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Talking Hate

There are often late-comers to church. And especially on mornings where there is a special children’s program, there are lots of new faces—relatives or friends of members who have come to see the children sing and act. And because of that, a grizzled man carrying a guitar case arriving late at the Knoxville Unitarian-Universalist Church probably aroused no immediate suspicion.

But Jim Adkisson hadn’t come to see the children’s program. And he hadn’t come to worship. He came to kill. And he did. Not as many as he wanted to—which was all 200 congregants. Nor did he get the police to kill him.

But he made his statement: liberals have ruined the country. In his search warrant, Knoxville police officer Steven Still wrote that Adkisson targeted the church “because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets.”

And what could Adkisson think he could do about all that? He could shoot some of the liberals who elected the liberals. He probably knew enough about Unitarian-Universalism to know he’d find some liberals there.

Besides, he had other reasons for targeting the UUA church. His ex-wife, whose head he had threatened to blow off with his shotgun, used to be a member. And the pastor of the church, the Rev. Chris Buice, had recently written an article in support of gay marriage for a Knoxville newspaper.

Friends and neighbors have described him in the usual ways: “nice and quiet,” say his neighbors, “had a heart of gold,” “a normal child” says his friends, “my heart breaks for him,” says his cousin, Dee.

Nevertheless, his fifth wife—as well as his friends—all agree that he was racist, sexist, bigoted and homophobic. And if you are a racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe, you can find no more unwavering support for your views than on Fox and ClearChannel and the Christian Broadcasting Network—and in the books written by the program hosts.

Now Adkisson appeared to have a special hatred for Christians as well as everybody else, so he didn’t seek support for his views from James Dobson and Pat Robertson and John Hagee and rest of the those who wrap the Bible around their intolerance and call that God’s will.

But there are plenty of secular priests of bigotry out there. And in searching Adkisson’s home, police officers found Let Freedom Ring by talk-show host Sean Hannity, The O’Reilly Factor, by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly and Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by radio talk-show host Michael Savage.

RJ Eskow, writing in The Huffington Post asks, “Who really killed those Unitarians? Was it the preachers who spread hatred and intolerance? The politicians who court and flatter them instead of condemning their hate speech? The media machine that attacks liberals, calls them ‘traitors’ and suggests you speak to them ‘with a baseball bat’? The economic system that batters people like Jim Adkisson until they snap, then tells them their real enemies are gays and liberals and secular humanists?”

Eskow concludes: “If you ask me, it was all of the above. You killed them, Pat Robertson. You killed them, Pastor Hagee. You killed them, Ann Coulter. You killed them, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity and the rest of you at Fox News.”

Those may be strong accusations, but it seems to me they’re not off the mark at all. And compared to the hate speech so easily and routinely heard on ClearChannel programs, it’s pretty mild.

It’s not enough to say that Adkisson was a loner who couldn’t tolerate diversity and one day he just snapped. The issue is broader and more serious than that. Because loners who can’t tolerate diversity can find themselves a community of the like-minded so easily.

Shock-jock talk show hosts explain away their bigotry this way: It’s just good solid entertainment to malign liberals. Christian radio talk show hosts explain away their bigotry somewhat differently: It’s just solid, biblical doctrine to malign liberals. And it isn’t as if the term ‘liberal’ were defined in any significant way. ‘Liberal’ is ‘them,’ The other. Anything that is different. Jews, Muslims, gays, Democrats, women. The list is long.

Not everybody who thinks the way Jim Adkisson did will open fire on a group of people whose commitment to reason and social justice is at the very heart of their faith. But just because they don’t carry a 12-gauge shotgun in their guitar case doesn’t mean they aren’t brimming with anger and well-primed to hate. Rage against ‘liberals’ has become, for too many, a national past-time and an excuse for reprehensible prejudices masqueraded as entertainment or the will of God.

What will the right wing talk show hosts and bloggers and preachers have to say about the Knoxville shootings? They will pigeon-hole Adkisson as a lunatic—fairly enough. But will they acknowledge that this lunatic was nourished on their homegrown culture of hate?

—Jo Page

Minor Rewards

By B.A. Nilsson

William Kapell

William Kapell ReDiscovered (RCA Red Seal)

Ten years ago, RCA Records is sued a nine-CD set of all of the recordings by William Kapell held in their catalogue—he had an exclusive contract with that label—as well as a few extras unearthed for the occasion. One of those extras was a performance of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2, recorded in Australia during Kapell’s final concert of a lengthy tour. His flight home to the U.S. crashed in California, killing everyone on board.

Kapell was 31 and already was acclaimed as the greatest native-born pianist of the century. That reputation remains undimmed, supported by recordings that reveal an astonishing technique placed in the service of a tremendous repertory variety. Initially acclaimed as a flashy Rachmaninoff specialist, Kapell soon proved he could also hold his own in Bach and Mozart. And his Chopin—evidenced by that second sonata, along with a generous array of mazurkas, waltzes, nocturnes and more—is beyond compare.

This is why I invite you to struggle through the surface noise of many more performances taken from Kapell’s Australian tour. Issued as a two-CD set titled Kapell ReDiscovered, the source material was captured by a Melbourne-based enthusiast who home-recorded thousands of hours of broadcasts—on acetate discs, a material renowned for its lack of longevity. I don’t want to understate the case: the sound is awful at times, bad enough that my wife thought our stereo system was self-destructing.

But the noise goes away. At times it’s because we hit a cleaner recording; mostly it’s because the ear tunes out the extraneous sounds. And behind it all is piano playing of breathtaking clarity and passion.

The Australian Kapell material made its way back to the pianist’s estate few years ago, and this set offers some fabulous selections. At the pinnacle is a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Victorian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Bernard Heinze, from Oct. 1953. Kapell’s only other recorded version of this piece was a live 1948 performance with the Toronto Symphony, also mar red by bad sound, but for my money the Australian version reigns su preme. I’ve never heard anything like it.

It’s not all burn-ass virtuosity, although Rachmaninoff’s demands are easily met. There’s unabashed lyricism here, as also befits the work, and it’s woven together into a compelling journey.

Kapell brought a similar intensity to his renowned studio recording of Prokofiev’s third concerto (available in the nine-CD set), a performance that smolders throughout and often bursts into flames. That’s why it’s exciting to hear his version of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 on the disc, a work he never otherwise recorded. It’s taken at a broader pace than modern pianists prefer, and the tumultuous finale, often a hell-bent-for-leather endurance test, gains just as much excitement thanks to its precision and clarity of inner voices.

Other new-to-the-discography works on this set are Debussy’s Suite bergamasque, two works by Chopin (the Barcarolle and Scherzo No. 1) and, for those who worship every scrap, “God Save the King.” A complete Pictures at an Exhibition echoes the recording made a few months earlier at the Frick Collection in New York, which is good—the finale of the later one had to be patched with a bit of the earlier.

Also on the set: most of Bach’s Suite in A Minor, its missing opening filled by a studio recording, Mozart’s Sonata No. 16, K. 570, and Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 55 No. 2.

This isn’t the collection with which to discover these works. It’s for current or would-be Kapell fans, who will be generously rewarded by what’s within.

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog

Party Intellectuals (Pi Recordings)

 

Ribot’s latest project (well, one of his latest projects) is the trio Ceramic Dog with drummer Ches Smith and bass player Shahzad Ismaily. Punkish immediacy, jazz improvisation, electronic hijinks, experimental pop, casual vocals, and beat poetry are just some of the elements that fuel this somehow aptly-named outfit. (Ribot’s no stranger to idiosyncratic band names, two others being the Rootless Cosmopolitans and Los Cubans Postizos.) Clocking in at nearly 70 minutes, this disc revels in the breadth of the players’ interests and inclinations. Opening with a fractured and potent take on “Break on Through” by the Doors, there are forays into everything from quietly warped exotica (“Bateau”) to King Crimson-like heady power trio explorations (“Midost”). Not only is Ceramic Dog’s reach broad, but the album as a whole is sequenced so that it becomes an experience with one piece rolling into another with surprising jolts.

—David Greenberger


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