Writers and artists repond
The foreign policy section at Northtown Books in Arcata is crowded with stacks of books about 9-11, Afghanistan, Islam, Osama Bin Laden and Middle Eastern politics. The book store's owner, Art Burton, says that publishers were quick to capitalize on interest in topics related to the attack and the war that followed.
"I can't remember any event in history that generated so many new titles. Everyone from Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn to Alice Walker has come out with a book offering their take on things," said Burton.
And the books have been selling. "First people got more interested in foreign policy in general, then they wanted to find out about Afghanistan and Central Asia and about our politics regarding oil," he said, adding, "We've sold a lot of copies of the Koran."
Among the bestsellers at Northtown: Taliban by Ahmed Rashid. Burton said sales were helped by the fact that the author was identified as an expert on the subject and did a lot of radio and TV interviews. Burton also mentioned In the Presence of Fear, a collection of essays by Wendell Berry.
The store sold a lot of copies of From Beirut to Jerusalem by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas L. Friedman, a selection for a couple of local book circles. A collection of Chomsky interviews titled 9-11 was another book group's choice.
Asked if he had read many of the foreign policy titles the store has in stock,
Burton shook his head and laughed. "I'm familiar with all of them but I haven't read any of them. I just read novels."
An interest in foreign policy is not as evident down the street at a record store called The Works. One of the clerks, Ray Johnson, says he is surprised that more musicians haven't written songs about 9-11 and the war that followed.
"In the past you had all sorts of artists speaking out against the war. This time it hasn't happened," said Johnson, who was wearing a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt, but admitted that he had not yet listened to the Boss' new 9-11 related disc, The Rising.
The store's other clerk, Bandon Montague Taylor, chides mainstream artists like Springsteen and particularly Neil Young for what he sees as a "passive-aggressive response."
"When Neil was doing stuff with Crazy Horse, he was about as subversive as you can get. Now he's like some mellow Republican," he said pointing to Young's 9-11 song, "Let's Roll." [excerpt from lyrics below]
Montague Taylor sees the response from bands on the fringes of the music business as "just the opposite," especially since the Bush administration is "such an easy target."
The Arcata-based punk rock band Winston Smith has always been relentlessly politically outspoken.
Not long after the 9-11 attacks, Tim Miller, the band's lead singer, wrote a song called "Up Your Nose With a Rubber Hose, Peter Jennings" lashing out at the media's response to the attacks and questioning the government's retaliatory reaction. [excerpt from lyrics below] The antiwar tune shows up on the band's recently released album, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
"When the attacks first happened they were saying. `What a horrible tragedy, so many people died,'" Miller recalled. "But a few days later that switched to `We have to kill more people to make it better.'"
Miller explained that Winston Smith takes its name from the hero in George Orwell's novel, 1984. "Big Brother controlled everything through propaganda and wouldn't let people have private thoughts or ideas. Everyone had to think what they wanted them to think. Winston Smith was rebelling against that, trying to break away."
Miller's protest songs fall within the tradition of songwriters like Woody Guthrie, albeit louder and faster. In fact his electric guitar bears the same message that was scrawled across Guthrie's battered old acoustic, "This machine kills fascists."
"I feel like music is a good medium for reflecting political and social ideals. It's a good way to get ideas across and get people's emotions going," he said.
-- Bob Doran
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