For months, after Bjork's Debut album came out, I would listen to the haunting "Anchor Song" and wonder what exactly its soulful saxes reminded me of. The pfennig dropped after I rediscovered the two superb albums recorded by Robyn Archer of Bertolt Brecht's theatre songs and lyric poems, in settings by Kurt Weill, Paul Dessau and (closest to Ms Gudmundsdttir's ditty) Hanns Eisler.

A hundred years to the week after his birth in Augsburg, the writer damned as a rogue or a bore by right-thinking people ever since the Nazis made him number 5 on their hit list still proves hard to bury. Types who scoff at Brecht's theories, scold his sex life and curse his Stalinism tap their toes to the strain of spiky music-theatre - from Cabaret to Chicago - that owes everything to the Brecht-Weill style. Meanwhile, last year's most-admired movie - LA Confidential - mingles gangsters and politics, separates its meaning from its melodrama, and "stops" the plot to make a point in ways that bring to mind that much-mocked old Aunt Sally, the Alienation Effect.

This year bulges with centenaries for makers of Modernist culture. Eisenstein, the original Bollinger Bolshevik, had a good media run last month; superlatives will spill for Lorca in June. But too many people hate Bert Brecht for him to enjoy a bile-free celebration. Liberals despise the diehard party- liner who returned to hypocritical wealth in East Germany. Scholars distrust the plagiarist whose "collaboration" often shaded into theft. Every decent sort can detest a sexual predator of quite, well, presidential proportions. All true. Yet a culture that worships T S Eliot, who denounced cities with "large numbers of free-thinking Jews" and overlooked the Holocaust, manifestly doesn't insist on a stainless record from its literary patron saints.

The bad odour around Bert explains the dearth of centenary books. Methuen issues a valuable update of John Willett's essays Brecht in Context (pounds 12.99). Libris has a new edition of The Young Brecht by Hanns Otto Munsterer (pounds 14.95): a friend's memoir of the anarchic Bavarian tearaway who resembled Lennon far more than Lenin. Most importantly, and also from Libris (pounds 35), comes the first English edition of Brecht's War Primer.

During his exile in Scandinavia and Hollywood, Brecht clipped dozens of topical pictures from the papers - of battles, persecutions, summits - and wrote stinging quatrains to match them. So, under the shot of a bereaved old woman at the fall of Singapore: "O voice of sorrow from the double choir/ Of gunmen and the victims of the gun!/ The Son of Heaven needed Singapore/ And no one but yourself needed your son." Tender, angry and incisive, this is the Brecht of Mother Courage whose bitter compassion everyone can love.

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