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Jeff Biggers
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Jeff Biggers is the American Book Award-winning author of Damnatio Memoriae, among other works, including Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, In the Sierra Madre, The United States of Appalachia, and State Out of the Union. His website is: www.jeffbiggers.com

Entries by Jeff Biggers

Ecopolis Iowa City: Mosquito Flats to Pawpaw Patch, Interview with Red Fern Farmers Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice

(3) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 11:35 PM

In the "Mosquito Flats" neighborhood devastated by the historic 2008 flood in Iowa City, can an orchard of pawpaw trees lead to a revival of agroforestry and a food hub along the Iowa River?

As part of Iowa City's regenerative city initiative, nationally recognized Red...

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Ecopolis Iowa City: Interview With Katie Roche, Artists in the Regenerative City

(1) Comments | Posted March 22, 2016 | 9:11 AM

As cities launch aggressive climate action initiatives, including the Compact of Mayors' agreement, how are artists playing a key role in re-envisioning urban planning with new stories and narratives, bringing together diverse communities for lively conversations, and galvanizing local action?

On Friday, March 25th, musician Katie Roche and...

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Spare Me Your Coal Requiems: Time for a Reckoning With Peabody and Coal Industry

(0) Comments | Posted March 21, 2016 | 1:52 PM

As Peabody Energy teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, edging toward a Chapter II reorganization that will most likely allow it to walk away from massive reclamation and mine worker commitments, a flurry of poetic musings and giddy celebrations over of the death of Big Coal has begun to flow....

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Game On: Iowa Democrat Hogg Inspires 'Rock Solid' Support as Grassley's Approval Rate Falters

(0) Comments | Posted March 4, 2016 | 11:16 AM

With Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley's approval ratings faltering in a new poll on his role in obstructing the Supreme Court nomination process as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic challengers like state Sen. Rob Hogg are inspiring a groundswell of new support for...

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Iowa City's Solar Tree: 100 Grannies Lead Groundswell for Downtown Public Art Showcase

(0) Comments | Posted February 26, 2016 | 1:15 PM

As a costly and controversial public art project reaches its final vote for funding at the Iowa City council meeting next Tuesday, a game-changing "solar tree" public art initiative launched by the 100 Grannies for a Livable Future has galvanized a groundswell of support...

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A "Grannie" To Be Reckoned With: Iowans Pay Tribute to Rev. Barbara Schlachter, Climate Action Leader

(2) Comments | Posted February 18, 2016 | 1:11 PM

After 35 years of Episcopal parish ministry, the Rev. Barbara Schlachter had an epiphany in her family's homeplace, reading NASA scientist James Hansen's memoir on climate change as her first grandson was put to bed: "I was the grandmother in the room and my heart was wide-open with love for...

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Americana Blues incontra il jazz italiano in 'Cave Sessions', l'album di esordio della Chris Rundle Band

(0) Comments | Posted February 15, 2016 | 9:48 AM

Con un ritmo contagioso guidato dal contrabbasso, il bluesman inglese Chris Rundle apre il brano "Under the Bridge" di Ray Bonneville con il suono molto naturale e sciolto che caratterizza il suo album d'esordio Cave Sessions, portando questo classico del genere Americana in un lungo viaggio da New Orleans alle strade di Bologna, città adottiva di Rundle. Raggiunta poco dopo dai fraseggi suggestivi del chitarrista jazz Enrico Pitaro, la chitarra in pieno stile Americana di Rundle è alla base di questa nuova eccezionale raccolta che è alternativa senza essere pretenziosa, evocativa senza formalità, e che riunisce in sé una miscela unica del blues d'origine con quello più influenzato dal jazz.

La collaborazione tra Rundle - il cui stile essenziale deriva dal blues, roots e country-blues - e le sue controparti italiane provenienti dal jazz non è solo una entusiasmante boccata d'aria fresca, ma conferisce a dei brani blues tradizionali e contemporanei anche un taglio originale, sorprendentemente naturale ed estremamente ben riuscito.

In "Sugar and Riley", la voce di Rundle avanza lentamente a fianco del contrabbasso di Giannicola Spezzigu con leggerezza e fascino, mentre la chitarra solista di Pitaro improvvisa. Con la tradizionale "Midnight Special," Rundle opta per un ritmo tranquillo, quasi calmante, mentre le chitarre creano i loro riff in una dimostrazione di versatilità vivace e senza fronzoli.

Facendo riferimento ai musicisti che lo hanno influenzato maggiormente, tra cui Mike Dowling, Mary Gauthier, Lucinda Williams, Giant Sand, Jeffrey Foucault, John Mellencamp, Gillian Welch, Ray Bonneville, Junior Kimbrough, Daniel Norgren, North Mississippi All Stars, Eric Bibb e Otis Taylor, Rundle mi ha spiegato che il suo scopo è "cercare un'atmosfera specifica: una specie di malinconia catartica che in qualche modo ti porta gioia anche se sta raccontando una storia di dolore immenso." Nella loro registrazione dal vivo di una versione irresistibile di "Can't Let Go" di Randy Weeks resa famosa da Lucinda Williams, Rundle e la sua band si divertono e conquistano gli ascoltatori con una giocosità che porta ad ascoltare la canzone a ripetizione.

I sofisticati fraseggi jazz di Pitaro trasformano "Right Behind Me" di John Mellencamp con sfumature piacevoli e ironiche ben adattate alla voce rassicurante di Rundle.

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La Chris Rundle Band, foto di Chris Rundle

In un certo senso, le melodie spontanee e disinvolte di Rundle fanno pensare a JJ Cale, il leggendario cantante e chitarrista il cui stile ibrido di blues, folk, country e rock suscitò commenti estasiati da parte di star come Eric Clapton per la sua semplicità celata da abile maestria. Come JJ Cale, il suono sicuro e rilassato di Rundle ha il fascino di una chiacchierata con un amico in un angolo del bar a tarda sera.

Una vera e propria vetrina per la loro musica eclettica che fonde chitarre acustiche ed elettriche è il pezzo originale di Rundle "Sonora Requiem", una ballata (arrangiata da Rundle e dal sottoscritto) ispirata da una poesia di Richard Shelton; un brano che valorizza le eleganti intuizioni chitarristiche di Pitaro, il basso malinconico di Spezzigu e l'intensa interpretazione vocale dello stesso Rundle.

"Amo le canzoni molto ripetitive che si impossessano di te e non ti lasciano più andare", spiega Rundle, "in particolare quelle della tradizione del North Mississippi e le variazioni sul genere come quelle di Daniel Norgren."

Il debutto di Rundle con le Cave Sessions promette di impossessarsi anch'esso dei suoi ascoltatori - e lascia intravedere un accattivante anteprima della lavorazione di un vero e proprio album di brani originali.

Traduzione dall'inglese di Francesca Nottola, Noctula Communication

An English version of this article originally appeared in the Huffington Post: Americana Blues Meets Italian Jazz: Chris Rundle Band's Debut Album, Cave...

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Americana Blues Meets Italian Jazz: Chris Rundle Band's Debut Album, Cave Sessions

(0) Comments | Posted February 11, 2016 | 11:06 PM

With an infectious rolling groove led by the double bass, British bluesman Chris Rundle eases into Ray Bonneville's "Under the Bridge" with a natural and deceptively effortless sound on his debut album, "Cave Sessions," taking the Americana blues classic on a journey from New Orleans to Rundle's adopted streets in Bologna, Italy. Soon joined by Italian jazz guitarist Enrico Pitaro's haunting licks, Rundle's Americana guitar underlies a brilliant new collection that is hip without pretension, evocative without formality, and brings together a unique blend of down-home and jazz-laced blues.

The collaboration between Rundle--whose spare style springs from Americana and country blues to global folk roots--and his Italian jazz counterparts is not only refreshing and engaging, but adds an original edge to traditional and contemporary blues tunes that is at once relaxed and incredibly accomplished.

In "Sugar and Riley," Rundle's vocals trundle alongside Giannicola Spezzigu's double bass with an unabashed fun and appeal, as Pitaro's lead guitar improvises; with the traditional "Midnight Special," Rundle opts for an easy, almost calming tempo, as the guitars riff in an upbeat and uncluttered show of versatility.

Referring to a host of influences, including Mike Dowling, Mary Gauthier, Lucinda Williams, Giant Sand, Jeffrey Foucault, John Mellencamp, Gillian Welch, Ray Bonneville, Junior Kimbrough, Daniel Norgren, North Mississippi All Stars, Eric Bibb, and Otis Taylor, Rundle told me his aim is to "look for a particular mood: a kind of cathartic melancholy which somehow brings you joy even as it tells of the most terrible pain." In their live recording of Randy Weeks' irresistibly crafted "Can't Let Go," made famous by Lucinda Williams, Rundle and his band rollick and grab the listener with a playfulness that asks for the song to be played over and over.

Pitaro's sophisticated jazz phrasings turn John Mellencamp's "Right Behind Me" into delightful and witty undertones to match Rundle's steady vocals.

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Chris Rundle Band, photo courtesy of Chris Rundle


In some ways, Rundle's natural and effortless tunes recall JJ Cale, the legendary singer and guitarist, whose hybrid of blues, folk, country and rock drew raves from stars like Eric Clapton for its simplicity concealed by masterful craftsmanship. Like Cale, Rundle's confident and laid-back sound offers the appeal of an after-hours chat with a friend in the back corner of the bar.

As a showcase for their eclectic work, mixing acoustic and electric guitars, Rundle's original piece is "Sonora Requiem," a ballad based on a poem by Arizona poet Richard Shelton (and arranged by Rundle and myself), which highlights Pitaro's elegant guitar interpretations, Spezzigu's plaintive bass, and Rundle's own heartfelt vocals.

"I love very repetitive songs that catch hold of you and won't let go," Rundle says, "particularly the North Mississippi tradition and variations on this such as Daniel Norgren."

The debut of Rundle's "Cave Sessions" promises such a hold on its listeners--and a beguiling glimpse of a full length CD of original pieces in the...

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Iowa's Climate Vote: Sanders Victory Will Put Climate Action Back in National Debate

(0) Comments | Posted January 29, 2016 | 1:33 PM

The road to my caucus location in Iowa on Monday will wind along an Iowa River valley littered with the reminders of record flooding and drought since the last election--and a sea change on voters' priorities on climate action since 2008.

Climate change, like the...

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Climate Summit at Home: University of Iowa Trains New Generation of Climate Storytellers

(2) Comments | Posted December 18, 2015 | 8:38 AM

While global negotiators met in Paris last week to hammer out a climate accord, students with the University of Iowa's Climate Narrative Project had already begun the process of bringing the summit back to campus. Launched in 2014 as a special media arts initiative in the Office of...

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Women and Children Last? Ignoring Syrian Women Today and Their Historical Memory in Ancient Europe

(0) Comments | Posted December 15, 2015 | 12:24 PM

Only a few street blocks from where foreign ministers from the US, Europe and various Middle Eastern countries met in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis, the former Syrian "mother of the homeland" of ancient Europe sat on display at the Louvre Museum....

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Reckoning in Appalachia: Why Coal Mining Outlaw Don Blankenship's Conviction Matters

(2) Comments | Posted December 3, 2015 | 12:32 PM

The landmark conviction of former Massey Energy CEO and coal baron Don Blankenship today on a misdemeanor conspiracy charge to violate mine safety laws is a small, but historic first step in holding mining outlaws accountable for their reckless operations. For the first time in memory...

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Ecopolis Iowa City: Interview with Kamyar Enshayan, Beyond Pesticides: Community Models That Work

(0) Comments | Posted November 19, 2015 | 8:25 PM

As a follow up to a community-led victory in the Iowa City school district, which recently enacted a temporary moratorium on pesticide use, members with the Ecopolis Forum and Backyard Abundance are hosting a special forum on "Reducing Pesticides, School and Community Models That...

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Mentre Palmira brucia, noi stiamo perdendo la guerra contro la storia

(0) Comments | Posted October 23, 2015 | 8:03 AM

In mezzo alle continue incursioni aeree e durante il massacro di Siriani innocenti di cui siamo tutti testimoni, la recente distruzione dell'Arco di Trionfo a Palmira in Siria da parte dei militanti dello Stato Islamico non ha semplicemente ridotto in macerie un altro monumento della storia romana. Questo atto ha...

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Iowa City Council Candidates Inspire Vote With Climate Action, Green Economy Initiatives

(1) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 2:52 PM

While the nation focuses on the presidential caucus races, the extraordinary campaigns of four Iowa City council candidates in November's upcoming election have inspired local voters to put the famed "UNESCO City of Literature" in the forefront of flourishing green economy and climate action proposals.

"The old adage 'all politics...

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Obama Visits West Virginia on Coal Disaster Anniversary: Will He Finally Recognize Appalachian Health Emergency?

(9) Comments | Posted October 15, 2015 | 11:09 AM

President Obama's visit to address the drug epidemic in West Virginia on Oct. 21st falls on the anniversary of a historic coal slurry disaster that symbolizes another Appalachian emergency health crisis: Cancer-linked fallout and toxic coal slurry from reckless mountaintop removal operations.

...
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While Palmyra Burns, We're Losing the War on History

(4) Comments | Posted October 6, 2015 | 2:42 PM

Amid the nonstop air raids and slaughter of innocent Syrians, the recent destruction of the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Syria by Islamic State militants did not simply reduce another Roman-era monument to rubble.

It made a mockery out of our inaction and indifference to the current war...

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'Overburden': Powerful New Film Doc Captures Big Coal's Enduring Trauma -- And Two Women's Work to Heal Its Damage

(0) Comments | Posted September 8, 2015 | 2:30 PM

While recent headlines hastily declare the death of King Coal, a powerful new film documentary based on seven years of investigation poignantly captures the complexities and largely overlooked stories of the enduring trauma of the coal industry on miners, their families, affected neighbors and the ravaged communities and Appalachian mountains they call home.

As one of the most timely, poetic and informed film documentaries released this year, Overburden: Two Women and the Mountain Between Them, chronicles a quintessential American journey--amid the tragedy of lawlessness in the workplace and the environment--of two courageous women, formerly divided, who shed their fears and find common ground to begin the painful process of dealing with their grief, seeking terms of justice, and healing their damaged communities and mountains.

"We've all become family," Betty, a once fervent pro-coal supporter tells Lorelei, a coal miner's widow and vocal mountaintop removal mining organizer, in the film. "Don Blankenship has put us together," she adds, referring to the notorious former Massey Energy CEO. Recognizing the loss of Betty's brother in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster, as well as her own suffering, Lorelei responds: "Too high of a price to pay, though."

As featured in Overburden--a chilling mining term that refers to the overlying rock and soil displaced, like besieged residents and miners, to reach underground coal resources--these two former adversaries will stand together when Blankenship finally goes on trial on Oct. 1 in Charleston, West Virginia, for charges of conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards relating to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, which took 29 lives.

To be sure, Lorelei and Betty will not only stand together in solidarity for mine safety and economic diversification.

"There's a desperate need for healing in the community," Lorelei says, in one of the most poignant moments in the film, as she packs up her belongings to move away.

Healing between families, communities and the plundered mountains in central Appalachia -- and in so many other strip-mined communities in southern Illinois, Wyoming and Montana, and on Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Navajo and other indigenous lands.

Embedded for years in West Virginia, Overburden director and University of North Carolina professor Chad Stevens is not only one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation, but one of its best storytellers, who has done the tedious and indefatigable work behind the scenes to gain the trust of bitterly divided and traumatized communities, and allow his characters to speak for themselves and recount the process of such healing unfolding today. Stevens brilliantly balances the beauty of families and the mountains, amid the tension of its conflicts and demise; his footage of a bear cub, aimlessly wandering to the edge of a massive strip mine, in search of its mother, is singular in its power.

There are a lot of important film documentaries on mountaintop removal mining--a strip mining process that has literally detonated untold millions of tons of explosives to blow up the tops of more than 500 mountains and shovel up the coal with machines over the past half century. In the tradition of the Oscar-winning film documentary Harlan County, Stevens effectively transcends the "war on coal" political banter by capturing the human stories behind the daily operations of one of our nation's most misunderstood, complicated and devastating sources of energy.

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Photo credit: Chad Stevens, courtesy of Overburden film.

The portrait of Lorelei dispels many of the stereotypes of so-called "tree huggers" working to hold the coal industry and its sycophantic politicians accountable to various water and mining regulations. The widow of a miner who died from black lung disease, with a son-in-law in the mines, Lorelei joins a young community organizer, Rory McIlmoil, in a Coal River Mountain campaign for wind energy in an effort to draw attention for more sustainable economic development in the region. When a mining company launches its strip mining operations on Coal River Mountain, Lorelei travels to Washington as a representative of the affected residents, appealing to the Obama administration's "power to intervene."

Taking the viewer on a rare glimpse into the pro-coal circles, Betty is a matter-of-fact narrator who declares "coal is life here," and proudly posts a "Friends of Coal" sign. When the violation-ridden Upper Big Branch mine explodes in 2010, taking her brother's life in the process, Betty comes to the realization that "Massey Energy murdered my brother."

Joining efforts with Lorelei in a campaign to revoke Massey's corporate charter, Betty sums up the reality of both miners and all communities affected by reckless mining: "If we don't stand up and fight, who's going to?"

Years in the making, Overburden is ultimately an extraordinary story of transformation; of two brave women who recognize their fates no longer need to be divided by outside forces that have controlled the region for over a century through fear, deprivation and outright violence, and take action for a more viable future.

With Blankenship's historic indictment -- the first coal baron to be brought to trial for conspiracy charges in decades -- Overburden should be required viewing for President Obama, the Congress, and anyone who has ever depended on coal-fired...

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Damnatio memoriae nel Mediterraneo. Perché la storia dell'Antica Roma è importante oggi

(0) Comments | Posted September 3, 2015 | 11:06 AM

I flussi migratori di cui siamo testimoni oggi non sono una storia nuova per il Mediterraneo. La controversia riguardante lo ius soli risale a migliaia di anni fa. Anche la tragedia della distruzione delle rovine romane di Palmira in Siria ricorda la damnatio memoriae dell'epoca romana e ci rammenta che...

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Damnatio Memoriae: Returning Mediterranean's Lost Migration History to Center Stage

(0) Comments | Posted September 1, 2015 | 3:27 PM

Today's global migration shift is not a new story in the Mediterranean. The controversy over unconditional birthrights dates back thousands of years. Likewise, the recent tragedies in the Roman-era ruins of Palmyra, Syria are a reminder that we cannot separate human suffering and historicide; the destruction of the...

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