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    Springsteen and Obama on friendship and fathers: ‘You have to turn your ghosts into ancestors’

    Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen discuss their dads, their unlikely friendship, and second careers – as podcast hosts Sat 23 Oct 2021 04.00 EDTPresident Barack ObamaGood conversations don’t follow a script. Like a good song, they’re full of surprises, improvisations, detours. They may be grounded in a specific time and place, reflecting your state of mind and the current state of the world. But the best conversations also have a timeless quality, taking you back into the realm of memory, propelling you forward toward your hopes and dreams. Sharing stories reminds you that you’re not alone – and maybe helps you understand yourself a little bit better.When Bruce and I first sat down in the summer of 2020 to record Renegades: Born in the USA, we didn’t know how our conversations would turn out. What I did know was that Bruce was a great storyteller, a bard of the American experience – and that we both had a lot on our minds, including some fundamental questions about the troubling turn our country had taken. A historic pandemic showed no signs of abating. Americans everywhere were out of work. Millions had just taken to the streets to protest the murder of George Floyd, and the then occupant of the White House seemed intent not on bringing people together but on tearing down some of the basic values and institutional foundations of our democracy.Almost a year later, the world looks a shade brighter. But for all the change we’ve experienced as a nation and in our own lives since Bruce and I first sat down together, the underlying conditions that animated our conversation haven’t gone away. And in fact, since the podcast was released, both of us have heard from folks from every state and every walk of life who’ve reached out to say that something in what they heard resonated with them, whether it was the imprint our fathers left on us; the awkwardness, sadness, anger and occasional moments of grace that have arisen as we navigate America’s racial divide; or the joy and redemption that our respective families have given us. People told us that listening to us talk made them think about their own childhoods. Their own dads. Their own home towns.Bruce SpringsteenWhen President Obama suggested we do a podcast together, my first thought was: “OK, I’m a high school graduate from Freehold, New Jersey, who plays the guitar … What’s wrong with this picture?” My wife Patti said: “Are you insane?! Do it! People would love to hear your conversations!”The president and I had spent some time together since we met on the campaign trail in 08. That time included some long, telling conversations. These were the kind of talks where you speak from the heart and walk away with a real understanding of the way your friend thinks and feels. You have a picture of the way he sees himself and his world.So I took Patti’s advice and followed the president’s generous lead, and before we knew it we were sitting in my New Jersey studio, riffing off each other like good musicians.There were serious conversations about the fate of the country, the fortunes of its citizens, and the destructive, ugly, corrupt forces at play that would like to take it all down. This is a time of vigilance when who we are is being seriously tested. We found a lot in common. The president is funny and an easy guy to be around. He’ll go out of his way to make you feel comfortable, as he did for me so that I might have the confidence to sit across the table from him. At the end of the day we recognised our similarities in the moral shape of our lives. It was the presence of a promise, a code we strive to live by. Honesty, fidelity, a forthrightness about who we are and what our goals and ideas are, a dedication to the American idea and an abiding love for the country that made us.We are both creatures stamped Born in the USA. Guided by our families, our deep friendships and the moral compass inherent in our nation’s history, we press forward, guarding the best of us while retaining a compassionate eye for the struggles of our still young nation.My father’s houseBruce Springsteen and Barack Obama talk about the impression their fathers made on their lives and their concept of manhoodSpringsteen From when I was a young man, I lived with a man who suffered a loss of status and I saw it every single day. It was all tied to lack of work, and I just watched the low self-esteem. That was a part of my daily life living with my father. It taught me one thing: work is essential. That’s why if we can’t get people working in this country, we’re going to have an awful hard time.Obama It is. It is central to how people define themselves in the sense of self-worth. For all the changes that have happened in America, when it comes to “What does it mean to be a man?”, I still see that same confusion, and the same limited measures of manliness today, as I had back then. And that’s true, whether you’re talking about African American boys or white boys. They don’t have rituals, road maps and initiation rites into a clear sense of a male strength and energy that is positive as opposed to just dominating.I talk to my daughters’ friends about boys growing up, and so much of popular culture tells them that the only clear, defining thing about being a man, about being masculine, is excelling in sports and sexual conquest …Springsteen And violence.Obama And violence. Those are the three things. Violence, if it’s healthy at least, is subsumed into sports. Later, you add to that definition: making money. How much money can you make? And there are some qualities of the traditional American male that are absolutely worthy of praise and worthy of emulating. That sense of responsibility, meaning you’re willing to do hard things and make some sacrifices for your family or for future generations. But there is a bunch of stuff in there that we did not reckon with, which now you’re seeing with #MeToo, with women still seeking equal pay, with what we’re still dealing with in terms of domestic abuse and violence. There was never a full reckoning of who our dads were, what they had in them, how we have to understand that and talk about that. What lessons we should learn from it. All that kind of got buried.Springsteen Yeah, but we sort of ended up being just 60s versions of our dads, carrying all the same sexism.Obama You don’t show emotion, you don’t talk too much about how you’re feeling: your fears, your doubts, your disappointments. You project a general “I’ve got this”.Springsteen Now, I had that tempered by having a father who was pretty seriously mentally ill, and so in high school I began to become very aware of his weaknesses even though, outwardly, he presented as kind of a bullish guy who totally conformed to that standard archetype. Things went pretty wrong in the last years of high school and in the last years that I lived with him at our house. There was something in his illness or in who he was that involved a tremendous denying of his family ties. I always remember him complaining that if he hadn’t had a family he would’ve been able to take a certain job and go on the road. It was a missed opportunity. And he sat there over that six-pack of beers night after night after night after night and that was his answer to it all, you know? So we felt guilt. And that was my entire picture of masculinity until I was way into my 30s, when I began to sort it out myself because I couldn’t establish and hold a relationship; I was embarrassed simply having a woman at my side. I just couldn’t find a life with the information that he’d left me, and I was trying to over and over again.All the early years I was with Patti, if we were in public I was very, very anxious. I could never sort that through, and I realised: “Well, yeah, these are the signals I got when I was very young: that a family doesn’t strengthen you, it weakens you. It takes away your opportunity. It takes away your manhood.” And this is what I carried with me for a long, long time. I lived in fear of that neutering, and so that meant I lived without the love, without the companionship, without a home. And you have your little bag of clothes and you get on that road and you just go from one place to the next.And you don’t notice it when you’re in your 20s. But, right around 30, something didn’t feel quite right. Did you have to deal with that at all?Obama So there’s some stuff that’s in common and then there’s stuff that tracks a little differently. So my father leaves when I’m two. And I don’t see him until I’m 10, when he comes to visit for a month in Hawaii.Springsteen What brought him to visit you eight years after he left?Obama So the story is that my father grows up in a small village in the north-western corner of Kenya. And he goes from herding goats to getting on a jet plane and flying to Hawaii and travelling to Harvard, and suddenly he’s an economist. And in that leap from living in a really rural, agricultural society to suddenly trying to pretend he’s this sophisticated man about town, something was lost. Something slipped. Although he was extraordinarily confident and charismatic and, by all accounts, could sort of run circles around people intellectually, emotionally, he was scarred and damaged in all kinds of ways that I can only retrace from the stories that I heard later, because I didn’t really know him. Anyway, when he’s a student in Hawaii, he meets my mother. I am conceived. I think the marriage comes after the conception.But then he gets a scholarship to go to Harvard and he decides: “Well, that’s where I need to go.” He’s willing to have my mother and me go with him, but I think there are cost issues involved and they separate. But they stay in touch. He goes back to Kenya, gets a government job, and he has another marriage and another set of kids.Springsteen When he comes back to visit you, he has another family …Obama He’s got another family, and I think he and his wife are in a bad spot. And I think he was probably trying to court my mother and to convince her to grab me and move all of us to Kenya, and my mother, who still loved him, was wise enough to realise that was probably a bad idea. But I do see him for a month. And … I don’t know what to make of him. Because he’s very foreign, right? He’s got a British accent and he’s got this booming voice and he takes up a lot of space. And everybody kind of defers to him because he’s just a big personality. And he’s trying to sort of tell me what to do.He’s like, “Anna” – that’s what he’d call my mother; her name was Ann – “Anna, I think that boy … he’s watching too much television. He should be doing his studies.” So I wasn’t that happy that he had showed up. And I was kind of eager for him to go. Because I had no way to connect to the guy. He’s a stranger who’s suddenly in our house.So he leaves. I never see him again. But we write. When I’m in college I decide: “If I’m going to understand myself better, I need to know him better.” So I write to him and I say: “Listen, I’m going to come to Kenya. I’d like to spend some time with you.” He says: “Ah, yes. I think that’s a very wise decision, you come here.” And then I get a phone call, probably about six months before I was planning to go, and he’s been killed in a car accident.But two things that I discovered, or understood, later. The first was just how much influence that one month that he was there had on me, in ways that I didn’t realise.He actually gave me my first basketball. So I’m suddenly obsessed with basketball. How’d that happen, right? But I remember that the other thing we did together was, he decided to take me to a Dave Brubeck concert. Now, this is an example of why I didn’t have much use for the guy, because, you know, you’re a 10-year-old American kid and some guy wants to take you to a jazz concert.Springsteen Take Five, you’re not going to love …Obama Take Five! So I’m sitting there and … I kind of don’t know what I’m doing there. It’s not until later that I look back and say: “Huh.” I become one of the few kids in my school who’s interested in jazz. And when I got older my mother would look at how I crossed my legs or gestures and she’d say: “It’s kind of spooky.”The second thing that I learned was, in watching his other male children – who I met and got to know later when I travelled to Kenya – I realised that, in some ways, it was probably good that I had not lived in his home. Because, much in the same way that your dad was struggling with a bunch of stuff, my dad was struggling, too. It created chaos and destruction and anger and hurt and long-standing wounds that I just did not have to deal with.Springsteen The thing that happens is: when we can’t get the love we want from the parent we want it from, how do you create the intimacy you need? I can’t get to him and I can’t have him. I’ll be him. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll be him … I’m way into my 30s before I even have any idea that that’s my method of operation. I’m on stage. I’m in workmen’s clothes. I’ve never worked a job in my life.My dad was a beefy, bulky guy. I’ve played freaking guitar my whole life, but I’ve got 20 or 30 extra pounds on me from hitting the gym. Where’d that come from? Why do I spend hours lifting up and putting down heavy things for no particular reason? My entire body of work, everything that I’ve cared about, everything that I’ve written about, draws from his life story.Here is where I was lucky. At 32, I go into hardcore analysis. I don’t have my children until I’m 40, so I’m eight years into looking into a lot of these things, because what I found out about that archetype was it was fucking destructive in my life. It drove away people I cared about. It kept me from knowing my true self. And I realised: “Well, if you wanna follow this road, go ahead. But you’re going to end up on your own, my friend. And if you want to invite some people into your life, you better learn how to do that.”And there’s only one way you do that: you’ve got to open the doors. And that archetype doesn’t leave a lot of room for those doors to be open because that archetype is a closed man. Your inner self is forever secretive and unknown: stoic, silent, not revealing of your feelings.Well, you’ve got to get rid of all of that stuff if you want a partnership. If you want a full family, and to be able to give them the kind of sustenance and nurture and room to grow they need in order to be themselves and find their own full lives, you better be ready to let a lot of that go, my friend.My dad never really spoke to me through [to] the day he died. He didn’t know how. He truly did not. He just didn’t have the skills at all. And once I understood how ill he was, it makes up for a lot of it. But when you’re a six-year-old or an eight-year-old or a nine-year-old boy, you’re not going to have an understanding of what your father is suffering with, and …Obama You end up wrestling with ghosts.Springsteen I guess that’s what we all do.Obama And ghosts are tricky because you are measuring yourself against someone who is not there. And, in some cases, I think people whose fathers aren’t there – and whose mothers are feeling really bitter about their fathers’ not being there – what they absorb is how terrible that guy was and you don’t want to be like that guy.In my mother’s case, she took a different tack, which was that she only presented his best qualities and not his worst. And in some ways that was beneficial, because I never felt as if I had some flawed inheritance; something in me that would lead me to become an alcoholic or an abusive husband or any of that. Instead, what happened was I kept on thinking: “Man, I got to live up to this.” Every man is trying to live up to his father’s expectations or live up to his mistakes.You know, Michelle wonders sometimes: “Why is it that you just feel so compelled to just do all this hard stuff ? I mean, what’s this hole in you that just makes you feel so driven?” And I think part of it was kind of early on feeling as if: “Man, I got to live up to this. I got to prove this. Maybe the reason he left is because he didn’t think it was worth staying for me, and no, I will show him that he made a mistake not hanging around, because I was worth investing in.”Springsteen You’re always trying to prove your worth. You’re on a lifetime journey of trying to prove your worth to …Obama Somebody that’s not there.Springsteen The trick is you have to turn your ghosts into ancestors. Ghosts haunt you. Ancestors walk alongside you and provide you with comfort and a vision of life that’s going to be your own. My father walks alongside me as my ancestor now. It took a long time for that to happen.This is a condensed and edited extract from Renegades: Born in the USA by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. It is published on Tuesday (Viking, £35).TopicsPodcastsBarack ObamaBruce SpringsteenFamilyMenUS politicsfeaturesReuse this content More

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    Four Hours at the Capitol review – a chilling look at the day the far right ‘fought like hell’

    TV reviewTelevisionFour Hours at the Capitol review – a chilling look at the day the far right ‘fought like hell’With Trump’s words ringing in their ears, a violent mob descended on the US Capitol on 6 January. This powerful film details what happened – and their horrifying lack of remorse Lucy Mangan@LucyManganWed 20 Oct 2021 17.30 EDTNick Alvear started believing in Trump “because 800,000 kids in America go missing every year – held captive, tortured and killed … enslaved sexually … I’m part of the first wave bringing awareness of this.”It is perhaps the greatest of Four Hours at the Capitol’s many strengths that it gives space to those who were most eager for battle. They call themselves insurrectionists, while others in the BBC Two documentary that details the unfolding of the 6 January assault on the meeting place of the US Congress refer to them as domestic terrorists.Jamie Roberts’ film (he also directed The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty) lays out the timeline of that extraordinary day in exhaustive but never exhausting detail. Phone footage shot by Eddie Block, a member of the far-right group Proud Boys, shows them beginning to gather at 10.35am. By 12.06pm they have heard enough of Trump’s Stop the Steal speech to have started marching towards Capitol Hill. Viewers are reminded of the barely veiled exhortations to action that were ringing in their ears: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness … If you don’t fight like hell you won’t have a country any more.”The film hears from many of those on the other side of the fight, including some of the 40 or 50 officers who did their best to hold back the 1,500-strong mob as they came up the steps and broke into the building, and from members of Congress (Republican and Democrat) and others who found themselves trapped inside. The latter include Leah Han, a staffer in Nancy Pelosi’s office, who recounts how she and her colleagues relocated from the room that bore Pelosi’s name to an anonymous office down the hall and hid under the desks as the noise of invasion got louder, hoping that they would not be killed or raped before help arrived.The accounts of those trapped and of the officers hopelessly outnumbered outside are as harrowing as you might expect – whether they are recollected with stoicism (“For hours we were sitting there, the president not saying a word,” says Republican representative for Illinois Adam Kinzinger. “To me that was beyond the pale”) or fury (most of the officers). Foremost among the second group is Mike Fanone, who was grabbed by the mob as he and others battled for hours to keep protesters out of the tunnel that would have let them flood the building. He was Tasered and beaten before being passed back to safety. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and a heart attack. “That I and a shit-ton of my fellow officers almost lost their lives pisses me the fuck off,” he says.The documentary passed lightly – too lightly, maybe – over the lack of preparation by Capitol and Metropolitan Police Department officials on the day, given the known combustibility of the situation and the hesitant response from the National Guard and others to pleas for reinforcement. However, overall there was a much-needed sense of the true human impact of what happened. From the outside, ruined by Hollywood spectacle as we all have been, perhaps it didn’t look that bad. Once we were taken inside – shown the mentality and mechanics of the crowd, and given the proper scale by which to judge – it was that bad, and worse.Most chilling of all was the lack of remorse among the rioters interviewed, coupled with their unassailed – and one must presume, at this point, unassailable – devotion to the man they believe commanded them to storm the Capitol. There was also a generous portion of denial and doublethink from people like Couy Griffin, part of the Cowboys for Trump group, who insists he was standing among thousands of “peaceful patriots” and thinks that “you’re really stretching it to say it was supporters of Trump that did it … just because they have a Trump hat or a Trump T-shirt on”.Three protesters outside the Capitol died from medical emergencies, 140 police officers were injured, one died and – since January – there have been four deaths by suicide among those who were on duty that day. The rage still visibly emanates from Fanone. “I still haven’t made sense of it,” he says, eyes blazing. “And it certainly doesn’t help when the elected leader won’t even acknowledge it occurred.”The underlying collective testimony furnished by Four Hours at the Capitol is that the age of Trump has not yet ended – and the true day of reckoning in the United States is still to come.TopicsTelevisionTV reviewUS politicsreviewsReuse this content More

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    ‘A xenophobic autocrat’: Adam Schiff on Trump’s threat to democracy

    BooksInterview‘A xenophobic autocrat’: Adam Schiff on Trump’s threat to democracyCharles Kaiser The California Democrat’s new memoir, Midnight in Washington, examines his life before politics as well as his leading roles in impeachment and other dramas on Capitol HillSun 10 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTGreat crises in American political life often produce a new hero, someone whose courage and charisma capture the imagination of the decent half of the country.Supreme court, Facebook, Fed: three horsemen of democracy’s apocalypseRead moreIn the 1950s, when Joe McCarthy terrorized America with wild claims of communists lurking in every army barracks and state department corridor, it was an attorney, Joseph Walsh, who demanded of the Wisconsin senator: “At long last, sir, have you no sense of decency?”Twenty years later, when the country was transfixed by the Watergate hearings, it was a folksy senator from North Carolina, a first world war veteran named Sam Ervin, who won hearts with sayings like: “There is nothing in the constitution that authorizes or makes it the official duty of a president to have anything to do with criminal activities.”Forty years on, after Donald Trump entered the White House mining what Adam Schiff calls “a dangerous vein of autocratic thought” in the Republican party, the then little-known California Democrat did more than anyone else to unravel and excoriate the high crimes of a charlatan destined to be the only president twice impeached.During the pandemic, Schiff used his confinement to write a memoir which offers a beguiling mix of the personal and political. The book, Midnight in Washington, is full of new details about investigations of the president’s treason and how the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic caucus decided impeachment was necessary.But the human side of the story is the most compelling part: the history of Schiff’s Jewish-immigrant ancestors, the sustenance he received from a brilliant wife and a devoted son and daughter, a career path that made him the perfect person to meet his moment in history.“I enjoyed writing the first part of the book the most,” Schiff said. “In so many ways I feel like the life I had before Trump prepared me for the national trial that was to come.“The prosecution of an FBI agent for spying for the Russians. Living in eastern Europe and watching the rise of an autocrat in Czechoslovakia literally tear the country apart. And my own family’s history in eastern Europe. All of these things seemed to prepare me without knowing it for the rise of a xenophobic autocrat in our own country.”In choppy political waters, a brilliant spouse is a great advantage – especially one who sometimes knows you better than you know yourself. When the Democratic establishment recruited him to run for Congress, after he was elected to the California senate, Schiff thought he was undecided. His wife, Eve, knew otherwise.“You’re going to do it,” she said, after he came back from meetings in Washington.“I don’t know,” he replied.“Yes, you do,” said Eve. “You’re going to do it.”She was right.Schiff’s love of bipartisanship, which ended with the Trump presidency, was inherited from his father, a “yellow dog Democrat” (a person who would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote Republican) and his Republican mother.His father offered him advice that has served him all his life: “As long as you are good at what you do, there will always be a demand for you.”“This was a very liberating idea,” Schiff writes, “that all I needed to do was focus on being good at my chosen profession and the rest would take care of itself.”Stephanie Grisham: Trump turncoat who may be most damaging yetRead moreHis work as a federal prosecutor who got the conviction of the first FBI agent accused of spying for Russia was crucial to his understanding of how thoroughly Trump was manipulated by the Russians. He understood that Michael Cohen’s efforts during the campaign to close a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow would make Trump vulnerable to blackmail if his lawyer’s calls had been recorded. And he was astonished when he realized that that kind of kompromat wouldn’t even be necessary.When Trump “did become president, there would be no need for the Kremlin to blackmail him into betraying America’s interests,” Schiff writes. “To a remarkable degree, he would prove more than willing to do that on his own.”There’s lots more in the book, from Schiff’s unsuccessful effort to convince New York Times editors to remind readers the emails they were publishing to undermine Hillary Clinton had been stolen by the Russians for that very purpose, to Schiff’s revelation that if he had known how poorly Robert Mueller would perform as a witness after he completed his stint as special counsel, he would not have demanded his testimony.“I haven’t said this before this book,” he told the Guardian. “That was one of the difficult sections of the book to write because I have such reverence for Mueller. I wanted to be respectful but accurate.”Schiff is still at the center of political events. He sits on the House select committee investigating the deadly Capitol attack – and dealing with Trump’s obstruction.On the page, he also recalls a hearing in 2017 when he asked representatives of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube if their “algorithms were having the effect of balkanizing the public and deepening the divisions in our society”.Facebook’s general counsel pretended: “The data on this is actually quite mixed.”“Maybe that was so,” Schiff writes, “but it didn’t seem very mixed to me.”Asked if he thought this week’s testimony from the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen would create enough pressure to pass new laws regulating social media platforms, Schiff said: “The answer is yes.“I think we need regulation to protect people’s private data. I think we need to narrow the scope of the safe harbor these companies enjoy if they don’t moderate their contents and continue to amplify anger and hate. I think we need to insist on a vehicle for more transparency so we understand the data better.”But then he cautioned: “If you bet against Congress, you win 90% of the time.”‘Eureka moment’On the page, Schiff records an airport exchange with a Republican stranger, who said: “You can tell me – there’s nothing to this ‘collusion stuff’, is there?”It is a conversation which should put that question permanently to rest.The silence of Donald Trump: how Twitter’s ban is cramping his styleRead moreSchiff said: “What if I was to tell you that we had evidence in black and white that the Russians approached the Clinton campaign and offered dirt on Donald Trump, then met secretly with Chelsea Clinton, John Podesta and Robby Mook in the Brooklyn headquarters of the campaign … then Hillary lied about it to cover it up. Would you call that collusion?“Now what If I also told you that after the election, former national security adviser Susan Rice secretly talked with the Russian ambassador in an effort to undermine US sanctions on Russia after they interfered to help Hillary win. Would you call that collusion?”The Republican was convinced: “You know, I probably would.”For Schiff, it was a “eureka moment”.“Now,” he thought, “if I can only speak to a couple hundred million people.”Schiff’s book should convince a few million more that everything he said about Trump was true – and that the country was exceptionally lucky to have him ready and willing to defend the tattered concept of “truth”.
    Midnight in Washington is published by Random House
    TopicsBooksUS CongressHouse of RepresentativesUS politicsDemocratsPolitics booksinterviewsReuse this content More

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    Tom Morello: ‘We came within a baby’s breath of a fascist coup in the US’

    Rage Against the MachineInterviewTom Morello: ‘We came within a baby’s breath of a fascist coup in the US’Alexis Petridis Lockdown and ‘looking after the grandmas’ may have kept the Rage Against the Machine guitarist away from recent protests – but he refuses to be silencedSat 9 Oct 2021 09.00 EDTTom Morello has made more than 20 albums, as a founding member of Rage Against the Machine – the political rap-rock band who have sold 16m records, and whose 1992 track Killing in the Name has become a perennial protest anthem – and of the bands Audioslave and Prophets of Rage. He also plays solo under the name the Nightwatchman, and has toured with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. His unique approach to the guitar, which he has self-deprecatingly described as “making R2-D2 noises”, has led to him regularly being voted as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. His latest album, The Atlas Underground Fire (released on 15 October), features a series of collaborations recorded in lockdown – with Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Damian Marley and Bring Me the Horizon, among others. He is a celebrated “nonsectarian socialist” political activist, famed for performing at demonstrations – he played at Occupy events across the US and Europe – and a co-founder of the nonprofit “social justice” organisation Axis of Justice.You recorded your new album in lockdown. Did the pandemic also mean you missed out on the ongoing protests in the US?Not only was there a global plague to contend with, there was the US political situation and the white supremacy comeuppance, all happening at a time when I was locked down with my 97-year-old mom, my 90-year-old mother-in-law, and two kids going crazy trying to learn remotely. I was unable to be on the literal frontlines for the first time in my adult life, because I’m trying to keep the grandmas alive, you know. So in the middle of the George Floyd protests I recorded a song called Stand Up, with Imagine Dragons, the great trans soul singer Shea Diamond and Bloody Beetroots as well. I was trying, from the bunker, to contribute in any way I could. But you’re absolutely right: that’s my bread and butter. I’m at the front of that march for 30 years, and now, you know, there’s a plumbing problem, or one of my kids broke a window with a basketball, so that’s my dayEven though you weren’t physically present, Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name was chanted at the Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, but it was also chanted by pro-Trump supporters in Philadelphia. How did that feel?First of all, there’s no accounting for stupidity. There’s a long list of radical left anthems that are misunderstood by bozos who sing them at events like that, from Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA to John Lennon’s Imagine – those people have really no idea what the hell they’re singing about. The one thing that I speak to in all of those instances is that there’s a power to the music that casts a wide net, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. In that net, there will be the far-right bozos, but there will also be people that have never considered the ideas put forward in those songs and are forced to consider those ideas because the rock’n’roll is great. You can either put a beat to a Noam Chomsky lecture – no one wants that, but there’s going to be no mistaking what the content is – or you can make music that’s compelling.So you don’t try to serve people with a cease-and-desist order when they misuse your music?When they were using Rage songs for torture in Guantánamo, we sued the state department, but no. My take is: “Go enjoy the rock’n’roll. You look like fools, but go enjoy the rock’n’roll.”How did you feel about the events of 6 January?We came within a baby’s breath of a fascist coup in this country. Interestingly, one of my dreams has always been to storm the Capitol, but not with a bunch of all-white, rightwing terrorists, you know? The ugliest part about it is how they have co-opted the idea of standing against the Man, at least in the US. There can be no nuanced thinking, like: “Yes, big pharma is horrible, but getting a vaccine to save your grandma is good.” It’s a dumbed-down version of resistance. But I grew up in Trump country [in suburban Illinois], I know people from there. They’re decent people. It’s not their fault for being fucked over by the oligarchy for decades. Now what do we do to find a way to really resist the stuff that is destroying the planet, that’s causing working people’s lives to be worse than their parents’ were? Poverty and hunger kill more people than anything else on the planet and they are human-made problems. Those are the things that we need to be digging into, rather than being sidetracked by this carnival barker bullshit.The opening track of your new album is called Harlem Hellfighters. You were born in Harlem – isn’t there a story that one of your ancestors helped found the New York mafia?The Harlem Hellfighters were an African-American military unit in both world wars. They were known for their bravery and then coming home and getting done over by racist Americans – their story is very compelling. But there was a Giuseppe Morello who was known as the Clutch Hand, who came from Sicily. He was one of the founders of one of the “five families”, and apparently not a pleasant chap. There may be some cousin-like links between me and him. He was short, had one hand that was really messed up and he got the job done by murdering people.He eventually met the end that a lot of people met in that line of work.The new album also features Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen singing AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. How did that come about?We have history with that song, from when I toured with Bruce and the E Street Band. We were in Perth, [near] the home of [late AC/DC frontman] Bon Scott. One night, I went to pay my respects to his grave. I came back to the hotel and saw Bruce in the bar. Over the next couple of days, we started rehearsing Highway to Hell at soundchecks. We found ourselves in a Melbourne football stadium, playing to 80,000 people. Eddie happened to be in town. A lightbulb went off. I knocked on the dressing room door and said: “Bruce, we’re in Australia – Highway to Hell is like the unofficial national anthem. What if we open the show with it, with Eddie?” It was an apex moment in rock’n’roll history. If you think you’ve seen people go apeshit, you haven’t because you weren’t there that night.You recently appealed for help in getting a group of girls out of Afghanistan. What happened?Lanny Cordola, who was a member of the 80s metal band Giuffria, found the religion of love and moved to Afghanistan to help street kids. He took in these orphans and girls who had had tremendous trauma in their lives and started a school where they used music as a rehabilitation tool. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do a song with them, so we did a cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). I played the guitar solo. We became video friends – the girls would send birthday greetings, we’d send hellos. And then their world turned upside down. They’re marked. They were playing western music taught by an American teacher. Their school is destroyed. They’re in hiding right now. We were not able to get them out in the initial push, and now it’s just a matter of keeping them safe. There’s a lot of people who want to help, but as of right now, they’re still there. But they’re safe.During lockdown, you taught your son Roman to play guitar and he ended up collaborating with the 11-year-old drummer and internet sensation Nandi Bushell. How did that come about?They wrote the song, I produced it. Nandi is spectacular – an effervescent soul of joy that the world needs now more than ever. She called up and asked if I wanted to do a song, and I said: “I’d love to, but I’ve got a kid here who’s your age who really can take it from here!” So I said to Roman: “Throw some riffs at me, man”, and he came up with a couple of hot riffs. I put an arrangement together and sent it to Nandi, and asked her what she thought. She said: “It sounds epic!” like she does. And she wrote the lyrics and played the drums on it – she just murdered it, she’s so great. One of the best drummers in the world happens to be 11 years old! It was a reminder of why you started, you know? It was pure joy, pure excellence, pure rock’n’roll.You mentioned your mum earlier. You’ve said before that she’s the most radical member of your family …Yeah, it’s funny – in our discussions at the table, she’s taking positions that I’m just like: “Mom, really?” But that’s always been my household. When I went out into the world, I realised that not every household has these kind of internationalist ideas, the thought of always, always standing up for the person on the lowest rung of the ladder. We were in a middle-class, conservative, ethnically homogenous suburb. She was a teacher at the high school and she taught the kids about Cesar Chavez and the Grape Boycott, Malcolm X, anti-colonialist African studies. I assumed everybody’s mom was like that.She also set up the anti-censorship group Parents for Rock and Rap in the late 80s …Yeah! It was really where the rubber hit the road. She was in a conservative suburb that was trying to censor heavy metal and hip-hop, so that’s where you fight the fight. This was before Rage Against the Machine – nobody knew my name. She was always on some radio show with Ice-T.You’ve said in past interviews that there is a section of your fans who would prefer to deny that you’re Black. Why do you think it bothers them?That would be a better question for them than me, but it bothers them – oh, let me tell you, it does bother them. I think it’s cos it upsets the false narrative they have that music that sounds like mine can only be made by people who look like them. And then me and Slash pop up to say: “No!”Quick GuideSaturday magazine ShowThis article comes from Saturday, the new print magazine from the Guardian which combines the best features, culture, lifestyle and travel writing in one beautiful package. Available now in the UK and ROI.Photograph: GNMYou were criticised recently for your friendship with the rightwing rock star Ted Nugent. What on earth do you two talk about?I got asked to make a video for his 60th birthday. At that point, Ted had become this rightwing caricature, but I really loved his records back in the 70s, so I said yes. I took two tacks: “Things adolescent Tom Morello learned about the birds and the bees from Ted Nugent”, and “things you might be surprised to find Tom and Ted have in common” – like free speech and rock’n’roll. Anyway, he called me up afterwards and we had a discussion about it. People go fucking nuts when you say you’re friends with someone who has his views. I’m very happy to go toe-to-toe with Ted when he gets on his racist stuff, his misogynist stuff, his Trump stuff. I don’t know how often people cause Ted to abandon his opinions these days, but I believe that’s been the case on more than one occasion.The Atlas Underground Fire is released on 15 October on Mom + Pop records.TopicsRage Against the MachineMetalPop and rockUS Capitol attackUS politicsinterviewsReuse this content More

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    I’ll Take Your Questions Now review: Stephanie Grisham’s tawdry Trump tell-all

    BooksI’ll Take Your Questions Now review: Stephanie Grisham’s tawdry Trump tell-allThe press secretary who wouldn’t brief the press wants to talk. Like all else to do with Donald and Melania, truth is a casualty Lloyd GreenSun 3 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 3 Oct 2021 02.02 EDTIn 2015, Donald Trump boasted that his administration would be filled with only “the best and most serious people … top-of-the-line professionals”.Stephanie Grisham: Trump turncoat who may be most damaging yetRead moreMeet Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s third press secretary and sixth communications director, Melania Trump’s first spokeswoman and second chief of staff. All that in less than four years.Before Trump, Grisham reportedly lost one job for padding expense reports and another over plagiarism and was twice cited for driving under the influence. As White House press secretary, she never delivered a formal briefing. Instead, she ladled out interviews to Fox News and OAN.Grisham even went so far as to issue a statement proclaiming that John Kelly, a retired four-star general and past chief of staff, “was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president”. As Grisham recounts, MSNBC said that statement, which she says was dictated by Trump, had “a decidedly North Korean tone”. It had a point.Finally, on 6 January 2021, Grisham resigned. The insurrectionists who attacked the US Capitol had claimed an unintended scalp. On the page, Grisham lets it be known that the election was not stolen, that she urged the first lady to denounce the storming of the Capitol, and that Melania demurred because she was more concerned with setting up a photo shoot for a rug. That, Grisham writes, was when she decided enough was finally enough.Like most things Trump, reality is a casualty. Text messages obtained by Politico indicate that Grisham was fine with challenging election results – until she wasn’t.Grisham follows into print Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-lawyer; Omarosa, former Apprentice contestant and Trump White House refugee; Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, former friend and aide to Melania and rival to Grisham; and Stormy Daniels, adult film star and alleged recipient of $130,000 in Trump hush-money.To know Trump is to blab. As Grisham frames things, working near and for the first couple was akin to being in a “Hunger Games-style environment” and Melania morphed into a modern-day Marie Antoinette: “Dismissive. Defeated. Detached.”Grisham’s book is salacious and score-settling – but not entertaining. Yes, Grisham discusses the state of Trump’s “junk” and shares the first couple’s reactions when Daniels immortalized “Mushroom Mario”. Even so, her tone is mirthless.“Not in two million years had I ever thought I’d have a conversation with the president of the United States about his penis,” she writes. Perhaps she forgot Bill Clinton.She also portrays Rudy Giuliani as off-putting and not-quite-right. The New York mayor turned Trump lawyer “gave off weird vibes when he was around the president”, she writes. Being in a meeting with Giuliani was tantamount to “being cross-examined about it later by some committee”. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, criminally charged Giuliani associates, would surely agree.Grisham has other targets. Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff, is presented as a treacherous boot-licker, instrumental in driving Grisham from her job as White House press secretary and back to the sole employ of Melania. Lindsey Graham was a two-faced leech, “Senator Freeloader” as the author has it. Both Meadows and Graham, she writes, helped undercut Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff.Where are they now? Giuliani is suspended from the bar and reportedly in prosecutors’ crosshairs. Meadows is facing a congressional subpoena over his role on 6 January. Graham is in Trump’s doghouse again.The spotlight on Melania is unsparing. Grisham says the first lady was unofficially called “Rapunzel” by the Secret Service, for her reluctance to leave her personal quarters. Unlike Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, Melania seldom ventured near her East Wing office. Some agents sought to be assigned to Melania, Grisham says, because her “limited movements and travel meant that they could spend more time at home with their families”. But Melania did care deeply about the White House Easter egg roll. We all have our priorities.In Grisham’s telling, Melania was taken aback by racial animus voiced in Charlottesville in August 2017 by white supremacists, and deplored racism herself. Intentionally or otherwise, Grisham omits the fact her former boss was a “birther” who helped her husband stoke the lie that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.Yet Grisham reserves her harshest takes for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the “interns”, as Grisham says they came to be known. As she saw it, the pair repeatedly conflated being born on third base with wisdom, aesthetic grace with entitlement to whatever they wanted.Grisham describes how the pair attempted to shoehorn themselves into a meeting with the Queen, how Jared offered opinions on the Mexican border and on combating Covid. Grisham appears to relish recounting Kushner’s difficulties in obtaining a security clearance and the fact he needed Trump to get it done.Still, Kushner was de facto chief of staff and no one who crossed him could hope to survive. Sure, Steve Bannon eked out a last-minute pardon, just like Charlie Kushner, Jared’s dad. But Bannon was gone from the White House in months.Wildland review: Evan Osnos on the America Trump exploitedRead moreGrisham has written a tell-all but it is also an exercise in self-pity. She tags an unnamed boyfriend for assorted bad behavior. She suspects there was another woman and regrets her choice of men. The profile matches that of Max Miller, a White House staffer now Trump’s pick for an Ohio congressional seat.Miller reportedly pushed Grisham against a wall and slapped her, allegations he denies. In 2007, he was charged with assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing from the cops. He pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges before the case was dismissed.Trump reportedly assaulted his first wife, Ivana, and faces a defamation lawsuit in connection with the alleged sexual assault of the writer E Jean Carroll. He too denies all allegations. So it goes.Grisham laments the state of the Republican party, lauds Liz Cheney and argues that the GOP is “not one man”. Reasonable people can differ. A recent poll shows most Republicans want Trump to continue as their leader.
    I’ll Take Your Questions Now is published by Harper Collins
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    Barack Obama on how uncovering his past helped him plan his future

    How I wroteBarack Obama on how uncovering his past helped him plan his futureThe former president of the United States was at a crossroads in his life when he wrote his first book, Dreams from My Father Barack ObamaSat 2 Oct 2021 06.00 EDTI was in my early 30s when I wrote Dreams from My Father. At the time, I was a few years out of law school. Michelle and I were newly married and just beginning to think about having kids. My mother was still alive. And I was not yet a politician.I look back now and understand that I was at an important crossroads then, thinking hard about who I wanted to be in the world and what sort of contribution I could make. I was passionate about civil rights, curious about public service, full of loose ideas, and entirely uncertain about which path I should take. I had more questions than answers. Was it possible to create more trust between people and lessen our divides? How much did small steps toward progress matter – improving conditions at a school, say, or registering more people to vote – when our larger systems seemed so broken? Would I accomplish more by working inside existing institutions or outside of them?Behind all of this floated something more personal, a deeper set of unresolved questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? How do I belong?That’s what compelled me to start writing this book.A Promised Land by Barack Obama review – an impressive but incomplete memoirRead moreI’ve always believed that the best way to meet the future involves making an earnest attempt at understanding the past. It’s why I enjoy reading different accounts of history and why I value the insights of those who’ve been on this earth longer than I have. Some folks might see history as something we put behind us, a bunch of words and dates carved in stone, a set of dusty artefacts best stored in a vault. But for me, history is alive the same way an old-growth forest is alive, deep and rich, rooted and branching off in unexpected directions, full of shadows and light. What matters most is how we carry ourselves through that forest – the perspectives we bring, the assumptions we make, and our willingness to keep returning to it, to ask the harder questions about what’s been ignored, whose voices have been erased.These pages represent my early, earnest attempt to walk through my own past, to examine the strands of my heritage as I considered my future. In writing it, I was able to dwell inside the lives of my parents and grandparents, the landscapes, cultures and histories they carried, the values and judgments that shaped them – and that in turn, shaped me. What I learned through this process helped to ground me. It became the basis for how I moved forward, giving me the confidence to know I could be a good father to my children and the courage to know I was ready to step forward as a leader.The act of writing is exactly that powerful. It’s a chance to be inquisitive with yourself, to observe the world, confront your limits, walk in the shoes of others, and try on new ideas. Writing is difficult, but that’s kind of the point. You might spend hours pushing yourself to remember what an old classroom smelled like, or the timbre of your father’s voice, or the precise colour of some shells you saw once on a beach. This work can anchor you, and fortify you, and surprise you. In finding the right words, in putting in that time, you may not always hit upon specific answers to life’s big questions, but you will understand yourself better. That’s how it works for me, anyway.The young man you meet in these pages is flawed and full of yearning, asking questions of himself and the world around him, learning as he goes. I know now, of course, that this was just the beginning for him. If you’re lucky, life provides you with a good long arc. I hope that my story will encourage you to think about telling your story, and to value the stories of others around you. The journey is always worth taking. Your answers will come.TopicsHow I wroteAutobiography and memoirUS politicsHistory booksfeaturesReuse this content More

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    Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa review – the bloated body politic

    Book of the dayPolitics booksPeril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa review – the bloated body politic The Washington Post journalists pick apart the transfer of power from Trump to Biden in an F-bomb-peppered account of the corporeal and divine in US governmentPeter ConradTue 28 Sep 2021 02.00 EDTExcept for Donald Trump, who believes only in himself, American politicians are inveterate God-botherers, sure that they were elected by their creator, not just by their constituents. While re-traversing the transfer of power between Trump and Joe Biden, Bob Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa often pause as the wheelers and dealers they are tracking pray, text scriptural citations or glance sanctimoniously skywards. Biden fingers his rosary beads before debating Trump, and when Mike Pence performs his constitutional duty by ratifying the outcome of the presidential election, an aide congratulates him for fighting the good fight and keeping the faith. Later, Nancy Pelosi summarises her scheme for raising the minimum wage as “the gospel of Matthew”.Yet despite such homages to the soul, what truly matters in the showdowns and face-offs that Peril documents is the chunky body and its thuggish heft. Among Trump’s enforcers, only the anti-immigrant ideologue Stephen Miller, whose skinny frame and slick fitted suits are noted by Woodward and Costa, has a lean and hungry look. Otherwise, power is exhibited by a swollen paunch. Bill Barr becomes attorney general because Melania thinks his “extraordinarily large belly” is a guarantee of gravitas. Mike Pompeo is “heavy and gregarious”, which implies that he has “little tolerance for liberals”. Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, qualifies for his job because “at six foot eight and bearded, he looked like a professional wrestler”. Given this huddle of heavyweights, it amused me to learn that Biden’s entourage includes a “gut check” – no, not a dietician but a crony who offers a second opinion when the new president wants to act on instinct.Physical quirks and kinks such as these matter because they demonstrate that, in the populist era, politics is about instantly gratifying appetite, not making pondered, judicious decisions. Woodward and Costa give a revealing account of a lunch at which Trump receives the homage of Kevin McCarthy, minority leader in the House of Representatives. Trump orders his customary cheeseburger, fries and ice-cream, solipsistically assuming that his guest will have the same; he is startled when McCarthy foregoes the fries, bins the bun, and requests fresh fruit rather than a gooey dessert. “That really works?” sneers Trump, gobbling grease. What Pelosi calls his “fat butt”, on display to be kissed by McCarthy, advertises his immense self-satisfaction.After the insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January, General Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, kept anxious watch on the nuclear chain of command because he feared that Trump “had gone into a serious mental decline”. But Trump could hardly regress, since he never advanced into rational adulthood. In Peril, he is indistinguishable from the Trump Baby, the diapered balloon that bobbed above Westminster during his state visit. As he suborns Pence to discount electoral results and nullify Biden’s win, his wheedling suggests dialogue overheard in a primary school playground. “Wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?” he asks, as if tempting the vice-president with some shiny new electronic toy. When Pence resists, Trump’s recourse is sulky petulance: “I don’t want to be your friend any more,” he whines.Milley worries that Trump, berserk after his electoral loss, might reach a “trigger point” and order a diversionary attack China or Iran. Adam Smith, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, is less alarmist. Smith agrees that Trump is a “mentally unstable narcissistic psychopath”, but argues that he’s incapable of starting a war because “he’s a coward, he doesn’t want that level of responsibility”. We were saved by Trump’s laziness and an inability to concentrate that Woodward and Costa blame on his addictive television-watching. To the consternation of advisers, he switches subjects capriciously; with a zapper where his brain should be, he can’t help flicking through the channels to see what’s happening elsewhere. On his way out of office, he drops only F-bombs, “spewing expletives” and screaming at cabinet colleagues: “I don’t care a fuck. You’re all fucked up. You’re all fucked.”That versatile little word peppers the narrative of Peril, and turns out to be indispensable in the discourse of Washington DC. It gives Rex Tillerson legal deniability: he gets away with insisting that he didn’t call Trump a “moron” because he actually called him a “fucking moron”. When Biden resorts to curses while securing votes for his economic stimulus, “the number of ‘fucks’ he uttered seemed to multiply as the story went from senator to senator”. Partisanship likewise signs its oaths in urine, so that Mitch McConnell declares his support for a Trump nominee to the supreme court by vowing: “I feel stronger about Kavanaugh than mule piss.” In Kentucky, which McConnell represents in the Senate, the micturition of mules appears to be proof positive of sincerity. It all sounds harmlessly infantile or at best adolescent until you realise that these men determine the fate of a nation and perhaps the future of our planet.Their pretence of godliness founders when Steve Bannon, so zealously Catholic, decides to out-Herod Herod by suggesting that a campaign of lies about the election result will “kill the Biden presidency in the crib”. Yes, politics is murder by other means, and the deity, having long since retreated in despair or disgust, is not about to rescue us. The last fatalistic word should go to Biden, on an occasion when his rosary stayed in his pocket. Wrangling over the exit from Afghanistan, he tells his secretary of state: “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” I’m unsure whether he meant Trump or the devil, but is there any difference?TopicsPolitics booksBook of the dayUS politicsDonald TrumpJoe BidenBob WoodwardJournalism booksreviewsReuse this content More