Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Revolutionary Yawn

Given bassist Charlie Haden’s reputation for extremist politics, an interview titled “The Mind of a Revolutionary” in this month’s Downbeat conjures up expectations for some bomb-throwing from the composer of “Chairman Mao” and “Song for Che.” Surprisingly, it is a rather tepid in terms of political rhetoric, as it focuses almost solely on revolutions of a musical nature (perhaps the Democracy Now crowd will cry bait-and-switch).

Interviewed by a star-struck Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, the printed feature is dominated by discussions of Ornette Coleman’s music, and Haden’s insights here are quite valuable and well worth publishing and reading. Only late in the printed interview does Iverson prompt a political statement:

Iverson: . . . I heard that in Litchfield you called for impeachment to the audience.
Haden: I sure did.”

Yawn. Unfortunately, belief that your personal political convictions should take precedence over the results of a democratic election qualify as pretty tame language from the hard left these days. Regardless, it was not followed-up in print, or in the online supplement. One wonders whether that was a Downbeat editorial choice or Haden’s heart just was not in it on that day.

Haden played on some incredible sessions, particularly with Coleman. However, his hero-worship for dictators like Mao and Castro, and terrorists like Che deserves to be challenged. It would indeed be timely to ask him about the human rights movement, slowly growing in Cuba, despite brutal government reprisals.

For instance, how does he feel about the government throwing teenagers in prison for the crime of wearing white bracelets? How would characterize Vaclav Havel’s work on behalf of Cuban democracy advocates? His reaction to the recent awarding of the German Dr. Rainer Hildebrandt Medal for human rights to the Cuban political prisoners Dr. Oscar Biscet and Normando Hernandez would be particularly telling. However, Iverson, obviously in awe of the bassist, was hardly the interviewer to raise tough questions. The fact remains it is one of the more pleasant Haden interviews published.