A conversation with Dan Kaufman


    We spoke with Dan Kaufman about the far-reaching consequences of the Spanish Civil War, connecting disparate events in world history through the theme of personal solidarity, how art connects to indescribable horror and approaching history without expectations.

    They stood for the idea of solidarity between people, that one person’s suffering affects me.


    Morgan Enos

    Lately, I’ve been trying to repair my embarrassing lack of history knowledge. Your specialty is in the Spanish Civil War — can you please explain that one, along with its causes and consequences? I know I could just Google this, but I’m interested in your take!

    Dan Kaufman

    In 1936, right-wing military officers led by Francisco Franco revolted in Spain against the democratically elected, left-wing government. It was a coup, basically, but it failed initially because ordinary people — workers and peasants — rose up to defend the government. That effort, though, turned into a three-year-long civil war. Aiding the military rebels were Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. On the other side was the government, the Spanish Republic, to whom Western power would sell arms. The only countries to aid the Republic were the Soviet Union and Mexico. But some 35,000 volunteers, from more than 50 countries, came to Spain to aid the Republican forces. Ultimately they were defeated and Spain lived under a dictatorship for close to 40 years.


    Speaking of which, I also understand that you got to speak with the last surviving member of the Lincoln Brigade. Can you tell me a little bit about that, as well as some insight what the Lincoln Brigade was for any of our readers who may be unaware?

    The Lincoln Brigade was the name of the contingent of American volunteers who went to Spain to defend the democratically-elected government against a fascist revolt aided by Hitler and Mussolini. They stood for the idea of solidarity between people, that one person’s suffering affects me. It’s immortalized best in John Donne’s poem:

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man

    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,

    because I am involved in mankind.

    And therefore never send to know for whom

    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


    Beyond the Spanish Civil War, it seems you’ve got some serious influence from Roman Jewish melodies and the WW2-era events connected to the Italian Resistance. Why those, specifically? What connective threads do you find between these seemingly disparate elements of world history, literally and musically?

    I suppose there is a fascination with history and especially a particular moral kind of opposition to terrible events. I’m also Jewish, and my mother instilled in me a deep respect for Jewish culture and history, so that’s part of it.

    I think any artist is trying to interrupt life, to see it anew through what they’re doing. I think it’s difficult to contain that curiosity into just one medium.


    Which historical figures do you relate to in how they met or struggled with the situations dealt to them?

    I think Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest American of the 20th century. I am always moved by Paul Celan, the Romanian-Jewish Holocaust survivor whose poetry grappled with trying to describe the indescribable.


    Some of the members of your band Barbez have really rich, multidisciplinary backgrounds with acts like Shearwater, David Byrne and Phillip Glass. All three of those artists seem to share influences far outside of music in your work. Are you attracted to those kinds of broad-minded, eclectic collaborators in your work, or was this not a conscious decision?

    Yes, I suppose they do. I think so many musicians are interested in other art forms, so it’s hard draw conclusions, but I think any artist is trying to interrupt life, to see it anew through what they’re doing. I think it’s difficult to contain that curiosity into just one medium. Music also has so much overlap with all art forms. For example, poetry can be intensely musical; any art form can, just as music can be very visual.


    Finally, can you describe the last element of your historical research that stumped you, threw you for a loop or otherwise challenged your assumptions about a subject? What was it, and how did you work around it or gain new knowledge?

    Not sure I have something like this in my mind. I guess I always trying to approach history without expectation, so I try to limit assumptions.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 155
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: March 28, 2018
    Total questions: 6
    Word count: 691
    Reading time: Three minutes
    Hyperlinks: 1


    Assumption: Null


    About the subject

    Dan Kaufman is the bandleader of Barbez. He also moonlights as a journalist and has written extensively on the Spanish Civil War.

    About the curator

    Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.

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