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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NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING JOURNEY OF SONG

4/8/15

Aquarian Weekly 

Buzz Piece

 

NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING  JOURNEY OF SONG

 

By James Campion

For the past hour I have listened to Nick Howard tell his story, and it is whiz bang of a tale; coming to New York City as a cheeky 22 year-old musician from Brighton, England with literally nothing but a song and a dream. Settled in a back booth at Pete’s Tavern, the 32 year-old  /songwriter relives a decade filled with playing clubs and pick-up gigs here and there around town, waiting tables after long days in some dead-end office dirge, recalling his trips back across the pond to swing around Europe making a name for himself. Releasing EP’s and eventually three albums of original material ranging from folk to soft rock to stabs at pop, getting some of his songs on TV shows like Beverly Hills 90210, before an uber-weird turn of events in 2010 landed him on a German version of The Voice (to which he had six weeks to sort of kind of learn the language). And, don’t you know, he goes and wins the damn thing. It earns him a record deal and a car (which he sells to make another record), he blows up with a #1 single that he wrote about Hurricane Sandy called “Unbreakable”, and things start moving for him in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Then…well, he comes back here and goes back to opening for other acts.

Downtown2_30

“After winning The Voice, I felt a bit ridiculous,” quips Howard, fully embracing the bizarre details of his recent past. “You’re playing little clubs in downtown New York for like six years and then you’re suddenly making appearances in shopping malls and headlining a tour with all the other contestants. But I’ll tell you, I was playing to a couple hundred people a show before The Voice, and then over a thousand afterwards.”

He laughs at the memory, sipping tea in that disarmingly cordial, British kind of Paul McCartney way. But then he suddenly grows quiet. After a moment of contemplation, he says with some measure of seriousness, “I wouldn’t say this year is my last chance to make a mark in the U.S., but it’s definitely my best chance.” It is almost as if everything Howard has told me leads up to what he describes as the next crucial step to his incredible story; an upcoming American tour.

And maybe “almost” is understating it a little.

“Most people that have seen me play in the last year would have seen me play solo, so the biggest difference is I am going to have my band. I only have 25 to 30 minutes as an opener to showcase Nick Howard, and now I’ll have an hour. Hopefully those people that are coming have listened to my music and can connect with the songs. It’s definitely going to be another side of me in a more dynamic, musical experience. Now people are finally going to get to hear and see what I’m about.”

This is Nick Howard on the precipice of something big. All that stuff about sleeping on sofas and busing tables and winning German cars, all of it leads to this tour. It is the culmination of our blithely tossing around ten years of his life, learning to work as a composer and plying his trade with and without bands. It all comes down to April 9 when he will, of course, kick the whole thing off at the Rockwood Music Hall in his adopted town.

“The Rockwood is a critical songwriter spot,” Howard effuses, beginning to percolate with excitement over the prospect of kicking off the tour of his life in this little Lower East Side room of maybe 150 people; all eyes upon him, all of them knowing this is an audition of sorts, a precursor for what is to come; an auspicious milieu for someone clutching at the next rung of success.

“I look at the states like I looked at Europe in 2010, 2011,” says Howard. “For me, it’s a blank canvas and I want to build something the way I built it in Europe, pre-Voice, and that is this tour. It’s building blocks; maybe do some radio campaigning and all the rest of it, but for me its touring and live performing, that’s the biggest thing, because without the fans you really have nothing going on, you know? I don’t care who you are, if you don’t have fans you go away very, very quickly. Having toured with Eric (Hutchinson) and Tyrone (Wells) last year, tickets are selling pretty well. So we are off to a good start and it’s going to be about padding that.”

“I’m all about just going for it with love songs. Just tell it how it is.”

I decided to meet up with Howard after seeing his solo performance opening for the aforementioned pop songsmith, Eric Hutchinson last October at the Highline Ballroom. It was easy to hear right away how these infectious songs could be bound for bigger productions, as a more than distracting sign pronouncing NICK in lights hung above him. It was an interesting dichotomy of humble opening act trying to win hearts and minds playing his songs in the most direct way possible while unabashedly being heralded by this bombastic exclamation.

One particular number stood out, a shamelessly transparent love song with a rousing refrain called “Super Love” from his latest album, Living In Stereo. The room seemed to come alive when he hit the chorus and belted to the rafters as open an expression of raw emotion as one could hope to hear in those environs. But the crowd ate it up, proving that Howard is indeed beginning to reach his core audience; those who ignore the shackles of cool irony for the naked joy of song for song’s sake.

“The love song is the one thing that everyone in the world understands and you don’t even need to understand the language,” says Howard, proudly. “I was singing in European countries where people have broken English and they still know what I am singing about because love is beyond words. ‘Super Love’ is just that. It wrote itself. I wrote it with a friend of mine in L.A. (Justin Gray, whose resume includes working with Mariah Carey, John Legend, David Bisbal, Luis Fonsi, Joss Stone, and Amy Winehouse), and it didn’t take us very long. You just go for it, you write a love song. I am not one who is fazed by lyrics being cheesy. I don’t care about that.”

When pressed about toeing the invisible musical line of being openly expressive and professionally manipulative, Howard is defiant. “I mean the song is called ‘Super Love’,” he laughs. “I remember when we made it obvious that this song is not going to be like Megadeth, and I loved that and I embraced it. I think people want to hear that stuff. I’ve had people who have emailed me having heard that song and they have played it as their first dance at their wedding or walking down the aisle and that justifies it, ya know? If someone can’t express how they feel about someone, at least through a song they might be able to. I’m all about just going for it with love songs. Just tell it how it is.”

And telling it ‘how it is’ translates to how Howard prefers to connect to this growing audience.

“I like presenting my songs both ways,” he says, ordering up another tea. “I really like the intimacy of the solo show where you can talk about what you are singing about in the lyrics and you really have people’s attention, but I also love rocking out with a full band. You can do so many more things with a full band that you can’t do solo and vice versa, so I think a nice healthy balance of the two is the best and that’s kind of what I try to do.”

“I really like the intimacy of the solo show where you can talk about what you are singing about in the lyrics and you really have people’s attention, but I also love rocking out with a full band.

Howard gets fidgety when he talks about performing. It is painfully obvious this has been his sanctuary through good times and bad; the stage – his comfort zone, where he can do what he loves, what he has always loved, sharing his talents with people.

“I was really, really young when I got a video of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and I just watched it until the VHS ran out,” recalls Howard, as if it was happening for the first time. “It was the entertainment thing that really struck me, the effect you can have on other people just from singing and dancing. Then I started playing guitar at seven when I heard The Beatles and then when I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be in the UK when Brit Pop came about, Oasis and Blur, these great bands. That’s when I started writing and never stopped.”

NHPortrait_25

Howard embraces songwriting as much as the showmanship bug he encountered at age seven. He composes on guitar and what he derisively calls “songwriter piano”, and his methods vary from working off clever titles that pop into his head or the gathering of random melodies that he snatches from the either and blathers into a mobile recorder. He’s recently picked up the discipline of co-writing, which he admits allows him to get out of his head and share experiences that bring to light more universal themes.

“I find it easier if someone says, ‘Write a song about this today.’  Okay, so now I have something I have to focus on; it has to be about this subject,” explains Howard. “So I try and do that to myself sometimes. I’ll say, ‘Nick, write a song about this today.’ If I just sit there and try to see what the song is than that can work…but it can take a long time. You might spend two years writing a song to see what it’s about. I heard Chris Martin say he has no idea what ‘Yellow’ is about and it’s Coldplay’s biggest hit! Yet he has no idea what the meaning of it is. Sometimes songs are just a reflection of your subconscious or whatever it is.”

Howard’s anxious enthusiasm to bust out in the U.S. is amplified by the fact that he is an independent artist, as are so many of the new and quite frankly established ones nowadays; the record label route becoming less and less an imperative and more and more hampering. “I went through a year on a big label and I played maybe 150 concerts and they didn’t come to one of them,” he sighs. “How can you sell a product that you have never seen?”

And there is the always-enticing creative control allowed by technology and democratized distribution channels. “I think if you can create something by yourself you are in such a better space than just signing to a major label, then it’s always yours,” Howard says with vigor. “With a major label, you’re giving away a lot for a small chance at success. At that point it doesn’t really belong to you anyway. If I want to go play a show tomorrow in Germany, then I can book that in a second. If I want to record a song on ITunes, I can do that in a day. The goal for me for so long was to get on a label, on Sony or Warner. I got there and I was like; ‘Are you listening to me?’ They didn’t even know me.”

Howard has since incorporated (Satellite Music) and runs his own label, which he describes as fully functional, from hiring studio musicians, choosing touring bands, public relations, you name it. And it all culminates – performance, business and music – on his first U.S. headlining tour.

For all intents and purposes these career-defining concerts will feature music from 2014’s Living In Stereo, by his own admission his first collection of pure pop songs that range from hummable ditties, go-for-it ballads, and genre-shifting dancables, all of it acting as a playground for his impeccably emotive vocals. Although deep down Howard considers himself a singer/songwriter in the traditional sense, and his previous work reflects this, the new material is a concerted effort to combine his love of performance with the music. “I was actually thinking about the live show when I wrote and recorded these songs,” he says. “I was trying to make an album that can be a show.”

This makes sense, since Living In Stereo unfurls as if a Nick Howard concert libretto, moving listeners around his many affections for different genres, from his obvious comfortable zone in the romantic ballad “No Ordinary Angel”, the new single, to the upbeat showstopper “Dancing As One” or the playful, “Life Is Great (& I Love Everyone)”and the oddly funk-laden “Laser Beam”, and the aforementioned crowd-boosting “Super Love”.  It also effectively reveals Howard’s penchant to take somber themes with stinging lyrics and place them in a toe-tapping whistler like “You Can’t Break A Broken Heart”.

“I like writing like that because I always think that songwriting is often trying to make something good out of something bad; trying to turn a bad situation into something good,” says Howard. “I think by doing that you can actually deal with something easier by putting a positive spin or flair. So yeah, ‘Can’t Be Friends’ is about having to un-friend your ex on Facebook and stop them from stalking, but it’s got this fun little cowboy, Nashville thing going on behind it. It’s so silly that you kind of have to address that with music. So it’s got this sort of whistling melody in it, which again is a sad idea that your heart’s broken, but by putting a little whistle in there and just making it kind of funny it makes the whole idea of it easier to deal with. I think that is what song writing is, therapy.  So you can achieve the role of therapy with music, even if the lyrics are really dark.”

Howard gives you the whole package, musically and lyrically. Watching him play his unapologetically effusive songs, it’s obvious he cannot hold back, and his appreciation for what the audience expects from him, his relentless pursuit of song as a connecting lifeline between artist and listener, is palpable in the performance. The release of Live in Stereo, a strong representation of his recent European swing, is a fine example of what you can expect when you see him play. Less live album than celebration of fan and performer, it underlines a man and his music perfectly.

But trust me, if you catch Nick Howard on this tour, and you surely should, leave the ironic cool at home and bring the whistling, sing-song, silly part of yourself and just let it go.

After all, this is how he’s completed the journey from that 22 year-old wide-eyed dreamer to the cusp of international stardom; one song at a time.

 

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INDIANA DREAMIN’‏

Aquarian Weekly
4/8/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

INDIANA DREAMIN’
Theocracy Hoosier Style Goes Belly Up

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
– Matthew 16:6

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the freedom to “hate” and the monumental difference between some college dink singing racist songs and the institutionalization of discrimination. And there could be no better example of the latter than what went down this week in Indiana with its fancy “religious freedom” law.Religious-Freedom-Law

What we are talking about here is the state protecting the right for any business to deny service to a certain segment of people based on religious beliefs without the threat of being sued. Seeing how most of America, specifically a significant portion of the business community, including large corporations like Wal-Mart, along with the political and media contingent, has gone ballistic over this goofy thing, we have to try to see the point, before carrying on our own fun-sized bashing.

Those who drafted and signed it into law, most notably Republican Governor Michael Spence, argue that it is patently unconstitutional for anyone to be forced to serve someone if their customer’s lifestyle is antithetical to their religious belief. And while religion has no bearing on the business world – some purported founders like, say, Jesus or Mohammad might argue the entire fiduciary concept is antithetical to religion itself, but let’s not approach that easy conclusion – it does prevent frivolous lawsuits from mucking up the court.

Sure, who wants the right to fight discrimination in court?

The other argument for the law is that it is religious freedom that is being discriminated against. Shouldn’t people be able to do anything they want based on their religious beliefs, including ignoring civil right laws?

Nope.

That kind of nonsense is called theology, or to use the Islamic term, Sharia Law. This is just the Christian version.

This is no law that protects religious freedom. It is a cleverly spiteful rejection of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality that is being fought vehemently by atavistic bigots all over this great nation. And yes, if you think another taxpaying citizen does not deserve the same right as you based on the difference in their skin color, gender, sexual orientation or whatever, you are indeed a bigot. It’s fine, live with it. I too am a proud bigot. I think people who base legal precedent on religious beliefs are idiots and should get over themselves and their half-baked illusions and stop pestering the intellectual and cultural evolution of the rest of us.

Feels good to admit it. Embrace your bigotry.

However, take that bigotry and make it law, we’ve got problems.

Fun pertinent fact: Indiana is the birthplace of the Klu Klux Klan, but I digress

First of all, religious freedom is already protected by the First Amendment. It is clear and no one has ever argued this. When marriage equality is the law of the land, and it will be, so please stop being the horse-and-buggy set trying to stop the advent of the automobile, no church, synagogue, mosque or Scientology hall will be expected to, or more to the point, be forced to conduct gay ceremonies.

The government or the shift in cultural winds can and will never intersect with religion. That is sacrosanct and it should be. Since embracing the beauty and majesty of the Rastafari, I am glad local officials are allowing me to smoke my faith’s requisite copious amounts of ganja unimpeded.

The previous notion of fantasy was brought to you by hypocritical discrimination against certain religions that don’t fit in with the fascist evangelical narrative. We now return to our screed already in progress

Let me be clear, even though I think religion is an insipid and dangerous tool of the oppressed, I am not mocking its use. Feel free to be a snake charmer for all I care. It’s just that when you speak in theological terms it is impossible to balance the morality of your customers. You see, if you are truly a Christian insulted and disgusted by the homosexual lifestyle and you feel it condemned by your God, then you must also be careful not to do business with anyone who is divorced or has coveted anything at anytime in their lives or failed to honor their parents or killed anyone, and by the way, good luck with that. We have all killed; you and me. We give money to the government and that government drops bombs on people, thus according to scripture and the Ten Commandments, we are murders, period. You want to be true to the letter of the almighty God? Face it, our bigotry is the least of our issues.

What I have described above is cultish behavior. America is not a cult. It is a republic based on laws, one of those very important laws defends your right to believe and worship to your heart’s content, but it is not an easy-pass to heap those beliefs on the rest of us and it sure as hell doesn’t provide the avenue to make a law that enforces an individual’s religious belief over another’s civil right. That is what political scientists call coo-coo.

Also, do we now have to pass a litmus test to see if someone will take our money? This is where we’re going? If I gamble, I can’t get a milkshake? What about my choice of hair style or code of dress or if my type of music is questionable? And, by the way, who decides this? God?

Which God?

And once you pick the God, I assume it will undoubtedly be the Christian God, which is a Trinity God and is adhered to the existence and teachings of Jesus Christ, who said, and I paraphrase, to not judge lest you be judged and who was absolutely without question an anti-religious revolutionary who surrounded himself with “sinners” and pissed on the Temple and its leaders with unflinching glee. That God? Yeah, okay. Nice try.

That kind of nonsense is called theology, or to use the Islamic term, Sharia Law. This is just the Christian version.

But, alas, stupidity has its advantages. This thing was so off-the-charts dumb it has scared the shit out of people who couldn’t care any less if gays marry or not, but are not so sure they want some religious nut-job deciding whether they can get a cup of coffee.

There is a pretty good chance that Indiana will be this generation’s Stonewall. It could and should place the final rung on the ladder to marriage equality and eradicate once and for all this latest in a long line of discriminatory laws and battles to keep our citizens from equal rights.

Go Hoosiers!

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MIDDLE EAST BLOOD JUGGLE

Aquarian Weekly
4/1/15

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

MIDDLE EAST BLOOD JUGGLE
or How To Hold Onto A Fistful of Rain & Not Have Too Many People Killed

Now that the bloody coup in Yemen has finally transpired and anarchy is the rule of the day, things have become extremely grim to the greater hopes this country harbors for a manageable Middle East. This has been our red herring since before World War II. It is our addiction; the junky U.S. Hell, this finger-in-the-dam illusion had its moments, but it also has an expiration date, and it has come due. blood_juggle2

Untenable is a kind word to describe our current events there, another more accurate has a military slant, FUBAR. And while the United States, in all its completely delusional might, believes it has a hand in this – beyond the hand that helped usher this inevitable madness along – there is little that can be done beyond containment. And the containment option did not work well for the British or any previous empire, so good luck with that.

Yemen certainly complicates things on the Iranian front. All this talk about Benjamin Netanyahu’s grandstand in front of congress a couple of weeks ago and his shameless flip-flop-a-go-go re-election being some kind of influence on all this is laughable. The United States is influenced by Israel the way a jackhammer is curtailed by the sidewalk. Israel is America’s bitch. It will do what we tell it and shut up when it needs to shut up. If this was up for debate then the U.S. would have let Israel retaliate during the first Gulf War instead of sucking it up. Israel exists to put fear into OPEC, nothing more. Netanyahu may be fooled by his influence, but we should not be.

No, Iran wants chaos in Yemen and the U.S. does not, or let me rephrase that, Saudi Arabia does not. And while there are strong indications that at least something can be resolved in slowing down its proposed nuclear ambitions through a multi-nation deal and its role in fighting the suddenly uber-important spread of ISIS, Iran cannot be allowed to mess with the Saudis. The U.S. is Saudi Arabia’s bitch and therefore we must put our cards in another cultural civil war that no one will win, but we will somehow be responsible to clean up.

Before we continue our review of FUBAR 2015, let’s get a few things straight: Every time the United States has conducted any military operation in the Middle East it ends in disaster, including the first Gulf War that appeared gangbusters until it lead to the emboldening of Saddam Hussein and its left-overs convincing congress to invade the nation and turn it into a tinderbox. Not to mention that we suck at war now. It is so bad that no one, not even the hawks in Washington, take this option seriously anymore. I have heard moans and laughter at events connected to early presidential campaign stops by Scott Walker and Ted Cruz when they start talking about military solutions in Iraq or Iran. No one with half a brain thinks the U.S Army can do anything but further inflame the Middle East, so believe me when I tell you that anyone who makes this point in congress or running for president is patently insane and should be shunned and humiliated.

This mess in Yemen also uncovers another marching line in our parade of delusions, Syria. The gory quagmire that is left of this country has been yanked into the ruin of Iraq and the Iranian issue due to the fact that since ISIS has become the enemy du jour both the Syrian regime headed by President Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. has called a tyrant and worked with the Russians to curtail his use of chemical weapons on his citizens, has been an invaluable ally, along with, you guessed it; Iran. The Russians, embroiled in its own international quagmire in the Ukraine, has stood with the U.S on both fronts; supporting Syria’s fight against the push of ISIS and putting the screws to Iran over its nuclear program.

By the way, Russia scares the shit out of Netanyahu, and it should. One of the reasons, among many self-serving and some arguable, that he has gone ballistic to scuttle any deal with Iran. Something the IDF will not admit, but knows could be a problem, is Russia’s meddling in the Middle East, since OPEC has imploded its paper thin, oil-based economy in the last four months. Suddenly the pivot for Russian President Vladimir Putin to arms deals and ISIS killing could be a tricky problem for Israel, who spends all of its defense policy propaganda on Arabs.

Here’s a fun kicker; as recently as this week Iran, in a Netanyahu/Putin type photo-op maneuver to try and not seem too cushy with the U.S. and appear to not sell-out its country’s myopia decided to cease the defense of Iraq’ city of Tikrit against ISIS in protest to the United States’ continuing bombing campaigns there. This proves that once again while the military might of the U.S. resonates with the UN and the “we have to do something” crowd, it only mucks up the works.

This brings us to the final bit of juggling, and that is something we have covered here for sometime; the Sunni versus Shiite undercurrent, which is not so much an undercurrent as the primary reason for these weird alliances and bizarre massacres. There is and will be nothing 21st century diplomacy or military action can do to put a fancy ribbon on this nightmare. It ends in annihilation. And while it seems defeatist and nihilistic to suggest such a thing, it really makes no sense to try and put the proverbial square peg into the round hole either. No amount of money, negotiations, fast talk or tough talk or more to the point bombing or dead Americans is going to change this fact. It is the worst of civil wars, a religious/cultural one. And to be involved, which we definitely are, folks, whoever is president or controls congress or what year it is or who stands on what side of the ideological fence, will lead to bloody ruin.

Untenable is a kind word to describe our current events there, another more accurate has a military slant, FUBAR.

However, I think it is important for the smaller voices – mine being one of them – to at least point out the futility of trying to get this thing under some semblance of control. It was that kind of hubris that pretty much put this stuff in motion. Whether it’s the Shah of Iran creating the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or the bolstering of Saddam Hussein to combat Khomeini or the ousting of Hussein to protect OPEC or the Mujahideen to combat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or the second Iraq war to combat Hussein or whatever it is you call what is going on now, it is not a means to a positive end. Never has been, so what should make a difference now?

Okay, so maybe you say at the end of this, what is the United States supposed to do, nothing?

I ask: Has the United States tried doing nothing before?

If nothing is the alternative to our fingerprints being all over this horror show, I say, yes, nothing.

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