TIME FOR MUELLER TO SPEAK

Aquarian Weekly
5/8/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TIME FOR MUELLER TO SPEAK

Things move so fast during this car-wreck presidency I am forced in mid-stream to abandon one column on Donald Trump’s spastic scramble to keep Congress and thus the American people away from his tax returns (Yikes, what horrors lurk within?) and shift gears to the breaking news on Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s recent eyebrow raising D.C. bombshell of a letter to Attorney General William Barr that was not only completely unexpected by out of character for the normally tight-lipped Mueller and unprecedented in the long history of special counsels and the justice department. Within hours of a report in the Washington Post about this unusually aggressive correspondence, Congress made it public, and man it is a doozy.

Mueller basically calls the Attorney General of the United States a liar, and worse yet, subsequently an accessory to Trump’s obstruction of justice the special counsel framed in his 448-page report, or at the very least making clear that Barr’s March 24 fluff-note disguised as a summary of the Mueller Report led to “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” At which point Mueller goes on to write, “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Oy.

The letter is not long, but it is direct, (no one that makes his living in the law uses the term “threatens” lightly) and turns out to be a kill-hell bitch slap of a rebuke on the nation’s top law officer. In Barr’s grubby paws, according to the report’s author, there is no assurance of “full public confidence.”

Ouch.

And this point became far clearer during a heated exchange at Barr’s Senate hearing this week, as California Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidate, got the beleaguered and stammering AG to admit that although he determined publicly more than once that the DOJ found no evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice in the report, he never reviewed any of it before making this decision. Because, you know, he is only the nation’s attorney general and was the first one to have access to the most important official government document created in the last decade. I mean, why study it when you can merely make shit up.

Mueller concludes his stern warning on misinterpreting his two years of work by respecting the right of Barr’s office to review the material in the aforementioned report, but “that process need not delay release of enclosed materials.” In other words, “Hey, buddy, don’t use this whole ‘review process’ as an excuse to stonewall what is rightfully the American’s people’s document bought and paid for by them and researched and formulated for them.” And then with swift and severe precision Mueller slides effortlessly into his final paragraph with “Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation.”

This is the equivalent in writer’s parlance of a right-cross. Think of Mike Tyson in 1986 as a sentence. Barr would be the first-round casualty.

We know now that after digesting this little missive, Barr quite ceremoniously told Mueller to go fuck himself and took his sweet time before disseminating a rose-colored pro-Trump summary (that he later claimed was not a summary) of Mueller’s investigative opus and then before actually releasing the report held a surreal presser in which he tried to soften the obvious accusations that it levies on the president of the United States.

There was less speculation in interpreting the Bible or late-Sixties Beatles songs than the Mueller Report. Its author needs to speak, and soon.

This tiptoe through bullshit is what landed Barr in front of Congress again – a request he playfully dodged before complying, keeping himself from contempt charges that tend to lead to disbarment and other things – and it has wrecked whatever possible credibility the AG could have had after he shamelessly campaigned for the gig by kissing Trump’s ample hindquarters. 

But I digress.

This is about Robert Mueller today. It is his reputation that will be on the line next. What the special counsel does not get to do is throw stones at Barr’s rather flimsy glass house and then continue to play intellectual recluse floating above the fray with a smirk while occasionally being seen wandering in and out of D.C. churches every Sunday and leaking accusatory letters to the press. This was Mueller’s baby. He signed his name to it. And it has predictably been politicized by Congress and Trump apologists and constantly battered by Tweety McTweeter in the White House. There was less speculation in interpreting the Bible or late-Sixties Beatles songs than the Mueller Report. Its author needs to speak, and soon.

Now, there will be some who might claim that everything Mueller needed to do as a patriot and a respected investigator is encapsulated in this extensive report. Enough is enough. Leave the man alone. He did his job and did it well under scrutiny and leaks and hammering from all ends. But I disagree. As a writer, I believe it is incumbent on the author to stand up for the work and if there is any ambiguity in the interpretation of it then it must be put to rest. And this is not some novelist who can say, “I wrote it, you figure it out. It speaks to everyone differently. How you see it is where you come from emotionally and…blah blah blah.” This is law and it contains evidence and facts and it is being tossed around like a worn political football.

Mueller needs to fix this. And there is an easy way to put it all to rest; come out and speak. And not in an interview format on 60 Minutes or Oprah or CNN. He needs to conduct a press conference; a full, binding and unfiltered statement to the American people on where he stands, as his name is on the front cover of this massive undertaking that people are pulling apart. Book time on all the networks. Talk to us. Directly. Without media noise, a redacted tome, or certainly whatever lunacy comes from our game show president. It is that important.

And I don’t even mean sitting before Congress in some endless charade, which I assumed was coming no matter what was in the thing, never mind all the “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law” – the key sentence in all this. But if Congress is considering additional investigations, and we know there are already 14 independent ones ongoing mentioned in the redacted version of the report, then Mueller cannot be coy. The future of this presidency, future ones, and the structure of this republic is on the line here.

The Mueller Report was #1 on Amazon’s best-seller list for days after its release. It is a bonafide smash. People are obviously very interested in what its author has to say about it and for all this guessing and litigating to cease. Everyone has a side and an idea about what level of crap the president is in. There is only one man for whom any of that matters, Robert Swan Mueller III.

And he needs to speak.

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TRUMP GUILTY OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE – NOW WHAT?

Aquarian Weekly
4/24/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP GUILTY OF OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE – NOW WHAT?

Thank you.

Not since I began filling this space with words in August of 1997 have I gotten so many accolades from readers and colleagues on my correct analysis, as corroborated by the release of the Mueller Report this week, on President Donald J. Trump being clearly guilty of obstructing justice during the investigations into his campaign and administration allegedly working with Russians to destroy our democratic system. Now, to be fair, this was a slam dunk. I mean, the guy did it in broad daylight, on national television, Twitter, he even bragged to a bunch of Russians in the Oval Office with big-mouth staff hanging around. It was more like writing that pizza is good or war is bad, or nothing is better than sex. And folks, there is no sillier phrase in any language. Nothing is better than sex. Period. So, I appreciate your kind words, plaudits and references to my genius, but Trump being guilty of obstruction was a no brainer. Kind of like Trump himself.

There is so much damaging shit in this report about our game show president, it will take volumes by historians to distill over the decades. But since I promised that the piece referred to in all this praising would indeed be the last word on the report itself, I am not here today to rehash it. Although, come on, how great is it that the president is on record as saying the minute Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.” Then, according to his then attorney general Trump began his road to obstructing justice by tearing into Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation. Trump, as he did with FBI Director James Comey, when he tried to queer a criminal inquiry (this one was on soon-to-be-locked up former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn), begged to be protected from himself. This is the Donald Trump that appeared in my celebrated deconstruction of his obstructing justice – a man, who if he were innocent, sure did not act like it from day-one.

Also, if I may, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitting under oath she is a lying machine is delicious too, but I giddily digress.

And so, Robert Mueller after nearly two years and over 400 pages of what we can see here is heavily redacted info from an attorney general who is openly in the bag for Trump, the president committed at least ten different acts of obstruction of justice. What it comes down to is not that the president is guilty or not guilty, but what there is under the constitution to be done with this. Trump being guilty, as stated here for months and nailed down by federal investigators, is a done deal. What William Barr is arguing, again covered here two weeks ago (damn, I am good), is that unless there was collusion than there cannot be obstructing justice. And since there is no solid evidence of direct collusion – although the report states that there was plenty of merry collaborative efforts to use a hostile foreign entity trying to destroy its opponent to win the presidency by the Trump campaign – there is no point pursing the Mueller team’s evidence to this end.

What Barr is saying is, “Sure, this behavior is icky and bad and even toeing the line of criminal, if not criminal, but if the guy was only reacting out of fear for being railroaded, then what can I do?” And in this reasoning, Barr’s objective is clear: “Fuck the Justice Department and the United States and its citizens. I have to protect Trump.” As Trump has asked of anyone in his employ. The president often uses the specter of Roy Cohn, a despicable openly bigoted criminal lawyer, who according to Trump was a trusted mentor, to insist this. Thus, Barr’s credibility is shot. He should now be viewed as an untrusty hack who has dumped the objective concept of his office to be a lacky. Good for him. Let’s move on.

And where we move is the U.S. Congress. This is where this sordid tale now continues. Trump is guilty of obstructing justice. What Mueller is arguing is that it is not within his powers to prosecute a sitting president, this he punts to the legislative branch as our constitution states. The preponderance of evidence against Trump is enough for a deeper dive into an investigation and possible impeachment hearings, but whether congress, more specifically Democrats – Republicans have consistently crapped the bed on this fiasco – have the stones to pull this off is another thing. There is politics involved. And when that happens we see that more times than not all hope for legality and morality is tossed into the shit pile.

What it comes down to is not that the president is guilty or not guilty, but what there is under the constitution to be done with this.

The second Pennsylvania fell to Trump and it looked all the world like this doofus would be our president on November 6, 2016, I texted a dear friend, “Countdown to Impeachment”. It was part joke, but also knowing Trump since the 1980s here in and around NYC, it was obvious this guy was going to do something to get himself in trouble. And, well, here it is; an impeachable offense. Whether that happens or not, it’s up to congress. It was for Nixon and Clinton, and it came to bear. It was for Reagan, and it did not. This goes where congress goes.

And, trust me, I am not putting my stellar predictive talents on the line when it comes to congress. I have no idea how it will go there. Ever. Chances are nothing will happen. We’re 18 months from the 2020 election and Trump is still languishing in the low 40s approval rating and his “crazy shit” is now without the checks and balances of all those poor bastards in the White House that kept Trump from firing Mueller and implicating himself even further into this mess. They all quit in protest or were sacked for trying to stay out of prison for him. There are more Trump shenanigans to come to bury him, so, really, why risk a backlash or what DC insiders like to refer to as “investigation fatigue” to make a martyr out of this dink? Democrats could drag this out for publicity and wait until the election, or (imagine that!) congress could actually do its constitutional duty job and act as a viable check on the abuse of powers within the executive branch.

Whatever happens, this is what is at stake now that we have official compiled and corroborating evidence of obstruction of justice by the president of the United States.

Trump is guilty.

Okay…

Now what?

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THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS

Aquarian Weekly
4/17/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE ATTEMPTED MURDER OF THE PLANET & THE MERRY HUMAN VIRUS 

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
– Genesis 1:26-28

You know the deal; if there is a choice to be made – the environment or the human need to destroy shit – the latter wins out. Every time. If we had a slogan it would be; Humanity – Fucking Up Everything Natural For 200,000 Fun-Filled Years. This was true long before anyone thought to write this concept down, and then some enterprisingly insane Israelite decided to frame it as a holy edict by this God thing they made up: Dominion. The Torah (or as the Christians started calling it a few centuries in) the Bible is silly with it. Webster’s defines it as “sovereignty or control” or in more detailed conventions, “a governmental system”. Given this, we are “responsible” for this, but more times than not provided a choice between the planet and us, we choose us. Welcome to humanity, the virus of our terrarium.

Okay, so there is my opening paragraph for Earth Day.

When my fantastic new managing editor, Dan Alleva asked me to add my two cents to this occasion I shuddered. But I like Dan. He is doing a fine job already. He deserves much better than this, because I believe he generally cares about this thing. Enough that we should devote an entire issue of this paper to it. And that is quite noble, if not a tad naïve, at least from this damaged perspective. Yeah, we know, Campion; we’re all doomed, blah blah blah. Well, this seems about right, especially when considering I was asked to play at a No Nukes rally in the mid 80s and showed up with a song I wrote titled “Living in the Underground” that gleefully hoped for the end of times so we can all dance around in a tunnel to Elvis Presley records, or that I was invited to speak at a Tea Party thing in the late aughts in which within the first two minutes I called everyone there a blithering idiot before being roundly booed off the stage, and then there was the time a thoughtful and brilliant writer asked me to pen a screed on freedom of speech for an online community of creatives and I handed in 3,000 words of such rancid bellicosity that she could not run it.

So, considering the source, you were probably not going to get any kumbaya out of me. And to be fair, even in the context of the great human experiment, America, the previous administration was the kindest ever to the earth in its policies, I believe most of it was overkill and hindered our economic growth, and so I am as guilty as anyone in assisting in the planet’s demise. Quite frankly, I will always be guilty of choosing my own comfort over the earth. We all do. Come on. Shit, Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it. We mean well, or we think we do – coming up with fancy philosophies and mottos and (ahem) Earth Days, but we still merrily burn fossil fuels and use plastic all over the joint and eat animals who are filling the ozone with methane.

Right now, as I write this, coal is being burned to make the electricity that lights my way and I used a car to get here to write it. Wait, I have to sip water out of this Styrofoam cup to keep hydrated, so I have the energy to slowly and quite deliberately erode the livable space my kid will have to inhabit.   

But for the purposes of mocking the doofus that sits in the White House today, who doesn’t believe in things like science or really any ounce of reality, I offer what our God-fearing country is now doing to help speed (and I do mean speed) along the destruction of the planet, or as Master George Carlin put it, us: “Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam … The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

First our game show president, after he struck Climate Change as a threat to national security, appointed a man who had sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times to run it. Scott Pruitt, a science denying ambulance-chaser from Oklahoma, immediately bragged to the Washington Post that he has “moved to shrink the agency’s reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules.” Then, within weeks of making a move akin to choosing Al Capone to head of the FBI, Pruitt loosened all regulations on toxic air pollution. Because, you know, it’s not bad enough we don’t give a shit about the planet, but we need to use kill-friendly toxicity to ramp it up.  

Al Gore spent years decrying Global Warming while whisking around in a private jet. Why? Because Al Gore is a human, and he can’t help it.

Pruitt then began gutting every clean-water act known to modern law before he had to quit in ignominy under 14 different counts of fraud and who knows what else? The man is scum, even by human standards. But wait, he was replaced by an anti-environmental lobbyist for coal, Andrew Wheeler, who is currently poisoning something.     

But these two are merely poster boys for what has transpired thus far over the first two dismal years of this farce.

The United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement that was not necessarily one headed by Barack Obama but fit into his agenda to “save us” from ourselves. Poor bastard. But the Clean Power Plan was Obama’s baby and of course the Trump Administration has rolled back even the most commonsense aspects of it to “save the coal industry”, which is also dying a slow death that has actually accelerated during Trump’s silliness.

And my favorite, since we all claim to love animals, but really, really don’t; in July of 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to change the way the Endangered Species Act is administered, saying more weight would be put on economic considerations when designating an endangered animal’s habitat, this includes the Migratory Bird Treaty Act reinterpretation, which means as long as you can make a buck you are allowed to kill birds, lots of birds, endangered or otherwise. It is, well, a Bird Holocaust, if you will.

I wish I could put that in the lyrics of my new Earth Day song; The bird holocaust is underway / Construct your power lines / Install your wind turbines / And smile, smile, smile until we slowly waste away. Something like that. I’m working on it. Maybe put it to the tune of “Imagine”, so John Lennon can be the first corpse to puke.

There’s more horrible shit going on, and I haven’t even gotten to China, which will surely erode the ozone so drastically that everyone will have some form of skin cancer to go with all the poison food and allergies and out-of-whack hormonal damage our offspring’s offspring will suffer until we indeed mutate into every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Did I mention the oceans?

Who has time for that condemned shit? Not me. Gotta get back to polluting.

Happy fucking Earth Day.

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STEPHEN KELLOGG & HIS OBJECTS OF HOPE

Aquarian Weekly

Feature

4/17/19

James Campion

STEPHEN KELLOGG & HIS OBJECTS OF HOPE
Singer-songwriter Takes His Most Personal Musical Statement on the Road

He sings in its title track; Surrounded by family, 12 O’clock on New Year’s Eve / Throwing paper on the fire / Nothing else that we require / Cause a heart with no regrets / Is as good as it can get.

Stephen Kellogg stands with his arms outstretched on stage beneath the din of thunderous applause. Dressed in a black velvet jacket with his initials tapered in white on his right breast and a grey hat that keeps a tuft of curls from erupting across his forehead, he appears as if he wants to embrace everyone in the room. Beside him, sporting his own ragged fedora in a dark short-sleeved shirt and grey jeans, is his musical partner, co-songwriter, sounding board and main instigator, Eric Donnelly. Sitting with a bemused smirk on his face, Donnelly grips his electric guitar and waits for the man to give him a cue. Eyeing him, Kellogg flips his guitar strap over his shoulder and counts off. These compatriots in song and travel have been on the road now for three weeks touring an album that took them a month to record some nine-hundred miles south of here in Music City – Nashville, Tennessee. Kellogg ended up calling it Objects in the Mirror, because, like the memories he frames in each of its songs, they can sometimes be “closer than they appear”. It is indeed an album filled with snapshots in time, both past and present, and make up what might well be Kellogg’s finest work. It is at least his most autobiographical and eerily relatable.

“I’m gonna play some songs from the new album and then we’ll take requests,” Kellogg sheepishly tells the audience. “First part’s for me…the second one’s for you.”

That sentiment could describe the tour thus far, two-parts struggle, one part joyous. To review; Kellogg has had to rush back home to tend to his family (wife and four girls) who were in a bit of a car bang-up (everyone’s fine), he’s severely sprained his left thumb (the one that grips the guitar neck) and battled a pretty nasty throat bug. He’s also played to packed houses of adoring fans and used the opportunity of this roving duet to bring these close-to-the-bone sonnets to love and loss and age and death and family and money and social and political concerns to the public completely unfiltered.

It is beyond the music, though. There is a connection Kellogg makes with audiences that is unique; the shared experience of his personal story, the way he finds the universal thread of humanity that gets under the skin with a voice that is a mixture of sultry country-tinged pinpoint melodic crooning and genuine rock and folk aw-shucks. He sings without the haughty weight of symbolism in the album’s first single, “High Highs, Low Lows”; Only one way the river flows / Was it comedy or tragedy / Both I would suppose / High highs and low lows. And when he is done everyone in the room is with him.

“The tour we’re doing, just me and Eric sharing it all night after night, which is the first of two ways we’re bringing this album to audience, just feels so correct,” Kellogg told me a few weeks back when he began this journey. “These songs and these venues are the perfect introduction, but then we’ll go out and play the album the way we recorded it… with a full band.”

Donnelly, who plays in both incarnations, co-wrote six of the songs on Objects in the Mirror, acting as co-producer along the way. He was also the impetus for the entire project as he prompted his friend to Come on and make an album already!

“It’s really special having Eric with me on the road and being able to share what I see going on out in the audience when we play these songs,” Kellogg said an hour or so before showtime. “Beyond being a great musician to play with a lot of his heart is in this record too, and it’s been pretty nice to soak it up together.”

The room is pin quiet when the new songs come (well, mostly, on this night Kellogg has to uncharacteristically berate some loud chatter over by the bar, which garners righteous applause). You get the feeling when listening to them one after the other that the songwriter is peeling back layers from his life. “Song for Daughters”, wherein he sings my favorite track on the new album– spoiler alert, I too have a daughter – has begun to move people as much as the songwriter. It’s chorus of Don’t be too hard on yourselves is chill-inducing, but not in any maudlin way. Just the opposite, there is a genuine sense of communicating with his children the way Kellogg does with the audience, through his most powerful tool, music.

He sings, This is a song for our daughters, cause there’s some things they need to hear / We never know when it’s our time to go, so let me be perfectly clear / You’re gonna win, you’re gonna lose, you’re gonna walk around in your shoes / ‘Til one day it’s you who will say… Don’t be too hard on yourselves…

One of Kellogg’s female brood has joined him on this leg of the tour, 11 year-old Adeline, an adorably semi-bored soul who occasionally puts her head on daddy’s shoulder during our backstage chat. Of course, I have to ask her about when her sisters had first heard the song. “Well, I remember dad got all of us together in the living room at my house and he played it for us and at first I didn’t really want to hear it because I didn’t feel like listening to a song right then…” Laughter fills the room, and after she politely allowed it to die down, she finishes. “But I listened to it and I really felt some kind of connection, and it is an incredible song and I was really proud of him for writing it.”

Adeline’s dad’s performances on this tour, and the current one he’s embarked on with a full band, suitably reflect what he achieved on Objects in the Mirror; this sense of self and a surge of positivity that comes from never having abandoned that most precious of human resources, hope. It is all over his record, from the sometimes humorous but endearing “All The Love (That Comes To Me)” (I’ve got all I ever wanted / But I still cannot believe / How I love to take for granted / All the love that comes to me) to his profession of undying love from the very start for his wife of nearly17 years (they’ve been together “26 years and counting”), Kristen, “Love of My Life” (But of all of the best memories that live in my head / It’s you in those blue jeans on the day that we met) there is a fierce embrace of life.  

“I’m feeling that the presentation of these songs is a different role than I’ve played before,” Kellogg tells me. “It feels more inclusive and it sort of operates on the basic premise that most people are fundamentally good and trying to take a breath and get back to that. And you know what, that feels really important these days.”

To that end, Objects in the Mirror does not shy away from the current climate of anti-civility that exists from Washington DC to the Internet, as in “Symphony of Joy” that cross-checks the breaking of glass ceilings and when they finally shatter; Those who pinned you to the margins, baby, they’ll be sweeping up. “I’m trying to find ways to discuss the way the world is right now that is beyond ‘they’re wrong and we’re right’,” says Kellogg. “But I feel anger too, and I am constantly battling this sense of just being furious with what’s going on, but I just can’t use my emotions up on that. I have to find the happiness in there.” And for this he presents perspective, specifically, and perhaps not coincidentally on the two penultimate tracks on the album, “I Will Always Have Your Back” and “Right There By You”.

However, there is one track on Objects that may explain this sentiment the best. It hits on several themes, some controversial, some spiritual, but mostly inspirational. It is called “Prayers”, but it ain’t what you think. Played softly on a piano – one of the first Kellogg has written on an instrument he is just beginning to comprehend – it is a beseeching to go beyond the vagaries of detachment and the impulse to give up, and offers a rather strict edict; Every unkind thing we say leads to our unhappiness / No one in the world gets by without feeling bad sometimes / I’m not trying to be a jerk / But say your prayers, get off your ass and get back to work.

Some have bristled at this as a tad insensitive, but when watching the songwriter hunched over the piano and singing it softly on this night, with zero pretense, it is hard not to embrace his refrain.  

“I reworked that one a lot, almost as much as I’ve worked on a song, because I didn’t want it to feel soap boxy at all,” he recalls with some measure of humor. “I was going for this idea, you know, say your prayers, hope for the best, but then roll up your fucking sleeves and let’s go! It requires you too, and that’s always been my shaky relationship with religion and spirituality. I found myself wanting to sing about it and the lyric really isn’t totally where I can land for songs, that end line, ‘Say your prayers and get off your ass and back to work’, so I wanted to make sure that I was one-hundred percent behind it and comfortable, and ultimately by the time that I was done with it, I was. But in no way did I expect what that song was going to mean to people.”

However, it is when Kellogg and Donnelly perform the title track that there’s not a rustle in the audience. Suddenly, all the hoopla by the bar and the clinking of glasses and murmur of the back tables drop silent. Last day I remember mama acting like herself / When the angels took her home / I was never so alone. “Objects in the Mirror”, as a song and an album, and as Kellogg likes to point out, an idea speaks of the journey, the one we have taken and the one we find ourselves on; most of it has little to do with our choices. Life happens, and it is good to remind one’s self of how and when it changes us. His touchstones are right there for us to see – childhood impressions, iconic public events, personal tragedies, the loss of innocence – the moments of mourning of death or the slow passage of time or the ever-evolving heart and its comprehending of an oft-times cruel world. This is both an unblinking glimpse at the tragic while celebrating the survival of it, as is his show, which is open, and conversational – in both storytelling and song-sharing.

“I am constantly battling this sense of just being furious with what’s going on, but I just can’t use my emotions up on that. I have to find the happiness in there.”

Donnelly’s recollection of the song speaks of how the album’s themes began to emerge. “Stephen had given me a Dropbox file of about 80 different ideas and ‘Objects’ had a couple different iterations and I remember that line wasn’t quite there yet, but it was close, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s something, but I don’t know what it is yet’,” he says. “And at the very end of the process, Stephen mentioned liking what he called then ‘the date song’ and then connected those dots of the objects in the mirror idea with this date song, and we started texting ideas back and forth. That’s when I knew Stephen was off to the races.”

Donnelly, whose work on the album Kellogg is quick to point out was not only paramount, but crucial, made sure I knew that he watched his partner at the top of his game when it came time to working with some of the best Nashville session cats, as if catching a glimpse of one of the world’s most accomplished athletes in his prime. “Maybe it’s because Stephen didn’t have a set band and was completely in charge of the project, but he became this person that I hadn’t seen before,” recalls Donnelly of the duo’s first days in Nashville. “It’s incredible to say this, whether playing the guitar or singing, I don’t think he made a single mistake, and the entire record was done live! I mean, that just doesn’t happen. On ten songs in four days, there wasn’t one time that we listened back to a take and said, ‘Oh, the vocal wasn’t good, but we’ll just have him re-sing it.’ It was just a really cool thing to be around how focused and how in his element Stephen was throughout those sessions.”

‘I feel like…woah, this album has created a moment for me,” Kellogg concluded during our initial conversation later last year, when the sessions were still freshly in his own rearview. “And for every listener that quotes it or shares it or someone who writes about it or you guys podcasting about it (Adam Duritz of Counting Crows and yours truly played some of the songs on our weekly Underwater Sunshine podcast) is all part of the momentum that allows you to believe in yourself enough to think like, yeah, I have things to say and we’re going to get this out in the world and act as the medicine that we intended it to be.”

The ovation continues throughout the night. It continues as Kellogg takes his band across the country getting these songs of hope and loss and love out in the world. I can hear them now, still bouncing off the walls of the place enough to last, like memories, like objects in our own mirrors, for a little longer than a single show.

Kellogg thanks everyone, gayly tips his hat and heads to the next stage to administer another dose of his musical medicine.

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CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Aquarian Weekly
3/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion

CABLEVISION MONOPOLY & THE MORAL IMPERATIVE 
Or…The Death of Choice in The Cyber Age

I live in a fortified compound in the mountains. It is my life choice, well, my wife’s and mine. I choose only to live an urban or rural existence. I want to be either lost in a sea of humanity or invisible in nature. Splendid, if I may, dear Warren, isolation. Suburbia is not for me…or us. As a consequence, we do not have broadband up here yet. Therefore, if we want access to the Internet – let that read, phones, web service, television, ANYTHING…we need to use Cablevision. If you are unfamiliar with this company, it’s because they choose to go by the “hideout” title of Optimum. Why? Mainly, because they suck, and their owner is a bleating troll of a man and his family is the vermin that have single-handedly destroyed the NY Knicks. But that is for another column. For now, we concentrate on this monopoly and how it is wholly unconstitutional. 

So, how come it exists?

Well, you say, there is plenty of unconstitutional shit that exists: income tax, health insurance monopolies, bullshit drug laws, the Patriot fucking Act, but that is not bothering me now. This is. So stick your “what abouts…” somewhere and follow along. 

Recently, I was mere days late with a payment to Cablevision. It was the first time since the 1980s and certainly for the first time since I have been at my current address here in the mountains that this has occurred. But I noticed a ten-dollar charge on my current bill as a consequence of this heinous faux paus. Now, I’m a big boy and I take what I have coming…mostly. I am willing to pay my due for tardiness or driving into a temporary police barrier or for the bizarre things I did in Freeport, Bahamas lo those many years ago. However, I did have a point here. 

You see, in the weeks after the Hurricane Sandy recovery, I entered a debate with the upper regions of management at Cablevision on how ten days of non-service should be deducted from my bill. They disagreed, claiming, perhaps quite rightly, that circumstances being as they are, a natural disaster dictated that they could not provide service. To refute this sidetracking, I actually used the example that would come to befall me this week: “Well, I bet, that if I were late ten days with my monthly payment, I would suffer the consequences.” They hemmed and hawed with that, never mentioning that for a late payment (one day or one month) there is a charge. 

And so, I went hard at Cablevision this week, who, predictably hid behind some poor woman from India, who answered my complaints with great aplomb. Although it was nearly impossible to understand her apologizing and saying she could do nothing about the charge due to her heavy accent. Despite this, I tried to explain that for three-plus decades I have been duly paying my bills promptly without fail, and shouldn’t there be a special dispensation for loyal, on-time late bill payers? “Sorry, sir…” was how each of her tack answers, clearly read from some sheet, began. 

You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service.

I asked, as is my wont, for several supervisors, but not surprisingly none came. What may have been surprising to the woman halfway across the globe was I patiently waited for nearly 45 minutes for one of these cowards to emerge and handle my growing recalcitrance. The hearty customer service woman even stayed on the phone with me and after a time too became a little miffed. 

You know who gets away with this shit? Companies that have a monopoly.

You know how I know Cablevision does not care if I am screwed around or to even give me an audience to my complaint?

Allow me to demonstrate…

I thanked the woman and offered my condolences for the unforgiving gig she had to perform and proceeded to check and see what other providers of the Internet I may procure.

Spoiler alert: There are none.

Actually, that is not entirely true. Verizon (after several and varied calls to them and enduring its rather cumbersome web site experience) finally offered my home a direct DSL line, only if I would commit to two years with them and accepted their TV package, which I do not need. I just want Internet, and quality Internet. I have two girls at home, helping me clog up four devices and three televisions, who would skin me alive if they had to suffer sub-par Internet speed. DSL would not cut it. So, really, it is partially true that I cannot find competition for high-speed Internet in the Jersey mountains, a mere 34 miles from the biggest city and largest media center on planet earth. Not to mention residing in a country that busted monopolies in the early 20th century.

My quandary, of which I stated to the overly bubbly representative from Verizon named Ethan, was “I would as soon as pay a homeless man to stand on my lawn with a rusty antennae than to hand over another dime to the veracious monstrosity that is Cablevision, however I cannot live for five minutes on DSL with my daughter’s Herculean tick-tock output and the constant stream of anti-Trump rhetoric blasting from every monitor in the house.” 

This was vexing to say the very least. The amount of hate and rage that filled my otherwise dormant heart over ten bucks may seem like abject craziness to you, but at that moment it was to be my Alamo.

So…?

I finally swallowed hard and manned up. Calling into Cablevision with the express purpose of ending my relationship with this demon corporation and begin extricating myself from the soul-crushing grid had become a moral imperative. This had transformed from a meager customer/company spat into Armageddon.

Strangely, but maybe not so much, the phone prompt wait is next to nothing when one chooses “Ceasing Service”. The voice on the other end sounds as if it were down the block and not in the Middle East. It is warming and congenial and did not ever respond to my whining with anything less than empathy. The name, blessedly, of this avenging angel was Jessica, who even echoed my sentiments with a positive, “Oh, yeah,” when I mentioned that in this day and age Internet service is as important as heat and electricity (well maybe not electricity, since you need electricity to get the WiFi going, but still). And this sweetly accommodating soul not only waved the wicked ten-dollar late fee, but duly discounted my bill the same tenner in perpetuity.

Suddenly, miraculously, my anger was assuaged, and I was $130 richer. 

Who cares? is how you would correctly respond if you read most of this piece. You are still connected to an insidious anti-American plot to dominate your Internet service, you might say. And you would be correct. But, come on, DSL? What year is this? And how can my girls handle an entire Sunday without adorable cat videos on YouTube or how can I get through a day without Tweeting something horrible?

So, I guess, let’s look into this appalling stain on our liberties at a later date and excuse me while I order something I definitely do not need on Amazon.  

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TRUMP vs KIM II

Aquarian Weekly
3/6/19

Reality Check

James Campion


TRUMP vs KIM II
This Time It’s More Stupid & Just as Meaningless


I know much should not be expected from a game show host posing as president, but this one takes the cake – even for The Donald. How he was now twice suckered by this fat little shit heel in North Korea is beyond comprehension. The guy is pushing 73 years-old, obese, on a myriad of medications for old guys and he has to schlep halfway across the world to suck up to a dictator, offering one gushing compliment after the other and tossing around words like love as if a 1960’s soul song parody, and he gets the same thing; North Korea and Kim Jung-un have zero intentions of ceasing their nuclear capabilities or giving up their cache of weapons for America or China or anyone. Nor should he, since the last meeting between these two submentals, when they both shook hands, took photos and told everyone everything was fine, he has gone his merry way. And it appears will continue to do so.

Well, as long as Donald Trump loves him, like the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, American Enemy #1, Vladimir Putin, accused pedophiles, rapists, sexual harassers, sleazy NFL owners, and Virginia Nazis, we’re okay.  

So now, after all the pomp and blather and the usual pressers and fantastic publicity Jung-un gains from having the leader of the world’s most powerful nation fawning all over him while he continues to make a mockery of human rights, the whole thing falls apart with no deal, but plenty of finger-pointing contradictory post mortems from two lying-ass camps, and a steaming pile of embarrassment for the United States.

I don’t have to ask this question, but I will: Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic? Because it sure seemed like he and his sycophants were hinting that for months. This is after the first détente in which Trump kissed Jung-un’s ass and was certain that North Korea, shuttering in his wake, had already agreed to stop proliferating its nuclear arsenal. When his intelligence agencies, the ones he daily vilifies as if Russia’s carnival barker, showed him proof this was not in fact the case, just the opposite, that North Korea had ramped up their weapons efforts since, the president told them they were nuts and went back to eating cheeseburgers and watching FOX & Friends.

And so, entering this farce as he does everything – ill-prepared and breathing in his mind-numbing double-shots of delusion – the president was rife for being duped and duped he would be. Within hours of ramping up his heretofore woefully lacking negotiating skills, Trump bailed on the negotiations. He claims Kim-un would not budge on his weaponry (no shit) even while asking for the U.S. to lift all sanctions. Predictably, North Korea claims they would have gladly (I am sure, heh-heh) stopped their nuclear program for only a handful of lifted sanctions.

Let’s review: Lying sack of shit tyrant and the guy from North Korea both lied to each other, their own countries, and the world…again.

And while Trump was over in Viet Nam (he finally got there after his bullshit deferment during the war) lap-dogging a dictator who spat in his face and sent him home with his tail between his knees, his scumbag hood lawyer/fixer was telling the U.S. Congress what we already know – he’s a cheat, a racist and a con artist. This also bodes well for the international press, who snicker behind our amateur president’s back as he takes everything from diplomacy to government shutdowns to twitter fights with Spike Lee as performance art instead of actual governance.

But listen, unlike Trump himself, who mocked an actual working treaty with a tyrannical regime in Iran as “the worst deal ever”, I believe in trying new things with crazies, instead of the same old. So when the president was selling this idea that if he couldn’t get to Kim with nastiness and then smooching, no one can…so why not try? I did not disagree. I had doubts this moron could pull it off, but the idea was sound. Why continue to do what we’ve done for over a half century with North Korea? This was and is my point about the Iran deal, which Trump claimed to hate, while knowing nothing about it except it was conceived and executed by Democrats during the Obama Administration. Thus, in his usual spectacular level of hypocrisy he does the same thing as Obama did with Iran with Jung-un, but instead of bringing actual diplomats or representatives from the state department and written agreements that must be documented, he sits for tea and chats with a man who has him over the barrel, kicks the American press out of the room – because he knows he is getting his clocked cleaned – and then tells everyone he’s ending the proceedings.

Did Trump think his fabulous charm and tough swagger was going to sway this lunatic?

This hokey clusterfuck Trump has weaved in North Korea is just the tip of a foreign policy disaster he has going. Never mind the dozens of people in the defense and state departments that gave abandoned ship on this lavish foreign policy in which it is a one-man fantasy camp – as in standing next to the aforementioned Putin on foreign soil and telling the American press he believes a Russian despot over his own intelligence that Russia did not, in fact, commit a single hacking crime against our presidential election.

To wit: Standing at a press conference in Viet Nam, Trump defended Jung-un over the death of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died after suffering a massive brain injury while in a North Korean prison. “I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump told reporters.

This is the kind of idiocy that sent the former Defense Secretary James Mattis running for the hills. Infamously, it was Mattis who had to explain to the befuddled El Douche in January of 2017 that we need U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula “in order to prevent World War III” when Trump couldn’t grasp why we spend any money there. Later, Mattis would tell his subordinates at Defense that Trump “has the understanding of a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

This is an insult to my daughter and her friends, as I believe they would comprehend a need for defending the region, but I’ll take that up with Mattis at a later date.

But digesting these nuggets, all of this North Korea goofiness makes sense now, doesn’t it?

I am never going to assume anything with this mess of a presidency, but I would guess this will be it for the Trump/Kim love affair. Who knows if there will be more threats, vindictive nicknames or bizarre tweets, but with the Syrian situation in flux, this weird pussyfooting with Venezuela (troops in Columbia?), India and Pakistan (both nuclear powers) on the brink of war, and the powder keg Middle East, it is good to see a complete dunce has our back.

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WHERE WE ARE ON WEED

Aquarian Weekly
2/27/19

Reality Check

James Campion


WHERE WE ARE ON WEED
NJ Finally Poised to Vote to Legalize, Tax & Regulate Recreational Marijuana 

You know you’re close to actual legislation when committees are being formed, with fancy titles, and taxation has numbers to it and government officials, including the governor himself are going on the record with time tables. This means, at least as it currently stands, we are as close to an actual vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of New Jersey than we have ever been, and that is pretty damn cool and about friggin’ time.

“We’re still trying to machine this to get it over the goal line, but I think we’re all working really hard to get this done,” Governor Phil Murphy told reporters this week, tamping down too much excitement. “We’ve said all along that this is not a light lift.”

The pulling back of expectations is also a good sign, as NJ legislators begin massaging the vote with numbers that everyone can live with. We are just about through the morality bullshit stage where people warn against blood running through the streets and a plague of frogs. We’re into reality time here (oh, if only the federal government worked in this construct) and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

With New York suddenly breathing down our necks, the Garden State needs to make this happen – beyond even the promises of Governor Murphy, who was supported in this space in 2017 for this and this only. It is a very lucrative and successful business model currently seeing a variant of successes in eleven states. But just like anything else going state-to-state without a federal law to back it up, these are vacillating experiences. Each state has taxed, regulated and policed the new laws in differing ways. In fact, some have “relaxed” restrictions now, sort of a test pattern of legislation most recently in Michigan, Utah and Missouri – in all cases the popularity of legalizing recreation weed is well over 60 percent.

Here in NJ we’re at 62 percent, but much higher among people under 50. How this is being represented by our…ahem…representatives will to be determined. The measure needs 21 votes in the Senate to pass. The conservative estimate of absolute votes on record currently is 16. The hold up on some of these potential thumbs-up votes have to deal with reaching agreements on the initial number of licenses to be distributed and how many public consumption sites would be allowed. There is also language in the latest bill which include expungements — clearing marijuana convictions from criminal records – that has to be ironed out. But perhaps the most pressing hurdle was traversed over the past month when taxation was put to rest.

Ah, yes. Taxation. This is the main reason this space had called for this measure – beyond the hypocrisy of having alcohol, sport-book gambling, bear hunts, et al being legal and a profitable substance being viewed with an early 20th century lens – is the money that could curtail the high cost of living in this state; property and school taxes being the big culprits. How lawmakers came to an agreement makes perfect sense, which scares me, because usually making sense is enough to doom any bill. “There will be a $42 excise tax on every ounce that is sold, regardless of price,” State Senator Nicholas Scutari told CBS News this week. “There will be a three-year look-back in case we need to reevaluate that because it is a possibility that the price goes down so low that $42 becomes unmanageably high.”

We’re into reality time here … and we’ll soon have people on record to how we shall continue to proceed into the 21stcentury.

The reason why taxing by weight is important is the simple supply and demand shift in the pricing of a once illegal substance brought into the economic structure of a state. For instance, a Cuban cigar is somewhere in the range of $32 to $35 right now. A similar quality cigar, like my favorite, the Ashton Magnum, singularly goes for anywhere from $11 to $15. The mistake is in thinking that you’re taxing a $32 item once it is legally and thus readily available, but if the U.S. Congress were to lift the ridiculously meaningless embargo on Cuba the price of these cigars would plummet to the range of Dominican cigars (Ashton is Dominican), which are in the class, but in my estimation have not yet reached the level of quality of the Cuban. All of this, of course, effects how the cigars will be taxed.

There is not enough time to go into the ridiculously high tobacco tax here, but holy shit, man.

In essence, this kind of market shift is what happened to flat-screen TVs over the past decade-plus. What used to be a luxury item, priced as such, flooded the market and became pedestrian. And this is where the government has to be prepared to ride the decrease in price for the legalized brand of pot, as opposed to those who may still choose the black market to purchase theirs. I personally think it is silly not to since now one will know what one is actually buying.

The price of an ounce of marijuana has plummeted to half in the past year in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize it in 2014. It has reportedly generated over $5 billion in revenues for the state in the past five years, but I am not sure if Colorado legislators provided a failsafe for the free market to dictate the price, which it always will. My guess is they are getting hammered in their projections – for a good example of this see the federal government’s projections for the success (not) of the passing of the Affordable Care Act or the recent Republican tax reform law (not), which both woefully misread the actual pace of its returns. This is something governments due by rule. NJ has to be on this, and it looks like it is.

Governor Murphy originally wanted a tax closer to 25 percent, but with the tax-by-ounce agreement it will be closer to 12 percent to start. Either way the projections are good for added tax revenue immediately for the state.

All of this to say that we are close, as close as we can possibly be to getting there, but we are talking about votes and changing the laws dramatically for a controversial subject. Nevertheless, one that has rightfully been discussed in rational ways in the past half-decade leading to us profiting from it.

Hooray for the free market and democracy. Only a half century to make a plant legal.

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THE NEW LEFT

Aquarian Weekly
2/13/19

Reality Check

James Campion

THE NEW LEFT
& The Dawn of Generation Progressive 


The abysmally erratic first two years of our Game Show President unleashed an explosion of women into the U.S. Congress this year, most notably a 29 year-old no-nonsense balls-out Bronx kid named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aka AOC – in the social media parlance of our times. AOC is an unapologetic, vocal, and bring-the-pain socialist. Trust me, this is coming from someone who was registered as one in the late 1980s and hounded for half a decade to write for and speak on behalf of its tenants – so much so that it eventually sent me running screaming back to a libertine level of capitalism. But this ain’t the 80s, it is the age of Trump, whose inability to form a sentence or have an original thought or understand much less embrace any ideological concept has allowed him to be hijacked by isolationists, evangelical nuts, and the age-old GOP Trickle-Down thing that is coming home to roost for middle-class tax returns this year. Since, the tribes have gone to their corners. Trump holds on to his 35 to 40 percent zealotry while the New Left has taken control of a third of the federal government that will challenge where the Democratic Party may go into the fast-approaching 2020 presidential scrum.

All of the above would have been considered fair political analysis before things went way off the rails. Now anything goes, because if this current craziness is acceptable than bring on the opposite craziness, right? Compared to the pall of 2019 DC, which has no real agenda beyond feeding the fragile ego of a maniac, and the general feckless capitulation therein, we have ourselves a vacuum, and it is being filled.

But, really, how crazy is socialism in a country with income tax, Social Security, Medicare and the most popular entertainment on the planet, the NFL – a completely socialist construct that controls wages, shares revenue, shuts down free speech, exploits bullshit patriotism, blackballs its employees, awards liars and cheaters, and forces American cities to build giant edifices in which to ply their brain-damaging trade? Shit, they want to kick people off their land to build a southern border wall no one needs or wants. Socialism is everywhere, bub, and to be fair it is really popular and it’s getting more and more so. There is now an entire generation of kids who are finally seeing our fixed game and now with a bunch of demented old white men running things into the ground, giving each other tax breaks and attacking minorities, immigrants and the socially progressive, they have awakened from their normal level of stupor to get involved.
 

And they are not alone. What AOC and nearly every early Democratic candidate for 2020 has learned is everything they are bringing to the fore is amazingly mainstream.

At the top of the list is an expansion of what is suddenly not only an invincible Affordable Care Act, which is the main reason the House of Representatives flipped in such a dramatic way last November than anything else. Clearly unpopular in 2010, ironically costing the previous president the House, it now costs the current one its chamber. The ACA has become a major plus for progressive candidates. In fact, a FOX News poll right before the 2018 midterms revealed 51 percent of Americans support the ACA while 40 percent despise the 2017 GOP tax cut which is predictably unraveling among middle class voters, especially in the states that made Donald Trump president, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. And that is FOX News! The others, as you can imagine, lean further left and were even higher. This has also been exacerbated by the realization that the jobs El Douche promised these poor suckers are not coming back. For instance, the coal industry, despite a massive deregulation campaign, has been losing more jobs under Trump than Barrack Obama, but this of course has nothing to do with presidents. It’s called capitalism and progress. If only Trump or those who voted for him understood this before it was too late.    

The New Left isn’t coming. It is here.

You would think nothing could compare to the power of the ACA or the fury building out there against the rich. But let’s consider the 77,000 desperate Rust Belt Trump voters also supported another admitted socialist, Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders was the populist, isolationist, anti-trade, pro-American working-class candidate standing against Hillary Clinton. There is enough post-2016 data that makes it possible that had Sanders not been ripped off by the Democratic Party and the Clinton Campaign, he may be the 45th president instead of whatever the hell this thing is in the White House. This has always been about Hillary Clinton and not Trump or Sanders for that matter.

The numbers don’t lie. In fact, we should have seen this coming. For instance; the only right-leaning president to win the popular vote in the last quarter-century-plus is George W. Bush in 2004. Obama won it twice. And despite the propaganda, Obama, a pro-free-trade, pro-Wall St., geopolitical centrist was not remotely as “radical” as AOC or what is a large Democratic caucus in the congress right now. In fact, The New Left is the final nail in the Clinton/Moderate/Electable coffin. Those days, like the days of pure conservatism Trump has slaughtered, are over.      

Need some more samples of how The New Left is more mainstream than you think? How about two out of three Americans, and its building monthly, support gun control measures? Many of them are starting, for the first time in my lifetime, to inch this majority to challenge the Second Amendment, which I thought silly in the 1980s. And no one can blame a generation filled with kids who’ve been shot at now in record numbers for over a decade. I kind of predicted this one a while ago, and it is starting to happen and happen with a wind at its political back.

Marriage equality is not even up for debate anymore, obviously, but its support is now in the eighty-percent level, which is stunning, even for an old marriage equality warhorse like me. Roe v Wade? Holy crap. While the numbers for restrictions on abortion have risen in recent years, with the advent of science, still a solid 60 percent of Americans do not support overturning it.

Finally, the two new ones that have rightfully brought the fear of Allah into the hearts of the ultra-right across the board is AOC’s call for a Green Initiative. But eight out of ten Americans accept the overwhelming science on Climate Change, including 65 percent of Republicans, while the president thinks it is – like all things with this guy– a hoax. And the 70-percent tax rate on people making over $10 million a year that has sent the Right into paroxysms of fear and loathing? Eighty percent of Americans agree with this idea. Factor in the over three million popular-vote even Clinton accrued and the sheer volume of voters that came out for Democrats in 2018, those are the kind of numbers that win elections. As long as we keep having them and the new generations who support socialist measures come along, you can see why GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is doing backflips trying to pass laws to suppress it.

The New Left isn’t coming.

It is here.  

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THE DISHONEST ARTIST

Aquarian Weekly
1/30/19

Reality Check

James Campion

Guest Columnist – Sean Barna


THE DISHONEST ARTIST

This week I turn over this space over to a guest columnist for only the third or fourth time in my nearly 22 years of Reality Check. Sean Barna is a wonderfully honest singer-songwriter that I have personally interviewed and featured in this music paper last year after the release of his brilliantly courageous Cissy EP, but most importantly I am now proud to call him friend, colleague and brother-in-arms. His work inspires me, his songs challenge me, and his performances are experiences. My place in all of what you are about to read may be minor but nonetheless noteworthy. His recent personal and familial revelations and how they have reflected and effected his art written beautifully below was sent to me out of the blue this week and I asked the author if he would allow me to share it with my readers. Fortunately, for us all, he said yes. And so it is with honor that I bequeath my little corner of the world to Sean’s voice. 
                                                                                             – jc 


Every year, on the Friday evening of MLK weekend, I park my car on CO-RD 30, at the base of Red Mountain, in Lake City, Colo., and trek through the snow for an hour to my friend Kale’s cabin tucked away from civilization at 10,500 feet. By the time the sun is down on Friday, I am joined by twelve to fifteen of some of my dearest friends, not to mention a newborn baby, two toddlers, and four or five dogs. We have all the eggs, cheese, tortillas, and chili we will need for the weekend, and plenty of cheap beer and whiskey to pass the time between meals. There are almost too many of us to fit comfortably in this two-bedroom cabin, but when I get anxious, I open the sliding glass door and walk out onto the porch, where I can stare down at frozen Lake San Cristobal to find solitude and silence.


Most of this group met in 2009 and 2010, when we were all living in Paonia, Colo. Many have moved on from that place of magic, but Paonia is our common thread. From these people, and from the majesty of the snow-covered San Juan Mountains, I draw life-affirming energy. While I traverse up the mountain atop six feet of snow pack with borrowed snow shoes, my city-ravaged body toiling through every step, I feel powerful and free.

This past Sunday, January 20, while two of these friends encouraged me from the saddle of a parked snowmobile, I sent a voice memo to my parents telling them, “I am definitely a queer person, and have been for a long time. I’m also with someone, and happily so.” Then I turned off my phone and ascended 2,000 feet up the mountain, breathless from the altitude and hoping to calm the anxiety and ignore the feeling that I needed to vomit.

I am 33 years-old. The negativity and anxiety I invited into my life by staying silent about my sexuality has been unbearable for a while, as was the near-constant focus on worst-case scenarios of coming out. My dentist asked me once, “Do you suffer from anxiety? You are grinding your teeth so hard at night they are actually breaking.” Not cracking — breaking.

Of course, every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it. In 2003, an inattentive driver with a suspended license hit my brother with a car and killed him. The effect on my parents was immense, devastating, and remains the great tragedy of their lives. Of course, this was also a tragedy for me, and any decision to come out as queer had to be made in the fog of grief. What I thought for a long time was that I could not hurt them anymore, even if protecting them put an extra burden on me. My queerness, I thought, would be inherently painful for them.

But my brother died fifteen years ago, and at this point I’ve released two EPs and one LP that do not shy away from queer themes or, for that matter, the grief of losing my brother. Especially in last year’s EP, Cissy, I deal with queer themes in nearly every lyric. “Serious Child” is about the underbelly of Brooklyn nightlife, “Danger Baby” is a tragic story of a trans woman who loses her battle to an intolerant society, “Modern Man” is a searing dissection of masculinity, and “Queer Mad Blues” is a love letter to queer people having a hard time. My observations of queerness did not go unnoticed, including by the gay-centric publication, NewNowNext, Billboard’s LGBTQ column, Aquarian Weekly, and a few podcasts.

On the podcast Underwater Sunshine, author James Campion and singer Adam Duritz of Counting Crows spent nearly an hour going lyric by lyric, dissecting where Cissy fits into the canon of queer songwriting. Adam sings on one of the songs and is one of my best friends and he tried to steer the conversation away from it actually being stated that I am, myself, queer. James did not realize I was not “out” and could not help making the obvious observation that the scene I was describing was, in fact, my scene.

Every coming out story is unique, but for me, the decision was laced with a dangerous mix of shame, fear, and a genuine concern for how my parents would take it.

I understand — my lyrics are honest, and I am proud of them. Because of this, my friends thought I was being ridiculous. They would say, “Haven’t your parents heard the lyrics? They must already know.” In fact, they know all the lyrics by heart, but in public interviews I would instead discuss the honesty and fearlessness of the drag queens I had come to know in the Brooklyn drag scene. Much of Cissy is about these drag queens. Instead of talking about my role in queer art, I would talk about theirs. Then, in mid-November, on the third floor of a typical walk-up apartment in Brooklyn, one of the queens, Misty Meaner pulled me aside and dressed me down. Or as it is known in gay culture, she read me — hard, brutal, and for more than an hour, while our friends barely pretended not to notice. She said I owed it to my parents, I owed it to other queer people who have come out, and I owed it to myself. “You better get your shit together and stop being a coward,” she said.

I was playing a role I was ashamed of, that of the dishonest artist. In the midst of finalizing the lyrics for my next LP, Margaret Thatcher of the Lower East Side, and on the eve of a tour and official showcase at SXSW that will bring more publicity, I knew I had arrived at an unsustainable situation. I started telling my friends that I would come out while I was in Colorado. I knew the reflection of the sun on the untouched snow of a 13,000-foot mountain peak would make me feel small and impermanent, its cleansing brightness reminding me that it’s a miracle any of us exist at all. Standing in this place, reaching the peak after hours of arduous hiking, you can always look back and see the footprints to be reminded of your journey. I knew that if I could carry my secret all the way up this mountain and then back to New York City, I might carry it forever.

In the end, I told my parents my secret by texting them a voice memo. I did not know how they would respond, so I climbed. When I finally unlocked my phone to read their reactions, I was halfway up the mountain. I saw that within three minutes of receiving my message, my parents responded with grace, kindness, and love. Every fear I had was unfounded. And, of course, they already knew.

They’d heard my songs, after all.

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ACE FREHLEY LOOKS BACK IN PRIDE

Aquarian Weekly
4/6/16

BUZZ

James Campion


ACE FREHLEY LOOKS BACK IN PRIDE
Space Ace Hits the Road with New Album of Rock Classics and Talks Guitar Worship, Rock Star Team-ups, Imposters and a KISS Reunion?

Far from the noise of the rock star life; the clamoring fans, the roaring crowds, the constant bickering with ex-bandunnamed mates in the press, a recently minted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer lounges on a couch in his suite high above Manhattan. He sips tea while blithely glancing at a muted TV across the room. This is Ace Frehley at 64; the fret-blistering Space Ace of KISS; the dominant and iconic harlequin outfit of 1970s fame, dressed rather casually in a blue tee shirt and jeans. An ace-of-spades locket, a reminder of his persona, dangles from a silver chain around his neck. He bends an ear to hear my questions and squints to remember the details of his answers, mildly clearing his throat, as if to conjure the wild mystery of his past. This is a genuine rock rebel in repose, a man at peace, but still very much rocking. Big time.

His latest album, Origins Vol. 1, sounding fat, bold and heavy, is due out this week, and he is very proud of it; the songs he’s chosen, beloved covers from classic rock acts, and his guest stars, not the least of which is former brother-in KISSdom, Paul Stanley. He is proud of having conjured it in his private studio in San Diego, where he now calls home, and his engineering and editing of many of the solos and vocal tracks on it.

Mostly, he is proud of his legacy in the pantheon of rock; the lineage of which is profoundly presented on Origins. Perhaps the most influential guitarist of his generation, whose unique shoot-from-the-hip style is often imitated but never duplicated, now pays homage to his heroes; Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and many more.  And although it is difficult for him to wrap his mind around his impact in the wake of such musical giants, what does find its way through resonates. KISS was indeed a major rock spectacle. Its anthemic songs, burlesque imagery, and groundbreaking theatrical concerts turned the whole culture upside down. He was there; designed its logo and was the first to don its make-up – showing up at the annual New York Dolls New Year’s Eve bash in 1972 with silver hair and that striking Spaceman face-paint.

We spoke for nearly an hour about his music, his legacy and his love of the guitar, which took this fellow Bronx boy from a dead-end subsistence to the top of the world.

This is Paul Daniel “Ace” Frehley at 64, unplugged; honest, reflective and charmingly defiant.

 

jc: I’m going to start with something I’m sure you’re bored with talking about, but I have to ask you; why a covers record now?

 

AF: Well, actually it was the record company’s idea. To be honest with you initially I wasn’t that excited about the project, because I had just come off the high of the success of Space Invader, which is all originals except for a cover of “The Joker”. It was almost like, “Okay, I’m going to go through the motions and get this out of the way and then jump into the studio for my next real studio album.” But I gotta tell ya, man, once I started the process and started remembering the groups that influenced me, narrowing down which songs I thought were going to be best for the record, and then started the recording process; I really started getting more excited about it.

Then once I got Slash on “Emerald,” he was the first guest star that recorded, and Paul (Stanley) agreed to do it. I was trying to get a hold of Gene (Simmons) and for some reason Gene didn’t get back to me. But when Paul agreed to do it, I already had Slash in the can and I knew I could count on Lita Ford, because I already spoke to her about it last year, and John 5. I also spoke to Mike McCready a year or two ago and he said he was up for doing a track on my new record. So, all the ducks were in a row.

The last two weeks of the record I went up to L.A. I got John 5 and Lita Ford on the record the same day and that weekend Paul recorded the vocal for “Fire and Water”, while I was doing overdubs, and then he emailed the vocal back to us. I put a guitar solo on and we just mixed it. That was it. The whole process for “Fire and Water” was about four days from beginning to end.

 

How long did it take you to make the record?

 

Well, I started tracking last spring, but I went on tour last year to Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, and then came back and finished the record. Maybe the whole process took six months, leaving out the time I was on the road.

 

I understand you recorded some the tracks in your home studio in San Diego?3dedf7c2-a7ce-438d-917e-4e36d61dad10

 

My place isn’t big enough for drums. We have a two-story townhouse, and I have a really great room with preamps and mikes and stuff. I can do everything there but drums. There’s a studio in San Diego called Signature Sound and that’s where I did a lot of the basic tracks with drums. I tracked the drums and then I flew my engineer in from New York (Alex Salzman), who I like working with since Anomaly, and we did a lot of the overdubs, and then I went up to L.A. to do the remainder of the overdubs. A lot of the solos I engineered, like “Fire and Water”, the intro solo and a lot of the guitars on “Bring It On Home.” What else did I do? I did the solo for “Till The End Of The Day” in my studio alone. I’ve really gotten good at Pro Tools, where I can actually engineer myself. The only drawback is when you are engineering some of the creativity goes out the window, because you’ve got to stay focused on what you’re doing instead of just thinking about creating. I prefer working with an engineer, but when I don’t have one around I can do it myself.

 

The record sounds very heavy and fat. Is that something you guys were going for or you just stumbled on?

 

No, that’s what I was going for. Warren Huart, the guy who also mixed Space Invader, he’s got all that stuff; SSL-board, and he uses old preamps. On some of my vocals he’s actually using real tape delay.

 

So, you did a lot of analog recording then?

 

Well, a lot of it was recorded digitally, but in the mixing and overdubbing process, we used a lot of analog equipment to achieve more of a vintage sound.

 

One thing I’ve read about you over the years, specifically your first solo album when you were still in KISS in the 70s, which I love – it’s the only one I bought – is that you use many different guitars and various amps and effects. Did you do the same thing for this since you were covering different kinds of music from a variety of artists?

 

I use a lot of Les Pauls, but I like doubling Les Pauls with Fenders. I’ve got about a half a dozen Telecasters and a half a dozen Strats that I use, but in conjunction with different amps. I have a couple old Vox amps, a couple old Fender amps, and some old Marshalls. Last year I picked up a 50-watt Marshall I got in a pawnshop outside of Palm Springs. I picked up the head for $900 bucks. (laughs) I stole it! It was from the 70s, so, you know, it’s the combination of all that stuff. Vintage microphones. Vintage preamps. Everything tube. That’s how I achieved that fat sound. But layering Les Pauls and Fenders are really one of my trademarks that I’ve been using since the 70s.

 

When I saw that Mike McCready was joining you, because I know he’s is a big KISS fan, I was reminded of your solo on “She”, which is very reminiscent of Robbie Krieger’s solo on The Doors’ “Five to One,” and then McCready took that solo and used it in Pearl Jam’s “Alive”. It’s a great lineage. You guys ever talk about that?

 

Yeah, we’ve spoken about that. I met Mike several years ago, because my daughter was a big Pearl Jam fan when she was a kid. They took care of us at one of the concerts. Then I found out he was sober. I got sober. So we had that common bond. I ended up jamming with them at Madison Square Garden one night. We did…

 

“Black Diamond”.

 

“Black Diamond.” I jammed with them at Atlantic City at the Borgata Casino. I have a good rapport with him and Eddie (Vedder). I’ve wanted to get him on one of my records for a long time and finally it transpired.

 

I love the way the different vocalists change the style of each track, but you’re the constant throughout the whole record. With Paul, how difficult or how easy was that when you guys first got together? Tell me the whole process there.

 

We actually were never in the same room together. (laughs) Like I said, once me and Paul decided on which song to do, I was up in L.A .doing overdubs with John 5 and Lita and that same weekend Paul recorded the vocals at a different studio. We just emailed him the tracks. He did the vocals, engineered it, and emailed them back to us, and boom. Technology has changed the recording process so much.

In the 70s, we had to carry around these bulky, two-inch thick reels of tape that only held two or three songs depending upon the length of the song. Big tape machines. Every time you wanted to do an edit was with a razor blade. Now with digital editing, it’s a dream. I mean, the sequence of solos that me and Slash did on “Emerald,” we had a dozen passes or more of solos and I pretty much put that together piece by piece; picked the best ones from each performance.

 

I’m sure these are influential songs, but did you realize while recording them where your influences came from?

 

I didn’t connect the dots in that way. It’s just that I thought back to all the groups that influenced me. I really wanted to do a Who song on the record, I just couldn’t get that together.

 

Which one would you have done?

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I couldn’t decide. That was the problem! (laughs) Actually, towards the very end, prior to deciding on “Fire and Water,” Paul was kicking around the idea with me to do “My Generation.” I just wanted to do a song that was a little more obscure, like in the same way with the Hendrix song. I did “Spanish Castle Magic” instead of “Purple Haze” or “Manic Depression” or something off the first album, which everybody is more familiar with. So I kind of went down that road when it came to choice of certain songs, but I’m really happy with the end result. It always amazes me, because some of these songs, it was just so easy to do. It was effortless to me. I’m just amazed after the mixing process how strong they sounded, ‘cause I don’t really pay that much attention to detail when I’m recording. I just go for feel. But I work with some of the best musicians in the world, so that must be the secret. (laughs)

 

It sounds like you gave some real love to the songs, a respect to the origins of them. I’ll take “White Room” for an example. You achieved that signature wah-wah sound; that great (Eric) Clapton wah-wah sound throughout the song and then into the solo. Did you make a concerted effort to pay sonic homage to each song?

 

I had two wah-wahs in one of my boxes and me and my engineer plugged in both of them and they were way too noisy. They were old. The potentiometers were all dirty and it was making a lot of noise, so we ran out to Guitar Center and bought a brand new wah-wah, (laughs) a Vox wah-wah. I only did two or three passes of the solos, and out of those three passes, my engineer pieced together one solo. Everything kind of came together really… I’m still sitting here listening to… I still listen to the album almost every day. I keep hearing things that I didn’t hear from a prior listen.

I improvised all the solos on the record. I didn’t play the other people’s solos, note for note. I stayed pretty true to most of the arrangement. I ended up extending “Emerald” by redoing the second half of the second verse when I came out of the solo, which isn’t in the original arrangement. I actually like my arrangement better. (laughs) It kind of brings the whole song to an end nicely.

I had a lot of fun with the record. Sometimes when you have too many chefs in the kitchen it spoils the stew. I work very streamlined. In most cases, I’m recording with just me and one other person and an engineer. More than three people in a studio is a lot for me. I don’t like it that way. That’s how I did my very first, 1978 solo album with “New York Groove” and that form has always worked for me.

 

The thing I found researching my book (Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon – Backbeat Books, Oct. 2015) was that speaking to Bob Ezrin and a lot of people that worked on Destroyer, and reading your memoir, you’re used to coming in, hearing the track, playing your solo, and bingo! In fact, you used to say you used to figure out solos, get to the studio, and everyone would be saying, “Nah, it’s not really…” and then you’d wing it and that take would be better. It would seem that nothing has changed over all these years.

 

It’s been a long time since I sat down prior to doing a solo and tried to figure it out before I hit the record button. I just empty out my head. It’s a lot easier to do four or five passes and then pick the best parts. Like I said, with digital editing you can pick the front of one pass, the middle of another, and the tail end of a third and piece them together seamlessly, so you really can’t hear the edit.

 

But you have to learn that to play it live.

 

Well, I memorize all my solos once I play live, because a lot of them are pieced together. (laughs) For instance, I’ll tell you what happened with the solo in “Fire and Water.” I did about fifteen passes after I got the lead vocal from Paul. He did a tremendous vocal. I thought it was amazing, one of his best vocal performances, and I wanted to do a really outstanding solo. So I did about fifteen passes of solos and I started trying to piece them together and it just didn’t sound right. So I took a break. I went downstairs and had a snack, went back up in the studio, and I just did one last take from beginning to end and that’s the solo! And that’s a long solo.

Also, the stuff that me and John 5 did at the end of “Spanish Castle Magic” is pretty amazing. John did an amazing solo in the second half of “Parasite.” I doubled the length of the solo. I played the original solo like it is on the first record and John came up with a great solo for the second half.

 

Why did you choose “Parasite” and “Cold Gin?”AceFrehley

 

The record company thought I should do a couple of KISS songs and I figure, “Why not redo the songs that I’ve written but didn’t sing?”

 

Ahhh. That’s what I thought.

 

Gene sang on those. At the time, I didn’t consider myself a lead singer and was really insecure about my lead vocals. I said, “Gene you got to sing this.” And of course Peter sang a couple songs I had written over the years and in the beginning. But once “Shock Me” happened it was like the cat was out of the bag. I’ve been singing them in concert for years. I figure it’s about time I get them on the record.

 

Could you possibly pick a favorite song that you’ve written over the years? One you love to play live?

 

I don’t know. My favorite KISS song is definitely “Deuce.” It was the first KISS song I ever heard. It was before KISS was even KISS. When I went in to audition for the band they played “Deuce” for me and then I ended up playing a solo to it off the top of my head. Pretty much, I think those guys after that one song thought I was the guy. At least that’s what I’ve read in retrospect.

 

What about something you’ve written?

 

Something that I’ve written? I don’t know. So many songs to choose from. One of my favorite solos is the one in “Strange Ways.” I normally do my solos in the control room with the amp in another room, but “Strange Ways” was one of the few solos I stood in front of the stack. I stood in front of the Marshall stack with a tight set of headphones and that’s how I got that natural feedback. There is an intensity on that. The stack was on ten! (laughs) I almost couldn’t hear the track with headphones on, but it’s a pretty radical solo.

 

I have to say, now that I’m sitting across from you, the “100,000 Years” solo is one of the most melodic that you’ve written and you always seem to nail that, every time, even in the reunion tours. Have you played it since KISS? I love it. It’s so beautifully melodic.

 

Thank you so much. I forget about that song. I haven’t played that song in a long time. Maybe we should try doing that live. Maybe my drummer, Scoty should sing it. He sings “Love Gun” and “Detroit Rock City”.

 

Who’s in your touring band?

 

Scot Coogan on the drums. He plays on nine tracks on this record and the other three tracks are played by Matt Starr, who did the drumming on Space Invader. Chris Wyse on bass. I’m playing bass on about four tracks. Richie Scarlet is on rhythm guitar for the tour.

 

The obvious question is will there going be a Volume II?

 

Yeah, it was actually my idea to call it Volume I. (laughs) I just thought it was a great marketing ploy and everyone’s going, “Is there going to be a Volume II? I go, “Maybe.” I have a feeling this is going to be a very successful record, because I think it has mass appeal. You don’t have to be an Ace Frehley fan to get off on some of the songs on this record. If the record does as well as I think it will, I definitely think there is going to be a Volume II, but not before I do another studio record.

 

Originals?

 

All originals, yeah, and then maybe after that, maybe Volume II. That would make sense.

 

I recently read that you would consider playing with KISS again.

 

I’ve always said that. I’ve always said, “Never say never. Leave the door open.” It’s really their call. I think it could be great. It would be a nice way for KISS to go out with a bang. You know, right now it’s really only half of KISS.

 

Right.

 

And everybody knows it. But like I said, the ball is in Paul and Gene’s court, but I would be open to the idea if it was presented to me in the right way. Sure.

 

I’ve been promoting my book now since October, and I’ve done a ton of podcasts and interviews and radio, and you’ve been the one member of the band that everybody gravitates to, perhaps because of your rebellious nature and the fact that you didn’t always buy into some of the more materialist KISS stuff; that you’ve been your own man. Do you realize how much people really love you?Ace_James_1-250

 

I don’t. The other thing that people always say to me, “Do you realize the impact you’ve had on so many guitar players? The influence you’ve had?” It’s just not something I think about. I’m really flattered when people say that to me. But, yeah, I’m kind of like the cool guy. (laughs) Let’s be honest. That’s what everybody said.

But it was never about the money for me either. I always wanted to be respected by my peers and I didn’t want to give up my integrity as a musician in lieu of a show or merchandise or anything. To me it was always the music first, the show second. Invariably with KISS, a lot of times the reviews would talk more about the show than the music. It was frustrating at times, but I think at this juncture I’m respected by my peers. I don’t know if Paul and Gene really are all the time.

 

What are your feelings about two other guys wearing the makeup? I know they can legally do it, but to fans know that’s not Ace Frehley out there.

 

Prior to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction a lot of people thought it was me, believe it or not! (laughs)

 

No shit. I don’t believe that.

 

People that aren’t hardcore fans and people that don’t really pay attention to the inner workings of KISS, a lot of them weren’t even aware of it. They’ve always downplayed Tommy (Thayer). But I think with all the controversy that surrounded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that they decided not to play with me and Peter, a lot of people got hip to the fact that, “Hey that’s not Ace in the makeup!” I’m telling you, a lot of people didn’t know. I used to get phone calls when KISS played in certain areas and somebody would say, “Hey can you get me tickets? I want to go see you play.” I go, “That’s not me. What are you talking about?” I’m telling you. (laughs) The people that weren’t hardcore fans, casual fans, some of them didn’t know. They thought it might be Ace.

 

Well, does it bug you?

 

I still get checks. (laughs) Unlike Peter, I still do get checks.

 

Well, that’s good.

 

They pay me for the use of the makeup and I get checks for merchandise, but it bothers me. You know what bothers me more; the fact that the fans are upset about it. It’s gotten really silly over the last year or so when Paul or Gene make these ridiculous statements like, “Well, you know, once we can’t perform any more, even we’re going to be replaced.” They’re trying to legitimatize the fact that there are two fake guys in the band by making a statement like that. But let’s face it, those guys making that statement is like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards saying, “Yeah, once we’re gone The Stones are gonna continue with two guys that look like us.” Give me a break. They will try anything to pull the wool over some people’s eyes.

 

But like you said, the true fans know.

 

There is only one real Space Ace.

 

That’s right!

 

Whataya gonna do?

 

Whataya gonna do?” That’s classic Bronx.

 

Go feegya.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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