Galang: Ten Great M.I.A Moments. Happy Birthday to M.I.A, 40 Today.

1.  M.I.A ‘Galang’

(from the album Arular, 2005).

2.  M.I.A ‘Paper Planes’

(from the album Kala, 2007).

3.  M.I.A ‘Pull Up the People’

(from the album Arular, 2005).

4.  M.I.A ‘Bird Flu’

(from the album Kala, 2007).

5.  M.I.A ‘Born Free’

(from the album Maya, 2010).

6.  M.I.A ‘Bad Girls’

(from the album Matangi, 2013).

7.  M.I.A ‘Bucky Done Gun’

(from the album Arular, 2005).

8.  M.I.A ‘It Takes A Muscle’

(from the album Maya, 2010).

9.  M.I.A ‘Bring the Noize’

(from the album Matangi, 2013).

10. M.I.A ‘Broader Than A Border’

(from the album Matahdatah, 2015).

Song of the Day: Biography in Music (Day Three). “This is the Story of the Hurricane, The Man the Authorities Came to Blame”.

Hurricane is a protest song written by Bob Dylan for his 1976 album, Desire.  The song, co-written with Jacques Levy, is based on the imprisonment of American / Canadian boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter.  It compiles the alleged acts of racism and profiling against Carter, which led to his trial and wrongful imprisonment.  He was later freed via a petition of habeas corpus after spending almost twenty years in prison.

Carter (6th May, 1937 – 20th April 2014) was arrested in 1966, along with his friend John Artis, for a triple homicide committed in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey.  Police stopped Carter’s car and brought him and Artis, also in the car, to the scene of the crime.  When the police carried out their search of the car, they found ammunition which fitted the weapons used in the murder.  Police took no fingerprints at the crime scene and at that point in time, did not have the facilities to conduct a paraffin test for gunshot residue.  Carter and Artis were convicted twice for the murders, in 1967 and 1976, but after the second conviction was overturned in 1985, prosecutors chose not to try the case for the third time.

In 1975, Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, was published by Warner Books.  In the book, Carter maintained his innocence.  The Sixteenth Round moved Dylan to such an extent that he visited Carter in Rahway State Prison in Woodbridge County, New Jersey and began to write what would become Hurricane.  At first, Dylan was unsure whether he could do justice to Carter and his predicament in song form but using the storytelling method previously used on other topical ballads such as The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (The Times They Are a-Changing, 1964) …

… he eventually found that the words flowed reasonably quickly, such was his contempt for those who had wrongfully imprisoned the former middleweight boxer.  Hurricane was one of Dylan’s few protest songs of the 1970’s and became his fourth most successful single of the decade, reaching number 33 on the US Billboard Chart.

Hurricane was first recorded in July 1975 with Scarlet Rivera on violin and Vinnie Bell on Danelectro Bellzouki 12-string guitar.  In October 1975, Dylan was forced to re-record the song with its lyrics altered, after concerns were raised by Columbia’s lawyers who feared a lawsuit regarding references to Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, petty criminals who were in the area to burgle a factory, robbing the bodies.  Bello and Bradley had never been accused of such acts.  Due to the amount of leakage on the multi-tracks, making it difficult to achieve a vocal ‘punch in’, Dylan decided to record the entire song.  The resulting final version of Hurricane is faster than the original cut and in addition to Rivera on violin, uses other musicians from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue as the back-up band.  The final version was put together from two separate takes, both recorded on the 24th October, 1975, and clocks in at over eight minutes in length.

Despite the fact that some offending lyrics had been rewritten, the song still managed to attract legal action, from eyewitness Patricia Graham Valentine.  However, her case was dismissed by a federal district.  The dismissal was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Other lyrics to receive criticism included the line “Number one contender for the middleweight crown” because according to the May 1966 issue of The Ring, Carter was ranked ninth at the time of his arrest and had never been placed higher than third.  Additionally, at the time of the song’s release, reporters for the Herald News, a New Jersey newspaper published not far from the scene of the crime, questioned Dylan’s objectivity and accused him of excessive poetic license.  Others noted that there was no reference to Carter’s criminal history or violent temper.  Another song from Desire, Joey, about the life and death of mobster Joey Gallo, received similar criticism.

Hurricane brought Carter’s case to the attention of the wider public and is credited with harnessing popular support to Carter’s defence.  Following the release of Desire, Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue played a benefit concert for Carter in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The concert raised $100,000.  Dylan and his band also played another benefit at the Houston Aerodrome a year later, alongside Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Dr John, whom Dylan had personally managed to get to play the concert after meeting with managers Richard Flanzer and Roy Silver.  Despite its all-star line-up, after expenses were paid, the Houston failed to raise any money.

Despite winning the right to a new trial, Carter and Artis were once again found guilty and on the 9th February 1976, Carter was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.  Dylan and Carter’s other high-profile supporters did not attend the trial.  In 1985, Federal Judge H. Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial and set aside the conviction, commenting that the prosecution had been “based on racism rather than reason and concealment rather than disclosure”.  Ironically, Sarokin had declined to listen to Dylan’s song when it was offered to him by his family.  In 1988, following the prosecution stating that they would not seek a third trial and filed a motion to dismiss, a Superior Court Judge dropped all charges against Carter.

Lyrically, Hurricane is a straight, or as straight as can be from a writer who wasn’t present at the scene of the crime, retelling of the events that led to Carter’s arrest and his incarceration.  The song sets the scene with its opening line, “Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night”, placing the listener at the crime scene.  The star witness, Patty Valentine, who was awoken by the sound of the gunshots, is mentioned in the second line, “Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall”.  Following this, we find Valentine’s view as she entered the bar:  “She sees the bartender in a pool of blood, Cries out, “My God, they killed them all”.  “All” refers to bartender, James Oliver and two customers, who were killed instantly.

The following section of the song and probably its most famous, “Here comes the story of the Hurricane, The man the authorities came to blame, For something that he never done, Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a-been, The champion of the world” finds Dylan lamenting on how Carter lost twenty years of his life along with his career and his chances of reaching the top of his profession in the process.

Following this, we once again find Patty Valentine’s view, “Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see”.  The prosecution believed that the murders at the Lafayette Bar and Grill, particularly that of white bartender James Oliver, were motivated by the murder of black bartender, Leroy Holloway, who happened to be the stepfather of one of Carter’s friends.  The next lines, “And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously, “I didn’t do it”, he says and throws up his hands, “I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you undertand, I saw them leavin’”, he says and stops”, refer to Bello’s testimony at the 1966 and 1976 trials, in which he stated that he saw Carter and Artis outside the Lafayette Bar and Grill with a shotgun and a pistol immediately after the triple murder.  He apparently came face to face with them on the sidewalk and saw their getaway car.

“”One of us had better call up the cops”, And so Patty calls the cops, And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’, In the hot New Jersey night”.  Due to the murder taking place on the 17th June, the temperatures would most probably have been at an extreme high, common at that time of year.  It has been said that heat can cause people to be enough on edge to commit murder.  This idea was also famously used by Spike Lee in his 1989 film, Do the Right Thing.  In both Hurricane and Do the Right Thing, heat is portrayed as a major physical and psychological factor for rage and violence.

The next lines, “Meanwhile, far away in another part of town, Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around, Number one contender for the middleweight crown, Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down”, find Carter and his friends driving through town, completely unaware of what was about to happen.  Carter, at this stage in his life, was in the middle of his career.  He had a record of two wins, twelve losses and one draw.  As several publications have noted since the song’s release, Dylan neglects to mention that Carter was far from a law abiding citizen, having done several stints in jail for mugging and assault.  However, on this occasion, Carter was wrongfully convicted by the US’s corrupt justice system.  In the following lines, “When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road, Just like the time before and the time before that”, Dylan suggests that the police continuously pulled Carter over as they were racist.  The idea of the police being racist is carried over to the next lines, “In Paterson that’s just the way things go, If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street”, which suggests that racism against black men like Carter was institutionalised and was readily practised by the local police.  In the following line, “’Less you wanna draw the heat”, “heat” is this time used to refer to the police.

The following lines feature further testimony from Bello and Bradley:  “Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops, Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around, He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights, They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates”.  Note the vague way in which the men say, “they looked like middleweights” expressed in Dylan’s lyrics.  Additionally, Bradley refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and neither prosecution nor defense called him as a witness.

The line “And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head” refers to the way that Valentine simply agreed with what other witnesses had seen without actually knowing anything.  Valentine provided a description of the car to the police, which changed at the second court case.  Valentine claimed that the lights “lit up like butterflies”.  However, on Carter’s car, this was not the case, as only the end two lights lit up.

“Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”, So they took him to the infirmary, And though this man could hardly see, They told him, that he could identify the guilty man, Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in, Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs, The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye, Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for?  He ain’t the guy!” refers to Willie Marrins who was not killed instantly and the police attempt to have Carter identified as the murderer.  Marrins told the police that Carter was not the murderer but his testimony was ignored.

Further into the song, we find the line “He ain’t no Gentleman Jim”, a reference to James J. Corbett, who is considered to be the father of modern boxing.  Carter is said not to be a “gentleman” because, unlike Corbett, Carter is black.  Other lines of interest in Hurricane include “And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger, No one doubted that he pulled the trigger”.  Here, Dylan, a white man, single-handedly invented a rhyme (“trigger” and “nigger”) which today is one of the most popular rhymes in hip-hop.  For example, see Nas’s N.Y. State of Mind, from the album Illmatic (1994).

One wonders whether Hurricane’s closing lines, “Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been, The champion of the world” may have influenced Carter receiving an honorary World Champion title in 1993, five years after his release from prison.  Additionally, following his release and before his death in 2014, Carter headed the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted for twelve years and founded Innocence International in 2004.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day Three). “Free Satpal Ram”.

Satpal Ram is a British man of South Asian descent who was charged and convicted of killing another man, Clarke Pearce, during a fight in 1986.  The case of Satpal Ram has drawn much controversy due to his alleged mistreatment in the hands of the courts and the British Prison System due to his racial background.

According to Satpal Ram’s version of events, in November 1986, he and two friends visited the Sky Blue Indian restaurant in the Lozells area of Birmingham.  Whilst there, an altercation broke out between Ram and his two friends and another group of six people who were also dining in the restaurant.  The argument started over Asian music being played on the restaurant’s radio system and quickly developed into a physical fight.  Ram said that he had stabbed one of the party of six, Clarke Pearce, with a short-bladed penknife in self-defence after Pearce had attacked him with a broken bottle.  Pearce was taken to hospital with knife wounds and later died.  As a result, Satpal Ram was arrested for murder and convicted in 1987.

Later, much debate and controversy arose in the British media when it was alleged that his barrister did not meet with him and only saw him for about forty minutes before the trial.  It was also claimed that the jury missed vital evidence because no interpreter was provided to translate for a Bengali-speaking waiter who had been a witness to the events.  It was also alleged that the judge was to have said he would interpret but that he couldn’t speak the Bengali language.

Accusations of severe mistreatment were also lodged against the prison system, with reports of Ram being beaten, starved, repeatedly strip-searched and made to spend large periods of time in solitary confinement.  This resulted in accusations of racism within the criminal justice system.  Some of the injuries inflicted on Ram by prison officers can be seen on the photo above.

Satpal Ram was finally released from Blantyre House Prison on parole in June 2002.  His initial release as recommended by the parole board in 2000 was overturned by the Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw.  His release in 2002 resulted from a European Court of Human Rights ruling which stated that government executives such as the Home Secretary had no right to overrule a decision of a parole board.

Many music acts championed Satpal Ram’s cause, including Asian Dub Foundation.  The band were formed in 1993 via Community Music, a London-based educational organisation which focuses on collective music making.  Community Music allows people from every socioeconomic and ethnic background to come together, experiment and create music that criss-crosses styles and genres.  Asian Dub Foundation consists of bassist and tutor Aniruddha Das, aka Dr. Das; DJ and youth worker John Pandit, aka Pandit G; guitarist Steve Chandra Savale, aka Chandrasonic; rapper Deeder Zaman and DJ Sun-J.  The British act’s unique use of dub bass, electronica, punk guitar and Indian Classical music is often used to convey political messages, to encourage racial harmony and to challenge long-standing Asian stereotypes and preconceptions.

In particular, the group’s second album, Rafi’s Revenge (1998) had tremendous international impact.  Rafi’s Revenge is the group’s most successful album to date and includes such politically inspired anthems as Naxalite, about the late 1960s uprising of landless peasants in the West Bengal region of India.

The album also features the cry for racial unity Black White …

… and Operation Eagle Lie, which alleges racist policing to be commonplace, with lyrics such as “A black man on a double yellow, yea’, he’s a criminal, A racial attack, investigation minimal”.

However, the greatest impact of any of the songs on Rafi’s Revenge came from the song Free Satpal Ram, based on the plight of Satpal Ram.  Free Satpal Ram became a key part in raising awareness of Ram’s plight amongst the general public and helping to eventually free him a few years later.  As with all politically-motivated Asian Dub Foundation tracks, Free Satpal Ram uses the group’s strength of simply told rap narrative to retell the events leading up to his arrest (“Satpal Ram had been in prison for ten years now, Unjustly convicted of murder, He was attacked in a restaurant, In Birmingham by racists, Having been glassed in the face, He had no choice but to defend himself”) and the inadequacies of his trial (“The all-white jury missed vital evidence, Because no interpreter was provided, The judge said he would interpret, But couldn’t speak a word of Bengali”).

The song also references other wrongly convicted people in order to highlight the major inadequacies of the criminal justice system that sentenced Satpal Ram:  “Birmingham Six, Bridgewater Four, Crown prosecution totting up the score, Kings Cross Two, Guildford Four, Winston Silcott – Man, how many more?”

Of the incident, Satpal Ram told The Guardian in January 2000:

“I’ve never refuted that a man died as a result of my actions, but the circumstances have never been taken into consideration.  I accept that loss of life is wrong, but if I hadn’t done what I did I would be dead now”.

Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day Six). “It’s Your Favourite Foreign Movie”.

Hikers and Park Rangers in Griffith Park, the home of the famous Hollywood sign, have noticed some strange happenings over the years.  There have been many reported sightings of an attractive blonde, blue-eyed woman dressed in 1930’s garb.  The woman looks forlorn and lost.  Many have tried to approach her but when they do, she vanishes.  In the park, a pungent smell of gardenia perfume litters the air.  Could this be the ghost of Peg Entwistle?  ‘Who?’ I hear you ask.  Peg Entwistle isn’t known for her movies.  In fact, she only made one movie in her lifetime, Thirteen Women, which was released after her death.  Peg Entwistle is most known for finding the most novel way to use the Hollywood sign:  Her suicide.

Peg Entwistle was born Millicent Lilian Entwistle on the 5th February 1908 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales.  The exact details of the doomed actress’s early life are shady.  When she was young, her  family moved to West Kensington, London.  Her mother is said to have died when she was very young.  There are reports that she and her father were in Cincinnati, Ohio and New York City as early as 1913.  Her father Robert S. Entwistle was a theatre actor and is listed in the cast of several plays by The New York Times in 1913.  Entwistle’s father died in 1922, the victim of a hit and run accident on Park Avenue and 72nd Street in New York City.  Thereafter, Peg and her two younger half-brothers were taken in by their uncle who had moved with them to New York and was the manager of Broadway actor Walter Hampden.

By 1925, Entwistle had moved to Boston as a student of Henry Jewett’s Repertory (these days known as Huntington Theatre).  She was a member of the Henry Jewett Players, a group of theatre actors who were gaining national attention.  Walter Hampden gave Entwistle an uncredited walk on part in his Broadway production of Hamlet, with Ethel Barrymore as its main star.  In the play, she carried the King’s train and brought in the poison cup.  Other plays followed, with parts including that of Hedvig in Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck in the same year.  In the audience was a young Bette Davis who excitedly told her mother, “… I want to be exactly like Peg Entwistle”.

Peg Entwistle’s star seemed to be in the ascendant as she continued to receive praise for her theatre work.  This led to her being recruited by the New York Theatre Guild in 1926 and receiving her first credited role in The Man from Toronto, playing the role of Martha.  Entwistle appeared in 9 more Broadway productions between 1926 and 1932.

In 1927, Entwistle married actor Robert Keith but was granted a divorce in 1929.  It was an unhappy marriage with Entwistle accusing Keith of cruelty.  She also claimed that Keith neglected to tell her that he had been married previously and was father to a six year old boy, Brian Keith, who would later become an actor.  During this time, Entwistle continued to give acclaimed performances in a number of plays.  In 1927, a production of The Uninvited Guest closed after just seven performances, with New York Times critic J. Brooks Atkinson writing, “ … Peg Entwistle gave a performance considerably better than the play warranted”.

By May 1932, America was in the grips of the Great Depression.  Entwistle was in Los Angeles, having got a small part in the Romney Brent play The Mad Hopes alongside Billie Burke and Humphrey Bogart.  The play ran from the 23rd May to the 4th June at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.  Once again, Entwistle garnered much praise for her performance.  Her part in The Mad Hopes led to Entwistle’s first and only movie role, playing the small but credited part of Hazel Cousins in Thirteen Women for Radio Pictures (later RKO).  The film would be released a month after Entwistle’s death to neither critical or commercial success.

On the morning of 18th September 1932, an anonymous woman made a shocking discovery.  The anonymous woman called the Los Angeles police to report that whilst she was hiking, she had found a woman’s shoe, purse and jacket below the famous Hollywood sign.  The woman told the police that she had looked in the purse and found a suicide note.  She had then looked down the mountain and saw a body.  According to the police transcript of the call, the woman said she “wrapped a jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps of the Hollywood police station”.  The anonymous woman never identified herself.

Later that day, a detective and two radio car officers found the body of a well dressed, blonde haired, blue eyed woman in a ravine below the sign.  Entwistle’s body was not identified until her uncle, with whom she had been living in Beachwood Canyon, connected her two day absence with the description and the initials “P.E.” on the suicide note which was found in the purse and published by the newspapers.  Her uncle said that on Friday, September 16th, Entwistle had told him that she was going for a walk to the drugstore and to see some friends.  Instead, it appears that she made her way to the southern slope of Mount Lee to the foot of the Hollywood sign, climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and jumped.  She was just 24 years old.  Her suicide note read:

“I am afraid, I am a coward.  I am sorry for everything.  If I had done this a long time ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.  P.E.”

When people talk of Hollywood history, Peg Entwistle is for the most part forgotten about.  You won’t see her name in many cinema history books because she only ever made one film during her short lifetime.  Instead, if anything, Peg Entwistle has come to symbolise the dark side of Hollywood:  The aspiring movie actress who’s hopes and dreams were smashed by the Hollywood system.  So next time you visit Hollywood, look out for the ghost of poor Peg and breathe in the pungent smell of the gardenia perfume, reportedly the actress’s favourite perfume.

Somebody who the ghost of Peg Entwistle has obviously had an effect on is Donald Fagen, who along with co-songwriter Walter Becker, wrote the song Peg for his band Steely Dan’s 1977 album Aja.  Released as a successful single from the album, Peg tells the tale of Peg Entwistle’s attempted big break through the eyes of the film’s director, George Archainbaud.

“I’ve seen your picture, Your name in lights above it, This is your big debut, It’s like a dream come true, And when you smile for the camera, I know they’ll love it” sings Fagen in the guise of Archainbaud telling Entwistle that this is her big break.  Despite the uplifting and vibrant nature of the song, there is underlying darkness when one thinks of the subject matter.

There is even a slight sleaziness about the way in which the director tells Entwistle, “I got your pin shot [meaning pin-up photograph], I kept it with your letter [the one the actress perhaps sent in the hope of breaking into the movies], Done up in blueprint blue, It sure looks good on you, So won’t you smile for the camera, I know I’ll love you better”.  Add to this, the fact that the name Steely Dan derives from the name of a strap-on dildo in William Burroughs’s novel Naked Lunch (1959) and reading into the lyrical content of the song becomes quite a disconcerting affair.

The line “Your favourite foreign movie” could be alluding to pornography, suggesting a sexual advance from the director.  This could in fact be a song about the casting couch as opposed to the filming of the movie.  The line “You’ve seen it all before” is suggestive of a struggling actress who is weary of attempting to break into the movies and knows all the tricks of the industry.  The song could therefore could be representing the dark side of Hollywood, the one that exists but it is rarely presented to those living outside it’s glittery bubble.  In Peg, Steely Dan could be suggesting that it was the reason for Peg Entwistle’s suicide.

The final verse could refer to disturbing memories of an act on the casting prompting Entwistle’s suicide:  “Peg, It will come back to you … Then the shutter falls, You see it all in 3-D, It’s your favourite foreign movie”.  These lines are poignant as Peg Entwistle would never actually get to see her only film appearance, instead the shutter fell on her short life as Peg fell from Hollywood’s “H” on that fateful day in 1932.

As a footnote, Peg Entwistle’s ghost lives on in music as Peg by Steely Dan was sampled for De La Soul’s song Eye Know from their classic 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising.