Music Notes: Waters to Assange, “Wish You Were Here”

More than a thousand Julian Assange supporters cheered as Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger introduced Roger Waters at a September 2 demonstration outside the British Home Office. The rally called for an end to the unlawful detention and persecution of the Wikileaks publisher. Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd and well known for his solidarity with Palestine and opposition to neoliberal regime change wars, told the crowd that he was “ashamed to be an Englishman” after Assange’s extraordinary rendition from the Ecuadorian embassy to the British government last April. “To see all you people here today is deeply, deeply moving”, he said. While introducing “Wish You Were Here,” the title track from Pink Floyd’s 1975 chart-topping album, Waters quoted the line “would you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” and asked: “how do we put ourselves in the position of a Julian Assange in solitary confinement?” After “serenading” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel with an acoustic rendition of the song, he thanked those assembled and called out, “Julian Assange we are with you! Free Julian Assange!”

 

Assange was jailed by the UK government last April following his expulsion from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He’d been given sanctuary there for seven years. Ecuador dropped its protection following the ascendancy of Lenin Moreno to the presidency, a development that has seen that country return to the status of neo-colonial vassal after an eight-year period of relative sovereignty and progressive rule under former president Raphael Correa. Assange is being lined up for extradition from the UK to the US, where he will face charges under the Espionage Act for his alleged conspiratorial role in the 2010 leaks by US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, currently imprisoned again after having served her prison sentence for exposing US war crimes in Iraq. US officials are attempting to force Manning to testify against Assange.

The Communist Party of Australia, in an April 13 statement, called for the government of Australia to ensure that Assange is released and returned to safety in his homeland. The CPA statement declares that Assange was arrested “on trumped up charges based on politically-motivated judicial processes.”

Update: Assange’s extradition hearing remains February 25, 2020 after a disturbing October 21 hearing at Westminster Magistrate’s Court where Assange’s legal team’s arguments for a 3-month extension date were dismissed by magistrate Vanessa Baraitser. Witnesses described the presence of seven US officials advising the prosecuting attorney, noted with alarm the fragile state of Assange’s physical and mental health, and called for Amnesty International to declare him a political prisoner. In an October 24 interview on RT’s Going Underground, Waters declared that the UK and US are “trying to kill” the Wikileaks publisher.

The Highwomen: riding high in the charts

Country music supergroup The Highwomen is riding high in the charts with their debut album, a collection of original songs with strong feminist and working-class sentiments. The Highwomen was released on September 6. It immediately registered at #1 on Billboard Magazine’s country music and Americana/folk charts. The band was formed last April and made its debut at a Nashville birthday celebration for 87-year-old singer Loretta Lynn. In July, still without a record out, they headlined at the Newport Folk Festival. Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby are award-winning singer-songwriters in the world of country and Americana music.

The group’s name pays homage to The Highwaymen, a popular 1980s and 90s supergroup of country music icons Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. The idea of creating The Highwomen began with Amanda Shires. She’d been closely monitoring country music radio stations, gathering evidence of the lack of representation of women artists. When she called a station one day to a request a song by a woman, she was directed to apply to a Facebook page lottery system! On the advice of her producer, David Cobb, Shires called Brandi Carlile, and the project to create an all-women supergroup was launched. The four have declared that their band is not just for themselves but will include support for fellow women artists.

Lovers of country music who are frustrated by the influence of contemporary pop music on the genre will be pleased with the classic sound of The Highwomen. The album’s signature opening song, “Highwomen”, adds new lyrics by Shires and Carlile to Jimmy Webb’s song, “The Highwayman”, a massive hit in 1985 for Cash, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Nelson. The Highwomen’s version celebrates the indomitable spirit of women’s resistance, from victims of Salem witchcraft trials, to Mississippi freedom riders, to Honduran refugees at the US border. In the final verse the four women sing: We are The Highwomen / Singing stories still untold / We carry the sons you can only hold / We are the daughters of the silent generations / You send our hearts to die alone in foreign nations / And we’ll come back again / And again, and again, and again.


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