IN PRAISE OF ENCOUNTERS

Aquarian Weekly
1/17/18

REALITY CHECK

IN PRAISE OF ENCOUNTERS
Poetry/Paintings & A Slice of Dan Bern’s Life

By James Campion

I found it delectably ironic that Dan Bern, singer-songwriter, poet, painter, columnist would send me – within days of each other – a signed copy of his new book, Encounters and then an original tile painting of Joe Willie Namath. The book, for which I could not put down once I cracked it for a mere look-see, is a series of poems about Dan’s “encounters” with the famous, talented, and inspirational, each adorned with an original Bern painting of its subject. The paintings, not unlike the one of Namath he sent me, reminded me of the few times I’d gotten within shouting distance of my childhood hero, the legendary #12 of the New York Jets, but was rendered mute and paralyzed. It is not that, like Bern, I hadn’t had dozens of encounters, both professionally and personally, with famous athletes, as well as musicians, actors, film directors, authors, politicians, etc., but Namath is different. I told Dan that my earliest childhood memories are of staring at his poster through the bars of my crib. This stuff is deep-seated with a weird mythical hold over me.


This got me thinking of the insightful tone of Bern’s Encounters and how this is not a book of name-dropping and strange brushes with fame, but poignant and moving interactions – some closer and more intimate than others – that shifted the foundation of the author, so much so that in some if not all cases he would go on to put them in songs. And it is within these organic moments of admiration to worship to surprise to love to fear and ultimately inspiration that Encounters becomes the antidote to the insignificant forces of Instagram and Twitter and selfie happenstances with celebrity that now stand as something of a connection.

It should be said too that Encounters represents everything that Bern has displayed through his talents over the years; it is not only poetic and visual, but musical in the way in which he writes that shoulders the conversational with a rare glimpse into the human spirit. Yet it is in the paintings that the reader can see how Dan Bern absorbs his subjects, as he had in the drawings in his first novel, Quitting Science from 2004, a book I was fortunate enough to help bring to press. Taking fictionalized versions of the familiar and the famous and turning them into extensions of his unique form is where Bern lives and breathes.

“What it is really,” said the author when we discussed the book late into the night a few weeks back. “…is a memoir. But I’ve always hated memoir, because I feel your job as an artist is to invent, take things from your life and make characters. Yet with this forum I felt there was a way I could tell my personal stories without being cloying through the prism of these people that everybody kind of has a relationship with already.”

And so, with Bern, over the years, in different places, we meet Willie Mays, Jimmy Carter, Bob Dylan and John McEnroe; and none of them in ways that are predictable nor inconsequential. The encounters are, as stated, extensions of his own personality and how he remembers them, at times warmly, and others quizzically, but always reverentially. His poems and the paintings are his vehicle in discovering himself through others.

Bern achieves this wonderfully and without contrivance due to his self-deprecating humor on how he views these fleeting moments of significance or lack-thereof with the subjects, and what they ultimately mean to him. In some cases, as with his call into the Larry King radio show when he was just starting out as a professional musician that lasted only about a minute, and literally happened “over the air”, there is a remarkably sense of meaning. A passing comment about a dog with Leonard Cohen or a New Year’s Eve party at Bruce Springsteen’s house, an impromptu songwriting détente with Hunter S. Thompson in the back of a car or a scathing notice by Bob Dylan opens a window into the looming figures beyond the caricature.

“Just like any of these people in the book, I am grateful for what interactions I can and do have.”

“I find this type of writing more open than prose,” Bern answered when I pressed him on the book’s style, which he introduced last summer in his Reconsidering Nixon, which is a charming amalgam of lyrical prose/poetry. “I think after my mom died I became more reflective about my experiences and needed to get them down and this is the most effective way for me to relate these stories.”

I was particularly intrigued by Bern’s poem about our mutual friend, singer-songwriter and entrepreneur, Ani DiFranco. It was my connection to Ani, after years of interviews and off-the-record discussions, that I came to know Dan’s music, and of her work with him producing his second album, Fifty Eggs in 1998. The brutal honesty of their collaboration and its results is one of my favorite pieces in the book, because of the intimate, humorous, and in many ways surprising revelations.

“I have always been inspired by Ani, but there is also something that always seems to be in the way sometimes too,” says Bern, when we fondly reminisced about our times with her and how neither of us see or hear much of her as intimately anymore. “But just like any of these people in the book, I am grateful for what interactions I can and do have.”

Bern reminds me that there are very few women in Encounters for a reason: “There is a very different dynamic to those relationships, and I didn’t want to ever get into a kiss-and-tell corner with these poems.”

But out of all the ones that made it into Encounters, 17 out of the original 35 pieces, perhaps nothing compares to his détente with Wilt Chamberlain, legendary basketball star and ladies’ man with whom Bern had a chance encounter turn into becoming his tennis instructor for several weeks. “Forget the celebrity aspect to working with Chamberlain,” laughs Bern, who had been working part-time giving tennis lessons at a court Chamberlain frequented. “To witness such an athletic specimen, and, as a coach, to be able to work with someone like that, to watch him take to the lessons… the results were amazing. And to think that I had the chance to tutor a world class athlete that had nothing to do with how he earned his fame.”

Turning our celebrity culture on its head, as his songs have done for over two decades, Encounters is Dan Bern’s literary and artistic triumph and a true gift to the craft of storytelling.

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TIME FOR ATLAS TO SHRUG

Aquarian Weekly
1/10/18

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

TIME FOR ATLAS TO SHRUG
Federal Government’s Attack on American Progress, Technology, Ingenuity & Creativity

Money is made possible only by the men who produce.
– Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

The abomination peddled to the American people as a tax cut at the end of 2017 by the anti-progress, anti-metropolis, socialist, redistribution-of-wealth Republican corporate puppets that handed a bill to the most productive and creative regions of this nation to pay for nanny-state corporate handouts is a blight on not only our economic freedoms but an outright attack on the true power centers of this republic. Piled high on their submental propaganda that technology and international trade is a modern evil intent on destroying the free enterprise of the 21st century, this law is antithetical to its authors’ purported ideology that was tossed where all ideologies go whence power calls, in the trash bin of history.

By handing over a shameless gift to the largest corporations in America while ignoring smaller ones – I am the proud owner of a corporation, Vincary Media, which will not be seeing any trimming of my tax rate from 35 to 21 percent as the multi-billion dollar ones are – what will be forever known as the draconian Trump Tax Hike of 2018 penalizes those who live in the highest tax brackets; in other words the greatest achievers, most productive cities, the media and technology centers, the bastions of trade and commerce that prop up the rest of this nation internally rotting from atavistic energy concerns to a barely breathing manufacturing (and I use that term as loosely as one can muster without bursting into paroxysms of laughter) hub.

Simply put; this ten-thousand dollar cap on state and local tax deductions, is in effect a discriminatory double-tax on the most important regions of the United States; more particularly New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, or to bang this point home ever more succinctly, the nation’s largest, most productive, creative and thus cutting-edge centers.

I live in one of those centers.

For the first time since writing this column (est.1997), and certainly the first time since having incorporated as a free-lancer (est. 2003), I was informed by my accountant that I will be paying more taxes this year. Not during two Democratic administrations and a Republican two-term one did I receive this call. I am going to pay more taxes. Let that sink in if you voted for any Republican (fiscal conservatives my ass) at any point over the past decade. Thank you. Appreciate it. Excuse me while I go kick Rush Limbaugh in his drug-addled balls.

Of course, this is the culmination of the sophomoric economic idiocy of our game show president, but really that drooling moron is window dressing compared to a congress that has previously been hijacked by self-styled tax guru, Grover Norquist, who somehow (Good for him) got these dinks to sign a pledge to “never raise taxes”, but is now clearly sucking at the teat of big business that would make the ghost of Calvin Coolidge wish he were a whore at the Mardi Gras parade. By the way, Norquist, like me, who lives in high-rent Washington D.C., is going to pay more taxes this year (Good for him).

The abomination peddled to the American people as a tax cut at the end of 2017… is a blight on not only our economic freedoms but an outright attack on the true power centers of this republic.

Everything that keeps this nation alive economically comes from urban centers. Even the preponderance of cash that is sent to farmers all over the fruited plain, as everything grown in this country is subsidized by tax money, and where does all that come from? You and me, well more like me since I live in a higher taxed area, but it sure ain’t corporations with their off-shore bank accounts and massive write-offs (corporations never paid 35 percent taxes, on average is was 14 percent and soon it will be in the single digits), while the rest of us suckers continue to fork over basically the same rates, which will rise in a decade but remain cut for corporations.

You want to know how funny this all is; Donald Trump’s precious Twitter was invented and founded in San Francisco, one of the highest taxed cities in America. Those people are F-U-C-K-E-D.

The queer aspect of this is it began under the watch of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has claimed in the past that he was inspired by Ayn Rand’s hoary screeds on the injustices of laws created by governments to support weakness, usually reserved for economics, as a result of ingenuity and creativity. Rand’s novels, most notably, The Fountainhead (wildly overrated combination of penis envy meets a preternatural industrial revolution jones) and Atlas Shrugged (painfully underrated ode to individualism and the bloated natural order of exceptionalism), deal with the intervention of government against the will of man, or the private state, which looks, by nature (according to Rand, and a theory of which I enthusiastically subscribe, Objectivism) runs counter to the tenets of a free society.

Once you single out one economic swath of the collective field to bear the burden, you are slanting it, or in more legal terms, practicing cronyism or racketeering. In a very binding way (and a tax law is as binding as it gets, bubba) what this congress and our president did was take away the motivation for the centers of our commerce, education, art and ingenuity to continue its greatness in order to prop up what Rand calls (and I am sure Ryan, when he was all cool in his, “Hey I’m a young conservative, look at my pecs,” period) moochers.

Rand’s novel proffers that the best and brightest protest by removing their minds and talents from this mooching society obsessed with ancient rituals like coal mining and Catholicism (Rand was card-carrying atheist, who thought Jesus was a sucker, something Republicans always fail to point out) and see how the rest of society fares. Spoiler alert, it crumbles.

Fun Ayn Rand fact, she scrapped her screeds and went for the real money in Hollywood writing banal scripts for B-movies, another place that will be fist-raped by this tax law.

And lest anyone use the pointed argument that my beef is with my absurdly high state tax, I remind you that if I go to Cabo San Lucas and choose a hotel on the beach, and then a room facing the ocean, I expect to pay more. I expect that being 34 miles from the greatest city on planet earth, with access to the best education, art, industry, technology etc., to pay more, but I also expect to have the write-offs commensurate with the rest of the country in which the property values are equal to the less than ideal area in which they find themselves.

Now those who choose cynicism and paranoia as a hobby, and I am all for that, may say this is Republicans and Trump penalizing states, especially urban and suburban (educated, cultured, high-level-producers), social progressive thinkers, media centers, and those who openly mock their knuckle-dragging bullshit, to pay for not supporting them. They will never pay the political price for having screwed us. And they are right.

But I say to them and you and all Americans; remember that waaaaayyyy more people died, it’s like ten-to-one in almost all calculations, in WWII (and every ensuing war for that matter) in New York, New Jersey and California. We have sacrificed and created enough.

Time for Atlas to Shrug.

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WELCOME BACK TO CORPORATE LAND

Aquarian Weekly
12/20/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WELCOME BACK TO CORPORATE LAND
Net Neutrality, Tax Rates and Deregulation A-Go-Go

It is an interesting plan devised by a man who has bankrupted more businesses than anyone in the history of modern American entrepreneurship, and backed by dinosaurs from the Industrial Revolution run under the guise of some Eisenhower-era dream of the old, America First, anti-global economic structure that has zero chance of working in the current 21st century landscape.

But okay.

The main goal of this Republican-controlled federal government has been to deregulate everything in sight, cede the entire ecological, moral and structural game to not the private sector, but the corporate-level powerbrokers. The idea is to make things so easy for multi-billion dollar businesses they will rush back to this country and provide jobs. This, as stated many times in this space, has never worked in a long-term growth of the economy. I am not going to bore everyone with details, but it can be verified by simply doing the research and crunching the numbers. I invite you to do it.

Having said that, it is important to point out that my criticism of this does not mean I support the complete government-controlled regulation-happy opposite argument. There is free market and then there is fixing the game for corporations. The latter is what we discuss here today.

So far Republicans have done next to nothing in the way of legislation. There is no administration that I can find, at least in the 20th century, that has gone a calendar year having done nothing with or without control of the entire government. Aside from an alarming spate of executive orders, which have purportedly moved the unemployment rate from 4.8 to 4.5 since Donald Trump has taken office, and the continued spike in the stock market, which today, as for the past eight years under the previous administration, means less than it did a half-century ago, because the main percentage of trading is done by the famed one-percent of the citizenry.

It is important to note that I write “purportedly” on these figures, because normally unless a major law is enacted, like say the 2001 Bush tax cuts or the 2009 Obama stimulus package – both passed by single-party control in the first year of those presidents – the economic indicators in the first year of any administration is the result of the previous one’s agenda. This is especially prevalent among two-term presidents, as George H. W. Bush found out in his first term after eight years of Reagonomics.

Either way you stand on this issue, it is easy to see that Trump and the Republicans mean to hand over all control of the American economy to the most powerful corporations, first and foremost through the language in the current tax bill before congress, which has a 29 percent approval of the American electorate. Not that polling or even popularity means anything. It is only illuminating when viewed through the lens of those polled that voted for the Donald Trump that ran as a populist, forgotten-man candidate. Despite being crushed in the popular vote, the president carried the Rust Belt to electoral college victory due to this weak Huey Long charade, which has now emerged as the predictable land-baron, big business stooge he truly is and has always been. The whole “con job” thing Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio bitched about in the primaries is coming home to roost.

There is free market and then there is fixing the game for corporations. The latter is what we discuss here today.

But again, if honey deals to the one-percent and corporations in the current language of the proposed tax bill, as covered in this space a few weeks ago, was not enough of a sign that Citizen Trump, The Voice of Johnny Lunch Pail, was a ruse, then the repeal of Net Neutrality by the always upstanding FCC (someone should have sacked this nonsense in the 1970s, but that is a column I have written too many times to fathom, so let’s leave it at that) seals it.

This repeal is the government’s gift to gargantuan service providers to decide the economic structure of the Internet, where, the entire country and really the world lives and breathes. Whether they pledge to or not, your service provider can now gauge consumers, block content they do not have complete or part ownership of, and dismantle any even playing field for start-ups, free-lance users or anyone not a massive, faceless conglomerate.

The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai says this will free the internet for investment and innovation, as if this is a new thing. Never happened before. There was no 1990s boom, which was the last strong economic period. Everything that has transformed the brick-and-mortar economy into the cyber one never happened, according to Pai, who was an attorney for (ha!) Verizon and has railed against Net Neutrality from the second he took this unelected office in 2012.

No matter where you stand on your economic theories and principles, how exactly is Net Neutrality bad, unless you have the strings of providing access to the Internet.

It reads: “Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, Internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.”

You want to pay more money for what you already can do now and/or have your service provider decide what you can and can’t see, to allow only those with more money than you to have better, more complete access to the Internet? Then this is a fantastic ruling.

Again, no matter where you stand on this, we are in a new era of a complete corporate take-over of the American economic landscape. This was mostly true under every previous administration dating back to the earliest days of the American Century, but now it is unashamedly absolute. For the results of this, immediate and long-reaching, we will see whom it benefits.

But make no mistake, we are back in Corporate Land.

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ROY MOORE + ALABAMA = SENATE

Aquarian Weekly
12/13/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

ROY MOORE + ALABAMA = SENATE

I think they’re afraid I’m going to take Alabama values to Washington and I can’t wait.
– Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore Tweet, 12/5/17

You betcha.

Aside from Mississippi, which is one of the great jokes in the history of the human experiment known as the United States of America, Alabama’s abominable track record of civil rights abuses and cultural dumbness, usually backed by some hayseed reading of the Bible, is unprecedented. If you have half a brain you are embarrassed by it and most of the American south, which was allowed to rise from its ignominious beating after the Civil War only to predictably send horrid goons like Judge Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate.

Assuming the nine or ten or twelve (I’ve lost count) non-coordinated accusations of at least sexual misconduct and worse rape of underage girls for years – so bad he was banned from a fucking mall – is a fabricated Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, the fact that a man twice removed from the bench for criminal behavior, who states proudly that no Muslim should be allowed to serve as a civil servant and that homosexuals should be incarcerated, is considered a fair Republican candidate for one of only 100 jobs in the highest levels of our federal government is all you need to know about Ala-fucking-bama.

When Richard Nixon began his Southern Strategy in 1968, peeling off the racist vote from the Dixie-crats, who abandoned the party that fought vehemently against emancipation in the 19th century to pass the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act, the fate of the GOP was forever linked with lunacy. And this past week it has been sealed. The RNC, after first abandoning the criminally defiant Moore, is back on board, as is those who tried to save face, like the bottom-feeding Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who initially asked for Moore to quit the race only to tell a national TV audience to “let the citizens of Alabama decide.”

And we know what Alabama will decide.

Roy Moore is going to the U.S. senate.

Why?

Because he is running in a state that would vote for the corpse of Charles Manson if he had an R in front of his name.

Think I’m being Jokey McJoke-Joke?

There is not one statewide Democrat in any level of office in the entire god-forsaken place.

No shit.

It’s a fixed game in stupid-ville. Believe me.

This is because Alabama is easily suckered by slack-jawed, religious morons who like to wave guns around to act like macho (latently gay) cowboys (spectacularly queer) while telling everyone that anyone above the Mason Dixon line is a godless sexually promiscuous Communist baby-killing dope-heads.

And although most of us are, the real problem is not that there are imbeciles who vote in Alabama, it is that one of only two of our nation’s major parties support and benefit from this weird shit, while telling us who to have sex with, what women can do with their bodies, who should get tax relief, and what constitutes an “American”.

Now, to be fair, the overwhelming support of Moore from our game show president, who himself has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by a dozen women and was caught on tape bragging about doing it for fun, is understandable. Donald Trump, I get. He’s a serial sex fiend and an unrepentant deviant and America elected him president, and really, how can he actually believe abused women accusing another sexual predator is sane behavior? Trump backing this shit-stain makes perfect sense.

What I don’t get is Roy Moore. Isn’t he supposed to be some kind evangelical religious nut, who was sacked from a state gig forcing the Ten Commandants down everyone’s throat? Even when apparently breaking one – adultery – as he was fucking his eventual wife whilst she was married. I mean, I get Trump. He was having hookers pee on him while sitting in a hot tub with teenage beauty contestants in the 90s. Moore was apparently being born again five times and thanking Jesus for his guns. Where is the consistency here?

Judge Moore is right about one thing; Alabama “values” are coming to Washington, as they have for nearly 250 years.

Hell, some of my heroes liked them young; Charlie Chaplin, J.D. Salinger, Chuck Berry, Woody Allen. It’s not my thing, but it’s Roy Moore’s thing, and aside from the rape allegations, if he gets his “virgin/whore” kicks trolling young girls in malls and signing their high school yearbooks after taking moonlit strolls and stealing kisses, it’s his thing, and I have no comment, but you know who always seems to have a comment on people’s sexual activates and is quick to judge the morals of every breathing human? Roy Moore.

But, okay, so Moore is a lying hypocrite. There are plenty of them in congress and certainly Alabama. But while in the last few months in Hollywood (producer, Harvey Weinstein, actor, Kevin Spacey), television (NBC and ABC morning show hosts, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose) and even politics (Minnesota Senator Al Franken) when similar cases were revealed, the accused were either ostracized, fired or forced to quit. Roy Moore is going to the U.S. Senate.

And one more parting note to Moore’s fellow evangelists, whatever the fuck that is, who have crawled from their ideological quagmire to rush to this cretin’s aid, I say, the jig is up. After the whole Trump thing and now this, there is no point any longer hiding behind the charade of God. There is not a single God in any monotheistic framework that would find Donald Trump or Roy Moore amenable to its edict.

Evangelists, like any salesmen, are opportunists. And like any sale, their whole phony god thing is mere exploitation, and worse yet, politically motivated. And next to child molestation, which could also be on Moore’s resume, political motivation is as low as it gets.

But more sympathetic, I could not be. I get that your time is nearly over, and this is your act of desperation, your last breath, the death rattle to all your Moral Majority crap that has been discredited and rightly ignored as we move the species into the twenty-first century without you.

My hope, nay, my prayer, if you will, is that soon, when you’re all rotting in your graves, this great, damaged nation, and humanity as a whole, will share chuckle that we ever considered anything you stood for real and binding.

Judge Moore is right about one thing; Alabama “values” are coming to Washington, as they have for nearly 250 years.

Welcome back.

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THE TAX REFORM SHUFFLE

Aquarian Weekly
12/6/17

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE TAX REFORM SHUFFLE

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation found that the tax cuts would not pay for themselves by generating enough revenue through economic growth to offset the tax cuts, as Republicans have claimed, but would instead add $1 trillion to budget deficits over the next 10 years. Projections estimate that the bill would lead to additional economic growth of 0.8 percent over a decade, well short of the acceleration needed for the tax cuts to pay for themselves over that time. The analysis said the tax cuts would generate about $458 billion in revenue over a decade, but would also require about $51 billion in additional interest costs. That would leave the bill with a $1 trillion price tag.
– NY Times 11/29/17

Yeah, this ain’t good.

Senate Republicans, because Senate Democrats are now playing the Mitch McConnell/Ted Cruz two-step of not being involved in anything the opposition party proposes, are sending to the floor, or are trying to send to the floor – as of this writing it has stalled due to concerns by some about the above analysis that projects a massive increase in the national debt, a tax reform bill that sucks ass. Remember when bloated deficits used to be an anathema to most Republicans, unless of course there is a Republican in the White House – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, who both ballooned the debt with unpaid-for massive tax cuts. But a budget deficit and the national debt is only part of the problem with this gigantic boondoggle.

Firstly, this type of massive legislation overhaul happens maybe once a generation, but because Donald Trump has appeared to have now gone completely off the rails – which is a step or two above the rails he careened off of long before he became president – with his picking name-calling fights with a lunatic in North Korea, retweeting three messages from what amounts to the British KKK, supporting a senate candidate from Alabama who has been accused at least eight times of weird illegal sexual shit with children, telling staffers that it was not his voice on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, despite admitting to it and apologizing for it in October, 2016, and his incessant ranting about how he is the greatest president of all time and all of the press except some brainless wind-fart called FOX & Friends, the font of American journalism, is not representing the country well abroad, they are rushing to get something done before either he ends up in a fetal position sucking his thumb and asking for daddy, gets impeached for the mounting evidence of obstruction of justice, or 2017 ends with zero legislation.

The last time the government reformed the tax code was 27 years ago. Two parties held power and there were ten months filled with committee presentations and debates and caucuses and compromise. This time a single party, in relative secret, whipped together a baked fiasco in a month on the whim of fantasy numbers about job growth and higher wages and middle-class blah blah blah. In contrast, the humongous Affordable Care Act was debated in three House committees and two Senate committees, and subject to hours of bipartisan debate that allowed for the introduction of amendments. Interestingly enough (if you find the height of hypocrisy of interest, which I most certainly do), the architect of this shit-show, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rightfully fought against the construction of the 2010 bill that no one seemed to know its contents, and now he makes an even more egregious maneuver for the same reason – do something…anything… NOW!

McConnell and the Republicans keep rolling out this myth that because they run things and Trump was elected that this is the will of the American people. Turns out only 29 percent of people polled approve this bill – not tax cuts, everyone loves those, just this particular bill, which we have established sucks ass – and although the president has zero mandate, having lost the popular vote by three-million and nearly all the Republicans are really in congress to halt the ACA, which they have spectacularly failed to do, they forge ahead.

And why do people overwhelming hate this thing?

Well, despite not knowing all the details of the current tax reform bill, both the House and the Senate versions, which kicks the mandate for the ACA off of the rule book, completely eliminates the valuable tax break, which allows taxpayers to deduct state and local income, sales and property taxes, and strikes down a 1954 law that keeps freeloading religious groups, who pay zero taxes while they dumb down the human collective spreading hate and voodoo nonsense, from spending their windfall on political lobbying, what we know of the suck-ass bill is that by 2027, according to the aforementioned Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut.

Wha…?

Yeah…it ain’t good.

a budget deficit and the national debt is only part of the problem with this gigantic boondoggle.

Now, authors of and voters for this monstrosity will tell you (AGAIN – these assholes never learn) that these numbers are needlessly dire, because, well, all these tax breaks on the rich and corporations, such as a 20 percent corporate tax rate, down from 34 percent, will provide funds for businesses to re-invest in America and American workers, the flag, Jesus and apple pie, Babe Ruth and the rotting skull of George Washington. In other words, the oft discredited “Trickle Down Economics”.

This, as always, is a steaming pile of horseshit. Never mind this type of thinking failed in the 1920s, leading to the great depression, or the 1980s, leading to an exploding deficit that began the exodus of American businesses aboard, but as recent as 2004 when congress invited American corporations to bring home overseas earnings at a sharply reduced rate, pitching it as a means of bolstering investment. But according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis research, these corporations spent as much as 90 percent of their windfall buying back their shares and giving giant bonuses to their CEOs.

This just in: Corporations are not in the patriotism business. They rightfully answer to their shareholders and bow to profits. Period. Any thought other than that is so painfully naïve it begs to question the mental capacity of those believing otherwise.

The painfully naïve will also try and sell you that these are also dire numbers, like the painfully naive who tried to tell you that young people would buy into the ACA and well, didn’t. Projections to pay for government stuff are like things Trump blurts out daily; not true, ever. They are based on nothing and very silly and at times downright demented.

For instance, the administration’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been on record since April stating that “a hundred people in my staff have been working around the clock on running scenarios for us.” He said it again earlier this month, assuring congress and the American people that the suck-ass bill would “pay for itself”. Republican Senator from South Carolina Bob Corker now says there is no such analysis available or forthcoming, which is leading to an investigation. Seems then that this last-ditch, phony effort to refute the “dire numbers” was, as all things in this Trump Administration disaster of a first year, made-up. Totally. Doesn’t exist.

Yeah…this ain’t good.

Meanwhile Mnuchin’s boss keeps stating this farce is “the biggest tax cut in history.” But guess what? Trump is lying. It is not.

According to The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget it would be “the eight largest as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 1918 and the fourth largest in inflation-adjusted dollars.” The latest report shows that the “largest tax cut in history” designation would go to either President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut or President Barack Obama’s 2012 extension of most of the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts, depending on how the size of the tax cut is measured.

Now, all of this can be assuaged if the senate were to say, raise the proposed corporate tax rate to 22-percent. But then the rich donors would go away, as Senator Lindsey Graham admitted last week. This cannot happen. The senate works for them, not you.

So, we get the suck-ass bill.

Remember when Citizen Trump was going to “drain the swamp” and work for the “little guy” and go after Wall Street and big banks? Remember the populist that got 70,000 votes in the Rust Belt that allowed him to run things?

Yeah…this ain’t good.

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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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