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English Never Trumpers (ENT)  Part Two

“This constant coverage becomes a compulsion fixation for us all…Yet, we gorge ourselves on such toxic infotainment with a niggling sense of impending doom” (Betty T. Peng, in Lee,  pp. 231-2).

I am no exception. I’ve ‘gorged’ myself on the following since early 2018:

Fire and Fury - Michael Wolff; Fear - Bob Woodward; Everything Trump Touches Dies - Rick Wilson.  All 2018.

Siege - Michael Wolff; A Warning - Anonymous.  Both 2019.

A Very Stable Genius - Phillip Rucker & Carol Leonnig; A Year at the Circus - Jon Sopel.  Both 2020.

Add to these seven the above mentioned Mary Trump and Bandy Lee books, and you have NINE tomes. So, as opposed to books on Trump’s ‘malignant narcissism’ and the ‘malignant normality’ that it engenders, I have less on Bob Dylan, and I’ve been buying books on him since 1972! What on earth is it all about then? One theory is that it represents an epistemological ‘anxiety attack’, ‘DERIVED FROM A REALITY ONLY HE KNOWS’ (Teng, page 230, my upper-case), which invites a paranoid existential weltanschauung. ‘Trumpanschauung’ is not ‘objective’, so we sink into its world of subjectivity, which only the Trump Corporation can explain. Look at the medieval Catholic Church for another example of ‘reality banditry’, one which I’m sure that Mike Pence would fully endorse.

This new world has its own Trump-related pathologies/norms/symptoms, which is a remarkably perverse triumph/achievement for the former ‘reality TV star’, who has now achieved an almost Palmer Eldridge-type (dis)continuity over his ‘world’ (a reference to the Phillip K. Dick novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge), with Chew-Z and Can-D replaced by hydroxychloriquine and  bleach/’light’ injections. This is truly the stuff of horrors. Some have come up with diagnoses such as ‘Post-Trump Stress Disorder’ (with PTSD- like effects) and ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder’, to reify the New Era of Trump-related symptomatology. One simple definition of a ‘delusion’ is ‘a fixed, false belief’. so are Trump and his followers deluded and ignorant, or merely suffering from ‘magical thinking’? Or all three, in one toxic package?

This is merely one conundrum for the Goldwater/Tarasoff disputants to argue out. Whatever the ‘confidentiality’/’duty to warn’ dilemma, there are many of us who worry that “Donald Trump is causing a trauma epidemic” and at times feel “overwhelmed and immobilised by anger or anxiety in the face of Trump’s erratic and vindictive behaviour” (Lee, pp. 223-4). And that’s before we get onto the more parochial topic of Brexit and Boris Johnson’s government-of-all-the-crooks, which is our very own creek/paddle, self-imposed nightmare.

Confessions of an ENT (English Never Trumper) Part One

I’ve just finished reading one of the first of the now many, many books exploring the #Donald Trump phenomenon. This is a 2017 compilation of 27 ‘duty-to-warn’ American mental health professionals, edited by forensic psychiatrist Bandy Lee, with an epilogue by Noam Chomsky even, so it’s hardly a ‘kiss and tell’ opportunist project. The latter category might be applied to the work that I finished reading just before commencing The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, written by Trump’s niece Mary, and published only a couple of weeks ago, called Too Much and Never Enough. In fact, the latter is probably, on refection, the best account that I have read on the subject of Trump World, in that it describes the ‘making of a monster’ in a dispassionate manner, and is a valuable first-hand account of the sheer dysfunctional quality of the Trump family/menagerie, going a fair way to explaining why ‘The Donald’ is such a fuck-up, both as a human being and a effective leader of the Land of the Free

I appear to be one of those middle-aged UK men who have become discombobulated by the Trump saga of ‘falling upwards, all the way to the very, very top’ (thus giving hope to us all?). Acronyms for this process include: ENT (as in this blog’s title), TOB (Trump-Obsessed Brit) and MABOT (Middle-aged Bloke Obsessed by Trump). My family certainly think that I have ineluctably become a member of this club, however it is acronym-ed. Some quotes from the Lee-edited compilation will serve, however, to indicate that my Trump ‘addiction’ is hardly a solitary one. To start with:

“Trump has mesmerised our national psyche like no other public figure in memory”. (Singer, page 281) 

There might be a few musical/sport/entertainment figures who can be said to have occupied this role, but surely not a Republican politician? On page 294, Thomas Singer, a Jungian analyst, opines, in his chapter entitled ‘Trump and the American Collective Psyche’ that “one of the most disturbing thoughts about the Trump Presidency is that he has taken up residence not just in the White House but in the psyches of each and every one of us”. Trump is imagined here, as both an Internal Persecutor and as a psychic ‘rapist’ (or, at the very least, a frotteur of cosmic proportions) - “the way a president lives inside each of us can feel like a very personal and intimate affair…(Trump’s) masterful skill at invading and groping the national psyche” (page 295).

Just in case you though that Trump was a-religious, he here presents a messianic message, one which I am sure that he entirely convinced about:

“I AM THE TRUTHFUL HYPERBOLE”. (a mission statement originally put forward in his co-written book with Tony Schwartz, The Art of the Deal.

Yet another bellicose and hubristic big-up of himself, this book of questionable-truths, was an early Trump bible, a tablets-from-the mountain account of his extraordinary deeds and pronouncements. With his (and his enablers in the GOP) ongoing propositions of ‘alternative truths/facts’, and, taking this to its reductio ad absurdum of alternative realities’, who has need of hallucinogens when you’ve got Trump, the alt right’s own Timothy Leary? This b/s fundamentally calls into question one’s perceptions of both truth and reality, and any ideas of ‘consensus’, in either realm, start to fragment under Trump’s ruthless assault on both. 

Trump’s epistemological dirty fighting, between belief and mere opinion, has become, over just three and a half years, a scary attack on decent values and the decent ideation that must underlie these.

To be continued.

Miles, Soft Machine and Floyd-three early landmarks, and an opportunity sought.

I’ve finished my history of the London Musicians’ Collective, which is now being proof read in draft form, and am thus now casting about for possible themes for my next project.

I have previously considered making a pitch for a contribution to Bloomsbury’s ‘33 I/3′ line of ‘classic albums’ tributes,which is now well over 100 in number - I wanted to write about AMM’s first album, AMMusic, but was informed that they were not currently (2018) seeking submissions, which I’m sure was true, but got me paranoid about having chosen perhaps too abstruse a subject (their mainstay appears to be mostly rock/pop recordings (Bitches Brew being their only jazz-related disc on offer). Maybe I’ll alert them to the plethora of great ‘crossover’ (in its best sense) product that begs for reappraisal? There does indeed seem to be a lack of avant material in general in this series. 

Whilst debating all this, I have been thinking about some pivotal albums from my final year at school (1972/3) and the possibility of pitching one of these to 33 1/3. - Miles Davis’s Live at Fillmore, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Soft Machine Three. Frank Zappa was the other obvious contender from this period of my musical education (Uncle Meat, We’re Only In It for the Money and Hot Rats in particular), but the earlier three have perhaps been less celebrated, although this is gradually changing? All three were doubles, and were released circa 1970, yet none have yet been featured by 33 1/3 (nor have the Zappa/Mothers discs, amazingly).

All three of these double albums mostly consisted of very long tracks, a feature that was then very much in favour, as a mark of serious ‘heaviosity’! I listened to them so much that, despite their complexity and sheer length, I know every note and beat by heart. Fifty years on, there has been some acknowledgement of the status of Fillmore, Ummagumma and Three: the first, for example, has been exhaustively  put under the microscope by jazz historian Bob Gluck, in his 2016 study (University of Chicago) The Miles Davis Lost Quintet and Other Revolutionary Ensembles, which comes very highly recommended for those interested in the 1967-1973 timeline of avant-jazz. I’ve also now just discovered that there is a book devoted to Ummagumma, by a Scott Meze, called Something Else: Why Ummagumma by Pink Floyd is the Greatest Album Ever Made, the hubristic nature of which I can’t honestly endorse, but which immediately made me order it on Amazon (to my shame, as Waterstones don’t appear to stock it, unfortunately, so it represents just one more contribution to Jeff ‘Croesus’ Bezos.)

Which leaves Soft Machine Three, which has been significantly bigged-up over the past decade or so, to be sure (see the Wiki bibliography under the album’s entry), but has yet to receive the ultimate endorsement, in book form, that Fillmore and Ummagumma have been given. The Softs history is as messy and convoluted as that of the Floyd and Miles, and I’d certainly like to be given the chance to further embed their third album in the history books of genre-challenging bands.

In  Memoriam: Two More Greats Gone

The death of Olivia de Havilland, the last link with Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, at an even more advanced age than (Gord bless ‘er) the Queen Mother, has prompted me to salute two other recent losses, those of Keith Tippett and Peter Green. I ‘got into’ these two greats in 1969/70, and they were both important early influences on my future listening habits.

Rather ironically, I blogged about Peter Green only a few months back, in a celebration of Fleetwood Mac’s quadrumvirate of classic singles - Albatross, Man of the World, Oh Well and The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown) - so want to just add a few words about Tippett.

Like many, I first came across Keith when exposed to ‘Cat Food’ on King Crimson’s second outing In the Wake of Poseidon, a Cecil Taylor-ish intrusion into the shoals of progressive rock. He also appeared on KC’s next two albums, Lizard and Islands. Along with Soft Machine Three, these records pointed me in the direction of jazz music, and I soon fell inevitably under the influence of the Keith Tippett Group, and their You Are Here…I Am There and Dedicated to You, But You Weren’t Listening (such typical 70s titles!), from 1970 and 1971 respectively. Along with contemporary recordings by the Softs and Nucleus (Elastic Rock and We’ll Talk About It Later) , these were required listening for any early 70s British jazz neophytes. Tippett’s group was suffused with talent - Marc Charig, Elton Dean, Nick Evans, Jeff Clyne and Alan Jackson (the latter two also associated with the free improv end of jazz).

Many years passed (about 40!) before I re-introduced myself to Tippett’s music, and, in the past few years, managed to see him in both solo and group formats at The Vortex and Cafe Oto. A solo gig at the latter was particularly mesmerising, and I recall another at the former, which was so sparsely attended that the pianist recommended that we reconvene at his home for a more intimate experience! Such was the fate of one of our greatest pianists (Stan Tracey has also passed, and Howard Riley remains very unwell, leaving a clear field for Alexander Hawkins to assume that title), who nevertheless leaves a glorious legacy of recorded music, from Centipede, through to small group, duo (with, among many others, Riley and Tracey, and his wife, Julie) and solo material. Just look up his discography on Wiki, and marvel. An all round good bloke, yet one that apparently also didn’t tolerate fools gladly.

More Dylan Musings: ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’

Having lived with Rough and Rowdy Ways for some weeks now, it’s now clear to me that the standout track is not the 17-minute epic ‘Murder Most Foul’, but the 9-minute  mini-epic that ends the main disc, ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’. I’m not sure whether the parenthetical title is a self-reference, with Dylan seeing himself as some sort of Jack Sparrow figure, but for me it is ultimately as elliptical and ambiguous as is the best of Dylan’s massive cryptic content.

Is ‘Key West’ a moral and ethical touchstone, as were, potentially, ‘Desolation Row’ and the ‘Highlands’, or even the ‘Lowlands’ of the Sad-Eyed Lady?  “Key West is the place to be, if you’re looking for immortality…Key West is fine and fair, if you’ve lost your mind, you’ll find it there”. It’s also the “gateway to innocence and purity”, so its obviously quite the ‘place to be’. The accordion provides the listener with “that bleeding heart disease” (with shades of Garth Hudson, just as the shade of Scarlet Rivera is evoked elsewhere), but, as ever, what does it all mean? It doesn’t matter; it probably means an unattainable lightness of somewhere/something, but who cares when you have that warm-but-tensile, reassuring voice, basted in six decades of recording experience (and yes, I know that the much younger Paul Weller has achieved five decades of same, but c’mon, this is surely of a different order?)

I’m reminded of the New York ‘Blood on the Tracks’ (BOTT)recordings, which I know many think inferior to the finally released album versions, but ‘many’ would, in this case, be wrong. Dylan is so slippery, you think that you’ve ‘got’ him (as we all did with the initial vinyl release of BOTT, until subsequent bootlegs wrong footed us), but…’Key West’ expands over its nine minutes, and it genuinely feels like it could never end, a “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s” that will eventually eat its own tail/tale. ‘Finnegans Wake’ is itself  told from the perspective of old age, just as Dylan’s later works are: Death is everywhere, manifesting appropriately and without sentimentality. Fittingly, Florida is currently one of the epi-centres of the coronavirus pandemic in America, despite the state’s idealised wish that “…winter here is an unknown thing”. Bob Dylan is one artist that continually reminds us that ‘death don’t have no mercy’. Even (and especially?) in the privileged Florida ‘villages’, which were the gone-viral scenes of hatred and division, just a couple of weeks ago (and which Donald Trump encouraged with his ‘White Lives Matter’ re-tweet).

At least one of our elders knows how to behave.

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