Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Politics Are Easy With Eyes Closed

Pat Metheny may just be the greatest guitarist in the world. He may even be the world's greatest musician, which would be an accolade that would be impossible to substantiate, so let's just say that as a musician he's pretty damn good and that he's been damn good for over thirty years, as it was back in the late 1970s that the German ECM label released the first album by the Pat Metheny Group. It featured the ten-minute "San Lorenzo", a track, for a jazz outfit, of quite stunning and beauteous melody.

Metheny came to the attention of the wider music public in the mid-1980s thanks to David Bowie doing the vocals for "This Is Not America", which was taken from the soundtrack of the film "The Falcon and the Snowman". At the time, this was the fifth film that Metheny had written the music for. He has since scored many other films and he has just won a Goya, the Spanish equivalent of an Oscar, for the soundtrack to "Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados" ("Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed"), the story of Antonio, a teacher, who drives to Almeria in the hope of meeting John Lennon, who was there filming "How I Won The War". The title of the film, some of you might have realised, comes from a Lennon Beatles song - "Strawberry Fields Forever".

In winning the Goya, Metheny beat off the Mallorcan composer Joan Valent, a name that may well be familiar; he is the director of the Pollensa Festival. Among his many other works and achievements, Valent also wrote - believe it or not - the official hymn (or anthem, if you prefer) of the Balearic Government. This isn't a hymn as such - it is a rather jolly instrumental/orchestral piece that features traditional instruments - and it is something of a curiosity. It is curious in that, whereas mostly all regions of Spain have official hymns, the Balearics does not, but it does have a hymn for its government. (Mallorca, by the way, has its hymn, "La Balanguera", but that's something different.)

Valent's governmental hymn was commissioned by the previous PSOE-led administration of Francesc Antich. It was a piece of music, said Antich, which reinforced messages of cohesion in the Balearics and among the islands' citizens. It cost 12,000 euros and came with an accompanying video. The hymn was to be used on official government occasions, while the video version was to be used for promotion at international travel fairs. The question is, whatever happened to it?

Politics intrude into music and culture when it suits politicians for there to be intrusion or, alternatively, avoidance. Try finding any current reference to Valent's hymn and you will probably draw as much of a blank as I have. I conclude, though I could be wrong, that it has been quietly dropped. It was far too regional for a government that at times appears indifferent to the very region it governs. It was also a work that was commissioned by the other lot.

The Goya gala at which Valent (for "Las brujas de Zugarramundi", entitled "Witching and Bitching" for the international audience) didn't win his award was the occasion for a rare old bitch-in between politicians and the film industry. It might not have been had the national minister for culture (and also education) José Ignacio Wert put in an appearance, but he didn't. It was a snub to the industry and showed a lack of respect on Wert's behalf, said members of the Spanish cinema luverati. There again, Wert, had he turned up, would probably have thought that he might have to endure some bitching in his general direction. His education bill would have been just one source. A bill for which he has no responsibility, the abortion one, would have been another. As it was, this was a source of on-stage complaint and was one reason why the former president of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, reckoned that the Goyas had been turned into a gala against the Partido Popular: a witch-hunt amongst the bitching, or something like that.

Wert actually had a prior engagement. It was in London. He was meeting Vince Cable, who is Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. It hasn't escaped the attention of many commentators that Cable and Wert have portfolios which do not coincide. Why, therefore, was Wert meeting him? Something to do with reforming Spanish universities apparently. He did also meet people from the LSE and Cambridge, but the fact that the visit was organised as late as 29 January has led to suspicions that Wert was finding a reason to give the Goyas a miss and so to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the film industry. Politics, it might be said, are easy with eyes closed.

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