THE BEATLES – THE WEEK – THE LEGACY

Aquarian Weekly
2/12/13

REALITY CHECK

James Campion              


THE BEATLES – THE WEEK – THE LEGACY

In the early 90s’, Babe Ruth biographer Kal Wagenheim told me the only way to describe the Bambino’s effect on the game of baseball and America at large during his first few tumultuously historic years in New York pinstripes would be to say it was like he had been dropped from another planet. “There had been nothing like him before or since,” he said. “No one could remember what the game or American sports were like before Babe Ruth arrived on the scene. He changed everything.

beatles-on-ed-sullivan-showFor my money, this is as close as anyone has come to framing The Beatles arrival on American soil half a century ago this week.

Like Ruth, there was no lead-up to The Beatles in New York City on the second week of February, 1964.

How could there be?

Much of The Beatles image; the four cheerfully pasty, monochromatically dressed mop-topped British lads, was a hodgepodge of German art-house nihilism drenched in a transsexual sheen. At first glance, it was if the four figures were equal parts of a whole – what Mick Jagger once described as “the four-headed monster that went everywhere together”. The Beatles were a moving pop sculpture, a walking billboard of patent waves and cheeky smiles; on stage the rhythmic bouncing and bobbing of heads and the choreographed bows became inseparable from the music.

Beatles music was also odd. A jangling echo-saturated guitar assault launched upon primitive foot-stomping drums adorned with high-pitched semi-accented voices, as if mimicking normal cadence between all the “oohs”.

This was more than Sinatra, more than even Elvis. The Beatles were a thing. This weird inexplicable force of nature; seemingly fabricated, built in a lab somewhere to perfectly capture the intangible drift of hope.

In England, where Beatlemania had exploded through the previous summer, the copycats, both amateur and professional, already abounded, but in the States there was barely minor curiosity. Beyond a three-minute report from an American news organization that autumn smarmily mentioning some outlandish behavior by European youth over a caterwauling guitar band, The Beatles were a footnote by late January of ’64, when the band’s fifth single, “I Want To Hold Your Hand” bounded onto the Billboard charts at a modest #45.

Everyone in the growing organization that was The Beatles, including their wide-eyed genius of a manager, Brian Epstein, sent from central casting as king-maker deluxe, had any clue as to what awaited them at New York’s Kennedy Airport (ironically named after the fallen president scarcely two months in the grave, grieved by a nation starving for a little silly foreign distraction).

New York, much like the four Beatles home, Liverpool, was a port town, an artery of cross-culture and, perhaps more than any city in the world, always a hive of “happening”. It did not take long for “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to torch the charts, and by February 7, the day The Beatles walked out on the tarmac to hundreds of frenzied kids and a phalanx of grizzled Gotham reporters, it was #1 with the proverbial bullet. John Lennon (23), Paul McCartney (22), George Harrison (20), and Ringo Starr (24) were babes in the woods in age and experience – they had never been outside of Europe before – but their time on the rough road from late 1960 through the red-light district of Hamburg playing endless sets of American R & B music prepared them well for the onslaught.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good.

This was a well-oiled machine; no Memphis “aw, shucks” trucker or pristinely coached turtle-necked pop idol. From the harried ad hoc press conference at the airport, where they deflected questions with one-liners and breezy repartee, The Beatles drew the adoration, worship and envy of a scary amount of the American public. It was an organic template for the modern roll-out of pop stars for ensuing generations, which culminated on the most watched live program in the nation.

Forty-eight hours on American soil, after all the hoopla and mobs in front of the Plaza Hotel and a swirl of photo shoots and half-assed radio “interviews”, arguably the most influential and time-altering few minutes in the history of human communication occurred on the Ed Sullivan Show. In less time than it takes to boil water, The Beatles performance of “All My Loving” (viewed by a record for the time of 73 million) ambushed an entire generation, set alight the British Invasion, and legitimized the heretofore idiotic notion that rock and roll would be anything other than a teen fad.

Before February of 1964, rock and roll, the last truly original American youth movement (its children being Rock, New Wave, Punk, Rap, Hip-Hop, etc) was on life support. Its founders and heroes, Elvis Presley (the army), Chuck Berry (jail), Buddy Holly, (dead) and Little Richard (religion) had gone away. Pop music was mired in bland, white, corporate creations, interrupted briefly by the brilliance of Phil Spector and Barry Gordy’s machinations, but mostly a plastic wasteland.

Before February of 1964 the art of pop songwriting was practiced in smoke-filled cubicles deeply tucked away in monolithic brick and mortar castles like the Brill Building, controlling the force and message of teen angst, lust, and yearning to challenge the status quo and find a voice.

Before February of 1964 this free-form expansion of cultural mayhem known as the Sixties seemed resigned to fight the battles of Civil Rights, sexual revolt, and youthful upheaval to the angry folk brilliance of Bob Dylan.

And here’s the kicker; The Beatles were good, real good. And soon this thing would take us all on a wild ride over six years, 12 studio albums, 13 EP’s and 22 singles. Each one was, without exception, really, really good. Crazy good. Scary good. Along the way this thing changed everything (Babe Ruth style), in fashion, experimentation (both sonically and chemically), business, mass communication, and culture.

It remains an element all its own, this Beatles, this thing, that for all intents and purposes began for America here in New York City in early February, 1964.

Fifty years ago, The Beatles came, saw, and conquered like no one or nothing since. To think of what mattered to us in 1964 being as relevant and nostalgic and passionate as this continuing movement is today is laughable.

John Lennon famously said, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.”

He and his band made sure we didn’t forget that notion ever again.

*Dedicated to my friend, Lisa Geller, born the day this all went down.

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Keith Richards At 70

Aquarian Weekly
12/18/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

KEITH RICHARDS AT 70

Although it was a shock when it actually happened, nobody was really that surprised. Everybody knows people that you just have a feeling about them that they’re not going to be seventy years-old…ever. Not everybody makes it.
– Keith Richards on Brian Jones death in 1969

I recently saw that news clip again of an emaciated, mumbling Keith Richards – dark, dilated eyes sunken deeper by ebony make-up below a wild mane of black, tussled hair, a dangling dagger earring and that signature rotted black hole in his teeth from thousands of cigarettes – waxing poetic about his recently deceased former band member, Brian Jones, who, at 27, had drowned “by misadventure” in his pool in Sussex, England a few weeks prior. Jones, whom Richards had introduced to LSD two years before his rapid downward spiral of Dionysian drug abuse, was the first victim of trying to keep up with Keith, which this week reaches an inconceivable 70 years. keith_3

That’s right, kids; by the time this hits the streets, December 18, 2013, Keith Richards will turn 70.

Keith Richards.

Seventy years-old.

If there was ever a time to slide the minted acronym WTF into this space, this would be it.

Hell…for Keith’s 70th, I’ll just write it out: WHAT THE FUCK?

I rewound the clip; watched Keith say it again; “Not everybody makes it”. And, of course, they don’t. But for him, the man that has turned “not make it” into an art form for half a century, it is the bedrock of irony that he has indeed “made it”.

This shudder of irony struck me when Michael Jackson died. And I thought, while the prepubescent Jackson was twirling around in front of his teenage brothers on the Flip Wilson Show, Keith was comatose on smack and whiskey in a Villa on the French Riviera causally firing pistols at local drug merchants and ramming a rented skiff into a gangster’s yacht and spitting at him.

I had a similar experience when vacationing in the Mohave Desert at Joshua Tree State Park in1999. I ran into a local who told me a story about the young, frail singer/songwriter, Gram Parsons, whose 26 year-old remains were doused with five gallons of gasoline and burned there by “friends” after overdosing on morphine a few feet away in a rented cabin. Parsons hung around with Keith for little more than three years in the early Seventies and introduced him to country music. Richards reciprocated by turning him onto heroin. Staring out into the long stretch of rock and sand, I could hear the echoes of Richards, who sang a beautiful duet with Willie Nelson of George Jones’ “Say It’s Not You” only a week earlier.

It was always the running joke, you know. A long running joke – over 40 years at least, when people became aware of this death wish river boat gambler with a guitar slung over his shoulder, a weird amalgam of Hank Williams’ doom injected with a Jesse James outlaw fury topped off with the insatiable appetite of the Marquis de Sade, if the Marquis de Sade happened to also be a lion tamer that defused bombs on the weekends. “What is keeping Keith Richards upright?”

It is hard to explain to those who are unfamiliar with the life and exploits of Keith Richards to marvel as I do this week that the man is still breathing. It is an inspiration for those of us who work diligently on challenging our constitution. He is our god. He is our champion.

Thirty-two years ago, when in college, there was a horrific snow storm in New Jersey. I was to unfurl a detailed tribute to Richards’ birthday on my humble radio show at Mercer County Community College. But in the spirit of Richards, I ignored the elements and literally plowed ahead with my shit brown ’77 Plymouth Volare, sans snow tires or front wheel drive, but well-equipped with a badly wired cassette player blasting Exile on Main St. I cruised the uneventful 40 or so miles to the campus before an obviously catatonic woman decided to make a desperate left turn into my lane against a red light and I careened into her. I recall the impact, her alarmed face and soon her bleeding temple, as I crawled from the mangled driver’s side door to scream obscenities at her.

Instead of the aborted musical tribute that day, I settled for a metaphoric one; contemplating the strange karma of it all, as I embarrassingly waited in a garage called the Dragon’s Den for my mother to rescue me – just another victim of trying to keep up with Keith.

It is hard to explain to those who are unfamiliar with the life and exploits of Keith Richards to marvel as I do this week that the man is still breathing. It is an inspiration for those of us who work diligently on challenging our constitution. He is our god. He is our champion.

Forget the brilliance of the art; forget the Stones and all those ass-kicking riffs, forget “Satisfaction”, “Paint It Black”, ”Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “Gimmie Shelter”, “Monkey Man”, “Brown Sugar”, “Bitch”, “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin?’” “Rocks Off”, “Happy”, “Start Me Up” and the countless, and I do me nearly countless, rock and roll defining sonic muggings. What I am talking about here is the sheer brilliance of surviving for decades, almost by the minute teetering on the precipice of total annihilation.

Also, forget the stupefying fact that maybe, all told, Keith Richards has spent a few days in jail, and not consecutively, just a scattered few hours here and there, whether being set-up by authorities or just busted flat out with tons of hard drugs and weapons all over the globe, and in places where either people didn’t give a shit that he was a Rolling Stone or because he was a Rolling Stone.

“I’ve never had a problem with drugs,” Keith has famously said, “I have a problem with cops.”

But that apparently isn’t even true.

And while Keith has left a long line of victims to his “keep up with Keith” axiom, some famous, some not-so, he has managed to do something even more enviable; despite whatever your selective morals might allow, and that is he has apologized for none of it. There were blood transfusions and drying out clinics to get him back on stage, but never any rehab or finding Jesus or sanctimonious after-the-fact anti-mayhem lectures from Keith. Shit, he only jettisoned the toxins he deemed “over”, as in he had bested them and could no longer see the need to belabor the point. This he astutely cites in his 2010 biography, Life, in which he tutors us all in the laughable art of moderation – for normal humans that means whatever it is most of us are doing, not that crazy, crazy shit he’s perpetuated since 1962.

Hell, Mick Jagger turned 70 in August, and except for a private toast around here, this was no surprise. There is a good chance with all the personal trainers and hyper vitamins and continued screwing of twenty-somethings, Mick will live to 100. But Keith fucking Richards?

And so I shall leave you with the wisdom of the man that I have told people for years and years that they absolutely must televise his autopsy and then find a way to regenerate his DNA into some super-human machine, if it is possible to dissect the part of the brain that worked so diligently to destroy it. When asked by a French journalist in 1977 what he thought about leading the international underground Death Pool, Keith dragged on a cigarette, guzzled a nip of Jack Daniels from the bottle and then let the smoke waft from his crooked smile. “Oh, yeah?” he croaked. “I’ll let you know.”

Keith Richards at 70.

That is a Christmas miracle.

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THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS AT 150

Aquarian Weekly
11/19/13
REALITY CHECK

 James Campion

 

THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS AT 150
Lincoln’s Oratory Masterpiece Heralded The Modern Age Of America

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

lincolnNow we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

-Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, November 19, 1863

 

One-hundred and fifty years ago on the day this hits the streets, Abraham Lincoln presented his address on the hallowed grounds of an American massacre. With a slight tremor in his voice, one that had the tendency to screech into strange registers when emoting, his words “echoed through the hills”. He read from his fifth draft, hardly peering up, and never breaking a stoic resolve. When he was finished, the silence, it was reported, lasted an excruciatingly long time. It was the silence, one witness remarked to a New York City reporter, “of the dead.”

Only five months earlier, just beyond the incline where Lincoln stood, the Union Army met General Lee’s Confederate charges over a three-day period of the most horrific slaughter ever realized on American soil. Until then, the Civil War had been in doubt. Despite riches and industrial strength and overwhelming human numbers, the devastation had dragged on for three gory years. Gettysburg changed that. Lincoln knew it. His words echo it.

At 278 words, it is a masterwork in brevity. Not one wasted; each a pillar for the next. It is less address than prayer; an American poem. Mostly, it is an invocation of the heretofore empty promise penned by Thomas Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence. The idea that a man who owned human beings from a place that thrived economically on the egregiousness of slavery would dare aspire to such lofty notions as “All men are created equal” and not in the eyes of law or sovereign or bloodline, but by an omniscient being grasping at the very notion of liberty.

The Gettysburg Address is not a point in history; it is history. Therefore it moves, like time.

Before Lincoln, before Gettysburg, and before those 278 words, that was all it was – rhetoric reaching pathetically at a dream. It was word, not deed. This is why Lincoln’s pronouncement, leaving nary a sliver for interpretation that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here” would realize the truth of Jefferson’s vision. Eleven months after the Emancipation Proclamation, which would begin to dismantle our national disgrace, the inhuman bondage which would make a mockery of the lie that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is available to all, these words would float like a distant bugle call over the fields of battle.

It was with these deeds and words that this nation known as America was founded. Not in Philadelphia or Concord or those dark years between our extrication from the British Empire and 600,000 sacrificed from the moment the first cannon ball slammed into the ramparts of Fort Sumner. It is Lincoln’s “unfinished work” that is before a nation so full of Jefferson’s promise, and long after a lunatic actor put a bullet in the 16th president’s skull it remains, as it would remain then. The genocide of Native Americans and the long struggles for African Americans and immigrants and women and so many that succeeded them.

“The great task at hand” is always at hand.

This is why the Gettysburg Address is not a point in history; it is history. Therefore it moves, like time. Not to be shoved in a canister or placed behind glass. That is for fallen nations and buried ideals. Lincoln’s words were not and are not a command or a call to duty. It was and is not a rousing rhetorical spire or a solemn dedication to the blessings bestowed on his office, his nation, his place in the pantheon of the American God.

The Gettysburg Address was and is still the wish, the hope, and the vision of America as a concept, Jefferson’s dream come alive to evolve and continue to seek what its author once mused are “our better angels”. It is without question the greatest set of ideas ever uttered by an American citizen about the density of our purported ideal that we indeed “always shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

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IT CAME FROM NEW JERSEY

Aquarian Weekly
11/13/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IT CAME FROM NEW JERSEY
Chris Christie’s Enormous Victory Heralds Serious Presidential Credentials

Make no mistake about this; Chris Christie, Republican Governor of the Garden State, is running for president. His recent rousing success in this bluest of blue states among women, blacks, Hispanics and even moderate-to-conservative Democrats has made a strong case that he may be the only shot a GOP national ticket has of making a dent in what will likely be another beating come November, 2016.

Christie’s Election Night victory speech, which I watched on a projector screen in the private campaign christie_75 suite of Westchester Country Executive Rob Astorino, was as much a clarion call for his inevitable run for the White House as it was a warning to those entrenched fellow Republicans who have made mincemeat of their opposition to Democratic rule in the Senate and the Oval Office in Washington.

“Now listen, I know that if we can do this in Trenton, N.J.,” Christie said with a purpose. “Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune into their TVs right now….” The governor, an imposing heft of a beast, who breathes from the mouth as if trapped in an anti-gravity chamber, hesitated for just the right amount of time to let this sledgehammer analogy sink in, then, looking straight into the camera – something I have not seen a single candidate do in this setting – concluded in an almost 30’s gangster style; “…see how it’s done.”

The crowd at the Astorino camp cheered. Their candidate has more or less competed on the same plain as Christie in the second richest county in the United States for the past four years. Westchester, like Jersey, is mostly made up of Democrats. Both men took on unions and government agencies in an uphill battle to try and lower taxes. The results vary for both. I live in Jersey and can tell you Christie’s bluster has done nothing to lower mine. In fact, taxes at the Clemens Estate have risen considerably under this so-called conservative, but that is a bitch for another time.

Moments after Christie’s stare-down moment, an ipso facto launching of a pre-campaign campaign for president of the United States in 2016, my friend announced to his staff, family and friends that his opponent, Democrat Noam Bramson had conceded. Soon it was Bramson dominating the suite’s wall-screen giving a very different speech; jeered by some, but mostly met with silence. I knew nothing of Bramson or the campaign he ran, but it was easy to see why he wasn’t a match for my longtime friend, who is as polished as they come.

Funnily enough, Astorino was called “the skinny Christie” for awhile. So it made perfect sense both would be claiming victory again on the same night for the second time in four years. However, while many in the Republican Party have been more than hinting that the second term County Executive take a shot at the governorship of New York, there is little question Christie will not be serving out this term as NJ governor. He is running for president.

Watching a rebroadcast of his speech around two am, dogged by a serviceable amount of gin, it was easy to deduce his high minded lecturing about working across the aisle and chiding fellow Republicans, specifically the Washington crowd that has caused self-inflicted wounds in a battle against what they perceive are the evils of big government. “We don’t just show up in the places where we’re comfortable,” Christie tutored. “We show up in the places we’re uncomfortable.” Christie spent the rest of the speech driving home the concept of embracing government and not infusing it with ham-fisted inertia for the sake of ideological fisticuffs. The idea is to govern, of course, but first the idea is to win.

And The Fat Man has the formula, at least in Jersey.

While the national numbers look so abysmal it might take four generations for a Republican to once again gain access to the executive branch of the federal government, the state level figures for Christie are staggering.

Christie put his hat in the national ring with the subtlety of a bull elephant in heat.

Within the unfathomable 60 percent of the vote he carried, which is a feat for either Democrat or Republican around here, Christie dominated the independent vote to the tune of 66 percent, an absolute must for any national candidate in a growing anti-party affiliation environment. To the GOP point, his 51 percent of Hispanics and 57 percent of women are difference makers, not to mention three out of four working-class white voters; the famed “Reagan Democrats” needed for the party to have any shot in 2016.

Now, Christie is a gaff machine. He’ll make Mitt Romney’s celebrated 2012 foot-in-mouth review look tame. He has the ethnic stigma of the northeast, deadly in a Republican primary, where Romney turned from vacillating moderate to a gun-toting Jesus Freak in two months. Here, wise-crackin’ is good press. In Iowa, Christie’s act might look as if he is a dock worker on amphetamines, or worse, some kind of Sopranos tribute.

And there is also this TEA Party thing, which Christie is likely not going to kowtow to under any circumstances and will have to strain not to turn pikers like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul into chum at the first turn. Will that kind of fight alienate the nuts; a key GOP demographic these days.

And it should be noted, the same exit polls that make him look like Boss Tweed, also favor his inevitable opponent, Hillary Clinton by four points.

No matter; Christie put his hat in the national ring with the subtlety of a bull elephant in heat Tuesday. He looks to be ready to do what he knew he would do by all-but passing up any chance of being sunk in the doomed 2012 Romney run; work with head winds.

So let it be known that on November 5, 2013, the day he was re-elected as governor of NJ in a landslide, Chris Christie is running for president.

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LOU REED – 1942 – 2013‏

11/6/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

LOU REED – 1942 – 2013

When you dance hard.slow dancing.
– Lou Reed
“Rock Minuet”

New York beat in him. This is what he captured, after all; his epic poem, his distorted ode, his ebony attire and his affected, queer tough-boy growl.lou reed This was the rhythm of his city, where he was born and where he died. New York City. How he viewed it, behind the tinted shades, like a spy. He gestated in its belly, gorged on its deepest most cherished deviance; its insomnia, its pleasures, its damning. The city slithered to escape him, to seduce him, to keep him and keep us coming back for one more taste. “Hey white boy, what ya doin’ uptown?” All the gutter-queen, drag hipster pale vampire nights and the cruel lipstick-stained cigarette mornings shuffling into the cracked, boarded tenement slag aftershocks. “Waitin’ for the man.”

Lewis Allan Reed was the literate bad ass who never accepted the cerebral niceties of professorial bluster in the books and poems. It was the busted lobe of those twisted freaks that made them. This is how to take the words and splatter the blood and semen and regret and paranoia out of their meanings – to mine Blake and Ginsberg and Conrad and those weird little stories in Nelson Algren’s id and translate them into the subterranean haunting frames of Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling and Little Joe, the unrepentant withered doll parts of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

“And the colored girls go…doo do doo do doo do doo.”

When he was a teenager, his middle class Jewish parents, horrified by his bisexuality, sent him to receive electroconvulsive therapy. It was 1956, six years before Ken Kesey blew the lid off the whole deal in Cuckoo’s Nest and a few months after the world went sideways for kids like Reed, when Elvis shook his ass on television. The fuel of a thousand lights singed into the soulless flim-flam of Eisenhower’s America – fire across the bow. It was indeed the end of two-dimensional black and white.

“Despite the amputation, you can dance to the rock and roll station…and it was allllll riiiight.”

Reed returned to New York after his “reawakening” at Syracuse University, to dream the playwright jester’s dream, return to the din of the big town with an epiphany found in the temple of the Velvet Underground. Sounds of the nadir, street hassles and slick needle-pushers emerging from the psychedelic fog of “Heroin”, a song so completely without peer, without root, without a lifeline and for whom the singer, the young, stoic, chiseled, confused Reed sings in a ghostly moan; “I’m gonna try for the kingdom . if I can”, but even feeling like Jesus’ son descends as if a spiral staircase into “I guess I just don’t know…and I guess I just don’t know.”

Lewis Allan Reed was the literate bad ass who never accepted the cerebral niceties of professorial bluster in the books and poems.

The Velvet Underground came and went long before anyone had any idea of what New York was going to be again, was going to act like in the undulating zeitgeist; the horny, thorny, idiotic soot and grime and bankrupt moral dogma of the much later hip-hop cries for vengeance. It would be that New York which took its wounded debutantes and spit them out like the fair and blonde Edie and the ballers from New England who thought they were going to be “rushin’ in my run” only to end up a damaged but undaunted Sweet Jane; “Everyone who ever had a heart, they wouldn’t turn around and break it…And anyone who ever played a part, wouldn’t turn around and hate it.”

Reed could have walked into the sunset after that. No one would have blamed him; the drugs, the booze, the hotel rooms and opiate cab rides. Soon there would be London with David Bowie and in Berlin with fiends from his childhood, and all that beautifully wonderful noise and feedback and electric guitar slop that underscored those denizens of the streets.

“I never had to bring anything in the way of despair, anguish or deep emotion to Lou Reed,” famed producer, Bob Ezrin told me earlier this year. “It was all over his writing.” Ezrin took Reed’s most vivid passion play and created arguably the most psychologically stirring pieces of rock music ever recorded. Do yourself a favor and find “The Kids” after you finish reading this. Listen to it, really listen to it.

Ironically, it was New York, the title of his last great work – a true late-in-career-comeback-masterpiece – that stamped his legacy. It sounds, 24 years after its release, like a resurrection – even last week when I was listening to it, a few days before I found out he was gone. And I wondered about Pedro and the poor souls on the bus with no faith and the fading image of Bernie Goetz in the shadow of the Statue of Bigotry. I wondered if any of them ever made their way out of his head, his beat.

…his town

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BOY: TAKING THE PROCESS ON TOUR

Aquarian Weekly
10/13

BUZZ

James Campion

BOY: TAKING THE PROCESS ON TOUR
From Music Workshop to New York Stage, A Pop Duo Comes Of Age

 

Even in a cramped and steamy backstage dressing room, less than two hours before the New York City debut of their full-band show at Webster Hall, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass still find time to be introspectively gracious and dig deeperBoy1_400x500 into this mysterious but palpable fusion of musicality that allows uniquely divided talents from disparate backgrounds to achieve Boy.

Boy is a vocal-rich, musically versatile songwriting and performing duo that formed in 2005 and released its first collection of songs, Mutual Friends in 2011. Disallowing for taste or category, Boy embodies the strength and depth of the memorable tune, the visceral progression, the tasty bridge and a considerable cross-generational adoration for pop music.

“We don’t sit in a room and jam,” Glass chuckles. The thirty-six year old German cellist/bass player is quite adamant when explaining the Boy process. “I write the songs in total, programming everything but lyrics and melody. Then I send those ideas to Valeska.”

The twenty-seven year old Swiss born vocalist, whose eerie evocation of Suzanne Vega’s reservedly sensual tones, thrives in the duo’s give-and-take. “We are real perfectionists,” Steiner beams. “Our goal is to work for as long as it takes for us to like it. And it takes awhile.”

Mutual Friends is a first record much like a first novel; it goes too far and chooses too many spaces to fill, yet manages quite nicely to make it sound as if the listener has found a comfortable place to land.

“Comforting” is how Glass describes the music, as Steiner is quite positive its themes, from love and loss to the joy of transition are “optimistic”.

“This is the beginning…of anything you want,” Steiner sings in the album’s opening number, and you believe it, just as you believe the alternative in the pensive “Drive Darling” when she admits, “I’m smiling on the surface,…I’m scared as hell below.” There is an enviable sincerity in these disparate emotions in which the music duly supports.

“I was glad we were able to make a record that many people come to us and say that it gives them hope somehow,’ says Steiner. “I had just moved from Zurich to Hamburg, so it was like a fresh start. And it was this very enthusiastic and hopeful feeling of looking to see what was going to come, but there are also melancholy songs of missing what you left behind.”

The delicate but brave balance of Boy is found in these young women and what they have found in each other, a similar comfort to meet the challenge of creating the kind of music which reflects their collective outlook while not trying too hard to please. It is as if the idea of a good, solid, positive song; whether treading folk or rock or soul, were inbred individually and realized jointly.

“I was looking for a band for many years and Valeska was the first one where I thought I really believed in us,” recounts Glass of their meeting in a six-week pop-music symposium at Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg, Germany, her distinct accent forcing the words deliberately, so as to not miss the significance. “Something happened when we played together that had never happened before. I somehow knew that things would work out for us.”
Steiner recalls nearly 50 musicians and vocalists convened in the “workshop”, but it took merely an initial meeting for her and Glass to be sure that theirs would be a fruitful collaboration.

“We got into the rehearsal room the second day and we really liked each other’s qualities and somehow got the feeling that we had similar tastes and that we cared about similar things in music,” says Steiner, through a lilting Swiss accent, a sweet smile creasing her slender features.  “We clicked pretty quickly.”

“There were many, many singers, but she stood out,” Glass says of Steiner. “Her voice is special and very unique and you just recognize it. She’s just…shining.”
Mutual Friends provides insights into the essence of the Steiner/Glass pairing, which becomes transparent upon meeting them; an adoring humility with an undercurrent of worldly ambition. Both women are arrestingly beautiful and soft-spoken, belying a tenacious will to produce the most memorable aural-scapes.

This intriguing duality was fully on display a few hours later as the band (a percussionist, drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and Glass on bass) took the stage on the second floor of Webster Hall before a hearty audience. Dynamics, spatial nuances and visceral lifts power an understated fury, whether a ballad, as in the haunting “July” or a simple pop song, as in the spectacularly infectious, “Little Numbers”.

It is on stage that Steiner shines as a vocalist; culling tension against an impenetrable bedrock of defiance. Her voice demands attention with a feminine mystique as she moves about the spotlight like a sparrow sure of its space but comfortable in timidity. “We really didn’t make any compromises,” she declared back in the dressing room. “We really just wanted to make our record the way we wanted to make it and we feel so lucky that people seem to like it and we’ve gotten so far and traveled so much with these songs.”

The crowd on this night ate it up; singing along and cheering the many moments of demure honesty both women offered up about their utter giddiness at playing their songs as they were intended, with a full band, in a New York City milieu.
“We are extremely happy with the live band we have,” Steiner enthuses. “They are great musicians and great people, and we’re really happy to have this group that grew together from playing so many shows.”boy

Each member of the band, which has previously played with Boy in one capacity or another over the past two and a half years, all contributed to different songs on Mutual Friends, as Steiner and Glass preferred to pick and choose the right musicians for a particular song. However, this line-up was not part of the equation when the girls first hit America in March.

“We knew we wanted to go on tour and play, but we couldn’t afford a whole band to come with us,” says Steiner. “We just knew we would have to find a way for just the two of us to play these songs in a stripped down version. So that was a challenge.”

This was especially true of Glass, who had taken it upon herself to provide nearly the entire musical accompaniment, protecting the integrity of the original arrangements. “I have to say it took me some time to get used to playing acoustic guitar live,” says Glass. “I use it when I write, of course, but it was hard for me to play this instrument and feel comfortable.”

“We had to imitate the whole band and Sonja really had a tough job,” Steiner adds, her partner effusively nodding her head beside her. “She had to jump from the acoustic guitar to the cello and then to bass.”

“For two songs we had a loop on the laptop and I had to start it,” Glass laughs. “I was kind of the band machine.”

But now, on stage, with full accompaniment and an enthusiastic crowd of fans who have embraced Boy as it was meant to look and sound, Steiner and Glass appear in their element. The German girl plucks her bass and smirks at the groove as her Swiss pal leaps joyously, smacking a tambourine into an open hand as she bends her head back to reach another note.

The future is fast becoming the now for Boy; on tour in the States with a new acoustic EP out and looking forward to completing work on a second album. It is hard not to ask if this could ever have been dreamed up or if this is all stranger than fiction.

“I think both are true,” Steiner smiles, with Glass chiming in with a whispered yeah. “On the one hand it was always this dream of being a musician; to be able to tour and be on the road with your band and, honestly, going to the States and being on tour here was one of my biggest dreams; but it always seemed so far away. When we started writing that was never our main thought, it was just really believing in what happened between us when we write and liking what comes out of that in the first place – just doing it for ourselves or for our own pleasure, because it fulfilled us. And it still does, and it’s so nice to see which way the music goes…”

“….and how it develops,” Glass concludes.

The Boy process continues.

 

 

 

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MOOD SWINGS ON BROADWAY – STEELY DAN AT BEACON THEATER 10/4/13

Aquarian Weekly

REVIEW

James Campion

 MOOD SWINGS ON BROADWAY
STEELY DAN – BEACON THEATER 10/4/13

What you expect from the newest Steely Dan show, Mood Swings: 8 Miles High To Pancake Day Tour, the most recent incarnation of the enigmatic jazz-pop duo of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker – the resurgence of which began two decades ago – is solid musicianship, kick-ass sound and ear-bending arrangements of exceedingly infectious songs. What you get from its nine-day residency stint at New York’s Beacon Theater is all that and a surprisingly lively presentation of extended jams, Broadway lighting effects, and a joyous sense that living in the groove is a communal experience.

What was to be the penultimate gig in a monster 53-show tour by the 70s’ icon of FM radio staples – the white-blues-smart-short-story blurbs of urban yuppie be-bop – featured an entire reading of the band’s 1977 masterpiece, Aja; a recordsteely dripping with peripatetic nostalgia, testosterone-addled rage and school-boy infatuation wrapped in spatially structured melody machines.

Fagan, sloppily attired in a gray-black ensemble with a long, barely functioning tie and pink sneakers swayed impishly at his keyboard, black shades and a beaming smile evoking the most affected Ray Charles, was in ragged but tonally severe voice. His biting, yearning, often hilariously poignant lyrics sliced through the dozen musicians and voices backing him. His partner of more or less 45 years, Walter Becker, seemingly dressed for a yoga summit – bearded and bald and tastily gliding his digits across the Fender frets – effortlessly summoned echoes of studio licks subtly brewing from him.

The band, referred to affectionately by Fagan as The Bipolar All-Stars – as finer group of impressively educated and militarily rehearsed cats would be hard to fathom, would be worthy of some kind of vaudvillain hipster showcase. Full horn section; baritone (Roger Rosenberg), and alto sax (Walt Weiskopf), searing trumpet (Michael Leonhart), and trombone (Jim Pugh) added the crucial counter textures which powder the sugar on Steely Dan’s croissant. Chest-caving bass (Freddie Washington), delectable keyboards (Jim Beard), and a dual guitar barrage of riffs and runs from Becker and Jon Herington that mesmerize but never distract. Drummer Keith Carlock, who has been with the line-up for a decade, is as versatile as he is entertaining – a true percussionist in every sense of the word – providing backbone to what almost always appears to be an off-kilter free-form virtuoso soiree.

Let’s face it; sounding “like the record” – to which Steely Dan discs always provide hardcore audiophiles ecstasy – is a pre-requisite to this endeavor, and impeccable vocals completed the experience. This was accomplished with precision by The Borderline Brats; a trio of singers, Catherine Russell, La Tanya Hall and Carolyn Leonhart-Escoffery. The nuances of their harmonies and hoots-and-woots swirled perfectly within the framework of these fluidly taught rhythms.
After traversing the landscape of Aja; “Black Cow”, “Peg”, “Deacon Blues”, “Josie” et al, the band played for another 90 stirring minutes – deep cuts, big hits, and witty repartee through blues, jazz, rock and the obligatory “Reelin’ in The Years”, which induced the crowd into as much a frenzy as a dedicated phalanx of middle-aged to creeping hippy seniors can get. The highlights included a rousing version of “Hey 19” in which Becker rapped for nearly ten minutes about music, love, life and marijuana, and an unflinchingly dynamic version of the concussive “Bodhisattva”.

There is every indication from this show and its response from the audience that Steely Dan could have set up shop on Broadway for another month.

 

 

 

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HAMMER TIME FOR JOE COOL

Aquarian Weekly
10/16/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

HAMMER TIME FOR JOE COOL
For Good or Ill, President Displays Lame Duck Balls

If the president’s first post-election press conference is any indication, there’s a new sheriff in town. Those are the sounds a man makes when he no longer has to run for office. It is powerful, even majestic, if not terrifying. Makes the most fearless among us truly understand the lofty position of the end game. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? End game. No more matches, debating or begging for money or trolling votes. Nothing left to do but talk tough and crack skulls.
– THE EMPEROR’S NEW SHOW – Reality Check: 12/5/12

Support for, or dissent aimed at, the Affordable Care Act such as it is, or this shaky second-term president, who for reasons known only to him has routinely gone completely AWOL when heavy confrontation is called for, or this now utterly obamadisastrous congress, which has sunk to an unfathomable five-percent approval rating with a six percent margin for error (which means there is a good chance no one breathing approves of it) there is one key element that has become abundantly clear to even the casual observer: Barack Obama is a professional politician that no longer has to run for a fucking thing and therefore has the gravitas to go balls-out on whatever lies before him. And this government shut-down, continuing resolution, debt ceiling debacle is a fantastic example.

While the Republican argument is for the president to negotiate an existing law after its rather lengthy trip through every due process provided by the American system, Joe Cool has simply told everyone to go screw. It is quite intriguing, really.

And the polls back up this guts-and-glory play. There isn’t one not manufactured by Karl Rove or some other fossil of the Right that doesn’t shift the piss-wind into the GOP collective face and Obama is, for the moment, taking the day.

The president’s only wrench-in-the-works is this pussyfooting around with exemptions for this and that – corporations, unions, government employees – which appears to irk those polled, but even that group thinks the Republican-controlled congress has gone off the rails.

With Obama’s legacy on the line, the unimaginable complications and red tape to come on his lofty Obamacare, there is much fight in this dog.

Meanwhile, there is budging. The day of this writing, John Boehner’s wholly useless reign as Speaker has netted him several clandestine meetings (the kind that pulled the last debt ceiling silliness from the maw of disaster to a less onerous level) which have gained some measure of temporary deal in the works. This is done as both he and the president have spent day after day in front of microphones pointing a finger at the other in classic political brinkmanship, if not ham-fisted public relations.

But Boehner has bigger fish to fry than a nearly lame-duck chief executive. His caucus, the majority of which thinks the 30 to 40 colleagues who have spearheaded this clusterfuck are further dismantling a wounded brand, are frightened. No one wants to cast any compromising vote with 2014 looming and the horrible shutter of 2010 and 2012 congressional primary bloodlettings fresh in their heads.

And, not to be dismissed, those aforementioned 30 to 40 did get elected by districts vehemently opposed to any national health care system, with the haughty notion that somehow they could stop it; like Mitt Romney’s continued fantasy during the 2012 presidential campaign that somehow the president of the United States could singularly expunge a law from the books by a sweep of his monarchical hand. Does anyone expect them to go back to their constituents and blather apologies about caving?

Boehner has careers and futures to manage. Obama, on the other hand, has nothing to lose. Nothing.

His party? Shit, the vice president isn’t even getting the nomination. It will be Hillary Clinton, who will emerge as the heavy favorite and likely win the White House based on the same key voter demographics which whisked Obama in less than a year ago, a demographic the Republicans have done much to continue to disintegrate. And, as stated here last week, even without this grandstand, the Senate is almost assuredly staying in Democratic hands in 2014, as will the House remain Republican.

With Obama’s legacy on the line, the unimaginable complications and red tape to come on his lofty Obamacare, there is much fight in this dog.

If anything comes out of this mess, it is this; never fuck with a politician who no longer has to answer to the ballot box.

 

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THE HOUSE DIVIDED PRINCIPLE

Aquarian Weekly
10/9/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE HOUSE DIVIDED PRINCIPLE
Terrorist Politics 101 

 

Get used to this.

Unless there is another Watergate-sized disaster in the White House or the Republican Party fades into oblivion from lack of demographic or pseudo-religious support gun geeks than there will be a GOP-controlled House, most likely a barely-controlled Democratic tedSenate, and definitely a Democrat in the White House for most of our natural lives.

As each generation passes and the diversity of the national electorate expands, the realistic numbers, as they have the past decade-plus, will dramatically skew Democrat, but the entrenched districts across most of the South and Mid-West will also secure an impenetrable Republican legislative coalition.

Thus, the Republicans, slyly gerrymandered and considerably well-versed in local politics, will hang onto a small but crucial part of our tri-balanced system and continue to act as all nearly powerless groups tend to; defiant, petty and destructive. This is what transpired in the ludicrous debt ceiling debacle of 2011 and what is happening right now with the wholly nonsensical shutdown of the federal government.

This action is the very definition of terrorism; to enact your will in glaringly anti-establishment ways when civil ones are not available to you.

Before your head explodes, we can bag the term terrorist for, say, insurrectionist or radical. It’s your choice. Whatever the semantics, this jacking around with the running of government and paying the debts the nation has already rolled up to grandstand  ideology masked in empathy for the common good is a desperate ploy utilized by those rendered mute by the powers that be, which is normally viewed by the minority group as tyrannical.

It’s juicy stuff. I love it for its historical perspective and entertainment value; but, of course, there is no end game to any of it, just as we have learned with fundamentalist Islamic extremism in its violent third-world ways. Pissing on systems in which you are neutered is a classic response; wholly understandable, if not irrational.

Because it is irrational for one party of a two-party republic to ignore the tenets of law it has collectively sworn to legislate. As unpopular and perhaps asinine as the Affordable Care Act may end up being, it is a law; upheld by every available avenue of the United States Constitution.

You see, you draw up a bill, vote on it, and the president of the United States signs it into law. This is the fundamental structure of this American experiment.

Now, if that law is unjust, according to the rules of said Constitution, it has its day in court, such as the atrocity known as the defunct Defense of Marriage Act. And so the ACA had its legal dissection by the third branch of government, the Supreme Court, and, unlike DOMA, was upheld, cementing the very strength and integrity of the democratic system formulated 225 years ago.

The last vestige of eradicating the existence of this flawed and perhaps disastrous law was left to the gaining of access to the final branch of the government; the executive. Less than a year ago, this nation chose quite decisively re-elect the man for which the law is now pejoratively named, Obamacare, Barack Obama, thus electorally putting the final ribbon on the ACA.

Legislation, judicial review and election results solidified an acting law; and yet those powerless to stop it, continue to cause a ruckus, as if the U.S. Constitution was merely a suggestion. Not because they don’t like it or think it bad but because every possible means for them to have a voice has been squashed by decorum.

This action is the very definition of terrorism; to enact your will in glaringly anti-establishment ways when civil ones are not available to you.

Those who spend hours in the great halls of congress, this hollowed body currently approved by an historically abysmal 10 percent, shouting about the primacy and infallibility of said Constitution, are now shatting on it like bratty sore losers.

Those who simultaneously rail against systemic equality, and who cite the will of 57 percent of the populace that despises the law, but ignore 90 percent of the populace that begs for mandatory gun legislation and a realistic immigration bill, shout equality for everyone.

If the government had not been shut down and used as a blackmail scheme, then this would be fine political theater, but pushing this hissy fit into the governing realm for which they were elected it simply insurrection, radicalism and really, terrorism.

At one time or other in my life, I have supported a degree of each, so believe me it is plain as day and it is not going to stop anytime soon, if ever; because to throw systemic bombs into the works, to endlessly filibuster committees and obstruct votes is not the way of democratic law, but the way of the powerless to dismantle it.

And so the national demographics won’t change and the districts in the House races won’t budge.

Get used to this.

The media has, the stock market has, and even the members of the government that closed shop this week have.

This is the norm.

Remember, as Napoleon once mused, “It ain’t rape, if you sit back and enjoy it.”

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MO

Aquarian Weekly
10/2/13
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MO

Straight as an arrow; stoic with a slightly visible breath – a fierce figure of calm in a gathering storm standing upon a raised patch of dirt 18 feet in diameter. The left arm mobent to the chest, the ball gripped in the mitt, the right hand dangling casually. A look in at 60 feet and six inches – razor sharp and icy like a jungle cat at prey – before a slight shift in weight brings the bare hand to meet the ball. Then in one fluid series of ballet-esque motions – a coiled slant forward, as if a bow fletching to strike, cranks the body fusion into a bullet arc, a millisecond prelude to the knee kick from the left leg and the arm whirling high above the head with the release of the stitched sphere to its destination.

A single pitch. The professionals call it a “Cutter”, a spinning, knifing diving thing that burns inside on lefty batters and disappears to righties. One pitch. Nineteen major league seasons. A record 652 saves (the final outs of a close game) over a record 952 appearances in Major League Baseball contests. An unprecedented stretch of excellence with a single, devastating pitch has ended.

The great Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees is retiring as quite simply the undisputed finest closer to ever ply the trade at any level anywhere, and without question the longest running level of near-perfection in the history of sport.

I first heard the name on July, 4 1995 while riding shotgun in a grey Isuzu pick-up truck with fellow Yankees fanatic, Peter Blasevick, a long-time friend and colleague, whose band DogVoices I decided against all reason to follow and turn its exploits and that of the New Jersey rock circuit into a book called Deep Tank Jersey. Rivera was dismantling the Chicago White Sox over eight innings, allowing one run while striking out 11. He would never be as affective a starter again.

The next time his name hit my radar was an 11-inning play-off game in 1995 between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners, when a skinny reliever my dear friend Tony Misuraca called The Elfin while another, Bo Blaze frantically scribbled onto scraps of paper, “Please, Young Mariano, get this out!”, pitched three scoreless innings – the 13th, 14th and 15th to earn the win in a marathon at Yankee Stadium. The team would eventually lose the series in its final inning with Rivera in the bullpen helpless to stop it. But that would not happen too often over the next five years when the team that had not tasted a World Series in 18 years (an annual event the greatest franchise in professional sports history practically invented) would reach it five times, winning four, including three in a row.

Rivera would be the lynchpin of those title teams that could well be (considering the three-tier postseason set-up) the most dominant the game has ever seen.

By ’96, Rivera was a full-time bullpen pitcher, a set-up man for the then closer and mentor, John Wetteland. First year manager, Joe Torre, who had previously cobbled five winning seasons out of twelve in prior locations, placed the budding Rivera in the seventh and eighth innings and ostensibly turned a nine inning competition into six. It would earn the 26-year old right-hander a top-five finish in the Cy Young voting, almost unheard of at anytime in the game’s history and a telling quote from two-time champion manager of the Minnesota Twins, Tom Kelly, who famously said of Rivera, “He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal.”

Fortunately for the Yankees Rivera was not banned, and went on to shatter regular and post season records for closing out games from 1997 until this season. The most incredible of these statistics is his incomparable play-off performances, which for all intents and purposes Rivera turned into grand opera and classic art all at once. Over 96 appearances in his career (missing only 2008 – the only year the team did not make the post season – and last season due to injury) the man the sport affectionately called Mo would post an historically low .70 ERA with a record 42 saves and eight wins against one loss.

Robin Roberts of ABC News recently figured that less people have walked on the moon (12) than have scored a post season run off Mariano Rivera (11).

When the Yankees won, as they did in ’96, 1998 through 2000 and 2009, he was unhittable, and when he hiccupped in 2001 and 2004 for one inning each, the team went home. Only in the 2003 World Series loss to the Marlins did Rivera not play a prominent role in the team’s fortunes, but that was after his Herculean three inning scoreless performance in the second greatest baseball game I’ve ever seen, the 11-inning epic against the rival Boston Red Sox that ended on one swing of the bat.

This is the literal definition of most valuable player.

During the unfathomable 1998 season in which the Yankees posted a 125-50 record – the best single-season baseball team ever – I accepted a job hosting a sport show at WFAS in White Plains with my good friend and now Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino. The following three years I spent a lot of time in the Yankees clubhouse, and there was never a time when Mariano Rivera wasn’t laughing or counseling or motivating his teammates, a completely opposite figure than the almost robotic assassin that took the mound time and again, cracking bats in half and whiffing confused hitters.

After the ’99 title, where he recorded the last out of the 20th century, a century the Yankees owned, I stood with him at his locker in the din of celebration all around and we spoke of his World Series MVP. Over a full ten minutes never once did he mention himself. In his then broken English, speckled as it was with contemplative uhhs and ahhs, he sounded like a Zen Buddhist, spiritually humble, defiant against the idea of the world being a random swirl of events. He was centered in all his genuine talk of God and family and teammates who allowed him to have the ball in the final minutes of glory.

In the press box that night, as the fly ball that ended the series nestled into the left-fielder’s glove, I jotted down a note in my scorecard to my Unlce Vinnie, who had seen Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio play and who had passed away when I was off on my honeymoon in mid-June.  I recalled one day the previous summer when he shook his head at the mention of Rivera. “That kid,” he whispered, “is an all-timer.”

In October of 2009, I took my wife, now a diehard Yankees fan, more than me, for sure, to Game 2 of the World Series, a game in which, as he had done countless times, Rivera came in to clean up a mess in the eight – two on, no one out in a two-run game – and closed the door.

This past August, I walked hand-in-hand with my five-year old daughter, Scarlet into the new Yankee Stadium; a favor my father granted me over 40 years before in the old one, and on her back was a number 42, Mo’s number, and the name of her favorite cat that we named after the great Rivera.

And so one of the leisure pleasures of my life, like a Joe Namath pass, a Woody Allen film, a Stones song, and a Hunter S. Thompson screed, the great Rivera standing on the mound about to throw, will no longer be.

Mo.

Thanks.

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