Radical Educator

Book: Fugitive Days by Bill Ayers — A good friend suggested I read this book not long after it was published in 2001, and I made both written and mental notes that persisted. This was well before Barack Obama ascended towards national office and author Ayers became his “terrorist pal.” A few months back I introduced myself to him after a panel he spoke at the South By Southwest conference (Revolution & Music), and complimented Ayers on how his dignity amidst the slander and controversy during the last presidential election. “You have no idea how hard it was for me to keep my mouth shut,” he said with a sly smile. A man after my own heart, I felt, a kindred soul to this Crusader Rabbit who too often is compelled to speak truth to injustice.

It was high time to read Fugitive Days, and well worth the unintended wait. As a memoir, regardless of subject matter, it stands tall, written eloquently, creatively and at times poetically in a fashion that is unstintingly honest and forthright (except, of course, where discretion is called for). It’s a tonal rumination on memory and a telling emotional chronicle through what is a compelling story: from suburbia into alternative education into the community organizing of the 1960s and the Students for a Democratic Society and finally the Weather Underground. Ayers’ road to radicalism becomes understandable, and few other works so tangibly capture both the idealism and increasing urgency of the era’s Leftist politics. Ayers threads hard realities and literate grace in his writing, which conveys the turbulent and frequently conflicted emotionalism of his social and political commitments — which he still holds to — in ways that feel true and stirring. Now a distinguished educator, in Fugitive Days Ayers educates even those who were there on what the 1960s movement was about and felt like in a fashion that remains relevant amidst a far different political landscape today.

Documentary Film: The Jazz Baroness — Currently showing on HBO On Demand, this must-see look into an intriguing facet of the 1950s be-bop jazz scene explores the unlikely union and love between heiress Pannonica “Nica” Rothschild and groundbreaking pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Directed by Nica’s great grandniece Hannah Rothschild, it mirrors her own search for a renegade place within one of the wealthiest families on the planet, and the result illuminates Monk’s genius, humanity and music, tells a delicious story of deep and abiding love (that by all reports was never physically consummated), captures the frisson of two kindred souls from almost diametric backgrounds and worlds, and provides a telling glimpse inside the musical revolution in which Monk was a prime mover. Yes, on occasion some modern scene-setting shots feel a bit out of place, but otherwise this affectionate yet unsentimental look at two souls intersecting and becoming entwined travels back to a heady era in New York City and its jazz scene to capture its tone and spirit. Such talking heads as Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones and jazz devotee Clint Eastwood and others provide insightful and compelling commentary. While Helen Mirren’s readings of Nica’s words bring her back alive, Monk’s brilliantly seductive music makes the ultimate case for his sheer musical genius.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2010


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