Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mohawk Nation

(for Nick Smith)
“Night was falling in the Mohawk reservation, but Hagbard saw Sam Three Arrows nod vigorously in the room of the small cabin, he felt again that American Indians were the hardest people in the world to understand.”
—Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea,
Illuminatus Trilogy, Book 1, Chapter 4.

      Native American Indian wisdom can be found dotted throughout the works of John Sinclair. The title track from his latest album is a sign post, if you follow it, to the Mohawk people who are a part of the Iroquois tribes. The Mohawk valley in upstate New York together with the Mohawk River are named after them, due to a Dutchman with perhaps a touch too much courage in him when transcribing the language of the Iroquois, who spoke of a tribe properly called ‘Maw Unk Lin.’  

These facts are a slightly perpendicular to the facts about John Sinclair, and the facts about his new album Mohawk. MC5 ringside championship coach, slash and burn bard, psychedelic reefer juggling wizard, balls out activist, cultural revolutionary organizer, prolific author of paranormal crime tales, peyote man, loving grandfather and crossword master.

On the new album, the poet, in part, studies Thelonious Monk and his recordings like an insect, perhaps a mantis, carefully methodically listening and reading over and over on loop until the music is firmly printed into his ideaspace and the meatspace of his bardic being. Monk tribes and Monk cohorts swarm together, with this poet’s life experience and sweet homage to friends and their work, resurrecting both at once as new.

The resulting poems are space-time-binded tales of the Be-Bop tribe and its legendary progenitors: Monk, Bird, and Dizzy, plus the dozens of other creative outlaws working on the other side of time. The details of the clubs and the stages played, street names and the beats taking notes are all in there. 

The new music to accompany the poetry consists of a multiple layering of live instrumentation capturing the tempo of the original tunes and turning them into something else, allowing for the voice of the poet to be heard clearly like a good strong and clear horn part. Instruments include drums, cymbals, turntables, congas, cello-bass, flute. The album also includes some samples from frogs, cats, flies, birds, and an electric razor. Steve Fly played all instruments and Tim Egmond recorded, engineered and co-arranged the tracks with Steve between January and April of 2013. 

Only approximately 3000 people currently speak the Mohawk language. Pitifully, along with many other aboriginal cultures, marginalized languages and native traditions around the world they are getting swept up and lost in the silicone glass and concrete dust cloud of end times, to mean the end of the word times, not to imply the end of the world. Maybe we need to begin by speaking from the heart…and, taking…long […..] pauses when we do not know.

In John Sinclair’s massive body of works you can find all the Native American Tribes right there. Hundreds of tales and ceremonial dances, thousands of songs, tens of thousands of connections to the cultural universe of American music, in particular the dope fiend Jazz and deep blues, the real shit, the out there shocking innovators of sonic environments and communication. The African American musical revolution seems in strong resonance with the struggle of the Native Indian American tribes, the dance, the chanting, the sheer energy of it all. 

“Well, the Mohawk [haircut] was my attempt to pay homage to the Native Americans. There was a Native Indian guy that I know that used to come see me when I was at the old Five Spot. This was back in the’ 50s.”
—Sonny Rollins, Rolling Stone Interview.

John might point out that the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans are a living embodiment of this synthesis, or as close as you can get to a living musical tradition. Let the poet speak and may you discover the persistence of place for yourself, write, read and do easy. 

Like most of the English language, the tale of how the word Mohawk came into the western vocabulary was through a mistake, a mis-hearing blunder. Frequently this accidental phenomenon resulting in popular words used in common language turning out to be built from more misspoken bits and terms, left with a universal spelling constraint and uniformity of grammar.

The Dutch traders/slave owners/Christian missionaries, like the English and French more often than not, heard the Mohicans (who have the same mis-heard origin to their name) referring to the Mohawk, or ‘Maw Unk Lin’ (which translates to “Bear Place People”) as ‘Mohawk.’ That is what the Dutch heard and what they wrote. Probably due to the fact that the Iroquois printing press is still under construction in 2014, the word Mohawk stuck.

A signifying popular usage of the word is to describe a particular haircut, typically with shaved sides. Picked up by the Punks in the 1970s and to this day, but now also co-opted by pretty boy football stars and just about anybody you might see in the street with hair. But no, Mohawk goes deeper when you look.

John picked the title of the track “Mohawk” due to the fact that Monk played on this track together with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and John ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie, June 6th 1950 in New York, not very far from the geographical location of the old Mohawk stomping grounds. Here we tap down further beneath the surface of New York to its tribal Indian roots, before the Dutch English Americans, or D.E.A turned up to rob and cheat them.

“Property is liberty’, Hagbard said. ‘I am quoting the same man who said property is theft, he also said property is impossible. I speak from the heart, I wish you to understand why I take this case, I wish you to understand in fullness.’ Sam Three Arrows takes a draw on the pipe and raised his dark eyes to Hagbard’s.
—Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea,
Illuminatus Trilogy, Book 1, Chapter 4.

John hits a core principle of his poetry which stems from Charles Olson in my estimation, and has to do with the geography and locality of the poem in space-time. Bird, Dizzy and Monk also hit upon this principle, maybe by accident, but by whatever means they ended up with a tune named after a native American Indian tribe, who in turn are mis-named after the mis-heard word ‘Maw Unk Lin’ by some Dutch traders who wrote it down: Mohawk.

Tribal and aboriginal people and their traditions and culture are under threat from the ever-expanding frontier of the super-market-Facebook-road-skyscraper tribes. The ongoing generally imperial, colonial, unrestricted capitalist crusade to turn the world into a giant fucking McDonald's hamburger store or B.P petrol pump or end to end slave camp affects all of us, but the marginalized and smaller tribes and groups get hit first and hardest.

The history of most-but-not-all native tribes who happen to be discovered by the major sea-faring nations is often bloody, full of lies and deceit on behalf of the invading aliens and results in loss of ceremonial traditions, proper access to food, medicine and herbs, the loss of the living language itself, and then the loss of the people.

Entire gene pools of these tribes are being wiped out at an alarming rate. To repeat, Mohawk is spoken by approximately 3000 people today, mostly in west and northern New York and southern areas of Ontario and Quebec. Note that there is an app called 'talk Mohawk' and much more information simply at the Wikipedia entry for Mohawk people, if you fancy having a go? 

Mohawk brings up the different ways in which language can be shared, innovated, mixed, condensed and projected, as exhibited to the highest degree by John. Layered in yet another tradition of translators such as Amiri Baraka, Eddie Jefferson, Jack Kerouac, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Olson, each a giant in his own right, each an intersection point of many tribes, where music and poetry meet and help continue the traditions, the wisdom tales thrive and reconnect. 

Here is what I feel to be an important key to Mohawk the album, the chance to take what John Sinclair has done and do it yourself. Observe your surroundings, dig deep into your local blues, the local tales and stories, find your subject matter and drill into it from all direction imaginable, know your subject matter, flip it, make it new. Make it swing, give it extra meaning and ‘vroooomph’ some balls. Do your tribe a service, be the scribe, preserve the tales as you see them, dance, sing and shout. Publish, repeat, improvise, make new.

“Property and justice are water, no man can hold them, I have spent many years in courtrooms and I have seen property and justice change when a man speaks, change as a caterpillar to a butterfly, do you understand me, I thought I had victory in my hands, and the judge spoke, and it went away, like water running through the fingers.’
Uncle John feather nodded, ‘I understand, you mean we will loose again, we are accustomed to loosing, since George Washington promised us these lands, as long as the mountain stands and the grass is green, and then broke his promise and stole most of them back in ten years. We have one acre left of each hundred promised to us then.
‘We may not loose’ Hagbard said, ‘but I promise the B.I.A will know they have been in a fight this time, I learn more tricks about getting nastier each time I go into a court room. I am a very tricky and very nasty person by now, but I am less sure of myself now than I was when I took my first case. I no longer understand what I am fighting, I have a word for it, the snafu principle, I call it’
—Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea,
Illuminatus Trilogy, book 1, Chapter 4.

—Steve Fly
Amsterdam: 14/03/14


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thank you for reading, and for your feedback i bow