St Varian

November 25, 2009

War again. Post-op I was watching afternoon TV. Channel 5. Sipping tea and chilling on strong co-codamol. Then a Barbara Streisand-produced (truly!) biopic began: Varian’s War. Liam Neeson played the hero, Varian Fry. And what a hero. So I traced his autobiography – Surrender on Demand – and was in thrall. This man witnessed the horror of pre-war Berlin and it’s treatment of Jews. Back in the states it became clear that worse was coming. Funded by a US committee he went to France to organise passage for Jewish artists – writers, painters, musicians – to get to the US, mostly via Spain and Lisbon. Treacherous stuff. With a group of brave souls they managed to get around 2000 people out of Vichy France, including the people mentioned in the song – Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp. Back home he was reviled as having gone too far and taking the process into his own hands. His marriage broke down. He wrote his story and then withdrew. Sad stuff for a man of amazing action.

The music was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s Paprika Plains as well as the usual Elton John 70s piano music that infected my blood as a child. Joni was/is very important to my head – I can still listen to Hejira, Blue, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and get chills. The latter album was played in its entirety on Radio 1 – can you imagine that happening now? – one Saturday afternoon when it came out. I lay there entranced. Pissed a tequila anaconda indeed.

This was going to be solo piano piece but it didn’t work. I asked Kristin Hersh to play on it but she was in the middle of moving house and had no time. So instead I put the howling guitar on and now it’s done I wish it was 10 times longer and 10 times wilder. Records – photographs of the moment. Look at what Neil Young keeps doing to Cortez the Killer. Sometimes it takes a very long time to get to the heart of a song.

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