12

Aquarian Weekly 12/28/11 REALITY CHECK

12

This will be the last column I pen this year, in the final days of this twelfth month of 2011, and I choose to write about the number 12.

In a few days we embark on 2012, and each year I try and end the previous one with a tag line or a semantic touchstone for where things may go over the following calendar run. It’s a way of cleansing by throwing something out there for kicks. We hardly ever — and by hardly ever, we mean mostly — predict how things will pan out. Never did go much for the “past is prologue” stuff. Don’t look back. Rearview mirrors are for suckers. This is more our speed.

jcNone of this is true, of course. The entire purpose of this space is to point out that nothing is new and that somewhere along the line of civilization, and most assuredly in the history of these United States of America, there has been a dead-ringer or worse catastrophe than the one currently being endured. This calms the natives from believing the End is Nigh, an age old defection in the human condition that bridges raging ego with a preternatural fear of the unknown to justify the eradication of existence, when all it really means is that things are subject to a natural shift and we’re just pissed about it.

However, the end of the year is hardly for reflection but dissection, and in that spirit we offered up 2011 as the year of “challenge”, as the political and social landscape of our nation would be motivated to defend, refute or understand the largest legislative maneuver in nearly half a century; the National Health Care Law. Before that in 2010, we predicted a re-birth of fiscal conservatism by examining a growing worship of Ayn Rand by the wounded Right Wing. Back in 2009, which we labeled the Year of the Guilty, we took a turn for the weird. Not sure where that was going.

Now 2012 is upon us and it is long in coming for me.

The number 12 is my number.

Well, I was initially partial to the number 2 in the grand scheme of the primary numbers, but my grandmother and mother were both born on a twelve, and later I was married on a 12. My first hero, Joe Namath wore number 12 and his team won its only title on a 12. When I was 12 my head exploded when I heard The Who’s Tommy for the first time, which completely altered my being, and then shortly after or during this experience, my body exploded into another completely different being.

Yet, somewhere along the line I learned from the Oxford Dictionary that a study of the number (or word) twelve’s etymology suggests that “twelve” arises from the Germanic compound “twalif” “two-leftover”, so a literal translation would yield “two remaining-after having ten taken”. Therefore, the remaining “tw”- hints that twelve and two are related.

Nice.

Also, in any monotheistic measure, 12 rules; as in 12 tribes of Israel for Judaism, 12 apostles and a bunch of crazy 12 stuff in Revelation for Christianity, which brings us to the Mayan calendar, end of the world thing, and well — I get that. Also, there are 12 Imams, whom are considered the legitimate successors of Muhammad in Islam. But my favorite is the Hindu 12, which indicates the number names for Surya, the Sun God.

Really nice.

Of course, my awareness of the number 12 is not without its constant reminder: The Roman calendar has 12 months, broken up by 24-hour days split into 12-hour periods, which begin at the stroke of midnight (12:00 am). In fact, the very basic units of time (60 seconds, 60 minutes, 24 hours) can all perfectly divide by 12. And for what’s it’s worth, the Western and Chinese zodiacs have 12 signs.

This year of ’12 could be the year we get out of the war business for a while. That would be nice.

Maybe my absolute favorite (and let the music geeks have at it on this one) 12 is the number of pitch classes in an octave, not counting the duplicated (octave) pitch. Also, 12 is the total number of major keys, (not counting enharmonic equivalents) and the total number of minor keys (also not counting equivalents). This applies only to twelve-tone equal temperament, the most common tuning used today in western influenced music.

Beyond nice.

Crucial, really.

There are 12 steps in AA.

There are 12 face cards in a deck.

There are 12 Federal Reserve Districts in the U.S.

Human visitors to the moon; 12.

You may have heard something about the number 12 deriving from Egeria, the Roman water goddess, often pictured carrying 12 jugs of water, which she summarily spills to create the earth’s lakes, oceans and rivers.

Here’s a final tidbit about my 12; the word “twelve” (the largest number with one syllable) is also the largest number with a single-morpheme in English. In linguistics a “morpheme” is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language.

Chew on that for a while.

So, while we’re enjoying our 12 days of Christmas, I wish to ponder on all-things 2012, a presidential election year. The hope here, and a mild prediction, is that a true third party candidate will emerge to finally challenge the status quo.

Why not?

Has that not been my mantra for eternity? Why not in ’12? If not now, when? If the Payroll Tax debate, as innocuous and petty a tit-for-tat political piss battle as can be imagined, ends in a virtual stalemate, what is the point of a Two-Party system? (and let’s not deal with the ironies of my conveniently decrying the number 2 appearing here, shall we?)

Not sure who or what a third-party candidate would look like, and the foolish dream is it won’t be a nut like Ross Perot or Donald Trump, but we’re feeling positive for a few fleeting seconds, so go rain on someone else’s parade.

This year of ’12 could be the year we get out of the war business for a while. That would be nice. When Iraq goes to the dogs after trillions spent and thousands dead and maimed we’ll turn our attention to letting Afghanistan tumble, ignore the Middle East and continue this interesting infatuation with Asia, the New Europe for the New Century.

The desert is out in 2012.

Sadly, what is also out in 2012 is Hackwriters.com, which has been printing this column across the U.K. and the rest of planet earth for the past 12 years. Along with the brave souls at this paper, and several others who have come and gone over the nearly 15 years we’ve been at this, Hackwriters and its staff have been right on the front lines with the Reality Check News & Information Desk.

We wish their next endeavor in 2012 to be better.

Why not?

Embrace the 12.

It’s good for you.

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The Ron Paul Factor 2012

Aquarian Weekly 12/21/11 REALITY CHECK

THE RON PAUL FACTOR Iowa & the Soul of the Grand Old Party

Soon the nation will learn where the Republican Party stands. In less than three weeks, the Iowa Caucus will begin the painstaking selection of a presidential candidate. This is when polls, punditry and prognostication become fact. So…who represents the party now? Conservative? Moderate? Religious Right? Washington Lifer? Libertarian?

Who will be the figurehead, the titular leader of the New Conservative movement, so in vogue only one short year ago?

Ron PaulTwelve months on, where does the Grand Old Party find its voice?

In 2010, it was anti-big-government, no-tax-under-any-circumstances, anti-union, anti-entitlements, anti-Obama. By January of this year, Republicans were taking half of the legislative branch and turning the United States Senate into a stalemate. Feels like only yesterday the Liberal Revolution of 2008 and its president was all-but finished.

Oh, it was a serious beat down; not only of Democrats, but old-line, establishment Republicans, who had to make way for several and varied first-timers, anti-politicians — motivated citizens with no ties or obligations to the “way things are done” Washington milieu. There was no telling where this could lead?

The hope was that it would lead to a purer form of politics. Where the Left lost its way after putting so much social, political and youthful hope in Barack Obama, the Right would rise from the ashes of Bush/Cheney/Delay spendthrift, scandal-addled, war-mongering mania to a hard-line fiscal razing of the system.

Gay bashing, Muslim-phobia, myopic jingoism was out and “Read our lips — No New Taxes” was in. Jesus, there was even talk from Republicans about reducing the national debt or bust.

What a merry time of misrule it was.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…or Paul Ryan, we hardly knew ye.

After the party’s successful exploitation of the original TEA Party, which has since split into more disparate factions than the birth of Christianity, predictable backlashes ensued. Public unions in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Maine, Arizona and Alaska fought against the tide of reduced entitlements and abolished collective bargaining rights. Then the federal government nearly shutdown, as the no-compromise freshman engaged in a suddenly catastrophic deficit pogrom. And then there was Occupy Wall St., which, much like the TEA Party, ignored ridicule, fickle media infatuation and harsh criticism to remain a viable voice of conscience.

So it’s reasonable to assume two things: Republicans will either stick to their guns and stay the course of conservative purity or abandon ship and select a dyed-in-the-wool national candidate to surf the middle, seduce independents and take on what is sure to be a multi-million dollar Obama Machine the likes of which has rarely been seen in the modern political landscape.

Of course, as stated, Iowa will kick-start this process, but can hardly be considered a reliable barometer for the Republican Primary. Many weird things happen in Iowa, much of it difficult to recount here without a smattering of hem and a fair amount of hawing. However, it is a vote and it counts, unlike the bullshit that appears nightly on cable news. And right now, if polls be trusted, the resurrection of one of Washington’s most reviled demagogues, Newt Gingrich, leads the ever-vacillating Mitt Romney Mach II by ten percentage points with perennial Libertarian, Ron Paul right beside him.

Is the TEA Party yesterday’s news, used and tossed to the curb to allow an “electable” candidate to emerge?

Gingrich has no money and no party support. The national conservative press and former colleagues regularly shove each other out of the way to eviscerate him. Yet, he appears to be the only-man-standing in a four-month round-robin competition for Anyone But Romney. For reasons that we’ll dissect in the coming weeks neither Romney nor Gingrich represent a scintilla of pure conservatism. In many crucial ways, these are Limo Liberals at best and in reality Big Government Dinosaurs. Their record of voting, supporting and lobbying for progressive causes and Keynesian economic strategies are well documented.

Ron Paul, however, is the interesting candidate.

He is certainly interesting for his Barry Goldwater approach — the pre-William F. Buckley, Jerry Falwell, Ronald Reagan conservative. If nothing else he is ideologically pure; a political doppelganger of the TEA Party faithful, many of which, if under random doses of sodium pentathol would have to admit Gingrich and Romney are closer to Barack Obama than anything they sent to congress last year. While the two frontrunners have changed positions on key conservative tenets daily, Paul has been spouting his unflinching rhetoric for decades.

But Ron Paul is most interesting because the caucus landscape is his canvas — reporters from every circle have all agreed he’s had more one-on-one connections with them and the people of Iowa (both integral newsmakers and ordinary voters) than any of the six or seven Republicans left standing in this race. Moreover, Paul has an Iowa ground organization far and wide, the kind of grassroots measure Obama conducted when Hillary Clinton was busy measuring drapes for the Oval Office.

Now, there is very little one can say that is crazier than Ron Paul is a clear bet to be the Republican nominee for president in 2012, but that is not the issue. The issue in Iowa, the only game in town on January 3, will tell us where the wind may blow for the Republican Party. Is the TEA Party yesterday’s news, used and tossed to the curb to allow an “electable” candidate to emerge? Remember the “un-electable” Michelle Bachman took the straw poll here in the summer and vaulted to conservative darling for as long as she could keep her mouth shut, which ended abruptly when she told the Today Show that the MPV vaccine causes mental retardation.

Say Paul, who has made no secret of his extremely controversial stands on legalizing drugs, wiping out any kind of government regulations, gutting the Military Industrial Complex, tearing asunder federal safety nets, and eradicating a bevy of government agencies, wins in Iowa. Does that mean there is a chink in the armor of those in the party who have spent the better part of three years trying to make Obama a one-term president? And if the establishment, so cushy with TEA Party hardliners a year ago when it suited them, turn their back on these results and the subsequent press, bump in polls, and political gravitas it provides a true conservative like Ron Paul, then what fills that vacuum; a true Independent candidate? Who then stops attention hounds like Donald Trump or Sarah Palin from screaming about trading in principles for hollow victory or an unenthusiastic showing to usher in four more years of Obama?

Who then stops crazies like Ann Coulter or stalwarts like George Will from pounding the party on grab-ass or disunity?

Yes, Ron Paul in Iowa might have small legs in the battle, but the war will be waged in a different mindset if he wins.

 

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Life, Myth & Influence of Howard Cosell

Aquarian Weekly 12/14/11 REALITY CHECK

THE LIFE, MYTHS & INFLUENCE OF AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL In Praise of A Riveting New Biography on Howard Cosell

May you live in interesting times. – Ancient Chinese Proverb My disposition demands the immediacy of translation of effort into result. – Howard Cosell

Howard Cosell BookI last sent words to press on the subject of Howard Cosell in April of 1995 for a now defunct weekly on the occasion of the legendary broadcaster’s death. Yet, in every piece I’ve researched, each story I’ve covered or subject dissected in a column since, his spirit resonates.

Like nearly everyone from my generation, and the one preceding it, we began by hating Cosell; his sneering egoism, the pompous self-congratulatory harangue that fueled an incessant rambling myopia never failing to garble our sports viewing experience. Certainly, it was a strange preternatural hate, a raging abhorrence that comes from somewhere not altogether rational. But unlike many of my friends, I aspired at an early age to be a broadcaster, mainly of sports. So Howard Cosell became in many ways a touchstone; he was no ex-jock, hardly a handsome television prop, and there was something emancipating about his brashly opinionated and wholly pathological style. If nothing else, the man had balls.

In 1995, still in the midst of my sports writing, I penned this:

“This country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.”

A fairly blubbering tribute for the previously despised, but aside from finally laying to rest the paradox of the love/hate aspect of a Howard Cosell, it missed one key ingredient; despite Cosell’s impact on pop culture, his prominent place in the power and prestige of network television or the incredible shadow his figure cast on a period of unparalleled on-air oligarchy, he failed to leave a legacy. Cosell, in the strangest of ways, was a one-off.

There is nothing or no one today that resembles a serious evolution of his style or substance – in the realm of sports or elsewhere. Maybe, if you’d stretch it, occasional ball-busting commentators or grand-standing blowhards, but none of them with an ounce of the self-effacing humor or hardcore passion for singular causes or mind-curving bombast as the original.

And this glaring omission unfurls with intriguing momentum in the first thoroughly researched and effectively framed biography of Cosell and his times, Mark Ribowsky’s Howard Cosell – The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports.

Beyond its poignant depiction of a flawed, paranoid and narcissistic character with the uncanny talent to immerse himself entirely, almost supernaturally, into emerging events, Ribowsky’s Howard Cosell makes crystal clear the entwined path of Cosell’s epic career within the world of Big Time sports and its broadcasting partners, as they quite literally created the monstrosities they are today.

“If you look at the lay of the land in the Fifties when Cosell started out, there really was no industry called sportscasting,” Ribowksi told me recently. “It just wasn’t important. All you did was kowtow to the teams and their sponsors, until Howard Cosell changed all that.”

It was a change that according to Ribowski had to be fought by Cosell tooth and nail.

“He had three strikes against him from the beginning, his Jewishness, his Brooklyness, his abrasively unattractive voice, but he was relentless and uncompromising and lasted long enough to match the times. People were looking for this anti-hero in the emerging counter-culture of the Sixties and Seventies, but he had to get there first.”

“He had three strikes against him from the beginning, his Jewishness, his Brooklyness, his abrasively unattractive voice, but he was relentless and uncompromising and lasted long enough to match the times. People were looking for this anti-hero in the emerging counter-culture of the Sixties and Seventies, but he had to get there first.”

Howard Cosell is a riveting journey of personal upheaval and challenges for Cosell and his times, but mostly the burgeoning art form he created, from his steadfast defense and promotion of lifelong friend, Muhammad Ali and his making and breaking of the fight game, to the emergence, almost mainly due to his talents and the vision of Roone Arledge, ABC and the iconic Monday Night Football, of sports as showbiz, all the way through the defining moments of broadcast journalism.

“Cosell is the one who merged entertainment and sport, and there’s a great irony to that,” Ribowski says. “It had never been done like that before, but today it’s almost completely eclipsed by entertainment. There’s no journalism left. Journalism was the important underpinning of what Cosell was creating, but now there’s almost nothing of importance going on.”

Ribowski echoes in Howard Cosell much of what the man brought to his craft, a sense that he would always take a stand based on principle even if it was guided by emotion. It was something I had not considered with Cosell until this book. What made him a hero and mentor to me was his detached sense of a story, to take from it the clearly absurd notions and deconstruct it coldly and rationally, as Cosell did brilliantly in covering Ali’s battles with the U.S. government over his draft status.

“The thing that you can always say about Cosell, and it applies in most cases for his work, is simply two words – he cared,” Ribowski cites. “He cared about what he did, he cared about the people he spoke about, he cared about the issues that he elucidated, he cared how the public would perceive them; he just cared.”

However, the godfather of sports journalism at the top of his game in the late Sixties to early Seventies would soon develop a dark side in which Ribowski argues turned a stellar career into one of parody.

“Cosell lost that aspect of the whole thing with Monday Night Football,” the author states. “It was both great and horrible for his delicate pathology, both soothing his ego but also challenging it with all the criticism he had to endure, the death threats and personal attacks in the press, which ruined him.”

Howard Cosell is an even-handed appraisal of Cosell’s mammoth influence on and contribution to broadcast journalism – Ribowski agrees with Cosell’s own gaudy estimation that he was along with Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson among the pop culture media icons of that era – but it also paints a picture of a sometimes petty, often jealous and wildly paranoid jock-sniffer, who was from the start an obsessive collector of celebrities and newsmakers for self-promotion. His enigma, some may argue hypocrisy, dealing with the ever-evolving social debates on race, religion, law and culture are many and varied, which make Cosell one of the most complex and fascinating subjects to cover.

This brings to mind why no one dared touch his life for a telling before.

Perhaps it was Cosell’s final years spent penning vicious barbs in books that built upon the myths of his image and burned every bridge that had ferried him to fame and fortune, from the NFL to ABC to colleagues and confidants. Maybe it was the reluctance of his immediate family to contribute to the book; although Ribowski admits some have enjoyed the results and now wish they had relented. Then there is also a generation of sports writers who recall Cosell as more pop culture caricature than significant pioneer.

None of this stopped Mark Ribowski from giving us a much-needed glimpse into our media history and an American success story like no other, one long in coming. At the close of our conversation the author was adamant; “To do all Cosell did at his age, tear down as many barriers as he did, is like a fable. What a change this man was responsible for, and it’s a great tragedy that he took that change to the grave. He deserved a permanent rendering in society. Where we deserve to have a lot of Howard Cosells around, unfortunately there was only one.”

 

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Black Friday In Mexico

Aquarian Weekly 12/7/11 REALITY CHECK

SOUTH WEST BLACK FRIDAY REVELATIONS
Bored, Drunk & Hiding In Mexico

Mid-afternoon in Salsita’s Café, a garishly authentic dive near the historic town square of San Jose, Mexico. The glorious quiet is accented with an aroma of fresh salsa fresca and bean spices wafting from its kitchen, inspiring a wave to our friendly barkeep for a lunch menu. My wife sips Tequila staring at the tiny television flickering weirdly violent images across its screen.

Salsita's Bar“Black Friday is underway in the U.S.,” a British voice intones with the kind of blissful sarcasm best presented from a BBC anchorman witnessing the stampede of consumer madness. “Millions of shoppers, many of whom have waited for hours in long lines throughout the night for giant chains to open their doors at midnight, begin a furious rush to procure the best bargains and herald in the American Christmas season.”

“This is why we’re sitting here,” I whisper calmly to my wife, tipping a bottle of warming Corona to my lips in a deliberate attempt to punctuate my pithy observation.

The wife says nothing. She rarely if ever says anything when offered commentary of strange behavior on television, whether seated on our living room couch, in bed, an airport gate or any and every place they put televisions now, so one can more frequently view the peculiarity of the planet’s highest intelligence. But when she is enjoying Tequila, there is scant chance she will even acknowledge my presence.

But, really, what is there to say when enduring clip after clip of what has to be assumed are “normal” adult humanoids crashing through barely opened automatic glass doors to careen spastically over end-caps and clothes racks in a trampling charge worthy of the Running of the Bulls or the opening sequence to a 60s’ Japanese monster flick?

So the wife sips her Tequila.

“Estimates from independent economic indicators say that this year’s all-important Black Friday retail numbers will dwarf 2010, even as the U.S. economy sags,” the British voice continues. “Consensus from the American Consumer Council predicts a nine percent increase in retail sales this year, a crucial gauge of how the economic climate may go in 2012.”

Our barkeep, a handsome quick-witted soul whose name, Izel, means “Only One” in the Mexican lexicon, decides to fill the silence left dangling by the wife; “This is…what…is…Is this real?”

“Oh, yes,” I proudly say, as if translating the behavior of my countrymen with certitude. “We celebrate the inauguration of every major holiday by launching ourselves into silliness. On the Fourth of July we blow shit up. Just blow shit up. Everywhere.”

“On purpose?” Izel asks.

“Well, of course,” I tell him. “On Easter, we lather chocolate all over our bodies and writhe in vats of jellybeans and duck sauce.”

“What…duck sauce…they make sauce from a duck?”

“Correct,” I continue, satisfied to be helping my new friend appreciate the customs of the true American. “New Year’s marks the time when we take all the alcohol and drugs we have failed to consume in the previous year and challenge each other to a collective gorging that in many ways signifies re-birth.”

“This…” my wife hisses. “…is why I don’t retort.”

Izel chuckles nervously, as he notices my wife roll her eyes.

“Don’t listen to her,” I caution. “Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country’s life-blood. After our generation’s greatest calamity on 9/11, the president of the United States told us to go out and shop!”

I have plans to prattle on, but get distracted by video of Manhattan’s Herald Square looking like Occupy Wall Street, but with haircuts and pocketbooks instead of dreadlocks and bongos; the One-Percenters on Parade.

“Christmas time here is very quiet,” Izel says, sounding disappointed. “Too quiet.”

“Black Friday did not get its name by accident. It is imperative that Americans shop like it will be their last time to spend money, to insure the national economy. It is a way of life, the very fabric of our country’s life-blood. After our generation’s greatest calamity on 9/11, the president of the United States told us to go out and shop!”

Of course, we are miles and seemingly centuries from the images flashing across the tiny screen that hangs above the bar. San Jose is a sleepy fishing town perched on the curve of the Sea of Cortez, founded in 1730 upon rivers of blood and Catholicism by Spanish pirates, Native Americans, and ultimately, Jesuits, who turned it into a mission that still dominates the hamlet today. Mainly, San Jose is an escape for the artists who make the pottery, linens, and tourist junk sold ad nauseam day and night across the beaches of Los Cabos.

For a full hour before settling into our comfortable place, bellies firmly squeezed into bar, my wife intensely browsed hand-painted sink basins until sadly realizing none of them would fit our bathroom counter. “We can gut it!” she decided gleefully. I offered that we’d think about it over Tequila; a dangling carrot that never fails to distract my bride from taking heavy tools to vital portions of my home.

“Make sure you keep these coming,” I nod toward her near-empty glass. Izel smiles and fills it.

Suddenly, a mist of rain turns steady, causing a rush of tourists to pour into the café, interrupting our oasis from the Black Friday specter. The women furiously shake out their hair and the men flap their arms as if the terrible notion of getting wet against their will on the Baja Peninsula is some heightened measure of mortal sin. Up until now, the bar has been empty, save for two half-soused artisans, the wife and myself.

“Goddamn, it!” shouts the silver-haired Midwesterner. His wife, a look of utter horror masking her overly adorned pallor, stammers, “Where did this come from?”

A young couple, awkwardly groping, as young couples need to be doing at every waking second, giggle in the corner. A family barrels forth through the tiny entrance squealing, making the chubby fellow with the phalanx of cameras uneasy. “Can I get a towel?” he demands to no one in particular, sounding quite obviously like one of the “all-inclusive” types that converge on small Mexican shore towns every autumn.

“What is wrong with these people?” my wife asks the bar keep, but he is long gone, having run with four young boys to frantically drag the leather porch furniture back into the bar.

The cook, who we learned an hour ago likes to be addressed as Clavo, pokes his head from the back with the grin of a man about to clean the house at the roulette table.

“Holy, mother,” he whispers.

“What? What?” my wife presses.

“It has not rained here for more than ten minutes in four years.”

Although spoken with astonishing conviction, it sounded apocryphal — No rain for four years? — almost in that creepy Biblical phenomenon way that’s added to enhance the affect that you’re merely here because some greater force is allowing it on a whim. However, it was true as far as I could tell. We had not seen it rain in southwest Mexico in the three years we had visited here during November, nor have the many friends we have convinced to invade this magnificent place. No one has experienced so much as a mild Nimbostratus.

As more people, mostly Caucasian and mildly perturbed, stumble into the café, the rain intensifies, prompting additional precipitation history from Señor Clavo.

“It has only rained twice in the past year, amigo, for ten minutes each, last September — ninth and nineteenth. People will be dancing in the streets.”

“The farmers,” one of the artisans adds, now pushed to the corner of the bar, as the tiny front room begins to take on the look of lifeboat. “They pray for rain and it never comes, but now it is a gift.”

Black Friday on the outskirts of the 21st century has found its stampede.

We turn back to the bar, and my wife sighs; “One more for the road.”

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The Uncommon Bonds of Common Rotation

Aquarian Weekly 11/28/11 Buzz

THE UNCOMMON BONDS OF COMMON ROTATION Discovering the Truth in Lying with a Rare Folk Trio

I am riding shotgun in a rented van crawling up Fourth Avenue with Common Rotation, a road weary L.A. folk trio who has taken a one-day respite from supporting the Indigo Girls’ American tour to back their favorite songwriter on a stopover in New York. The songwriter, Dan Bern, is not only one of the genre’s most prolific composers and thus the band’s hero and mentor, but also its neighbor – along with Bern’s fellow movie soundtrack songster, Mike Viola (Walk Hard and Get Him To The Greek), who lives a few doors down. For the moment, Bern is sprawled in the back amongst the instruments and duffel bags playing scrabble on his smart phone; a touring ritual that I discover later over Indian food has been going on for months between himself and members of CR no matter where they are or the hour of the day or night.

Common Rotation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mere five minutes have passed since our hurried salutations in front of Joe’s Pub near Astor Place, where the band would be playing a set before joining Bern on stage later in the evening. Normally, this would not be enough time to engage in a furious deconstruction of the Woody Allen film canon; the sudden cross-dialogue of which evokes a zeal usually found in the company of old acquaintances.

Crimes & Misdemeanors is the best Woody Allen movie,” pronounces the stout 34 year-old driver, Jordan Katz, Common Rotation’s all-purpose multi-tasker. Katz’s proficiency on trumpet and banjo, something he claims he picked up when the band wouldn’t let him play bass anymore, is only outdone by his more than credible maneuvering through rush hour traffic. His bemused smile and nifty tie and vest ensemble belies an almost wicked sense that his vehement choice of Woody film is not altogether serious.

A voice from behind intones, “Adam loves Celebrity!” The Adam in question is 33 year-old Adam Busch, a slight, enigmatic soul with a penchant to appear almost cranky enough to be lovable. Later, while riding in an elevator, I proffer that if I were in a band it would be Common Rotation, he leans dramatically toward me and whispers, “Run away…fast!”

Of course Celebrity, a film lampooning the Hollywood bullshit machine made by a New York wise guy, would fit Busch’s idiom as part-time actor. When informed that he looked so familiar that I was forced to remember him from an episode of the cult TV show, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, where he played a nerd villain, (he’s also played, among others, roles in “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House”) Busch sardonically replies, “Yeah, well, everyone has met someone who looks like me.”

As we quite literally run through everything Woody from Hannah and Her Sisters to Match Point, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Love & Death (Bern’s favorite) and of course Annie Hall, a nearly apologetic voice chimes in with, “C’mon, Manhattan.” And with that, the 33 year-old soft-spoken, bespectacled, Eric Kufs enters the fray.

One gets the feeling that this kind of stuff (chatting up relative strangers before donning instruments, clearing throats and whipping off a few ditties) happens routinely for CR; moving from one subject to another with the kind of ease in which they traverse the country, one town and one rented van at a time.

Kufs, guitarist and part-time handler of dobro (lap-slide) duties, and Busch, whose musical expertise ranges impressively from sax, harmonica and glockenspiel, begin engaging in a rapid-fire Woody Allen joke-off. I am, for the purpose of full disclosure, partly responsible for this mess, so I gladly join in.

This lively back and forth goes on for twenty or so blocks and a couple of avenues as Common Rotation heads up to the offices of a rock magazine to play live with Bern for a pod cast. One gets the feeling that this kind of stuff (chatting up relative strangers before donning instruments, clearing throats and whipping off a few ditties) happens routinely for CR; moving from one subject to another with the kind of ease in which they traverse the country, one town and one rented van at a time.

It is how it is done the old-fashioned way; plugging a new record, as is “God Keeps an Open Gallery”, the band’s fourth and latest full-length offering.

“Open Gallery” unfurls much like my short time with the band, familiar and lively; as if you’ve discovered something new that sounds as comfortable as your most well worn albums. There are teary ballads and gospel sirens, upbeat sing-a-longs and tender instrumentals, and across them all an enviable string of memorable melodies swept along on beds of wonderful three-part harmonies. Every note, Katz tells me, was rehearsed and recorded in the band’s living room.

“For some of the tunes, I was set up in my bedroom with the banjo, while Adam would be across the house laying down harmonica in his, and Eric was in the living room playing guitar. We’d just sort of roll out of bed, put on headphones, and start playing.”

The romantic notion of sharing suburban Los Angeles digs – Katz describes it as a sprawling California house, circa 1906, once owned by Gloria Swanson – brewing up the morning café, yawning out the cobwebs and getting down to making music together is not lost on Busch.

“Every one of our songs is basically a search for truth,” he says proudly. “I feel like you’re supposed to experience real things for people. I take it as a responsibility to share the experience with the audience. I would hope our live shows are always expressions of those little private moments that are sometimes forced to play out in public. There is nothing more fascinating than a couple breaking up at the next table or a man going through a crisis in an elevator; you’re invested in the wellness of that individual. Isn’t that where love starts, really?”

This search for truth is manifested in two of “Open Gallery’s” first three songs, the aptly named, “It’s a Wonderful Lie” and “A Reasonable Lie”, both written by Kufs and Busch respectfully, and stark reminders that the search could be something of a chore. This not-so coincidental reminder is on the heels of the band’s previous full-length studio recording and de facto title of its web site; “Common Rotation is a Lie”.

So what’s all this infatuation with the truth?

“All storytelling is a lie,” Kufs weighs in. “It’s always from one perspective. Even the most even-handed documentary is going to be in some sense coming from its own perspective. So to get to the whole truth is in itself a wonderful lie. Adam’s song deals with what we have to tell ourselves or our friends and lovers that gets us through; a reasonable lie.”

Dan Bern & Common Rotation“We all bring ideas in,” Busch adds. “Eric will come in with something and we’ll play around with it, and then Jordan might add a part, or I’ll have a lyric or musical idea. It’s a group effort, but Eric is the driving force behind Common Rotation.”

Kufs returns volley by making sure I understand that the trio’s relationship, as friends and fellow musicians, is an advantage to his compositions. “I know which of my songs will be for the band,” he states emphatically. “Because I know what everyone can bring to them and I don’t have to say much. After all this time, they know what I’m trying to achieve, what emotion, what theme.”

“Open Gallery” is by each member’s measure, the most complete vision of Common Rotation, yet the album is replete with guest appearances from the aforementioned Indigo Girls, which Kufs makes sure to mention are “the most supportive and giving artists and friends”. Contributions also include They Might Be Giants’ Marty Bellar and Daniel Weinkauf, neighbors, Dan Bern and Mike Viola, among others.

This atmosphere of the creative give-and-take provides the tracks of “Open Gallery” a sense of proper contemplation; craftsmen at work, selecting the right mood for a song, the requisite accompaniment, the singular phrasing.

“It was the economic realities of touring that brought us to this self-contained sound,” Busch admits. “We didn’t want to create something that the three of us couldn’t perform on stage. We forced ourselves to enhance what Eric was doing on guitar, whether it’s me and Jordon on trumpet and saxophone or adding the glockenspiel as an undercurrent. That’s why for the first time I think this record is a proper representation of what and who were are. I used to have to explain our records, but I just hand it to someone now and say, ‘This is us’.”

This type of “closing ranks” to produce an insular, singular sound that translates “the truth” of the band can only come from a comfort level provided by a solid background, relationships forged in youth and developed somewhere between the thick and the thin; the story of Common Rotation.

For Common Rotation, this is the place where it breathes, a true band, a gathering of talents presenting its wares; old-fashioned, uncommon, familiar.

The band originated first in friendship and then an uncommon bond in musical talent. Hailing from the same neighborhood in East Meadow, Long Island, crossing paths at Little League in middle school to sharing an admiration for Elvis Costello, especially Kufs and Busch, led to a songwriting kinship, a developed sound, and the obligatory local gigs.

Soon, Busch’s acting career led the band to relocate to California, which brought about an expansion of the act in the famed Living Room tours of its early days when CR literally played at people’s homes, captured in Peter Stass’ documentary, How To Lose, which chronicles the trio’s protest of Clear Channel’s monopoly on the musical touring market. A more old-fashioned route of record promotion is hard to duplicate, unless one mentions the ingenious concept of Union Maid, wherein the band set up a web site to post new songs for fans to download for free. This gave birth to an Internet fund-drive to help the band complete the recording of “Open Gallery”.

This may be why a reluctant swoon into maturity, a strange seduction with materialism and the constant specter of mortality creeps into what Common Rotation believes is its best work; close childhood friends, playing, struggling, growing together as a movable feast for 20 years.

Finally arriving at the magazine on 29th street, the band uncoils like a machine, instruments out, tuning up, the voices warmed and ready. Bern counts off and it is as sudden as the Woody Allen debate in the van or the ease with which the scrabble bounces off cyberspace; four voices meshing beneath Bern’s staccato lead. “I just nod at these guys and they go,” Bern recounts when I marvel at the relative comfort in which CR melds into his back-up unit.

Much later, on stage at Joe’s Pub, the picture is complete; the rushing around, grabbing meals-on-the-run, the seat-of-the-pants scrabble fades beneath the polished sheen of the music. They put it all on display, the “private moments” in song and dialogue; witty, wistful and harkening to the days of dust bowl troubadours or vaudeville shtick; all of it as real as any lie.

For Common Rotation, this is the place where it breathes, a true band, a gathering of talents presenting its wares; old-fashioned, uncommon, familiar.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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All Hail The Super Committee

Aquarian Weekly 11/23/11 REALITY CHECK

ALL HAIL THE SUPER COMMITTEE!

The Super Committee is in control.

By now you know their names; if not, look them up — six Republicans and six Democrats — half of which represent the House and the other half, the Senate. They are lawmakers, members of the United States congress. They have been tasked with pulling together what amounts to four years of wrangling over a federal budget. The democrats kicked it over to the Republicans, who then kicked it to…The Super Committee!

The first of its kind; it is indeed a committee. And the super part? Well, that just puts the pressure on.

Cost cutting. Revenue increasing. Debt reducing. Job creating.

Super Comittee!If the chosen few fail to cut at least $1.5 trillion from the current cost to run the business of government over a ten-year period by 11/23, then it triggers a draconian scourge upon both houses; slashing of entitlements, slicing of the military industrial complex. The bloat and gluttony of our federal system eviscerated.

The Super Committee is in control.

So why don’t we hear more about this? Where is the public debate, so prevalent in the highly charged show biz flail-about congress staged during the fabricated Debt Ceiling Crisis?

Where is the name calling, demagoguery, the desperate pleas to save our children and honor our forefathers? Where are the attack ads and lobbying fisticuffs? Threats? Grandstanding? Bitching like whining rat-faced jack-offs? Where is the politics? Oh, lord, the politics!

This is it, folks. The big decision, the down-and-dirty face-the-facts, pay-the-piper, adults-in-the-room hard choices we’ve been promised. Ingenuity. Compromise. Steadfast determination to transform, manipulate, rescue our great nation from itself.

The Super Committee is in control.

Yet, on a daily bases we hear one dumb ass comment after the other from Herman Cain, a dim-witted pizza salesman lifted to the brink of Everyman Savior by the spectacularly naive; a private sector hero, the straight talkin’ charmer, who ain’t no politician, bub! Shit, Cain may make for great sound bites and appears fairly more serious, if not half as idiotic, as Donald Trump, but has as much chance of becoming president of the United States as the now seven or eight women who claim he treated them like speakeasy cocktail waitresses.

Trust me; Herman Cain has no power, no fucking power to affect a scintilla of your life. The Super Committee, however, does.

In fact, the guy who is actually president is not even in the country as I write this.

That last sentence may be considered by some to be perspective. In Washington, they call it Tuesday.

There have been a lot of head honchos over at the executive branch turned away with hat in hand. Pretty much all of them at one point or another. Large mouths and dead weight in the shadow of the Capitol Rotunda.

May this be a warning to those who yammer on incoherently about how the president and his “policies” and influence, whether it’s this guy or the last guy, have a glint of the authority that rests in our legislative branch. It holds all the cards, bubba, and it makes the rules. Only Lincoln and maybe the half-mad Andrew Jackson before him ignored the might of the U.S. congress. Reagan was smart, he goosed around with congress. This is how the Gipper got things done, until the Iran-Contra gambit. Kind of left congress out of that wild ride, but soon he wised up, just in time to avoid impeachment. Nixon didn’t care. He was gone in 14 months. Bill Clinton wagged his finger and became only the second president handed a writ of impeachment from congress.

There have been a lot of head honchos over at the executive branch turned away with hat in hand. Pretty much all of them at one point or another. Large mouths and dead weight in the shadow of the Capitol Rotunda.

Make no mistake; congress is the big daddy of this fancy republic. There was a Continental Congress long before its glorious body begged George Washington to figure-head all the hoopla. Those guys walked the long walk and have the statues to prove it. And they made sure that only the American people are more powerful than congress; they can send them packing and bring in a new crowd. The president? Ha! Even the Big Time ones like FDR had to play nice. Congress makes war. Congress makes law. Congress sets economic and social structures. Amendments? You got it; congress. And now, gulp! Congress has itself a Super Committee!

Holy shit,

The Super Committee is in control.

Ask Newt Gingrich about the hefty weight of congress. He was Speak of the House once. He had a gavel and a Contract with America and he scared the living shit out of the president of the United States. After 1994, you would have thought Bill Clinton, thanks to a bleating soulless toad like Dick Morris, who was always for sale back in the 90’s and now finds the time and the gall to write books about ideological integrity, was the second coming of Calvin Coolidge. Now Gingrich is running for president and can’t get anyone who doesn’t hate Mitt Romney to validate his parking.

Ask Nancy Pelosi. She ran amok on Barack Obama’s good name and outrageous poll numbers; slap-dashing pork and earmarks all over the big-deal American Recovery Act, until no one had a clue what the hell it was recovering and for what America. And then there is the National Health Care fiasco, which was lock-stock-and-barreled into law with about a third, if that, of what the president had campaigned on, proposed, and backed.

Let me ask you this; you think all that neo-con bullshit the Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal was whipping up would have gotten out of the dock if it weren’t for congress handing them a blank check? Ask Hillary Clinton. That vote only cost her the presidency.

And this congress?

The 112th edition is a hell gate. Nothing that gets in has a hoot in Hades of getting out with a shred of decency left on it. These fuckers screwed the first responders of 9/11, booted veterans and held up the very integrity of the nation’s credit on a whim. Only the most untouchable government body would roll up a massive bill and then force itself not to pay it on principle.

As I write this, there is a report coming from Capitol Hill that frozen pizza is now legally considered a vegetable.

Next up; whiskey is a vitamin.

It is an insane asylum up there, and now they have erected some kind of interminable power vacuum that even trumps an already Napoleonic sense of command.

The Super Committee is in control.

Sort of.

When the committee is done being super, whatever comes out of it will have to get through the very congress that stumble-bummed the damn thing into Super Committee in the first place, where it most assuredly will be masticated and spat out in a mutated gob of legalize.

But that doesn’t matter to congress. Even in failure there is the obligatory do-over, as already there are voices suggesting, nay, demanding that there will be no triggered draconian cut-a-thon. They’ll just whip up a bill, pass it into law, and presto-change-o, we’re back in business.

But, hey; it never gets a chance without the Super Committee.

The Super Committee is in control.

 

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Penn St. Nightmare

Aquarian Weekly 11/16/11 REALITY CHECK

PENN STATE – INSTITUTION DEFEATS HUMANITY AGAIN

Big Time College Sport is a cesspool, and Big Time College Football is its bilge pump.

It is, among other tawdry depravities, legal child abuse, as “student athletes” earn millions for universities and state schools in exchange for a laughable odicum of “free education”, which a fair portion rarely absorb and many never receive. It is also indentured servitude masked as hero worship and character building and other American fallacies run as cash machines of mass media influence and television ratings. The entire system is the refuge of whores, criminals and bottom-feeding sycophants, whose sole purpose is to prostrate to the highest bidder.

Jerry SanduskyBut, hey, this self-immolation is what funds higher education; and thus the Institution is born. And if there is anything to be learned from civilization, it is that no matter the length and breadth of its most villainous trash, the Institution must be upheld.

Rampant malfeasance to out-right crimes from the abuse of women, extortion, theft, drug dealing, gambling, property destruction and assorted mayhem are tolerated and/or covered up routinely year after year across enormous football factories from Miami through Columbus, all the way to Southern California.

None of this of course compares to the horror show that has gone on at Penn State these past 15 years, as its shamelessly self-promoted pristine Institution casually sanctioned an accused serial child rapist.

Former defensive co-coordinator and architect of the famed Linebacker U, Jerry Sandusky allegedly used his influence, power and Big Time College Sport pedigree to repeatedly commit his unconscionably violent crimes against innocent children. Despite several reports of his rancid activities from 1994 to 2006, no school official, coach, athlete, student, booster, nor the Living God of Happy Valley, the mythic and lauded head coach, Joe Paterno, did a thing to stop it.

According to a two-year Grand Jury investigation, several allegations and even admissions of guilt by Sandusky, garnering 40 counts (21 felonies) of sexual assault on minors were ignored by Penn State, which continued issuing him a parking permit and providing office space after his 1999 retirement. In 2002, a then 28 year-old assistant coach, Mike McQueary told Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky “fondling” and “horsing around” with what looked to him to be a ten-year old boy in the team’s shower.

Merely “fondling”, which remains the unconscionable defense of Penn State for its officials muted concern, was apparently not enough of a crime to warrant further investigation or arrest.

Even now, as I write this, more grotesque details emerge about this heinous abuse of pre-teen boys; four or five reports filed and ignored, (nine alleged victims so far), witness accounts left uninvestigated or blithely shuffled up the academic latter by the all-knowing, micro-managing Paterno, as he hid behind his school board and bogus legal advice. It was with this attitude of complete denial that Paterno issued a statement this week that he would retire and spare the board of trustees the difficult task of sacking him.

This hackneyed attempt to save his ass brought hoards of students and backers to crowd around his home chanting his name in support, singing hymns though candlelight vigils. These people like any of the people over the years who blindly choose an Institution and its founders, caretakers, stalwarts over the odious crimes they cover-up, whether the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts, can be excused. They prefer living in a fantasy. It helps them erase the bogeymen that patrol the corridors of their beloved nonsense. The rest of us have reality to deal with.

In the wake of this nauseating criminal extravaganza, here are the questions we should be asking: When should Penn State University be bulldozed and the property turned into a state facility for repeat sex offenders? What’s the fastest way Joe Paterno can be hauled away in an animal cage?

Of course, Paterno was eventually fired (although McQueary, who chose to leave the scene of a child rape, remains) inciting his beloved followers to riot — tipping over news vans, smashing cars and store windows and heaving rocks at whoever happened to be in front of the rocks — but prior to that, and maybe the ultimate cause of that, it was as if the press, fans and stunned onlookers had lost all sense of reality.

For days across the airwaves pointed questions abounded on the immediate future of the embattled 84 year-old Paterno, as his friend, confidant, and fellow Penn State “untouchable” was dragged off to prison a feebly aging degenerate. “Should he step down? Where will the once proud football program go from here? Can Penn State survive?”

To answer such preposterously imbecilic drivel, much less ask it, begs a hardcore review of what we’re actually talking about. To do this, one must recall the great George Carlin’s deconstruction of our culture’s pathetic inability to face cold, hard, ugly facts. “American English is loaded with euphemisms, because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality.” Carlin said. “Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it.” To illustrate this collective malady, Carlin listed 70 years of semantic sterilization in describing what happens when soldiers are mentally damaged by the horrors of war: In WWI it was “shell-shocked”, then lightened in WWII to “battle fatigue”, further diluted during the Korean conflict as “operational exhaustion”, and finally in the Viet Nam era, watered down to the almost ambiguous “post-traumatic stress disorder”.

Whilst dissecting the very idea of child rape — not only an Institution’s silence but perpetuation of it — vanilla euphemisms like “inappropriate behavior”, “abuse” or “sexual misconduct”, not to mention the recycled “scandal” are thrown about, which, for reasons of decorum or social niceties tend to understate its cataclysmic level. And so in the interest of Saint George’s quest for facing the truth, and to provide those who curiously find themselves on the fence about what has transpired at Penn State, we go Shell-Shocked for a few painful paragraphs.

Let’s break this down: Assuming the allegations are true, a celebrated high-ranking football coach, a campus and state celebrity with unprecedented access to every privilege Penn State University can offer was routinely ass-fucking ten-year old boys. He merrily and without threat of ceasing brought his child sperm-receptacles to football practices and school events, parading them around the luminaries before heading to the hotel room and threatening to send them home if they didn’t let him jam his wrinkled cock into every orifice. This was allowed to transpire without repercussion for 15 years — not 15 days or 15 weeks or 15 months, mind you, but 15 years of uninterrupted jacking, sucking and fucking of boys; scared, confused and bullied boys.

Still not stark enough a tableau for you? Still want to turn over cars and wonder about the legacy of football or a college’s reputation? How about picturing one of those damaged kids as your son or brother or yourself?

A known predator traded on his respected position within the Institution to procure tickets, press passes, attend practice facilities, frequent charity events, and, if one can believe, operate a wayward boys home; confidently using it all to get a hold of little, innocent, impressionable boys and jam their faces into his crotch.

Not so much as a peep for 15 years.

And unless the people who let it continue, from campus police to board members, athletic directors to the Big Time College Coach, were huge fans of screwing boys, then they were all protecting the Institution.

Institution survival over the safety and welfare of children — Or six million dollars a home football game and a $10 million library trumps a few damaged lives.

Should the program continue?

Should Paterno be fired?

In the wake of this nauseating criminal extravaganza, here are the questions we should be asking: When should Penn State University be bulldozed and the property turned into a state facility for repeat sex offenders? What’s the fastest way Joe Paterno can be hauled away in an animal cage?

There are dozens of Jerry Sandusky clones crawling around the earth, and some will get caught and some will keep on keeping on, but I think we can all agree that not one of them needs the support, protection, and blessing of any goddamned Institution.

 

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Chasing The Center With Dan Bern

Aquarian Weekly 11/2/11 REALITY CHECK

CHASING THE CENTER WHILE KICKIN’ ‘ROUND THE FRINGE A Few Crucial Hours On The Run With Admiral Bernstein

Sometimes you get lost and you find something new. – Dan Bern

Yeah, sometimes the Reality Check comes home.

It’s bound to happen.

Dan Bern & Erin D. MooreWe spend a lot of time slashing and burning around here, so of course it gets hard to differentiate between the slash and the burn; and sometimes you can barely see a sliver of light between them, and other times there is no light at all, believe me. So you get lost in the joke of it all, where the joke is going — if it hits Fitzgerald’s “High White Note” or when it bottoms out — but in all the absurdities of human endeavor we traverse here weekly, from one hypocrisy to the next, there is very little in the way of direction or point.

And that is precisely the point of what this space provides, a pointless point. For when the rubber truly hits the road, there is no actual point, and therefore, ipso facto, the point.

Ha!

Don’t worry. You’re not confused. I am. Check that — was confused, or if not confused at least temporarily off kilter about the space we inhabit here each week; to provide the service of one voice. That’s all you have, really, One Voice. Unless you begin to stagger into the hypocrisy area, then you inhabit several and varied voices that become a cacophony, which is far worse than a pointless point.

To wit: A few weeks back a friend and colleague, the esteemed novelist and griper, Vincent Czyz wrote me a one-sentence response to my overly wise-ass-to-fairly-beaming attempt at defining the Occupy Wall St. movement. In so doing, Czyz perfectly nailed the entire milieu in which we merrily occupy — for 15 years here and for many more before that in a host forms.

“Perhaps my memory is faulty,” Czyz wrote. “But I, while I have seen lots and lots and LOTS of world-weary, jaded, I-know-how-this-is-all-going-to-turn-out-better-than-you (you poor deluded suckers) criticism in your columns, I don’t recall ever seeing a solution. Not a serious one anyway.”

Ah, this not only struck a chord, but a big fat G-Chord on a beautiful Gibson Songwriter Series, a fantastic piece of American engineering that I broke down to purchase a few years back and trust me when I tell you that for my dollar it can ring out a fucking big-fat-god-fearing G chord like no other guitar in existence.

“Oh, my friend,” I returned in earnest. “You have nailed this one. Never has it been put more on the nut than that. It shall go on my urn.”

And it shall.

But since I am not ready for my urn just yet, I spent most of the following week thinking of how I would broach this absolute truth to my readers; get out from under the mask, flick on the light, face the mirror and describe the scars. Hell, I can do this. I’d done it before in this space. Get real for a few words. Come out from behind the curtain and try and explain what solutions I may offer or if I believe in anything, and if so, for more than a fleeting burp or a gin high.

Nothing came.

What happens on the fringe stays on the fringe.

At least nothing worth writing, or if it got out at all, reading. So I decided instead to address the Youth of America, as old a rant as there is in the annals of middle-age commentary. I have volumes of garble on my shelves by aging scribes giving half-assed advice about “not fucking up like I fucked up” crap from Norman Mailer to Pete Hamill. This is what happens to writers, especially decaying male ones. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have listened to their wounded call, like the dying elephant walking proudly to its final resting place. Not everyone could feel good and write about feeling good and mocking you for not feeling as good as Henry Miller did until his last breath. That bastard had better be in heaven. He sure as shit carved out a chunk of it here.

So, in my malaise of self-examination, into town blows Admiral Bernstein, aka Dan Bern, songwriter, troubadour, novelist, painter, and one-time guest columnist to this space. Bernstein has been to me and my artist/yoga/Vegan crazy-person wife, a dear friend and sounding board, a brother-in-arms, a fellow wise-ass in the great hall of wise-ass fame. We have run the gamut with The Admiral that has been only broached in public by any of us; from the deserts of New Mexico to the Lower East side.

What happens on the fringe stays on the fringe.

Turns out, in his usual perfect timing, Bernstein is on the road again and through the Big Town. Sure, I thought, a few minutes with The Admiral will provide daylight.

First stop was the shores of the Hudson at an aging theater under construction called The Beacon in Beacon, NY. The stage was set up in its vast lobby, making its ironic backstage a massive, ornate 1930s’ rotunda, where we shared Thai food and discussed of all things parenthood.

Because that’s where we are now, bub. He has a girl; a beautiful brown-bob, button-nosed, round-eyed cherub, who I would be humbled to meet the following night, and me and the crazy-person with our own striking, dirty-blonde, giant green-eyed, ruby-lipped gal. The Fringe dwellers deep into the center; a place we would occasionally visit but could never hang for too long, but now with the beauties hanging on every word and calling you dangerous things like “Daddy”, it is indeed a Reality Check.

And so we spoke of fatherhood and writing (songs and other stuff) and personal evolution in the grand scheme of that madness, during which the man said, “You’re on a roll, keep it up, you’re doing a great thing; they can’t put a label on you” or something gut-punching like that. And then he hit the stage, pulled out his own G-fat Gibson and played some of the most heartfelt of his songs, new ones like “Economy” and “Party By Myself” and a gorgeous song about Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and George Jones; a country ballad about maturing and teaching and understanding where you’re from and guessing where you’ll end up.

We left with hugs and a sense that it wasn’t enough for me. I needed to run the streets with Bernstein again; feel the aura of those far-off days of fist-pumping creativity. And so we met the next day downtown to toss around why we’re never sure that what we do is what we actually do and if so what’s the point? We spoke about why we love films, baseball, Spain, beer, J.D. Salinger; road a van up Fourth Ave., ate Indian food with these really great guys from Common Rotation, an L.A. band I plan on writing more about. I watched the entire clan play songs at a magazine, made vacillating top-five lists on Tom Waits and Woody Allen backstage across the street from the Village Voice at Joe’s Pub, and before I left we promised each other to never again search for a point in the grand pointless dance.

We’ll just dance.

And that is where we found our center.

Okay, Admiral?

I’ll see you back on the fringe.

 

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Youth of America on Wall St. 2011

AAquarian Weekly 10/26/11 REALITY CHECK

AMERICAN YOUTH – MOVEMENT, FAD OR VOICE?Occupy Wall St., Maintain a Presence

All you people in the streets from NYC to Chicago to Seattle and all points in between; when the signs come down and the chants die out and FOXNEWS and MSNBC are not frightened or titillated by you anymore, there is something you need to hear: Anger and protest only gets you so far, and in most cases it gets you nowhere, aside from maybe something you can tell the kids or claim in a documentary 20 years from now actually had an effect on the course of events but really didn’t. I’ll assume people over the age of 25 have a basic understanding of what I’m talking about and thus are already guilty of repeated dumbness. You are, therefore, beyond retribution.

Youth Vote 2011However, to the youth; fists in the air, spitting mad about The Man, The System, The Rip-Off; I got you. I was there, a few times too many. I marched, sang, spoke and wrote up a storm and really, aside from the fleeting moments of blessed solidarity and being left with a strange hangover filled with the sense that I’d devoured an overload of empty ideological calories, it was a misguided binge.

Yeah, it’s the “piss on the status quo” thing. It’s very sexy. It’s why the Lefties love Che Guevara and Woody Guthrie and the Righties worship Ayn Rand and Douglas MacArthur, and why I graduated to Lenny Bruce, John Adams and Jesus; take down the elite, crush the unrighteous rule makers and blaze a new world order on their bones.

I love that shit. It makes for great poetry and folk songs, but in the end you become another generation of statistics. That is unless you play the game – and play it to win. And in order for this to take place, you have to matter, be counted, force a payback from those who use you for a few minutes, whether its through antiwar rhetoric, promises of better education or the vote-or-die/cyberspace shuck.

That’s what the hicks and the religious nuts and the elderly and the war hawks and the big business tycoons do; put the scare into politicians, buy them up, and make them do their bidding. This is why you’re pissed, right? Yeah, they have the cash, the organization, the backbone, and as a result the voice, while your future is at best cloudy to dismal. We filled you up with all that Disney, American Dream, sporting life bullshit; study hard, eat your vegetables, say your prayers, and do an extra lap and the free market will beg to fit you into the machinery – Gonna get yourself a fancy car, cool gadgets and a kicking apartment.

That con is as old as the corner shell game or the lottery jive; plays on your sense of hope and seduces your pride. It is insidious and stupid and you should no longer buy it without organizing…for real.

And please do not make this a political movement based on frayed crap like conservatism or liberalism. None of it works. Just look it up. See for yourself how this dumping ground of “isms” ultimately treated your forbearers. Study how the myopic thrill-seekers built this nation into a shameless superpower by not getting sidetracked with antiquated ideas of economic or social structure. That kind of recidivism gets you Jim Crow, Prohibition, John Birch, The Weather Underground or worse. What you need is to pool the youth concerns about the import of education, environment and what matters to you – freedoms; sexual, intellectual and chemical, if need be.

Focus. Organize. Demand. Conquer.

Focus. Organize. Demand. Conquer.

The AARP, the NRA, the UAW, the Christians for Family blah blah blah, these people have titles and form petition groups and push agendas. This is how the shit goes down around here. Revolution? Ha! We joke about “Ready You Muskets” here all the time, but who has the stones to take up arms against the government? It’s a costly and no-win endeavor, no matter how many times these brainless fucks scream about hording weapons to protect themselves against the government. This pitiable gaggle of dickless self-esteem beggars waving loaded penis substitutes just because mommy didn’t hug them enough couldn’t fight their way out of a PTA bake sale.

But you know what? They get the vote out, make demands, and no matter how idiotic the cause, it works.

You know why Social Security is considered the third rail of American politics? The elderly make it so. You know why every time someone’s tit shows up on a Super Bowl halftime show, there are forty new FCC laws? The religious groups make it so. You know why any time someone farts in the Middle East your pals are being shipped over there? The Oil Companies make it so.

You know how something becomes too big to fail?

I dare you, bring up a new gun law or a tweak to abortion rights, and here come the gun types and the women groups.

You’re pissed because you are ignored. Well…

Courted. Coddled. Exploited. Ignored. Mocked. Roused and then passed over.

This is the history of the youth vote in this nation since the Baby Boom, and especially since the expansion of the voter base to 18 years old. Suckered and screwed first by Nixon, who claimed to have a secret plan to end the Viet Nam War in 1968 and then four years and an escalated conflict later, he trounces the anti-war, pro-pot, rock and roll candidate by a record landslide.

Then you were suckered by Jimmy Carter’s “Aw-shucks” routine, shoved aside by Reagan and Bush, completely snowed by Clinton’s hipster two-step, and later made to feel guilty by Baby Bush, only to finally and completely be sold down the river by the very campaign that had you amped; Barack Obama.

You’re damn right you don’t matter.

So it’s time to get real and organize. Time to demand your space in this fixed arena by becoming a voter-oriented lobby machine for, say, ending wars. Hell, you’re the ones asked to fight these things. Demand a more dynamic and accountable education system that properly prepares you for the dog-eat-dog-stomps-cat-and-dumps-on-you world. Make a stand for appropriate attention paid to the quality of the air you’re going to be breathing and water you’ll be drinking long after we’re all fossil fuel. Lighten unjust drug laws, legalize gay marriage, whatever the hell you want, just make it a movement that matters, and make those who court you answerable.

Trade in this overblown righteous indignation for serious backdoor, strong-armed influence.

Infiltrate The System by using it, abusing it, and if you have to, ring it dry.

You’ve never done it before. Ever. But you better start, because the standard of living around here has been rapidly eroding for decades and aside from maybe your parents no one, and I mean no one, gives a flying dung heap what becomes of you.

You appear to have their attention now.

What are you going to do about it?

 

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#OWS

Aquarian Weekly 10/12/11 REALITY CHECK

#OWS Pissed Populist Resistance Shifts Left

Some is rich, some is poor That’s the way the world is But I don’t like lying back Sayin’ how bad your luck is

So we came to jazz it up We never loved a shovel Break your back to earn your pay Ah’ don’t forget to grovel

– Joe Strummer

Occupy Wall St.There’s a place in the heart of the world of commerce called Liberty Square; lower Manhattan, NYC, deep in the money district – the trade market, slipknot wink-wink wheel-greasing machinery. It’s not far from where a few weeks ago they laid their wreaths and said their prayers for what went down on 9/11/01, when after a decade people were still not quite sure how the hell that could have happened to the richest nation on planet earth in its biggest city. For 20 days now this tiny patch of land in the bowels of the concrete jungle has acted as an epicenter for the latest in street-theater populist outrage aimed at a fixed system that, let’s face it, has been a pretty fair whipping post for this space lo these past 14 years. Weird how the slipped veil will occasionally reveal the fragility of subsistence.

A fair number of people have jammed the cross streets and bridges, waving signs, wearing costumes, strumming tuneless guitars and brandishing cheap bullhorns while they block traffic and are summarily hauled off to prison. Some are there for the spectacle, others for the sense of purpose, others to perpetuate the illusion of filibuster, a slice of the rhetoric from the bottom up. Others are making the same point, maybe, from a different political slant, but nonetheless a very similar dissent to that of the TEA Party enthusiasts of two years ago.

There is a lot of fairly damaging shit that goes down without much democratic voice.

To the byways pour the jobless, disenfranchised, and the youth, who are told there is no future, and the aging, who hear that what they banked on is going bye-bye and it ain’t comin’ back. Voting appears to be an annual joke and unless you can afford a lobbyist, there is a corned animal vibe going down now; here, there and everywhere.

The left-leaning 99 Percenters, the Occupy Wall St. movement, which began noisily enough in late September, has now reached into the thousands over three weeks and has spread to cities across the fruited plain. It’s a splintered kind of mashed-up message of middle class civil disobedience, worker’s rights, and fed-up disillusioned patriots protesting against the wealthy, influential and apparently under-taxed one percent that we’re reminded of in Washington daily; by the president, the congress, and echoed through the news cycle cable soap boxers. It is old-fashioned Have vs. Have-nots, the class warfare crowd, demanding a share and exercising a voice – real Woody Guthrie meets Emma Goldman angst.

Apparently no one is safe these days.

The Right is being pounded daily from the TEA Party that the broken government needs to stand down and out. “Taxed Enough Already” was grassroots at its finest, and although it at first appeared naïve and then patently mean spirited, it had a signature resonance. Of course, this has become a bit of a problem for those who call government a career, whether they’ve achieve their position from deriding it or not. Whatever the Grand Old Party throws its red meat subculture, it comes back chewed up and spat out. Ask its current presidential “frontrunner”, who, by the way, keeps besting all the TEA Party comers on by one.

Now the Left, feeling rejected and hoodwinked by its centrist, Wall St. bailing president and a congress that passed the buck for two years into the gnarled teeth of a freshman class of neo-conservatives hell-bent on hacking chunks of big government at its roots, has hurled itself into the scene with a fervor not seen since the last president decided to war it up.

Now the Left, feeling rejected and hoodwinked by its centrist, Wall St. bailing president and a congress that passed the buck for two years into the gnarled teeth of a freshman class of neo-conservatives hell-bent on hacking chunks of big government at its roots, has hurled itself into the scene with a fervor not seen since the last president decided to war it up.

But unlike the anti-war movement, the Democratic Party survivors don’t know what to do with these people; placate, lecture or exploit. The present administration would love for their chants to echo into the hinterland and rile up a fractured base to rekindle any sort of independent fervor against what is sure to be a dozen more months of putrid economic news. Yes, the faceless hordes of shysters you handed over your retirement funds to so they could gamble like drunken roulette addicts are the bad guys. Good, yes, please.

But that is a dream or a delusion not worth dissecting here. We’re talking about protests now, protests against this president and this congress and the elite of this nation; the oil barons and corporate masters, the huge conglomerates, who poison and pollute and rack up massive profit margins to give out big bonuses to the yacht boys at Christmas, and then have the audacity to not ease the burden of our nine percent of employed. Protesting, I guess, against the cold, hard facts: “Too fucking bad, pal. Tell it to the judge!”

My favorite sign is “Lost My Job, Found An Occupation”.

Good stuff. Very clever.

Of course, as I kindly shared with the TEA Party gathering on Tax Day, 2010 in Hackensack, NJ: What are you going to do once the fist is unclenched, the cameras go away and you have miles of The System staring you in the face? Well, the TEA Party did something all right; they became part of The System. They got themselves exploited and piggybacked, which has been both a blessing and a curse. Someone legitimized and then politicized them. The power suits they sent to the Virginia swamp started yakking it up about deficits and federal debt and revisiting the legitimacy of entitlements and opened up a slimy can of worms they can’t seem to reseal.

How come we had money to bail out the big banks? The auto industry? Wall St. fat cats? How come we ran two wars over eight years off the books? How come Homeland Security was needed when we have a CIA, FBI, National Guard and supposedly the most powerful military on the planet? What the hell is that pork-addled limp-dick stimulus package doing for us now? Why all this foreign aid? Why all this tax money going to belly-up green franchises? And, while we’re at it; where are the hovercrafts we were promised? Yeah, and where are the cool laser guns?

Nobody said indignation had to be coherent, but at least in America there isn’t major rioting and looting and the burning of neighborhoods.

Yet.

Well, probably not in NYC. That’s an L.A. thing. Too many interesting distractions that you can get to on foot in the Big Town to waste time running amok. But, shit, that shouldn’t mean when this thing becomes a maudlin exercise for the righteous, all that is left us might be the reckless.

But for now, fight the good fight, people. At the very least, you’re keeping the riot control units of the NYC police department busy and there will be a host of jobs for those paid to clean up afterward.

It’s like we used to say around here…

NEVER SURRENDER.

 

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