Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Women’s Reproductive Rights Already Under Siege by 118th Congress 
Within 72 hours of taking a slight majority in the House of Representatives we get a unanimous (222) Republican vote on two bills to ban abortion nationally, building on the unconstitutional Supreme Court ruling that tossed a 50-year federal law protecting women’s reproductive rights provided by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and sent it to the states. EVERY Republican voted for this, even moderates from blue states that barely gave the fascists the gavel after a surprisingly lackluster midterm showing due to the backlash of the SCOTUS overreach. These fuckers couldn’t agree on a Speaker of the House for fifteen rounds of voting over the course of a week, the first time it took that long in 150 years. But with their seats barely warm, they came together to hammer home what they are really about: Curving inflation? Nope. Curtailing crime? Na. Fiscal responsibly? Pish-posh. Border security? Not a wit. Enslaving 52-percent of the populace, this is their aim.

Although almost every pundit and insider paying attention to such things realized that beyond the Republican insurrection of 2021 fueled by a year of anti-democratic rhetoric, the striking down of Roe v Wade last summer led to a Democratic uprising to not only stem the tide of a purported Red Wave (and to be fair, considering the economy and two-hundred-plus years of history about the opposition party doing well in the first midterm of a president, it was expected) the Dems kept the Senate and nearly the House. Again, what saved the GOP were Republicans in states that have protected abortion laws – New York, New Jersey, and California. Voters stupidly thought their rights were safe, so why not vote Republican? However, in states where there are Draconian laws jailing doctors and rounding up rape victims or women with miscarriages, the Republicans shit the bed. These blue-state voters were wrong. Surprise! Republicans are pushing for a federal ban on abortion that will put you in the same boat as Alabama or Texas.

At least those who tried to downplay this civil rights disaster in a shameless attempt to get elected can now be outed. We know where they REALLY stand. ALL of them. There are no moderates in a party now completely ruled by fascists and religious fanaticism. There is ZERO reason to ever vote Republicans if you believe in habeas corpus, the right to privacy, and certainly keeping the fucking government off our bodies. And this is for all those men who don’t give two shits what women they knock up, it’s their problem now – first it will be women, but believe me, they will stop at nothing. These lunatics who preach that guns are sacrosanct, but women’s uteruses are open season? They will come for your cocks next, bubba.

Republicans want to do one thing: Reduce women to baby machines under the threat of law.

I had a progressive friend recently rightly point out that without the senate or the presidency these kinds of showcase bills are merely to toss red meat at the great unwashed. But I reminded him as I do all the centrists, progressives, independents, and general believers in the concept of freedom, we are only two years away from a very difficult map for Dems in the senate and a presidential election. All this changes if Republicans gain power. They will, if this week is any indication, take all of three days before they will ban all abortion everywhere. Just like the justices who told everyone Roe v Wade was “settled law,” then got appointed and tossed it without a second thought. These bills prove without a doubt that they will ban abortion nationally in 2025 if elected. And they aren’t even being coy about it anymore. First time in power since 2018 and BAM! Two bills that would be law if there was a Republican senate and a Republican in the White House. 

And this warning goes for the final few who identity as Republicans but do not want women to be arrested for deciding what to do with their healthcare. Because this week, with these votes, Republicans have shown their hand. Check that. They have shouted from the rooftops, that this is a siege on women’s rights, and it will not stop until all fifty states are under their thumb.

These votes prove what I have been telling you all along, so this is not hyperbole from a guy who practices it routinely here. This is reality and, as I pointed out last week, the sooner we come to grips with it, the better. There is nothing left to do by vote for the only party protecting women to have enough Democratic representatives, senators, and a president to cement into law protections from government rule over women. And this goes for Democrats running from now on. This must be the lead to any discussion, debate, campaign ad, whatever. Take rights back. Protect the citizenry from tyranny.

This is what voting for Republicans gets you. All that talk about the economy and cops and all the other bullshit is just that. Republicans want to do one thing: Reduce women to baby machines under the threat of law. And they will run the entire thing from Washington D.C.

This past week they voted for this reality TWICE. 

And they are not going to stop.

WE have to stop them.


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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Republican Domestic Terrorism Part II
As I write these words on the second anniversary of the attempted insurrection of this nation planned, led, and perpetuated by one of two of our major political parties, the Republicans are once again taking their anti-democratic agenda to the floor of the United States Capitol. This time instead of storming through the windows and killing cops, they got inside legally. Voters put them there. Well, gerrymandering and weird results in otherwise blue California, New Jersey and New York put them there, but they got inside nonetheless, and they are very much doing the same thing – wrecking the place. Instead of flak jackets, Confederate flags, and semi-automatic guns, they don suits and make speeches. But make no mistake, this is more of the same. Republicans destroying democracy.

The focal point of this has been minority leader, Kevin McCarthy getting struck down in a once-in-a-century rejection by his own party to become speaker of the House after Republicans took a slim majority when the purported Red Wave failed to materialize – like the Death Panels, the Caravan, the Wall, the Rigged Election, and most Republican delusions of the past years. The count by the time I write this is eleven – each time McCarthy sat there gobbling down the very shit he shoveled into the chamber over the past fifteen years, as he dreamed, connived, and boasted about getting the gig and using the gavel to beat the previous speaker, Nancy Pelosi over the head with it. 

This very public, tragic, and gloriously hilarious humiliation was made ever more painful when considering McCarthy failed in much the same way in 2015 and was forced to demure to a flustered Paul Ryan, who heard from the last guy, John Boehner how vile it was to corral the heap of bleating feces known as the Freedom Caucus into a governing construct and proceeded to get his ass kicked for five long years. That is until his president, Donald J. Trump – the domestic terrorist avatar – coughed up the House and the Senate and eventually the presidency and riled up the great unwashed to storm the Capitol and we know the rest.

But McCarthy is not the disease. He is the symptom of a virus ushered into the House on the 2010 Tea Party wave. Remember those guys? Oh, what a merry time of misrule that was – phony anti-government ideologs joining the government as a knee-jerk outrage to the Affordable Care Act (very popular now). Once again deluded into thinking the public wanted their Ayn Randian nonsense, they turned the chamber into middle-school rebellion, like smoking in the boys’ room but with press conferences. White guys on parade – Eric Cantor (soon sent packing by a further right-wing insurgence) and the aforementioned Paul Ryan, who helped the Trump Administration explode the national debt – very un-Ayn Randian. They called those three the Young Guns back then, before it all went terribly wrong. They were going to change things, but soon Cantor and Ryan were unceremoniously sacked, leaving McCarthy to hang around and sniff a new cynical angle. Devoid of integrity and clearly possessing no actual ideology, he hitched his wagon to the MAGA crowd that made the Tea Party look like liberal hacks. But because Republicans were under another delusion that anyone really wanted Trump as opposed to rejecting the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton in the Bush-Clinton-Bush three step, they quickly found themselves once again out of power.

McCarthy is not the disease. He is the symptom of a virus ushered into the House on the 2010 Tea Party wave.

And this brings us to this week, where the mutated offspring of McCarthy’s silly Tea Party (please read this address I made at a 2010 Tea Party rally for my excellent prediction of all this) arrived hell-bent to deny him the speakership in much the same way he came riding into town – anti-American blather cloaked in patriotic swill. The delicious irony is hard to ignore. The very flawed, gerrymandered-district-nothing-to-lose domestic terrorists (and that is how former GOP speaker and dementia-addled Newt Gingrich framed them this week) are giving McCarthy a bit of his own dime-store boondoggle. 

If you campaign and win virtually uncontested races, then you have no incentive to govern. Vote for a speaker of the House? Why? It’s way more fun pissing on the whole thing by voting for Trump or some unknown Black Florida congressmen to play a little “identity politics vengeance” and use the TV time to rail about the border when all you really want to do is strip women of rights, oppress votes, and support Russian aggression in Europe. 

And thus, McCarthy is royally and effectively fist-fucked by his own making.

Mr. Frankenstein, your monster is here to see you.

And to best illustrate how completely delusional the entire Republican implosion is look no further than to its media blowhorns, which defended a violent rejection of our democracy two years ago but now preach sanity to embrace the law. Well, fuck them. At least these duly elected twenty-plus representatives who are making a mockery of the system, the country and the party are not treasonous criminals. But to hear the Sean Hannitys or Tucker Carlons, the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal tell it, they are mad. 

But to be fair, the very aberrations that whisked McCarthy into power and are now denying him the gavel, were invented and then disseminated by these rodeo clowns

The echo chamber giveth and taketh away. 

Sure, reality sucks for those who guaranteed a Red Wave and are faced with three days of abject degradation instead. The same strange reality of accepting defeat after being told Trump was going to win despite mountains of polling evidence before and then raw numbers after the 2020 election. You see, we may be witnessing political suicide, but none of it suddenly happened this week or even two years ago. This was the long-range plan embraced and perpetuated by its latest victim, Kevin McCarthy, who visited Trump days after the 2021 insurrection to gain his favor. Ask Mike Pence how that works. He got to be vice president eating the same dung for four years, listened to Trump toss him to the wolves, and then watched in horror from his office window as Trump terrorists erected gallows with his name on it. Those gallows and these protest votes to screw McCarthy started with his Tea Party and grew into his MAGA and ends with the convergence of January 6 of 2021 and 2023.

But who cares about McCarthy or the Republican Party? What I am here to ask is why do we keep voting for these people? It’s like inviting al Qaeda to hang out at the Freedom Tower in NYC.

The Republican Party is the enemy of democracy. 

The sooner we all come to grips with this and defeat and that enemy, a better America it will be.     

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
From Recommended Criminal Charges to Fraud-Addled Tax Returns                     
Can anyone recall a worse week for a public figure that did not end up face down on a rug in his bathroom with his pants down around his knees? I cannot. Please wrack your brain. You will come up short. In a whirlwind shitstorm that swept away the final crumbs of delusion that Donald Trump is any more than a bizarre hiccup in the human genome, the former president was found potentially guilty on four counts in fomenting, planning, and covering up a coup d’état from the Oval Office and had his completely fraudulent tax returns exposed to the world. Trump has now fully joined his buddy, Vladmir Putin as a paper tiger exposed as a useless fat old fart with a daddy complex. At least Putin is still “in charge” of something, although that is debatable in most studies of political fallout. Trump is a doomed multiple loser that is slowly devolved into sad parody.

And as discussed last week, the Republican Party is trapped between trying to morph this wretched news into political witch-hunt status, a favorite defense of the pathetic one-trick-pony Trump playbook. Republican congressman Kevin Brady from Texas held a press conference calling the motivation for releasing tax returns “flimsy.” Perhaps Brady, who eerily sounds like a man recovering from a serious bout of brain bubbles, might consider listening to the guy he defends. Trump repeatedly told the nation in 2015 and 2016 that he would release his taxes once some fictious audit was done – spoiler alert, there would be no audit for another two years. Trump hid the damn things so he could hijack the country for four years after pulling the electoral equivalent of an inside straight that America duly corrected in 2018, 2020, and 2022, rejecting his ass-hat routine and those who run for office under its feckless construct.

Republicans can spin and hide all they want, their boy, twice impeached, while being the first one-term caretaker president to lose the House, Senate, and White House since Herbert Hoover, is fast becoming the latest parcel for history’s dustbin. None of the above compares to Citizen Trump’s bad news this week. Four counts of criminal behavior handed down from a bipartisan congressional committee to investigate one of the most violent uprisings against American democracy since Fort Sumpter is to put it mildly, and to quote the guy who sent Trump packing two years ago, “a big fucking deal.”

None of the charges would appear to have needed a special investigative counsel, though. For one, Trump admitted to two of them: Conspiracy to Make a False Statement and Obstruction of an Official Proceeding Conspiracy. For the former he might argue those statements about the 2020 presidential election being “rigged” were not false, despite zero evidence, dozens of failed court cases, and bogus recounts that made the loss worse, but he made them, and still makes them to the point where he is publicly declaring the U.S. Constitution should be abandoned because of it. And as for the latter, again, his aim for January 6, from public statements and Twitter-invites to come to the Capitol for his “Stop the Steal” (steal? See charge #1), because “it will be wild!” was clear. He also maintained (again falsely, see charge #1) that the vice president of the United States could halt the march of democratic order. He could not, and when he didn’t Trump tweeted that Mike Pence was a “coward.” And this was as domestic terrorists jacked on his bullshit and fancy invites were smashing into the Capitol and injuring and murdering cops, So, those are slam dunks.

He turned the executive branch into an insurrectionist outpost waging war on the rest of the federal government

Conspiracy to Defraud the United States was, let’s face it, the underlying principle of the Trump presidency. The entire thing was why people voted for him: to create a whimsical fuck-around for his own vanity and pleasure and take down a “corrupt government” run by godless pedophiles or whatever the flavor of the month was. Nothing he did from treason, obstruction of justice, placating foreign despots, and dismantling governmental institutions was no surprise for those who would eventually follow him into the violence of January 6. Hell, it might have worked as an actual governing principle, except it didn’t. It was a bleating, king-hell, stumble-bum farce and a pox on any idea of why there even is a United States of America. They/He tried, give them credit, but they/he failed in the most humiliating way, and now the piper has come for the check.

And finally, before we get to the tax issue, there is the charge to “Incite,” “Assist” or “Aid or Comfort” an Insurrection (quotes are in the brief). This was obvious from the start. Trump can’t lose. Otherwise, his father haunts him, the weird hair/tan/gut/floppy-suits/monosyllabic blather is not the eccentricities of a misunderstood genius, just the jabbering spittle of an abject moron. Losing is not an option for Trump, so he enacted all this stuff, and he got busted and now instead of whining like a little rich boy bitch, he should suck it up. When Trump told that dink Kevin McCarthy that “maybe you should be as angry as I and those brave people trying to take about our country” he had already copped to the above crime. Shit, they’re probably crimes if he were still a game show host or a gad about Manhattan, but he was the president of the United States when he committed them. He had full control of the U.S. Army. He turned the executive branch into an insurrectionist outpost waging war on the rest of the federal government – as he had previously taken on the intelligence community, the FBI, and the press for four years. The piper will see you now. 

Okay, so, onto the taxes, which prove one thing two ways: Trump was/is a fraud. For two years a purported multi-billionaire was cheating us by paying a paltry $750 (he paid zero taxes in 2020) or his supposed business acumen was/is patently false. Because those level of losses would kill sizable villages, with numbers so awful anyone even thinking about attempting to lend this goof money or partnering with him should probably walk slowly into the ocean to prevent infecting the rest of humanity. OR… he and his crack team lied about the whole thing. Which, of course, as expected, explains why whilst running for the nation’s highest office in 2016 he fought like cornered vermin to keep these things from us. And now it is out there – he sucks at business, or he is a tax cheat, and, again, a fucking criminal. Those are the choices. Pick one.

Either way, this was one whiz-bang, ass-reaming embarrassment of a week for Donald Trump, who, if memory serves, is running for president again. And will most likely be the nominee for the Republican Party, which is so morally bankrupt and intellectually damaged that it really has no alternative. 

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Weeding Out the January 6 Treason & It’s Fallout                       
More leaking. More implication of Republicans and members of the Donald J. Trump administration being culpable in the attempted overthrow of the United States government on the sixth day of January 2021. This week former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows finds himself once again in the firing line as over 450 of the originally discovered 2,300 texts reveal many Republican members of the U.S. Congress and Senate plotting to stop the ratification of a presidential election two months after it had been decided, many trying to convince an unhinged president to declare Martial Law and deploy the U.S. Army to keep control of the government and declare himself monarch. This is a thing that happened. We saw citizens act as the rabble insurrectionists, but it turns out more than the Oath Keepers, who were recently convicted by a jury on “seditious conspiracy” were actively conspiring treason.

Earlier this month, Meadows’ cooperation with the January 6 Committee (soon to be shut down by the terrorist wing of the newly controlled Republican House of Representatives) exposed his attempt to pull in the nation’s top national security officials, including the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, in a hackneyed effort to investigate completely unfounded claims of foreign election interference and voter fraud. At the behest of treasonous lunatics like the president’s legal team of Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell (currently being sued by Dominion Voting Systems, which has also filed lawsuits against Fox News and what I assume is a comedy channel called OAN for defamation) and convicted criminal Mike Flynn, whom Trump pardoned to commit more crimes, Meadows went rogue and tried to use the powers of the executive branch to obliterate our democracy.  

We learned this past summer that despite public and heated White House screaming matches with Powell and Flynn, who were pitching the appointment of a special counsel – without notifying congress – to investigate bogus claims of Chinese interference, emails Meadows handed over to the committee show he did contact then acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to look into something Trump was calling “Italygate.” An email dump this past October also uncovered Meadows, acting on behalf of the fucking president of the United States, infiltrated a recount in Atlanta, Georgia and tried to bully Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into upending the results when the already recorded evidence that Trump tried convincing him and Arizona officials “to find me votes” was released.

The texts this week busted a whole lot of sitting congressman and senators with conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government. Texas Congressman Philip Babin reporting back to Meadows that he is worried Vice President Mick Pence is not on board with stopping the ratification of the electoral vote on 1/6, a fantasy Trump cooked up as a last-ditch effort to declare himself king. Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan riling up other members of the House to stand against the election results, speaking daily with the president about the “rigged election.” North Carolina Congressman, Ted Budd, just elected to the Senate, began furiously texting Meadows the day after the election that perpetual boogie man, George Soros was running Dominion and queering the vote. Georgia Congresswoman, who wore a mask for weeks in the chamber that read “Trump Won” begged Meadows to implore the president to declare Martial Law. (spoiler alert she spelled it “Marshall” because she is a stupid idiot who knows less about civics than my cats).

There is too many more to name, but they have all been outed by these text messages and with the January 6 Committee’s days being numbered, what can be done with these terrorists?

Many are untouchable, gerrymandered right-wing strongholds protect them from election peril. Those faced with actual comeuppance at the polls this past November were tossed out, but without a relentless campaign on the ground and in the press to weed out these maniacs much of the Republican Party is still in halls of power. Soon the GOP will have a slight majority in the House and will doubtless drag out the voting for Speaker, as party radicals have voiced opposition to projected winner, Kevin McCarthy, a man who spent days with Trump after the 2020 election and changed his position on “voter fraud” and Stop the Steal” so many times it is hard to keep track. Somehow, he is not anti-American enough for this group and they will make him twist in the wind for it and make sure he embraces the dark side. It remains to be seen if they can fuck the whole thing before the first month of 2023 is over.

With the January 6 Committee’s days being numbered, what can be done with these terrorists?

The committee has already recommended indictments to the DOJ for criminal offenses. Not sure what this will do or if Attorney General Merrick Garland will sign off on arrests and subsequent trials. But along with media pressure and keeping the names of these scum in the public eye, could help clean out the system of fascists. This should be the aim, otherwise, ready your muskets.

Irrespective of the fallout these people are enemies of the state and need to be outed as such. The leaked and already reviewed emails and texts bear this out. As long as this element is allowed to affect public policy more Draconian measure like the robbing of women’s rights and a dramatic lean on voters’ rights stand in the balance. In my experience, terrorists are not interested in governing, only to collapse the Republic. In public and in recent polls, many Republicans have grown tired of Trump’s act because he no longer can woo enough disaffected independents to win close elections. But there is a deeply disturbed cadre within the party that will continue to move Trump forward as the party’s presidential representative for 2024. Not even pipe dreams for untested Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the new darling of the stupid, will wipe this contingent out. It is truly a malignancy on the Republican Party, but most importantly, a terminal disease on the United States.

We’ll see if we can survive them.      

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Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll  by Peter Guralnick (2015)

This is the finest biography I have ever read on anyone, and Sam Phillips, its subject, may be the most interesting figure that could fill a volume of this magnitude. This includes such luminaries as founding father, John Adams, the madman Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, the man who saved America’s pastime, Babe Ruth, and most of the things I’ve read about Jim Morrison. The layers and tragedies and triumphs and immense legacy of Sam Phillips on the evolution and eventual global dominance and influence of American music (and its ensuing latter 20th century culture boom) are all covered in page-turning ecstasy in Peter Guralnick’s The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.

Phillips’ story is that of the American maverick who overcomes childhood trauma, mental illness, financial hardships, and personal foibles to conquer an industry filled with kooks and vipers. We know about his discovering and recording of Elvis Presley’s incredible early catalog (replete with his inventing the reverb-soaked slap-back sound that changed the sonic landscape of early rock and roll), but there is also Phillips’ enduring love and discovery of inimitable blues masters Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King, the parade of country/rock stalwarts, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and pop icon Roy Orbison. But what about his championing for the Black, poor, mostly ignored titans that provided the framework for rock and roll and recording what is arguably the world’s first rock and roll record, “Rocket 88,” or his founding of the world’s first women’s radio station (WHER), and a union of America’s independent studio owners, all of it in the Jim Crow American South?

Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘N’ Roll is a masterful biography worthy of its immense subject and his enduring legacy.

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The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music by Tom Breihan (2022)

Tom Breihan is a nut. This is precisely why I love him. Fellow music journalist and columnist for Stereogum began penning a daily – and eventually, due to agonizing combination of madness and exhaustion, bi-daily – review of every No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts since its inception in 1958 to the present. By the time of this writing Breihan is in the early aughts, and in the interim had a fantastic idea to turn this passion into a book by adding more in-depth historical perspectives on the most seminal of popular songs to our musical culture at large. The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music is a tour de force of Breihan at his most nerdy, intricate, and enjoyable.

With these things, there will always be complaints and counterarguments… which makes it all the more fun. And as I was ready pounce on what may be a song added or missed in his 20 hits, I was pleasantly surprised that I agreed with them all. These include the primacy of the dance craze spark of Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” the female teenage coming out party of songwriting team Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s masterpiece, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” the genre obliterating “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Billie Jean” by the two dominate chart figures of the 20th century, the Beatles and Michael Jackson, and a grand nod to Mariah Carey, duly covered here as her spate of chart toppers (19) which only bows to the Beatles (20) thus far.

No one parses the stories or puts the popular songs that have defined generations into perspective better than Breihan, who has delivered on the promise of his crazy column idea.  

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Top of the Mountain: The Beatles at Shea Stadium 1965 by Laurie Jacobson (2022)

Full disclosure: I met the author at the annual Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago this past summer and found her delightful, funny, and wholly passionate about her subject. Laurie Jacobsen, who boasts a long bibliography of writing about her time in and around Hollywood over many years, has laser-focused her unique comprehension of the entertainment business with a genuine love and fascination with the Beatles. All of this comes through on every page of her wonderful new book, Top of the Mountain: The Beatles at Shea Stadium 1965.

We had a running joke between us – I wrote a book about one Beatles song, Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” and she wrote one about one concert. What Jacobsen has done is provide the reader with a scrapbook of Beatlemania at its absolute height (hence, the title taken from John Lennon’s observation of the event) and a blow-by-blow history of its origins, planning, execution, and legacy. 

Those who were there will appreciate her attention to the details of the times – memorabilia, ads, ticket stubs, contracts – and those who were not can be taken back in time to a magical first foray into the massive business of rock and roll, including tours, sponsors, management, marketing, and hyperbole, also providing a glimpse of the singular phenomenon that was the Beatles. 

However, there is more to Top of the Mountain than mere visual memories. Jacobsen fills the pages with anecdotes from those who packed its capacity audience, like Meryl Streep, promising to wash dishes for four years to procure tickets from her parents, Whoopi Goldberg, who was surprised with tickets from her mom on the way to show, the Supremes’ Mary Wilson, as well as E Street’s Steven Van Zandt and more.

Mostly, Jacobson delivers a proper tribute to longtime promoter, Sid Bernstein, the man who brought the Beatles to America on instinct, grit, determination, and lots of finagling. Before anyone cared about them, Bernstein had the foresight to envision the Beatles as America’s sweethearts while also portending a world in which the rock event superseded the mere one-off shows prevalent in 1965 to another one that would launch a period of massive youth events (Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Live Aid, etc) and stadium sellouts for the rest of the genre’s long history. 

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The Band Has No Past – How Cheap Trick Became Cheap Trick by Brian J. Kramp (2022)

In May of 2017, I met Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick at a Rock Nation event in NYC. In a crowded hallway awaiting the press, they bitched to me about no one having attempted to capture the incredible origins of their band. And although neither of them contributed directly to this incredibly comprehensive oral biography, I hope they see it as I do: an endearing capsule of a beloved American rock band.

Brian Kamp has compiled a nearly day-to-day, gig-to-gig overview of Cheap Trick’s rise to rock legend that all fans of any band would want to consume. From the mid-to-late 1960s up through the third-generation rock and roll era, and smack through punk, funk, and power-pop, Cheap Trick remained true to its mission to create off-kilter songs that unleash a bombastic, live, and visual assault from Sheboygan to a noisy hamlet near you. The Rockford, Illinois quartet overcame every music biz cliché in the book, and in this book in particular, more than any in recent memory. 

This Band Has No Past – a clever title based on the smarmy quasi-bio Cheap Trick included in its initial album release – lets the voices behind the scenes and beyond the band tell the tale, from artists who passed through their many lineups over the years to bands that shared bills with them, and, of course, managers, booking agents, groupies, roadies, toadies, and fans galore. This is a true coming of ‘stage’ story, one filled with incredible anecdotes and the type of rock music lore that keeps the pages turning. 

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Nightfly: The Life of Steely Dan‘s Donald Fagan by Peter Jones (2022)

Obsessive perfectionist, anti-social curmudgeon, musical pioneer – Donald Fagan, and to a great extent his musical partner, Walter Becker, co-founders of the inscrutable jazz/rock/pop combo Steely Dan, are all of those and more. Peter Jones’ Nighfly lifts the veil on the mysteries of the band that hid in plain sight while they challenged music industry norms and managed to simultaneously boast huge hits during the 1970s. The method, the madness, and the fallout of their partnership/kinship are duly covered and brought to light in what Jones describes as a “critical biography,” but reads as sonic psychoanalysis.

A painfully private subject is both a blessing and curse for biographers. Readers want to know it all, since so little has been offered by the subject – I am reminded of the recent ESPN series on legendary New York Yankees player Derek Jeter – but perhaps it is their public output that speaks volumes; hence “hiding in plain sight.” Fagan revealed so much of his psyche in his songs, anguish, lust, sarcasm, and a general hopelessness for humanity. The humor of his lyrics, the adoration of trad jazz and early rhythm and blues, comes through loud and clear. To that end, Jones succeeds in letting us into that world, providing more than a sneak-peak into Fagan’s past, his dreams, his fears, and his seemingly unwavering worldview, along with the incredible dedication to making music the way he and Becker heard it in their heads. Their silent, mystical bond is what intrigued me the most, and Nightfly gets to its core as well as any account I have read thus far.

Nightfly is indeed a “critical biography” in that hits all elements of an underrated commentator of his times that oddly never saw past the keys on his piano.   

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Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation by Stephen Hyden (2022)

There are love letters to a band and to a musical movement and then there is Steven Hyden’s Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack of a Generation, one of the most entertaining summations of what a rock band can do to one’s soul whether we like to admit it or not. Hyden is a music journalist and author I have gotten to know from a distance since he kindly referenced my Accidentally Like a Martyr – The Tortured Art of Warren Zevon a few years back. Previously commenting poignantly with some humor in compendiums on the music of his times, Your Favorite Band is Killing Me (2016) and Twilight of the Gods (2018), and an in-depth analysis of Radio Head’s Kid A in This Isn’t Happening (2020), this time Hyden is fully immersed in his subject. 

Setting the arc and journey of Pearl Jam into seminal eras, which begins for Hyden at a June 1995 Red Rocks concert wherein the band rediscovers and reinvents itself, the book helps fans to understand how the inner workings of this collection of musicians have endured beyond the grunge movement. (The only one that has?) This includes the infamous battle with Ticketmaster that, in Hyden’s estimation, both underlined the integrity of the band while simultaneously derailing its ascent. For this reviewer, who had more or less left Pearl Jam’s evolution somewhere along 1998’s YieldLong Run, made it fun to discover gems from their later works while marveling at the band’s survival instincts to navigate several personal and professional travails most fans never see.

Hyden also uses a similar ‘songs as guideposts’ framework that I used in Accidentally to focus on where the band was in its steady – if not enigmatic – sonic pilgrimage, ending prophetically on “Yellow Leadbetter,” a reliable concert closer that is perhaps its fans most beloved song. In the final chapter, wherein he muses on the emotional connection a band’s run has on our fraying thread of memories, Hyden writes, “You see a band you have loved most of your life, and if they can still move you, then time manages to stand still. But only for a while. And only if they can still do this. Because one day, they won’t.”    

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