Phantom Power


Valentine Strasser seized power in Sierra Leone when he was twenty-five years old. At that age I ruled nowhere, perhaps because I was busy listening to Super Furry Animals’ Radiator. Its track “Placid Casual” discusses the coup:

Freetown rocked in Sierra Leone / When Valentine Strasser danced his way to the throne / Gunpowder smoke took a heavy toll / But they weren’t placid casual and so they lost control.

This might not be the most perceptive analysis of Strasser’s reign, but it’s probably the best in modern Welsh psychedelic rock.


To stop myself from sinking into a spiral of paranoia that I was going to die of Ebola, alone, in a deserted foreign hotel, I’d come up with another plan: I’d busy myself looking for the country’s former dictator.

It had been rather some time since I’d thought of Valentine Strasser, so I read with enormous interest “My Bloody Valentine,” by Monica Mark, who tracked him down twenty years after he was deposed. It’s a heck of a tale.

Indie irony points duly awarded for the title.

Mark’s piece sent me back to read “The Coming Anarchy,” surely one of the more uncheering essays to see print. Two decades haven’t mellowed the flavor:

Sierra Leone is a microcosm of what is occurring, albeit in a more tempered and gradual manner, throughout West Africa and much of the underdeveloped world: the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war.


Sheesh. I can’t sign off like that. Let us conclude, then, with this most perceptive ode to tolerance: