Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch died at the end of last week and it felt very like a punch in the chest. When Yauch was diagnosed with cancer, the boys put up a video recorded in their studio, all together, explaining why the promotion for, and the release of their new album, 'Hot Sauce Committee Volume 1" was now not going ahead.

The video said everything you need to know about the Beasties to understand them. Great friends, relaxed with each other and jokey with the camera on, even then. They welcomed you in as fans. They always seemed to feel that they were on some great project *with you*, because you loved them. I once read a lovely post on their bulletin board on Just some guy, who had called up when he bought an item of clothing from Grand Royale, and he realised that it was Yauch who had answered the phone. Amazed and overjoyed at such normal, everyday stuff. It was their thing, so they helped run it. No pop-star fuss involved.

I have many, many memories associated with the Beasties. Buying "Licenced to Ill' and my older brother (a cool hero in my eyes) looking at me bemused - why was I listening to this crap? Heh. So they were *mine*, not his! Then, rushing after college to buy Paul's Boutique on the first day I could get it from the Slough branch of 'Our Price'. Gatefold sleeve, woohoo! Got it home and it nearly blew my head off. What the hell was THIS! And having been brought up on The Clash, I guess, that genre bending guitar band, who dabbled with reggae and funk, worked with rappers and enhanced their music's potential no end as a result... yeah. I really fucking loved it. And pogoing... just pogoing around like a nut at I don't know how many gigs. Not enough. Never enough... damnit.

Now, I realise that the guys were only four years older than I was, and so their world vision and mine moved ever closer. While 'Check Your Head' kind of felt like an extension of Paul's Boutique to me, when Ill Communication came out, you have no idea of the sense of total vindication I smugly felt. The whole of hip London, that tried so achingly hard to be cool, suddenly cottoned on to one of my favourite bands. My then boyfriend had a poster for 'Sabotage' on his wall. And if you look at the imagery surrounding the record, it was reflecting cultural ironies of our generation - the stuff we secretly rather loved: the pisstake Starsky and Hutch video and the gorgeous, sweeping, joyous roar! Fucking A! 

Oddly, it's not that album I turn to most. My favourite albums are the comparatively low key 'To the 5 Boroughs' and 'Hello Nasty', partially in the latter because the guys allowed themselves to be as all-out geeky as they liked and just funked the funk out (also including the overwhelmingly joyful Fatboy Slim remix of 'Body Movin' which as I recalled on the weekend, I would, for a whole summer, simply press 'Play' on to keep it on the headphones for hours at a time). The post 9/11 'To The 5 Boroughs' was thoughtful and gave you time to think about what they were saying - showing their hearts on their sleeves at last but still, containing one of my favourite stupido Beasties rhymes of all time, courtesy of Mike D in 'Ch-check it out', brought to life by a totally awesome and ridiculous video, directed by one Nathaniel Hornblower. That Gawker link does a really good job of summing up why just one side of Adam Yauch was so cool. And by extension, the ludicrous, perfect joy that he brought to the Beasties. You were in on a brilliant joke. The best music, made by the best guys, accompanied by the best fun you could possibly have whilst making a living. 

Scratch that surface and you found a guy who loved films, had begun to really get in to producing excellent, intelligent movies, and whose personal energy was behind a huge increase in interest in the loss of rights by the Tibetan peoples after the Chinese occupation. There's a lot of good in Buddhism, though I have problems with it too but it definitely veers to the good side, and MCA's respect for it only really came through lyrically on 'To The 5 Boroughs'. He seemed to always be the moral heart of the band though. he was the one who admitted that they'd been teenage dickheads writing songs like 'She's On It', and I well remember standing applauding at Reading festival, listening to him mumbly-drawling out his explanation as to why calling a song 'Smack Your Bitch Up' just wasn't cool in the Beastie Boys universe, when The Prodigy had been on earlier in the day. Of course you couldn't call a song something so stupid, and expect not to be called out about it. 

When he couldn't make it to the 'Hall of fame' ceremony, I was worried and assumed that he was too sick to go. And so the news came more as a horribly sad moment rather than a shock. I hope that the peace that Buddhism would have given Yauch in his life helped him through his exit, and I feel desperately sad for his family, and his two best friends. 

I don't tend to say 'RIP' because it seems an odd phrase to an atheist, but I think if anyone should deserve it to be said, it's Adam Yauch. RIP.

Wikileaks / Assange

...Weirdly, I have realised that I have called Mr Assange Nicholas throughout this ramble. What was I thinking about? Changed now!

In a sense, the hounding of Wikileaks and Julian Assange has sorted this out for me, from a moral perspective.

I don't suppose my opinion is adding much to the pot, but: do I like Assange and the Wikileaks bunch? Well, I can't answer for the the rest of the Wikileaks crew, but I can't say I find myself particularly fond of Assange, who seems to have the single minded focus of someone who is slightly too fond of his own voice. If you were a firm supporter of him, you would probably say that he has 'missionary' zeal. I'm not so sure. Meanwhile, however, do I support the existence of Wikileaks? Hell yes. Hell, Yes.

Do awful things happen in war? Yes. Do terrible, morally dubious things happen which are covered up by major govts? Yes. Must there be a culture where whistleblowers feel that if they see things which are morally abhorrent, they can and should step forward to state publicly that bad and terrible things are happening? YES YES YES. At all levels.

What do I mean by all levels. I was making a link from the macro to the slightly more micro recently, where NHS whistleblowers, attempting to stand up and shout that malpractice has taken place have instead of being congratulated been hounded out of their jobs, despite govt assurances that support for whistleblowers has risen. It's the normal, every day story of the 'powers that be' saying one thing in public, to reassure, and doing another thing in private, to avoid the scandal of having missed opportunities, employed the useless, etc. So... if the official whistleblower channels are not to be trusted, where are people to go? In this country, we have the fantastic and solid gold wonder of "Private Eye" which of course every sensible human being should subscribe to. It's a pretty good outlet for anyone spotting malpractice, but it has its own agenda obviously so there's no guarantee that they'll cover problems until you become a juicy enough story (eg: you have complained locally and been dismissed!). The point though is that not only does it exist, but it is taken seriously as a source for legitimate follow up by fellow journalists. At least there's the chance of something.

On a macro scale, is there any trusted whistleblower third party? Marta Andreasen famously published her thoughts with regard to the legitimacy of the EU accounts (ie: they're not) after being hounded out of her job by a succession of high ranking officials (including, according to her, Neil Kinnock) when she attempted to show the gigantic holes, and went public after being ignored internally (well, that's her story, anyway).

Now we come to Wikileaks. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the current batch of leaks, being shared via The Guardian amongst others, are not simply the light hearted whitterings of a bunch of diplomats. Here for example, is an American newspaper responding to the news that the US attempted to cover up an emerging story that the US Security company, DynCorps held a party for Afghani police recruits. Including the human horror story that is "Dancing boys". Not sure what these are? The practice is one of the central tenets behind the lauded Afghan novel "The Kite Runner". It is the forced selling or abduction of very young boys for sex with high ranking Afghan warlord types. Duties are to dress up as sexy young girls, and dance, before being routinely raped. This is outlawed, but in a country with barely any laws being enforced (for those with influence), that's not really important. Here, RAWA, the self professed Feminist charity working out of Afghanistan republishes an article on the BBC's film about Bacha Bazi parties, earlier this year. More here, and here, and here, if you can bear it.

Did this, amongst other highlighted documents, deserve to become public? As much as previous scandals involving UN soldiers ignoring or condoning trafficking and other horror. But because this is the US, not the UN, the security services in the States have gone predictably nuts (ask the readers of the Houston Press what they think). Assange's arrest on sexual assault charges has been called politically motivated. I have no opinion on that, but I do have an opinion on the hounding of Wikileaks, which  - here's the thing. If we were, in fact, the civilisation which we espouse, then there would be no need for Wikileaks, would there. But there is. There really, bloody is. The vast majority of these leaks show harmless opinion of worldwide politicians. The US is ultra defensive given that at present, their role as apparent leaders of the 'free world' (whatever that means) is diminishing. Anything that encourages derision must be stamped upon.

But, there must and always must be a place for legitimate whistleblowing of appalling, significant human rights abuses, incompetence on a grand or granular scale and major problems in command/control. There must be. Tolerance of whistleblowing comes as part of the long march toward civilisation. The US, in its current reaction to Wikileaks, shows how far from that tolerance they really are.

So. We must support Wikileaks. That's it.

Watching home video of 9/11

I made myself watch "102 minutes that changed America" the other night, although watching it with the ridiculous number of advert breaks that it had made me feel queasy and slightly ashamed of Channel 4.

But then they stumped up for it, I suppose.

The film was a heftily edited selection, in timestamped form, of the whole of the 9/11 terrible saga, from a few seconds after the first plane hit. We were in France on that day, and only got hold of the news via me reading my email over a standard 56k modem, and saying "Er, there's a rumour that a plane has hit the World Trade Centre". We switched on the satellite news and I think we emerged, blinking in to the Catalan afternoon sun some 5 hours later.

Watching it, it surprised me just how long there were between the first and the second hits. There must have been a good ten, fifteen minutes and good god, the utter horror of the second hit - the sheer terror in the voices of the people who were videoing. Not to forget, obviously, that every so often, a person could be clearly seen jumping out and hoping for a swift death, rather than burning. The phone calls to desperate people in smoking and burning offices were there too. Sit tight, smash the windows if you have to, we're coming.

The handheld nature of the thing gave the film a screwed up, post-Cloverfield sheen, because of course it was New York. And to make matters even more emotionally confused, the viewer already knew the ending - they'd seen the spoilers and the inevitavle fall to earth hung like a spectre over the unfolding events. Waiting for the second plane to hit was unbearable. That shred of time felt real, and miserably unchangeable.

It is as important to bear witness to the events that take place in affluent countries as it is to listen, and watch, straight backed, to the horrors meted upon people by other people, or indeed natural events, in the developing world. There is no cynical response to the unbearable shock, grief and misery of that day. What came next could not be laid at the door of these New Yorkers, shaking with fear, trying to shield their children from what was going on, or burning alive, or being crushed to death. So many firefighters on video, I was left thinking  - How many of those guys are still alive now? Our friend Emma, who lived in Brooklyn at the time, had good mates in guitar bands who fought fires by day. She didn't see them again.

Watching it from that personal perspective through the shaky camera's untrained eye - how the hell can anyone who was there, and saw it happen, get over that day? Even people blocks away were covered with the volcanic dust cloud as the towers spread in to a dust storm across the city. They must still think of it, every day.