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Person of the year
No competition: it’s got to be righteous babe, Ani Difranco
Eamonn McCann, 14 Dec 2001
Poem of the year (see opposite), album of the year, indubitably the person of the year. What more can you say about Ani Difranco?
What you don’t say in her company is that she and Rage Against The Machine are the great hopes of American music.
I ventured this timid opinion during a late-night exchange in Shepherd’s Bush in February and was momentarily put in fear that she’d bite a lump out of me. “Rage Against the Machine,” she snarled with such sweet feeling that I backed away and almost tumbled off a balcony, “are part of the machine.”
She’d just played a sensational gig to a packed Empire audience of conscientised ecstatics, almost all of them youngsters to my rheumy eye and overwhelmingly women. She’s a folk punk-rocker with a razor-blade sensibility. Think Woodie Guthrie meets Michelle Shocked.
She’s an unfeasibly prolific writer and performer working entirely outside the maw of the machine. Wired into every aspect of contemporary cool, she reaches back to the Wobblies for her ethic. She has a voice of supple athleticism, with startling range of pitch and tone, and plays savage guitar with flamboyant virtuosity. She’s adorned with body-piercings, tattoos and proletarian credibility. She’s the poetess of anti-capitalism for the 21st century. She’s dizzyingly beaufiful, vibrant with sexiness, and strong, strong, like an Amazon.
She releases her work through Righteous Babe Records, a class of a cooperative. From Buffalo, just turned 30, she’s been on the road for 16 years, turning out albums since 1989. A reputation built almost entirely by word-of-mouth has blossomed serenely across the US and Europe until now she’s on the brink of breakout into everybody’s consciousness.
This year’s Revellings And Reckonings isn’t so much a double-CD as two sequential CDs released together. She revels in the music, then reckons the cost. On half the songs of each album, she’s either solo or she’s the band, playing all the instruments. The other half features the unbuttoned brass and pile-driving power of her tour-toughened orchestra. This is from ‘School Night’, on Reckoning.
“She went over to his apartment
Clutching her decision
And he said, did you come here to tell me goodbye?
So she built a skyscraper of procrastination
And then she leaned out the twenty-fifth floor window of her reply
What of the mother whose house is in flames
And both of her children are in their beds crying
And she loves them both with the whole of her heart
But she knows she can only carry one at a time?
She’s choking on the smoke of unthinkable choices
She is haunted by the voices of so many desires
She’s bent over from the business of begging forgiveness
While frantically running around putting out fires...
When somebody writes like that I just feel like saying – hey, listen.
You still have time before the year is done to make the acquaintance of Ani Difranco, and boost the odds on your next year being better.
It has been a year of unexpectedly rapid progress for George W. Bush on the military front.
In January, just before his inauguration, Bush told incoming Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to “challenge the status quo inside the Pentagon (and) to develop a strategy necessary to have a force equipped for warfare in the 21st century”.
Shortly after his inauguration, on February 13th, Bush spelt out the shape of the force he had in mind: “On land, our heavy forces will be lighter. Our light forces will be more lethal. All will be easier to deploy and sustain. In the air, we will be able to strike across the world with pinpoint accuracy”.
The US would be able “to fight and prevail on any conceivable battlefield”.
Surveying the altered images from Afghanistan at year’s end, Bush can be well-pleased that his plans are farther advanced than he’d thought possible.
Clauswitz was wrong, or at least had it incomplete, when he said war is the continuation of politics by other means. Sure, war is politics continued – but suddenly, dramatically, speeded up.
In US political terms, Bush was never an isolationist, but he was always an “America First” man. That’s to say, he has never opposed US intervention abroad as a matter of principle, only US intervention not purpose-designed for US specific interests.
To an extent this has been true of all US administrations. But at a rhetorical level, and sometimes in reality, US forces during and in the aftermath of the Cold War were deployed on foot of treaties, or in support of allies, or so as to maintain the stability of this or that regional alliance. The Bush presidency presaged a more sharply nuanced approach. In August last year, future vice-president Cheney, having cited the Somalia fiasco as an example of inappropriate intervention, mused that “The really difficult part is going to be deciding what’s of sufficient significance in terms of US interests so it’s worth the commitment of resources and potential loss of American lives”.
September 11th clarified the issue marvellously. A vital US interest – not to be seen to be humiliated before the world and to wipe out a shuddering threat to the interests of the State – was instantly engaged. In response, the aim of being able to strike across the world with precision and to prevail on unlikely terrain was transformed from an objective into an immediate imperative.
The usual suspect politicians and commentators intone that September 11th was a critical plot-point and has sent the narrative of international relations spinning off in a new and different direction, which was nonsense. The time-frame has been concertinaed, but there is no evidence of any kind that the intentions of the western powers towards the rest of the world have shifted an inch, no reason to suppose that wars for control of the world’s resources won’t be the defining characteristic of the future, no escaping the fact that the choice before us concerns which side we are going to be on.
The award for most imaginative seasonal thought goes to George W. explaining to a press conference why it has been necessary to restrict Thanksgiving and Xmas celebrations at the White House this year.
“The people responsible for the murders of September 11th, the evil ones, they don’t honour or celebrate Thanksgiving or Xmas”.
Takes us back to that other memorable observation of the relationship between mainly Muslim Third World folks and the season that’s in it. How was it Sir Geldof put it?... ”Don’t they know it’s Ramadan at all”.