Friday, July 14, 2017

JAZZ GREATS: KAMASI WASHINGTON / JACO PASTORIOUS

KAMASI WASHINGTON rules. His triple album 'The Epic' is No. 1 default sound on my system since the end of April when I got it as a birthday present. Then yesterday I discovered in a slush pile of clippings this great article from June 2016 by the grandly named Ludovic Hunter-Tilney. LHT's punchy piece puts Kamasi and his band at the LA epicentre of a new politically infused jazz movement. Kamasi says: "The whole point of playing this music is to convey a message. That message comes from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, published in 1965, the year he was assassinated. Copies were handed out at Kasami's school by black activists and it stuck with him. The message is: "Self discipline, self understanding and self love, that's what it was really about. Just love yourself, you're beautiful, your history, your culture, you come from someone who is beautiful, you're not just the descendant of a slave, you should have pride in who you are, knowing why you are."



Kasami won a scholarship to study ethomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles,where he learnt about 'north Indian classical music, Indonesian gamelan and Ghanaian gospel choirs.' The album took four years to make and features a 10-piece jazz band, , a 32-piece porchestra and a 20-voice choir. His touring band features seven musicians including his father Rickey who also plays sax. The band, reports LHT, is made up of his LA peers, most being also the children of jazz players. They formed a musical collective named  the West Coast Get Down who played every week at a Hollywood club. A monthy-long collaborative session in the studio provided the germ of 'The Epic'. That's all you need to know as a taster. Now book a comfortable couch and immerse yourself in this amazing music. Several great live concerts on YouTube, including a Glastonbury show. Powerful healing force or what.


JACO PASTORIOUS is widely regarded as the Jimi Hendrix of the bass guitar. He reinvented the instrument, expanding its possibilities by removing the frets and pushing the playing techniques into unknown territory. At the level of musicianship Pastorious reached, he was soon feted and showered with superlatives. His work with Weather Report, Joni Mitchell and Herbie Hancock -  to name just three  - is outstanding. His many other ensembles that played his compositions, range across many fields and emotions. Jaco's bipolar extraordinariness spilled over into drug use, uncontrollable antics and, in the end, murderous violence. Set against this is much beautiful footage of his children and himself, swimming, juggling, having fun. Packed with harsh and tender moments, great interviews and tasteful clips and tracks, 'Jaco' will bring tears but also profound inspiration that so much wonderful music could pour out of this man. Ditto as above: YouTube and many great albums to explore.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE HUMAN MICROBIOME

Source: Teach the Microbiome

For a long time now THE GENERALIST has been curious to know more about what is now referred to as the human microbiome - the entire ecosystem of bacteria (and other organisms) that we carry on us and inside our bodily containers. 99% of the bacteria are found in the gut.

I find this whole area of science incredibly powerful and it is clear from the research for this post that many discoveries are revealing a whole new world of medical investigation.

Published by Scribe 2016

My first main source is this highly accessible book by a young German scientist which is a great place to start understanding this remarkable new paradign shift in our thinking about our own bodies.

It seems we're built of three main tubes: the cardiovascular system with the heart at its centre; the nervous system, running in parallel, with the spinal cord, our brain at the top and nerve networks across our entire body. The third is the intestinal tube running through us from end to end via the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and anus.

This is where it gets real interesting. Something called the vagus nerve serves as a fast and direct link between our gut and our brain. It runs from the diaphragm, between the lungs and the heart, up along the oesophagus  and through the neck to the brain. As the brain is insulated from the rest of the body, it needs information from the gut to form a picture of how the body is doing. Enders writes:
'The gut has not only a remarkable system of nerves to gather all this information, but also a huge surface area. That makes it the body's largest sensory organ...a huge matrix, sensing our inner life and working on the subconscious mind,'
Here are other things I learnt from this book:
  • 'Stress is thought to be among the most important stimuli discussed by the brain and the gut' writes Enders. One theory is that the 'altered circumstances stress creates in the gut allow different bacteria to survive there than in periods of low stress. We could say that stress changes the weather in the gut.'
  • 'Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind.'
  • 'Our gastrointestinal tract is home to more than a thousand different species of bacteria - plus minority populations of viruses and yeats, as well as fungi and various other single-celled organisms.
  • 'Our gut's microbiome can weigh up to 2 kilos and contain about 100 trillion bacteria. One gramme of faeces contains more bacteria than there are people on the Earth.
  • 80% of our immune system is in the gut.
  • 'We are influenced by the microscopic world that lives in us. This is all the more interesting when we realise that every person's inner world is unique to him and her.'
  • 'While 100 per cent of the cells that make us up when we start life are human cells, we are soon colonised by so many micro-organisms that only 10 per cent of our cells are human, with microbes accounting for the remaining 90 per cent.
  • 'Our lifestyle, random acquaintances, illness, or hobbies all influence the shape of the populations inside our bodies...It is generally accepted that the first population to colonise out gut lay the main foundations for the future of our entire body.
  • In the April 2011 issue of Nature, scientists cliamed to have discovered three main enterotypes - bacteriological ecosystems - which appear in humans of all ages, genders, body weight and nationality. Type 1 is domninated by high-levels of Bacteroides, Type 2 by Prevotella and Type 3 by Ruminococcus. There are indication that long-term diet influences these enterotypes. Bacteroides seem to like meat and saturated fatty acids; Prevotellas are more common in the guts of vegetarians; Ruminococcus feed on the cell walls of plants.
  • Some scientists now support the theory that our gut microbiota can be considered an organ

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The Human Microbiome Project (HMP), involving some 200 scientists, was a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative with the goal of identifying and characterizing the microorganisms which are found in association with both healthy and diseased humans. The results were published in June 2012.

The Human Microbiome
The Human Microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with the human body. These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria in an average human body number ten times more than human cells, for a total of about 1000 more genes than are present in the human genome. Because of their small size, however, microorganisms make up only about 1 to 3 percent of our body mass (that's 2 to 6 pounds of bacteria in a 200-pound adult). These microbes are generally not harmful to us, in fact they are essential for maintaining health. For example, they produce some vitamins that we do not have the genes to make, break down our food to extract nutrients we need to survive, teach our immune systems how to recognize dangerous invaders and even produce helpful anti-inflammatory compounds that fight off other disease-causing microbes. An ever-growing number of studies have demonstrated that changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous disease states, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.

The Human Microbiome Project

The NIH Common Fund Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was established in 2008, with the mission of generating resources that would enable the comprehensive characterization of the human microbiome and analysis of its role in human health and disease.
Traditional microbiology has focused on the study of individual species as isolated units. However the vast majority of microbial species have never been successfully isolated as viable specimens for analysis, presumably because their growth is dependent upon a specific microenvironment that has not been, or cannot be, reproduced experimentally. Advances in DNA sequencing technologies have created a new field of research, called metagenomics, allowing comprehensive examination of microbial communities, without the need for cultivation. Instead of examining the genome of an individual bacterial strain that has been grown in a laboratory, the metagenomic approach examines the collection of genomes derived from microbial communities sampled from natural environments. In the HMP, this method will complement genetic analyses of known isolated strains, providing unprecedented information about the complexity of human microbial communities.
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Source: It's OK to be Smart

In 'Tending the Human Body's Microbial Garden' by Carl Zimmer [New York Times / July 1 2012], he writes that, for more than a century doctors have been waging war against bacteria with antibiotics. Now a new approach known as 'medical ecology' suggests that by nurturing our 'garden' of gut flora we may discover entirely new approaches to infectious diseases that have previously been treated with antibiotics. Tending the microbiome may also help in treating obesity and diabetes. Many of bacteria have co-evolved and work to maintain the health of our bodies.

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'Germs Are Us' by Michael Specter [New Yorker / 22nd Oct 2012] quotes David A. Relman, the first scientist to sequence the genomes of a human bacterial community - which happened to come from his own mouth. 

He tells Specter: "We have to stop looking at medicine as a war between invading pathogens and our bodies". He believes we need to employ a "sort of stewardship which has more in common with park mangement than it does with the current practice of trying...to kill microbes."

'Looked upon this way,' writes Specter, 'the human body turns out to be a vast, highly mutable ecosystem - each of us seems more like a farm than like an individual assembled from a rulebook of genetic instructions. Medicine becomes a matter of cultivation, as if our bacterial cells were crops in a field.'

Specter also refers to a 2009 paper entitled 'What Are the Consequences of the Disappearing Human Microbiome'  written by Martin J. Blaser and fellow microbiologist Stanley Fallow which focused on a loss of diversity in our biomes due to antibiotics. In a theoretical case a woman born at the start of the 20th century might have 10,000 species of bacteria, From the 1930s on, most people would have  one or two courses of antibiotics in their lives and will thus have lost some species. Her child will take many more antibiotice and will lose more species. Blaer says:
"A lot of things are happening at once. The rise in obesity, celiac disease, asthma, allergy syndromes and Type 1 diabetes. Bad eating habits are not sufficient to explain the worldwide explosion in obesity...We are not talking about illnesses that are increasing by ten per cent. They are doubling and tripling and qudrupling. With each generation there is a heavier impact on the early-life microbiome. And it means we are less and less able to metabolize the food we eat.'
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'I had the Bacteria in my Gut analysed. And this may be the Future of Medicine' by Andrew Anthony [The Observer Review / 9th Feb 2014]
'Humans are first colonised by microbes during birth. Then through breast milk, which contains both probiotics ( beneficial microbes) and prebiotics (compounds that foster the growth of probiotics).
"There is strengthening evidence ", says microbiologist Paul O'Toole, " that the explosion of auto-immune diseases and immune disregulation diseases in Western society may be due to suppression of gut bacteria from infancy onwards."
'It takes about two years from birth...for a child to attain a mature microbiome. There are several factors that may contribute to childhood microbial dimishment. One is the increase in caesarian sections...Another is a lack of breast milk and a third is the increased use of antibiotics.
'In fact there are many studies around the globe ...which point up connections between the microbiota and diseases and complaints as diverse as  irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's. Alzheimer's, autism, depression, cardiovascvular disease and colon cancer.'
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Source: Wikipedia
'Why modern life is bad for the gut' by Clive Cookson [Financial Times / 25th April 2015]
 reports on two studies on the microbiomes of remote human communities to compare their diversity with those in the US. One was a isolated Yanomami tribe in the Amazonian forest, the other subsitence farmers in Papua New Guinea. Both had considerably more diverse microbiomes than  Americans. The team leader of the Amazonian project said:

"Our results bolster a growing body of data suggesting a link between, on the one hand, decreased bacterial diversity, industrialised diets and modern antibiotics, and on the other, immunological and metabolic diseases such as obesity, asthma, allergies and diabetes, which have drastically increased since the 1970s.We believe there is something environmental occuring in the paset 30 years driving these diseases. The microbiome could be involved."

*
In an article by Chloe Lambert entitled 'Gut Thinking' [New Scientist. 21st Nov 2015]:

In 2014, scientists at the University of New Mexico published a review of reasearch on human microbiomes and came to tthis intriguing solution: 'gut microbes don't just flourish on certain diets, they may also control our food cravings and preferences to serve their own purpose'

This raises the intriguing possibility that through the spread of microbes, person to person,  those cravings could become contagious. Lambert says: 'We already know people are much more likely to become obese if they have a friend who is obese.'

According to Tony Goldstone, an endocrinologist at Imperial College, London: 'There's evidence that gut hormones modify not only reward and consumption of food but also any drug of abuse - such as nicotine, cocaine and alcohol.'





Friday, July 07, 2017

HEATHCOTE WILLIAMS HAS DIED

This is a great picture of Heathcote Williams who died earlier this week after a long illness that kept him out of the public eye for the last years of his life, though he continued to lambast the establishment and prick pomposity until the end through his work on the online International Times website and his last opus on Boris Johnson. 

For many years Heathcote worked in our office at 2 Blenheim Crescent just off London's Portobello Road in a small back room with the graphic designer and illustrator Richard Adam. Together they founded the Open Head Press, named after the printing press you can see in this picture. 

Over many years they produced a wide variety of posters, pamphlets, booklets and other valuable outpourings. Their space was often filled with visitors including the great poet Christopher Logue and John Michell, the author of 'View Over Atlantis' and many other arcane and wonderful books. The early issues of Fortean Times were also produced in that room. Cider was often the refreshment of choice and, as the working day progressed, there was often a trace of unruly behaviour and schoolboy pranks, much laughter and the occasional altercation between the assembled bohemians.

This is the work that first brought Heathcote to public attention. This is the cover of the 1st Edition which was published in Britain  by Hutchinson in 1964. Heathcote was 22 and this was his first book. 'The Speakers' was brought back into print in 1982 by Robin Clark. Both copies are in the Generalist Archive.


I have several powerful memories of Heathcote. I remember being in his flat on Westbourne Park Road one evening when he tried out some of his newly-written verse in front of a small group of invited friends including myeslf. Heathcote had the most beautiful speaking voice and was without doubt a great and important English poet. As his mellifluous phrases rolled out, there was true magic in the air. No wonder Derek Jarman cast him as Prospero in his film version of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. Al Pacino was a friend of fan of Heathcote's.

[Left] First amazing issue of The Fanatic produced by Heathcote and designed by Richard Adams.

Equally memorable was the day when I travelled to Plymouth to interview James Lovelock, the now famous scientific author of the Gaia hypothesis, on 1st May 1984. You can read some more about this in my previous post in January 2006. After a remarkable afteroon of discussion, I was driven by taxi from Lovelock's house to the grand surroundings of  Port Eliot, a stately home set in beautiful grounds, at St Germans, Saltash in Cornwall. Many of you will know this as it became the site for the Elephant Fayre which began in 1980 and ran until 1986 in its first incarnation. Details of the 2017 Festival can be found here.

Was delighted to discover in the Archive this hand-drawn map that Heathcote had sent me
in advance so I wouldn't get lost. Tacked to it is a train ticket for £1.30

The owner of the house and Estate at that time was Perry Eliot, who was a friend and supporter of Heathcote's. I had arranged to meet Heathcote there and when the texi dropped me off in front this imposing Gothic building I ventured inside a maze of corridors and happened fortunately to bump into one of the house staff who directed me to the upstairs room where Heathcote was holding court.

 Heathcote always did resemble a Pres-Raphaelite figure never more so when I entered a large high-ceilinged room with a long wooden table strewn with manuscript pages and handwritten notes. Heathcote had beautiful handwriting. I think we ate and drank and I certainly slept the night there.

As I recall I was there to talk with him about his current work at the time which was a lengthy poem entitled 'Whale Nation', to be published by Jonathan Cape. I had for many years being writing about the Save The Whale movement and had met many whale experts and read extensively on the topic. I was able to feed much information into the mix which was duly acknowledged with this note on the front of a photocopy of the original manuscript. A treasured possession.


The handwriting is somewhat faded but his inscription reads: For John May: sine qua non [which means 'an indispensable and essential action']. Under his signature he writes: 'without the growth hormones supplied by you this work would never have seen the light of day.'

Incidentally it was Heathcote who first turned me on to the activities of the Animal Liberation Front, when he showed me an article by Ronnie Lee, the ALF founder, who had just been released from prison after a number of years sentence having been found guilty of arson. This led me, via journalism for the NME, to found,with my colleagues, one of the first ever animal lib magazines 'The Beast'.

THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE  is particularly rich in material from and on Heathcote. Its been some time since I've been through it all and I'm deeply touched by what I've found. An extensive exchange of correspondence, all hand typed and signed in pen + postcards, clippings + magazines and poster poems. Here are some of them:

What claimss to be the first publication of 'Whale Nation' .
Probably an earlier version. paper is undated.

The covers of Heathcote's four animal/environmental poems,
all published by Jonathan Cape in London, all signed. 'Whale Nation'
was a huge success, published in many languages, turned into a theatrical show [see poster below]
and an Arena documentary. The others were successful too but perhaps sold in lesser numbers.
The version of 'Elephants' is another early version, of 'Sacred Elephant', published on a large-format paper size
that is called 'elephant'. At bottom, cover illustration for 'Autogeddon' by Ian Pollock.





OBITUARIES TO DATE:






THE ECONOMIST

Monday, July 03, 2017

DRVING THE BEAT ROAD


THE GENERALIST had other plans for Saturday which were overtaken by a tip off from Peter Mobbs in France who pointed me to a remarkable piece of journalism by Jeff Weiss recently published in the Washington Post.

Entitled 'Driving The Beat Road' its a great account of the history of the Beats in San Francisco of which scant traces remain (City Lights bookstore, the Vesuvio Cafe plus the Beat Museum at 540 Broasdway) combined with a series of interviews with some of the surving members of the Beat Generation namely Lawrence Ferlinghetti (now 98), Michael McClure (84), Gary Snyder (87), Diane di Prima (82) as well as what Weiss calls a 'Beat-adjacent novelist' Herbert Gold (92).

Published by New Directions. 1973.
Second printing. The Generalist Library
Ferlinghetti is nearly blind now but, writes Weiss, his failing eyesight 'has been swapped for oracular vision'. He reports that F looks 'vaguely like a bust of Socrates, bald, white-bearded and wise' but, having lived nearly a century, he has sustained a 'serrated intellect, righteous integrity and good health'.

His remarkable life story includes a visit to Nagasaki short weeks after the atomic bomb blast. Of this experience he wrote: 'The city had just vanished from the face of the earth. Skeletons of trees on the horizon. Not a soul in sight...all souls melted.' He became an ardent pacifist as a result.

Ferlinghetti, says Weiss, has never 'stopped wondering where we're going, what will be lost to history and what may never be noticed at all.' As for the future, he predicts SF will be underwater in 50 years time.





Published by City Lights Book. 1sr Edition
1963. The Generalist Library.
Michael McClure is someone whose works I know less about and this valuable profile and interview is a fantastic read. For instance, he collaborated with Ray Manzarek of The Doors over a 20-year period and became drinking buddies with Jim Morrison. He says: "I don't think there was a better poet in America at Jim's age". Weiss claims that McClure 'helped crystallize the modern Rimbaud mystic archetype that Morrison ran with.'

McClure is worried about the future: "I know that young people are striving for change but it seems like they don't know how to rebel or what to rebel against." So, says Weiss, what are we supposed to do?

"Turn off the television set and turn off the distractions. Turn to your most intelligent friends and begin to imagine what's really going on...If we can...start to feel and think together again and let our imaginations and inspirationsa go...that will bring more change than anything."

One of McClure's big contribution was to help raise public consciousness about the environment in what he calls the "early bioromantic poems" alongside the remarkable and enigmatic Beat poet Gary Snyder, who Kerouac immortalised as Japhy Ryder in 'The Dharma Bums', and who is often referred to as a 'nature poet' - a kind of modern-time Thoreauvian - although Snyder considers himself to be a 'poet of reality'

Published by New Directions. 1972. Ninth
printing. The Generalist Library.
Snyder now lives in a far-flung deep country sanctuary and is, says Weiss, 'a man who doesn't particularly want to be found' and later describes him an an 'outrider of the outsiders' - a beautiful and apt phrase. Setting up the interview proved a lengthy process and following complicated directions to Snyder's hideout proved equally difficult. It was worth the effort.

Famously Snyder went to Japan to study Zen and translate ancient poems and stayed there off and on from 1956-69. Some have argued that The Beats were the main transmitters of Buddhism in America. If so, Snyder was the key figure. Pithy and meticulous, he brings his Zen training into play, challenging Weiss to ask him questions that no-one else had asked before. Its a truly wonderful encounter which bears rich fruit.

Weiss writes: 'Snyder is as close as we'll find to a legitimnate visionary....whose prescient views on recycling, overconsumption and leaving a modest footprint are now accepted wisdom among all but the most gluttonous.'

Published by Last Gasp of San Francisco.
1988. Original edition/Olympia Press 1969.
The Generalist Library
Equally impressive is Weiss' profile and interview with the most prominent female Beat Diane Di Prima, who has authored more than 40 volumes of poems, prose and stage plays. She also co-founded the New York Poet's Theatre, operated her own independent press and ran the 'Floating Bear' literary journal with her then clandestine lover LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka).

Here poetic strategies are valuable. I like it when she tells Weiss:"My subconscious would tell my mind to catch where the poem had fallen down". She reminds you that you are just receiving the poems and advises writers: "Read a lot. Read out loud a lot."

Weiss sketches a vivid picture of this truly remarkable womsan, fragile and virtually bedridden but 'her orphic transmissions continue unabated'. He writes: 'Da Prima is one such rarity: a conductor of benevolent spells, a natural-born Gnostic, an antenna for arcane prophecies.'



Published by Simon and Schuster. 1993. 1st
Edition. the Generalist Library.

Herbert Gold is the first to say that he's not a Beat but his 30+ novels, non-fiction and short-story collections and his life in general interweaves with the Beat scene. Ginsberg, he says, alweays asked him why he didn't try homosexuality. "How would I know if I didn't like it'. He didn't like Kerouac at all: "Kerouac destroyed himself with alcohol by 47. Like James Dean, he looks great stenciled on T-shirts."

His 1993 memoir 'Bohemia' is packed with reminiscences about Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Jean Genet, Anais Nin and Tom Wolfe. During his time in Paris, he was mentored by Saul Bellow and James Baldwin. Nabokov considered him one of America's finest writers. All of which whets the appetite for exploring Gold's work further.

With this long-form piece, Weiss has made great and timely contribution, bringing valuable insights and information on these seminal survivors into our  consciousness at a time when they are needed most.




DRIVING THE BEAT ROAD by Jeff Weiss can be read and experienced on the Washington Post website. The text is interspersed with some great black and white photos and peppered with video and audio links. Its a remarkable piece of work which is worth repeated readings.