Nov. 11, 2004
by HELEN SANDERSON
Comedian Margaret Cho and the Bush 'emergency'
No one is safe from Margaret Cho's [photo at right] humor, not her gay pals, certainly not George W. Bush, not a best friend giving birth, not NYPD rescue workers, or ex-lovers, not even her mother. The least safe of all is Margaret, who is never spared from her own biting humor. A no-jokes-barred, risqué approach to stand-up comedy, crafted over the past 20 years, has given the brazen 36-year-old comic lumbar vertebrae status in the backbone of comedy.
In the past four years, Cho has amassed a cult following, released three successful films of her stand-up, I'm the One that I Want, Notorious C.H.O. and Cho Revolution, and sold out Carnegie Hall in New York. Her lampoon of the Bush administration in her current State of Emergency tour has sparked the rage of some "freepers," extreme right-wing political activists so called for their FreeRepublic.com ties, eliciting an avalanche of hateful e-mails and web-discussions attacking the comic's Korean-American ethnicity and her support of GLBT rights. The Journal talked with Cho in advance of her Nov. 14 Humboldt County appearance about liberals dealing with post-election trauma and keeping a sense of humor.
NCJ: Before the election you were touring the Bible Belt and the swing states. Have there been protesters at your shows?
MC: No, you know, they don't show up. They don't actually go out and march. They pretend that they will, they try to get shows canceled and they try to intimidate through e-mails and phone calls, but you'll never actually see anybody out there because they really are ashamed of what they believe in.
NCJ: Many people are depressed about the outcome of the presidential election. On your Web site blog, you seem optimistic. Why?
MC: One of our major enemies when it comes to progress is apathy because of hopelessness or despair. When we can bypass that stage we can get a lot more accomplished. I think that the Bush victory was not necessarily the best thing for America, of course, but it happened. What's great is that the nation is far more politically motivated to see a difference. When you need a revolution it's better the more pissed off you are, the more anger that you have, the more personally you take it all, the more frustrated you are because that can translate into pure power.
NCJ: You mentioned the hate mail you received. How does it affect you?
MC: I think it's wonderful because they can't really fault my beliefs or my point of view. It all comes down to racial epithets, or comments about my looks or my weight, as if that somehow makes me less qualified to have an opinion. You piss people off just a little bit, and all of the formalities of society get thrown out, and you see the real monster underneath: the racist, sexist, moronic, crazed, violent person.
NCJ: You're a champion for gay rights. What victories have there been this year? What's changing?
MC: I think what's changing is that there is an incredible need for people to realize that we have to really stand up for ourselves. When it comes to this legislation, all of these states are passing laws that would ban gay marriage -- in a sense double blocking gay marriage, on a federal level and the state level. That, to me, is so ridiculous, and the victory is that we are not taking it. We're not accepting it. [That] is a wonderful trend in the gay community.
NCJ: It's been said that it's easier to laugh at something that is difficult to deal with rather than be depressed over it. Has that been true for you?
MC: I think most humor makes people able to deal with things better. Often times when you're really disappointed or angry about something you sort of shut down off that topic, but if you can find a way to alleviate the suffering around you, it makes you want to carry on. In situations like this [Bush's reelection] -- and they're terribly serious situations -- when you can find humor in it, it's really an exciting idea. It's challenging, but it's very important.
NCJ: So maybe the only way for some Democrats to deal with Bush winning a second term is to laugh about it.
MC: It's really riotous. I think it's going to be really hilarious if we allow ourselves to realize that it's funny. It's sad, too, and terrible, but there's nothing we can do about it at this point except continue the fight and not fall into despair, not fall into depression or apathy.
NCJ: Tell us about your upcoming film, Bam Bam and Celeste.
MC: It's a very broad comedy. It's about the whole "body fascism" of reality makeover shows, and it's also sort of like a gay Dumb and Dumber. So it's very silly and very fun. We're shooting that next year.
NCJ: Is Bruce Daniels involved in it?
MC: Yeah, he plays Bam Bam. We're in pre-production right now.
NCJ: You're also writing a book, State of Emergency. What's it about?
MC: It has essays documenting a lot of the last couple of years in politics. It's coming out next year. It deals with the political ramifications of weird social interactions that we have, like how we may not take care of ourselves or lessen our own value because of who we are in the societal scale, like where we fall class-wise, or racially, or gender. So it's like taking all these different things that are all heavy theory and putting them into a humorous kind of human context.
NCJ: So what can we expect from State of Emergency the show?
MC: Well it is very topical and very much about the current situation and what we're attempting to survive -- this very corrupt, very dishonest and scary administration and how we deal with it. How we deal with it on a daily basis, how we deal with it on a global understanding.
CenterArts presents Margaret
Cho State of Emergency tour
with Bruce Daniels at HSU's East Gym, 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14.
Tickets are $30 general/$23 HSU students. $28/$20 presale. Call
by BOB DORAN
GROWING UP IN SANTIAGO, THE
CAPITAL OF CHILE,
In its purest form nueva canción fused traditional South American music with the words of the nations' poets, often touching on social and political themes. It was music that served as a soundtrack for the democratic revolution that brought Salvadore Allende to power in Chile. When Allende was elected president of Chile in 1970, a banner behind him on the grandstand declared, "You can't have a revolution without songs."
"You could say that the nueva canción was born in Chile at that time with people like Victor Jara, who was killed by the military just after the coup, and groups like Inti-llimani who were politically engaged," said Montalvo, who is on her first American tour.
"[Jara's] music was dangerous; it was very important in the street [demonstrations] at the time. His songs were very important and a lot of songs have been composed since then about that time."
Like many musicians from Chile, Montalvo was forced into exile when General Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup in 1973. Living in Paris, Montalvo keeps the nueva canción tradition alive.
"My music is special because the only way I had to keep my roots [in Chile] was in my music. I began to compose songs when I was 22 or 23, working with poetry by Latin American poets. I wanted my music to [connect with] women and with Latin America."
She notes that the music she makes is not always traditional, and she does not restrict herself to South American sources. An example is a song titled "Nacer en algún lugar" ("To be born some place") from her Putumayo album Cantos del Alma, written by a French songwriter and translated by Montalvo into Spanish.
"It's a French song about exile, that's why I appropriated it. It talks about all the people who went out from their countries to work or for other reasons. It says, we don't choose the country in which we were born, we don't choose our parents and we don't know what life will give to us. It speaks of birds: Some make their nest in their country, and there are birds that go away flying. It is about pride, pride in my roots, even if I go away."
She has returned to Chile regularly in recent years, and says her success overseas makes the Chileans proud that she "carries the banner" of their country, although she admits that people there sometimes find her music "very strange."
"I don't make pop or rock, I don't make salsa, I don't make traditional folkloric music. Some journalists don't understand, they think all the music of Latin America comes from the countryside, and we are all people who work the land. But we are also from the cities. I come from Santiago -- I'm not a country girl and I don't make country music.
"You can call all new traditional music nueva canción," she says. "But as I said, I come from the city. Since I was a little girl I heard what we now call world music, because my dad was fond of that kind of music. I heard music from Venezuela, from Cuba, from all over."
For Piel de Aceituna, her recent release on World Village, Montalvo adapted works by Chilean poets, setting them to music that draws on European and Latin American sources.
"I have a lot of influences," she explains, "because I arrived in France when I was quite young. I use accordion a lot -- not on this tour because I could only bring two musicians -- but I use accordion because it is a link between Latin American music and French music. In France it is very common to play accordion. And in all the folkloric music of Latin America you find accordion: in Chilean music, in Argentinean music, in Bahian music, Northern Colombian -- everywhere you find accordion. For me it is the link between all these cultures."
The new CD comes just in time for Putumayo Presents Latinas: Women of Latin America, a 28-city tour featuring Montalvo along with Totó La Momposina, who plays traditional music from Colombia, and the Brazilian singer Belo Vellôso, daughter of renowned musician Caetano Vellôso. The tour comes to Arcata Thursday, Nov. 18, heralding the release of Women of Latin America, a Putumayo disc featuring Montalvo, Momposina, Vellôso and eight other artists.
Montalvo is performing in places where there are few who speak Spanish. She says she has been taking time on stage to translate at least a portion of the lyrics so the meanings of the songs are not completely lost. "Even if you don't understand all the words, I hope that the music will touch people," she added. "People here tell us they have discovered a new kind of music, because in America and in Europe, the Latin American music they hear is dancing music; Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, salsa. Our music is less well known."
The idea behind the Putumayo album and the tour is to present a cross-section of contemporary and traditional Latin American music. The common thread? "We all talk about the same things. We have the same history, the same problems. The common point is that we share the spirit of Latin America, one continent. It's all one soul."
CenterArts and Putumayo present "Latinas: Women of Latin America," Thursday, Nov.18, at 8 p.m. in HSU's Van Duzer Theatre, with Mariana Montalvo, Totó la Momposina and Belo Vellôso. Tickets are $35, $30 for seniors and children, $25 for HSU students. Call 826-3928 for reservations.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.