Ani DiFranco In Bloom

Aquarian Weekly 5/12/03 REALITY CHECK

ANI DIFRANCO IN BLOOM
A Candid Discussion on Political Change, Gay Marriage, Jesus, and Personal Exorcism With Buffalo’s Finest

Ani DiFrancohow can one talk on the role of politics in art when art is activism and anyway both are just a lifelong light shining through a swinging prism

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Since our last published discussion two springs ago, my favorite folk gal has been through some dark times and personal reflection, while also managing to shoulder more social causes than any normal musical performer. Ani Difranco puts her passion where her music and soul reside, and does so under the microscope of the liberated and angry (she hates that) young woman artist thing. Her projects and efforts to restore and preserve her hometown in Buffalo, her overt national political endeavors and women’s rights engagements are inexhaustible, and to this grouchy cynic, enviable. Somehow she always finds her way into a studio and onto stages to perform her ass off.

On the heels of her latest record, the probingly intense, “Educated Guess” and a new one-woman tour hitting Carnegie Hall on 5/15, Ms. Difranco decided to open up in her only east coast interview this spring.

This is what transpires when two diminutive, big-mouthed Virgo troublemakers get together.

james campion: The last time we did this you had a very positive view of grass roots politics and how it can still engender change. So, after two more years of the present administration, another war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and everything else that’s happened since the spring of 2002, I wonder what your mood is today toward the American political scene.

Ani DiFranco: I’m still very optimistic for the potential of grass roots change. I still see and feel it out there. It’s what allows me to get up in the morning, the immense possibility that exists all around us right now. I was hanging out with my friend Dennis Kucinich the other night, and he’s so energetic and so brilliant and so positive. At one point he runs across the room and slams his hands against the wall and says, “Some people see a wall here, but in between each one of these molecules there’s a whole other reality! It’s something we can’t see or what we can see if we collectively envision it. If we draw it out. There’s another reality existing around us right now.” So we admitted that we don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.

jc: I was going to ask you about Kucinich and exactly how he represents the political side of your worldview. You backed his run during the democratic primary. Of course, Kerry is going to represent the party now, but certainly others like Kucinich and Howard Dean have given voice to the anti-war movement and other liberal agendas. Having said that I know you supported the last Ralph Nader campaign in 2000. I gave up on Ralph in ’96, myself. So I must ask where you stand on Kerry, and will you throw your considerable influence to Nader in the upcoming election?

“We don’t need to change the world. The world is changing around us. We just need to direct that change. And our power to direct it is immense once we use it.”

AD: (chuckling sarcastically) Ahhhh, no. My support four years ago for Nader was very qualified. I showed up for one of his rallies in New York with a press release in my little paw that said I support voting for him in the done-deal states, but in the swing states I felt very strongly about the priority being voting against Bush.

jc: No kidding.

AD: Yeah, that was my scene at the time. Somewhere along the way during those primaries somebody asked me, “Who do you think is the best candidate?” And I said, “Well…Nader. He’s got his head screwed tightest onto his shoulders. He has the best ideas.” So he sort of used that as an endorsement.

jc: So he never officially solicited your endorsement.

AD: Ralph called me up, personally, and said, “You know every time I say your name up on stage at a rally I get the biggest response.” He said, ” You gotta come out, Ani! You gotta come out!” And I told him, “Ralph, this is a very complicated situation.” But I was very impressed with the fact that he still wanted me to participate in the rally in New York with my qualified support. I even stood there at the press conference and said that I believe voting with my conscience means the lesser of two evils, because my conscience includes people less fortunate and more affected by these minute distinctions of corporate whores like Gore or Bush. Then, of course, along with a number of other people I was disappointed at the way Nader played that out, and the way he seems to be repeating that scenario now. Meanwhile, Dennis is still in the race.

jc: I’m glad you mentioned it, otherwise…

AD: Yeah, you’d never know. Of course, mums the word in the media. But he’s still in the race. And Dennis is doing exactly what I would hope Nader would eventually do, which is to stay in there through the primaries to push the debate as long as he can. The point being to show that the progressive population of America is here, that we count, that we matter. That we’re powerful, and that the Democratic Party must distinguish itself once again, if they want to survive, not to mention other more meaningful reasons. So Dennis plans to stay in the primaries, and then he’ll lend his support to Kerry in the general election.

My plan, personally, is to continue working with my friend, Dennis in whatever capacity we can invent, because he is a comrade, because he is a like-minded, wonderful, inspiring person to me. We’re bouncing around a few ideas that in the fall we’d do a swing-state tour. Doing voter registration. Creating shows that are part political rally, part musical party with a real eye toward the upcoming election, trying to get young people motivated and involved. Although it does seem that America is pretty darned inspired to get involved at this point, I would say, which is a relief.

Ani DiFrancojc: As you play across the country, what kind of passion do young people have for voting? That’s always been the concern since ’72; 18, 19, 20 year-old kids get motivated to go to rallies and contribute over the Internet, but as we witnessed with the doomed Dean campaign, will they actually come out and cast a vote?

AD: I really wouldn’t know. I stand on stage and I play guitar and I sing and talk to people, but I don’t know if they go out and vote. From what I hear, from the statistics that seem to be thrown about in this country people are not voting, especially young people, and it’s very understandable, the mass disillusionment with what is obviously a farce.

jc: The “fixed game” thing again.

AD: Yes, but ironically, it is the reinvestment in the belief in government that is going to get us out of this mess. It’s funny, even my friend Utah Phillips, who’s a card carrying anarchist – how’s that for an oxymoron – says he’s fixin’ to go register and vote this time. His philosophy is his body is his ballot and he votes with it every day, and I have a lot of respect for the way he approaches it. But for the rest of us, voting is a very important contribution and the first step to involvement and participation. While Utah talks about voting as assigning responsibility for governance to others, I think of it as securing institutional support for the good work of people, for the work that we are doing, that we continue to do, that we must do. Without people on the inside, without support of these institutions that exist whether or not we participate in staffing them or not, we can’t do the work. Our hands are tied. If we’re shipped off to a desert to die, or if we’re locked up for cannabis possession for untold amount of years, or etc, etc., we cannot live and grow as a people. So, it was heartening to hear Utah say he may step out of his anarchist shoes for a second and go and pull a level because it’s that fucking desperate.

I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.

jc: Speaking of the system, and the absurdities within, the last time we spoke we talked about what you called the “defacto economic segregation” which exists in this country, and of which you touch upon in your song, “Subdivision”. I equate that to the “cultural segregation” in this gay marriage issue. I wrote in a recent column that if you take out the frightened-by-the-unknown aspect of it, if you remove the vague moralities of it, and if you expunge God from it, the argument makes about as much legal sense as forcing citizens to sit in the back of the bus or women being denied the right to vote.

“I can only hope that young people can rise above the mind control of the media, which says consume, consume, consume and deny and forget your power as a citizen, and that we will rediscover it on our own through the encouragement and inspiration of each other.”

AD: I think you’ve got your finger right on the epicenter of the problem when you said take the moral part out of it. That’s the huge part of this debate. People are confusing God and religious customs and sanctions with laws. We are completely muddling this issue. I think that the word marriage should be dropped from that quest altogether, and we should all have civil unions in terms of the state involvement, because that’s what it is, legal benefits for partners. Gay or straight, you should have hospital rights or will rights. That’s all about civil union. We should make that across the board for all couples, and that’s as far as the law should go, providing legal rights for couples.

Now in terms of marriages and whether its Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve, or whether this is going to be culturally acceptable, that is fought out in the churches, in the communities, but it has nothing to do with the government’s role. Whether we want to accept it as a society it should be left out of the government’s responsibility to provide equal rights for people.

Actually my friend, Dennis helped my thoughts grow a bit on women’s right to choose for instance. Dennis is a Catholic boy from Ohio, grew up pro life and thinking abortion is wrong, and then he switched his position as a politician because he began talking to women, and listening to women, and realizing that unless an individual woman can control her own body she is not free. To not own your own body means you are a slave. He began to see it as a civil right that applies only to women, and conceive of it that way, and the government’s involvement in that matter should only be on that level in terms of preserving women’s freedom through guaranteeing this civil right. Whether or not it’s morally acceptable or reprehensible, that’s for the churches, for the people, for individuals to work out for themselves. It’s not for the government. The government should not legislate morality on that level.

jc: Of course this has always been my beef with the FCC.

AD: Yeah, and it’s just about clarifying government’s role in providing these civil rights. We have freedom of speech. The government’s job is to preserve that. What we say, whether its right or wrong, or good or bad, that’s for people to work out amongst themselves, and for society to put pressure on people that say bad things, but their right to say it must be guaranteed by the government, and the government’s job ends there.

jc: Did you have a chance to see “The Passion Of The Christ”?

AD: No. Not interested in the least.

jc: The reason I bring it up is I was quite hard on it because I spent some 12 years researching and writing a book on the search for the historical Jesus, and we’ve discussed the separation of the revolutionary historical figure versus the Christ figure before…

AD: Right.

jc: Now, using your analogy of Kucinich’s journey in reassessing the Pro-Choice issue, mine was the opposite. I’m always going on and on about defending the artists’ right to free expression, but yet I not only took offense to Gibson’s view of Jesus of Nazareth as a sacrificial vessel of a patriarchal God, but the method with which he magnified the same old Catholic dogma. I called Gibson a propagandist, yet I have always known intellectually that all art in one way or the other is the expression of a viewpoint in propagandist terms. Your songs. My writing. But my emotions seemed to swing me into a personal attack on the artist.

AD: Sure, but I can understand that. I didn’t see the film, but from what I understand of the Bible and the story of Jesus and what we have carried down culturally through the ages, it’s a multifaceted and life-affirming story, and there’s a little moment in there when he gets taken down. He’s taken down by the power structure. It’s a warning to those of us who want to make change. It’s a lesson there too. But to make a whole film on that moment…

jc: …or a 2,000 year-old religion for that matter.

Ani DiFrancoAD: Fuckin’ yeah! To boil it down to the moment of defeat and gory violence, I mean, even the crucifix as a symbol for him is just fundamentally morbid, bizarre, and wrong-headed. To show the man in his moment of defeat, when he was so full of life, when he gave people life, when he inspired people to freedom. To use that to represent his meaning I think is bizarre, and to construct a movie all around this sort of violent, unfortunate death? I would think that anyone with a real passion for that man and his teachings would make a movie about his life, not his death. I have no interest in gratuitous violence in movies to begin with, let alone of a religious nature. (laughs)

jc: This is why you’re one of my favorite people.

AD: (laughs)

jc: No, really, because I’ve spent all of my adult life trying to defuse this harmful myth, which to me shows a complete lack of respect regarding the assassination of someone who endeavored to demonstrate the divine spark of humanity, and then to prop it up as some sort of victory? I can’t accept it, and never could, even as a ten year-old Catholic-schooled boy.

AD: If we keep staring at that cross, at that moment of defeat, what are we supposed to feel? We’re supposed to feel hopeless, we’re supposed to feel powerless, we’re supposed to feel pity or remorse? What is that to keep carrying through the ages?

jc: Well, the most important thing you’re supposed to feel is guilt.

AD: Guilt! Oh, God! I forgot the guilt! (laughs)

jc: (laughs) That’s the key.

AD: I should have mentioned that one first.

jc: I’d like to talk about the new record, so this is the butt kissing part of the interview.

AD: Ah! (laughs) Woo! Hoo!

jc: I view “Educated Guess” as your “Blood On The Tracks”. I don’t know how much you respect that record, but I’m of the opinion that Dylan’s best work was, and still is the ultimate musical statement on the despair of loneliness and the loss of love. Coming from a writer’s perspective, the lyrics on “Educated Guess” achieves that level. That record, for me, could not have come any closer to the bone. So I’m wondering where you have to go, what you have to endure to achieve it?

I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own.”

AD: Well, you know, I have not said this yet while talking about the record, but I’ll say it to you. It was an absolute exorcism for me. And because of that it’s my favorite record that I’ve made. I guess me being more of a Springsteen fan than a Dylan fan, I think of it as my “Nebraska”. You know, the record I made in my bedroom, cause I had to…alone. And the aloneness of it was like medicine for me. I’ve not been alone for many years and I was emotionally unhealthy with a lack of solitude and time for reflection, so this record represents a journey back to myself, the self that began writing songs and playing them solo and making little records on her own. Except, hence the title, I am slightly older, and hopefully, slightly wiser now.

jc: Well, if there’s better line than, “As dolls go, I am broken” I don’t know if I’ve seen it.

AD: (laughs)

jc: You read a particularly striking poem when you played at the Beacon here in New York back in November. You pulled it from your pants pocket. I haven’t heard it anywhere since. Is it going to end up on a record?

AD: Yeah, yeah. Next record.

jc: Oh, great.

AD: (recites) “33 years-old and not once do you come home to find a man in your bedroom that is a man you don’t know.” That one?

jc: Yes.

AD: I actually have a plan for my next record. I’m going in the opposite direction of “Educated Guess”, now that I’ve found myself again in this pile of my life. I called up my friend Joe Henry, a beautiful songwriter, and a snappy dresser and a creative, energetic man. I invited him to share the stage with me month’s back, and we really resonated. Every night we’d sit around after the shows and talk, and we discovered we have a lot of the same sensibilities and energy when it comes to making records. So I began to envision my next record. I called him up with two songs! I had two songs and I called him up and asked, “You wanna co-produce my next record?” and he said yes. Then I just began furiously writing. I wrote like eight songs in just a few weeks. So not only is it going to be a completely new environment for me to have a co-producer, to be working with new musicians, it’s also new for me to approach a record with my eye on the prize from the beginning. I’m writing for the project, with the idea of the destination in mind, as opposed to just writing songs and sort of looking at the collection later in the game and beginning to conceive of what the record is. I’m actually conceiving of it from the onset, which is a new process for me. It’s been really fascinating for me.

jc: Sounds like it. Can we expect to hear those songs at the upcoming Carnegie Hall show?

AD: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I’m playing mostly those songs now.

jc: How’s Buffalo?

AD: Well, I hear…well, I don’t know. I ain’t been there in awhile. I’ve been on the lovely west coast. I imagine my garden will be awake when I get home. Can’t wait.

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A Discussion with Dan Bern – Part II

Aquarian Weekly 4/30/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part II An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

jc:. I’d like to talk about musical style for a moment. Since I’m a fan of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, I noticed Guthrie in your song “Jail” and an obvious homage to Dylan in “Talkin’ Al Kida Blues”. Also, Dan Bernthe first song on the new “Fleeting Days” record called “Baby Bye Bye” is a great stab at Springsteen. As all artists, do you use other voices to create your own sound?

DB: I suppose. Some things are probably closer in style to those tunes than other stuff. If people hear it, it’s probably there. Those are songwriters I’ve definitely listened to and absorbed and so it probably comes out that way.

jc: As you become more and more ingratiated into the culture of celebrity, less than some certainly, but still, do you feel it’s harder to write songs as an observer? Ken Kesey once said that fame for a writer is the death of observation, because the more you become part of the landscape, it’s more difficult to write about it.

DB: Maybe I would feel that way if I were more famous. I’ve never been on Conan. I’ve never been on the cover of any major magazine. I still feel like I’m the guy outside looking in. I suppose I’ll always feel that way, you know, the outsider.

jc: You reference icons of culture more than anyone I’ve heard, from Jesus to Henry Miller to Monica Seles to Leonardo DeCaprio to Hitler. You can tell from listening to your songs you’re aware of so much of your surroundings from a cultural sense.

DB: I don’t know. I think I’m able to separate it. It’s not like the people I’m writing about know me or hear the songs. Maybe they do, but I’m not aware of it. So, it keeps a distance.

jc: How do you see the music business from your end as the outsider? Do you experience the conglomerate, corporate side of the business or do you avoid that as well?

DB: I don’t have much to do with that. From my standpoint it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t get a lot of that magical thing, throwing around a lot of money or having my picture up on a billboard. Usually I’m pissed off because I get to a gig and nobody put our posters up. That’s kind of the world I’m dealing with.

jc: It’s still grass for you.

“It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.”

DB: It’s more grass roots now than when I first started making records. I was with Sony for a couple of records. They didn’t spend money wisely. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me. Every once in awhile they’d throw a bunch of money at something and you’d get the feeling that something might happen, but for the last several years it’s really been about making good records and to keep writing the songs and keep being relevant to myself and the audience and not go completely broke doing it.

jc: Amen to that. Do you prefer playing with a band, or is there a place for you to perform your songs by yourself.

DB: Oh yeah, I think that is something I will always use. This fall I’m going to go out for a couple of months by myself. I have more time when I do that. I have space. I write more when I’m by myself on the road, and the pallet, the song bag is bigger when I’m by myself. I can play anything I can remember. Even though this band has a pretty wide array of songs from my bag, and it’s widening, there’s a lot of places we can go in terms of material. But even with that, there are limits. And with playing by myself there’s just this connection between you and audience that’s a pretty cool thing.

jc: Let me ask you about one specific song that I saw you perform by yourself that I know is a favorite of your fans. When my wife and I saw you do it we looked at each other and knew this guy has something special, and that’s “God Said No”. Is that song Nietzschian? Is it from a theological standpoint? Does the narrator who asks God to send him back and keep Kurt Cobain from suicide or assassinate Hitler or save Jesus from the cross, does he believe he is actually speaking to God, or is it merely a commentary about the linear aspect of life and it’s limitations to live “in the now”?

DB: It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.

jc: No.

DB: Yeah.

jc: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

DB: I think what I consider God is something that other people might consider as nature or existence. That’s what I look to. That’s where I get answers of substance. I think it’s there. Without sounding to hippyish, I think the trees breathe and they give us answers.

jc: Having said that, would you purchase or read a book that paints Jesus of Nazareth as a social revolutionary who was miserably misunderstood and whose teachings and personal sacrifice has been criminally annexed for two thousand years?

DB: Sure.

jc: (laughs) Good, it’s the subject my new book. “Trailing Jesus”. I’ll get you a copy.

DB: (laughs) Yeah, I’d love to read that.

jc: This discussion was actually quite inspirational for me, since I’m going on a promotional tour for the book and I’ll be on the other end of the phone trying to avoid direct answers of theorem in the work, and still give acceptable answers. You’re pretty good at that.

DB: Well, thanks. (chuckles) I’m sure you’re up to the task yourself. You know I’ve always felt willing and able to add my two cents to any like-minded movement that needs a singer, but at the same time I feel like if I speak for myself then I can’t go too wrong.

Read Part I

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Author Recounts Journey In “Trailing Jesus”


Press

North County News 4/23/03

AUTHOR RECOUNTS JOURNEY IN “TRAILING JESUS”

by Rita J. King

After six years of academic study and a pilgrimage that carried him to Jerusalem, writer James Campion has already sold out of the first printing of his book, Trailing Jesus.

“It’s very difficult to get past semantics to describe the intangible,” he said last Thursday before a reading and discussion at the Barnes and Noble in Mohegan Lake.

He spoke to students at his old high school earlier that same week, and echoed the words of a man he admires, Joseph Campbell.

“The main thing is to follow your bliss, but insecurities and yearning interfere with the process,” Campion said, encouraging the youngsters to approach obstacles with the same kind of fierce tenacity that landed him in the Holy Land.

Campion, a former Putnam Valley resident, was raised in a devout Catholic family and began to question organized religion at a young age. The image of the crucifixion above the altar disturbed him. “I spent 30 years of my life thinking about the historic Jesus,” he said. “And then I spent 10 years of serious study. It was an intellectual, spiritual and emotional journey.”

Campion said the one way he enjoys having written a book is to give readings, and more chairs had to be brought in at Barnes and Noble last week to accommodate the audience. Theologians and people of all ages asked him questions about his findings and beliefs, and he was cautious about his approach to avoid insulting individual beliefs. He said he differentiates in his mind and his work between Jesus Christ as an icon and as a person. Campion pointed out some of the inconsistencies between the teachings of Jesus Christ and the manner in which the Catholic Church has evolved. The Vatican, with its rare works of art and the luxuries of a palace, is very different from Jesus Christ’s rejection of opulence.

“Jesus Christ preached against owning anything,” Campion said. He pointed out the fact that Jesus lived hand to mouth, wore tattered clothing and had a long beard, unlike many of today’s high level clergy in fancy garb, preaching from pulpits painted with gold. “This journey was about exploring the unexplorable,” he said. “I asked myself what mountain am I trying to scale with very blunt instruments and no rope?”

Trailing JesusThroughout his life, the Holy Land seemed as fictitious to him as the Emerald City of Oz or Atlantis, but he learned how real it is. The mood there is unlike any place he’s ever been, with the solemnity of fervent belief and the historical context of Jesus Christ’s life heavy in the air. “People kill each other over this smallest patch of land,” Campion said. He compared his trip to a lover of the Beatles making the trek to Liverpool or a Civil War historian showing up at Gettysburg to stand on an empty field in order to feel the history that once unfolded there.

Martin Brech leads a class on spirituality at Barnes and Noble. He has a master’s degree in divinity, teaches comparative religion, and said Trailing Jesus is the “best written and most marvelously researched book” he’s ever read about the life of Jesus Christ.

Campion started off by reading the book’s first pages, which describe the time in his life when he first understood who he was, which catalyzed his spirituality. He touches on a “mysterious swirl of events, a place before the light where there is only nothing.” Brech asked what Campion means by his use of the word “nothing.”

“The nothing is everything I was before this day. The nothing is the silence of everything. All that life is, all that life is not,” Campion said. “We’re all here and we’re all afraid of what we’re not going to be, of not existing.”

Campion’s ideas, at their core, are reminiscent of the neurological perspective that the frontal lobe of the brain expanded around the same time the limbic system underwent a metamorphosis. With the expansion of the brain’s frontal lobe, human beings were able to contemplate death, which separated people from animals lacking consciousness. With the new powers of the limbic system, people were able to fantasize and imagine. Some neuroscientists credit these phenomena for the birth of religion.

But many more people believe Jesus Christ is the savior, and some even develop what is commonly known as the Jerusalem Syndrome upon visiting the Holy Land. This is when visitors begin to believe that they are Jesus Christ, John the Baptist or another person from that place and time. This belief underscores a fundamental aspect of Campion’s philosophy. “The present moment is eternal,” he frequently says. The past continues to live in the minds and hearts of those who take the time to study it, and those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. He said the benefit of icons is they can’t “lie, cheat or steal your money,” and consequently people can turn them into whatever they need because they can’t protest.

The book’s prose is tight and luminous, and Campion takes readers on the journey, his first outside the United States. Some books about Jesus Christ make him into a superhero lacking humanity, Campion said, while others strip him of his mysticism. “A book can be written about Babe Ruth’s carousing and drinking, but if the fact that he was a baseball player isn’t mentioned, a large part of his story gets left out,” Campion said.

A woman in the audience asked him the inevitable question about whether he accepts Jesus Christ as the savior and son of God. “Is he the son of God? I ask, who isn’t?” Campion said.

“Live your life,” he said. “This is not a rehearsal. Experience the now. We’re here today. This is an everlasting moment.” Trailing Jesus can be purchased along with Campion’s other two books, Deep Tank Jersey and Fear No Art on his web site, www.jamescampion.com and any Barnes & Noble location nationwide, including its web site and amazon.com..

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The Unspoken Truths of Jesus – Paula Markham

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Union County Advocate 4/22/03

THE UNSPOKEN TRUTHS OF JESUS AND THE HOLY LAND

by Paula Markham

Most of us are raised on our elder’s beliefs. Throughout our maturation those beliefs are reinforced by familial tradition, religious parameters, or perpetuated by superstition. Yet most of us have a vague understanding of their origin or purpose. At what point do we begin to question what has been accepted as truth and seek to discover why we believe?

Trailing Jesus (Gueem Books, 2002, ISBN: 0-9679296-2-8, $18.00) follows the path of one man’s journey to unravel the mystery of faith lost in the fog of history. Author James Campion’s tale of curiosity leads to Israel, where he walks the trail of the Christ on a spiritual hunt to find the real Jesus of Nazareth.

“The important question to ask when investigating someone of Jesus Christ’s caliber in a historical sense is why did this nobody from an impoverished and oppressed society survive all this time?” says Campion. “How did his memory last two years, much less two thousand? And what are we missing when we aim to discover him?”

Filled with vivid descriptions of the landscapes that once framed a radical spiritual movement, while encountering the various 20th century pilgrims along its path, Trailing Jesus parallels Campion’s travels with an interesting twist on the Jesus story. Confronted with the ghosts of Biblical lore, his search peels the layers of the gospels closer to their seductive center. Yet Trailing Jesus does not provide answers, instead it sheds light on the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who he was, what he believed, what he shared with his contemporaries and why his experience has crossed centuries.

Through a search for meaning in this life, Campion uncovers the endearing influence of a Nazarene artisan who dared to envision the impossible, a common thread to all spiritual mavericks of various times and cultures. Trailing Jesus is not the work of a scholar or a theologian, but the travelogue of an inquisitive soul that will inspire readers to follow their instinct and begin a search for their own truth and perhaps find a new world filled with the unexpected.

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“Trailing Jesus” Interview – WMUZ Detroit


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WMUZ CHRISTIAN RADIO DETROIT Bob Dutko Interview 4/17/03

Bob Dutko: How many of you would just love to go over to Israel, to go into Jerusalem, to walk the very same roads, the very same paths that Jesus walked, to run your hands along the very same stone that Jesus probably ran his hands along? How would you like to walk that same Via Delarosa, go to Golgotha? To level with you, I’ve never been there, and that would be a fascinating trip. I would love to do that. This gentleman has, James Campion, is author of the book, “Trailing Jesus”, and we’re going to talk with him about his styory, his experiences. James, thanks for joining us today.

jc in Sea of Galilee The Sea of Galilee

jc: Thanks for having me, Bob.

BD: You bet. First of all, tell us a little bit about the book. It is, man oh, man, this is a big book, about 600 pages. Laughs. What in the world are you telling us in 600 pages?

jc: Well, I should say at the top, and thanks for mentioning the page count, because it was awhile for me to finish it. Six years, in fact.

BD: I know. I read that.

jc: What I tried to do is I tried to make it like a hardcover read, but in paperback for easier carrying and reading. The print though is more like a hardcover, a larger font, easier to read. It probably could have been smaller, but I figured since the subject matter is interesting to so many different people of different ages and levels of understanding, it would be easier for them to read if the print was just a little larger. I talked with the developers of the style of the book, for which I was actively involved, to make it a more pleasant experience whether on a subway or an airplane or lounging in bed reading. I’m a reader, so I’m cognizant of how larger books can be a cumbersome endeavor. I’ve gotten good feedback on that, but that’s why it’s so large in page number. I don’t want to scare anyone away. It’s a heavy subject, but thanks for mentioning it for not only the time spent researching and putting the book together, but also it’s design as well.

Now to answer your question, certainly when you start to delve into not only the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the actual historical person, as you mentioned, who did, in fact, walk the paths I eventually tread, and had interactions with actual historical people of various cultures of those areas, and get into the motivation of the author, myself, and why I decided to make the trip, it starts to build on itself. It was difficult to handle quickly. So I didn’t take the easy road. I tried to hit all the various aspects of all the different religions that are represented in Israel and in the Jesus story, and appreciate the Holy Land istself. Also I wanted to make note of many of the sects of Christianity that revere the Christ of religious faith, even though this is a story about the discovery of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish peasant from a region in ancient Palestine called the Galilee.

BD: Right, the humanity of Jesus. Sure. Now you did this about seven or eight years ago now, when you were 33 years old, right?

jc: Correct. It’s the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified, from what we understand.

DB: Did you deliberately time it that way or was that a coincidence or what?

jc: It was absolutely planned. What I tried to do from the age of 30 to 33, since I’ve always been interested in the historical Jesus, I decided to deeply ensconce myself in not only the accepted gospels of Christian faith and the New Testament and beyond, Luke’s Acts of the Apostles through the Letters of Saint Paul while delving further into my heroes of Jesus scholarly pursuits, people like John Dominic Crossan and Reynolds Price, John P. Meier, Raymond Brown, Robert Funk, and so on. Many historians who have studied and written volumes on the historical Jesus through the years. And because Jesus of Nazareth more or less began his public life as a teacher, ascetic, revolutionary, healer, etc at around 29 or 30, I thought – obviously I could not reach those heights – but I thought I’d try to study as a young man the feelings of what he might have been going through from, as you mentioned, a human standpoint.

Of course, we know at 33, Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, as three of the four canonical gospels state, and the Gospel of John states for the fourth or fifth time, but as we all know, historically, the last time. And I though to travel to a “war zone”, let’s face it, enter a place of political and cultural unrest, religious fervor, and violent overtones would be not unlike 2,000 years ago when Jesus went there. Of course, I hoped it would affect my experience, which it did tremendously, and I hope adds to what the readers get out of the story.

In Trailing Jesus my aim is to bring the reader, as you mentioned – quite eloquently at the top – along the paths of the Jesus story, from the very beginnings in the purported birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, through the Galilee, through towns like Nazareth and Capernaum and Bethany, and those types of places, all the way to Jerusalem and finally his death, and as many Christians around the world believe, his resurrection.

BD: All right, so let’s start with your journey. You hop a plane to Israel. Where do you go from there? Did you go to Bethlehem first?

jc: Actually I flew into Tel Aviv. You fly in there, and you already have the itinerary booked, because these towns are quite a bit of distance apart. Long cab rides. You can imagine the time it took 2,000 years ago when walking or on a camel. But yes, I tried to walk chronologically through the story, and that’s what I do in the book. I take you with me. It’s written in the first person, in journal form. I subtitled it “A Holy Land Journal”, so people could get through it, I believe, without having to be a scholar, because I’m not. You don’t need to be a theologian – I’m not – to enjoy this book, or at least receive a similar experience to mine. But, yes, I did go chronologically through the Jesus story from Bethlehem and also Nazareth, where many scholars and Biblical historians believe Jesus was actually born. But we know pretty much for sure he grew up there and acted as an apprentice for his father as a stonemason.

jc in the Judean DesertI use stonemason rather than the accepted tag of “carpenter” of Jesus’ vocation prior to his movement, because I tried to be true to some of the original Aramaic translations of words later interpreted in Greek or ancient Hebrew as something else. As we know, Aramaic being Jesus of Nazareth’s native language, and I’d come to learn, or suspect that his being known as an artisan in the gospels meant he likely worked with stone rather than wood, which was not only a rarer trade among peasants of the Galilee, of which Jesus has to be counted, but a rare material for construction. Stone was the chosen material for building at the time. One would do better within his community as a mason than a carpenter.

I was amazed to learn how much construction was going on during Jesus’ youth in the Galilee. We know historically that the capitol of the Galilee, Sepphoris was being built at that time, and Jesus could and would have worked on its construction. Also, scholars I respect have broached his vocation as mason. SoI thought it a good way to begin to separate his humanity from the myths and lore about the man.

It should also be noted that Sepphoris is a pretty large city for the country folk of a town like Nazareth, which opens the eyes of many Jesus scholars, because before the archaeological digs of Sepphoris it was always been accepted that Jesus was more or less a country boy, who never got to see larger city life, with all of its strife, crime and human indignation, as well as culture and art of other lands, until he was an adult in Jerusalem. We know that now not to be true. And his experiences in and around a larger town, even a city, and a capitol city at that, could have structured his teachings about the ills of society that still ring true today.

BD: As your walking through Nazareth, and then, of course, to Jerusalem, I mentioned running your hands along stones that have been there for centuries. I could easily see myself stopping at a big stone, sitting down and thinking, “Wow, Jesus very possibly sat on this very same stone, or ran his hand along this very same wall”, but I would not know that for sure. Did you find any place there where your confidence level was at its highest, that I am in the very same place, occupying the very same space that Jesus did?

jc: That’s an excellent question, Bob, and it sounds like you’ve already read Trailing Jesus, and if you haven’t, you nailed it right there. Yeah, absolutely. There were those kinds of places. I was able to walk side by side with one of the most respected tour guides in Israel for most of the trip, a gentleman by the name of Avi, who is well represented in the book. In Israel one of the most lucrative and sought-after jobs is tour guide, since tourism is predominant among Israel’s influx of foreign money. People study for years to become a tour guide in Israel, not only the historical sites, but the religious significance and the combination of the two when looking at what is a shrine or tradition, or an actual site. And in the case of Jesus, it is paramount, because of his historical significance in all three monotheistic faiths. Jesus is a great prophet of Judaism, and Islam and the focal point of Christianity. So I was lucky to have one of these guys at my disposal, even though for most of my trip I was alone.

Having said that, we only really know, historically, certain stories place Jesus of Nazareth in actual venues, attested by the Bible and other sources. Two main sites, which I visited are the Jordan River, with Jesus’ baptism by John, and his crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Now as for the Jordan, I was able to visit several sites along the river that have been discussed and celebrated as the place where Jesus was baptized, and in all cases it was very moving, mainly because you realize how the Jordan is this living, flowing entity. It isn’t like stone or dirt. It’s been moving through the entire country from north to south for thousands of years, back to the time of Moses, long before Jesus of Nazareth. And you realize what a huge significance the Jordan has to the Jewish faith, which Jesus was born into, and the Christian faith following it. And then when you visit Golgotha, Bob, it’s overwhelming emotionally. You feel it. It’s something quite different than anything I experienced before, mostly because of the archeological findings of the past 20 years, there are places like Golgotha where you absolutely know were visited by the historical Jesus.

Finally, I hope you and all your listeners interested can have the good fortune to get to the Garden of Gethsemane.

BD: James, if you could hold it right there in the Garden of Gethsemane, I want to hear about your experience there, but we have to take a commercial break. You are listening to the Bob Dutko Show with our guest today, James Campion, author of the new book, Trailing Jesus, a fascinating read. We’ll be back right after this on The Light, 103.5 FM, WMUZ.

Continuing our discussion with James Campion, author of the book, Trailing Jesus. We’re talking about his adventures walking literally in the footsteps of Jesus and experiencing the culture and all that stuff. Now James, I cut you off, you were saying about the Garden of Gethsemane.

jc: It’s a good thing to cut me off once in awhile, Bob. I tend to get overly excited about the subject. I’ve spent so much time, most of it in solitary confinement, really, the bane of the writer, with this stuff. And this subject and the ensuing trip was dear to my heart, so these interviews give me a chance to frame it more conversationally, and it’s an exciting, but strange venue, so my apologies for getting too in-depth.

jc in GethsemaneBD: Hey, no need. I’d be excited about it too.

jc: Thanks. Yeah, the Garden of Gethsemane, just to finish the thought, is just amazing. Most of the sites in Israel, especially the Christian sites, have these beautiful ornate churches and basilicas built upon them. But, as a result, they kind of take away from the realism of the history of what I was trying to get back to with the trip and the ensuing book. I wanted to be able to see it, you know, be right there and reconstruct the stories as we understand them, as we’ve come to know them. For instance, sitting on the banks of the Sea of Galilee was more like it. You can picture Jesus and his disciples lounging there and discussing, debating, praying. But specifically, to visit the Garden of Gethsemane, with its bucolic splendor, the nature of it, the smell of it, the visuals, like the four hundred year-old massive olive trees, the way its kept its first-century charm and ambience by an order of Franciscan monks, is mind-altering. Really. It takes you somewhere beyond, give you the flavor of the times long ago. Even Jerusalem itself, the sites and smells of the places and foods and the bustle of the people in the tiny cobblestone corridors really bring to life the city’s incredible history. The way the people are garbed in their flowing robes and turbans and the ancient languages of Hebrew and Arabic. It really is quite arresting, and I hope I was able to capture in the book.

BD: Describe for us, if you would, the Garden of Gethsemane. Paint a picture for us. If you were to describe what it looked like. First of all, how large is it? What types of trees? How big are they? How many bushes? What are the paths like when you’re walking along the garden? How large of a geographic area is it? Paint that picture for us.

jc: It’s cut in two spots. One is walled off for the Franciscan order I spoke of who keep the entire garden in shape. You can still see that area very well through black fences, all the different colors and varieties of flowers. The entire garden itself, as it spanned 2000 years ago, I would say is a couple of miles at the bottom of the Kidron Valley, which is a hill that runs down beneath of the Mount of Olives. Most of the photos and videos you’ve probably seen over the years were shot there above and over the Garden of Gethsemane. The little park that they’ve sequestered for visitors to view is only a couple of hundred feet around. It is neatly arranged around the rather sizable and ubiquitous olive trees, with their large branches sinking toward the grass and stony paths winding through. This area is also sequestered behind a modest fence. This keeps people from ruining the atmosphere that, again, seems like it is preserved from the time of Jesus. Finally, in the center of the garden is this incredibly stunning church with a facing mosaic of Christ in the garden praying, and it’s built over this very long smooth rock, which actually juts from the foundation of the church, as if the structure, or any structure would be silly to try and contain it. In Christian tradition, this is the rock upon which Jesus prayed for deliverance from his subsequent arrest and execution, and in Luke’s gospel, he is described as actually sweating blood with fear. So to sit upon this rock and contemplate all that has gone down over the centuries from the night this peasant preacher from Nazareth came to hide away for a few fleeting moments before mayhem broke loose is beyond moving. This is where history really does go beyond faith.

BD: Sure. Where you able to…is it known for sure where the Sermon on the Mount took place?

jc: No. The Sermon on the Mount, according to the best scholarly knowledge or the best historical evidence is really a composite in Matthew’s gospel of the several locations, and a general portrait of how Jesus taught. There may have been one big all-encompassing sermon given in an elevated area, if not a mountainside, there are plenty of those locations in the Galilee, so you can see where the topography meets history meets religious documentation. Chances are Jesus would have taught in many areas such as this to use as a stage, let’s say, to get his message out to as many people as wanted to hear. Jesus, like many of his contemporaries, knew of the Greek practice and tradition of staging an event or a play, and the gospels write about his growing numbers of students and disciples, so this would make sense as a vehicle to teach. But the Sermon on the Mount as far as I understand it is a clever storytelling tool from Matthew, not unlike screenwriters for today’s films that place two or three events depicted either in real life or in a novel into one location with all the elements of those events tied together for time purposes and impact. It’s very clever writing, and obviously amazingly effective, because it is always the great scene depicted in paintings and films about Jesus. In fact, just by you mentioning it as a point of interest, and tying it to a place of origin speaks volumes of its effectiveness.

There is a place in the Galilee called the Mount of the Beatitudes where they commemorate the event with a gorgeous Byzantine church built upon the apex of this floral mountaintop. It really is done right, and you don’t have to imagine what it must have been like to attend one of Jesus of Nazareth’s lectures, as it were. You get to see most of the valley of the greater Galilee, the Sea of Galilee, everything. It’s quite a sight and experience.

BD: As you walk around there, is it possible to place yourself 2,000 years ago, or are you constantly reminded of today? Here’s a telephone poll, here’s a telephone booth, and oh, by the way, here’s a taxicab. Is it possible, even for a few minutes to see everything as it would have appeared 2,000 years ago?

jc: Overall, they do a nice job in preserving a lot of these places, especially in the Galilee, it’s quite pastoral and has a flavor of antiquity. Since I was alone, and I am a journalist, I have learned how to squeeze into forbidden or hidden areas or talk my way into places. So I was able to see things someone else with less pushy skills might not have been able to see. And I hope Trailing Jesus allows the reader to see those special places as well use my maneuvers for themselves to get deeper into the Holy Land. Mostly, I hope the book serves as an experience for those who cannot or would rather not make the trip for whatever reason, the political unrest and dangers resulting from that, or the cost or the time. But yes, you’re constantly reminded of the 20th century, or now the 21st century there. Whether it’s helicopters patrolling the skies or popular music blaring from car windows or McDonald’s sitting on the corner or IDF soldiers perched at bus stations, it pops up from time to time.

It’s funny, there is actually a small garden not too far from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem where people of the Protestant faith believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. There is a tomb inside there, very different than that of the Catholic shrine inside the Holy Seplecur witihn the Old City’s walls, but anyway, the grotto where the tomb is preserved rests just outside this huge bus station.

BD: How weird is that?

jc: But through the walls and the deep thicket of trees and shrubbery, they do a nice job of sheiliding the garden and it takes you back. You truly do feel as though it could be Joseph of Aramethia’s garden depicted in the gospels. I tend to favor it as the more likely place for the shrine of Jesus’ burial and not the Holy Seplecur.

BD: Before I get to the tomb, by my little timeline here, let me get back to Golgotha. Are you allowed to climb up on Golgotha and stand where the crosses would have most likely been, and do they have it marked at all, and do we know where physically the crosses where Jesus and the two thieves on either side were placed?

jc at the foot of Golgothajc: Another good question, Bob. Golgotha is, as we know historically, where Jesus was absolutely executed. Period. This is irrefutable in most of the documentation and archeological findings since. So this alone makes it quite a stirring experience to visit. Since so many met there end there, I have likened it, and I believe I write this in the book, it is not unlike someone standing on the grounds of Auschwitz or Dachau, the Nazi death camps. Thousands of souls were released on that mountainside. We know this. We know of Pontius Pilate’s thirst for controlling the populace and his viscous sense of punishment, really the whole of the Roman Empire. And this terrible bloodlust was glaring, more than in any other region, as it is in first century Palestine. The rebellious nature of the people under the yoke of Rome in this relatively insignificant, to Rome anyway, patch of land in the desert, an outpost of sorts, leant itself to this horror show.

Today the rise of the mount known as Golgotha, the hill of skulls, is encased in the enormous church known as the Holy Seplecur, built some 1,700 years ago, and then rebuilt again a few hundred years later during the Crusades. When you walk the trail of the Via Delarosa today, through the cramped city streets, you end up at the foot of the Holy Seplecur and as you go inside you can walk the steps built there along the rise of the mountain. So you are ascending Golgotha, in a sense, inside. Finally, beneath the asp inside, underneath this altar, flanked by monks and burning candles is this thick glass, and there you can see the stones, the cuts of the stones where they would fashion the foothold for the crosses, to pitch them up into the rock and raise the victim up to be displayed at the mountain’s apex for all to see.

BD: Wait a minute; I’m wondering where the actual crosses were put into the rock at the top of the mountain. Isn’t that in a location atop a big hill that’s still outside?

jc: No, the traditional mount called Golgotha, and again, a great deal of the places I visited were not the actual historical places per se, the absolute, no questions asked places, nor can anyone truly know where the traditional places and the history meet. I point this out in the book. There are always questions and mysteries. We know more now than ten years ago, or certainly anytime before, but there is still no exact science to knowing where these events actually took place. We know, as I stated before, that Golgotha is the place, but without actual, physical knowledge, how can we be 100% certain? We can’t. But I believe this site to be almost as certain as it gets without complete certainty. Having said that, of all the argued placed for location of the Golgotha mentioned as the place of execution for Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels and elsewhere, I believe, and many scholars and archeologists agree is housed inside the Church of the Holy Seplecur.

The actual mountainside, that was once outside the original walls of Jerusalem are now inside and you walk inside the church up into a shrine built on the site that I truly believe is the site of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, at least to the best of my research and study.

BD: So they have taken the place where Jesus hung on the cross and what your saying is they basically encompassed that within a building or a structure.

jc: Correct. And when you get to the spot, it is bathed in subtle candlelight with monks on either side of the altar built over the site. It’s very moving to be in there, especially if you, as I do, subscribe to the site’s authenticity and the magnification of the event. People have argued against the location’s veracity for years by correctly stating that it now exists inside the circumference of the walls of the current Old City of Jerusalem, as opposed to the description in the gospels and elsewhere that Golgotha was outside the walls of first-century Jerusalem. But we now know, because of archeological digs and studies in the last 20 to 25 years that it is ever more proven to be historically correct, because it was discovered that the walls were expanded five to six hundred years ago by the Turks when they conquered Jerusalem. So the Jerusalem Jesus of Nazareth trod through upon his donkey on Palm Sunday or entered the Holy Temple within, and eventually was tried and executed outside, is not the same one that exists now. This has influenced the modern description of where Golgotha was/is located, which puts it smack in the middle of the Church of the Holy Sepluca. This is a case where science has helped to back the guesswork of the church for a shrine, wherein many cases, studies and archeology has disproved a traditional site, or at least cast serious doubts to its authenticity.

BD: We’ve got just about a minute or so left.

jc: Sure.

BD: So in this last 60 seconds or so, tell us about the tomb Jesus was buried in, which you mentioned earlier. There’s been a lot of debate on this. Has there been any consensus which tomb today is the one Jesus’ body was in, and which he walked out of?

No, there is not, Bob. History argues against Jesus of Nazareth being buried at all, since that was not the custom for executed criminals of the state, which Jesus, in the end, had to have been to meet his fate. But assuming the gospels are correct and Jesus of Nazareth was buried in the tomb of a apologist for his movement, then the debate rages on.

There have been great strides in Biblical archeology in and around Jerusalem over the past century discovering first century Jewish tombs. There are two that are accepted now, the Catholics worship at their traditional spot inside the Church of the Holy Seplecur, which is conveniently at the foot of Golgotha, which I think is unlikely historically, and the Garden Tomb accepted among Protestants as the site of Christ’s burial and purported resurrection. The Garden Tomb is the one I spoke of earlier just outside the walls of the Old City and near the bus station. But no one knows for sure. However, again, it really is about just being in the area to discover and being moved by the places and framing the events that counts, unless you are bound to the rigors of data and science, which, as a writer, and more of a dreamer in a sense, I am not. Only then can you get the same feeling from visiting several locations, which I did and is depicted in the book.

And if I may, Bob, I’d like to give out my web site address for those who might want to write me with questions or read some of the materials on the book or can even order the book online at jamescampion.com, or they can find it at any Barnes & Noble, Borders or online with the booksellers and amazon.com as well. We have signed copies available through the site, and people, if they read it, and want to ask further questions or discuss points, I’m open for that. I’d love to hear from any of your listeners who might have a thought or two about what we discussed here today as well.

BD: Thanks so much for joining us today, James, it’s a fascinating book, Trailing Jesus, we appreciate the time you spent with us today.

jc: Thanks, Bob, love to come back anytime.

BD: You bet. This is 103.5 FM, WMUZ, The Light, and you’re listening to the Bob Dutko Show. E-mail address is, of course, bob@wmuz.com.

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A Discussion with Dan Bern Part I

Aquarian Weekly 4/16/03 REALITY CHECK

TALKIN’ DAN BERN MUSE – Part I An Interview with Singer/Songwriter, Dan Bern conducted over the phone lines on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly from The Desk at Fort Vernon. 3/26/03

Dan Bern songs speak to me. That is the power of song, and it is not lost on him. And although he is one of the most prolific composers of this era – Messenger Records chairman, Brandon Kessler told me he could release Dan Bernan album a week – there is an obvious care given to each lyric, each characterization, each wonderfully crafted chord progression. This is because Bern is cut in the mold of the old-time songster who would use the medium to cajole and soothe the listener right along with its author, as if sharing an experience. And the range of his emotions is wide.

He should have a wider audience, and he’s working on it, touring like a madman – he even recently played his baseball songs at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – but mainly because Dan Bern is everything right about the craft of songwriting and performing. A troubadour, a poet, a painter and a writer, he shies away from nothing, opening dangerous channels to allow his audience to peer down with him.

The first time I saw him; he blew me away, the honesty and humor right there for everyone to see. No pretensions, no illusions, pure ugliness and beauty set to music. Soon after, Bern’s recordings played in the background for the final excruciating days of finishing my last book; no small task since completing a book is like being in some kind of labor/limbo for months. And it was a pleasure to hand him a copy after his Bowery Ballroom show mere days after conducting this interview.

It was more of a discussion than an interview really, as Bern let his slow, infectious drawl pour over the answers with an old country wisdom belying his mid-thirties experience. We started out with a jibe on his playfully rambling song, “Jerusalem”, which happens to be the first one on his first, self-titled 1997 recording, a song in which Bern announces that he is the Messiah; a nugget too good to ignore for a wise-ass like me.

jc: Let me start off by asking, are you still the Messiah, or has that changed for you the last couple of years?

Dan Bern: No. (chuckles)

jc: No, it hasn’t changed? Or no, you’re not the Messiah?

DB: No.

jc: (laughs) The only reason I’m asking is I’m Beelzebub. So I guess you and I have a meeting in the desert sometime soon.

“The whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

DB: I’m looking forward to it. Anytime, bring it on.

jc: Do you see yourself less as a folksinger and more as a satirist? Most of your work, specifically “Cure For AIDS” and the “Swastika Song” are in that vein, less serious commentary than satire.

DB: Well, it shifts around. I think it really depends on the song. Actually, those labels – folksinger or satirist – I tend to shy away from them myself, or anything that can put you in a box. Other people do it, but I never found it necessary. This way I can take it from song to song.

jc: Would you say that your songs are more observations rather than commentary?

DB: I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit into some larger picture? So I think the observation is part of the work, but then what does it mean? What did you make the observation for?

jc: So would you consider the meaning behind these observations in your songs more from an optimist’s standpoint or a pessimist’s?

DB: I certainly have my moments of pessimism, but I think overall just to be out here doing this, being able to write songs in the face of everything else, there’s a hope, a belief in something.

jc: So you’d say writing the songs, even from the pessimist’s side, is something of a catharsis for you and the hope comes from the listener going through the same thing?

DB: I think so. If you’re just looking to depress people, what’s the point? If someone is out there going through terrible times, from losing their house to just fighting traffic, and they spend their hard earned money to go out and hear me play my songs, there has to be something positive there. I know if I’m going to a show I’m expecting to be uplifted somehow, gain a kind of inspiration from it. I’d hope that’s happening with my performances.

jc: How much of your own personal experience do you put in the songs? In other words, you write predominantly in the first person, so when you use “I” in a song, are you talking directly from your own experience?

DB: Well that shifts too. There’s some reflection of me. It’s the narrator, really. If you look at it like a short story, the “I” is coming from the narrator, not the guy who wrote it. There’s an assumption that within the theme there will be a good deal of a similarity with the author. It works like some kind of a mirror, but you have to give yourself the complete freedom to take the truth as you see it and stretch the hell out of it. (chuckles)

jc: (laughs) All right, but for instance, the touching aspects of a song like “Lithuania” seems extremely biographical, while also speaking to various different avenues of the universal personality, even if the listener didn’t happen to have grandparents who were murdered by Nazis. There is something personal, yet eminently relatable to ghosts of our past that shape us, the relatives we’ve never met, the experiences of escaping our legacy.

DB: Yes, a song like that crosses over. That song is very much, if not completely, autobiographical.

jc: As opposed to something satirical like “The Swastika Song”, which comments on the same issues as “Lithuania”, but in a completely different voice. You are coming to grips with the issues of the past in “Lithuania” and grabbing back a part of history that has been annexed by hate to return it to a positive art form in “The Swastika Song”.

DB: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s like a big mural on the wall. You throw it up there.

jc: Would you consider yourself a realist? Or do you try and create a world that is best suited for your art?

DB: Hopefully I’m covering the whole ball of wax song by song. Again, in the course of a two or three hour show, I feel the need for the songs to speak clearly and linearly at some point and distort and stretch at other points. I don’t think I’d be comfortable sitting with only one way of speaking of things.

jc: Or one viewpoint.

DB: Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changes and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

NEXT WEEK: PART II

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james campion.com

Aquarian Weekly 4/9/03 REALITY CHECK

POST MORTEM FOR WAR COVERAGE

It is an embarrassing time to be a commentator on current events, bludgeoned beneath a miserable torrent of opportunists reduced to regurgitating fascist blather for network dollars in a twenty-four hour a day propagandized abortion of reporting. It is the kind of demented philosophizing that has expensive messengers shamelessly cheerleading and reasoned dissention reduced to a treasonous anathema. This military campaign, and the circus of television madness it has wrought, has reached a level of dangerous stupidity that even my most painfully cynical paranoia would not have dared conjure.

I knew the idea of true journalism had been fatally wounded years ago, but to parade this rotting corpse out onto cable waves incessantly is at the least criminally insane and at its worst a terminally damaging exercise in national brainwashing. Every moment we continue to broadcast foggy glimpses of this fairytale to what is left of the American psyche we are perpetuating an electronic form of generational genocide that will have our children thinking how they are expected to think, and believing what they are told to believe.

I knew the idea of true journalism had been fatally wounded years ago, but to parade this rotting corpse out onto cable waves incessantly is at the least criminally insane and at its worst a terminally damaging exercise in national brainwashing.

I also know that this is wartime personified, but now it is updated by the minute when there is nothing to update. It is editorialized when there is no actual fact to support it, and it is politicized when the debate sounds like the final gurgle of a bleeding animal hunted down by brainless thugs who elicit joy from massacring helpless creatures to compensate for desperately failed images of an angered God.

Know this, if you know anything about what is slowly happening to the social landscape of this country, as long as this nation is at war the truth can no longer be considered an absolute, it is a concept to be manipulated and raped and put on display for those with agendas to dance around like savages soliciting rain.

Answer this: When did the news become only relevant through its interpretation? How many more of us have to endure the following extremist definitions: People protesting for peace hate America and wish death upon every kid enlisted in the Armed Forces or those who support the foreign policy of the present administration are kill-crazed white supremacists ridding the planet of Muslim scum and colonizing a perfectly structured nation.

This may be the collective delusion of retired Birchers jerking off to old Joseph McCarthy speeches while kicking in the heads of their deviant teenaged brats, and may be all the rage for granola-addled burnouts needing something resembling Viet Nam to allow them to appear passionate to the dates their trying to screw, but is it news? Is it disseminating moments that make up an historical record?

Perhaps I’m mistaken. Maybe it’s all right now to have news anchors wearing American flag pins and going on and on about “we” and “us” and frowning over video of burning buildings. Apparently it is now considered responsible journalism to prop up military fossils in front of maps and reduce carnage and death to a game of Risk. Perhaps I missed the rule changes in allowing events to unfold under their own momentum. Now we predict and re-predict, and when it turns around, we blurt out barely confirmed abuses of rumor and pass it off as competitive reporting.

I think I see it now. We need news channels run like a Don King Promotion promising “Shock and Awe” and co-opting terms like “imbedded” to increase the excitement and ratings, then after a few days wonder when the good stuff starts because the numbers are dipping. People are dying all over the place, and the entire composition of the Middle East is being challenged by the day, and all we care about is who is the most watched coverage of this thing, and wow, look at this fantastic technology we’ve got going here!

Then there are the skewered perceptions born of clumsy propaganda.

Let me make sure I’ve got this straight, if the press questions the Pentagon’s operation it is a blatant insurrectionist movement against the American spirit of freedom and an endangerment of the troops? We’re talking about the same Pentagon that has stood as a monument of chronic disinformation since its inception. The Pentagon is always “on track.” They’re always “on plan”, but journalists are killing our brave boys and girls stuck in the desert with horrible queries like why the hell did the military decide to rush through the Iraqi countryside in three days, woefully stretching the supply lines and failing to fully control cities and baring its flank?

Meanwhile these uniformed marionettes stand before the pack-rat laziness that passes for the eyes and ears of the American people and act surprised a pathetically out-manned rag-tag mafia of frothing religious maniacs fight dirty to defend land they believe was bartered directly from Allah?

I expect Donald Rumsfeld to act like this is business as usual. He is a festering boil on this wildly moronic fantasy machine. He is a puppet, a mouthpiece, and he knew less about Iraqi resistance or the Republican Guard than the Central Intelligence Agency that has failed this country once again. What I don’t expect is for anyone to take a damn thing this strutting ass has to say as anything approaching fact. And neither do I expect anything representing a doomed regime to utter even a slice of newsworthy commentary. Of course whatever is left of the Iraqi government is going to pump out militaristic tripe and pass it off as news, but do we have to acknowledge it? It is getting harder to control these violent retching attacks every time I see another Iraqi diplomat using airtime denying 30 years of human atrocities as if it is merely a cultural divide between the Zionist Western establishment and Islamic law.

And this latest pandering of Iraqi television by Peter Arnett to gain access to Saddam Hussein is so off the charts wretched it bares discussion not as a matter of national security, but of journalistic integrity. If the Iraqis had any guts they’d shoot that miserable bastard in the head and put his severed head on Al Jazeera. It is equivalent to FOXNEWS anchors using “the good guys” rhetoric to suck up to the Pentagon and the current administration to cull better access on this end. This type of grandstanding is also used by those on the inside like the generals conning the Washington Post to rip other military leaders for going with plans differing from their own. Not to mention that self-aggrandizing turd, Geraldo Rivera who is the most glaring example of phony journalism since that insufferable windbag Rush Limbaugh.

In a few days this invasion will be over and we’ll all get back to covering celebrity divorces and political dalliances. That suits the medium better anyway.

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Dan Bern at the Bowery Ballroom

 

Aquarian Weekly 4/1/03

DAN BERN AND THE IJBC AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM 3/30/03

New York City

Dan BernDan Bern is one of this generation’s finest song-smiths, mixing a sardonic wit with emotional strains of whimsy, a folksy charm with a pop sensibility mixed liberally with the obligatory dab of fierce rock and roll grit channeled through a balladeer’s touch. His performance is not overstated, choosing to let the tunes tumble out of his five-piece ensemble and achieving the right mixture of acoustic warmth and electric snarl. Bern’s voice, a razor sharp twinge of Dylan meets Costello meets Guthrie meets Richards, chants and cries and croons while he stalks the stage in a manner befitting the piped piper when he knows the check is due.

On this snowy Sunday evening at the historic Bowery Ballroom, his second show in as many nights, Bern is in rare form, chatting with the packed house about such diverse subjects as tennis, war, and doomed love while bobbing and weaving his way through his considerable repertoire, which encompasses a seven-year span of eight records. Fan favorites like the haunting, “God Said No”, the hilariously grinding “Tiger Woods” and the bouncy “Chelsea Hotel” are fused with powerful new material from his latest collection, Fleeting Days, to which he humbly thanks the crowd for listening.

The band, satirically nicknamed the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy, is raw and passionate, not unlike an early snapshot of the Attractions, providing the perfect undercurrent to the immediacy of Bern’s biting lyrics. The highlight of its powers comes with a spirited rendition of the new classic, “Graceland”, wherein the troupe plows through (the other) Elvis’s songbook with precision and humor.

Best known for his moving acoustic shows, some of which will pop up on this lengthy tour of the U.S. and Europe, Bern feeds off the band and allows for an energy that carries the night, a bold and furious romp which tempts the audience to chant and bark and join the composer in his bizarre slants on life and limb.

Bern’s work, both live and recorded, along with his prose, encapsulated in his 2002 effort, World Cup Diary, reminiscent of Charles Bukowski meets a young Henry Miller, is a rising force in the alternative scene that is sadly muted in the usual flash-in-the-pan fit-the-mold music biz. His like and creative voice is one that is refreshingly rare and should be cherished by connoisseurs of true expression.

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Top Ten Lies About The War In Iraq

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/03 REALITY CHECK

TEN LIES ABOUT THE US INVASION OF IRAQ

The following is a two-part final word before the launching of the War On Iraq. Using a format familiar to the readers of this space in the past during the Clinton Impeachment and the 2000 Presidential Election, it appears here in its entirety, but due to space restraints will run for two consecutive issues of the Aquarian Weekly.

1. Disarming a threat to the United States is less about revenge for 9/11 than it is about defending human rights and saving lives within Iraq and protecting neighboring countries from a sinister regime’s “weapons of mass destruction”.

Wrong. If this country gave a hoot about saving lives and preserving human rights abroad by toppling unstable empires stockpiling “weapons of mass destruction” we’d be planning to invade a dozen countries. This includes China, the worst of the bunch, but a country that we trade and interact with copiously.

It’s important to remember that before 9/11 the Bush administration displayed a sly form of isolationism by pulling troops out of formerly strategic areas of the globe and steering completely clear of Middle East political strife, specifically Israel/Palestinian relations. There is no evidence this administration recognized the plight of any peoples of the world beyond our borders before the 9/11 tragedy.

In the weeks following 9/11, The Desk received several reliable source reports that US intelligence had concrete evidence Iraq was as responsible for the highly strategic attack as the symbolically evil, Osama bin Laden. In the summer of 2001, this space predicted, and even championed a run on Baghdad. However, the troubling aspect of this current diplomatic disaster conducted in the shadow of international pressure, UN protests, and clamoring from the press and nearly half the population of this country, the president has failed to ante any of this alleged evidence up.

2. There is a secret Zionist Kabal manipulating the strings of American foreign policy in the Middle East region.

Anti-Semitic cretins like Pat Buchanan and Bill Bennett, among other dark notables, have used their “political isolation” jones to drag Israeli influence on US Middle Eastern policy whenever possible. Although this is predictably asinine and only bolsters rabid Arab hatred for American support of Israel, it once again ignores this administration’s steadfast ambivalence of any peace process before last week’s White House “road map” rhetoric. While it is true that Israel has been this country’s only consistent ally in the region since WWII, and its safety and survival is always a concern, there is no precedence that the US would plan an invasion of an Arab nation solely for its benefit.

Contrary to rumor we’re not the only fish in the bowl. You want to root-root-root for the home team and change the name of your greasy fat sticks from French to Freedom? Go right ahead, but don’t let an international billion dollar corporate kill-fest bloat your head with righteous grandeur or you’ll be coming down hard from a delusion binge the likes of which you have rarely experienced.

3. The United States’ usurping of the unilateral power of the United Nations proves it is overtly acting as an imperialistic bully by attacking a nation that has not threatened or attacked it first.

The UN has garnered little to no credibility in issues of grave danger, as displayed in its inability to face the ugliness of the world politic for decades. The more heinous of this recent “head in the sand” passivity is its hesitance in ending the atrocities in Rawanda and Kosovo, not to mention its coddling of China and North Korea and the complete silence in the approaching devastation of an escalating Pakistan/India border war.

And perhaps someone can explain why the hell the UN unanimously passed Resolution 1441 that threatened military action if Saddam Hussein, who has ignored 17 resolutions over the past 12 years, did not comply? If it didn’t plan on the US using 1441 as a ticket to aggression, what was its purpose?

Needless to say, when the shit is hitting the fan the UN is an impotent institution that will likely survive this latest hand-sitting mess as it did throughout decades of transparency during the Cold War. However, you can bet the ranch when it’s clean-up time for this latest US carnage, the UN’s relevance will suddenly take the front seat.

4. The president’s recent “road map” to peace in Israel by supporting a Palestinian Prime Minister is a brilliant diplomatic maneuver that will change the rest of the world’s view of American aggression.

As explained above, anything this administration does now for Israel/Palestinian relations is purely political. There is no secret that the US’s top ally, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair has been raked over the coals for his vocal and rabid defense of the Iraqi invasion, volunteering troops, supplies and money at a record pace for a European power. The main thrust of the rancor revolves around the majority of the British government’s concern that in the wake of this fiasco the US will continue to be aloof in the growing PLO threat. Ironically, as of this writing, the move failed to keep Blair’s Labor Party from stirring up a political revolt.

Moreover, those who naively paint this clumsy ploy as a diplomatic breakthrough at the brink of war ignore one key Gulf War lesson. Israel, asked to restrain from retaliation in the face of constant bombing the first time around, must be sated. The IDF’s infusion into the fray should Hussein likely attack Israel would be catastrophic for the effort. That is all the Arab world needs to see, three of the last two centuries’ imperialistic super powers, Britain, Spain and the US joined by the capital of Judaism waging war on a fellow Muslim nation.

5. The French, Russian, German government’s vehement protest against this imminent war is based on sober diplomacy and a support of UN resolutions.

The best way to refute this nonsense is to break out every cliché on money you’ve ever heard and apply it liberally. These countries have been in financial bed with Hussein for decades, sending him funds to build weapons and fortify his palace compounds in trade for stabilizing oil costs. The Iraqi government is into Russia for a few billion and the French for a load of cash. When the US was throwing bribe money at nations last week for a final shot at getting them on board the CIA was handed a tab so large agents were told to close all teller windows.

It is important to remember the US is not innocent in the building of the Iraqi weapons structure either. During the Iraq/Iran war of the early 80s’ the Reagan administration funded Iraqi military build-up. It’s all a murky historical soup stirred by the first Bush standoff with Hussein in 1990 that eventually led to all-but ignored attacks on US ships and embassies during the Clinton administration and finally the terrible events of 9/11.

6. For the last time, this entire diplomatic cluster-fuck is not about oil.

Label it Oliver Stone paranoia and conspiracy mania all you like, but there isn’t one human who has paid attention for the past half century that does not fully understand how deep the US is in with Middle Eastern oil concerns. It is made more painfully obvious when people reeking of oil money are running this country, but make no mistake, every president of the latter half of the 20th century has had the same albatross around its neck. Is this latest mess predominantly about oil? No, but is it free of any oil concerns or financial barriers those concerns impose? To argue that it isn’t is purely stupid or politically motivated and nobody with half a brain should buy it.

7. George Bush is a crazed, cowboy warmonger hell bent on shoving American ideals on nations across the globe by force.

Questionable aggression is always fair criticism on the eve of invasion, but wildly off the mark when considering the mounting evidence that this has been anything but an off-the-cuff maneuver. If this administration had been fueled mainly on eradicating the Hussein regime it would not have half-assed its military deployment with a pathetically weak show of diplomacy. Secretary of State Colin Powell begged the president to petition the UN Security Council, while Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld insisted on making a European tour to act like the belligerent ass he’s been for two years. The whole international message has been so diluted in flip-flop rhetoric these past weeks to paint Bush now as a “hit first, ask questions later” leader is laughable.

This insanely bad diplomatic quagmire shrouds this administration in the worst example of a Republican-led global maneuver in US history. Even in the face of economic suicide and criminal acts of lunacy, Reagan and Nixon were top-notch foreign policy wonks that shamed the recent Democratic models, Carter and Clinton, both of whom were mired in the same wishy-washy paradoxical diplomacy as displayed over the past two weeks. The in fighting among the hawks and doves in the Bush administration over this planned invasion ranks as one of the most divided since Lincoln with far less dire consequences, thus dubbing this president a warmonger is just plain wrong.

8. The invasion’s inevitable success will ignite an increase in anti-American sentiment among Arab and Muslim nations and fuel further terrorism against the US and its allies.

Please, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus, and there is no way the radical Muslim hatred of the US will be any worse or lessened in the wake of this invasion. We are dealing with thousands of years of religion fanaticism with these loons. The British Empire once smugly thought that by crushing the American colonies, never mind its later miscalculations in India or Ireland, would end random terrorism. How’d that work out for them?

The best you can say about this thing is that when it is done gas prices will dip and the suits at Wall Street will get a collective hard-on. The worst is that the US will lose all credibility among the Arab coalition of nations the first Bush collected after the Gulf War. But it’s nothing barrels of money and a weapons handout won’t cure.

9. Anyone who opposes US foreign policy is against reason and freedom and all that is good and true under the sun.

Put down the flag, sport. This government has concerns abroad, and so do other countries’ governments. Sometimes they don’t jibe. And often times it has nothing to do with justice or what is deemed good or ill. This is international politics. It is ugly and it is indecent and its history is full of bloodshed, both innocent and guilty, or whenever the winners of these things finally get around to interpreting the difference.

Contrary to rumor we’re not the only fish in the bowl. You want to root-root-root for the home team and change the name of your greasy fat sticks from French to Freedom? Go right ahead, but don’t let an international billion dollar corporate kill-fest bloat your head with righteous grandeur or you’ll be coming down hard from a delusion binge the likes of which you have rarely experienced.

10. Dissenting voices from the Democrats on Capitol Hill has damaged the war effort.

Republicans are not getting away with this one. This has the stink of Hillary Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” all over it. They wanted full control of two branches of this government? They have it. Any pebbles tossed at this massive war machine are merely farts in the political wind. The American people, while nearly divided on this maneuver, will rally when their brothers and sisters start soldiering around the desert. Survivalists in the House will pipe down plenty then.

This will be a military victory for this nation’s current government. It is a matter of when, not if. The fallout will be in how it protects our borders and stabilizes world opinion and how that fallout will effect the US and global economy through the summer and the rest of this year. The last time a Bush waged war in this desert his approval ratings were astronomical. Two years later his flaccid economic record made him fodder for Bill Clinton.

Therefore politicizing this war means little and to say it would weaken a war against one of the most inept and woefully ill-prepared of the world’s armies against the Biblically potent American colossus is stupefying dumb. Military victory is imminent. Time and money will decide 2004.

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War Room Commandos

Aquarian Weekly 3/12/03 REALITY CHECK

ABANDONING REASON AT THE FORT

There has been an egregious breech of security here at the Reality Check War Room. The morale of the group is down, and passions have been splintered by the day. This once proud conclave, and its failed dream of finding the sense in this government’s foreign doings in the face of a three-front police action has rendered these once hearty souls to back-biting pansies. And unlike many of these anonymous cretins, I have to answer for it.

Our findings have been appearing in this paper and across the globe on the Internet for over a month under my name, and not one of these people have so much as considered the safety of its author. These are desperate times. This country is on the brink of war inside the most volatile region on the planet with little to no international support. Now is not the time for leaks and dissent within the group. Now is the time for rabid solidarity.

Objective commentary is dead. In its wake remain only extremists, the woefully confused peace-protesters and the shills for war. There is no more middle ground. Get on board or get out of the fray.

But, alas, the local authorities have been alerted to our clandestine barnyard meetings, and all hope of dissecting the truth from a rotting corpse of bullshit has been compromised. Needless to say the floodlights at Fort Vernon have been ordered to stay on until further notice and the digging of the memorial Mr. Kitty Mote has been put on hold.

If I thought for one minute anyone would find us, I surely would not have written the insane shit that has been running in this space lately. This nonsense about Colin Powell taking a dive for the Pentagon or burning flags or seceding from the Union is, of course, all a joke. Satire. Yes, that’s what I do best. Poking holes in the hypocrisy of human endeavor with the sharpness of my pen. Sure. It is an art form to be admired, not vitriolic blather to be feared and evidence for restitution.

My fears are real now. Not even Georgetown is answering my calls. There has been a lockdown in Washington for ten months and after that staged kissy-face showcase between the Commander and Chief and the White House press corps its time to prepare for the worst. And God help the next lame bastard who asks a president about Viet Nam every time two American troops meet anywhere. Of course the president thought it a “good question”, a troll could have defused it.

Many of our best War Room commandos exited in shame after that dog and pony show last night. The diligent watchdog press has been felled. Objective commentary is dead. In its wake remain only extremists, the woefully confused peace-protesters and the shills for war. There is no more middle ground. Get on board or get out of the fray.

The weaker of us saw it coming last night. And those who were left to listen for the police sirens could only stare into space. We were not prepared for this to get real. We foolishly believed there was hope in knowing the truth, not versions of the truth seen through prisms of political ideology and diplomacy-speak. But it was all a big fuck-around, and now it is done.

I should have heeded my original hesitance to be involved with this charade. Twelve long years of this crap over 17 pointless UN resolutions. It’s like watching tapes of old Super Bowls and rooting for the Buffalo Bills. Hussein is not going to surrender and no Bush with the power of the free world is going to let this go without bloodshed.

But before we broke camp, the majority of the remaining warriors decided to be the only journalists to actually print a date when the beginning of end for Saddam Hussein will be. By the time this column hits the streets on 3/12, the first bombs will have fallen in Iraq, and as stated in this space before, the whole thing will be over within the month. That’s my beloved mother’s birthday. She is the ultimate warrior. It might even be the day some triplets will be born in Syracuse.

I’ll be out front finishing this mote. Then we will hope, with everyone else, that Captain Shoe In’s vengeance crusade doesn’t open up the can of worms his father’s failed mission wrought.

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