From: Karen Lee Wald <firstname.lastname@example.org> [
re: Airborne With Audioslave Date:
May 11, 2005 10:00 AM
I want to start this off with an apology to those who perhaps justifiably feel miffed that so much of what I write about the articles I pass on is critical. But that's why I add commentary -- because the spins, lies and distortions get me so angry, and because I know how much direct experience you have to have in and with Cuba to see through them. Articles containing accurate information, and some that are so obvious they don't need comment, go through without any additional comment from me. With that preface, I am about to say what is wrong with the media coverage of what was in fact a very positive event: this week's Havana concert of the rock band Audioslave.
It's hard to get enthusiastic about all this coverage of Audioslaves exciting performance in Cuba when all of the media that thinks it's worth covering haven't a clue about Cuba and repeat every single negative (and untrue) stereotype about Cuba: a gloomy, communist government that hates rock & roll. While publicists of every ilk always like to proclaim that their guys (artists, writers, musicians, politicians) are the "first ever" to do something, repeating this mantra in regards to rock music ignores decades of music appreciation of every kind in Cuba; ignores the large number of singers and bands from the US and Great Britain that performed there during "Musical Bridges" (which has a CD of some of the highlights out now); ignores the rock and fusion aspects of some of Cuba's own most popular music; and shows that these writers never watched Cuban tv while they were there, because they would have seen the music videoclips that Cubans see all the time, including the rock ones. It's great that Audioslave was there; it's sad that everyone thinks they have to make this sound like a great breakthrough ("invasion", to use Rolling Stone's words) as though the wall preventing Cuban and US musicians had been put up by the "communist dictatorship" that they imagine is running everything down there. And it's sad that the woman who sent this article to Rolling Stone was so susceptible to the propaganda she'd heard and read before she went, and so unable to cut through it while she was there. sigh.
More comments in brackets in the text, so you know why I am so pissed off...
From: "Walter Lippmann" <email@example.com>
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 6:29 AM
Subject: Airborne With Audioslave
(Undated, but downloaded May 10, 2005.
Airborne With Audioslave
Behind the scenes of one rock band's invasion of Cuba
Tagging along with the first rock band to perform in Cuba since Billy Joel
and Bonnie Raitt visited in 1979 is a pretty cool thing to do, and most
everyone invited to accompany Audioslave on their history-making journey
seems to have jumped at the opportunity. There's about sixty people in the
band's entourage when they board the Miami Heat's resplendent private plane
for Havana on the morning of May 4th, including three band wives, Tom
Morello's mother Mary, four Beverly Hills managers, publicists galore, one
bodyguard per band member, an MTV crew and a bunch of British guys
contracted for the band's DVD at the last minute because American banks
won't insure equipment in Cuba.
"We couldn't believe it when we saw the number of people coming along with
the band," says Natacha Perez, the Cuban government "specialist" assigned to
chaperone [sic] Audioslave on their stay in the country. "It's incredible -- all
this for four musicians!" [If a group had been invited to the US, and someone was assigned to attend to their needs, from housing to transportation to making sure the coordination for lights and sound ran smoothly, would Rolling Stone call that person a "chaperone"?]
Rock stars are an alien concept in Cuba [NO, they are NOT], a communist country since the Fidel Castro and Che Guevara-led revolution of 1959 and under U.S. economic embargo since 1960, thereby prevented from conducting any business with the U.S. Cubans are strict Leninists.[Not only is that a horrible grammatical construction which as a high school teacher I would give an F to, but it also shifts the blame for the US' economic blockade of the island to Fidel, Che and the "Leninists" RS believes are running things down there.] High school education is mandatory [maybe the writer should attend some of their schools], and healthcare is free. Television, radio stations and newspapers are state-owned [she could have said "publicly-owned", a truer description and a more friendly term, indicating public vs. private] with alternative music available only in the form of pirated CDs passed amongst friends (the Internet is available only to tourists, state officials and particularly resourceful comrades). [Both of those last statements are outrageously untrue and part of the ongoing disinformation campaign against Cuba. Every form of music is widely available in Cuba, and while the country doesn't have the resources to provide internet service for every individual -- most countries in the world can't provide this, and 2/3 of the population of the world couldn't use it if their country COULD buy sufficient satellite time, beause 1. they don't have computers 2. they don't have telephone lines 3. they don't have electricity 4.they can't read and write -- all achievements of the Cuban people as a direct result of the revolution RS disparages as "Leninist". But not only CAN Cubans read, write and use computers; the government makes sure that people have access to what computers provide -- including email and the most valuable things on the internet, from culture to medicine -- through PUBLIC means rather than private. Anyone anywhere in the island can go to their local Youth Computer Club --which is free -- if they don't already have access via an educational, medical, media, cultural or other institution they belong to. Can they spend hours "surfing the web"? No, that's a luxury reserved for the inhabitants of the wealthy nations that exploit the rest of the world. Do they have far more access to information provided by computers and the internet than 2/3 of the people on this planet? You bet they do.]
There are some rock fans, to be sure, but Audioslave are a bit contemporary for them. "It takes a really, really long time for music to reach here -- we listen to Slayer and Metallica like they are new," says Ali Bautista, an engineering student.
They like their rock harder anyway. "Young Cubans like death metal," he
continues. "Venom is the favorite band." [So they meet one kid who wants to hang out with them and speaks English, and she takes his one opinion as definitive for all Cubans?]
So when the jet touches down at the tiny, predominantly orange [??] Havana
airport, there's not much hubbub -- the band is received as if they were
minor diplomats, met by one state television camera and a few government
well-wishers fanning themselves in the heat. "There's curiosity about us,"
sums up Morello. "But it's a mild curiosity."
The television reporter asks the obvious question: Why are they in Cuba?
"It's all about the music," says Tim Commerford. In addition to running CIA
and FBI checks on the members, the U.S. government had as a precondition to
this trip that Audioslave would not make political statements while on the
island. "It doesn't take a third-grade education to realize that the
criteria for doing business with the U.S. is not one based on ideological
principles that go beyond economics" is as much as Morello, an outspoken
socialist, will say about the embargo, and that not for the cameras. Though
this particular trip was proposed by Audioslave's managers at the Firm --
the record industry publicity-stunt masters who also brought you Puddle of
Mudd in Tikrit -- playing Cuba has been a longtime dream for Commerford,
Morello and Brad Wilk (frontman Chris Cornell says he's never thought about
Cuba much). Cuba was something the ex-Ragers were supposed to do with Rage Against the Machine in the late Nineties, but singer Zack de la Rocha axed
it at the last minute. "He was the reason we didn't do it; he was the reason
we didn't do everything," says Commerford, who has not spoken to de la Rocha
since he called to say he was leaving the band.
The guys board a white tourist van and head towards downtown Havana. A lime
'55 Cadillac passes by, then a Jawa with two people stuffed in the sidecar.
Some people are pushing a truck on the side of the road. No commercial
advertising is allowed in Cuba, and instead block-lettered billboards
announce slogans like "Cuba Will Prove That This World Can Be Saved."
Everything is ruined: the Spanish colonial houses and the drab communist buildings too. [Here we go again! did she even drive or walk by any of the exquisite restoration of old colonial buildings that has been going on for decades, despite the economic crunch!?!], The average teacher here makes $10 a month and can afford only the basics at the market. Taxi drivers make ten times that much and buy the best Cuba has to offer on the black market. [Is there a single piece of the conventional disinformation about Cuba that this reporter has missed?!] "Globalism sucks," says Wilk. "But this is not the solution."
Tourism has flourished in Cuba, just not amongst Americans, and Audioslave
join the Canadians and Europeans exploring a different way of life and
enjoying the Carribean weather. Just because they're rock stars doesn't mean
that they get special treatment here, and a lot of time is spent at bad
restaurants [no good ones??] and buying trinkets like Che Guevara T-shirts and back scratchers decorated with the Cuban provinces. They visit John Lennon Park, and Cornell tries on the glasses sitting on the Lennon statue's nose -- "They're prescription," he says. [Not even a little curiosity about the fact that there IS a park with a statue of John Lennon in it, in a country where the writer tells us Rock Music has been forbidden until now by the "strict Leninists"?] They go to Revolution Square, the Capitol
Hill of the Communist party, and Morello makes a speech, "People of Cuba, we
are Audioslave, and we are here to rock you." They walk the cobblestone
streets of Old Havana [and the writer, who presumably walked with them, STILL didn't see anything except crumbling old ruins????], and Morello buys his wife the biography of Tanya [sic], the nom de guerre of Argentinian revolutionary Haydee Tamara Burke [sic]. "Tanya has a distinct resemblance to my Sweet Dee," says Morello. "She's the quintessential revolutionary fox." They even stop to talk to a bearded guy dressed as a solider from Che's army [??? What would a "solider" --presumably the typo was for "soldier" -- from "Che's army" be dressed like? A different uniform from Fidel's army, perhaps? Maybe she meant dressed like a guerrilla in Bolivia, but I don't think so. This writer just doesn't have a clue. And apparently doesn't read, since if she even glanced at the book Morello bought she would have known that Tania was spelled with an i, and that her last name was Bunke, not Burke --the daughter of Germans Erich and Nadia Bunke, born during their exile in Argentina] and listen solemnly to his description of the revolution. Later, he is seen running down the street talking furiously into a walkie-talkie, then ducking behind a bus. [Ah, they're being spied upon! I wonder whether she considered that it might be a guy with a cell-phone elatedly telling his wife that he had just met the members of this famous US rock band. But of course from the journalist's vantage point we are to assume she could clearly make out that what the guy running down the street and ducking behind a bus had in his hand....And who knows, maybe she's right -- maybe the Cubans DO have people on the alert to make sure nothing happens to this band that is friendly enough to break the blockade and come play their music in Cuba. Although if someone were watching them, it apparently doesn't dawn on her that he might be watching over them rather than spying on them....]
Throughout it all, the band, all decent, honest guys now hovering around
forty, remain open-minded and engaged in whatever activity is at hand, with
only a few angry outbursts from Commerford (the freight company busted his
amp; the bus has heat on instead of A/C). They throw around the word "love"
freely when talking about each other. "We're not the Monkees, but I cherish
my friendship with all these guys," says Wilk.
Cornell, who still has extremely hot rocker looks, is just one of the guys.
He got remarried a couple years ago, to a Parisian publicist, and now lives
in Paris with her family, a new seven-month old and another baby on the way.
He says she's the only audience of one he's ever played acoustic guitar for,
and that these days he's dropped a lot of his "enigmatic and misunderstood
artist act." Cornell entered rehab for alcohol and Oxycontin abuse after the
release of Audioslave's first album, and the band supported him through it
(two months ago, he quit smoking as well). "This band, whom I didn't know
that well at that point, didn't have animosity towards me; they weren't
concerned with their careers; they seemed to have actual concern about me
and my personal health, and that was motivating," says Cornell. "It kind of
still is, and makes me want to stay really involved in the band and to give
back to those guys."
Bumping through Havana's streets on a bus, Cornell spies a postman with some
pens in his breast pocket. "He has a blue pen, he has another blue pen, and
he has a red pen, which he rarely uses and you don't want to be around when
he does, because that's when shit goes down," he jokes. The bus is driving
nearer to the sea, and the houses are getting larger and nicer. "There are
some absolute pimp houses in this area," exclaims Cornell. "Look, this one
even gets paint."
"They're embassies," says the chaperone.
"Oh," says Cornell. A purple and yellow circus tent appears on the right.
"That's where the Cubans have their space program."
The night of the concert, Castro is making an hours-long speech about
suspected anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, now seeking refuge in
the U.S., but by the time the crowds appear he's done. The stage is set up
in La Tribuna Anti-Imperialista plaza, where many of the rallies to bring
home Elian Gonzalez took place; the U.S. Special [sic] Interests offices are next
door, surrounded by several armed guards, a ten-foot fence and a Cuban
poster that reads, "Imperalists, We Have No Fear of You!"
Cornell swaggers onstage to chants of "Audioslave!" from a riled-up crowd of
tens of thousands -- at least amongst the few hundred Cubans crammed near
the stage. Further off, people stand with arms crossed, waiting to be
impressed. "We're going to play a lot of songs no one has heard before,"
says Cornell, and the Cubans scream appreciatively, like it's a privilege.
They play twenty-six songs, at two and a half hours, their longest set ever.
Cornell does his former band Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" on acoustic
guitar, and gamely sings along with Rage's "Killing in the Name." It's a
hit: People crawl on the stage and even the guards start bopping their heads
up and down.
On the windswept patio of the Hotel Nacional, Cornell assesses the
experience. "I'm more shocked than I thought I would be," he says of the
visit. "You can't come here and not look at Cuba strictly on a human level
and feel some nervousness and some shame and some anger at being American."
He thinks about what he'll take home from all this. "When it comes to
writing lyrics, every aspect of human life is going to be part of the
palette for me," he says. "This experience would be something that I would
write about in a song, or some songs. You can look at a band like U2, which
is not overtly political, but Bono gets a lot done. I think we can be that
(Posted mai 10, 2005)