74 years ago today the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. 750 Jewish urban warriors fought back and were able to hold their ground for nearly a month against Nazi Germany's effort to transport the remaining population to the Treblinka death-camp.
"The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd — The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul's consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are."
"When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."
"We were a fad for some, some we offended with our fame. But we set you free, you envious insulters. Let them hiss, that we are without talent, Sold out and hypocrites, It makes no difference. We are legendary, Spat upon, but immortal!"
"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we're reading doesn't wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief."
Words by Franz Kafka from a letter to a Oskar Pollack, 1904
Woodcut by Frans Masereel from The Passion Of Man, 1918
"Of all the early breakthrough rock'n'roll artists, none is more important to the development of the music than Chuck Berry. He is its greatest songwriter, the main shaper of its instrumental voice, one of its greatest guitarists, and one of its greatest performers."
Words by Cub Koda from the All Music Guide To Rock
American Pastoral is undoubtably one of the greatest American novels of all-time, and to say this 2016 film does the book an injustice would be an understatement of epic proportions. A horrendous adaptation with terrible casting, acting, and pacing. In a final slap to the face to Philip Roth, they even truncate one of his most brilliant quotes in the voiceover at the end.
"We generally give to our ideas about the unknown the color of our notions about what we do know: If we call death a sleep it's because it has the appearance of sleep; if we call death a new life, it's because it seems different from life. We build our beliefs and hopes out of these small misunderstandings with reality and live off husks of bread we call cakes, the way poor children play at being happy. But that's how all life is; at least that's how the particular way of life generally known as civilization is. Civilization consists in giving an innapropriate name to something and then dreaming what results from that. And in fact the false name and the true dream do create a new reality. The object really does become other, because we have made it so. We manufacture realities. We use the raw materials we always used but the form lent it by art effectively prevents it from remaining the same. A table made out of pinewood is a pinetree but it is also a table. We sit down at the table not at the pinetree."
"I've seen a sparrow get high, and waste his time in the sky. He thinks it's easy to fly. He's just a little bit freer than I."
Terry Callier's music is the first that I can recall me and my pops truly bonding on; I remember him bringing home the Fire On Ice LP when I was a kid, and us listening to it together, entranced. This was the pre-internet days when it was beyond difficult to find out anything about the man and his discography, which it turned out was extensive and stunning. Flash forward to 1998 when Callier played his first New York City show in 25 years: to say it was a magical evening would be an understatement. When Callier performed "Ordinary Joe" there was barely a dry eye in the house, and to this day, every time I spin the 45 I can conjure up that night perfectly.
There are certain songs that no matter how many plays, one never tires of; the ones that reach deep inside your chest and either crush or massage. "Ordinary Joe" is one of those songs.
"The drums appealed because of the movement that happened when you played them. It was central to all of it. You could move your body as if you were dancing. You see the horns and the other instruments provided the melodies — which I had learned on account of my dancing — and the rhythmic part of it came along almost without my noticing — it was sitting there underneath, but it was there..."
Quote excerpted from an interview by Todd Bryant Weeks
My father is a Holocaust survivor. He spent the first years of his life in a partisan camp outside of Minsk. One thing everyone that knows us knows is that my dad and I have always disagreed about politics. When I was a teenager, growing up in the affluent suburbs of Boston, I remember driving in the car with my dad and arguing that because I was not religious, I didn’t have to worry about anti-Semitism. And I remember him replying that they didn’t ask if you were religious before they gassed you.
Of course, he was right (There you go, dad, I said it!). And it was a testament to the success of my parents’ bold decision to leave the USSR as political refugees, which landed me in a (more or less) open and pluralistic liberal community in Massachusetts that allowed me not to notice. I was arguing that in the world in which I live, I would not be targeted for being Jewish but for something in my control — like being religious. Now, obviously, that’s an unsustainable argument and as a Lecturer in philosophy at King’s College London, it pains me that my 13-year old self would have made it.
The reason I bring it up, though, is because as a Jew in America, even a Jewish refugee fleeing the anti-Semitism of the USSR, I had privileges and opportunities unhindered. My Jewishness, unlike that of my mother’s, did not preclude me from studying medicine at university, or require me to take classes at night rather than during the day — or at a vocational college instead of a real university. My Jewishness was not an obstacle to my fulfilling my educational goals. But unlike the unfettered opportunities that so many Americans simply take for granted, I was also raised with constant reminders of evil and tyranny, of autocratic regimes and the ways in which governments could murder, isolate, deprive and demean.
My family history is a history of persecution, under the Nazis and under the Communists. My paternal grandmother escaped the Minsk ghetto with my father when he was only a baby. My father’s first memories are of an imprisoned partisan telling him stories, begging him to just sit still so as to avoid knocking dust into the man’s eyes from the grate above. My mother’s childhood memories are of week-long train journeys to, basically, the ends of the earth, to visit her grandfather who was arrested under Stalin and who lived for more than a decade in Gulag. My grandmother was also arrested when my mother was a teenager. Someone didn’t like something she said and reported her to the police. That’s all it took. She was in jail for months. She was a paediatrician and also survived the war. And lived until she was 96.
The point of all of this is not to somehow emphasise that Jews suffer uniquely but to remind my fellow American Jews that we are in a unique epistemic position because we can couple the knowledge that has been imprinted on us by our family histories with the privileges and opportunities that we have enjoyed living in the US. And because of this special epistemic situation, we have an obligation to speak out against what we recognize as familiar forces of tyranny so clearly taking over in America today. Because they are as familiar to us as the stories that we were raised with and we are lucky enough to have benefited from a system where we are allowed to have a voice: we must not stay silent now. We have a clear obligation to call out the racism, the lies, and the fear and to explain how these are the instruments that tyrants, dictators and despots have always used to control populations and wage war.
We are in a position to raise our voices in resistance and we have an obligation to do so — both because such is the nature of justice, but also, because we have benefited from a system that has deprived countless others who, in virtue of their own systematic oppression, can see the hate, the racism, the xenophobia, and the threat to our bodies and minds — but who have been deprived of the epistemic standing to be heard as equals.
It is no accident that Jews have always fought for liberal enlightenment values. It is no accident that we who have often been seen as less than human fight for a system of government that grounds human dignity in our very humanness. And it is no accident that in Trump’s America, the vast majority of minorities are firmly rooted against the regime and rightly scared about the impacts it may have on us. And so, for us, the fight is not a political choice but an existential one. And that makes it not much of a choice at all.
"I loathe the expression 'what makes him tick.' It is the American mind, looking for simple and singular solution, that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm."
In the early '80s there was a ridiculous urban legend that if you collected enough Lee Jeans patches The Wiz on Fulton Street would give you a free boombox. Kids would form "Lee Patrols," putting a Lee patch in a bus-pass holder as a badge of sorts, and go around ripping the patches off of the pants of unsuspecting victims.
I wonder what kids in the city do for fun these days?
"People are talking about immigration, emigration and the rest of the fucking thing. It's all fucking crap. We're all human beings, we're all mammals, we're all rocks, plants, rivers. Fucking borders are just such a pain in the fucking arse."
My family came to America from Eastern Europe back in the day, I work with Mexicans, the coffee I drink is from Puerto Rico, I buy my $5 deli sandwiches from Yemenis and Chinese folks, one of my high school girlfriends was from France, the pizza I eat way too often is made by Italians, my late night local bartender is from Ireland, the most delicious meal I had last week was made by Indians, the best grocery store in my 'hood is owned by a Lebanese family, my childhood crew was like the damn United Nations. Do I have to go on? This city and county was built, and made great, by refugees and immigrants. How is this not totally fucking obvious to everyone?
Deny your faith until the deathbed, but its stink is all over you and your precious borrowed clothes. Your coal-black hair carries the reek of want, and your saccharine breath betrays your core of loss. Now picture the multitudes — "sheep," you whisper. See them sulking in their lonely rooms, surrounded by meaningless artifacts.
It's comical how you step out briskly from the twilight to present yourself. "I am rational!" you shout, but behind you lurks that same broken-down machine that feeds on such paltry exclamations, emotions dripping like oil from its worn seams.
In front of you your minions sit, their minds thick with the ache of betrayal, and their lips cracked from the ill-wind bite of careless infatuation. Stare in my mirror and see not yourself, past or future, but a sentiment scarecrow, trembling from false declarations, and the disease of your mind's costume.
"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe."
"At moments like this I envy those who have found a safe haven in which to bestow their hearts; or perhaps I envy them for having a heart to bestow. I often feel that I myself am without one, and possess in its stead merely a heart shaped stone."
Many years back I was tending bar and sipping a nice top-shelf bourbon as my shift was about to end; Allen had been there since open, and was drinking cheap well whiskey. I didn't notice him leave — which wasn't a big deal as he was all paid up and I'd see him the next day — but when I took a sip of my drink I realized that he had swapped his swill out with my good stuff! Doing that took a monster pair of balls, and as such didn't even make me that mad. I laughed, spit it out, and poured another drink. (It really might've been a mistake, but I like to think he did it on purpose.) In recent years I enjoyed visiting him when he was behind the bar at Montero's (where he started working not long after the swapping incident); I always got the warmest of greetings, and he always had a great story at hand.
Sadly, Allen passed away suddenly this past Monday night from an apparent heart attack. He was a real neighborhood legend, a warm gentle man with a daunting wealth of knowledge about a myriad of subjects. He will be sorely missed by so very many.
"When I was very young, I admired hardened criminals locked behind prison doors; I visited inns and taverns they frequented; with their eyes, I saw the blue sky and the blossoming work of the fields; I tracked their scent through cities. They were more powerful than saints, more prudent than explorers — and they, they alone, were witnesses to glory and reason!"