TO SALMAN RUSHDIE, 13 AUGUST 2022

Dear Salman, as you lie on life support after a horrendous and base attack, please accept these words sent out to the world in deep solidarity and sympathy with you,

For years you have been an icon of free speech, in your writings but also in your activities in defence of beleaguered authors with the International Parliament of Writers and PEN America. You are Indian, British and a US citizen, but first and foremost you are the perfect citizen of the world. You have enriched the English language with the creative multiplicity of styles and registers in your novels and essays: novels such as Midnight’s Children, Shalimar the Clown and The Golden House are unforgettable. I believe you are one of the finest of living writers and deserve every award you have received. In the wake of the fatwa I vowed I would read your writings as they came out, and publish on them, and I have kept my promise.

Despite the fatwa and those who defend it, over the years you have bravely refused to give up or give in. What they can never kill will go on and your struggle will never die, for others will take it up. 

May the Universe be with you in your hour of need,

I sign this letter with hope for you here and now and admiration for all your work and commitment over so many years,

Your loyal reader, 

Christopher Rollason

Note: This piece was published one day after the attack on Rushdie in New York on 12 August 2022. Various texts on Rushdie can be found on this blog.

The Dylan Review 4.1

Now released is Volume 4, issue 1 (Spring/Summer 2022) of The Dylan Review, the online journal devoted to the serious academic study of the work of Nobel laureate, songwriter and multitalented artist Bob Dylan. This issue maintains the existing high standard and covers a remarkably wide range of aspects. I enjoyed in particular: the review by Karl Gustel Wärnberg of a study by Sara Danius of the Swedish Academy; an in-depth interview with Scott Warmuth, inveterate explorer of Dylan sources; Bob Russell’s explication of Dylan’s musical relationship with bluegrass heroes the Stanley Brothers; and a close analysis of ‘Jokerman’ by Walter Raubicheck, relating this major song to both Judaism and Christianity. And there is much more!

The Dylan Review is at: https://thedylanreview.org/

JOHN CONSTABLE’S LANDSCAPES, ON VIEW IN LUXEMBOURG

The fame of John Constable (1776-1837) is assured in his country of birth as one of the greatest landscape painters of the British school, but his remarkable body of work remains less well-known outside the UK than that of his contemporary J.M.W. Turner, this no doubt because most of his artistic production is held in England: the bulk of Constable’s work is divided between London’s National Gallery and Tate Gallery.

At this moment the Tate is making a generous loan from its Constable holdings to the Musée d’Art de la Ville de Luxembourg, also known as the Villa Vauban. From 2 July to 9 October 2022, in an exhibition entitled ‘John Constable’s English Landscapes: Masterpieces from the Tate Collection’, a good fourscore of Constable’s works are on display, as well as some by his contemporaries (including Turner).

A particularly noteworthy presence is that of one of Constable’s most famous paintings, ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’. The works on view testify to the artist’s deep love of nature, as well as his particular interest in painting clouds and trees. Those familiar with the English countryside will appreciate the depiction of its light and shades through the master’s brushstrokes. The coast is not neglected, in views of Brighton and Great Yarmouth (the latter suggesting by anticipation the maritime mood of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield). Also represented are Constable’s occasional forays into other genres, as in the monumental ‘The Opening of Waterloo Bridge’. 

The sharing for three months of such an important heritage is an artistic event to be deeply valued, and the Tate and the Villa Vauban are to be congratulated on this bold initiative. Constable’s work deserves to be better known in mainland Europe, and this event is a major step in that direction. If you live in or near Luxembourg and wish to feel the healing power of nature, go to the Villa Vauban to catch this exhibition while it’s there! Your effort will be amply rewarded!

The official site of the exhibition is at: https://villavauban.lu/exhibition/john-constables-english-landscapes/

THE GIPSY KINGS SET A LUXEMBOURG SMALL TOWN ALIGHT! / LOS GIPSY KINGS ALUMBRAN UN PUEBLO DE LUXEMBURGO

Wiltz, a small municipality in Luxembourg, has won a name for itself in recent years with its summer music festival, and 2022 was special indeed with the festival’s concluding event, a concert with no less an act than the Gipsy Kings! The rumba-rock-flamenco (or more technically rumba flamenca) ensemble, currently numbering eleven performers and despite singing mostly in Spanish in fact originating from southern France, are known for their infectious songs with chantlike refrains, and for their remarkably danceable guitar- and percussion-based arrangements.

On the balmy summer’s night of 16 July, the Gipsy Kings regaled the Luxembourg audience with some of their best-known titles, including ‘Djobi Djoba’, ‘Bamboleo’, ‘Báilame‘ and ‘Bem, Bem, Maria’, not forgetting their two famous excursions into Spanish-language covering of Anglophone material in the form of their transformations of ‘My Way’ (as ‘A Mi Manera’) and ‘Hotel  California’. The amphitheatre was packed and a goodly proportion of the audience were visibly familiar with the songs. It was a seated concert in theory, but the Gipsy Kings soon had what felt like all of Wiltz and more dancing in the seats and aisles! In short, this was an unforgettable evening with a unique group of musicians, festively able to set their public alight!

**

Wiltz, un pequeño municipio ubicado en Luxemburgo, se ha ganado cierto renombre en los últimos tiempos con su festival de música de verano, y 2022 se ha revelado como año especial con el último espectáculo del festival, un concierto con nadie menos que los Gipsy Kings! Estos músicos de rumba-rock-flamenco (o más técnicamente rumba flamenca), actualmente contando con once elementos y, a pesar de cantar principalmente en lengua española, en realidad oriundos del sur de Francia, son conocidos por sus infecciosas canciones con refranes cantables, y por sus arreglos con base de guitarra y batería, eminentemente bailables.

En la amena noche veraniega del 16 de julio, los Gipsy Kings regalaron al público luxemburgués con algunos de sus más conocidos títulos, entre otros ‘Djobi Djoba’, ‘Bamboleo’, ‘Báilame‘ y ‘Bem, Bem, Maria’, sin olvidar sus famosas incursiones en versiones hispanohablantes de material anglófono, así como manifestadas en sus transformaciones de ‘My Way’ (como ‘A Mi Manera’) y ‘Hotel  California’. El anfiteatro estaba abarrotado y un buen porcentaje del público conocía visiblemente las canciones. Era en teoría un concierto de plazas sentadas, pero los Gipsy Kings pronto hicieron a lo que parecía todo Wiltz y más bailar en los asientos y pasillos! En breve, fue una noche inolvidable con un conjunto único de músicos ávidos de alumbrar a su audiencia!

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL ON MULTICULTURAL LITERATURE, Vol. 12, No. 2, July 2022

Released in print and electronic form is the latest issue (Vol. 12, No. 2, July 2002), of the International Journal On Multicultural Literature, edited from Thodupuzha (Kerala, India)  by Professor K.V. Dominic. The journal’s general site is at: http://www.ijmljournal.com/.

The varied contents of this issue include tribute articles in memory of the recently deceased poet Stephen Gill, as well as creative writing (short stories and poets’ corner) and studies of, inter alia, R.K. Narayan (Annu Sara Jose), Vivek Shraya (Isabella Vincent), Manas Bakshi (D.C. Chambial), translation of South Asian writers (Aditha Dissanayake)  and ‘pandemic literature’ (K. Balachandran).

The issue also includes my review of Salman Rushdie’s volume of essays The Languages of Truth: Essays 2003-2020 (pp. 143-146). This review was previously published on my blog on 1 July 2001 and was updated for IJML. It can be found online at: https://rollason.wordpress.com/2021/07/01/salman-rushdie-essayist-review-of-languages-of-truth/

The Bob Dylan Center: Dedicated Museum opens in Tulsa, 10 May 2022

In what is beyond doubt one of the United States’ major cultural events of 2022, 10 May saw the opening in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of the Bob Dylan Center, a multimedia, interactive museum dedicated to the life and work of the singer-songwriter considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of modern times. The new Center, located next door to the Woody Guthrie Center that celebrates the young folk singer’s first mentor, will also house the Bob Dylan Archive, already functioning elsewhere, and will thus have two faces, orientated respectively to bona fide researchers and to the general public.

Multiple articles, many of them lengthy, on this ambitious venture have appeared in various online sources, and here are links to three:

1) https://theblackwallsttimes.com/2022/05/10/bob-dylan-center-opens-in-tulsa-honoring-civil-rights-musician/

The Black Wall Street Times 10 May 2022

Bob Dylan Center Opens in Tulsa Honoring Civil Rights Musician

by Deon Osborne

2) https://www.hotpress.com/opinion/take-me-back-to-tulsa-the-bob-dylan-archive-is-open-may-2022-22904942

Hot Press, 9 May 2022

Take Me Back to Tulsa: the Bob Dylan Archive is Open May 2022

by Anne Margaret Daniel

3) https://forward.com/culture/501368/bob-dylan-archives-tulsa-oklahoma-jewish-george-kaiser-woody-guthrie/

Forward, 3 May 2022

Why are Bob Dylan’s archives in Tulsa?

by Seth Rogovoy

THE GHOST OF EDGAR ALLAN POE? – BOB DYLAN’S ‘THE PHILOSOPHY OF MODERN SONG’

Bob Dylan’s followers will already know that 1 November 2022 will see the publication of a brand new book from the songwriter’s hand (his third extended prose work), entitled ‘The Philosophy of Modern Song’. The pre-publication blurb at www.bobdylan.com calls the volume a ‘momentous artistic achievement’, offering a ‘master class on the art and craft of songwriting’ and featuring in-depth analyses of over 60 songs by the likes of Stephen Foster, Hank Williams, Nina Simone, Elvis Costello and many more.

Even before seeing the book, a thought occurs to me about the title. Bob Dylan is known to be an admirer of the work of Edgar Allan Poe (even naming him on his most recent album, 2020’s ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’) – in the corpus of whose essays may be found the titles ‘Philosophy of Furniture’, from 1840 and, famously and from 1846, ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, Poe’s oft-cited account of how he wrote his best-known poem, ‘The Raven’.

Could Dylan’s arresting title (‘philosophy’ might seem a surprising lexical choice for a book on song) be a conscious harkback to Edgar Allan Poe? More will be revealed in November!

St Patrick’s Day 2022: Concert in Luxembourg

St Patrick’s Day in its 2022 version had absolutely to be special, coming after two years without celebrations, Covid oblige. Luxembourg , home to a substantial Irish community, was no exception, mounting a whole series of events and, notably, an exceptional concert of Irish music courtesy of the Syrkus  cultural centre in the locality of Roodt-sur-Syre near the German border.

March 17th’s event featured two Irish folk ensembles, opening with rising stars Na Leanai and continuing with the Kilkennys, established performers in the line of the Clancy Brothers or the Dubliners. Both had been booked to play Roodt two years ago, only to face a last-minute cancellation. For Na Leanai this was their first gig anywhere since 2020, a moving occasion indeed.

Hailing from County Down and all related, Na Leanai are: sisters Sorcha Turnbull (vocals, whistles, bodhran or Irish drums) and Eimear Keane (vocals); Fra Sands (vocals, guitar, keyboards); and Ryanne Sands (the group’s regular violinist but currently on maternity leave and replaced on this occasion by Cajun-style fiddler Annie). The combination of male and female voices and the various instrumental timbres all blend perfectly.   

The Kilkennys are an all-male four-piece, vocalists and instrumentalists all: Davey Cashin, Tommy Mackey, Robbie Campion and Mick Martin. Their multi-instrumentalism, encompassing guitars, mandolin, banjo, whistles, uillean pipes and bodhran, makes for a rich and rewarding sound.

Na Leanai’s set took in traditional numbers and folk standards including Lakes of Ponchartrain and a fine a capella performance of She Moved Through the Fair with Eimear on vocal, as well as their own anthemic compositions such as Bring’Em All In and Daughters and Sons, and a rendering of the Italian partisan classic Bella Ciao, re-dedicated in the current climate of war and violence to those now resisting in Europe.

The Kilkennys kicked off with a rousing version of The Wild Rover, perhaps the best-known of all Irish songs, and went on to embrace a range of folk evergreens including Arthur McBride, Only Our Rivers Run Free, Rocky Road to Dublin, and, in a superb encore, the unforgettable Wild Mountain Thyme (aka Will Ye Go, Lassie?).

Both performances overflowed with vital energy and musicianly enthusiasm: it would be hard to prefer one over the other, and indeed the Kilkennys’ encores saw the return to the stage of members of Na Leanai to join them! Irish music is a collaborative pursuit, and this already special evening had its charm intensified in the musicians’ shared homage to the spirit of a Saint Patrick’s Day that was different from the rest!

**

And a quick note for followers of Bob Dylan: two of the songs played, ‘Arthur McBride’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, have been the object of official recordings by the master himself (the latter several times). Indeed, the Kilkennys announced their rendering of ‘McBride’ as following the classic version by Paul Brady, which is also that used by Dylan in his cover version. Dylan has also performed ‘Lakes of Ponchartrain’ live.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION – WALTER SCOTT AND AN ORIGIN FOR THE GROUP’S NAME?

The legendary UK folk-rock group Fairport Convention need no introduction to lovers of folk or neo-folk music, with a rolling membership over decades including some of the most important names in that world, among them the late great female vocalist Sandy Denny and the still prolific Richard Thompson. Fairport’s album of 1969, Liege and Lief, is often considered to be folk-rock’s finest moment. The origins of the group’s somewhat arcane name have been charted in the past, but the last word is perhaps yet to be said.

It is known that in the mid-1960s an early avatar of the group used to rehearse in a largish house located in the Fortis Green district of the north London borough of Haringey, built around 1900 and going under the name of Fairport House, or just plain Fairport. It belonged to the family of founder member Simon Nicol but was later converted into bedsits, one of the tenants being another group member, Ashley Hutchings. Fairport House was thus umbilically connected with the emerging group, to which its name became attached –  the place where the budding folk-rock musicians convened as … Fairport Convention. The story is narrated by Patrick Humphries in Strange Affair, his 1996 biography of Richard Thompson: Humphries tells the tale of how the name Fairport Convention was coined by a friend of Simon Nicol’s. But why was the house called Fairport in the first place? On that, Strange Affair is silent.

I would not have taken the matter further had it not been that recently I began reading (and have now finished) The Antiquary, a novel published in 1816 by none other than Scotland’s national novelist, Sir Walter Scott (Penguin Classics edition, 1998). This, Scott’s third novel, is set in and around an imaginary Scottish small town and seaport, believed to have been based on Arbroath in Angus – but in the novel called … Fairport!

Could this fictional place lie behind the naming (by the original owner?) of the house that gave its appellation to Fairport Convention? It is far from impossible: houses have been named before now after novels or elements in novels. In French-speaking countries no-one would be surprised to find apartment blocks named after characters from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. In Scotland, Edinburgh’s Waverley station and the Heart of Midlothian football club both share their names with novels by Scott.

A connection with Walter Scott would make sense as part of the ambiance around Fairport Convention’s music. Scott’s seminal collection of traditional ballads from 1801, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, included material like ‘Tam Lin’ or the celebrated ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ that getting on for two centuries later would be recorded by Fairport. Richard Thompson, meanwhile, tells us in his recent memoir Beeswing that as a child he read three of Scott’s novels, Waverley, Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. We do not know if he also read The Antiquary or if he would have recognised the link when he entered the portals of Fairport, but the connection can at least provide an interesting literary-musical intertext.

Meanwhile I would be interested to know if anyone has tracked down more data on this!

Note : For Patrick Humphries’ account of the group’s formation and naming and the Fairport house and name, see his Richard Thompson – Strange Affair : the Biography (London : Virgin Books, 1996), chapter 3 (pp. 34-47) ; for Richard Thompson on reading Scott, see his book Beeswing: Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice 1967-1975 (London : Faber and Faber, 2021), p. 98.

Note 2 (added 3 March 2022): I passed this piece to Patrick Humphries and am pleased to relate that a subsequent post on his Facebook page elicited replies from both Simon Nicol and Linda Thompson, Richard Thompson’s onetime spouse. Simon Nicol said that the house’s previous owner, a Dr Munro or Monroe, was Scottish, a fact certainly interesting with regard to my speculation!

ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE, Luxembourg – EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2022

The locality where I live – Esch-sur-Alzette, situated in the south of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg near the French border and enjoying the role of the Grand Duchy’s second city – is now living one of the most exciting times in its history, having been chosen as European Capital of Culture for 2022. It shares this distinction with two other European cities, Kaunas in Lithuania and Novi Sad in Serbia. If Esch is the epicentre of E22, as the year-long festival has been dubbed, there will also be multiple activities in other municipalities of southern Luxembourg and across the French frontier.

Yesterday 26 February was the date of  the official launch of E22, as the year-long festival is known, and Esch’s main square, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, colourfully lit up, was the designated venue for REMIX OPENING, an event made up of a series of eloquent inaugural speeches interspersed with live music. Dignitaries spoke representing Luxembourg (including the mayor of Esch), France, the European Union and more, the main languages of communication being Luxembourgish and French.

The festival having been officially opened, the coast is clear for a multitude of creative manifestations spanning all the arts. The current situation in Europe and its challenge to European values was evoked, as alas had to be the case, with the bridge-building role of culture now appearing more important than ever. It was affirmed that there can be no Europe without culture, and no culture without Europe. Meanwhile, it should never be forgotten that Luxembourg is a multicultural and multilingual country, and it is to be hoped that the minority and migrant cultures will be fully represented as the cultural events unfold. It is now over to the inhabitants of Esch to express their creativity and support their fellow citizens’ creative acts, over 2022 and beyond.