RECALLING THE ETERNAL WAVE – A Brief Conversation with the Legendary Brian Wilson

Aquarian Weekly

7/1/15
BUZZ Feature

James Campion

 

RECALLING THE ETERNAL WAVE
A Brief Conversation with the Legendary Brian Wilson

 

You know the old showbiz axiom about luminaries needing no introduction? Okay, so here’s one of those.

There is no need for anyone to wax poetic about Brian Wilson, musician composer, arranger, producer, hit-maker, icon. For over half a century there has been Brian Wilson. In one way or the other he has influenced the cultural and artistic landscape of the American experience. He was the heart, soul and musical and philosophical engine of the Beach Boys. His songs created the great California myth of what I once called “the sun-drenched hymn to hedonism.” Pretty good resume. He has survived well-documented traumatic hardships from childhood to his years of fame and fortune and the inevitable 1960s cliché fallout of drugs and madness and break-downs, both mentally and physically.wilson_380

Much of this is covered in the new biopic about Wilson, Love & Mercy. The film features two actors, Paul Dano and John Cusak, portraying Wilson as a young man at the height of his musical powers while unraveling from mental illness, and the middle-aged overly-medicated period when he was being manipulated and exploited by the tyrannical Dr. Eugene Landy, played sinisterly by Paul Giamatti. While Wilson did add his expertise and memories to the filming, which he commented was “very factual, accurate, stimulating,” he ultimately found it hard to watch. I saw it weeks after speaking to Wilson and was very moved. The studio sequences recording his two masterpieces, Pet Sounds and Smile truly capture the mood and the significance of the times and add to Wilson’s already legendary status, while his ascent from the abyss is truly inspiration.

Seeing Love & Mercy and reading about Wilson’s harrowing but prolific journey, which takes another step with his recently released album, No Pier Pressure, it would be easy to say that Brian Wilson is the shell of the man who broke molds and conquered the zeitgeist, but that would be short-sighted. What you get from speaking with Brian Wilson today is the real guy, the guy who would never let it all crack his resolve or bend his personality into something he couldn’t recognize. He is by any credible definition of the word, a genius. He is cloaked in it like armor. It precedes him. It defines him.

He speaks in certifiable tones, but with a sweet disposition that is at first alarming and then as comforting as one of his spectacularly arranged five-part harmonies. There is no hesitation in his expression, therefore he doesn’t self-edit for effect. This is a raw psyche; the echoes of a man who brought some important stuff back from the darkness and the light and placed some high stakes in all those strikingly beautiful songs.

What follows here is about fifteen minutes over the phone from Los Angeles of the musings of a living legend, and I don’t think I’m being maudlin or coy or ironic when stating this. In the pantheon of rock and roll, especially during its most experimental, influential and lucrative period, there is Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Brian Wilson. This is a person you hope to get two minutes with. I got fifteen. And so I asked him things I always wanted to ask Brian Wilson. It was rapid fire and it was thrilling His answers, although appearing in print as curt and often dismissive of detail, in person –hearing his cracked, sing-song voice coming over the phone line – are surprisingly effusive and to the point.

This is a man who has answered countless questions. How could you even begin to put a number on it? People want to know how the genius works, where it comes from, how it goes from the head and the heart to the canvas or the page or the recording. These are the things you think about when gaining access to the artist who has provided the world indisputable greatness. And this is what I think about when Brian Wilson is uttered in my presence. I put it to him and waited breathlessly for the key to the kingdom, so to speak. And I think this discussion, of which I send to press virtually word-for-word, is my few minutes getting to the bottom of genius. I hope I asked the questions you would ask of Brian Wilson. And I hope his answers are enough. They have to be.

 

Brian Wilson: Hi, James!

 

james campion: Mr. Wilson, how are you, sir?

 

BW: Very good.

 

jc: Excellent. I know we have a short amount of time, so I’ll get right to it. I know you’ve probably been asked this a billion times, but I have to do it. I’m a huge fan and you are one of the great composers of the latter half of the twentieth century, so everyone always wants to know where do the songs come from? What is your process? Take me through the Brian Wilson method of writing a song.

 

BW: Well, I go to a studio…there’s a studio I go to and there’s a piano there. I play chords on the piano, and then after awhile a melody starts to come. And after the melody is done, the lyrics start happening.

 

jc: And that’s basically it.

 

BW: Yeah. Basically, yes.

 

jc: When you first started writing songs, which I assume was when you were a teenager or even before that…

 

BW: Well, I started playing piano when I was like…I don’t know…twelve or fourteen? And when I was nineteen I wrote “Surfer Girl”, the first song I ever wrote, and then from there I was a self-taught musician.

 

jc: And do you write basically the same as you did when you were nineteen? Have you changed the process at all through the years?

 

BW: Oh, no, I changed a lot. I’ve changed the process a lot.

 

jc: How so?

 

BW: Well, I used to write more rock and roll type songs, thanks to Chuck Berry.

 

jc: (laughs) Right. You’ve often spoken in the past about capturing sounds on tape that you hear in your head; harmonies, various instrumentation, is there any song that you wrote and recorded that you think came out perfectly, that was exactly how you heard it in your head?

 

BW: Yeah, “California Girls”; some of it I heard in my head and some of it I heard in the studio.

 

jc: So when you listen to that record, even today, you say to yourself, “That is exactly how I pictured it.”

 

BW: Yeah, when it was done I said, “Hey, guys, that sounds exactly how I wanted it to sound like!”

 

jc:  And that never happened again?

 

BW: It happened again with “Good Vibrations”.

 

jc:  Those are the two, huh?

 

BW: Yes.

 

jc: Some pretty good songs, there. I know you’re a big fan of Phil Spector’s sound, and I know you were a Beatles fan, did you ever listen to a song and say, “Wow, not only do I wish I wrote that, but that is really a perfect record”?

 

BW: Yeah, “Let It Be” by Paul McCartney and The Beatles. That’s something where I said, “Boy, I wish I could have written something like that!’

 

jc: (laughs) Well you certainly did in many, many ways. Here’s something I was always interested in asking you. I think it was in your 1990 autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice; you had revealed in that book that you had discovered at some point that placing certain bass lines and notes under a specific chord or specific melodies over other chord progressions would evoke an emotion in listeners; get them to feel melancholy or feel joy or spark memories in them…

 

BW: Well, Pet Sounds was my ballad album; “Caroline No” and “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” were, I think, a very sweet, feminine theme to get across. Those songs were the feminine side of me.

 

jc: I remember as a kid listening to Pet Sounds and getting very emotional, and not because of the lyrics or any particular connection to the themes. I was a kid, yet, I could not escape feeling something mature when listening to that record. It was as if you got across with music these mature themes of love, loss, anxiety, nostalgia. Still, to this day it moves me. Was that something you planned or did it come together in the writing?

 

BW: It actually came together in the writing. Very fast.

 

jc:  That is generally considered your greatest work. Do you think it is?

 

BW: It has to be one of the best albums I ever produced, yeah.

 

jc:  When you heard the Smile stuff that Capitol put out a couple of years ago from the original Beach Boys sessions, much of it unfinished, do you think it captures what you were trying to do with Smile or was it your version that came out about ten years ago?
(Note: Smile was the great and mysterious unfinished opus for Wilson that eventually caused mental exhaustion and his eventual retreat from the mainstream that would cause his reduced role in the Beach Boys)

 

BW: Which version do I prefer?

 

jc: Yeah.

 

BW:  The 2004 version.

 

jc: Your version.

 

BW: Yeah.

 

jc: Did you have anything to do with Capitol’s choice of material or were you surprised that they released it?

 

BW: I was surprised they put it out, yeah.

 

jc: Were you disappointed in how it sounded?

 

BW: A little bit, yeah.

 

jc: Is it because it was unfinished business, it took you back to that time and you said, “Damn it, I wish I had the chance to finish that album the way I originally planned it!”

 

BW: Right! Right on!

 

jc: (laughs) I figured. Just from reading about you and your work on that record and how much it meant to you, the first time I saw it out, I thought, “I wonder what Brian thinks of all this?” You have a new record out, correct?

 

BW:  Yes.

 

jc: Can you tell me about the process of working with this new material and what you may have discovered when writing and recording it?

 

BW: Well, I wrote a couple of the songs back in 1998 that I use on the album and the rest I wrote in 2014.

 

jc:  So it’s been a couple of years in the making?

 

BW: Yes.

 

jc: How do you find performing now? I know that it was something you didn’t really enjoy during the Beach Boys years, but over the past two decades you seem to be playing more and more. Do you enjoy it more now?

 

BW: Some of it. I enjoy some of it, but some of it is a lot of hard work and some of it is an easy-going kind of thing, you know?

jc:  I sure do. You’re known for so many great songs. My favorite is “God Only Knows”. You mentioned that you agree that Pet Sounds is one of if not your finest collected work; do you have any fond memories of writing and recording “God Only Knows”? Do you think that’s something truly special that you nailed there?

 

BW: I worked with my friend, Tony Asher. I started writing a melody and he immediately came up with (sings) “I may not always love you…” and it was a very spontaneous writing session.

 

jc:  I bet its one of those incidents when you think, “Where the hell does this come from?”

 

BW: Right. I said, “What the fuck?”

 

jc:  (laughs)

 

BW: Yeah. Yeah.

 

jc:  That song has been used in so many films and it never fails to move people. Did you ever see it used with visuals, in whatever capacity, and agree that it works on that level?

 

BW: Most of it works, although I’m not really sure where it ended up, whether television programs or movies or whatever, but I do know that whenever they do use it I hear, “Good job.”

 

jc:  (laughs) What part of your legacy do you enjoy the most? What is the talent you are most proud of – the songwriting, the producing, arranging, your building the Beach Boys into this iconic piece of Americana? How do you want to be remembered?

 

BW: Well, to tell you the truth my singing means more to me than anything.

 

jc: Sure. I’m sorry I didn’t even bring that one up. Of course, the singing. Would you say that’s also the most fun you had working with the Beach Boys in the studio, getting all those wonderful vocal harmonies together?

 

BW: Yeah, that was the fun part! The hard part was producing. That was the hardest part of it for me. Producing was rough, but singing always came very naturally, effortlessly. You know…an artist expresses.

“Don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.”

jc: And that is your most cherished expression as an artist, your singing.

 

BW: Right. Right.

 

jc: There’s a film out right now about the famed Wrecking Crew, a working studio session band that played on so many hits of the 1960s, including a lot of the Beach Boys stuff. Can you talk about working with those kind of top musicians in the field and producing the incredible records you did with them?

 

BW: I worked with some of the more well-known musicians in Los Angeles like Hal Blaine (drummer), Carol Kaye (bassist), John Randy (keyboardist), Steve Douglas (saxophonist), and so many others. They worked with other producers around L.A., but we did some great work together.

 

jc:  Is there a song you heard when you were a kid that turned you on, influenced you more than the others?

 

BW: Well, “Rhapsody in Blue” comes to mind. I think “Rhapsody in Blue”. That was the song that got to my heart the most.

 

jc:  Do you listen to any music of today that moves you, influences you? Who are the great songwriters today?

 

BW: Well, I listen to a lot of 80s music. There’s so many artists from the 80s, Rod Stewart, Billy Idol, Blondie, just a lot of groups I like. I listen to 80s music all the time.

 

jc:  In all the years you’ve collaborated with quite a few lyricists and songwriters, is there anybody that you wish you could work with that you haven’t?

 

BW: Paul McCartney.

 

jc:  I can’t believe you two guys haven’t written a song together; after all the years. You guys respected each other’s talents so much, influenced each other to greater works, the Beatles pushing the Beach Boys and vice versa. It’s hard to believe there is no Wilson/McCartney composition?

 

BW: Are you kidding? I haven’t had the chance!

 

jc:  Somebody has to get that going.

 

BW: Yuuuup.

 

jc: Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson that would be something.

 

BW: That would be a trip.

 

jc: (laughs) Sure would. What is the one thing, you would say, a songwriter today needs to focus on? What is your advice for the kid now cobbling songs together and starting a band?

 

BW: I would have to say…okay…okay…I would say don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.

 

jc:  Got it.

 

BW: Don’t take drugs, write songs on the natch.

 

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DAN BERN – TRANSITIONS

Aquarian Weekly
4/20/15

BUZZ Feature

James Campion


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

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

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

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

Here’s part of it…

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

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

jc: Did you record it live? . 

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

jc:  Have you ever done it like that before?

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

jc: Who are the musicians on Hoody?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jc: Like “Weekends with Bernstein”!    

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING JOURNEY OF SONG

4/8/15

Aquarian Weekly 

Buzz Piece

 

NICK HOWARD & THE STRANGE BUT REWARDING  JOURNEY OF SONG

 

By James Campion

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

Downtown2_30

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

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

And maybe “almost” is understating it a little.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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SURPRISE, IT’S GINA ROYALE!

SURPRISE, IT’S GINA ROYALE!
Teenage Singer/Songwriter Sneaks Up on 2015

Gina Royale is recording her first EP of original material. All of 17, the petite, soft-spoken budding singer-songwriter moves about the studio as if it is her bedroom; petting a lazy dog, giggling at the occasional quip, and half-listening as the producer adjusts the levels on what will soon be a drum track for “Tightrope”, a highly stylized mid-tempo slice of pop/rock. You would never guess this is the composer of a track everyone, including her dad, is working hard to realize. And that’s the way Royale likes it.

“I want to surprise people,” she whispers to me later, a wry grin creasing her alabaster, be-freckled face.

gina_bwSurprise people” is exactly what she did a few weeks before I stopped in to see her record at Boonton, New Jersey’s Audio Pilot Studio. She surprised me, for sure. I was asked to emcee an event for a close friend, who had survived cancer – a party/benefit in West Milford boasting a line-up of local bands, food and fun. It was a lazy late-summer day, and the music thus far had been entertaining if not mostly forgettable. Royale’s dad, Andy Rajeckas, a pianist, was set to play instrumentals as the guests partook of the catering.

“My daughter’s going to sing a couple of her songs,” Rajeckas leaned over to inform me seconds before I was supposed to announce him. “Her name is Gina Royale.”

And so I did, condescendingly prompting the audience to give it up for the young, adorably quiet girl for which her daddy ceded his modest stage time. She sat at the keyboard, mumbled something into the microphone, and began to softly play. I probably made it four to five feet off the stage when the voice hit me; bluesy, honest, arrestingly emotive. I turned; half expecting to see if someone else had wrested the mic from this kid. Nope. Royale was kicking ass.

Her set was maybe five songs, all of her own material, save for a very moving rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, which in her hands appeared far more meaningful than I’d heard since the ex-Beatle was gunned down in NYC 34 years ago. Throughout, I could not take my eyes from her, not for dynamic or seductive reasons; it was the voice, and the flow of the songs that seemed achingly mature for someone you might cast in High School Musical.

She received applause, but nothing like what I experienced while working my way through the crowd, such as it was. People were stunned that what they had heard wasn’t a CD or wondered how we suckered an obvious recording artist to play at this thing.

My effusive praise made it to Royale’s dad, who for all intents and purposes is her acting manager. And why not? Wouldn’t a manager make sure his client got on a bill wherein she would debut free of expectation and…well…surprise people? And, of course, her manager/dad told me all about her upcoming recording date and here we are.

I am sitting in a typically ragged studio-type couch watching intently as Royale runs down another number that will appear on the EP, “T-Shirt”, a song she describes as an experiment in taking an innocuous item and placing undo import, as in the t-shirt of a boy possessed by a smitten girl; a charming metaphor for an adolescent heart. “I usually start with the title of the song,” Royale explains, as if describing the building an engine. “I find a unique title and then work out the chorus and find a rhythm to go along with that, work out some lyrics, build a chorus, build whatever comes right before the chorus, and then the rest of the song…in that order.”

Royale’s drummer, Josh Grigsby, on loan from a local band called the Karma Killers, the dad, who added keyboards to the tracks, and producer/studio proprietor, Rob Freeman, who also plays guitars and bass on the project, surround her. I can just about make out that innocently proportioned face, those piercing green eyes, and the obligatory wisp of blonde locks, as she begins to unveil the song – half heartbreak, part defiance, all playfulness. It is already, even without accompaniment, a stellar pop vehicle. Doubtless, anyone would be happy having this as a potential hit. It’s quick to the hook, turns around with panache, and is fueled by the voice that turned a few benefit-goers heads only weeks before.

“I want to hear my songs on the radio,” Royale says later. And although it is an obvious statement millions of dreamers might utter in their spare time, this is a young lady who truly means it. “I want people to enjoy my music. It’s not that I am straying away from my own style just so more people will like it, I love pop music.”

“I want people to enjoy my music. It’s not that I am straying away from my own style just so more people will like it, I love pop music.”

Royale began absorbing music at an early age, beginning on flute and saxophone, then enduring the inevitable piano lessons any daughter of a musician would be expected to, but it was hearing Taylor Swift’s Red at age 14 that made her think in terms of composing. “When that record first came out, I thought the lyrics were so amazing and beautiful and deep and I wanted to write songs like that,” she says. Studying vocals from a classically trained perspective provided her a foundation, but it was one that she fought, as more and more classic pop music began to enter her transom; The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer would all work as undercurrents to her craft.

And it is indeed a craft for Royale, whose approach to songwriting echoes the Brill Building era of hit song assembly lines, ala Carol King, Irving Mills, Neil Sadaka, et al. To better underscore this workman like demeanor, she attended a songwriting camp last year at William Paterson University and literally worked at developing her technique of playing with chord progressions, honing melodies, and finding the elusive bridge. “It’s a strategy,” she smiles.

And that strategy will lead her this coming autumn or perhaps even January of 2016 to a college with a heavy emphasis on music. “I want to study contemporary vocals in college, but it’s hard to find a major like that,” says Royale. “Thirty schools in the country have it. The majority of them are in California, but I’m looking at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They are specifically a contemporary music school in general, so their vocal program is only contemporary. I’m also looking at the New School for Jazz Contemporary Music in New York City, The University of the Arts in Philly, and William Paterson University here in New Jersey, which also happens to have that major.”

Even in the quest for high education, Royale remains pragmatic to the core: “My reach school is Berklee, but being more realistic, it would be William Paterson, which is affordable. It’s easier to get into and it’s a university, so I can still have something to back me up if music falls through.”

And one wonders with all this strategy, schooling and purpose, if perhaps something of spontaneous combustion might be missing from all this songwriting equation. Yet, Royale is not totally unaware of this. “If I didn’t have that influence, I would probably do a long emotional rant on the piano,” she answers matter-of-factly. “I am not a depressing person, but I like to write depressing songs or like songs about heartbreak. I can always draw more emotion from that, and although not that many sad things have happened to me, I feel like I can describe more emotions that way. Every time I try to write a happy song it ends up being dumb and cheesy. My goal is I want to have a radio-appeal song, but I don’t want it to be cheesy. I still want it to be unique on its own.”gina_color

Lyrically, Royale combines universal pop tropes of love and loss and yearning with honest experiences from her own teenage life, as in the betrayal of a friend and the infinite coming-of-age battle between integrity and popularity. This is evident in “I Don’t Need You”, the third song on the EP Royale is calling Heir, a clever play on the double-meaning between her moniker and being the offspring of a musician: “I don’t wanna take your calls/I don’t wanna hear your voice/And I don’t wanna kiss your lips/I don’t need you boy” is something of a feminine call to arms for all young girls caught in a bad-boy grip.

This sense of renewed independence, whether autobiographical or melodramatic, is a theme Royale feels comfortable with, as in another original composition she brings up during our conversation that is not included on Heir, “Courage”, fueled with the kind of righteous indignation that could only be roused by growing up.

“Last year I was supposed to sing ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin as part of this Memorial Day Veterans tribute,” recalls Royale about the origin of the song. “I was so excited; I knew my part and everything, and the day before the show I was kicked out by this girl who was in charge of it, all because her best friend wanted my part. The next day the girl wouldn’t even talk to me, because she felt so terrible. One of my favorite lyrics from that song, and I always hope she’ll hear them, is when I mention her going to James Madison University in Virginia; ‘Your sly tongue won’t take you very far/Take it out to Virginia and see where you are.’”

Perhaps Heir’s most infectious song is “Hello Heartbreak”, wherein Royale defiantly sings a torrid verse of impenetrable fury: “You had all the traits of a crook/Wanted more than what you could have/You have no idea what you took/And I don’t know, I don’t know if I’ll steal it back,” the final line is repeated three times to drive the rancor deeper. It attacks from the opening verse and refuses to let up. It may also be Royale’s most effective Taylor Swift homage, using a bouncy melody to express torment, which is only part of its allure, which hits home when you could swear you’ve been singing the thing your whole life.

Not to say that Royale is overtly derivative, but the arrangement of the songs on Heir reflect a modernity that you would expect from youth, and, quite frankly, what you need to hear from youth, as if heralding a new order or at least reminding you that being young is still as much a weirdly explosive amalgam of exhilaration, confusion and angst as you remember it to be.

But to hear Royale say it, and as she performs it, she is happy sneaking up on everyone.

“I want to be that kid, who, you know, most people don’t expect that I can even sing,” she says smiling, as if it is all transpired in her head already. “In school, I am a hermit. I don’t talk to anyone. I have like three friends. It’s not that I’m shy. I just don’t like anyone in my school. People never assume I sing, and then when I do, I’m this short, tiny girl and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you can actually really sing! You can really hit high notes!’ I want to surprise people.”

 

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SNAPSHOTS FROM UNDER WONDERLAND

8/27/14

Aquarian Weekly
Cover Piece

 

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

 

By James Campion

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where we begin our discussion…

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE III

Aquarian Weekly
6/11/14

REALITY CHECK

James Campion              


OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE III
In Which We Discover Your True Grit After 15 Years Married To The Author        


Me, I always have you there.
Yours for the whole life.

– Arthur Rimbaud

Once again, as has been my feckless duty for the previous two public floggings – first on the occasion of our nuptials in June of 1999, when I sent to press a confession of my many and varied ills, and then a decade later on the tenth anniversary of our legal bonding – I take this precious ranting space to applaud your courage in still calling me your husband.

IMG_5645This time around we find ourselves in Dublin, Ireland on the twelfth day of this pagan tribute to the goddess of marriage, Juno. I tend to have these things hit the streets when we’re abroad and you are not able to read them, but then again the Internet has since screwed my insidious plan to express with glee this one-sided affair of our journey (advantage jc) with as little repercussion as possible.

Do not think I take this lightly. I know I married way above my class. Nor do I take lightly the unflinching dedication to this madness of a life we have slashed together as if a living, breathing Jackson Pollack. In fact, “abstract expressionism” would be a good description of this thing we’ve created by coming together, nay, staying together so long.

I tell friends almost daily, as I did a couple of days ago, how you have ruined me for other women. Say you come to your senses and boot me out, then how am I supposed to relate to ordinary mortals? Who would see this tornado of jack-assery coming the way you do, or fire against my brimstone the way you do, or crack wise, embrace rage, sink passion, brave doldrums, and rip through the artistic cosmos? Who, I ask you?

Fuck that. It’s prostitutes and bad poetry from then on.

You have taught me a valuable lesson lo these past seventeen years; fifteen in unholy matrimony: Love is not a universal concept. I probably should have seen that one coming, with all the evidence to the contrary. The idea that you can truly love someone else after being in love only works when you don’t have the scars of you, the brand of you, the scent, the fist, the silence, the exhale, the laughter, the abject mind-altering fuck-all of you. Sure, you can toss around affection and even understand random sex, but love? This comes from having your grip on my throat (I meant heart, not throat, no…wait, throat).

Here’s how you pulled that off: By allowing me to think you do not have this ironclad stranglehold on me; that somehow all these decisions that revolve around thinking of you every single day of my life since we plunged headlong into this without reason or logic have been mine and mine only. How some metaphysical hammerlock on my psyche doesn’t exist; it’s merely a “want” on my part or even (gulp!) a need. Yes, I need to have you consider me an important part of your existence, because, shit; not for one minute could you not be doing all this incredibly cool stuff – art, home-building, yoga, tequila abuse and zig-zag wandering across cityscapes – without me. Or taking care of every animal within a sixty-mile radius of this place we’ve built together in the mountains, which you stripped bare and rebuilt in your lioness image.

I guess the one thing you definitely could not have achieved is this now six year-old talking, singing, arguing, playing, challenging contraption called Scarlet. This offspring, this progeny, is partly my fault.

I guess the one thing you definitely could not have achieved is this now six year-old talking, singing, arguing, playing, challenging contraption called Scarlet. This offspring, this progeny, is partly my fault. This warped Vegan, Ramones-loving, snake-handling, cosmopolitan water-rat rhythm-machine with the innate ability to speak simultaneously with you whilst spouting divergent ideas has taken your staunch propaganda of empathy and protest and complicated my super-ego to a surprising level of boundless joy. What’s entirely my fault, however, is her shouting requests for “Dead Babies” at kiddie sing-alongs and reveling in what she calls the “bad things” like horror flicks, reptiles, punk music and whatever that creepy melody she hums late at night in bed that sounds like she’s conjuring demons.

What our daughter has received from you is the concussive beauty and steely strength and infinite compassion and the uncanny ability to draw six lines with a crayon and make me think of the Iliad or Twain or Beethoven’s Ninth or those unimaginably gorgeous Mexican sunsets. Most importantly, and dangerously for me, she also possesses your capacity to take hold of my jugular and squeeze; her grip is fierce, dare I say fiercer still than whatever it is you unleashed on me years ago and made me want to keep around. The uninitiated may call it masochistic, even fatalistic, but I call it loving you and now loving her and wondering how actually being loved by both of you is deserved.

But I am comfortable in my hoary role as the mutant in this dynamic; the bleating curmudgeon whose only purpose is to remind you of what being a mere human is like, and not avenging angels with the cute cat voices and the paint splattering all over and me over here never once struggling against your goddamn supernatural grip.

So now we’re in Dublin in search of the another bizarre heritage we share, beyond apathetic radicalism and constipated sensibilities and a dark faith that we never doubted each other for these fifteen years and how much I have cherished that rare, rare trust. It is what keeps me in your sway with infinite gratitude.

Your grip is strong, woman.

Don’t let go.

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BUNDY RANCH SOLUTION: FREE-FOR-ALL IN NEVADA

Aquarian Weekly
4/30/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion              


BUNDY RANCH SOLUTION: FREE-FOR-ALL IN NEVADA

The key to organizing an alternative society is to organize people around what they can do, and more importantly, what they want to do.

– Abbie Hoffman
Yeeee-haaa!

I love this blithering asshole, Cliven Bundy. He is a dumb hick bigot dipshit and he is my hero. Soon I will take his advice and begin a life (or at least write about) a life of blessed anarchy where it belongs…The Bundy Ranch.Bundy

Right now this scofflaw has been sitting on miles of my land; American taxpayer…I. That’s right. Squatter. Freeloader. Welfare King. And I figure, just like my daily visits to the Bank of America when I was a reluctant but proud shareholder of that corrupt institution, which included me shouting about turning up the air-conditioning and demanding to hear Daniel Johnston tunes in the lobby, I will have plenty to impart in the area of wisdom and well wishes.

It’s obvious this nation’s defense has been compromised since 9/11, what with all the torture chambers and six-hour waits at the airport. Otherwise there would be no good explanation why this good-for-nothing shit-stain rancher would not pay me and my taxpaying brethren the over one million bucks he owes in back taxes for 20 years of fraud and not be taken down like road kill.

Where is George Washington when you need him? Hell, you might ask those poor bastards the federal army plowed under over some barrels of whiskey in the wee months of this republic, forcing the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the federal government to ostensibly represent our interests with appropriations culled for being a citizen.

But George is gone, and ever since Nixon decided it might be a good idea to murder children at Kent State, people tend to frown on armed denizens of the nation “cleaning house”, so to speak. Take out the trash, like we say here in New Jersey. Here in Jersey we like our civic representation to use us as fodder, especially at rush hour and then deny it ever happened – then when busted apologize and whitewash the thing with “internal investigations” – in other words good, old time politics; something between a hockey fight and the human centipede concept.

But never mind us; this Bundy Stand-Off nonsense is about ripping stuff off and calling it rebellion. And I am all for that. I was a fan of the Rodney King riots, but this is way better. Despite Mr. Bundy’s inability to parse four words in the King’s English without his brain going sideways and the odd white supremacist rant, he possesses something of a genius strand. It is vague, but it is there. Of course suckering FOXNEWS in getting behind anti-American causes and calling it American causes these days is like running over the Branch Davidians at Waco.

I was a fan of the Rodney King riots, but this is way better. Despite Mr. Bundy’s inability to parse four words in the King’s English without his brain going sideways and the odd white supremacist rant, he possesses something of a genius strand.

Shit, Janet Reno knew what she was doing; tanks rolling over a burning arsenal is as American as a deadbeat rancher, and I salute any idiot who refuses to recognize the American government and its representation, namely me, and still rides around on a horse waving the goddamn flag. Like those moron TEA Party jack-offs and their “Keep The Government Out Of My Medicaid” signs.

We’re getting off track here. Way off. We need to plan this out. How can we take advantage of this Bundy character’s new philosophy: Whatever you can get away with you can own, or Finder Keeper’s, which works great among prepubescents or people with an IQ just north of flat-line.

Sign me up.

I say fuck the government or the FBI or whatever gets these goobers all militia-ed up and put together a small army of our own; North Eastern Rebel Force 12 (why twelve? I love Joe Namath and I was married on the twelfth and it’s none of your goddamn business, tyrant!). Then march down to this old fart and plow under his land, (His land? There is no “ownership” in Bundy World) turn it into a rock festival; jam godless music at deafening volumes and take long, painful shits all over his property, festoon the joint with used condoms, beer cans and syringes, and find out where Bundy sleeps and have ten-deep orgies before organizing a group puke all over his bedroom. In fact, turn his house into the center of a giant tribute bonfire.

That is the way Cliven Bundy rolls.

And thus….we roll.

Like Frank and his brother Jesse James, who knew what is was like to flout convention, take on a new philosophy of lawlessness, which blazed a trail of land-rape and gun justice that would make these high school dropouts and their cousin-wives down in Nevada look like the Webelos.

Now, my friends, that is true anarchy.

Then when it’s over, we’ll erect a statue to Grampy Cliven, godfather of Do What You Like And Damn The Torpedoes; a renewed sense of American tradition, where you just steal what you wish and call it a cause.

Yeeeeeee-haaaaaa!

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ERIC HUTCHINSON’S PURE FICTION

Aquarian Weekly
4/16/14
Cover Piece

 

ERIC HUTCHINSON’S PURE FICTION
Pop Singer/Songwriter Gets Back to Basics; Rhythm + Melody = Hit

It was one of those brutal New York City winter nights this past January when april-16-2014-eric-hutchinson_small
I met up with Eric Hutchinson at the Monkey Bar in midtown. He was sitting alone in a booth towards the front across from the bar dressed in a high-collar, blue zippered sweater and jeans, his hair a little longer, his face a little thinner. He looked relaxed, confident; as if he had shed the excess from his life and work. Ella Fitzgerald played softly on the jukebox. An elderly couple chatted at the far corner. Hutchinson ordered a Scotch, neat. I had my obligatory Hendricks and tonic, two limes, lots of ice. I had come to find out what was behind the songs I had lived with for two weeks on a first mix of his new album, which he would title, Pure Fiction.

“It’s called Pure Fiction, because when I finished writing the songs that would end up on this album and started looking them over, I noticed that none of them were about me,” Hutchinson began. “When I took myself out of the way, I wrote about something else. But then I thought anything that comes from me on some level is about me. I still wrote it, I still made it; it came from somewhere, and I think on this album I tried not to get in the way of that as much. If I wrote a lyric, maybe at some time earlier I would have thought this is too cheesy or this is too simple, but this time I said, ‘I wrote it for a reason and I don’t want to get in the way of what I’m writing it for.’ I tried really hard this time around to not screw with stuff more than it needed to be. And I enjoyed that process.”

Hutchinson’s first two studio albums brimmed with the kind of hooks, choruses and clever lyrics an ascendant star needs to make on his way to the firmament, but he was now without a label for the first time in years. He recently released a set of live songs from his last tour, Almost Solo in NYC, which featured his deftly humorous storytelling as much his considerable musical talents, but decided it was time to trim the whole thing way down, get back to what put him in the discussion with the industry’s hottest new talent in the first place.

“You get a lot of good things from being involved with a major label system like exposure I never would have gotten,” says Hutchinson. “But the other side of it is it’s almost never on my time-line. The last album took a long time, partially it was me, but partially because once it was done there was a lot of stuff out of my control. My mantra on this album was ‘I want to make it, I want to put it out, and I don’t want anything to be between that.’ I wanted that control.”

“My mantra on this album was ‘I want to make it, I want to put it out, and I don’t want anything to be between that.’ I wanted that control.”

Released from music-biz trappings, the 33 year-old singer/songwriter returned to his roots; back to his apartment, back to the guitar, and reconnected with his adoration for the well-constructed song – tearing it down and building it back up, one note at a time.

“I sat at in my home studio asking, ‘Can I play this song on the guitar? Can I make this song work?’ recalls Hutchinson. “Because it’s not about hiding behind tricks, it’s about ‘Is this a song when it’s broken down to its bare basics – is it a song or not? Is it tangible?’ I would be at the piano or guitar and just play it as hard as I could and just sort of sing and leave the recorder going and for twenty minutes maybe bang on the piano as hard as I could, smash the guitar, totally sing guttural. Then, leave it alone. Go back the next day and see what jumps out from that, what works.”

Much of this primal, stripped down style is clearly evident in each track of Pure Fiction; a truly masterful presentation of Hutchinson’s acute pop sensibilities. In fact, Pure Fiction is Hutchinson’s elegy to pop music, his raison d’être, a place to fit all those melodies that are so comforting in their immediate hook you’d swear you’ve heard them before. The album’s first single, “Tell The World” is a wonderfully crafted sing-along and a striking prologue to the album’s underlying theme – holding onto our moments and shamelessly shouting it from a mountain top.ERIC_HUTCHINSON14291_Web_25

“I found myself in the worst place a writer can be, which was happy,” he chuckled to himself. “I live in New York, I’m married, I’ve got a dog – I’ve got a nice life…and when I sat down to write this time I didn’t feel like emptying the chest all over again and having to dig out my problems. And I became aware midway through that there’s a lot of that in there anyway, but I kind of felt it was thematically working and I didn’t try and go away from it when it was clear I wanted to keep saying it. It’s also a little bit about ‘I’m in a great place, but doesn’t everyone always hate you when you’re in a great place?’”

To hear Hutchinson explain it “Tell The World” is less joyous romp than social commentary on how everything that ends up on Facebook and Instagram reflects only our best moments in life, however there is a great joy in the song, especially the vocal, which is as infectious as anything he has committed to a track. His experience with achieving a measure of stardom and accepting his good fortune without trepidation infuse Pure Fiction with a feel-good vibe, something he found while traveling the country on tour and experiencing life outside the bubble of New York, where he lives, but mostly seeing the world for leisure.

“I put up this inspiration board right in front of me at my workspace when I was playing piano or guitar and singing into the mic,” effuses Hutchinson. “I was actually thinking about what I am looking at when I’m working. This method took me back to Barcelona, when I went to visit the Joan Miró museum and I was in heaven. The whole city is amazing. It’s so beautiful. And his stuff was so beautiful I immediately thought, ‘Should I be looking at something that pleases me when I’m writing; would it bring something out?’”

“I guess the more places you go, the more you realize the same things matter to everybody.”

The “inspiration wall” can be heard in the nearest Hutchinson has come to a ballad, “Sun Goes Down”; his “Dock of the Bay” moment, mixing a haunting melody with striking lyrical imagery. “I got this postcard and just described what was on it,” says Hutchinson; the postcard as metaphor for the captured moments of Pure Fiction: “On the front a desert sky orange, red and brown/ She wrote will you think of me/When the sun goes down.”

“I guess the more places you go, the more you realize the same things matter to everybody,” he says, smiling.

We ordered another round as the room began to fill and the background banter reverberated. Hutchinson made sure I understood the spiritual center of Pure Fiction which is infused in tracks like “Love Like You”, an achingly infectious song with a tension that draws the listener to the lyric through an almost hypnotic vocal performance, mixing Beatles bop with the velvet strains of Al Green. But it is in the juxtaposition of subtle duplicitous lines like “This is a crash landing, we’re living a dream”, which hint at Hutchinson’s playful seduction of how much happiness is the result of blind chance.

But it was anything but blind chance when Hutchinson entered the studio last summer, where he constructed the songs meticulously, showcasing an array of rhythms for flavor – South African, bosa nova, four-on-the-floor rock and slap-back funk – giving personality to dance numbers like “I Got The Feelin’ Now”, “A Little More” and “I Don’t Love U”. Wrapping the tracks in airtight tempo allowed his dexterous vocal lifts and twists to breathe inside percussion. “I tried really hard to not get in the way of these songs,” says Hutchinson. “I usually agonize over a certain chord progression or lyric, but this time I just let it happen. I stopped wondering what it was or where any of it came from.”hutch

To complete the cycle back to basics, Hutchinson worked on Pure Fiction in L.A. at the late Elliott Smith’s humble studio on Van Nuys Boulevard where he recorded his debut, Sounds Like This in 2008. Under the tutelage of two producers, Jerrod Bettis, (Adele, Better Than Ezra, Backstreet Boys) who played much of the accompanying instruments, and Aben Eubanks (Kelly Clarkson) he opened his mind to new recording techniques , but remained dedicated to my description of him when we first met in 2006; songsmith.

“It’s that attention to detail all the way across, where every single thing matters, which could also be the unraveling as you get close to the end of the album,” Hutchinson says, laughing. “In the old days you get the whole band together and figure out later what the hell that sounded like – did the bass player play the right thing or not – but to me that’s the whole thing; we get the drums down, and then I get the acoustic guitar, and I make sure the acoustic guitar works and then Jarred picks up the bass and I say, ‘Well, that’s great, but that part could have gone there.’ It’s the only way I know how to make music.”

New found professional freedom, a comfort in knowing his place in the music biz and a masterfully crafted pop album has Eric Hutchinson right where he wants to be. “I’ve been doing this for how many years, but whenever anyone asks me, ‘What kind of music do you play?’ it’s like the first time it’s ever been asked. I never have an answer, you know? And on the last album I was chasing this thing that I’m a soul artist and the show reflected that on some level, but I think after making this album, I can answer people; I make pop music. This is pop music, and I think this show will reflect that a little more. The last show was little more like a soul review and I think this will be a little more pop, whatever that is? I guess we’ll figure that out. Yeah, these songs are pop. I’m a pop artist.”

“Yeah, these songs are pop. I’m a pop artist.”

Perhaps the strongest musical statement on Pure Fiction is “Forever”, a collaboration with The 88’s Keith Slettedahl, a first. It is a master’s course in dynamic ranges; from the massaged acoustic open to the lilting lead vocal as prologue to chest-caving bass drum kicks, all of it bedding the wash of harmonies that appear as if a choir. It evokes the best of the British New Romantics period seeped in a New York club milieu. “I was trying to get out of my head space, and for me, that meant co-writing with someone else for the very first time,” says Hutchinson. “For the first time I can listen and kind of say it’s not mine. I can appreciate all that he contributed to it. Talk about getting out of your own way, I was completely out of it, because it was his thing, and I came to love it more than anything I could come up with.”

When we parted, well over an hour of coming to grips with this crossroads album of his, and where it will lead him, he assured me that just speaking aloud its intentions brought to light all the hard work it took to realize Pure Fiction. But doubtless it will be more well-defined this time around.

“My manager (Dave Morris) is obsessed with the idea of how many artists finally figure it out by their third album; Springsteen, Billy Joel, their first albums are not the ones people talk about, they don’t have the hits on them,” says Hutchinson. “But to me, I think, the third album was about figuring it out. The first one was just gut level, raw, had to get it out there, the second album was over-thinking it all, and this one is me tinkering and learning from those two and changing it up a little bit.”

 

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DESPERATE DEMOCRATS LOWBALL STRATEGY 2014

Aquarian Weekly
4/23/14
REALITY CHECK

James Campion


DESPERATE DEMOCRATS LOWBALL STRATEGY 2014

Karl Rove once told me that the only thing that matters when you are looking at miles of bad road is what you do to shorten it. I remember he let the “shhh” just roll through his teeth; “shhhhorten it”. They were gritted like a challenged pit bull. His eyes seemed weird, unfocused, as if he were thinking of six things at once. But his words rang true.Debbie-Wasserman-Schultz

That was in the summer of 2000 just outside of Orlando, Florida. I remembered it a few months later when his candidate eviscerated a blindsided John McCain in South Carolina with scurrilous rumors of a “Negro love child” and “Rabid atheism”. And I remembered it when Rove openly told reporters those last desperate weeks in the late-summer of 2004 that he was going to “rile the base with anti-gay” legislation. And his candidate won re-election.

I can’t recall who or what Rove elected both times. Another Bush? Perhaps it worked out. Maybe not. One thing is for certain, his arch enemies, the Democrats have decided that the projected ass-kicking they are looking at come this November – and it is going to be severe and cost them the senate and completely neuter this president – will not come at a price for the Republican Party.

Since the Democrats owned the store in 2010 with the passing for the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans have made a mockery of “statement votes” in the House, most pointedly the 281 or so times they attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now the Democrats announce something called the Paycheck Fairness Act, a desperate attempt at useless legislation that has no chance of becoming law, but will make Republicans, who will certainly piss on it, appear anti-woman.

Women, especially single women, are a boon to Democrats, coming out nearly 3-1 for Barack Obama in 2012. Much of this was aided by brutish Republican candidates waxing poetic about “levels of rape” and more than hinting that women’s contraception was a euphemism for whore.

This shameless attempt to fire up the women’s vote with political window dressing was launched out of the White House, which floated out a bogus figure of women in the workplace making 77 percent of what a man earns. Statistics from several studies including Bureau of Labor Statistics report it closer to 83 percent or in other studies closer to 88 percent, still others by profession average at 91 percent. Of course, these studies like most studies of a fluid and variant subject tend to fluctuate, but is nearly, if not completely impossible, to legislate.

But it is a moot point, since this is a political ploy by House Democrats who are merely using this as an election year stunt. It is pandering, like Rove did with the Religious Right and your garden-variety bigotry in 2000 and again in ’04.

Shhhhorten it.

Now the Democrats announce something called the Paycheck Fairness Act, a desperate attempt at useless legislation that has no chance of becoming law, but will make Republicans, who will certainly piss on it, appear anti-woman.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed a bit more talk in the past week about the covert racism of the Republican Party due to the race of the president. What was once innuendo has become blatant accusations, which, of course, are difficult to substantiate. And even though there is truth to how people are motivated by politics, it is not a real debate. Saying a political party or a member of government is racist for disagreeing with a sitting president is as specious as a government who labeled you as siding with terrorists or un-American if you protested the Iraq War. We’ve been down that slippery slope for decades. It is not politics, it is human nature, and to whitewash an entire opposition party with racism or anti-American rhetoric is fabricated, self-serving and reeks of desperation.

Shhhhhorten it.

On a similar note, pay attention to how things roll out after the Republicans take the senate. There will be a concerted effort on the part of the establishment to push for a comprehensive immigration bill during the final two years before the 2016 presidential election, to begin the healing process between the Republican Party and the Latino/Hispanic vote, which is toxic to its national election hopes thanks to such stellar ideas as “Voluntary Deportation” and building giant walls on the border. They’ve already rolled Jeb Bush out to pour honey on this turd. Believe me, it’s coming.

Another Bush?

Shhhhhorten it.

But fear not, this transparent dance with demographics can’t work, right? Because all one has to do is look at 2006, when Democratic candidates ran on the promise to end the Iraq War. It was one of the great slaughters in mid-term history leading to a whole lot of nothing. Well, not nothing; the Affordable Care Act.

But fear not, Republicans, you have your own pile of feces called Voter ID Laws enacted in 30 states for only one reason; politics. If there is one thing that does not need government overreach it is voter fraud, which is less than half of one percent of millions of votes cast each year in all 50 states, but there they are just the same.

Shhhhorten it.

But the Dems have it this season. The party is pulling out all the stops to halt what is an inevitable transfer of power in the legislative branch and a two-thirds majority in the federal government. Two years of Republican majority is plenty of time to strengthen the already invincible electorate waiting for our next president, Hilary Rodham Clinton.

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MONEY, CORRUPTION & THE FREE THINKER PRINCIPLE

Aquarian Weekly
4/16/14
REALITY CHECK
 

James Campion

 

MONEY, CORRUPTION & THE FREE THINKER PRINCIPLE
Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, & over these ideals they dispute & cannot unite–but they all worship money.
– Mark Twain

 Believe none of what you hear and half of what you believe.
– Something Benjamin Franklin heard in a French whorehouse and repeated at a Philadelphia beer garden
This week the Supreme Court further removed the shackles for wealthy donors to
contribute as much as they wish for political candidates, building on the momentum of the Citizens United ruling of 2007. The decision was 5-4 right down the line of political ideology, five conservative to four liberal judges, which is telling since this has been an issue for high-profile Republican donors like the Koch brothers that have turned quid pro quo cash deals into an art form. However, the dissent by liberal judges is disingenuous since Labor Unions routinely make up the preponderance of big money donations across the country in outrageous sums, and have been long before the Koch brothers knew how lucrative buying congressman could be.koch-brothers

Be that as it may, the following sentiments will not be going down the ideological slippery slope of hypocrisy wherein you have the Right whining about liberal media and the Left bitching about FOXNEWS. This is indeed about the First Amendment and the right to support any candidate of your choice with how you choose to do it. It is also about the realities of this republic, which was colonized, founded and manipulated since day one by money.

Firstly, taking the freedom of speech angle, it is unconstitutional to put limits on a citizen’s voice in the political process. For corporations, big money donors or whatever the fuck Citizens United is, this is the avenue in which they can impart said voice. If this were a true democracy, which it is not, never has been, and was never considered as such by our mostly rich framers, then, of course, there would be an issue with the rest of us (or at least those of you without a weekly column) that have no real voice beyond the ballot box. This is why, despite my abject mockery of TEA Party rallies and the 99-percent protests, there is a real desire for the rest of us to “be involved” without having a boatload of money to invest in our civic interests.

But that does not change the fact that if you have dough, you should be able to spend it how you like, within legal boundaries, which, as stated, should not preclude the First Amendment.

Of course money corrupts the system, just like bad journalism, idiot pundits and kowtowing to the lowest common denominator, which is by far the very essence of this nation’s lasting legacy.

Those opposed to this argument will shout that the system is circumvented by a collected few, which is as American as your mom’s apple pie and steroid abuse. From the shipyard of Boston Harbor to the railroads moguls of the Midwest and the pile of feces printed daily by Randolph Hearst and the tentacle reach of Big Oil, the influence of cash is our heritage. It kicked the English out, eviscerated the natives, ripped off the French, Dutch, Spanish and Mexicans, burned the South to the ground and ended slavery, smacked the Kaiser, toppled Hitler and eventually bankrupted the Soviet Union. It is what got us into Viet Nam and Iraq, elected a Kennedy and bribed Florida judges to put G.W. in office. It is our political pedigree.

Arguing about this now is like suggesting that red, white and blue is not quite right for the flag.

And don’t talk about corruption, which is where all this capping of donations started in 1974 when Dick Nixon blew up the entirety of the executive branch. Like the sallow ruins of 9/11 and whatever crazy shit happened thereafter from illegal jailing and wiretapping, covert wars and the vice president shooting a man in the face over quail meat, Watergate unleashed a torrent of silly overreactions that put a lean on our Bill of Rights that I strongly believe the Supreme Court corrected, whatever its political motivation.

But Nixon gave corruption a bad name. His ravenous paranoia stripped us of our right to have to actually see past the fantasy campaign ads and Super Pack machinations and realize that Citizens United is made-up shit concocted by the dickless to feel important, and do our due diligence as citizens, like ignoring Tipper Gore’s dream of having society parent our children by putting a goddamn sticker on everything. As if a record called “Kill The Cops” needs a warning. Or even merits one, since it is not actually killing cops, just singing about it. And all that awful crap about not being able to burn a piece of cloth because it happens to be designed as an American Flag. Next you’re going to have people suggest Bill O’Reilly shouldn’t be allowed to go on the Today Show and demand every American kid be force-fed Judeo-Christian principles without being smacked with a rubber mallet.

Of course money corrupts the system, just like bad journalism, idiot pundits and kowtowing to the lowest common denominator, which is by far the very essence of this nation’s lasting legacy. Everything can corrupt given the proper circumstances, and sometimes it is welcomed corruption. Lord knows George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, Alice Cooper, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, H.L Mencken, Hunter S. Thompson, Edward Hopper corrupted me, and I am a better man for it.

It’s called free thinking. Try it sometime. Turn off the radio and podcasts and politically manipulated television stations and put down the signs and toss away the cute slogans and corrupt yourself.

Then maybe you won’t be so threatened by everyone else’s corruption.

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