TWO DECADES – ONE SPACE

Aquarian Weekly
8/29/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

TWO DECADES – ONE SPACE
How The Hell Did This Happen?

I find that by putting things in writing I can understand them and see them a little more objectively … For words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order, if you don’t lie to yourself and use the wrong words.

– Hunter S. Thompson from a letter to Larry Callen, July, 14, 1958

The godfather of this space wrote that when he was 21. It took me some time to find it this week from the volumes of his collected letters compiled by my friend and film-maker Wayne Ewing at the turn of the century. It is the best way that I can describe how I’ll cobble together these thousand-or-so words to fill out this column I’ve been sending to press for two decades this week. There is a great deal of wisdom the Doctor imparts in those pages, some of them I was lucky enough to discuss with him on several occasions when he was alive. Last time I saw him was in 2004 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble where I was honored to give him a copy of my second book, Fear No Art, the first collection from words written right here in this space. When I first met him in the early 90s I had yet to be a published author. I was still a free-lance geek wrestling with a baseball manuscript that I would later abandon to finish my first book. All the time, somewhere in the ether, was the Aquarian Weekly and what would become this monstrosity we call Reality Check.

To borrow an overused phrase; it was twenty years ago today…I was in New York City to see Sinéad O’Connor (whom I later interviewed for a cover story) at the Beacon Theater, a show I would review for this paper and others. I ducked into the Roosevelt Hotel, where my dearest and oldest friend Master Chris Barrera was toiling in an audio/visual mélange, and faxed (that’s right, kids) a 350-word piece about a riot at a vegetarian rally in Eastern Connecticut. For all intents and purposes it was a “first date” for me and my soon-to-be wife of 18 years and my first stream of words of this run. It was, to say the least, a significant moment on all fronts.

I can’t recall what the segment was called, but it was three commentators taking on similar subjects from different angles. This lasted a few months, maybe close to a year, but at some point, as is my wont, I was the last one hanging around, and this paper’s managing editor at the time, a burly and gregarious biker-scribe named Dan Davis, asked me to just keep writing.

Davis had nabbed me (and by nabbed I mean a phone call that I taped at the time in which he literally threatened me) during my writing of the aforementioned first book, which would become Deep Tank Jersey. That thing, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, provided me the most writing gigs I had ever been offered. I was 32 and I was determined to take on too many stories and go to too many queer places for the bylines. Some of that period ended up in my only novel, completed in 2002 and published 11 years later. It will no doubt stand as my manifesto on the damage inflicted by sending words for a living.

Davis and I concocted some weird shit for many magazines, including the now-defunct East Coast Rocker, where I wrote regular sports and social commentary for two years. Then all of a sudden, Chris Uhl, my second managing editor, came on board and demanded words. Uhl was an ornery but fair bastard with an incredible penchant to locate enemies without much evidence. I found that an enviable trait and immediately took his orders as gospel. It was Uhl who told me not to worry about petty things like censorship or decorum or what Keith Richards once described to a presiding Sussex judge as “petty morals” and to write “whatever the hell you like”, and I took that straight to the core of my terrible being and began to do so.

Uhl was the one who named this space Reality Check sometime in 1998, the year I first “covered” the World Series, which I would do for this space and others for the next four years. I covered the controversial 2000 presidential election and began to build on my “connections” and get access to some of the most bizarre places in politics and sports and entertainment and did not apologize for any of it. There were many warriors I befriended and many deviants to squelch. I once shared these pages with a proud maniac named Bill Roberts, who toiled at this thing for a few years before he had to quit due to dangerous circumstances that I knew all too well. The cover story after 9/11 may have been our proudest moment. It hangs framed in the Reality Check News & Information Desk headquarters at the Clemens Estate. It was high combative times and no one got rich, but there were words, so many words.

It is a tribute to the very point of this existence to find those truths for you, the reader; the one who makes the writer whole.

Somewhere along the line I worked my way through a decade of this nonsense and built an incredible mailing list, abused many interns and assistants, and met some incredible artists and politicians and actors and musicians and you name it. The first time I did something like this on the anniversary of my tenth year, we had many of these people weigh in; Ani Difranco, John Cusack, Ralph Nader (still my favorite interview among many), Pat Buchanan, Eric Hutchinson, Dan Bern and more. It was kind of gratuitous, but how could you blame me? Ten years? That seemed insane then; 20 years is pure madness.

I have been writing under this banner longer than anything I have ever done. Period. Longer than my marriage, longer than my entire schooling, way longer than I have ever lived in one place – Reality Check has outlived Yankee Stadium and many of my favorite places in NYC that have long been turned into banks or Starbucks. I now have a daughter, as many of the beloved people in my life have added to this human experiment. I went from a transient to domesticated (started at the Putnam Bunker in New York through Mount Vernon up in ski country, New Jersey, to my current digs in the mountains) during this run. I have seen myself speed closer to death and somehow understand why it needs to come.

Manning this ship has given me life-long brethren in my ensuing managing editors who carried on Uhl’s edict to “Let Campion go!” and for that pristinely glorious gift I thank the dogged J.J. Koczan, the mercurial Patrick Slevin, and that man for whom I now stand at the parapets and aim high, Giorgio Mustica, the only one of these lunatics I have yet to meet and bend an elbow and close a musty tavern to spit on the universe and thank whatever is up there for the time it takes to crank one of these fuckers out for posterity.

I was able to accomplish here for 20 years a damnable edict; millions upon millions of words to pursue what I had always dreamed of long before I wanted to be a writer – when my mom took me to get my first library card – find a place where you can get it down and get it out and have people read it – unfiltered, undeterred, ample and willing. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s wonderful mantra for the writer with a deadline, “Do not worry. You have written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Here is mine: It is a tribute to the very point of this existence to find those truths for you, the reader; the one who makes the writer whole. We dance this thing together because we must. We disagree, we agree, we debate and we ride the piss-train, but it has to remain so.

Not sure I have much left in me, but as long as the words come I will take pride in putting them together here, like I did this morning of August 25, 2017, nearly 20 years to the day I first sent words to this paper and began this journey that somehow keeps on going. It is my scar, my disease, my elixir and my anguished joy.

Thanx for reading it.

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RADICAL CAUCASIAN TERRORISM

Aquarian Weekly
8/23/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

RADICAL CAUCASIAN TERRORISM
& The President Who Defends It

From 2008 to 2016 violent White Nationalist incidents in U.S. totaled 115. In the same time frame there were 63 Islamic Radical Terrorists incidents.
– The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and the Center for Investigative Reporting

Fight the real enemy.
– Sinéad O’Connor, October 3, 1992

Donald J. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. Our game-show president has become this nation’s ipecac. He extracts the poison from the body politic through our social esophagus inducing needed projectile vomiting. And an astonishing pile of puke was on display this past week during a white nationalist coming-out party in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which dozens were injured and a young woman was run down by a car, and then later in the lobby of Trump Tower when El Douche went off the rails to defend it in what will forever be known as the Tuesday Afternoon Meltdown. But without his gift for ignorant revelation, the poisons that flooded the streets of the otherwise sleepy southern town would have continued to sit undetected in our system and slowly rot it from the inside.

Thanks to a few hundred pasty bigots and our dung-brained president it has now bubbled to the surface where we can no longer ignore or explain it away. Trump’s spectacular streak of stupidity mixed with the world’s most effective promotional tool for abortion has revealed much about America.

Admittedly, up until the most unhinged press conference by a major politician since Richard Nixon’s “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” diatribe against the press, the Eastern Liberal Establishment and Martians, I had planned to write that as usual the response to this president’s “role” or “non-role” in the insane events in Charlottesville was a bit hyperbolic. Beyond his faux tough-guy approach and a preternatural inability to knock anyone who digs him (Vladimir Putin, David Duke, etc) the issue at hand should have been Neo-Nazis, the Klu Klux Klan, something called white nationalists, the city’s day-late-dollar-short police force and the genius who issued a permit for these nuts to openly threaten everyone who was not in the WASP club.

But it was hard to ignore that for days afterwards, Trump repeatedly placed treasonous marauders on the same moral plain as those who admittedly fought back violently against them; symbolically ringing the opening bell for an all-out street fight for the soul of a nation.

Of course, to be fair, a bunch of privileged and lazy Duck Dynasty fans deciding to whip out the Swastika flags they ordered on alt-right.com so they can get on TV to shout “Jews will not replace us!” does not a war make. But it is refreshing to see the kind of monsters in broad daylight that usually hide behind the vagaries of “those people are tearing down our culture” and “those people are diluting our history” while usually lounging around dinner tables or hosting Fox News shows or skulking through the halls of congress or acting all tough masked in fake names on blogs and Facebook posts and spitting banal propaganda in Breitbart News or the Drudge Report.

This is why the First Amendment is first, bubba, and is the niftiest part of our Constitution; it provides those the blessed right to get it all out there, unfiltered, so we can take better aim at picking them off one by one.

As the ugly rise to the surface, we can now know their names and see their faces; the same cretins who attempted to halt marriage equality and deny women reproductive rights, blame their personal failures on outside forces and press voter suppression laws under the ambiguously self-righteous guise of God, tradition, national security, and all the other well-worn buzz words that have been used as oppressive weapons for decades.

We already knew icky things about Trump’s dealings with race from his outlandishly pathetic public performance in the 1980s Central Park Five case to the really weird birther shit against our first African American president, and it is noteworthy that Trump’s daddy, for whom he yearns to please even in death, was busted at a 1925 Klan rally in Queens. It was Fred Trump’s real estate practices of keeping people of color and Jews from queering deals over the “lowering of property values” that trained his son to think that anything that aides Trump business is fine and anything that threatens is bad. Thus those he blithely calls the “alt-left” would be in the bad category and the white nationalists, well, his supporters.

To wit: I can confidently state that if a mob of hate mongers were running around the street in broad daylight evoking my name as inspiration, wearing hats with my name while carrying Confederate and Nazi flags and telling news organizations that they were fulfilling my promises, I would immediately run out onto the White House lawn to push out a statement that gets me as far away from that as possible. Trump did not.

But what Trump did accomplish was to inadvertently reveal the undercurrent of fear that leads to statements like “these people are trying to erode our way of life”; the same theory that convinced generations of politicians to decide that the African American uprising against oppression (more recently Black Lives Matter) and the campus marches against Viet Nam (more recently marches against asinine foreign wars) must be the product of communist intervention (more recently radical leftist political figures like George Soros) and not a deeper problem within American culture and our damaged institutions.

You see the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, for which the thugs in Charlottesville were (wink-wink) “protesting”, represents to these people, and the people who defend them, which the president clearly did in both his original remarks and his wig-out at Trump Tower, is a classic American “save the culture” argument that is at the root of our tarnished history. It helped lead to the Watts Riots (more recently Ferguson), the violent horrors of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention (see Ferguson again), Kent State (recent militaristic police presence in black neighborhoods), the flaccid War on Drugs (Attorney General Jeff Sessions recent return to Draconian drug sentencing), the Religious Right (Trump pandering on LGBT military ban), and on and on and on and on and on.

Trump’s spectacular streak of stupidity mixed with the world’s most effective promotional tool for abortion has revealed much about America.

It is this kind of “thinking” at the core of this nation’s original sin and what prompts the “nice people protesting a statue” commentary from a man who cannot tell the difference between Thomas Jefferson and an institutional insurrectionist that led an army to over-throw the United States to perpetuate the owning of human beings (which they masked – and still do – in a weak “states’ rights” argument).

And as for Trump’s specious defense of “peaceful protesters”; if I decided I loved statues and felt it unfair to take them down and joined a rally that eventually puts me in the middle of that putrid rabble, I might re-think things before continuing or risk guilt by association. You see, a “peaceful Nazi” exists in the same mystic Trumpian netherworld as the wall Mexico is paying for.

But this all pales in comparison to Trump’s most telling and teachable-moment when he blurted; “They want to change our culture and alter our history.”

This phrase is the tipping point for a new and more direct and far overdue street fight on the irrational resentment of progress, intellect and evolution that has permeated the first years of this twenty-first century; what this space has been writing about for twenty years now this month. (No kidding. It will be twenty years next week I started this lunacy! I have never done anything for this long. And for that I need to be committed.)

But I digress.

No one is altering history. Here’s the history: The Confederacy was wiped out and so were the Nazi’s. They lost. And you know who beat them? The United States of America. They had their shot, they were crushed. That’s the history. The reconstruction of this history is erecting monuments to the vanquished that were strategically placed in public places like parks and in front of government buildings for intimidation during the birth of the Jim Crow South during the turn of the century. Look it up, history buffs. This kind of nonsense is the age-old loser’s lament. If someone tried to erect a statue of the treasonous Robert E. Lee in 1864, instead of 1964 during the Civil Rights movement (another period where these abominations were erected) they would have been taken to a firing squad. Imagine a statue of Osama bin Laden put in your town square next week and you get the picture; except 600,000 people died during the Civil War, the equivalent of 200 9/11’s.

Also culture is change. That is what cultures do; otherwise they go the way of the Confederacy or the Nazis. Trying to preserve an aborted, self-aggrandizing myth is not preserving culture. It is madness. Madness leads to things like Civil and World Wars. I get it, the movement of culture is scary, and for the uneducated it is threatening. Sorry. We have therapists and fancy drugs for that now. Put down the comic adaption of The Turner Diaries and go get laid.

Trump has done us all a big favor and taken this bile and poison, hidden under a cloak of innocuous posturing, and puked it everywhere this week. As it should be – out in the open, to get the best view, to see and smell and understand fully what we’re dealing with, instead of dressing it up in the drag of patriotism and religion and statue fetishes.

Yet, there was one thing that puzzled me about the Tuesday Meltdown; Trump’s ridiculous assertion that people fighting back against treasonous rhetoric makes them equally guilty; as if he would be affronted by this. It has long been obvious that this president advocates violence when he feels he or his followers are being provoked. Remember the most heinous outburst of his provocative campaign rallies in Chicago when he pointed out, quite rightly, that agitators had provoked his people to physically fight back and oft times openly asked his audience to beat on protesters?

Now he’s all politically correct.

Screw that.

Everyone knows who reads this space that when it comes to bigots we openly advocate beatings. Last year I personally challenged my congressman (now ex-congressman thanks to the brave Americans of the fifth district of New Jersey), the ultra-bigot, Scott Garrett to a fist-fight. He refused. This is because bigots are wimps. But that still does not mean that Garrett did not need a beating, as Nazis and the KKK need beatings; several and varied. Why? Because they want it.

You don’t get to be in a terrorist organization like the KKK and bitch about getting a beating. By their very nature, beatings are mandatory. I fully and confidently support dragging David Duke and Richard Spence from their homes to provide them a helping of the stuff they claim to openly support; a little of those fancy Gestapo tactics they’re so fond of. Let’s see if they’re serious about their “radical agenda” and if they’re more than chants and Hitler tee shirts and “Make America Great” hats. You want old-fashioned justice, sirs? Okay, let’s see if you can handle it.

Time to call this what it is and face it and wipe it out; Radical Caucasian Terrorism, because like Radical Islamic Terrorism, which according to statistics has outperformed the former two-to-one, once you take up arms and rhetoric against the rule of law and mark your territory as a combatant, then you abdicate your rights and call for violent retribution.

My guess is these posers would beg for mercy once the hell-rain they want comes a-callin’, like terrorists who want to destroy the system suddenly finding civil rights and asking for lawyers. Well, I say, they trade in all that and take the beatings they have coming.

And so I praise Donald Trump’s idiocy, for it placed on the table what is really wrong with this country and where its real enemies lie; from within. They used to bloat the police force and run states and fill our churches, but it’s getting more difficult to see them. Now we do, and they must be rooted out and dealt with.

Stick that in your jack-boot and kick it.

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THE “DADDY LOVE ME” NUCLEAR STAND-OFF – 2017

Aquarian Weekly
8/16/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE “DADDY LOVE ME” NUCLEAR STAND-OFF – 2017

Who didn’t see this coming?

The second Donald Trump took the oath of office, all of it; wildly manic Tweet storms about TV hosts and obsessions with fabricated inner demons and spastic firings and institutional in-fighting and ill-advised bluster about seemingly innocuous and mostly delusional self-congratulatory nonsense, and now, most likely crimes, was inevitable. It is the Trump branding. This is what we voted for, or at least enough people voted for, and it has been damn fun. Half the administration is going to jail and the rest to hell, and as we continue to celebrate the chaotic dismantling of all of the myths of the American consciousness with delinquent glee there has always been the distinct possibility that all this stumbling around would result in serious consequences.

We might be there this week with the purported nuclear stand-off between our El Douche and North Korea’s impishly wacky Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un. We’re now witness to another in a long line of powerful and insecure man-children putting at risk millions of lives to impress dead fathers who tortured their sons with bullshit machismo to hide their own fear of penis size.

And at some point you’d figure petty knee-jerk imbeciles whose whole point of existing is to find enemies, particularly weaker ones in which to hammer, would move our game show president from the media to congress to a nation across the globe which has a ready-made villain with just as many psychological issues as him. This is science; pure natural selection and the biological attraction of crazy-finds-crazy eventually. This is a duet ready-made. Call Stan “The Man” Lee, we got ourselves a comic book!

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung or even Dr. Phil to see the damaged souls at work here. Trump and Jung-un have made global their severe mental issues exacerbated by cold and domineering fathers who by their mere nature were predatory lunatics likely hiding latent homosexual desires and violent tendencies of paranoia, bigotry and self-loathing. Or to simplify, what we have here are two assholes created by two assholes and now there is “fire and fury” and “die American dogs” and the usual mindless machismo that begs for the ghosts of their fathers to recognize they exist.

If only the fat little Korean kid with bad eyesight and the pasty monosyllabic rich boy had been loved, maybe we wouldn’t have to wonder if Guam will be around next week.

Look, since both Jung-un and Trump are entirely full of shit and like their pathetic fathers are merely big-mouth posers creating fantasy worlds in which they’re John Wayne or Al Capone, nothing is going to occur close to the Cuban Missile Crisis, commandeered by two men (John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev) whose daddy issues were through the roof. But the fact that it has come this far and trust me it will not be the last time that men with small peckers and zero self-esteem piss-fight to fell the demons hatched by their horrible patriarchs, is both sad and eminently intriguing.

We’re now witness to another in a long line of powerful and insecure man-children putting at risk millions of lives to impress dead fathers.

It is also fascinating to watch two men who have little to no idea what they’re doing play this thing out – one a neophyte from an early age thrown into some ancient dynasty of madness and the other a game show host via the World Wrestling Federation who ran for president to expand his family’s international real estate holdings and because he was bored. It is hardly Roosevelt, Hitler and Churchill, all of whom had severe daddy issues but formed an unholy bond in a vacuum of ideology and nation building, world war and cultural divides that spanned the entire earth’s surface. Comparing these idiots to those lunatics is like saying your backyard pond is the Indian Ocean. This is a roly-poly pompadour shuffling like a cartoon character from one half-assed missile test to the other, never leaving his cocoon of sycophants, spitting at the rapidly aging hair-hat golfing nut who needs Fox & Friends to tell him he’s okay to sleep at night.

Not sure what will happen in North Korea, I was certain that by now one of Jung-un’s doomed generals – he kills about a dozen a year – would find a way to assassinate him, but that is an ancient problem this country has been trying to “solve” for nearly seventy years with spectacularly bad results. As for the United States, this whole Trump ranting has been nicely curtailed by congress, which two weeks ago quietly wrested control from the commander-in-chief on any semblance of foreign policy in Eastern Europe due to his by now patently obvious (to say the very least) conflict of interest with Russia. And the Pentagon, who completely refuted and will never implement the president’s goofy LGBT military ban, and the Department of Defense, who routinely walks back the president’s shoot-from-the-hip schoolyard nonsense as “posturing”, have several fail-safes against the inevitably hissy fit.

Which brings us back to Trump and Jung-un’s duel working out of their daddy issues in public with access to powerful weaponry. They serve each other well, a ying/yang thing that will never cure them but allows for a healthy valve in which to decompress. And since our president is at the service of a leader with clear mommy issues, Vladimir Putin (men who continuously have themselves photographed in public shirtless and need to have their chests shaved are absolutely putting on make-up and trying on lingerie in private), it is important he has someone who understands him.

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THE UNSINKABLE ACA

Aquarian Weekly
7/26/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE UNSINKABLE ACA
Bulletproof “Obamacare” Rolls On

It survived six grueling months in 2009 into early 2010 of hearings, debates, propaganda – both pro and con – and an unprecedented act of partisan solidarity to be passed. It survived waves of protests and court hearings, ending up in two Supreme Court decisions upholding it. It spawned and survived the TEA Party movement and stood strong against hundreds of elections by candidates deriding it and promising to repeal it, culminating in both the re-election of the president that bares its nickname and later a president that has acted like a political battering-ram to the system. It survived 50-plus votes by congress to wipe it out and three recent attempts by the opposition party that promised for seven years to bring about its demise. Through it all it went from a dismal 36-percent approval rating to now a rousing majority of support from the American people. The Affordable Care Act is the most hearty, defiant and impenetrable slice of legislation this nation has seen in a century or more. It may take a second Civil War to take it down.

The latest grandstand by this bull-tit Senate, which concocted the second of two bills that stands at a laughable 14-percent approval from the citizenry and could not even get a vote, is a prime example of the invincibility of “Obamacare”. The hue and cry from those who opposed it (I am one) that once it was enacted it would be nearly impossible to rip from the system has come to pass. This was always the point made by this space for lo these past seven years: Why would anyone believe Mitt Romney or Ted Cruz or John Boehner or Paul Ryan or the current buffoon inhabiting the White House when they said, “I shall repeal Obamacare the first day I am in office!”

Remember that crap, kids? “Just give us the House, just give us the Senate, just give us the White House; we’ll skunk this thing.” Right. This generation’s two-chickens-in-every-pot nonsense that we believe when we think we hate something as much as the ACA, when in reality we don’t. This law has gotten the sort of press accompanying Prohibition or the Missouri Compromise when it is nothing more than another flaccid and bloated half-assed attempt by our government to put a band-aid on a gaping wound. (Also a point made by this space for years). And as much as people love to joke about how our game-show host president knows less about national health care than your pet, how many of us comprehend the magnitude of this thing and why it is so unbeatable?

Firstly, although presidents Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton (well, Hillary, really) all proposed far more progressive versions of national health care dating back to the late 1940s, the framework of the ACA was actually devised by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing “think tank” filled with antiquated philosophy long since dismissed as madness by the rest of the planet, like the Freemasons without the fancy robes. It was cleverly titled, “Health Equity and Access Reform Today” or HEART, and it was the template for “Obamacare”, plain and simple.

In 1993, the then president thought it a nifty idea to have his unelected wife present what amounted to a single-payer, true socialist bill for universal health care to a congress that would be, it turned out, under siege from the opposition party. By ’94 the first Republican-controlled congress in three generations took the Hill to thwart this exercise with extreme prejudice, but not before the dullards at the Heritage Foundation put together what can now be deemed the infamous manifesto for what would become the Affordable Care Act. Penned by Republican Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island it included among many of the most popular portions of the ACA; creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance, and a ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

It’s a messy, mostly bureaucratic pile of shit, but it has its benefits

The Republicans more or less presented HEART as a centrist answer to a wildly over-reaching government-controlled health care system practiced by European countries, Canada, etc. And it was that construct that first inspired and then prompted what President Barrack Obama proposed to then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cobble into a bill that would become the law that cannot be felled even as its opposition party holds sway over all of Washington DC.

To be fair, the final version of the ACA did not include the expansion of Medicare and a federal government pool of money given to states to run it in order to off-set costs. And it is that portion of the law that has been upheld as constitutional in two Supreme Court challenges and gotten conservatives up in arms and its proponents a fulcrum in which to defend it. If the government can tax or force young men to go overseas to die, then it can certainly control the marketplace. It is that key segment of the ACA that allows the government (a tax) to mandate the purchase of something you might not feel you want or need, like state mandates for driver’s licenses or automobile insurance or the dozens of other things the federal and local governments deem you must possess to move about in our social contract.

And here is where the doom of lies the Republicans have existed on regarding the ACA comes home to roost and has led to the farce that you have been enduring on this issue since Donald Trump stumbled into the presidency. You see, while Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is a feeble and useless government lackey, he is also very stupid. Speaker Paul Ryan, not so much, as he is a more a legislative intellectual stuck in a compromising position when he would much rather lift weights and jack off to photos of Ayn Rand. And…well…the aforementioned Donald Trump probably now wishes he was still on TV making fun of Rosie O’Donnell, judging beauty contests and wrestling Vince McMahon. All of these politicians and more have been comparing “Obamacare” to the Third Reich and bone cancer, when it is probably the most workable legislation on the concept of national health care possible in this day and age.

f it were proposed by a President John McCain or Mitt Romney (who took the Heritage Foundation model and enacted it in Massachusetts while governor between 2003 to 2007), it may look close to what the Republicans are now trying to mash-up just to look like they’re doing something. But since it was a Democratic president and congress that pushed it through it was wrongly considered some kind of socialist monstrosity. It’s a messy, mostly bureaucratic pile of shit, but it has its benefits and those are what cause this hamstrung congress to balk at “fixing” it, because fixing it means rubber-stamping its existence when they really want to just bag it.

There have been a series of congresses that have suckered the American people into thinking they had the power or fortitude to stop badly run wars (2006) or a law effecting one-sixth of the U.S. economy (2010, 2012, 2016). But there are still wars and the ACA rolls on and there is seemingly nothing that can be done about either with the current crop. Even a gutless vote (which will never pass) to just repeal the thing will be the culmination of another promises that cannot and will not be kept.

And thus the ACA is a winner; it cannot be stopped.

Rocky Marciano was an undefeated heavy weight champ, but even he only won 49 consecutive bouts, the ACA is something like 62-0.

Love it or hate it; that is one tough son of a bitch of a law.

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THE SUMMER OF “ANNIE HALL” AT 40

Aquarian Weekly
7/19/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE SUMMER OF “ANNIE HALL” AT 40

Pop culture is the folk culture of the modern market, the culture of the instant, at once subsuming past and future and refusing to acknowledge either.
– Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces

I heard commentary and dissent merged to form dysentery.
-Woody Allen, Annie Hall

About a month ago while gearing up for a cover piece on the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ culture-shifting album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band it came to my attention that one of my favorite films was celebrating its 40th anniversary; Woody Allen’s masterwork, Annie Hall. Released in April of 1977, unlike most of his movies at the time which had a limited but dedicated following, it would, much like Sgt. Pepper’s, come to define a generation and influence countless film-makers working in almost every genre. It would transform the concept of the romantic comedy and lift Allen from comedian turned film-maker into one of the most celebrated auteurs of the era.

Up until that spring Allen had mostly dabbled in comedic efforts filled with pithy one-liners and classic pratfalls centering on a singularly damaged nebbish character that juggled a myriad of trepidations through several bizarre scenarios. Annie Hall crystallized this concept in the guise of a couple; Allen’s comedian/writer, Alvy Singer and photographer/singer, Annie Hall, played with quirky ennui by Diane Keaton, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Both characters drift towards middle age anxious, lonely and spiritually lost in the greatest city on earth, which was then in the throes of its own spiritual decay; economic collapse, a spectacular rise in crime, while also capturing an underground esthetic in music, art and social upheaval. (Annie compares Alvy to New York; a damaged, isolated island).

The expanse of the city, which reflects the anxieties of the times; sexuality, friendships, fame, insecurities about the decay of the culture, and the analytical, intellectual and religious failures to fill the voids of people unaware of their conditions, also allowed Allen to profess his professional and personal affection for his then lover, Diane Keaton, who had already built a solid resume with Allen on Broadway (Play It Again Sam) and films (Sleeper, Love and Death).

Although dripping with Pygmalion ironies and doomed from the beginning, Alvy and Annie’s relationship reveals the deeper truths in the insecurity of the dating world circa mid-70s (Alvy insists that he and Annie kiss in the middle of their first date to avoid nausea later), especially among the more cynical that came to discover that compatibility with the world was enough of a chore without trying to balance it with the vagaries of love. In one brilliantly devised scene, both Alvy and Annie idly chat about photography while subtitles of what they’re actually thinking appear beneath them.

In this way and more Annie Hall is a romantic comedy like Moby Dick is a book about a whale. The love story is merely a backdrop for the deeper themes in the film; specifically its satire of urban life in the latter part of the American century in which a stop-gap generation straddled between two clashing eras – the Great Depression/WWII and Rock and Roll/TV – deal with the loss of self beneath angst, guilt and self-absorption. The city, as the people who inhabit it, is overloaded with the illusions of contentment in artistic statement, psychoanalytical theory or status symbol myopia. “The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers,” muses Alvy to a friend. “I think of us that way, sometimes. And I live here!”

To that end Annie Hall is illuminated by period touchstones and a plethora of cultural references that bridge the generational gaps. In a recent viewing (apologies to my wife, who has seen it at least fifty times since I’ve known her) I counted 47 direct references to authors, book, films, gangsters, rock stars, politicians, magazines, movie stars, etc. These include music (“Seems Like Old Times” – overly sentimental mid-century romanticism – to a flaccid reference to Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”), commentary (a disjointed argument about the Kennedy assassination to Marshall McLuhan magically appearing as himself to settle an argument about his work), and film (Alvy repeatedly drags Annie to see a film about Nazi atrocities, The Sorrow and the Pity).

Annie and Alvy are a microcosm of their times; turning the focus of their fears and aspirations inward and convincing themselves that there must be more to life, or more to the point, the terrifying notion that life may not have any point at all. Alvy skillfully explains to Annie early in their relationship that he divides people into two categories; “miserable” and “horrible” and that they should be happy to be merely miserable. An early flashback shows the childhood Alvy Singer bemoaning the expanding universe to avoid doing homework. Later Annie, who at one point is reading a book about sexual mystique while refusing sex with Alvy, is taken in by the Hollywood quick-fix culture of celebrity, macrobiotic foods and peace mantras.

Annie Hall is a romantic comedy like Moby Dick is a book about a whale.

This search for personal enlightenment ends in dissatisfaction with the inability for the characters to discover the simple joys in merely being, never mind being together; a theme Allen would mine for years in subsequent films. He would originally title the screenplay Anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure.

Co-written with comic writer, Marshall Brickman, Allen unfurls a 1970s over-analytical, paranoid, self-absorbed version of many of the classic Hollywood “goofy boy meets quirky girl” memes, providing Allen’s tried-and-true nebbish character a foil in Keaton’s wonderfully off-beat use of language (her sentence-trailing “La-di-da” as a nervous tick) and fashion (her penchant for off-the-rack, ill-fitting gender-neutral togs), and charming naiveté; all of which Keaton already had in her arsenal that inspired the screenplay.

For all its memorable lines and ingenious obliteration of the “fourth wall” (Allen opens the film speaking directly to the audience and throughout breaks the scenes to comment on the action) Annie Hall continuously resonates with me and I believe future generations for its honest portrayal of cultural isolation; its protagonist, Alvy Singer is a man out of time (not quite making the “greatest generation” – too young to fight in WWII – and too young to be a Boomer), who walks the fine line between being obsessed with death and an almost anthropological infatuation with life. Allen intuitively reflects the plastic glamour, the false political narratives and seemingly failed 1960s revolutions of free sex, drug experimentation, and anti-hero worship of the late 1970s.

Annie Hall is a film about its time and timeless; a weird kind of magic trick that all great art manages to pull off. It struck a chord among East Coast intellectuals, Middle America and Hollywood glitterati like few films before or since, especially ones made by Woody Allen. It was news, did fine box office in the time of the blockbuster from Jaws to Star Wars and won numerous awards including four Oscars for Best Screenplay, Director, Actress, and Best Picture. Today it tops several romantic comedy lists and continues to inspire the genre while remaining incredibly relatable, even if it is becoming harder for us to admit it.

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CITIZENS OF NEW JERSEY UNITE AGAINST GOVERNMENT SUPPRESSION

Aquarian Weekly
7/12/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

CITIZENS OF NEW JERSEY UNITE AGAINST GOVERNMENT SUPPRESSION

Before heading to Europe to kiss Vladimir Putin’s ass and after spending a week getting into Twitter wars with cable TV hosts, President Trump unleashed his completely unnecessary paranoid-central, daddy-didn’t-love-me-so-even-though-I-won-the-election-I-need-to-prove-there-is-voter-fraud-cause-I-got-pummeled-in-the-popular-vote commission cleverly titled Election Integrity. It should not escape any of us that this nonsense is the brainchild of a man who continues to deny the outrageous breech of actual “election integrity” by a foreign power in which a growing number of his campaign members were directly involved and which is under multiple investigations by both houses of congress, the FBI and an independent counsel.

And while this continues the comedy stylings of this dumbstruck administration that thus far has looked not quite as organized as the 1920s film footage of twenty men dangling wildly off the back of a speeding fire truck, it now stumbles into my favorite axiom: I have little to no problem if you walk around swinging your arms like a moron, but once either of them hits me all bets are off.

To wit: Last week this “commission” requested from all 50 states individual voter information to be dissected in some federal government data base, including names, addresses, party affiliation, electoral participation history, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. While being about the 400th crazy thing this president has suggested or tried to implement that is wildly unconstitutional, this was at best a long shot anyway. In fact CNN ran a poll the day the request letter was issued to the states and found that a vast majority of them outright rejected the whole shebang as goofy. As of this writing 44 states are officially telling Trump and the federal government to hump it. Even one of the “commission” heads, voter-fraud zealot and defendant in multiple voter suppression cases over the past few years, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has refused the request.

In case you missed it, the loon who co-runs this debacle thinks it’s stupid.

But you know who hasn’t refused, rebuked or pissed on this draconian falderal? The governor of this state; New Jersey, which at the time of this writing has still not given an answer one way or another in complying with the request of sending our vitals to this Tax Payer Con Job 101.

To refresh everyone’s memory Governor Chris Christie is the original Trump lackey. When this whole Trump charade was nothing but a fun-loving hootenanny before the nation he conned decided to actually elect this game show host president of the most powerful and richest country on the planet, it was Christie who was on board. But so abhorrent was this turd he couldn’t even get a gig with these rubes. As stated in this space last winter when our governor was removed from running Trump’s transition team, the same one under all this investigation now, it was clearly illustrated that if you could drag your knuckles four feet and somehow keep saliva in your mouth for 30 consecutive seconds you could work in this administration and yet Christie could not make the cut.

So now a lame-duck executive with a, what is it down to now, 14 percent approval rating, who is brazen enough to shut down the state government, thus forcing the closure of beaches along the Jersey Shore over the holiday weekend, and then be photographed partying on his own private beach with friends and family, is most likely ready to hand over our vitals to his frothing-at-the-mouth buddy.

..it was clearly illustrated that if you could drag your knuckles four feet and somehow keep saliva in your mouth for 30 consecutive seconds you could work in this administration and yet Christie could not make the cut.

Of course none of this matters. I could not care any less about Trump and Christie and whatever other fat, old dickwad wants to join their circle jerk. And quite frankly Google has all my info anyway, and let’s face it, I’ve put most if not all of my radical social and political beliefs in this space for nearly two decades, all of which has either been published in book form or made its way all over the globe via the inter-webs. I am literally an open book so let the government have at it. However, you might not want this, unless you’re part of the Trump Cult wherein you thought the last president was coming for your spleen but this guy can have your lower intestines with a smile.

But I say just for kicks, no matter if you dig big-government shit because Reagan was running things or Obama, why not stop reading this diatribe immediately if you live in this god-forsaken state and contact Trenton or at least your congressman and demand we tell El Douche to suck his thumb somewhere else. He’s not getting any much-needed therapy by dragging us into his low-esteem dementia. How many German hookers do we need to find to urinate on this twerp to fix him?

But enough about Trump. He had his victory in November and I had mine in the personage of one Josh Gottheimer, who became the first Democrat to win in the 5th District since the Great Depression. This happened in no small part to my calling out bigot-deluxe, former congressman Scott Garrett, who by refusing to fist-fight me and then infamously pulled in the cops sealed his fate. When I am done with this I’ll be calling my buddies at his office to call in my marker and make sure Gottheimer makes it known that long before the TEA Party pikers co-opted it we flew a Don’t Tread on Me flag high and mighty at the Clemens Estate and although we have endured Patriot Acts and Affordable Care Acts we have our limits. Not sure what they are yet, but we have them and this could be pushing it.

Well, it’s pushing someone’s limits.

Either way, go work out your freedom muscles and go annoy someone.

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STUMBLING INTO FATHERHOOD

Aquarian Weekly
6/21/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

STUMBLING INTO FATHERHOOD
Dedicated to the Dad in All of Us

I have never written much about my daughter in this space. That is not what it’s for. I do recognize that in its origins nearly twenty years ago this coming August I would pepper these paragraphs with personal anecdotes and even deign to dedicate entire columns to the incredible happenstance of my marriage and the woman that I somehow convinced to love me. But I always saw those more as trite sociological deconstructions than any true profession of emotion that were nonetheless done with great care. Some people were even kind enough to call them romantic, which I think says more about the passing generation’s appalling lack of poetry than anything else.

But I had something happen to me this past week that has never happened before. And for someone only a few months from 55 years of age that is oddly monumental. On Saturday, June 10, Scarlet Moore Campion, nine years-old with a considerable shy streak that would never dare imagine doing anything in front of strangers much less family and friends, performed in her first piano recital. She’s only been playing for what…a year and half at most? And a good portion of it has been accompanied by the type of hemming and hawing and general whining that would make lesser humans than my wife or her lovely teacher, Chloe Nevill crack.

Good thing they didn’t, because despite all of it my girl kicked ass. Of course she did. I doubt I would dedicate a column to abject failure in the face of everything I have written above, but it wasn’t just the ass-kicking that plied me with the kind of bizarre awe that I have only read about. And it was also far beyond parental pride or a relief that this little person that I held in my arms within minutes of her passing through the birth canal was now sitting at a piano on a stage and performing a piece she learned on an instrument I could barely conceive. It was….what? Love, yes, but I would say it was more like a suspended moment of existential truth. It was as if I could grasp the surrealistic concept of joy, or at least understood it was possible. Like maybe if a butterfly had landed on my shoulder and handed me its novel.

Sure I was nervous for her, especially when she clutched my arm upon her microphone introduction and whispered, “Dad, I’m scared.” But I figured that much. Yet, as she walked up there and set her music down (eventually, since she forgot it at first) in front of the keyboard and began to play there was a visceral transformation in my DNA. It was shuffled around and put back together in an Escher rendering figured by William Blake’s dream. I tried to explaining all this to some artist friends the other night and I think we came to the conclusion that I had an out-of-body experience. I am fairly certain that my daughter’s actions distilled my corporal foundation from water and tissue into the ether and back again, leading to the stunning realization that I existed; but not as the guy writing this, but an extension of my daughter’s…let’s say, spirit, whatever the hell that is – I don’t know what it is, but it’s there and I was part of it and it was damned cool.

Better than being published. Better than being alive.

An old friend of mine, Rich Mattalian, who ended up being the participant in my first published book titled Deep Tank Jersey once told me, and I paraphrase here, that you don’t really know love until you have a kid. It sounds maudlin and gratuitous, especially when he told me twenty years ago when the very thought of offspring was silly. I never wanted a kid. Not this myopic, selfish, easily distracted boy/man with rage issues and a penchant for substance abuse. Just putting children around me is dangerous. Making one? Being responsible for its life, safety, personality and overall psychological make-up is to put it mildly pure madness. Then my wife and I had to go and have, and really did want, a girl.

I have come to understand from song and story that apparently fathers are pretty important to young women. So to say terror has been my main go-to emotion during the course of this purported meander through fatherhood for the past nine cycles around the sun is somewhat like saying the Grand Canyon is a hole in the ground.

You see, until Saturday fatherhood was a mystery to me. I’ve had many ups and downs with it, as anyone who has kids must. This is not unusual, I guess. I mean, it took me all of five seconds to understand the scope and depth of the idea of it. I loved my daughter immediately without combing its intellectual aspects from day-one. Strangely enough it is how I found my wife; all instinct and no pragmatism; the entire thing was like a car accident. You look up and you’re in it. No plan there. I have even kind of, sort of understood Scarlet and she may have understood me at some point. This never seemed to coalesce the way it did for me Saturday. There were stolen frozen moments in time, but not like this.

We could dance together and crack each other up, and damn it if we don’t both love NYC. To be fair, I kind of brainwashed her. Whenever we were left alone together from her initial months on the planet I would whisk her down to Washington Square Park or the Bleecker Street Playground and then I’d wheel her around and hell if she didn’t dig the sirens and yelling and cabs and weridos and sensations of the place as much as her old man. But beyond those things, fatherhood was something akin to holding onto a wild animal that at once could take your jugular and explode into a million crystals.

But then…Saturday.

I have no words for this. Epiphany is bullshit. Okay, it’s like that one crescendo in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (also known as the “Ode To Joy”, because, well, you know he had to know) when it just goes wooooooooooo and takes off and it goes from outside of you where you were listening and burrows deep inside the you that was there before you heard it but is now somewhere in the composer’s head, as if you were fool enough to believe you were the one composing it. And I know Ol’ Ludwig tickled the ivies and it’s a tortured metaphor, but it’s honestly what I thought of…like being inside of something all of a sudden. There must be some kind religious or psychological term for this phenomenon. But whatever it is, I had it.

I still don’t know diddly about any of it. But I know this, seeing Scarlet up there playing the piano under a spotlight amidst the breathing and shuffling of people I have never seen and will likely never see again and having the whole thing suspend in the air of both time and space and then stumble back down into what I now choose to call fatherhood is one of the greatest things I have experienced. Better than being published. Better than being alive. Better than knowing that I won’t be alive at some point so it’s good to be alive.

It was something, man.

Really good. More than good.

And then we got some candy.

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COMEY SPEAKS

Aquarian Weekly
6/14/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

COMEY SPEAKS
Fired and Vilified Former FBI Director Takes His Swings

One hundred and thirty-eight days into his presidency, Donald J. Trump’s lawyer is holding a press conference defending his client against charges of obstruction of justice and borderline treason.

Let that be the lead. Everything else pales.

That is not entirely true.

Here is something worth considering: The entirety of the United States intelligence community, including the NSA, CIA and FBI has all confirmed that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election. The president of the nation under siege denies it ever happened and calls any investigation into these crimes a “witch hunt”. When no one listens to his carefully crafted delusions, he fires the director of the FBI. In exile Trump publicly humiliates Comey; calling him “a blowhard” and “a showboat” and finally “a nut job” (that part was in a secret meeting with Russians, if you can believe it). This all stemmed from the firing of his national security advisor, who is currently under criminal investigation and whom, for reasons only known to the cosmos, he keeps defending, including asking on numerous occasions several officials connected with the investigation to back off. This list boasts the aforementioned sacked FBI Director James Comey.

That guy got his day in court yesterday when he testified to all this and more in front of the U.S. Senate.

Like most of my columns lately on Donald J Trump, this is merely a review of the facts, which has been taken by the Trump Cultists as some kind of commentary. What is above actually happened, and more hilariously or frighteningly – the word you choose depends on how much you “love” the country and whatever bullshit it might represent to you – it is still happening and will continue to happen while our game show host is running things.

To wit: After Comey’s testimony the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, no fan of this president but gleefully trading in his so-called principles to get his agenda signed by him, defended Trump’s actions as a sign he doesn’t know what he’s doing. “He’s new to this,” Ryan said, and not with a straight face – I shit you not, the man was smiling, watch it – “He doesn’t get the traditional protocol.”

This is where we’re at now, making the point for those who argued that despite his overt misogyny and overall juvenile behavior and a virile disdain for the truth and much of the English language that would have felled a normal candidate, El Douche was woefully ill-prepared for the position in which he holds. Obviously the analogies are endless, but as I like to use houses as my go-to, it is tantamount to hiring a guy who won a fishing contest to build your house, and a few months in there are obvious signs he is fucking up and then someone named Paul comes to your dilapidated dwelling and says, “Well, come on, give him a break, he’s a fisherman.”

Be that as it may, what Comey told congress and the world yesterday was both damning and not-so. Facts, as we have seen these last months, are squirrely little annoyances open to interpretation. Some will see high crimes and as Trump’s sleazy divorce lawyer claimed, “vindication”. For instance, there were also arguments posed that Comey’s testimony both buried and vindicated Hillary Clinton. One way of the other one must ask, as I have for months, why does the president act as if he is guilty or at least hiding something? I don’t know, beyond my theory that he is either stupid or guilty or both. You come up with a reason. I’m out of guesses.

A real estate mogul in Manhattan would have no trouble “leaning” on someone who wasn’t “playing ball”. Comey spoke as if he were shocked at this.

Still, it was riveting television for those who live in this mire as I do. But what did we actually learn that wasn’t already leaked beforehand?

I was more than mildly curious to hear how Comey, supposedly a button-down hardcore lawman, would explain why when, according to him and his copious notes on his infamous “dinner with the president”, he was being bullied and, let’s face it, bribed and threatened by the president, he did not report it immediately to the justice department or quit. Comey had two excuses; not queering his ongoing investigation by alerting the president to his doubts he was grounded in reality and secondly to avoid alarming those within the FBI that their boss was unhinged.

I am not sure I buy any of it. I think Comey was under his own delusion that he could keep his high-profile gig. Comey is nothing if he is not a media whore. His performance when clearing Hillary Clinton of any criminal activity last July was a joke and almost everything he has done since then has been goofy. Not that this is any reason not to believe him, but okay, let’s just leave that to the ether and move onto what Comey thinks of the president: He is an asshole. That is basically what you get out of a couple of hours of this. Comey thought Trump was acting at the very least inappropriately with a guarantee to lie about anything done or said in private conversations.

But to be fair we already knew Trump was an asshole and we already knew he had no grasp of decorum. Even those who voted for him thinks these things. They wanted him to be their asshole and do something radically different than what would be normally accepted as decorum, which is why I vowed from day-one to not hold this guy to the same scrutiny as those who were actual politicians.

And this is the key for a lifer like Comey. He has no idea what the world of New York City real estate is like. It is something between organized crime and blood sport. People like Donald Trump have little or no use for things like decorum or law for that matter. Law is a roadblock to progress. For examples of Trump’s obliteration of every possible law just check his record over the past forty years, but for a general understanding of what we’re dealing with in the White House now look up what has happened to my beloved Chelsea Hotel since it was absorbed by a real estate mogul in 2007. When you stop throwing up, continue reading…

And decorum, well that nonsense is for the meek and the meek suck pipes and go home. A real estate mogul in Manhattan would have no trouble “leaning” on someone who wasn’t “playing ball”. Comey spoke as if he were shocked at this. What does he know about this crazy wild, wild west shit? He thinks he is dealing with a president. He is dealing with El Douche. You don’t get on TV with petty things like pride or integrity. You get there like a bulldozer rolling over a slave burial ground south of Canal Street. Pave, crush, evict and shame. This is the armory of the real estate mogul.

And in a strange way this is why Comey’s testimony, while damning to everything thing including the main stream media, the justice department, the president and even his own department is merely a sidelight to this key sentence: One hundred and thirty-eight days into his presidency, Donald J. Trump’s lawyer is holding a press conference defending his client against charges of obstruction of justice and borderline treason.

This is what we have now.

Enjoy.

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APOLOGY SYNDROME 2017

Aquarian Weekly
6/7/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

APOLOGY SYNDROME 2017

Where’s the punch line?
– Alice Cooper to jc, 9/13

There is a mural in an alleyway in the Temple Bar district of Dublin, Ireland of Sinead O’Connor. It reads; “Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong, so sorry.” In October of 1992 the Irish singer/songwriter infamously ripped a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, proclaiming, “Fight the real enemy.” It set off a firestorm here, but in the entrenched Catholic traditions of her home country it was tantamount to treason. I would gather that in the annals of artistic protest, of which there have blessedly been thousands throughout Western civilization, this one was a doozey. Needless to say O’Connor was vilified and black-balled and even booed off the stage at, of all things, a Bob Dylan Tribute concert in friggin’ New York City a few weeks later. She never recovered professionally.

Turns out, as the mural succinctly and eloquently states, that although the performance protest was oblique and combative, her style anyway, it was a trite salvo in the war that was waged in the ensuing century against the Catholic Church for covering up the sexual abuse of children, to which we would later learn O’Connor had been a victim of; having endured such horrors, as hundreds of her fellow Irish youth, at the hands of predatory nuns, all of whom were whisked away without retribution for decades.

But long before being redeemed, O’Connor, one of my heroes, and I was honored to be able to tell her so personally when I interviewed her for a feature in this paper in 2014 just a few weeks after I took a photo of my wife standing in front of the aforementioned mural, she never apologized. Even when the torrent of hatred and professional and personal strife poured down on her. And you know why? Because right or wrong, this was her statement. And she stood by it, as all statements made by citizens or artists or politicians must; whether you are railroaded for it or not.

You would think.

I was reminded of Sinead and that mural and the night she stared into a camera on live television and tore up a photo of a revered holy representative of her church, and for the record O’Connor has never stopped being a Catholic and in fact was ordained in some radical sect of the church as a priest in the late 1990s, when comedian Kathy Griffin fecklessly apologized for what I assume was some kind of provocative performance/protest art. You’ve seen it by now. She is standing holding the bloody severed head of our president. Oh, not really the severed head, that would be bad, just an effigy.

Why is she apologizing for this?

Whether you agree with this or not or think it “goes too far”, which should not be in your lexicon if you believe in the sacred tenants of the U.S. Constitution, I think we can all agree that apologizing for something you believe makes no sense, especially when it is not off the cuff. This was a conscious free expression.

Now, we all know Griffin apologized because everyone went nuts. So she is not apologizing for her opinion or the way she chose in a very strategic way to express it. She is, of course, doing it because she got canned from CNN; that she only planned, produced, and sent the thing out all over social media to get attention to assist her flagging career but got the Sinead O’Connor shit storm instead. She was apparently wildly unfamiliar with what happens when you appear with the severed, bloody head of the president of the United States.

So it really isn’t an apology. It’s like the Anthony Weiner type apology for being caught or because things didn’t work out in her favor, not because she is sincerely sorry. Remember when Prince Harry went to a Halloween bash dressed as a Nazi? Remember everything Kanye West has done and said for the past decade-plus? Remember Congressman George Allen? Yeah, I don’t remember him, either. Still, all apologized for basically nothing but people being mad at them. Kathy Griffin is full of shit. She is sorry because she’s fucked. That is not really an apology and shouldn’t be.

Also, why would she feel the need to apologize for offending anyone? Isn’t that the point of the provocateur, whether Lenny Bruce or Thomas Paine or Salvador Dali. Not that I am comparing a woman who spends every New Year’s Eve figuring out new ways to joke about blowing Anderson Cooper in Times Square to these mighty figures, but when you swim in that pool you can’t be surprised by getting wet.

Also, let’s face it, Griffin is apologizing because she put her singular name and face to this gesture. What is the difference between this and burning the previous two presidents in effigy, which they were, over and over, in dozens and dozens of protests? Or the despicable shit people throw up on the Internet? One comes with a signature, the other is anonymous or done in a mob but they are the same thing. Different venue. But the same thing.

Art.. is an extension of opinion, and like comedy, need not ever apologize.

Now, there has been much talk about political correctness and the backlash against free speech, mainly by the Right lately. This used to be the domain of the Left. But freedom is a mighty pendulum that will swing and swing hard, and one man’s insult is another man’s right, and I support that in every possible way. But, like all things, it comes with degrees or definitions. I am not broaching parameters here, only what kind of free speech tumbles into shouting fire in a crowded theater. Or more to the point, which can be accepted as opinion versus doing what ironically has been an art form for the president in question, blatant falsehood.

For instance, when former Breitbart, (The Onion of the Right), provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos caused riots at the formally Free Speech Center UC Berkley campus last February, I had several debates with alumni and we came to this conclusion; the protest was only justified because Yiannopoulos is the Alice Cooper of commentary and as an entertainer in this field he is virtually peerless, but should a place of higher learning be accommodating a guy espousing what amounts to flat-earth theories. This is equivalent to a medical school allowing a man touting leeches as the elixir for menstrual pain. However, a few months later when conservative Howard Stern type commentator, Ann Coulter backed out of her appearance there due to protests, it was a tad different. Coulter is kooky, but she is not telling you the earth is flat. She is saying she thinks Mexicans are evil and Jews need to be “perfected” and that Joseph McCarthy was a hero. These are opinions. I think Ann Coulter is a stupid idiot (opinion), not a fat guy from Cleveland (falsehood).

Art, and whether you like it or not Griffin standing with the severed, bloody head of the president is art, is an extension of opinion, and like comedy, need not ever apologize. And even if you apologize, doesn’t un-paint the Mona Lisa or un-record “Anarchy in the UK”.

People who make a stand, no matter how trite or vulgar or combative, need to stop acting as if it is not when it goes bad. Going bad is the point. Did Kathy Griffin think no one would be offended by holding the severed, bleeding head of Donald Trump?

Oh, and on the flip side of all this political correctness off-shoot, Donald Trump and those who support him are not allowed to be offended by anything. Trump is the vilest human going. This is his thing. He has insulted anything and everything repeatedly to spectacular results. You can make the argument he has “normalized” this behavior, and I could not be more pleased at this. So he or anyone who has supported this act doesn’t get to whine about his 11 year-old little shit “having a hard time with this.” You think Rosie O’Donnell’s kid was digging Trump calling her a fat, disgusting pig over and over again, or the children of the disabled reporter were thrilled that the then Republican candidate for president was acting spastic in front of a capacity crowd to get laughs or the dozens of other disgusting things the president has said and done over the past two years? How do you think Barack Obama’s girls feel when this blowhard accuses their father of high crimes with no evidence after two years of saying he had evidence that didn’t exist that he wasn’t even an American?

Fuck him. Grow a pair and get a helmet.

As for Kathy Griffin, fuck off.

You are no Sinead O’Connor.

Author’s Note: I wish to apologize for anyone I offended in the previous column.

Second Author’s Note: Fuck you.

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LOVE…TO…TURN…YOU…ON

Aquarian Weekly
5/31/17

COVER PIECE

James Campion

LOVE…TO…TURN…YOU…ON
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at 50

It was fifty years ago today…

June 1, 1967, to be exact; the day the cultural axis of the Western hemisphere is altered by a singular artistic event. The Beatles, the most celebrated, imitated and dissected entertainers on the planet, release their eighth studio album.

It is true that anything released by The Beatles is a momentous event, especially an album, which used to mean a bunch of desperate songs thrown together for forty or so minutes around one hit single to wrest money from impressionable teenagers. The Beatles turned it into a cohesive collection of musical and lyrical insights into the artists and their times. However, this one is made far more significant due to four (as in Fab Four) key elements that will indelibly mark its dramatic impact and widespread influence; timing, arrogance, creativity and grandeur. It is those ingredients that make Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band unquestionably the most important aural, visual, and especially cultural rock…ahem…artistic statement of its time.

In the decades that follow June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper’s will be heralded, with very little protest, as the greatest artistic endeavor of the twentieth century. Enough of this hyperbole eventually results in a serious backlash of “highly overrated” and for a time it is hardly considered even The Beatles best work, just the fawning reverberation of sophistic Baby Boomer miasma. Yeah, enough of goddamn Sgt. Peppers, what about..?

Yet what is missed by those who insist on Top Lists and the unofficial results of critical bar stool geek spats is the historical space the album carved for itself above and beyond the music found therein or the musicians who wrote, performed, produced and released it. Simply put, after Sgt. Pepper’s what once existed in the art form and its genre could no longer do so without acknowledging it. So incredibly dense and concussive was its force and meaning it would spawn an entire age of replication, homage and satire. It would place interior dialog, social commentary, psychedelic hippie fashion, Indian spirituality, and a mash-up of generational call-to-arms meets mind-altering self-expression into to-do list for poets, musicians, performance artists, painters, graphic designers…(gasp for breath) and such and so forth for evermore.

And it is especially important to remember that unlike other seismic shifts in, say, literature, Moby Dick, or film, Citizen Kane; both considered horrendous failures upon their release but are now accepted as signature expressions of their art forms, there would be no gradual recognition of this fact. It happens on June 1, 1967. The day Sgt. Pepper’s made the world anew.

Timing

Like its birth in the opening years of the 1960s, a magical, turbulent, youth-infused era of revolution, experimentation and liberation, and its arrival in America, smack in the middle of the century it dominated, The Beatles instinct to capture the moment is unparalleled.

Consider that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band arrives ten months after the band plays live for the last time, closing the book on an unparalleled level of global mania to begin an unprecedented era for a performing act to, well, not have an act, but instead retreat into art for art’s sake; no more showbiz in the showbiz – no more mop tops, fancy boots, matching suits, screaming girls, Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, Hollywood Bowl, Queen’s Command Performance. For the first time in popular music it will be the music and its packaged presentation that becomes the impetus, execution and result.

In those months away, the band would exhale from its achievements over the past three years of miraculous popularity and creative evolution, the evidence of which is found on their previous two albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver that explored maturation and alienation, spirituality and drug-induced mind expansion sending musicologists to the thesaurus and contemporaries like The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys to the woodshed. Every rock artist (the roll part would be discarded as some middling kiddie form in the wake of the new guideposts The Beatles had built) would be shaken to the core. All of them almost immediately began experimenting frantically to keep up. Beach Boys Svengali, Brian Wilson would infamously descend into near madness creating a masterwork he called Pet Sounds, which then made dizzy the two main composers in The Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

By late 1966, McCartney is immersed in London’s growing avant-garde underground, while Lennon is entranced by a portentous Japanese performance artist, and lead guitarist, George Harrison is lost in the hills of East Bengal and its hypnotizing Hindustani rhythms. While for his part drummer, Ringo Starr is just happy being Ringo Starr, they had all moved swiftly from marijuana to LSD to escape the crushing effects of celebrity and become creative individualists; helping them come to grips with the emerging world bazaar of like-minded egalitarian hedonists they’ve inspired.

The time has come to distill this into an imprint, and with the coming year of war, assassination, and indistinct revolution, it would be a welcomed moment frozen in time.

Arrogance

The entire Beatles universe squeezes into Studio B of EMI’s Abbey Road complex in the form of six supremely talented and motivated men at the peak of their abilities.

John and Paul, whose prolific compositions continue to soar beyond scope, George, whose own songs have found transport in their comet’s tail, the dutiful and wholly underrated drummer, Ringo, the band’s producer and musical Sherpa, George Martin, and an instinctual sonic worker-bee engineer, Geoff Emerick fill the magnetic strips of the Studer J37 four-track reel-to-reel with sounds never before heard. And I write that with no trepidation, as I defy anyone to find anything that sonically resembles the spastic calliope tape-looped instrumental break in Lennon’s “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” or the sitar/orchestral call-and-response in Harrison’s “Within You Without You”. The eradication of monetary, time-frame or creative parameters means that no one can stop The Beatles but themselves.

Freed from the hindrance of having four instruments present their vision on stage, they deem the whole Beatles thing too narrow a framework from which to work. They will be something else, literally and figuratively. The alter-ego of Sgt. Pepper and his band (complete with uniforms and fictional characters like Billy Shears and Lucy in the sky with her diamonds, the voices of troubled parents and the drone of chanting mystics), which comes with an introductory theme song in case you were expecting something else, allows them to be anything they wish.

The transformation begins with musical memoirs. “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane”, which share their humble beginnings draped in psychedelic notions. Every heroic epic needs an origin story, and this ground-breaking double-A side single would act as precursor for the Pepper experience with its eerie Meletron openings and Bach trumpets, boldly declaring “behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout” that “nothing is real”.

Its spectacular success, supported visually by promotional films (perhaps the first ever music videos) reveal the band’s new look – facial hair and vivid clothing with long coats and flowing scarves – obliterating the monochromatic ensemble that conquered the planet and replacing it with trippy avatars that provide the group free reign to turn the studio into both palette and stage.

It took The Beatles ten hours to record their first album. It would take 700 hours over six months to bring Sgt. Pepper and his band of lonely hearts to life.

One wonders if something from 1917 had remotely mattered as much on June 1, 1967.

Creativity

It opens with the tuning of a quaint orchestra beneath the murmur of an expectant crowd and ends in an apocalyptic hum. Along the way there are stops on a river with tangerine trees under marmalade skies, a traveling carnival, and a glimpse through the walls of illusion; penetratingly illuminating slices of life as seen by extraordinary commentators – a little girl who runs away from home, a young man ruminating on love in advancing age, an insecure soul whose machismo has kept him from true happiness, and still another who witnesses a fatal car accident that somehow makes him laugh.

On Sgt. Pepper’s The Beatles will introduce thematic cohesion (concept album, anyone?) to pop music. A song cycle that connects exploration to an understanding of humanity through the use of global instrumentation and sophisticated melodies that soar above the drudgery of their subjects’ loneliness, confusion and insecurity with an eye (and ear) aimed at a higher meaning; achieved, by the way, in merely 39 minutes and 52 seconds of listening. Not bad for an epic.

According to both Emerick and Martin in their memoirs – Martin would pen a detailed account forty years later and tour his lecture, “The Making of Sgt. Pepper’s” in 1999 that I would attend at New York’s prestigious Town Hall with my long-time friend and colleague, Chris Barrera in which he plays naked tracks and duly explains the team’s numerous intricate recording techniques – the mission for Sgt. Pepper’s is to push every possible boundary; technically, lyrically, and, of course, musically. It is, in the end, the sound of the album that shakes the foundation of the rock esthetic. It is also crucial that the songs will have little to no breaks between them; they flow, as if a singular statement. Thus, The Beatles achieve a soundtrack worthy of the demigods they’ve become – bigger than Jesus and all that – signaling not only The Summer of Love but a road map for Prog Rock that will dominate the next decade.

It seems redundant to list the songs again, but suffice it to say, whenever you listen to Sgt. Pepper’s, no matter how many times you may have already done so there is still something at which to marvel. For me it is always “A Day in the Life”; a remarkable feat of songwriting (Lennon being Lennon in his detached surrealism while McCartney is soooo melodiously McCartney), performance, (this may be the finest effort of expressive rock drumming ever), production (the reverb on Lennon’s voice alone set against the sheen of the acoustic guitar and the percussive piano flourishes is enough to induce chills, but the dissonant orchestral crescendos…come on!), and mood (a central dynamic for the entire album). Sgt. Pepper’s forever sets the standard for a great album; a memorable opening to an engaging final song of Side One (remember sides, kids?), a stark open to Side Two, and a startling coda.

The first time I would hear Sgt. Pepper’s in its entirety, as intended, was at around ten pm on June 1, 1977 on its tenth anniversary. New York’s rock station, WPLJ or maybe it was WNEW, played it at the top of the hour all evening. I caught the last playing. For the first time (even with all the music I had heard up to that point, most of it sparked by The Beatles) lying in bed with tightly snug headphones I could see this music, not just listen to it. It was like a great film that I could relive in my head. In other words, I think I got it.

Grandeur

Everyone gets it. Well, nearly everyone. There is some bitching from the odd reviewer who thinks this is all a bit much. This again recounts Sgt. Pepper’s greatest achievement; it hits the ground running.

Much of it thanks to its design; the first album to print the lyrics, the band dressed in their Pepper military garb, and the colors, ooh-boy, the colors. The cover, art-directed by Swingin’ London trend-setter, Robert Fraser and photographed by the omnipresent Michael Cooper, is not merely iconic; it literally celebrates the concept of iconicity. The Beatles surrounded by their heroes, the faces of the century, artists and athletes and dignitaries and characters, even their own wax figures. It is hard to imagine the impact of this until you spend a little time perusing album covers of the day; it is like Dorothy wandering out of her Kansas black and white into Oz. It is three-dimensional sensory overload.

The release comes with communal overtones. For the first time labels in both the UK and America launch a Beatles album at the same time (June 2 in the States), with no difference in the track listing, alternate titles or covers. Suddenly it is Sgt. Pepper’s. Period. Right now. The sights and sounds of something new and exciting. Fans and other artists play it simultaneously through open windows, blasting it over rooftops and into the streets while pouring over the lyrics and singing along to the infectious tunes; “I get high with a little help from my friends!” – “It’s getting better all the time (It can’t get no worse!)!” – “Lucy in the sky with diamonds!”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band debuts in the UK at number one – where it solidly remains for 22 consecutive weeks – selling 250,000 copies during the first seven days. Soon it would eclipse everything that came before it in terms of sales and impact (Beatles or otherwise). It will sell nearly three million by year’s end in the U.S. and eventually top 11 million. On June 6, Jimi Hendrix, who has exploded onto the British music scene, opens a concert with the title track as The Beatles and seemingly the whole of the hip, young, tuned-in glitterati look on. It is a triumph, an alchemic achievement in art, fashion, music, influence, statement, and homage. And it will not have to wait to be understood as such. It is immediate, like a storm. More like an eclipse.

Legacy

Sgt. Pepper’s becomes something like the ’27 Yankees; so uniquely magnificent it is used as a demarcation of sorts, as in, “It’s not like it’s Sgt. Pepper’s or anything” or the obligatory “this is Michael Jackson’s Sgt. Pepper’s”. It would make the record album so important it would render the single release to merely a prelude. It would cement rock music as an indelible link to the other musical movements of centuries past. It would refine the entire culture into a single resonant day. And it would begin to erode the band that made it happen.

On May 19, Beatles manager, Brian Epstein hosts a release party packed with the beautiful people, hangers-on and journalists, as the album blasts forth stunning everyone. John, Paul, George and Ringo arrive decked out in their 1967 best; psychedelic ties and fur coats and ruffled shirts amidst an absurd shower of balloons and confetti as fancy drugs and drink flow. Paul meets American photographer, Linda Eastman, whom he would marry in due time and announce in the British press that he is dissolving the group in a torrent of lawsuits. Before this, John would disappear into Yoko Ono and reduce The Beatles to some kind of existential prison. George trades the trappings of fame for Eastern philosophy. Ringo keeps being Ringo.

Before the end of the year they would lose their beloved manager, Brian Epstein (apparent drug overdose), produce their first flop, the opaque Magical Mystery Tour film, follow a lascivious mystic, put out a series of solo efforts crammed into a double album that inspires ritualistic murders, and before imploding, play an afternoon concert on a roof of their offices that is shut down by police. They would still make some pretty damn great music, but it appears that Sgt. Pepper’s would not only be The Beatles’ apex, it is their swansong – at least in terms of solidarity between its members, its support group and its fans, all of which on June 1, 1967 figured it would go on like this infinitely.

After all “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is more than a seminal Beatles album or the creative height for the rock and roll elite; it is a pristinely captured moment of hope. This, above all, is why it matters 50 years hence. One wonders if something from 1917 had remotely mattered as much on June 1, 1967.

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