Archive for March, 2010

critic’s pick 117

For over a half century, Mose Allison has been a study in musical contrasts.

He hails from the Mississippi Delta, but his music possesses a cool that is forever cosmopolitan. He is viewed largely as a jazz and blues stylist, yet successive rock ‘n’ roll generations have championed his music. And while he has titled his first studio album in 12 years The Way of the World, Allison’s songs are often reflective of very singular, flawed souls.

Leave it to Joe Henry to appreciate those hapless contradictions. A bit of an artistic journeyman himself, especially when he switches roles from songwriter to producer, Henry is the renaissance artist that has helped rekindle the careers of Allen Toussaint, Bettye LaVette and Solomon Burke. That The Way of the World is being released through the rock and Americana renegade label Anti instead of a jazz stalwart like Blue Note (which issued a pair of concert recordings by Allison in 2001 and 2002) only enforces the sort of diverse, even indefinable audience his new music is now being aimed at.

But while the marketing devices may have changed, nothing within the acerbic cool of Allison’s songs has. They still percolate with bright jazz piano colors, sleek narratives and a studied, steady soulfulness. And, at age 82, they reveal a kind of sagely grace. But then his Prestige records from the ‘50s and Atlantic albums of the ‘60s did, too.

“My brain is always ticking, long as I am alive and kicking,” Allison sings with hushed, swing-savvy pride over a typically spry piano gallop on the album opening My Brain. The song is indicative of The Way of the World‘s playful demeanor. As with all of Allison’s greatest recordings, an almost purposely imperfect human underpinning prods the song along. The sentiments seem stubborn at times. But the delivery is discreetly cool, relaxed and a bit regal. It’s akin to placing a withered tomato in the sunshine for all to see, even though such placement is likely to rot the poor thing even more.

“I’m not the first, I’m not the most,” Allison sings with self-effacing assurance on Ask Me Nice. “Of this town, I am not the toast.” But listen to the solos by guitarist Greg Leisz and saxophonist Walter Smith III, which neatly augment the piano trio sound (rounded out by bassist David Piltch and the always distinctive drumming of Jay Bellarose) that has come to define Allison’s music over the decades, and you will discover another contradiction. Within Henry’s immensely respectful production, the aged ease that surrounds The Way of the World sounds positively youthful.

In that regard, Allison is more than the toast of the town. He’s the toast of his own World.

in performance: jonatha brooke

jonatha brooke. photo y sandrine lee.

jonatha brooke. photo by sandrine lee.

Within the very outgoing performance persona exhibited by Jonatha Brooke last night at Natasha’s was a love of all things French. After the veteran songwriter opened her 90 minute solo acoustic performance with a lightly somber reading of Full Fledged Stranger, she was all but bursting to tell the audience of an acquisition from a recent tour through Paris – the ability to say “blow up doll” in French.

Later, when she actually performed a song in French, Je N’Peux Pas Te Plaire (translated loosely as I Can’t Please You), she remarked how “all the tragic verbs seem to rhyme” in her beloved foreign tongue. Topping it all was her recollection of singing a cover of the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky to a French audience that slowly came to recognize its melody though not the fact the tune was, in Brooke’s view, “a little creepy.” She reprised the song last night to with a sense of regal, almost loving paranoia.

Perhaps what attracts Brooke and, ultimately, her songs to French culture is their romanticism, fatalistic though it often is. Songs like Secrets and Lies, the lovely Because I Told You So (served last night as an encore) and especially the tragic parting song Linger (“with every altercation, you were showing me the door”) were like portraits from a romantic’s rogues gallery. But Brooke’s delivery was so personable and upbeat that it was tough to feel too despondent as their stories unfolded.

Curiously, the most hopeful emotional casts were revealed in a trio of songs (All You Gotta Do is Touch Me, My Flowers Grow Green and King of My Love) from Brooke’s 2008 album The Works, a record devoted to new music penned from unpublished lyrics by folk icon Woody Guthrie.

The only really thematic deviation in the concert came with the title tune to Brooke’s 2004 album Back in the Circus, a remembrance of life as “an angry carny girl.” Otherwise, the performance stance was engaging, cheery and intimate throughout, from the Big Brother cast of Eye in the Sky, to the sometimes lustful twists in the Guthrie lyrics to the delicate confessional streaks in her own songs. Brooke navigated all of those worldly turns with ease and abundant charm.

Polemics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(The Case for Israel)(Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History)(Book review)

Human Rights & Human Welfare January 1, 2006 | Slater, Jerome The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. 264pp.

Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman G. Finkelstein. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. 332pp.

As he says, Dershowitz argues “the case for Israel,” especially in its policies and behavior towards the Palestinians; Finkelstein, in direct rebuttal, essentially argues the case against both Israel and Dershowitz. Polemics may have their uses, but these books certainly demonstrate their limits–especially in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where it is not polemic but dispassionate, subtle, and balanced analyses that are in short supply.

Even so, it is not the case that both books are equally unbalanced. The character of The Case for Israel is captured by Finkelstein’s clever and telling quotations of Dershowitz on the responsibility of defense attorneys: “The defense attorney comes close to being a pure one-sided advocate for his generally guilty client…. It is the job of the defense attorney–especially when representing the guilty–to prevent, by all lawful means, the ‘whole truth’ from coming out” (Finkelstein: 89, 227).

Both books focus on four major issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the right of political sovereignty; the significance of anti-Semitism in explaining the growing global anger at Israel; the major human rights issues; and why the conflict is still unresolved. In this essay I shall focus on the first three issues, as those most directly relate to human rights, broadly defined, to include collective human rights, or the right of political sovereignty.

Dershowitz’s approach to these issues can be found immediately when he states, “The charges [against Israel] include being a criminal state, the prime violator of human rights, the mirror image of Nazism, and the most intransigent barrier to peace in the Middle East” (Dershowitz: 1). Denying that he wishes to defend “every Israeli policy or action,” Dershowitz insists on “Israel’s basic right to exist, to protect its citizens from terrorism, and to defend its borders from hostile enemies” (Dershowitz: 1).

Now it might appear that Dershowitz is taking on strawmen–who but a handful of “crazies” would consider Israel to be the Nazi-like “prime violator” of human rights? Who would deny Israel the right to defend itself against genuine threats, and not merely to its borders, not merely to its innocent civilians, but to its very existence? Nonetheless, despite some qualifications here and there, it is evident that Dershowitz either genuinely believes or perhaps just finds it tactically useful to suggest that the extremist charges–easily rebutted by a decent high school student–are at the very foundation of the overall criticism of Israel. This is hardly the case for serious critics of Israel, including many American, European and other Western writers, many of them Jewish. Even more importantly, throughout the entire course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (but especially in the last two decades) there has been no shortage of serious Israeli critics–including academicians, journalists, writers, intellectuals, retired military and Shin Bet leaders, and even a number of active politicians.

The Right of Political Sovereignty and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict As Michael Walzer (1992) has suggested, in principle the right to political sovereignty can be a basic human right, although one that is dependent on specific circumstances in different cases. As I shall argue, given the history of the Jewish people, few deny that their claim to a state of their own was an exceptionally powerful one, although the particular claim to create that state in Palestine was much more problematic. Moreover, in light of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in principle the right of the Palestinian people to political sovereignty–a state of their own–is equally or at least nearly as powerful.

Though Dershowitz gives lip service to a two-state solution, it is evident that his concern is far more with what he regards as the unquestionable right of the Jewish people to create a state in Palestine, rather than the rights of the Arab inhabitants–or as they are now known, the Palestinians–to political sovereignty in this same land. His basic argument–a familiar one, of course–is that the Jews were forcibly driven from Palestine two thousand years ago but “never abandoned their claim to return” and indeed maintained a “significant presence” there over the centuries. Consequently, they had an “absolute right to seek refuge in the land of their ancestors.” Moreover, the Jews didn’t displace the Palestinians, for the area was “vastly under-populated, and the land … was bought primarily from absentee landlords and real estate speculators” (Dershowitz: 8, 15, 18, 23).

To be sure (his argument continues), many Palestinians were later displaced after the establishment of Israel, but that was a direct consequence of the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948, not of any deliberate Israeli policy to expel the Palestinians from the areas allotted to the Jews by the U.N. plan of 1947, or from the other Palestinian areas conquered by Israel in the 1948 war. In any case, he adds, wars always create refugees and “exchanges of population”–which is what occurred after the 1948 war, for hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries felt compelled to flee to Israel. In all cases other than Israel, the world comes to accept the new realities, and integrates the refugees into new homelands. Thus, there neither should not or would not have been an ongoing Palestinian refugee problem, had not the Arab states “kept [them] in refugee camps for more than half a century to be used as political pawns in an effort to demonize and destroy Israel” (Dershowitz: 87). in our site israeli palestinian conflict

Finkelstein has no difficulty in directly rebutting most of Dershowitz’s arguments. As he argues, some of the Zionist arguments are indeed quite weak, especially those that claim a permanent right, derived from ancient history, to the establishment of a Jewish state (that is, not merely a “refuge”) in Palestine, regardless of the will of the overwhelming majority of its present-day inhabitants. Similarly, Finkelstein is correct that the weight of the historical evidence–most of it developed by Israeli historians–strongly suggests that David Ben-Gurion and other major Zionist leaders had long hoped that they would get the opportunity to “transfer” large numbers of Palestinians out of a Jewish state, and that they then used the opportunity presented by the 1948 Arab attack to do just that, as a de facto, if not official, policy.

Where Finkelstein goes badly wrong, however, is in his not quite explicit but strongly implied argument that there was no legitimate basis for Zionism’s drive to create a Jewish state in Palestine. Finkelstein’s central argument, appearing in one form or another throughout his book, is that it is “racism”–the belief that the Jews are superior to the Palestinians, and therefore their “rights” supersede the rights of the Palestinians–that is the foundation of Zionism: “Those admitting to the reality of a Palestinian presence … couldn’t adduce any justification for Zionism except a racist one …” (Finkelstein: 9). Nor was racism limited to the Zionists: British support for Zionism during the Mandate period “had no recourse except to racist justifications for denying the indigenous population its basic rights” (Finkelstein: 10). Later, this racism was augmented by crass domestic or international politics in the West, Finkelstein argues. It is evident that for him these two factors are all that are required to explain Zionism as well as the support of so many non-Jews for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. And it is racism and politics that continue to be sufficient explanations of Western support for Israeli policies towards the Palestinians since 1948.

As I have suggested, both Dershowitz’s and Finkelstein’s accounts of the early history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contain elements of truth, but are oversimplified, distorted, and partial–in both cases. To begin with, both authors fail to notice the crucial distinction between the arguments for the creation of a Jewish state–somewhere–and the arguments that such a state, by right, had to be in Palestine, regardless of the wishes of the present-day indigenous peoples. (1) Certainly, it is undeniable that some Zionists (including many non-Jews) and Israelis are guilty of racism towards the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. Nonetheless, it is a fallacy that Zionism at its foundation had to be, or at least was, racist. The crucial argument for the creation of a Jewish state has always been not that the Jews were superior to anyone, but rather that without a state of their own, the Jews were vulnerable to everyone. One would have thought that the Holocaust would have ended that argument–as indeed it did in most of the West. But not for Finkelstein, who in his obsession with “racism” essentially ignores this not merely powerful but historically irrefutable argument for Zionism–even going so far as to (by implication) deny the relevance of the Holocaust, largely treating it as a cynical ploy, as is suggested by his repeated references to “the Holocaust industry.” (2) Dershowitz makes the opposite mistake. The terrible paradox of Zionism is that while the arguments for a Jewish state per se are strong, most–though not all–of the arguments for the right to create that state in Palestine are clearly weak. The argument from religion and Biblical history–God promised Palestine to the Jews, forever–can only persuade religious fundamentalists. The argument from ancient territorial rather than merely religious rights–the Jews lived in Palestine until they were driven out by the Romans 2000 years ago, and therefore their descendants have a permanent right not merely to “return” to that land but to establish political sovereignty over it–is no more persuasive. To begin with, the factual accuracy of the biblical story on which this historical claim is based has been severely challenged by both historians and archaeologists–particularly Israeli ones. More importantly, even if the history were entirely accurate, it would be irrelevant. There is scarcely any place on earth that has not at one time or another been conquered, subjugated, and populated by other peoples. Yet there is no other place in which it is taken to be a serious argument that the expulsion of a people twenty centuries ago does not affect their right to permanent political sovereignty over the land, regardless of the political (and other) rights of the peoples who have inhabited the land since then, including most of its present-day inhabitants.

To be sure, not all Zionist arguments for the right to create a Jewish state in Palestine are based on Biblical or ancient history, for the Balfour Declaration–in which Britain promised to use its post-WWI League of Nations Mandate over Palestine to establish a “national home” for the Jewish people (3)–is said to have established a much more modern right. However, the argument from the Balfour Declaration is also shaky–and not merely because it pointedly refrained from promising the Zionists political sovereignty over Palestine, but more fundamentally because neither Britain nor its fellow colonial powers who dominated the League had the right (even if their motives were pure, which they were not) to dispose of Palestine against the wishes of the overwhelming indigenous majority–at that time about 650,000 Palestinian Arabs, compared to 50,000 Jews.

The Holocaust, however, is altogether another matter, making it obvious that the case for the creation of a Jewish state and a haven for the victims of anti-Semitism was both powerful and urgent. To be sure, in theory such a state did not necessarily have to be carved out of Palestine. However, by 1945 there simply was no practical place for such a state to be created–all the other options that had been considered in the past, such as British West Africa, solved none of the moral issues, and raised additional practical ones. (4) The argument from the history of anti-Semitism in general and the Holocaust in particular is the only truly strong Zionist argument, and it is a sufficient one–despite the fact that neither Finkelstein nor Dershowitz, coming from opposite sides, seem to understand or recognize it. Much more importantly, the entire history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might have been different had the Israelis rested their case on this argument, for then they would have been far more likely to have accepted a moral obligation to limit and later make up for the inevitable injustice to the Palestinians in every way they could, short of abandoning their drive to create a secure Jewish state.

Put differently, it is the bad arguments for Zionism that account for the moral blindness of the Israelis toward their responsibilities to the Palestinians, and although it cannot be proven, there is an excellent argument that it has been the failure of the Israelis to recognize and act upon this moral obligation, more so even than the initial creation of the Jewish state, that accounts for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict A fair reading of The Case For Israel makes it evident that Dershowitz is suggesting that anti-Semitism is a major factor, if not the root cause, of the global criticism of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Of course, he denies he is making such a suggestion: those who say that critics of Israel are often labeled as anti-Semitic–he cites in particular “Susannah Heshel” [sic]–are guilty of “a big lie” (Dershowitz: 209).

Yet, on the very first page of the book, Dershowitz argues that “when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic” (Dershowitz: 1). He goes on to cite what he considers to be the flagrant double standards that are applied to Israel. Why else (for but one example) is criticism of Israel so much harsher than criticism of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, which is “longer and less justified” than the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, and which in any case “ended in 1995?” (Dershowitz: 159). He cites other examples and concludes that “I prove beyond any shadow of a doubt that a pernicious double standard has been applied to judging Israel’s actions: that even when Israel has been the best or among the best in the world, it has often been accused of being the worst or among the worst in the world” (Dershowitz: 7). Dershowitz does not hesitate in claiming that this accusation (which in any case is practically non-existent) “is the international equivalent of the old anti-Semitic blood libel” (Dershowitz: 234).

To be sure, Dershowitz admits, some of the strongest criticism of Israel today comes from other Jews, particularly Israelis themselves. This concession might seem to undermine his argument that not since Hitler and the Holocaust “has the world experienced so perverse and sustained an outpouring of primitive anti-Semitism” (Dershowitz: 232). Of course this apparent contradiction does not trouble those who resort to the “self-hating Jews” argument. Dershowitz does seem a bit wary of resorting to that argument–though not nearly enough–for he protests that “I do not mean to suggest … that all anti-Zionists and Israeli-bashers are self-hating Jews” (Dershowitz: 220, emphasis added). But, what does that mean? Just some of them, or many of them, or even most of them? What about Jews who are unhappy with Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians, but who are neither anti-Zionists nor “Israeli-bashers?” Well, yes, Dershowitz concedes, there could be other reasons–though usually, in his eyes, illegitimate ones–for Jews and Israelis to criticize Israel: “people can be wrong on the merits without requiring any psychological explanation.” However, he immediately adds: “But the reality is that there are some Jews who despise anything Jewish …” (Dershowitz: 220).

As the subtitle of Beyond Chutzpah suggests, much of the book is an attack on the Dershowitz charges. Finkelstein’s main theme is this: “The main purpose behind these periodic, meticulously orchestrated media extravaganzas is not to fight anti-Semitism but rather to exploit the historical sufferings of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism” (Dershowitz: 22). This implies that not only is there no actual problem of anti-Semitism, but that few of those who raise the cry of anti-Semitism even believe it themselves. Thus, those who cite the Holocaust as the basis for their anti-Semitic fears are not honestly mistaken, but are either cynical or victims of “the Holocaust industry,” which among other things was designed to be “an ideological weapon to immunize Israel from legitimate criticism” (Finkelstein: 16).

In short, it is just a “shameless exploitation” of the historical problem of anti-Semitism. To be sure, it may well be the case that Dershowitz, in light of the extremity of his language, is fair game for this kind of charge, but as usual Finkelstein goes much too far. Surely some of those who charge that anti-Semitism accounts for most of the criticism of Israel are not cynics who are making charges they know to be false. Rather, they genuinely, however mistakenly, believe in what they are saying–perhaps because of a hypersensitive reaction to the actual Holocaust, as opposed to the “Holocaust industry.” Sometimes Finkelstein simply loses control. For example, he dismisses a report of a leading German academic institute that there has recently been a worrisome resurgence of anti-Semitism in Western Europe as a “typical earmark of Germany’s public culture…. If Germany was once the European hotbed of anti-Semitism it has now become the hotbed of philo-Semitism.” (Finkelstein: 36). Thus, this and other public expressions of concern by German academics, commentators and even politicians about a possible resurgence of anti-Semitism are “lunatic,” “utterly cynical,” or mere “act[s] in this never-ending German passion play [about the Jews] … resembling nothing so much as a medieval witch hunt” (Finkelstein: 36).

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan gets the same treatment. Finkelstein is outraged at Annan’s public statement that there was an “alarming resurgence [of anti-Semitism] in new forms and manifestations.” In so “intoning,” Finkelstein tells us, Annan was merely “playing along with the charade … no doubt calculating that he could score a few easy points with his patrons in Washington” (Finkelstein: 63). Now, it is not unreasonable to suspect that in light of the incessant American attacks on the U.N., Annan might have welcomed an opportunity–as a side bonus–to side with the United States. Finkelstein, however, does not merely suspect but is certain, not only that this is the entire explanation for Annan’s stated concern, but that (he implies) it is the only possible explanation. Anyway, Finkelstein suggests, Annan should stick to his last, which is Africa:

One might have thought that a secretary-general coming from a continent historically decimated by colonialism would be somewhat skeptical of the Holocaust’s uniqueness and, given that Africa is currently being ravaged by starvation, disease, and war, that he would have bigger priorities than mobilizing the international community to affirm Holocaust uniqueness (Finkelstein: 63).

How much of a role does anti-Semitism really play in the global reaction to Israel’s policies and behavior towards the Palestinians? It is necessary here to distinguish between the Palestinians, the Arab and Muslim world as a whole, and the West, including Jews and Israelis themselves. In the case of the Palestinians, Finkelstein is right that the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are to be found not in Palestinian anti-Semitism but in the creation of the state of Israel in a land where the Palestinians were a large majority and had a legitimate claim to political sovereignty. There is no doubt, therefore, that the creation of Israel entailed an injustice to the Palestinians, but it does not follow that there was nothing necessary or legitimate in the Zionist drive for an independent Jewish state. In its origins, then, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is best seen as a tragedy: a conflict between two rights, which unavoidably must end with some injustice to the side that loses.

That said, Israeli policies towards the Palestinians since 1948 are another matter: the tragic necessity argument is not available to the Israelis and their supporters as a defense of Israel’s expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and villages and, since 1967, the continuing Israeli occupation and repression of the Palestinian people and the denial of viable statehood to them in a small part of their original homeland. To be sure, even though it is not Palestinian “anti-Semitism” that explains either the origins or the continuing dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is clear that the longer the conflict goes on, the more likely it is that anti-Semitism will spread among the Palestinians, especially among both the nationalist and religious fundamentalists.

It is undeniable that this is already happening in the Arab and Muslim world as a whole, especially among the fundamentalists and fanatics. It is impossible to separate three components in the growing rage: legitimate anger at Israel; illegitimate anger at Israel; and anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Whatever its root causes, however, it is pointless and perhaps dangerous to deny that anti-Semitism–as well as anti-Americanism, partly in reaction to the nearly unconditional American support of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians–is growing.

The growing anger in the West at Israeli policies–including among a significant number of Jews and Israelis–is another matter altogether. Except perhaps among Muslims and Arabs who live in the West, there is little or no basis to the claim that European anti-Semitism is to blame for anti-Israeli sentiment, let alone that there is a pernicious double standard which works against Israel. Until the last few years, precisely the opposite was the case–philo-Semitism in Europe and America since the Holocaust served to insulate Israel from legitimate criticism, and when there were double standards they worked in Israel’s favor.

For most of Israel’s history, the West has looked the other way at its occupation and repression of the Palestinians. To the extent that this is no longer the case–or less so, since Israel is still often treated with kid gloves in the West–it is not a function of anti-Semitism but on the contrary of puzzlement, outrage, or even a sense of betrayal of the high hopes and expectations for a Jewish state. To begin with, it is often the case–at least in the U.S.–that Israel is held to lower, not higher standards than other Western states, especially over human rights issues (to be discussed below). A number of reasons account for this: Christian guilt over the Holocaust and the failure of the West to stop it; ignorance of the facts–sometimes, it seems, a willed ignorance; Jewish electoral and political power in the United States, supplemented by the recent alliance between fundamentalist Christian groups and right-wing Jews; and the fact that the United States believes that Israel serves American national interests in a variety of ways and therefore should not be criticized. (5) Put differently, any Western double standards are hardly evidence of anti-Semitism, precisely because so much more has been expected from a Jewish state, one that not only presented itself as model for others to emulate–“a light unto the world,” a product of Western civilization at its finest, an exemplar of “purity in arms” and the like–but whose claims of moral superiority until recently were widely accepted in the West. Few Westerners consider Middle Eastern autocracies to be the appropriate standard of comparison for a state that is part of the West, its democratic traditions, and its “Judeo-Christian” civilization, heritage and culture. For such a state, then, it is not sufficient that its government is better than, say, Syria.

Human Rights What is Israel’s human rights record in its conflict with the Palestinians? Dershowitz offers his readers three choices:

* Not the worst in the world: Israel is not “the prime example of human rights violators in the world” (Dershowitz: 181). (6) * Better than the Arabs: the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular deliberately target innocent civilians in wars of “genocidal aggression,” whereas Israel only inadvertently kills civilians in legitimate defensive attacks on terrorists or Arab military targets (Dershowitz: 75, 141).

* Better than any other countries “in the history of the world” that have faced “comparable threats” to its survival, including most Western nations (Dershowitz: 222).

Despite these slippery, vague, and inconsistent formulations, it is clear that the impression Dershowitz wants to convey is that Israel’s human rights record, while “far from perfect” is “generally superb” and not merely relative to the Arab world, or even to Western states facing internal or external threats, in which his examples are the French facing the Algerian revolution, the British facing the Irish rebellion, and the Americans facing al-Qaeda today (Dershowitz: 204).

In his otherwise excellent refutation of Dershowitz’s claims on the human rights issues, Finkelstein as usual cannot refrain from going too far himself, as when he suggests that “some” of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians might fairly be described as genocidal. In his words, the term genocide “subsumes a broad range of destructive aims, some of which perhaps are, and some clearly not, descriptive of Israeli policy toward Palestinians” (Finkelstein: 37). Serious human rights specialists, however, do not accept such a vague and tendentious use of language: genocide is nearly always defined to mean not “a broad range of destructive aims” but only those that seek to destroy national, ethnic, racial or religious groups, deliberately targeted as such. Understood properly, then, as unjust as has been Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, it has never come remotely close to being genocidal.

This revealing lapse aside, Finkelstein’s chapters on human rights are the strongest parts of Beyond Chutzpah. Of particular value are his long quotations and summaries of highly-detailed reports on extensive Israeli violations of basic human rights, including war crimes, compiled by such respected international organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as by Israeli organizations like B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Indeed, it is not even necessary to rely on reports by international or Israeli human rights organizations, for in its news stories, editorials and commentary, Ha’aretz, Israel’s most prestigious newspaper (published in English as well as Hebrew), regularly covers the ongoing and extensive Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinians. Consequently, Finkelstein’s conclusion is fully justified: “Either mainstream human rights organizations and independent experts have engaged in a vast anti-Semitic conspiracy to defame Israel, or Dershowitz has egregiously misrepresented the factual record” (Finkelstein: 223).

Even so, it is useful to examine in more detail several of Dershowitz’s assertions and arguments, beginning with the issues of terrorism and deliberate attacks on innocents. Dershowitz sometimes includes attacks on Israeli military forces within his definition of “terrorism,” as when he says that “Israel left southern Lebanon as a result of increasing Hezbollah terrorism” (Dershowitz: 235). In fact, Israel withdrew its forces occupying part of another country because the attacks on its troops had become too costly. web site israeli palestinian conflict

To be sure, Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are certainly constitutive of terrorism. However, according to Dershowitz, the Palestinians turned to terrorism “not as a last resort against a long occupation but as a first resort,” (Dershowitz: 143), not out of desperation because of the failure of political and or even non-terrorist armed force, but because they have “glorified it as part of their culture and religion” (Dershowitz: 129). Israel, however, is very different. The structure of Dershowitz’s argument is constructed as follows:

* Not guilty: Israel never deliberately targets innocents; when Palestinian and other Arab civilian deaths result from Israeli military actions they are “mostly caused accidentally in a legitimate effort to try to stop terrorism” (Dershowitz: 124). (7) Even the well-known Israeli attacks on Beirut and other Lebanese cities are blandly denied by Dershowitz: “Israel is the only country in the history of modern warfare that has never dropped bombs indiscriminately on an enemy city in an effort to kill innocent civilians…. Even when it attacked those parts of Beirut that were home to terrorists, the Israeli air force made great efforts–although not always with success–to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties” (Dershowitz: 151).

Elsewhere he elaborates, citing the principle of “double effect,” under which a nation fighting a just war may legitimately attack important military targets even though the death of innocents is an accidental consequence, so long as these deaths are neither intended nor disproportionate to the military benefits. This principle, he claims, “perfectly describes Israel’s policy of fighting terrorism” (Dershowitz: 191).

* Anyway, it’s their own fault: Palestinian and other Arab civilian deaths have been really the responsibility of the “terrorists” themselves, who first in Lebanon and then in the occupied territories “use their own civilians as shields … deliberately hiding in and operating out of civilian population centers such as refugee camps” (Dershowitz: 128, 143).

* Besides which, Palestinian civilians are not really innocent: Many observers, including Israelis, have described the various measures that the Israelis have employed to enforce the occupation as a form of collective punishment of the Palestinian population as a whole. These include the system of checkpoints and military outposts, the surrounding and enclosure of entire Palestinian towns and cities, the walls and other separation barriers that intrude into Palestinian lands, orchards and villages, the demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinian terrorists, and the suffocation by various means of the Palestinian economy. Dershowitz chooses to specifically discuss only the home demolitions–where his argument, although questionable, is least weak. (8) However, he is unmistakably making a much broader judgment: the Israeli actions are generally (though not always) justified because most of the Palestinian people as a whole support terrorism.

Dershowitz is clearly aware that this argument has been rejected for centuries by nearly all religious and moral philosophers, and is prohibited by international law today. He proposes, however, that we “rethink … [this] classic bright-line distinction between combatants and noncombatants,” substituting instead a sliding scale: the more a people “willingly allow combatants to hide among them … [or] provide support for the combatants … [or] make martyrs of the murderers,” the greater their complicity and “the closer they move to combatant status” (Dershowitz: 168-169).

None of these arguments stand up to serious scrutiny. There is overwhelming evidence–including testimony from Israeli generals and other participants–that the intended purpose of many Israeli military actions in the past was to kill Palestinian and other Arab civilians. Finkelstein’s list includes a number of civilian massacres during the 1948 war, the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Egyptian cities during the 1967-70 “war of attrition” along the Suez Canal, and the attacks on Lebanese population centers in 1974, 1978, and 1982. He could have provided an even more extensive list, which would certainly include various brutal, government-authorized attacks on Palestinian and Jordanian civilians led or ordered by Ariel Sharon (for example, the 1953 attack on the West Bank town of Qibya, killing an estimated 60-65 civilians, two-thirds of them women and children) throughout the course of his long career.

Why would Israel so have acted? Was it, as Israeli spokesmen have sometimes openly stated, to “send messages” to the civilian populations that they had better not support their enemies? Note the consensus definition of terrorism: deliberate attacks on civilians in order to achieve a political purpose. Thus, at least in the past Israel committed state terrorism. More recently Israel seems to be refraining from deliberate attacks intended to kill civilians, and therefore from outright terrorism. But it has not ended disproportionate actions, which have killed many civilians in the course of attacks aimed at “military targets”–i.e., Palestinian leaders and militants. These include the 1982 bombing of a Beirut apartment house, killing dozens of Lebanese civilians, because it was thought that Arafat was in it; the 1996 air and artillery attack on Lebanese Hezbollah forces thought to be in a Palestinian refugee village, killing over a hundred civilians; the 2002 missile attack on a Gaza apartment house containing a wanted Palestinian militant, which also killed thirteen Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children, and others. None of these actions were justifiable, in the first instance because their purpose (suppressing the Hezbollah and Palestinian uprisings against Israeli occupation) (9) was unjust, and secondly because even if their purpose had been just they killed and wounded far too many innocents to be absolved by the principles of double effect and proportionality.

Secondly, it is misleading to say that Palestinian “terrorists” (in quotes, because while some acts of violence are aimed at civilians, others are attacks on Israeli soldiers in their capacity as occupiers) “hide” among the civilian population or use them as “shields.” Terrorists typically develop organically out of the general population and continue to live among them. And the Palestinian terrorists often come from breeding grounds of misery, poverty and rage, like the refugee camps–which is precisely where the effects of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians since 1948 are most severely felt.

Third, the perils of excusing attacks on civilians on the grounds they support or are otherwise “complicit” in the actions of their militants are self-evident. Should this argument be widely accepted, the most crucial constraint on warfare would go out the window, and the consequence would be barbarism far greater than that inherent in warfare itself. Beyond that, Dershowitz fails to acknowledge that his argument would also justify Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians–indeed, that is precisely the argument made by the terrorists–since the majority of Israelis support, actively or passively, the continuing occupation and repression of the Palestinian people.

Torture According to Dershowitz, Israel does not torture Palestinian prisoners. To be sure, he concedes, before 1999 Israel “did sometimes employ physical measures similar to those now being used by U.S. authorities against suspected terrorists”, meaning sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music, and the like (Dershowitz: 134-35). However, in 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court “decided that not only is torture absolutely prohibited but even the types of physical pressure currently being used by the United States … even in cases in which pressure is used … to elicit information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack” (Dershowitz: 134-35). Thus, Dershowitz claims, Israel’s record on torture can be defended not merely on relative grounds (its record “is far better than that of any other Middle Eastern or any Muslim nation, and better than that of most democracies, including the United States, France, and Germany” (Dershowitz: 135)–but on the merits as well.

Even if Dershowitz’s assertions about Israel’s comparative record were persuasive, it would not follow that its record was actually good. He is wrong on at least three counts. First, citing the detailed investigations of international and Israeli human rights organizations, Finkelstein effectively demonstrates that before 1999 Israel regularly (not “sometimes”) coerced Palestinian prisoners, not merely with “physical measures” short of torture, but with routine beatings and other forms of systematic torture–and not merely to gain information to prevent attacks but also as punishment (Finkelstein: 142-167). (10) Moreover, contrary to Dershowitz’s claim, the 1999 Supreme Court decision did not absolutely ban physical coercion but left two loopholes. First, if it could be proved that coercion was necessary to gain information in cases of “ticking bombs”–imminent attacks–the interrogators would not necessarily have to be prosecuted, let alone convicted, of violating the law. Second, despite the Supreme Court ruling, the Israeli government was still free to legalize coercion. As the Court put it: “If the state wishes to enable GSS [ General Security Service, commonly known as the Shin Bet] investigators to utilize physical means in interrogations, it must seek the enactment of legislation for this purpose.” (11) Dershowitz is full of admiration for the Israeli judicial system, especially the Supreme Court, which he calls “among the finest in the world,” and one which “has played a far greater role in controlling the Israeli military than any court in history has ever played in the conduct of military affairs” (Dershowitz: 183). By contrast, however (as Finkelstein points out), a number of investigations of human rights organizations as well as reports in the Israeli media have demonstrated that both coercion and even sometimes outright torture of Palestinian prisoners is still continuing–without effective action by the Supreme Court, which has consistently refused to hear cases charging physical abuse and torture, whether brought by the Palestinian victims or Israeli human rights organizations. (12) Thus, the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility even to ensure that its own rulings are enforced by the government, let alone to consider the entire range of illegal Israeli government actions against the Palestinians. David Kretzmer, the chaired professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the most authoritative work on the Supreme Court’s role in the Israeli occupation, argues that the Court has been “blatantly government-minded” and has even “occasionally conceded that courts are state institutions whose primary duty is to protect the state against its enemies”(Kretzmer 2002: 192). Kretzmer concludes that the Court, although strongly “rights-minded” when it comes to Israelis, with regard to the Palestinians has functioned primarily (although not exclusively) to legitimize rather than to constrain the government’s policies and actions in the occupied territories, where it “has rationalized virtually all controversial actions of the Israeli authorities, especially those most problematic under principles of international humanitarian law” (Kretzmer 2002:: 3).

Conclusion As I have suggested, far too many books and articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are polemics rather than subtle, nuanced, or impartial analyses. The two books discussed here are cases in point. Dershowitz’s Case for Israel is an intellectually and morally crude book. Most of its arguments are unimpressive and some of them are preposterous. Even its unexceptionable arguments are well known and Dershowitz adds nothing original or interesting to them.

On the other hand, Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah might have been a very good book. Certainly its critique of Dershowitz is devastating. The problem, however, is that the book often lacks subtlety and complexity, and is sometimes marred by sarcasm, overstatement, and outbursts of rage. This is particularly the case regarding Finkelstein’s unwillingness to accept that many Jews as well as concerned gentiles genuinely fear a resurgence of anti-Semitism–and while these fears are exaggerated, they are not wholly irrational nor mere cynical manipulations or “machinations” of Israel, its supporters, or “the Holocaust industry.” In light of the general ignorance and climate of opinion in the U.S. concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, truly serious criticism of Israel starts off at a serious disadvantage, especially compared to the demogoguery of partisans like Dershowitz. Consequently, it is especially important that critiques of Israel both appear to be and in fact are carefully balanced. Finkelstein’s failure to achieve such balance is likely to ensure that even his many sound arguments will fall on deaf ears.

References Ha’aretz, 15 April 2002, 18 August 2003 and 19 August 2004.

Hedges, Chris. (2001). “A Gaza Diary.” Harpers’s Monthly. (October).

Hentoff, Nat. (2002). “Israel at Stake on U.S. Campuses.” Washington Times. (November 25).

Kretzmer, David. (2002). The Occupation of Justice: The Supreme Court of Israel and the Occupied Territories. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Slater, Jerome. (2000). “Can Zionism be Reconciled with Justice for the Palestinians?” Tikkun 15 (4):19-24.

Walzer, Michael. (1977). Just and Unjust Wars. New York: BasicBooks.

(1) The following paragraphs summarize arguments I make more fully in my article, “Can Zionism be Reconciled with Justice for the Palestinians?” Tikkun, Vol. 15 No. 4 (July/August 2000).

(2) The U.N. partition resolution of 1947, creating the state of Israel, was clearly motivated by Western sympathy with the plight of the Jewish people, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. For Finkelstein, however, the overwhelmingly international consensus that was embodied in the partition is explained by Zionist and American Jewish lobbying or, as he calls it, “machination” (Finkelstein: 284).

(3) “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” (Balfour Declaration 1917).

(4) Creating a Jewish state in parts of Germany would have perhaps solved the moral issue. It was briefly considered but quickly rejected by the Allies, so it was not practicable.

(5) These issues have been explored in the recent controversial essay by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby,” London Review of Books, 23 March 2006.

(6) Lest the reader think that this is a straw-man and doubt that anyone has ever made such a charge, Dershowitz does provide a citation. Evidently–at least according to an article he cites from the Washington Times–this was said by Eric Reichenberger, a college student, at a University of Michigan student conference in 2002.

(7) In a October 2001 article in Harper’s Magazine, the acclaimed war correspondent and former New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges reported that he had personally witnessed Israeli soldiers “entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport.” In one of his most astonishing and revealing remarks, Dershowitz writes that “ignorance alone cannot explain [this] alleged ‘reporting’ of a ‘journalist’ like Chris Hedges,” which he likens to Arab accusations that Jews use the blood of Christian and Muslim children to prepare their holiday pastries (Dershowitz: 153).

(8) He argues that as long as home demolitions are directed against only the “accessories to terrorism”–meaning the families of terrorists–they are not properly regarded as collective punishment and are “entirely consistent with law and morality” (Dershowitz: 167).

(9) By the 1980s, Arafat and most of his followers had effectively given up their initial goal of regaining all of Palestine–meaning the destruction of Israel–in favor of gaining an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Recently, of course, with the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the matter has become more complex and ambiguous.

(10) See especially Finkelstein’s citations from the annual reports of Amnesty International from 1991-1999 and special reports by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem.

(11) In fact, in 2000 such legislation was initially introduced, although it was later dropped when the Shin Bet rescinded its request for legalized authority to coerce, because of concerns over Israel’s international image.

(12) For example, see Ha’aretz news stories of 15 April 2002, 18 August 2003 and 19 August 2004, all of which report the findings of B’tselem and their own investigative journalists on the continuing use of torture or coercion, together with the refusal of the Israeli courts to stop them.

Jerome Slater is University Research Scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is the author of a number of articles, both in professional journals and general interest magazines–on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–and is at work on a book on U.S. Policies in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1945.

Slater, Jerome

jonatha meets woody

jonatha brooke

jonatha brooke

That Woody Guthrie still maintains a fervent international following over 40 years after his death isn’t surprising. He remains as iconic as folk figures come, having galvanized an entire generation of songwriters with music both political and personal.

That Jonatha Brooke, clearly a member of that generation, finds herself championed in concert venues in Europe shouldn’t come as a shock, either. She has been forging pop, folk and, as you will soon discover, jazz sensibilities into critically lauded albums on labels large and small for nearly two decades.

But how about putting all of that together? What if Brooke were singing the words of Woody in Europe? That’s essentially what happened when we caught up with Brooke, who performs tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, by phone last week. She was in Paris – France, not Kentucky – showing off songs from her sublime 2008 album The Works, which sets Brooke’s original music to previously unissued lyrics from the Guthrie archives.

So there is Brooke, opening a brief string of concerts for French songstress Nolween Leroy on the latter’s home turf, singing music co-composed, in essence, by the most revered figure in American folk. How wild is that?

“Well, last night we were in Lille, which is a city about two hours north of Paris,” Brooke said. “And it turns out all of the musicians in Nolween’s band are huge fans of mine. When I get to the bus they all started applauding. I felt like a princess. Then they start playing My Sweet and Bitter Bowl (a tune from The Works featuring lyrics Guthrie penned in 1947). They were saying (as Brooke affects an Inspector Clouseau-like dialect), ‘Oh, we love this one.’ So it was like I was hearing this record again through new ears. I fell in love with it all over again.”

It turns out that the members of Leroy’s band aren’t the only high profile music industry pals Brooke has made over the years. The musicians helping her out on The Works make up an A-list of pop, folk, blues and jazz greats.

Singing a duet and playing dobro on the brightly soulful All You Gotta Do is Touch Me is blues-soul star Keb’ Mo’. Playing discreet slide guitar on the folk meditation New Star is Derek Trucks. In the producer’s chair was Bob Clearmountain, whose credits include The Pretenders, The Who and two previous Brooke albums. And the basic band? Try pop-jazz pianist Joe Sample, champion jazz bassist Christian McBride and world class session drummer Steve Gadd.

OK, here we go again. How does something like this happen? How does an indie project like The Works land such a prestigious guest list?

“Beg? Steal? Borrow? No, luckily I am known and respected in the musical world,” Brooke said. “Maybe it’s because I’ve made enough records over the years that people know me. I mean, I may not sell like Beyonce. But a real network of fans has formed in the musical world. I can make calls to these people and they will actually return them.

“It’s incredibly flattering that Steve Gadd is a fan. And Christian McBride, too. They were like, ‘Sure, if we can work it out, we’ll be there.’ And they’re such incredible players. You put these really complicated charts in front of them and they just fly.”

One person who wasn’t all that familiar with Brooke’s music prior to The Works was Nora Guthrie, daughter of the folk legend and overseer of The Woody Guthrie Foundation. She has enlisted artists before to bring the many volumes of unused Guthrie lyrics and writings to life. Among them is British folk renegade Billy Bragg, who penned “new” Woody Guthrie songs with Wilco for the two-volume Mermaid Avenue project.

Brooke felt she was contacted by Nora Guthrie on the recommendation of artists, friends and DJs in the Philadelphia area, where a massive benefit/tribute performance honoring her father, titled In Woody’s Words, was staged in December 2007.

“Nora called me and (fellow contemporary folk stylists) John Gorka and Chris Smither to write one or two songs with her dad’s lyrics that would premiere at this concert,” Brooke said. “So, originally, it was just going to be a little one-off thing. But I just fell head over heals for what Nora and her dad have done. The progression was me saying, ‘I can do something really different with these lyrics’ and Nora saying, ‘You go, girl. Do it.’

“The only daunting thing for me was making changes. The first day I had to go to Nora and ask, ‘Is it okay for me to delete 10 verses from My Sweet and Bitter Bowl?’ There were like 30 damn verses. There was no way I was going to do a half-hour song.

“But early on, Nora told me, ‘Do what you need to do. This needs to be your sound, your record. Make the music about you. Trust me. Woody has been around a long time. He’ll be fine with this.'”

Jonatha Brooke performs at 9 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $25. Call (859) 259-2754.

two songs and a photograph

jimbo mathus, alvin youngblood hart and luther dickinson of the south memphis string band. photo by bob bayne.

jimbo mathus, alvin youngblood hart and luther dickinson of the south memphis string band. photo by bob bayne.

By Luther Dickinson’s estimation, the only promotion backing up the South Memphis String Band when its first hit the road was a myspace page containing two songs and a black-and-white snapshot.

But then again, given that Dickinson and fellow string pickers Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus rank among the most revered blues and roots music stylists of their generation, making a bigger fuss seemed almost self-defeating.

“Two songs and a photograph, man,” Dickinson said with a laugh. “We built a whole tour around that. And during that tour, we made a record – an honest, under-produced record – the kind I really like. I can’t listen to modernized records, man. I’m just old fashioned to a fault.”

Being old fashioned drives the South Memphis String Band throughout its fine new Home Sweet Home album. The record is a mix of blues, swing, ancient country and roots jamboree music with songs by Blind Willie Johnson, A.P. Carter, the Mississippi Sheiks and even an original by Mathus (Worry ‘bout Your Own Backyard) that effortlessly meshes with the traditionally based covers. The resulting music is served up on mandolin, acoustic guitar and banjo, much in the same manner that jubilant string sounds were created by Memphis acts like Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in the ‘20s and ‘30s.

All of which might seem like a departure for the trio members if you were only familiar with the surface successes of their respective careers. Dickinson, for example, is one third of the mighty Southern jam troupe known as the North Mississippi All-Stars. Mathus remains a charter member of the multi-stylistic Squirrel Nut Zippers but has also overseen numerous blues directed solo projects. Hart is largely recognized as one of the most versed and original bluesmen to emerge in recent decades.

But with the South Memphis String Band, the music sounds both ancient and fresh. It’s a throwback to jug bands, string bands and swing bands of the past. That sense of acoustic timelessness is what makes the band sound so vital

“That timelessness kind of perpetuates a tradition,” Dickinson said. “From Jimmie Rodgers to Mississippi John Hurt to Robert Johnson to the early Bob Dylan stuff, the acoustic format is truly my favorite art form.

“For me, it’s a huge release to finally have a true acoustic outlet like this. So when we started, I was just pulling out some of my favorite old songs. Everybody was. The funny thing was, though, we never rehearsed. We just got in a van and drove to Texas. And in the van we kind of put together the rough outline for the first era of our repertoire.”

The origins of the South Memphis String Band extend back to January 2008 when the trio, along with blues great Charlie Musselwhite and Dickinson’s father (the late Memphis pianist, producer and all around musical stylist Jim Dickinson) and brother (fellow North Mississippi All Star Cody Dickinson) gathered for a self-described “hardcore blues” recording under the group name of the New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers.

That recording is due out later this year or in early 2011. But during the sessions, Luther Dickinson, Mathus and Hart began jamming on acoustic roots tunes that inhabited a somewhat neglected corner of Memphis musical tradition.

“We were doing the Freedom Rockers record and having a blast,” Dickinson said. “During that time, Alvin, Jimbo and I would also play some jug band music. Those acoustic sessions became the South Memphis String Band. We were all good friends that had played together in different configurations, but never as one, singular band. Once we strapped on the guitars, we discovered some really cool chemistry.”

Perhaps the defining words on the South Memphis String Band and Home Sweet Home go to Jim Dickinson, who died in August 2009. The liner notes he penned for an album he didn’t live to see released possess an attitude as resolute and devout as the trio’s music.

“If you don’t dig this,” the elder Dickinson writes, “there is something seriously wrong with you.”

“My father was and is a master of manipulating time and space,” son Luther said. “He is still with us in many ways. Through it all, he always finds a way to help us.”

South Memphis String Band performs with the Quebe Sisters Band at 7 p.m. Monday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 252-8888.

in performance: zakir hussain and the masters of percussion

zakir hussain

zakir hussain

“Breath, the first rhythm,” said Taufiq Qureshi, accenting his pronouncement at the onset of last night’s performance by the Masters of Percussion at the Singletary Center for the Arts with a bang on a hand held gong.

With that, the cyclical motion of this very persuasive Eastern percussive ensemble under the direction of tabla maestro Zakir Hussain (Qureshi’s elder brother) was underway.

Up first were respiratory vocal patterns from Qureshi, seemingly built on exhales, that underscored the program’s opening mantra. The focus then shifted to a purposely non-percussive device, the wonderfully ghostly sarangi, a short lute like instrument played with a bow, strummed (well, slapped is more like it) like an autoharp and brought to otherworldly life by Sabir Khan. The instrument’s resonance within the Singletary’s massive concert hall when played unaccompanied was stunning.

Hussain stayed in the shadows during all of this. Then, after Khan had made the rounds, Hussain got down to business on the tabla’s double hand drum design, creating lyrical melodies simultaneously with separate bass patterns. His solos also summed up the performance’s overall flight pattern. They began with slow, melodic elegance, built into warp-speed crescendos and subsided only for a beat or two before starting again.

The concert’s second half was initiated by the Motilal Dhakis, a percussive trio from Bengal that entered from the back upper decks of the concert hall, playing massive barrel-shaped drums in a thunderous processional.

From there the performance became playful and, to perhaps bewildered Western ears, a touch more accessible. The sibling violin duo of Ganesh and Kumaresh, accented several tunes with a modest Western touch or two, bringing the music more in line with the global fusion experiments of Jean-Luc Ponty and especially the acclaimed East-meets-West acoustic recordings of Shakti (the John McLaughlin-led group that generously featured Hussain in various incarnations). The brothers were sufficiently animated in their playing, but also served as impromptu cheerleaders during percussive features on two headed drums by Sridar Parthsarathy and Navin Sharma.

By evening’s end, the concert’s cyclical nature went into overdrive with the ensemble’s principle seven member lineup (the Dhakis joined in at the end) exchanging round robin solos that gradually gathered speed as they shortened in length. By the conclusion, single notes flew in wild rhythmic formation. It was a testimony not only to the group’s considerable technical prowess, but also to its ability to transform centuries-old percussion melodies, versed improvisation and ample humor (Hussain described one segment from the first set as “an ancient Chinese composition called Tuning“) into a single, engaging language all its own.

The fact the performance fell on a major basketball night, with the University of Kentucky playing at the NCAA Sweet 16 against Cornell, wasn’t lost on Hussain, either. “We send good vibes to the Wildcats,” he told the crowd just before intermission. Judging by how the ball bounced for the Cats last night in Syracuse, those vibes arrived.


Banking Wire July 23, 2002 NATIONAL CUES, Madison, Wis., announced the following are Directors Leadership Institute graduates: Bruce V. Anderson, The Burbank FCU; Roger P. Andrus, Mountain America CU; Truman Baird, U Lane O Credit Union; Thomas J. Baker, Justice FCU; Thomas A. Bieler, United Nations FCU; Edward T. Blommel, Wright-Patt CU; Wayne P. Burchfield, Jr., OmniAmerican CU; Pasquale F. Ciresi, IBM Southeast EFCU; John J. Coffey, Fairwinds CU; Malachy T. Coghlan, FAA First FCU; Sharon Conser, Portland Teachers CU; Rick Craig, America First CU; Dariusz M. Czoch, Polish & Slavic FCU; Andrew R. D’Angelo, First Atlantic FCU; Bobbi L. Fife, Tower Federal CU; Marty Goldman, Marine Federal CU; Lauri Grimes, Weyerhaeuser Employees CU; Barbara A. Haddock, Meriwest CU; Steven C. Hunter, NWA Federal CU; Patricia Ihnat, Tower Federal CU; Jean M. Isham, Vermont Federal CU; Harold L. Keyes, United Heritage CU; May D. Lofgreen, United Heritage CU; Barbara J. Lovett, Tower Federal CU; Sheldon McKowan, Los Angeles Firemen’s CU; Paul E. McLeay, SGE The Service CU; Karl Noordam, Fraser Valley Edelweiss CU; Alan M. Potter, United Nations Federal CU; Dana Sales, Bay Federal CU; Brenda Simmons, Educational Community CU; Harry J. Smith, TAPCO Credit Union; Janet Sparrow, Kinecta Federal CU; William R. Tracy, IBM Southeast Employees Federal CU; Tom Welch, Norbel CU; Winton Williams; Campus USA CU; and Clark E. Woodward, Valley Credit Union. see here crane federal credit union

CUNA, Madison, Wis., announced the following received their Credit Union Compliance Expert (CUCE) certificates: Sandra Altier, Hughes Federal Credit Union; Tara Brookshier, Hughes Federal Credit Union;

Careth Curry, First Credit Union; Wanda Hammonds, Pyramid Credit Union; Tammy Ketcherside, First Credit Union; Virginia Lampson, First Credit Union; Frank Mesquita, First Credit Union; Nancy Painter, AEA Federal Credit Union; Bert Soto, Tucson Federal Credit Union; Marci Aguayo, High Desert Federal Credit Union; Rosie Arambula, Santa Ana Federal Credit Union; Cynthia Chafe, Aerospace Federal Credit Union; Glenda Howard, Eagle Community Credit Union; Melanie Kirsch, Norton Community CU; Sharon Lindeman, Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union; Wendy Miguel, University Credit Union; Sabina Montgomery, Norton Community Credit Union; Scott Rains, USC Credit Union; Kevin Sherrell, Riverside County Credit Union; Brad Coen, Gateway Credit Union; Cheryl Kaesik, Credit Union of Denver; Renee Thompson, Delaware Federal Credit Union; Christine Dawson, Community Educators Credit Union; Kristi Fields, Georgia Credit Union Affiliates; Laura Gober, Georgia Credit Union Affiliates; Vershelle Riley, Coca Cola Company Family Federal Credit Union; Steven Ryniec, Motorola Employees’ Credit Union; Vicki Touchton, Motorola Employees’ Credit Union; Carol Rauschenbach, La Porter Federal Credit Union; Dianne Taylor, Iowa Credit Union League; LaRae Davis, Kansas State University Federal Credit Union; Connie White, Mid American Credit Union; Robyn Sheridan, Zellco Federal Credit Union; Brian Stoliker, NorState Federal Credit Union; Shannon Burt, Michigan Credit Union League; Marilyn Gramer, United Christian Community Credit Union; Deborah Koonter, Detroit Edison Credit Union; Brian McKibbin, Family Financial Credit Union; Eugene Niehoff, Missouri Credit Union System; Donya Parrish, Montana Credit Union Network; Kimberly Bohannon, North Carolina Credit Union Network; Betty Talbert, North Carolina Credit Union Network; Barbara Latz, Ohio Credit Union System; Chet Looney, Atomic Employees’ Credit Union Inc; Babs Manion, SELCO Credit Union; Anita Miller, St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union; Steven Scott, U Lane O Credit Union; Vicki Miller, Pennsylvania Credit Union League; Ricardo Ramos, Coop AyC Abraham Rosa; Gloria Daly, Complex Community Federal Credit Union; Darla Grimes, Texas Dow Employees’ Credit Union; Kathy Olsen, University Of Utah Credit Union; Lory Peterson, Goldenwest Credit Union; Jennifer Pratt, Cyprus Credit Union; Brian Clark, Virginia Beach Schools Federal Credit Union; Lawrence Malone, Navy Federal Credit Union; Patrick McNichol, Navy Federal Credit Union; Stacy Smokes, Entrust Federal Credit Union; Cynthia Berry, Kitsap County Public Employees’ Credit Union; Lisa Langei, Whatcom Educational Credit Union; Amy Mason, Columbia Credit Union; Steph Hopper, Landmark Credit Union; and Emily Hirsch, Warren Federal Credit Union.

CUNA announced the following received Certified Credit Union Executive (CCUE) designation: Sharon Angle, Buttle Federal Credit Union; Kelly Brink, Member Source Credit Union; Tonya Earnhardt, State Employees Credit Union; Delorse Grady, State Employees Credit Union; Debbie Hendrix, Entrx Credit Union; Linda Jeffery, Postal of Arkansas Federal Credit Union; Lisa Johnston, Patriot Federal Credit Union; Samantha Jones, State Employees Credit Union; Joyce Klockgether, University Federal Credit Union; Bonnie Soltesz, BAE Credit Union; Brenda Washington, State ECU; Barbara Wilson, Crane Federal Credit Union; and Diana Winkley, Capital Area Federal Credit Union. here crane federal credit union

The Certified Financial Services Professional (CFSP) designee is Brenda Washington, State Employees Credit Union.

The Certified Financial management Specialist designees are Michelle A. Ariss, Du Trac Community Credit Union, and Jeanne E. Hartwig, Consumers Choice Credit Union.

The Certified Human Resource Specialist designees are Kathleen F. Robertson, Washington Telephone Federal Credit Union, and Lorna L. Saunders, DuPont Community Credit Union.

The Certified Lending Specialist designees are: Stephanie Chapin, Duluth City and Count Employees Credit Union; Laura patricia Davis, Eastman Credit Union; and Lesia A. Fraysier, Eastman Credit Union.

The National Federation of CDCUs, N.Y., N.Y., elected to its board: Rita L. Haynes, chair; Robert Jackson, vice chair; Sharon Saulters, Robert Coleman, and John Dupree, Jr.


neil young to play the bluegrass

neil young

neil young

It is officially a great time to be a Neil Young fan.

Word spread earlier this week that the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will perform his first full length concert on Kentucky soil in over 25 years when he opens his solo acoustic Twisted Road Tour at the Louisville Palace on May 26. Tickets, which go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday through TicketMaster will be steep, though. Prices run from $85 to a whopping $245.

Although he played a brief, late evening set when Farm Aid held court at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium in 1995, Young has not performed in the Bluegrass since a September 1984 concert at Rupp Arena with his country-inspired International Harvesters band. Waylon Jennings shared that bill. It was a riot of a show.

Speaking of riots, Young’s last proper Louisville performance was six months earlier at the Commonwealth Convention Center during his one-man-band Trans Tour. Well, half length was more like it. The concert was cancelled at intermission after Young became ill. As the show had a bit of a theatrical flair with a televised emcee cracking wise throughout the first set, no one in the audience took matters seriously when the cancellation notice was given. Then when it became obvious Young wasn’t going to finish the show, the crowd ran mildly amok, overturning floor chairs (and throwing a few, as well). It was a messy end to a promising show in an absolutely hellish venue. But Young played Don’t Be Denied just before the ill-fated intermission, so the evening wasn’t a complete catastrophe.

An unexpected surprise for the Louisville show will be the opening act – Scottish folk artist Bert Jansch. A member of the groundbreaking, psychedelic era British folk troupe Pentangle, Jansch was to have played a Lexington concert last summer at The Dame. But his entire North American tour was called off due to illness.

Young fans that can neither afford nor wait for the May concert can instead look out for the newly released concert film Neil Young Trunk Show, the second of three proposed documentaries directed by Jonathan Demme. The film documents a pair of Philadelphia concerts from December 2007, when Young split the bill between solo acoustic music and jackhammering electric warfare. The highlight (or, depending on your tolerance for Young’s jagged guitar workouts, breaking point) is supposedly the 20 minute No Hidden Path.

At a St. Louis performance in November 2007, the rampaging tune bled into Cinnamon Girl and Cortez the Killer, forming a 45 minute blast of youthful fire from an artist who, only days earlier, had turned 62.

There’s no word yet on when or if Neil Young Trunk Show will play Lexington. But you can catch a glimpse of the trailer on the film’s website,

Richard Prince: Patrick Seguin.

Artforum International March 1, 2009 | Stocchi, Francesco I put Nabokov’s Lolita and Kubrick’s Lolita next to each other. The book is Monarch Select paperback, MS27. No image on the cover. All graphics. Just the name ‘Lolita’ in red, stenciled in longhand against two background bands of yellow and white. The movie is an MGM/CBS Home Video. It’s in a thin cardboard slipcase. On the cover is a pastel illustration of Sue Lyon as Lolita. She has orange, heart-shaped sunglasses on. There’s a lollipop in her mouth. “Black comedy,” “Tragic farce,” “Comic despair” are italicized to the bottom left of her head. On the back, small black-and-white stills of Quilty and Humbert Humbert. The box reminds me that Nabokov screenplayed his own book.

This excerpt from Bringing It All Back Home, written by Richard Prince in 1988, demonstrates the artist’s famously obsessive approach to collecting–perhaps the only approach for a true collector. This unusual show opens up a new type of appropriation for Prince–self-appropriation–where artist and collector merge in a retrospective context, forward looking and receptive to new developments. If what the artist collects often ends up in his work, here it is the idea of the collection itself, to be enjoyed as such, that is employed in an original way. site 1969 dodge charger

Thirteen pieces of furniture–desks, sofas, beds, and bookcases–containing the material of Prince’s universe were presented at Galerie Patrick Seguin, which specializes in twentieth-century furniture and architecture. These are objects that are also containers of art, in keeping with the artist’s privileging of continuation over dichotomies such as new/old or original/unoriginal. If his contribution to the 2007 Frieze Art Fair, Untitled (Original), was an homage to his 1969 Dodge Charger, which he drives every day, here he presented an homage to his own practice and to the possibilities that his acquisitive approach to art offers. (His project Second House, 2001-2004, acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2005, and the recent exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery of his own collection of prototypes were already moving in this direction.) But here Prince presented a new exhibition category. It didn’t matter whether or not these pieces were seen as works of art; what mattered was the overall concept, a layered image where each object exists in and of itself, didactically, functionally, and indissolubly. As with his “rephotographs,” the boundaries of reality are obfuscated. The central work, Nurse Hat Chair (all works 2008), is the only chair in the show and the only work entirely designed by the artist as a piece of furniture, devised specifically for its mid-twentieth-century modern aesthetic. Reproducing a nurse’s headgear, the artist parodies himself and his Pop-Conceptual tradition. Arranged around the chair were his Lolita collection and nurse novels as well as joke paintings and “Gang” series photographs. In other words, Prince’s most famous works were merged with his collection, presented as part of the furniture, in order to create a third vision–a sampling remix with few precedents. Prince seems to be proposing a new medium, bringing his tactics of juxtaposition and appropriation to the next level. see here 1969 dodge charger

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] –Francesco Stocchi Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Stocchi, Francesco


zakir hussain. photo by susana millman.

zakir hussain. photo by susana millman.

When he performed last April at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Zakir Hussain was very much a disciple and accompanist. Although he has been an internationally prominent name in Indian classical music for decades, Hussain sat to the right of the acclaimed santoor player Shivkumar Sharma that night performing on the hand drum known as the tabla with delicate lyrical finesse and dizzying rhythmic speed.

By the fall, he was back on Kentucky turf performing as an eager third in a somewhat more continental trio with bluegrass-bred classicists Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer at Louisville’s Brown Theatre.

Now, at last, Hussain is running the show – sort of. The ensemble that brings him back to the Singletary is the Masters of Percussion, a consortium of Indian drummers and violinists that blend indigenous classical rhythms and melodies.

But Hussain is hesitant to view himself as the boss of the band. He is quick to point out that the near 15 year history of the Masters of Percussion grew out of concert collaborations with his father, the celebrated tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha (honorably referred to by Hussain as his “guru father”).

“I suppose I’m responsible for the whole show this time,” Hussain said. “I make sure the drummers and the melody makers are available to do what they do best and then fuse those elements into a unified package. From that, I want to present a picture of the India that we know fondly.

“That being said, this is not just a Zakir Hussain performance. These players are indeed masters, people who are incredible in their own right.”

Hussain began his touring career at age 12 and has performed regularly in the United States since 1970. At age 59, his career has boasted collaborations with esteemed jazz artists (John McLaughlin, Charles Lloyd), a diverse lineup of pop performers (George Harrison, Van Morrison) and a globally diverse roster of fellow percussionists (from the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart to the Kodo drummers of Japan).

But in the Masters of Percussion, the tabla leads a multi-generational charge, blending melody with rhythm, drums with violin and centuries-old tradition with spontaneous performance interaction.

“This is the music of the land,” Hussain said. “And that music is a whole because it has rhythm and melody, not just rhythm. The melody helps you explore the rhythm in a different manner than when you’re just playing a solo. You can also highlight certain rhythmic traditions by inserting a folk melody or other kinds of traditional melodies that might relate to prayers. Then there are the solo repertoires that have developed over 1,000 years.

“All of these things bring out different elements in the drumming. It presents this very earthy element, a bird’s eye view of the people of the land, through the music and rhythm.”

Just as his father set Hussain on his musical path, younger brother Taufiq Qureshi, a versed and esteemed multi-percussionist, serves as a mainstay member in the Masters of Percussion.

“We are connected as fellow students, colleagues and brothers in ways that are difficult to fathom,” Hussain said. “We often find ourselves thinking the same thing, playing the same thing and connecting in a way I couldn’t with any other drummer. And that is a great source of comfort. Even though I am supposed to be somewhat a leader in this group, there is someone there I can lean on who understands where I am going.”

There has, however, been a setback on the current Master of Percussion tour. One of its principal members, Sabir Khan, who plays the bowed, short-necked fiddle known as the sarangi, was denied entry to the United States by immigration officials.

“It’s a bit is a mishap,” Hussain said. “He was held back due to these computer flags that immigration puts up when someone’s names happen to match somebody else’s. We’ve been in contact with the U.S. consulate in Bombay, so I hope it will work out that he can join us when we get to your neck of the woods.

“It’s almost like I’m driving a motorcycle with one wheel without him. But the audience always seems to add their two bits to the music. The music becomes a journey we all get together for and embark on.”

That journey, in many ways, is never-ending. For all of his high- profile collaborations (including the trio with Fleck and Meyer, which will resume work when the Masters of Percussion tour winds down in April), Hussain sees himself, and most of the artists he collaborates with, as eternal students.

“There is nothing for any of us to point to that suggests, ‘OK, you’ve arrived.’ Because if that happens, you might as well hang up your boots and retire in the mountains.

“Everyday you step out and there is something new to be learned. In my life, it’s never about reaching the goal. It’s always about the journey.”

Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $25, $30 and $35. Call (859) 257-4929.

The Google Nexus One smartphone is seen January 6, 2010 in Washington… go to website google nexus prime

Getty Images January 6, 2010 | PAUL J. RICHARDS

Getty Images 01-06-2010 The Google Nexus One smartphone is seen January 6, 2010 in Washington…

Full Size JPG (2964 KB) The Google Nexus One smartphone is seen January 6, 2010 in Washington, DC. Google unveiled its new Nexus One smartphone January 5, 2010 in a direct challenge to heavyweight Apple’s iPhone handsets. The Internet giant billed the touch-screen device, the culmination of collaboration with Taiwanese electronics titan HTC, a “superphone” that marked the next step in the evolution of its Android software. AFP Photo/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images) web site google nexus prime


critic’s pick 116

On two sublime new ECM recordings – a duo session featuring Ralph Towner and trio concert outing led by Paul Motian – we hear luscious ties to the sort of Nordic ambience the label is best known for as well as fun, spacious departures.

Washington-born guitarist Towner, one of ECM’s mainstay artists, has been making wonderfully evocative music there since 1973. Chiaroscuro is best described as a return to a form Towner never fully left. The difference is that instead of coloring his music with modest electric keyboard orchestrations, as he has on most of his albums since 1982’s Blue Sun (save for a few remarkable solo guitar records), Chiaroscuro teams Towner with Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu. The latter’s light but purposeful tone is a very complimentary foil for Towner’s feathery yet dramatic acoustics.

On the opening Wistful Thinking – a tune originally cut as a solo guitar piece for Towner’s 1992 ECM album, Open Letter – the interplay between acoustic guitar and trumpet possesses a modest classical flavor. Fresu, though, echoes with an almost folkish, European feel, a sound that mirrors the great Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko.

Elsewhere, the muse of Miles Davis is summoned on a stately version of Blue in Green, where the unimposing but very defined warmth of Towner’s playing nicely supports the Miles accents summoned by Frescu. Two Minatures and the wearier Postlude, though, nicely shake things up with Frescu still embracing the Miles muse as the tunes tighten and toughen around more percussive guitar patterns.

Drummer Motian’s alliance with ECM actually predates (by one year) Towner’s stay, even though he spent nearly two decades (from 1985 to 2005) recording for other labels. As a wildly prolific bandleader, he marches to no one’s groove other than his own. On a fine new live album titled Lost in a Dream, he subtly creates drama within the spacious designs of his music.

As a result, there are a few echoes of the studied, pastoral ECM sound here, especially in the way Motian barely plays above a whisper on Birdsong so pianist Jason Moran and tenor sax great Chris Potter can define the atmospheric bliss.

But there is more than that going on here. Cut at New York’s famed Village Vanguard (a performance home for the drummer ever since he was immortalized on famed recordings by Bill Evans cut there nearly 50 years ago), Lost in a Dream is an unhurried and uncompromising delight. It navigates around the rumbling bop breaks in Abacus, offers sleepy but substantial blues exchanges on Blue Midnight and serenades with lullaby-like sweetness on the unlikely titled Casino.

Lost in a Dream offers music that is exactly that. It bends bop finesse into dream-like meditations that swing with a quiet, nocturnal sway.

current listening 03/20/10

+ The Finn Brothers: Everyone is Here (2004) – As if Crowded House and Split Enz, along with a healthy string of solo albums, weren’t enough to convince the world of the pop intellects of Tim and Neil Finn, we had this delight. The mood is mistier and the sound more wintry, partly due to the fact that the album eulogizes the Finns’ mom. But as the record winds its way through Gentle Hum, the pop sentiments quietly soar.

+ Genesis: Genesis Live (1973) – The veteran prog-popsters made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday but left performance duties to Phish. Admittedly, the latter did a fine job with Watcher of the Skies. But its version just made me long for this ancient concert album where Watcher, with Peter Gabriel at his wildest, sounded majestic and primitive. The Dickensian melodrama Get ‘Em Out By Friday was way cool, too.

+ The Climax Chicago Blues Band: The Climax Chicago Blues Band (1968) – Well, there were elements of Chicago blues in workmanlike covers of Don’t Start Me Talkin’ and Mean Old World. But the twist in the debut by this very British roots and boogie brigade was that it brought a loose, psychedelic groove to the blues. Witness the eight minute finale And Lonely, which matches youthful British rock zeal with Otis Rush-style soul.

+ The Rascals: Peaceful World (1971) – A forgotton sleeper, Peaceful World was the next  to last album Felix Cavaliere and Dino Danelli cut as The Rascals with the gospel soul turns of their Atlantic albums yielding to contemplative passages accented by jazz and tropical grooves. The title tune, a mostly instrumental 21 minute work, was as enticing as anything The Rascals ever recorded. It also destroyed the band’s commercial fanbase.

+ Mahavishnu Orchestra: Apocalypse (1974) – No sooner did guitarist John McLaughlin split the original, ear-bleeding Mahavishnu band than he returned with a second, larger ensemble. But Apocalypse stacked the deck. It enlisted violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, famed producer George Martin, the entire London Symphony Orchestra and a young Michael Tilson Thomas as conductor. It remains a work of pastoral, spring-like grace and heavy fusion cunning.

alex chilton, 1950-2010

alex chilton in 2004. ap photo by jack punkett.

alex chilton in 2004. associated press photo by jack punkett.

“Don’t be a drag, baby, on my rockin’ good time.”

Such was the brush off Alex Chilton gave us under a pseudo-juke joint groove on 1987’s High Priest. I played that album into the ground when it came out. It served as my grand introduction to the mischevious artistic spirit this wicked pop songsmith could summon on his own.

Sure, I knew Chilton through the brooding late ‘60s pop he created with the Box Tops and the more off-center rock ‘n’ roll he summoned with Big Star in the ‘70s. But High Priest was a work of pop-rock art, a document that simultaneously embraced and absolved itself of rock celebrity status – a trait that would come to define Chilton’s music from that point on.

Chilton, who died unexpectedly at age 59 of an apparent heart attack on Wednesday, couldn’t have been a more unintentionally subversive figure in rock ‘n’ roll. When The Replacements literally sang his praises in a world class rock anthem aptly titled Alex Chilton the same year High Priest hit stores, Chilton seemed to be favoring the shadows over the spotlight. His was indie before indie was co-opted as a vague and ultimately commercial label for modern pop. And yet, his entire career shunned expectation.

The Box Tops aimed low and hit big with The Letter, which became a pop radio staple in 1967 when Chilton was only 16. Big Star aimed big and, for a time, crashed. But the latter band’s first three ‘70s albums rightly became cultish classics and galvanized an entire alternative music generation long after they were dismissed as commercial failures.

Of those records, 1978’s Third was my favorite. It was gloriously meshed Chilton’s askew pop view with covers of The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale and, on its 1992 CD reissue edition, The Kinks’ Till the End of the Day. Chilton dusted off both tunes when he turned up in New Jersey as a performance guest at one of Yo La Tengo’s famed Hanukah concerts in 2007.

In the years that followed, Chilton’s music resurfaced with unexpected frequency. In the Street, a joyous rocker from Big Star’s 1972 debut album, #1 Record, served as the theme to the Fox series That ‘70s Show. As recently as last month, West Coast rock and pop stylist Chuck Prophet served up a punkish 1977 Chilton tune called Bangkok as an encore at a wildfire Lexington concert at Cosmic Charlie’s.

Everyone that knew his music had a favorite Chilton record. Mine will always be High Priest. It was the brassy, contrary confession of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most reluctant big stars.

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