"The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin." ~ Mark Twain
Cuba Is Way Too Cool!
So Carole King is singing her little heart out for John Kerry. I predict duets with Bonnie Raitt soon. Bonnie's first choice was Howard Dean....Quick! Did he get it from Roger Daltrey near the end of Won't Get Fooled Again? "YEEEEEAAAEEAAAAH!!!
Or from John Lennon on the first Plastic Ono Band album? "Mother don't Go..aaAAAAEEEAAAHH!!"
Me, I can't decide. They're both pretty close.
Both Carole and Bonnie have proudly played in Castro's Cuba. Carole went last year and serenaded the Maximum leader in person with a heartfelt "You've Got A Friend." Bonnie Raitt visited in March of '99 and stopped hyperventilating just long enough to compose a song in Castro's honor, "Cuba Is Way Too Cool!" by title. Among the lyrics: "It's just a happy little island!" and "Big bad wolf (the U.S.) you look the FOOL!"
With Woody Harrelson gyrating drunkenly beside her, the rapidly oxidizing chanteuse, she of the big red hair and the famous gray roots, rasped out her ditty at Havana's Karl Marx theater during a Castroite propaganda ploy called "Music Bridges Over Troubled Waters" back in March of '99.
"Rock Against Freedom" sounds much better to me. A beaming, waving Jimmy Buffett came on after Bonnie. Then came Joane Osborne. R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, and former Police-men Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland all made the groovy scene and took the stage in turn. In between crooning and strumming, these cheeky free-spirits all dutifully recited their scripts against the "embargo." (How did Jackson Browne miss this?)
Against South Africa a decade earlier, of course, their script called FOR an embargo.
A crowd of 5,000 Cubans huddled before them, swaying and clapping. Most were Cuban Communist Party members and their families. Let's step back and contemplate the scene: here are these troubadours for human rights. Here's the same smarmy gang who boycotted South Africa ("I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City!" thunders Bonnie Raitt herself alongside Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Darryl Hall and scores of similar political imbeciles on the 1985 recording titled, "Artists United Against Apartheid.")
But she'll GLADLY play in Havana's Karl Marx theater and bask in the applause of an audience pledging proud fealty to the most murderous ideology in human history. Indeed she'll happily compose a song in their honor--and all on the house!
Here's Bonnie, Carole, Jimmy and other shrill foes of capital punishment happily crooning love songs to card-carrying members (literally!) of an ideology who's minions shot, starved, strangled, drowned, hacked and worked to death 100 million human beings in the 20th century. According to researcher Dr. Armando Lago, many in Bonnie and Jimmy's very audience had a hand in 110,000 of these murders. Here are these do-gooders playing (free-of-charge) because of an invitation from Stalinists!
These musical hipsters composed gushy odes to coolness and happiness of a nation with the highest (youth) emigration, incarceration and suicide rates on the face of the globe.
When Cuba's suicide rate reached 24 per thousand in 1986--making it double Latin America's average, making it triple Cuba's pre-Castro rate, making Cuban women the most suicidal in the world, and making death by suicide the primary cause of death for Cubans aged 15-48. At that point the Cuban government ceased publishing the statistics on the self-slaughter. The figures became state secrets. The implications horrified even the Castroites.
But apparently not Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters. When in his charming presence, neither of these feminists can keep from bursting into those toothy smiles and throwing their arms around the man who drives more women to end their lives than anyone in the world.
Cuba also has the world's highest (or third highest, depending on the source) abortion rate. I say there's a relationship with the suicide rate. They both smack of hopelessness and despair. But I leave it to more insightful writers to explore and explain.
In Castroland Jimmy Buffet and Bonnie Raitt proudly authored paeans to the coolness and happiness of a place that also criminalized Beatles' and Rolling Stones' records, and where long hair, blue jeans, and/or effeminate behavior got thousands of youths yanked off the streets by secret police and dumped in concentration camps with "Work Will Make Men Out of You," in bold letters above the gate and with machine gunners posted on the watchtowers. The initials for these camps were UMAP, not GULAG. But the conditions were identical.
Much "wasting away" within their barbed wire, Mr Buffett. But not from Margaritas. Slave labor, disease, malnutrition, beatings, torture and hunger strikes caused the "wasting way." Stepping on pop-tops is no fun, I agree, Mr Buffett. But neither is being bludgeoned to death with the blunt end of bayonets, a pastime much indulged by your charming Castroite hosts. Armando Valladares provides harrowing details of scores of such deaths in his Against All Hope. Enrique Encinosa's stirring and aptly named Unvanquished, also gives a roll call of this heroic struggle--of this lonely and desperate fight against the bloodiest blight to ever afflict this hemisphere.
The blight is also known as Castroism, and is known as inspiration for happy little jingles by Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Buffett and Carole King.
These horrors came under the orders of a true-blue "natural born killer," Woody. But he never kills in combat, Woody. From high school, through college, to senility, the sight of a man with both hands free to fight has always palsied Castro with fright. His gifts of gab and guile have always seen him through. In high school he'd whimper cravenly for his foe's clemency, ask Ramon Mestre. In college he'd convince potential foes of his fealty--before shooting them, and always in the back, after an ambush. Ask the families of Manolo Castro and Leonel Gomez.
As Maximum leader he could finally bind them, blindfold them and shove them against the blood-spattered wall. Here, at long last, Castro's foes were finally shot from the front, ask the families of Alberto Tapia (20 years old) Virgilio Campaneria (21 years old) Carlos Machado (15 years old) and 16 thousand others - not to forget Tom Fuller, Howard Anderson, William Morgan.
Yes friends, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt's charming pal murdered scores of men who shared the same citizenship as you and I, and Nick Berg. But rather than vow justice, our President of the day threw a mantle of protection over the terrorist murderers, and shamefully, it remains to this day. And rather than burn with outrage at the pre-meditated butchery, our Congressmen clamor to subsidize him while our celebrities line up to serenade, applaud, hug, toast, get autographs from--speaking of which!
After their performance for Castro's toadies, during the "Musical Bridges" smarmfest, the rockers and hipsters mingled backstage, smiling smugly, hugging, beaming with that self-righteousness of theirs. Then hark! An invitation arrived that sent a thrill from their Birkenstocks clear to their Ying-Yang pendants. A message from Fidel Castro himself, asking the honor of their presence at a private reception!
Knees weakened, mouths gaped, hearts fluttered, skin tingled, mass incontinence threatened.
"We completely lost our composure!" squealed English songstress, Ruth Merry, one of the B acts on the Castroite concert bill. "As we lined up, an excited Andy Summers of the Police stood next to me with his copy of Castro's 'History Will Absolve Me.' Andy was nervously contemplating asking Castro to sign it - but he finally did! . . . Here were all these huge stars, quaking with anticipation! . . . . I lost any composure and degenerated into a heap of nervous giggling for the rest of the evening!"
I'm losing my composure too, Ruthie dear.
And you know how rockers and hipsters are always big on AIDS "benefits?" (smarmy self-promotion) Well, Castro's Cuba developed a truly peachy method of dealing with the malady. The patients were banished to "sanatoriums" in the middle of the countryside and basically left alone till they died. "Left alone" is the key phrase here. Think about it, in the words of Kris Kristoferson himself, "Freedom's just another word for" being left alone.
Or so it seemed to some of Castro's subjects. Word got around. "You mean no secret police constantly snooping over my shoulder?" "You mean no waving a stupid little flag for hours in the plaza while the Maximum gasbag spouts his idiocies?" "You mean I can say what I want? Read what I want? . . . . Hummmm?"
In a film titled Cursed Be Your Name, Liberty. Cuban exile Vladimir Ceballos exposes a grim and almost inconceivable episode in that long drama of horrors known as the Cuban Revolution. Back in the 80's young people in Cuba who listened (or tried to listen) to American rock music - to Bonnie Raitt, Carole King and Jimmy Buffet - were called "Roqueros," and were special targets of the police. They were constantly harassed, beaten and jailed. Ceballos' film documents how over one hundred of these roqueros deliberately injected themselves with the aids virus.
Sounds stupid, crazy and horrible, I agree. But to these people banishment in those AIDS sanatoriums smacked of freedom. One scene shows a roquero aids victim holding a small, crumpled American flag. With trembling hands he scrubs it clean then drapes it slowly across his emaciated chest. This man had faced the prospect of life under the rule of the man Carole King warmly serenaded with "You've Gotta Friend." He'd envisaged a future on Bonnie Raitt's "happy little island."
He preferred death by inches. He chose a lingering death of suppurating sores, constant pain and dementia--because it also brought a few years of life in the equivalent of a U.S. federal prison.
On Bonnie Raitt's "Happy Little Island" he reckoned this as freedom. Among his last acts was a tribute to America, the refuge he finally despaired of ever reaching, the nation Bonnie Raitt bashes in her love song to his jailers, composed while an honored guest of a regime that jailed a higher portion of its subjects than Stalin's.
"Way Too Cool," indeed, Ms. Raitt.
We shake our heads, don't we, friends? "Those roqueros are crazy!" we say. "Just like those disturbed kids who kill themselves after listening to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath."
Perhaps some. But are Roqueros' ALL THAT different from the tens of thousands who paddle into the Florida straits on innertubes, styrofoam chunks, rusty barrels? They know the odds: one in three of making landfall. Errant tides, storms, and Tiger sharks await.
And the kids who squeeze into the landing gear of transatlantic jets--they know where these planes fly, the altitude, the temperatures, etc. But they see a 30 percent likelihood of escape from Bonnie's "Happy Little Island" vs. a 70 percent chance of a ghastly death as well worth it. Recall De Niro in The Deer Hunter holding up the three bullets for his round of Russian Roulette. "Three!" he told his Cong captors, "THREE bullets! ha-ha-ha!" De Niro's reckoning wasn't much different from the roqueros and balseros.
Way too cool, indeed, Ms. Raitt. And Ms. King? You've got a helluva friend.