Monday, April 12, 2010

Who do you think you are?

"Running through the fire, running through the flame, running through the hatred, running through the blame, running through the hopelessness and shame, revolution already underway."
- John Butler,
April Uprising

I have really been enjoying the new tv series "Who Do You Think You Are?," which traces the ancestry of some interesting celebrities. The American version has featured actors Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, director Spike Lee, and football hall-of-famer Emmitt Smith. The Australian version has featured actress Sigrid Thornton, cook Maggie Beer - and my favorite musician John Butler. The viewing of Butler's episode on-line is restricted, so I have pieced together the story of his genealogy from what I could find on the web.

John Butler stated that he hoped to find poets, musicians and revolutionaries in his heritage, and in fact he did. "We would all like to fantasize that the values we have were held by our ancestors, but it's not always that way. But it was great to find out that it was so spot-on in this case," he said. In his war diary, Butler's grandfather John Francis Butler expressed concern about the racism exhibited by some white American soldiers. Butler inherited the Dobro guitar owned by his grandfather, who died while fighting a bushfire at Nannup. His great-grandfather Jack Butler had deserted from his World War I duties to look after his younger siblings after his father's death.

Butler follows his Bulgarian ancestry to the mountain town of Koprivshtitsa, where his great-great-grandfather Kristio Radomiroff, a meat trader, helped fund the Bulgarian revolution which eventually ousted the ruling Ottomans. Kristio's son Nicola (Butler's great-grandfather) was caught up in the violent revolt, called the April Uprising - which is what Butler has titled his new album. He explains, "The guy who ended up marrying one of my great-great-grandfather’s daughters was actually the guy who fired the first shot of the uprising. So that’s where the name came from!"

The musician also found a matriarch who sang for her survival, and discovered another ancestor who was buried in the town he had moved to 23 years earlier: "It was freaky - like salmon swimming back upstream. I had some pretty heavy experiences and reactions. You can relate it to the Maori or the Aboriginal culture's connection to land and that land always calling you home. They talk about people getting the greatest sense of themselves when they know where they come from - we all know that cerebrally - we've heard that story a thousand times. But to actually feel it metaphysically, it's transformative; it changed me."

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