THE DAY MY FATHER DIED

Aquarian Weekly
11/6/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE DAY MY FATHER DIED

I will always remember. It was sunny. A Saturday. Crisp autumn temperatures. Three days after his eighty-first birthday. My brother called from North Carolina. The things we discussed when I was down there in and out of the ICU for a week had come to pass. It was time. We had to prepare to say goodbye. So, I excused myself from my immediate and extended family, who came to stay for the weekend, put on headphones to listen to songs from my childhood and took a walk. Had a cry. When that was done my brother called back. He kept me on the line as they took my dad off the heavy sedatives he’d been on for nearly two weeks. I took that opportunity to tell him that I would carry his name with as much dignity as can be expected from…well, you know…me, that my daughter and wife loved him as much as I did, and that I appreciated everything he did to make me the man I would become under his tutelage. They then removed all the stuff that was keeping him alive. Within the hour, as I listened to my brother describe the scene with my mom by his side, my father’s breath became shallow, his heart slowed down, and then he died. We both said we’d look to the sky and say one last so long.

My father is dead.

It is hard to explain how many times I had rolled that sentence around in my head. I had feared it for as long as I can remember. Not really sure why. Got worse when I got older and he got older and then endured a double-bleeding ulcer in the early nineties, survived prostate cancer later that decade, then had a series of small health scares that culminated during the last five years with the failing of his kidneys, followed by time on dialysis, a quadruple bypass surgery, a broken hip, femur and wrist last winter, and hip replacement surgery a month or so ago. He was languishing in a rehab center for the second time in less than a year when he contracted an infection that he fought for way longer than any doctor or nurse could fathom. He was helped by modern medicine, but man was my dad tough.

Yet, for me, there was a rare fragility to my dad. He was quiet, self-assured but never, and I mean, never a braggart. If anything, it was hard to understand his immense abilities until way after he’d accomplished the feat. He was never macho or confrontational. If anything, there was a cold, almost detached demeanor about him – all that Anglo-Saxon, Irish DNA. It always vexed me that he never talked about his childhood, his friends, crazy or brave shit he may have done in the Air Force. When he was stationed in Japan he coached a bunch of kids to a Little League baseball title; Japanese or American kids? Don’t know. And I only know this happened at all because there was a trophy sitting on a shelf. I had zero idea who the man’s parents were, when and how they died, what they did or what they meant to him. Tried to press, nothing. Tried my mom, who sent me back to my dad, and then more nothing. I thought when I had a kid of my own this would force him to say one of them was a serial killer or contracted some rare disease, so I would know what kind of lunacy may be coursing through my daughter’s veins. Nope.

So, I think, there was this sense that the mystery of my father would somehow unravel at some point, as long as we could keep him going. His life was like a precious historical artifact that I was, I guess, the result of.

I think maybe, without getting too dime-store psychological here, for most of my childhood my dad was kind of in absentia. Not the usual, “Cat’s in the Cradle” stuff, although there is always that in the old-fashioned nuclear family, of which my parents definitely were. Dad worked, and mom took care of us. Nah, if anything having a father who’d gone to college at night at Pace University in NYC while working at a Bronx department store called Newberry’s and later the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in uptown Manhattan where I would be born, so he could get a better gig to help the family was cool. If it meant having an absent father who was exhausted on the weekends, that was okay. He took care of us. I truly understood this dynamic as a kid. Subconsciously, though, I did miss him and felt time with him was fleeting, and so I longed later in life for time I would not get back.

Good-bye, Pop. I’ll miss you…again.

The time I did have with my father as a kid and even as late as a few weeks ago was monumental. He said very few things, but they all stuck out. He imparted wisdom incrementally, but I still have not forgotten any of it. For a public service I shall share some of it with you.

I was maybe four years-old. We were climbing some giant city park rock and I insisted on doing it the hard way and pressed my father to do the same. He told me to use my brain and not my emotions to complete a task, find the most efficient way, that is the challenge, not killing yourself for some hollow man victory.

A little later, still pretty young, my pal, Stephen Ryan ditched me for some other kid. My dad hung out with me all day, referring to Ryan as a “flat-leaver”, a term I assume was all the rage when he was a kid, because I had never heard it uttered since. During the rest of the day he told me that I shouldn’t make someone else’s decision ruin my good time.

All I wanted when I was a kid was to play pro football. I was and am extremely small. I played pop warner and some pee wee football and even tried out for my Freshman High School team. After being beaten rather severely in one practice wherein a helmet a size too big for my head spun around so I was looking out its ear hole, my dad sat me down and said something to me that I have paraphrased in many cocktail parties and press events over my professional life: “Son, you need size, speed and strength to play football and you have none of those. You have to know your limitations in life and where your true talents lie. These things will reveal themselves to you and the opposite of this is true as well.”

In my second year of college, I was hired for the night shift of a radio station in Washington Crossing, NJ in this little raised hut of a building that overlooked where colonist troops crossed the Delaware with good ole George in the winter of 1776. The staff had gotten word that management was on the verge of selling the station and turning it into some other format and that everyone would be summarily sacked within the week. So, I invited friends up one evening to put on a Howard Stern type fun-loving campy show instead of running a feed for the NJ Nets basketball game, hoping to get a demo tape to pitch to other employers. Halfway through this “performance” the station manager showed up in his pajamas and fired me on the air. When I got home I regaled this story to my dad, who didn’t get mad or look disappointed. He just took a moment and said, “You know, they hired you to do a job and you did something else. Try and remember no matter what job you take, whether it’s digging a ditch or painting the Sistine Chapel, do it to the best of your ability.”

I wonder what he might have told me as he stopped being a part of this surreal thing we call life at 1:24 in the post meridian on the 26th day of October 2019. It dawned on me in his final minutes, as my brother described him as looking peaceful, no longer in distress and succumbing to the beyond, that James Vincent Campion’s heart had been beating ceaselessly since 1938. I mean, I understand this intellectually, but it is hard to even fathom such an achievement. It is even harder to realize how his body, our body, has worked and does work throughout our lifetimes, when you watch all the machines, medicines, tubes and monitors it takes to do what we take for granted every minute of every day.

I could use one of dad’s wisdoms to explain that better. But I’ll finish this by writing: Life is weird. Death is way weirder. James is gone, but the dad part I still carry. You can’t take that. But for the purposes of wrapping this up…

Good-bye, Pop. I’ll miss you…again.

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GOP, THE RULE OF LAW & THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY

Aquarian Weekly
10/30/19

Reality Check

James Campion


GOP, THE RULE OF LAW & THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY
Trump’s Guilt is Absolute, So Who Will (or Won’t) Do Something About It?

Defenders of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors are running out of stuff. And, man, they’ve tried all the stuff; denied it ever happened (quid pro quo on military aid to another nation unless it dug up dirt on a political opponent), mixed semantics (making it about the literal phrase “quid pro quo” and not the action depicted in a transcript and through witness accounts), turned attentions to everything but the actual crime (the Democrats, the media, the system), flipped the blame on the participants catching and reporting the crime (original whistleblower or the parade of the non-partisan deposed) and finally making it about something to do with “closed doors justice”, which ironically is a rule Republicans implemented four years ago to try and besmirch former Sectary of State Hillary Clinton before the 2016 campaign with the endless nine-million dollar Benghazi hearings that ended up revealing nothing.

It sounds more and more, and I suspect it is understood in private, that they know Trump is guilty. Every day it’s a different defense and none of it is sticking. If anything, it is making things worse.

Simultaneously, for the first time there appears to be cracks in the Republican shield on Capitol Hill. There’s been severe blowback on the president’s irresponsibly turning Syria over to all of our enemies and dooming our only allies and probably putting Israel in its greatest bind since the Six-Day War in 1967, and his brazenly announcing that he would be hosting the 2020 G7 Summit at his personal golf resort that has been hemorrhaging money for years. Trump has acknowledged this by a recent tweet calling some of his fellow Republicans “human scum.” Nevertheless, it appears, despite almost certain impeachment in a House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats, none of this may be enough to remove him from office in a GOP-controlled Senate hearing.

The decision by the Senate, if it chooses to leave Trump in office, is clearly political now. Traditional conservatism has officially descended into Trumpism. Trumpism is the end of geo-political hawks, the demise of free traders, the eradication of religious right moralists, and the silencing of fiscally conscious anti-deficit marauders or anti-socialist bail-out complainers. Trump has eviscerated heretofore core tenets of conservative principles. The Senate may have no choice but to save this president because Republicanism is in shambles. The alternative as they see it is to hand the country over to the Democrats. The party is now run by its base. It is all that is standing between self-immolation or total political oblivion. They got their judges. They got their tax cuts. Yet the party is faced with an election year with a president with a forty-percent approval rating and days from impeachment in the House of Representatives. But without Trump’s supporters, the Grand Old Party is finished as a national power.

Should Trump be impeached and removed from office by the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence would barely hold the South and part of the mid-west in 2020. I understand this reality. And I expect Senate Republicans to vote to for immediate survival and turn the future of the presidency, which has expanded to an almost monarch status in the past one-hundred and fifty years, into what appears to be an “anything goes” proposition.

How do our children’s children view the circumstances of this abuse of executive power going unchecked by an equal branch of government?

That is the consequence of this decision. And it is on them now, not the Democrats, who appear in this case to be on the right side of history. They are playing politics too. That is true. But it was not the Democrats, nor the media, nor the system that concocted and then enacted this fool plan to strongarm the new president of a desperate nation into publicly lying to assist in re-electing a sitting president. Trump did that. He is responsible for this constitutional crisis. He unleashed this rabid opposition force. He lost the congress last year and then handed them a giant hammer with which they could use to take chunks of his presidency and pass the tattered remains over to the higher chamber for trial.

And so, the question remains: What if a president commits a crime, or in this case when combined with the Mueller Report’s ten incidences of obstruction of justice, several crimes, and is given political coverage by those in his party shirking their sworn duties? If said president is given a pass, then what does history record? Forget the politics of the moment. Forget this experiment of having a game show host run the country. How do our children’s children view the circumstances of this abuse of executive power going unchecked by an equal branch of government?

I guess what I’m saying here is this is no longer on Donald Trump. He is guilty. There is more than enough evidence that he acted at the very least inappropriately with his executive powers as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. That is a given. If he gets away with it, good for him. Presidents have pushed boundaries for decades. This is an extraordinary circumstance for sure, but it needs the checks and balances we are so proud of touting on holidays and in song and story in order to pass constitutional muster. Good for him, bad for our precious rule of law.

What indeed happens to a nation where there are those who see the crime, casually ignore it, play politics with it, and then systemically allow it? In essence, rubber stamp it. Tell the world and history that it is okay to be a criminal and be president. We then come to a line crossed with no return. This will be the precedence. And soon, probably sooner than later, the other party will be in power and maybe, it is hard to imagine, but maybe there is an even crazier megalomaniac that is handed the most powerful post in the free world. What then would stop them from playing campaign strategies with America’s security and military commitments? What would keep them from using unelected personal attorneys from running a shadow foreign policy for personal gains?

The answer is nothing. Nothing will stop future presidents if this one is allowed to get away with this unscathed. They will use foreign nations to assist in effecting our elections and point to this one as they’re excuse. Unless the Republican-controlled Senate does its sworn duty and evict this president from office for these actions we have officially completed the creation of a totalitarian position in the presidency.

What the Republican-ruled Senate does with this president in this crucial moment in American history is on them.

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PRESIDENT TERRORIST

Aquarian Weekly

10/23/19

Reality Check


James Campion

PRESIDENT TERRORIST

Trump’s Attack on American Interests in the Middle East Sets Up Next 9/11

You are creating a Frankenstein.
– Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to President George H. W. Bush, 1989

The president of the United States has now gone completely mad. Donald Trump was pretty much on the brink of insanity for some time, but this flimsy house of cards he’s shoddily erected over the initial years of his colossally inept presidency is tumbling daily as more and more people from the gutted State Department bury him in impeachment hearings. His unhinged press conferences, erratic tweets and these Nuremberg-esque rallies have become a surreal insight into the deranged paranoia that the leader of the free world has entered in. He is fucked. And he knows it. The only thing that stands between Trump and official ignominy is Rudy Giuliani, who will soon join his last “fixer lawyer” in prison.

This leads us to what transpired in Syria last week, which has caused even many Republicans to see the light.

In one seventytwo hour run of the most bizarrely dangerous foreign policy that has come from the executive branch in my lifetime, Trump green-lit the massacre of America’s only true ally against ISIS and Iran in the Middle East, the Kurdish forces, which were heretofore assisted with U.S. aid, weapons, and military presence. This knee-jerk lunacy, done without alerting the Pentagon or our intelligence agencies, handed Syria over to the Russians and Iran and invited the Turks to run rough-shod over miles of real estate that American lives were sacrificed to hold for half a decade. Then when he was publicly and privately eviscerated by GOP hawks in his administration, the Pentagon, and Congress, most of which are normally seen carrying buckets of his water, he spastically tried to reverse course by tweeting craziness about destroying the Turkish economy and then drafting what could only be described as a letter written by a middle school bully trying to cover his ass. When none of these absurd tactics worked, the president blithely told the world that the U.S. doesn’t give a crap what happens in the Middle East anymore and to let the rest of them “play in the sand”, summarily dispatching his secretary of state and vice president to secure a deal to turn Kurdish land over to its sworn enemy and send them scrambling into oblivion. When it was done he called it “a great day for civilization.”

This has been the Trump Doctrine: Cause an international crisis, like taking North Korea to the brink of war on Twitter, then capitulating with a deal that give a tyrant the store and claim victory. It’s like the game Risk for the mentally challenged. 

When piled on top of Trump’s abjectly stupid decision to pull out of the Iran anti-nukes treaty with nary a backup plan, the downright pathetic defense of the Saudi government’s murder of an American journalist, and the unnecessary violence-trigger of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, abandoning Syria to ISIS, Russia and Iran will soon be remembered in the annals of history as the second greatest terrorist sponsorship against America.

However, this wouldn’t be the first time a Republican administration fostered anti-American sentiments through bungled foreign policy. That one ended up causing the deaths of hundreds of our citizens on 9/11.

It is worth noting.

During of the decade between 1979 and 1989, the CIA ran among many half-assed maneuvers in the Middle East something called Operation Cyclone, a covert venture to arm and finance the Mujahideen, an Afghani fighting force that attempted to thwart its country’s invasion by the USSR. By the early 1980s this turned overt, becoming a proud function of what would become known as the Reagan Doctrine – illegal proxy wars fighting off communist uprisings globally. It was just a new-fangled sad repeat of the “domino effect” catastrophes in Korea in the 50s and Viet Nam in the 60s and early 70s that Reagan thought went well and would eventually lead to his Iran-Contra crime that should have cost him his presidency. Reagan, we now know was suffering early stages of dementia, convinced these duped warriors that part of America’s interest in Afghanistan went beyond the ousting of communists from its region. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz sold a dream of a democratized Afghanistan to stabilize the region, promised aid to their refugees that fled to neighboring Pakistan, and the continuation of defense funds to assist in what was then considered burgeoning radical Arab factions.

Of course, this was complete bullshit, as America, then under President George H.W. Bush, would dismissively abandon all interest in Afghanistan and its people around the region, which was beginning to boil over. These funds were handed instead to Pakistan to ironically fight the very same Mujahideen and Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein to combat Iran. The fallout from this bait and switch led to the complete destabilization of Afghanistan and caused the fractured segments of the Mujahideen to form the Taliban and al Queda. You may have heard of them.

Does any of this sound familiar to what the president just did to the Kurds in Syria?

The president is a terrorist. Not even I saw that coming.

Not to Trump. And why would it? You could barely jam into the Grand Canyon what Trump doesn’t know about anything. Shit, when all of the above was transpiring Donald Trump was blowing daddy’s money paying whores to drip candle wax on his balls and selling off parts of NYC to Arabs to use that money to buy weapons to kill Americans. He was also unaware that the country he was running for the past two years had promised the Kurdish fighters cover as they jailed thousands of captured ISIS fighters. As a result, our only defense against ISIS and Iran in the region has been sold out by Donald Trump as their women and children are being slaughtered on the Internet by the Turkish Army.

This is much worse than the Reagan/Bush fuck-ups of yesteryear, in that it is random, erratic and done with no support from our intelligence community or the Pentagon. Moreover, American troops are already there and in harm’s way. This presidency, as Trump promised, is a one-man operation, one that has resulted in a shadow foreign policy he’s been running through the state department, the department of justice and his private attorney. It was only a matter of time before it unraveled before congress and the American people. Trump’s best defense is to yell at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, scream again about fake news and dispatch his chief of staff to admit to the current impeachment charges of using foreign influence for political gain. “There is going to be political influence in foreign policy,” shouted Mick Mulvaney in front of cameras. “We do that all the time with foreign policy. Get over it.” Then he pulled a Trump and blamed a misquote, even though he was on camera saying it.

It’s over for Trump. He will be a sad footnote in a long series of American bungles. But what about us? What kind of fallout will the next generation suffer by the sins of this one? We can only hope it is only a 9/11 and not worse. His buddy in North Korea has other ideas too.

The president is a terrorist.

Not even I saw that coming. 

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DOES DONALD TRUMP WANT TO BE IMPEACHED?

Aquarian Weekly
10/9/19

Reality Check

James Campion


DOES DONALD TRUMP WANT TO BE IMPEACHED?

Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.1 This is not a novel concept. Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Founding Fathers sounded the alarm about “foreign Interference, Intrigue, and Influence.” 
– Memo from the chair of the Federal Election Commission Ellen L. Weintraub, June 13

After the five or six people still left defending our beleaguered game show president bent themselves in logical pretzels for close to a week claiming Donald Trump absolutely did not ask a foreign country to intervene on a potential political opponent, Joe Biden, despite a whistleblower complaint and a declassified review of the July 25 phone call between the U.S. president and the president of Ukraine that appeared to show that Donald Trump was trading allocated funds to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression for dirt on Biden and his son, Hunter, here is what Trump told live television cameras on the White House lawn on October 3: “Well, I would think if they (Ukraine) were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens because how does a company that’s newly formed and all these companies, and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So I would say with President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend they start an investigation into the Bidens, because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”

This begs the question: Does Donald Trump want to be impeached?

I think this is another one that goes into the flimsy but understandable yes/no column when dealing with this lunatic. Let me explain.

Let’s do “No” first.

As covered for years in this space, Donald Trump enters almost everything he tries his hand at as a complete neophyte. This is why it’s almost always a mess eventually. Sometimes he stumbles into a success, but eventually he destroys it with knee-jerk hubris – see Trump steaks, Trump University, the USFL, the Atlantic City debacle and his TV show for examples of this. Most of his talents, if there are any, is in selling a brand and that brand is a billboard depiction of what he would like to be but is not. You can only fake shit for so long, and ultimately the jig is up. This “method” has transferred to the highest office in the land and therefore he has little to no idea what he is doing when he says something like the above. This is like your toddler blurting out “fuck” at your dinner party. The kid doesn’t know he is cursing. He just does it. If you are not sure you are implicating yourself in a crime, then you do it. Trump and Rudolf Giuliani, former NYC mayor and Trump’s personal lawyer, believe – Giuliani has told several news outlets that he is “a hero” – that rooting out corruption abroad is a calling. This, of course, is an administration that has supported murdering American journalists in Saudi Arabia, turning away from unchecked missile testing and human rights atrocities in North Korea and defending whatever the fuck Vladimir Putin does on daily basis.

Text messages released after former US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker (he quit in disgrace) was deposed by congress for nine hours this week, reveal that many who were tasked with carrying out this nonsense believed Trump was on shaky ground but either didn’t care or was plain stupid.

Throughout the summer Volker told Giuliani that his sources on these purported incriminating documents he keeps waving around on cable news were false and misleading, but like most zealots around Trump, Giuliani, a private citizen who has little to no idea what the hell he’s doing either, believed as long as they fit the narrative of Biden’s guilt, he’d plow ahead. This kind of warning cost the ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch her gig in the spring when Trump removed her because Giuliani couldn’t get her to help him commit these crimes. All of this out in the open and without care for who would know it.

This is like your toddler blurting out “fuck” at your dinner party.

On the day of the infamous “shake-down” phone call, state department officials were trying like hell to first identity, then facilitate and finally cover up this half-baked scheme to have Ukraine investigate an American politician running for president and most importantly to go on the record for it, clearing the way for the story to damage Biden before the primaries. Volker texted top advisor to the Ukrainian president Andriy Yermak, “I think potus really wants the deliverable.” Later, on September 1, when this was still being bungled along by members of the state department, William Taylor, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, texted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland responded with, “Call me.” This call, which was clearly ordered by Sondland to keep off the record had confirmed Taylor’s fears that they were breaking the law, because on September 9, Taylor texted Sondland: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland, who had endeavored mightily to keep this craziness from having an electronic paper trail, responded with, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”

All the while Trump thought this was okay, in fact, noble pursuits, and for the most part, as the admission of his crimes on the record (again) prove, he still does.

Now, the “yes” part.

I think there is a large part of Trump’s thinking, such as it is, that this kind of muckraking battle to the end will benefit him politically and harm Joe Biden. This has been his mission all along. He also knows that Russia helped him win last time and this shameless begging of foreign aid in assisting this time clearly shows he would rather be leaned on by a Democratically controlled congress than not attempt it. Biden’s numbers, which the president initially ignored and then predictably mocked in the only states that count: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri are startling. Unlike Hilary Clinton, they are double-digit leads. It is better to be impeached than to face ignominious defeat. If this were Elizabeth Warren or some other Democratic rival, I can look past its political immolation context, but it’s Biden, his greatest threat, by far.

And finally, Trump is aware that a Republican-controlled senate would never oust him. The party is hanging by a thread as it is. Without the Trump base there is no party. They are doomed. The demographics and historical winds have already swung left and will continue to do so for the rest of this century if not for the thirty-two percent that keep this rot from completely fading into dust. They have to stick with Trump and he knows it, and this will allow him to claim another hollow victory once the senate boots the impeachment to the curb. Just in time for the 2020 campaign to heat up.

I usually go with the former. I don’t think Trump is soliciting impeachment. I just think Trump is an idiot. Everything he has done as president bared this out. The cover ups are coming from the state department and White House officials who cannot control this fool. But make no mistake, Trump’s statement this week that he absolutely would like foreign counties to get involved in the 2020 election seals his welcoming impeachment whether he wants it or not. 

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DANIEL JOHNSTON – 1961 – 2019

Aquarian Weekly
9/18/19

Reality Check

James Campion


DANIEL JOHNSTON – 1961 – 2019

Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growing old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others aren’t so bold

That is the first verse of a song called “The Story of an Artist”, which would be the eighth track on the second self-made, independently released cassette by the then 21 year-old cartoonist/painter/singer-songwriter/producer/amateur film-maker/underground entrepreneur, Daniel Dale Johnston. It’s a paean to the struggling artist nearly crumbling under the strains of time while his friends, family and potential audience ignores or berates him. His voice, accompanied by an upright piano in desperate need of tuning, is a tender, upper register tweak held together with invisible strings and duct tape. Its phrasing and timbre make the sound of the broken but unbowed, irresistibly childlike and yet old before its time. He stabs at the words, as if harrowingly building a jagged conduit to his soul. The second verse goes like this…

And everyone in friends and family
Sayin’ “Hey go get a job
Why do you only do that only?
Why are you so odd?”

Daniel Johnston was odd. This had less to do with what would later be a duel diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. No, Daniel was odd because he was indeed an artist, with a story to show and tell. This made his movements, both physical and metaphysical, seem like a man in slow motion. While all else whisked around him in a scurry to become things and own things and conquer stuff, there was never a moment in his life where he was not an artist, even when he was passing out his tapes as arguably the most famous McDonald’s employee in the nation. This was in 1984, after a period of working in a traveling carnival, when he settled in Austin and began making these lo-fi, DYI, down and dirty and hilariously pin-point perfect cassettes of weird, wonderful music complete with original artwork on its inserts, including tiny drawings in and around the song titles. And, according to those who knew him at the time, he almost never used a copy machine. He would simply draw new covers for every single tape. Because, well, he was no “busser” or vagrant or random slob living on his sister’s couch. He was an artist.

“And we don’t really like what you do
We don’t think anyone ever will
We think you have a problem
And this problem’s made you ill”

He wrote tons of songs and recorded those songs on piano, guitar and chord organ with a $59 Sanyo monaural boombox he’d had since he was a teenager. He also made incredible surrealist drawings with vivid characters filled with pathos and dread and biting humor and furious audacity. The bravery in this work, like the ultra-creative films he made as a kid, is clear to anyone who ever attempted to put themselves “out there” creatively, who put things down to have them come back hard, to bare the ugly, the beseeching, insecure, frightened, unrequited edge of the edge. This is where the artist and the man/boy existed in Daniel Johnston. Beyond all the dangerous thoughts and burps and demons inside his head, this was his center. 

But the artist walks alone
And someone says behind his back
“He’s got some gall to call himself that
He doesn’t even know where he’s at.”

I first heard one of these Daniel Johnston tapes in 1988. A good friend of mine, Eddie, who had recently changed his name to Sean, a fellow songwriter and lunatic, had gotten it from another of our kind. These things were making their way up through Austin into the waiting hands of the NYC suburb starving artist cabal and shaking us up. Yip Jump Music and Hi, How Are You were the ones that initially stunned us. The latter had the iconic alien-looking Frog with the eyeball tentacles that served Daniel’s vision of good against evil. “Jeremiah the Innocent” was a godhead Buddha-like figure of moral certitude staring its way into your psyche. He would paint a mural of it on the exterior wall of what was originally the Sound Exchange record store in downtown Austin. It has remained a symbol of the strange, counter-culture revivalist nature of the town for decades. Daniel’s Jeremiah, his spirit of song, story and visions, is its patron saint.

The artist walks among the flowers
Appreciating the sun
He’s out there all his waking hours
Oh and who’s to say he’s wrong

He was no “busser” or vagrant or random slob living on his sister’s couch. He was an artist.

Hi, How Are You is a fucking masterpiece. It will always be near and dear to my heart – Daniel autographed a limited-edition album cover for me that hangs proudly in my writing nook. Although Yip Jump Music came first, early in ’83, and it has two of his best songs,“Casper the Friendly Ghost” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances”, both featured Johnston’s first use of his signature sound clips (children’s toys), crudely eerie but socially intriguing overdubbing (between two boom boxes), and a madcap white-boy unhinged sort of rapping that added to the sonic collage. But the whole Daniel Johnston presentation was fully formed two years earlier with his initial tape compilations, Songs of Pain, (1981), which includes probably my favorite of his early work, “Like a Monkey in a Zoo”, hurriedly followed by Don’t Be Scared, where “The Story of an Artist” resides, and The What of Whom (1982) More Songs of Pain (1983), even though you will find gems in everything Daniel recorded, like the achingly melancholic “True Love Will Find You in the End” from Retired Boxer(1984) and a song I have played countless times on guitar in abject glee, the infectious, “I Know What I Want” from Respect (1985).

These were the years where it appeared to those of us entranced by it, that Daniel was rushing to get these musical vignettes out of his skull and onto the whirling tape in front of him as fast as possible, before…

And they sit in front of their tv
Sayin’ “Hey isn’t this a lot of fun?”
And they laugh at the artist
Saying “He don’t know how to have fun.”

All the while, Daniel was descending into madness. He had several nervous breakdowns, long periods of incoherence and days of wandering lost through town, various erratic episodes due to prescription drug reactions, one harrowing one in which he took the keys from a plane his father, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, was manning and tossed them out the window. William Johnston’s training saved them as he managed to land it safely. He went to New York to record an album. Disappeared for days. These and similar incidents landed Daniel for extended stints in mental institutions, which is where he was in 1992 when Kurt Cobain wore a Hi How Are You shirt to the MTV Music Awards. Almost immediately Daniel began receiving calls from entertainment agents from all over the country. The MTV connection is odd since in the previous decade Johnston, curious about the cameras and hubbub, wandered into a production of the network’s The Cutting Edge featuring performers from Austin’s “New Sincerity” music scene in order to better hawk his tapes. The producers were so enamored with this off-kilter bohemian fast-food jockey, they gave him a spot on the bill of a show they were taping.

The odd detente of Hollywood agents and a committed mental patient was predictably terrible. Daniel had deep bouts of paranoia, much of it covered with incredible sensitivity in the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. He wrongly jettisoned his biggest fan and benefactor, then manager Jeff Tartakov, who by then had mass produced the Johnston catalog and kept Daniel financially afloat and in the public eye. By then Daniel was trading his art for comic books and ignoring his music almost entirely. But he finally signed with Atlantic Records in 1994 and his debut album, Fun was produced by Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers, a huge fan. It predictably bombed. Critics were more or less confused and fans of his DYI days hated it. I love it. It has “Life in Vain”, one of my faves.

The best things in life are truly free
Singing birds and laughing bees
“You’ve got me wrong”, says he
“The sun don’t shine in your TV”

Mental illness and later obesity plagued Daniel for the rest of his life. He would have periods of stable behavior and tour, or at least make some shows here and abroad, but then would begin to detach and spiral. I had at least two potential times I could have seen him, but he cancelled, and we understood. My friend, songwriter, Dan Bern played with him in Europe and made him a character in his first novel, which I helped him edit and publish, titled, Quitting Science, while another new friend, the honey-voiced Maria Taylor of Azure Ray played piano with him a few years ago. But he mostly lived with his parents out in a garage/studio they set up for him. And, of course, he kept recording and releasing music and painting and drawing. When they passed away he began to deteriorate more and more. Again, there were moments of lucidity, an understanding of his worth and canon, occasional art shows (London’s Aquarium Gallery, New York’s Clementine Gallery, Sacramento’s Verge Gallery) and tribute recordings by such musical luminaries as Beck, Tom Waits, and bands like Teenage Fanclub, Death Cab for Cutie and the Flaming Lips.

Daniel Johnston was that artist that if you knew someone who knew and loved his stuff you were connected immediately. Daniel fans, people who were turned by his songs – those melodic gems hidden inside roughly ham-fisted playing and tape hiss and room echo, sung with such unerring emotion – were also inspired by their making and their dissemination. We shared those tapes. We played his songs and marveled at those characters that poured out of his pen or paint brush because there was something in Daniel Johnston that speaks to and for the goofy outcast making something for the sake of making it and to better reflect you into the world. And against all odds, mental illness and poverty, he forged ahead.

Until now.

Listen up and I’ll tell a story
About an artist growin’ old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others like to watch the world

And that is sad for those of us who see Dan still, sitting hunched over that piano and hitting record and belting out all of it.

He died this week.

He was 58.

And he was an artist.

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HATRED ON PARADE

Aquarian Weekly
8/21/19

Reality Check

James Campion


HATRED ON PARADE
The Rise of White Nationalism & the Ongoing Threat of Domestic Terrorism 


Remember when we were all afraid of ISIS killing us in the streets a few years back? Oh, those were the salad days. We were so much happier then. Foreign religious maniacs, we kind of get. White guys with a grudge and armed to the teeth, we mostly ignore, sometimes laugh at, and strangely vote for. But in the wake of the massacre in El Paso (20 dead, 27 wounded) engineered by a white nationalist, who was, like ISIS, part of an international network of terrorists (his fancy manifesto pointed to inspiration from the New Zealand right-wing Mosque shootings) it is clear we have ourselves a growing epidemic. Citing figures from the Anti-Defamation League, during the years of 2009 through 2018, international terrorism was responsible for twenty-three percent of ideological murders, while far-right extremist killings topped out at seventy-three percent. Moreover, the same report noted that these growing extremist murders have spiked thirty-five percent from 2017 to 2018, “making them responsible for more deaths than in any year since 1995.”

Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week. REUTERS/Chris Keane? TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTX1KUSD

Take that ISIS.

White nationalist terrorism has become a 9/11 level problem, but oddly it is treated like some weird anomaly, or to listen to rhetoric excuses of “overrated” or a “hoax”. Systemically, it is flat-out ignored. In fact, the Trump Administration immediately stripped funding and diverted attention away from domestic terrorism, much of it put in place after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, then the most lethal mass-murder in our history (168 dead, including 19 children, and five-hundred injured). In March, when asked at the White House whether white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, the president replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”

It has been clear from day-one that Donald Trump is working on some level of racial paranoia and renders special dispensation from his usual attack-dog mode when commenting or not commenting on white nationalism, which is a nice way of saying he is a racist – the latest example on the heels of the El Paso shooting is the admission from the administration’s Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli that the new proposed stricter limitations on legal immigration is now needed since in the past there were “just people coming from Europe”. As if on cue, as I write this Trump is forcing the hand of Israel to ban two Muslim congresswomen from entering that country. But the president’s overt bigotry does not excuse the rest of our government. Homeland Security, the FBI or the CIA has payed ancillary attention to this crisis while lunatics fabricate invasions from Mexico, a dangerous lie which the El Paso shooter cited as igniting this latest tragedy.

Angry white people afraid of progress and foreign interlopers is what made Donald Trump president.

So, in essence, unlike the national derangement we endured post-9/11 which sent our government into fascist spasms – sanctioning torture, cobbling together the goofy Patriot Act, and invading a nation with no connection to the attacks – we now have a government that ignores, and in some cases, openly supports white nationalist terrorism. The United States of America has apparently and willfully entered the infamous “axis of evil”.

To wit: Mere hours and days after 9/11, things went understandably haywire around here. It was a justified reaction, if not weirdly dangerous and mostly illogical. But where is a similar reaction now? An alarming number of dead Americans (fifty extremist-related killings in the U.S. in 2018, making it the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970) and tons of evidence these killings are motivated, inspired and carried out with a similar myopic agenda; destroy American values and choose the victory of one sect of humanity over another. ISIS. White Nationalism. Same shit. Waaaaayyyy different reaction.

It is now exactly two years since that abomination in Charlottesville with neo-Nazis and the KKK proudly marching around town with torches threatening Jews, African Americans and homosexuals that resulted in a street riot and the murder of a woman, followed by flaccid hemming and hawing from Donald Trump, which earned him high praise from the Klu Klux Klan. The murder has still not been designated as a hate crime nor has the investigation into the groups that organized the rally/riot bared anything more on these insurrectionists.

This past spring, a few months after the October synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh a judiciary committee convening on the rise of alt-right hate crimes held a hearing in which FBI Director Christopher A. Wray revealed that the bureau has arrested 250 white nationalist terrorists engaged in anti-American activities over the past two years. However, Dave Gomez, a former FBI supervisor, who oversaw terrorism cases, told the Washington Post that he believes FBI officials are wary of pursuing white nationalists aggressively because of the fierce political debates surrounding the issue. “I believe Christopher A. Wray is an honorable man, but I think in many ways the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white supremacist movement like the old FBI would,” Gomez told The Post. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor.”

So, on a political level, this makes sense. Angry white people afraid of progress and foreign interlopers is what made Donald Trump president. Even his “the press is the enemy of the people” crap inspired a Florida man who created a two-week crisis by mailing sixteen packages of inoperative pipe bombs packed with fireworks powder and shards of glass to thirteen famous Democrats and CNN who was ironically under sentence the week of the El Paso shooting. Before going to jail he told the court he believed “enemies of President Donald Trump were trying to hurt him and other Trump supporters.” In fact, Trump smartly leans on this fear and anger every time he needs a boost, and tripled-down on this craziness in the fall of last year to try and stem the tide of what would turn out to be a mid-term election pummeling by advancing a total lie about an invading caravan coming up through the southern border – using the term “invasion” over and over again, another inspiration for the El Paso shooter, even going as far as sending in troops to combat this illusion.

But it is simply the fact that the government is turning its back on this growing threat that is troubling, yet it does not surprise me. This country’s history is littered with this miserable shit. And the current climate does indicate that things are only going to get worse. What does surprise me that it is 2019 and we are still dealing with these horrors. But they are real, and they are becoming commonplace, and they must stop.

But who is going to stop it?

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AUGUST 15 – 18, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
8/14/19

Reality Check

James Campion

AUGUST 15 – 18, 1969
The Woodstock Miracle & The Aging of Aquarius

The third and final of a three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden  
– Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” 

In the wake of the anarchic violence sparked, among other things, by the haphazard logistics and spectacular avarice that marred the twentieth anniversary Woodstock ’99 festival, this is what I wrote in this space (R.I.P WOODSTOCK, Issue 7/28/99): “By the time the miscreants began looting the evil money lenders and setting fires, Woodstock, as we have come to know and love it, became just another example of humans misinterpreting luck for compassion. Those stumbling into a wonderful mistake and sliding through relatively unscathed thirty years ago achieved a level of fortune rarely reached in the annals of civilization.” Man, was that ever cynical. Even for me. But mostly true. However, two decades later, I tend to believe (it may be advanced age talking) that for three days half a million mostly naked and rain-drenched kids jamming into a field in a sleepy farm hamlet listening to the greatest assemblage of rock/pop acts ever while peacefully sampling an impressive bevy of drugs is something that should be done again and again and again.

Thing is, it can’t. And it won’t. But in mid-August 1969, less than a month after the first manned moon landing and mere days after the news of horrific ritualistic murders in Hollywood, it sure as hell did. During the weekend hours that passed in that field in Bethel, New York, the world got to see the best of the human spirit – not by conquest or violence, our favorite pastimes, but sharing, caring, singing and imbibing. Lots and lots of imbibing.

Sure, there are music festivals. Successful ones that have continued for years. And for the most part they are well run, safe, and mostly fun, but the event billed fifty years ago this week as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” was only two of those. It was ill-conceived, somewhat rushed and hardly pragmatic in its execution. The persons to food, water and shelter quotient was way off. There were loads of very weird and sixties-level strong drugs. Technical problems and difficulties getting the acts in and out abounded as a large stretch of the NY Thruway was shut down. It rained and rained and rained some more. The entire area in and around the event was nearly declared a disaster area by the state. The U.S. Army and National Guard had to be summoned to assist while the Collective Hog Farm – the longest running and most effective socialist construct next to Medicare – worked overtime. Yet, it was a magnificent, historical success by any measure. In its way, it remains one of the most shockingly implausible examples of togetherness and collective kindness ever displayed by any group of people anywhere.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot in my heart for Woodstock. I was actually up there that week. My parents trucked us up to the Catskills from the Bronx every summer and on this particular trip everyone at the motel got violently ill. Later we learned the wells were overused and much of the local plumbing had backed up and…well, you can imagine. But it was years later in college when I first saw the award-winning film and read Bob Spitz’s brilliant Barefoot in Babylon that it burrowed itself into my psyche. Fast-forward to the very night I first kissed the woman I would marry after we strolled in an evening buzz through the empty fields of what I can only describe that night as quiet aura. You can see there is something about the whole thing that intrigues me. Still does. 

Woodstock is our shining example of good. This, we can say, is what people can do.

Woodstock started off as a half-cocked plan to exploit the art/music community in the small Ulster Country town of less than five thousand in the late sixties when Bob Dylan made it famous by escaping the tumult of messianic fumes for bucolic splendor. Some rich kids and financial backers wanted to build a studio up there to offer the rich and famous rock elite a bit of “back to the garden” aesthetics. But that fell through, so why not a concert? And when the county recoiled in horror at the mere hint of a bohemian invasion, they found a private patch of land in Sullivan County in which they convinced anyone who would listen, including the farm’s owner, fifty year-old Max Yasgur, that only around a hundred thousand or so kids might come up to enjoy a little music for a weekend. Then after hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane among dozens of other generational talents were booked to play, a half million strong from all over the planet descended on the place. Under-manned and barely constructed, this idea-run-amok inevitably turned into a free gig.

The backers, most famously Michael Lang (age 24 at the time) and Artie Kornfeld (26), two middle-class Jewish guys from Brooklyn, took a financial pummeling. Later this was recouped handsomely from residuals made on the 1970 film and two subsequent soundtrack albums. But on those blistering hot and damp mid-August days it was all goofy grins and pot smoke. In fact, everyone was intoxicated in some way, making the lack of violence or looting or whatever even more incredible. Many of the acts were also under the influence of something. Carlos Santana, whose band had its coming out party on that Saturday (probably the film’s most dynamic moment) claims to have hallucinated his guitar as a slithering snake in his hands after consuming a concoction of acid and mescaline. Much of the LSD that weekend was homemade and named merely for its color (blue, greed, and the infamous brown) and moved stealthy throughout the crowd and backstage. Lead singer, Roger Daltrey, trying as he might to avoid this, merely had a cup of (turns out spiked) tea and tripped through much of The Who’s dawn set – a set that saw his guitarist Pete Townshend knock a ranting Abby Hoffman unconscious with his Gibson (okay, there was some violence). Janis Joplin later said she remembered none of it and refused to have her uneven set included in either the film or the soundtrack.

Beyond the stupefied superstars, there were wonderful stories of a fresh-faced 20 year-old newcomer Bert Sommer arousing a standing ovation from the throng, the mousy-voiced bubblegum folkie Melanie taking the trip with her mom and being hoisted upon the stage when no one would follow a rain squall, the charming twenty-minute set from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, who announced in his fluttery stoned voice that a baby had been born in the throng, the spastic bluesy brilliance of Joe Cocker howling like a wounded beast through the Beatles foggy “With A Little Help From My Friends” and one of the finest funk sets of the 1960s outside of the mighty James Brown band from Sly and the Family Stone that cemented their pop cred for all time. (another highlight of the movie).

But it was the kids. This sea of youth. This entangled, muddy, cruddy, inescapable intransigent multitude of peaceniks that would seal the Woodstock legend. Hey, I am no Baby Boomer disciple. I’ve cast most of that generation as a self-centered megalomaniacal phony-fest. But give it up to them, because with White Nationalism on the rise, and hate-speak in our political and social rhetoric and the general disgusting behavior that is the norm on social media and the Internet, Woodstock is our shining example of good. This, we can say, is what people can do, if…        

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AUGUST 9, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
8/7/19

Reality Check

James Campion


AUGUST 9, 1969
Tinsel Town Terror & The Demonizing of the Drug Culture

The second of a non-concurrent three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large.


All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure are ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

In the wee hours on the morning of August 9, 1969 four ragamuffin refugees from the California commune/cult acid culture hijacked by a lunatic thirty-four year-old con man, pimp murderer, Charles Milles Manson slipped over the high steel black fencing of 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. Once on the grounds they shot to death an eighteen-year-old student, who was merely visiting a friend that worked the grounds of the estate, and then proceeded inside the mansion to massacre in the most brutal way five people, none of whom they had ever so much as met. The screams of the victims, some of them high profile names of American business royalty and one, the young, beautiful nearly nine-months pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, then the wife of celebrated Polish film-maker, Roman Polanski, could be heard echoing through the Hollywood Hills. The crippling fear it engendered in the community, and eventually the nation would be deeply embedded in our collective psyche forever. But perhaps the most jarring cultural/generational impact of these few hours of this extremely bloody and random violence was further imprinted by the cryptic messages smeared along the walls of palatial estate. Piggies.AriseHelter Skelter.

Unlike the moon landing, which I discussed two weeks ago, what would be known as the Manson Murders was not an immediate social-shattering event until the facts began to unfold. This bizarre unraveling would tumble well into the next decade, as the 35 year-old California District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi would investigate, try and convict Manson and his zombie cohorts, Charles “Tex” Watson (age 23), Susan Atkins (21), Patricia Krenwinkel (21), and Leslie Van Houten (19) for these premeditated murders (12/13/71) then publish a book (Helter Skelter – The True Story of the Manson Murders with Curt Gentry, 1974) that would cement its iconography for all time. A TV film was made in 1976, which I saw at 13 and it frightened me like nothing I had experienced. And I was an avid horror buff. Later when I read Bugliosi’s detailed accounts it further intrigued and truly weirded me out. So much so most of my friends, my beloved cousin (sis) Michelle, and any poor bastard who might saunter up to me at a party had to hear about this thing. Shit, the first conversation I would have with the woman who would be my wife surrounded this ghastly tale.

What these cultist, even ritualistic murders would do to Hollywood. and as stated the nation – by the way, these kids went to another middle-aged couple’s house in the area later on August 9 and once again massacred its inhabitants, again festooning bloody messages everywhere –was further exacerbated by its gruesomely puzzling subtext.

It is difficult to separate the “hippy era” of chemical experimentation, free love and egalitarian constructs and brush past Charles Manson and his “Family”, a distilled group of impossibly young runaways and vagabonds mixed with virulent bikers, rapists, drug dealers and professional criminals. Their earthy appearance enhanced by trippy language, long hair, beads, tie-dye and quasi-spiritual granola mumbo jumbo infiltrated the otherwise peace and love edict of first the Haight Ashbury movement up in San Francisco and predictably the brainlessly commercial miasma of what L.A. presented for a tsunami of youth that flooded its streets for most of the decade. Essentially, Manson preyed on a youth crusade to exploit, rip-off and eventually exact vengeance for nearly a lifetime spent in juvenile houses and prison.

But none of this occurred in a vacuum. If anything, The Family, just one of many cult/commune subcultures, illustrated a major fault line developing within the mass hallucination of what was always an unfocused generational shift existing somewhere between fuck-it and serious revolutionary politics.

From the purported and ultra-hyped Summer of Love in 1967 through the assassinations, street riots and horrors of Viet Nam that wreaked havoc in 1968, the relentless heat and intensity of the summer of ’69, made far eerier by the visions of men walking on the moon weeks before, would be the dramatic backdrop for the killings. The stories later of how Manson maniacally brainwashed these otherwise naïve children of our white, privileged middle-class American Dream with sex and drugs bent on the queer interpretations of strangely opaque songs by the deified Beatles and the Bible’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation as a template to terrorist mayhem trembled the zeitgeist. All of this would usher in the pessimistic realities of the nineteen-seventies, nineteen-eighties’ plastic evangelical, unchecked greed and finally the shrugging apathies of the century’s final decade.

In other words, Charles Manson killed “The Sixties”. Within months the aforementioned Beatles, who more less invented and then provided a soundtrack for its times would fracture, a concert in the hills of northern California would result in violence and murder, protesting college kids would be gunned down at Kent State, and Richard Nixon would polarize the country and then obliterate any trust in our institutions.

It is difficult to separate the “hippy era” of chemical experimentation, free love and egalitarian constructs and brush past Charles Manson and his “Family”

The reason why so many late seventies punks and anti-establishment figures of the following decades would wear Manson’s image on their shirts or evoke these thumb-in-the-eye actions against the status quo as a symbol of fear is that the influence of his crimes rose above mere news. The Manson Murders were in the most heinous way American Art; ask Marilyn Manson (um, you get it, right?) or Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers – 1994) or the bare aesthetics of our current smoldering violent nature splayed out over the Internet, on TV and in our neighborhoods. Cult of personality and a whiff of revulsion is how you get the over-saturated media mass-shooting celebrity demons, reality show cretins, and eventually, Donald Trump.

In the end, it is the Boomer visage of Manson that has eclipsed all of the violence, mass murder, serial killer underbelly of American culture. He was a satanic figure to the establishment and for a time (Rolling Stone put him on the cover with the tagline, “Our Continuing Coverage of the Apocalypse”) a symbol of crass import to the counter-culture before that slid eventually into the grim realities of Hunter S. Thompson’s eulogy of “the wave” in his brilliant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Rolling Stones brutally poignant Let It Bleed album, and the gritty, ferocious films of the auteur era (Scorsese, Peckinpah).

Turns out Charles Manson just wanted to be a rock star. He recorded mostly shitty demos for record guru Terry Melcher, who previously owned the mansion on Cielo Drive, and hung out with the Beach Boys and ingratiated himself in the Hollywood bohemian culture he sought to destroy. In reality Manson was no hippy. He was a product of the nineteen-fifties’ have-and-have-nots insurrection that would play out in the Civil Rights movement, Beat Poetry and Be-Ins, the Berkeley Free Speech, etc. and would forge a new path; a path for a few hours on August 9, 1969 that turned down a dark and dangerous cul-de-sac and forced us to rediscover our perpetual fascination with our damaged anti-heroes; Frank and Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Pretty “Boy” Floyd, Charles Manson.

But fear not. In less than a week, three days in a hamlet in upstate New York would offer a glimpse of light and reflect the honesty in all that the human experiment can offer to defend itself against all…that…darkness.  

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JULY 20, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
7/24/19

Reality Check

James Campion


JULY 20, 1969
The Apollo 11 Moon Landing at 50

This is the first of a non-concurrent three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large. 


I’m a rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.
– Bernie Taupin


I am six years old in July of 1969. Living in the middle apartment in a three-family pre-war brownstone owned by my mother’s parents in the Bronx, NY. So far this has been a year of awaking for me. There has already been a moment etched into my psyche forever. It became a bit of an obsessive one, back when I still watched professional football, back when Joe Namath was more than a mere mortal. Actually, that second part more than lingers for me. The NY Jets won the Super Bowl in January of that year. This happened. Really. I still harbor the most unerringly strong recollections of the last few minutes of that game. Mostly through the nervous joy my father experienced. I was there, with him. This giant, this hero, Namath, a cultural and athletic professional lighting rod and also sometimes the Jets quarterback with his white shoes, eye-black and tufts of hair peeking out of his helmet would become something of an avatar of my father, as he paced in and out of the room mumbling to himself about time. We watched that day as Namath obliterated myths to create his own. And now, six months later – an eternity for a kid – I am wrapping my mind around a human being walking on the moon. So says my mother, since, in a way, this is her Super Bowl. The ramp up, the launch, the whole thing. Man, my mom is way into this.

Years after these sweltering hot NYC summer evenings, while rummaging through boxes stuffed in attics and garages throughout our constant moving around NJ into Westchester, et al, I would find the Life Magazine cover with astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface. The camera and the man who preceded him as the first humans to traverse the moon, Neil Armstrong reflected in his space helmet was always an eerie sight. My mom even kept that week’s TV Guide. For you kids, this was the Internet for television when people still watched it on a screen housed in a piece of furniture that was the centerpiece of your living rooms. This is a woman who kept nothing. If I turned my head for a moment, it was gone. My mom was no hoarder. But of all the stuff that happened historically when I was a kid, beside Lee Harvey Oswald being murdered on our box inside the furniture, the Apollo 11 moon landing was my mom’s touchstone.

The moon.

From a six year-old’s perspective, this whole concept is kind of out there. So much so, I stand for an inordinate amount of time in front of our front stoop looking up into the illuminated night sky the evening of July 19 staring at it. I cannot be sure it was a full moon that evening, but it was more than half visible in the city glow above our street. It was so stark white against the ebony background, so flat, two-dimensional. Almost fake. My mind races. There are people heading there to hang out. Right now. This is as much as it was understood by me, with all of my Major Matt Mason stuff, my green alien figures and plastic spaceships. When you’re six you assume people have been flying around all over space in the cartoons you’re fed or the science fiction that passes for actual news. But even so, it is odd to see this glistening orb up in the sky and to know that someone…tomorrow…is going to be tooling around on it.

Now, forget me for a minute – which I know is hard in this space since I more or less interject myself into everything I write here – but try and consider the world without having at least conceived of space travel? Today, we don’t even give it a second thought, since we went to the moon pretty much every year after 1969 until the mid-seventies. We actually took for granted having humans playing golf and driving buggies up there. Or at least we told ourselves that and maybe even (and I am one of the occasional skeptics here) told ourselves it never happened.

On July 20, 1969 that we all watched a man in a weird, rumpled white space suit hop his way down a ladder.

My pal, author Rich Cohen, who I got to know a few years ago when we were both working on music books – his, the Stones, mine, Warren Zevon – just had a piece published in the latest Paris Review about these ubiquitous conspiracy theories regarding the events of July 20, 1969. Much of this hoo-ha surrounds fellow Bronx-native and film genius Stanley Kubrick and his masterworks, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, the former being the first anyone had seen of weightlessness and the cold, frightening, soul-crushing nothingness of space and the inhumanity of the computers and machines that take us there and what that entails for our species in the long, long, long run. That film was released in 1968 and what it foretold was eerily familiar to those who eventually would travel there.

To that end, this is what Cohen wrote as a sidebar to his theme that got on top of me while I was working on this column: “I’ve met three of the twelve men who walked on the moon. They had one important thing in common when I looked into their eyes: they were all bonkers.”

This is where the imagination of that six year-old boy and the grandiosity of America in the Cold War Era meets the flesh and bone of those who were actually a part of the Apollo 11 mission. How much of this – seeing the earth as a fading marble in the distance, the silence of space against the instruments beeping and flashing around them in their “floating tin can” as David Bowie would write and release that same year as “Space Oddity”, a nice musical play on Kubrick’s horrors of rapid, mind-bending technological and spiritual evolution – would mess with their, well, everything. Later, this idea of taking the deep-seeded fears of isolation within humanity and the constant battle waged between the ego of the hairless ape and the vastness of the universe became part of our culture. We, the searchers fueled by our Manifest Destiny, going beyond the stars, where we cannot comprehend, and come back different. Very different. Or, as Cohen, mused, bonkers.

We were all bonkers in 1969. Crazy shit happened. The Jets, eighteen to twenty-three point underdogs would win the first ever named Super Bowl and soon the NY Mets, having been the laughing stock of all sports the year I was born, just seven seasons earlier, would capture all of our hearts on the way to an amazing World Series victory that October. Then other crazy, crazy shit that will come in just a few weeks, which I will broach in parts two and three of these connected columns, illustrates how much humanity can simultaneously elevate and devastate itself down here. We were, in many ways, different. A seal was broken on us, on America, on science and faith and pride and fear, as it had on race and gender and generation.

And it is down here, on July 20, 1969 that we all watched a man in a weird, rumpled white space suit hop his way down a ladder and take “one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind” and hang out on that translucent sphere perched high, high, high above Van Ness Avenue. The night you can view these crackling black and white images being flashed on the box inside the furniture while also looking out your window to try and rationalize all of this. How is this happening? It is pretty damn exciting. It is pretty damn frightening.

The moon.

July 20, 1969.      

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POWER TO THE JERSEY PEOPLE

Aquarian Weekly
7/17/19

Reality Check

James Campion


POWER TO THE JERSEY PEOPLE
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Will Be on Us


It seems to me an unjust law is no law at all.
                              – Saint Augustine

Due to the abject failure of this Democrat-led New Jersey legislature with the usual 19th century bullshit from useless Republicans, our government, thankfully, has punted the responsibility of legalizing marijuana to us, the citizens. Not sure deciding whether a plant is legal or not should necessarily fall to a vote, but that’s where we are now. You might recall, I called for this during this past spring’s implosion of the year-long marijuana bill (S2703). And so the matter will indeed move to the ballot in November of 2020.

Waiting that long seems idiotic, why not this November, you might ask? A fair question, and one I proffered before my experience in politics figured two reasons to wait that long – some members of this lame body may lose their gigs over this fiasco and help secure the number for a cold legislative redress in early 2020 or the overwhelming hatred of the dunce in the White House that will sweep in every inch of progressive breath to overwhelm voting booths across this mostly blue state.

Currently legalizing weed in Jersey has a 60 percent approval, so the numbers are there. Trump is running again in 2020 and he has a nearly 70 percent disapproval rating in the Garden State. Yeah, it is just a matter of getting people to the polls.

Until then, there has been some progress to first expand or level the legal blockades to medical marijuana (long overdue) and most importantly a move to alleviate some of the draconian laws and medieval penalties for those who wish to imbibe. 

These asinine laws are not only atavistic and imbecilic, they are starkly racist. A Jersey trifecta!

Throughout the brutal process to get legislators’ heads out of their collective asses and help us bring New Jersey into the 21st century and infuse the state with shitloads of funds for schools, fire and police departments and to curtail the insanely rising property taxes, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (the smartest person in local politics I have covered in over 30 years)  prevented his colleagues from voting on the bill expanding the medical program (S10) until he could get enough votes for the recreational marijuana bill. But after the March collapse, Sweeney announced in May that he would have a bill on Governor Phil Murphy’s desk by June’s end and he delivered. Last week Murphy signed Honig’s Law, named after Jake Honig, who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2012, a cancer that traveled to his brain. He underwent dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, proton radiation and surgeries at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia but succumbed a few days after Murphy took office. He was seven years-old.

Throughout the entirety of the Chris Christie administration, Jake’s parents, Mike and Janet Honig of Howell, NJ bought dried cannabis in order to distill oil for their son. But inevitably each month they would run out of the medicine halfway through. The short-sighted, suck-ass medicinal marijuana law enacted in 2010 set a strict two-ounce monthly purchasing limit, disallowing the Honig’s to ease their son’s excruciating pain. This prompted his father to routinely express outrage that it has taken lawmakers so long to change the rules of an antiquated and quite frankly mean-spirited program to allow patients to buy more marijuana. Mike told NJ Advance Media, “When Jake was off his medical marijuana, he would vomit, he would be nauseous. He was would be in so much pain, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sleep. He was agitated.”

Now I won’t say Christie, or the NJ government, killed little Jake Honig, but they did not assist in easing his agony. And all because of weirdly constructed, badly researched laws enacted federally in the 1930s only to be overturned as unconstitutional and then rammed into the equally shortsighted and plainly stupid 1970s Controlled Substances Act that helped a ton of gangsters, cartels and the mob get plenty rich over the past half century, while seven year-old boys die in pain.

Before we bid farewell to our intermittent updates on this ongoing putrid silliness there is the matter of decriminalization, which is the very least we can do on the recreational end.

After the governor signed the Honig bill in a ceremony at Tommy’s Tavern on Killer Route 9 in my old stomping grounds in Freehold, Murphy was asked about decriminalization and a proposed bill by State Senator Sweeney in May – “I think we can’t allow a system where 600 people are gonna get arrested this week — 450 or more of color,” Murphy said. “Anybody who thinks status quo is acceptable has not taken time to understand the status quo.”

And that’s the nut. This is a major step in real, binding justice reform, which is always a laff riot in DC at the federal level, despite tons of lip service and empty campaign promises by the current and certainly past administrations. The laws here are total and utter bullshit. Even cops are tired of it. According to recent FBI data, New Jersey law enforcement arrests more people for marijuana possession than every state except Texas and New York. To put a finer (and sadder) point on it, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate three-times higher than white people, despite similar pot usage rates between the groups, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

These asinine laws are not only atavistic and imbecilic, they are starkly racist. A Jersey trifecta!

But fear not! We are slowly but surely crawling from pre-historic thinking. The new Honig law will likely add dozens of medical marijuana providers, greatly increasing capacity from the six providers currently operating. This is excellent economic news for the state and at least some steps in the direction I expect us to go and why I supported Governor Murphy’s election.

Having written all of this, to hades with politicians.

Power to the Jersey People!

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