Ani DiFranco
Napoleon and Josephine:
Love letters of the twisted... A strange coincidence 201 years ago... Atlanta on that same bad spring day... The Rise of the Orthodox Woman... Inherent dogma and lies...

by Sean Kelly

Murat Centre, Egyptian Room, Indianapolis, IN-- April 13, 1997

    In the middle of her set Ani DiFranco told us her "favorite quote in all history". It comes from a letter by Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine in which he states to his wife, "I will return soon from war. Do not wash." Yeah, Napoleon was great for one-liners. In 1796 he wrote Joey for 127 days straight from March through July. It was a lewd and spicey dark collection that the General sent off by horseback to his new bride as he kicked the crap out of northern Italy.
    On April 29th a warrior named Colonel Joachim Murat was sent to Josephine with a screed that read,
"... A kiss on your lips and your heart... there's no one else, no one but me, is there? ...and another on your breast. Lucky Murat! ...little hand... a kiss on your heart... and then another a little lower, much , MUCH lower."
The last of it was underlined so furiously that Napoleon tore the paper.
    In St. Helena, Napoleon remarked to his colleague, General Bertrand, "I really loved Josephine, but I had no respect for her. She had the prettiest little c--- in the world, the three Islets of Martinique were there. Actually, I married her only because I thought she had a large fortune. She said that she had, but it was not true."
    Les Trois Isles was Josephine's family plantation overlooking a wide bay. It got it's name from the three small islets found in it. So there was General Bonaparte describing the vision of his wife's entire farm by the sea in her pretty little heart-shaped box. Yeah, Napoleon.
    But did Napoleon take all of this seriously? Did he love Josephine or was he only using her to formulate good one-liners?
    On December 2nd, 1805, the Grand Army of the French crushed the Austro-Russian forces at the Battle of Austerlitz. In a freak ending to the conflict, thousands of Austrian and Russian soldiers were forced to retreat over the ice of a frozen lake. Napoleon shot the lake out from under them with cannons and they all froze and drowned within a few minutes. What a scene. Blasting cannons and guns, screams, horses going berserk, and then the terrible lurch of the ice giving way with a deafening rumble... more screams of men and animals for a few moments... then nothing. The sun was still up. Napoleon watched the whole thing from a safe hillside. In a letter to Jo-Jo he described the battle as the "most beautiful I have fought... more than 30,000 dead, a horrible sight!" Later that night he said to his secretary, "This is the happiest day of my life."
    The "run-'em onto the frozen lake" play scores high in originality but not in numbers killed. The modern warfare record for slaughtering an opposing army in full retreat might belong to the USA for its pigeonshoot of 100,000 Iraqi soldiers dashing out of Kuwait. George Bush was good with one-liners. Dana Carvey was better. But 200 years later Napoleon still has them all licked. Does it bother me that Ani DiFranco and Napoleon see eye-to-eye? Hell no, that's just how they stand with one another.

***

    On April 29th, 1992, I was in a bar just off of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. I was having a few beers before heading in to work when the Rodney King verdict was announced over the news. Not long after, CNN news crews were on top of their building a few blocks away filming several random mobs of people rioting in the streets below. The riots were centered around a popular tourist area called the Atlanta Underground, which is adjacent to the central subway station, Five Points. Since this was on my way, I drank up and headed in early so I could stop off and watch.
    As I left the train in Five Points, people were running against me, into cars, sound sof chaos coming down the tunnel. It was a lot like Soldier Field when the Chicago Bears are losing. I took the tunnel into the Underground, which is a long strip of shops in the base of a hill. A mob had been through and smashed several storefronts. Only cops were lingering around and not one of them said a word to me. Glass was everywhere. A perfume cart had been thrown through a Victoria's Secret window, causing this scene of destruction to smell sweet.. exactly the reverse of how it looked.
    I walked up the street amongst dozens of people. Two girls laughed and looked stunned, shrieking, "What are YOU doing here, white boy?"
    There were a few different mobs roaming the streets. A group of several dozen would pass a couple of blocks up, then a different group would walk past, then another crossways. I held a fist in the air as a group of about 100 walked by chanting "No justice - no peace!" One man spit in my face. Two more girls pointed at me and laughed. Then six guys formed a half-circle around me, all with fists ready. One to my left said, "You'd better go or you'll get hurt." So I looked at them all from side to side and said, "You guys don't want my help? then fine, I'll leave." I turned my back and walked to the subway real slow. Before I went down to the tracks there were a series of explosions and hundreds of people started running and screaming. I ducked down behind a marble half-wall at the sound of pops behind me, and for a few seconds two girls no more than 10 years old hid with me. One of them screamed, "What's happening?!" then she took off with her friend, not waiting for an answer. I'll never forget that...
***

    This past Sunday, I left the Murat Centre with the same feeling in my gut that was there on the subway train riding out of Five Points Station five years ago. Justice was not served in the Rodney King verdict and it was important to stand out for the truth. But my "support" or presence was not welcome. What happened in the streets of LA, Atlanta, and Seattle was not my revolution regardless of how I felt...
    I have loved Ani DiFranco's creation for years and it is shocking to feel... put out... by the experience of seeing her perform. Even knowing most of the songs, the performance was still striking. My friend Eric saw Ms. DiFranco last year at the Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington and he said to me, "You got to be a strong man to go to an Ani show." I think that is true. But a subservient man might do just as well.
    A significant number of sub-revolutions exist within the great cultural revolution, but sisterhood is the one most important of all. Sisterhood carries the Love to end all war:
We will adopt the ways of a nurturing and caring race or we will only decline further from the opportunities war has led us to discover.

"If you are not angry then you're just stupid you don't care."


Yeah, Ani, but if you're too angry you fight people who are fighting for the same things. If you are too angry then we become divided and and remain conquered...
    Ani DiFranco has picked up a bass player to go with drummer Andy and appears to be eyeing the longer road, which is good to see because Ani DiFranco is vital to us all. Bruising as that may be.
    It is not as easy as it may seem to be a son of the great butchers. Not so easy to do good things. On this April 29th I plan to toast Colonel Murat as he placed the letter from Napoleon in Josephine's hand. And I will toast Josephine as she let it slip to the floor. Screw Napoleon.
back to articles and reviews
Make your own free website on Tripod.com