The Blessed Right of Dissent

Aquarian Weekly 3/5/03 REALITY CHECK

THE BLESSED RIGHT OF DISSENT

Here’s a juicy one.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that although abortion protestors in many annoying and wacky ways have and do tend to break the law, the act of their protest and its ill effects on clinics does not constitute a crime.

The always entertaining, and highly hypocritical National Organization of Women, joined by two abused abortion clinics, tried to apply the 1970 established federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to prevent these protests. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that RICO could be applied to abortion protesters, ignoring the very spirit of the US Constitution’s First Amendment, a continued favorite and oft-dissected subject in this space since the autumn of 1997.

The right to peaceful protest and civil disobedience is the only voice of a people that is supposed to be the final voice in its government and its society at large.

Speaking for the nation’s highest court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, wrote that racketeering laws require a conclusion that someone has committed an underlying crime, in this case extortion. The court reversed a lower court ruling on that point, finding that protesters did not extort money or valuables from the clinics when they tried to disrupt business.

Disrupting is all part of civil disobedience, a cherished right of this republic and ostensibly the advertising campaign on invading another government half a planet away.

Dissent is always a sticky subject in political realms. That is why the law is the best place to settle it. And it is why this space has always espoused that although you may hail from one side of the ideological fence or the other, at some point you have likely tried to illegally halt it.

For example, Right Wingers, especially those mired in the fundamentalist ring, have constantly heaped their moral outrage on rap music or violent movies and video games, or any form of art or commentary that might afflict their fragile belief system. Yet, these are the same ones who today cheer the ruling of the high court.

Hypocrisy.

Even those who do not wave the Bible at free expression, choose to wave Old Glory when trying to halt dissent. The asinine call for anti-war protestors to cut the act is blatantly un-American in every way. The paradox is stunning. People defending this country’s government in every move it makes foolishly define this as patriotic, when it is merely ideological and sickeningly political. And even if the anti-war protestors are also politically motivated, having outwardly defended the government’s foreign butting-in when another ideology was in charge, does not mean they should not continue.

And don’t even get me started on the burning of the flag. If I buy a flag and want to burn it, you bet your ass I will. Fucking stop me.

No one stops the KKK or the American Nazi Party or the NRA or the Catholic Church or NAACP or NAMBLA or any other configuration of letters.

Now those hailing from the Left Wing are all the rage when they are busy throwing blood on furs and burning down circuses, sleeping in trees and lying down in front of military camps. Sure, that’s okay, but mucking up the flow of abortions is deplorable.

Hypocrisy.

Protesting against abortion does not mean shooting doctors or bulldozing buildings. We don’t need racketeering laws to stop that. Those fall under well-covered categories. The idea that NOW, completely silent during the Clinton woman-hating scandals, has some set of rocks here. If not for dissent and protest, they would be nothing more than an offshoot of the Girl Scouts; how they got away with denying someone’s right to protest in the first place is beyond comprehension.

The right to peaceful protest and civil disobedience is the only voice of a people that is supposed to be the final voice in its government and its society at large.

One person’s enemy is another’s cherished icon. The issue is not how you think, but that you are able to do so, and express it within the boundaries of the law, not good taste, religious moralities, silly traditions or how much it pisses someone off.

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The Bill For Rebuilding Iraq

Aquarian Weekly 2/26/03 REALITY CHECK

THE BILL FOR REBUILDING IRAQ The Small Details of The Bush War

WARNING: The following numbers are not official, for no government would dare divulge dumping billions of tax dollars to restructure areas of the world it pummeled into granite powder.

Our series on the pending military action in Iraq continues this week with a breakdown of the inevitable rebuilding of the country we’ll be bombing into near oblivion in a few weeks. A team of tireless accountants – excluding my accountant, who was excused to allow for the constant 24 hour watch which effectively keeps me from financial self-destruction, and my father, who after nearly 40 years of this shit has taken on the monumental feat of willing NC State into the NCAA tournament – joined our War Room to estimate the taxpayer investment in razing and then reconstructing a nation halfway across the globe.

Make no mistake; this fiasco will not be lengthy nor will it be anything approaching competitive. The Iraqi army is weaker than it was 12 years ago, and that wasn’t exactly a fighting machine. Even with troops spread out all over Europe and Asia and other points Middle East, the US Army will obliterate the Iraqi infrastructure within a month, tops. And when those left are finished surrendering to CNN camera crews, the bill will come due.

This latest and greatest standoff with Iraq will also not be cheap, but it’s too late to back down financially or politically. The cost of ramping up this sucker has already rivaled the first six bombings of Baghdad alone.

Okay, now raise your hands if you know the extent of US tax dollars funneled into the rebuilding of Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan in the past decade. If your hands are still down, use them to hang on to your wallet.

We’ll start with Somalia, because in terms of rebuilding, it was a drop in the bucket at $1 billion of US military and humanitarian funds spent between in 1993 and ’94. But later in ’96, the World Bank estimated the total cost of cleaning up the Clinton Administration’s other charitable fascination with Bosnia at $5.1 billion over four years. However, the US costs alone reached that number after the first three years culminating in a grand total of $30 billion for the complete economic reconstruction of the Balkans. This included our funds to rebuild Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania at $2.2 billion.

The numbers on piecing together what was left of Kosovo are a little hazier, but the more concrete breakdown of war costs make up for that. According to a June, 1999 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments analyst report in Rueters, the US coughed up $3 billion to take down Slobodan Milosevic amid the fumes of what was once Yugoslavia. This incorporated $1 million cruise missiles, 300 grand worth of tank-busting munitions and the occasional laser-guided bombs running $100,000 apiece. While the rest of Europe picked up the tip, our 1,000 aircraft, including 24 Apache attack helicopters, 18 multiple launch rocket system artillery pieces and some 5,500 supporting Army troops rounded out the grace-saving gig. And when you get to the cost of hanging around and making sure the deal sticks, the US spend up to $3.5 billion the first year to deploy peacekeepers.

Now for what continues to be an ad hoc covert operation in Afghanistan, going on its second year of spying, torture and all around merriment, according to a BBC report one year ago, the cost of rebuilding a country that was worth about 40 cents of infrastructure when we began gutting it is $297 million a year.

Note that our research does not go back to the tons of cashed dumped into Desert Storm 12 years ago, because of cost-of-living curves and vacillating inflation numbers, but suffice to say that wasn’t cheap.

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

Our dollar share in this starts at $15 billion a year, while also risking the lives of thousands of US troops defending a reported coalition government that includes Sunnis, Shias and Kurds.

Whether this war protects our oil interests, bolsters Israel’s defense or puts the scare into terrorists remains to be seen. What is known is the tremendous financial burden it will put on the American taxpayer, the majority of which want little to nothing to do with it. To a nation struggling through an economic quagmire, this will either be crippling or productive. Again, a hard gig to predict, but one that is all but inevitable save Saddam Hussein’s head appearing on a platter at the UN anytime soon.

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War Propaganda 101

Aquarian Weekly 2/19/03 REALITY CHECK

PROPAGANDA 101 A Seminar in Wartime Follies

The clear-headed faithful crammed into a miniscule conference room not far from the Reality Check New & Information Desk headquarters at Fort Vernon this week for a special war-room conclave. Drinks flowed, punches were thrown and the minutes revealed serious headway, the results of which will be presented in this space throughout the length of this fifth or sixth chapter of the War on Iraq.

The names and affiliations of those hearty souls are not as important as their findings, but suffice to say they have forced this reporter to face 12 years of failed Desert Storm demons better left in the pages of “Fear No Art”. And to that little puissant going by the anonymous moniker of Randak, who has pummeled its author with furious e-mails accusing me for two months of “shirking your responsibility to rouse a rabble and admit the president is a puppet of the Pentagon”, I say crank up the engines, I’m back in the game!

Now most of the evidence culled from our two-day orgy of debate and rancor suggests a full-scale bulldozer of War Propaganda finally reaching saturation. Midway through the summit, WCBS News led its telecast with nearly eight uninterrupted minutes of “High Alert” lunacy from Times Square and Newark Airport. Munitions dogs sniffing out bus compartments and a jabbering idiot with piano wire in his carry-on being stripped searched by 40 state cops.

Am I saying that a few caffeine addicts holed up in a mountain barn somewhere in Jersey has concluded that the US Military is force feeding a pack of media lies to the American people to send the lukewarm into a rabid angst frenzy by dragging the popular African-American war hero into the roll of carnival barker and fashioned a bogus tape of a dead terrorist?

The panic was palpable. On FOX NEWS, anchormen with serious scowls kicked it to nattily attired cub reporters introducing frightful video of tanks backing into malls in downtown DC and uncovering blueprints to build a bubble car to truck Dick Chaney to his weekly heart transplant.

High Alert? You mean to tell me that unless the CIA gets an anonymous tip its blasé fare?

Jesus, wait! Shhhh. There’s another tape of Osama bin Laden speaking from the grave. It’s not video, and it’s raspy, almost unintelligible and, most importantly, its in fucking Arabic! But government experts confirm it might, it could, it IS most probably him! He is saying something about infidels and the Devil West and all those other things he says and has said for a decade and something about…Hold it! He mentioned Iraq! Now MSNBC is running a controlled Hate Poll, which has reached 98% with a bullet. The talking head says our enemy lives and has a hard-on for Saddam and the bombs could not start falling soon enough!

It was about then when one of the recently enlightened among us processed that it had been exactly two weeks to the day approval numbers on the Bush Crusade had dipped to new lows and nearly 70% of Americans were more than skeptical that whatever clusterfuck appeared as a military victory in Afghanistan would not make mincemeat out of this latest piss fight with Iraq.

Interestingly, it was one week to the day that Colin Powel walked into the UN with his woe-begotten slide show causing gas prices to spike and what is left of the Stock Market to sink sickly into oblivion. Many argued that the one man with soaring poll numbers had kept the Texas whoops to a minimum for six months of this miserable shit, but now there he was with aerial photographs of missiles hidden in mounds of goat dung.

Hold on a minute.

What am I writing here? Am I saying that a few caffeine addicts holed up in a mountain barn somewhere in Jersey has concluded that the US Military is force feeding a pack of media lies to the American people to send the lukewarm into a rabid angst frenzy by dragging the popular African-American war hero into the roll of carnival barker and fashioned a bogus tape of a dead terrorist? Never mind feeding off the fears of a fractured nation.

Check the transcript!

Think what you must. Take what you can from evidence. It is only that, evidence, compiled knowledge of events. Johnny Cochran can poke holes in that motherfucker. Ask O.J.

Hey, but don’t attack the messenger. I only print the results of investigations. If you feel the need to press charges, you always have the Constitution. But know this, when a government, any government, and history tells us our government, is gearing up for an inevitable conflict with a foe that has merely generated a modicum of public support, laws and creeds and lofty moral objectives, whether written down or uttered by long dead patriots, mean little.

There are several basic tactics to pushing war agenda.

First there is economic, political and social need. This country is in big financial trouble. Unemployment has reached a ten-year high, the word “investment” is currently an anathema and the final retail numbers for 2002 were so bad Allen Greenspan actually showed up last week in full banshee rant. Whoever’s fault this is, if anyone’s, is not the concern.

Herbert Hoover barely warmed his seat at Pennsylvania Avenue when the Market crashed, and he was nearly tar and feathered on Capital Hill for crippling a generation.

The motive is clear. Without this perpetual War on Terror and rousing speeches about Evil Doers, Georgie Junior is a laughable bust. Captain Shoe-in needs a victory over something, badly.

Second, there is always a clear and present enemy. America has had one in Saddam Hussein for three presidents, the first one conveniently being the father of the current one. He is the symbol of Middle-Eastern tyranny and loose-cannon mania, and despite the cynical slant of the Desk’s findings, most likely responsible in some way for 9/11, whether directly or otherwise. This is not news. The right people knew this two weeks after the disaster, but the Taliban was the flavor of the month then.

There is no time for the rest. I’ve written too much as it is. But peace protesters should save their breath. Prepare for this war. Embrace it as your own. You’re getting it whether you think it God’s will or the biggest mistake since allowing cameras around Michael Jackson for five minutes. At least know your government cares enough to put on a show to help you enjoy it.

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Safety vs. Civil Rights

Aquarian Weekly 2/5/03 REALITY CHECK

THE PRICE OF SAFETY RISES

What is currently being argued in federal court regarding the extended rights of law enforcement to spy on private citizens suspected of terrorist activity is one of the thorny issues riding the fumes of 9/11. As discussed in great length in this space for the past year, many of these obligatory proposals to tweak civil liberties in the guise of homeland security teeter on the illegal while occasionally slipping into the realm of laughable.

Of course the NYPD, the defendant in the case, will argue it is nearly impossible to keep tabs on the myriad of covert comings and goings of its citizenry in respect to approaching anything close to what the community might deem safe.

Certainly, it is the job of the blue line to crave greater access to our privacy. It makes the job easier and puts the populace at greater responsibility for its own protection.

But does it equate to increased safety or some wildly paranoid notion of control?

Forget the legal aspects of this case for a moment. Ignore your constitutional rights. Try and erase that eerie feeling that you are being watched and let’s get real for a second here.

Are you still willing to hold up “interpretation” of your activities as a good enough reason for the authorities to keep tabs on you?

Would you feel safer if the cops knew every move of every person in your neighborhood?

Perhaps.

I could swear I saw the unmistakable glow of plutonium coming from my neighbor’s basement window.

But be that as it may, defining what constitutes “sufficient cause” to plot a terrorist attack and officials “suspecting an individual of potentially plotting” a terrorist attack is the rub.

Huge rub.

NYPD lawyer, Gail Donahue was recently quoted as saying the rub lies not in the “sufficient cause” vs. “merely suspecting” argument, but what he describes as the “covert issue”. In other words, the very nature of covert actions on the part of terrorist groups makes any activity a probable crime.

What’s the difference between “covert” and “private”? And as with much of the vagaries of human perception; “suspecting” is in the eye of the beholder.

This falls into the messy category of absolute power, which leads to the wildly popular possibility for corruption. Once the police or the government has the right to keep tabs on your e-mail, correspondence, phone conversations or even your house by playing a hunch, what’s to stop them from interpreting this law?

Machines will not be “suspecting” your activities, humans will be doing that; emotional, subjective humans.

There is no exact science here.

Are you still willing to hold up “interpretation” of your activities as a good enough reason for the authorities to keep tabs on you?

Suppose your answer to that question is “yes”.

I am sadly reminded of the National Football League’s fucked up replay system. Ostensibly it is used to make sure the call made in the heat of battle by flawed officials is correct. But not all calls fall under the jurisdiction of the rules. Many are based on happenstance, like an errant whistle having blown the play dead, the unique perspective of the official who made the call, or the judgmental aspect of the call itself. What one official sees as an infraction, another sees entirely differently.In these cases the system is rendered impotent.

In short, the technological watchdog approach should make the game fairer, but in reality redefines the game’s organic exorcise to a series of blundered misinterpretations.

Okay, now forget the banal pro football reference, firstly because it was stupid, but mostly because at least it’s a reactionary device. What this court case involves is the instinct of the police force. Handing over the rights of a government tool to spark some half-assed mission to turn your life upside down on a series of intuitions.

Hopefully not the same intuition that had confused cops blasting away at kids with cell phones.

Anyone supporting these increased surveillance bills predictably use the argument that without securing the public’s safety, there can be none of the freedoms the ACLU is always railing about. In other words, if you cannot give up one or two freedoms for the safety of the community, you are a selfish first and fourth amendment whiner thinking with your politics and not your common sense.

Specious as that argument is, it nonetheless speaks to our primal urge to survive. You know, “Fuck it. Let everyone know my business. I don’t want to go to work one day and end up having my name slapped on a memorial plaque or referenced during a State of the Union address. I want to live, damn it! And I don’t care what the cost.”

Either side you fall on in this equation, pay attention to the final verdict due in February. And if freedoms are compromised based on fear than you’d better straighten up and fly right.

One thing no one can debate is that human instinct has led to some heinous shit.

Let’s hope you aren’t the next casualty all in the name of blessed security.

Me? I don’t care. I’m on everyone’s must-watch list. This is what I get for allowing people to air their views on my web site.

I might have to secede from the union.

Stay tuned.

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Axis of Evil is Money, Money, Money

Aquarian Weekly 1/29/03 REALITY CHECK

SELECTIVE HEROISM A Few Random Truths About The Inevitable War

How’s that war against al Qaeda going? We done over in Afghanistan? How’s that working out for ya? Buried the angst of 9/11 yet? Hey, before I’m done asking questions; where’s Osama bin Laden? When’s the trial start?

The economy is in the toilet. Even Bush apologists are finally copping to that. Stimulus package, tax cutting, Republican government, no matter. People are being sacked left and right. Businesses are folding. The president is popular, though. Polls tells us that. Polls tell us a lot of things. Polls told us we loved Bill Clinton’s lying. Polls told us we loved that slavery. Polls told us we weren’t keen on women voting, or helping the Jews in Europe all that much.

You know what the Axis of Evil is?

Money. Money. Money.

And big dicks.

Another recent poll has Americans reticent to get involved with another war with no end. This war has been more or less going on since 1989. Weapons inspectors, coalition, UN resolutions aside; it keeps going. Not going to stop.

Here’s why: Too many big dick egos on the line now. This is a Bush legacy mess. First one got us in. This one has to see it through. At least he realizes the whole thing stands there like the proverbial white elephant. This was beyond the last administration. But it’s a big dick thing. Believe me. Oil has its place. Promises made to the enormous campaign finance teat. But that is only part of the story.

Note to protestors: Put down the fucking signs about oil. Get with the program.

Here’s the program: This country trades, dances, prances and pussyfoots around with China. There is no more dangerous, corrupt, human atrocity than China. We can’t be bothered looking into that. Bigger dick. Truly bigger dick, with tons of consumers. Money. Money. Money.

That’s what keeps big dicks erect. That’s what keeps Germany, France and Russia crying about the US warmonger. Money. Money. Money. France and Germany get nearly 70% of their oil supply from the Iraqi region. Saddam Hussein is into Russia for around eight billion dollars. Dead lunatic is bad for business in Europe. So don’t buy any of their human rights, right to sovereignty bullshit.

Money. Money. Money.

And big dicks.

North Korea is a goddamn powder keg. Those crazy fuckers running things over there have serious weaponry and aim to use it for giggles. Hatred for the US is palpable. Been going on for half a century. We see fit to negotiate and ponder diplomatic solutions. Strong words are exchanged, but no military build-up or maneuvers. No handy patriotic rhetoric. China wouldn’t stand for it. Neither would the UN, whatever the hell that is these days.

Selective heroism.

Today its Iraq, tomorrow, who knows? War used to be good for the economy, but five simultaneous wars? No end in sight. Nothing finished. Half-assed military policy all over the globe. Stock market is doomed. Unemployment rate rising. Homeland Security sucking the well dry.

You think our president would like to have his “Axis of Evil” comments back?

You know what the Axis of Evil is?

Money. Money. Money.

And big…

Got it?

Dust off those yellow ribbons and slap old glory on the window of that SUV, we’re going in.

Again.

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Dan Bern Interview

Aquarian Weekly 1/22/03 REALITY CHECK

Dan Bern InterviewUnedited Transcript Conducted over the phone on the road from Pittsburgh to Philly to The Desk at Fort Vernon – 3/26/03

Dan BernDan Bern songs speak to me. That is the power of song, and it is not lost on him. And although he is one of the most prolific composers of this era, his record company chairman Brandon Kessler told me he could release an album a week with all of it, there is an obvious care given to each lyric, each characterization, each wonderfully crafted chord progression. This is because Bern is cut in the mold of old-time songsters, who used the medium to cajole and soothe the listener along with its author. It is as if sharing an experience, and the range of his emotions are wide.

He should have a wider audience, and he’s working on it, touring like a madman – he even recently played his baseball songs at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – but mainly because Dan Bern is everything right about the craft of songwriting and performing, a troubadour, a poet, a painter and a writer. He shies away from nothing, opening dangerous channels to peer down with him.

The first time I saw him; he blew me away, the honesty and humor right there for everyone to see. No pretensions, no illusions, pure ugliness and beauty set to music. Soon after, his recordings played in the background for the final excruciating days of finishing my last book; no small task since completing a book is like being in some kind of labor/limbo for months. And it was a pleasure to give him a copy after his Bowery Ballroom show mere days after conducting this interview from the road.

It was more of a discussion than interview, as Bern let his slow, infectious drawl pour over the answers with an old country wisdom belying his mid-thirties experience. We started out with a play on his playfully winding song, “Jerusalem”, which happens to be the first one on his first self-titled 1996 record, a song where he pauses to tell the listener that they heard right, he’s announcing that he is the Messiah; a nugget too good to ignore for a wise-ass like me.

jc: Let me start off by asking, are you still the Messiah, or has that changed for you the last couple of years?

Dan Bern: No. (chuckles)

jc: No, it hasn’t changed, or no you’re not the Messiah?

DB: No.

jc: (laughs) The only reason I’m asking is I’m Beelzebub. So I guess you and I have a meeting in the desert sometime soon.

DB: I’m looking forward to it.

jc: All right, good.

DB: Anytime, bring it on.

“I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit in some larger picture?

jc: Do you see yourself less as a folksinger and more as a satirist? Most of your work, specifically “Cure For AIDS” and the “Swastika Song” are in that vein, less serious commentary than satire.

DB: Well, it shifts around. I think it really depends on the song. Actually, those labels – folksinger or satirist – I tend to shy away from them myself, or anything that can put you in a box. Other people do it, but I never found it necessary to do it to myself. This way I can take it from song to song.

jc: Your answer on labels for your voice reminds me of a quote from HL Mencken I used for my first book, “Any man who inflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.” Would you say that your songs are more ideas or observations rather than commentary?

DB: I think you have to make the observations, but then, what do you do with them? What are they for? How do they fit in some larger picture? So I think the observation is part of the work, but then what does it mean? What did you make the observation for?

jc: So would you consider the meaning behind these observations in your songs more from an optimist’s standpoint or pessimist’s? Because now I’m reminded of Lenny Bruce’s comment about waking up in the morning and everything being perfect, and how if that happened, he’d be out of a job.

DB: I certainly have my moments of pessimism, but I think overall just to be out here doing this, being able to write songs in the face of everything else, there’s a hope, a belief in something.

jc: So you’d say writing the songs, even from the pessimist’s side, is something of a catharsis for you and the hope comes from the listener going through the same thing?

DB: I think so. If you’re just looking to depress people, what’s the point? If someone is out there going through terrible times, from losing their house to just fighting traffic, and they spend their hard earned money to go out and hear me play my songs, there has to be something positive there. I know if I’m going to go to a show I’m expecting to be uplifted somehow, gain a kind of inspiration from it. I’d hope that is happening with my performances.

jc: How much of your own personal experience do you put in the songs? In other words, you write predominantly in the first person, so when you use “I” in a song, are you talking directly from your own experience?

DB: Well that shifts too. There’s some reflection of me. It’s the narrator, really. If you look at it like a short story, the “I” is coming from the narrator, not the guy who wrote it. There’s an assumption that within the theme there will be a good deal of a similarity with the author. It works like some kind of a mirror, but you have to give yourself the complete freedom to take the truth as you see it and stretch the hell out of it. (chuckles)

jc: (laughs) All right, but for instance, the touching aspects of a song like “Lithuania” seems extremely biographical, while also speaking to various different avenues of the listener’s personality, even if you didn’t happen to have grandparents who were murdered by Nazis. There is something personal, yet eminently relatable to ghosts of our past that shape us; the relatives we’ve never met, the experiences of escaping our legacy.

DB: Yes, a song like that crosses over. That song is very much, if not completely, autobiographical.

jc: As opposed to something, I like to say satirical, like “The Swastika Song”, which comments on the same issues as “Lithuania”, but in a completely different voice. You are coming to grips with the issues of the past in “Lithuania” and grabbing back a part of history that has been annexed by hate to return it to a positive art form in “The Swastika Song”.

DB: (chuckles) Yeah, it’s like a big mural on the wall. You throw it up there.

jc: Let me ask you, have you heard the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” enough?

DB: I think so.

jc: How about “shock and awe”?

DB: These are great phrases, aren’t they? They’re just demanding to be used for our purposes.

jc: Would you back a military campaign to liberate Baltimore?

DB: Well, I’m really behind the notion of a regime change for Washington. I think Baltimore would be a good staging area.

jc: (laughs) So, start there, move up over the Potomac, being followed by CNN or some other trusted media outlet.

DB: Just find the right people who are willing to rise up against the regime and start moving north.

jc: Would you consider yourself a realist? Or do you try and create a world that is best suited for your art?

“Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changed and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest. .

DB: Hopefully I’m covering the whole ball of wax song by song. Again, in the course of a two or three hour show, I feel the need for the songs to speak clearly and linearly at some point and distort and stretch at other points. I don’t think I’d be comfortable or be able to sit with only one way of speaking of things.

jc: Or one viewpoint.

DB: Yeah, the whole idea of writing or painting is some kind of multiple perspective and somewhere in there may be some world view, but it can’t be through one lone voice that never changed and shifts. It wouldn’t be honest.

jc: As a writer, I found that your “World Cup” book, especially the diary style, showed some promise for prose. That’s’ a difficult shift for a lyricist or a poet. Is that a voice you’d like to exercise more?

DB: Definitely. I find myself working more in that vein. I’m almost done with something that’s a singular, longer work that I’m pretty excited about.

jc: Will it also include music, like the five-song CD in the “World Cup” book?

DB: This one, no. This one’s…

jc: Literary.

DB: Yeah. The narrator is a scientist who is very much like me and is one tour all the time, (chuckles) but instead of performing songs, gives lectures on his theories, blows things up. So, there are no songs in this one.

jc: (chuckles) Sound very Vonnegut.

DB: You’ll have to read it. Then you can tell me.

jc: I’m looking forward to it. I’d like to talk about musical style for a moment. Since I’m a fan of Dylan and Woody Guthrie, and this is why I took to your work immediately, I noticed Guthrie in your song “Jail”. The “Talkin” Blues” is an obvious homage, and I hate to use the word homage, but what the hell, it’s a tribute to Dylan’s first penned song. Also the first song on the new record, “Fleeting Days” called “Baby Bye Bye” is a great stab, with your own signature, on Springsteen. As all artists, do you use those voices to create your own sound?

DB: I suppose. Some things are probably closer in style to those tunes than other stuff. If people hear it, it’s probably there. Those are songwriters I’ve definitely listened to and absorbed and so it probably comes out that way.

jc: As you become more and more ingratiated into the pop culture, or the culture of celebrity, less than some certainly, but still, slowly you are getting recognized, do you feel it’s harder to write songs as an observer? Ken Kesey once said that fame for a writer is the death of observation, because once you become part of the landscape, it’s more difficult to write about it.

DB: Maybe I would feel that way if I were more famous. I’ve never been on Conan. I’ve never been on the cover of any major magazine. I still feel like I’m the guy outside looking in. I suppose I’ll always feel that way, you know, the outsider.

jc: You reference icons of culture more than anyone I’ve heard, from Jesus to Henry Miller to Monica Seles to Leonardo Decaprio to Hitler. You can tell from listening to your songs you’re aware of so much of your surroundings from a cultural sense.

DB: I don’t know. I think I’m able to separate it. It’s not like the people I’m writing about know me or hear the songs. Maybe they do, but I’m not aware of it. So, it keeps a distance.

jc: How do you see the music business from your end as the outsider? Do you experience the conglomerate, corporate, evil side of the business or do you avoid that as well?

DB: I don’t have much to do with that. From my standpoint it’s a lot of hard work and I don’t get a lot of that magical thing, throwing around a lot of money or having my picture up on a billboard. Usually I’m pissed off because I get to a gig and nobody put our posters up. That’s kind of the world I’m dealing with.

jc: It’s still grass for you.

DB: It’s more grass roots now than when I first started making records. I was with Sony for a couple of records. They didn’t spend money wisely. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with me. Every once in awhile they’d throw a bunch of money at something and you’d get the feeling that something might happen, but for the last several years it’s really been about making good records and to keep writing the songs and keep being relevant to myself and the audience and not go completely broke doing it.

jc: Amen to that. Are you touring with the band that’s on the new record?

DB: Yeah, for about four months now.

jc: Do you prefer playing with a band, or is there a place for you to still get up there like you did at Carnegie Hall and perform your songs by yourself?

DB: Oh yeah, I think that is something I will always use. This fall I’m going to go out for a couple of months by myself. I have more time when I do that. I have space. I write more when I’m by myself on the road, and the pallet, the song bag is bigger when I’m by myself. I can play anything I can remember. Even though this band has a pretty wide array of songs from my bag, and it’s widening, there’s a lot of places we can go in terms of material. But even with that, there are limits. And with playing by myself there’s just this connection between you and audience that’s a pretty cool thing.

jc: Let me ask you about one specific song that I saw you perform by yourself that I know is a favorite of your fans. When my wife and I saw you do it we looked at each other and knew this guy has something special, and that’s “God Said No”. Is that song Nietzian? Is it from a theological standpoint? Does the narrator who is asking God to send him back and keep Kurt Cobain from suicide or assassinate Hitler or save Jesus from the cross, does he believe he is actually speaking to God, or actually talking to God, or is it merely a commentary about the linear aspect of life and it’s limitations to live in the now?

DB: It’s a personal struggle that I have, really. I’ve had it my whole life; this wish and desire to right wrongs of the past. So when I’m talking, when the narrator is talking, I’m expressing that wish. I’m confronting that desire. And I think when God is talking; I’m sort of getting the answer.

jc: No.

DB: Yeah.

jc: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?

DB: I think what I consider God is something that other people might consider as nature or existence. That’s what I look to. That’s where I get answers of substance. I think it’s there. Without sounding to hippyish, I think the trees breathe and they give us answers.

jc: Having said that, would you purchase or read a book that paints Jesus of Nazareth as a social revolutionary who was miserably misunderstood and whose teachings and personal sacrifice has been criminally annexed for two thousand years?

DB: Sure.

jc: (laughs) Good, it’s the subject my new book. “Trailing Jesus”. I’ll get you a copy.

DB: (laughs) Yeah, I’d love to read that.

jc: This was actually quite inspirational for me, since I’m going on a promotional tour for the book and I’ll be on the other end of the phone trying to avoid direct answers of theorem in the work, and still give acceptable answers. You’re pretty good at that.

DB: Well, thanks. (chuckles) I’m sure you’re up to the task yourself. You know I’ve always felt willing and able to add my two cents to any like-minded movement that needs a singer, but at the same time I feel like if I speak for myself then I can’t go too wrong.

jc: Thanks for the time. Anything I can do for the cause. Your stuff is extremely inspirational for a writer.

DB: I couldn’t appreciate that more, thanks.

jc: Well, keep writing those beautifully moving, hilariously funny and insightful songs and be careful on the road, okay?

DB: Thanks man, I’ll see you Sunday.

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Why Howard Dean Cannot Be Elected President

Aquarian Weekly 1/17/03 REALITY CHECK

WHY HOWARD DEAN CANNOT WIN A GENERAL ELECTION

Howard DeanHoward Dean will never be president. He is a bizarre amalgam of Michael Dukakis and George McGovern rolled into an unpolished, ornery fire breather built to appeal to the extreme left wing of a party currently lost on the national political scene. Union dinks, college kids, southern pick-up truck rebels with confederate flag decals or an Al Gore endorsement aside, an anti-war, radically motivated fiscal and social New England liberal will never win key independents in the mid-west or the south.

The last one to pull that off needed to cheat, and then had his head blown off before repeating the deed.

If the Dems have any hope of unseating this mediocre president, they need to reconsider the odds. But judging the field, and the insider intrigue of a party gearing up to be Hillary Clinton’s bitch, it is an unlikely hope at best.

With six weeks remaining until the New Hampshire Primary – an atavistic exercise as symbolically hyped, fiscally provoked, and strategically dead as your average college football bowl game – the governor of Vermont is the leading Democrat to challenge George Bush for the White House. This meant little for the last Democrat elected president, William Jefferson Clinton, who finished second in NH. But oh how things have changed in a decade.

The man who is likely to finish a distant second is Massachusetts Senator, John Kerry, a man slated by party big wigs this past summer to be the front runner. In ’92, Clinton was a laughing stock entering NH, and came to view his eventual second place standing as a victory. Kerry cannot and will not survive second place.

If the Dems have any hope of unseating this mediocre president, they need to reconsider the odds.

No one else in this endless pack of candidates is close. Dean will win NH and all indications are he will make a strong showing in the Iowa Caucus, which will effectively put Missouri Congressman, Dick Gephardt on ice. Gephardt’s campaign has staggered since Dean grabbed key endorsements from major cash-cow unions and has publicly called Iowa a “must win”.

Gore’s endorsement of Dean all but buried Joseph Lieberman’s campaign. The Connecticut Senator, and former Gore running mate, dutifully postponed announcing his candidacy until Gore decided not to run, and now he has to eat shit.

Most of the anti-Hillary power people in the party apparently convinced the formerly “retired” vice president that to boost Dean’s run gains solidarity with the present 2004 momentum allowing Gore safe passage past Hillary for a ’08 run. In essence, Gore and the party ostensibly concedes the White House to fend off an inevitable Clinton power play.

This may all be fine and dandy in Democratic command circles, but on the national scene Gore is an anathema. He has the stank of defeat on him, and what appeared to be a simple beltway backstabbing of a former running mate is a tolling bell of doom for a man trying to accomplish what Gore could not.

Don’t be fooled. Dean’s people are already looking beyond the primaries. The candidate’s recent performances in these interminable debates have the air of a tune-up. He has segued nicely into a smoothing of his national campaign rhetoric, bypassing his opponents to begin playing off Bush.

As for the White House, there has been no secret the Bush people are giddy at the prospect of taking on Dean. Quotes of him winning a mere five states in a general election are a bit severe, but not far off. They cannot believe their luck. There was legitimate concern about General Wesley Clark, but he has failed to build any momentum and seems unwilling to slice into Dean’s aggressive stance. And then there is his Arkansas connection that has the anti-Hillary people wary of his ultimate motives.

Dean has balls, deep steel things that allow him to be bold on gay marriages, pot smoking, draft dodging and a wild reconstruction of every government program. This works only if you are a southern Democrat with a robotic focus on one issue. Clinton hammered away at the first Bush’s putrid economy for ten months. Dean is all over the map, what with trashing the war, tax cuts, the recent Medicare mess and a myriad of social issues, and without a Ross Perot around to suck 10% of the independent vote, he will lose. Dukakis and McGovern did not have a noisy independent, and they lost. Badly.

And like those doomed candidates, Dean’s type of campaign works beautifully 10 months before crunch time, but a year from now with an economy slowly shifting upward and the Bush war machine having a full year to stabilize, it tends to appear stale with time.

The old adage that you campaign in the primary to appeal inwardly and then unfurl a different strategy for the national campaign is a faint hope. Perhaps once faced with a national debate Dean will loosen his tether to the type of special interest fops needed to gain the nomination. Barely into the primaries in 2000, Bush appeared willing to champion any extreme right wing whim, but once he defeated John McCain he pulled to the left and maintained a slim lead all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.

But that was the closest election in a generation and no one on either side of ’04 wants that kind of grind.

And neither will get it.

I’m not sure anyone else fits the bill, but one thing is certain, if its Howard Dean, it’s four more years.

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Trent Lott Exposed

Aquarian Weekly 12/25/02 REALITY CHECK

A GEORGETOWN CHRISTMAS

People in Cary, North Carolina, the third latch on the Bible Belt, would like to know what the hell happened to global warning. Crippled by an ice storm and sub-southern temperatures has heat lunatics like my mother re-consulting the equator map. But I only broach the bizarre weather trends of the state that kept a burping fossil like Jesse Helms fouling up Capitol Hill for decades because that is where I had my annual holiday chat with my GOP insider, and otherwise vitriolic patriot, Georgetown.

Talking politics in this time of peace on earth and fat guys dressed like 8th avenue pimps tends to put a refreshing twist on a season usually spent praying that the suicide rate might curtail for a change.

After late hours making sense of these tapes, here is what I offer as a holiday gift to those comfortable in the arena of the absurd:

jc: I think I need to begin with Trent Lott.

Georgetown: What could you possibly need to know? That the party is distancing itself from him? That the president was demanding speeches decrying his insensitivity twenty seconds after that pile of god-awful bullshit left his mouth? That he will not survive this? Okay. Fine. Make that your angle. It’s hip.

“Hey, things got a little silly after we took back control of the Senate. For a few weeks before Thanksgiving there was this 1994 high all over again. I could swear I saw the ghost of Newt’s ego guzzling forty year-old scotch from the belly button of a Virginia Tech coed.”

jc: I sense a predictable defense.

GT: I only point out that the freedom of expression so cherished by yourself and other quick-to-criticize hacks only applies to journalistic commentary or artistic integrity, but obviously does not extend to observations by civil servants. I only defend the man’s right to speak his mind. You think by evoking the hypothetical presidency of Strom Thurmond it’s some sort of racist pledge?

jc: No, but it does make him some kind of idiot. The whole thing was like hearing about another Mike Tyson meltdown.

GT: It was a big mistake, yes.

jc: My favorite defense of Lott’s remarks was Bob Novak citing that it was only an aside uttered at a birthday party. Sure, and at a cocktail get-together at Tavern on the Green three other senators were bemoaning desegregated busing. Not really newsworthy, after all, it was only a birthday party.

GT: Don’t quote Novak to me while I’m digesting beef.

jc: I think the comments speak less about Lott’s racist views than it does about his constituency. I think Lott set the image of the southern politician back a few decades.

GT: Hey, things got a little silly after we took back control of the Senate. For a few weeks before Thanksgiving there was this 1994 high all over again. I could swear I saw the ghost of Newt’s ego guzzling forty year-old scotch from the belly button of a Virginia Tech coed.

jc: What’s the over/under on Lott’s resignation by New Year’s Day?

GT: Deals are being discussed right now. It’s a fucking shame.

jc: So this brave face bullshit is just that.

GT: He’s a dead man.

jc: Why is the president letting this Iraqi thing drag out when he acts like a guy with his armed cocked at a bar fight? Does he even intend on listening to these weapons inspectors?

GT: Not particularly. It’s window dressing. Carpet bombing starts somewhere around Super Bowl time. Might even do it as a halftime special.

jc: It works better as a pregame extravaganza.

GT: Whatever floats the boat.

jc: Scale of one to ten, ten being war and one being peace.

GT: Ten. No avoiding this. The hope of this administration has always been, since the last time you asked me this, what…last summer, is that an inner Iraqi coup will reveal itself and the US military will be only glad to lend a hand. This way the fingerprints will be on Arab special forces. Then we can tell the Saudis to fuck off.

jc: So your assessment from last summer (“A Mid-Summer Night’s Stand-Off” 7/17/02 & “Bare Knuckle Jungle”: 7/24/02) remains that it is not whether there will be fighting, but to what degree this country will be overtly responsible for it.

GT: Things only change in the media, not in this administration. Not since they finished counting those votes for the fifteenth time down in Florida.

jc: How much does Rumsfeld know about the current spirits of Iraqi revolutionaries?

GT: I’m not telling you that. jc: I’ll take that as “a whole bunch”.

GT: You’d be wrong to do it.

jc: If Bush is trying to sell this war then why would the CIA be withholding info on Iraq’s involvement in al Qaeda?

GT: Why not? Who does it benefit to leak proof to the NY Times? The UN? The UN doesn’t want blood on its hands. Never does. Those cowardly fuckers would rather it be all over the US. But secretly there is another side, and the CIA is not going to allow the UN to put up a weak-ass political fight on this.

jc: So let me get what your saying straight. Are you intimating that the UN wants military action, but its playing political footsies with the Bush administration to force its hand?

GT: I’m saying this: People who need to know will know when it is time for them to know.

jc: Here’s where we cue James Bond.

GT: The CIA works for the United States government, not the UN.

jc: This concept is well hidden.

GT: Operating a defense of this country with our political heads so far up Kofi Annan’s ass has not been easy, believe me when I tell you that..

jc: Would you like to expound on the present GOP stranglehold on Congress?

GT: I told you in July that anyone not on board with the War Against Terror better quit now. I think the vote bared that out. This economy is for shit. But if Bush thinks this will fly for another 16 months he’s sadly mistaken.

jc: How many funerals have we had for Al Gore now?

GT: Counting those fifteen recounts and that abysmal SNL hosting job, I think we might be in the twenties.

jc: He dropped out because…

GT: Okay, I’ve got one for you: The 2006 campaign for the Dems will be about a Clinton all right, but not Hillary. This is Big Bill’s pony to ride now. Clinton is already riling up the troops and has his three or four finalists to be his mouthpiece. And if there is one guy not invited to that party it’s Al Gore. That’s a fact.

jc: A puppet regime with Willie leading the charge.

GT: You win a prize.

jc: One last one, will Chaney run with Captain Shoe-in again?

GT: Too early to tell, but if this Iraq mess is still unresolved, absolutely. If it is not, my guess is he will step aside for health concerns giving Bush a younger running mate to take on the Clinton wave. Mark it down.

jc: Marked.

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Erica Zwickel, Our Friend

Aquarian Weekly 12/19/02 REALITY CHECK

ODE TO THE UNDYING SPIRIT

all nearness pauses, while a star can grow– e.e. cummings

Erica Zwickel was my friend. She acted like it all the time. Whenever I called her. Whenever I needed her. For anything. Not some times, all times. She was honestly one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet in my experience as a professional writer, and I’ve met plenty.

Erica died last week.

She was 30 years old.

I met her in 1995 while researching the first few weeks of what would become my first published book, “Deep Tank Jersey’. It is a book read by many of the people reading this paper, working for this paper, in bands plugged in this paper. It is a book that could not have been imagined without her. Many of the people in it, an astounding amount, joined me in saying good-bye to her this past Sunday.

But Sunday was less a funeral than a celebration of her considerable spirit, because if there was one thing Erica embodied it was the spirit of anything she set her mind to.

What she set her mind to for over a decade was the New Jersey rock and roll scene, its bands, its venues, and its ups and downs. Mostly, Erica kept a band called DogVoices running. Literally.

She was the engine, the siren, the dyed in the wool, cruising, bruising, straight-to-the-heart and beyond-the-call backbone of DogVoices, a band that following that crazed summer and the book’s release became something of a NJ icon and more or less a traveling halleluiah whiz-bang of a circus.

And Erica was never its ringmaster or carnival barker. She never took a bow or begged for an encore, but there was no circus, there was no DogVoices without Erica.

“It’s my natural high!” she told me on several counts over the years.

This is where Erica was at during her twenty-third year on the planet when I waltzed into the wild fray to pen my book about a band on the road trying to survive. She was a baby-faced kid going on 40, chuckling beneath dimples and shiny bright eyes, but tough as nails. I called her Finley because despite being a nice Jewish girl she looked like a jolly Irish lass. Before I knew what the hell I was doing, before I had stories and anecdotes and relationships forged to unfurl my view of what I would eventually dub, Clubland, Erica welcomed me in with the smile of an angel and the grip of a den mother.

No one who was there, or spent five minutes around the band needs to hear anymore, but this is what I eventually summed up on page 345:

“I hate this place,” I told Erica as we stood in our cramped corner of Nardi’s Tavern for what seemed like the hundredth time. The charm and humor at watching the most insane party on earth had been worn out on me. The long summer was coming to a close, but with Labor Day looming in the foreground the race was far from over. The madness was taking its toll. Everyone seemed on edge during the evening, including the band. “I love the people here,” Erica enthused, shocked by my vitriolic comment. “There are better rooms to see these guys, but people here are so grateful for a good band.”

Watching her gather the mound of tee shirts from the back of Richie’s jeep, sliding them through her right arm and diligently counting each one in a quick inventory check, I smiled. Erica was one of those reliable constants in a quick cutthroat, backstabbing, change-a-minute business of slugs and leeches clinging to one fad after another. Erica truly loved this work, the people she met, and the guys in the band. They could count on her for anything and everything, and often did. She had embraced me like no one else right from the start; handing me earplugs, deflecting annoying drunks and groping women, and laughing at my warped aphorisms and jokes like an old friend who understood loneliness during my slow acclimation. She was a real person growing in a plastic world, but I didn’t worry that she’d come out all right. Her dedication to perfection and hard-working ethic would make her a success in anything she wanted to do. She did not need Clubland as much as she claimed, but loved it just the same. Nothing derailed sweet Erica, or brought her down the entire time I’d known her. “Why don’t you get out of here before you crack up,” she suggested, wisely. “I’m going to miss you,” I told her. She curled her bottom lip in a mock pout, then flashed me her innocent smile. “I’m gonna miss you more,” she said.

Erica was wrong about that. I miss her more.

We all do.

If you just knew what she was about, what she meant to a whole bunch of tired and confused people precariously balanced on the high wire then you’d know she lied about who would miss who more.

There should be more people around like Erica Zwickel. There’s one less.

And we are all poorer for it.

Good-bye Finley.

We miss you more.

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The Persecution of Lenny Bruce

 

Aquarian Weekly 12/11/02 REALITY CHECK

ECHOES OF A PRECARIOUS FREEDOM
The Legal Persecution of Lenny Bruce Dissected – Part Two

Lenny BruceAll law is interpretation. A lawyer uses words, which are inherently imprecise, and when a law is applied to the fact of a new situation what lawyers do is interpret the code words to deem them appropriately or inappropriately applied to the case at hand. To view the law means to understand interpretation. Law has more to do with critical literacy studies than it probably has to do with anything else. – David Skover, Professor of Law at Seattle University

From April 10, 1961 until his death at age, 41 in 1966, comedian, Lenny Bruce was arrested time and again on the charge of obscenity for routines performed in adult nightclubs in four of America’s most cosmopolitan and “enlightened” cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Under the guise of vulgar language and lewd behavior, local officials, clumsily utilizing bully tactics and ambiguously interpreted public decency laws, preceded to railroad a valid political and social dissenter. Preceded by their fears and ignorance, they unleashed their handmaidens in the law to make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution and destroy the livelihood of a courageous artist while sounding a reverberating siren for generations to come.

The first of these busts occurred at Frisco’s progressive hot spot, the Jazz Workshop, where eventually Bruce was exonerated after sixteen months of expensive legal wrangling, travel expenses, blacklisting and jail time for the crime of uttering the word, “cocksucker” in mixed company. The second bust was a three-pronged attack wherein Bruce was ostensibly hauled off the stage for the same act on consecutive nights at the famed hipster haven, Troubadour club in L.A. While standing trial for these offenses in late ’62 and early ’63, Bruce was arrested at the Gate of Horn club in Chicago and the Unicorn back in San Francisco, where police repeatedly attended his performances in full view of the audience taking notes and staring down their prey.

While one of the L.A busts were thrown out of court, several raged on through much of the next three years, exhausting Bruce of his finances which he failed to recoup because of municipal pressure on clubs not to hire him. “It’s becoming chic to arrest me,” Bruce intoned during this absurd witch-hunt which culminated in his late 1965 New York City arrests at the Greenwich Village ultra-liberal art nook, Café Au Go Go, where the owners of the establishment were jailed and put on trial alongside him.

The details of this theater of abuse and oppression is well-documented in Ronald Collins and David Skover’s new book, “The Trials of Lenny Bruce”, which brilliantly uses history to paint a parallel view of a country hell-bent on defending its image against the more painfully unfurled truth. Complete with an accompanying compact disc of Bruce’s “criminal” behavior and desperate defenses with and without his oft-confused and overworked attorneys, the book exhaustively uncovers the all-too frighteningly real reasons for this high-powered harassment.

“Lenny’s four, eight, ten letter words today would not be the weapons of his destruction, “Skover warns. “But would his ideology be shocking today…you bet.”

“We must remember the context of Lenny’s comedy landscape,” Skover told me in a recent phone interview. “America had just come out of the Eisenhower era, an era of incredibly repressed sexuality, political patriotism and social conservatism. Lenny was at the forefront with the Beatniks long before the free love hippy movement.”

Outside the lines of accepted modes of media such as television, radio, recordings or the published word, Lenny Bruce used the subterranean culture of the nightclub to pound away at what he perceived was the enemy of justice, hidden truths. Beginning his act as a series of comedy routines and ending in a bombastic free-association, stream-of-consciousness bulldozer of powerful messages, Lenny skillfully stripped away preconceptions and began to adjust the mirror of visibility on a society hiding from its wounds. “I’m not a comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce,” the artist announced before several historic performances which chimed a bell for change and released a backlash of epic consequence.

Sex with chickens, transvestite Nazis, pissing in sinks, a gay Lone Ranger, the gender duality of the cocksucker, the hammer effects of social hate-speak like nigger-boogie-kike-wop, the conjugative discussion of “To is a preposition, cum is a verb”, Eleanor Roosevelt’s tits, the phony imagery of a Jackie Kennedy, the laughable oppression of the Catholic church are just some of the “bits” used to convict Bruce of obscenity. Armed with cryptically worded legal precedence the prosecutors acted as a kind of vengeance squad for the angered American façade.

Causing sexual enticement or turning red the face of a female audience member led to the charge of obscenity in law-speak, but something more sinister was at play. “No one could be convicted for blasphemy in any court,” Skover cites. “But in a very real sense Lenny was tried for it anyway.”

Blurting “fuck” or “cock” or “tit” may have been the smoking gun, but what Bruce was actually incarcerated for was his irreverent attack on taboo subjects like sexual mores, strained race relations, religious and social persecution, political deceitfulness and asinine celebrity worship. Lenny Bruce voiced too loudly what no one at the time was brave enough to admit in a public forum; things weren’t as rosy and wonderful in the good ole USA as previously, and falsely, advertised. And when he refused to bend to threats, those in charge of protecting its image, the government, the church, and the remaining power-based status quo endeavored to bring him down.

In the end, Lenny Bruce was not a foul-mouthed smut-lord, but a dangerous voice crying out from the wilderness. And the echo of such sentiments would be just as harmful in these more accepting times.

“Lenny’s four, eight, ten letter words today would not be the weapons of his destruction, “Skover warns. “But would his ideology be shocking today…you bet.

Look at Bill Mahr’s public persecution following his criticism of president Bush’s war on the Taliban on ‘Politically Incorrect’ last year. What Mahr was nearly fired for by ABC was what Lenny had been busted for thirty years ago, the poetic theme from Thomas Merton’s idea that war’s winners are no better than war’s losers.”

Skover reminds us that the difference between the Mahr backlash and the ridiculously overblown Sinead O’Connor harangue against her Saturday Night Live protest of child molestation by the hands of the Catholic church in Ireland or even the outlandish censoring of the Dave Anderson column by the NY Times last week is that these people, among so many others, have not and will never be handcuffed like common criminals and thrown into jail for uttering controversial and unpopular opinions.

Today Lenny Bruce is still a convicted felon in the state of New York, his case never reaching the Supreme Court, while his comedic descendents make millions on HBO. But the lesson of Bruce’s considerable legal legacy; his battles to express not just the most precious forms of free speech, but the incontrovertible idea that every American has a mind and spirit of his/her own that does not walk to the beat of the collective drummer is enduring. To suppress such a notion is un-American in every sense. The legal and social persecution of Lenny Bruce speaks loudly to those ideals.

“Lenny never got the right to say what he wanted how he wanted to say it,” Skover concludes. “But thanks to his vehement defense of his voice, others do. That is what we owe to the trials of Lenny Bruce.”

Read Part I

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