THE RUSSIA THING… AGAIN

Aquarian Weekly
2/2/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
THE RUSSIA THING… AGAIN
 
 
Let’s put this out there first: No one thinks engaging in a war with Russia is a good idea. Not even those who claim to think it is a good idea. And now that most Republicans are pro-Russia thanks to the last president, who was Vladimir Putin’s bitch, we don’t have as much rooting interest from the hawk camp as we did during the Cold War. (You know you have lived a long time when things shift this dramatically – if you would have told me in 1985 that Democrats were the anti-Russia hawk party, I would have assumed you were experiencing crack shivers). And let me also state for the record that despite the cheering and victory laps the West did after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Russia has never not been armed to the teeth with nuclear war heads and is now run by a psychopath, who has been mostly unchecked by the loyal opposition for close to a decade.

Our current president has been all over the map here. A change from the last guy who stood on foreign soil and sided with Putin over the American intelligence community. Either way, that lapdog is gone now, reduced to screaming to the great unwashed that he won the last election from his golf bunker in Florida. The guy who did win, Joe Biden wanted this gig – and the shit storm that is coming down now appears to be far more important than his botched exit from our endless military bullshit in Afghanistan or exploding inflation or even the zig-zag pandemic mandates we continue to endure. He needs to steer this one clear of military action. Period.

The day before I am writing this, the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank released satellite imagery on the Russian build-up in Ukraine showing “a significant and sizeable presence of Russian ground troops, tanks, small arms and mobile artillery.” It states: “If peace talks fail, an escalation between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia could extend well beyond Eastern Europe and include retaliatory measures that are global in nature.”

No shit. We didn’t need a fancy international think tank to come to that gory conclusion, but thanks, nonetheless.

The Russians are moving troops to the Ukrainian border (which the Kremlin calls “exercises”) and although, again, we get the predictably bold talk mixed with calls for cooler heads from our president, the Pentagon has been alerted to ready 8,500 American troops to enter the region should an invasion move ahead.

It is never a good idea to engage in any kind of direct military kerfuffle with Russia.

Let me repeat for anyone not yet fully comprehending it: Going to war with Russia is not an option. This is why Ronald Reagan went nuts and outspent them ten-to-one on defense, forever bloating the military budget, which is the main reason we are in horrible debt today and will continue to be unless we address the federal government’s upside-down budget – which we won’t, but that is another column for another day. I just mention it because the narrative has been for my entire existence on this planet (coming up on six decades this September) there has been Total Annihilation or Bust. Skirmishes in the Baltics is so 1917. You can fuck with Russian-backed dictatorships in the Middle East or even try to upset U.S. dictatorships next door to those other dictatorships, but moving in on Russian military shenanigans in Eastern Europe is not an option. Ever.

I am not suggesting that Putin should be left to his own devices. This is a tough call, because, again, Putin was coddled and sucked up to so embarrassingly for the four years prior to Mr. Biden’s arrival, there is an issue with what Russian thinks is our “resolve.” (Should we mention the stupid and very public shake-down of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by Donald Trump to withhold U.S. security aid unless he dug up fantasy dirt on then candidate Biden’s son, Hunter?) But that is, again, in the rearview. This is Biden’s call now. His approval ratings have tanked and show no signs of improving in time to stop what is certainly going to be mid-term spanking this November. And unlike previous years when presidents and the military get nearly one-hundred percent support for any action, this is a different time. There is no stomach for this outside of a few voices. And that is a good thing; because I don’t think it is remotely redundant to again point out that it is never a good idea to engage in any kind of direct military kerfuffle with Russia. Ever.

Making matters worse is that Ukraine is playing this very “Czechoslovakia circa 1938,” fobbing it off as business as usual – all talk/no action Putin – something South Korea never does, despite the almost incessant non-aggressive aggression from the North and whatever chubby nutcase is engineering it. It also doesn’t help that no one in Europe, least of all France and Germany (and Germany has made it clear due to pipeline oil issues, it does not want to side with the U.S. in this affair no matter the threat to its border interests), is remotely excited about a twenty-first century ground war.

For whatever it’s worth, which if recent history is any indication, is nothing, Russia has publicly stated through its venerable Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov that they have no intention of invading Ukraine. “We do not want wars, but we won’t allow our interests to be rudely trod upon or to be ignored,” Lavrov, who is also Russia’s representative at the United Nations, said this week. Much of this rhetoric stemming from talk for months of Ukraine joining NATO, a George W. Bush 2008 dream that got under Putin’s skin, which eventually led to the Trump-backed anti-Bush, anti-NATO wing of the Kremlin during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. For its role in all this, the Ukraine has no plans to join NATO, something Biden has acknowledged.

All of this provides insight into Putin’s gambit as ill-conceived and not entirely supported by his faux government. So, it might eventually need diplomatic face-saving. Not to mention that Russia’s current post-pandemic economy is weak, far weaker than ours, and needs European oil dollars to subsist. Wars are costly. And Putin can’t afford it.

Not sure who said that “history finds us” or how “we don’t choose our moment it chooses us” or whatever paraphrase you’d like to cite in that direction, but this is where Joe Biden stands now. Thank goodness we have a functioning State Department again. Talks are ongoing, and it must be clear to even a loon like Putin that this is not a wise move. There should be a sign above his desk that reads the mirror image of my stance: War with the United States is never an option.

Yeah, going to war with Russia is not an option.

Ever.  

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SO… I GOT COVID

Aquarian Weekly
1/19/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
SO… I GOT COVID
Diary of the Infected & Discoveries Along the Way
 
 
The mystery is over me. On the third day of January 2022, let the record show, I became one of the statistics you read every day – the growing cases of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. I am counted among those who have finally fallen to the bane of the early 2020’s – our pandemic, our Great Depression, our WWII moment. This is the one where as much as Americans hate to think we are in the same boat, we are here. Whether you choose to believe or accept or whatever the rationalizations you tell yourself, we are in this deep. To what extent, I don’t know. Scientists don’t know, then I don’t. Doctors are calling audibles, so I shan’t offer a half-assed opinion. This is, of course, not the first time I’ll be writing about the Coronavirus, but it is the first time I’ll be doing it as its victim.
 

FILE PHOTO: A woman takes a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a pop-up testing site as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 27, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

To begin, I had it pretty bad – chills, fever, headache, bouts of dizziness, sore throat, coughing, the whole thing. My wife had it worse. At least three days of high fever and severe coughing ever since. My thirteen year-old daughter had glassy eyes, some fever and felt mostly achy. We were all extremely fatigued throughout. (Note: All of us are fully vaccinated, but were awaiting our turn at a booster, which did not come in time). It has been about eleven days since my first symptoms, and I am still kind of woozy and still need to take a seat more than I normally would and even find myself wandering away from this word-machine here. The girls are recovering slowly but surely. This was a bitch for sure, but all in all, no issues with the lungs or worries about a hospital run and we have our taste buds and smell intact. We also have the blessed antibodies. Now that it is over, I can say it is worth that, at least.

But, again, the mystery is over for me. The stigma of thinking, “I can’t get this” or after a while, “Fuck it, if I get this.” You know. We have mostly lived our lives carefully here, and our circle of friends and certainly family for the past almost two years now. Sure, we would get together, play music, drink, hang, travel. I have traveled to South Padre Island, Texas, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico and Austin, Texas since March 2020, and we did our Long Beach Island shore run both years. We have attended and played in our local (and traveled to) music fests – mostly outdoors, but some indoors – over this time. We have masked up, used our hand-sanitizers, washed our hands, took our vitamins, and lived our lives. This worked for way longer than I would have imagined. There was not a time after the initial shut-down that we overdid our quarantine thing. We lived. And even spent the 2020 holidays heading up to my extended family in Syracuse and bringing my mom in for summer and holiday visits. This time around it got us. Not my mom, who by the way will murder me if I print her age, but let’s just say I am pushing 60 later this year and she is about four-foot nothing and 74 pounds and was with all of us and went back to North Carolina with nary a symptom. She did a few tests and came up clean. She is likely at yoga or kickboxing right now as I write this. I am convinced she is a cyborg and having always assumed she would bury us all; I think I have my answer now.

Last thing on the family and the getting together for this past New Year’s Eve, which is what sparked this thing: Of my immediate family, (twelve in all, not including the maternal cyborg) seven of us got taken down. Now, this doesn’t mean all of us tested positive. The opposite. My wife and daughter did Rapid (two negatives) and my daughter did a more conclusive one through the nose (negative). Once I had the same symptoms as my bother-in-law, who called me the Monday after New Year’s Day to inform me of his infection, I went to get the two big tests – molecular (RT-PCR) tests that detect the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus. It was saliva. Took nearly a week to get the results: Positive. But we already knew.

I think it is important we be careful, and be responsible, and get vaccinated

To that end, I think it is important I report that any Rapid Test you may take for the Omicron is mostly bullshit. I have heard from friends and colleagues who have had this variant that they had to take rapid/home tests three or four times to get a positive result. I would say, in my experience now, and those who have shared it with me, if you were with someone who has Covid, and you have symptoms, you have Covid. Period. Even two nurses and my doctor said it is almost impossible with Omicron to be near someone who gets it, and if you have similar symptoms, escape unscathed.

I can also state that while this variant and the times we live in now with vaccines (I had my first two doses done in June and was due for my booster in December, as mentioned, but there were none to be had until mid-January anyway), plus post-infection medication (I took an antibiotic prescribed by my doctor), it is still very serious. I blanche at anyone undercutting the importance of not getting this and taking care to not push yourself if you do. And while I have gigs that allow me to continue to be productive from home, there is still, as mentioned above, a period of rest that must be adhered to. This thing sucks, no doubt about it.

I do not regret living as I have the past year-plus with this thing all around us. I would do it all again, even New Year’s Eve. I think it is important we be careful, and be responsible, and get vaccinated, and if choosing to not get vaccinated then at least respect those who might be concerned to be around you. Whatever you decide, and however this turns out for you, please know that it is serious, and that we all do not know its after-effects and what is coming around the corner.

But, for this writer, the direct experience fighting off this virus has been nothing like the flu or a bad cold. Everyone that has had it that I’ve spoken to has shared unique symptoms and experiences. Everyone’s response is different. Some worse. Some less so. There is no standard for this. It is Covid. It’s its own thing. Know that. And proceed accordingly.

And please stay safe and healthy and think of others the same way.

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REGARDING THE TIK TOK 12/17 NATIONAL SCHOOL THREATS

Aquarian Weekly
12/22/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
REGARDING THE TICK TOK 12/17 NATIONAL SCHOOL THREATS       
Thoughts from a Parent on the New Violence Normal
 
 
Okay, so the morning I am writing this (December 17, 2021) I get a text from one of my daughter’s eighth-grade friends at around six am on whether the young thirteen year-old in my care is going to school today. I must admit (bad parenting 101) I was unaware that there was a warning out there about some National School Bomb/Shooting Day floating around the Internet thanks in no small part to a Tik Tok/Snap Chat social media viral frenzy over a few days in mid-December. This was, as I have researched, the bizarre but expected offshoot of a hoax perpetuated by some enterprising urchins in the Midwest trying to get schools to shut down “for fun.” But, well, in this era of the weekly school shootings, and being a parent of a middle school kid, this was, to say the least concerning.

Spoiler Alert: We sent our kid in. Packing.
   

Well, not really. It is just something I write to be pithy and to allay my growing fears about what the hell is going on, but unlike many of my fellow Americans, I am not in the “What Have We Become?” camp. This has been the America of my fifty-nine years of breathing. In the 1960s, there were weekly bomb threats to my Catholic School in the Bronx, NY. I was in first grade, and we were routinely waltzed into the playground behind the school. Interestingly, one time I was standing back there and noticed the shadow of the school engulfing us tikes as we waited for the bell to usher us back into the joint. I decided that any detonated bomb would likely rain rubble down upon us. I turned and walked home. I got a lot of shit for that, but at six, I think I possessed enough self-preservation to consider it again the moment I heard they’d announced in the towers on 9/11 that everyone should not panic and stay in their cubicles. My guess is I would have turned and walked out. But who knows?
  

Anyway, it totally sucks that we must be wary of our children walking into a school that may or may not be shot up or blown up today. Right? Whether you support full gun rights or fear every kind of terrorism or believe some other thing, we can agree this ain’t cool. This is not Jerusalem, after all. When I went to Israel in 1996 the main response to what had been going on there for decades (centuries?) was “We just want our kids to take the bus in peace.” – Palestinians and Israelis.

I live in the mountains of New Jersey, and although there is the usual congregation of gun-perverts you expect up here, I think it is a fairly benign region. But then again, these sleepy towns are the ones with the neighbor’s kid who decides he’s had enough.

But getting back to this morning’s drama, before the fancy tweet from Governor Phil Murphy, “While there are no known specific threats against New Jersey schools, the safety of our children is our highest priority and we will work closely with law enforcement to monitor the situation and remain prepared,” I received several texts from other concerned parents. By the way, as an aside, I think this whole using Twitter to make serious government-related announcements should stop. Another fantastic legacy held over from our previous President Idiot. What if you are not on Twitter? Your kid doesn’t count? You think I follow Murphy on Twitter?
    

“We just want our kids to take the bus in peace.”

– Palestinians and Israelis.

Doing some research on all of this, there have been, according to Nassau, Long Island Police Chief Patrick Ryder, a 148-percent increase in school threats this year. It is a thing now. So “a thing” usually ends up being exploited on the Internet. This, I think, (Jesus, I hope) is what we have here. I have prided myself in not living in fear – of viruses, terrorists, evangelicals, fringe movements, the government, Major League Baseball, big cities, traveling abroad, mainlining absinthe, and the like. This was a tough one. My daughter is more important than anything on planet earth, as I am sure your offspring is. But how are we supposed to live (function) in this “new normal” environment of violence-first? I wonder back to the Pilgrims and those lunatics who started building houses on Native American land, or any number of crazy violence-related shit Americans have been dealing with since we decided to stomp around here as if we owned the place?
  

I suppose there is no answer to any of this when you consider our legacy of violence. And now our ability to post some madness out there that gets reposted and reposted. How do you think you end up with the kind of street riots of 2020 and, most egregiously, the January 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol in broad daylight? The Internet is our playground. And every playground has those kids, you know those kids. The ability to communicate the idea of violence, insurrection, destruction is so easy now. And so is complete and utter bullshit. The crazies count on the bullshit. And although I do support every kind of free speech, this equates to shouting fire in a crowded theater. Causing panic is terrorism. So, if you forward this stuff, are you a terrorist? I am still formulating my opinion on government officials who support those who caused January 6, including President Idiot, so I’ll get back to you on that.
 

And, let’s face it, it is all well and good to use this space to parse these social aspects of our collective damaged psyche for a lark, however, this is my kid. These are your kids. Are we forced to live in an armored compound and stock up on canned goods?

I say, nah to that. But I guess I cannot fault anyone for going full-on “Check Out” when this kind of thing hits home. It can change perspectives. Fast.

I always say Expect the Worst, Hope for the Best. I guess prepare for all of the above is the best answer to any of it.
  

And by it, I mean, reality.

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THE SWEET & SOUR MUSIC OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Aquarian Weekly
12/15/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion

 
THE SWEET & SOUR MUSIC OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON
In Praise of High White Notes – The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism and a Discussion with its Author, David S. Wills

 
I have told this story time and again in this space; in the early to mid-nineties and then again in the early aughts before his death by suicide, I met and spoke with one of my most cherished literary and journalistic heroes Hunter S. Thompson, and in each of these brief but fruitful discussions I came away with an understanding on how much the myth of the wild Gonzo drug-addled, booze-hound, gun-toting lunatic overshadowed the serious, methodical ultra-talented wordsmith, a writer of such consequence as to be rightly called the Mark Twain of his generation. Thank you, David S Wills, who in the pages of his new book, High White Notes – The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism digs deeper and deeper into the brilliance of Thompson’s art and the natural inclinations he mixed with learned formation to come up with his finest work. Equally, Wills takes to task the times when Thompson sabotages his considerable talents, and lazily leans on repeating himself like a Las Vegas lounge singer toying with the melodies of the best of songs for mere schlock entertainment.

But it is the music in Hunter Thompson’s writing that Wills reveals so masterfully in his book; sharing the Good Doctor’s finest achievement in the rock and roll era in mostly a rock and roll magazine to a predominantly rock and roll generation. It is the rhythm and meter of his most spectacular prose that we find the real Hunter, as it still sings its grandest tunes to us. And that is where, as one of Thompson’s mentor’s F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, the “high white notes” are hit – his early days as a serious journalist to his discovery of Gonzo and its off-shoots and deviations. It is a grand journey and Wills takes us there.

I spent some time with Wills a month or so ago when the book came out. Here is our discussion on his wonderful book, the mercurial nature of the literary titan that is Hunter Stockton Thompson, and what we can rediscover in his canon today.

We begin way back with the music of Fitzgerald…


David Wills: There is that famous story when Hunter was very young, typing out of The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925) and it is a very important foundation for his writing. I can’t remember his exact words, but he explained it to a friend when he was young, about getting the rhythm. And then later in his life, anytime he talked about Fitzgerald, it was always the music of his prose, it’s the way it sounded, the way he captured the sounds of the ear. And that’s exactly what Hunter was trying to do throughout his own career. And if you look at those brilliant moments, or what I’m calling the “high white notes” of his career, I think that’s when he absolutely infused his prose with that music. And I don’t think it’s an accident, I think he was aiming for that all along. And I think he achieved that in things like, “the wave” passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the “edge” passage from Hell’s Angels. And I think that’s why when we look at his later books, which I was very critical of, there are sentences and occasionally whole paragraphs where he did have that music, but, as a whole, he lost the rhythm of it.

There’s a reference in the end of the book about how he was really curious about learning why language sounds a certain way. He was trying to study poetics from a friend, because at first it just came naturally to him. And that, I think, comes from having read Fitzgerald and typed out Fitzgerald as a child, as well as other great writers, as well, of course, he was a big (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge fan. So, he read a lot of poetry, even if he didn’t write it. I think that kind of infused his very best writing with a musical sound.

james campion: He loved Dylan, and specifically “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965) was a huge inspiration for him. And obviously Dylan conflated the art of poetry with music, the way Hunter might have conflated prose and verse. And then, of course, he writes about the conflicting radio playing one song in the car in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) and “Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones, 1968) blasting on a boombox in the back. Also, the conflict of bringing in Doris Day into that book juxtaposed with the psychedelic drug culture, and some of the other music selections he introduces in Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1973) He was consistently infusing music itself into the work, and this never really occurred to me in the way I just described it to you, until I read your book.

DW: I’m glad. I wasn’t consciously thinking about music that much when I was writing it. I was aware, of course, as one of his famous quotes is something like, “music is fuel to me”, and he would blast certain songs as he was writing, and people around him say it wasn’t just he was listening to music, he would listen to the same song or album, over and over and over… He talked a few times about whenever he wanted the energy and inspiration, he would just blast out “Mr. Tambourine Man” on these immense speakers. He had a wall of speakers, that was just the most powerful thing because he didn’t have any neighbors around for far enough that you could get away with that.

jc: I would say that you hit upon something that’s really important to understanding where Hunter lived as a writer. When I was working on my book on Warren Zevon, and, as you know, Warren and Hunter became close later in life, I was always amazed writing that book at how much Zevon was a closeted literary freak. He was always quoting books in his songs and how books inspired entire albums. He always said “Werewolves of London” was his answer to the Vegas book. I always felt like Hunter was a closeted rock and roll star, and in many ways, he did become one. I love when he finally admitted in the late seventies, “I have to sign autographs now, there are more people here to see me than Jimmy Carter.” And it negatively affected his way to write. He was trapped by this rock star persona.

DW: He was conflicted about his celebrity. He would say, “Oh, I hate ‘The Duke’ in The Doonesbury Comic Strip.” (Garry Trudeau – 1970 to present) And sure, he probably did hate it to some extent, but whether subconsciously or not, he knew this was adding to his brand. He loved money, he wanted to make more and more money, and he knew that this contributed to this self-perpetuating cycle whereby he’s just growing more famous every year. And I think I mentioned in the book that I saw a photograph somewhere, and it was on his “wall of things.” He was a very visual person, he needed to connect things when he was writing, but he had a wall of just pictures that were important to him, and on that wall was a Doonsbury comic strip, and I thought that would be very surprising if in amongst pictures of his son, and things like that, stuff that was really significant to him, he had this one thing that he supposedly hated.

Now, he did only say negative things about the strip in public, and yet, when everyone went at his house, he’d put on some wacky outfit, the Hawaiian shirt, his cigarette holder, he wanted to be recognized. He wanted people to see him and go, “There’s Raoul Duke, the famous crazy author!”

jc: And you do point out that this, along with the drug abuse and alcoholism negatively affected his later work.

DW: Yes, it became, in my estimation, cartoonish and unbalanced. When I’m reading Hunter, or really anything, but specifically Hunter, because he was so tuned into certain words and how they work, I notice weird things that maybe other people wouldn’t notice, like collections of words that get repeated and themes that aren’t prominent. And I noticed when reading his work, there was a lot of, how do I say, surface stuff like “activistic” or “savage” and the use of drug names. And so, I wanted to go back and explore, how did this develop? Because he wasn’t always the same person, the same writer. But if you go back and read his very first writings as a teenager, you can start to see the patterns in the words and the themes starting to emerge, and so I wanted to explore that. And so, I dug up everything I could find, undoubtedly, I’ve probably missed a few things. But I think I’ve got ninety percent of it.

jc: It comes through in your narrative. You can see the incline and the decline of his work very clearly in your book.

DW: I felt his early work was interesting and worth exploring further because he didn’t want to be a journalist. He just recognized early on as a very well-read person – his mom preached the value of books to him – that he wanted to be a novelist. And then when he discovered (Ernest) Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Don Levy, and later the Beat Writers to some extent, he wanted to do what they were doing; write this revolutionary prose. And he realized, “I’m a kid with no formal education, and I’ve got jail on my record, this long criminal record, what can I do? Well, I can literally only write, it’s my only saleable skill.” So, you get stuck into sports journalism, which he enjoyed, but I don’t think he viewed it as high art of any sort.
 
jc: Right, but you point out this background gives him this unique ability to write action, which he uses in his best work, Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing, that he developed from being a sportswriter, which by the way Hemingway was and (Kurt) Vonnegut was, there’s so many great writers that started out being forced to describe action that was crucial to their development.
 
DW: Yeah, and so you look at his later writing, and one of the weaknesses, I think, is that when he lost his physical mobility, and because of being trapped by celebrity to some extent his capability of mingling with other people, the action was gone. But yeah, he took those sportswriter verbs and then he turned it into describing motorbikes and cars, and then this weird, violent prose. Soon everything was infused with this violence. But you go back to his early sports writing, and when he was describing the wrestling stuff as though it was real, like the guy had his neck broken, and it sounds so stupid. But then you look at his later writing, and you realize the satire, the subtle nod to “I’m saying fake things, made up things, with the intention of my reader knowing, but without me saying explicitly that this is made up.” It was always there from the beginning. You can see the origins of Gonzo, which I always categorize as just this weird mixture of fact and fiction, as I’ve said many times, it was there from almost day one, which is kind of bizarre in that you can see he’s trying to make this, what he perceived as just shit journalism, into high art. He’s also writing these short stories, and these novels, at the time, which he was convinced were going to make his fame and fortune, but then the end, of course, it was the mixture of that fusion of “literary journalism” that made him famous. And no one ever really did it that well, and no one’s ever been able to replicate what he did.

jc: Yeah, I’ve always said that there is no Gonzo Journalism, there’s just Hunter Thompson. And I think one thing you point out in the book is his unerring sense of humor. That was what drew me to him, like Twain and Vonnegut; I laugh out loud when I read Hunter’s work. That’s not the truth with many writers, even the ones whom he worshipped, like Hemmingway, who did not write “funny.” Hunter also loved to use humor to topple people at the top, but specifically people with money, which reflected what Fitzgerald wrote about in Gatsby, wherein he wasn’t accepted – he was the “new money,” and you get that from that great article “Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Border” (1963), the guy hitting golf balls into the Barrio. And then later you have Louisville Gentry in “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” (Scanlon’s Monthly – 1970) and the Blue Bloods in Las Vegas pissing away money while people are starving and dying in Vietnam. He’s constantly bringing it back to the “haves and have-nots” and he does it so effortlessly. But he’s writing the same story over and over again, which you point out.

“I … take Fear and Loathing apart line by line, word by word, just doing the closest of close readings, and I’m still laughing until the tears come. It’s just such a work of fucking genius.”

DW: I think there are various themes, probably too many themes, that’s one of his problems is trying to cram everything into every story. But yeah, that’s one of the ones that was just endlessly repeated. And as other people have commented, he was just constantly trying to write The Great Gatsby for the fifties for the sixties to the seventies to the eighties. And even he would admit that in interviews, and sometimes in his stories, he was looking around, like, where’s Daisy now? And you know, how can I replicate this image and this theme.

jc: The green light, and all that stuff, yeah.

DW: Yeah. Constantly, constantly. But he did have this immense ability to portray wealthy and powerful people in a shockingly negative light. That, as you said, stems from his own childhood and his feelings of inadequacy in Louisville. You can see it so many times through his writing. What I tried to do in the book was point out where he said and wrote things that are racially quite insensitive, but for him, wealth and racism were inextricably mixed. Whenever you see him attacking rich people, there’s always this element of, subtly or not, accusing them of being racist, especially when you see the Kentucky Derby piece. It really came out there. And, of course, this contempt for the native people – the rich Gringo smacking golf balls into this poor Colombian neighborhood. Whether that ever happened or not, who knows? But yeah, he just tied those things together. And time and again, you see that coming out this, “Wealthy people are awful, racism is awful” and just bringing these together.

jc: You cite what you feel is Hunter’s misuse of capitalization and ellipses and just odd phrases that are not proper sentences in the book quite a bit. It’s again, getting back to music, his changing the notes like Coltrane’s “Favorite Things” (1961). And it’s not necessarily right, but it’s right for him. But you point out, “Hey, man, this is getting a little silly now.” Did you study literature and grammar?

DW: Yeah, I taught grammar at university for many years and actually wrote a few books about grammar. So, I definitely have that sort of bias coming through. However, having spent much of my life studying the Beats and Hunter Thompson having always been my favorite writer, I have huge respect for people that can break the rules of grammar. But Hunter himself said, I don’t remember the exact quote, so I’ll just paraphrase, he says, “If you want to break the rules, you have to know the rules first.” And I think that’s an immensely important thing that very few of the people that copy his style ever bother to think about. He started with an intuitive grasp of the language, then he studied the rules until he knew them inside out. And you can see that through his early journalism as he’s learning and getting better and better, and his writing becomes tighter and tighter, more and more grammatically accurate, then you can see in the early sixties, he’s he starts to say, “Well, this is the grammatically correct way. But this is a more effective way to do what I want to do.” And he starts breaking the rules, and he starts forging his own style. My contention was, though, that he had an immense grasp over language in the beginning. And later, as he got into the cocaine, and it started to rattle his brain, he lost control. And you can see I mentioned a few times how he was unable to keep control of the narrative. So, he would forget that he’d already said something, and…

jc: Like the ESPN articles (2000 – 2003). I went back and looked at a few and you’re right about that.
 
DW: And in The Curse of Lono (1983), he tells us three times the Japanese runners ran past Pearl Harbor. So, I don’t think he’s doing that for emphasis, he’d forgotten that he’d already said it twice. And you can see this time and again, these mistakes. And when you look at the grammar, you start realizing, later on, when the grammar gets worse and worse and worse, and these errors start coming around, it’s no longer a matter of emphasis. You’ll look at his sixties writing, and he’ll capitalize a word to give it special importance. And I think that’s a legitimate technique, and I think it draws attention to this word. And he’s using the sentence fragments for importance. And he’s using the ellipses for importance. Later, he loses that control.

Now, there’s an argument to be said that maybe early on the editors were exercising more control over his writing and making it more straightforward, but I don’t think that covers nearly half of it. And you can see from his unpublished work that this same disparity exists. It’s just a lack of ability rather than a choice.

jc: What was your biggest revelation about Hunter when working on this book?

DW: I don’t know. There were so many myths that came up that just didn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny and yet they’ve been repeated in articles and biographies. I don’t want to say anything bad about the biographers because they’ve all in their own way done a great job, but they just kept taking what Hunter said and repeating it as the truth. But it was very clear to me that whether he meant or not what he said it was not the truth. I guess it was surprising to me just how much he fabricated about his own life and other things. Like the old expression, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” For instance, in Kingdom of Fear (2003), everything, in my opinion, was just bullshit. They’re all his biographical stories, and he was called out by the New York Times Book Review in that he had the opportunity to really get into the important stuff for the first time, but he didn’t do it. And, you know, he was talking about as a child getting arrested at nine years old by the FBI. I remember even as a 20-year-old reading that and saying, “That just can’t be true.” And yet, again, and again, it is repeated as truth. And I investigated and investigated and I couldn’t find anything to disprove it, but that’s the thing with Hunter; when he was lying, it was always the stuff that was hard to disprove.

jc: What do you think is Thompson’s finest work?

DW:  Well, you know, people ask me this about Hunter and about (Jack) Kerouac and other people I’ve studied, and I want to name something really obscure, but honestly the classics are classics for a bloody good reason and with Kerouac it was On the Road (1957) and with Hunter it’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You mentioned earlier about laughing, it doesn’t matter how many times I read that book, or how many times I study it and studying a book really ruins it for you in many cases, but I go back take Fear and Loathing apart line by line, word by word, just doing the closest of close readings, and I’m still laughing until the tears come. It’s just such a work of fucking genius.
 
jc: It really is.
 
DW: On so many levels, it’s just magnificent. And that’s why the chapter on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is so stupidly long in my book because there is so much to say, there’s so many levels to how brilliant it was.
 
jc: I loved the way, getting back to Fitzgerald, you break down the word-number and meter and focus of passages in Gatsby and Fear & Loathing and how they eerily match-up; almost mathematically. It illustrates what we were discussing earlier that lineage of greatness and musical sound in the writing.
 
DW: I’m glad that worked, because I didn’t want to get too into the technical stuff. I have a terrible memory, but when it comes to stuff like that, for some reason, it kind of sticks out to me. So, I would see a word or a phrase or even the number of syllables in the sentence and it just resonates. I usually start with, “So, in December of 1958, he wrote this, and that’s the same, and that’s why he’s doing that are on page 100. And something of Gatsby he’s got the same number of syllables there…”
 
jc: I realized after reading your book, why those are my two favorite books. And having written about music for most of my professional life and almost exclusively in book form now, it all became clear to me. That, and the humor we spoke of earlier.
 
DW: Yes, and above all of that, the fact that no one really understands Fear & Loathing in that way. It’s so funny on the surface level, and I just can’t get over that. Having said that, I mean, perhaps his best work, just on an objective level, might be “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy” (Scanlon’s Monthly – 1970), which he wrote two or three years before that, and everyone talks about “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” as the breakthrough Gonzo work yet, just before he wrote that he wrote the Jean-Claude Killy piece, and everything is in place there, basically. He was essentially rewriting the Jean-Claude Killy piece in a more refined sense with a little less constraint. And then Fear and Loathing is the long version of “Kentucky Derby.” He found this template in Jean-Claude Killy that worked, so he copied it and he copied it. And one of the problems with the rest of his career was that he just tried to copy that again and again and again. It’s like, “Okay, you can get away with it three times, but when you start getting into it more and more, it’s more noticeable and more repetitive.”

But just to give another layer to this answer; my favorite book was The Rum Diary, (1950s manuscript published in 1998) and it’s not a brilliant book like Fear and Loathing, which is technically magnificent, but The Rum Diary, from a purely subjective stance, and we are talking about the most subjective of subjective writers, The Rum Diary had a huge influence on me. When I read my early writing, and I attempted a lot of fiction – I’m terrible at fiction, and one of the reasons is probably because I was just trying to copy The Rum Diary over and over. I re-read it in the research for this book, and two things struck me. One, it definitely wasn’t as good as I originally thought, although I enjoyed it again. And two, I felt, oh my god, I was ripping him off so badly without realizing it! The Rum Diary just ruined me as a writer of fiction back then. And yeah, I still love it for, you know, the books that we love. There’s not necessarily a good reason for it. Sometimes you just read them at the right moment in your life and they hit you in that way reading Hunter will do for all of us.

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Fab: The Intimate Life of Paul McCartney – Howard Sounes (2010)

I spent a lot of time with the songwriter, the musician, the icon that is Paul McCartney over the past year-plus whilst working on my upcoming book, Take a Sad Song… The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” and as such spent a ton of that time researching his life and times. The best of these I found is Howard Sounes’ Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney. This led me to asking Mr. Sounes to chime in on my project. Crucially, he did – and my book is better for it.

Sounes is a man who knows greatness. He has written about poet Charles Bukowski and icon Bob Dylan in serious detail. In Fab he sees where that greatness lies, its origins (nature to nurture) and where that lead – the Beatles and beyond. There is something you find in Sounes’ McCartney that is mostly absent from his other biographies. Each of McCartney’s biographers have their own spin; many of them are too busy worshipping (that affliction again) and others just trying to tear him down. Sounes works both angles with precision, refusing to ignore much of what is hard to describe about someone as prolific and famous and incessantly covered over six decades as Sir Paul. McCartney is a man of many shades, and they are all explored here.

I especially love how Sounes, a Brit, digs below McCartney’s surface play (a consummate salesman) to his funnier, grittier side; the one that would entrance a surly and focused teen John Lennon. That Paul McCartney is always there. More than any of his contemporaries he knows from whence he came and stays truer to his nature, which, as Sounces points out throughout his book. It is what gives him the antennae to find those brilliant songs.

There are a lot of books on Paul McCartney – not even counting Beatles’ books – many of which I have reviewed here. But after the deluge I have worked through, while there are merits to many out there, this is the one to read if you want to get past the noise and find the signal. 

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Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector – Mick Brown (2008)

If you’ve heard the rumors about Phil Spector that range from unhinged, narcissistic controlling master artist to drug-addled, wild-eyed half-mad gun-toting murderer, then it’s time to get the stories, good or ill, from Mick Brown’s translucent Tearing Down the Wall of Sound.

This was such a fun read, made possible by my friend, singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson, whom I have written about in this paper since 2006, and gave me his copy. He is not only a wonderful human being, but another complete music geek and a sucker for early 1960s pop music. Love him or hate him, all of that all starts with Phil Spector, musician, songwriter, producer, and inventor of a style of music that bridged the incredible history of rock and roll from its infancy into the early to mid 1950s to the arrival of the culture-altering Beatles. And this book covers it all, with an unblinking objectivity.

The author begins the book with an interview he conducted at Spector’s Californian mansion, just months before the alleged murder of a woman in the same room. What Spector tells him will be unfurled with each chapter, giving you direct access to the reasons for his bizarre behavior, his mind-games, his obsession with violence, and the gnawing paranoia that comes from being a relentless perfectionist.

Man, the stories in here are epic and told with such detail, adding the anecdotes and memories by those who sat beside Spector at the control board or during meetings in the halls of the biggest record companies in the world. Spector is everywhere, through the seminal moments of rock music’s infancy, and Brown takes you on that journey. The humor, madness, travails, and triumphs of a complicated character is given its due in Tearing Down the Wall of Sound.

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Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary – Tim Riley (1993)

What a wonderful read. Author Tim Riley, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director at Emerson College, who has written extensively about the Beatles and other music from the period, takes a welcomed unique slant on the Bob Dylan story in Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary. It is indeed a “commentary” from the first paragraph, methodically taking apart the accepted narrative of this mysterious icon to concentrate on what made Dylan a musical force across generations. 

Riley begins with Dylan’s genuflecting to the blues more than folk, which makes sense with the budding songsmith’s teen obsessions with Little Richard and Elvis Presley and later with his dramatic move to an electric sound. Yet this creative foundation is wholly ignored in many depictions of Dylan’s initial absorption of Woody Guthrie and his later tap into the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk movement. It is also a solid footing for how the author follows the celebrated singer-songwriter’s zigzag artistic sojourn, always on the move, always challenging both his own talents and the expectations of his audience.

It was especially intriguing to read something this close to the bone before the later waves of Dylan comebacks over the past decades – some hit or miss. I agree with almost all of Riley’s assessments of Dylan’s eighties into nineties works and performances. I endured one of those erratic shows at Radio City Hall that was just awful. I brought a young friend whom I was tutoring in the Dylan canon and found myself apologizing for it throughout. 

Also, it is ironic that right before I read this (thanks to the author for gifting me a copy, and his inclusion as a voice in my next book) when I was finishing up Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir. In the book’s epilogue, Riley rightly takes to task Dylan’s silence in the wake of a New York City crowd booing O’Connor after her infamous Saturday Night Live performance in which she ripped up a picture of the pope. The hypocritical tone-deaf idea that during a Bob Dylan tribute show, which Dylan attended, the celebration would ignore his own bravery to shake the foundations of power and take on the status quo, is articulately deconstructed.

Hard Rain: A Bob Dylan Commentary is a must read for any Dylan fan not mired in rock star worship, something the artist would likely abhor.

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The White Label Promo Preservation Society: 100 Flop Albums You Ought to Know – Sal Maída, Mitchell Cohen & Friends (2021)

Full disclosure: I was gifted this book whilst in Austin, Texas in late summer by one of its contributors, Mr. David Immerglück, a multi-instrumentalist for Counting Crows, the Monks of Doom, and other musical projects. A fellow lunatic music geek, it makes sense that the man we all affectionately call Immer would be included here with his essay about the obscurity of what he dubs “Welsh hippy rockers,” MAN, and their 1974 musical manifesto, Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics. But Immer is but one voice, and the MAN record, which I was gladly introduced to in this volume, is only the tip of the geek-dom iceberg. After just a few of these entrees, you will become a full-fledged member of The White Label Promo Preservation Society.

For newbies to this affliction, a “white label promo” is the vinyl hound’s most cherished find. Back in the day, these were unreleased-to-the-wider-public versions of records that would be shared only with reviewers and radio stations. I have more than a few in my humble collection, but it is only a wink and a nod to the converted, because this compendium casts a wider net. We are introduced by decades to dozens of hidden gems, lost classics, and otherwise bizarre oddities – all of which deserve the attention paid here. Thanks to the efforts of Sal Maída and Mitchell Cohen, who curated the book – as well as added their own essays – there is a place for forgotten worthiness to shine.

It is not just selections from fringe artists like Ars Nova, Zal Yanosky, Bunky & Jake, The Remains, and Milk ‘N’ Cookies, but significant names that released dismissed or plain missed classics; T Rex, The Drifters, Todd Rundgren, The Kinks, Fairport Convention, and much more. The care, excitement, and incredible research done on each and every album is beyond impressive. And now with streaming services and YouTube, readers can quickly try out these records and then join the fray in tracking them down on their original labels. The White Label Promo Preservation Society: 100 Flop Albums You Ought to Know is a record-lovers paradise, but also a lost period of pop music during its heyday that needs to be revisited and enjoyed by those who were not around to hear these “flops.”

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Shades of Springsteen: Politics, Love, Sports, and Masculinity – John Massaro (2021)

John Massaro is not a contemporary of Bruce Springsteen, nor one of those starry-eyed true believers that oft times slather on the worship sauce normally associated with the famed singer-songwriter’s career and exploits. In fact, although a fan and one that sees a reflection of his own biography in Springsteen, the octogenarian author of Shades of Springsteen, a professor at SUNY Potsdam College in New York, was only introduced to his Jersey brethren’s work in the mid-1980s, when the Boss was already seated atop the music world. Recovering from clinical depression, as is Springsteen, the author was whisked away on The Boss’ musical tales of escape, evolution, and redemption. This book is a tribute to all of that. 

Massaro’s thesis of connective tissue in the themes of the book’s subtitle Politics, Love, Sports and Masculinity that he artfully argues drive Springsteen’s canon and best explains the songwriter’s ability to overcome his own issues of depression, is solid. He digs deep, but with an entertaining flair, explaining how all of these themes comes through in nearly every stanza of Springsteen’s songs.

There is a fine needle Massaro threads here, but he does it with great care through stories of his own experiences in many of the places around New Jersey, specifically the Shore, of which Springsteen built into iconic symbols of the region. Despite being a generation removed from the songwriter, Massaro explored many of the same archetypes, long held by those from N.J. that Springsteen mined decades later. 

Although, I do enjoy most of Springsteen’s music and have different periods and songs I cherish more than others, it is my experience growing up in Freehold, New Jersey during the early to late 1970s in the shadow of his immense influence of our burgeoning culture that resonates with me. I am further along the line of generations to Massaro, but feel, as he does through Springsteen’s lyrics, that the connective tissue of lasting art is what makes us want to listen to these songs over and over and take the time to read about them too.  

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THE POLITICS OF CHOICE

Aquarian Weekly
12/8/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
THE POLITICS OF CHOICE       
How Candidates Use and May Use SCOTUS Decision on Roe v Wade
 
The most important Supreme Court hearings on women’s reproductive rights since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision to legalize abortion under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, specifically its Due Process Clause, providing the sacrosanct “right to privacy” to all citizens, male and female, is underway. A decision is expected this summer, and with the current ultra-right court, packed with three new judges that have a written and judicial history of opposing the law, it appears its current legal status is in jeopardy. The new controversial Mississippi law seeks to lower the abortion timeframe to fifteen weeks that pro-choice advocates claim will further roll back the rights of women against government interference to control what happens inside their bodies. The pro-life argument is that it protects a fetus at that point in the pregnancy, which new scientific evidence points to its viability to survive outside the mother.
 

To reiterate what I have always written here, I support all American’s Fourteen Amendment rights, as all Americans should. Many who cry about the government’s mandates on vaccines (“My body my choice”), have filched the pro-choice rallying cry as their own while simultaneously supporting overturning Roe v Wade. This is precisely why Senate Republicans played fast and loose with denying then President Obama a vote on his pick to replace the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia with ten months to go before the 2016 election and then with only six weeks to go before the 2020 election, rammed through a replacement for staunch defender of Roe v Wade, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a known anti-Roe candidate.

Abortion has always been ancillary political chum, but make no mistake, it is fully engaged in the construct now, and this will be a cut-and-dry political decision for this court. It wants to make it about constitutional law, but since 1973, Roe v Wade has been considered – over hundreds of challenges – to be “settled law”. So, like the whole flip-flop Republican maneuvers to stack this court with changing philosophies, this is now fully about politics.

The abortion debate has moved away from the 1980s into the 90s’ “third-rail” framing into political gold for Republicans, used to great effect in every local and national election for this century thus far. The slow, methodical building of local and appellate judges and the ignoring of the high crimes of the former president to remake the high court is evidence that this is now, by consequence, a fully engaged and shamelessly political issue on the table for Democrats should the expected ruling come down this summer.

According to recent polling, there is anywhere between sixty-five to seventy five percent of Americans who want no part of the government dictating what goes on in a citizen’s body. This is far higher than pro-gun number (also a Republican winner at the voting booth for decades), as nearly seven out of ten Americans want stricter gun laws. I have been consistent in my argument for the First Amendment, and therefore reluctantly support the Second Amendment on the merits of the slightest restructure of those rights as a slippery slope to government control over our constitutional heritage. And this is where I fall on abortion. It is not a moral or political decision for me. It is law and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution to protect our rights to not be invaded by a social, political, or governing institution. I believe every American should support this. But most conservatives are goofy with this issue and just chuck the whole “Don’t Tread on Me” edict. They want their guns and not adhere to health mandates but go nuts on a woman’s uterus. It breaks the hypocrisy charts, and it should not be.

But back to politics, where abortion has been mostly a winner for Republicans. It is not the main reason for hanging onto their shrinking support on most issues at the polls, but it helps. Religious support for Republicans during the Reagan Era shifted this paradigm. One wonders in the wake of this decision if the Biden Era will be seen as a new rallying cry for pro-choice activists once their rights have been so radically impinged.

Conservatives… want their guns and not adhere to health mandates but go nuts on a woman’s uterus. It breaks the hypocrisy charts, and it should not be.

I wholly support expanding the Supreme Court, blowing up the filibuster, and/or passing state laws here in New Jersey to protect women’s reproductive rights. I think it is as important as the Civil Rights issue, and later, for me, marriage equality. These are all dramatic political plays with major risks, but this issue calls for the kind of sweeping actions Republicans pulled in 2016 and 2020 to stack the SCOTUS with anti-Roe judges in the first place.

The Democrats are poised to take a serious beating in 2022. President Biden’s approval numbers are nearly at Trump-level tanking. Note: If there is a presidential poll that puts you in a discussion with Trump, it is time to panic. Inflation is real and it is going to get worse before it gets better. Oil prices are rising, as new Covid variants pop up. This whole new “Parents Rights” stuff that helped secure a Republican gubernatorial victory in a mostly blue state, is happening. There are some months to go, and things swing so quickly in this political climate, it is hard to predict six months out, never mind a year. Half a year ago, Biden had a 53-percent approval rating; the highest for a president since the first months of the Obama presidency thirteen long years ago. It hovers dangerously at 42-percent. Considering mid-term history, the massive redistricting going on right now, and the draconian anti-democratic laws being crafted in the wake of the Big Lie in Republican-run states, Dems are in electoral peril.

But… introduce this disastrous SCOTUS decision, and there is your wild card. Does the left have any chance to exploit abortion rights the way the right exploited wiping them out? Can this be, in essence, the passing of the Affordable Care Act kind of political wind shift that kick-started the right-wing Tea Party movement of 2010 this time galvanizing liberals and independents?

Let’s face reality here; the House is toast for Democrats, where redistricting tips the scales considerably. But the Senate is different, and in the wake of a Roe v Wade gutting, could rile up the independent vote (staunchly pro Roe v Wade) and the vacillating suburban women vote that wilted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but came out in droves to sink Donald Trump last year. It is, after all, the Senate that approves future federal judges; something Republicans have used as a craven cudgel to remake minority ideologies a force. It is political viper Mitch McConnell’s greatest or saddest legacy.

The SCOTUS decision, the final victory for the right’s decades-old fight to essentially end national abortion rights is upon us. It is as political as any decision in my lifetime for the high court, and it may be a powerful political pendulum that could swing the other way

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