Cooder vs Kavanaugh
07 October 2018 10:18
My first encounter with Ry Cooder was in 1982, when a friend played me his rough-around-the-edges album The Slide Area. Nowadays, it’s a bit of an oddity, with its R&B cover of Dylan’s ‘I Need A Woman’ and a topsy-turvy version of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, but the track that everyone remembers is the outrageously funky ‘UFO Has Landed in the Ghetto’.
From those early, funky days in the ghetto, I have followed Cooder around America with his film soundtracks. From the nihilistic Wild West of The Long Riders (1980); into the Louisiana Swamps for Southern Comfort (1981); and down to the Mexican frontier for The Border (1982). Then, of course, like so many others, I travelled north from the Rio Grande to a small town in Texas called ‘Paris’.
Outside of his film scores, I travelled with Cooder to India for A Meeting by the River, his complex album with the Indian mohan veena player Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. Soon after, I was in North Africa for his collaboration with the desert bluesman Ali Farka Touré, Talking Timbuktu. A couple of years later, I found myself in Havana dancing to ‘Chan Chan’ from his wildly successful partnership with the Buena Vista Social Club.
So many years, so many destinations. But now I find an older Ry Cooder stretched out on the sofa of his home in Los Angeles, with a banjo across his knee and an iPhone pointing straight at him, singing a song that he’s written to protest Brett Kavanaugh’s rise to the Supreme Court and ‘those bitches at the White House’.
‘Better Not Shake It No Mo’’ isn’t a great song, but that’s not the point. The point is that one of the legends of American roots music has been motivated to fight back, with mocking humour and his fabulous banjo-picking, against the ludicrous big-swinging-dicks in the White House and soon to be joining the Supreme Court.
Towards the end of the song, we hear a young squeal from off-camera – perhaps it’s Ry Cooder’s granddaughter. The next generation of women will inevitably suffer from Kavanaugh’s time on the court. I’d like to think that they were the motivation for this song.