Some of the world’s greatest art has been inspired by revolution, but how often does a work of art become part of the revolution itself? Watching the protests in Cairo last week, Egyptian poet Tamim Al-Barghouti was inspired to write a brand new poem — its Arabic title roughly translates as “Oh Egypt, It’s Close.”
With the internet down, he faxed the poem to a Cairo newspaper, copies of which were distributed in Tahrir Square. Then Al-Jazeera asked him to record it. The video of his reading was projected in the Square every couple of hours on makeshift screens, helping to fuel the protests in real time.
Al-Barghouti did all this from the United States, where he teaches at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. This isn’t the first time his poetry has gotten him a lot of attention. Al-Barghouti’s poems opposing the Iraq War led to a temporary expulsion from Egypt; he could only return once the war ended. And in 2007 his poem “In Jerusalem” became a viral YouTube sensation after he performed it in an American Idol-style competition called “Prince of Poets.”
Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen reached Tamim Al-Barghouti this week at his home in Washington, DC. He said that under Mubarak, freedom of expression wasn’t exactly forbidden — but people never knew when the government was going to crack down. “Mubarak had this motto: ‘you say what you want and we do what we want.'” Now the poet whose words helped provoke the uprising is optimistic for Egypt’s democratic future: “This is one of the very rare moments where our hopes and expectations are not so far apart in the Middle East.”
Listen to Kurt’s entire interview with Al-Barghouti here.
Anyone else feeling a little political déjà vu? Fifteen years ago this month a salacious political novel called Primary Colors was published. It offered a thinly veiled account of President Bill Clinton’s election campaign and was written by…well, no one knew. In spite of this, or perhaps, because of it Primary Colors became a huge bestseller and eventually a movie starring John Travolta. Now, as if on cue, we get O: a Presidential Novel, a juicy bit of speculative fiction that purports to be about President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The book features cartoonishly large ears on the cover and another “Anonymous” author.
During Primary Colors run atop the bestseller list Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen was editor of New York Magazine at the time. Aided by professor Don Foster, a Shakespeare scholar who analyzed writing styles, Kurt publicly outed TIME journalist Joe Klein. Now that there’s a new mystery author, Kurt is back on the case, this time with the help of New York political writer John Heilemann. Heilemann has a terrific Obama cover story out this week and is working on the sequel to his dishy 2008 (nonfiction) campaign book Game Change.
He told Kurt that the biggest clue to the author of O is hiding in plain sight, on page two no less. It involves a specific real-life anecdote in the text that, according to Heilemann, was never reported in the press. Apparently the story could only be known by a senior strategist to John McCain, and since only one of McCain’s advisers has any real writing experience, Heilemann has narrowed the list to one probable suspect.
Salter is a McCain confidant and former ghostwriter whose name has come up before. But as far as we know no one, until now, has pointed out the revelatory passage on Page 2. We’ve yet to reach Salter directly, but he recently told the New York Post, “I’ve been asked by the publisher, as apparently many other people have, not to comment. So, no comment.”
Hmm… did we mention that back in 1996 after Joe Klein spent months vehemently denying writing Primary Colors he eventually came clean, proving Kurt right? But don’t take our word for it. We’re relying on the wisdom of the crowd for this one. If you do a little sleuthing and come up with a better guess, by all means add it to the comments below. We’ll keep an open case file until the mystery is solved.
-Derek L. John
UPDATE: Salter has been revealed as the mystery author. Gold star, Heilemann.
If, as predicted, the Tea Party fuels a Republican surge in today’s midterms, you’ll likely hear pundits credit the usual suspects: an awful economy, a broken political process, and a President unable to communicate a clear vision of what to do about it. But special recognition should go to some Tea Partiers who not only got the message out, but encapsulated their anger and frustration in song.
Chris Cassone playing at the Capitol (courtesy of Cassone)
Chris Cassone is a kind of right-wing Woody Guthrie who was inspired by Glenn Beck’s notorious 9/12 Project that originally aired on Fox News. Thanks to YouTube, his song “Take Our Country Back” has become the unofficial anthem of the movement. When he dropped by our studio recently we recorded an exclusive acoustic performance of his new song, the Ronald Reagan-inspired “City on a Hill:”
Hi-Caliber (courtesy of FreedomWorks)
On the other end of the spectrum is a rapper from Brick, New Jersey who calls himself Hi-Caliber, aka Mr. Conservative. Last year the website of the 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington was soliciting ideas for music acts. Hi-Caliber suggested himself and next thing he knew he was rocking the mic on Capitol Hill alongside Chris Cassone and other Tea Party heavyweights. Hi-Caliber raps in a make-shift studio in his garage — what he calls the “conservative man cave” — that is lined with Tea Party posters and books like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Those founding documents figure prominently on his new track “The Foundation:”
You can listen to our story on the Tea Party troubadours here: