Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Earthed: The New Industrial Revolution

Developments in sustainable, environmental and energy-efficient technologies

Photo credit: Stefano Paltera / North American Solar Challenge

The University of Michigan solar car crosses the finish line amid some 10,000 spectators at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta , Canada to win first place during the 4,000 km (2,500-mile) North American Solar Challenge, Wednesday, July 27, 2005. Michigan made the trip in 53 hours, 59 minutes, 43 seconds and set a record by averaging a speed of 46.2 mph in the world's longest solar car race from Austin, Texas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

In Sepetmber 2005, a Dutch team in Nuna 3 beat 19 other competitors in the four-day 1,190mile World Solar Challenge race in Australia - their third consecutive win. They crossed the finish line in 29 hours and 11 minutes and averaged a speed of 63.85 mph.

An article ‘Why UK wind power should not exceed 10 GW’ (Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Civil Engineering [158] Nov. 2005. pp 161-169) by energy analyst Hugh Sharman, gives serious warnings about the feasibility of the UK wind power programme.

A PDF of the article is exclusively available from this site, by agreement with Simon Fullalove, Editor/ICE Proceedings. Simply drop me an e-mail request.

Sharman writes: ‘Britain’s wind power reached 1 GW in June this year, making it the eighth largest national installation in the world. Over the next five years a further 6 GW is likely to be built at a cost of £7 billion in the rush to meet the Government’s target of 10% renewable energy by 2010.

'The plan is for wind energy to deliver three-quarters of the target but that, as this paper explains, would actually require 12 GW, meaning the target will not be met. Furthermore, experience in Denmark and Germany shows that the UK will find it impractical to manage much over 10 GW of unpredictable wind power without major new storage schemes or inter-connectors.

'The paper concludes that while wind power should be exploited as fully as possible, it must not be at the expense of renewing existing firm generating capacity.’

This practical limit to the adoption of wind energy in the UK is well below that currently planned up to 2020, and Sharman believes that this limit should be sensibly reached in offshore locations, where wind speeds are higher and where the wind turbines can be brought in closer to major centres of load, thus reducing the need for extensive, uneconomic, grid expansion which is ecologically damaging (such as that currently proposed throughout Scotland).

This article confirms findings in the E.ON Netz Wind Report 2005 which states: 'The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the German experience is that the unsophisticated nature of the UK's Renewables Obligation is driving us towards an irrational over-commitment to an unreliable and extremely expensive energy source with an extremely large and deep environmental footprint. A rethink of both the conventional and renewable energy policy is obligatory. '

According to John Constable, Policy and Research Director for the Renewable Energy Foundation said: "At a time when the UK should be addressing its need for reliable generation, we now see from European data that wind is unable to contribute any significant firm capacity to the power portfolio, and offers only very expensive fuel saving and emissions reduction…A review of UK renewables policy is now unavoidable."


IN A RELATED STORY: The global wind industry has reached a 50 GW milestone of wind energy capacity installed worldwide, with an increase in total installed generating capacity of 20% over 2004, said representatives at the Global Wind Energy Council's (GWEC) Windmasters Dinner in Husum, Brussels on 22nd September 2005.

'Wind Force 12, a blueprint to achieve 12% of the world’s electricity from wind power by 2020' is an annual global wind energy assessment that has been conducted regularly since 1999. The 2005 report has been completed by Greenpeace and EWEA on behalf of the GWEC.

The International Energy Agency estimates that under current trends, the world’s electricity demand could double from 2002 to 2030. The global power sector requires 4,800GW of new capacity to meet increasing demand and replace aging infrastructure, at a cost of €10 trillion in power generation, transmission and distribution. By 2030, the power sector could account for 45 per cent of global carbon emissions.

On 25th October, the Biomass Task Force presented the results of a year-long study, commissioned by DEFRA and the DTI, which concludes that biomass (fuel from forestry, crops and waste) could reduce the nation's carbon emissions by almost 3m tonnes a year if used to provide heating. The carbon saving would be the equivalent of taking 3.25 million cars off the road.

The Task Force’s Chairman Sir Ben Gill said: 'What many see as tomorrow's fuel is here today. We estimate there could be 20 million tonnes of biomass available annually. The challenge for the Government now is to unlock this vast potential. We have suggested several ways to develop this industry which has a vital role in climate change, sustainable development throughout the country and economic activity in rural areas.

'Heat has been the forgotten part of the energy debate - enough waste heat is emitted from our power stations to heat the country one and a half times over - but our findings show that producing heat either alone or in Combined Heat and Power plants is by far the most efficient way of using biomass.

'There are many renewable sources of electricity but biomass is the only widely-available source of renewable heat. Heat generation accounts for 40 per cent of our national energy consumption. At a time of rising oil prices, biomass heating is fast becoming an attractive economic option. And it is a cheaper way of cutting carbon emissions than many other options.'

The Task Force makes 42 recommendations, including a call for the ntroduction of capital grants to fund more biomass heating boilers ad says that public buildings can be the ideal place to begin the expansion. It concludes that one of the biggest barriers to progress s ignorance and recommends that the Government acts in the next six onths to create a single information point on biomass for the ountry as a whole as well as delivering on its promise in the 2003 nergy White Paper to lead by example in its own building stock.

The full report is published at:

The winners were announced 25th October in Sheffield. They include the following:

Somerset Waste Partnership won Best Local Authority Initiative, for their Sort It! Programme, which ncludes a weekly collection of recycling and food waste, fortnightly refuse collections and optional charged garden waste collections using wheeled bins or compostable sacks. Overall recycling rates have more than trebled in collection areas from 14-18% to 50% and the amount of refuse collected for disposal has halved.

Balfour Beatty Rail Track Systems Ltd won Best Industry Recycling Initiative. The Company, which supplies railway castings to Network Rail and other railway projects worldwide, sourced organisations willing to incorporate the company's waste into their products or take it for further processing and recycling. Process waste is now used in concrete blocks, cement manufacture, Tarmacadam production and hardcore, while other materials such as cardboard and wood are segregated for recycling. As a result the volume of waste disposed at landfill has been reduced from 2,750 tonnes per annum before the project started to just 25 tonnes per annum.

Comet, Wincanton and Remploy won Best Partnership Project for Recycling, for their "reverse supply chain solution" for waste electrical electronic equipment such as used televisions and toasters. Comet worked with its logistics partner Wincanton to develop a collection service and establish sorting centres, and approached social enterprise organisation Remploy to refurbish the better quality white goods for onward use in the community. Following successful trials in 37 stores last year, Comet has announced a national roll out of the scheme and anticipates receiving up to 500,000 used electrical items for recycling or refurbishment each year.

EnviroSystems (UK) won Recycled Product of the Year for the animal bedding material it has developed using recycled by-product from paper mills. Envirobed, which took two years to develop, is soft, cost-effective and is already being used for 50,000 dairy cows across the UK. It offers benefits over traditional bedding materials such as straw which can suffer from fluctuating supply and risk of disease.

HMYOI Wetherby won Waste Minimisation Project of the Year, for its forward-thinking waste management plan which included the creation of 16 trainee jobs and the provision of a fully accredited educational course in waste management for staff. HMYOI Wetherby is now considered one of the leading prisons in the country in terms of waste minimisation.
For more information see:

According to Leo Hickman in The Guardian, questions were put to Environment Minister Elliot Morley in parliament this summer ‘asking how many patio heaters there are now in the UK, and what damage they might be doing. The answer given was 630,000 in use in homes and between 26,000 and 105,000 in the hospitality sector. According to the figures from the Market Transformation Programme, an agency that supports the government in developing a policy on sustainable products, the total energy output by the UK's patio heaters is between 950 and 1770GWh (gigawatt-hours). Or in terms of annual carbon dioxide emissions, between 200,000 and 380,000 tonnes. That roughly negates all the savings in CO2 emissions made in 2003 after pollution-reducing company car tax reforms were first introduced.’

The International Energy Agency's report Biofuels for Transport: An International Perspective suggests that 50% of world transport could run on biofuels by 2050.

“In the absence of strong government policies, we project that the worldwide use of oil in transport will nearly double between 2000 and 2030, leading to a similar increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Claude Mandil, the organisation's Executive Director. 'Biofuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel and other fuels derived from biomass could help change this picture, by offering an important low-greenhouse-gas alternative to petroleum over this time frame.'

See also: John Vidal's 'Growing Confusion'

The European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive came into force in January 2003. Member states have three years to implement its recommendations. It means that commercial,public and private buildings of all kinds will be given an energy rating and encouraged to improve their building's efficiency; low ratings will certainly affect the valuations of properties, is expected to have a profound impact on the commercial property sector and will trigger off a big cost to landlords.

The buildings sector accounts for 40% of the EU’s energy requirements. It offers the largest single potential for energy efficiency. Research shows that more than one-fifth of the present energy consumption and up to 30-45 MT of CO2/Y could be saved by 2010 by applying more ambitious standards to new and when refurbishing buildings – which represents a considerable contribution to meeting the Kyoto targets.


Nanocar (Y. Shira/Rice University)

Scientists at Houston's Rice University have built the world’s first single-molecule car. This nanocar consists of a chassis and free-rotating axles made of carbon atoms linked into rigid rods. The wheels are buckyballs, spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. The entire car measures just 3-4 nanometers across, making it slightly wider than a strand of DNA. A human hair, by comparison, is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. A million nanocars parked bumper to tail would cover the length of a flea.

Synthesis of the nanocars produced major challenges. The Rice research group spent almost eight years perfecting the techniques used to make them. Much of the delay involved finding a way to attach the buckyball wheels without destroying the rest of the car. Palladium was used as a catalyst in the formation of the axle and chassis, and buckyballs had a tendency to shut down the palladium reactions, so finding the right method to attach the wheels involved a great deal of trial and error.

According to Prof. Tour: 'The synthesis and testing of nanocars and other molecular machines is providing critical insight in our investigations of bottom-up molecular manufacturing. We'd eventually like to move objects and do work in a controlled fashion on the molecular scale, and these vehicles are great test beds for that. They're helping us learn the ground rules."

Other research groups have created nanoscale objects that are shaped like automobiles, but study co-author Kevin F. Kelly, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said Rice's vehicle is the first that actually functions like a car, rolling on four wheels in a direction perpendicular to its axles.

'It's fairly easy to build nanoscale objects that slide around on a surface,' Kelly said. 'Proving that we were rolling - not slipping and sliding - was one of the most difficult parts of this project.'

The researchers used the fine tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope to attract the nanocar and pull it along over a flat gold surface. Their studies confirmed that the C60 molecules revolved perfectly on their axles and that car moved forward in a purposeful manner.

The group have also built a nanotruck that can transport molecular cargo as well as a light-driven motorized nanocar.

Fiend out more about this spoof nanocar at:

In a related story, engineers at the BMW Group are examining the use of nanotechnology in future cars to develop scratch-free windscreens, rear-view mirrors that darken automatically in response to light incidence, sensors for the analysis of driving conditions, moreefficient pollution filters. More details here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Deconstructing Dyer

Geoff Dyer is regularly promoted with a single quote from The Daily Telegraph which reads: ‘Quite possibly the best living writer in Britain.’ Talk about hedging your bets. 'Best living writer' covers a very wide field and gives no indication of what that means. It sounds good though and certainly works as a come-on.

To better describe Geoff Dyer, what would one say. He is certainly a generalist, a non-specialist and a polymath, which the OED defines as ‘a person of much and varied learning; one acquainted with various subjects of study.’ He is certainly very industrious, having produced a steady stream of books and countless articles for the mainstream press. He is a great traveller, is of the Left and is inspired by two major influences: John Berger (the subject of his first book ‘Ways of Telling: The Works of John Berger’) and D.H.Lawrence (the subject of his greatest book so far ‘Out Of Sheer Rage.’).

He has written three novels (‘The Colout of Memory’, The Search’ and ‘Paris Trance’) and four other works of non-fiction - ‘But Beautiful’ (a superlative study of jazz through imaginative part factual/part novelistic profiles of leading players), ‘The Making of the Somme’ (which explores the landscapes, myths and atmosphere of the First World War), ‘Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It.’ and a collection of essays ‘Anglo-Saxon Attitudes.’

Dyer’s approach to a subject is elliptical, interesting, intelligent and unique. The only other writers that come to mind who employ similar techniques are the late W.G. Sebald and Guy Davenport in his marvelous book ‘The Geography of The Imagination’. Dyer meditates on a subject, roams around it, sniffs at it from all angles, looks for connections. He reinforces his insights and ideas, his vivid characterisations and original thoughts, with a encyclopaedic range of quotes drawn from other authors, a big favourite being the poet Rilke.

All these facets and faculties are on display in Dyer’s just-published book ‘The Ongoing Moment’ {Little, Brown. £20.00] which is nothing short of a personalised history of photography from a very interesting perspective.

From his view, he writes on p212, ‘the history of photography seems to consist of photographers doing personalised versions of a repertoire of scenes, tropes, subject or motifs. This repertoire is constantly expanding and evolving rather fixed, but a surprising number of its components were established at the outset by Henry Fox Talbot in the 1840s. Some of these pictures of Talbot’s had been derived, in turn, from earlier templates found in painting.’

Thus the form of the book. No chapters, rather a succession of essays, each of which connects with the next, each built around one of the scenes or subjects described. The book begin strongly with an analysis of pictures of blind people in the street, taken by a variety of photographers across a long time period. Each photo is described in loving detail, giving Dyer full range for his sharp eye and descriptive powers. We learn about the photographers concerned and begin to appreciate how connected many of them are, through subject matter, or through lineage and influence, often paying homage to a key image from the previous generation.

There are forty-two featured photographers, principally American, woven through this catalogue of themes which includes hands, backs, chairs, steps, photos of photographers, photographs by one photographer that looks like the work of another photographer, empty beds, watching the world from a hotel room window, from a car, from a train, clouds, drive-ins, barber shops et al.

There is a hint of madness throughout as Dyer digs into the metaphysical almost occult business of taking a photo of something. Diane Arbus believed she could see the suicide in people, written in advance in their faces. Gary Winograd became ‘seized by a mania for photographing so intense that it took the place of seeing.’ In the last six years of life in Los Angeles, ‘he made more than a third of a million exposures that he never even looked at.’ W. Eugene Smith, it seems, did a similar thing in Pittsburg, making over 10,000 images of every facet of the city.

Everyone in this narrative seems to connect with everyone else in a vast cat’s cradle of Dyer’s making. His whole approach forces one to think in fresh ways. He refuses to be bound to any conventions of traditional art history or narrative. He can get too intense and convoluted, losing this reader in places, only to pull one back in with another surprising angle, attitude or well-chosen quotation. In fact much of the book is written like jazz improvisations, weaving around the theme, illustrating it with runs, flourishes and licks.

This is certainly the most exciting book on photography I have read since ‘Motion Studies:Time, Space and Eadweard Muybridge.’ by Rebecca Solnit.

Free-thinking, non-academic, non-specialist eloquent stylists are always welcome in any age. Dyer’s struggle to breakout of the stranglehold of convention and to establish his own unique perspective on such disparate fields of study is to be applauded and enjoyed.

See also:
* Geoff Dyer at the Complete Review
* Absolute Write
* Substantial archive of Dyer's journalism for The Guardian and The Observer here
* 'The Outsider' is a truly excellent piece by Dyer on Dianne Arbus in Vogue [November 2005]. Doesn't appear to be available on-line.

Dyer begins ‘The Ongoing Moment’ with the following sentence: ‘I am not the first researcher to draw inspiration from a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ described by Borges.’

No indeed. The introduction to my book ‘Curious Facts’, written Jan 14th 1979, reads in part:

‘Unusual classification systems destroy traditional patterns of thought, forcing us to reexamine our assumptions. A classic example of this is quoted in the preface to The Order of Things (1970) by French philosopher Michel Foucault. It comes from the blind cosmic librarian Jorge Luis Borges, who quotes a certain Chinese encyclopedia in which it is written that:

Animals are divided into: a) belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) sucking pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs, h) included in the present classification, i) frenzied, j) innumerable, k) drawn with a very fine camel-hair brush, 1) etcetera, m) having just broken the water pitcher, n) that from a long way off look like flies.’

Foucault read this and his book ‘grew out of the laughter that shattered ... all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography— breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things.’

Friday, October 14, 2005

Robert Lamb: Tree Campaigner, Creative Conservationist

Robert Lamb (centre back) at tree protest in Lewes. September 2004

What follows is a fuller version of the obituary I wrote for The Guardian which was published on 14th October. Robert was the first person I met, back in 1981, who was talking about deforestation of the tropical forests. He became a dear friend and is sadly missed by us all.

Robert Lamb, who has died suddenly of a heart attack aged 56, dedicated his working life to trying to alert the world to the destruction of the world'sforests, to strengthening the links between environment and development issues and to forging a connection between creativity and the environment.

He was led to a study of the forests through his work as a government scientific officer, which partly involved liasing with the Termite Research Unit at the British Museum (Natural History) in the mid-1970s. This study of wood-eating insects required him to read the forestry literature where he discovered that a lot of alarming things were going on. He searched in vain for a book that provided an overview of the situation and eventually decided to write his own.

'World Without Trees' (1979) pulled together a vast amount of information -the biology of trees, their importance in society, the timber trade,deforestation, tree diseases and the problems of Amazonia. Robert went on to work with World Forest Action from its inception in 1979 to 1982, to try and turn this information into practical action. Set up by the writer and documentary filmmaker Herbie Girardet, WFA was the first NGO to deal with all aspects of deforestation. Both men became part of an important informal international network of writers, researchers, filmmakers and activists who drew attention to this important global issue and sought to make it relevant to ordinary people's lives.

Increasingly, Robert was drawn towards finding ever more creative means of getting the messages across to the mainstream by linking art and environment.

His memorable documentary, 'Mpingo:The Tree That Makes Music' (1992), which he both conceived and appeared in as an expert witness, was directed by Michael Gunton and broadcast on May 3rd as part of the BBC’s One World Week. It showed how many western woodwind orchestral instruments (the clarinet in particular) are made from the wood of the African blackwood tree (Mpingo), a species that was and still is under threat. As a result, a number of classical concerts were held to raise money for more plantings and the African Blackwood Conservation project was founded in the US to raise further funding.

In the 1990s, he began working with Bill Beech at the school of arts andcommunication, University of Brighton, and it was there that he establishedand administered a Life Arts Research Centre; Life Arts was his term forcreative work with an environmental consciousness, another pioneeringeffort. The Centre worked alongside Friends of the Earth to coordinate twoanti-motorway art spectacles - the 'Grey Man of Ditchling' (July 1994)a chalk figure caricature of John Major, created by Steve Bell and land artist Simon English, protesting the proposed expansion of the A27, and the unique Art Bypass event at Newbury (August 1996),comprising the work of 70 artists including Christo, Werner Herzog and Heathcote Williams. His popular biography, 'Promising the Earth', formed an important part of FOE's 25th anniversary (1996).

Great confusion was caused over the years by the fact that there were two Robert Lambs, the other being the founder of the Television Trust for the Environment. First introduced in the mid-1980s by Catherine Caufield, later author of ‘In the Rainforest’, who felt they should meet, they discovered they both had sisters called Susan. To distinguish them, friends used a shorthand – do you mean fat Lamb or Thin Lamb? When the other Robert left his job at IUCN in Switzerland, Robert took it over. The same thing happened at UNEP in Nairobi – which completely confused everybody. After Nigel Hawkes memorably confused the two of them, attributing each of their films to the other in his review in The Times, they mischievously wrote a letter of complaint, entitled ‘Breaking the Silence of the Lambs,’ claiming that neither was the other.

From 1997 to 2000 Robert, now based in Lewes, managed id21, a freeweb-based service that communicates the latest UK-based internationaldevelopment research to decision-makers and practitioners worldwide, part of the activities of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex - and set his style on it. Robert also made a significant contribution to UNEP’s state of the world environment report GEO 3 (2002).

He spent some considerable time in recent years working on the yet to be published 'A Hungry Ghost', a biography of the Russian-born Dr Barbara Moore, who became a national celebrity in the early 1960s with a series of epic, record-breaking walks from Lands End to John O'Groats and across America, with only nuts, honey, raw fruit andvegetable juice for nourishment.

He was a substantial and warm presence with a big heart and a gift for friendship. Sometimes difficult but never dull, he was passionate and knowledgeable about food (especially mushrooms), fishing, wine, books and music.

Born in Doynton, Gloucestershire, he was educated at Commonweal grammarschool in Swindon, and at Marlborough College, and gained an exhibition toMerton College, Oxford (1968-71). From 1971 to 1983, he worked as a scientific officer for a now defunct branch of government, assisting research in tropical agronomy, entomology and integrated which led him on assignment to the Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Yemen and Nigeria (where he spent extended tours of duty conducting field trials). He is survived by his artist wife Jo and their two sons Ollie and Fred.

Robert Lamb, writer and conservationist, born February 7 1949; died September 12 2005

UPDATE: On November 1st 2005, The Times published the following obituary for Robert. Unfortunately, half of the piece referred to the works of the other Robert Lamb, who wrote a letter entitled BREAKING SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 2 to The Times as follows.

Sir,In 1992 The Times was generous enough to publish a letter by the late Robert W. Lamb and myself regarding the review of Mr Hawkes of two films shown by the BBC on one night. He assumed we were one and the same. 'Neither of us', we wrote to you, 'was the other.' I am bound to point out that you have repeated the error in the November 1st obituary of Robert. At least it is 50 percent correct this time, which is an improvement. The middle bit of your review is all about my films. The pity of course is that Robert W. had achieved quite enough not to have half his obituary given over to an interloper. He would have been amused, though, and it is a great sadness to me that I write this time alone.

Yours sincerely, Robert Lamb (Editor/Earth Report).

UPDATE 2: A fulsome new tribute to Robert by Tom Flynn can be found on Tom's excellent blog The Institute of Flaneurology.

Robert was a contributor to my magazine Tree News and the last piece he wrote for us was this profile of the great tree-planting pioneer Richard St. Barbe Baker. It gives some idea of the depth of his knowledge and his eloquent writing style.

Richard St Barbe Baker being welcomed back to Kikuyu by his old friend Thotho Thongo, who was head moran and leader of the 'Dance of the Trees.'

The Man of the Trees

Robert Lamb

‘In the stillness of the mighty woods, man is made aware of the divine.’
Richard St Barbe Baker

This year [2004] marks the 80th birthday of the Men of the Trees – high time to review the legacy of its charismatic founder, RICHARD ST BARBE BAKER, whose inspired advocacy for trees and conservation made an impact on many lives and landscapes. But has it withstood the test of time?

During his lifetime it is said that Richard St Barbe Baker planted or caused to be planted over 25 thousand million trees. He published some 30 influential books about trees and conservation. In Kenya in 1922 he persuaded a major clan of Kikuyu agriculturists to start up Men of the Trees (Watu Wa Miti). Part secret society, part agroforestry project, part dance ritual, it was the first official effort anywhere to involve local people in what we would now label social or community forestry. A worldwide confederation of Men of the Trees societies grew from these unusual roots.

St Barbe developed a rationale for tree-planting as a universal remedy against desertification and soil loss, and in 1924 he founded the Men of the Trees in Britain to encourage tree planting in this country. He also helped start the Soil Association and the Forestry Association of Great Britain. His forthright views were pretty nearly all there was in the way of modern pro-environment thinking on trees in wide circulation before the early 1960s.

Most who knew him called him simply St Barbe and their memories of his deeds and character tend to embellish both with an almost saintly aura. When he died in 1982, Teddy Goldsmith’s tribute to him in The Ecologist hailed him as ‘a prophet, in the Old Testament sense of the term; that is to say, a wise man, a teacher and an inspirer’.

Less reverentially, Alan Grainger praised St. Barbe’s ‘unique capacity to pass on his enthusiasm to others. Many foresters all over the world found their vocations as a result of hearing the Man of the Trees speak. I certainly did. But his impact has been much wider than that. Through his global lecture tours, St Barbe made millions of people aware of the importance of trees and forests to our planet.’

There is no denying the passion with which St Barbe preached his message, even if it concealed an innate bashfulness which caused him to dread public speaking engagements. Yet without the benefit of a first-person encounter, how should we judge his merits and legacy today?

Christian ministry
A vegetarian pacifist whose first ambition – interrupted by World War I – was to read divinity at college and become an evangelical Christian minister, St Barbe saw a spiritual or ethical point and message in most of his works. In later life he became devoted to the Baha’i faith, a liberal offshoot of Islam that prides itself on blending a scientific with a spiritual world view.

St Barbe’s quest to seek inspirational synergies between science, nature, society and spirituality, contrasts oddly with his private turmoil – including a blighted first marriage – and with his rival pursuits as a man of action, hands-on inventor, astute businessman and avid self-publicist. It can be argued that his quest to latch forestry to spiritual advance led him to warp the borders of both.

His view that deserts inevitably spread because of pressures of human development is notably contentious and appears to connect with myths surrounding the Biblical Fall. He proposed as a millenarian goal for mankind the total ‘restoration’ of the Sahara to what he believed to be its innocent state – a tropical forest – by creating a Green Front of sustainably managed forestry across middle Africa, then gradually shifting it north.

Born in 1889 into a horse-loving Hampshire family with collapsed aristocratic connections, St Barbe was taught to plant tree seedlings at the age of four by his father, who mixed a not-for-profit living as a Mission Church clergyman with running a successful plant nursery. At 20, St Barbe was posted off to Saskatoon in Canada in response to a call for missionary helpers to work with settlers in isolated homesteads.

A lumberjack in Canada
St Barbe prepared for his overseas mission by acquiring blacksmithing skills and camping out under the stars in Hampshire with the son of a local fruit-grower. They planted trees by day then stripped off for boxing and swimming contests in the evenings. Such tales of muscular Christianity and hyperactivity abound in all St Barbe’s early memoirs.

His exploits in Canada were truly prodigious and so were his learning activities. He was one of the first 100 students to enrol for a foundation course in arts and sciences at the newly-established University of Saskatchewan. He paid his way through college by working as a lumberjack and by breaking wild mustangs and selling them on as carriage ponies. He also wrote a sports column for the local newspaper. And he planted trees. In My Life – My Trees, the best-known of a string of autobiographies he published at intervals throughout his life, St Barbe recalls how:

‘While crossing the prairies of Canada, I recognized for the first time a desert in the making. Wide areas had been ploughed up where for centuries dwarf willows had stabilized the deep, rich, black soil. In those days, anybody could file on to a quarter section of 160 acres for nothing … The first thing they did was to plough as much of it as they could then sow wheat and oats to feed the horses. One could travel miles without seeing a tree. With no sheltering trees the soil began to drift and blow away; up to an inch would be lost in a year.’

During the three and a half years he spent in Canada, St Barbe encouraged local farmers to plant trees around their homesteads and as shelterbelts around farms and fields. On university farmland he raised different tree species in special nurseries and experimented with them to find which gave the best shelter. The state government agreed to provide free seedlings to farmers participating in the scheme, some of them part of Mission Church congregations that St Barbe, still set on a priestly vocation, was working with out in the boondocks.

A change of heart was not far off, however. ‘While working in a camp near Prince Albert,’ he later wrote, ‘swinging the axe as a lumberjack, my heart was torn to see the unnecessary waste of trees, and I decided that one day I would myself qualify for forestry work.’

The First World War
World War I spared him from having to choose between souls and saplings. Burying conscientious objections, he enlisted as a cavalry trooper, then was promoted to become an artillery officer. Twice wounded in action in France, he was reassigned to the notionally less hazardous duty of shuttling cavalry horses to and from the Front. In April 1918 another life-threatening injury clinched his ticket home.

He kept bees and enrolled for a Diploma in Forestry at Cambridge. Armistice came soon after and peacetime left big stockpiles of surplus fuselages and undercarriages lying useless in aircraft factories. St Barbe devised a scheme for recycling them to build motor-drawn caravans to his own original design. Intended mainly as a job-creation scheme for ex-servicemen, the scheme turned out a going concern and a conspicuous moneyspinner.

In effect, St Barbe had invented the caravan in its modern, two-wheeler format, a claim unlikely to endear him nowadays to motorists in a hurry or landscape purists. The versatility and savvy his invention had demonstrated stood St Barbe in good stead when in 1920, forestry diploma in hand, he was recruited by the Colonial Office to serve in Kenya as an Assistant Conservator of Forests.

The African years
Africa made a deep impression on St Barbe and Kenya remained a spiritual home to him for the rest of his life. But he was shocked to have to report that much of the forest land in Northern Kenya in and around the Rift had become denuded of tree cover and eroded, leaving the mainly Kikuyu people, who laid customary claim to the area, on the edge of demographic ruin.

‘Whole tribes were dying out, trapped in a triangle of forest with desert in front of them for 1,000 miles, desert behind for 1,000 miles. The chiefs had forbidden marriage, the women refused to bear children. It was racial suicide on the biggest scale the world had ever seen, directly as a result of forest destruction.’

St Barbe admitted part of the problem was land clearance on a vast scale by Asian contractors preceding white settlers. Yet he decided the main culprit was ‘the nomadic methods of farming which had devastated vast tracts of the African Continent’ and had been brought south by descendants of nine of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, followed by ‘wave after wave of Arabs with their goats’. Native forest dwellers, ‘men who lived by the bow instead of the hoe’ were displaced, leaving the land defenceless.

‘There was but one hope, and that was to restore the indigenous forest. I demarcated a large area and had it gazetted as a forest reserve. Cultivators were used to clear the rubbish and plant young native trees between the corn and yams so as to leave a potential forest behind them. Thousands of transplants were needed. I enlisted the cooperation of the chiefs of the area . . . but the young warriors seemed more interested in dancing than in planting trees. So I said, “Why not a dance for tree-planting – a Dance of the Trees!”’

St Barbe’s main ally, Chief Josiah Njonjo, called the clans together for a celebration along these lines, which it is said over 15,000 Kikuyu people attended. Fifty hand-picked warriors were given select status as Watu Wa Miti (Men of the Trees) and St Barbe devised a special handshake, a badge and later a secret password – Twahamwe (let’s work together) – to distinguish them from imitators who might steal their badges to gain access to the handouts of crop seeds and tree seedlings (mainly pencil cedar, cape chestnut and native olive varieties) that St Barbe persuaded the colonial administration to supply.

His memoirs say he had the Boy Scout movement in mind as a model. But he must have been aware of the powerful influence of oath-swearing as a feature of male initiation rites and clan identity among the Kikuyu: the banning of secret oaths would lead, 30 years on, to Independence by way of the Mau-Mau revolt.
At this point it all seemed innocent enough, however, and certainly it had a positive effect on the living conditions of many Kikuyu people, who reclaimed large holdings of land, while the Forest Service in due course derived a handy share of sustainably harvested timber from the scheme. But St Barbe fell out with his superiors in Kenya and was transferred to West Africa to serve as Assistant Conservator of Forests in Nigeria.
Here he managed forests of African mahogany (Khaya) on a sustained yield basis, trying to apply the relatively new principles of silviculture he had learned at Cambridge. He found himself ‘issuing permits to fell tens of thousands of pounds worth of mahogany with a mere pittance of £100 a year to spend on reafforestation’.

St Barbe was winning his battle for a more measured approach to running Nigeria’s forests when recurrent malaria forced him to return home. No sooner had he risen from his sickbed than the Colonial Office posted him off to what was then the British Protectorate of Palestine, where he somehow managed to rope leading Muslim, Christian and Jewish clerics into a scheme to replant six amenity and fruit tree species common in biblical times, on eroded slopes and exposed roadsides throughout the territory. Influential friends in England raised enough money to fund 42 nurseries.

Saving the redwoods
In 1929 St Barbe was offered a free passage by an ocean cruise line director on one of the line’s empty boats heading west to ply winter trips from New York to Bermuda. He decided on the spur of the moment to quit his civil service post and use this gift, he wrote, ‘to set out on a tour of the world’s forests with little more than a fiver and a free ticket to New York, only this time with my Palestinian films and slides illustrating The Life of a Forester in Kenya and in the Mahogany Forests of Nigeria. It was a serious blow to me when the customs officer charged duty on my film, leaving me with five dollars.’

A providential encounter with the publisher Lincoln McVeigh at a gentlemen’s club gave rise to his first book. He dictated, edited and delivered Men Of The Trees inside 20 days, then set off on his lecture tour with advance fees adding up to $1,000 in his pocket. The trip led him to California and to his first encounter with the mighty giant redwoods and sequoias of north-western America’s temperate rainforest.

It was the start of a love affair that would last until the very end of St Barbe’s life. For him, ‘these magnificent and fantastic trees’ were, as he exclaims in Dance of the Trees, ‘the biggest and most beautiful trees in the world. They have been standing for thousands of years. They tower hundreds of feet into the air and around their feet bloom giant irises, themselves standing nine or ten feet high.’

There was already a Save the Redwoods League campaigning inside America to save individual trees or small groves. St Barbe decided that the top priority was to preserve substantial areas of forest to ensure the survival of the whole environment. His world tour took him further westwards and across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, where he founded Men of the Trees chapters that still flourish.

When he returned to London the first thing he did was to call a meeting at the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society to set up a Save The Redwoods Fund to buy up land holdings and lumber concessions in and around Mill Creek, an area St Barbe described as ‘the heaviest stand of timber in the world’. St Barbe returned to the USA every year for eight years to campaign and raise funds for Save The Redwoods initiatives. By 1945 the area of conserved redwood forest stood at 17,000 acres. It had expanded to over 100,000 by 1960, most of it within protected areas managed by the state authorities.

St Barbe also campaigned on issues surrounding Douglas fir and boreal forests in Canada and giant eucalypts in Australia. He doorstepped Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 with a plan to create a Civilian Conservation Corps of 500,000 unemployed men to ‘serve the land, assist agriculture and stem the oncoming timber famine’ by planting trees to prevent dustbowls. President Roosevelt acted on this idea and six million young men worked in 2,600 CCC camps in the nine years the corps lasted.

After the second war
After World War II, St Barbe worked in Germany on restoring the landscape and in South Asia on steps to contain the Thar Desert. He became increasingly preoccupied with his Green Front scheme for reforesting the Sahara and he led two expeditions across the desert to seek evidence of prehistoric or pre-agricultural forests. He also sought UN backing for a World Charter for Forestry and was one of the first public figures to comment on rainforest destruction in the Amazon Basin.

His last foreign tour, at the age of 92, was in the USA and Canada. He witnessed the dedication of Redwood National Park as a World Heritage Site. Then he revisited Saskatchewan University, the scene of his first overseas venture. There he planted a tree to commemorate World Environment Day, and died two days later. A hard-bitten pressman, Sam Blackwell of the Southeast Missourian, saw St Barbe during the Redwood National Park dedication:

He was very old and frail. The young environmentalists taking care of him treated him with respect and awe. They said I could speak with him as soon as he awoke. When he did wake up he could barely speak, and the words he said were difficult to understand. It didn’t matter. He had a presence that made you happy to be in his company. We went outside to take his photograph. Spontaneously, he did what people who scorn environmentalists make jokes about: he hugged a tree. I don’t mean he put his arms around it. He hugged it like I hug my old friend Carolyn, like he never wanted to let it go. I began to understand. We do need to care, of course, for everything and everyone.

The legacy
So much for the legend. But what of the legacy? In the UK the Men of the Trees, mostly for reasons of political correctness, became the International Tree Foundation in 1992. There are now 22 branches across the country involved in practical tree planting and conservation work in Britain, and both branches and headquarters fund tree planting projects in Africa and India.

In Australia too, where there is a Men of the Trees branch in every state, each with a highly active, predominantly youthful membership, there is no disputing the staying power of St Barbe’s ideas and example.

In North America, however, his memory is far from evergreen. Most of the leading US organisations that were historically involved in redwood conservation, including the Sierra Club and the Save The Redwoods League, make no mention at all of him in their literature or in their online archives.

Similarly, definitive histories published in America in recent decades about the battle to conserve the redwoods make no mention of St Barbe. His was – it seems – more of a walk-on part than the starring role awarded to him in his own books and in eulogies by dedicated supporters. It is safest to say that he raised some handy funds and raised the stakes by voicing British concern over the redwoods’ plight, flagging the international significance of the issue.

In Africa, where you could say it all began, the situation is more complex. St Barbe’s ideas about Africa’s ecological and social history range from perceptive firsthand observations through to extremely sketchy – sometimes downright barmy – ideas and theories. He claimed in Africa Drums (1945) that he had been ceremonially initiated as a blood brother into a secret council of elders, the Kiama, that, he said, exerted hidden influence all over Africa, dating back to a Golden Age when 'men of the forest' ran the continent. This claim, though nonsensical, was backed up in his preface by a University of London Professor of Anthropology, Malinowsky, who should have known better.

St Barbe also believed in the ‘drought follows the plough’ hypothesis that human overcrowding, intensive cultivation and overgrazing leads to deforestation, which in turn leads inevitably to desertification, soil loss and famine. He was not alone in this belief. It was received wisdom among professionals and academics for many years.

Recent generations of researchers have begun carefully to untangle this narrative and to show that it does not stand up to close examination. More people can just as easily lead to more trees as to fewer trees. Evidence of ancient forests in places now covered by desert are more likely to be evidence of natural processes of climate change than of human destructiveness.

As Jeremy Swift points out in 'The Lie of the Land', a well-known collection of studies that explode myths surrounding deforestation in Africa: ‘The desertification story is a particularly interesting example of a narrative [explicable] in terms of the convergent interests of governments, aid agencies and scientists that has persisted in the face of rapidly mounting scientific evidence that it was inaccurate, and that the policies it suggested did not deal effectively with dryland degradation.’

Without straying too far into a scholarly quagmire, it is enough to say that St Barbe shared a widely held set of misconceptions about the situations he encountered in Africa that worked to the ultimate detriment of his programmes of action. Though these programmes were undeniably well-meant, little physical trace can now be found of them. The cedar and mahogany forests he planted and nurtured in Kenya and Nigeria have mostly been plundered, apart from a few embattled relics. Watu wa Miti did not survive decolonisation.

The Green Belt Movement
Yet maybe St Barbe’s African works were not entirely in vain. For his personal influence continued to affect at least one contemporary champion of Africa’s forests, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and by far the most respected voice for forest protection in modern Africa. ‘I met Richard St Barbe Baker on at least three occasions in the company of ex-Senior Chief Njonjo,’ she told me. ‘On one occasion they visited me at the office of the National Council of Women of Kenya and wanted to know more about my idea of planting trees with communities. They told me about the Men of the Trees and invited me to join, which I did.

‘The second time I met him and we talked about our work, especially his work in Australia and Canada. The third time was during the UN conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy in 1981 here in Nairobi. He participated in planting trees along with other delegates on a farm near Naivasha, in the great Rift Valley. I still remember how he, Njonjo and I walked hand in hand away from the site after the tree planting ceremony.’

Wangari Maathai was unaware of the Men of the Trees when she started her Green Belt Movement and St Barbe’s organisation is no longer active in Kenya, but she sees the movement as ‘a continuation of what the two men started in the 1920s, adding: ‘During the short period I knew Barbe Baker I found him a warm and inspiring man full of energy, ideas and hope that the young generation would embrace the concerns of the older generation and would save the planet from environmental disaster. We may not have realised that vision but we continue to be inspired by their commitment.’

There can be no arguing with a testimonial like this. Wild and woolly though some of his ideas may have been, the major worth of St Barbe resided in his spirit and vigour. His life proved that it is not enough just to know trees or understand the science of coexisting with them. If we wish to deserve to protect them, we must also love them.


Melissa Leach and Robin Mearns (Eds) 1996. 'The Lie of the Land: Challenging received wisdom on the African Environment.' (The International African Institute in association with James Currey (Oxford) and Heinemann. 1996)

Richard St Barbe Baker 'My Life – My Trees' (P/B reprint. The Findhorn Press, 1970.)

Wangari Maathai, 'The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the approach and the experience'. (Lantern Books, New York.. 2004). See also the movement's own website here.

The International Tree Foundation, Sandy Lane, Crawley Down, Crawley, West Sussex RH10 4HS; 01342 712536;

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Planet May

Was amused by literary high-flyer Blake Morrison’s little essay in The Guardian about discovering the other Blake Morrison, a US author with the same name who has written a book called ‘How to Cook Your Daughter.’ The mild and amusing confusion caused to both parties will now be solved by the latter adding a middle initial R to his name.

Amused because, with Google at your side, it is possible to uncover numerous other humans who share your name as the ‘documentary comedian’ Dave Gorman discovered when he set out to find 54 other Dave Gormans (in fact, he made a tv series, a book (‘Are You Dave Gorman?’) and a road show out of the idea, and did a lot of travelling to meet many of them). The full story is on his website, which reveals that fresh Dave Gorman’s continue to keep turning up wherever he goes and although he thinks the whole thing is over, everybody else seems to think he is still looking. He’s a funny man.

So in that spirit, I set out to find some of the other John May’s on the planet. A good place to start is the Yournotme site, which allows you to search the 2001 UK Electoral roll to find out how many people have the same name as you. Answer in my case? : 595. Slightly scary.

From Google I discovered:
John May is the Group Leader for Computer Science in the Center for Applied Scientific Computing (CASC) at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory – one of the main weapons labs in the States. His interests include parallel programming models, performance analysis, parallel I/O, and parallel programming tools. He has served on the MPI-2 Forum, the High Performance Debugger Forum, and the Steering Committee of the Parallel Tools Consortium. Currently, he works on the Parallel Performance Improvement project, where he is investigating performance analysis techniques for massively parallel computers.

I also found ‘The John May RV Park and Museum Center’ in Colorado Springs Colorado. You’ll definitely be tempted to make a visit when you learn that this John May ‘has spent over eighty years travelling and exploring the world to accumulate what is now considered one of the world's outstanding collections of giant insects, related creatures and rare artifacts’ for his Museum of Natural History.

Amazon, of course, is another useful source where I discovered the many and various John May’s who are the authors of the following delights:
- ‘Baccarat for the Clueless’ and ‘Get The Edge At Blackjack’
- ‘State of the Art: An Executive Briefing on Cutting-Edge Practices in American Angel Investing’ (Editor)
- ‘Pluralism and the Religions: The Theological and Political Dimensions’ (Editor)
- ‘Tympanoplasty, Mastoidectomy, and Stapes Surgery’ (with Ugo Fisch)
- ‘Rif Survival Handbook: How to Manage Your Money If You're Unemployed’.
- ‘Tropical fish: Their care and breeding’
- ‘Commemorative pottery, 1780-1900;: A guide for collectors’
- 'Philip,' the schoolday adventures of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh’
- ‘The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie: A Book about Germs’
- ‘A declaration of the estate of clothing (The English experience, its record in early printed books published in facsimile)’
- ‘Omar Khay-yam for bowlers’
- ‘The theory and construction of the quadrature of the circle: Also, the globe or ball reduced to the cube, and two new measures--the octants, with the inclination of the perpendicular line’

Then there is the prolific John May who is the author of: ‘A Book of Welsh Birthplaces’, ‘Cardiff day by day: the diary of a Capital city’, ‘Reference Wales’, ‘Quiz Rhondda’, ‘Millennium Cardiff: The Last 1,000 Years in the Welsh Capital’, ‘A Chronicle of Welsh events’, ‘The Yearbook of Welsh Dates’, ‘The Twentieth Century Welsh Quiz Book’, ‘The Cardiff Quiz Book.’

The best find was probably various books by John May about another John May – namely Col. John May (b. Pomfret, Conn, Nov. 24, 1748: died Boston, July 13, 1812), an Ohio Company agent and business adventurer

Enough already I think. Given the possibilities for confusion it seems quite astonishing that in my long life so far I have yet to bump into another John May or find another John May’s book or be mistaken for another John May. No doubt I am tempting fate by writing these words.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Karma and Commerce

Music and money are always trouble, the music business being littered with tales of crookedness, chicanery and underhanded behaviour. Two stories this week make interesting contrasts on this theme.

First, dear old Leonard Cohen, the 71-year-old Zen Buddhist, has filed suit in a LA court claiming Kelley Lynch, his manager for 16 years, has stolen $5m from his retirement fund, leaving only $150,000 - which Cohen can’t now access because of the legal dispute. As a result he has had to mortgage his house and faces a multimillion dollar tax bill.

Lynch who is a Tibetan Buddhist and former lover of Cohen’s denies all charges and is counter-accusing Cohen of conspiracy and extortion.

In addition, Neal Greenberg, Cohen's investment adviser of almost a decade, has also launched a legal suit which accuses Kelley Lynch of siphoning money from the songwriter and also accuses Cohen and his lawyer Robert Kory of conspiracy, extortion and defamation. It alleges the two, in an attempt to recover at least some of Cohen's lost money, threatened to besmirch Greenberg's reputation and concocted a plan to force Greenberg to give Cohen millions of dollars.

According to Macleans magazine: ‘The suit paints an almost preposterous picture of Cohen as an artist who led a lavish celebrity lifestyle and then turned bitter and vindictive when he discovered the money had run out. For example, the suit quotes Lynch describing how Cohen demanded she discuss business matters while he soaked in a bubble bath, and how later he was somehow involved in calling a SWAT team to her home, where she was handcuffed and forcibly taken to a psychiatric ward while in her bathing suit.'

Cohen is now planning to tour for the first time in 12 years, is releasing one album recorded with his current girlfriend Anjani Thomas this autumn, is recording a new solo one, and has a book of poetry due next year.

He told Macleans: ‘What can I do? I had to go to work. I have no money left. I’m not saying its bad; I have enough of an understanding of how the world works to understand that these things happen.’

Read the full and complex story here:

Elsewhere, John Densmore, the former drummer of the Doors, has turned down lucrative offers to use the band's music in adverts.

In 2004, Cadillac offered $15 million to lease the song ‘Break On Through (to the Other Side)’ to help sell its luxury SUVs. Densmore vetoed the idea and the company is now using Led Zeppelin's ‘Rock and Roll’ instead. Densmore also rejected a $4m offer from Apple Computers plus numerous other lucrative approaches.

"People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music," Densmore told the Los Angeles Times: "I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music…. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

Disagreements over this issue date back to the end of the 1960s when the Doors were offered $50,000 to allow their biggest hit, "Light My Fire," to be used in a commercial for the Buick Opel. Morrison was in Europe at the time and his bandmates agreed to the deal in his absence. When Morrison returned he was furious and vowed to sledgehammer a Buick on stage at every concert if the commercial went forward – which it didn’t.

As a result of that, in November 1970, the Doors agreed that any licensing agreement would require a unanimous vote. The band had previously agreed that the members would share equally in all music publishing rights.

During the 1970s Densmore did relent once when he agreed to let ‘Riders on the Storm’ to be used to sell Pirelli Tires in a TV spot in England. When he saw it he says he felt sick: "I gave every cent to charity. Jim's ghost was in my ear, and I felt terrible. If I needed proof that it was the wrong thing to do, I got it."

This current furore has intensified the bitter dispute between him and former band mates Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger over the rights to the band's name. Densmore and the Morrison estate had filed a suit in 2003 to block Manzarek and Krieger from using it or any permutation of same.

Last August, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled that Manzarek and Krieger could no longer tour together as the 'Doors of the 21st Century.' The pair, who now tour with former Cult singer Ian Astbury handling the late Jim Morrison's vocal duties, switched the name to D21C and plan to continue as Riders on the Storm.

An audit is underway to determine how much money Krieger and Manzarek must turn over from their two years of touring with their old band name which grossed $8 million. "John is going to get about a million dollars for doing nothing," Manzarek said. "He gets an equal share as us, and we were out there working. A free million bucks. That's a gig I'd like."

The whole issue of classic rock music being used in adverts is still a contentious one which began when Nike used the Beatles' ‘Revolution’ for a sneaker ad two decades ago.

Currently Bob Dylan is singing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin' ‘ in a tv ad for healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, a Rolling Stones track features in an Ameriquest Mortgage ad and Paul McCartney music is being used for Fidelity Investments.

Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles, Neil Young and Carlos Santana amongst others continue to say no to commercials.

In The Nation, Tom Waits wrote the following letter in praise of Densmore views expressed in an article "Riders on the Storm".

'Thank you for your eloquent "rant" by John Densmore of The Doors on the subject of artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials. I spoke out whenever possible on the topic even before the Frito Lay case (Waits v. Frito Lay), where they used a sound-alike version of my song "Step Right Up" so convincingly that I thought it was me. Ultimately, after much trial and tribulation, we prevailed and the court determined that my voice is my property.

'Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It's no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you're in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.

'When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I'd think, "Too bad, he must really need the money." But now it's so pervasive. It's a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture's memories for their product. They want an artist's audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.

'Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos. John, stay pure. Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy.

Hear Waits talk about this issue here:

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Deconstructing Dylan

'Dylan Lexigraph' is a digital print on canvas by Brighton-based artist Mike Edwards. Lexigraphs are literally 'word portraits' - where the image is created from relative text. For more examples of his work see

What follows is some kind of analysis of Scorsese’s 3 ½ hour documentary ‘No Direction Home’ screened simultaneously in the US and the UK on the 26/27th September 2005.

I was invited to a special Arena screening at the NFT in London the week before, as a result of my work on Douglas R. Gilbert’s ‘lost’ Dylan photos (see earlier story). This screening allowed me to view the whole work for the first time with just a ten-minute break between parts and on the big screen with superior sound. It was prefaced by a specially shot mini-intro by Scorsese himself, sitting in his director’s chair on the set of his latest movie. The experience was overwhelming and emotional.

The following week at the Lewes Arms, we managed to get the house tv installed in the side room and a bunch of us sat down together and watched it two nights running. A real beat time was had by all, with Guinness on tap nearby, and one or other of us breaking out into song throughout.

Today I watched the DVD which, disappointingly, has no additional interviews - which I was hoping for.

It was only later that the questions started to arise.

Let’s begin with what we know about the film, the best source I have found so far being Mick Brown's article 'Definitive Dylan' in The Daily Telegraph. The story begins ten years ago when Jeff Rosen, Dylan's manager, began assembling material - rare performance footage, news clips etc - with view to making a film. This included 60 hours of colour footage shot by D.A. Pennebaker (of which more later) plus a number of specially filmed interviews (credited in the film to Michael B. Borofsky) and eight hours of original interview with Dylan himself by Rosen and others.

In 2000, Rosen approached Nigel Sinclair who had directed 'Masked and Anonymous' , the feature film starring and co-written by Dylan, and the duo then approached first Anthony Wall of the BBC TV series Arena and then Scorsese who, apparently, agreed on the spot.

Scorsese apparently spent four years realising the project, though how much time he spent on it is unclear. Certainly it is a triumph of editing technique and a prominent editing credit is given to David Tedeschi. In other words, Scorsese shot no original footage as far as one can discern.

Interestingly, it is Scorsese’s voice that reads out Bob Dylan’s speech at the political dinner of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in New York in December 1963, where he was given the Tom Paine award (previous recipient Bertrand Russell) and delivered a speech that managed to severely offend the majority of the audience, including as it did, remarks to the effect that he could understand and in a sense identify with Lee Harvey Oswald, remarks about Cuba, about elderly men in suits. A moment of high drama.

So this is a film largely composed of material assembled and controlled by Dylan's management - no doubt added to by Scorsese's own diligent researchers. We are told that Dylan let Scorsese get with things with no interference but the way things were set up meant that there were no hard questions asked - Dylan's private life, by and large, is ignored, particularly his relationship with his women (Baez excepted, where Dylan made a modest nod in the direction of an apology).

Yet one can't escape the feeling that Dylan himself is very much in control of the story-telling, myth-making process. The brilliance of ‘Chronicles’ displays his skills in this regard and the book’s themes suffuse ‘No Direction Home’ in the sense that Dylan portrays himself as the recipient of an ocean of Americn music, echoes of which can be found throughout his ouevre.

This knowingness is often in evidence. When talking about his earliest girlfriends Gloria Story and a girl named Echo, he says they brought out the poetry in me. Then he winks at the camera as if to say 'I’m in on the act'.

Obnviously the film is a shrewd move on behalf of the Dylan business empire, a prime-time advert for his back catalogue and a useful primer for audiences too young to have caught Dylan's early years. In such ways, music longeivty is maintained and Dylan, one feels certainly has one eye at least on how history will see him. I refuse to believe that such a monumental ego is not concerned about this. Important to remember also that Dylan's business organisation also licensed his music to Starbucks.

The film's storyline also follows a well-trodden path - the mythical Tom Sawyer journey from Hibbing to High Town, Greenwich Village adventures, the political years, the transition from folk to electric/pop balladeering, the rise to fame, the backlash of disapproval, the motorbike accident. Roll credits. This is, in other words, not the defintive Bob Dylan story, rather a simplified version of a much more complicated historical narrative.

One reason the film may have taken so long is because of the deals and copyrights at stake. Witness the unusual on-screen credits in the middle of the film for Pennebaker. I would say this film is certainly as much Pennebaker’s as it is Scorsese’s – his sense of camerawork is immaculate, the old colour film looks great as does '60s provincial England, and the actual performances are rivetingly captured on sound and vision equipment that would look totally primitive by today’s digital standards.

There are some interesting clips and fresh outtakes from Pennebaker's 1965 black and white documentary 'Don't Look Back' but more interesting and predominant is the colour footage Pennebaker shot in 1966 during the UK leg of an international tour. Apparently Dylan had allowed Pennebaker control over the previous film but not second time around. Pennebaker was hired in as cameraman only and paid a straight fee for this project and, out of the huge amount of film shot, a one-hour documentary called 'Eat The Document' was made, that was broadcast only once on a local New York tv station in 1979. This, incidentally, contained 30 seconds of a ten-minute sequence showing Dylan and Lennon 'fucked up on junk' in the back of a limo as it cruised through London. (The transcript of this sequence was featured as a cover story on the very first issue of Mojo).

Incidentally, the full details of all this can be found in the excellent 'Bob Dylan Behind The Shades: The Biography - Take Two' by Clifford Heylin (Penguin. 2001). He makes it clear that, in both films, more so in the latter, Dylan was certainly on speed and, by 1966, was definately showing signs of wear and tear due to drug use.

What puzzles me most about 'No Direction Home' is the exclusion of two important events during the time period the film covers 1960-66.

1. The meeting of Ramblin Jack Elliott and Dylan at Woody Guthrie’s bedside, January 1964. Bear this in mind. At the point where Dylan met Guthrie, the latter could hardly sing and couldn’t play. Jack had lived with Guthrie for years and Guthire had taught him his repertoire and skills. Dylan became friends with Jack and copied Jack’s act – Guthrie by proxy. Thus Jack is bound into the DNA of the Dylan story. Happily Dylan acknowledges this correctly in two places in ‘Chronicles’ but Jack is not interviewed for the film. In fact we glimpse him once in a full frame black and white still with his big black hat, and once indistinctly lying back next to Guthrie on a sofa. But that’s it. Jack is very much alive in California and available for interview I would imagine. But he is not in this story.

2. The meeting of Dylan with the Beatles at the Hotel Delmonico in New York in August 1965, when they smoked strong dope together. The meeting had been set-up by the late Al Aronowitz, who took Dylan there that night and supplied the grass. He died earlier this year, his story unrecorded except by himself, to my knowledge. Aronowitz always claimed that this is where the 60s began.

Obviously there are many other incidents and people that must be stripped away to construct a clean, highly structured and edited narrative of this kind, but real life is anything but clean. Its riven with interconnections and random events, with sub-plots and ancillary dramas. But the above episodes seem to important to exclude.

The other key missing subplot of the Dylan of this period is the relationship between Dylan and Baez with Mimi and Richard Farina, as brilliantly documented in ‘Positively Fourth Street’ by Davd Hadju. Another documentary we hope but please not a biopic.

High points: Odetta was stunning, Dylan’s piano playing on Ballad of A Thin Man, the photo of him with Johnny Cash, Cash with a big bear-like protective arm around the young Dylan who is beaming. When Cash recorded one of his songs, Dylan said, it was the greatest thrill of my life. Shame they couldn’t catch Cash before he passed on. I am hoping someone like Rick Rubin is making a major documentary on Cash before too long.

‘No Direction Home’ is not the definitive Dylan film, in other words, but it is a good one. Through ‘Chronicles’ and this film, Dylan is mastering his place in the Pantheon and reaching out to younger generations. He’ll be back in England soon, still on the road, still with his eyes fixed on that distant horizon, still chasing the ghosts of lost cowboys. A man who is too clever by half and who casts a long shadow.


Dave van Ronk and Allen Ginsberg have both died since they were interviewed for this film. This morning's paper also carried the obituary of another important figure who we also see on screen - Harold Leventhal.

Without doubt one of the most interesting books on Dylan is Mike Marqusee's, 'Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan’s Art, New York' [The New Press, 2003] which sets Dylan's work in its political and social context and gives a very fresh perspective on many incidents featured in the Scorsese documentary. A new version of the book ' WICKED MESSENGER: BOB DYLAN AND THE 1960S ' has just been published by Seven Stories Press. [October 2005]. This new paperback edition includes a discussion of Dylan’s 'Chronicles' and 'Masked and Anonymous', as well as new material on Dylan’s relationship to country music, on Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle.

See Mike Marquesee's blog and his interesting piece on Dylan and the Starbucks deal here