News Letters

Newsletter October 2001

In the aftermath of the recent horrors in the USA there's still an odd detached feeling, a reluctant acknowledgement that, after that unbelievable nightmare, anything could happen, anywhere; and as I prepare to set off for my U.K. autumn tour I realise I'm already thinking of ways to keep my use of the London underground system to a minimum, avoid the big stations, and generally keep out of town unless I'm playing. What a situation. You can't just curl up and stay at home, but the risks seem very real, and utterly unpredictable. Like it or not, this is a major turning point in contemporary history and, whatever the consequences, good and bad, a world with which we were familiar, and in which we felt reasonably secure and comprehending, has vanished in a cloud of choking dust. The shadows thrown will be long and imponderable.

Friends in New York witnessed the whole tragedy from close quarters; and in spite of all the detailed, graphic reportage, perhaps even because of it, it still seems surreal; like the plot of a far-fetched thriller, or a block- buster novel. When I woke on Wednesday 12th, to hear rainfall, and the crow in the walnut tree, for a second or two it was as if the world was as it should be; the leaves beginning to turn and Summer rustling into her travelling clothes. But it was only for a second or two. Almost immediately it hit me. What had happened yesterday was real! The World Trade Centre is a heap of rubble, the Pentagon ravaged by fire, thousands dead! For those of us not on the spot, at NOH, 'North of the Holocaust', as New Yorkers have dubbed the site, it's still difficult to grasp.

When Gabriele and I went to New York in 1988 I was eager to visit that twin- towered landmark. The lift to the top took fifty-eight seconds, depositing me (Gabriele didn't fancy ascending a quarter of a mile into the air) on the observation deck where I remember being fascinated by a model of the boat built by some stranded seventeenth century mariners who were wrecked nearby and obliged to overwinter. Like many another tourist, I took a deep breath and peered out.

'..... tiny figures stride across suddenly contracted plazas, minute fountains play,
toylike traffic manoeuvres and jockeys along thin, linear streets. The Hudson river
and quays lie to the west, the Statue of Liberty is clearly visible further round,
and on each side a fresh panorama opens up. It's certainly a different scene from
that which the early Dutch settlers strove to keep at arms length by the construction
of a wall that once ran along the present Wall Street. At bay in their tiny, fingertip
stockade on the point of Manhattan island, with all that 'wild', undiscovered continent
pressing them in.' I still have the entrance ticket, stuck into my journal.

Strangely enough I've just finished reading a book about the seventeenth century Spice Trade, and was fascinated by the following description:

'.....Here we found beautiful rivers, bubbling fountains, flowing into the valleys, basins of running waters in the flatlands, agreeable fruits in the woods. There is considerable fish in the rivers, good tillage land.'

Yes, he's talking about Manhattan! There's another even more pertinent quote:

'.....The terrain of the island in those days was hilly and rugged and at its southern end, close to the present-day site of the World Trade Center, were a series of low wooded hills, dotted with freshwater ponds.'

As L. P. Hartley says. 'The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.'

America will, of course, come through, and one can hope that, for those fortunate enough to have escaped death, injury or bereavement, life will slowly begin to seek a new normality. But nothing will ever be the same. I'll be surprised if, as soon as the immense task of clearance has been completed, work doesn't start on a new World Trade Centre; if only as a gesture of defiance and national pride.

No reasonable person would deny that the Islamic world has many long- standing and justifiable grievances against the high-handedness and bullying arrogance of The West, but, such callous, fanatical slaughter can never be justified; and while a desire for 'revenge' is natural and understandable one can only hope the involvement of NATO will ensure only such measures as are rational, accurately targetted and appropriate. Drawing up battle lines, with Islam on one side and The West on the other leads only to Armageddon; dare one hope that real dialogue and positive redress might emerge from this disaster?

If it demonstrates anything at all, I suppose it reinforces, as never before, how necessary it is to try and think straight, hold fast to humanity at its best, persist in as true a course as possible, and fight ceaselessly for a balanced view of love and hate. Now, more than ever, it's the exchange of ideas which helps us all to build up a reasonably balanced view of what's happening. The very kind of exchanges that no fanatic, of whatever persuasion, would ever consider. That, of course, is the groundplan of the obsessive approach; a closed circuit, impervious to other opinions, and utterly fixed in one's own. Such characters are not new, but as a result of modern technology, the shrinking planet etc., they're probably more dangerous now than they ever were in the past.

One particularly interesting parallel with bin Laden was Sheik-al-Jebal (Hassan ben Sabbah), otherwise known as The Old man of the Mountains. From 1090 to 1272 A.C.E. (he died in 1124), his suicidally fanatical followers were feared throughout the world, particularly amongst the Crusaders, due to their ability to stealthily penetrate almost any security measures and murder their victims. Founded in Persia they migrated to Mount Lebanon, and at one time numbered 50,000. Hashish played a considerable part in their rituals, and it is from this that they were called 'hashashin' - 'eaters of hashish'. Their legacy to us is the word 'assassin'.

One might pertinently ask whether the Crusaders had any more right to be meddling in Middle Eastern affairs than the West does today. One might equally question their motives. But nothing is ever simple. Least of all politics.

How pleasant it would be to have plain, simple, uncontradictory answers to such discussions: which is, of course, precisely what the fanatics have! So, open-ended, shifting perspectives would seem to be the price we pay for tolerance and democracy. It's much easier to slam and lock the door than it is to keep it ajar, whatever the weather.

It's odd how the Collective Conscious functions sometimes. Just before this all happened I wrote three songs, all centred around the theme of rampant, selfish, globalized capitalism and the increasing groundswell of opposition to it within the capitalist nations themselves. All these songs were too late for inclusion on VIDEO TRIPS, which came out in July, but I include the lyrics, some of which are frighteningly prescient. "Better get a grip on the use of fear, unquiet spirits in the Dreamhouse."


KILLERS (© Words and Music by Paul F. Cowlan GEMA)

The killers sleep in peace tonight.
They praise the wrong, they guard the right.
They keep the sacred flame alight
and dream their stolen dreams.

The prison door is open wide.
The killers snuggle down inside
and whisper of the light denied
where they stretch out a hand.

The workings of the world are strange;
the sun and moon are out of range.
They draw a bead and count the changes
under their disguise.

Where Past and Future disagree
they bring a little certainty,
rub out the truth, and carelessly
eject the magazine.

A perfect silence is their voice.
They spill the blood, they make the choice.
The demons and the gods rejoice
and draw aside the veil.

The killers come from yesterday,
returning fears you'd thrown away,
and listen, smiling, when you say
you'd like to change the theme.

The murderers are walking free.
They flout the law because they see
that crime and punishment should be
a weight in either hand.

Just pray they never visit you.
Or maybe pray that, if they do,
they'll find that you're a killer too,
who answers with a blade.

UNDERGROUND (©Words and music by Paul F. Cowlan GEMA)

Keep tabs on the one-way dialogue,
corporate growth and dog eat dog.
Take a knife to the globalized net
and keep your dreams on red-alert.
Cashflow crises, stolen cream,
voices raised in the corridor;
unhappy with the way things seem,
saying 'Tell me who it's all for.'

Rank on rank of charabanc faces.
Nine to five, never changing places.
Mark-up, set down, sticking to the plan.
Good consumers and 'also rans'.
Third-World debt is the game to play.
Tell them what they can and what they can't do.
Choose one, use one, throw it away.
Then you've got to go and buy yourself a new one.

Don't look now but there are faces dancing;
falling out of step and taking chances.
They want to live a life on the opposite shore.
Don't want to know about your 'More! More! More!'
They've had enough of politics and fingers in the till.
They've had enough of World Gold Standard.
They've had enough of companies closing for the kill.
They want to live open-handed.

Take a message from the underground.
Bet your bottom dollar there's a reason.
They'll turn you inside out and upside down.
Put the squeeze on.

They've got money and a handle to the door.
They could leave you headless on the threshing floor,
with your chemical crops and your mutant strains,
conveyer-belt chickens and poisoned rain.
So total up the profits and divide by ten.
Get ready for a down-turn.
Take away and take away and take away again from
the golden harvest you earned.

vDo you hear voices at the bottom of the sea,
planning for the world as they want it to be?
Pretty soon if they can they will
tell you what to do with your bankable skills.
Better get a grip on the use of fear.
Unquiet spirits in the dreamhouse.
You had it sussed but the signs are clear.
Pay on your way out.

Move aside and let the sunlight in.
Take a break from the T.V.
Open to the weather, start living in your skin.
Well maybe!

THEY SAY (© Words and Music by Paul F. Cowlan GEMA)

'You can make a lot of money if you sell your soul.
So just sit back and let the good times roll.
You're always young enough if you're not too old.'
Well that's what people say. Hey, hey.

'Planet Earth's not big enough.
You only get what you want if you play it rough;
so don't buy none of that touchy-feely stuff
unless you want to throw the chance away.' They say.

'Don't camp out on a missile range.
Keep your head down in times of danger.
'Cause you'll never change what can't be changed
So why bother anyway?' They say.

'Tit for tat. I'm alright Jack.
Go for broke and make a packet.
Or sink like a stone if you can't hack it.
Honesty doesn't pay.' They say.

'Shoot from the hip, call a spade a spade.
A little white lie and you've got it made.
Who gives a damn as long as you get paid.
Then you can be on your way.' They say.

'Buy, eat, sit sleep, keep in line.
Make sure you get to work on time.'
Well, you mind yours, and I'll mind mine.
Play it as it lays. That's what I say.

They think they've got everything cut and dried,
but they don't know 'cos they never tried.
And life is sweet and the world is wide.
There's always another way. Whatever they may say.