14 October 2004

Not about U.S. politics

Blues: The musical documentary Lightning in a Bottle is due to be out next week, recording one of the keynote concerts of the Year of the Blues, 2003. I want to see it! The publicity claims to include such artists as B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Solomon Burke, Buddy Guy, Shemekia Copeland, Gregg Allman , Natalie Cole, John Fogerty, Alison Krauss, Chris Thomas King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Mavis Staples, Robert Cray, Dr. John, Ruth Brown, Lazy Lester, Odetta, Hubert Sumlin ... and more. Lazy Lester! Mavis Staples!! The Web site is nice; once you're past the trailer, you can pick up four delicious MP3 files just by going into the site and harvesting the cache. My conscience is clear; having heard the samples, I'm buying the soundtrack.

If only Junior Wells had lived long enough to take his rightful place onstage with Buddy Guy, the movie would be a parallel to my own lifelong affair with this ecstatic music. Well, I grant that John Lee Hooker and many others whose involvement would have been actuarially less probable should also be acknowledged, but, for me, Junior was present at the creation. One afternoon in 1968 I took my brand new copy of Chicago/The Blues/Today, vol. 1, to the Evanston Public Library, sat down at one of the turntables in the music section, slipped on the headphones, and set the needle down on the record. I nearly jumped out of my seat when Junior Wells began talking: "I want to do this number ... it's not mine's, but I want to pay tribute to an old fellow and nice outstanding musician. A tribute to him...it's a number that he made that I think that will lay him in your hearts forever. It's a crazy little thing that goes like this, 'Baby, you got to help me.'" Aside from the charm of his voice, I'd never heard stereo separation like this before, never having used high-quality headphones before. It got better: With the first notes from Buddy Guy's guitar I whirled around in my chair in fear that I was disturbing the whole room, so startling was the stereo effect. But of course it was all in my head.

I don't know if this Lightning in a Bottle film will show up in Portland. I have a feeling it just doesn't quite hit the market the same way Resident Evil: Apocalypse does.

Another boost in the fight against cynicism: I am happy to see a new weblog issuing from the pen of Northwest Yearly Meeting's peace education coordinator, Cherice Bock. I've been relieved and encouraged to see how well Cherice's work is being received in our group of Friends churches.

Somebody agreed with me, sort of. My attempt to show some understanding for Vladimir Putin a few weeks ago ("Questions for Vladimir Vladimirovich") has some similarities with an opinion piece by Alexei Pankin in the Moscow Times, October 12. Pankin is worth quoting at some length, especially since the article is now in the newspaper's archive$. Quoting some rhetorical "pearls" both pro and con from the controversies about Putin's modifications, shall we say, to the Russian electoral system, Pankin goes on to observe:

Amid this entertaining polemic, Yevgeny Kiselyov's most recent editorial in Moskovskiye Novosti provides an unexpected reality check. The gist of Kiselyov's article is that we should take pity on Putin. He's nervous and fidgety, and any attempt to corner him in this state is likely to backfire. Kiselyov is one of the few pundits who understands that the regime is not authoritarian but weak. Its policies are not a conscious attack on democracy, but a way of appearing to take decisive action in a situation where something has to be done but no one knows exactly what.

The opposition is no better off. They huff and they puff but they have nothing practical to say. Since Mikhail Gorbachev granted us our basic freedoms, we have managed to develop just one democratic institution -- the form of check and balance that could be described with the Biblical phrase: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few." There is unlimited room for journalists to criticize and mock the actions of both the regime and the opposition. We're all in the same boat, however, and no one's getting off. And that can get to a person after a while. You start to conduct yourself more carefully and to tell others not to make any sudden movements. Most importantly, you accentuate the positive -- Putin's popularity, which allows him to make a show of taking decisive action without sending tanks into the streets.

That's why I consider Kiselyov's call for his readers -- foreigners and the "tens of thousands of Russian democrats" mentioned in that Sept. 28 open letter -- to take pity on the president as a particularly constructive contribution to the debate about the fate of democracy.

This is one of these days when I wish my irony detector were working, but *clunk* it's not. No reading at all.

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