STEPHEN KELLOGG – ROAD DIARY AT 40

Aquarian Weekly
Feature

11/15/17

STEPHEN KELLOGG – ROAD DIARY AT 40
Songwriter Marks Time Making Timeless Music

Gonna be a good friend
Gonna be a family guy
Gonna pour my heart out
Till the day after I die
And when I am an angel
Looking for a landing
Gonna be the last man standing

– Stephen Kellogg, “Last Man Standing”

“Hang on, man, I got to pull over.”

Talking to singer/songwriter, Stephen Kellogg as he works his way up the Hutchinson Parkway from New York City through Connecticut. “Wait…there’s a parking lot off this exit,” he earnestly reports. His cell phone is scrambling his sentences. Missing them could be dangerous. You see, Kellogg can be downright quotable when on the road, as his new record, Tour De Forty: Greatest Hits (So Far) Live will attest. It is a musical diary of sorts that captures his recent TD40 tour, which transformed the notable occasion of his turning 40 into a traveling review of his life in song. It also introduces new material that duly reflects this milestone while breathing new life into fan favorites.

“I always feel as though I’m singing to my contemporaries and singing to my peers and singing to people who are living through experiences like my own,” he says, as the engine hums along beneath him. “It feels like, ‘Hey, if you’re anything like me, here is a soundtrack for you.’”

Kellogg is bringing his soundtrack to the Bowery Ballroom this week to complete this year-long journey looking back and peering ahead. “This particular show will be a celebration,” he says, as it will also mark the official release of Tour De Forty. “I got some special guests sitting in, but it’s not a nostalgia show. It’s more like ‘Hey, we’re all still here everybody!’”

Kellogg sounds like a content man, who has happened upon a place he can now fully comprehend. As pulls his car off the road into “some sort of Mastercard headquarters” in Harrison, New York to get a clearer signal, I admit to him that it may be the first time I’ve literally interviewed a traveling musician talking about the road while he’s on the road.

He laughs knowingly; “I like to keep it real.”

And that makes sense too. Listening to Stephen Kellogg’s songs can get you back to “the real” with concussive rapidity. Each is an exercise in stripping away all the sheen that can sometimes be white noise to a composer. Artifice is something Kellogg cannot fathom. Listen to the first two minutes of “Open Heart”, which begins the new record; a probing ballad about being inspired to inspire, to pass on the fruits of the song; to live it and then tell it. And Kellogg is nothing if not a storyteller. He works from experience and sees the universal in the personal and uses inner dialogue as pronouncement.

“These songs hound me and they force me to ask, ‘What cosmic place am I…?’, he says. “And if I don’t write them down, don’t somehow share them, get them out, then they just follow me around and kick at my door and I start to feel so much that it becomes overwhelming.”

You can tell right away, Kellogg loves to talk about art as communication – between the muse and his mind; how it goes from there into the hands and through the guitar and out into the ether where the audience absorbs it and brings it back to him ten-fold. And this is where his traveling the nation over the past year has created a new beginning for him, while simultaneously wrapping up a profound chapter. You know, the storyteller thing again.

If you have a calling then you had better live it out, otherwise if you don’t it’s going to be a very frustrating existence.

Speaking of which, I first met Stephen in New York City while working with Counting Crows’ front man and songwriter, Adam Duritz on my current book project, to which Kellogg began picking my brain on his own attempt at penning a memoir of the road. “Counting Crows were always the blueprint of something I felt I could actually do,” he told me. “I always thought, ‘This makes sense to me. I can see how it works. I understand where that comes from.’ I cannot under estimate the importance of the Counting Crows to me personally.” And although he admitted to the difficulties of using his poetic muscles to tackle prose that night, one has to marvel at his dedication to communicate once again. It has indeed been an interesting run for him, as Tour De Forty dutifully documents. From the infectious “Fourth of July” to the sheer vulnerability of “Almost Woke You Up” to the sensuality in “Gravity” to the episodic grandeur of “Thanksgiving Day”, this is Stephen Kellogg as Homer setting sail.

“I thought maybe I would just start sharing more and more and more in an effort to really show people behind-the-curtain, so they could understand hopefully themselves and what they’re going through even more,” he says. “Sometimes I go out solo and I share a lot of stories and I talk about crazy shit my kids say and all that, but I know from being 40 myself that sometimes you just want to go out and you want to feel music that is meant to rock you and you want to remember that you’re still young. When I go a concert that’s what I’m looking for now. I want to sing along. I want to feel like, “Yeah! It’s okay to be 40! This is great!”

That is three times now that Kellogg has said “feel” as if he it was something tangible, like currency or a neatly packed gift, all ribbons and bows.

Here’s what you need to know about Stephen Kellogg, husband of his high school sweetheart, Kirsten, and father of four girls, Sophia, 12, Adeline 10, Noelle, six and Greta, five; he fronted a rock and roll band called the Sixers for eleven years and found himself a solo artist in 2012 with seven albums and thousands of fans in the rearview mirror. He had to get back up and re-invent himself and begin to examine his craft in a new way. “That was a rough period for me,” he remembers. “The Sixers were very much my Heartbreakers, my Crazy Horse. It was always my vision, but we were a band and we played like a band and we made a lot of those decisions together and then in this one year that goes away and you’re 35, which is still very young in the macro sense, but you’re also not a kid anymore and you say, ‘Damn… what happens now?”

What happened is Kellogg kept writing songs; some country, some folk, others rock and still others with a pop or Indie flavor. All of these styles ended up together on his last studio album, South, West, North, East, released in 2016 after being recorded in those four regions of the U.S.A.

“I gave myself permission to not have to always choose a lane because people want you to,” he says. “This way I got to be all the things that I actually am but it didn’t feel disorganized and jumbled because that was the whole concept of the record. South I did in Nashville, and that’s kind of the Southern rock part. West I did in Boulder, Colorado, and that’s more of the folk element. North I did in Woodstock, New York, and that was a little more of the Indie rock thing, and then East was a little bit of the pop thing and I did that in Washington, DC. Then I ended up calling the touring band South West North East, because I wanted some way to signal that this was a band effort and not a solo acoustic type thing.”

And that is where Stephen Kellogg feels most comfortable; at the intersection of the American invention; re-invention. The second act F. Scott Fitzgerald said could not be. But we so love the man who does not lie down on his sword at the first sign of adversity. The comeback is our shiny city on the hill, our better angels, our little pink house.

Of course none of this matters when a man sings, “If heaven and family and children / Are what’s left of the race that I ran / Then I’ll quietly slip to the slumbering peace / Of the sleep of a satisfied man” from another song included on Tour De Forty, “Satisfied Man”, arguably the most articulate expression of the significance of love and fatherhood and growing into one’s self as you could possibly hope to hear. You would not be blamed for thinking that comebacks only happen to those already not where they need to be, but that is far from Stephen Kellogg.

“I have kids that I love and adore and a wife I’m still crazy about after twenty-four years,” he says. “But I continue to do what I do because if you have a calling then you had better live it out, otherwise if you don’t it’s going to be a very frustrating existence.”

In filmmaker, Peter Harding’s short, Last Man Standing, which went on to become an Amazon exclusive film last year, Kellogg is seen both at home and on the road, and although his personality remains constant – upbeat, preternaturally hopeful and always philosophical – there is something that overcomes him there. And you get the feeling watching it that it is home where these songs come from, if not composed in repose, at least conceived, imagined and expressed. He brings his home into the art and the songs onto the road.

“I am taking a certain world view and message out into the world and trying to do some good with it,” he says, when I bring up the delicate balance of the road and family. “I feel very much called to share this message of letting people know they are not alone and this idea of forgiveness and perseverance and things like that that have been big themes in my own life.”

And this returns us to the aforementioned elegiac “Thanksgiving Day”, which sounds like a long handwritten letter in the age of emails and texts, with building stanzas deeply reflective of what this year has meant to Kellogg. This weird young man’s legacy to the maddening pursuit of art as memory and foresight. He sings in its opening verse; “The trees were blowing in the breeze all high above my head / When a cavalcade of memories appeared to me in words I wished I’d said / From that point on a song stayed in my thoughts most of the time / But when I tried to sing it out loud it would always leave my mind / Like the things you know are true, but never can explain when you get asked / A melody floating just within your grasp…”

“What has allowed me to be sort of an optimistic person and have a generally bright and happy life has been my ability to write the melancholy down and to share and to explore what’s causing that and where it’s coming from,” insists Kellogg. “And the same is true of other emotions, not just melancholia, but joy and anger is a big one for me. I feel so much anger, but by writing it down it has allowed me to not be an angry person.”

All these feelings, all these songs, all the miles down the road and many more to go; Stephen Kellogg is finishing up one journey in New York City on Thanksgiving weekend; a place where the song and the road can indeed become one. “We’ll play some football during the day and then go do a couple of shows that weekend and whenever possible I like to do New York City, because it’s the best. You know?”

Then he bids me ado, pulling out of that parking lot and heading back on the road…going home.

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MIXED MESSAGES – ELECTION DAY 2017

Aquarian Weekly
11/15/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MIXED MESSAGES – ELECTION DAY 2017

My dear friend of 28 years now, Rob Astorino, the current Republican County Executive of Westchester County, a highly expensive and mostly bucolic enclave in the hub of the Hudson Valley, New York, was seeking his third term this past Tuesday and was slaughtered by Democrat State Senator George Latimer. Rob was a popular public servant, whose career was on an incline from the time he told me in a Manhattan restaurant sometime in the early years of the prior decade that he wished to head into politics to “make a difference in my neighborhood” – something I tried to talk him out of, by the way. But he went in just the same, very successfully, until this year, the year of Donald Trump, or as the man whom my friend lost to in the 2014 New York gubernatorial race, Andrew Cuomo told the NY Post the next day, “This is bigger than just the county executive’s race, Rob Astorino is a fully financed subsidiary of Donald Trump.”

Of course none of the facts presented in that sentence are true. The president, now toxic to his party at an historically low 34-percent approval rating, had nothing to do with Rob Astorino. Without divulging things that are between me and my friends – many of Rob’s staff were instrumental in making me understand Trump within the party structure when the game show host was seeking the Republican nomination – I can tell you there wasn’t anything close to enthusiastic support for or from El Douche. But many of these same people made it clear to me that if Hillary Clinton had been president, their man would be heading back to a job he loved.

Now to be fair these are the deep cuts of losing an election, and boy was it gloomy in that room election night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains, where I had seen Rob take home two victories in 2009 and 2013, but lose by a narrower margin than anyone could conceive in the 2014 governor race. Even that night there was a sense that Rob was headed somewhere. But Tuesday he was headed home.

There is no denying the Republican Party was trounced on every level all across this nation on Election Day 2017, one year removed from the titular start of the wildly goofy presidency of Donald Trump, but I think while the political-climate message in clear, I’m not sure we can determine unequivocally that what transpired Tuesday is any indication that the GOP was not looking at the normal backlash of a first-year presidency.

Although comparing the clown show going on right now on Pennsylvania Avenue to any previous president is silly, every chief executive in my lifetime had to endure a first-year and in some cases a first-half-of-the-first-term hit in the polls and in statewide elections. And it can rightfully be pointed out that despite the unexpectedly rousing victory enjoyed by Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who was polling at a dead heat that morning and won by ten points, the Commonwealth of Virginia can now be considered a “blue state” – Barrack Obama won it twice, and even Hillary Clinton claimed it last year. In fact, three of the last four governors have been Democrats. Of course when you look at the victories of the first elected Latinas to the state house, the first LGBT candidate, who beat a man who called himself the state’s “chief homophobe” while failing to get a crazy anti-LBGT bathroom bill afloat, and a guy who lost his wife in a shooting beating an NRA lackey, there is more than Trump-hate going on here.

For instance, health care was cited, by a lot, as the most important issue among Virginia voters, many of which live just outside Washington DC. In fact, since Trump has been president and congress has thrice failed to nix it, the Affordable Care Act is on an incredible upswing in sign-ups and its approval rating has gone from well under 50 percent to nearly 65. This is an amazing turnaround and gives the Democratic Party, which seems to stand for nothing beyond “Trump sucks” – a winner right now, I grant you, but not a platform – something to run on in 2018.

But the Democrats have a bigger problem beyond no plan or direction; they are powerless.

Here in New Jersey, it was simply a slam-dunk. Exiting Governor Chris Christie’s approval rating is the lowest of any governor in the history of the United States – or at least since they began polling these things. Christie was at 15 percent on Election Day, which is just a tick above people who burn dogs for the Fourth of July and the guy who massacred those people in Vegas. His beleaguered Lt. governor was predictably shellacked and now a pro-pot, anti-bear-hunt Wall Street Irishman progressive takes charge. That sounds about right. This is some crazy state and we love it, no matter what dink is in Washington DC mucking up the works.

The Republicans do have a Trump Problem, which we will now call it – both politically and in the important public relations realm. The president’s cult of personality – the old, angry, rich white guy who thinks everything sucks except him thing appears to have a shelf life, and seeing how nearly every day someone from his campaign is either revealed to have ties to Russia or is indicted for a crime, circumstances don’t look to get any sunnier. But the Democrats have a bigger problem beyond no plan or direction; they are powerless.

Republicans still have the lion’s share of governorships and state legislatures throughout the republic, many of which have gerrymandered things to kind of queer the results. And the party does run things in DC, where the action would be if they can pass any kind of legislation in the upcoming year, because they have accomplished nada thus far in 2017. Nevertheless, Tuesday’s results do not swing the national balance, if anything it should embolden congress to try and do something if Republicans think a reckoning is coming in 2018.

I am truly saddened for my friend, Rob Astorino. He deserved a better fate. But things have gone sideways right now and inner fighting inside both major political parties means that although today it looks a lot like a spectacular repudiation of something the incorrigible Steve Bannon has taken to calling “Trumpism”, it is no clear indication that it means a hill of beans going forward, now or by the mid-terms elections.

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ELECT PHIL MURPHY – LEGALIZE MARIJUANA IN NJ

Aquarian Weekly
11/1/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

ELECT PHIL MURPHY – LEGALIZE MARIJUANA IN NJ
Become 9th State in the Union to Move into 21st Century

Time to get what Doctor Hunter S. Thompson once called the “rock and roll vote” out of mothballs and get to the polls this November 7 to elect Democrat Phil Murphy the next governor of New Jersey and move this state out of the dark ages and cease this nearly century-old nonsense of criminalizing a plant; a movement started to save the original Fake News maven, William Randolph Hearst, the author of the Marijuana Tax Act legislation passed by Congress in August of 1937, from having his hemp industry wiped out. This law, strengthened by the idiotic Controlled Substances Act of 1970, was the genesis of the modern day drug war that is directly responsible for a booming black market for cannabis – much like the previously stupid Volstead Act (or Prohibition) created organized crime – and the incarceration of millions of pot smokers. It is failed nonsense, and if this country is going to have lunatics running it at the federal level we need to control our state and give voice to a new generation of voter.

This is not a drug issue. This is a new-voice issue. This is wiping out ignorance and bullshit moral proselytizing to keep something illegal that is less harmful than every ounce of liquor you can buy right now legally. It is a joke, and when you are young you know this. For some reason when people get older and maybe have kids and don’t want them buying shitty pot from scumbag street vendors, they tend to sway the other way on this issue. I am no longer young and have a kid and have not budged, but if you read this paper you probably are and you need to get off your ass and vote for Murphy to end this ridiculous charade.

Give me a man who can handle his high, not some whining ass that forces everyone else into tea-totaling

This isn’t even a generational thing. People have been smoking marijuana for centuries. It is fabricated demonization, filled with the kind puritanical moralization that kept minorities and women down for decades; all of it built and sold on false pretenses. There is far more evidence that hamburgers and sugar drinks are destroying the fabric of this nation (environmentally, physically and mentally) than this natural, completely organic substance that has been secretly making billions of drug cartels and asshole dealers selling substandard product with no regulation and worse-still no money for our tax coffers. Never mind the billions lost on farming, tendering and manufacturing. A 2016 New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform study estimates a legal marijuana market is worth $1.3 billion in New Jersey and could generate $300 million in state tax revenue, which is why now six out of ten state residents support legalization.

But we shan’t waste any more space telling you something you already know. If you think marijuana is evil or somehow more dangerous than whiskey, well then, enjoy your fantasy land. There are still people who will tell you the earth is flat. But right now we are a week from expunging the worst governor this state has seen in this reporter’s lifetime as our state congress is poised with a bill (S3195) to legalize weed to 1) Immediately decriminalize marijuana possession of up to 50 grams and allow people who have been arrested for pot possession to expunge their records, 2) Establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement in the state Attorney General’s Office which would create the rules used to govern the legal market of growers and sellers, 3) Allow people to possess up to one ounce of dried marijuana, 16 ounces of edible products infused with cannabis, 72 ounces in liquid form and seven grams of marijuana concentrate, 3) Impose a sales tax on recreational sales beginning at seven-percent in the first year, climbing to ten percent in the second year and jumping five percent more each year until it reaches 25 percent, 4) Abolish taxes on medical marijuana, 5) Give the five existing medical marijuana dispensary nonprofit groups the first crack at selling recreational pot.

It’s sensible, entrepreneurial and constitutional, and I will gladly suspend my “never vote for a major party candidate, much less endorse one” to add this fully-throated endorsement for Murphy, who has bravely stated more than once that he will stand with state’s rights over the draconian big-government machine of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and AG Jeff Sessions to allow New Jersey to become the ninth state in our great nation to legalize something that never should have been illegal in the first place.

Of course it is impossible to see Murphy losing to Chris Christie’s lackey, Kim Guadagno even if he endorsed legalizing the use of bazookas by ten-year-olds. Voting for Guadagno after eight years of Christie horrors will give you more of what this state has already deemed a complete and utter clusterfuck. Christie’s approval ratings, covered here in length in past columns, are at a record low for anyone above dog-catcher and despite his “fiscal conservative” claims and his “strong against crime” boasts my property taxes have gone up every year since he’s been in office and there are parts of this state (I’m looking at you Camden) that are still high-crime havens. Not to mention Christie standing on a debate stage during the Republican primaries last year and saying he would trample state’s rights by using his power if he were president to send in the national guard to make arrests against marijuana smokers. Another so-called smaller-government, freedom-first phony who wants the giant federal government bashing in your doors to implement their “Christian” clap-trap – see marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights.

Don’t tread on me, indeed.

But never mind all of that, this needs to be a statement, our statement, the Jersey statement; we will not be cowed by bleating fossils like Sessions and his new “drug crackdowns” or the game-show president’s retro “Just Say No” silliness. If anything, this gaggle of simpletons proves that being anti-drug is actually a detriment. Give me a man who can handle his high, not some whining ass that forces everyone else into tea-totaling because he’s afraid of mother nature.

I put a call into the Murphy campaign during the writing of this piece and I made it clear to them if I go to the mat for this Irishman, I expect results. None of this Trumpian “get Mexico to pay for the wall”, “repeal Obamacare”, “hold China accountable for currency manipulation” or even “calling a state of emergency against opioid abuse”, none of which he has done or will do. Murphy needs to know that if we cast this vote, this will get done. Right away.

Vote Murphy.

Legalize weed.

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CAVEAT EMPTOR

Aquarian Weekly
10/17/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

CAVEAT EMPTOR
Or How Facebook, Russia and The American Voter Equal Freedom

Except for the president of the United States and a few FOX News shut-ins, it has been long established that the Russian government had an effect on the 2016 presidential election. Whether this included the Donald Trump campaign directly or not, seeing how the infiltration all seemed to be aimed at getting him elected, still has to be determined. We have no less than three major criminal investigations happening in two branches of government and a special council on it. However you wish to see this, overrated or a threat to our democracy, is up to you, but it is real and it is starting to look like it was endemic. But I wish to discuss none of that today. What I wish to dissect is why it’s such a big deal.

I get why it’s a big deal to Democrats. It looks like their candidate got skunked by all of this. And I get why some Republicans and a preponderance of Americans care: How dare a foreign government, especially a hostile one run by a despot, be so brazen as to meddle in our political process!

Of course many of these people either don’t know or don’t care about the history of our incessant meddling in other country’s political affairs for decades. Our meddling went further than posting fake new articles over social media and the hacking into and leaking of private emails. Ours included silent and bloody coups, assassinations, massive propaganda campaigns, and the funding, abetting, and direct involvement of insurrections and terrorism. Oh, we were good, everywhere – the Middle East, Central America, Europe, Africa, shit we even fucked with elections within the continental U.S.; which may indeed include but was not limited to intimidation, more assassinations, bugging, ballot-stuffing, illegal redistricting, racketeering, crazy amounts of insane propaganda, and my favorite; voter suppression. Hell, political parties have been gerrymandering all over the joint for decades. It’s going on right now and the Supreme Court is actually considering this legal, which on its face would be hilarious if it didn’t shed a glaring light on our point here.

See what the Democratic Party did with the Bernie Sanders campaign last year and you have a pretty good idea why fucking with elections is as American as fast food and dumb TV.

Facebook, the internet’s version of fast food/dumb TV, which is only now mostly used by people over forty, has been under some heat during these aforementioned investigations because it is finally coming clean on taking millions of dollars from Russian entities to post absolute nonsense that posed as news stories, which convinced people to vote for a goofball. All of these things made Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – already carrying the weight of self-inflicted trust issues – into some kind of godless, murdering psychopath.

Again, I get why people who falsely believe in the integrity of the nation are upset at this, but I think what is more important is our democracy, which is not just a concept for radio talk show hosts, protestors and professors to toss around in an ideological circle-jerk. Democracy, as the saying goes, is only as good as the people in it.

And so I ask; if said people, many of them having the experience of over four decades on this planet, choose to mostly get their news from Facebook or immediately believe something they get from a dubious source they never heard of that merely adds to their paranoia about the subject at hand – visa vie Hillary Clinton is bad so I will believe the absolute worst shit about her – then what’s the legal issue here?

I think I have stated about a billion times in this space over the past twenty years that being stupid is not a crime. If this were the case, many of us would have been locked up a long time ago. Shit, I would have a wing in Rahway. Where indeed does the responsibility fall? Are we not culpable, in fact, are we not completely at fault here?

There has been a weird trend in this country, already filled with intellectually lazy and pointlessly angry people, to heap their strange ideas about how perfect their lives and their country would be if only fill-in-the-blank. We claim we love freedom until we get “duped” by something; politicians, lobbyists, the media, advertising, agenda-driven content splashed all over place every second of every day. But being duped is what freedom is all about; the freedom to choose whether to be duped or not. This freedom also includes Facebook or Twitter or even FOX News to blurt crap all over the joint and take money from sponsors or Russians or whatever.

Are we not culpable, in fact, are we not completely at fault here?

When I listen to all of these allegations of Russian infiltration I keep coming back to one key question: Did the Russian government hack into voting booths and make the game show guy president against the will of the people? If not, then I don’t get it. If the people (read democracy) were duly influenced by this crap then my next question is what is the difference between that and attack ads, super-pack ads or even candidates, like our current president, who has statistically now puked up about 1,200 falsehoods in eight months, making shit up? Aren’t we supposed to take the time to fact-check and hold the information intellectually accountable?

I hear people say all the time now, “The truth is under attack!” Really? It is only under attack if you let it be under attack. It’s like this stupid argument against “political correctness”. If you don’t want to be politically correct, don’t. If you don’t want “fake news” to influence you then make the effort to go to different sources and cross-check info. And if you don’t have time for this or don’t care enough to do it, then please don’t cry foul and please let’s not spend any more tax payer dollars “investigating” it.

I would like to see NFL players, bus drivers, mechanics, teachers, hedge fund managers, cops, rappers, celebrities, feminists, conservatives, progressives, you name it, take a knee to protest irresponsibility; the failure to blame the public if they refuse to pay attention to the veracity of information and gather it with serious measure of alacrity and stop looking to hang the fallout on someone or something else; Russians, Mexicans, China, race, religion, social media, congress, Obama, Trump for our inability to understand the basic concepts of being a citizen.

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THOMAS EARL PETTY – 1950 – 2017

Aquarian Weekly
10/11/17

Cover Tribute

James Campion

THOMAS EARL PETTY – 1950 – 2017

Comedian Marc Maron has a bit in his most recent Netflix special in which he struggles with bridging the gap between Trump voters and Trump haters which centers on the universal appeal of Tom Petty. “People who voted for Trump are just like you, man,’ the character in Maron’s piece argues. “We all listen to Tom Petty…” It was Maron’s way of saying that despite great divides Tom Petty is our American connection. Well, of course, who doesn’t love Tom Petty? This immediately came to mind when word of Petty’s death at age 66 from cardiac arrest came down this week. Of course, I’d imagine that there are probably a few people out there, maybe you, that don’t “love” Tom Petty, but at the very least there doesn’t appear to be much if any disdain there. Sure, I’ve been confronted by a few contrarians who can wax poetic about how the Beatles are overrated or what is wrong with the Rolling Stones or why Michael Jackson fails at this and that and on and on. Somehow Tom Petty escapes this.

How is this possible?

Beloved is a tough chore in entertainment, especially for rock and roll, and specifically for four decades, as Petty and his indestructible band the Heartbreakers recently celebrated with a six-month tour that ended mere days before Petty collapsed and never recovered. Tom Petty seemed to just go on being loved, until the end.

For this, I have a few theories.

Firstly, and most importantly, Tom Petty is one of the great American songwriters of the latter part of the twentieth century; working in all of the genres that make it universal; rock and roll, country, folk, blues, (he even occasionally dabbled in funk and punk when feeling frisky). Not that any of the artists mentioned above failed to do so, but there was something about Petty that swerved around pretention or artifice or marketing or promotion or all the things that plague any act that becomes a household name. You got the feeling when listening to Petty’s songs that he wrote them to make himself happy or say something to himself and if you could share in this experience that’s great. Otherwise, have a nice day.

This also spread to his complete inability to get political, something the purported voice of his generation, Bruce Springsteen has done repeatedly, in both ideology and comportment. And while Springsteen arguably wrote some of the most striking inner-dialogue personality songs of his era, his penchant to expand his voice to that of the “everyman” made him too universal. Petty did not play in that sandbox. He built his own, thank you very much. And again, if you dug it, great, if not, well…have a nice day.

And speaking of songs; anyone who has tried their hand at laying melodies over chord progressions and trying to get the words to rhyme in all the right places totally gets Tom Petty. There is no “figuring” with these gems. And that is not to say they were not as complex or deep as say some of his contemporaries who were lauded as such; Tom Waits, Jackson Browne or Randy Newman, but listen to Petty’s very first hit, “Breakdown”, a strangely arranged but simply compiled little ditty that has more atmosphere and attitude than most of what was going on at the time. It doesn’t rush to curry your favor and it doesn’t even bother to hang a hook on you with the vocal, it’s the damn guitar line that makes you hum and leaves you with a slow, sexy fade. It’s simple, but not really.

This is another reason why everyone loved Tom Petty; he did not try and reinvent the wheel. Petty understood something given to him by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers and the Byrds and the Beatles and Dylan and Sam Cooke and Muddy Waters; it’s all in the foundation. There is no sense fucking with a good thing, and this is evident every time you listen to a Tom Petty song, especially the earlier band-oriented work that seems to come from so many familiar corners of your musical taste buds you think you’ve eaten every sandwich conceived by man. “Free Fallin”, perhaps his most hummable tune, captures this marvelously. Although to be fair so does “The Waiting”, “American Girl”, “Even the Losers”, you get the point.

Petty was indeed a musical short-order cook with the genius of a top-shelf chef, he could make you taste the backbeat of Gene Krupa and the wit of Jimmy Reed and spice of Keith Richards and the pain of Billie Holiday and the anger of Johnny Rotten and the pathos of Johnny Ray and the tender mercy of George Jones and the spit and vigor of Robert Johnson. And he did this in usually three to four minutes…tops. Put some brass on there, sure. Sweep in some Hammond and toss in a harmonica and sprinkle in the background singers and a smattering of riffs and you get it, right away.

Tom Petty made songs that spoke to you and made you tap your feet and recognize their lineage without effort. Making that happen took finding the best band, and the Heartbreakers were that and more. Some of them went on to play with almost anyone who was anyone – above and beyond backing up Bob Dylan in the 1980s. Benmont Tench is the keyboardist’s keyboardist, and guitarist Mike Campbell became the finest accompanist to the simplicity and ingenuity of Petty’s songwriting method as could possibly be offered. Understanding musical compatibility was a primary instinct for Petty. He famously said, “No one cares how you make it…does it sound good?” I use that one all the time for everything.

Petty was indeed a musical short-order cook with the genius of a top-shelf chef…

In 1985 Petty created, in my estimation, his masterpiece; Southern Accents, a penetratingly honest, excruciatingly tempestuous and exceedingly funny look at his childhood, his roots, his oeuvre and his place in the world. Many will point to his breakthrough 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, produced by the guy who claims to have invented music, Jimmy Iovine. And while it is chock full of hits (my senior year of High School was plagued by “Refugee”) and a fantastic record, it is only a prelude. Others will cite the 1981 follow-up, Hard Promises, an album so perfectly constructed it seems silly (“Insider” is the height of understated fierceness; a rarely lauded element in rock and roll). I saw Petty for the first time during this tour and he and the band were sublime and the songs, again, were stunning, but it still sounds as if it is leading somewhere. Still others will bring up his monster solo effort, Full Moon Fever from 1989, wherein he reinvented the idea of the aging rock star and made it super cool to edge into middle age and not simply choose between Neil Young’s burning out or fading away (almost every time I’m privy to an electric guitar my hands I cannot help but move in the direction of the opening riff to “Runnin’ Down a Dream”). But that never happens without Southern Accents.

If I do nothing else with this tribute to the beloved Tom Petty I hope to get everyone to listen to the eerie pulse of that album’s opening song, “Rebels” just once, as it brings you deeper into Petty’s psyche, something he rarely did with such fervor. It ended up making him crazy and pushed the limits of his band, but it accomplished something none of his other albums did; it defined him. When I first heard it the day it arrived in the record store where I worked I could not stop listening to it. It helps to unfold this airtight narrative of a man in search of the search. It was as if the magician was letting you peak into how that rabbit got in the hat. For just a second, but then turn away because here comes “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, which may be my favorite non-Prince / non-R.E.M. / non-U2 song of the decade. This needs its own celebratory piece that I am not about to dive into here.

But I digress from my letting you know why Tom Petty was so queerly beloved.

The main thing may be that Petty was a big enough, rebellious enough, cool enough rock star not to fall into any of its clichés. He did not have a rock star wife. He did not make a rock star spectacle of himself. He did not flaunt it or piss on it or sell it to the highest bidder. The most decadent thing he may have done was punch a wall and shatter all the bones in his chording hand during the making of the aforementioned Southern Accents. Doctors said he was through playing guitar. He wasn’t. Pretty cool. He also took on record companies who wanted to out-price his competitors when the Heartbreakers were the hottest commodity in the biz and won. Very cool. And one time he put a lyric about rolling a joint in a single (“You Don’t Know How It Feels”), which MTV and the radio garbled to save us from ourselves. Super cool. Even when someone did something otherworldly around him, like the oft-viewed video of Prince going off on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, there’s Tom just grooving along and singing the song as if he just rolled out of bed to lean into the microphone. Damn cool.

Really, I think, that is what made Tom Petty so endearing. He eased into it and never took it for granted, like how we all want to approach something we love, that we find we’re good at and are glad we can do, because it simply makes life worth living. It is what we would do if we could do it, which Tom Petty always seemed to be saying to me in song. And because he was such a seminal songwriter it is what he leaves behind; a legacy of fine, pure, relatable music that he shared. And if you’re into it, cool, otherwise, you know…have a nice day.

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NFL PATRIOTIC NONSENSE HAS TWO SIDES

Aquarian Weekly
10/4/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

NFL PATRIOTIC NONSENSE HAS TWO SIDES
Corporate Con Comes Home to Roost

The National Football League has done a magnificent job these last few decades conflating patriotism with its product; a product, by the way, run by despots, played by a disturbing number of criminals, and whose chief purpose now is to keep everyone from recognizing that their sport causes brain damage. Its play is sub-par, its rules a joke, and the team that wins all of its championships cheats constantly. But give the NFL a few moments to roll out a giant American flag that covers a 100-yard field, march out some uniformed people to salute it, and fly a bunch of fancy jet planes over head while someone butchers a horribly written song about bombing shit, and you will forgive them.

And this carefully concocted ruse is what makes people go nuts when someone, in this case a few players, decide to take the opposite tact and reject it wholesale in a fairly sincere albeit clumsy attempt at protest.

It is this cynical marketing ploy that makes people nearly topple over with shock and dismay when I tell them I no longer watch pro football. Sure it was my favorite sport when I was a kid and for most of my life, but there are plenty of things I liked to do when I was younger that I no longer do. But when I casually mention this to family and friends they react as if I have renounced my citizenship. “Why it’s downright un-American to do anything on a Sunday in the autumn but watch football like some dead-eyed man-child with an acute case of arrested development. You have to wear a jersey and show up to tailgate for six-hours or attend ten-hour fantasy football drafts and sing along with whatever crap they play at the top of whatever network falderal is carrying the latest slice of Americana.

It is a clever con, but then the other “knee” dropped.

This past week nearly the entire league – players, coaches, owners, the guys who help the Patriots cheat by deflating footballs and spy on other teams – responded to our Game Show president’s demands that teams begin firing “sons of bitches” for practicing their right under the First Amendment of the Constitution (the one he purportedly swore to uphold), because five or so players protested violence against African Americans by not standing for the aforementioned shitty song about bombs.

Some people with a preponderance of time on their hands that I can hardly conceive of and apparently faced with very little in the way of actual things to be appalled by had a fit.

Their reasons are as follows; the national anthem and the flag represent our military and what they have done to fight for our right to protest (the one Donald Trump clearly doesn’t understand or believe in); the players protesting are rich and famous and so they should shut-up and give up this right (similar to what most people who voted for the president think about gays and marriage); and finally sports should just be about sports and not all this annoying free speechifying, or what we have come to discuss; the playing field is no place for politics.

Except that the NFL has been a recruiting base for the military for decades and has used pre-games and half-times to conflate this idea that pro football is some kind nationalistic cornerstone of our culture, strike that, our very being and nature. NFL equals America. This includes bringing the players (the actual product) into it, for it has only become in recent years a thing for players to even be on the field for the anthem. Why? So we can forget that nearly every player at the top of every draft have records for abusing and assaulting women, random gun-play, drug busts, etc. So if this is how the NFL wants it, then their football field is the perfect place in which to express your displeasure with the country at large.

If NFL equals America, and the first tenant of the nation is the right to peacefully protest and freely speak out against (you name it), then what is the issue here?

The NFL’s military fetish – not only ceremonious rituals and support of wars (the worst of this is during the first Gulf War when the yellow-ribbon, giant flag stupidity reached its puke-inducing apex with the late Whitney Houston’s lip-synching of the crappy song about bombs that became a big hit – is also why people, for some weird reason, only equate this idea of standing for the national anthem as some kind of salute to the military, when the flag represents every walk of life, profession and blah blah blah.

And this is why simpletons like Trump think that the league should expunge those who besmirch this great game and its spiritual connection to our flag and our military.

The NFL created this monster, which is now equally being exploited by its players and the president, whose entire administration has to retain council and whose approval ratings are at record lows. The players see a way to get the reaction they want, which is what they got (thank you, America) and El Douche gets you to argue about a piece of cloth and a badly written song with more octave shenanigans than can be stomached on one listening and lyrics that sound like a fifth-grade poetry assignment gone terribly wrong.

If NFL equals America, and the first tenant of the nation is the right to peacefully protest and freely speak out against (you name it), then what is the issue here?

So to save everyone the trouble I simply call for there to be no mention of the flag or the playing of the awful “Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events again. None of this has to do with football. I agree, let’s keep the sport to the sport and stop trying to cash in on people’s emotional connections to symbolism – a fine tact used by every fascist movement since the dawn of civilization.

By the by, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” should be the national anthem; a beautifully written folk song with fine lyrical stanzas about all the things this country is supposed represent beyond killing things and football. Best of all it was written by a communist, as was the Pledge of Allegiance, so that actually works. You might not know any of this because you’re busy arguing over a child’s game, a piece of cloth and a shitty song.

Meanwhile, as a postscript; the man who started all this as a simple protest, Colin Kaepernick, who has given a million of his own dollars and has raised millions more for charities and African American groups, is being blackballed by the league. And maybe in the end this is why the NFL and the president has made this whole goofy thing such a big deal. Let’s forget that black men are being slaughtered by cops and not going to jail for it on an almost weekly basis.

I say let’s sing a song about that.

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JIMMY KIMMEL & THE NEW AGE OF CELEBRITY POLITICS

Aquarian Weekly
9/27/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

JIMMY KIMMEL & THE NEW AGE OF CELEBRITY POLITICS

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.

– Mark Twain

We have a steadfast rule around here that makes it easy to base all of our opinions upon: If Mark Twain approves, we do. Samuel L. Clemens is the patriarch of all that is true and fair in the construct of American commentary. Without him, we have virtually nothing as far as modern satire in this country. He was, by all accounts and by his own admission, a man who despised politics, but he could not help himself from opining on it. And this happened often. Twain was indeed the first true American novelist, our first comedic essayist and by far the finest public speaker of his or any time. To put it bluntly; Twain kicked ass. And Twain expected that as a citizen of these Untied States he was provided the right to form and express his opinion and he would doubtless believe this is the right and even the duty of those who maintain any level of celebrity, if they feel the need. And so this space has never begrudged celebrities, whether Meryl Streep or Ted Nugent or Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore, or even our celebrity president, from pontificating all over the joint.

This past week late-night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel got into a public donnybrook with the co-author of the latest attempt by some level of congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (what does this make 438? I am losing count and interest in this, like the NFL, which is a joke now and I finally cut it out of my life two years ago and do not miss it one iota). Senator William Cassidy from Louisiana made the mistake of going on network television and telling Kimmel a few months ago he would do something completely opposite of what his bill says; he would make sure that pre-existing conditions were supported by the federal government in any potential law he supports – in other words mandate that states not allow insurance companies to kick people off health care, which the ACA now protects. Kimmel called him on this. He tried to senate-speak it away with semantics about actually having it be part of a bill with his name on it when it actually kicks the responsibility of oversight to the states, many of which have Republican governors who have no interest in this (You know, “depending on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” or “you get to keep your doctor” stuff). He is technically correct, but really, he fucking lied to Kimmel and Kimmel used network air time to bash him for it.

This got on the Internet and all over Twitter and the usual wig-out vehicles and boy has it become the story.

Now, again, I am not here to argue whether it is good that our national debate happens on a comedy/variety show. How could I with Donald Trump, Game Show Host President in charge? And to be fair the Republicans have completely given up on any semblance of senate procedure to debate, council, hold hearings and get outside fiscal approbation from the CBO for this, so someone has to take it to the public forum and debate it, why not the 49 year-old guy who took over for the guy who wasn’t Letterman or Leno?

Kimmel, it should be known, has a son with a congenital heart condition who has endured several procedures on this since his birth this past April. In May during the first of at least sixty attempts since the 2016 presidential election by congress to wipe out the ACA Kimmel tearfully shared his story making the salient point that since his kid has a pre-existing condition from birth and that prior to the 2010 law (that has mysteriously gone from anathema to championed) he would never be able to get health insurance and would likely die. Since the debate, such as it is, on Capitol Hill has added “Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test” to its rhetoric.

Senator William Cassidy… lied to Kimmel and Kimmel used network air time to bash him for it.

As terrible as all of that is and as thrilling as Republicans repeatedly failing to repeal the ACA may be, I still had no interest in writing about this until I watched New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appear on some banal cable news show and blurt, “I’m not going to comment on Jimmy Kimmel, he is not a serious person.” This struck me as funny, actually goddamn fucking doubled-over, red-faced, piss-pants hilarious, considering Christie was the first politician to back our mostly non-serious Game Show President, and the delicious nugget that while Kimmel is a mostly successful entertainer Christie has been arguably the worst governor of this state in my lifetime.

As the weeks dwindle on this Chris Christie suck-fest his approval ratings have now plummeted to an astounding 15 percent. It is hard to believe that there are actually one-out-of-ten people in this state who do not think Christie is a useless sack of feces. I personally have not met one Republican who supports anything he has done in an astonishing eight years in office, never mind Democrats and Independents. The current Democratic candidate, whoever the hell that is, leads his lieutenant governor by something like 60 points, and not even Hillary Clinton can blow that.

And I want to be clear, none of this is to deride Trump as a president, I think I am on record thus far on this goofy atrocity, but if you support someone whose previous credentials is destroying the USFL and fondling beauty pageant contestants for president then your credibility on commenting on who is serious and not is pretty much nil.

When Kanye West is president I wonder if he’ll take issue with Taylor Swift’s commentary.

Chris Christie might.

We will not.

You go girl.

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THE HILLARY DELUSION

Aquarian Weekly
9/20/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE HILLARY DELUSION
Loser’s Lament – A Commentary

Guess who has a new book out?

Guess what it’s called?

Hillary Clinton’s What Happened has hit the shelves (or hit the Amazon shipping boxes since bookstores are disappearing daily) and it provides us with whatever excuses the losing 2016 Democratic presidential candidate can conjure to wipe this mess of Donald J. Trump from her soul, which of course sounds like a page-turning pile of horseshit. Aside from Trump himself and about 70,000 suckers in the Rust Belt he conned by promising to bring back the 1950s, this is the fault of Hillary Clinton. And no amount of book tours can strike this nightmare from her ledger. She will be known as the lousy candidate that lost to the stupidest human who ever ran for anything.

In fact, for those who were no fan of the previous president, you can also blame Madam Shoo-in, who twice lost to overwhelming historical underdogs. Only the doomed candidacies of Hillary Rodham could possibly usher in the first African American president and the first Game Show host commander-in-chief. Both times she was all-but positively going to win with big poll numbers, millions in campaign coffers, and a groundswell of demographic support. Except she did not win, she lost, badly and embarrassingly…twice!

She made history, all right.

And to be fair this is not my wheelhouse. I do not dog-pile on losing candidates. In two decades this has only happened three times in this space; Al Gore in 2000 (this was personal for reasons covered too many times to recount here), Andrew Spano (because my dear friend, Rob Astorino vanquished him for Westchester County Executive in 2009 and because he is a bottom-feeding scum sucker) and the recent ousting of uber-bigot Scott Garrett for my district’s congressional representative this past year (we were due to fistfight, but he backed out and put the cops on me, for which I got the law to almost agree to pistols at dawn – again, covered extensively in previous columns). But Hillary will not go away, nor will her apologists, who turned her defeat into some kind of feminist cause that is misguided and wrong. And so I write…

This would not be an issue even if Clinton continued to invade the vox populi. Cable news is littered with bitter losers who wish to throw grenades at a system that spit them out like sludge. Newt Gingrich immediately comes to mind. This guy is like gum on your shoe. His “Hey, I’m an asshole, please look at me because otherwise I’d have to actually spend time with my third wife, who wishes I would just croak so she can spend my money and marry someone who isn’t abominable” got old in 1998. Now it’s just sad. And this is where Hillary Clinton is going, accept for some reason her act is taken as heroic. This is partly because her “victim show”, which ironically her opponent who actually won the election has turned into an art form, is tethered to her like a cloak of sympathy, when it should look like a gurney of shame and degradation.

Clinton continues to book-tour this nonsense about Russians and the FBI director and personal attacks as excuses to why she lost a general election in this growing demographic era of progressives to a knuckle-dragging, man-child goofball. She wishes in the book she just whisked around and demanded Trump “Back off, creep” during the debates in which the Republican candidate appeared to stalk her like most of the women he’s embarrassingly fondled since the mid-1980s. But that is also a lie, because Clinton was never human enough to do this. She was busy playing a part, trying to be “above the fray” in a campaign season of low-brow street fights that failed miserably for a record-large Republican field of candidates who tried to get in the gutter with Trump and were sent packing.

She will be known as the lousy candidate that lost to the stupidest human who ever ran for anything.

But this was strategy, not authenticity; a concept lost on Clinton. Trump was authentic. He told people what he was loudly and crassly. Those who now claim buyer’s remorse or are shocked by his pardoning of racist criminals and half-defending Nazis is silly; like that dumb-ass Ann Coulter, who wrote a book titled In Trump We Trust and is now calling for him to impeached. Trump said he would wreck shit and he is wrecking shit. Good for him. Clinton didn’t say anything, except that she wasn’t Trump, and that really should have been enough for this wacky Internet-obsessed, porn-addled, overly-medicated country of celebrity sniffers, but it is no excuse for being beaten, and as a veteran of the tussle she should know that, but so many sycophants have blown this vacuous wind up her skirt it has apparently reached a saturation point.

Clinton, like Trump, the two most vilified and unpopular people to actually gain major party support, are one in the same to the people who defend them; they are symbols. And no matter what layers of nonsense you apply to their failures it will never end; and this is not new. This happens with symbols. But they are not really symbols, they are politicians, and politicians have records; some lose and some win, and some govern poorly and some govern terribly and some even manage to stay afloat, but the perception is never what the reality says. But alas that is a malady for the fanatics. Things get queer when the politician believes this lie and then puts it in a book and tries to sell it as a weak explanation for humiliating defeat.

Hillary Clinton will never say she lost because she sucked, that she was a bad candidate who stood for nothing and who a spectacular number people did not like. I don’t expect this to be an easy thing to say or even accept, but why spend months writing a book trying to salve this wound and then run around the country hitting up media outlets selling this delusion to sate a damaged ego? This is why so many people flat-out hated Hillary Clinton and held their nose to vote for a neophyte, who has shown to be even worse than anyone could have possibly imagined at this. Clinton sold this delusion every time she hit the stump; in 2008 and 2016, and I blame her for upsetting my then eight year-old daughter, who just wanted to see a woman become president but instead got the crap of all crap; the email thing not-withstanding, what about 80 days of no press conferences and never visiting the aforementioned Rust Belt states and all that inside-baseball nefarious maneuverings with her buddy, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who rigged the debate system against Bernie Sanders and alienated an entire generation of politically-motivated kids who stayed home or voted Independent rather than cast a vote for her?

The real story of November 2016 remains the same as the somewhat stunned analysis of this space the week following its fallout: 70,000 displaced and frightened people who hated trade deals and believed in their hearts that foreigners were stealing their American Dream buried Hillary Clinton, and because she stood with President Barack Obama, her husband, Bill Clinton, 80-percent of the Republican Party, and the reality of 21st century global economic realities by supporting the massive trade deals and refused to travel to those places to argue this point, sunk an abjectly flawed and mostly unelectable candidate.

When Hillary Clinton writes that book I might never read it, but I will not waste nearly 1,400 words slamming it.

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TWO DECADES – ONE SPACE

Aquarian Weekly
8/29/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanx for reading it.

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RADICAL CAUCASIAN TERRORISM

Aquarian Weekly
8/23/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

RADICAL CAUCASIAN TERRORISM
& The President Who Defends It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

Now he’s all politically correct.

Screw that.

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

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

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

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

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

Stick that in your jack-boot and kick it.

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