decided that enough was enough and intervened militarily to bring the siege of Sarajevo to an end and force the warring factions to the conference table at an airbase in Dayton Ohio.

Milosevic

Dayton brought the wars in Croatia and Bosnia to an end. Yugoslavia was no more, replaced by Independent Republics in Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia (recently re-named Northern Macedonia). Bosnia was divided into two regions, Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat Federation. It did not, however, deal with the problem of Kosovo. For Serbs it was their historic heartland which for them had an almost mystical significance. The Albanian majority, however, had had enough of Serb repression. A guerrilla force the K.L.A. carried out attacks on Serb targets, to which Milosevic`s forces responded with increasing ferocity. Historically Serbia had always looked to Russia for support, but Boris Yeltsin`s Russia was at a low ebb in the 1990s and humanitarian demands for western intervention against Serbia grew. NATO bombardment of Belgrade and other Serb targets in the spring of 1999 again brought Milosevic to the conference table and an independent state of Kosovo was set up. Thus by 1999 what had been a united Yugoslavia in 1990 had been replaced by seven separate states.

The three-part PBS documentary covers all of this in graphic detail and provides a valuable and objective guide to this complex unravelling of a country. German re-unification and the collapse of Communist regimes in the Soviet satellite states had been almost bloodless. The reason why this was not the case in former Yugoslavia is a combination of historic conflicts, populist nationalist politicians and the indifference of the rest of Europe until it was almost too late.

Slovenia and Croatia are now members of the European Union. Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo are all candidates for accession. Bosnia has not yet met the conditions for membership and its future is uncertain.

Henry Falconer

Tito photo credit: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Milosevic photo credit: Stevan Kragujević, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the former Yugoslavia attribution: Yusuf Ziya Safi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Counter Culture Debate : Dolores O’Riordan

Dolores O’Riordan: was she right?

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Nine Below Zero – Live At The Marquee 

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Nine Below Zero in action.  From left to right: Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass), Kenny Bradley (Drums), Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) and Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica).

IN THE PAST I’ve provided a few random reviews for Counter Culture.  However, it’s always been my intention (and ambition) to review as many of my own books, CDs & DVDs as is possible.  Now that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands – and I’m still looking down at the daisies as opposed to looking up at them! – I thought that now’s a good as time as any to start.  So, in the words of the Ramones, Hey Ho, Let’s Go!

With the above in mind, I thought that I’d kick off with Nine Below Zero’s brilliant CD Live At The Marquee.   

I first heard about Nine Below Zero from a friend from East London many, many years ago, probably in the early to mid 80s.  He highly recommended both the band and their live CD.  I’ve listened to it lots of times over the years and have always thought that it was probably one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard; not only does it convey the music but also seems to capture the shear energy of a live gig.  

I must admit that (at the time) I’d never heard of the band.  However, my friend had been over to South London a couple of times to see them.  He’d described how frenetic they were – effectively a Blues band that performed with the speed & energy of a Punk band.  Therefore, I’d a rough idea of what to expect on the live album.  But having an idea of what to expect & listening to the real deal are two different things.  Suffice to say that I was blown away by the CD itself.

I’ll leave the actual review of Live At The Marquee until another time.  However, I thought that it might be helpful to provide a little background information about the band themselves.   

Nine Below Zero started off life as Stan’s Blues Band in 1977 and consisted of four South London lads who found inspiration in the Rhythm and Blues.  Led by Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) the band included his schoolmates Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica), Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass) and Kenny Bradley (Drums).

Graves was obsessed by the Blues.  But to form a R&B band in the late 70s was a bold, almost reckless, move.  This was the time when Punk was exploding, and had literally blown other music genres – like R&B and Progessive Rock – out of the water.  (I think I’m right in saying that Dr. Feelgood were probably the only well-known British R&B band at the time. They’d formed in 1971 and hailed from Canvey Island in Essex and were known for their driving R&B which had made them one of the most popular bands on the growing London pub rock circuit.)

Despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of Punk, the sharply dressed Stan’s Blues Band played in local South London pubs like the Apples and Pears, the Clockhouse, the Green Man and the Thomas ‘A’ Becket.  Playing six to seven nights a week they built up a loyal following.  Like Dr. Feelgood they went hell for leather and played at a frenetic pace.  Mixing original songs with covers at their gigs, they were soon playing all over London.

Stan’s Blues Band changed their name to Nine Below Zero (they were named after a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II) on the advice of former musician Mickey Modern.  He’d seen them play at the Thomas ‘A’ Becket (in the Old Kent Road, Southwark, South London) in 1979 and was so impressed that he offered to manage them.

In a bold – but completely justifiable – move, Modern decided that Nine Below Zero’s first album would be a live one.  And so with just one change of personal (Micky Burkey for Kenny Bradley on Drums) Live At The Marquee was released in 1980.  

The album was recorded at the well-known music venue, the Marquee Club (in Wardour Street, West London) on Wednesday 16th & Thursday 17th July and was billed as a live recording.  The admission fee was £2 with a reduced rate available for students & Marquee Club members.

Apparently, it’d been an ambition of Dennis Greaves and the rest of the band to play at the Marquee – even in the capacity of a support band  Therefore, to appear as the headline act & record your first (live) album must have been out of this world.  Prior to this gig, Nine Below Zero were well known as an brilliant high energy act.  However, I’m wondering if their desire to play at the Marquee spurred them on to go the extra mile and produce such an electric album?

I feel that the CDs sleeve notes excellently conveys something of gig itself:

‘Fourteen high octane R&B monsters – including three Greaves originals Straighten Her Out, Stop Your Nagging and Watch Yourself – merged Chicago chops and cockney charm in a ferocious homebrew of adrenalin which never once seemed out of step alongside the ten regular live favourites: the aforementioned Freddie King’s Tore Down, Otis Rush’s Home Work and J Geil’s version of Pack Fair and Square line up with the John Mayall and Paul Butterfield collaboration, Ridin’ On The L&N, Lloyd Price’s Hootchie Cootchie Coo, Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully, Muddy Waters’ Mojo Working, and Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, plus Motown stalwart’s The Four Tops’, Can’t Help Myself and Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness, are all nailed down before the band signs off with their instrumental wig-out, Swing Job.’

(With the sleeve notes in mind, they were printed on thick glossy card which served as part CD sleeve cover, part poster & part information sheet about the band.)

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Nine Below Zero released a new album in October 2019.  Unlike a lot of anniversary releases which tend to be ‘The Best Of’ albums, Avalanche refreshingly featured 12 brand new original songs.

In addition to their anniversary CD, they’d kicked off a new tour in Belfast, with many further dates set.  However, as we all now know, the world effectively stopped spinning when Covid-19 reared its ugly head.  Therefore, they had to cancel all of their gigs from mid-March onwards.  According to the band’s web-site – https://www.ninebelowzero.com – their next scheduled gig is early September in Fleet, Hampshire. Here’s hoping!

Hopefully this brief potted history of Nine Below Zero has provided readers with some insight into the band.  Now the only thing to do is to review the album itself. However, as mentioned earlier (and to absolutely cement my Counter Culture reputation as the slowest reviewer in the world!) this’ll appear in the next thrilling instalment.

Reviewed by John Field 

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Director: Milos Forman

Writers: Lawrence Hauben (screenplay), Bo Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman

Runtime: 2h 13min

The book from which the film was made was begun by Ken Kesey in 1959 or 1960 (sources differ) and published in 1962. It places Kesey as a kind of link between the Beat Generation of the ’50s and the Hippies to come. The film, released in 1975, was set in 1963 (with some reference to contemporary racial tension in Alabama). I have watched the film a number of times but have come to it now in 2021 set against a backdrop of increasing social tension.

Spoiler alert – if you haven’t watched the film then do so before reading – it won five Oscars (Academy Awards) at the time and is ranked 33rd on the American Film Institute’s ‘100 years…100 movies’ list. According to Wikipedia: “the film was deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’ by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registr”‘. If you don’t intend watching, but are curious or you HAVE watched then please carry on. I rank this film so highly that I wouldn’t want anyone’s possible enjoyment ‘spoiled’!

Watching as I did in February 2021 I couldn’t help but see this film in relation to the current ‘pandemic’ and worldwide governmental responses. In ‘One Flew Over’ (I shall abbreviate thus) the action is mostly set and filmed in a psychiatric hospital – the same one described in the book, thus giving it more poignancy. A note too here that as well as working at Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital for a while, Kesey also took part in the secretive program known as the ‘Project MKUltra’ prior to writing the book and took various drugs including hallucinogenics (LSD and Psilocybin for instance). This CIA program had only one aim, which was to see if forced confessions could be obtained through mind control after intake of drugs. Again, this adds poignancy to various scenes and themes in the film.

The basic plot is that an offender: Randle Patrick McMurphy (Mac) – played by Jack Nicholson – is sent to a psychiatric hospital to be evaluated for mental illness – he has feigned ‘madness’ to get out of work details/hard labour. On admission – when he sees the doctor in charge – Mac is identified as being belligerent, lazy and resentful – as Mac says, [he] ‘fights and fucks too much’ and has had five arrests for assault plus a statuary rape of a 15-year-old girl. As Mac says to the doctor in a friendly way, full of male bravado: ‘No man alive would resist that’. He also states categorically that there is ‘not a thing’ . The conversations Mac has with the doctor appear very casual and what we might term typically male (joky and with a sense of shared values). Thus we follow what happens to him as he enters institutional life. We must note here that the doctor is perfectly at ease with these casual conversations (and they seem to speak as equals) and that Mac has stated he is NOT mad (but that he has a certain time period to be evaluated). The impression we get is that for Mac this will be a ‘fun adventure’ and respite from prison. He is like a naive but also – as we shall see – an anarchic presence.

In order to get a sense of where the film is going, and what it talks about, here are some of its main themes: Freedom (and captivity); Conformity (to the system); Institutionalisation (and as I see it, a critique of society in general); Psychiatric treatment; Feminism; Sex; Race and to a degree, Politics. It’s FULL of thematic texture. The main conflict centres on the relationship between Mac and Nurse Ratched (the ‘Big Nurse’ of the novel) played by Louise Fletcher. She is (what has been described as) ‘passive-aggressive’, authoritarian – seemingly cold and sterile with a prurient interest in the patients’ lives. She is the ‘all seeing’ eye: “She could have seen you” says a worried patient to Mac at one point. She is a manipulator, using language to control – drawing on ‘feelings’ when necessary. To Mac: ‘These men are members of the ward just as you are” to which he replies, “Don’t pull that hen house shit”. Mac also says of her to the doctor: ‘That nurse, she ain’t honest”.

During one scene, after entering the nursing station and turning down the music (a constant, draining and wearying form of MUSAK), she says: “Music is for everyone. Old men couldn’t [or wouldn’t] hear it if it were turned down.'”

The hierarchy of the hospital seems to be the male doctors and psychiatrists seemingly at the top (who cannot reach a decision regarding Mac’s mental state), Nurse Ratched – who the doctor describes as being ‘the person he [Mac] is closest to [and] the one he most dislikes’ and who is left to decide his fate after the doctors cannot agree. She is the matriarch, the proto-feminist, the channel through which all authority seems to flow. (Alongside Nurse Ratched we have the petite and silent Nurse Pilbow – sexually attractive for the patients I would imagine, seemingly passive but strangely powerful.) We do see a female supervisor at one point too – who is archetypally matronly – her manner and physique being ‘old school’. Underneath Nurse Ratched come the black orderlies/attendants. This was the first time I had noticed their combined role in the film and the flipping of power from what might be expected. They are like a pack of wolves to Ratched’s orders – and also, like wolves, have a sense of independence and non-belonging, despite their pivotal roles (especially so of Washington). It is they that clasp patients to gurneys, who restrain, who control the locking and opening of doors and windows – and it is they who overpower and assault prisoners – knocking out Mac in one VERY important scene. It is also Washington who delivers the bombshell information to Mac that: ‘You’re going to stay with us until we let you go.’ The patients also have hierarchies – one of which is their state of mental health but also whether they are volunteer patients or have been sectioned. Mac is dumbfounded when he realises that most of them can walk out and be free! It is Mac who becomes the focal point of the other patients (the book is actually written from the Chief’s point of view) and they take vicarious pleasures from his actions or imagined actions. And they are also – at least momentarily – freed from their mental restrictions (such as on the fabulous fishing boat expedition).

Nurse Ratched and Mac clash during – what appears to me to be – Cognitive Behavioural sessions – where she seems to both want to elicit sexual details from the patients but also control them via their sexual fears. Mr Harding, for instance, is a closet homosexual that is fearful of his wife’s possible infidelity – he talks in psychobabble and there’s much tension between him and the others – though he has been the ostensible leader of the group before Mac arrives. The young patient Billy with a debilitating stutter is utterly repressed by his mother and Nurse Ratched seems happy enough to use the idea of his mother’s disapproval to control him (and that she is in fact friends with his mother).

I really did get a sense of sexual tension between Nurse Ratched and Mac. We see at least one meaningful glance between the two and it would be understandable that with her being in authority but seemingly highly repressed, she might well be attracted to Mac’s ‘free spirit’ – and vice versa. Mac, as I have stated, brings along anarchy and hedonism into her ordered and very clean, disciplined world. There’s a hilarious exchange between them following Mac’s ECT treatment (more of that later) where he describes to her his supposedly new-found virility following the treatment with an allusion to sex – as I recall he will effectively play the next woman (sexual partner) as a pinball machine, light her up and she’ll give out silver dollars! I have paraphrased – but when you watch again you’ll no doubt pick up on that!

The Hedonist in this case turns the verbal duel against the Puritan. And a note here that Mac brings his girlfriend (possibly a prostitute) to the Fishing Trip and again, with a friend at the major denouement of the film.

Nurse Ratched and the younger Nurse Pilbow administer ‘Medication Time’. We have the conformity of clothing (which changes over the period of the film) – somewhat like mask-wearing in 2021 and drug dispensation for the good of all – rather like ‘vaccine’ programs currently being rolled out. Senses are dulled and moods controlled – which might be thought of as a good thing – but there are always consequences and side-effects. You can see how Kesey must have thought about medication through drugs and their ritualistic administering. Some folk have seen religious aspects to the film/book – if so perhaps these pills would be like receiving the consecrated wafer during Holy Communion. This world is SAFE until Mac comes along and offers FREEDOM!

Thus we have various characters who certainly are damaged but – as we see – are capable of much more. After his first betrayal (finding out that most of the other patients are not sectioned) Mac says: ‘You haven’t got the guts to walk out?! You’re no more crazy than the average asshole in the street!’ They have chosen enforced security and safety over their own liberty.

The hospital regime seems stultifyingly routine and boring and only interspersed with ‘group therapy’ and cigarette smoking (though Mac introduces gambling and mimes the Word Series when the patients’ ‘vote’ is effectively rigged against them watching it). The patients are ‘treated’ by drugs (as discussed) and at times by ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) – it is while waiting for this treatment that Mac passes the Chief a gum and hears his reply, ‘Thank you’. On first watching this – that ‘thank you’ is explosive! I really didn’t expect it. The Chief, a good character actor in the film (and a good actor) spends his time sweeping the floor – seemingly deaf and dumb. A watcher, an outsider – like the Native Americans as a whole, perhaps, in the United States. Reserved (on reservations) – outsiders on their own land – keeping watch and maybe countenance. As stated, the book is written from his perspective and it is he alone who escapes at the end, finally finding the courage to match his stature. The Chief says to Mac at one point regarding his father: ‘They worked on him the way they’re working on you’. It is also the Chief who comes to Mac’s aid when Washington attacks him, which leads to them having the ECT. Just in case – I won’t give away the final dramatic events of the film – though you’ll discover below that the Chief escapes.

One thing I realise I haven’t stressed is the HUMOUR to be found in ‘One Flew Over’ – and there’s plenty of it! The dialogue is wonderfully written – Mac is a joker and a clever man – but not clever enough. The film is also given a sense of other-worldliness by the Muzak that is played to the patients and the original compositions utilising the ‘novel’ instrument – the Theramin. After the Chief escapes into the wilds of Oregon – another poignant moment magnified by the Native returning to the land with its anti-sterility – we can imagine the patients returning to their ‘normal’ lives. I will say this though: three of them will not return!

Was Mac a failed revolutionary? Or was he the catalyst to the Chief’s freedom? Did he instill a sense of freedom and possibility/potential to the other patients that – who knows- might have come out in the future. Did he simply just shake up the system and cause heartbreak and death? How should we view him? I simply can’t risk telling you of his final fate or that of Billy’s. But you can imagine. What I will say is that the institution – the government/the status-quo/the establishment was rocked but it remained. The Chief’s newly found inner-strength gives him freedom – but in another place – Canada. A word too about the director,the Czech-American, Milos Forman who rose to fame in communist Czechoslovakia and through his parents also knew of the terrors of National Socialism.

In the United States, ECT is still legal (as in other countries) but said to be safer – but the last lobotomy was carried out in 1967. Drugs are still prescribed of course and it is hoped – at least – that they are always dispensed with the patient’s best interests at heart. David Susman (PhD), a blogger and advocate for better mental health states in response to the idea that patients may also be “chemically restrained” by being forcibly loaded up on strong sedative medications that nowadays ‘using medications in this fashion is explicitly prohibited. Patients may be provided medications against their will during a psychiatric emergency involving the risk of harm to self or others, but only on an as-needed basis to help them calm down. They should never be given large doses of sedatives on a regular basis just to control or subdue them.’Times have changed but nothing is perfect!

The eras of ‘One Flew Over’ in both its setting and when the film was made seem like distant times. If we were to critique the notion of Freedom v Captivity – then we must acknowledge that we have all since (NOW!) become patients in a global institute! Are we sane? Are governments insane or simply power-hungry? The power of language, twisted to suit political positions, holds us, hostage, with the threat of persecution and even imprisonment should it be used in a non-authorised way. We are a society obsessed with sex but in some ways dominated by Feminism and other political speech-codes. Democracy (as in ‘One Flew Over’) only seems to suit those in charge. Will we need to find inner and outer courage (as with the Chief) to free ourselves in coming years? Who of us will have the strength to fly over the nest?

The title of the film comes from a nursery rhyme read to the Chief as a child by his grandmother (mentioned in the book):

“Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,

Apple seed and apple thorn,

Wire, briar, limber lock

Three geese in a flock

One flew East

One flew West

And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest”

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Likely to offend?

Director: Terry Jones

Writers: Graham Chapman, John Cleese

Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin

Runtime: 1h 34min

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”.Forty-two years ago, the Monty Python team released their most controversial film, Life of Brian. The opposition to it from conservative religious groups was so strong, the film was banned in the Irish Republic and Norway and in many British cities. TV personality Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the then Bishop of Southwark, appeared on television opposite John Cleese to denounce the film as ‘tenth-rate’ and blasphemous. They predicted that it would soon be forgotten.

In retrospect, a lot of this opposition was misplaced. This was not an attack on the person of Christ or on Christianity; the team decided early on that they would not target Jesus but set their film in the tumultuous time of his birth, first century Judea under brutal Roman occupation. My own church in Belfast has even shown it in our regular monthly film club.

The film stands up well more than four decades after its release. It’s quite possible that it could be the subject of bans or cancellation if it were to be released today; attacked not by the conservative religious right for blasphemy but by the regressive faux-left for the modern secular equivalents of blasphemy; ableism, transphobia, and mocking people with speech defects. The scene where Stan (Eric Idle) wants to become a woman called Loretta and have babies causing the PFJ members to debate supporting his/her right to have babies is a classic. Today, I can imagine trigger warnings on the BBC if it were to be screened again on a mainstream channel.

That said, the film is still screamingly funny. It tells the story of Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman); a hen-pecked mummy’s boy who tries to join an anti-Roman political group. After escaping from captivity when an attack on the Roman occupiers is botched, he is mistaken for the Messiah and followed by adoring crowds who hang on his every word.Much of the satire deals with how religious and political factions can emerge and religious and political sectarianism can grow. Brian drops his gourd and loses a sandal; his disciples divide into gourdists and sandalists. Then there’s the bitter rivalry between the Judean People’s Front and Reg’s (John Cleese) People’s Front of Judea. “the only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.” The ‘splitters’. When Brian is arrested, the PFJ goes into immediate debates and discussions. When he’s crucified, they march determinedly towards his cross… and then read out a statement to him in solidarity with his sacrifice.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian may not really say much about first-century Judea but it still has a lot to be said about twenty-first century Britain. Brian is not the Messiah; he’s a naughty, naughty boy. Watch it while you still can. And remember, always look on the bright side of life.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Apostasy (2017)

1h 35min

Director: Daniel Kokotajlo

Writer: Daniel Kokotajlo (as Dan Kokotajlo)

Stars: Siobhan Finneran, Robert Emms, Bronwyn James

This is the story of a family being torn apart as the strictures of their religion conflict with the realities of both illness and the modern world. The story focuses on three women – a mother and two young adult daughters – whose ties to the group create conflict in their relationships with each other.The younger daughter Alex (Molly Wright) is anemic. She has been conditioned to feel guilt and shame because she received a blood transfusion as a baby. This is at odds with the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) to which she and her family belong. Her older daughter, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), is beginning to question their belief system and rebel. When she becomes pregnant after a relationship with a non-Witness and he fails to convert and marry, she is excluded from the group. one of The requirements of disfellowshipping means that family members who remain Witnesses cannot have any significant contact so her mother Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) forces Luisa to leave home. Ivanna is faced with a choice between her faith and her family. The Church expects her to “shun” her own daughter and effectively isolate her from her family and former community. The mother, Ivanna ((Siobhan Finneran), is conflicted but generally sides with her faith and obedience to the authority of the ‘Elders’. She is, perhaps, the character you feel saddest for. My mind called out for her to see sense and put her daughters before her unreasoned faith.

It’s a bleak story, matched by a grim northern setting, which is often difficult to watch. There are lighter moments and there are also moments that show the attractive side of the fellowship of the JW. I enjoyed the JW speaking Urdu and trying to recruit Pakistanis on the doorstep (and wow you have to admire their commitment to learning Urdu!) and the party scene of JWs showed a different, more attractive side to them.I found it difficult to feel much sympathy for the teachings of the JW as opposed to the adherents/victims. The film depicts them as hostile to independent thought. Speaking to Screen International, the Director explained, “I was harbouring doubts since I went to college. I realised that people at college were interested in your opinion. That was a new concept to me because being a Witness it was always about reaffirming the text, group-think, it wasn’t about encouraging independent thought.” I also found their practices similar to other cults. Disfellowship is very similar to the Scientolgist view of how to behave toward “suppressive persons”, for example.This, low-budget film is well-written and has terrific performances, particularly from the female leads. Yes, it deals with a traumatic and difficult subject but it does so in a sensitive and thought-provoking way.

If there is an underlying message to the film I think it is to take great care in adopting a worldview, value-system or ideology.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Authours note: A much longer discussion took place in our Counter Culture Film Club so if I’ve stolen anyone’s ideas from there just remember that the Magpie likes shiny objects and I like good ideas!

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Better than the Beatles!

I began writing my latest novel Better than the Beatles! in early 2016, but its real beginnings were around the turn of the millennium when I purchased a book called Raw Vision, a large coffee table style tome that was essentially a compendium of articles and photographs from the magazine of the same name, a magazine that was, and is, dedicated to the subject of Outsider Art Welcome to Raw Vision Magazine | Raw Vision Magazine.

There is no fully accepted definition of Outsider Art, but the attempt by the man who first identified it as a distinct entity, the French artist and collector Jean Dubuffet, is perhaps as good as any:  

We understand by this term works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part... These artists derive everything from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.”

 Originally, Dubuffet used the term Art Brut to denote his newly patented genre. It was the English art critic and writer Roger Cardinal who renamed it as Outsider Art in his book of the same name: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outsider-Art-RogerCardinal/dp/0289701686/

Through my reading of Raw Vision, of Cardinal and other sources, I discovered the collection of loners and misfits who made up the Outsider Art cannon, if there can ever really be such a thing, including such marginal luminaries as Adolf Wolfli, Henry Drager, Madge Gill, and Sabato Rodeo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outsider_art.

Although Outsider Art would become an enduring interest, it was my discovery that this primarily visual art had spawned the sonic off-shoot of Outsider Music that led me to immerse myself in a whole new world of creative exploration.

It was the American Disc Jockey and writer Irwin Chusid who adopted the phrase ‘Outsider Music’ and publicised it as a distinct genre in his book ‘Songs in the Key of Z’, which was followed by an accompanying two volumes of illustrative C. D’s.

I am not without my criticisms of Chusid. For me, it was a mistake to incorporate into his book and C.D. collection such artists as Syd Barrett, Scott Walker, and Captain Beefhart, artists whom, whilst occupying a space well beyond the musical mainstream, were too well known to be classed as true outsiders. He also included material that I regard as revealing a knowing ‘so bad it’s good’ attitude that I found rather patronising. For instance, a recording of an old man suffering from dementia singing fragments of songs hazily remembered from his youth may be either sad or sweet, but it is not particularly musically interesting, and is therefore not, in my opinion, Outsider Music.

Nevertheless, it is primarily Chusid whom I must thank for my discovery of the work of the likes of Jandek, the Shaggs, and Daniel Johnston, artists who have continued to fascinate and inspire me to the present day. The first and last named of this trio have had great, niche films made about them, both of which are well worth checking out https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jandek-Corwood-DVD-Byron-Coley/dp/B0006FGHDS/

Although a work of fiction, the movie ‘Frank’, written by Jon Ronson and based (loosely) on a combination of the stories of papier-mâché headed Mancunion outsider Frank Sidebottom and the bizarre story of the making of Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band’s weird classic Trout Mask Replica, also gives a great feel of the nature of Outsider Music  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-DVD-Michael-Fassbender/dp/B00NIPIIQM/

It was however the story of The Shaggs which had the most impact upon me, and which was the catalyst for the writing of Better than the Beatles!

The Shaggs was the family name of the three sisters who initially made up the band, Dot and Betty on guitars and Helen on drums, with a fourth sister, Rachel later joining them on bass for live performances. The band were founded in 1968 in their hometown of Freemont, New Hampshire, and were set on their musical path by their father Austin Shaggs. He claimed to have done this in response to a premonition by his late mother, who had apparently correctly predicted the hair colour of the woman he would marry, and more interestingly, that the couple would have three daughters who would go on to attain musical stardom.

In response to this prediction, he took the then teenage girls out of school, bought them instruments, paid for singing lessons and encouraged them to write songs. In 1969, he paid privately for recording studio time, and for the pressing of 1000 copies of the resultant album, an album which was named Philosophy of the World after one of its best loved tracks on the album. Allegedly, the man responsible for pressing the album absconded with 900 of the 1000 copies of the album, and it’s been suggested that he, whether as a form of artistic criticism, through shame at his involvement in such a project, or for more prosaic reasons, simply dumped them. This left around 100 copies to be distributed, mostly locally and for free, by Pappa Austin.

The music of The Shaggs is perhaps best described as the sonic equivalent of a naïve-primitive painting. The ten songs on the album are conventional in structure, but are written and performed in a manner that suggests that they have been produced by ‘musicians’ who have only recently been introduced, and in a very quick and basic fashion at that, to the rudiments of melody, harmony and rhythm. In addition, the lyrics, about such topics as fidelity to one’s parents, self-acceptance, the joys of pet ownership and much else besides, have a charming, child-like quality that is a perfect accompaniment to the music.

Whilst recording their album, the producer of Philosophy of the World is said to have suggested that Austin allow his daughters more time to hone their musical and vocal skills before letting them loose in a recording studio. Austin’s response, which has gone on to become a part of Shaggs folk-lore, was to say that he wanted to catch them ‘whilst they are hot.’

Philosophy of the World would have disappeared without trace had a copy not somehow found its way into the hands of legendary muso Frank Zappa who played a couple of tracks, and professed his love for the album, whilst appearing as a guest on a radio show presented by a DJ by the name of Dr Demento in the early ‘70’s. From there, its reputation grew by word of mouth amongst lovers of left-field music, until it was eventually re-released by Rounder Records in 1980.

It should be noted here that it is Zappa who is often erroneously credited with ironically describing The Shaggs as ‘Better than the Beatles,’ the phrase that I used as the title of my novel. In fact, the phrase originally came from the headline for a Rolling Stone magazine review of the re-released album by iconic music journalist Lester Bangs.

The album was given a further boost in the 1990’s when Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain placed it no. 5 in his list of his all-time favourite albums. This helped it to gain a CD release by RCA Victor in 1999. Its popularity/notoriety was also greatly aided by the growth of the Internet.

Initially, and until quite late on in the writing process, my novel was called triplets, which is also the name of the Shaggs-like band in the book, as well as of their sole recorded album. In addition, when I began writing the novel, I took the decision to transfer the action from small town America to the North West of England, and the time of the band’s slim recorded output from the late ‘60’s to the late ‘70’s. ‘Write what you know’ they say, and this approach also had the advantage of allowing me to work a potted history of British rock music into the narrative, from fifties rock ‘n’ roll, through Merseybeat, psychedelia, and onwards to punk/Mew Wave and the mostly localised Lo Fi ‘cassette culture’ which emerged from it MESSTHETICS: U.K. DIY/postpunk 1977-84, Hyped to Death (hyped2death.com).

Much of this was done through the character of the father Sam Curtis who, in the manner of many 1950’s British rock ‘n’ roll hopefuls, was gifted a new, larger than life name by representatives of noted show business impresario Larry Parnes, in this case Sam Singer (see real-life examples such as Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Vince Eager, Duffy Power et al) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Parnes

 In the true story of the Shaggs, the father Austin Shagg was a key player. By all accounts, in particular by the accounts of his children, he appears to have been a driven, pushy and authoritarian figure in the manner of music biz dad’s such as Joe Jackson of the Jackson family and Murray Wilson of the Beach Boys’ Wilson clan. It’s probably no accident that the Shaggs disbanded as a band (despite some latter-day reunions once Philosophy of the World belatedly found its fan-base) in 1975, immediately following the death of their father. In my novel, Sam Curtis/Singer plays an equally key role in the story, although I did try to make him a touch more likeable and sympathetic than his real-world counterpart.

In my previous novel, Special, I drew on my twenty five years of experience as a social care worker in order to tell the story of a fictional woman with a learning disability. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Special-Anthony-C-Green/dp/1788033442/  In writing Better than the Beatles! I again decided to make use of this experience, by incorporating into the narrative the suggestion that the triplets have a form of high functioning autism. Although I have never seen it explicitly stated that this was also the case with the real-life Shagg sisters, my reading and observation of their public comments, their music and lyrics, and the testimony of those who worked with them suggest that this is not entirely out of the question.

Speaking of lyrics, as something of an ‘outsider’ singer/songwriter myself, although I’m not sure that one can be knowingly such, one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the novel was my writing of excerpts of triplets songs in the naïve style of the Shaggs themselves. At one point I even considered writing these songs in full, and then seeking to find three suitable females to record them with, or perhaps one suitable female to sing each vocal in, to use a phrase that re-occurs throughout the novel, ‘near-unison’. In the end however, I decided that some things are best left to the imagination….

 I won’t give away any more of the plot. In my opinion Better than the Beatles! In my opinion, it is by far my best novel to date, a novel that I enjoyed writing very much, such that I felt a distinct sense of loss when I finally decided that it was finished. It’s a novel that I’m proud to have written, and I only hope it will find a readership. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait as long as the Shaggs for it to do so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shaggs

Anthony C Green, January 2021  

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Review: Leeds – United!

Leeds – United!

BBC Play FOR To-DAY (1974) available on YouTube

Director: Roy Battersby
Writer: Colin Welland
Stars: Lynne Perrie, Elizabeth Spriggs, Lori Wells, Bert Gaunt

Nothing to do with the Football team of that name, this is a film based on an unofficial strike of Leeds female garment workers in January-February 1970. Directed by Colin Welland, already well-known for his acting role in Z Czars and soon to win an Academy Award for his screenplay for Chariots of Fire, and with a leading role for Lynne Perrie (Ivy Tilsley in Coronation Street), it is a brilliant portrayal of working- class life, living conditions and industrial relations in what now seems a bygone era. Being filmed in black and white gives it an added air of authenticity.

The plot involves a three-way struggle between the employers, the official Trade Union leadership and the employees in the Leeds garment industry. The industry itself was fragmented. A few firms, most prominently John Black`s, employed 100 or more workers. Others employed only a handful, with the owner and employees working side-by-side. The exclusively male Union bosses had in the previous year negotiated a deal with the employers which gave an increase of 5d per hour to male workers but only 4d for females. The case for equal pay had been made forcefully two years earlier in a 3 week strike of Ford Dagenham workers; this clearly served as a stimulus for what was about to happen in Leeds. A meeting of John Black`s workers elected an Unofficial Strike Committee demanding an immediate increase of a shilling an hour across the board under the slogan “gi` us a bob”. Its elected leader was one Harry Gridley, a member of the Communist Party (C.P.). The women marched around Leeds calling on workers in other workplaces to join them in the interests of solidarity. Nearly all did so, and a mass meeting was called in Leeds Town Hall with an atmosphere similar to that of the recent Civil Rights protests in the U.S.A., singing “We Shall Not Be Moved”. The Union leadership, fearing that it was losing control, refused to support the strike. Harry Gridley, true to the C.P.`s tradition of insisting that it should be in control, attempted manipulate the strikers into negotiating with the employers through official Union channels (“trying to ride two horses with only one arse”, as one of the unofficial strike leaders colourfully put it). By the fourth week the strikers, without Union backing and therefore receiving no strike pay and running out of funds, began to drift back to work. However the Equal Pay Act, passed later in 1970 and due to come into effect in 1975, perhaps gave them some satisfaction.

Viewed from the perspective of 2021, Leeds United is a piece of social history. By 1970 the textile mills in the surrounding towns in West Yorkshire and across the Pennines in East Lancashire were employing large numbers of immigrants, mainly from Pakistan. Towns such as Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax, Dewsbury in West Yorkshire and Rochdale, Oldham, Burnley and Bolton in East Lancashire were already feeling the political effects (in the 1972 Rochdale by-election one Jim Merrick, a Bradford-based candidate for the British Campaign to Stop Immigration received 8.9% of the vote). Yet the workforce in the Leeds strike was exclusively white. Few if any of the strikers could have foreseen what lay ahead. A moving moment in the film was the pride of a young worker telling her mother that she had acquired “a skill for life”. Little did she realise that only a few years down the line her work would have been outsourced to cheaper labour overseas and the “bob an hour” would be on “the dustheap of history”. Leeds-United stands as one of the last hurrahs of the organised manual white working class. The road to zero hours contracts lay ahead.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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The Myth of Night Magic

The original poster for Night Magic

Night Magic is a 1985 Canadian-French musical film written by Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey and directed by Furey. The film stars Nick Mancuso as Michael, a down on his luck musician whose fantasies begin to come true after he meets an angel (Carole Laure). The film’s supporting cast includes Stéphane Audran, Jean Carmet, Frank Augustyn, Louis Robitaille, Anik Bissonnette, Nanette Workman and Barbara Eve Harris.

Article By Nick Mancuso

I starred in Night Magic. And I feel guilty about it. A marvelously original musical by two geniuses Leonard Cohen and Lewis Furey. Take a listen. Find this lost Canadian film.I say geniuses because there is no doubt that Leonard Cohen remains one of the great legends in music history, poetry, and writing in the latter part of the 20th century in the period known as the 60s. As for Lewis well take a listen.

Leonard Cohen. A legend. Night Magic the unknown unsung movie he wrote starring myself Carol Laure Stephan Audron Jean Carmet directed by Lewis Feury first time at the bat. Cinematography by Phillppe Rouseleaut. Choreography and dancing by Eddie Toussant Ballet de Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet of Canada.

A class act of a film and a complete flop.It reflected a time of mythic figures in cinema and music Fellini Kurosawa, Godard. the Beatles. the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and from the frontier country of olden Canada Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and all the other illuminated crazies that infused my generation with the sheer force and hope for a shimmering bright new future. It reflected the echoes of a time that would once and all-time end the war to end all wars.And bring about a time of peace and love.To my mind at least this was the subtext of Night Magic. Yes, it was to be peace and love and this unknown little film spoke about it all. Success. Fame. Love. Immortality

We started in Montreal Canada in the late summer of 1984. It was a wonderful summer that year in Canada in my favourite city. Night and Magic. The Baby boomers sing and dance.Just watch us.The Baby Boomers born from desperation and sprung from parents who had survived the worst event in human history and who were not one of the corpses piled in the millions into mass graves. Who had not been transmuted into hot ashes or evaporated by the nuclear flash of Hiroshima. We children were survivors and children of survivors. We had done something right to be alive and to stay alive and therefore had a purpose a reason to be.A reason to sing and dance.Leonard Cohen was to be the voice of our generation. He was one of these amazing children born in Montreal in 1934 a Jew who was not hatched in Europe but born into a safe harbor called Canada. His father was a successful merchant his mother the daughter of a distinguished rabbi.His teacher was one of Canadas greatest poets Irving Layton.His guitar teacher who was an immigrant Spaniard taught him some basic chords and then committed suicide. He was an artist through and through. A true Bohemian not a hippy or a yippie and certainly not a yuppie or the X generation. Leonard learned 3 chords and started strumming along to the song of the Universe.Leonard was a born poet but he wanted to be like David to play the harp and sing. To God and for God. And my character Michael was modeled on this modern cinematic David.These are the thematics of this little unknown orphan of a film shivering in a snowbound lane way. Lol as the theologically correct cynical children of today smirk.Buried and forgotten.

The film is in fact a very biblical and religious fairy tale and Carol Laure is not only a perfect angel but she is the Virgin Mary and Suzanne all wrapped up into one brunette Marianne. A modern fairy tale lost and forgotten in a Quebec winter.How odd in the Age of Beyonce and Lady Gaga and COVID to think that a film like this could ever be made.And yet it was.Another era.In 1964 Leonard was at the perfect age and the perfect time. And in the perfect country; Trudeaus Canada the land of peace.Hope and brilliance were in the air.One day in 1965 my old friend then young now-deceased Alex Gottlieb announced to me that Leonard was writing songs and singing.At the University of Toronto, we knew him only as a poet a protege of Irving Layton.Alex put on the scratchy disk.”Susanne takes you down to her place by the river/ you can hear the boats go by/ you can hear the river answer…”What?An awful voice tuneless like fingernails on a chalkboard…..hopeless he was. There was no future for this unknown Canadian poet. Who the hell wants to hear songs about razor blades in the age of the Midnight Rambler? Alleluia. It’s ironic and fitting that Night Magic which he wrote with Lewis Furey should remain unknown hidden in the amnesiac snows of Canadian Cultural History. Like all things Canadian which do not exist until they exist in the outside world until they are recognized and lauded by the Americans or the British or God forbid the French. Night Magic disappeared into the night. I feel guilty about Night Magic and this article is by way of an apology to make amends to this little gem of a film playing that singing poet. I feel guilty because I did not go to Cannes when the film was accepted into the Directors Fortnight Category. I feel guilty for not walking the red carpet with the paparazzi screaming “Over here! Over here!”. I feel guilty because I helped bury the film by not suiting up and showing up. Because you see, this film is a gorgeous work of art musically and visually imaginative and more than deserves to be remembered. The film is about lost love and love found and lost again and the egocentric selfishness of the artist and his obsessions with himself and the consequences thereof. In the context of the larger picture I was perfect for the part at the time. My Salad days though slightly wilted.When Carol asked me to star in it while shooting Bobby Roths Heartbreakers with Peter Coyote I balked.I’m neither a singer nor a dancer and Michael was both. Stage fright paralyzed me.” I know you can do it” Carol told me. We had worked together on several films going back to the time of John Hirch’s CBC and Gille Carl. So I took the leap.Rehearsals began in Montreal a month before principal photography and that time I learned to sing and dance. Somewhat. I did it all by the numbers with much help from some marvelous people.But my voice was to be Lewis. I had done this sort of dubbing thing before when I filmed the rock star in “Blame it On the Night” original story by Mick Jagger. I gave a concert for 3 days at the San Diego Sports Arena singing in Ted Neeleys Voice ( Jesus Christ Superstar) in a 4-octave range and blowing out my voice in front of 10,000 people I was on stage with Billy Preston and Mary Clayton. Faking it. Pretending. An actor’s utter madness. But no risk no gain. And here’s the kicker.No gain means no fame and vice versa. Cosmic law in showbiz.And as Charlton Heston once told me while shooting a film called Motherlode with Kim Bassinger directed by Heston and written by his son Fraser: ” The trouble with showbusiness is that its business that is show and show that is business.” Ya cant win unless you get the loot.Leonard never cared much about the loot.

Night Magic made neither loot nor fame.It cared not a whit.“It is to such as you /that we were sent/ to speak directly to your deepest shame/ and light the fires of experiment…” So sang Michael in Night Magic so sang Leonard Cohen.” we claim you now…in the name of that which/ you have never done before /the victim shall be smitten on his Sore/ The Haughty One shall have a Visitor” What language!! Not exactly Rocky Horror!! Almost Elizabethan. Chilling words. Michael loses everything including the Angel that loved him “I burned the House of Love tonight” . Again Leonard. This film is very much about the fires of experiment. To my mind the fires that electrified the 60s. My generation. And Leonard’s even more so born 14 years earlier. The hope of a generation that betrayed itself. Look around you and listen to the music in this film beat its heart out against the diminishing rattle of a shifting Schumann Wave, the heart sounds of Gaia our Planet. A cacophony of sound. Splintered chords in syncopated 7/8 time.The music of Shtokhausen divided by Bertold Brecht. And so it began.We had a nothing budget and Robert Lantos who had produced the movie ran out of money so we the principal players threw some of our salaries back in.So why would I not go to Cannes? That was the question. Was it indifference? No, I had massive stage fright. I hated the red carpet. How bizarre.” I never thought / I’d get this far: ” Michael ” we always knew you would! “ The Angels

Fear is an ugly thing. Fear of success. Fear of the red carpet. Fear of judgment.Leonard had neither fear of success nor failure. He was a free man. But the film did not liberate itself.Was the film afraid?It was afraid of its own genius.Afraid it would be captured and compared.Afraid of its novelty.Who was the villain in the story? No one. It was self-betrayal . It was treason which according to Dante was the greatest of all sins. Night Magic betrayed itself and I like a good Mephistphelian actor played along. But for Leonard it was different.His Buddhism and dharma and Sangha kept him balanced. He bought a small house in the immigrant section of Montreal. To which he returned every now and then to “renew his neurotic affiliations.” He chopped wood and carried water for his old Roshi on Mt Baldy In California. He knew the score. He was not afraid.He stayed humble because from the get-go he knew everyone was in trouble.He didn’t kid nor kill himself much as he sang about it. He loved women and he loved song and he loved life and he was grateful to his maker the Creator of heaven and earth.He understood the essential magic of the universe. There’s a crack in things. That’s how the light gets in.

I first met Leonard Cohen in a macrobiotic restaurant in Montreal at midnight.We became instant friends. He asked if he could come and watch us rehearse at the National Theatre School.Of course. Dancing and sweating every day with Edie Tousant Ballet of Montreal and Frank Augustine of the National Ballet he, asked if he could bring me water or a coffee. Thank you.He was of service to others at all times.When he offered me the rights to Beautiful Losers his first novel I accepted. I was a beautiful loser and did nothing with the rights.The film itself became a beautiful loser.”I burned the house of Love tonight/ it made an aweful ring” Michael/Cohen Night Magic

Leonard was kind and gentle and sweet with an impish sense of humor. There was no anger nor frustration in the man. He had the feeling of a man who knew the jig was up. With him, everything seemed possible because there was a smile at the end of the Universe. The cold razor blade reality was not his. Its something he wrote about.“everybody knows/the war Is over/ everybody knows/ the bad guys won:” So drink eat sing and dance deep into the night for tomorrow you will pay the bill.

Night Magic was originally entitled The Hall.I think it was Robert Lantos the producer of the film who gave it the name Night Magic. The Hall a classic Cohenism was too prosaic for Mr. Lantos. He went on to become along with Garth Drabinski Canada’s most successful producer and yet when I asked him years later how it felt to have succeeded he told me he felt like a loser. “Why?” I asked?

Because I wanted to produce….you know…films.” He was, of course, talking David Korda films, MGM …you know films. Gone With the Wind films, The Red ShoesStar Wars, The Godfather, Rambo. In a relative world, we are all of us…losers. It’s hard to believe Night Magic the film was ever made. Before the existence of MTV and music videos, a film totally ignored by Canada written by a Canadian legend. How utterly fitting. It’s a marvelous gem of a movie and I am happy to have been a part of it. Thank you Leonard Cohen. Thank you Night Magic.

Nick Mancuso, Paris 2020

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To the Universal Sound and Silence

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is timimage.jpg

Foreword

I can only write for the future
The present is lost to me for I have lost the art of living in the moment.
I am bypassed. But as I watch the busy traffic pass I hold the slightest of smiles upon my lips
The future I can never know and yet I seem to understand this unknowable better than the present – better than reality
Dogs and Days are as Madmen under a strong sun
I will walk by the river stopping whenever possible to quench my thirst
I will never see the river’s end but carefully and with much concentration I shall fold a boat from strong paper and launch it into the river’s current
I am an optimist

New Beginnings
There is a rhythm in life. There is a natural rhythm – a vast collection of breaths; sea rising; sun pulsing; leaves dying – and there is the rhythm of Humankind
As we flow through time – squeezed by earthy banks into a fast coursing current or gently running over pebbles in a wide, white foamed stream – our rhythm will respond. Like a baby breathing in time with its mother – gently rising and falling on her soft flesh then, all being well, we will also breathe in harmony

Sometimes we push against the flow
Sometimes we find ourselves in a backwater
Sometimes we are drawn to an eddy – sucked in and down
Sometimes we are washed onto the crumbling earth of the river’s bank
Sometimes we sail proudly
Sometimes we swim through muddy water

Sometimes the river is dammed
Sometimes the river is polluted
Sometimes the river’s course is altered
Sometimes the river flows through banks of concrete
Sometimes the river cascades – water falling
Sometimes the river flows easily to the sea

What are we – but droplets in this current?

Part 1

For the Silent Place

There came a time when the world filled with people. And the people drove animals to extinction or into zoos or onto reserves. Only the rat flourished. And the insects. Industrious creatures both
The world teemed with people & rats & insects
The seas slowly died
Where then could I find silence?
Where then could I find peace?
Where then could I find my sound and silence within harmony?

As I took my foot from its boot it slipped snugly into your shoe
Where my breath ended – so yours began
We stood together in the wretched filth of our bodies
And the foul water of our flesh fed the drying seas
And still the world was filled
Movement ceased and noise gathered
This was the world I was born into, the world you created. Dropped into the gutter – many bodies falling like fleshy rain
Thanking our God for the rain falling from above – we turned our faces to His heaven and stuck out our tongues
O how the rain tastes even after falling from pregnant-dark clouds. Pitter-patter we squeal and squelch into the sewer. A sewer of beady eyed insects and nibbling rats
Where is the Silent Place?

Did you create this place?

Some of us hold hands and wipe each other’s brow
Some bite chunks of flesh and stamp out stomping ground
Some weep
Some cry out and up in vain

Rats and insects become food and currency for us teeming people. And we thought this so for all people. But there were some who could soar with the eagles or would range like the tigers of old.
Some who lived in houses ringed with barbs – not in flimsy huts or propped up by others or squatting down dreaming of fires and their distant warmth.

Brothers and Sisters – I am leaving your side and all our friends and enemies and I am going in search of silence and beauty.
Who will come with me? Who will come to find harmony and their place in the Universal Sound?

Those who wept as their bodies crushed together smiled suddenly and said to me, ‘Take us not with you Brother; we are needed here for the salt of our tears…for the salt of all our tears.’
To them I replied, ‘I will not force you to accompany me. How can beauty and peace and harmony be found through force? If you blow forcefully into a flute there is no beauty in its note. I offer you my company – for you to walk beside me. As notes gather in a chord.’
At this they backed off and closed in amongst themselves – squeezing the air from around their bodies so that not a hair separated them. Sound was sucked from their flesh.
‘Our labours keep the fires burning; the rats skinned and cooked. Who else would or could do this?’

Those who cried at the sulphurous sky, longing for rain to fall whispered to me: ‘Do not take us Brother for we too are needed here. We keep our ways and our people safe. Who else can pass swift messages or catch rain in their hair?’
I replied: ‘I will not turn your faces from the heavens but only guide you towards a simpler more silent place where the only noise is sweet music and where you neither need to cry your laments nor shout in desperation to Heaven.’
At this they turned from me and held their heads aloft – joining one and another with their thin fingers.

And then a voice from this multitude said: ‘I have stood so close to people for so long, these my Brothers and Sisters, I do not know if I can walk independently O Brother – and if I can walk – then how far.’
To this I replied: ‘You are both part of and separate from your Brothers and Sisters. Let your eyes seek the distant horizon – go on tip-toe – even though the throng is close you will see beyond. Where your eyes perceive the distance there your legs can carry you for first you must know where you are heading if not your destination. And if you say – “but my legs are weak, Brother” or “I have no legs to bear me Brother” then will not others without your desire or courage carry you? They will exalt your cause even if they have not the bravery to follow it. These Brothers and Sisters are heroic in their own way.’
And he replied, ‘I will look past and beyond you Brother and shall walk by your side.’

And then a Sister from the multitude said: ‘If we leave and follow you who will there be left to bear children? Who will nurture the young growing between the forests of limbs, in the wet at our feet?’
‘Not all will follow,’ I replied. ‘When we reach the quiet place then you can give birth in beautiful silence and peace.’
‘You spoke of beautiful music, Brother…’
‘The sound of a breeze through reeds and the gentle pulse of a drum. The soft tinkling of the stars.’
The Sister, bright-eyed, spoke again: ‘I must wait with my friends and loved ones for the world to change. For soon it will change. All will be well and we shall dance in ecstasy.’
I said, ‘Sister, I shall think of you when we arrive and keep a fire burning for you and your loved ones.’

A tall Brother – a head and shoulders above the multitude with eyes a piercing blue – was casting his gaze down upon his fellow folk.
I called to him to follow but he said: ‘I have all the peace and quiet I need. Around and below me I see trees swaying in the wind and the grass bending like a wave with the gentle breeze. The fragrances of flowers enrapture me.’
‘Look at me Brother,’ I said.
He, with his head bowed smiled slightly: ‘I both see you and feel you with me.’ He then raised his head and took a deep breath of air. ‘I can see to the farthest horizons of this world,’ he said.
To this I replied, ‘And can you see our destination, Brother?’
But he shook his head and a tear fell from an eye.

When the time came we departed from the great city of flesh – though our departure seemed never-ending. We appeared to travel constantly through the present, never leaving that – our – world at all. Some of the Brothers and Sisters melted once again into the hot flesh of their family and folk. But those who walked with me carried on resolutely.
My gaze was to the farthest point where the heavens made a fleck of blue sky – a celestial wink in the dark firmament. For I saw beyond my lofty brother who had learnt to grow so tall and who had great and beautiful inner visions.
For two days we travelled so.
On the third day something surprising happened.

As we walked through the great multitude we began to notice that the land under our feet was dry and firm and that every so often a Brother or Sister would be sitting down amongst the throng on a (well-crafted) chair in front of a table. We noticed that on these tables were sturdy piles of parchment (as old as our oldest memories) and by them quills held in slender vases with nearby wells of ink.
Had we forgotten that we teeming people were the heirs of language and literature?
In front of a Brother seated at a table I asked:
‘What is it Brother that you write so diligently sat amongst your Brothers and Sisters who standing together wait for the rain and also wait for the sun?’
This man seated replied:
‘You are at liberty to read what I have written Brother.’
But when I looked there was only a picture – a quite primitive sketch made by the quill and ink.
The Brother smiled at me. ‘We are givers of laws,’ he said. ‘We are at the forefront of this endless world. Can’t you see?’
As I stood by this Brother a Sister handed him food and drink. In her eyes she marvelled at the parchment and was filled with love for the Brother.

Gradually we saw more and more such Brothers and Sisters seated behind their tables.
After one day of walking and sleeping and eating the meat of rats and the crusts of insects (as we could find or were given) we were then startled by an even greater change.
There came a time when as we walked Brother behind Sister and Sister behind Brother all the folk of that unrolling land were seated. So that we passed a place where it was more unusual to see a folk standing than it had previously been to see a folk sitting.
On the desks of these Brothers and Sisters were placed boxes and on the front of these boxes were flickering lights. From behind these boxes serpents slithered and wound over the dusty earth. Lines like creepers from the days of forest and jungle shone and sparkled in the air. This was a curious place for us.
Before the flashing lights the Brothers and Sisters were held as if in a spell. Their countenance was of a kind of spell-bound trance but their fingers moved nervously.

‘O how long before we reach the place of quiet and peace?’ I was asked. But I hushed the questioner and went quietly up to a Sister sat motionless before a box. Turning back to the questioner I whispered, ‘What do you hear?’ For it was true that the sound of the multitude had receded into the background – like a swarm of distant insects. Nevertheless almost drowning my whisper was a great hum as if thousands upon thousands of crickets (that sometimes descended upon us) were swarming above.
The questioner smiled. As well he might.
‘But it is not quiet,’ I said, ‘and there is no peace – and there is no space for us here to sing and dance.’
‘Sing?’ said a Sister dancing.
‘Dance?’ sang a Brother.

Bending down to the Sister in front of the box I could see upon it writing and pictures. It was as if a brain had been opened and its mind spilt onto the surface of this box.
It was true.
We had heard of these things from long ago. All of us.
How curious that they should exist – or even be allowed to exist.
How curious that this device existed when our Brothers and Sisters scrambled for rat meat and insect crusts.
We had heard of these machines from long ago (so we thought) and of their flashing lights but we did not expect such orderly writing and images – both unreal and alien. My eyes tightened in concentration.
‘It is a spring from the godhead,’ she said. ‘All life can be viewed here.’
Our group of travellers gathered round. The machine hummed as if in prayer and we sprang back in reaction when words came from it. I looked around and heard all the boxes chattering as if a flock of gulls had descended to roost.
‘Can wisdom be found in its spirit?’ I asked.
‘All can be found,’ said the Sister.
I asked, ‘Then,’ thinking carefully and mindfully, ‘can it tell us what love is?’
‘It can show you love,’ said the Sister.
‘Then it cannot be wise as you say,’ I replied, ‘and cannot therefore spring from God.’
‘Are not all things and all knowledge sprung from God?’ asked the Sister
‘Only the hidden things,’ I replied, ‘as God is hidden and mysterious.’
‘God is no longer a mystery,’ she smiled.
‘Then God is no longer God,’ I said.
‘God cannot be “no longer”,’ she said.
‘Then God is certainly elsewhere,’ I replied.
The Sister hunched before the box. All the Sisters and Brothers sat so. Were they at prayer?
Then they all sang:
We are happy
We are wiser
We are growing one and all
We are unity
We are family
We are children from before the fall

‘Will any of you leave your machines and join us?’ I asked smiling.
But none came.

As we left the children of this multi-God a Brother asked me:
‘Will you explain wisdom to us Brother?’
I replied:
‘Wisdom is to know The Uncertainties of the Soul; to know that some and not all can and will be revealed. Journey is mystery.’
And I reflected upon the place and people we had left. ‘We each sit and watch the world through a window. And we know that we cannot see more but also that there are as many windows as grains of sand. These melt to create the clear glass of God. As God sees All, so we see our own grain. But even with a billion grains of sand we cannot see God’s form. A wise man understands his limitations.’

Another Brother wished to question me of the nature of God and Heaven – even though I had no knowledge of these things – for I knew my limitations. But as he asked so I allowed myself to meditate and was drawn to give him the answers I did.
‘My wife is dead Brother, many years gone; will we know each other when we meet in Heaven?’
I replied: ‘Heaven is without time – there is no movement in Heaven but for the Spirit and the Spirit we all share has no substance – none that can be found on earth except for that spark we each carry. The spark of spirit that is our soul has no earthly substance yet it can be carried within our earthly body. It is this spark, this point of light, this ocean drop that will soar to Heaven. You will join with your wife in Heaven and know her through this joining but you will also know all other sparks, other points of light and other drops in the Great Ocean..’
‘Forgive me Brother,’ he said, ‘but what is it that I will know of my wife – will I be able to kiss her tenderly after all these long years apart – will those who have lost children be able to hug them again and enfold them in a protective embrace?’
I replied: ‘These things will not be so Brother. There will be no need. In joining your wife or in apparent rejoining their son or daughter all will be healed and perfect – as God is perfect. There will be no division. There cannot be a kiss Brother for nothing of the flesh shall survive…’
He answered quickly: ‘But we show our love through our bodies…’
I replied equally as quickly: ‘Our love Brother, but not the love to be found in Heaven. If there is a kiss there is a hurt and if there is food to be enjoyed then there is waste to be defecated and if there is earthly love and the bonding of a man and woman then there is no children and only the withering of that flesh. Flesh is of this world as is the flesh of rat; in Heaven a kiss or the taste of fruit – yes Brother, a taste we all long to experience in this barren world – or that self-less love for a child – none of this will be found in Heaven. Heaven will be beyond our pitiful love, beyond the pleasure of our pitiful senses and even greater than the self-less love and sacrifice for a parent to their child. Your wife is beyond you as you – when you die – will be beyond your family and friends. And this will cause you no grieving but only joy in joining with the other sparks of light into the Great Illumination and other points of light into the Great Illumination and other drops of the ocean into the Great Ocean that reflects and is part of the Great Illumination. Light, Fire and Air exist within this Great Illumination as we transcend from our earthly state.’
He asked, ‘But will we know ourselves Brother? Will we know ourselves if we have no body? No desires? No feeling?’
I replied: ‘You will both know your spark, your point, your drop of ocean and you will not know the cares and experience of the world. Your earthly life will fade almost in an instant because you will wish it so. You will know the destiny of all souls even those who will live the cruellest of lives upon this teeming world. When you are joined in this timeless state you will barely understand what it is to feel desires – you will not understand a finite life in a cumbersome body as you did not understand timelessness when you dwelt on earth.’
He asked with great passion, ‘Then why I am I on this earth with its teeming people, with a short unhappy lifespan if all our destiny is to be joined as one?’
‘It is to show you that God exists. Once in Heaven you will know everything and need to know nothing. You will become part of God and therefore not know that you were separated. This is a trace of our soul that is never extinguished from our earthly time. Even the child that dies in the womb knows it is separated from God. Then it can return.’
He said plaintively, ‘But why? Why give us this pain when we could have existed for all time in timelessness?’
I replied: ‘Listen to your words Brother, how can you, live for all time in timelessness? We have to be born into time to know the horror of its finiteness – and the restriction of the flesh.’
He said boldly: ‘Why? Why not be and remain in timelessness?’
I replied, ‘Because we are all both unique and a part of the great whole – we are the spark in the fire, the point of light in the ray of sunshine and the droplet in the ocean – we have had to be born into flesh and time to know that we are a part of but not exterminated by the Great Illumination.’
The Brother walked away and back towards the teeming life from where we had travelled. I was sad that my words had not comforted him.
I thought.

A Sister called after us:
‘You search for peace and quiet?’ Her tone was rushed and pleading.
I said, ‘Yes Sister.’
She said, ‘What you are searching for is God’s presence.’
I said, ‘God?’ in a surprised tone.
She said, ‘’God is peace and stillness.’
I said, ‘Then I shall find Him.’
She said, ‘He is here, Brother.’
I said, ‘Here?’
She said, ‘Indeed Brother we find God in peace and stillness.’
I said, ‘There is neither peace nor stillness here.’
She said, ‘You must find these things within yourself.’
I said, ‘You are a noble being Sister but God cannot be found here. God has deserted this place if He were ever here.’
She laughed and I laughed.
She said, ‘Has God deserted us too?’
I said, ‘God has to be found. Living the life you lead in a place that is Godless – it will be difficult for Him to be found.’
‘But not impossible.’
I smiled. Was I in search of God or place where we could renew the Garden. In the seeds that we planted in our new land – would there also be the seed of the Fall? Would Brother turn against Brother and would Brother take a Sister to refill emptiness in God’s image?
‘Will you come with us Sister?’ I asked.
She replied, ‘I have no need,’ and returned in and amongst the cooling heat of humanity.

I considered. If we are to find the world that fits well with us – is it for ever over a distant horizon or in the planet dwelling skies? Must we confront difference and surmount conflict or take our difference and integrity to an isolated place? Doubt fell upon me as I cast my eyes upon the band of Brothers and Sisters who followed.

Farther on some Brothers and Sisters were gathered round a man stood proudly on a large rock. We heard cries lifting from the crowd. I walked towards them and as I did I had to step carefully over bodies lying in oozing mud. As I reached the crowd I heard:
‘We hate this man. We hate this man.’ They cried bitterly and as one. Some swore at him and some spat. His crime must have been heinous.
The man, standing above them on the large rock, said:
‘We must learn to live with one another in harmony.’
They cried, ‘We are not a Mass, a Flock to be driven or a Herd to be corralled.’ Then with much love and passion they spoke unanimously, ‘We hate you and we hate all you say.’
The man said, ‘I love this land, this stone that I stand upon.’
They cried, ‘We shall urinate at your feet until your land is despoiled.’
The man said, ‘And I love the land you stand upon.’
They cried and they howled and fouled the land at their feet.
I was surprised by the passion of their venom. Both shocked by and curious about them. Gently I turned the attention of a Sister to me. Without shame she had squatted down close to where I stood. Anger burnt powerfully and brightly in her eyes.
‘What is this man to you?’ I began, ‘that you revile him so?’
She said, ‘He is a hater of others.’
I said, ‘A hater?’
She said, ‘Listen to him speak.’
I said, ‘But he speaks of harmony.’
She laughed. ‘Are you to be hated too Brother?’
‘What does it take for me to be hated?’ I asked.
She eyed me suspiciously. ‘What do you speak of?’ she asked.
‘I speak of what I find within me,’ I said. ‘But I am not here to speak but rather to show.’
‘Do you challenge us Brother?’
‘What should I challenge? I speak my mind when it is wise to do so.’
This Sister turned to some of her folk close by.
‘Why are you so filled with hate?’ I asked.
‘Hate?’ she laughed, ‘why we are filled with Love Brother.’
The Brothers and Sisters gathered round the rock had fallen silent. I called up to the man who stood so resolutely. ‘Will you join us Brother? We are travelling to a place of peace, quiet and beauty.’
‘I cannot,’ this man replied.
‘Why?’
‘Because I am needed,’ he said.
‘You are unjustly hated,’ I said.
‘And that is my need,’ he said. ‘You speak of justice Brother but I serve justice here upon this rock.’
‘And how do you serve?’ I asked.
‘I am a siphon for their anger. I am a siphon for the injustices they face every day of their lives. And every day they scorn my words and they hear them too. And one day they will live in peace, quiet and beauty right here. For all their hatred will have been dissipated.’
‘Who gave you authority to be such a siphon?’ I asked.
‘I did,’ said the man.
‘And who feeds you and quenches your thirst?’ I said.
‘They do,’ said the man.
I looked at the Brothers and Sisters gathered round the rock with the man standing there so. Suddenly the quiet that had descended lifted and was filled with spits and sneers and shouts and foul language. Their attention was turned from me. I lifted my eyes once more to the man on the rock. He looked down at me and smiled.

We came to a place by the sea where people ate fruit. They ate meat from rats and crumbs from insects and they ate the soft flesh of fruit – though I could not see a tree. I sat with my back to a great grey rock both jagged and smooth. Easily I found a comfortable position and both watched and listened to the sea. Some Brothers and Sisters scavenged along the sea’s side – their movements furtive and apprehensive.

Before long my outward eyes closed and the eternal rhythmic sound of the sea lulled me into a day dream. And I saw in this dream:
A town from our memories. A town with golden cupolas and searching spires. A young girl was skipping down a pavement bordering a large cobbled square. In the middle of this square a fountain sprinkled water and around this laid out in a circle were beds of multi-coloured flowers.
The girl was alone and excited – she received disinterested smiles from passing strangers. Arcades flanked the square on all its sides and were decorated with a profusion of hanging baskets.
Into my dream came a dark voice. Not altogether an unpleasant voice but deep and resonant – with something of an inquiring manner; too confidential perhaps; smooth on first hearing but with a bitter aftertaste.
The voice said:
What is it that makes these people, these strangers smile?
Is it fear?
Poison can be carried in the most beautiful of packages – striking colours and shapes; if it wishes so.
I am observing your dream with interest but I am suspicious that this vision is built on the hard rock of Oppression.

I did not answer the dark voice but rather let the un-(sub)conscious day dream unveil itself with the honesty and integrity of a young bride. I felt no conscious interplay with my dream – simply I was the onlooker, or –in-looker.
A boy ran across the cobbles of the Great Square and its smooth stone pathways. Cheekily and yet gingerly he stepped through the circular flowerbed and into the pool where water from the fountain gently wetted his skin and clothes.
(All through this dream my sub-conscious mind must have been in awe at the images it created. For I dreamt of both the past and the future of what was and what might be and what might have been. Traces of the past still existed in our world and there were those who seeded our minds with forbidden treasures. In our world I hungered after more than rat meat and was more industrious then the creeping beetles when it came to grubbing out footnotes from the past. And yet also there were in my mind visions that could not have root anywhere or from anytime – unless that place be a parallel place and the time be from the future. But I had to be careful at all times. I was in some way no different from my fellow Brothers and Sisters and yet in other ways I dwelt in the land of chimera and spirit.)
Nimbly the boy climbed the statue from where the water spouted. The statue was that of a man with a wide smile and laughing eyes. The people of the town had built this statue of him in honour of his unflinching and determined struggle to bring democracy to them.
The dark voice spoke from its dark interior:
The boy insults the spirit of the statue. You see, the young have no care for their ancestors or for the world they have inherited.

The boy climbed to the statue’s bare head. He flung his arms around the head as he would his beloved grandfather. Then, balancing himself he cast his eyes beyond the town’s squares and the surrounding houses. Around the town, hills undulated peacefully – lush green with pockets of deciduous trees. Animals grazed and crops grew. The boy’s eyes traced a buzzard’s movement across the sky and in the distance a majestic gigantic aircraft sailed noiselessly.
The voice coughed in a smirk, sharpening its edges:

A sweet voice called to me. Turning in its direction I saw a child – a girl – with a heart-shaped face and with wild blonde licks of hair framing it. The child said: ‘I have many questions to ask you sir.’ I said: ‘Then ask me your questions child and I shall listen and answer as honestly as I can.’
But before she could answer a butterfly caught her attention and laughing gleefully she chased it, uttering cries of pleasure and excitement. Eventually the butterfly rose into the air and escaped her grasping hands.

By Tim Bragg
Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

Picture courtesy of Elaine Bampton

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