Tag Archives: human rights activist

Mikis Theodorakis

Zorba The Greek is one of my favourite movies, which seen as a child in the early sixties made a deep and enduring impression on me. I completely fell in love with the music of Mikis Theodorakis, its joy and melancholy, its power and beauty, and I still can’t hear it without being moved to floods of tears. I fell in love too with Anthony Quinn who brought the character Zorba to life with such understanding and enthusiasm that I find it difficult to separate the actor from the character and from the music of Theodorakis; the three elements welded so perfectly as to form a kind of other entity which has become a part of my own psyche. But back to Mikis Theodorakis…

I wonder whether his music would mean so much to me if I hadn’t known anything about the man. I am quite naturally attracted to people who sacrifice their own lives to improve the lives of others, people whose concern for their own safety in the face of tyranny and injustice takes second place to their conviction to oppose evil governments and social wrongs. No, that’s just crazy. The music speaks volumes about the man and his heart, and I couldn’t fail to be moved by it.

“What comes naturally in my mind when I hear the name Theodorakis? The artist that so intelligently fused classical music with folk and popular bouzouki greek music and popularised the work of great Greek poets like Elytis and Ritsos. The composer that showed the world what Greek music is like, through his soundtrack for “Zorba the Greek”. At the same time the freedom fighter comes forth, a man that participated in protests for the rights of the working class, a man who was imprisoned and tortured for the ideas he believed in, who travelled all over the world performing against the military junta in Greece, someone that still has the guts to criticize modern Rome’s foreign policy.” PAVLOS LIONTAS

Here are some clips, the only ones I could find which actually played properly all the way through, (since Google took over YouTube things have significantly fallen apart) which focus on the piece of music for Zorba’s dance.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Zorba The Greek is a pitiable creature who must do everything in his power to find a copy with all speed. I recall the movie in vivid colour and richness, although I learned much later that it had been screened in black and white, so intense was the impression it had made on my mind at the time. I understand though that now it’s possible to get it in colour, and I strongly advise seeing such a version.

Another movie, Z, about the Greek military junta which destroyed the lives of so many during the sixties, features the music of Theodorakis, who at the time the movie was made was being tortured, buried alive twice amongst other unimaginable horrors, and Costa Gavras was able only to use pieces which Theodorakis had formerly written, rather than new compositions from the great artist which he had hoped to inspire.

 

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Pete Seeger

Of all the people who made a strong impact on my sensibilities throughout the agonising years of my growing up, Pete Seeger was chief. His voice resonates in my soul, his goodness and courage stirs my spirit, and his longevity testifies of the divine necessity of his remaining among us to remind us of what is truly good and noble. Pete is still active despite his advanced years, still singing, still showing up at important political demonstrations, a bulwark against encroaching inhumanity and a champion of civil rights.

I anticipate his passing from this world with dread, believing in my heart that the moment he leaves us the pressing darkness, kept at bay by the light of his presence here, will overwhelm and consume us, and the resistance to injustice of which he was the vanguard will collapse under the weight of burgeoning global hostility and selfishness. I know there are others committed to the cause, and would not be so ignorant as to dismiss their contribution and effort, their sacrifices, but none has the power to impart with gentleness of manner and strength of conviction such a cohesive and inclusive unity of purpose and universal brotherhood as Pete Seeger.

Being members of the Sydney Push, about which I shall write at a later time, my parents had access to a great number of political activists, writers, musicians, and artists, all of whom turned up to a party I recall they threw to raise money to mount a defence for Pete’s trial for contempt of Congress, each guest paying to enter with a yellow ribbon pinned to the clothes as proof of participation. Hundreds turned up. Here is a quote from Wikipaedia relating to the trial:

“On August 18, 1955, Seeger was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Alone among the many witnesses after the 1950 conviction and imprisonment of the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth Amendment (which asserted that his testimony might be self incriminating) and instead (as the Hollywood Ten had done) refused to name personal and political associations on the grounds that this would violate his First Amendment rights: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”[54] Seeger’s refusal to testify led to a March 26, 1957, indictment for contempt of Congress; for some years, he had to keep the federal government apprised of where he was going any time he left the Southern District of New York. He was convicted in a jury trial of contempt of Congress in March 1961, and sentenced to 10 years in jail (to be served simultaneously), but in May 1962 an appeals court ruled the indictment to be flawed and overturned his conviction.[55][56]”

Anyone who doesn’t know of Pete Seeger must educate himself immediately. Seek out his YouTube appearances and listen to his songs, read everything there is to find about his life, and then, and only then, will something of great value be grafted in to the soul. Here he is with Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo…

And here in this video you’ll see at the end what kind of man he is…

Pete formed a group in his university days called the Almanac Singers, and later, to worldwide acclaim, The Weavers. Here they are at their reunion concert, and you can see that the chance of seeing them together again created a rush on tickets…

Here’s Pete with Arlo’s old man Woody when the two of them were young men.

Well, it’s just another picture of Pete.

Here, in advanced years, appearing on the David Letterman show, Pete articulates his basic tenet that the world’s issues can and should be addressed through song, the unifying medium…

My hero.

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