Royal Festival Hall, Saturday 5th July 1997
Saturday 5th of July was Gay Pride, a flesh-fest of quarter of a
million pasty men in mesh. What a lurid contrast to New York's Gay
Pride, a sea of tanned muscular gorgeousness, fabulous fashion and
fierce ruling drag divas. Julian Clary was slit-eyed, being led
around in a tight black lycra number completely wasted by around
4pm, the horrendous toast of Puerto Rico (despite his Australian
accent) Peter André jumped around on the main stage followed
by Texas, and Rosie Gaines. I had to drag myself away from getting
down in a dance tent with a couple of flabby white queens to make
it to see 'Rescue'.
The theme of 'Rescue' was explored and interpreted by Laurie Anderson's
invited guests for a four-hour performance marathon. Lou Reed, Ryuichi
Sakamoto, Bill T. Jones, Philip Glass, and music composed for the
occasion by Brian Eno headlined the event. There were a few extraordinary
surprise guests too, namely Salman Rushdie and Michael Niemann.
The War Child gala charity event opened with the vocal spectrum
of Tibetan Yungchen Lhamo, whose solo Tibetan spiritual devotional
rarely heard in the West filled a full-house with resonant redolence.
Across the stage spot-lit in shimmering white silk 'chinoiserie',
Bill T. Jones appeared, New York's foremost avant-garde dancer and
choreographer providing a physical dialogue with Lhamo's ethereal
voice. His resilient body impelled with latent power was brought
into check by mellifluent grace.
Salman Rushdie, unannounced, recited a passage from his iconoclastic
'Satanic Verses', dense and inauspicious, rich with spectacular
prolixity, profligate with imagery. Two screens behind him mirrored
an apocalyptic storm scene coloured red and black. This was the
text that ensured this man's death warrant. The fatwa imposed on
him by fundamentalist Muslims and the Islamic government, seeking
his extradition and execution for blasphemy was the very text he
himself was reciting to us, his captive audience.
Coincidentally in The Observer newspaper the next day, Rushdie was
referred to by the zealous convert to Islam, the former Cat Stevens.
With a past chequered with groupies and psychedelic substances,
a pseudo-spiritual soul-searching quest and awakening has transformed
Stevens into Yusuf Islam. He is now an active member of the Supreme
Council of British Muslims and one of the most forthright fundamentalist
Muslim spokesmen in Europe. He spoke euphemistically of Rushdie
never actually mentioning his name, ensuring not to mention The
Satanic Verses. Yusuf likened Rushdie to Great Train robber Ronnie
Biggs. He claims he doesn't want Rushdie murdered, he just thinks
he should be extradited to Iran (The difference?). For eight years
now, Rushdie has been living like a Mafia informer, with round-the-clock
police protection. Yusuf, furthermore admitted that he used to think
of women as chattels, which apparently effortlessly transforms into
extremist Muslim beliefs of deterrent terrorism against women: "Yes,
I agree, it's frightening. That's the purpose."(1) According
to The Observer, by 2002 Muslims in Britain will outnumber Anglicans
as the largest practising religion. Where will Rushdie be?
An inconspicuous man followed by a spotlight seated himself at a
grand piano at the rear of the stage, suddenly erupting forth with
one of the epic classical pieces of this century. It turned out
to be the composer himself, Michael Nyman, recognisable only through
his theme for 'The Piano'. With this brief flourish he left stage
for the next man.
Lou Reed played an acoustic duet with intensity. He was dressed
in his old black leather jacket. The old surviving New York denizen
still had enough passion to belt out a good tune, and thankfully,
it still sounded like The Velvet Underground. The tragic, melancholic
lyrics were provided with the programme, the music composed by Brian
Eno who is at present living in St. Petersburg.
Ryuichi Sakamoto, fore-father (Kraftwerk aside) of techno and electronic
music appeared in a white suit to conduct the quartet Electra Strings,
he then sat down at a piano for a portentous accompaniment to computer
generated graphics of morphing black and white abstract shapes on
the two screens behind them. These suddenly appeared three dimensional,
round balls bouncing off rectangular cushions. It was dolefully
reminiscent of his soundtrack for 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence'.
However passionate and jazz-oriented, the piece expressed the classical
vein of the evening. These notorious knob-twiddling technophiles,
whom one could be forgiven for expecting to promise a high-tech
multi-media event, unfolded a poetic, lyrical and primarily acoustic
session. With traditional Asian gong and drums creating eddying
climaxes, Sakamoto thundered alongside on the black and white keys.
He tinkled the higher notes accompanying the strings, and adhering
to traditional Japanese art-forms emulating the sounds of nature,
insinuated a parallel emotional range.
Laurie Anderson wound up the show by screening a 1904 silent film
of a young orphan boy being knocked around in New York. Electra
Strings and her own synthesised violin accompanied the tragi-comic
act, the boy escaping his abusive and fetid environment by being
rescued by fairies, put into a decorated dinghy, then drifting out
to sea in the sunset with a very long shot at the end: An Ophelian
deliverance for the imagination and the senses.
15 July 1997
1. The Observer, Saturday 6th July 1997, Cat
Who Got The Koran, Andrew Anthony.