Sunday, September 18, 2005

One Book, Ten Minutes

Jim: At last, we're discussing Tariq Ali's Street Fighting Years. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Ava, Jess, Ty and myself, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Mike of Mikey Likes It! and C.I. of both The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review. We'll let Elaine go first since last week we accidentally closed the book discussion before she had a chance to speak.

Dona: My apologies to Elaine for that and she noted the Nancy Drew series as her favorite at her website Like Maria Said Paz.

Elaine: Honestly, it wasn't a problem. I know it's rush-rush. And tonight we've again had one technical problem after another. So quickly, I will offer that this book is involving, it's not a chore to read. This is a history, a personal history, and often times people hear "history" and head straight for the Jackie Collins.

Rebecca: Don't knock Jackie!

Elaine: But this is involving and if it ends up being a slow read for some, that's only because you'll want to slow down and think about what Ali is addressing.

Cedric: Because there are similarities to today. The saying "History repeats itself" is one that this book backs up.

Ty: But it didn't repeat itself exactly. Tariq Ali takes part in the Russell Tribunal on Vietnam but that got coverage in Playboy. The recent World Tribunal on Iraq was ignored by the mainstream press in this country including Playboy.

Jim: Ty is obviously a regular reader of Playboy.

Ty: I am not. But if they'd covered the World Tribunal on Iraq, I would've bought an issue.

Betty: In terms of the tribunal, I felt like, in terms of today contrasted with then, that it may have happened too soon. I'm not saying it shouldn't have happened when it did, The World Tribunal on Iraq, I'm just saying that there seemed to be more of a mood behind the Vietnam tribunal, and maybe this was just in Eurpoe, then there was behind the one on Iraq. That, by the way, was one of my favorite sections of the book. Learning of the countries, such as France, that refused to play host country to the tribunal.

Mike: I don't think I can pick a favorite part. I watched The Believers awhile back --

Dona: The Dreamers.

Mike: The Dreamers, sorry. I watched it awhile back because everyone's been discussing it for weeks during the down time, such as it is, during the work on these editions. And I'm glad I did because I don't think I would've grasped most of the book without it. The Believers --

Dona: The Dreamers.

Mike: Woops. The Dreamers isn't a documentary and it's not until the last third that there's really any activism portrayed in it. But this isn't anything, the global activism and unrest, that I was taught in my history classes. I know The Dreamers is fiction and it's not really about activism but it let me get a picture in my head of something that would have been completely foreign to me otherwise.

Rebecca: I enjoyed the background of the book. And Tariq Ali's perspective which is that of an observer. That might be partly because, in London, he's in a country as a visitor, and partly due to the fact that he is a reporter. But there was a sense of an overview that most memoirs don't provide. These are his personal experiences and that's very clear but within the context of those, he's providing a perspective that goes beyond the narrator's voice in the usual memoir.

Betty: I'd agree with that on many levels. Including, most basic, he's not making the mistake so many people make of assuming that every name and incident he knows, the reader will. I can understand what Mike's saying because the global action and activism and unrest is so large during that period that it may be hard for some reading to grasp it. But he, Tariq Ali, never makes the mistake of assuming that we already know what he's about to talk about. He really fills in the details. Whether it's when he's being held by police and accused of being the body guard of Che or some other incident. Dona, you talk because you always get stuck playing time keeper.

Dona: What I enjoyed the most, and may be the only one who did, was hearing the tales of the magazine experiences in London. It just . . . put me there, in the room, where people were working on things that mattered at a time when the world, some in the world, were truly concerned with things larger than themselves. I'll go back to time keeping and hand off to Ava.

Ava: Great, while I'm stuck pondering what you just said. I'd say the characters in the story, and that makes it seem like it's fiction, but Tariq Ali interacted with some very interesting people in that time period. Beyond Mick Jagger, though I'm sure he's the one most people will think of due to the title.

Kat: Which is a Rolling Stones song, "Street Fighting Man," by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards:
Ev'rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
Well then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock 'n' roll band
'Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Included for our younger readers.

Ava: Right and lyrics that Jagger apparently wrote after the march in London.

Cedric: But Tariq's answer isn't to sing in a rock 'n' roll band.

Ava: No. In fact the march seemed to have left a different impression on Ali than it did on Jagger but Ali was already being vilified in the conservative press and being trashed by Tories.
Which reminds me of when he was on Unfiltered, the radio program, and Lizz Winstead said, after he was gone, something like "Now we don't agree with everything he believes in" and I thought, "What the hell was that?"

Elaine: I remember that show. It seems like it was a month before the disappearance of Lizz Winstead from the program. I didn't think he said anything controversial and wondered exactly who gave the programming note to say that and why? I thought it was less than gracious for someone who taken part in a pretty easy going conversation.

Kat: My favorite part was when he debates, as a college student, a representative of the American embassy. I'm forgetting the name of the guy.

C.I.: Henry Cabot Lodge.

Kat: Thank you. I enjoyed reading of him being heckled and laughed at.

C.I.: And, just to clarify, he was the American ambassador to South Vietnam.

Ty: Getting back to Ava's point, I'm remembering about how, in college, Ali met Malcom X. There really are a number of figures popping up here.

Rebecca: Vanessa Redgrave to name another. And wasn't it nice to have John Lennon and Yoko Ono both pop up in the book without Yoko being played as the stereotypical and racist "dragon queen?"

Jim: C.I.?

C.I.: I love the book but we're short on time and Jess hasn't spoken. I'm guessing he's going to talk about the interview.

Jess: You're correct. At the end of the book is an interview that Tariq Ali and Robin Blackburn did with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It was hard to read in bits because of some statements like Lennon's saying, about something else, that he didn't want to get shot.

Kat: Perspective for young readers?

Jess: Good point. John Lennon was shot, that's how he died. So that was rough to read. But you read through that interview and Ono and Lennon are both addressing serious issues or trying to and I read through interviews today and it's like Sheryl Crowe gushing about how exciting it was that Don Henley or someone called her while she's doing dishes or errands for Lance Armstrong and that's what's passing for deep because the rest of the time it's about what you wore or your beef with this musician or whatever. I know we're really, really short on time but there's a section I'd like to quote.

Dona: You'll be taking from C.I.'s time? Is it okay?

C.I.: It's fine.

Jess: This is from page 379 and we should note that we were reading the new edition that came out this year. Blackburn's talked about how Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles 1967 album, was being played in Cuba when Blackburn was there and this is John Lennon:

Well I hope they see that Rock and Roll is not the same as Coca Cola. As
we get beyond the dream this should be easier, that's why I'm putting out more
heavy statements now and trying to shake off the teeny-bopper image. I
want to get through to the right people, and I want to make what I have to say
very simple and direct.

Jess (con't): Now we have people who might talk on that level. Anais Mitchell, Ani Difranco --

Rebecca: Steve Earle.

Jess: Steve Earle, Joan Baez, but they aren't the ones getting the press that they should. The attention, I should say. The New York Times has a puff piece to Bono running today that speaks of his "power" when they're the only ones seeing power. Kat'll tell you the second single off the album couldn't even hit the Hot 100. The cozying up to Bully Boy and Blair turned a lot of people off, their actions with regard to debt relief were counter-productive. But this "investment" guy, I haven't read the piece but I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of it, is "powerful." I don't find Bono inspiring or even pertinent on any level.

Kat: Agreed, I know Dona's indicating time's up, but quickly, The New York Times is never going to know who's "powerful" and who's not. They're lucky to have Kelefa and Holden but everyone else acts as though they're waiting to be told who hit the charts three years ago.

C.I.: Jumping in quickly, people can also watch, listen or read Democracy Now!'s "Tariq Ali on Political Activism from Pakistan to Vietnam to Iraq."

Jim: And that'll wrap up our book discussion for this week. Tariq Ali's Street Fighting Man, a book worth reading.
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