FINAL OBSERVATIONS – ONE WEEK OUT

Aquarian Weekly
10/29/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

FINAL OBSERVATIONS – ONE WEEK OUT
A Caffeinated Political Notebook

If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.
– Mark Twain

Ah, Samuel Clemens; a man for all seasons. But this is his season, isn’t it? Autumn. This is when America hums. Football. Elections. Halloween. Beer tastes better. Women feel warmer. Sweaters. Wood burning. Ebola. Good times.

I was going to write about the passing of Ben Bradlee this past week Only fitting. This is a man who helped orchestrate the cynical age in which I was reared; all that fear and dubious turns of authority, the unmasking of trite myths like “leaders have all the answers, just shush, take your medicine and let us run things” mentality that was flushed down the shit tubes by the mid-Seventies when on any given day there was a hijacking or bombing or half-assed attempt on the life of a ranking official. My childhood come to life.

Do you realize that in 1973, when I was ten years-old and beginning to become aware of current events – having just endured a summer of constant coverage of the president of the United States being accused of overt criminal activities – there were 24 terrorist bombings in the United States. The next year, 45, and in 1975, 89. The newspapers were filled with the horrible results of the Church Committee hearings in which the Central Intelligence Agency finally fessed up to decades of assignations, coup de tats and secret wars to cause unrest in nations all over the globe and the place despots in charge of third-world counties to keep the price of bananas down.

This was the shit-storm of my political awakening; when Ben Bradlee’s post as Executive Editor of the Washington Post decided, along with the NY Times, to print the lies of the Pentagon for over a decade of shenanigans in Viet Nam that eventually cost almost 60 thousand American lives and $140 billion (worth about $950 billion now) of our tax dollars. His defense of Woodward and Bernstein’s brave reporting took down a president and blah, blah, blah. Bradlee was my hero because he had no inner editor. He blurted stuff out no sane man ever would, whether drunk or sober, and he never apologized for it. He called the attorney general of the United States a “fuck-head” over the phone and once at a Georgetown mixer made Patrick Moynihan cry. His kind would be lost today, and so that’s all I have to say about that.

What I came to write about is what everyone that visits this space wants to read and that’s my overall observations on last week’s gubernatorial debate between a Libertarian candidate, a Green Party one, the sitting governor Andrew Cuomo and my friend, Republican challenger, Rob Astorino.New York gubernatorial Republican candidate Astorino and New York Governor and Democratic candidate Cuomo during a debate at WNED studios in Buffalo

I was proud of Rob. He stood his ground and hit Cuomo hard. For Cuomo’s part I think he held his own. As objective as I can be; I think Cuomo did enough to stem the tide. I don’t think by any measure it was neither a strong showing nor a disastrous one. I will say this; it is still a long shot that my friend will win this election, but I am fairly certain after witnessing that performance that Cuomo is a piker. His smoldering angst and monosyllabic back-and-forth will doom him nationally. He speaks as if he were scalping Metallica tickets in an alley. He is anything but big time and certainly no Chris Christie, who if properly coached in the aesthetic of the campaign trail, could end up being a dangerous man. Cuomo is uncoachable. He even blew the lines he was no doubt repeatedly prompted to deliver. He should be grateful for his last name and the legacy he piggybacked. Running New York State is as far as he goes.

I think Rob can still go places. He is not going to get skunked here. This was his Plan B – either win, great, or get pummeled and finish out his term as Country Executive and then back into broadcasting, to which he is best suited – his ability to communicate has always been brilliant – or hold his own and perhaps run for congress someday. The latter is apparently going to happen. For this is a campaign that has gotten no help from that stammering weasel, Reince Priebus or the gutless national wing of the Republican Party, and not one endorsement or appearance by the neighboring GOP governor.

Sources tell me that a deal was brokered between Christie and Cuomo, since the NY Democratic governor has curiously not joined the dog-pile on the Washington Bridge controversy in exchange for Christie staying out of New York politics. Not saying this type of buddy-system is wrong, just saying.

And with all of that ill wind blowing in his face, Astorino is not going to get his ass kicked and might still pull out an 11th hour coup, ala George Pataki. Some of Pataki’s 1994 people have hinted as much on numerous occasions. This is Rob’s best hope, which is at least doable.

Having said that, the only minor observations I have about the national scene this mid-term season is that the Democrats are going to lose the Senate, effectively putting the kibosh on whatever lame duck meandering is left of the Obama presidency, which will predictably lead to an executive order surrounding some kind of amnesty for illegal aliens. The results of this will be fought in 2016, if anyone has the balls to kick at that hornet’s nest.

Not saying Republicans deserve this windfall, anymore than they did in ’94 or 2010, as did Democrats in ’96 or 2006. This is the pendulum swing; the plodding exercise for “the new guy”, which perplexed the great Mark Twain over a century ago and still bends my mind today. The GOP will almost certainly give back the Senate in 2016, as Democrats tends to only vote in presidential elections and Madam Shoo-In will ride high on whatever nonsense this new legislative branch rears on the republic over the next two years.

I wish my friend all the luck in the world, if he happens to pull off this unlikely upset. I’ll be there in the scrum of his Election Night gathering; lucky hat and all. Hey, I know little to nothing about New York politics anymore. I did my time in that godforsaken state. I have my problems here with whatever anguished dink keeps calling my phone for some insipid town hall meeting that mucks up the phone lines so my bookie can’t get through and I am unable to call the cops on the babbling drunks across the lake.

‘Tis the season.

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ROB ASTORINO UNPLUGGED

Aquarian Weekly
10/15/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

ROB ASTORINO UNPLUGGED
A Candid Discussion with the Republican Candidate for Governor of New York

Anyone who has read this space over the years knows about my friendship with gubernatorial candidate for New York, Rob Astorino. We were professional colleagues for 12 years and our families have been close for 25. I have written extensively here about his two successful runs for Westchester County Executive in 2009 and last year. I covered the accepting of his party’s nomination for the governorship this past spring and thought it fitting to donate two weeks of columns to our recent discussion of inside politics on the campaign trail.

jc: Ok, first thing I have to ask you, as a friend, how’s it going, how are you feeling, what’s this like? What’s your mood?

RA: Going well, I mean it’s a lot of travel. It’s a big state, sixty-two counties. There’s not always an easy way to get from here to there. So, we’re driving a lot. Sometimes when we’re lucky we have a couple of people with planes and they’ll take us around. It’s just a long campaign, but it’s going well. The seeds are growing quickly. We planted a lot of seeds in the summer and they are all starting to sprout now. This is where it has to happen, down the home stretch. The Rasmussen poll has it down to 49-33, but when you look into it, those that are certain to vote is 47-37. So this is when it’s really happening, people are paying attention.

jc: What are the seeds that you planted in the summer?

RA: Meeting with all these different citizen groups around the state; “Second Amendment rights” groups, anti-Common Core, going to African American and Hispanic neighborhoods, just being everywhere – talking to people and garnering support and grass roots. Now the effort’s to get it all put together so we lead into the final days and the polls on Election Day. It all comes down to that. Polls don’t matter at all. Every poll is just a quick snapshot of who they poll on a sample, the turn-out model. All of that varies tremendously.astorino

jc Right, you have to convince people you have a shot. That’s what keeps people away from the voting booth; they see these polls and they say; “He has no chance. I’m not going to get up on a rainy day.”

RA: I know, and it’s a little frustrating, because you talk about the vast majority of people, including all the press, which have no clue how to read a poll. We know, and we’ve known from day one that there are a lot of cracks in the armor and it’s all coming to a head now. In the primary, forty-percent voted against their city governor, which is unheard of. Cuomo’s opponent, Zephyr Teachout won thirty-one counties. So it just shows that there is no big base support for Cuomo. He has problems on his Left, he has problems on his Right. He hasn’t fixed this state, which is where he is going to lose the middle. The turnout is going to be critical. A lighter turnout in New York City and a heavier turnout upstate and we’re going to be in a great position to win. That’s what we expect.

jc: Your number-one issue is still the taxes and the highest taxed state and all that stuff. Do you find when you are out on the trail, that’s the thing that comes back to you or is it the Second Amendment thing (NY Safe Act) or Common Core?

RA: Overall the taxes and the economy everywhere we go. Second Amendment issues are the biggest upstate. Common Core is a threat out here all over. For Long Island, it’s energy costs and taxes. So it’s all economics, there’s no question. This is coming down to the state of our state. They look at Cuomo, who has had four years, made a lot of promises, and didn’t come through. I mean, we’re no better than we were four years ago.

jc: You’re from Westchester and you were able to win in a very blue area. Now you have to go upstate where the big Republican support frames you as more New York City, so is that the tougher sell or is it pushing down here and trying to get the independents to buy in?

RA: The up-staters have a lot of suspicion about down-staters, because they feel like all their taxes get sucked down into New York City. I spent a lot of time upstate talking to people and getting them comfortable with who I am and realizing that I understand that the upstate economy is ranked worst in America and there is no reason for that. We can turn that around. It begins with upstate, because New York City, by and large, is doing fine and it will always, because it’s going to be the most resilient. It has the most resources. Upstate has resources and yet it continues to get pushed down because of the policies coming out of the state. Their blessed upstate with natural gas and yet this governor refuses to allow natural gas drilling, like every other state is doing in America. It’s because he’s politically paralyzed. Yoko Ono says no, so he doesn’t and he’s telling everybody upstate you’re on your own. Meanwhile, unemployment is unacceptably high. There is a mass exodus out of the state. It doesn’t have to be that way. So I had said in the first ninety days we’re going to set up the rules and regulations to safeguard the public water and health and then move forward, which is what we should be doing.

jc: You have mere weeks to go. What’s the plan now?

RA: We are going to spend a lot of time on Long Island, in the Hudson Valley and important markets upstate. That’s really what it’s going to come down to. We need to get about thirty percent out of New York City. So we could lose New York City 70 to 30 and we hit our number. Last year there was a Liberal movement with Deblasio and it was only a twenty-five percent turnout in New York City. If that happens again that’s very beneficial to us. Joe Lhoto, the mayoral candidate for the Republicans got twenty-five percent of the vote last year, so we should be able to pick apart areas and get to 30.

Staten Island’s also worth work, we have to spend time there. Upstate, we have to win fifty-seven percent of the vote or more and that’s very doable, and we have to win the suburbs, which is doable. We have to spend most of our time in those areas, but it’s achievable, it’s there. You have a very week incumbent with this economy and a very unpopular president and that all comes into play. The national mood comes into play; political winds, which are with us this time, that’s all in the mix. Finally, it’s the intensity of the voter, which is also on our side this time. That means we have real good tail winds, the passion is on our side. People want to vote for a whole bunch of reasons. On their side, it’s not there. That’s big intangible in this race.

jc: Let’s talk about these negative ads. First off, they’re hilariously bad. There is always this picture of you that looks like you are trying to kill somebody’s grandmother. It’s amazing how they put these things together. I have to ask; where the hell is Reince Priebus and where is the national Republican Party providing you the funds to combat this? I never see any ads with you hitting him back. Is it because you don’t have that kind of cash flow now or what’s going on with that?

RA: Well, we just went up on TV, but it’s nowhere near what we need on a regular basis. But it is having an effect, because I am seeing the numbers going up his numbers are going down and it’s been consistent, really. The fact that he spent sixteen million dollars so far on pure negative ads and he’s been on a steady decline and we’ve been slowly but surely going forward and up tells you something. I don’t think people are buying it. It’s so over the top. It’s so outrageous.

It’s all based on two dubious at-best characters. One is this is a civil lawsuit that was filed against me and one hundred people last year right before my county executive race. It was all meant to be a political hit on me. The two people that this lawsuit was filed by, and that is the basis for Cuomo’s whole negative ads against me, is one guy is an independent party chairman in Westchester who was being investigated for no-show jobs and pay-to-play scams, a pension scandal by the Moreland Commission that Cuomo shut down to protect him and then took the nomination by the Independent Party. The other guy, Sam Zurica is a strip club owner, who has filed lawsuits like we brush our teeth. Every day it’s against someone else. He was arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury last week on tax evasion and many other fraud claims. He has such a violent history that the federal judge is refusing bail. He has to stay in jail until his trial. These are the two characters that have filed a lawsuit against me last year before the election.

jc: What about the charges of cronyism?

RA: Yeah, it tries to make it look like it’s all patronage when these are a few positions and most every position is civil service. There are a few exempt positions where I can appoint and I do. I appoint qualified people who are going to be loyal to me. Should I do hire Cuomo’s people?

jc: I thought we were past that when the president of the United States’ brother was the attorney general.

RA: Yeah, no that’s okay.

jc: There are just certain things that are part of politics – you win and that’s the perks of winning; you get to put people in there that you want to put in.

RA: Exactly, as long as they’re qualified.

jc: That’s why I am waiting for my job.

R: (laughs)

jc: I don’t understand why the Republican Party has not come to your aid on this. Is it because they feel it’s a state they can just give away? That’s what these power politics guys do; they say, “Well we can’t win New York, so let’s dump all our money into Arkansas or somewhere else”. I get that, but it seems like all the garbage is flowing one way.

RA: Well, that’s why the Republican Party will never win consistently unless they start investing and building their party in states that are blue and turn them purple and then eventually turn them red. If they don’t want to invest any money anywhere they are never going to have success. Anyone looking at the polls, anyone who knows how to read polls will know this is the race to invest in. We have a very week incumbent now with big issues; a federal investigation against him for corruption, an economy that is ranked dead last in America with mass exodus of people, highest taxes, worst business climate and an incumbent that just lost forty-percent in his own primary. The polls have him under fifty percent now. There would be no bigger prize in America for the Republican Party than for them to win the governorship of New York.

jc: Is there going to be a Left Wing party that is going to run a third candidate in this thing?

RA: There’s a Green Party candidate, yeah. This guy, Howie Hawkins, he’s the Green Party. The Green Party is the far Left and he is absolutely able to siphon away from Cuomo. It’s possible he could be the Ralph Nader of the 2000 election.

jc: Are there going to be debates coming up in the next couple weeks or what?

RA: Cuomo is going to try to run the clock out. He is going to an undisclosed location with Cheney until Nov 4th. He doesn’t want to sit there and have to defend his record to the public, who he has completely disregarded. He doesn’t want to talk to the press and doesn’t talk to the public. Any events he does are staged and he leaves immediately, so he doesn’t have to talk about a second term, which he refuses to do. He doesn’t have to defend the ridiculous, false ads he runs against me. He doesn’t have to defend why he underpaid his property taxes by thirty-thousand dollars, because he didn’t take out building permits for all the work he did on his house. He doesn’t have to defend why he’s being investigated for corruption by federal prosecutors. These are things he doesn’t want to talk about, along with the economy and job loss and people loss. So, he’s going to try to do everything to run out the clock.

He has an obligation. I have accepted all five of the invitations we got from the media for legitimate public debates. Last year when I was running for election and I was up in the polls and my opponent was a Harvard trained debater, I debated five times. I could have played it safe, debated once or not debated at all, but I debated him five times, because I believe very much in the importance of the dialogue.

jc: So how is the family doing with all this? Every time I talked to Sheila (Rob’s wife) in the past, you know, it takes a big toll. Obviously you’re traveling all the time.

RA: I have to tell you it’s been much more manageable than I expected. I am able to get home more nights than I thought. Some nights later than others, but I do get to see everybody in the morning. I am waking up in my own bed, so I get to see everybody. So it’s not as bad as I expected with regard to travel, because we make an effort to get home. It’s tiring, it’s a big state. The good news in the summer is Sean (his eldest son) traveled with me for trips. Kylie (his eldest daughter) came on a trip. We all went on a trip together where we started in Niagara Falls. Went to Letchworth State Park, which is gorgeous. We ended up at the Finger Lakes and went to the State Fair in Syracuse. So we got to do some things together. Before we know it it’s going to be over with. Win Lose or Draw, we’ll have a great experience and maybe having the honor of leading the state of New York.

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#2

Aquarian Weekly
10/1/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

#2

Derek Jeter changed everything.

This is why the New York Yankees shortstop for the past nineteen years and the team’s fourteenth captain for the past eleven is more than a ballplayer; a rarity that some sports figures get to be – not unlike the rare political figure, movie star or musician – an icon. And it is this week the icon leaves his post, one that has defined him to a generation of baseball and pop culture fans for nearly two decades, in which he emerged from talented kid to symbol; something not easy on a team playing in a city bloated with them.derek-jeter

Derek Sanderson Jeter was a great baseball player, some believe greater than most and vice versa. That kind of thing is left to the sports pages and the Internet’s growing number of statistical gurus, and maybe even some of us still left to the vagaries of the tavern debate. What is certain is that for these past nineteen years, Derek Jeter did big things on a baseball field at its highest level on the grandest stage in the biggest city for the nation’s most storied, popular, successful, and, thus, richest franchise.

Along the way he accumulated more hits than anyone that has ever played Major League Baseball save five; this includes more hits than any NY Yankee, a list that boasts the giants of the game; Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra and Mantle. He played in 158 post season games; almost an entire regular season’s worth, and starred in a gaudy number of them. My favorite of a dozen cool Jeter stats is that he scored 32 runs in 38 World Series games.

He has exploits; catches, homers, hits, runs; moments ingrained in the infrastructure of baseball. During his lengthy career he has played in 2,744 games and, at the time of this writing, only one did not count for much. In other words, there pretty much was no time that Derek Jeter did not play in a meaningful contest for his team, which in his time at shortstop would compete in the MLB play-offs 16 times, winning 13 division titles, including nine years running, seven American League pennants and five World Series championships – three consecutive from 1998 to 2000.

For a huge portion of that indescribably never-to-duplicated in anyone’s lifetime run of sustained excellence was Jeter considered the best player in baseball or even at his position. Although the four or five guys who were have since been either discredited or given the shuddering asterisk of PED’s; an epidemic in science versus integrity that fractured the sport during Jeter’s era, enhancing his legacy. It also put him on the track of “overrated” or some such anti-New York palaver enjoyed by the sports world, especially the baseball world since I began paying attention.

But one thing is for certain, for his time no player transcended the game as Derek Jeter did. In the media, as he was regularly depicted in celebrity circles dating models and actresses. In advertising, as he was the sports figurehead for three of the top sponsors of professional sports in the last half century; Ford, Gatorade, Nike – two of the three the central component of making Michael Jordan a transcendent sports figure a generation before, as MJ and DJ would become friends and business partners. In pop culture, as in 2001 when Jeter became the only active baseball player to ever host Saturday Night Live. In fact, the only people associated with baseball at all to previously host were Bob Uecker, lousy player/great comedic spokesman and actor, Billy Martin, crazy man manager, and DJ’s boss, George Steinbrenner, who was also immortalized in pop culture as a recurring character on Seinfeld, a show in which Jeter also appeared. HBO did an entire documentary on his rehabbing an injury and he was a character in a recent Broadway play.

Alas, none of it approaches Derek Jeter’s seminal part in keeping my beloved NY Yankees in the Bronx, where I was born and raised and where they belong.

There was a time when the Yankees seriously considered and threatened to move operations to New Jersey. The Giants and Jets had already jumped state in the late ‘70s’, to pretty lucrative results. Owner George Steinbrenner, famously combative, furiously capitalist, and a man known for a Herculean lack of patience, was convinced that the South Bronx was a deteriorating sinkhole. Crime, crumbling infrastructure and an ill-conceived Major Deegan Expressway had led to reasons to why this glorious franchise playing in a cathedral to the game (renovated and modernized in 1976) failed to draw the magic 3-million attendance mark that less popular teams did. Even the cross-town Mets had done so in the team’s brief ascension to the top in the mid-80s’. The mantra was the Yankees had never and will never draw 3 million fans to the Bronx. This was true during the Babe Ruth era of the 1920s’ all the way through Steinbrenner’s reign in the 70s’ when the Yankees back-to-back titles and back page shenanigans made them the most talked-about and star-studded team in the game.

By the early 90s’ (the Yankees mired in its longest run of futility ever) when Jeter was drafted as a skinny kid out of Kalamazoo Central High in Michigan – the man who scouted him, Dick Groch, famously told a nervous Yankees front office that was convinced the prospect would follow a girlfriend to the University of Michigan; “The only place he’s going is to Cooperstown” – Steinbrenner began making inroads to get out of the Bronx for good. There was no talk of “fixing up” the area around Yankees Stadium or “construction” along the Deegan, just “Bye-bye, Bronx”.

Then the new Yankees manager by the name of Joe Torre, who had never won a thing of consequence in 15 years, named a 21 year-old first-round draft pick to start at arguably the most important position on the league’s most expensive team. And things started to change around here. Fast.

Beneath Steinbrenner’s loud protestations, the kid started at shortstop and hit his first home run in his first game in Cleveland (Jeter had a cup of coffee the year before, about 15 or so games as a sub), including a stellar over-the shoulder catch. Jeter would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors and literally lead the Yankees to its first championship in 18 years. The next year the Yanks were ousted from the play-offs by the Cleveland Indians, but in the off-season Jeter made himself available to tell anyone who would listen that that kind of ending was inexcusable and that he personally worked his ass off to make sure it didn’t happen again.

In 1998, the Yankees went an inconceivable 125-50 (the best record in the history of the game) to recapture the championship, which turned his team from good to great to immortal.

The following year the Yankees drew 3.2 million, and did so for the next six straight years while doing crazier winning (Yanks were 11-1 in the ’99 play-offs and won 14 consecutive World Series games from 1996 through 2000, including the first Subway Series since 1956, in which Jeter was the MVP).

Jeter was named the first Yankees captain in eight years in 2003 and from 2004 through 2008 the team drew an unprecedented 4 million fans a year.

They have never drawn less than 3 million since.

All of it on River Avenue and 161st in Bronx, New York, USA.

In 2009, the Yankees built a new stadium across 161st street, as Jeter was handed the microphone to bid farewell to the House That Ruth Built in a wave of similar celebrity nearly a century before. The Yankees then went out and won the World Series, Jeter’s fifth.

During the late 90s’ I covered baseball as part of radio and newspaper gigs around Westchester County, NY. I had left sports reporting and my professional association with baseball during the tragic 1994 owner’s lockout of players, which resulted in the canceling of the World Series for the first time. Jeter and this Yankees resurgence brought me back. I remember sitting next to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame during a World Series game in the press box at Yankee Stadium. I bugged him for background on arguably the most important work of American journalism of the 20th century. He bugged me about Derek Jeter.

I told Bernstein what I tell you; I had met and spoke with Jeter a few times; mostly boring baseball stuff. He never once said anything close to profound. Most reporters will tell you that. Always cordial. Always humble. Always assured. Always boring.

Jeter didn’t say things. He did things.

There is a great story told by NY Times baseball writer, Jack Curry of Jeter’s high school basketball coach telling him; “You’re going to go out there and hit the winning shot and we’re going to win” and he did. That kind of unflinching confidence held firm in Jeter’s heart; the heart that moved him up the latter of some of the greats of the game and an ambassador for a generation of players – dozens of which cite him as inspiration; the heart that resurrected the NY Yankees back to its iconic franchise tag and kept them in my Bronx.

I never got to thank him for this.

I do now.

Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter, Dave Anderson (who covered Namath in the 60s’) said it best when he told me once in a press elevator during the 2000 World Series, “The difference is the Yankees have Derek Jeter and the other team doesn’t.”

#2.

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OBAMAWAR

Aquarian Weekly
9/25/14

REALITY CHECK

James Campion

OBAMAWAR

Okay, now the anti-war president is at war. This makes sense. Sure it does. Remember in 1964 when LBJ’s campaign included this nugget; “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves”? Then Nixon got elected in ’68 with a secret plan to end the Vietnam War and escalated it to horrifically criminal heights by bombing peaceful, sovereign nations “back to the stone age”. Oh, and remember when George W. Bush spoke in the late-summer of 2000 of a “humble foreign policy”? They can’t help it. It’s all over them like feces, runs through them like a virus. War. Aggression. The heritage of the post-WW II generations – make trouble in some godforsaken region of the planet for cash, energy, unholy alliances and the always popular “face-saving” or as it is couched by the dumb, “World Leadership” and then get embroiled in the fallout. It is practically part of the job description, even if you maneuver your way through a Democratic Primary in 2008 overcoming the Clinton Machine bitching about Madam Shoo-In’s vote to allow presidents unchecked powers to wage war for generations – the very blank check used now to renege on a promise during the subsequent current presidency; get out of Iraq, for good.obamawar

Ten presidents in my lifetime; eight of which were touched in some way by aggression and war, now this one; the reasoned, over-analyzing, “lead from behind” guy, with the Don’t Do Dumb Stuff foreign policy. I like that guy. I need him back. Only Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter failed to bomb a nation, colonize a nation, meddle in a nation. Ford was around for barely two years and Jimmy friggin Carter. Where’s Jimmy Carter? I want him. I’ll take all the other shit; false energy crisis, Iranian hostages, soaring inflation, malaise, whatever. Just, please… no more war.

And for the sake of Allah, please don’t insult our intelligence AGAIN with “imminent threat”! Imminent threat? Who’s buying that bilge? I’ve got a good idea; how about ramping up our security, use all that free-willy NSA lawless wiretapping and that massive boondoggle called Homeland Security and the billions we toss into nearly every country in the region and keep the wolves at bay. Is that too much to ask? Do I run around Paterson, NJ rounding up all the crack heads to ensure my safety?

So enough of the imminent threat talk, especially from an “enemy” that wishes first to create its own territory by some metaphysical manifest destiny with holy genocide. Isn’t that how this country was formed?

By the way, Americans only ended up dead once we got involved with “only a humanitarian mission”. My inner-cynic has me half believing this was a Rooseveltian two-step to force the potential enemy to respond and then gin up the masses for war, like Pearl Harbor, when in the summer of ’41 some 80 percent of the greatest generation wanted no part of Hitler’s Europe or whatever carnage the Japanese were pulling in the Far East. FDR had other ideas.

We are so reactionary, so myopic, that two-thirds of us sanely tell this federal government to NOT get involved in this patently obvious religious killing spree, then after two rogue journalists get beheaded on camera (two – less than the women beaten by NFL players or unarmed black men murdered by cops daily) we suddenly MUST stop the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL or whatever fancy crapolla 20 thousand marauders are currently calling themselves or being called by salivating hawks.

Twenty thousand? Maybe thirty-thousand? That is less people than fit inside Madison Square Garden give or take a grand. This is why we’re ramping up for war? This is what the president has to solemnly roll out the rah-rah for? This is why we are discussing entering a bloody Syrian civil war, which has already taken the toll of our nifty one over 150 years ago, (6,000,000 dead)? This is why we’re parading the state department around the Middle East to gain the support of nearly every country that hates us, most pointedly our greatest enemy/ally, Saudi Arabia – they of the Desert Storm damsels that got us in the tinderbox in the first place, Osama bin Laden, 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers that secretly funds anti-American sentiment across the region?

Speaking of this Fourth Century sinkhole; once you hear things like “stabilizing the region” or “supporting our allies” you know you’re being railroaded, as in, “enriched uranium” or WMD’s, then it becomes Iraqi Freedom then “take the fight to al Qaeda over there”, and then the Surge and then the infinite mission of stabilization. If this is a true threat to the region, then where is Iran? Where is Saudi Arabia? Where is Jordan? Where is Turkey? The Iraqi Army doesn’t even care enough to fight, with our weapons and our training. Let’s not even begin to dissect the stupidity of arming “moderate rebels” in Syria. We know less about the rebels there then Dick Cheney knew about all those Iraqis accepting us as liberators or as the bungling Donald Rumsfeld so idiotically framed it the last go round; “We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Who knew that Rumsfeld’s slack-jawed babbling perfectly explained this nation’s foreign policy since 1945?

Hell, nobody knows how this is going to turn out, but evidence of the past half-century gives us a pretty clear indication that if it includes our military then it won’t be good. And don’t believe a word of “no boots on the ground”, which is a classic “just sending in advisors” kind of thing that ends up with 40,000 dead kids and thousands more maimed and mentally ill, many of which we don’t even care for now.

This is our anti-war president.

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Aquarian Weekly
9/17/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

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Regardless of where you fall in the level of outrage and disgust over surveillance video of now former NFL running back, Ray Rice cold-cocking his soon-to-be wife at a now-bankrupt Atlantic City casino this past February, there is one cold, hard fact; before anyone was allowed to actually see the raw brutality of the act, no one truly gave a shit. Not Ray Rice, whose robotically misguided apology to fans and teammates seemed to miss a larger, more disturbing point. Not his fiancé, who would defend him to police with “sorry for my role in this” miasma and later to the public in a badly staged press conference. Not the Atlantic City police department, which saw fit to arrest Rice’s victim, then Ms. Janay Palmer, nor the Atlantic County Chief Prosecutor James McClain, who recommended counseling over jail time for Rice as a first-time offender. Certainly not the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose reign has been mostly defined by a “law and order’ approach of no tolerance, big fines and long suspensions for “illegal hits” on the field and drug abuse off it, yet rendered Rice a laughable two-game suspension. (Patriots wide out, Wes Welker got four games for sampling speed).

janay-and-ray-rice-press-conference

The original tape the NFL saw – although there is now question as to whether they had seen this newly discovered detailed version – was that of a soused Rice dragging an unconscious woman off an elevator; motionless, face down, legs akimbo, shoes askew, as if he were throwing a rag doll across the floor, then helping her legs across the elevator threshold by blithely kicking at them. How an equally soused Palmer got that way could have been up for debate, Lord knows I have dragged a few unconscious drunks in my time. But remember, Rice, not thrown enough by this to lie his ass off, readily admitted to police and the league to having clocked her.

So, despite seeing the results of what Rice had openly admitted to; knocking out a woman with a close-fisted right cross, it would be a two-game suspension, which expanded to six games for future offenders when the sports world predictably went ballistic. Then TMZ got a hold of the “inside the elevator” version of the punch, the woman’s head careening off the metal railing and crumpling to the floor, and Rice picking her up like a deer carcass and dragging her seemingly lifeless frame face first before dropping her like a sandbag. Two games immediately escalated to Rice being gone; his team, the Baltimore Ravens voiding his non-guaranteed contract and the league suspending him indefinitely.

Of course, no one has explained why seeing a man punch a woman is more serious than having him merely admit to it. Is this like people choosing to eat a hot dog, which they know is made of garbage entrails and mystery filling, based on having actually seen how it was made or if South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham would scream so loudly about invading every country under the sun if he had to be the one standing on the front line.

This corporate brand of revisionist history is especially ridiculous seeing how two prominent NFL players will compete this weekend, Carolina Panthers defensive end, Greg Hardy, who was found guilty by a district judge in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend and waits appeal in November, and San Francisco 49ers defensive end, Ray McDonald, who was recently arrested for “fighting” with his 10-week pregnant fiancé a couple of weeks ago, allegedly leaving bruises on her arms and neck. There are no tapes of them, so they get to play, while Rice’s career at 27 years-old is over.

So whatever half-cracked PR nobility the NFL rolls out now (hiring an independent investigator, who has ties to NFL owners and works for a firm that has former members employed by the –get this – the Baltimore Ravens), it does nothing to alter our cold, hard fact; Roger Goodell and the National Football League, a ten-billion dollar a year conglomerate of immense financial, political, marketing and cultural powers run by a man making $44 million a year, do not think battering women is as big a deal as say hitting a quarterback in the head or smoking a joint.

Getting back to Atlantic County, NJ; what’s with the counseling? They give counseling for breaking and entering? How about car theft? Dealing coke? How are these any less egregious than smashing a woman in the face?

This has to be answered.

Hey, I’m no wallflower, as most anyone who reads this space knows. I think if you want to run amok over most of society’s conventions, more power to you. I don’t even care if the newly married Mrs. Rice finds some kind of inner joy from being smacked around. To each her own, I say. Where I get confused is how we go off the rails for the dumbest shit in this country, like society hanging by a thread over rap music or gay rights or not putting God in a political platform or refugee children fleeing drug cartel violence, but beating on a woman seems to be okay.

Roger Goodell and the National Football League… do not think battering women is as big a deal as say hitting a quarterback in the head or smoking a joint.

For instance; I need this explained to me: When the National Broadcasting Company showed the offending tape in its entirety; two adults, one a professional athlete, the other a grown woman, spitting at each other, arms flailing and then a left cross that sent her back, she charges mouth agape as if a wild banshee, and then the calmly efficient right cross to the side of her skull sending her bouncing unconscious from wall to floor, the horrible Neanderthal dragging and flopping of her to the ground, as she lie there face down on the carpet, the network thought it prudent to blur out her underwear. This is what was too much for you to bear; a pantie shot.

But, hey, could it be any worse than this: Word came down this week that the NCAA, lords of rule-crazy sanctions against college kids who get free bologna sandwiches from boosters, took two years off the already weak four-year ban on Penn State University from recruiting and bowl games, following that institution’s support and promotion of the rape of children by its top employees and president. Four years was already far below my rational suggestion to bulldoze the joint and turn the plot into a maximum security prison for pedophiles, but it appears that while the NFL is nonchalant about its employees choking, punching, fighting and threatening to kill women, some of them pregnant, then the NCAA is nonchalant on its members promoting the rape of children.

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HERE WE GO AGAIN

Aquarian Weekly
9/10/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

HERE WE GO AGAIN
Iraq 2003 to 2014 – No Plan, No Dice

We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists. And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.
– President Barack Obama

They should know, we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice. Because hell is where they will reside!
– Vice President Joe Biden

We have taken the fight to this kind of evil and savagery before and believe me, we will take it again.
– Secretary of State John Kerry 8/3/14

Uh-Oh.

Where have we heard that stuff before? Even now typing it out, reading the transcripts of those speeches only days old, reek of the doomed rhetoric that put us squarely into this fiasco in 1990 and 2003. I have written all that can be written on this subject. So for Misters’ Obama, Biden and Kerry, and as a public service, I offer this stroll down crazy lane…

AL QAEDA SHELL GAME – The Great Con Of Terrorism 6/28/06

There were never any Iraqi people. The “Iraqi people” didn’t think so; therefore we shouldn’t have gone along with it. But we did. We didn’t recognize the Sunnis or the Kurds or the Shiites as completely separate religious, cultural, and geographical entities, which were held together by the iron fist of madness, and left to their own devices would fight to the death to gain control of the hearts and minds of a fractured nation. And because we failed to realize this, we now have our military embroiled in an all-out civil war, one in which we cannot abandon anytime soon without looking like master chessmen sacrificing pawns for a minor victory down the line.petraeus_65

THE BILL FOR REBUILDING IRAQ – The Small Details of The Bush War
2/26/03

This latest and greatest standoff with Iraq will also not be cheap, but it’s too late to back down financially or politically. The cost of ramping up this sucker has already rivaled the first six bombings of Baghdad alone. And unlike the Gulf War, this will be a full-scale invasion to unseat the current government, which means a complete dedication to rebuilding the damages, defending the next regime and keeping overall peace in a region our current government feels will start to be cleansed by this maneuver.

WAR VS. OCCUPATION – Congressional Quagmire Over Defining Terms & Objectives
2/14/07

Paul Bremer, the American proconsul in Baghdad for 11 months succeeding the initial seizing of Iraq, was exposed last week as the co-architect of massive fraud and embezzlement in this outlandishly botched reconstruction effort. Working directly under the consistently inept Donald Rumsfeld, Bremer was in complete and unchallenged charge of creating a “new Iraq” from scratch. The outline of his ill-advised attempt to gut the Iraq Baathist regime, deconstruct what was left of the Iraqi Army, and disband all civil services first drafted by Reagan reject, Douglas Feith, effectively launched the post-war quagmire that exists today.

Under Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority reportedly caused the first quakes of segregation between Shia and Sunnis by instituting a quota system for those hired to work in the rebuilding committees, thus tying political issues with religious and cultural ideologies. Not that these maniacs needed any prodding, but the uneducated and pompous way Rumsfeld and his ilk ran things speaks volumes on how badly ill-equipped these idiots were in dealing with a potentially volatile social situation.

HIGH STAKES – BAD BREAKS – The Bush Doctrine of Manic Gambling
4/21/04

George W. Bush gambled. Presidents do that. Some come away triumphant and end up with their likeness on currency or pitched in some heroic statuesque stance encased in a monument somewhere. Others eat shit. This particular president is somewhere in the middle and he knows it. Too late to turn back now. As long as he has his money in the middle of the table with the slimmest shot to get even, maybe even walk away with a big pot and buy breakfast for his sleep-deprived, cigar reeking pals, he’s letting it ride.

IRAN CRISIS IS A FRAUD – No Sense Wasting Valuable Paranoia On Macho Bullshit 4/26/06

Sometime very soon Americans will finally be sick and tired of hearing about the Middle East and its nations’ collective religious, political and cultural madness. Maybe not tomorrow or next week, or perhaps not even by 2007, but the time is coming. Sooner than you think. It became tiresome eventually for the French and the British, and soon we will tire of it. There’s only so much theocratic nonsense one can stomach before giving up and leaving them to their bad craziness. Oil keeps us interested, and 9/11 opened many eyes, but really, what are we dealing with: A few hate-mongering sand cretins and Qur’an fanatics? Nothing Israel can’t handle with a little leeway from the UN and a back-turning exercise from the United States. All gone. Soon.

DEAD MAN TALKING – Baby Bush’s Garage Is On Fire
1/31/07

Let’s say, for instance, you took your car to the Baby Bush Auto Garage. The old girl has been burping up hills lately. A hint of burning oil is evident when you hit the gas. Perhaps there’re even some additional noises in there. He tells you his staff is experienced with these types of problems. They’re champing at the bit to do a major overhaul. You’re skeptical at first, you’ve been screwed by mechanics before, but there is some significant evidence that the car will soon break down and leave you stranded. You tell Baby Bush and his boys to have a crack at it.

After a few weeks, it’s done. From first look, the car is practically brand new, and for the first month or so it runs fairly well. It isn’t exactly the souped-up roadster the blustery Baby Bush promised, but it’s better.

Oh, but wait, after a few more weeks a couple of different burps and odors arise, and yup, looks like the original problems are returning. You bring the car back. A steadfast Baby Bush is adamant about another go-round for a nominal fee. He also assures you that it isn’t the same problems after all. Now it’s the transmission and some breaks are needed. You’re pretty skeptical, again, but you’re already into the repairs for a good sum of cash and these guys are pledging like mad that they’re the right men for the job. “We love your car more than any we’ve had in here!” they exclaim. Against more cautious judgment, you let them have at it.

As a public service, I offer this stroll down crazy lane.

After about a month or so of excuses and revisions in the diagnosis and more proposed costs, you return to the Baby Bush Garage to find the car in serious disrepair. Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ! You’re now convinced these guys are not just incompetent, but crazy. One of them is stomping on the hood, another stands around kicking the tires mumbling incoherently, and still others are doing god-knows-what. It’s an odd scene, but Baby Bush has now informed you that if not for these eccentric but brave souls the car would be declared dead and buried. They are so close to not only reviving it, Baby Bush tells you, but also making it like new, saving the very nature of auto travel for you and everyone on America’s byways.

At this point you want to have your car towed out of there and run for the hills. Forget the whole thing ever happened. But what if Baby Bush is right? What if you only wait a couple of days more -you’ve waited all this time, and all of it on blind faith – and you’re beloved car will be yours again, running smooth and true. And what if these apparent lunatics are onto something big? Once more you leave with trepidation, but you figure one more chance at this juncture won’t be the end of times.

Two or three days later you return to find that not only is your car complete engulfed in flames, but the crack Baby Bush team is ranting and raving like savages. One of them is on fire and the entire garage is exploding all over the block. You are understandably appalled. You demand your poor vehicle back, or compensation, or something. Out of the carnage Baby Bush strides confidently towards you, smiles, and calmly says, “Okay, I have one more plan.”

FOUR CORNER PETRAEUS – Cowboy-In-Chief Plays Keep Away Until He’s Safely Out Of Dodge
9/19/07

Even a feckless weasel like Harry Reid knows there is no shot clock in the colonization of a sovereign nation. Shit, there’s no clock at all. It can go on for a long time. How long? Well, unless my high definition signal failed me, I heard our Boy President say this Thursday night: “Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship.”

Enduring. Begin. Building. Relationship.

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SNAPSHOTS FROM UNDER WONDERLAND

8/27/14

Aquarian Weekly
Cover Piece

 

SNAPSHOTS FROM UNDER WONDERLAND
Counting Crows Front-Man, Adam Duritz Talks New Album, Fleeting Memories, Lou Reed, Robin Williams and Alienation

 

By James Campion

“I think this is one of the best records the band’s made, if not the best,” Adam Duritz proudly concludes, sitting in his hotel room in august-27-2014-counting-crowsRedman, Washington preparing for one of the final American shows before heading to Europe for the rest of the summer. The quiet confidence in his tone is palpable. And why not? Somewhere Under Wonderland, the first collection of new original music from Counting Crows in six years, is two weeks from release and has been successfully debuted live for weeks, much of it can be seen on YOUTUBE, bootlegged by eager fans, something the band enthusiastically supports.

“By the time we got together to write and record this material we were on fire as a live band,” Duritz continues. “I grabbed three of the guys in the band, Immer (Dave Immerglück), Dan (Vickrey) and Millard (Powers) and got together for six days in New York and started excavating these pieces of songs that I had and wrote five songs in six days, which is insane! There’s no way that should be impossible. But we did it. We just poured it out.”

Somewhere Under Wonderland may indeed be the band’s best work; a meticulously arranged beauty of a record filled with the kind of passion and poetry that sets Counting Crows apart from many of the band of its era. Its songs reflect deeply upon the disposable touchstones of Americana; Palisades Park, Elvis, Disneyland, the fantasy world of radio and television and their sense of literal disorientation. After just two listens prior to our discussion, it is amazing how simply each song eases into the next, traveling through folk, rock, country and jazz, all being held together by Duritz’s haunting melodies and razor sharp lines like “You’re just scared/I mistake it for strange” from “Possibility Days” or “I need the whites/She gets the blues/It carries us on through” from “Scarecrow” or “Resurrect or genuflect/She saves the ones she can’t protect/And keeps the chapel pris- (if not Sis-) tine” from “Cover Up The Sun”.

Duritz, a few weeks removed from his 50th birthday, is now among the elder statesman of rock front-men, having steered one incarnation or another of his Berkley-born band for the better part of 23 years. More than that, he has been the driving force behind the Counting Crows’ music, as principle songwriter and lyricist, which includes stirring performances of its canon over seemingly endless tours.

There is never a time that we’ve spoken where Duritz has not been achingly honest about his work, his band, his life as a rock star and his living with a debilitating mental illness called Dissociative Disorder, which he described to me in 2008 thusly: “The world literally seems like an hallucination. It just doesn’t seem real. Imagine living for twenty years as if you were having an acid flashback.”

It is hard to listen to Somewhere Under Wonderland and not be reminded of Duritz’s condition; the themes of alienation, grasps at reality, and fleeting snapshots of disjointed memories; both harrowing and joyful. “I’ve had a lot of trouble holding onto to things for long periods of time,” sighs Duritz. “I’ve had moments that were wonderful with people who were wonderful, but part of the disease is the difficulty holding onto to them.”

And this is where we begin our discussion…

I just listened to the entire album this morning, so if you would indulge me for a moment. I see a thematic thread to these songs; the inability for their narrators to remain affixed in reality while grasping for “the dream”, or as the dream unfolds within their purview. The album’s title Somewhere Under Wonderland evokes Lewis Carroll, whose Alice in Wonderland also delves into the concept of an irredeemable dreamscape or a place of no permanence.

 

Well, I think there’s always a theme, but I also don’t think it’s intentional. If you write a bunch of songs all at once, as we did with this album, I think they bind together somehow. I don’t think you always see how when you’re doing it. But you’re moving through a period of your life and the stuff you create during that time tends to hold together ‘cause it’s about that period of your life. It’s unavoidable. I tend to not try and evoke a theme, but it does come out when you’re writing more from feelings and textures and when you’re a writer that stuff is embedded in there.

 

Speaking specifically of the opening track, which is also the single; “Palisades Park”; it unfolds as an epic poem, reading like Ginsberg’s Howl; snapshots of suppressed sexuality, testosterone rage, and creeping nostalgia. It even has that Beat Poetry soundtrack; the music bounces from jazzy interludes to straight ahead rock and roll and back again with ease, marking a sort of chronology to the lyrics.

 

Well, it’s about two friends; where they come from, the choices they make and the celebration of youth and the willingness to try things – a drink, a drug, a different kind of clothing, a different kind of sexuality, which is what being young is all about. At the same time that doesn’t always work out; not because drugs are bad or dressing up as a woman or playing in a band is bad, but for no rhyme or reason sometimes life just destroys people; this living out on the fringe. I just wanted to write about the arc of a friendship without any moral, um…what’s the word? Lesson.

 

It’s interesting that you would use Palisades Park as a fantasyland backdrop to the story, since you grew up in California. It was a big part of my childhood growing up in New York for sure; those endless commercials on the radio.

I was always fascinated by Palisades Park, because when I was a kid reading comic books there would be these ads in the back of DC Comics with Superman or Batman telling you to go to Palisades Park. And I couldn’t help thinking, “Where the fuck is this place Batman is telling me to go to?” But I read later that since fifty percent of the comics bought in America were in bought in New York City, it made perfect sense to advertise there. But when I was a kid, like any kid growing up in Texas or California, Palisades Park had this supernatural connotation to it, which is why it always stuck in my head.

 

The last time we spoke you touched upon Lou Reed’s influence on your work, and it’s evident here as well.

Funny you mention Lou Reed again. When we were working on that song, I was torn whether to make it about a man and a woman or two guys, adam-duritz-02-635x360but had decided to make it two guys and the one guy dresses up as a woman. So Angie became Andy. And I was working out the second verse; “You walked into the bar like some Saturday star/Stud-straight on spiked heels and needles and nerves”, and right at that part Millard, who had gone out to get some Indian food or something, walks in and says, “Lou Reed died”. The song was already about the Factory lifestyle, the kids going out and exploring that late-60s’, early 70s’ New York, Velvet Underground world. But then, right in the middle of writing it, we find out Lou Reed dies. That sort of cemented it for me.

 

In the beautifully arranged, “God of Ocean Tides” there are also several wonderfully phrased mental snapshots, as in specifically, “Coloured lights and birthday cakes/Candle wax on paper plates”. The song really captures the detail of memory. In fact, there are repeated references to memory in this album.

 

Yeah, it’s totems of celebrating moments in your life as they pass. You light a candle for a birthday, which is a beautiful part of the celebration, but then also there is the candle wax on the plate – after the moment, you have to clean it up. Every moment has its sparkling memory, but it also has the melted wax on the plate. Not that it is a bad memory. Part of what makes your life rich is remembering lighting the candles, but also the moments that follow – the whole thing. I really like the line too, because I was trying to evoke a lot of things that were touchstones of moments in life, like in the song “Scarecrow”; “She dreams of sunlight/Sings of smaller things/White sugar bowls and wedding rings.” The sun coming up is a beautiful part of a memory you might have in your life, but there are also the things it reflects off of.

 

That speaks of the fallacy of “Happily Ever After” and more to the reality of enjoying key moments in life and holding onto the memories of them; again this theme of a fleeting sense of happiness. You touch upon that throughout the album, but end it with “Possibility Days”, which has my favorite line on the record, “I said goodnight/Goodbye/It seems like a good thing so you know it’s a good lie”. Great line.

 

I think with the Dissociative Disorder in my life I don’t tend to get things to stay around for that long. The line later in the song rings true for me; “Somehow we mixed up ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Goodnight’”, where you get those things confused. I’ve gotten them confused, where it’s supposed to be for a second and it ends up being forever.

A few years ago I got really depressed living with this mental illness for a long time and the fact that I couldn’t make it go away. And a lot of things in my life fell apart when I realized it’s possible that I’m never going to be fine and I sort of started to give up in some ways, but the one thing I realized is that having gone through all of that is it didn’t actually kill me. I won’t be able to be sane in the way I would like to be and I might not be able to live a normal life, but it hasn’t actually killed me either.

 

I think I would be remiss in not asking you about the news yesterday of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide and his bout with deep depression. From Counting Crows very first song on the first album, “Round Here” you’ve written with a real empathy for people who feel alienated mentally and emotionally.

 

It’s hard to live life, especially when you feel different from everybody else. You don’t seem to be able to take in the same things they take in; blue doesn’t mean blue to you the same way it does for everybody else. The same way certain people look at colors and feel different things, the simple things in life that reward other people don’t work that way, they don’t give you the same comfort. It just doesn’t work, which is why your mind searches around at fifty-thousand miles an hour and spits out the kind of shit Robin Williams did. I remember going to see him do stand-up in San Francisco when I was a little kid. He was fucking insane – great, but insane!

There’s a reason people get involved in making art, and it’s not because life is having the same impact on them every day as it does for everybody
else. It’s different. And when you can’t get the reward out of interactions with other people, well then you paint it or you write it or you make a joke about it. That’s what I don’t think people understand about it. It’s not that you just wake up depressed in the  morning and that makes you want to be a comedian, but you don’t put the same thing in and get the same thing out that everybody else does in life and so you try and find another way to connect with life and get something out of it.

Someone asked me once if writing songs was cathartic and I said, “No, it’s not at all. Cathartic suggests that you get to exorcise that demon, but it’s not that way at all.” But, that said, the difference between a shitty day and a shitty day where at least a song comes out it, I choose the day with song. It doesn’t fix the day, but it’s better than nothing. The song lasts, even if your relationships don’t last and your friendships don’t last and feelings that you want to sustain you through life don’t last, but the song lasts and the painting lasts. So something from your life remains when it doesn’t seem like anything is going to. And that makes a big difference. It’s not cathartic, but at least you are present through life, at least you were here. You don’t just come along and fade away.

 

That pretty much nails it for me. Getting back to the album; I understand you’ve been playing these songs live. How has the reaction been, considering it’s not released yet?

 

Yeah, it’s been kind of great. We’re playing everything from the new album on this tour. Every single song is played, not every night, but on the counting_crows-press08second night of the tour we stuck “Palisades Park” in the opening slot in the encore, which is kind of a stupid place to put a song nobody knows. (laughs) It’s really not a great idea, but it worked! And it’s been there ever since. It’s kind of fucked up concerts for me in some ways. Maybe my favorite song ever is “Washington Square” and I got to sing it every night, because we stuck it on the encores. Now “Palisades Park” lives there. So it’s really been going over well. It’s funny, you never know until you play them live, but bizarrely “Cover Up The Sun” and “Dislocation” have gone over the best. Those songs really resonate with people.

I really love this record. I’m kind of knocked out by it. It’s so much a part of us. There is no way I write these songs without those guys being there, which is not how I usually write records. We did a little bit of that with Hard Candy, with everybody gathering together at my house, but for this record one of the reasons I had so many fragments of songs to work out is because I didn’t think they were any good. For me, I’ve always just written songs in one sitting and if I didn’t finish them I just figured they weren’t good, so I’d throw them out. And I realized I wasn’t finishing anything awhile ago. So I started keeping notes and recording everything and I started to realize I was writing differently than I had before, part of it is because I’ve been working on this play called Black Sun with Stephen Belber. Writing for different voices that aren’t mine and characters that aren’t me, for women’s voices, is pretty eye-opening. Then we did the cover’s album (Underwater Sunshine – 2012) and singing a whole record of other people’s songs, other people’s ways of looking at life forces you to look at this thing I’ve been doing from a different perspective than “How do I feel today?” I don’t think I could have written these songs without those experiences.

If you’ve been thinking that blue is quality for a lot of years and suddenly its green, at first it doesn’t register as being different, it just registers as not being good. So when I started working the songs out, those guys were right there, and I was able to get their response. I was messing around with the first verse and the chorus to “Elvis Went To Hollywood” and I wasn’t sure about it and I said, “What do you think?” and they flipped out. And that made me look at it differently. So I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere with this record without those guys being there and their contributions to it.

 

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FEARGUSON, U.S.A

Aquarian Weekly
8/27/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

FEARGUSON, U.S.A

Ferguson is a city of around 21,000 citizens in St. Louis County, Missouri. For nearly two weeks now it has been the focal point of the nation, as the shooting death of an unarmed African-American man by a Caucasian police officer has sparked debate, protest, riots, armed guards, and, well…you know the routine. But what it is to the rest of us is Fearguson; a place not on a map with real people or actual ideologies, logic or law. It is exists in the deepest recesses of the human psyche, and because this is a free society that works under the laws of a nation that still bears the scars of its original sins, it boils over with two of humanity’s most basest instincts; Fear and Anger.cnnmailbox_65

It doesn’t get any more primal in the human condition than Fear and Anger. These are the biggies; empathy, sadness, love bounce around in there somewhere, but at our core, as mammals, we react immediately with Fear and Anger. It is the basis of all violence and war. Name one act of violence; whether personal or systemic, and it is derived from Fear and Anger. Sure, sometimes it is masked in wealth, borders, religion or ideology, and most times it is propped up by race, nationality, gender or economic standing, but mostly it is merely Fear and Anger.

The reason I delve into dangerous Freudian corners on this is there is no way to properly process why it appears that once a week a black man is shot dead by a cop, mostly white ones. Or why African-American communities erupt either with righteous anger or indefensible rage resulting in destruction of property, arson and looting. None of this can truly be explained, unless you get down to the raw truth of it; Fear and Anger.

I broached a similar framework during the 1992 L.A. riots over the brutal beating of Rodney King by white police officers. And as we are learning now in Ferguson, it does not happen in a vacuum. There is history there, as in L.A. It was long and festering – going back to the Watts riots in 1965 – this bitter tension between the police and black communities. No way to understand what the hell was truly going on if you watched that nightmare unfold from afar; back East or in the Midwest, without understanding that history; a history of Fear and Anger that had no other possible conclusion but to explode into violence.

The dirty little secret of the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial in the wake of ’65 and ’92 is that it had no chance of ever being about Simpson or the people he allegedly murdered, despite the preponderance of physical and circumstantial evidence against him. It was the history of Fear and Anger that fueled the “not-guilty” verdict. This eerie sense that it was entirely plausible that he could have been framed by a police force so damaged by its continued actions against citizens of color that it almost became a fait accompli.

Let’s forget race for a moment and concentrate on matters of the state – the system – law enforcement culture versus the ideal of citizenry. On a grander scale, I return once again to the 1960’s, where Fear and Anger had its most visible parade of loons and goons, primarily due to the widest generation gap in our nation’s history and a completely immoral, insane and inexcusable war in Viet Nam. The unrest on college campuses and the violence in the streets across the country in the escalated stages of the war, when it appeared to even the most jingoistic among us that this horror show was now merely a killing ground of youth and a massacre of civilians abroad which had reached its saturation level, especially for a federal government that felt as though it was being challenged by radicals possibly backed by communist interlopers.

Who can forget the images of the children, mostly white middle-class kids, being beaten into bloody pulps by crazed policemen in the streets of Chicago or frightened national guardsmen opening fire on students carrying books at Kent State? That single film of a shaggy-haired kid running for his life across a newly-shorn campus lawn brilliantly captures the point.

There is no getting away from what lurks way down there

But that all feels like another age; a much scarier and untenable world of chaos, but it was nothing more than Fear and Anger; fear of being murdered for the United States saving face internationally and the ensuing anger of being its fodder and the resultant fear of a complete crack in the nation’s foundation and the unremitting force needed to quell it.

Months after 9/11 the entire country fell victim to Fear and Anger. It was an absolutist’s dream, and the first time since World War II where the nation rallied against a single enemy, even if it meant that enemy was among us; Muslim, Arab, etc. Sure as hell there was Fear and man was there ever Anger. It was not a proud time. It revealed, on the most basic level, the Fearguson edict; and although it did not blow up in spastic acts of anarchistic violence, it was a slow burn into some of the most heinous war crimes committed since Viet Nam.

Los Angeles. Chicago. Watts. Iraq. Ferguson.

Fearguson all.

What Fearguson is comes from the core of this country’s being; it deals with race, economics, bigotry, and distrust of authority – some of it earned, some of it calculated – as it also comes from a predisposition to judge, on both sides; a bunker mentality that reflects our most embarrassing faults; we’re human. Not monsters or mutants or alien beings; humans. ISIS in Iraq, Nazis in Germany, KKK in Alabama, Black Panthers in San Francisco, hippies, yippies, Birchers, TEA Party, 99-percenters, NRA, NOW, gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Muslim. Human.

It all comes from Fear and Anger. Doesn’t matter what triggers it; overzealous police or enraged citizenry. Look how the mayor acted this week, the governor, the voices on cable news, your friend’s opinion, this column.

We love to pick sides and weigh the consequences of other’s actions and find a safe place to land ideologically. We love our psychology and philosophy and our reason. But there is no getting away from what lurks way down there.

Fear and Anger.

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AUGUST 8, 1974

Aquarian Weekly
8/13/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion

AUGUST 8, 1974
The Seeds of Reality Check

Richard M. Nixon, August 8, 1974, speaking from the Oval Office:

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow.President Nixon with Advisor H.R. Haldeman

Ah, yes. Forty years ago to the day I write this; I was eleven years old lying on the floor in front of my parent’s trusty RCA, pawing through the new reprints of Will Eisner’s Spirit. Eisner created and produced many of his legendary character’s exploits in the 1940s’, but was resurrected in the 70s’ as part of a growing interest in the anti-hero, vigilante, masked marauder; half on the side of the law and the other half in the shadows; a “spirit”. Unbeknownst to me, it was the perfect metaphor for what I was about to witness at nine bells; the president of the United States resigning his post, embattled, disgraced, busted cold for high crimes against the Constitution. It was a defining moment for me. It shaped all that has been written in this space for coming on 17 years this month.

The first thing I recall about the presidency was tapes of John F. Kennedy’s speeches on space exploration that came with a record album of the 1969 moon landing, a celebratory moment of patriotism which froze the nation in wonder just five years prior. The fallen president had foretold the triumph, the record boasted. To a kid, just learning about world events, it was as if Kennedy was still president. He was not. I was told he had been gunned down six years before. I recall every November 22nd people would drive their cars around Pelham Parkway and Morris Park Avenue with the lights on as a tribute to the fallen president.

This was my introduction to American politics; murder and crime.

Of course, this became something of a joke in my first civics classes in 1976, the year of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations; where for the first time I would learn about the origins of the nation with bold talk of liberty and God and apple pie. Three years removed from the horrors of Viet Nam, another sunny display of America’s stains. I remember those images from television too. But war was still something of a romantic haze for me; war comics, war films, war games, war toys. Imagination over reality, like a president’s voice heralding a mission launched during the first term of a man I was now watching quit the most powerful job in the free world, Richard M. Nixon.

I spent the summer of 1973, the first one in Freehold, New Jersey, a long way from the Bronx, and a long way from everything I had known for the first decade of life, watching the Watergate senate hearings, or as it was known then, “the trials”. I had yet to make friends, and it was so damn hot outside and the bugs were incessant and every TV station – we had five of them then – had the damn thing on. So I found myself weirdly in a trance in front of the tube watching powerful be-suited men sweating beneath a torrent of hard queries couched in the kind of moral berating I had come to know all too well in Catholic school.

These people were in big trouble, and America was coming apart.

My parents, especially my mom, tended to downplay these things, as there was a sense in our house that these people were going about “business as usual”, and too bad for them, they were caught. Could have been the last guy or the guy before that, but it happened to be the 37th president of the United States going down. Hell, my parents had watched the entire western hemisphere balanced like an egg on a high wire in October of 1962. Could you blame them for not batting an eye at this? I was barely one month old, their first son, and a good portion of the planet was minutes from annihilation as Soviet warships approached U.S. shores. Forty-one days into life and it could have been curtains for me.

So maybe America wasn’t really coming apart. Maybe it was just Nixon coming apart. Not every president uses the White House as a criminal syndicate and not every administration has some 48 persons indicted for crimes and a dozen or so others do time and the chief quitting outright on national television. Of course, we still had yet to endure Ronald Reagan, whose administration still holds the record for 138 indictments and 21 convictions, or Bill Clinton, who was officially impeached, something Nixon never was, or whatever crazy shit George W. Bush finagled and this new guy, same as the old guy, whose NSA still runs amok, as he drags us back into Iraq.

These people were in big trouble, and America was coming apart.

But it was hard for me and my generation to grasp, that weird cusp of the Boomers; too young to get high at Woodstock or worry about things like race riots, assassinations and the draft, but too old to ignore the glaring fact that those at the top could not to be trusted. Since much of what the government did prior to the Kennedy assassination, Viet Nam and Watergate was viewed as a deep matter of public trust, this was a new way of understanding.
All of it began to unravel, thank goodness, in my formative years; this charade that all-is-well and that the smart and powerful have everything under control, was fast coming to a close. The Kennedy assassination opened a nation’s eyes, Viet Nam gave us something to see, and, well, the crimes of Nixon pretty much sealed it.

You might call it a reality check.

August 8, 1974.

Forty years ago.

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TRUTH IN CHARACTER

8/6/14
Aquarian Weekly
Cover Piece

 

TRUTH IN CHARACTER
Sinead O’Connor’s Musical Catharsis: I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss

By James Campion

august-6-2014-sinead-o-connor
While visiting Dublin in early June, the wife and I came upon a mural painted on
the side of the city’s Hard Rock Café tucked within a phalanx of ancient pubs in the Temple Bar district. It was a beautiful rendering of a doe-eyed Sinead O’Connor peering from beneath a shawl, appearing as if a stricken Madonna. Above the image, damaged slightly by what looked like a heavy object having been hurled into the cement by her neck, was written; “Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong. So sorry.”

What Sinead O’Connor may have represented or said that at first came off as “wrong” but was later seen by the artist or her fellow Irish citizens as “right” is left to the imagination. But it matters little. For Sinead O’Connor has never been timid about speaking her mind, in song or in person, embodying the deviant contrarian that many of us at first may bristle – How dare she!, but later wonder how we missed being stricken by the same passionate outrage.

Sinead O’Connor. The mere name conjures controversy. For 30 years her career as punk provocateur, spiritual radical, unflinching feminist and social marauder has set her apart; for good or ill. The siren vocalist of poignant songs that pierce through the treacle of most rock sentiments never sought refuge in art; instead she draped her music about her personal and public life as a second skin. Perhaps it was always the presentation that preceded her – defiant glare of those enormous green eyes that leap from beneath the shimmering bald scalp extenuated by a menacing scowl that occasionally gives pause for a child-like giggle, as if half the bravado is act and the other id.

This is why Sinead O’Connor is a hero of mine, for her life collides with her art; her persona a canvas. Whether emotionally charged performances or combative interviews, hers is the complete package. There is no gimmick. If it were then her enormously zealous heart-over-mind sense of expression would not have needed a painted apology nor would it have at times rendered her a pariah despite an otherwise impressive run of success on the charts and inside pop culture.

But it all pales in the wake of her incredible work, the most striking, 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (Yeah, the one with “Nothing Compares To U”, which is Prince’s finest song, but only a glimpse of what explodes from that record). There is not one time in a hundred spins of the gut-wrenching, “Three Babies” that chills don’t shoot through my nervous system as she clutches the high notes for “The face on you/The smell of you/ Will always be with me”. It may be the most haunting eight seconds ever recorded and only begins to lift the veil on a complicated soul.

Over the years, O’Connor has openly discussed and written extensively about the abuse she suffered as a child leading to her expression of disgust with the Catholic Church’s refusal to root out pedophiles – specifically in Ireland, which might explain the mural – which led to her infamous ripping up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in October of 1992, the first of many very sudden and very public heart-over-mind moments that has overshadowed her music.

The title of O’Connor’s new album, I Am Not Bossy, I’m The Boss says it all, well, almost. The record echoes like a clenched fist opening into a blooming flower; a return to fierce introspection; the insolent woman looking for tenderness. The first verse from the album’s opening song, “How About I Be Me” reveals a vulnerability behind being “the boss”: “Always gotta be the lioness/Taking care of everybody else/A woman like me needs love/A woman like me needs a man to be/Stronger than herself”. She sings time and again on several tracks about transcendent kisses and “making love”, as if hidden salvation.

I Am Not Bossy strips bare the public persona of the angered rebel, but not entirely. It strategically traverses the tightrope of irreverent brashness and tender yearning on twelve compelling numbers ranging from seductive ballads to confessional angst.

The great bowery poet, Charles Bukowski once wrote, “My days, my years, my life has seen up and downs, lights and darknesses. If I wrote only and continually of the “light” and never mentioned the other, then as an artist I would be a liar.” And it is in this search for the duality of truth in art that I sat down for a chat with O’Connor, some ten years in the making.

 

This is something of a Holy Grail for me, speaking with you. For some reason our planned interviews always seemed to get derailed. You’re my hero because you never dismiss the human condition in your work or philosophy, even when considering politics, religion or social issues. That is an enviable trait.

Well, thanks.

Let’s start with the record. It appears after several listens to be a combination of catharsis and introspection, much like most of your work, but this time it has an exhaling quality to it; a sense of relief – for instance many of the songs are short and sweet, barely running three minutes. They get right to the point, as if shoved out of your psyche. What was your frame of mind when you wrote and then recorded this material?

There are three songs that are personal/autobiographical; “How About I Be Me”, “Dense Water Deeper Down” and “8 Good Reasons”. The others are not my frame of mind, but the characters’. In the same way the Aretha Franklin album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You is the story of a relationship, when you listen to it in sequence, I wanted to echo that. And so there are perhaps three or four female characters on the record, but there is one that appears more often than the others. She’s the cathartic one. She’s on a journey to learn the difference between illusion and reality when it comes to discovering love, and her catharsis comes when she discovers it was herself she was longing for the whole time. The earlier songs where she is longing for this particular man are conversations between her and this guy, but she comes to the conclusion at the end of it all that it is not him she is longing for but her. (laughs) That’s a bit of a longwinded explanation, but you hit the nail on the head in terms of it being a catharsis. It’s just not mine. It’s a character that I’ve created.

She’s on a journey to learn the difference between illusion and reality when it comes to discovering love, and her catharsis comes when she discovers it was herself she was longing for the whole time.
 

You play around quite a bit with Hindu references on this record, “The Vishnu Room” being an obvious one, but I am interested in your use of Maya in “Harbour”. You sing;“And they said call it Maya/Go ahead call it Maya/But it’s not all Maya” – Maya being a Hindu word or symbol for illusion or delusion, to overcome the foolishness of posing or hiding and find the “true self”, which appears to be another central theme to these songs.

Yeah, it is the central theme. These characters…if you like, you can say represent every woman or every man, indeed, but there are a set of characters which represent the psyche of the main character, who  is the female character that turns up on “Your Green Jacket”, then “The Vishnu Room”, ‘The Voice of My Doctor”, “Harbour” and ends up with “Streetcars”. And through this song sequence there is this journey of longing for this guy whom she has projected all this stuff on and I suppose he is Maya, as he is always present, the same way the man in the Aretha Franklin record is always present throughout the album. And she has an experience with him, which leads her to understand he is not the man she thought he was, which doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, but she got a fright because he wasn’t what she had deluded herself into thinking he was. But instead of taking this as some dreadful thing, it leads her to discover that in fact it was herself she was longing for. So that description there of Maya…yeah, that’s it. That’s what the central character is going through.

The song also evokes something I know you have used your career to shed
light upon and that is child abuse, mostly institutional child abuse, and I couldn’t help thinking of that theme when listening to the lines; “Fumbling to get back what’s stolen/Thinking pain could be plastered over”.

Yeah, those conversations between characters set off something in my mind,

sineadbecause I’m what you might call a Stanislavski “method actor” singer/songwriter. What happened with the last album, some of the songs were written when people had given me movie scripts and I started then to write songs from the point of view of these characters. I enjoyed that, but I didn’t give the movie people the songs. So I created a scenario in my mind and based the character on someone I met in Holland, a young girl, and invented this story where the man on the record asks her about the marks she has on her and the song is an explanation of how she has these marks on her. It’s supposed to be left to the imagination. It’s part of her explaining to him that she is beginning to understand that she has been projecting this longing for things that she didn’t get growing up and she had perhaps projected onto men or the idea of a man who will come and rescue her and make everything wonderful. She realizes that’s not how things go, which ties up with the whole Maya thing.

Speaking of this Stanislavski “method acting” style of getting into character to sing; your voice sounds as strong and emotive as ever; it still gives me chills. There is always a moment or two or three in every record where you go to a place deep inside to get to that intense vocal expression. Where does that come from?    

It’s very hard to explain, because if you could describe music you wouldn’t need music. It’s kind of second nature, so it’s hard to describe to someone else. It’s like taking a breath. You do what you do. I’m sure every singer would tell you how much they wish they could put words on that, because there’s nothing more interesting to talk about than singing. For me, I just go into a world of my own and if you go into the Stanislavski method, as I call it, you get into the character – the who, what, where, when and why – and you forget you’re on a stage and forget there are people there and you get to who you are in the song, where you are, what is it you’re trying to say, who is it you’re trying to say it to and how you’re trying to say it. (laughs) But the big difference between this and actual method acting is you only stay in that character for three minutes, because you’ve got to sing another character in three minutes. (laughs)

 Speaking of characters, the record’s cover photo of you in the shiny black dress and the black wig evokes a visual way to depict a character or maybe it reflects your foolish side or perhaps your true self.

Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a very important aspect of it. It’s a poetic aspect, and what I mean by that is it’s a subtext, and I’ve done about 150 interviews already and you were the only one who managed to pick that up, although one person asked me if I was trying to disguise myself and I said, “Well, maybe the other has been a disguise.” (laughs)

 I have to compliment you on your confronting suicide on “8 Good Reasons”, which is such an arresting song that within it you actually question the idea of broaching it. You sing; “Don’t know if I should quite sing this song/Don’t know if it maybe might be wrong/But then again it maybe might be right/To tell you ‘bout the bullet and the red light”. It’s a beautifully harsh sentiment.

 In the case where songs are very personal it becomes subconscious when you write them. You don’t really know why you wrote it, you just had to write it. I was working with a guitar player named Graham Kearns and he wrote the music for the song and sent it to me. I don’t know…I just felt I had to write it. (chuckles) My favorite way of writing is when someone gives me a piece of music. When I hear the music I see pictures or think of things, whether they’re personal or imaginary things, and once I heard what Graham had given me I was immediately inspired by it.

When I hear the music I see pictures or think of things, whether they’re personal or imaginary things.

 

Can you reveal the 8 good reasons that are worth sticking around for?

They were my children’s eyes.

 Ha! That’s fantastic.

(laughs) Yeah.

I recently saw a television interview with you where you discussed the dangerous vagaries of the Internet, the meanness of it, the random, anonymous vitriol of it all. I wonder if that kind of bullying is something that hits home with you.IMG_5880_300

Well, Jesus, look what’s going on in Israel. It goes on in people’s sitting rooms because it goes on outside and vice versa. It’s not only on the Internet, is it? People aren’t very nice to one another.

 I saw a mural of you on the street in Temple Bar when I was in Dublin last month. On it was written, I presume by the artist, “Sinead you were right all along, we were wrong. So sorry.” Can you shed some light on this?

I wonder who painted it! (laughs) I’ll tell you what, if John Paul II or Ratzinger (Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict XVI) did it I’d be real happy. It’s lovely. I’ve seen it. It’s very special to me. I’d really love to know who did it.

I have framed and hanging in my office the cover of the NY Daily News the day after you tore a picture of Pope John Paul II and that was, for me, a touchtone moment of speaking truth to power. And later we learned it was your vehement protest against the Church’s cover-up of decades of child abuse. I wonder if you believe this is a battle that will ever be won or will it rage on long after we’re gone.

No, I don’t think it will be a battle long after we’re gone because I believe in the Christian scriptures and it’s all written down exactly what’s going to happen. So, to put it briefly and more in a metaphorical form: Rain falls from the sky, stuff comes up from under the ground. As Jesus said; “Nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed and nothing is kept secret that won’t be made known.” I think we can all sit back and relax, because I believe in the scriptures and all will eventually be revealed.

Will you be touring the record here in the states?

Yeah, we’re coming there in October and again in November. You know – one side of the states the first time and another side the second time. (laughs)

Well, it really is a wonderful record and seems to be a creative rebirth for you; new label (Nettwerk) and all. I wonder if you feel that.

I really do. Very much so. Brilliant record company. Brilliant record. John  Reynolds being the most fantastic producer ever and I think very strong songs and a great songwriting team we have together.  It’s another beginning for me as a songwriter.

 

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