Thursday, October 11, 2018

How I Lost 35 Pounds

And Why I Love Books

There are lots of forms of communication that are very useful.  A news article or opinion piece related to current events is a great way to provide a crucial update to a situation that the reader is already very familiar with.  A song is a great vehicle for introducing people to recent or historical events they've never heard of before, in a way that, crucially, can reach them emotionally.  The particular strength of the form known as the book is that, if done well, it's substantial enough that the reader can actually learn new concepts and then learn more about them, to the point where you can actually develop new knowledge, new skills, new ways of understanding the world -- beyond the superficial level of understanding that only longer-form methods of communication such as books or ongoing courses of study can provide.

Sometimes the most useful knowledge that we can get out of a book involves the unlearning of what we thought we knew, in the process of developing a new understanding.  I have had this experience recently in terms of my understanding of many aspects of the history of the Americas in reading the book, 1491.  In terms of understanding other aspects of history and the world around me today, many other books have been absolutely essential in making any sense of this planetary mess.

But it's not just about history and politics, when it comes to the usefulness of knowledge, and specifically the knowledge that can be transferred in the form of a book.  It's about everything -- possibly without exception.

We humans don't tend to read much about some of the most important things, I've noticed, unless it's forced upon us.  For example, in Denmark, anybody who has gone to school has learned something about raising emotionally healthy children.  This is part of the curriculum.  But outside of Scandinavia, by my very unscientific observation I would say that the majority of parents have never read a full-length book on the subject of parenting, from cover to cover.  They're doing what is easily one of the most important things they'll ever do in their lives -- raising a child -- and yet they have never read a book about it.

I'm the same way.  I read lots about my main areas of interest (history, politics, music) but not much about anything else, unless somehow forced to by circumstances or the need to know something that I knew I needed to know, but didn't.

At the age of 19 or so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first book I read in order to learn about something I had not learned about in school or from any other useful source til then was about sex.  I was sexually active for the first time, and the advice I had gotten from pornographic magazines about not ejaculating prematurely wasn't working.  I was browsing a New Age book store with my dad one day when I came across Mantak Chia's book, Cultivating Male Sexuality.  I devoured it, began practicing his mental and physical exercises, and voila, within a year or so I had learned that the male orgasm is a voluntary and optional thing in the course of sexual relations, and certainly nothing that needs to happen involuntarily at any stage.  I had learned a new skill from a book, for the first time in my life, and it was a very empowering experience.

Later in life I learned through struggling with a variety of relationships with relatives, friends, lovers, exes, and my own children, at different points I developed new skills as a parent and as an actively-listening communicator.  The most useful book on communication and parenting and self-understanding (all inextricably related subjects) that I read was Naomi Aldort's Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I'll note here that on the subject of parenting and nonviolent communication I read many books.  In the best of them, there's loads of overlap.  You'll find many of the same messages in Aldort's book that you'll find, for example, in another book I read called Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child or in Marshall Rosenberg's now classic book, Nonviolent Communication.

So after reading a book about sex as a teenager and books about communication and relationships in my early forties (which I wish I had read as a teenager, too), at the age of 51 I got around to reading my first book on the subject of eating.

Eating is easily as basic and important a phenomenon in the lives of humans and other living creatures as sex or communication.  I had read books about the dangers of genetic modification, the perniciousness of the fast food industry, the evils of factory farming, and other such subjects related to food.  But I hadn't read anything about how to eat well.

David Reads A Book

In retrospect, I thought I already knew how to eat well, but I just wasn't doing it right because I lacked the discipline or couldn't be bothered.  But I was wrong.  Although I was raised eating supposedly healthy food in a health-conscious, largely vegetarian family environment growing up, and although I have spent most of my life hanging around organic farmers and people obsessed with permaculture, windmills and shit (literally), I was clueless, and I'm sure most of my friends are, too.

The book I read is called the Plant Paradox.  I have looked at other books that contain a lot of similar or identical dietary advice, so I do not here want to uphold the heart surgeon who wrote the book, Dr Steven Gundry, as the only person with such advice who you should read.  It may be that, as with conscientious parenting books, there's lots of overlap between Dr Gundry's book and many others which I haven't read.  I suspect that the tribalism that you can find in various "self-help" circles around which philosophy is best has a lot to do with which books different people happen to have read. (Similar, I suspect, to tribalism between different varieties of Marxists or Christians who have actually never read each other's books, but only the books put forward by their own political or religious tendencies -- including the bits in their books where the books of the other tendencies are denounced as blasphemous for one reason or another.)

Because there is so much advice out there, and because some of it is more than a little contradictory, I thought that at least for the people out there who know me, it could be useful for you to hear a little about my own journey with food and weight, and the bits of the Plant Paradox that I applied to my life that seem to be the most useful factors.

I don't want to fat-shame anybody, and I don't want to come across as the guy with all the answers -- I'm not.  Making people feel bad or bullying people because of how they look is a terrible thing.  And there are many reasons why people are different sizes -- physical, emotional, medical, etc.  When I talk about my experience, it is only my experience.  I had my own reasons for my behavior, which may or may not be related to you or yours.

I really only read the book because my daughter, Leila, instructed me to.  She had read it, it clearly had had a huge impact on her, and she wanted me to read it.  I read it, initially, because what she thinks and feels is important to me, and I want to know about it, whatever it is, for the sake of our connection to each other, among other reasons.  In retrospect, I was ridiculously resistant to reading the book, and I'm pretty sure there is no one on Earth who could have gotten me to read a book about dieting if it hadn't been Leila.  It's entirely possible that I owe her my life.

Living In Denial

I'm 51 and I'm pretty sure I now weigh less than I've weighed in my entire adult life.  I'm still at the high end of what the National Institutes of Health define as "normal."  Most people in the US, Mexico, the UK and many other societies today are defined by the NIH's Body Mass Index as "overweight" or "obese" (BMI calculator here).  For most of my adult life I have been within the category defined as "overweight."  Mostly I was on the lower end of the overweight scale.  Last March, I was on the higher end of the scale, just shy of the NIH definition for "obese."

These definitions are not based on what is typical.  If they were, then overweight would be considered "normal."  The definitions are medical.  They use BMI to understand the impact of our weight on our health.  So for example, regardless of what's typical in society, people who are even slightly into the NIH's "overweight" category are as much as three times more likely to develop certain cancers.  Having a certain BMI is one of the warning signs that you're more likely to develop various forms of cancer.  Obviously there are lots of other factors involved with getting cancer, but being overweight is definitely one of them.

In my entire adult life I have been told by one nurse, one doctor and one daughter that I was overweight and should lose weight to be healthy.  Far, far more often if the subject came up in conversation I have been told by well-meaning friends, relatives and acquaintances that I'm not overweight.  All that time, however, I was overweight, according to the very important medical definition of the term, with all the health consequences that it entails.

I attribute this behavior on the part of the vast majority of people in my life to people wanting to be sensitive, not hurt my feelings or make me feel ashamed.  I did feel ashamed, anyway.  Every time I have looked in the mirror throughout my thirties and forties I have thought, "I really need to do something about that."  Every time I have bought clothing or put on clothing, I have thought about how to wear it in such a way that best hides my belly.

By last March, as I approached obesity, it had become impossible to hide my belly by draping my ever-growing shirts and trousers the right way.  I maintained a sense of humor throughout, joking to my pregnant wife that Carhart should market their "relaxed" shirt sizes as "Maternity Clothes for Men."  (That advertising campaign would probably not take off, however.)

When I think about how I have felt about my body for my entire adult life, and I look around me as I travel throughout the US, the UK and other countries, I see other people who feel the same way I have always felt.  I see people of all genders trying to hide their bodies, trying to re-frame them with clothing draped the right ways, in order to hide the fat which they are ashamed to be living with.  I see people, like me, who feel inadequate, who can't run without feeling like each step is another jarring crash to the ground.  I see people who I know are statistically very, very unlikely to live long lives.  People who are obese die 5-20 years younger than people with a "normal" BMI, according to NIH statistics.

I know much more about what it's like to be an overweight man than what it's like to be another kind of overweight person.  As a man, wearing more or less the kinds of clothes most men wear, it's pretty easy to look relatively thin until you are approaching actual obesity.  In other words, if you see someone with clothing on and they look overweight, they are probably beyond overweight, they are obese, and their lives are at great physical risk.  If they are middle-aged, they're likely to be dying pretty soon, probably before they reach the age of 70, and their last decades on Earth will involve lots of other physical ailments related to their weight, as well as emotional ailments related to how they feel about their weight, along with the many emotional consequences of the physical weight itself.

I understand why people repeatedly told me things like "you're not fat."  I appreciate the sentiment behind these lies.  In retrospect, however, they were probably very unhelpful for me, and while I would never want to make someone feel bad about their appearance, I, for one, am no longer going to say things like that to people just to be nice.  This is a serious health issue that shouldn't be swept under the rug just because it's uncomfortable for us to think about and talk about.

Relearning How to Eat

Although the author tried so many methods of maintaining my interest in reading his book in the early chapters of it, I'm sure I would have put it down and never picked it up again if I hadn't told Leila I'd read it.  The reason was that it was immediately challenging so many of the things I thought I knew about eating.  But my own implementation of his advice shows me, at least, how right he was.

I'm not only lighter than I've ever been as an adult, but I have much more energy, and I no longer suffer from something which I wasn't even aware I suffered from before, which Dr Gundry calls "brain fog."  For me, brain fog was a normal part of every day, which I thought was just part of what everybody went through, which often led to me taking an afternoon nap.  I rarely take afternoon naps anymore, and I generally feel very well-rested after seven hours of sleep, whereas before this year I always needed 8 hours to feel really refreshed the next day.

My understanding of the chemistry involved with all this stuff is very limited, but it's good enough to have learned how to eat at this point.  Basically, the premise here is we have digestive systems very much like apes, and if we want to be healthy humans we are best off eating the way healthy apes do.  And if we want to gain weight like farm animals do, we should eat like farm animals.  Which is what most of us do, whether we're vegetarians, vegans or omnivores.

What do we feed farm animals that we want to fatten up for the slaughter?  Grain, mostly corn (in the US).  It makes them sick, because they're not designed to eat the stuff, so we then give them antibiotics to wash the corn down with.  And what do we mostly eat?  The same stuff, but in the form of bread, cereal, etc.  We have to cut out all of that junk.  Which means that the vast majority of the food on supermarket shelves is off-limits.

Overcoming Sugar Addiction

Learning not to eat grain, for the most part, is a big part of what's been working so well for me in terms of weight loss, energy and increased mental acuity.  Another huge part of the equation has been learning not to eat fruit.

Fruit is designed by the plant world to make you want to eat it.  The reason fruit wants to be eaten is because it can spread its DNA that way and reproduce.  You're part of that equation with fruit, as with other plants.  It wants to be eaten when it's ripe, so when it's not ripe it can be toxic to eat.  Once it's ripe, it's very enticing to eat because it's usually a bright color and it's loaded with sugar.  In the wild, in most of the world most animals will only have the opportunity to eat fruit for part of the year, when it's ripe and in season, during the summer.  Having access to ripe fruit in summer helps them gain enough weight to make it through the coming winter.

If we only ate fruit when it's ripe and in season for a few weeks each summer it wouldn't be a problem, but everybody I know has access to ripe fruit all year round these days.  When I complained to friends and medical professionals that I had a problem with sugar addiction in the past, I was often told to eat fruit instead, when I crave things like ice cream or chocolate.

These people were giving me really, really bad advice.  Sugar, it turns out, whether it's in fruit or in ice cream, is addictive.  It doesn't matter what kind of sugar it is -- it's all addictive in the same way, triggering the same addict responses.  You eat fruit, you want more sugar, and your desire for more sugar isn't a desire for more fruit, it's a desire for any kind of sugar.  And when you eat more, you'll want still more.  Sugar is an addictive drug, and so are pears and bananas.  You don't need to eat them at all.  I stopped eating fruit, and I've never felt better.  I no longer crave sugar.  I eat small amounts of sugar (fruit sugar, honey, maple syrup for the most part, contained in some processed foods I still eat such as grainless granola or paleo snacks), but not enough to set off the addictive cycle I was constantly falling victim to from the time I was a baby until last year.

I should say, it's not that I no longer think eating sugar would taste good.  It's not that I have no interest in sugar.  I just don't crave it the way I used to.  In other words, it turns out that I do have self-discipline, and I'm not the undisciplined person that I eventually made myself out to be in my own mind.  I was addicted, and the addiction was more powerful than my self-discipline much of the time.  The fruit was keeping me addicted, so eventually I'd fall off the wagon and start eating ice cream again.  No more.  Now it's easy, with the physical addiction out of the way, in my case.

So What Do You Eat?

When you more or less stop eating grain (and also carb-based vegetables such as potatoes), most fruit (with the notable exception of avocados), and certain other toxic foods that we shouldn't be eating such as beans, peanuts and eggplants, what's left are all the rest of the vegetables in existence, along with nuts, fish and insects.  Most of us don't eat insects, even though they're full of nutrients and protein.  Many of us are vegetarians or vegans, but that's not a problem, you can get all the things you get from animal protein from other sources.  The main thing is cutting out grain and fruit (and of course almost all processed foods that contain grain or processed sugar), and then eating what's left -- mainly green vegetables.

How does that work?  Normal breakfasts are out -- no pancakes, toast, hot or cold cereal made of grains.  Normal lunches are out -- no sandwiches, no bowls of rice with stuff on top.  Normal dinners are out -- no potatoes next to your meat.

You have to stop thinking about all that.  Stop thinking about what you and other people normally eat, and reinvent your diet.  It's important not to eat too much protein, according to Dr Gundry, so he differentiates his orientation from the paleo diet that way.  I have found personally that I lose weight faster when I really limit the intake of nuts and animal protein, and mainly focus on eating green vegetables.  I also find I'm a lot less hungry than I used to be, I eat much less overall, and when I get hungry, I don't get tired unless I don't eat for several hours after becoming hungry.  These effects are all consequences of eating this way.

In the morning I typically eat about a cup of grainless granola with unsweetened hemp or almond milk.  For lunch I eat a large bowl of salad, consisting mostly of kale, spinach, rocket, avocados, artichoke hearts, olives, etc., along with a limited amount of things like salmon, anchovies, or other forms of protein.  If I'm on my own and not trying to make my diet interesting for the sake of other people, I'll often have the same thing for dinner -- another salad.  If I'm hungry in between meals, which often happens, I either ignore the hunger and suffer no negative consequences from doing that, or I eat an avocado, a small serving of olives or some pistachios.

Eating On the Road, Exercise and Other Habits

Many people (including me) say it's harder to eat well when traveling.  This is obviously true.  When you live somewhere, you know where to buy the food you want to eat, and you have a stove and a refrigerator at home, generally.  However, I find it's easy to eat on the road anywhere that I go.  In small towns in the US or the UK -- both countries with terrible health problems related to terrible diets that most people have -- finding a salad in a restaurant can be impossible.  

But in your travels you will come across supermarkets.  Even if you come across a supermarket in rural Yorkshire or Wyoming where there are no prepared salads to buy, and you don't want to bother buying spinach and finding a bowl somewhere and making your own salad, there are still options.  Think about it -- what would you be doing if left to your own devices in a town like that?  You'd eat fish and chips, or if you're lucky enough to be in a town with a good Indian restaurant, you'll eat a pile of rice with stuff on it.  Both basically deadly options for your weight loss program.  But at the supermarket you can at least find a jar of pickled artichoke hearts, a jar of olives, or a bag of pistachios.  Any of those things are far better for you than the curry or the fish and chips, and any of those things, by themselves, can be an entire, inexpensive meal.  Not ideal -- not like an organic salad made of fresh greens -- but it'll do.

One of the "on the road" habits I have long had is basically the same thing I do when I'm home, which is getting hungry late at night.  I've heard many people say that this is their main downfall when it comes to losing weight.  What I've found as far as that tendency goes is when you get hungry late at night, eat a little something, as long as it's something on the list of good things to eat (Dr Gundry's "yes list" in the case of the Plant Paradox book).  Don't order a meal somewhere and don't sit down with the intention of eating what we think of as a meal.  As with breakfast, I find a cup of nuts is often all I need, and if I stop there, I feel great.  If I keep eating a plate full of food, I'll feel sick.  It's largely about the intention you begin with when you sit down with food.  Are you trying to satiate your pangs of hunger or are you trying to get full?  Never eat to get full, never feel like you need to "finish your plate."  (And never, ever tell a child to do that, unless you're trying to raise someone who will grow up to associate eating with guilt and other negative emotions.)

I've been told over the decades by many different people that if I want to lose weight I need to work up a sweat regularly, get regular cardiovascular exercise.  I have been told many times that the fact that I walk briskly at least an hour every day is not good enough.  All these people who have told me these things were woefully misinformed, and have only served to discourage me all of these years.  If you are an athletic person and you're very fit because you get lots of cardiovascular exercise, please don't tell people that they need to exercise like you do in order to be fit.  They don't.

You don't need to exercise much to lose weight.  I am getting no more exercise than I have ever gotten in my adult life.  I'm exercising the same amount as I always have, or less.  I like walking, so I take walks regularly.  It's true that I'm not a couch potato, and I'm not recommending that you be one.  But you don't need to take up jogging or anything like that.  You just need to stop eating the same food that you would feed to your pigs if you were trying to fatten them up for the slaughter.


Dr Gundry, and many other authors I've heard about or heard interviewed on radio shows and such, emphasizes how once you're habituated to his diet, you can eat as much as you want of the foods on the "yes list" as long as you avoid the foods on his "no list."  Perhaps this is true, or becomes true after a while.  

I'm certainly not there yet.  I have definitely experienced how much easier it is to eat and live a happy and healthy life by eating the right foods and not eating the wrong ones.  But it seems to me that a certain level of self-discipline is required to do this or just about anything else.  The idea that we can continue to be undisciplined and still be OK is very popular, for very understandable reasons.  My conclusion on this is that there's a big grain of truth to the idea that for the most part it's about relearning how to eat, and that the hardest part in the process is the first few weeks.  But I think the idea that you eventually don't need self-discipline is probably not true.  You just need less of it.  But we all have self-discipline, and I don't think too much of it is required to radically change how you eat, except at the beginning -- but definitely some of that is required.

I would liken it to the process of learning how to play a musical instrument, actually.  Anyone who has taught anyone to play an instrument can tell you that most people drop out in the first six months.  That is, if you're going to become discouraged, it's most likely to happen at the beginning, before you are able to reap the rewards of your hard work.  At the beginning, nothing you do sounds very good, so you don't get the positive feedback from your instrument for the hard work you're putting in.  After a few months, you're able to keep your instrument in tune and occasionally make noises on it that are pleasing to the ear.  This positive feedback makes you want to put in more work.  Even though it requires self-discipline to practice, it also becomes fun.

By the same token, at first you're eating differently and there are no dramatic changes -- you don't suddenly get thin, or suddenly have lots more energy, or suddenly do anything.  It's a process, and it starts slow.  After a while, though, you feel lighter, more energetic, and, if you're like me, you have positive thoughts when you look in the mirror, rather than negative ones.  These things all tend to make the down sides of eating well seem irrelevant after a bit.

In Conclusion

I wrote this in the hope that some of my many overweight and obese friends, fans and acquaintances may be inspired by my words to rethink how they eat.  I wrote this because my friends, fans and acquaintances are literally dying.  I can list a number of friends of mine who died young as a result of health consequences generally associated with obesity.  I know many other people who are undoubtedly going to die much younger than they should, if they don't do something about their unhealthy weight problem.  

I hesitated in writing this because I don't want to brag or seem like I think I'm superior to anyone else now that I've overcome this health problem, and because I don't want to be accused of fat-shaming.  But Houston, we've got a problem (and Houston has the biggest problem of anywhere, now that I mention it).  And if your problem is like mine, then we also have a solution.

I also hesitated to write this because I have absolutely no interest in getting into in-depth discussions about the differences between one dieting book and another.  I'm always interested in feedback to things I write, but if you're going to tell me that Dr Gundry is a fraud because he sells vitamins or whatever, don't bother.  I know he sells vitamins, and I don't care.  I take vitamins, too, and I think they're helpful, but just because the dude sells vitamins and is otherwise trying to monetize his knowledge of nutrition and make a living in a capitalist society does not bother me in itself, and if it bothers you, I'm not interested!  OK, I'll stop there.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Observations, Ruminations, Pictures and Videos From 11 Weeks in EUROPE

I've been traveling and performing in various countries in the northern parts of Europe since the middle of April. I generally spend at least four months out of a given year touring in Europe these days. Gigs in the US don't work out well enough for me financially these days to break even, so I don't tour nearly as much in the US as I used to. (No, Trump's election has so far not changed that at all for me.)

Over the years I've written many travelogues after tours, ruminating on the tour overall, and sharing some of the highlights that come to mind at the time of writing. After spending enough time hanging out with journalists over the years, I finally decided to start taking occasional notes as I go. So, for the first time ever, I actually have a few pages of very basic notes to help me remember some of those things that seemed worth remembering at the time, to write about in future.

What I didn't do while traveling was to keep track of news developments in my notebook. But keeping track of world news – including of course Trump's most recent shocking statements and actions – is a constant thing for me, that tends to affect how I view the world I'm physically passing through, as well as how I approach the phenomenon of giving a very politically-laden concert in the midst of whatever cyclone is enveloping Washington, DC (and much of the rest of the world) that particular day. So I wish I had made notes about that, too, and probably other things as well. Next time...

There is a Specter Haunting Europe

First, a brief introduction to 2018. There is a specter haunting Europe just as it is haunting the United States. It is the specter of fascism. Fascism, like its various component elements – racism, nationalism, militarism and authoritarianism mixed in with a large helping of socialist economics – tends to become more popular in times of crisis. This is true whether the crisis is real or manufactured.

Europe's crisis, like the crisis in the United States, is manufactured. There are of course factors like industrial automation and other aspects of technological development and global economics that create challenges for any nation or region of the world to cope with, but through neoliberal policies on both sides of the Atlantic, these challenges are just being used as excuses to actually make the whole situation far, far worse. The powers-that-be are using the growing inequality that they have created or exacerbated in the first place as a pretense to impose more policies designed make the situation even worse, while claiming they will make things better. And then when things predictably continue to get worse, they blame the refugees – which themselves are largely the product of US, UK and NATO policies of wanton destruction in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

As the decline continues – which is happening on both sides of the Atlantic, with the difference being that the decline in the US started from a lower point in terms of living standards, job prospects, housing costs, social and economic inequality, and so on – movements and politicians offering what appears to be real change become more popular. But because many of the ruling parties in Europe call themselves “socialist” while largely implementing capitalist (“free market”) reforms – which, incidentally, was also the case back in the 1930's with the Social Democrats that then ruled interwar Germany – many Europeans no longer look to the left for solutions to their mounting problems. Many look to the right.

Many people in many of the countries I have been traveling in do not recognize their own societies anymore. They hear people say things people wouldn't have said twenty years ago. Many people in Europe feel a bit dazed by developments. How is it that the right is able to continually control the narrative and keep growing? How can we reverse this process – not to return to a broken, neoliberal, Obama/Blair/Macron-style status quo, but to at least return to the kinds of social democratic policies that made much of Europe and even the United States fairly egalitarian societies for one or two generations during a big chunk of the latter half of the twentieth century.

It's not the same everywhere – there are important distinctions in how things are going from one country to the next. But there are important generalizations to be made as well, which seems obviously like the overall context for any present-day collection of observations about how Europe is doing in the year 2018.

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It Began With a Ban

At the end of March I was banned from Facebook for the first time in my life. All posts I had made over the years related to the London band, the Commie Faggots, were being flagged as hate speech by Facebook's bots or interns, I don't know which. It took months before I successfully found and removed all the offending posts, and every time I was unbanned I'd be rebanned again a few days later for yet another old post I hadn't managed to find earlier. The latest ban ended a few days ago, only days before this 11-week tour of Europe ended. Both an inauspicious beginning and an inauspicious ending to a tour, in an age where Facebook is one of the most dominant platforms for all kinds of communication, both public and (at least theoretically) private.

I left Portland two days after my son, Yuta, turned two. Reiko and Yuta took me to the airport on April 16th. After I went to the gate I learned that the flight would be very delayed. I suspected Reiko and Yuta would be hanging out somewhere where they could look at the planes taking off, and they were. From the other side of a very thick, soundproof glass wall, I sat in the hallway and got my last looks in on my wife and youngest child, who I wouldn't see for almost three months, except on Skype.

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The flight was so delayed that I missed my connection in San Francisco. After two hours on the phone with Orbitz representatives who themselves were trying to reach SAS representatives on my behalf, I was eventually rebooked onto a flight leaving early the following morning. I had a carryon bag that had CDs in it, but no clothing – oops. Rather than sitting around SFO for nine hours, I took the BART to Berkeley, visited with my old friend David Solnit, and slept for four hours before heading back to the airport, wearing some of David's borrowed, ill-fitting undergarments. 


The first airport I landed in in Europe was Copenhagen, but it was just to switch planes for Trondheim, Norway, where I had my first gig. I originally planned to have four days there to recover from jet lag, which is, I've found, an important first step to any long tour, if I want to avoid getting sick. But then I whittled that down to three days so I could spend an extra 24 hours with my baby. And then because of the flight mishaps, three days became two.

The neighborhood where my friends live in Trondheim is called Svartlamon. It's a neighborhood that was squatted originally, and is now a more or less accepted part of the urban landscape. As with many of the places I'll mention in this post, I have been there many times and written about it a number of times in past travelogues. (And of course, armed with the knowledge that there is a place in Trondheim called Svartlamon, you can consult the Oracle for more information than you ever wanted.)

Only a week before I left Portland, one of Europe's most dynamic, biggest and most political squatted communities, La ZAD, outside Nantes, France, was being attacked by thousands of riot cops. The struggle at La ZAD wasn't getting much English-language press anywhere as far as I'm aware, but the raid on La ZAD was one of those things – along with Trump's constant escapades, weekly massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, and regular news of more refugees drowning in the Mediterranean – that was never far from the thoughts of so many of the people I talked with throughout Europe.

But Svartlamon is growing. The community is building several beautiful new, multi-story houses out of all kinds of cool, recycled materials. The arrangement is structured so that the houses will always be inexpensive housing for members of the community. Long-term, nice housing, but not a real estate investment that some individual can later profit from. The way housing should be.

The daycare in Svartlamon is thriving, full of happy children and staff. My friends who had babies last time I was there now have toddlers, who are like siblings to each other now. Bjorn-Hugo runs a little clothing shop there called Banana Moon. His last trip to India to buy clothes to sell at the store didn't go well, as it coincided with the Indian government's efforts at the time to get everybody to open bank accounts, and there was no cash available anywhere to anyone. Panhandlers weren't even asking the European tourists for money, since they knew that they, like everyone else, didn't have any.

It was only after two days in Trondheim, when I was at the airport, still jet-lagged, getting my flight to Copenhagen, that I was reunited with my luggage. I was in such a hurry to put on a clean t-shirt that I ducked around a corner and changed my shirt in a hallway, rather than bothering with dragging all my stuff to the nearest bathroom.

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Just to make a random comparison, Denmark has approximately one-tenth the population of England. On most of my tours of Europe I either have the most gigs in England or the most gigs in Denmark. This time it was Denmark. Out of the 50 gigs I had in Europe, 14 of them were in Denmark, 12 in England. (The other 24 gigs were distributed between Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria, and the Netherlands, where I had one gig in each country, and Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Scotland and Ireland, where I had multiple gigs in each place.)

Put another way, of the 11 weeks I've just spent touring in Europe, I spent four of them in Denmark. From what I've seen, Denmark is a rare example of a country with leftwing institutions that have managed to grow while also maintaining the kind of regular regimen of activities – conferences, demonstrations, summer camps and cultural events, among other things – that ensure the next generation will be full of knowledgeable, socially well-adjusted leftwing organizers.

The xenophobic Danish People's Party is growing, as with similar parties across Europe, but the leftwing Unity List, Enhedslisten, is also growing, and the bigger that party grows, the more gigs I get in Denmark. Most of the gigs I did were organized by local Enhedslisten branches or their youth wings, along with the independent Socialist Youth Federation (SUF), the 3F union federation, as well as now-legal former squats – some of which receive a budget from the cultural ministry for putting on their events, which is also the case in some other countries in Europe, such as Switzerland. These institutions – left parties, unions and squats – are, for me at least, the three main pillars of many European societies that tend to make them better places to be than so many others.

As with most other years since 2000 or so, May 1st involved multiple gigs in several cities – 8:30 am singing for the Builder's Union in Copenhagen, then 5 pm on the other end of Denmark at the May 1st celebrations in Aarhus, then at 9 pm a concert at the formerly-squatted punk rock social center to the north, in Aalborg, 1000Fryd. My latest song on Danish history, about the people's seizure of the stock exchange in 1918 (“Stock Exchange”), went over well. And so many times when I close a show with “Denmark, 1943,” I meet another person whose father or brother sailed one of the boats full of Jewish refugees to Sweden on those fateful October nights.75 years ago.

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Although the 900-person commune in the center of Copenhagen that is Christiania has been legalized for years now, as an overall entity, the scene on the specific little section of the Free State known as Pusher Street is as tense as ever. This is where people can buy cannabis products, as has been the case since the early 1970's. But ever since a cop was shot and killed during a drug bust not long ago, police have been doing multiple sweeps of the area every day, confiscating all the hash and pot they can get ahold of as they do, while the dealers (known locally as “pushers,” this term doesn't necessarily have the negative connotation it tends to have in the US) quickly grab their stashes and try to suddenly become invisible.

A building which was also squatted around the time Christiania was is Folkets Huset, in the Norrebro neighborhood not far from the center of the city. Some local drug-dealing youth were found to be keeping guns in the building and it got shut down sometime in the past year or two, but I learned on this visit that it's been reopened, with some wonderful folks I've known for a long time involved with the new project there.

In summer 2019, I will probably be spending July and August along with my family running a little cafe on the Baltic Sea in Hellebaek, Cafe Hellebaek...

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In the Battle of Lund, 10,000 Swedish and Danish soldiers hacked each other to death. These days they get along fine, though. On many tours in Europe I do multiple gigs in Sweden. In recent years they're often collaborations with a great songwriter from Malmo named Kristian Svensson. On this tour there was only one gig with Kristian, in the basement of a building at the university. It was put on by the youth wing of the Social Democrats, who were celebrating their 150th anniversary as an organization. As with many other places, it was evident in Lund how much the ongoing massacres in Gaza were on the minds of the people, and the posters on the walls.

The project that has been taking up much of Kristian's attention, aside from raising his happy little child, is a musical he's written and recorded about the labor organizer originally from Gavle, Sweden, Joel Emanuel Hagglund, aka Joe Hill. I believe it is going to be coming to a theater near you, if you live in Sweden. And it's in English, so maybe even outside of Sweden, too! I've heard a bunch of it, and it's really good.

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I had met many Finns and heard so much about Finland and Finnish history before finally making my first trip to Finland in early May. I was only there for a couple days, so really didn't have a chance to confirm or deconstruct any of my prejudices. But the Finnish punks at Squat Kumma were lovely, and one of the other bands on the bill was really good, and reminded me of a lot of train-hopping youth I've met over the years in the US.

As a foreigner in Helsinki it was interesting to walk around the neighborhood where Squat Kumma is located, which I did for hours before the gig. It's a nice neighborhood, or at least it could be. There are a handful of restaurants and bars, lots of public, car-free space, and lots of apartments that look perfectly fine, if not fancy. There's not much green space, but it's by no means an oppressive-feeling neighborhood.

I mention this because it was after visiting Helsinki that I heard a news story about how the people in that neighborhood feel like they live in a ghetto, and the Finnish government is trying to figure out why they feel that way, and what can be done to make them feel more at home. My only thought is that most of the residents of the neighborhood are from Somalia, and maybe they'd feel less like they lived in a ghetto if half the people in the neighborhood were, say, from Finland. I'm just guessing.

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In most of Germany you will encounter pleasant, thoughtful and efficient people in all walks of life and in pretty much all professions, most of the time. This is not the case at Berlin's main airport, however. Evidence was everywhere that services were being rapidly privatized, budgets cut, with the familiar sense of complete dysfunctionality that is a commonly-referenced fact of daily life in much of the world. This usually definitely does not include Germany, but that's apparently changing. I waited at a desk for over an hour for an employee to finish his lunch break (or whatever he was doing) in order to answer my question, which was “where is my luggage.” An hour after that, I got my luggage.

The band I double-billed with in Berlin was a wonderful local band called the Rathmines. Very Irish-influenced folk punk, but there's nothing contrived about it. That is, to be blunt, they don't sound like Germans playing Irish music. They just sound like great musicians playing well-crafted and well-executed songs.

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The gig was recorded really well, I was happy to discover...


I've been billing the tour as the Ballad of a Wobbly tour, which is also the name of my latest studio album. On that and other recent albums, I've recorded a lot of songs about the IWW – the history of this wonderful organization as well as songs about the kinds of issues that drive Wobblies on the scene today. One of my Fellow Workers in Australia has been contacting IWW branches wherever I'm touring and alerting them about my upcoming appearances. However it's happened, Wobs have often found out about my gigs, and in some cases stepped forward to organize them, which was the case with the IWW chapter in Vienna.

It was my first-ever gig in Austria, somehow or other. As with Finland, it's a little strange to me that I had never ended up with a gig there before. There's a left there, and a high degree of English fluency, as with Finland. But as with Finland, I had to tour in Europe two or three times a year for eighteen years before ending up with a gig in Vienna.

It was a beautiful drive through parts of eastern Germany, through the Czech Republic, and into Austria. I didn't manage to line up a gig in Dresden or Prague along the way, either of which would have made very good sense geographically. Someone in Dresden threatened to organize a gig for me a couple times but I don't know what happened to them. I played in Prague a couple times, a long time ago, I think not since 2003 or so, and that remains the case.

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There are many parts of Europe that are so picturesque, both in terms of the natural scenery and the way human society interfaces with it, that it looks like a fairy tale. The part of Denmark where I usually stay when I'm there is one of them. The German region of Bavaria is another. I don't think I've seen a part of Bavaria that isn't stunningly beautiful.

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As with so many other parts of Europe, the population density seems very low in Bavaria. There are people and villages distributed with great regularity, but never all that many at once. There are green rolling hills to hike on for people just interested in what the English call rambling, as well as jagged peaks not far away for the more foolhardy.

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I stayed in Bavaria in the home of a young family that lives beside the next generation of the family, as things used to be in so many places, and sometimes still are. All three generations are really cool, but the toddler is the cutest among them. (She finally warmed up to me the day before I was leaving.)

The father in the household is one of the members of a really great band called the Bumbleboys. Yes, I know they have a silly name, but they're really good. (I think they should change their name to Bavarian Scum and they'll quickly gain a bigger international following. At least that's how it works in my head.) Me and the Bumbleboys had two gigs in two different pubs in two different picturesque Bavarian villages, each well under an hour away from home.

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This trip to Bavaria also included my first visit to the small city of Dachau. It's a beautiful little city, which I never even knew of, having only heard of the concentration camp, which it turns out is located on the outskirts of town. My host in Dachau, who was organizing the gig at the punk rock social center I played at, also kindly showed me around town, and took me to the concentration camp (which was my request). The main exhibits were closing when we arrived, so we just had a walk around the grounds, where the barracks that housed the inmates used to stand – not a lot to see, really.

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Germany West

I've noticed over the years that close to half of my gigs in Germany probably occur somewhere in the corridor along the western border of former West Germany, in cities that are usually not very far from the borders with the Netherlands, Belgium or Switzerland. This tour was like that, too. Of the seven gigs people organized for me in Germany, three of them were along this corridor – in Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, and Cologne.

The Infoladen Cafe in Wiesbaden is a very cozy little venue, filled with art and posters and things. The location looks like it might be a common room in a cohousing estate, but it's a cafe, or an infoshop, or a performance venue, or all of the above. Last time I played there, a little girl talked to me a lot about all kinds of things, in German. I didn't understand her, but she didn't mind, as long as I was looking attentive. She was there again, but this time she was old enough to know that I wouldn't understand her, and she ignored me.

Heidelberg is a beautiful city full of hills and old buildings, spared from destruction by the Allies because it was chosen to be the city where the US military would have their headquarters once the war was won. Right next to the old abandoned military base is a housing collective, with a lovely outdoor area where you can easily forget you're in the middle of a city. Rain was forecast, so this time the concert happened indoors, in a big living room full of couches. That was one of the most comfortable audiences ever. Also one of the youngest audiences on the tour outside of Denmark (largely university students).

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In Cologne the show was part concert, part interview, conducted by a really good local musician and now also organizer for ATTAC named Ingo. Part of the idea with the interview was to talk about what was happening in the US in terms of any effective organizing against Trump. I don't think I filled the room with optimism, but they sure did a great job of editing the evening down to something digestible.


There are various indications as you get closer to Switzerland that you are entering a country which is a bit different, and not part of the usual EU way of doing things, not being a member of that club. You have to buy a sticker to put on your windshield in order to drive on the Swiss highways without getting a fine, you might get looked at by a border guard who might even want to see your passport, and of course the currency used in the country is not euros, unlike all of Switzerland's neighbors.

I arrived into Zurich on a cold afternoon. The gig, I realized as I got deeper into the city, was basically right in the middle of the city. I had expected I'd need to find a parking garage somewhere on the outskirts, as is generally the case in Swiss cities, but I was able to park the car right behind the venue. The venue was a very artistic, DIY creation, all the more artistic and DIY because it is located directly in the shadow of a massive, glass and steel bank. Construction is happening in most directions, and the whole area where this place, Zum Gaul, is located will be subsumed by the construction zone in four years. The food, espresso, beer and live music is top notch, so it's a shame that the place's existence has a time limit.

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In the gorgeous capital city of Bern I played another show at a little collective work space located just on the edge of the city center. This time I remembered to contact my friends and fellow musicians, Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore, a few hours in advance of my arrival, and I was able to hang out with them a bit, and praise Mat in person for the fascinating book he recently published via PM Press about the movement and the music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1965-75.

At Sedel, outside Lucerne, everything was perfect except for the lack of an audience. The venue, an old squatted school well beyond the outskirts of the city, beside a farm. In the building there were practice rooms and various kinds of spaces where things were happening. That did not extend to the bar area where the gig was supposed to happen, where nobody came, aside from the bartender, sound guy and my opening act, a very nice Italian punk who had cool stickers on her guitar.

After a couple hours of hanging around, one friend of the opening act showed up, and we both did a few songs for an almost completely empty room, with a very pronounced echo. The folks who ran the place couldn't have been nicer about the situation. They put me up in a nice clean room behind the stage, fed me, and paid me. The only thing missing was the audience – nothing else.

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Belgium and the Netherlands

I was sitting in a living room in Paris some years ago with a bunch of folks from France, the US, and Belgium. In the course of the discussion which migrated to various subjects including nationalism, the Belgian said “well Belgium's not really a country.” I didn't understand what he meant at the time, but since spending more time in Belgium, it seems a little more clear.

As I understand the history, it only exists as a nation because Britain wouldn't let it join France after the Napoleonic Wars were over, because the British leadership didn't want the French in control of the Port of Antwerp.

Many people identify with the regions they're from, or the states or cities, more than with any broader concept of nationhood. There are a lot of reasons for this – good, bad and indifferent ones. The unusual thing about Belgium is that there are only two regions that people strongly identify with – Wallonia and Flanders, one predominantly French-speaking, the other Flemish (Dutch). Politically, they often can't agree on a government. The society works just fine, and it's a prosperous place, but there is often a certain tension in the air, to me reminiscent of the feeling you sometimes get between the Anglophone and Francophone communities in Montreal.

And of course, as with most everywhere, there are great people doing all kinds of good stuff on both sides of this linguistic divide. I sang at events with speakers speaking about the ongoing struggle in Kurdistan, specifically related to the Turkish Army's invasion of Afrin, where they're leaving bodies to rot in the streets. At the event in Namur, French was the main language. In Leuven it was Flemish, but the subject was the same.

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Wallonia was the one region in all of Europe that was standing between the EU ratifying a big “free trade” agreement a couple years ago. It's basically a socialist state, tempered by the far less socialistic Flanders, where most of the rightwing parties in Belgium get elected. In Wallonia, all of my gigs are organized by socialists, communists and labor activists. That was true of this visit, too – the difference with this visit being that more of the organizers and audience members were younger, in their twenties and thirties.

I met Gert Kleinpunk through the fact that we both knew Armand (a well-known, now deceased Dutch songwriter who recorded a Dutch version of my song, “the Commons”). Because Armand sang mostly in Dutch, he naturally developed an audience in Flanders as well as the Netherlands, and Flemish-language performers like Gert naturally play regularly in the Netherlands, where they share a common mother tongue.

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Gert organized a second annual little festival in a barn in the countryside that's been turned into a very nice music venue, really comfy to hang out in, and great sound. On the bill along with me and Gert's band was the Bucket Boyz, a brilliant trio from Amsterdam who just barely managed to make it to the gig on time to do their spellbinding set. (My set was so nicely recorded by the sound engineer that I released the recording as an exclusive perk for my CSA members to download.)

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The gig Gert organized was in the little village of Herent, but he lives in the nearby city of Leuven. In a somewhat bizarre coincidence, exactly one block away from the apartment complex Gert lives in, a circus was taking place. Circus performers from around the world were in Leuven for the weekend, and sitting in the shade in front of a cafe, there was the Palestinian Circus School. I introduced myself, and sent my best wishes to Mohammed Abu Sakha, who is back at the school, teaching kids, no longer in an Israeli prison. I tried to go see the circus performance, but that one was indoors, and you needed a ticket. Which would have been fine, except that it was sold out, as I discovered when I eventually got near the entrance of the theater, after waiting in line with lots of enthusiastic supporters of the Palestinian cause as well as circus aficionados.

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I only had one gig in the Netherlands, but I spent a bunch of time there, crossing the Dutch-Belgium border often. The gig was in Utrecht, at the punk rock club called Acu, where I played on many occasions in the past, both with and without Armand and the Bucket Boyz. I was staying in Eindhoven, with yet another Armand connection, in the house where Armand lived for many years.

I stayed in a town outside of Utrecht where Patrick, one of the organizers of the gig at Acu, made the best Indonesian curry I've ever had. We walked to the town center there, where everyone is greeted by a statue of a famous, 13th-century troubadour.

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Acu has been going through hard times of various sorts, but I had a nice little audience, and the sound system there was as good as ever. One of the doors was broken, but the walls had some great posters on them.

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While I was in Belgium, an incident took place that dominated local news, though it was barely covered elsewhere. A two-year-old Kurdish girl named Mawda was shot and killed by a Belgian cop. She was in a van full of refugees, one of the vans that drive every night from the German border, trying to get to port of Antwerp, and then from there to England, one way or another.


Ireland was part vacation, part work. I only had two gigs – one Belfast and one in Derry – and three full days off to hang out in Rostrevor. Since discovering Rostrevor, I miss seeing my friends in Belfast as often when I come to Ireland, but it's too rejuvenating to hang out there in the countryside for me to pass it up, being spoiled as I was by the very kind and generous people of the Rostrevor Inn, with the homes of various members of the extended Sands family right down the street (of the Sands Family Singers – Tommy and Calum being the Sands brothers in the village).

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Tommy and Katrine had just come back from a trip to Iran, which they enjoyed very much. I had been invited to come to a conference in Iran, but because of the timing of it and lack of enough advance notice, I already had plans (touring Europe). The organizers of the conference had asked me for recommendations of other artists they should have there, so I mentioned some other artists I knew who had written songs relevant to the subject at hand (Jerusalem), including Tommy. Most of the people I recommended were invited and offered plane tickets to the conference. It's so rare that I have that kind of influence in the world, so that was very exciting. Hopefully someday I'll make it to Iran myself.

The show in Belfast was at the American Bar, a place that's been there for a very long time. Right near the docks, still very much an industrial harbor, even if they're not building massive ships like the Titanic these days. I imagine the pub dates back to when there would have been lots of sailors and soldiers from the US coming in and out of the docks all the time. The show was organized by Trade Union Friends of Palestine, and the room was full of dedicated activists, many of whom had themselves traveled to the occupied lands of Palestine and witnessed Israeli apartheid first-hand.

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In Derry the gig was also related to labor, but not specifically to Palestine. The public service workers' union were having a conference at a big conference center, and they were having their evening cultural event after all the meetings and speeches and such at the legendary Sandino's music club. I've played a few times at Sandino's, but this time it was in the big room, where I had never played. It was a noisy crowd, as I had expected, but hopefully they had a good time, though if anybody could hear a word I sang, that would be impressive.

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My visit to Ireland happened to coincide with the victory of the pro-choice majority of Irish society in overturning the law which had essentially kept abortion almost completely impossible to obtain in the Republic of Ireland. This had happened a day or two before I landed on the island. The day I was in Derry, a delegation of pro-choice activists had come to protest, and a delegation of labor union members came to stand with them, including the union president, an eloquent woman who gave the most understated and the best speech at the protest, in my recollection of it.

The activists came to the North to say “the North is next.” Although not under the same system of laws as Dublin, abortion is also inaccessible in Northern Ireland. I was especially moved by hearing many of the older men speaking out, talking about women like comrades in a broader struggle. “The young women have had enough of this shit,” one retiring union organizer said, and everyone agreed wholeheartedly.

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England, Scotland, Wales

Oddly enough, the most dysfunctional country in northwestern Europe, England, is probably also the most optimistic place in Europe these days as well. Although the specter of Brexit, austerity budgets, rising poverty and homelessness, fleeing Europeans and European businesses, etc., takes its toll in so many ways, the prospect of one elderly radical named Jeremy Corbyn someday possibly becoming prime minister continues to fill the sails of English people with at least a little hope for the future – which is more hope than most Europeans seem to have for it.

My first stop in England upon landing in Gatwick and successfully picking up my rental car and getting to Coombes Farm on time for my gig, was the Glastonwick Beer, Punk Rock and Poetry Festival. Attila the Stockbroker – punk rock poet extraordinaire, beer aficionado, and most excellent festival organizer, among other things – was the MC. He's been putting on this festival with the help of the local Dark Star Brewing Company for decades now. I've played at it many times, but not every year, as Attila has been recently paying particular attention to gender diversity among the performers (a very worthy goal that can only make it a better festival).

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I enjoyed the very loud punk bands that played throughout the night very much from just outside the venue, where I could hear everything perfectly, but without suffering hearing loss. I stayed with Mr and Mrs Stockbroker, and when I got up in the morning, Joe Solo was in the little room just past the kitchen, working on the washing machine (a washing machine which has cleaned many a load of my laundry over the years).

Joe is a full-time washing machine repair person, father, and very active touring songwriter and performer. While doing all of these things, he somehow also maintains a permanently chipper demeanor, and keeps his hair in a state of greased perfection. As I travel around England on this and other tours in recent years, I regularly see posters for Joe's gigs that are just coming up or have just passed, and they're often in the same venues as I'm playing in.

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I couldn't dawdle around Attila's place or catch any more music at Glastonwick as I had a birthday party to sing at in Birmingham that day at 4 pm. I got to catch up a bit that weekend with Dave Rogers of Banner Theatre, who was just back from a performance in Manchester for the Manchester Trade Union Council (TUC), the theater's latest production being prompted by the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the formation of the TUC.

The tour was actually far more zigzagging than it might seem from this rendering of it has been so far. For example, in actuality I went in and out of Germany from various other countries, rather than doing most of the gigs in Germany in one go. And I went back and forth between England and Scotland several times in the month of June. This was not the original intent when I started organizing the tour – it never is. But that's how it ends up anyway, most of the time.

This time, I already had plans in southern England for Attila's festival and two gigs in London by the time I decided what the heck, I'll play at the annual James Connolly event in Edinburgh after all. It was the 150th anniversary of his birth, for Pete's sake. And there were no other gigs materializing for that Tuesday night. Long drive from Birmingham, and even longer to London afterwards, but I had good audiobooks to listen to.

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The gig in Edinburgh included Calum Baird, a local singer/songwriter, and the Glasgow band, the Wakes, among other fine performers. Some of the Wakes crew are also doing a new podcast series interviewing leftwing musicians of various sorts, including me.

On a free night I had the rare opportunity to actually go hear a concert by another performer. I caught Robb Johnson, one of my favorite songwriters on the planet, from Brighton, playing for a small crowd at the Edinburgh Folk Club, which was taking place in a fairly sterile university building with a bar and a stage in it. Coming back to Fatima's place in Glasgow, there sitting in the living room with her was Rory McLeod, who was himself in town for a gig. He had just caught Robb's show in Glasgow the night before. Fatima is a force of nature as an organizer herself, but she was also married to the late Alistair Hulett, my friend and touring partner on several occasions. Not shocking to run into a folk music legend in Fatima's living room, but a pleasure nonetheless – I don't think I had seen him for a decade or so.

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The Wakes and I also had a memorable gig later in June at the Squirrel Bar in Glasgow, a well-known Irish Republican hangout where the punters are known to randomly break out in Celtics Football Club songs at any moment, while drinking an especially toxic caffeinated alcoholic beverage served, incredibly, by the pint, known as Venom.

There was one more well-attended show in Edinburgh as well with a fabulous local band made up of a mix of folks from Spain, Scotland and Ireland, called Gallo Rojo. The sound they've got, this mix that I might characterize as some kind of traditional Irish/flamenco/punk rock vibe, works brilliantly when someone who is not on the stage is doing the sound for them. (At least I'm sure that would be the case. So far I've only heard them twice, both times when they were doing sound for themselves, from the stage, and both times the electric guitar was overpowering everything else. Being a musician, I could remix the whole thing in my head with the guitar much lower in volume and all the Spanish singers louder, and it sounded amazing.)

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London was in a state of upheaval, at least my little corners of it. The Islington Folk Club has had to move, and last I checked they haven't yet found a good place to move to. The yuppies, hipsters, or whatever we can rich young white people these days, are taking over the place. They apparently have corporate parties in the bar where the folk club used to happen, where some corporate guy leaves his credit card behind the bar, and drinks are on him. Under those kinds of circumstances, they make a lot more money hosting corporate parties than comparatively less alcohol-consumption-oriented folk club events. The location where my Islington gig took place was a one-off, and it was very loud in there. Reuben saved the day by going home to get his nice little sound system, just in time for my second set!

The gig with the band whose name was at least ostensibly the reason why I spent the whole spring banned from Facebook, the Commie Faggots, was great. A small, packed venue, my favorite kind. (Other than a large, packed venue...) The band had lots of great new material which they showcased on the occasion. Janine Booth, the official disgruntled middle-aged woman, gave a blistering spoken word performance where she once again laid waste to the capitalist system, and the Tories in particular.

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Staying with my friends Jane and Tony I learned that due to the fallout from the last London Anarchist Book Fair, the next one wouldn't be happening. It seems that because of their efforts to break up a fight (an actual physical fight) between several dozen angry trans anarchists and one radical feminist woman who had fliers that many people found offensive, they were accused of all sorts of nonsense. I looked at some of the accusations, which also included accusations related to me being an anti-Semite (I performed at that book fair). Utter bullshit – what some have been calling Extreme Identity politics. Though maybe that label won't stick very nicely, since Trump is also using a similar combination of words to describe people he doesn't like... Very discouraging that the organizers are so discouraged that they decided not to do it again, but completely understandable. If this is to be the state of “anarchism” today – accusing people of running an unsafe space because they break up a fight – then fuck it.

Far more uplifting was the gathering and concert held just across the street as well as directly in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Well, the neighborhood itself wasn't uplifting. It was downright distressing, with Gulf sheikhs driving around in extremely loud, extremely expensive sports cars that were so low to the ground it seemed impossible. The doors opened upwards.

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But it was a good bunch of folks who gathered to support Julian Assange, who has been unable to leave the building for many years now, lest he be arrested when he walks out of it, and deported to the United States to face life in prison. All of which seems very likely to happen, if he did leave the building, so he doesn't. But then to complicate his already very complicated life further, the government of Ecuador seems to have cut off his internet access in recent weeks.

While I was singing in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy my friend Guy Smallman was taking photographs (for publication in various places, including the Socialist Worker newspaper) at a protest outside the prime minister's office at Downing Street. He reported there were between twelve and fifteen thousand neofascists (also known these days in England as the “Football Lads Alliance”) protesting for their leader to be freed (he's currently in prison). It was, Guy said, the biggest protest of neofascists in England that he's ever seen.

There were no gigs in Wales this time, just a little visit to Cardiff where I saw a very bad movie and got to catch up with Cosmo, one of my other favorite songwriters, among other folks. A new cafe has opened up on the outskirts of town where my friends live near Victoria Park, so espresso junkies visiting Cardiff no longer have to go all the way to the center of town to get their fix. But there are actually two new cafes there, and only one of them is any good, and that's only when the barista is on the job who knows what she's doing... Luckily, at least for now, that's most every day.

As usual on my tours of England, most of the gigs in England were in the north of England. The further north you go, the more militant does the working class become. The legacy of Thatcher and the miners strike in the 1980's in the north of England cannot possibly be overstated. (Want to know more about that? Watch Ken Loach films.)

Neoliberalism may have left poverty and homelessness in all the cities of England in its wake, most especially in the formerly industrial north, but the working class militancy that still pervades the region also means there are active union branches. Many of them are mainly for retired union members, but that's not so unusual, even in places where there are still a lot of currently-employed union workers.

At the Three-Minute Theater in Manchester there was a lovely gig with the very tall, young Dru Blues opening. The Malton/Thirsk Labor Party Corbynista branch organized another great event, this time in Malton itself, a very beautiful market town I had never been to, as far as I can recall. I also had a gig in Rotherham, another town I had never been to, but I only saw the venue, a pub called the Trades. An old friend from Norwich was at the show, along with her boyfriend, who is from Rotherham. They've been going out for over a year now, and they informed me that this was the first night they have ever gone out on a date in the town of Rotherham.

The Love Music, Hate Racism folks who organized the gig in Rotherham did a great job. They spoke with dread about the recent gathering of thousands of neofascists in London. And about the racist killing of an elderly, brown-skinned man that had taken place in Rotherham last year. I know from my lived experience – as I'm sure every MP in Westminster knows – that if towns like Rotherham had anything interesting happening in them on a regular basis for young people to do other than drink, these sorts of things wouldn't happen.

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Recommended Reading

For those few of you who are still reading after these 8,000 words you may have gotten through up til now, while I've been on the road I've been writing a new, month-to-month, vertical (if you will) history series which is up now at

I've also been reading audiobooks, some of which I'd highly recommend. Evicted is a really important book about the state of poverty, misery and eviction in the US, and specifically in the author's case study of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Another very prescient book I was absolutely enraptured by was Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class, which, among other things, predicts Trump's presidency very well, back in 2010.

The basic premise of Kurt Anderson's book, Fantasyland, was very interesting and illuminating, though I found there are basic aspects of US society and US history that the author doesn't understand well enough to draw the right conclusions from some of his historical observations – but the historical observations are nonetheless very interesting.

My twelve-year-old offspring, Leila, recently read the book, Plant Paradox, which she successfully convinced me to read. That was the first book I read on the tour. Unrelated to the rest of the more overtly political books I read, this one was about diet and nutrition. It was the most useful book I've ever read on the subject, for sure, and I've been successfully losing some weight as a result of the advice within it. Though that's only speculation, since nobody in Europe that I ever stay with seems to have a scale in their bathroom.

Another book I read was William Shirer's Berlin Diary. Shirer was a journalist from the US who is most known for writing Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, another excellent book. But Berlin Diary was a more personal account of the years of Nazi rule in Germany that he actually lived through himself, as a journalist reporting for CBS from 1934-41 (which was when the US entered the war and he had to leave, basically).

I'll leave you with my latest musical composition, which is a song inspired by reading Berlin Diary, and following the news from the United States today.