“While my guitar gently weeps”

When is a song great?  When the lyrics are written by Goethe and the music by Shubert.  I won’t argue.  In my time I reconsider the question because of my on-going response to a song.  This one is by George Harrison, and performed by the Beatles on their “White Album” in 1968.  Perhaps my world is smaller than those listening to lieder.  I understand the odiousness of comparisons.

It is worthwhile to see what Wikipedia says about the song, the difficulties before the final product and the meaning of the lyric.  I hear what they say about the words, but I still find those words, on paper, a random mix of ideas.  Wiki says “The song is a lament for how a universal love for humankind is latent in all individuals yet remains unrealised.”  Dale Allison says “the song conveys spiritual angst.”  The year 1968, with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, to mention some things, was a year to grieve.

The song pulses in a measured way, a bass-line descending in semi-tones, and rising again into sunlit major chords after the darkness of the descent.  It’s this that moves me.  Somehow I don’t mind that the lyrics don’t easily hang together.  It’s what one critic called “the unspeakable mix” in rock music, probably anathema to those listening to lieder or even the age of telling lyrics, the 1920s and 1930s.  The melody lifts above the pulsing, sadly reaching for something, perhaps a crumbling ideal.  There’s grief here.

 

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Bridgewater, Somerset West

2nd September, 2018

 

Sources

Wikipedia While my guitar gently weeps

You Tube While my guitar gently weeps

 

Images

Google, for reasons of their own, won’t allow me even one of their many pics of George Harrison.

My graphics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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David Kramer

In the days before CDs a friend brought me an LP with a new voice on the South African pop scene.  I was struck by the raw style and the lyrics, literate and telling.  The name of the album was the in-your-face Bakgat! , a name that expresses enjoyment in an earthy way.  The album was a mixture of English and Afrikaans songs, in itself unusual.  The song that I found most poignant was Botteltjie Blou, dealing with an addict to methylated spirits.  This was David Kramer.  There was depth in this music which contrasted with the regulation sentimentality of other singers.   This happened in 1980.

Before long everybody was singing his songs.  I remember wondering at the time whether he had become the best known South African.

I interviewed him at his Oranjezicht home, for the purpose of an article that encouraged teachers of English to use his lyrics in their teaching.  I remember his interest, even surprise, at my observation that the subject matter in his songs had the widest range I had encountered in any songwriter.

He collaborated with Taliep Peterson on “District Six – the Musical” which became the most popular theatre in South Africa’s history.  “Fairyland” followed, breaking all attendance records.  He continued producing albums, amongst them Baboondogs (1986) which was a protest at the political situation in the country, the worst it had ever been.  The song that most moved me was Dry Wine, actually written during the turbulence of 1976.

He and Taliep went on to produce more shows until Taliep’s tragic death.  On his own, Kramer has produced “Karoo Kitaar Blues”.  In this stage work, he sought out the musicians of small communities in the Karoo and promoted them.  A rich and moving experience.

Kramer touched a wide spectrum of people.  He was written about in Saspu Focus, the banned underground newspaper of those fighting apartheid.  He was written about in Huisgenoot, the iconic Afrikaans women’s magazine.  He was written about in the New York Times and hailed as South Africa’s Bob Dylan.

It is the piercing insights in the lyrics, his compassion for human suffering, his infectious humour, his raucous enjoyment of life and his sheer love for people that makes him great, a word I don’t easily use.

(c) Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Source

Wikipedia David Kramer

 

Images

My graphics (publ. RockCloud)   The internet is too mean to give me an image of Kramer.

 

Ek ken mos vir almal, ek is almal se pêl”  –  Royal Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Kramer – three songs

The oeuvre that Kramer has produced in his life is extensive.  To comment on it would need a book.  I have been a fan since his Bakgat! album in 1980.  Consistently, he produced albums and stage shows of quality.  He was surprised when I observed that the range of subjects in his songs was the widest that I knew.  It is perhaps necessary to read the lyrics of these three songs, two of them in Afrikaans.

The first was Botteltjie Blou (little blue bottle) a song dealing with a methylated spirits addict.  This addiction afflicts the down-and-out in terrible ways.  The song is sung as a first-person (“I”) and the opening lines boast that a snake can’t catch him, but what does catch him is the little blue bottle.  The portrait of this man is vivid and tragic — he has no teeth, his hands are rough, he lives on the slopes of the mountain.  Hunger torments him like barbed wire, but he closes his eyes and pours the blue down his throat.  Kramer’s performance of this song is raw and savage, portraying a life of rejection and destruction.   “Another swig, another year, oh God, my head is out of gear”  —  arguably the most tragic portrait in South African literature.

More loving, more gentle, is the lyric Dis die hanne, die (it’s these hands, these).  He sings about the hands of a old woman, wondering where her old hands came from, hands if old, are not yet cold.  These hands, they worked, they prayed in church.  They’re hard and they can give a smack.  These hands, of a granny, not so?  Somehow, the song is not sentimental, that thin line one walks with a subject like this.

The song Dry Wine was written in 1976, the time major uprising against apartheid began.  It appeared on the Baboondogs album in 1986.  It is a lyric divided into three cameos of life in South Africa and portrays the creeping fear of the white minority and yet the prevailing numbness about the situation, comfortable from the “distance of headlines”.  The refrain is “I express my opinion with a mouthful of dry wine” – an image that begins to resonate.  The other image in the lyric that seeps through is the telephone that rings and rings in the empty apartment.  The melody, slow descending chords, is haunting.  And Kramer’s performance is understated and quietly seering.

He did much else, developing ballads of folk tales and creating his own stories.  Some of his songs are really funny too, and he achieves that rare form – tragi-comedy.   Testimony to the versatility of this remarkable artist.

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Sources

Wikipedia David Kramer

Flash lyrics

 

Images

My graphics (publ. RockCloud).  The internet is too mean to give me an image of Kramer.

 

 

 

Armistice – further thoughts

The second in a series of two

On Sunday, 11th November, across France, the cities, towns, villages, the church bells pealed.  With many television documentaries and the reflections of historians, something of what happened in those years became more clear.  I heard a moving poem by Robert Graves (see below) and the memories of two films came to me.

The first was the Australian film Gallipoli about a young man, an athlete, who dies needlessly alongside thousands of compatriots, as a result of the mismanagement of the leaders.  I was shaken by this film.

The second film, based on a musical, was Oh, What a Lovely War!  Devastating in its message, it did this without showing a drop of blood  – a scene, for example, of war staff in their office drowning under statistics of the dead on a ribbon spewed from a machine.  I recall a fragment from a lyric:  The bells of hell go tingalingaling / for you, but not for me /  O, Death, where is thy stingalingaling / O, Grave, thy victory?  The film ends with a young man, in the bloom of his youth, running through a field of poppies, and finally, after pausing, lying down, disappearing in the red.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Images

Gallipoli poster – Alarmy

John Mills, “Oh, What a Lovely War!”  – BBC / Wonder

Image – BBC / Wonder

Graves poem – Barclay.com

 

Poem for a dead Boche

To you who’d read my songs of War

And only hear of blood and fame,

I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)

”War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,

Today I found in Mametz Wood        

A certain cure for lust of blood:

 

Where, propped against a shattered trunk,

In a great mess of things unclean,

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk

With clothes and face a sodden green,       

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

Robert Graves

 

 

Altamira

Years ago, in Northern Spain, I visited Altamira, now a World Heritage Site, though it has taken me time to appreciate what it was that I saw.

I have seen disputes on the age of these depictions.  The current theories for Altamira are between 14,000 and 18,000 years.  The caves with prehistoric art in France are estimated as older, even up to 35,000.  This is not, of course, the oldest prehistoric art.

At the time I visited the cave at Altamira, the tourist side of things seemed quite rough and ready.  We were handed torches and began the walk into the depth of the cave.  The distance between the mouth of the cave and the paintings has been the forum of much speculation.  Theories point to the ritual use of these paintings.

We were told to lie on our backs and shine the torches onto the low cave roof above us.  The first thing that struck me was the rich colouring of these depictions.  Then too, use had been made of bulges in the rock to suggest the bulkiness of the animals.  Acute accuracy of observation and yet a certain measure of expressive stylization blend to make these portrayals memorable by any standards.  This artistry has seldom, if ever, been attained again.

 

More discoveries have been made.  The cave at Blombos in the Southern Cape is still in the process of yielding things that have astounded archeologists.  Geometric engravings have been estimated at 80,000 years and art implements —  ochre powder in sea shells — have been estimated at 100,000 years.

How many “Altamira’s” wait to be discovered?

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Source

Wikipedia Altamira

 

Images

caroldrinkwater.com

bradshawfoundation.com

other images – sources lost

 

 

 

 

 

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

There are probably few places on earth as woven into pivotal history as the Brandenburg Gate.  I visited it when it was darkly shrouded by the Berlin Wall.  For me it was a depressing experience.  Years later West Berliners with hammers and banners would clamber over it and chisel out their freedom.

Dark and dusty

Here the Nazi leadership was saluted as the river of uniform steel helmets marched through the Gate.  When Berlin was razed to the ground by bombing, the Gate, mercifully, survived.

Up to May, 1961, traffic through the Gate moved freely.  Then, overnight, the Wall was erected.  The Quadriga (the four bronze steeds on the Gate) were reversed to face eastwards.  Different from the way the architect Langhans and sculptor Schadow had planned it in the late-18th-century.

Not far from here, in 1961, John Kennedy delivered his historical speech “Ich bin ein Berliner”, support for the divided country.  In the seriousness of the moment — possible military confrontation with the Soviet Union — he made a grammar mistake that West Berliners would tolerantly have smiled at:  “ein Berliner” refers to a typical Berlin pastry, a cookie.  Correct, it would have been “Ich bin Berliner”.  Someone has also said that it was a good thing Kennedy didn’t make this speech in Hamburg.

Germany has been reunited for almost 30 years.  The Gate was restored at great expense.  The Quadriga again faces west.  The Brandenburg Gate is again the centre point of Berlin.  After two hundred and twenty years of tumultuous history, the Berliners and the Germans as a whole feel that the Gate can now be a symbol of peace.

 

© Will van der Walt

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Images

Brandenburg Tor – postcard

Quadriga – freetourskyfoot.com

Gate with soldier – historyimages.blogspot.com

Gate with West Berliners  –  airbmb.fr

Gate with sun –  arounddeglobe.com

 

COMMENT BY MANSELL UPHAM

In some bizarrely indirect way, the Gate … as well as the proto-Prussian Magraviate of Brandenburg … also has bearing of sorts on South Africa’s own violently induced historical ‘make-up’ … Originally erected as the Friedenstor by the House of Orange-descended Friedrich Wilhelm, following the fragile peace established by the so-called Batavian Revolution which led to the Cape of Good Hope being ‘restored’ to a revolutionary, reconfigured ‘new’ Dutch Republic … Orange-Hohenzollen collaboration meant that many folk from a Huguenot-bolstered Brandenburg emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope … with its own Huguenot diaspora … one man in particular is most deserving of remembrance … Joachim Nikolaus von Dessin (1704-1761) … once page and later gentleman-in-waiting of the margrave Albrecht Friedrich of Brandenburg … who with the bequest of his wonderful library … laid the foundations of what has become South Africa;s National Library  –      Mansell Upham

 

 

Korean landscape painting

Korean landscape painting is different from that of the West.  I took photographs of a few and share my thoughts on them.

At Yuongpyongsa, the monastery where I spent a few days, they had, in the main temple, paintings of scenes from an episode in Buddha’s life and I found the landscapes in these paintings thought-provoking.

Here the forms of the landscape amplify or echo the bent form of the Buddha.  The colour range is narrow so that the human figure is accentuated as he emerges from the grey-brown world.

Here the Buddha figure serenely views the controlled tumult of the landscape, achieved by sublte stylization.  Mountains grow from mist, suggesting the ancient Taoist principle that change is the foundation of all things; solidity is illusion.

The composition here, if we read from left to right, lets us see the “emptiness” of the landscape that the Buddha contemplates.  Colour-wise, I find it a sympathetic scene.

Traditional Eastern painting does not reflect the immense changes that rocked Western art over time.  In Eastern art it seems to me that conventions were ever more refined.  In this landscape we see the three tiers of leaves grouped above the tier of river stones, all tending to the right, a most satisfying composition.

In this landscape, the foreground is monumentally solid, apparently unshakeable, while the mountains in the background, float in mist.  The contrast presents the viewer with the tension between appearance and reality.  The immense rock protrusions seem to tend toward a centre, suggesting the essential harmony of the universe.

(c) Will van der Walt

http://www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Les Semboules, Antibes

November, 2018

 

Images

First four – my photographs

pinterest.com

 

 

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