FLAGS ARE BULLSHIT

Aquarian Weekly
7/1/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

FLAGS ARE BULLSHIT
Or An Ornery Stroll Down Our Useless, Pathetic Clinging To Symbols

Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.
– Mark Twain

My little swastika
My little swastika
You can do what you want
But I’m taking it back
It’s not yours anymore
It’s mine now

– Dan Bern

Flags are bullshit.

They are symbols and symbols are not reality and thus are bullshit.

nascar_confederate

Before you start your hissy fit, let’s not merely embrace the ranting of yours truly and instead head to the dictionary; the place where those who cling to or are threatened by symbols rarely tread. According to Merriam-Webster a symbol is “a material object representing something, often something immaterial.” Then a quick shift to “immaterial” brings us to “of no essential consequence; unimportant.” A flag is then a symbol and thus “immaterial” or “of no essential consequence and unimportant”. The Oxford Dictionary uses the word “abstract” in its definition – and “abstract” being something “existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.”

Can you imagine getting worked up over something with no concrete existence, the bogeyman, vampires, an insurance company with integrity, God?

Oh, shit, God. Right, that works us up.

But be that as it may, a flag is bullshit, like a weird haircut, lawn signs or tee shirts with pithy sayings. None of these things mean a thing. It’s akin to people crowding around a guy wearing a Michel Jordan jersey and wanting his autograph. Do people really believe this guy is Michael Jordan?

Votes, laws, actions; these are the things that sustain humanity.

Not flags.

Not symbols.

The swastika never did a damn thing. Neither did the crucifix. The Yankees interlocking NY never won a baseball game and heavy metal hand-horns never wrote, recorded or performed a single song. I just recently watched a brilliant documentary called Happy Valley on the Jerry Sandusky crimes, which were enabled and perpetuated by the entire institution of Penn State University for fifteen years. When I think of Penn State now, I personally think of a child-rape factory, but does that make everyone who goes to Penn State or represent the university pedophiles?

People who conflate the symbol with something actual and binding and/or are threatened by symbols or inspired by them are simply misguided. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that worshiping symbols can sometimes lead to great things; so more power to them. Still, sometimes this misguided worship can perpetuate violence. But make no mistake; these are just excuses for the greatness and violence, not causation.

This past week a white kid shot black people in the South. This used to be called Tuesday afternoon in the South. Now it is a national outrage. That is what is known as progress or what the dictionary defines as “a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage.” It is a slow, painful, abjectly embarrassing level of progress, but one that happened under the shadow of our beloved American flag, not the defunct, dishonored, terrorist, insurrectionist, anti-American symbol of the Confederate flag, which had its symbolic moment for around six years 150 years ago, before it was summarily defeated, humiliated, and left to the dustbin of history. However, for 90 years prior to the Civil War slavery boomed under the American flag. After the crushing of the Confederate South, Jim Crow happened under the American flag. Lynching happened under the American flag. Women denied the vote; American flag – illegal wars, assassinations, high political crimes, spying on and jailing of dissidents, marriage inequality, American flag. Does that make all Americans murderers of innocents, bigots, racists, tyrants?

This hubbub about the Confederate flag or streets in the South named after criminals and defenders of slavery is insane. There are monuments and airports and holidays dedicated to slave owners all over this country. The goddamn capital is named after a slave owner. It is impossible to have an America without slavery. Free labor and land grabs made America, a country stolen from someone else before our forefathers kicked those guys out. Slavery is, among many other misappropriations of humanity, forever a stain on our national soul. There is no coming back from this, or wiping it from our national psyche, and if you take away one symbol another feckless, misguided murderer will use something else, a film or a song or another kind of flag or symbol to justify violence.

You know what is far more dangerous and a pox on the idea of America than some bullshit flag? The sweeping eradication of planned parenthood centers in an overt attempt to subvert the law of the land or votes to prevent citizens from enacting their civil rights or laws that disenfranchise voters on some fantasy of voter fraud or other laws giving religious belief a reason to empower the open market to legally discriminate, all of it happening in the South right now, not 150 years ago, under the American flag.

Some people get riled up about these things – not enough of us, but some. But everyone, and I mean everyone, Republican, Democrat, Independent, you name it, get nuts about a fucking, stupid, meaningless piece of cloth with bars and stars on it. It would be like complaining that the surfing at Normandy Beach on D-Day was sub-par or the rain at Gettysburg was a bit dreary.

It’s akin to people crowding around a guy wearing a Michel Jordan jersey and wanting his autograph.

I’ll give you a prime example of this craziness. This week the president of the United States was making a larger point on symbols of racism having no bearing on actual racism by using the word “nigger.” People went sideways on the word. The word, not his actual point, became the story. This quite ironically made his point: The symbol (the word), not the actions of what that symbol purportedly represents, is a distraction. Nothing more. Like people thinking if we get rid of the “N” word all racism will cease or if we eradicate all the names of sports teams that use Native American terms or symbols we will somehow wipe away the horrible, criminal actions of the past that allow us to be here getting all worked up in the first place.

It is easier for us to get all righteous about the meaningless, like embracing or protesting the Confederate flag, because the meaningless doesn’t really exist, like arguing what Islam means in the grander scope of the violence in the Middle East. I argue Islam, like all religion throughout blood-soaked human history, is an excuse to perpetuate violence. I can find as many justifications for violence against infidels in the Bible, but it would simply be exploiting a symbol and attaching all of your reasons for doing whatever you do, good or bad, to it. But it is far from reality. It is merely a distraction from what we need to observe and contemplate as humans sharing this spinning sphere.

Flags are bullshit.

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THE BODY EXPERIMENT‏

Aquarian Weekly
6/24/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

THE BODY EXPERIMENT
or Torturing One’s Self for Results

I found a way to cut your cholesterol numbers in half.

In half.

I did it in 40 days and so can you.

Read on, Macduff.

Here’s a reality check for ya; most of what we eat is shit. A spectacular number of us are in abysmal shape and are going to die sooner than we’d expect and likely the final years will be an agonizing death march merely to survive. But at least we’re having fun, right? To that end, I decided this past spring to use my body as an experiment in radical diet change that ended up reaping stunning results, which were duly corroborated by my doctor, who looked at my blood work numbers this past week and blubbered, “What happened? What did you do?”
6millman

I’ll share this pertinent information, if for nothing else, as a public service.

In other words, none of the kind of thing you usually get here.

Before I reveal my method and results, I need to clarify that I am among the millions that wage a battle with high cholesterol. Although I am not over-weight and do not smoke cigarettes, and eat healthier than the average American (which ain’t sayin’ much), I was told it is mostly hereditary – some kind of Mediterranean thing, thanks to my Martignetti side. It’s not scary dangerous, but when I was first diagnosed in my mid-to-late-thirties, I was well over the safe level (at some point in the 300’s, which sucks ass) and was told to go on Lipitor, which I flatly refused to do and accomplished enough with diet and exercise – something I did none of after high school – that helped keep me from a potential stroke. And while I have managed this naturally for lo these fifteen or so years, (staying in the 230’s, still sucks) I have never had the kind of numbers that would fool anyone into thinking I did not have an issue.

That would change after The Experiment.

The Subject: I am five-foot-five-inches tall and usually feel comfortable around 127 to 132 pounds. The reason I know this is because I was a diseased wrestler in high school and did unspeakable things to my body in the cause of making weight (hey, I did many and varied unspeakable things to my body in general in high school, but let’s leave that be). Just to give you an example of my weight journey, I wrestled in the 108-pound weight class in 1979-80 during my senior season, this is up from the 91-pound class my freshman year. I probably did not grow an inch since, but back then I knew for a fact (and one concerned doctor told me) that the thinnest this frame of mine can be and still function in society would be 107 and three-quarters pounds. The heaviest I have ever been is 153 sometime at the turn of the century when I was stress-eating during my building concerns about Y2K.

The Method: So, I’ve always been aware of my weight and, having gone a little nuts over the holidays, I was up around 141 around early February. But weight was never really a big thing for me. I eventually get to where I need to be because each Lenten season I do what I call “a fast”. I have written about this occasionally here and more in-depth in my book, Trailing Jesus (Gueem Books – 2002).

When I was a young Catholic growing up in the Bronx, New York, we were expected to give something up during Lent, which is kind of a Christian rip-off of Passover/Yom Kippur that commemorates the assassination and purported resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth or more to the Catholic point, the Christ. I found this exercise rather challenging and began as a young man giving up some candy product or whatever, and although my faith inevitably waned, crashed and burned, I always challenged myself each spring to give up something and then something more, until there were times that I went way off the rails, but that is a column for another day.

The Regimen: This year I decided to be a Vegan for 40 days. My wife is a Vegan and we’re raising our daughter, Scarlet one, and well…I get a lot of shit around here for being the only carnivore and mainly get accused of being weak – since calling me amoral and uncaring toward nature is a losing battle. So, what the hey? I’ll do it. (Note: a Vegan eats and wears nothing that comes from an animal – I just did the eating part) This was coupled with eating one meal a day – the normal spring ritual – along with no booze, cigars or anything other than water to drink and a regimen of a daily 30 minute to 50 minute treadmill related activity – speed-walking, running, and incline-jogging. Usually I do every other day to recover, (hey I’m over a half-century, sue me) but this time went full bore. I also managed to get up to 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups and 50 crunches along with it.

The Supplement: Sometime in the late 90s when I flatly refused to take drugs to curtail my Mediterranean-induced problem, I came across an old Chinese woman who counseled me to take a supplement called Red Yeast Rice (look it up, I’m running out of space), which was so good at reducing cholesterol the assholes who produce Lipitor and the other assholes who run the federal government teamed up to try and have it taken off the market, but were met with a granola-head revolution to my utter delight. It was Red Yeast Rice that kept me just under the red line for cholesterol troubles all these years.

However, I never took it twice a day – recommended. Don’t ask why. Maybe it was laziness. No, forget the other reasons. It was laziness. I also added something the last couple of years that helped too, one capsule of Fish Oil. But for the purposes of The Experiment, for 40 days I took two of the former and one of the latter (two 600 mg of Red Yeast Rice and one 1200 mg of Fish Oil).

Exercise drives up good cholesterol (HDL) which fights the bad (LDL). It is apparently okay to have a higher LDL number, if your HDL is soaring. The idea is the HDL cancels out the LDL and then some. This is not the scientific portion of this column. You want more info? Look it up.

Okay, so after 40 days of this torturous regimen, (I remind you I had my blood samples taken the week after Easter, the end of Lent, but due to my insane schedule and other factors, my annual physical was only this past week), here’s the deal, folks:

2014 results:
Total Cholesterol – 212 (borderline crappy, but nowhere near good)
HDL – 58 (ideal is close to 60, so not bad)
LDL 129 (this is considered the high-end of near or above optimal)
Triglycerides 123 (this is fat in the blood, and I’ve never had an issue with this – this is very normal)

**Also, last year my blood sugar levels were a tad high – apparently, this is tough for all of us since everything, and I mean everything, has insane historically high and way bad levels of sugar in it. If anything kills us before ISIS or wild-card cops or Ebola, it’s sugar.

2015 post-experiment results:
Total Cholesterol – 137 (considered desirable levels, but I have never been that low)
HDL – 56 (steady, so looks like exercise was not as effective as diet and supplements)
LDL – 69 (half of last year’s number and well within optimal)
Triglycerides – 61 (once again, halved from last year and so low it’s not even listed on sites dealing with this issue)

**Sugar levels were non-existent.

…my doctor, who looked at my blood work numbers this past week and blubbered, “What happened? What did you do?”

And so there you have it. It ain’t bragging if it’s true. And it’s far from bragging. Lord knows I have abandoned that diet and I’m back to destroying myself again. I ended up at 126 points (lost 15) and am already pushing 130. I only make this public as a specific reality check: You too can make a dramatic change to your health in 40 lousy days, not weeks or months. It’s not easy, but it is effective and it involves no drugs. Lipitor damages the liver and I need that to imbibe at Olympian levels, so there’s that.

Now excuse me while I have a beer and a cigar.

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WELCOME (BACK) TO THE JUNGLE

Aquarian Weekly
6/17/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

WELCOME (BACK) TO THE JUNGLE

It is not possible to know at this time the precise scope or the duration of the deployments of U.S. Armed Forces necessary to counter terrorist threats to the United States.

– Excerpt from a letter accompanying a classified report to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate President Pro Tem Orrin Hatch, R-Utah this week from President Barack Obama

Uh oh.

If that little tidbit of information that escaped the red-alarm of the mainstream media obsessed with reality-show transgender announcements, presidential candidates with zero chance to ever be president 17 months from Election Day, and Lebron James doesn’t scare the living shit out of you then it damn well should.

Start being scared.

aumfjungle

The president went on to state that he would strongly consider “direct additional measures,” which more pointedly means expanding bases and additional troops could be deployed if needed.

Oooh-boy.

Our antiwar president is slowly being dragged into a giant mess we’ve already made of Iraq with the kind of “cautious” speak we’ve heard for a century around here from many a president citing national security to embroil us in a useless, unwinnable, soul-sucking, fund-sinking, bloody fray.

It began a few months back with “advisors” and “special forces”; buzz words for your kids coming back from some foreign desert sinkhole in bags or with stuff missing from their bodies. Just so we’re clear. Don’t want to miss the point of all these “advisors” and “special forces”.

Remember when the president announced a few months back to a dubious and overwhelming majority of war-weary Americans that this kind of thing was a mercy mission and a training exercise? This is translated as “See you in another quagmire, sports fans.”

Lock up your sons and daughters. It’s time to add more wounded that will be ignored and dead that will be forgotten.

We’re off to WAR again.

As if it ever ended or will ever end.

Granted, Barack Obama has cited the wildly sweeping 2001 AUMF, the bane of American foreign policy and arguably the sole reason there is an ISIS and a massive national deficit. It is the golden ticket for every U.S. president until the end of time to wage questionable military exercises all over the joint. He is well within his right and purview.

The egregious Authorization for Use of Military Force, a fancy piece of legislation titled Pub. L. 107-40 was codified at 115 Stat. 224 and passed as S.J.Res. 23 by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001 and eventually signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 18, 2001. It gives the Patriot Act a run for its money and puts all this haughty talk for the past few years about presidential overreach into grim perspective.

You want presidential overreach, jack?

The AUMF, which Obama (the guy who in 2007 scoffed at these sort of tyrannical knee-jerk powers) mentioned directly in his letter, “authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001”. The authorization grants the president (any president) the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.”

What does ISIS have to do with 9/11?

What did Iraq have to do with 9/11?

What did Libya or Syria or Iran have to do with 9/11?

Glad you asked. It’s simple. It all does.

Why do you think former Vice President and godfather of Iraq madness, Dick Cheney was so hot and heavy about conflating Saddam Hussein with 9/11 – something that had credence due to faulty intelligence and Bush 41’s laughably unnecessary Kuwait war in 1990, but could not lead to war without the AUMF?

Why do you think every hawk in congress cites 9/11 when anything goes awry overseas, especially in the Middle East, and berate the president for “leading from behind” every time a firecracker goes off in the desert?

It is not to remind us of our weakness in the summer of 2001, how we felt invincible and untouchable for all the crazy shenanigans we pulled aboard for more than half a century fearing no consequence. It is strategic. It puts all missions under the guise of the AUMF, providing the kind of unchecked military power that even Abraham Lincoln would have found troubling.

Well, maybe not Lincoln. He went a little nuts. But that was our Civil War, not someone else’s. But the AUMF makes it, prompts it, cajoles it, nay, demands that it is ours.

The idea of 9/11 is no more a date in American history than a blank check for future actions against any threats that remind one of 9/11, like EVERYTHING.

All that crap the CIA pulled after WWII would have been so much easier if congress had not merely declared war on Japan and Germany in 1941, but simply said that any country that sees fit to 12/7 us or threats to 12/7 us is open game.

Blank check.

War.

Stick that in your “Don’t Tread on Me” pipe and inhale.

And so while we debate the merits of insane cops running amok or whatever middling crap we can dig up on Dr. Ben Carson, who is a pathetic side-show to our already insipid presidential politics, our president is once again thrusting this nation into another war it cannot win and will likely only exacerbate its incendiary status.

Lock up your sons and daughters. It’s time to add more wounded that will be ignored and dead that will be forgotten.

Think I’m simply an anti-war whiner? A cynic?

Fair enough: Let’s examine the facts of how there came to be an ISIS in the first place.

After the Iranian overthrow of the puppet tyrant the United State implanted in 1979, ignoring the democratic wishes of yet another in a long line of oil rich nations, we began arming auxiliary tyrant Saddam Hussein’s Baathist soldiers to combat it. These are the same soldiers that rumbled into Kuwait in August of 1990, prompting the Gulf War, which helped to build the case for al Queda (the terrorist outfit led by Osama bin Laden mobilized from the CIA-created Mujahideen that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and were later abandoned when we no longer needed them, grew predictably and stridently anti-American, and bombed American foreign installations and ships in the late-‘90s) to unleash the 9/11 attacks. These are also many of the same soldiers that today (with American weapons) make up ISIS.

And you know who our ally in all this is now?

Iran.

So, now with all of that whiz-bang success from arming rebels and propping up corrupt regimes and our spectacularly disastrous foreign military-led policy of the past 15 years, we once again go slowly down the path of self-destruction.

Don’t be afraid of ISIS.

Or Iran, the Affordable Care Act, Caitlyn Jenner, Wall Street.

Be afraid of “additional measures”.

Be very afraid.

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GOODBYE PATRIOT ACT

Aquarian Weekly
6/10/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

GOODBYE PATRIOT ACT
Hello USA Freedom Act

And so the odious unconstitutional boondoggle merrily passed into law during the über paranoia of 9/11 and renewed time and again for 14 long years is gone. We say goodbye to the Patriot Act, one of the most intrusively open-ended pieces of legislation ever considered by a feckless knee-jerk congress since the generation-damaging Volstead Act. It’s very name a stain on its harbinger for what we have come to expect from all this “Don’t Tread On Me” rhetoric – the same jackasses carrying this glorious flag have no problem with their government spying on them, just don’t provide them health care. What a joke we are and have been lo these many years of pre-war trade-in on our civil rights for the fog of safety, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the jailing and deporting of German citizens during WWI and Japanese citizens during WWII to the FBI spying and CIA tampering with anti-war groups during the Viet Nam fiasco, we will eat any shit given us.
House Republicans Discuss Climate-Gate And Copenhagen Summit
And eat it we did for a decade and a half, and many of us – me included – didn’t seem to care. Why should I care? I break the law around here hourly. I have so much contraband at the Clemens Estate it would take a team of prosecutors months to dissect it. I have been open about my malfeasance and I have hung my “Don’t Tread On Me” flag proudly at every camp we have called home since the Putnam Bunker in the early-to-late 1990s. No one has ever harassed me. I am a middle-aged white man living in the woods with no priors. I am a working member of the Fourth Estate with skeleton-packed closet and blood on my pen. I treat NYC as a social experiment in spectacular abuses best kept off the pages of this paper and anywhere on the Internet, including the places where openly declaring that you yearn to cook and eat women can get you life in prison.

And I put it all in print with my name under it.

I welcome spying, as I welcome most of my unconstitutional miasma, which is why I cannot help but be surprised when anyone is shocked at the level of power and scope we have given our government, both local and federal, since Andrew Jackson told the Supreme Court to fuck itself and start the institutional migration of the Native Americans he couldn’t kill.

We are already choked by laws. Many of them keep us from killing ourselves and others. I have never believed in these, per se, more like tolerate them. Free Thinkers and the Evolved scoff at your petty morals (thank you, Keith Richards). We openly mock the diseased conditions that lead to things like Sharia Law or the PMRC or whatever crap Pat Roberson conjures or what con men like Mike Huckabee think you should be doing with your body. Fuck Mike Huckabee. He is a goober and a religious zealot and his kind is dying out and they know it, so they step out every four years to remind us of what it would be like if more of these cretins had the power to make us just like them.

Ah, but I digress.

Back to the lovely Patriot Act.

We now rest easy knowing our dick pics are safe from prying Big Brother.

Suddenly some gutless weasel who signed up to spy on us decides it’s a bit too much spying for his like, so he flees the country and at first anonymously unleashes all the collected data – including highly classified information – he’d stolen to the press in the guise of “whistle blowing”. In turn, the NY Times erroneously published secrets detrimental to the health and well being of Americans in harm’s way. Instead of standing his ground and going through the proper channels of the law, like the heroic Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1970 tried (in vain, but he tried) to persuade several senators of the crimes being perpetuated in the name of freedom by the United States abroad before going to the NY Times, and then stayed here to take his medicine and prove his position. Fuck Edward Snowden. I like my dissidents to take it standing strong, not cutting and running like Jesse James. Give me Jesus of Nazareth or Gandhi or Emma Goldman or Lenny Bruce any day, any week.

Now we’re all appalled? Right Wing to the Left Wing, we can finally agree on something and that something is the tip of the overreach iceberg, and you know what, this new USA Freedom Act has plenty of stuff in there that’s unconstitutional. As my good friend, Doc Buzz once mused, “Who’s kiddin’ who?”

I will give the USA Freedom Act one thing; it is the first time in a billion years a government has passed a law reducing its power. It has never happened in this country or on this planet to be fair. But it did this week. And that is news.

And so goodbye Patriot Act.

We now rest easy knowing our dick pics are safe from prying Big Brother.

Until the next thing blows up and then you’ll be glad to give blood samples to buy gum.

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ELIZABETH WARREN UNLEASHED

Aquarian Weekly
5/27/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

ELIZABETH WARREN UNLEASHED

Elizabeth Warren is what makes writing about politics interesting. She is the Democrats answer to Ted Cruz. She represents the polar end of a national party and can and will make waves to muck up the works when she can. In the end, though, her voice will be watered down by the legislative process. The progress of her times, as well as Ted Cruz’s, will go on. She will have made a point and she will live with her uncompromising street cred intact.Elizabeth Warren

Unlike Cruz and the right wing TEA Party he purports to represent – a sort of but not quite new fangled movement that shares the undertone of opposition for the current president and his policies, more specifically the ACA, which ushered this new wave in during the 2010 mid-terms – Warren is an old-fashioned liberal. She is dyed in the wool pro-labor, pro-regulation, pro-national education, and all the things that have become less fashionable in the past twenty years or so. This is why I laugh when people call Barack Obama a lefty. Lefties in the 1970s were lefties. It’s like calling Ronald Reagan a right-winger now. Reagan is a liberal compared to Ted Cruz, whereas Warren though would fit right in with Ted Kennedy.

And that brings me to Warren’s big move against her party’s president during this inner-party kerfuffle regarding Obama’s hot-and-heavy pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is the latest in a string of trade agreements proffered by presidents since the first Bush in the late 1980s. Since then it seems like everyone has had to pitch one. None of them seem to be total slam-dunks. In many ways they have hit the working class hard, specifically the organized labor front. Even staunch conservatives have barked about trade agreements that almost always benefit the other nations. Pat Buchanan famously ran amok in the streets of Seattle during the WTO protests that turned into riots in 1999. “Now you might not have seen me, but I was out there at the Battle of Seattle,” he puffed to me when running for president as an independent in 2000. “I was out there all five days. The WTO didn’t see me because I was disguised as a sea turtle moving around the imperial troops.”

Buchanan, who I hear from now and then with pithy commentary for my work, is an old-fashioned conservative. He is the one chuckling at Ted Cruz the way the president chuckled at Elizabeth Warren for two weeks when he was pressed by the media to respond to why she was very loudly telling rally after rally that Obama was screwing the working man and being “secretive” about his little trade deal. The president candidly struck back in interviews and his own stumping, saying, “Elizabeth and me are friends and we agree on a host of issues, accept apparently this one. And I have to say she’s got it wrong this time.”

You got the feeling that, as is his wont with many of the distended voices on the right, Obama tried shrugging this off until the vote came in and Warren successfully – mind you a lot more successfully than Cruz’s 400 votes to eradicate the ACA or his entertainingly flaccid filibuster routines – got the issue to a debate on the senate floor. Suddenly the shrugs became anger. You can tell by the way the White House responded to Warren that they considered this an affront – for awhile what was “She’s mistaken that we’re not transparent on the details of the deal” became “She is lying.” Obama called one of the more endearing and combative Democrats, a woman for whom the extreme left wants dearly to run for president in 2016 against the other more formidable woman, a liar. And worse yet the president called her the most damning moniker around these days; “a politician. “She’s a politician like everyone else.”

Interesting.

Make no mistake; Obama is getting his trade deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell loves it. He all but smooched the president’s ass on the floor of congress last week and couldn’t care less if staunch anti-trade voices in his party were bitching. He “commends” the president on his bravery to face down the radical wing of his party, something McConnell has failed to do at every turn. This is a man who boldly announced forty days into Obama’s presidency that his job was to make him a one-term president. He failed at that too.

But McDonnell and Obama, strange bedfellows for the TPP, will win out. Maybe they should. I have no idea how this thing is coming out, like we had no idea how Iraq was going to come out or the ACA or really anything. But this does not change the fact that Warren has gone rogue and she has plenty of supporters.

She will have made a point and she will live with her uncompromising street cred intact.

Now Warren (Senator from Massachusetts – as Blue as a Blue State could be) may reek of Ted Kennedy’s brand of liberalism, but she also appeals to the Ron Paul wing of the Democratic Party. All those young people who hung onto Paul’s anti-military, anti-inefficient government stuff – something his son has chucked – flock to Warren. According to them she has fought the good fight because she is uncompromising, another dirty word in politics these days. And maybe it should be. It can get you momentum, serious mojo among the “fed up” and there are always plenty of those.

I’m reminded of something the great H.L. Mencken mused about Calvin Coolidge; “Half the people hate him and other half hate those who hate him, but they don’t comprise any portion that actually supports him.” I loathe paraphrasing a friggin’ genius, but I have no time to look it up. You do it.

I do have time for one more comment; Elizabeth Warren is interesting, because she may be the first person in a long time that has captured some kind of bygone sense of populist liberalism that’s not simply Keynesian, tempered by pragmatic professorial think-tanks of mortified inaction or works at MSNBC. But, alas, she’s like that kid pitcher who takes the majors by storm and gets big headlines and then sort of fades away, as if he never was and you miss him, but you move on; the political version of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. He was damn interesting. That lasted a summer. But oh what a summer it was.

Look it up. Gotta go.

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AN OPEN LETTER TO PETE TOWNSHEND ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 70TH BIRTHDAY‏

Aquarian Weekly
5/20/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

AN OPEN LETTER TO PETE TOWNSHEND ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 70TH BIRTHDAY

Dearest Pete,

First off, happy 70th.

This must seem a surreal sentiment considering you will forever be known for having written that you hoped to die before you…well…you know. However, in a very distinct way you never really did get old, did you? I mean, of course, we’re all careening towards oblivion, but what never gets old is integrity, passion, impetuous adherence to art and an unflinching, unrepentant pursuit of truth. You know the stuff that makes us nod our collective head and go, “Yeah…yeah” – this is what has allowed you to remain true to your screed.pete-townshend

But I did not write this to belabor the obvious. Seventy years is quite a run for a 60s rock star. As you have broached eloquently in many an interview, too many of your contemporaries and half your band are no longer with us, and it is not as if you did not face the effrontery of the rock idiom with any kind of caution. If anything, it is something of a miracle that you are still with us, not as much a miracle as say Keith Richards, which is a Lourdes level of divine agency, but we both know this foray into the form was something of a gamble for all of you and it is on this occasion that I think we can comfortably state that you have come up aces.

Mostly, though, I wanted to thank you.

And I do so not just for myself, but my generation – the one at the butt end of the Boomer one or the premature birthing of X. I was born in late 1962 and was way too young for “My Generation” or Monterey or Woodstock or Viet Nam, etc. But I was also a little too cynical to be influenced by MTV or Nirvana and the spate of psychographics defined by sociologists for people selling zit cream and video games. I first heard Tommy at age nine in the attic of my friend’s grandparents’ house in the Bronx, NY. It was his older brother’s copy. I did not yet know about acid or transcendental meditation or sensory trauma or messianic delusions. I only knew I was moved. Really moved.

So I want to thank you for Tommy. Much later in life the film, a really horrible thing, but one that shook the world at my feet and changed the way I would ever view or listen to music again, ended up becoming something of a life-altering experience for a twelve year-old. I remember my parents being puzzled at my week-long trance over it. And I remember feeling good about that, even 40 years hence. It still makes my nads tingle and brings me to a place filled with youthful exuberance that is beyond mere nostalgia. No one can take that feeling away. I’ll take that one to my grave.

And I want to thank you for “Young Man Blues”. I thought I liked heavy music and distorted defiance and rebellion and neighborhood-shattering noise, but then I heard the live version of “Young Man Blues” as it was released in my junior year of high school on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack for the film that would impress me but only hold deeper meaning three years later when my beloved grandmother died; the first concussive sense of loss I endured. I spent ten straight hours playing the VHS version over and over and over until I was tired of crying. But that has nothing to do with the first time I experienced The Who’s cover of “Young Man Blues”. It rendered all other rock music to flimsy argle. Shit, man, I don’t know how one can be an adolescent and explain oneself properly without it: manic, chaotic, relentless power and volume, as if this monstrosity you unleashed had become nuclear; a weapon of mass destruction – clean, brutal, unyielding. I am blasting it right now writing this. Ouch. Goddamn it, man. What revelation you wrought.

Thanks for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which some enterprising DJ played on the final minutes of the 1970s when it was hard for me to grasp that there could be another decade and what the 1980s would do to me as a young man, and what The Who and all of your songs and records would do to influence and calm and direct me. That song resonated at two crucial points when watching you perform it. The band’s first of several “final” tours in the late-summer of 1982 at Philly’s JFK Stadium, this stone monolith packed to the rafters with sun-drenched middle-class Caucasians of all ages, and me and the friends had managed to get ourselves in the press booth and watched as the throng of some 90,000 kids clapped in unison over your legendary pre-programmed synth piece that you pained over in this little box studio in west London over a decade before. It was what it must have felt like to be part of the Roman Legion right before the plunging of a city – this insatiable hedonistic lust for dominance. Oh, and the other was when you played solo at the Beacon Theater in 1993 and you did the song as an encore and was so completely loony you hit the ground – ba-tannnng! – guitar screaming with feedback, the crowd apoplectic to get at you, intercede with whatever jolt of electricity you were channeling.

Yeah, we all knew it was electricity. It had to be. The windmill, ahhhh…the windmill; how that right arm could rise up and come whipping around and around to smack those power chords and how you couldn’t say you lived until you were in the room when that arm went up and came striking across the strings and the crowd exploded as if it was in there somehow. And we knew that soon you might splinter that thing into hundreds of tiny pieces and how A-D-E chords never sounded better – teenage wasteland and all that; those ungodly beautiful sounds that careened through my skull at the end of “Cry If You Want”. What the hell did you do to get that sound? How did you know that was the resonance of our fury, our longing, our corruption?

And I thank you for Horse’s Neck, because that book is a mutha and it is way underrated and proved your worth as a man of letters, beyond Tommy and Lifehouse (and I sure do appreciate your releasing all those demos of it in the 2000s, because that is silly good), “Slit Skirts”, and of course Quadrophenia.

Goddamn it, man. What revelation you wrought.

Oh, yes, Quadrophenia. For this one I evoke my dear college friend, Jake Genovay, for whom we would offer one sentence to those who needed Quadrophenia (and you know who you are) – “Do you know?”

It is the guiding principle of rock music, isn’t it? I know you were exorcising demons with that one, and it shows, and so it was used to exorcise a few of mine and so many of ours. It is, for my money, your manifesto and the arc of our youth – the one that got me through high school and that I quoted on beaches to dozens of girls and the ones I sang with friends after too much revelry and the ones you dragged out of mothballs in 1996 and prompted this review of mine that began “Pete is God”, ‘cause that was what we used to blurt out during “Love Reign O’er Me” when you can’t quite say what you’re thinking and fear that you might end up amounting to the hill-of-beans they all promised because the power and volume might not be enough anymore. But, hell, you made that all seem palatable. Of course it wasn’t. It was anything but okay. It was life. And life is grand and life is shit and life is the alternative to…well…you know.

I hope I die before I get old.

And that, my dear man, is what all the art and music is for, right?

Right.

Sincerely,

The Rest of Us

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BALTIMORE IS BURNING‏

Aquarian Weekly
5/6/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

BALTIMORE IS BURNING

Beat-up little seagull
On a marble stair
Tryin’ to find the ocean
Lookin’ everywhere

Hard times in the city
In a hard town by the sea
Ain’t nowhere to run to
There ain’t nothin’ here for free

“Baltimore”, Randy Newman

At some point cops will stop killing black guys and black neighborhoods will stop ending up in flames. Not sure when that will be; maybe when my daughter (now seven) will be around to see it. Hard to tell. Hope so. Who knows?

I know I’ve written more than a little on this subject now for a couple of grim years. Most of it centers on my harshly cynical view of humanity; all that stuff about hatred and violence and the silly notion that society can quell this bubbling genetic combustion or you know…what will become of us? All that stuff that seems to be obvious and hardly worth noting, but somehow escapes the noisy vox populi and the overly hyped redundant punditry.

A Baltimore Metropolitan Police transport vehicle burns during clashes in Baltimore

We choose to ignore our baser instincts and go with the more “better angels” thing. I get that. I do. Like that movie with the kid and the tiger on the boat; which story would you choose to believe if you had the choice?

Then there is this useless search for answers. Is there a serviceable answer that would suffice; with any of this?

But I think on this occasion I bring some personal experience, because even the African-American community is finding it difficult to spin the mass riot in Baltimore, Maryland this week into something of a fair response to the mysterious death of another black kid by white cops.

You see, about 11 years ago I walked to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in downtown Baltimore one afternoon with my parents and my wife. This was the first and only time I felt real, gripping fear. It was also the most disturbing level of abject poverty and destitution I have ever witnessed, and I have been to New Orleans and Israel.

Now mind you I’ve escaped some harrowing shit before. A few lowlights would be threatened at knife point at a Rolling Stones concert behind some alleyway in Hartford, Connecticut, weird vibrations at a slum bizarre in Barcelona, Spain, a quizzically half-day gypsy cab ride around the more alarmingly remote corners of Freeport, Bahamas, extremely dangerous teenaged vehicular machinations in the shotgun seat of a rusted-out 1965 Mustang in Freehold, NJ, some “bat-wielding” incident of my own making in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, an agonizingly long and perilous walk around the Old City of Jerusalem with helicopters hovering less than two hundred feet above my head, (not to mention having wandered wittingly into a Bedouin hutch), whatever it is I barely survived on the Jersey Shore 20 years ago this summer with some hedonistic rock band bent on destroying my compromised constitution, Catholic grammar school nuns, Disney World. I even managed to survive picking fights with Italian girlfriends when they were hungry.

Still, choosing to usher my family through the burned-out, boarded-up streets in downtown Baltimore with the most desperate and angry looking people I have had the misfortune (or maybe fortune, because I think once in all of our American lives, we should see this kind of arresting social and economic horror) to witness. It is the kind of “backed into a corner” vista that breeds a level of frustration that torches a CVS over something the cops may or may not have done.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that this is less a race thing than a poverty thing, which is far more prevalent in this year of our Lord 2015 than it has been in some time visa vie the soon-to-be mantra of the 2016 presidential race on both sides of the ideological aisle; income inequality. Add to that social inequality, educational inequality, health care inequality, you name it.

Now, the history of civilization is bloated with incidents of the have-nots rising up and causing mayhem for the have’s and these inner-city outbursts lately that begin with a call for justice and end up in total violent chaos is a comment on the idea of “nothing left to lose”, a mentality of the cornered animal that is not beneath us. And for further proof that Baltimore may be the template for more to come – because I think this one trumps Ferguson by a long shot – is the glaringly putrid statistics that cry out to be studied.

It is our reminder that places like Baltimore and Detroit and dozens of cities and towns across the U.S. in the richest most economically solvent nation in the world have been left to rot.

Baltimore’s decline, which has been steadily sinking since the 1980s, interrupted by the construction of Inner Harbor, which is only a few blocks from the pathetically Third-World conditions I witnessed in 2004, has perhaps reached its saturation point. The city’s unemployment rate is nearly double the national average and among the city’s African Americans it hovers around 30 percent. The high school graduation rate among inner city blacks is among the lowest in the country. Thus the crime rate is one of the highest of any city; its legend exploited in pop culture the way The French Connection, Taxi Driver and Death Wish cast a pall on the devolution of New York City in the 1970s, with the acclaimed The Wire series about destitute crime-ridden neighborhoods patrolled by corrupt and violent cops. Art reflected reality; since 2011 the city has doled out some six million dollars in court settlements to victims of police abuse.

So the question should not be, what the hell just happened in Baltimore?, it really should be, how did this not happen sooner and why doesn’t it happen weekly?

Baltimore has not benefitted from anything; social programs, budget cuts, a stringent police presence, outreach programs, the corporate explosion of the 1980s, the booming 1990s economic surge, the housing bubble of the 2000s or the slowly emerging economic recovery since 2009. It is our reminder that things are never “all rosy” around here. It is our reminder that places like Baltimore and Detroit and dozens of cities and towns across the U.S. in the richest most economically solvent nation in the world have been left to rot.

Last week our African American president rightfully pointed out that the U.S. economy is the strongest among any in the western hemisphere. It has come back faster than Europe by a long shot. Things are way better now than they were when the entire financial system was on the brink of total annihilation in the fall of ’08, which ushered him in into the White House in the first place. But none of this has come close to putting a dent into what is the “Baltimore Problem”, and I am in no position to suggest how it can be “solved”.

But one thing I have learned from this week is that while this eruption may in several ways have been the result of race, police, urban, sociological or even political issues, it is first and foremost economic.

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IRAN: SO FAR AWAY‏

Aquarian Weekly

4/29/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

IRAN: SO FAR AWAY
With Apologies to the Ayatollah and Flock of Seagulls

Here’s hoping that a deal can be nailed down with Iran over its nuclear capabilities. Not sure what that deal would be or how it would eventually be stricken, but it is the best course of action now. Not in a few years or when we get a perfect one or whatever, but now.

There will never be a better time to get Iran to capitulate.

Irantalks_600

And it doesn’t matter who is president or who runs congress or what type of religious fanatic heads that god-forsaken shit-hole, but this needs to happen and happen as soon as possible.

Due to the collapsing oil market (its chief export), and crippling sanctions, Iran’s economy is in shambles. It is embroiled in (at least) a two-front war against ISIS in Iraq and what amounts to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. And while I think our involvement in that skirmish is misguided to say the least (for this space is on record as being vehemently against the Saudis in every way, shape or form and cannot believe to this day they don’t get more shit for 9/11, but okay, I guess oil is important and I’ll shut up about our hypocrisy in the Middle East, blah blah blah) it has drained Iran of its resources for war and terror.

There is also a real sense now that unless a deal can be worked out, there will be a proxy or outright war with Iran this country does not need, support for Israel or not. It is a war that cannot be won and one we cannot afford, and that, by the way, an overwhelming number of Americans oppose. Aside from tough-talking hawks who NEVER and I mean NEVER send their kids to war, this is a solution that is doomed to fail and because of that it is complete a deal or it is war, and that is it.

Sure, there could be war anyway, say if the Iranians do what Saddam Hussein did for decades and just pussy-foot around with weapons inspectors, but hey, we now know that Hussein was bluffing. Why? To keep the Iranians out of Iraq. Why do you think we propped his sorry ass up there in the first place? The vacuum created by Dick Cheney’s folly has given Iran full reign to their borders and for this they cannot be blamed. However, that is merely the threat of war, wherein without a deal war is imminent. Unless we are not entirely honest about preventing Iran to get a nuclear weapon, which in that case is another discussion.

This brings me to the childish notion that an imperfect deal means no deal. The very concept of a deal means both parties have to leave the table unsatisfied. Every deal known to civilization carries with it this caveat. The last time we screwed around demanding the perfect deal with Iran it went ahead and expanded its capabilities for nuclear weaponry by hundreds of centrifuges.

And finally it is nutso to claim that perhaps years from now a deal may come back and haunt us and so on and so on. Really? Neo-cons are making this argument? Haven’t we placated every nation in the Middle East over the decades for immediate gain, ignoring the long term ramifications, like Afghanistan to stop the Soviets and Iraq to stop the Iranians and please don’t make me name all these, you know what I’m talking about. It is the most specious of arguments against a deal. No deal is permanent and situations change with the times, but trust me the time for a deal has come.

What also makes the timing for the finalizing of a deal with Iran is the bitch-slap the U.S Navy just delivered on its wayward fleet this week. It is always easy for bullies to talk tough, until there is an actual showdown, and in many ways that is what happened in the Arabian Sea this week. Iran not only blinked, it closed its eyes and went home humbled. This is all you need to know about what Iran is willing to endure on the world stage. It is no longer speculation. It is a nation in dire need to make a deal and it is in the best interest of the region that one is struck immediately.

There will never be a better time to get Iran to capitulate.

Make all your lesser points for and against a deal with Iran. Go ahead. I am sure they are all salient. Here is mine, and it will not change; we must not be in any position to have to back up international diplomacy with the threat of war again for at least a generation, if ever. Least of all there should be no consideration to perpetuating such madness in the same region we just screwed up so severely it may take half a century to quell, if at all.

We have to stop thinking we hold all the cards all the time. We don’t Not here. Not now. If anything, we should be damned grateful Iran is on the ball of its economic and war-torn ass. Yes, we must be the more gracious of the two nations. Yes, we have to trust-and-verify. And yes, we have to avoid anymore wars.

We make this deal.

Now.

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MADAM SHOO-IN PART II

Aquarian Weekly
4/22/15
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MADAM SHOO-IN PART II
Ms. Rodham’s Déjà vu Trail Begins Again

Okay, here’s the deal: Unless she murders someone or is murdered or convicted of an actual crime, or if someone finds the elusive “live girl/dead boy” in her possession, I write about Hillary Clinton once this year.

clinton2

This even seems beyond silly now, some five-hundred and some odd days from November, 2016 and a half year before primary season. Granted, this is Hillary we’re talking about; the original Madam Shoo-In, who unlike her male counterpart, George W. Bush (Captain Shoo-In) was not so much a shoo-in. Yet, she is preternaturally compelling; a weird combination of sort of beloved and very much hated. She is the New York Yankees meets Madonna; something far bigger than the actual thing she is supposed to be.

Let’s say for the sake of argument Jesus Christ came back this week. I would have to comment on this, no? And this is not to say I am comparing the possible return of God to judge the heaven and the earth to a Democratic candidate for president of the United States, but absent something that outlandish this is the political equivalent of a Second Coming. People assumed it, had faith in its coming, and now that it has come, you kind of have to observe it as sort of news.

Look, it’s news. Her husband was a two-term president, who for one reason or the other presided over the greatest peace-time economy in the history of this republic and in the grand scheme of things was arguably the finest president of the latter half of the 20th century because of it. If you are going to be fair, which politics is not, but come on; no wars, surplus, booming economy, and the aforementioned Yankees winning the World Series every year of his second term save one. Those were high times. Plus, Big Bill was entertaining. He was impeached. It was Camelot for bankers, lawyers and journalists; a Warren Zevon song come to life.

So, there’s that.

Plus, Hillary Clinton was in this same boat eight years ago and was ousted by the most unlikely candidate possible. I think even those who think Barack Obama is Satan agrees with that one. Before the autumn of 2008 the idea that anyone other than a white, male, Anglo-Saxon (probably Southern) protestant would be president was goofy. Shit, the only candidate who wasn’t all of these things (he was most of them) was John Fitzgerald Kennedy and he cheated, and then they blew his head off.

So, there’s that.

Then there is the fear factor. The Clinton Machine is no myth. It is real and it is humming again and that is cause for alarm and excitement. Don’t think Ms. Rodham strikes terror in all those who do not support her? Why do you think we were straddled with Sarah Palin? McCain and his people knew she was a moron, but they gambled on how much Clinton’s spurned legion would bring to their cause. Why do you think Obama made her Secretary of State? To keep her from mischief making on the sidelines. Why do you think FOX NEWS has already gone 24/7 nuclear on her? When MSNBC thought Chris Christie had a prayer they turned their network into Bash-Christie-All-The-Time. Ted Cruz ain’t getting that kind of wincing respect. Trust me.

AND finally, and even more implausibly, she’s a woman! A woman right now as I write this that has about as clear a path to victory this early than anyone I could recall who wasn’t already president. If they held the election, say, tomorrow or in a month or even at the end of this year, Ms. Rodham would win the damn thing by a fairly sizable margin. This is all hypothetical poll crap, but none of these hypothetical polls are reasonably close. She has 86 percent of her party wrapped up, leads the closest breathing Republican (Scott Walker – and he hasn’t even declared his candidacy yet) by double-digits, and the rest of the field by the kind of spreads that approach Putin-levels.

So, there’s definitely that.

What I am saying is I’m giving myself a pass on making mention that this past week Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her intentions of running for president AGAIN. But I’ll do this once and then let this thing ruminate for about a year. That’s all I have in me. And I am certainly not going to waste my time on people who barely poll at all like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or that guy from Florida, who said something last week about being bursting with new millennium ideas and then supports the 60 year-old Cuban embargo. It’s Hillary and then back to real news.

Hell, if I am completely honest I have to admit that I’ve written probably the meanest, most spiteful columns in my nearly twenty years doing this about Ms. Rodham. I would say pound-for-pound that putting aside my irresponsibly vicious stomping of the deceased Ted Kennedy and maybe my stomach-turning eulogies of Gerald Ford and Jerry Falwell, my pieces on Clinton’s last run is as bad as it gets around here. That is until Dick Cheney kicks it. Then you’ll see a horror show.

Today, even I have a hard time digesting NEW HAMPSHIRE: SAME OLD SONG & DANCE – 1/16/08, THE EMPEROR’S NEW FACTORY GIRL – 3/12/08, THE PARTY VS. THE MACHINE – 4/9/08, LET’S MAKE A DEAL – 5/14/08, and BYE, BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE – 6/11/08 – all of which include a fine sense of political reporting, but reek of bestial rage.

But if the opening days of this run is any indication she is the story here. Period. Not who wins, but if she loses. Think I overstate this? Check out the media obsession with her fast food lunch choices or where her van is heading next or listen to the torrent of attacks being heaved at her from desperate Republicans candidates – even some not who have yet to declared candidacy like our Chris Christie, (seven out of ten of us Jersey-ites thinks he sucks ass).

She is the New York Yankees meets Madonna; something far bigger than the actual thing she is supposed to be.

In many ways, this is a story about a story. This is not about Hillary Clinton at all. It is about Madam Shoo-In. She is no mere candidate, but an American monolith, a pant-suit gargoyle that reminds us that our choices are few and they come with fangs. Maybe another Bush should oppose her, turn this thing into a dung-fueled dynasty run.

Oh, and by the way, it is important to note, that while the Middle East continues to go wacky, there is no longer a non neo-con in this race. Even Rand Paul has given up the Libertarian charade. There will be war and it will include Americans dying after 2016. Make no mistake, Clinton is an interventionist and so is every Republican running for president. Not sure who will handle the ACA or the deficit or Wall Street or climate change or religious freedom, but mark this down, there will be war; Democrat or Republican.

Okay, I made it.

I’ll see Hillary next year.

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DAN BERN – TRANSITIONS

Aquarian Weekly
4/20/15

BUZZ Feature

James Campion


DAN BERN – TRANSITIONS
New Record Hoody and Tour Marks Uncharted Territory for Singer-Songwriter

It was winter and it was late and Dan Bern was on the phone, calling from somewhere south of El Paso, Texas in his van heading to another gig. This one would be about 400 miles away. He had a few boxes of his new CD, Hoody bounding around in the back and a new Bluetooth unit installed in the old girl, and I am sure there was some coffee involved. He was in the mood to talk.hoody

These late-night chats are nothing new for us. Sometimes they come earlier. Sometimes we’re actually in the same vicinity, the same city, and even amazingly in the same room, but it’s the late-night ones from the road where he gets contemplative and digs deep into his songwriting and his plans and shares tales from these never-ending tours, blessedly separated by occasional spurts at home with the family.

We talked about the new record and his upcoming shows this spring – one of which will take place in NYC on April 23 at the Highline Ballroom.

Here’s part of it…

jc: Hoody features a mature, established style of writing. The vocals are really polished and it seems like a new step for you. I know that you don’t necessarily write for a record, you pick the songs you like the best. But was there a specific idea of what kind of songs you felt worked best with this collection?

Dan Bern: Well they were just kind of the new batch and because of that it felt pretty much of a piece. The previous one took such a long time, Drifter, and I felt when I made it or when I released it, it almost felt, and this has happened before, like I’m already kind of past it. It’s the byproduct of time, like the stars where you see the light later, you know?  By the time it’s out I’m already on to something else. With this one, because we were all able to get in there and basically play at the same time, it still took a long time to finish it, with people going away and people disbursing, trying to get this guy or that guy to complete something, but it was the current crop and it felt like there was some excitement with these songs and with this group of people playing it.

jc: Did you record it live? . 

DB:  Yes, there’s this little studio here where we all live in Echo Park called Pehrspace.  It’s nothing special at all. They do punk shows there after hours; a very cement kind of building, sort of industrial, which I like. I’ve always liked places like that. It was big enough that we could all set up and play at the same time, so I think every vocal of mine was cut live with the band. I may have tried a couple again, but I was like, “I am not going too better ones than those.” I was singing while we were all playing, just kind of locked in.

jc:  Have you ever done it like that before?

DB:  Yeah, I’ve probably done that before. I remember when I was doing the Breathe record, it was the same thing. I was very confident that there was no way that I was going to beat those vocals that I had sung when the thing was being played and I never really could. Anyway, on this one it all pretty much tumbled out. I think Greg Prestopino did a great job, taking what we did and mixing it, putting a touch here and there. I have known Greg forever but we never really worked together and it was a very interesting collaboration. I think we got it as good we were going to get it.

jc: Who are the musicians on Hoody?

DB:  The core of it was Common Rotation, but it’s changed a lot since we did Drifter, for one thing Adam Busch was always like the utility man. He played a little of this, a little that kind of thing. For a lot of this stuff he moved over to the drums, which he had never done with us. I’ve been doing these shows with just me and him and that seemed to work with these songs. Jon Flaugher is a phenomenal bass player. We had two other drummers that were there on different days, Tripp Beam and George Sluppick, who are both top notch drummers.

jc: Do I hear lap steel and that kind of stuff going on in this record? I also hear banjo and I assumed that was Jordan Katz.

Dan:  Yeah, and that’s Eric Kufs that you hear on steel guitar. The real great electric guitar playing is Eben Grace, who has been playing with me since way back in the IJBC days. He’s always been my favorite guitar player.

This stuff is now not the stuff I’m working on to try to complete, it’s like for better or worse, whatever anybody might think about it, it sort of has a string around it right now. Now I’m trying to synthesize some of these songs into a bigger batch of songs that can rub against other things.

jc:  Let’s get back to the actual structure and the writing of the record. When you completed Drifter you said that you felt as though you were putting a lid on the early Dan Bern character, so would you say that this is the first record where, if there’s such a thing as the Dan Bern character from the first eight, nine albums, he’s absent? And if so, did you approach the writing to put that part of your career to bed?

DB:  It kind of feels like a further progression from where we were at Drifter, the logical next step. We’re better as a band. I am trying to become better as a performer and more aware of the audience and connecting better. I mean, just musically my thing has always been tied to old folk and blues, tied to country and British invasion rock n’ roll. Those are my things. I always had a foot in some of that, but after this record it feels like it’s really pretty synthesized, it’s all kind of come together.

jc:  Can you expound on your feelings about your professional and personal transitions that you have gone through and how they’ve informed your work over the years? For instance, can you specifically listen to a record like New American Language or the first record or Drifter and say, “I know where my head space was at then” and how each have been signposts for your career?

DB:  For sure, it’s going to be different for somebody else than how it is for me. It’s my diary, really. For anybody else it’s what they make of it. For me, yeah, they’re little sign posts. It’s funny, I’ve been playing these songs for some time now and now that the record’s out it’s already shifted for me a little bit. This stuff is now not the stuff I’m working on to try to complete, it’s like for better or worse, whatever anybody might think about it, it sort of has a string around it right now. Now I’m trying to synthesize some of these songs into a bigger batch of songs that can rub against other things.

jc: The songs on Hoody are almost all less than three minutes. There are no sweeping ten-verse epics on here, or anything deeply political. A lot of the songs are so meticulously structured you can almost say they are pop-style songs. Was that something that you specifically paid attention to, were you like, “Okay, I am going to try to write songs in quick two verses and get to the point?”   

DB:  It wasn’t intentional, but it was intentional in a way when I wrote them, I suppose. I was working a lot with a bunch of people and we were always trying to trim the fat – you don’t need a second verse, jump straight to the bridge – that kind of thing; just stream line. So that probably also spilled into the stuff I was writing.

jc: What is the main difference between singular and collaborative songwriting for you?

Well, it’s like the difference between doubles and singles in tennis; it sort of opens things up. There’s times when I’m paired with a real melodic guy…or girl, and they know chords I’ve never even heard. In that case, I might be the lyrics guy. And other times there’s somebody who’s a wordsmith and I become the music guy. And then sometimes you’re working line by line together, going chord for chord. It’s really fluid and different every time. You learn to be patient, wait for someone to come up with something that would be better than what I could have thought of. You’re using different muscles than you would by writing by yourself. It’s difficult to write by yourself all the time; nobody to run things by; but if there’s more than one other person involved, things could get derailed sometimes too.danbern-380

jc:  Does almost anything inspire you to write a song?

DB:  Last night I played this brand new theater in Cortez and I was supposed to go on at eight and it was seven-thirty and it suddenly dawned on me this is a nice occasion to have a new song and I should write one about the experience. So, instead of lamenting that I should have had a song prepared, I thought, well I have some time, so I wrote a song about it. I opened the set with it and it killed, it just set the tone. Then I recorded it for the local radio station. It’s nice when it works like that.

jc: Okay, so take me through the process; you’re sitting there you have a half hour to go before you’re going to do a show and then you decide you want to write this song. Do you start with a title or do you write about the theater, do you write about the experience, where do you go?

DB:  It’s all those things. They’re sort of bouncing around. The theater was called the Sunflower and I was the first one to play there and I just made a little joke, a reference to the sunflower being like a girl. And I started singing this thing, “I’m not yours, there will be others, that’s true, but sunflower, I was your first, that’s true too.”  So I was like, “Okay, I like that, let’s start with that.” I wrote a quick verse about just what the sky looked like coming into town, which worked with me being her first. Basically I’m popping her cherry. (laughs) But, it’s all sweet, you know?

jc: I really dug how you just whipped off a verse or two about my novel when I saw you at Mexicali Blues a few months back. I know you’re always reading something or commenting on pop culture, making references to TV and news and sports figures. In that case, are you always formulating songs?

DB: I guess I am; it could be a lot of different things, like you can reference the book or the work or you can reference a character or a place or a thing that’s in the book that sparks something. You can use a character for a model in your own verse. You can take one word and trip off that word and like twenty minutes later you have this whole other thing and then go back to the book again. I suppose people write haiku, short little poems or any sort of musical, literary forms, and you can make a quick sketch too, and you can also really work on a song or a piece of music, but at the same time this stuff is really mercurial. It’s like catching lightening in a bottle; the electrical impulses in our brain, you know? There’s electricity, they move at the speed of light, they move really fast and you can’t always know where these things come from. It’s like when you meet a lot of people in a short amount of time and you’re moving around too and then you’re trying to remember who said something. Maybe you’re at a convention or something and you just met a hundred people and then you try and remember a conversation you had, who it was with and what was said or what the context was. Who knows? But at that point, you’re going to use it for something.

You can use a character for a model in your own verse. You can take one word and trip off that word and like twenty minutes later you have this whole other thing and then go back to the book again. I suppose people write haiku, short little poems or any sort of musical, literary forms, and you can make a quick sketch too, and you can also really work on a song or a piece of music, but at the same time this stuff is really mercurial.

jc: So it ends up in your subconscious and you rummage through that when writing a song?

DB: Yeah, yeah, and you have the most control, more than anybody else, about what your feeding yourself; what your reading, what you’re watching, who you’re hanging out with, how much you stare at your phone versus looking at a tree.

jc: And of course over the past few years since having your daughter, Lulu, you have written and released a ton of children’s songs and you recently wrote the theme song for an animated series, Stinky & Dirty. So I assume having something that profound happen to you has influenced your writing greatly.

DB: It’s true. Recently I’ve begun to realize how insufficient this road thing, driving five, six hundred miles a day to a gig. And I feel like I have all these things – the baseball record and the Everett Ruess album, the kid’s stuff, Theme Park (monthly online show on stageit.com in which Bern plays themed song cycles) and my song workshops – so to drive all this way to play “Black Tornado”, “Hoody” and “Marilyn Monroe” and that’s it I feel like I’m leaving a lot on the table. So I was thinking maybe I could work something out with a local promoter or a theater and come and stay in a town for a long weekend and bring some band mates and Fridays stop at the school and play for the kids and Friday nights for the first half do the Everett Ruess show, then intermission, then do the baseball songs. Then on Saturday do another kid’s show and that evening do the big blowout, rock and roll show. On Sundays I could do a live Theme Park at a small venue and then a workshop. I can hit people on a lot of different levels.

jc: Like “Weekends with Bernstein”!    

DB: Yeah, you know, you could bring the kids like a carnival or a circus stop. I kind of feel like I’m short-changing my audience by being one-dimensional when I have all these other things to offer, you know? Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of driving around and that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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