Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Here's another article from Front Page on the history of Islam which is right on target with the facts. For the full horror of the history of slavery within Islam, check it out. Also, you ought to read this interview with Stephen Schwartz, an American Islamic journalist, on why Wahabism is a fanatical current within Islam. We have a nit-pick with Schwartz: he overestimates the presence of the Islamic heritage in Spanish culture. In fact, everything Jewish or Islamic in Spain was ruthlessly crushed, between Ferdinand and Isabella's expulsion of the Jews in 1492--400,000 Spanish Jews were affected, of whom about 150,000 converted to Christianity and stayed. The rest mostly went to North Africa, and their descendants are now called Sephardic Jews. (The Catalans had already killed off all their Jews in the 1391 pogrom. One thing we must say in favor of the Spanish Muslims is that they did not treat Jews particularly badly most of the time, unlike the Spanish Christians.) The Muslim inhabitants, the moriscos, were pushed out of Castile into Muslim Granada during the early 1400s, and they were finally expelled from Valencia, Aragon, and Andalusia in 1609-10, 400,000 of them. The moriscos also mostly went to North Africa. Everything Muslim or Jewish was stamped out by the Inquisition--whose horrors affected relatively few people, mostly Jews who had converted to Christianity (conversos), but those horrors were pretty horrible. The only thing left in Spain of the Muslim heritage is the architecture, though it's said that the complicated water-rights and irrigation laws of Valencia are left over from the Muslim days. Some say flamenco music is of Muslim origin, though others say it's gypsy. Probably it's some of both mixed in with some plain old Spanish.

Comment on flamenco: What you hear in the States is generally pop-disco flamenco, of which the most frightening recent example is "Macarena", though "Aserejé" has some flamenco influence in it. (The girls are named Ketchup because their flamenco-pop dad's monicker is Tomate. Get it?) Flamenco and its cousins sevillanas, copla española, rumba, and the like fulfill the same role in Spanish society as country music does in American. Both of them are musics of rural people who emigrated to the city, and they've both been heavily influenced by the technology available there. Both flamenco and its cousins, and country, have adopted synthesizers, drum machines, electric guitars, and the like; they are urban forms of music based on traditional rural styles but using modern technology and influenced by international pop. The traditional rural styles still exist, but only in flamenco's heartland and among modern middle-class hipsters, just the way that traditional gospel and folk music can still be heard in America--but most of its fans are the NPR crowd. (Should you, while in Barcelona, want to check out a bar with old-style flamenco, hit the Galpón Sur on Calle Guilleries in Gràcia and ask the bartender to put on something good. Every couple of weeks they have concerts--it's either flamenco, jazz, or South American. Everybody who goes there is some kind of Communist or worse but they're friendly enough if you can take a little joshing.) The most critically-acclaimed modern flamenco musicians are Camarón de la Isla and Tomatito. Their stuff is influenced somewhat by rock, but it's definitely legit. These guys have soul. Camarón died relatively young a few years ago and there's now a Camarón cult, kind of like the Jim Morrison cult. A flamenco-rock band, mostly rock, that's worth checking out is Ketama. The Gypsy Kings are probably the most famous "Spanish" musicians; they're actually French. They play rumbas and they're a great party band. True flamenco aficionados look down on the Gypsy Kings as inauthentic and too poppy, but I like them. Another Frenchman is Manu Chao, whose political ideas are idiotarian supreme but who's a damn good musician, a rumba-rocker. He used to be the frontman for a group called Mano Negra, whose album Puta's Fever will get your next bash hopping. He had a song that was a big hit a few months ago called "Me gustas tú", which was the only thing that made the radio tolerable during the hellish "Operación: Triunfo" summer of 2002. All of these guys ought to be easy to find on one of those music-sharing sites, in case you're interested. Manu Chao is really hip right now because he's one of those anti-globo wackos and plays shows at their demos, so if you want to tell your friends you're into what's cool in Europe, give Manu a listen.

Comment on Jim Morrison: I went to Jim Morrison's grave once when I was in Paris. It's in the historic and really quite beautiful Pére Lachaise cemetery, where dozens of French notables like Voltaire and Chopin are buried. When you walk in the front gate, you can see tombs vandalized with signs that say JIM with an arrow pointing to his tomb. Just listen for "The End" blasting out of a boom box a hundred or so yards away and that's where you want to go. When you get there you'll see a bunch of freaks drinking beer, smoking pot, and communing around Jim's tomb, which has a small bust of Jim on it that's been painted and repainted over and over. One guy ceremonially poured a beer over Jim's head, which seemed like a waste of a perfectly good beer to me. Graffiti like JIM BROKE ON THROUGH FOR YOU AND ME and JIM IS THE LIZARD KING FOR EVER are scratched all over the neighboring tombs. Based on the graffiti, I'd say a lot of the pilgrims to Jim's grave are Italian. Are the Doors especially popular there? Anyway, a few years ago, whoever's in charge of Pére Lachaise announced that Jim's lease on the tomb was up and that he had to go somewhere else, and it was easy to get the impression that they didn't care where somewhere else was as long as it was a long way away from there. I don't know if they ever moved his grave or not. Interestingly enough, Jim Morrison, if he had any political ideas at all, which I doubt, would have been a rather unpleasant sort of conservative. He hated hippies, thought they were a bunch of idiots. He hated homosexuals. Though he'd take anything he could get hold of, his drugs were alcohol and speed, not pot and acid. He hated San Francisco; L.A. was much more his style of decadent. Though he hated his father, a lifetime US Navy officer, he was not against the war in Vietnam and thought the protestors were morons. He didn't really like anything too much except getting really fucked up and freaking out other people with his Lizard King crap. His death was suicide at age 27; he killed himself intentionally bit by bit rather than all at one go.

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