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.


Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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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.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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Why Howard Dean Cannot Be Elected President

Aquarian Weekly 1/17/03 REALITY CHECK


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.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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Trent Lott Exposed

Aquarian Weekly 12/25/02 REALITY CHECK


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.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


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Erica Zwickel, Our Friend

Aquarian Weekly 12/19/02 REALITY CHECK


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

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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The Persecution of Lenny Bruce


Aquarian Weekly 12/4/02 REALITY CHECK

The Legal Persecution of Lenny Bruce Dissected – Part One

Thirty-seven years ago, Lenny Bruce, comedic talent, potty mouth, satirist, contrarian, blasphemer and grandstand martyr for the first amendment died in relative poverty, a broken and hounded victim of free expression. The evidence of his destruction at the hands of a frightened culture is compiled and preserved as never before in a new book entitled Lenny Bruce Arrested in 1961“The Trials of Lenny Bruce”.

For my money, this is one of the most important books you will read this, or any year, whether you care a lick about Lenny Bruce as a person, an artist or an icon. It is important because it is the most detailed account of what fear and a bruised American psyche can do to the ambiguously delicate concept of freedom.

But, really, why should we care about some hipster junky whose nightclub act spiraled him into ignominious demise almost half a century ago?

This is a question best answered by law professor, David Skover, who along with co-author, Ronald Collins has created the definitive study of one of the most curious and pertinent battles for the constitutional right of political and social dissent in American history.

“Lenny Bruce sacrificed his career, his fortune, his very life for the American principle of freedom of speech,” Skover, a law professor at Seattle University, told me on a recent visit to New York. “In many ways Lenny embodies the first amendment, and whatever his failings as a human being, and there were many, he possessed the courage to speak his mind by the light of his own truth and with the force of his own voice. And however much that personal truth offended those who endeavored to silence him, Lenny’s battles, both legal and cultural, made it possible for others to be like him without having to end up like him.”

“…Lenny’s battles, both legal and cultural, made it possible for others to be like him without having to end up like him.”

Ironically, we are on the precipice of an era not unlike the late 50s’, early 60s’, when Lenny Bruce burst on the cultural scene. For the first time since the ultra-conservative Eisenhower administration our government is under a Republican majority. And not unlike the burgeoning Cold War of yesteryear there is once again an atmosphere of national lock-down with enemies laying in wait to erase our way of life. The effect is a renewed sense of innocence, a desire to hide from the harsh realities of war and hate and greed that batter our sensibilities daily. We long to be insulated, blanketed in sweet dreams of red, white and blue comfort.

Yet in the bizarre odyssey that is human nature, this craving for innocence can likely degenerate into ignorance.

“The fact that we are in a potentially more repressive speech environment than we’ve been in for many years is certainly disconcerting,” Skover remarks when asked about the similarities of his subject’s trials and today’s air of political correctness. “It’s important to remember that Lenny Bruce paid our dues to understand that the first amendment exists to protect political dissent in times when it is not a popular stance.”


Since the tragedy that was 9/11, the American psyche has been damaged. You can feel it in the air, see it on the news, hear it in our politicians, listen to it in our music, discuss it with our neighbors; this rush to suppress anything that might not ring of solidarity to nation and God and apple pie. Protect ourselves, our children, our heritage, our freedom by not uttering truths better kept hidden. At first it is an expected backlash from a national tragedy, an exercise in healing, but history teaches it’s natural for the body politic to become comfortable with such reactionary tactics at the price of individual freedom.


Now there’s an interesting term. Lately, we like to toss it around as an excuse for self-righteous patriotism, racial profiling, waging war or trading in our civil rights to avoid leaving ourselves vulnerable again.



No artist or commentator in the history of this nation broached the core of those two subjects better than Lenny Bruce. Certainly many carried the torch in bygone centuries, William Hogarth, the 18th century political cartoonist or the 19h century satirist like Mark Twain to name two, but in the modern light of a media-crazed latter 20th century, no one bore the brunt of our personal freedoms than a painfully flawed, but brilliantly courageous Jewish kid from Long Island.

By declaring his mission to expose the guise of phony respectability through a series of comedic routines liberally laced with rousing vulgarities and penetratingly brutal language, Bruce created a dangerous persona poised to skewer such taboo subjects as race relations, political vagaries and the sanctimony of organized religion. “Dig the lie”, Lenny defiantly blurts out on the book’s accompanying cd; a well-stocked collection of interviews, clips from Bruce’s most notorious bits, commentary from his contemporaries and recollections from the litany of attorneys who aided in his defense against social persecution. Of course, the “lie” being anything that emerged from Lenny’s fast-paced rhetoric as finely crafted hypocrisy.

When asked of Bruce’s cultural and legal legacy, Skover is adamant; “The very point of our work on this book is that although Lenny Bruce is a little known name in free speech law because none of his cases ever made it to the Supreme Court, his social relevance and courtroom dramas changed the first amendment environment in a very practical way.”

Unlike most historical records aimed at a particular audience, “The Trials of Lenny Bruce” is a living, breathing testament to our times, the American times, no matter what generation. It’s concentration on how the law may be manipulated to silence significant social commentary with neatly wrapped accusatory terms such as obscenity, blasphemy and national security, is paramount to preserving our own rights of free expression.

Skover cites that the obscenity standards, under which Bruce was arrested in four U.S. cities, including New York, are virtually identical today. “We have come a long way culturally from Lenny’s time, but even though it is inconceivable today that someone could be busted in a nightclub for uttering offensive ideologies the letter of the law has not budged.”

NEXT WEEK: Part II – More with the co-author of the “Trials of Lenny Bruce” on Bruce’s resounding warnings for our time.

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2012 Olympics Will Destroy New York

Aquarian Weekly 11/13/02 REALITY CHECK


Here’s one for ya: New York City is a finalist to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

And whose one board for this monumental fiasco? The rich, the politically connected, the marketing assholes on Madison Avenue, the unions, the mob and an agonizing slew of hotel and restaurant owners. The rest of us get fucked, but good.

This is the most asinine concept dreamed up in the bowels of this great city since some rapacious road jockey with a drafting board wanted to turn Lower Manhattan into a lame Los Angeles freeway knockoff.

Listen, if I had Billy Crystal’s money I’d be sitting next to Michael Bloomberg and cheering too. But I don’t, and chances are neither do you, so why the hell would any of the remaining millions of people who have anything to do with the five boroughs want the kind of construction, destruction and interruption it would take to refigure acres and miles and blocks with canoeing canals, swimming pools, equestrian tracks and a full-sized monstrosity of a stadium on the West Side Highway.

The West Side Highway? They’ve been fixing the same pothole on that Godforsaken stretch of road since 1986. Two Saturdays ago I sat in horrendous traffic for nearly two hours at 158th street so the lazy weekend orange-flag boys can widen an exit ramp between four-hour coffee breaks.

A few greed heads with blue prints will gut your town with your tax dollars just to turn your daily routine into a Marilyn Manson video, count their money and leave your neighborhoods in ruins. You get about as much say in this as those riled lunatics who were reduced to heaving tea overboard in Boston Harbor 240 odd years ago.

Can you even begin to imagine the levels of Hades we’re in for if they start erecting this elitist scam? And for what? Three weeks in July ten years from now, so the three people left on this spinning sphere who haven’t descended on this over bloated island of lost souls can shoe-horn their way in?

Is there not enough neck-bending, camera-toting, map-folding, drive-two-miles-an-hour-on-fifth-avenue tourists now? We have to invite the rest of this planet to converge on New York’s overcrowded streets. Hey, we’re not enough of a target; let’s give the terrorist community all the more reason to torch the joint.

Of course, I fail to even broach what this will cost a city teetering on bankruptcy right now. The painfully rough conservative estimates – and believe me their rough in a wholly false way – see this thing in the $250 billion range.

The mayor claims he can’t pay the cops or the firemen now. You remember those guys right? The ones celebrities and news anchors brandishing their fancy American flag pins were gushing over for weeks after 9/11? They can’t be paid, but we can build an Olympic Village in Astoria for $800 million.

And when annoying people such as myself complain about this overblown marketing nightmare, we are reminded of the jobs this madness will produce, the beautification, the affordable housing and the brand spanking new stadium the N.Y. Jets will play in when everyone is finished trashing the city and return to their native lands.

Sure, lots of improvements. We’ll have affordable housing in Manhattan when they let the Son of Sam out and tag him to run things for a while. And the Jets? Keep the fucking Jets in Jersey. The organization is cursed and only plays eight games a year, most of which the team loses in embarrassing fashion. The Jets need a new stadium like the Germans need to rebuild their military.

And nothing, I mean nothing else needs to be crammed on the West Side. Not the least of which is this half-baked drug-addled idea to stretch the subway system over to 11th avenue. After the Olympic committee cashes their enormously grotesque checks for this rolling farce, the only people taking the train to Hudson are pimps, gunrunners and those shady looking characters who ran the kamikaze Tom Golisano campaign.

As a great New Yawker and oldest living friend of the Desk once said in a midnight Times Square diatribe: Who’s kiddin’ who?

Speaking of the Olympic Committee. Yeah, you want to get into bed with these cretins like you want to use Tony Soprano as a bookie. In fact, I’m fashioning a reasonable guess there’s not a more corrupt outfit on the fringes of civilization than the Olympic Committee. There are teams of lawyers still figuring out who’s paying back the $465 million federal government buy out that was the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

Isn’t it bad enough the city got in deep with the National Football League? What a deal that turned out to be. Bon Jovi and a few thousand drunken extras cramming mid-town for three days in exchange for cheaply produced promos of fat guys in Browns uniforms and dog masks cheering the Statue of Liberty from one of those pathetically ostentatious double-decker tour buses. When I see those convincing spots, I want to pack my bags in Peoria and brave the winter to see “Phantom of Opera” one more time for $200 a pop.

Jesus Christ, this Bloomberg dipshit has to go. The man doesn’t even want to be mayor. I think he wants to be prom queen or get on the radio for five minutes. Let’s give him a gold plated tiara and a press hat and send him back to corporate oblivion. This mondo jack ass will do anything for attention, including selling the greatest city in the world to international bankers and turn the entire thing into gridlock debt for two minutes of quality time with Katie Couric.

And one more thing, fine people of the Big Apple, these Olympic things never involve referendums or votes or even town meetings. A few greed heads with blue prints will gut your town with your tax dollars just to turn your daily routine into a Marilyn Manson video, count their money and leave your neighborhoods in ruins. You get about as much say in this as those riled lunatics who were reduced to heaving tea overboard in Boston Harbor 240 odd years ago.

Taxation without representation, indeed.

Stand up for your turf. Let your voice be heard. Flood city hall and head to the streets or get the fuck out now before the mob-funded bulldozers start tearing up concrete.

Let the Parisians deal with this heinous shit. They love lending their town to conquering hordes.

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Ode To Warren Zevon


Aquarian Weekly 11/6/02


Warren Zevon is dying and I’m pissed.

I had to get that out. It’s been festering in me since late August when I heard through someone at his record company that he would not be making our interview date. I’d been looking forward to it since receiving promo material in the mail for his latest album, ironically entitled, My Ride’s Here. But there would be no interview, nor the appearances he was due to make in NYC in late September.

Warren ZevonIt was early September when rumblings at Zevon’s publicist offices warned that he might pull out of scheduled concerts due to personal reasons. This became official with the posted announcement on his web site that “Mr. Zevon has inoperable lung cancer” followed closely by an article in the L.A. Times describing his prognosis as months to perhaps weeks to live.

Although having never met, Zevon and I have had many parallels, and not just in satirical literary styles or the penchant for making the “one quick drink with a pal” scenario last for three days. I have seen him perform some fifteen times over the past twenty-five years and oddly had numerous meetings and interactions with people who had either played with him, toured with him, worked his lights, tuned his piano, grabbed a cup of java with him, drove with him to a party, etc.

Seemed there would be plenty of time to meet up with one of my favorite songwriters, and a man for whom I have liberally quoted in this space and in my second book, including the now infamous “More people should listen to Warren Zevon” line in my very first “Chaos in Motion” pieces from the early 90s’. I ‘d even foolishly eschewed a chat with him when he was standing a few feet from me at a bar in Rochester, NY two winters ago, so as to not bug him.

Sure, if there was someone I didn’t need to chase down, when our paths had nearly crossed dozens of times throughout my brief – and his longer and more established – career, it would be Warren Zevon.

Cleaned up, dry as a bone and down to only a few packs a day, Zevon’s work over the past few years had never sounded better. Christ, the man was exercising. This is usually the tolling bell for most, but for Zevon, a man for whom blatantly sadistic metaphor was not lost, it seemed ludicrous.

When these kinds of things mattered, like before I was married and tried to bring some semblance of normality and balance to my life, Warren Zevon’s indestructibility was more than an inspiration. Like Keith Richards or Hunter S. Thompson, there were no mammals on earth that could withstand the force of mortality like the man I had enjoyed calling The Captain.

For The Captain survival was good enough to write about in song and story, black visions of carnivorous women and vicious men feeding on the soulless creation propped up at the piano like a pickled wax figure. Good enough to recall; back from oblivion and leaning into the bar with a shot of rye and a Charles Bukowski Reader by the ashtray looking for something to spark the ol’ muse; something fresh, sinister, dangerous or fucking insane.

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

You betcha.

Zevon dying?


Right, and if I drive along the Jersey Turnpike I might not see the Twin Towers? Sure, like I just turned 40 and I have a mortgage and a Godchild and I’m sitting at the midway truck stop off thirty years of bad road.

Fuck that.

I’m not accepting Zevon’s resignation off this mortal coil. He’s not allowed to go quietly into the good night and all that Dylan Thomas bullshit. This is a colder, blander, less fiery world without demented souls like Zevon. Last year it was Kesey, and now this crap?

Zevon is a true genius in the very definition. There is but one of him and his style, whatever the hell that is, and there will never be another like him.

Quite simply, Warren Zevon is one of only a fistful, and its a small fist at that, of songwriters within the rock and roll era who has even come close to entertaining me on every level – musical, lyrical, humorous, emotional and spiritual. He’s a fucking genius in a world where that term is thrown around much too loosely. Zevon is a true genius in the very definition. There is but one of him and his style, whatever the hell that is, and there will never be another like him.

I understand there are deeper, more human concerns here then how this affects me, but if I can’t think of myself in these dire situations, whom will of think of?

Zevon? That bastard has some nerve leaving the artist coalition like this. There are so few of his wondrous ilk left. Certainly, there are hardly any that I care a lick about or have grown up with or still listen to with any meaning today.

And I know we’re all getting older, and some of our mentors and inspirations and even contemporaries go, but I’m only 40 and Zevon is only 55, and it ain’t fair. Not now. Not ever.

And so here I sit on All Hollow’s Eve writing this maudlin crap and periodically distribute candies to the local kids and I feel like crying. Yeah, I’m a big baby, and boy if this is all that I have to cry about with all the pain and ugliness and suffering going on all over the place, then maybe I should be one super-charged happy camper. But I’m not.

I’m pissed.

For weeks I’ve ignored these feelings of anger, loss, mortality and this sense that even though I’m rip roaring prolific when it comes to whipping up the odd sentence on esoteric things like living in the moment, enjoying every second of life and realizing that you really only pass through this time once, regardless of belief, I cannot truly feel anything. But I do feel a large part of the reason I pound on this infernal keyboard in front me night after night is because of crazed beauties like Warren Zevon.

I love him as much as a man can love another man he’s almost never met.

He’s a kindred spirit and a goddamn poet noir and it is to him I dedicate my ever- prevalent slogan: NEVER SURRENDER.

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A Holy Land Journal


American Writer Monthly 11/4/02


Staff Writer: Beverly Reeves

James CampionIt has been a long break between journals for the rogue journalist-cum chronicler of the bizarre, James Campion, whose 1996 debut, Deep Tank Jersey burst onto the underground publishing scene with the force of a violent shore gale. His follow-up compendium, the fearlessly vitriolic, Fear No Art hilariously reviewed subsequent years of living off the fat of a solid debut, but failed to make the noise of the wildly sordid and entertaining, Deep Tank Jersey. Now comes Trailing Jesus, an enigmatic and highly emotional journal penned along the Israeli desert with ghostly dreams and driven by the spirit of one of the most revered, controversial and influential personalities to ever grace the pages of any tome.

So where does a Gonzo hack with a rabid cyber following and two books of relative frivolity get off tackling Jesus Christ? And not even with a smirk, mind you. After all, it’s been a few years since the world was engrossed in millennium madness with its apocalyptic overtones, and according to Campion’s people, the original manuscript was mostly in the can by late 1997, so this could hardly have been a New Age religious backlash from the events of 9/11. So, again, where does Trailing Jesus hail, if not from the mind of one of the most brazen new authors to break molds only to be bound by new labels and break them once again?

Why not go to the source, who was summarily given the head’s-up that we took his latest work with a modicum of trepidation, considering the annoying levels of irreverence and outrage jammed into his first two efforts, not to mention the litany of abuse dolled out in his weekly syndicated column, Reality Check. We caught up with jc at the beginning of his promotional junket for Trailing Jesus. In fact, we are told, this is the man’s first interview since the book went to print. It is due out Christmas of 2002.

Are you religious?


Why Jesus?

Why not?

Seriously. From what we’ve seen of the early review segments of Trailing Jesus, this is pretty heady stuff for a mere Gonzo lark, and it certainly doesn’t read like a lark.

Correct. It is not a lark. Much like Deep Tank Jersey, it is a journey. But unlike the four month trek depicted in Deep Tank, it lasted for 33 years. I feel comfortable in saying it still lasts, and I expect it to last for the remainder of my life. But the book covers the thoughts of a man I hardly know anymore.

You’re talking about yourself?


How is that so?

Would you recognize the person you were seven years ago?

Well that brings us to why it took you six years to complete Trailing Jesus when Deep Tank Jersey was a similar effort and took only ten months to write. Both possess your fast-paced journal style, but entirely different approaches.

Completely different state of mind and subject matter. That might be a painfully obvious and irreverent way to put it, because, of course, the subject of Jesus Christ would rank a tad higher on the scale than a New Jersey club band, but that’s not why I say it was a longer ride. The difference is in the perspective. In my first book, I plunged myself into the journey. This one is the journey emanating from myself.

So it was a revelatory experience.

Yes, very much so, and it took me some time to formulate the thought processes of thinking in one way about my surroundings and how I fit into them and coming to grips with the emotional, intellectual and philosophical revolution of spirit it took to place my journey into the context of this book.

How do you mean “revolution of spirit”?

Trailing JesusRecently a friend told me it was impossible to express what I aimed to express in this book with words. He said I was insane for even making an outline, much less spending some six years paining over the thing. But, you see, that in itself was a journey.

In a much smaller way, I experienced something of what the Buddha discusses in his “awakening”. Again, in a slightly less historical and more intellectual way, much more like what the late-great Alan Watts presented in his lectures. I had this gradual understanding, but instead of a peaceful emergence, it was a violent change of heart, a revolution in itself. It makes sense really in the context of the my subject matter, because Jesus of Nazareth was a revolutionary in every sense of the word. His peace movement was born of violent personal change, something he demanded from his tribe. It’s reviewed in his philosophy and in his actions. That kind of understanding blows you way initially. It has to.

The book is both personal revelation and biting Biblical commentary, is it not?

I promised myself on this one not to berate any conclusions based on this project. It should speak for itself, so if that’s how you see it, sure. I’m kind of glad that my notoriety is not as great as it might be at the time of this book’s release, because those who know my work will probably prejudge it. I know all about that kind of preconceived notions. “Wow! Campion’s going to piss off some people with this subject!” I think that’s what publishers and agents wanted for it too.

But you admit there is a great deal of controversial deptictions in this book.

Yes there is, but it should not be the focal point. This is not a biting commentary on the subject matter. It’s more of a personal experience through the subject, not unlike what I explored with Deep Tank Jersey. Although that book has spawned a fan base solely on its irreverence and humorous overtones, I still think it a heartfelt tribute to the idea of making music for a living and surviving in the atmosphere that kind of commitment engenders. I guess you can apply that kind of dedicated synopsis to my Holy Land experience and the resulting voice of this book.

Having said that, when considering the subject, the book is anything but tame. But, again, that in itself is a microcosm of the subject’s legacy as well.

Having read Deep Tank Jersey many years ago now, and having just read the galleys for Trailing Jesus the most striking similarity for me is the personal honesty of the author’s pure feelings of his surroundings. Is that a fair assessment of your goals with this particular story?

I’m sure everyone can relate to maturing into their own personal philosophies. Sometimes we don’t see it coming and sometimes we force it to surface. I didn’t recognize many of the feelings I was going through at the time and how that influenced my telling of this story, but I can tell you the search was planned, and the resulting story, all true. I think the people and places I encountered during my time in Israel bring that out more or less.

The book is like any journal on any trip, but it becomes far more intriguing when you consider what it is I was searching for throughout its telling. Israel does something to the psyche that is hard to explain. I hope I did the experience justice by simply trying to impart it.

I read somewhere that you needed for the reader of Deep Tank Jersey to understand the motivatation of the author. Why he would throw himself into the fray with no preconceptions. Is that what this latest trip was for you?

Yes, I’d say that’s right on the money. I really just wanted to know what was the purpose, the need for most of us to believe in a structure to the universe, God and all of that, when the blatant evidence all around speaks volumes against it. And not through some boring study, but to dive in head first and challenge my faith in humankind, my preconceived thoughts about the mystical elements of life. Yes, and I suppose being a Catholic kid from the Bronx and being inundated with images and stories of how Jesus Christ fits into the scheme of that has something to do with my motivation, but again, I shouldn’t try and explain the book too much. To tell you the truth, I’ve forgotten much of it. I need to read it from the beginning myself.

You’ve forgotten it?

Sure. It was so subconscious, most of it. I can’t stress enough that if you plan to go to a place like Jerusalem, you probably shouldn’t be in the introspective state of mind I was in at the time. It makes for good writing material, but tends to screw with your head a bit. I mean, I’ve recovered, but not entirely. Despite writing the book, it still seems like some kind of reoccurring dream state. Christ, I sound like Huxley’s Mescaline connection, but I can’t lie. It was pretty disturbing.


But rewarding.

Now to the book itself. Isn’t there a fine line between a bold statement with this subject and total pretentious blather?

Again, I would tend to agree if that is what your vision has brought to the book. I must stand by my words, however. They’re all I’ve got really. I plan to do plenty of these interviews, but in the end, I’ve got to stand by the book as a statement unto itself.

In the end, before beginning to write it, I could take no more of this haunting, this incredible reverberation of thought and vision in my skull. It had to come out. I think the trip to Israel certainly inspired it, but I began to unleash these emotions because the book is far less intellectual thought than raw emotion for me. If nothing else, I think the book is about conviction, regardless of what side you’re on, evil or good. Excuse me, what side you subscribe to, since you really can’t escape either.

Man, does that sound pretentious, or what? It’s hard not to come off as pedantic, but what can you do? This is a difficult subject to tackle. I guess if I gave it five minutes thought, instead of diving head first, I might have skipped the thing all together.

From what I gather you spent your time in Israel coming to grips with these visions and thoughts?

Yes. The spring of ’96 to be exact.

There is a great deal of self-evaluation in this book. Was that part of the “trail” left by Jesus Christ?

For me, yes. I suppose the same could be said for anyone of influence. I see pieces of that in all my revolutionary heroes. I just finished reading a brilliant book by professors, Ronald Collins and David Skover called The Trials of Lenny Bruce that echoed similar sentiments expressed in my book by Jesus of Nazareth. And I’m not referring to the obvious Jewish persecution either. I’m talking again about conviction. For me, Jesus of Nazareth ran the belief system as far as it goes. A lot of people love the “live fast/die young” romanticism of pikers who think they’ve bent the envelope in the past decades of media hype and celebrity worship. That’s bullshit compared to taking something, anything, to the absolute breaking point and then beyond.

So, is it fair to say that the Jesus Christ found in your book is primarily a social icon as opposed to a religious one?

Again, I don’t mean to belittle religious icons here, but I’m talking about Jesus of Nazareth, the historical, the actual Jewish artisan, not what it all became after his execution. The movement, the Jesus movement, being alive and well somewhere under all those centuries of muck; that is what I’m getting at.

I guess what I mean to say here in its most crass and bare bones terminology is forget the divine aspect of a Jesus Christ and marvel at the remarkable faith of a Jesus of Nazareth. Therein lies the strong conviction, the utter conviction of the persecuted first-century peasant with the dream.

Try and understand the balls it takes to defend your philosophy to the end, the bitter end, as it were. Then, my guess is you can see the purpose of any journey to discover your truth.

Your truth?

The truth as you see it. The truth as it applies to your specific conviction. To me, that is the greatest faith, the faith in one’s self. And I’m not talking about ego, but the true self you hide to kind of get through life. That “person” alone could begin to break down the barriers of hate and self-loathing that leads to all this shared pain of ours.

I know that sounds nuts. It is no wonder then that they kill people like Jesus of Nazareth.

So then Jesus Christ had his own truth separate to that of the religious one based on it?

Despite the fact that Israel has two thousand years of garbage piled on it, you can still smell the air of rebellion in the original Christian movement. Forget that; the original Jesus movement, which had little to nothing to do with the subsequent Christian movement. That is true of the Israelite movement. That is true for the Islamic movement. When you go to these places, even now, you can smell it. You can really feel it.

From the parts that I’ve read, I did get that feeling.


You wrestle with definitions of God in Trailing Jesus.

Well, who doesn’t? But for the most part that is how you can deconstruct the fanatic, the contrarian, the irrational philosopher in a Jesus of Nazareth. Dehumanizing the lunatic. Yeah, we’ve certainly perfected the art of specializing or blaming the messenger and ignoring the message. What you do is dilute the message by demonizing or heradling the messenger. You call the messenger devil or angel. Satan or God. Special or evil. Label the mystery. Slap terms on everything and it becomes easier to squeeze them into our preconceptions. Then you can deconstruct them or reconstruct them to fit your needs, philosophical, political or social.

You see, for my money, you can’t find a more misunderstood human on record then Jesus of Nazareth. And that is not merely a controversial religious statement. I can debate that in the arena of social concerns, politics, pop culture icons, lunatics, artists, whomever you’d like to bring up in whatever idiom. And here is where the God answer comes in. The duality of this mess called existence comes from change, evolution and danger. Yes, wrestling with God is part of it. But it is only a part. A big part in the story is a guy who needed for you to understand that key aspect of the equation, the battle for existence within one single human soul.

Campion in JerusalemI think there is a mistake of readers to delve into these books and expect an answer. Having not read the whole book, I assume you do not provide even your own humble answer.

I think it’s in there somewhere, yeah. I mean conclusions are arbitrary. Anybody can come up with any philosophy that might stick. Religion is based on theorem never proven. Faith is a tough nut to crack. I suppose being killed for your faith is something along the lines of trailing the icon, but that’s not where I’ve chosen to go with this book.

Also, it’s important to point out that the main reason I refuse to embrace conclusions in these interviews is to allow the reader, not me, not you, not any magazine or radio show, to come to their own conclusions about their place in this struggle for existence. And I’m not saying my book is lending a hand with that. It’s really only one man’s story, but one I would hope people can begin to dissect within their own journey.

Having said that, you do make conclusions on basic ambiguities in the Jesus story, or the story of Christianity as a whole. Something as simple as Jesus being a stone mason in your book, as opposed to being universally accepted as a carpenter, all the way to the Immaculate Conception, something in which you reduce to Greek myth.

Wrong on the latter point. I only present what has become the scholarly approach. I have yet to come to conclusions of metaphysical claims. That is definitely not the point of the book. I think Biblical concepts such as the Immaculate Conception are distractions from the message of the original Jesus movement. It was meaningless to them, so it is meaningless to me. There is no conclusion in this book on the Immaculate Conception’s veracity or its dogmatic hyperbole, just its relation to the man, Jesus of Nazareth and his times and its effect on his community. Everything else is religious window-dressing, which is fine if you do not let it distract you from your truth.

My conclusion is that something like the Immaculate Conception is distracting. It really isn’t important to understanding the Jesus movement as it pertains to the first century Jewish peasant or the 21st century reader. Just because the Gospel writers, specifically Luke, felt the need to claim someone was born of a virgin or whether that was misinterpreted by a church created out of Greek and Roman ideals of gods and goddesses is not the focal point of the book. Of course, it must be broached, but it is a minor sidelight to the bigger picture as I see it. That’s all based on the bullshit European obsession with birthright and origin and hardly important to the message or the life defined. And I feel pretty secure in saying that Jesus couldn’t have cared less about it, and so, neither does the author.

Now, in the case of the mason vs. the carpenter thing, all we know is that Jesus of Nazareth was the son of an artisan, who might have practiced the craft as well. Some schools of thought believe the English translation of “carpenter” from Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek was off. Again, not pertinent, really, to the grand scheme of things here.

Having said that, chances are that working with stone in first-century Palestine would have been more prevalent than woodwork, which was nearly absent to the destitute classes Jesus hailed from. I chose mason. I see Jesus as a stone mason. The most important aspect of his profession or what his family did to earn a living was only important in that unlike today, any first century artisan was pathetically low on the societal ladder. This helped to formulate his social philosophy about the poor and destitute, but I don’t think his former occupation matters much beyond that. It’s tantamount to arguing that Hitler’s painting career formulated his politics. Although I wouldn’t doubt some historians have cited it.


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How long did it take you to research all the Biblical historicity of Jesus?

I would say the better part of twelve years now. I find it to be more of a hobby than anything else. Sort of a labor of love. I’ve probably read four to five books on Jesus a year for that span of time, including every possible version of the New Testament and original Jewish translations of the Torah and the Old Testament a dozen or so times.

In the end, that stuff really doesn’t matter either. This is not a fact and find book. I suppose many learned people in the genre will attack some portion of the thing. Again, it is a book about emotional instincts based on human nature, and as such lends itself to speculation. I’ve more or less fashioned a sketch based on history and in the process get to wondering exactly why the hell should I even care about the heritage of a philosophy, especially a skewed philosophy of “loving one’s enemy”? More importantly, why should, or did, anyone with any sense of survival want to base a religion on “love your enemy”? And, in the end, no one did, did they?

Really think about the beauty of that statement, “love your enemy”; the utter madness of it. Get down to the crux of that, mister. That will screw with your head for a decade or so.

Would you say this book is anti-religious?

I would say the book’s subject was anti-religious.

Would you consider that statement blasphemy?

Yes, of course. I believe if you check the record blasphemy is the main reason Jesus of Nazareth was executed. He went down for that first and foremost. A good deal of people survived sedition and insurrection around that time. Not many, but some. If Jesus was such a threat to Rome, why weren’t the apostles or the crazies who followed him massacred along with him, like, say, Spartacus’ troops?

Nah, Jesus went down for saying he was God and religion was bullshit. “He says he’s God? Let’s get rid of him immediately before he poisons anyone else with that lunacy.” It’s rather elementary addition by subtraction.

How much of the gospels would you consider anti-Semitic.

Most of it.

Let’s just say its anti-cultural, not against any particular race. In a sense, Jewish Christians, or Jews who stood by the murder of Jesus and their immediate ancestors had a beef with the rest of Judaism. Of course, this is innocent disagreement until interpreted as hate-speak by the predictably myopic rationale of human nature. We need to find enemies. It keeps us warm and fuzzy. Makes us feel important. And that is part of the larger scale of misinterpretation of Jesus of Nazareth of which I spoke earlier. That whole church mess is literally the antithesis of the Jesus movement. It’s really sad.

Jesus fought the establishment of the religion of his time. So basing a new religion on this figure is ludicrous at best, but as dissected in my book, what else do mourners have left to do but build on the memory of the fallen? I cannot blame the early Christians or those Jews carrying on the memory of their slain leader fashioning rituals or penning confrontational literature. I blame the supposed clear-thinking readers of these documents thousands of years later for choosing, and let that read choosing, to interpret that Jews or the Jewish culture was somehow responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

That is asinine thinking, as stupid today as our limited thoughts about race or gender or anything that is born of fear, insecurity or ignorance In fact, it is doubtless that human nature itself, and battles for power, tradition and superstition that come of it, were responsible for murdering Jesus of Nazareth. The church culture and the politically charged pecking order of a caste system snuffed him out as sure as I’m sitting here saying it.

Again, the irony of this Jesus story worth dissecting is that human nature killed a man trying to change human nature. As we all know, in every generation and every culture, it’s a rough gig.

Back to your trip before we close, you were in Israel during that nation’s first ever open election.

Correct, and it is an interesting sidelight to my trip. It is, as we all know from the news, an extremely volatile political country, stemming from culture and religious wars. I saw the best and worst of that when I was there and it would have been insane not to tell of it.

Since this is such a difficult subject to debate or even discuss at times, and certainly a tough one to do an interview based on a book I have only read excerpts from, I’ll give you the last word. I would just like to know what you feel the most compelling aspect of Trailing Jesus is.

I would say it’s honesty about my fragile humanity, especially a twentieth century man and a former Catholic, and a fighter, I hope, of the good fight. I think it’s the most brutally honest thing I’ve written, and yeah, it could be misconstrued as pretentious or didactic, but it was not my attention. I think, I hope, the reader sees themselves in the work.

As I say in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the thing, I really am a fan of Jesus. I am a fan of the undying faith he had in his convictions and the courage to choose peace and forgiveness over self-preservation. Somehow I believe all this religious posturing and rabid moral and cultural judgments in his name have tried like hell to dim that most stunning statement. But it’s still there, in black and white. Read it in the words, not my words, but his. Not my theories, but his. It’s hard to face, but if you are going to have faith in a philosophy and its author, please get to the core of it, warts, blemishes, scars and all.

And I want to be clear that Jesus of Nazareth was not the first, nor was he the last to espouse these theories. Some lived well into old age like the Buddha and some were cut down in their youth like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. The most amazing aspect of the Jesus story though, and how it pertains to human history, is its reverence, its lasting influence on western culture and the miraculous stories born of this incredibly complexed man.

Finally, I guess, I hope in some way by sharing my humbling experience it might spark something new and inspiring in the reader as well. I really do.

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