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Birmingham Calling: Duran Duran … Exhibited?

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Not everyone dreams about a vacation to Birmingham, England.

But Duranies do.

Birmingham is to a Duran Duran addict what Liverpool is to Beatles fans. Duranies long for a time machine to travel to the legendary Rum Runner, the night club where Duran Duran formed in 1978.

In a Duranie’s imagination, Birmingham is a mythical place where Brummies drink in pubs, boys dash out in eyeliner driving Aston Martins and girls have a chance to land in bed with a dreamy lead singer.

Birmingham natives say that is far from the truth, but it’s hard to convince a Duranie.

John Hemming, director of the Birmingham Music Heritage project and a rock historian, knows a lot about the British city. Hemming runs a website focused on the city’s musical history, and he is currently helping to organize an exhibit featuring Duran Duran in Birmingham.

“The goal of our project is to inspire future generations of musicians and alike from Birmingham to pick up an instrument and join the many famous bands and artists that Birmingham has produced,” Hemming tells me via email.  “We want to keep the music heritage of the city alive with films, exhibitions and live music.”

Birmingham’s musical legacy from 1965 to 1985, which Hemming has chosen to highlight on his website, includes an eclectic mix of bands and singers – Black Sabbath, ELO, Joan Armatrading, Musical Youth, Traffic, The Beat, Toyah Willcox and UB40, to name a few.

Hemming says that the city’s rich culture has always been – and continues to be – overshadowed by London, Manchester and Liverpool. It’s a place that has struggled with identity issues for decades, perpetually unclear of its place in British history.

“It was one of the first cities ever to face terrorism during the early 70’s so I think the city is still shell-shocked, but I think this has made Brummys the people we are today,” Hemming says.

In 1974, Birmingham was rocked by pub bombings that killed 21 people and injured 182. The British government blamed the IRA. And, in turn, introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allowed suspects to be held up to seven days without charge and allowed people to be deported from Great Britain to either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

But Hemming says, regardless of its past, that Brummys are “quite laid back and friendly.”

He also says that the city’s suburbs may have helped create some of the genius that emerged from Birmingham.

“Apart from the city centre visit the suburbs and then you can understand why the likes Black Sabbath formed and conquered the world…… its a dump!”

In the late 1970s, Birmingham, like much of England, was seeking an escape from gnashing punk energy. A perfect antidote? New Wave.

“Bands such as Japan [and] Tubeway Army were churning out a new sound of synth pop,” Hemming says. “In Birmingham bands such as the Beat and Dexys were breaking big due to the two-tone explosion in 79-80 in Coventry, but in the clubs something different was happening. Peacock Punks as they were called started to challenge fashion and people were making their own clothes and just being so experimental.”

But those who loved fashion didn’t call themselves New Romantics. Instead, Hemming says, media invented New Romantics.

“This was just boys and girls wearing make up and being flamboyant and having fun,” he recalls. “I can remember personally sharing eyeliner with the girls and blusher. In fact if you didn’t wear make up then you were really a geek! The bands in the underground were Fashion and Duran, it was a mix of disco, punk and synth.”

Duran Duran’s launch from the Rum Runner to global sex symbols didn’t happen for every band. Hemming said that one band that should have hit the big time but failed was Fashion. Duran Duran actually opened for Fashion, and Fashion supported the B-52s on the Athens band’s first UK tour.

“They really should have made it big,” Hemming says. “Their second album ‘Frabrique’ went out on the Arista label and made the top 20. The single ‘Move On’ was a great song but lead singer Dee Harris quit the band on the eve of the BBC’s ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. The band had partied too much and finished themselves before fame and fortune.

But not Duran Duran.

Hemming said he remembers that “Girls on Film” version one was written by former lead singer Andy Wickett while working nights at Cadbury’s.

“He sold the rights to the song to the then management for £600,” Hemming says. “The song was then revisited by Simon who put his own stamp on it. But Andy was paid again by the management to teach Simon how to sing some of the songs.”

The Duran Duran exhibit, if Hemming pulls it off, will focus on the first years of the band leading to their first self-titled album that includes “Planet Earth” and “Girls on Film.” It will explore the band’s early line-ups and various incarnations as they played in clubs around Birmingham.

A documentary featuring interviews with Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor has already been filmed. Rhodes was a founding member along with bassist John Taylor. A photography exhibit by Paul Edmond is also planned. Edmond documented the early days of Birmingham’s new wave scene at The Cedar Club, Holy City Zoo and the Rum Runner.

Hemming says the exhibit will also feature designs by New Romantic fashion pioneers, Jane Karn and Patti Bell, who dressed Duran Duran at times.

“Patti Bell was renowned for selecting the best dressed to enter the Rum Runner and turning down anyone who was normal,” Hemming says.

For Duranies the most thrilling part of the exhibit, perhaps? Rhodes will donate some of his artwork and photography. Jody Craddock, a premier football player, has also painted what Hemming calls a “stunning portrait” of singer Simon Le Bon.

But don’t ready the passport just yet. Hemming needs money, sponsors and a location to pull off his plan.

“To make this happen we need the correct funding and the perfect location,” he said. “We are looking for funds around the 50k mark to totally offer something special and curate material for such an exhibition.”

Surely, some old New Romantics have a pound or two to spare.


Written by suziparker1313

August 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Lara Logan Assault: For Female Reporters, the Added Peril of Turbulent Places

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Lara Logan appeared fearless and intrepid when she reported from war zones — exactly what you want in a foreign correspondent.

The reporter “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating” while covering the celebration in Tahrir Square on Feb. 11, according to CBS News, Logan’s employer. Egyptian women and soldiers rescued her from a hostile mob that had separated her from her film crew, and she is now in an American hospital recovering.

Logan’s assault is a reminder that reporting is a dangerous business. According to Reporters Without Borders, five reporters have already been killed in 2011, and 152 are imprisoned. Since 1992, 850 reporters have been killed around the world.

But for women journalists, sexual assault and harassment add a dark undercurrent to the perils of the news business.

A 2007 article in the Columbia Journalism Review exploring the threats to female foreign correspondents singles out Egypt: “The Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, cites rape threats against female reporters in Egypt who were seen as government critics.”

The CJR article states, “Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare.” They face more sexual harassment and rape than their male counterparts. They are subjected to unwanted advances and “lewd come-ons . . . especially in places where Western women are viewed as promiscuous.”

Such risk is nothing new to Logan. A South African native, she entered Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, by begging a Russian Embassy clerk in London to give her an expedited visa for travel there. She followed up that stint with one as an embedded journalist in Iraq.

Earlier this month, Logan and her crew were detained overnight by the Egyptian army and interrogated. She told Esquire’s “The Politics Blog” that during the ordeal her captors blindfolded her and kept her upright. She vomited frequently. They finally gave her intravenous fluids and released her and her crew.

Logan’s desire to venture into danger zones mirrors the brave actions of female war reporters who came before her. During World War II, many female correspondents had to write under male pseudonyms. They were banned from press briefings and had to submit stories after their male counterparts.

Dickey Chapelle was a World War II photojournalist, posted with the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. She cultivated a signature look of fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic Harlequin glasses and pearl earrings, but loved the grittiness of war. In 1956, the petite photographer covered the Hungarian Revolution, where she was captured and jailed for seven weeks.

In her forties, Chapelle covered the Vietnam War. In 1965, she was the first American female war correspondent killed in action. Famed war photographer Henri Huet photographed Chapelle receiving last rites. She was given a full Marine burial with six Marine honor guards.

Not much has changed in the way of training for such work. In the early days of war reporting, women wrote their own rules for covering conflict — and for surviving. Surprisingly, even in the 21st century, many women travel to war zones with little training. The BBC is the only major news organization that offers special safety instruction for female journalists that is taught by women, according to CJR.

But training or precautions noted in the Handbook for Journalists may not have prepared Logan for the situation she faced on Friday. A mob of 200 abruptly surrounded her crew, from which she quickly became separated. Such tragedies are common during chaotic events.

In the hours after news broke of Logan’s assault, many of her colleagues sent well wishes and prayers. The Committee to Protect Journalists chairman, Paul Steiger, said in a statement, “We have seen Lara’s compassion at work while helping journalists who have faced brutal aggression while doing their jobs. She is a brilliant, courageous, and committed reporter.” (Logan is a CPJ board member.)

But stupidity also flew on the Internet regarding the attack on Logan. Freelance journalist Nir Rosen, who has also covered the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, called her a “war monger” via Twitter and said she would become a martyr. He then attempted an apology but added, “I’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get.” He later issued a more sincere apology. (All for naught, as it turns out. On Wednesday he resigned his position as a teaching fellow at New York University. An official at the school called his comments “insensitive and completely unacceptable.”)

Good old-fashioned sexism and jealousy still rule, and it’s especially true in the still mostly man’s world of war reporting.

Lately, it’s become much too common for comedians and pundits to criticize and taunt reporters. Conservative pundit Ann Coulter joked last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that more reporters needed to be jailed. Sarah Palin often chides reporters and calls them “lame-stream media.”

Perhaps those who engage in such sneering should walk a mile or two in Logan’s combat boots.

Bill Clinton’s Lasting Legacy May Be Haiti’s Earthquake Recovery Effort

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Bill Clinton’s love for Haiti began in Arkansas.

In 1975, he and wife Hillary traveled to the Caribbean nation for a delayed honeymoon. When he became president nearly two decades later, Haiti was on his early agenda, with the goal of ending the violent military dictatorship there and restoring its elected president.

After Clinton left the White House, his work continued in Haiti through his Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations. When the devastating 7.0 earthquake struck the country a year ago, on Jan. 12, Clinton traveled to the country six days later with supplies.

The former president, who is the U.N.’s special envoy for Haiti, has returned to mark the one-year anniversary of the quake and to evaluate progress and problems. He has visited 13 times since the catastrophe that killed more than 200,000 people and left millions homeless.

In Little Rock, where Clinton’s fascination with the Third World country ignited, the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center is currently hosting an exhibit, “Haiti: Building Back Better,” that celebrates the beleaguered nation’s history and outlines its current state.

“The Haitian people are reimagining their future,” Clinton says in a film that welcomes exhibit visitors. “It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick, but it can be done. There are great reasons to hope.”

The exhibit, mounted in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, begins on the museum’s first floor with a history of Haiti and a display of pre-Columbian stone artifacts. But it quickly jumps to the 1990s when Clinton, in his first 18 months as president, worked with the United Nations and the Organization of American States to strengthen economic sanctions against the ruling junta — Haiti’s eighth — and its surrogates. When Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned as president in 1994, Clinton called it “the beginning of a new era of hope for the people of Haiti . . . and a victory for freedom throughout the world.”

News footage of Aristide and Clinton at the Presidential Palace plays on a continual loop.

Historical points, which remind visitors that Clinton has worked to change the course of Haiti’s history, are made amid displays of vivid papier-mache masks, vibrant paintings given to the Clintons (one by director Jonathan Demme) and glittery gifts from current Haitian President Rene Preval. For example, one display spotlights Hillary Clinton’s two-day visit to the country in November 1998. The purpose of the trip was “to encourage the people and assess progress” after Hurricane Georges. The floor-to-ceiling display also highlights the Clinton administration’s efforts to curb deforestation in the country. The impact: By 1998, more than 7 million trees had been planted in the country by Peace Corps volunteers.

Visitors exit the first part of the exhibit through two large doors covered with a massive picture of the presidential palace. A time stamp and date are on the picture: 4:52 p.m., Jan. 12, 2010.

On the library’ third floor, past the life-size replica of the Oval Office, two doors feature a completely different picture — the presidential palace in ruin. The time stamp: 4:53 p.m., Jan. 12, 2010. It takes visitors longer to reach the third floor than it did for the building to collapse in the 7.0 earthquake.

The exhibit’s second half shows a country torn apart by the quake It bluntly details the staggering statistics — 2.3 million people displaced; 220,000 fatalities; 300,000 injuries.

Chunks from Holy Trinity Cathedral’s historic murals offer a concrete glimpse of the disaster’s impact for those who may never visit Haiti. The Smithsonian is currently helping to restore the church, which has been destroyed six times in its history.

The final displays prop up the Clinton Foundation and its Global Initiative work in Haiti and show footage of President Obama asking Clinton and former President George W. Bush to raise money for the relief effort. But it’s the last feature — the story of the Iron Market — that highlights Clinton’s talent for uniting forces to help Haiti.

The Iron Market was built in France in the 1890s and shipped to Port-au-Prince to become the city’s core as a beloved bazaar where an array of goods, from dried starfish to artisan wares, were sold. Before the earthquake, it had already suffered a major fire and parts of it were already in rubble.

On Tuesday, the Clinton Foundation tweeted: “I just arrived at the opening of the historic Iron Market, a true symbol of Building Back Better.” The tweet included a picture of the restored structure.

Denis O’Brien, an Irish billionaire who is founder and chairman of Digicel, the largest mobile telecommunications operator in the Caribbean, had been interested in restoring the dilapidated market before the earthquake. Afterward, O’Brien, whose company was already the single largest private sector investor in Haiti, moved quickly to do so. In turn, he also became a facilitator for the Clinton Global Initiative’s Haiti Action Network. O’Brien has been named the Goodwill Ambassador for Port-au-Prince by its mayor. He invested $12 million of his own money into the restoration and has committed to oversee the Iron Market for 50 years.

The new Iron Market, painted in its original bright red with a clock tower and minarets, meets international codes, features solar panels and was built to resist hurricanes and earthquakes. It could become an engine to help fuel Haiti’s economy.

“When you look at what you have achieved here, this should be a sign to you that you can have success in the reconstruction, in education, in health care,” Clinton said Tuesday at the Iron Market’s opening.

Clinton’s work, and hope, for Haiti may just be his most lasting legacy.

During the 1990s, Haiti seemed like a blip on the radar screen of a U.S. administration trying to tackle myriad world and domestic issues simultaneously. The Little Rock exhibit, and Clinton’s visit to Haiti this week, show that he is still married to a place he discovered 35 years ago.

Welcome, 2011: Sarah Palin and Julian Assange on the Radar Screen

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Ready or not, 2011 is here.

Consider some of these upcoming historic milestones as the new year arrives. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of Jefferson Davis becoming president of the Confederacy, the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech (actually, his 1941 State of the Union address), the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s first presidential news conference — and the first ever to be broadcast live on television), and 25 years since the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

But 2011 will have its own special history, and here are some of the events that will help write it:

Sarah Palin’s presidential decision: Palin will have to decide this year whether to run for president. In order to compete in the 2012 primaries, she will have to soon start building a ground game in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Sure, she has her reality television show, two books, and husband Todd may show up on the next “Dancing With the Stars,” but Palin must do much more than be a household name to win a crowded GOP primary.

Sarah Palin, Julian AssangeThe former Alaska governor accumulated a lot of favors in the midterm election by supporting winning candidates in key presidential states — such as Nikki Haley in South Carolina — via her Sarah PAC. But she has a lot of work to do on the popularity front. A recent poll by CNN/Opinion Research shows that Palin would offer the weakest challenge to President Obama among current top-tier GOP contenders.

Time is ticking for Palin to make a decision because there are . . .

GOP primary debates: Yes, they’re already in the works. The Reagan Presidential Foundation will kick off the election season by hosting a panel of GOP presidential candidates in the spring. Then there’s June 7, 2011: That’s the date of the first presidential debate in New Hampshire for the 2012 GOP primary. The candidate forum will be sponsored by the New Hampshire Union Leader, WMUR-TV, and CNN. Likely participants: Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, outgoing Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Wild cards: Palin, Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush.

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding: The royal couple will tie the knot on Friday, April 29 at the thousand-year-old Westminster Abbey in London. The wedding may not draw as massive a crowd as gathered for Williams’ parents’ nuptials 30 years ago in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the media will certainly provide massive coverage. Prime Minister David Cameron has already designated the date as a public holiday.

The event will require major security, the cost of which could top $8 million. British special forces will go undercover with Afghan war veterans from the Special Reconnaissance Regiment to watch for any potential attacks around Westminster Abbey. The wedding will also boost tourism — one company has launched a walking tour of locations that helped “define the next royal golden couple.” Also on tap: Kate is soon to be immortalized in wax by Madame Tussauds, and the royal couple will be featured on a British coin.

Julian Assange’s autobiography: No date has been set for the book’s release, which will be published sometime in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf and Britain’s Cannongate. The WikiLeaks founder is fighting extradition from England to Sweden, where he faces questioning for alleged sex crimes. Assange has said he doesn’t want to write a book but must do so in order to cover his ballooning legal costs and to continue funding his whistleblower website, which has angered and embarrassed governments worldwide by releasing hundreds of thousands of confidential cables and other documents.

To capitalize on (and extend) Assange’s 15 minutes of fame, Knopf will likely have to publish the book sooner rather than later. Assange will also likely cash in on a movie adaption of the book, especially since his story seems to have all the components — mystery, intrigue and sex — that sell tickets.

The space shuttle retirement: In 2011, America’s space shuttle will blast into orbit for the final time. The last scheduled flight is in early April. NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet after 30 years of service to make way for future programs that will send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 — part of Obama’s new space exploration initiative. The president cancelled NASA’s Constellation program, which was developing new vehicles to send astronauts back to the moon. The end of the shuttle means that the United States will soon have to hitch rides with the Russians to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.

Last year, former astronaut (and senator) John Glenn condemned the cancellation of the shuttle program. In a statement, he lamented that “for the next five to ten years, the launches of U.S. astronauts into space will be viewed in classrooms and homes in America only through the courtesy of Russian TV. For the ‘world’s greatest spacefaring nation,’ this is hard to accept.”

Mayor Jon Gnarr, the Best Party, and Iceland’s Punk Politics

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It’s a punk rock Cinderella story. For Iceland, that is.

Jon Gnarr, 43, a satirical comedian and punk rocker who once toured with Bjork’s former band, the Sugarcubes, created his Best Party as a joke in December 2009. Six months later, he’s running the show as mayor of Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city.

The Best Party consists of rebellious punk rockers who hung around Reykjavik’s main bus station in the late 1970s and 1980s. Think New York’s CBGB’s circa 1978.

It’s a dream only anarchy-famished punks in the United States can imagine. What if Patti Smith became mayor of New York? The city’s creative economy might flourish and the World Trade Organization – Patti once wrote a WTO protest song – would never gather in the Big Apple.

Gnarr campaigned on a comedic ticket with the country’s bohemian class joining his cause. They wrote political lyrics to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” and filmed a video:

OK, Tina Turner songs aren’t exactly punk anthems, but the creative endeavor wooed voters. Best Party candidates now hold six of the 15 city council seats, just two short of a majority. A slate of creative types like Einar Orn Benediktsson, a former singer with Bjork in the Sugarcubes who also sits on the board of a record company, and Elsa Hrafnhildur Yeoman, a self-employed artist, will now make policy decisions about Reykjavik’s future.

The Best Party’s victory has its roots in punk’s artistic, in-your-face political expression.

“While Jon Gnarr is a well-known comedian in Iceland, voters probably knew next to nothing about the other candidates on the party lists,” Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson, a political science professor at the University of Iceland, told Politics Daily.

The Best Party didn’t have any clear policies on issues concerning Reykjavik, said Kristinsson.

“So, what were people voting for?” Kristinsson said. “Clearly not any particular solution to the problems of Reykjavik. Their vote for the Best Party was a comment on the other alternatives, namely the old four parties which have dominated the political scene in Iceland since the 1930s.”

Kristinsson said that an April report by Iceland’s “truth commission” showed Icelandic politicians in an unflattering light. The anger and paranoia fueled by the report only helped the Best Party.

Gnarr campaigned on common sense, although some call it sardonic humor.

He promised to bring a polar bear in the zoo and offer free towels at public swimming pools. Both are actually serious issues in Iceland. In 2008, the first polar bear to swim to Iceland in 15 years was shot by police. Gnarr’s solution? Capture the endangered bears and put them in the zoo.

Even Gnarr’s free towel message makes sense. Like any good mayor, he wants to attract tourists to his city. If Reykjavik’s public pools with their seawater and sulfur baths offer free towels, then they can reach accredited spa status under European Union rules. Spas equal more tourists.

Gnarr also made a promise to a group of kindergarten students to create a Disneyland at the capital’s airport. A little extreme, but what politician hasn’t made a promise he can’t keep? He has four years to do it. Under Icelandic law, an early municipal election cannot be called for the next four years.

Parliamentary elections, however, can be held early, which happens when the country is politically shaky, as it is now with its financial crisis. But Kristinsson said an early parliamentary election is unlikely because the four established political parties fear fringe groups have gained too much power.

If that happened, Bjork might just win the prime minister’s seat.

Sure, Iceland has problems. The global financial meltdown collapsed all three of the country’s major banks after they faced difficulties with refinancing short-term debt. That, in turn, has created economic chaos in Iceland with the country facing a depression.

Earlier this year, Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted, paralyzing large chunks of European air traffic for weeks. In turn, tourism boomed during the eruption as tourists made pilgrimages to the volcano. But the tourism bump is now tapering off, which only adds to economic troubles.

But it is also a progressive country where punks can be politicians and politicians can be happily gay.

Last weekend, the country’s prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, 68, married her long-time partner, Jonina Leosdottir, a writer. The couple chose to marry on the first day that Iceland legalized same-sex marriage as a “union between two consenting adults regardless of sex.”

Those aspiring to change the United States, such as Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, might study Iceland for inspiration.

Biafra ran unsuccessfully for mayor of San Francisco in 1978 and president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket. Currently there’s a draft-Biafra-for-president-in-2012 movement.

As Generation X kids turn into 40-somethings, politics may be a perfect platform for these anti-establishment, anti-government types who long for social and political reform.

Punks are certainly more well-versed in the DIY mindset than a bunch of tea partiers. They have been self-publishing zines, organizing show promotions and starting record labels for years.

Gnarr’s election offers hope for all disenfranchised punks who still want to wring some sort of justice out of a two-party system. Politics is simply an extension of the DIY movement. As Biafra yowled in “Stars and Stripes of Corruption:

If we don’t try
If we just lie
If we can’t find
A way to do it better than this
Who will?

Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm