Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Memoir #1

[I'm going to write a memoir because I've been feeling very nostalgic and backwards looking as of late.]

There is a lot of talk in the US about whether or not poetry should be political (For example Reginald Sheppherd). This was never an issue for me, I've always seen art as political, and I think this is largely due to the cultural climate in which I grew up.

In the 1970s, all art in Sweden was highly political and didactic. This was the era when many artists, poets and actors gathered into prog rock bands, which in Sweden means didactic political music. The best example of this is probably Nationalteatern, a band of shifting membership which also put on plays for children. Performances and plays were meant to raise class consciousness. I have wonderful memories of political puppet theaters and anti-nuclear power games etc.

There was a big blue-and-yellow penis-sculpture in my hometown (Lund; the town is still there, but I don't know about the penis). I asked my mom: "Why is there a big penis in that yard?" She said, "It's art and it's making a connection between nationalism and sexism."

My dad was a journalist and we went to a lot of events and parties that involved the cultural elite (people are never above hypocracy) of Skane, the province where we lived. This scene included a bunch of prog-rockers who'd become folk singers (Bjorn Afzelius and Mikael Wiehe) and artists of various sorts. I remember one guy who had built his house chaotically around trees and rocks etc. A bit like the Situationist architecture. In fact Jorgen Nash, the brother of Asgar Jorn, and his crew of renegade Situationists built a commune in Skane (it's still there, but now it's fancy).

I have a very wonderful memory of Mikael Wiehe singing folk songs on a backporch. Here he is at some kind of recent tribute concert for himself playing with Thastrom, the idol of my teenage years:

Those parties were great, though I always got in trouble for beating up some famous artist's kid. My family didn't really fit in.

I'm not particularly in love with the prog rock, but it is an interesting phenomena. It was not just the songs that were explicitly political, but the whole package. On the record sleeves, the band appears rather like a family than a rock band - men, women and children, dressed casually. The songs are not particularly virtuosic or original. For example, Nationalteatern's most famous song "Barn av var tid" ("Children of our Age") is a blatant rip-off of "All Along the Watchtower." THe politics matter; originality is not so important.

When I was really young my dad used to bike down to the beach with me in a little seat on the back of the bike and together we would sing "The International" the whole way.

An anarchist named Hakan lived in our backyard. He wrote a poem about me called "The Little Anarchist" which was published somewhere. My parents let us dress ourselves so I would always get my clothes wrong (I still do). Plus I was very badly behaved. I think that's why I was the natural, ideal "anarchist" according to Hakan.

Once Hakan had a party and somebody stole my mom's copy of "Velvet Underground & Nico." That would be worth somethign these days - the removable banana etc.

My family was involved in a kind of left-wing scene, but my dad was quite famously right-wing in his beliefs. In the 1970s he was Swedish Television's correspondent in Eastern Europe and he was very critical of the communist regimes. For this he was frequently put in jail. Jail radicalized him even more. I remember once after he'd been in jail in Poland for a few months, he came back (bringing awesome cheap eastern european toys)and told me about a riot in G'Dansk. He said he'd been in jail with mothers who had been beaten to pulp. He ended up becoming a bit too involved with the anti-communist underground (the Croatian underground met in our living room) and Swedish TV moved him to Germany in the 1980s.

I have many fond memories of Eastern Europe. The people were so much nicer than the Swedes. Everywhere I went, people were giving me cheap toys. I loved "Bolek and Lolek", a friendly, commie children's cartoon. But I disliked the food. Once Lech Walesa bought me somethign that translated as "fairytale soup." I refused to eat it. My dad was very embarassed.


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