HATRED ON PARADE

Aquarian Weekly
8/21/19

Reality Check

James Campion


HATRED ON PARADE
The Rise of White Nationalism & the Ongoing Threat of Domestic Terrorism 


Remember when we were all afraid of ISIS killing us in the streets a few years back? Oh, those were the salad days. We were so much happier then. Foreign religious maniacs, we kind of get. White guys with a grudge and armed to the teeth, we mostly ignore, sometimes laugh at, and strangely vote for. But in the wake of the massacre in El Paso (20 dead, 27 wounded) engineered by a white nationalist, who was, like ISIS, part of an international network of terrorists (his fancy manifesto pointed to inspiration from the New Zealand right-wing Mosque shootings) it is clear we have ourselves a growing epidemic. Citing figures from the Anti-Defamation League, during the years of 2009 through 2018, international terrorism was responsible for twenty-three percent of ideological murders, while far-right extremist killings topped out at seventy-three percent. Moreover, the same report noted that these growing extremist murders have spiked thirty-five percent from 2017 to 2018, “making them responsible for more deaths than in any year since 1995.”

Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week. REUTERS/Chris Keane? TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTX1KUSD

Take that ISIS.

White nationalist terrorism has become a 9/11 level problem, but oddly it is treated like some weird anomaly, or to listen to rhetoric excuses of “overrated” or a “hoax”. Systemically, it is flat-out ignored. In fact, the Trump Administration immediately stripped funding and diverted attention away from domestic terrorism, much of it put in place after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, then the most lethal mass-murder in our history (168 dead, including 19 children, and five-hundred injured). In March, when asked at the White House whether white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, the president replied: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”

It has been clear from day-one that Donald Trump is working on some level of racial paranoia and renders special dispensation from his usual attack-dog mode when commenting or not commenting on white nationalism, which is a nice way of saying he is a racist – the latest example on the heels of the El Paso shooting is the admission from the administration’s Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli that the new proposed stricter limitations on legal immigration is now needed since in the past there were “just people coming from Europe”. As if on cue, as I write this Trump is forcing the hand of Israel to ban two Muslim congresswomen from entering that country. But the president’s overt bigotry does not excuse the rest of our government. Homeland Security, the FBI or the CIA has payed ancillary attention to this crisis while lunatics fabricate invasions from Mexico, a dangerous lie which the El Paso shooter cited as igniting this latest tragedy.

Angry white people afraid of progress and foreign interlopers is what made Donald Trump president.

So, in essence, unlike the national derangement we endured post-9/11 which sent our government into fascist spasms – sanctioning torture, cobbling together the goofy Patriot Act, and invading a nation with no connection to the attacks – we now have a government that ignores, and in some cases, openly supports white nationalist terrorism. The United States of America has apparently and willfully entered the infamous “axis of evil”.

To wit: Mere hours and days after 9/11, things went understandably haywire around here. It was a justified reaction, if not weirdly dangerous and mostly illogical. But where is a similar reaction now? An alarming number of dead Americans (fifty extremist-related killings in the U.S. in 2018, making it the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970) and tons of evidence these killings are motivated, inspired and carried out with a similar myopic agenda; destroy American values and choose the victory of one sect of humanity over another. ISIS. White Nationalism. Same shit. Waaaaayyyy different reaction.

It is now exactly two years since that abomination in Charlottesville with neo-Nazis and the KKK proudly marching around town with torches threatening Jews, African Americans and homosexuals that resulted in a street riot and the murder of a woman, followed by flaccid hemming and hawing from Donald Trump, which earned him high praise from the Klu Klux Klan. The murder has still not been designated as a hate crime nor has the investigation into the groups that organized the rally/riot bared anything more on these insurrectionists.

This past spring, a few months after the October synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh a judiciary committee convening on the rise of alt-right hate crimes held a hearing in which FBI Director Christopher A. Wray revealed that the bureau has arrested 250 white nationalist terrorists engaged in anti-American activities over the past two years. However, Dave Gomez, a former FBI supervisor, who oversaw terrorism cases, told the Washington Post that he believes FBI officials are wary of pursuing white nationalists aggressively because of the fierce political debates surrounding the issue. “I believe Christopher A. Wray is an honorable man, but I think in many ways the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white supremacist movement like the old FBI would,” Gomez told The Post. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor.”

So, on a political level, this makes sense. Angry white people afraid of progress and foreign interlopers is what made Donald Trump president. Even his “the press is the enemy of the people” crap inspired a Florida man who created a two-week crisis by mailing sixteen packages of inoperative pipe bombs packed with fireworks powder and shards of glass to thirteen famous Democrats and CNN who was ironically under sentence the week of the El Paso shooting. Before going to jail he told the court he believed “enemies of President Donald Trump were trying to hurt him and other Trump supporters.” In fact, Trump smartly leans on this fear and anger every time he needs a boost, and tripled-down on this craziness in the fall of last year to try and stem the tide of what would turn out to be a mid-term election pummeling by advancing a total lie about an invading caravan coming up through the southern border – using the term “invasion” over and over again, another inspiration for the El Paso shooter, even going as far as sending in troops to combat this illusion.

But it is simply the fact that the government is turning its back on this growing threat that is troubling, yet it does not surprise me. This country’s history is littered with this miserable shit. And the current climate does indicate that things are only going to get worse. What does surprise me that it is 2019 and we are still dealing with these horrors. But they are real, and they are becoming commonplace, and they must stop.

But who is going to stop it?

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AUGUST 15 – 18, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
8/14/19

Reality Check

James Campion

AUGUST 15 – 18, 1969
The Woodstock Miracle & The Aging of Aquarius

The third and final of a three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are billion year-old carbon
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden  
– Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock” 

In the wake of the anarchic violence sparked, among other things, by the haphazard logistics and spectacular avarice that marred the twentieth anniversary Woodstock ’99 festival, this is what I wrote in this space (R.I.P WOODSTOCK, Issue 7/28/99): “By the time the miscreants began looting the evil money lenders and setting fires, Woodstock, as we have come to know and love it, became just another example of humans misinterpreting luck for compassion. Those stumbling into a wonderful mistake and sliding through relatively unscathed thirty years ago achieved a level of fortune rarely reached in the annals of civilization.” Man, was that ever cynical. Even for me. But mostly true. However, two decades later, I tend to believe (it may be advanced age talking) that for three days half a million mostly naked and rain-drenched kids jamming into a field in a sleepy farm hamlet listening to the greatest assemblage of rock/pop acts ever while peacefully sampling an impressive bevy of drugs is something that should be done again and again and again.

Thing is, it can’t. And it won’t. But in mid-August 1969, less than a month after the first manned moon landing and mere days after the news of horrific ritualistic murders in Hollywood, it sure as hell did. During the weekend hours that passed in that field in Bethel, New York, the world got to see the best of the human spirit – not by conquest or violence, our favorite pastimes, but sharing, caring, singing and imbibing. Lots and lots of imbibing.

Sure, there are music festivals. Successful ones that have continued for years. And for the most part they are well run, safe, and mostly fun, but the event billed fifty years ago this week as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” was only two of those. It was ill-conceived, somewhat rushed and hardly pragmatic in its execution. The persons to food, water and shelter quotient was way off. There were loads of very weird and sixties-level strong drugs. Technical problems and difficulties getting the acts in and out abounded as a large stretch of the NY Thruway was shut down. It rained and rained and rained some more. The entire area in and around the event was nearly declared a disaster area by the state. The U.S. Army and National Guard had to be summoned to assist while the Collective Hog Farm – the longest running and most effective socialist construct next to Medicare – worked overtime. Yet, it was a magnificent, historical success by any measure. In its way, it remains one of the most shockingly implausible examples of togetherness and collective kindness ever displayed by any group of people anywhere.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot in my heart for Woodstock. I was actually up there that week. My parents trucked us up to the Catskills from the Bronx every summer and on this particular trip everyone at the motel got violently ill. Later we learned the wells were overused and much of the local plumbing had backed up and…well, you can imagine. But it was years later in college when I first saw the award-winning film and read Bob Spitz’s brilliant Barefoot in Babylon that it burrowed itself into my psyche. Fast-forward to the very night I first kissed the woman I would marry after we strolled in an evening buzz through the empty fields of what I can only describe that night as quiet aura. You can see there is something about the whole thing that intrigues me. Still does. 

Woodstock is our shining example of good. This, we can say, is what people can do.

Woodstock started off as a half-cocked plan to exploit the art/music community in the small Ulster Country town of less than five thousand in the late sixties when Bob Dylan made it famous by escaping the tumult of messianic fumes for bucolic splendor. Some rich kids and financial backers wanted to build a studio up there to offer the rich and famous rock elite a bit of “back to the garden” aesthetics. But that fell through, so why not a concert? And when the county recoiled in horror at the mere hint of a bohemian invasion, they found a private patch of land in Sullivan County in which they convinced anyone who would listen, including the farm’s owner, fifty year-old Max Yasgur, that only around a hundred thousand or so kids might come up to enjoy a little music for a weekend. Then after hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane among dozens of other generational talents were booked to play, a half million strong from all over the planet descended on the place. Under-manned and barely constructed, this idea-run-amok inevitably turned into a free gig.

The backers, most famously Michael Lang (age 24 at the time) and Artie Kornfeld (26), two middle-class Jewish guys from Brooklyn, took a financial pummeling. Later this was recouped handsomely from residuals made on the 1970 film and two subsequent soundtrack albums. But on those blistering hot and damp mid-August days it was all goofy grins and pot smoke. In fact, everyone was intoxicated in some way, making the lack of violence or looting or whatever even more incredible. Many of the acts were also under the influence of something. Carlos Santana, whose band had its coming out party on that Saturday (probably the film’s most dynamic moment) claims to have hallucinated his guitar as a slithering snake in his hands after consuming a concoction of acid and mescaline. Much of the LSD that weekend was homemade and named merely for its color (blue, greed, and the infamous brown) and moved stealthy throughout the crowd and backstage. Lead singer, Roger Daltrey, trying as he might to avoid this, merely had a cup of (turns out spiked) tea and tripped through much of The Who’s dawn set – a set that saw his guitarist Pete Townshend knock a ranting Abby Hoffman unconscious with his Gibson (okay, there was some violence). Janis Joplin later said she remembered none of it and refused to have her uneven set included in either the film or the soundtrack.

Beyond the stupefied superstars, there were wonderful stories of a fresh-faced 20 year-old newcomer Bert Sommer arousing a standing ovation from the throng, the mousy-voiced bubblegum folkie Melanie taking the trip with her mom and being hoisted upon the stage when no one would follow a rain squall, the charming twenty-minute set from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian, who announced in his fluttery stoned voice that a baby had been born in the throng, the spastic bluesy brilliance of Joe Cocker howling like a wounded beast through the Beatles foggy “With A Little Help From My Friends” and one of the finest funk sets of the 1960s outside of the mighty James Brown band from Sly and the Family Stone that cemented their pop cred for all time. (another highlight of the movie).

But it was the kids. This sea of youth. This entangled, muddy, cruddy, inescapable intransigent multitude of peaceniks that would seal the Woodstock legend. Hey, I am no Baby Boomer disciple. I’ve cast most of that generation as a self-centered megalomaniacal phony-fest. But give it up to them, because with White Nationalism on the rise, and hate-speak in our political and social rhetoric and the general disgusting behavior that is the norm on social media and the Internet, Woodstock is our shining example of good. This, we can say, is what people can do, if…        

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AUGUST 9, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
8/7/19

Reality Check

James Campion


AUGUST 9, 1969
Tinsel Town Terror & The Demonizing of the Drug Culture

The second of a non-concurrent three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large.


All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure are ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.
– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

In the wee hours on the morning of August 9, 1969 four ragamuffin refugees from the California commune/cult acid culture hijacked by a lunatic thirty-four year-old con man, pimp murderer, Charles Milles Manson slipped over the high steel black fencing of 10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. Once on the grounds they shot to death an eighteen-year-old student, who was merely visiting a friend that worked the grounds of the estate, and then proceeded inside the mansion to massacre in the most brutal way five people, none of whom they had ever so much as met. The screams of the victims, some of them high profile names of American business royalty and one, the young, beautiful nearly nine-months pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, then the wife of celebrated Polish film-maker, Roman Polanski, could be heard echoing through the Hollywood Hills. The crippling fear it engendered in the community, and eventually the nation would be deeply embedded in our collective psyche forever. But perhaps the most jarring cultural/generational impact of these few hours of this extremely bloody and random violence was further imprinted by the cryptic messages smeared along the walls of palatial estate. Piggies.AriseHelter Skelter.

Unlike the moon landing, which I discussed two weeks ago, what would be known as the Manson Murders was not an immediate social-shattering event until the facts began to unfold. This bizarre unraveling would tumble well into the next decade, as the 35 year-old California District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi would investigate, try and convict Manson and his zombie cohorts, Charles “Tex” Watson (age 23), Susan Atkins (21), Patricia Krenwinkel (21), and Leslie Van Houten (19) for these premeditated murders (12/13/71) then publish a book (Helter Skelter – The True Story of the Manson Murders with Curt Gentry, 1974) that would cement its iconography for all time. A TV film was made in 1976, which I saw at 13 and it frightened me like nothing I had experienced. And I was an avid horror buff. Later when I read Bugliosi’s detailed accounts it further intrigued and truly weirded me out. So much so most of my friends, my beloved cousin (sis) Michelle, and any poor bastard who might saunter up to me at a party had to hear about this thing. Shit, the first conversation I would have with the woman who would be my wife surrounded this ghastly tale.

What these cultist, even ritualistic murders would do to Hollywood. and as stated the nation – by the way, these kids went to another middle-aged couple’s house in the area later on August 9 and once again massacred its inhabitants, again festooning bloody messages everywhere –was further exacerbated by its gruesomely puzzling subtext.

It is difficult to separate the “hippy era” of chemical experimentation, free love and egalitarian constructs and brush past Charles Manson and his “Family”, a distilled group of impossibly young runaways and vagabonds mixed with virulent bikers, rapists, drug dealers and professional criminals. Their earthy appearance enhanced by trippy language, long hair, beads, tie-dye and quasi-spiritual granola mumbo jumbo infiltrated the otherwise peace and love edict of first the Haight Ashbury movement up in San Francisco and predictably the brainlessly commercial miasma of what L.A. presented for a tsunami of youth that flooded its streets for most of the decade. Essentially, Manson preyed on a youth crusade to exploit, rip-off and eventually exact vengeance for nearly a lifetime spent in juvenile houses and prison.

But none of this occurred in a vacuum. If anything, The Family, just one of many cult/commune subcultures, illustrated a major fault line developing within the mass hallucination of what was always an unfocused generational shift existing somewhere between fuck-it and serious revolutionary politics.

From the purported and ultra-hyped Summer of Love in 1967 through the assassinations, street riots and horrors of Viet Nam that wreaked havoc in 1968, the relentless heat and intensity of the summer of ’69, made far eerier by the visions of men walking on the moon weeks before, would be the dramatic backdrop for the killings. The stories later of how Manson maniacally brainwashed these otherwise naïve children of our white, privileged middle-class American Dream with sex and drugs bent on the queer interpretations of strangely opaque songs by the deified Beatles and the Bible’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation as a template to terrorist mayhem trembled the zeitgeist. All of this would usher in the pessimistic realities of the nineteen-seventies, nineteen-eighties’ plastic evangelical, unchecked greed and finally the shrugging apathies of the century’s final decade.

In other words, Charles Manson killed “The Sixties”. Within months the aforementioned Beatles, who more less invented and then provided a soundtrack for its times would fracture, a concert in the hills of northern California would result in violence and murder, protesting college kids would be gunned down at Kent State, and Richard Nixon would polarize the country and then obliterate any trust in our institutions.

It is difficult to separate the “hippy era” of chemical experimentation, free love and egalitarian constructs and brush past Charles Manson and his “Family”

The reason why so many late seventies punks and anti-establishment figures of the following decades would wear Manson’s image on their shirts or evoke these thumb-in-the-eye actions against the status quo as a symbol of fear is that the influence of his crimes rose above mere news. The Manson Murders were in the most heinous way American Art; ask Marilyn Manson (um, you get it, right?) or Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers – 1994) or the bare aesthetics of our current smoldering violent nature splayed out over the Internet, on TV and in our neighborhoods. Cult of personality and a whiff of revulsion is how you get the over-saturated media mass-shooting celebrity demons, reality show cretins, and eventually, Donald Trump.

In the end, it is the Boomer visage of Manson that has eclipsed all of the violence, mass murder, serial killer underbelly of American culture. He was a satanic figure to the establishment and for a time (Rolling Stone put him on the cover with the tagline, “Our Continuing Coverage of the Apocalypse”) a symbol of crass import to the counter-culture before that slid eventually into the grim realities of Hunter S. Thompson’s eulogy of “the wave” in his brilliant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the Rolling Stones brutally poignant Let It Bleed album, and the gritty, ferocious films of the auteur era (Scorsese, Peckinpah).

Turns out Charles Manson just wanted to be a rock star. He recorded mostly shitty demos for record guru Terry Melcher, who previously owned the mansion on Cielo Drive, and hung out with the Beach Boys and ingratiated himself in the Hollywood bohemian culture he sought to destroy. In reality Manson was no hippy. He was a product of the nineteen-fifties’ have-and-have-nots insurrection that would play out in the Civil Rights movement, Beat Poetry and Be-Ins, the Berkeley Free Speech, etc. and would forge a new path; a path for a few hours on August 9, 1969 that turned down a dark and dangerous cul-de-sac and forced us to rediscover our perpetual fascination with our damaged anti-heroes; Frank and Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Pretty “Boy” Floyd, Charles Manson.

But fear not. In less than a week, three days in a hamlet in upstate New York would offer a glimpse of light and reflect the honesty in all that the human experiment can offer to defend itself against all…that…darkness.  

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JULY 20, 1969

Aquarian Weekly
7/24/19

Reality Check

James Campion


JULY 20, 1969
The Apollo 11 Moon Landing at 50

This is the first of a non-concurrent three-part series on major events in our recent history which will be commemorating their fiftieth anniversary this summer. As they approached, it turns out, for me, the memories of these significant dates brought vivid childhood reflections that have remained with me and would be integral to my view of self, America, and society at large. 


I’m a rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone.
– Bernie Taupin


I am six years old in July of 1969. Living in the middle apartment in a three-family pre-war brownstone owned by my mother’s parents in the Bronx, NY. So far this has been a year of awaking for me. There has already been a moment etched into my psyche forever. It became a bit of an obsessive one, back when I still watched professional football, back when Joe Namath was more than a mere mortal. Actually, that second part more than lingers for me. The NY Jets won the Super Bowl in January of that year. This happened. Really. I still harbor the most unerringly strong recollections of the last few minutes of that game. Mostly through the nervous joy my father experienced. I was there, with him. This giant, this hero, Namath, a cultural and athletic professional lighting rod and also sometimes the Jets quarterback with his white shoes, eye-black and tufts of hair peeking out of his helmet would become something of an avatar of my father, as he paced in and out of the room mumbling to himself about time. We watched that day as Namath obliterated myths to create his own. And now, six months later – an eternity for a kid – I am wrapping my mind around a human being walking on the moon. So says my mother, since, in a way, this is her Super Bowl. The ramp up, the launch, the whole thing. Man, my mom is way into this.

Years after these sweltering hot NYC summer evenings, while rummaging through boxes stuffed in attics and garages throughout our constant moving around NJ into Westchester, et al, I would find the Life Magazine cover with astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface. The camera and the man who preceded him as the first humans to traverse the moon, Neil Armstrong reflected in his space helmet was always an eerie sight. My mom even kept that week’s TV Guide. For you kids, this was the Internet for television when people still watched it on a screen housed in a piece of furniture that was the centerpiece of your living rooms. This is a woman who kept nothing. If I turned my head for a moment, it was gone. My mom was no hoarder. But of all the stuff that happened historically when I was a kid, beside Lee Harvey Oswald being murdered on our box inside the furniture, the Apollo 11 moon landing was my mom’s touchstone.

The moon.

From a six year-old’s perspective, this whole concept is kind of out there. So much so, I stand for an inordinate amount of time in front of our front stoop looking up into the illuminated night sky the evening of July 19 staring at it. I cannot be sure it was a full moon that evening, but it was more than half visible in the city glow above our street. It was so stark white against the ebony background, so flat, two-dimensional. Almost fake. My mind races. There are people heading there to hang out. Right now. This is as much as it was understood by me, with all of my Major Matt Mason stuff, my green alien figures and plastic spaceships. When you’re six you assume people have been flying around all over space in the cartoons you’re fed or the science fiction that passes for actual news. But even so, it is odd to see this glistening orb up in the sky and to know that someone…tomorrow…is going to be tooling around on it.

Now, forget me for a minute – which I know is hard in this space since I more or less interject myself into everything I write here – but try and consider the world without having at least conceived of space travel? Today, we don’t even give it a second thought, since we went to the moon pretty much every year after 1969 until the mid-seventies. We actually took for granted having humans playing golf and driving buggies up there. Or at least we told ourselves that and maybe even (and I am one of the occasional skeptics here) told ourselves it never happened.

On July 20, 1969 that we all watched a man in a weird, rumpled white space suit hop his way down a ladder.

My pal, author Rich Cohen, who I got to know a few years ago when we were both working on music books – his, the Stones, mine, Warren Zevon – just had a piece published in the latest Paris Review about these ubiquitous conspiracy theories regarding the events of July 20, 1969. Much of this hoo-ha surrounds fellow Bronx-native and film genius Stanley Kubrick and his masterworks, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, the former being the first anyone had seen of weightlessness and the cold, frightening, soul-crushing nothingness of space and the inhumanity of the computers and machines that take us there and what that entails for our species in the long, long, long run. That film was released in 1968 and what it foretold was eerily familiar to those who eventually would travel there.

To that end, this is what Cohen wrote as a sidebar to his theme that got on top of me while I was working on this column: “I’ve met three of the twelve men who walked on the moon. They had one important thing in common when I looked into their eyes: they were all bonkers.”

This is where the imagination of that six year-old boy and the grandiosity of America in the Cold War Era meets the flesh and bone of those who were actually a part of the Apollo 11 mission. How much of this – seeing the earth as a fading marble in the distance, the silence of space against the instruments beeping and flashing around them in their “floating tin can” as David Bowie would write and release that same year as “Space Oddity”, a nice musical play on Kubrick’s horrors of rapid, mind-bending technological and spiritual evolution – would mess with their, well, everything. Later, this idea of taking the deep-seeded fears of isolation within humanity and the constant battle waged between the ego of the hairless ape and the vastness of the universe became part of our culture. We, the searchers fueled by our Manifest Destiny, going beyond the stars, where we cannot comprehend, and come back different. Very different. Or, as Cohen, mused, bonkers.

We were all bonkers in 1969. Crazy shit happened. The Jets, eighteen to twenty-three point underdogs would win the first ever named Super Bowl and soon the NY Mets, having been the laughing stock of all sports the year I was born, just seven seasons earlier, would capture all of our hearts on the way to an amazing World Series victory that October. Then other crazy, crazy shit that will come in just a few weeks, which I will broach in parts two and three of these connected columns, illustrates how much humanity can simultaneously elevate and devastate itself down here. We were, in many ways, different. A seal was broken on us, on America, on science and faith and pride and fear, as it had on race and gender and generation.

And it is down here, on July 20, 1969 that we all watched a man in a weird, rumpled white space suit hop his way down a ladder and take “one small step for man but one giant leap for mankind” and hang out on that translucent sphere perched high, high, high above Van Ness Avenue. The night you can view these crackling black and white images being flashed on the box inside the furniture while also looking out your window to try and rationalize all of this. How is this happening? It is pretty damn exciting. It is pretty damn frightening.

The moon.

July 20, 1969.      

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POWER TO THE JERSEY PEOPLE

Aquarian Weekly
7/17/19

Reality Check

James Campion


POWER TO THE JERSEY PEOPLE
Legalizing Recreational Marijuana Will Be on Us


It seems to me an unjust law is no law at all.
                              – Saint Augustine

Due to the abject failure of this Democrat-led New Jersey legislature with the usual 19th century bullshit from useless Republicans, our government, thankfully, has punted the responsibility of legalizing marijuana to us, the citizens. Not sure deciding whether a plant is legal or not should necessarily fall to a vote, but that’s where we are now. You might recall, I called for this during this past spring’s implosion of the year-long marijuana bill (S2703). And so the matter will indeed move to the ballot in November of 2020.

Waiting that long seems idiotic, why not this November, you might ask? A fair question, and one I proffered before my experience in politics figured two reasons to wait that long – some members of this lame body may lose their gigs over this fiasco and help secure the number for a cold legislative redress in early 2020 or the overwhelming hatred of the dunce in the White House that will sweep in every inch of progressive breath to overwhelm voting booths across this mostly blue state.

Currently legalizing weed in Jersey has a 60 percent approval, so the numbers are there. Trump is running again in 2020 and he has a nearly 70 percent disapproval rating in the Garden State. Yeah, it is just a matter of getting people to the polls.

Until then, there has been some progress to first expand or level the legal blockades to medical marijuana (long overdue) and most importantly a move to alleviate some of the draconian laws and medieval penalties for those who wish to imbibe. 

These asinine laws are not only atavistic and imbecilic, they are starkly racist. A Jersey trifecta!

Throughout the brutal process to get legislators’ heads out of their collective asses and help us bring New Jersey into the 21st century and infuse the state with shitloads of funds for schools, fire and police departments and to curtail the insanely rising property taxes, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (the smartest person in local politics I have covered in over 30 years)  prevented his colleagues from voting on the bill expanding the medical program (S10) until he could get enough votes for the recreational marijuana bill. But after the March collapse, Sweeney announced in May that he would have a bill on Governor Phil Murphy’s desk by June’s end and he delivered. Last week Murphy signed Honig’s Law, named after Jake Honig, who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2012, a cancer that traveled to his brain. He underwent dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, proton radiation and surgeries at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia but succumbed a few days after Murphy took office. He was seven years-old.

Throughout the entirety of the Chris Christie administration, Jake’s parents, Mike and Janet Honig of Howell, NJ bought dried cannabis in order to distill oil for their son. But inevitably each month they would run out of the medicine halfway through. The short-sighted, suck-ass medicinal marijuana law enacted in 2010 set a strict two-ounce monthly purchasing limit, disallowing the Honig’s to ease their son’s excruciating pain. This prompted his father to routinely express outrage that it has taken lawmakers so long to change the rules of an antiquated and quite frankly mean-spirited program to allow patients to buy more marijuana. Mike told NJ Advance Media, “When Jake was off his medical marijuana, he would vomit, he would be nauseous. He was would be in so much pain, he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t sleep. He was agitated.”

Now I won’t say Christie, or the NJ government, killed little Jake Honig, but they did not assist in easing his agony. And all because of weirdly constructed, badly researched laws enacted federally in the 1930s only to be overturned as unconstitutional and then rammed into the equally shortsighted and plainly stupid 1970s Controlled Substances Act that helped a ton of gangsters, cartels and the mob get plenty rich over the past half century, while seven year-old boys die in pain.

Before we bid farewell to our intermittent updates on this ongoing putrid silliness there is the matter of decriminalization, which is the very least we can do on the recreational end.

After the governor signed the Honig bill in a ceremony at Tommy’s Tavern on Killer Route 9 in my old stomping grounds in Freehold, Murphy was asked about decriminalization and a proposed bill by State Senator Sweeney in May – “I think we can’t allow a system where 600 people are gonna get arrested this week — 450 or more of color,” Murphy said. “Anybody who thinks status quo is acceptable has not taken time to understand the status quo.”

And that’s the nut. This is a major step in real, binding justice reform, which is always a laff riot in DC at the federal level, despite tons of lip service and empty campaign promises by the current and certainly past administrations. The laws here are total and utter bullshit. Even cops are tired of it. According to recent FBI data, New Jersey law enforcement arrests more people for marijuana possession than every state except Texas and New York. To put a finer (and sadder) point on it, African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at a rate three-times higher than white people, despite similar pot usage rates between the groups, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

These asinine laws are not only atavistic and imbecilic, they are starkly racist. A Jersey trifecta!

But fear not! We are slowly but surely crawling from pre-historic thinking. The new Honig law will likely add dozens of medical marijuana providers, greatly increasing capacity from the six providers currently operating. This is excellent economic news for the state and at least some steps in the direction I expect us to go and why I supported Governor Murphy’s election.

Having written all of this, to hades with politicians.

Power to the Jersey People!

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THE MORAL LOW GROUND

Aquarian Weekly
7/3/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE MORAL LOW GROUND
Conditions at Our Southern Border & What It Says About Our Country

Admittedly, the person who pens this column every week is either an asshole or a genius. Or both. The mantle I have chosen to drape myself in does not come with gray areas. I sometimes point out that hypocrites fail to see those in their black and white existence, but mostly I tend to work on the margins between beauty and disgust. Predominantly disgust. This is due primarily to my insistence on commenting on politics, but that is merely a subtext for the great human experiment, America. We’ll be celebrating its two-hundred and forty-third birthday this week, so this is where the asshole comes in: Sure, remind us of our shitty side when we’re about to merrily force-feed hot dogs at an alarming, get our dime-store mini flags out of mothballs and blow stuff up. But consider the genius of this. It is not unlike Dickens getting all up in your self-absorbed misery when you just want to get some eggnog and a new tie. Humanity is a tricky subject.

And it is of our humanity of which I write this week. Forget politics and countries and religion and the rest of that John Lennon song. Let’s concentrate on humans. For the purposes of the true grit here, children.

The images and news emanating from what amounts to concentration camps, or if you are Laura Ingram – a comedy show host from a cable network – “essentially summer camps”, has really struck me hard. From the very beginning when we became aware of what our government was doing with our money I tweeted daily, “There are children locked away in cages and we’re paying for it.” I thought this might cut through the usually self-absorbed hate-fest that is Twitter. After a time, even I thought it silly to keep bringing it up. Apparently, like perpetual war (Americans have been fighting in Afghanistan for eighteen years now and Iraq for sixteen), we have more or less come to accept this as our national normal.

Now, I am not here to cast blame. We know who is to blame, if you choose to blame anyone. Our president, who likes to say he runs everything, so get out of his way and get sick of winning, blames congress. Congress blames the game show host. Some people blame Mexico. Some blame past administrations. But I blame humanity. And if you’re reading this, you’re human, so yeah, us. Our government, that means us in this fancy American experiment, is putting fellow human beings in hot, clammy, lice-infected flu-cages in stifling heat under inhumane conditions. And that cannot sit right with anyone. Can it?

This always gets me to think about the moral high ground that America is supposed to, theoretically, or for some, theologically, stand for. In other words, if this were happening in the Middle East or Central America there would be debates on when the bombing should start. Yet, we’re paying for it. When I am done with this piece, I will send it to press, and then at the end of a period, I will get money. Then, at some point, I will pay taxes on that money. Those taxes will go to what doctors have recently described as “torture facilities”. Now, I have written extensively in the past about the kind of torture or “enhanced interrogation” methods our government used on apprehended terrorists at the beginning of this century. I believe for terrorists, anything goes. Once you choose terrorism, you’re essentially saying “no thanks” to society and its norms. If you wish to see those norms eradicated, then you kind of hand in your human card. However, not sure people escaping poverty and violence and sneaking into the country equals the same thing. Some argue it is. Those people have wildly exaggerated what they feel is an open attack on our nation and for them, this nightmare of caged children is justified. No tolerance. Stay home or get this kind of treatment.

Makes sense. But is it good? Or even moral? Or something we represent as a nation or as fellow members of humanity?

I blame humanity. And if you’re reading this, you’re human, so yeah, us.

What has always made me ill about the concept of morality is its vacillating institutional tool, religion, and especially its most bizarre creatures, evangelists. Mostly it is their sadly quixotic ways in which they flub the very idea of it. All religions are filled with this craziness, but Christians, when considering the source, do and say the most hateful and judgmental things. We can argue whether Jesus was an egalitarian and hated capitalism and money and property and welcomed the inclusion of all peoples against the ruling religious class or not. We can even assume him God. But I am not entirely sure how you balance what is happening to the children at the border with any level of comprehension about a Christ figure. Never mind Yeshua the Nazarene. Yet, there are a whole lotta Christians who support this policy and this administration, and I don’t get that. Never will.

I only bring this up because the No Tolerance Policy that led to these horrors was sold, predictably, by quoting Biblical scripture. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” Ignoring that the former Saul of Tarsus, a man known for torturing Christians as a weekend hobby before some shit happened to him on the road across the border, using the Bible to sell oppression and systemic criminal activity is as old as the damn thing. But that brings us back to our national morality, even a secular compassion for our fellow humans.

How do we, a nation so full of itself, so prideful of our accomplishments to assist the less fortunate and protecting the weak and needy, stand by and watch this happen?

I have no answer and that is not a rhetorical question. I want to know.

Do you?

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THE MEXICAN FLIP OFF

Aquarian Weekly
6/19/19

Reality Check

James Campion


THE MEXICAN FLIP OFF
How Mexico Keeps Embarrassing Donald Trump and Why He Allows It

Our Game Show President’s latest fuck up brings his old political dominatrix back for more punishment when he threatened to impose tariffs on another nation that has a stranglehold on our manufacturing infrastructure to stem the tide of weird paranoias in his head. This makes no sense to anyone with a modicum of understanding about treaties and international trade, and certainly for every member of the U.S Congress, including even those suddenly appalled Republicans who normally kiss his ass. But for Donald Trump, it was a winner. The minute he rode down that escalator and started calling Mexicans rapists and killers, or well…some of them are fine…but mostly rapists and killers, he had himself a fine argument to run the free world instead of having his contract renewed by the National Broadcasting Network. Soon there would be a wall and Mexico paying for it and more racist nonsense that went over big in the anti-free-trade wing of the Republican Party heretofore relegated to a dark quasi-conservative philosophy once pitched by the kind of laissez-faire isolationists that doomed the economy for generations. Then there’s the aforementioned ill-conceived tariff threats that forced Trump to cave and then, as is his childish wont, claim victory and get all pissy when anyone not affiliated with state-run television at FOX News couched it has an ass-kicking.

Let’s unpack this baby.

Unfamiliar with anything that has occurred in American history or the basic tenets of governance over the past centuries, Trump – who continues to float the idea of nations paying the U.S. for our occupations of said countries for our national security post-WWII – merrily conflates the idea of trade with national security. His ridiculous China trade war (including executive orders that are so wildly idiotic it would take four columns to cover, and I am beyond tired citing stupid shit this guy does, so go research it yourself) is destroying our farming industry, causing market unrest resulting in billions in big-government bailouts, and has just begun effecting our consumer bases. It also forced Trump’s National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn to quit in protest. So, of course, this growing fiasco became the basis for the president’s reasoning on taking on Mexico, which he has deemed an existential threat to our nation, even though illegal immigration has been down for ten years and was at an all-time low during the previous administration. In fact, Barack Obama’s border run was so invasive he began to get serious backlash from the Latino community that most likely resulted in the less than stellar turnout for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

A short aside here, it should be noted that the laws Trump uses to its most horrific depths in jailing children in inhuman conditions at our border was supported and enforced by the Obama Administration, which Trump and his usual lackies have cited to get the backlash for this national blight off their backs.

Mexico held firm against being threatened with tariffs for weeks, while waiting for the U.S. Congress to lose its shit, which it did. Even Mitch McConnell, who has been using Trump’s empty philosophical husk to ram-rod outdated right-wing crap through the Senate for over two years now, told El Douche to snap out of it. Trump, as he did with Nancy Pelosi after shutting the government down and bringing us to the brink of war with North Korea, and then relenting, avoids the catastrophe based on his own original decisions then reverses course at the last minute to claim that his brilliance saved the day. This is tantamount to someone lighting your house on fire and then after putting it out says, “You’re welcome.”

Trump ate shit. And then this week happened and, well, bon appetit!

The Mexican government even tried to save Trump from himself by agreeing to things they had already agreed to months before his showboating to throw him a PR bone, but then they heard Trump was doing a victory lap and telling the international press he had bested them. So, Mexico came clean and told everyone nothing was changed by the phony tariff threats. Trump then did the Trump thing and called an impromptu press conference waving a piece a paper around telling everyone a “secret deal” was made. Mexico, unfamiliar with “secret deals” to sucker the great unwashed up north, not only denied this goofiness, Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister produced paperwork of the actual deal and then when reporters studied Trump’s paper-prop, it jived with Mexico’s and he looked like an idiot. Again.

I say again because for some reason Mexico is the gift that keeps on giving for Trump (helped him get elected and the ongoing whipping post for his fear-mongering that fires up his base, which is his only support left) and the pill that taketh away (as in the fabricated “caravan” nonsense Trump tried selling to stem the tide of the Blue Wave that inevitably turned into a tsunami last November). The whole “Mexico is paying for the wall” thing has been an abject embarrassment. Even Trump knew it when less than a week into his presidency he begged then Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to go along with the ruse to cover his ass. Leaked White House transcripts has Trump whining, “The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to.” Peña Nieto literally laughed and then told the president he would not be taking any bullets for his lying, forcing Trump to ask him to simply keep it under his hat. “You cannot say that (you will not pay for the wall) to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”

Trump even tried threatening to shut down relations because of this, but Peña Nieto instead told his press that he told Trump to go hump it and watched his approvals go through the roof. Trump ate shit. And then this week happened and, well, bon appetit!

But to be fair to Trump, he counts on people not having a clue what is really going on, which has kept his 38 to 42 percent of Americans digging his schtick and he absolutely needs Mexico as a villain in his ongoing MAGA bullshit. And that is why, despite getting skunked again and again by Mexico, he keeps going to that poisoned well.

The president needs Mexico, and it appears, Mexico, or at least its government really needs him.    

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OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV

Aquarian Weekly

6/12/19

Reality Check


James Campion

OPEN LETTER TO MY WIFE IV


My bride,

I can vividly remember the first time I decided to do this, the week of our nuptials in early June 1999, an unthinkable twenty years, one daughter, yoga instructor certification, six books, three houses, two-dozen or so weird and wonderful trips abroad, and a half-dozen cats ago. It made sense I would come here to make my witness. I had officially begun what would become this column the first night we spent alone together, on our way to see Sinead O’Connor at the Beacon Theater. It was the twenty-sixth day of August 1997. I sent my very first socio-political piece to the Aquarian that evening from the fax machine at the Roosevelt Hotel where my oldest and best friend of forty-five years now, Chris was working media. I began to fall in love with you that night. I did. Maybe I told you a few weeks later. Two months after that you moved into my hovel and transformed a boy into a man and a mostly directionless heart into one with a laser beam focus. And that is why I felt the need to write the first of these Open Letter pieces before we were to be married on June 12, 1999, twenty years ago today. I still had this fear that one day I could lose this thing we had that I shall never, ever take for less than what it is; the answer to the question (you know from which I speak) about the meaning of…well…everything.

I wrote then: “Let’s face it, who is going to pick me up and dust me off the way you do? Who is going to heal those wounds, the ones the doctors can’t see, or the tax man can’t heist, or the priest can’t bless with a few hollow words? I don’t deserve any of this. I should be banished to a remote island in the Pacific and left to dig for fallacies with a teaspoon.” – 5/26/99

And, of course, it is probably the darker side of maudlin and certainly the upper register of cheesy to do this in public, even for a writer. Most of us tend to change names and mask much of our emotions in subtext and metaphor, and for the most part I am rarely if ever truly honest in this space unless forced to be. I have too much fun with the form for it to actually mean something. I made that assessment on the twentieth anniversary of my first published book, Deep Tank Jersey three years ago in which I was sure that the emotions I expressed in it eventually turned into a muted narrative of disparate wordplay. I felt icky admitting this, but it’s the truth. But here, I come clean. And even that doesn’t matter all that much, not to us. We never use words to express what it is we embarked upon almost twenty-three years ago (the day you walked up to my door in your pajamas – November 4, 1997, and stayed, thank the universe). In fact, words are pathetically incapable of approaching what you mean and have meant to me.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance.

And because of these subpar expressions, I wish every day I could paint, and that I had your eye for visual artistry, the one Scarlet got in spades and displays on occasion when we least expect it. Maybe then I could actually illustrate this bond, this current of electricity that comes from knowing that you came and never left and then made it official – standing before all of our friends and family in an old theater in Syracuse – and married me in front of a woman judge, who butchered my middle name. I can hear my mom now, B-A-R-T-O-L-O-M-E-O. I also wish I still wrote songs, but love songs are a dime-a-dozen and none of it really does the trick. I think your connection to Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero/ No Limit” (she’s true like ice, like fire) makes more sense to me every day I get to be with you and argue with you and sleep with you and laugh with you and challenge you and be challenged by you and get to kiss your lips and your forehead and your cheeks and hold your hand and put my arm around your waist and worry about shit we will never really be able to do anything about and then avert our eyes for just a moment from all this us-us to see the kid we made but who now makes us.

You know when I am sure that words fail, because when I typed that last sentence my hands were shaking. They were. No joke. I almost lost control of them for the briefest of moments and couldn’t ride it out until I could and that is why I think I do this – get these thoughts down every five years we’ve been married – not for you, but for me. I need to do it. I do. I need to force it out in this space and out of my head and my soul what the hell being married to you has done to me and for me and why whether it is twenty years ago on a mostly overcast and sticky June day near where you grew up and we danced together like we loved to dance together and how I love how we could dance together, or ten minutes ago, it is eternal.

All the pain that you have known / All the violence in your soul / All the ‘wrong’ things you have done I will take from you when I come – Sinead O’Connor, “This is the Mother You” – our wedding song.

Our story, in a very real way, is this reoccurring dream of a dance. Our movements through this life together moves effortlessly even when it is messy and rocky and challenging and filled with the pressures and death and parenting and art. It will always be you and me in the swirl of that dance. The smell of you, the sight of you, the texture of you remains. That is what I remember today as we celebrate that particular day today and every day. The dance. Yeah, our dance. Together. Always.

All mistakes made in distress / All your unhappiness / I will take away with my kiss, yes /

I will give you tenderness

So, you know, we’ll start the next twenty or at least the next year as we have done all these others, embraced. This is how it makes sense to be around…with you. Because with you always made sense. Getting together – eleven years apart in age, some 180 miles distance, the visual and the literary, the caustic and the emotional – made zero sense. But the you-and-me always did. Always will. And that makes writing this, like the previous three (and that one a few days before we hitched) so difficult and so damned easy. A paradox. This love. A familiar and rhythmic paradox that I would not trade for anything anywhere, anyway.

Thank you for coming over that night. For that sticky June afternoon. Our Scarlet.

And the dance.

Our dance.

Twenty years.

Dance with me.

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BOB MUELLER’S PRIMER IN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TRUTH-TELLING

Aquarian Weekly
6/5/19

Reality Check

James Campion


BOB MUELLER’S PRIMER IN PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TRUTH-TELLING
How the Speech of the Century Tells Us Everything We Need to Know & More

As I requested on May 5, Special Counsel Robert Mueller took to a podium and tried like hell to qualify what is already in his comprehensive 448-page report, which has been severely mangled by spin-doctored interpretation, botched by our finger-puppet attorney general, and turned into treason by FOX News. Clearly not comfortable in a public forum, he was nevertheless intelligently respectful and stuck to the facts of his findings. However, because he is a man of integrity and believes in crazy things like the U.S. Constitution (imagine that?) he was quite subliminal in his phrasing. There was much subtext to his dexterous wordplay simply because his position does not allow him to come out and say what he actually means. This might be considered lawyer-speak to some, but I heard it with writer-ears. For me, Mueller provided a subliminal plethora of metaphor and symbolism the likes of which is often found in the misty realm of poetry.

We begin with the core of Mueller’s address: He is tired of hearing the president, his media cronies, and a plethora of Republican lackies whine about Donald Trump being the victim of his investigation, which they have repeatedly dubbed a “witch hunt” or “a hoax” that was launched by “deep state” Democrats attempting a coup de tat. No less than eight times did Mueller make clear that not only did Russia fuck with our election, having every intention to do so and do it again in 2020, it did so to the detriment of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and thus consequently helped the president win the 2016 election.

Mueller: “The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.”

For the truly dense or Sean Hannity, who that evening went back on FOX and said Mueller was a tool of the deep state, Mueller reiterated, “They needed to be investigated and understood. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.” This was also a direct hit on the Trump/Barr witch hunt/hoax boondoggle that’s recently moved into a doomstruck DOJ counter-investigation on the origins of the investigation much like the short-lived and sadly funny “Voter Fraud” team launched and then predictably skunked by a winning candidate after the election.

Of course, all of the “helped Clinton’s opponent” stuff drives Trump nuts because it taints his victory, which if you’ve followed along, we ascertained long ago that was his initial motivation to fire the FBI director and get him stuck with a special counsel in the first place. And Mueller knows it, because if you listen to the way he presented his case, he doesn’t care a lick about the president’s insecurities. In fact, if the tone of this speech was any indication, Mueller sees Trump as a thin-skinned loon with a Twitter account who has less respect for American values than the man who perpetuated these crimes, Vladimir Putin, for whom the Trump has defended and naively believed when the Russian dictator told him he had nothing to do with it.

“These indictments contain allegations,” Mueller wryly continued, distinctly referencing previous and existing indictments about yet unnamed individuals that he felt compelled not to “comment on the guilt or the innocence of” and that “every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.” This was another cleverly worded sting at the president, who immediately went fourth grade again on Twitter after the address telling everyone Mueller cleared him with a hearty “Case Closed”. Mueller reminded us there is still much to learn about this whole mess and that the learning part should involve Congress.

When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Mueller was also precise in his secret messaging to AG William Barr, who “made the report on our investigation largely public” using the telling adverb “largely” as a hint that it was not “completely public”, serving as an addendum to the letter Mueller sent to the AG after his ham-fisted summation farce and Barr’s shameless lying to Congress on how the special counsel viewed obstruction of justice. Barr told Congress Mueller saw none, when the report cited ten incidents of possible obstruction of his investigation, something he would restate later in this speech.

To wit: “That is also the reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Ouch.

Mueller then took time to break the report down in two parts for the still-confused or Tucker Carlson. The first being “a broader conspiracy” with Russia to fuck with our election. While stating there was not enough evidence for broader (a key adjective here) conspiracy – unlike collusion, conspiracy is an actual legal term – it immediately conjures up a “kind of conspiracy”, making it likely that there was some form of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. He later will also conspicuously cite “evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now” to further this idea. Mueller did not twice use a blockbuster term like “conspiracy” in this speech without note. Moreover, this is an important distinction from the two-dimensional report. Mueller reiterated that although there was not a sweeping overall conspiracy, there indeed may have been one.

Hmmmmm.

The second part, stated Mueller, is “the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president.” Here is where, again, things get hairy for Trump, and where Congress is instructed by the report and this speech to act. Mueller wrapped with the damning sentence; “And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

Mueller made a point to end each paragraph of this address with a major statement about Russian interference and conspiracies, but this is the dooziest of all doozies. In essence, Mueller obliterates the continued lunacy of “exoneration” repeated by the president and his zealots with a we tried to exonerate this guy, but let’s face it he is at best shady and worst a criminal, and there are plenty examples of both in this baby.

With one last salvo, Mueller looked up from his rostrum more than once and cited that “under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.” In other words, this ain’t my gig, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the evidence, just did not have the authority to charge someone under the overwhelming evidence for crimes and misdemeanors, and let’s face it none of this even approaches the most rudimentary definition of “exoneration”, so the president should probably stop saying this. “A special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy,” he concluded. “Bound to policy” means; I am busting with stuff that could impeach any president, but you know, the whole constitution thing. If I were Senior Twitter, I could just trample on it, but once again, I am a pro and not a game show host, so I was at the behest of an AG that is in the bag for the president and all of this is very, very bad and someone needs to do something about this and fast.

To wit: “The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” This again refers directly to Congress, as Mueller does in several places in the report. It also reminded Barr that the DOJ is not the final word on this, as the AG has tried with everything he has to perpetuate in Trump’s defense. In the subtlest of ways Mueller flat-out accused Barr of obstructing justice if he continues this shit. This sentence leaves the matter up to Congress to adjudicate. You know, the equal branch of government Trump is treating like some NYC real estate regulatory department he can threaten, stonewall and bribe. This was Mueller’s job to hand them enough to consider impeachment, which is a political, not a legal tool.

Here is another kick in the teeth sentence to conclude: “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.” Concentrate here on the word “could”, which throbs like a rotten tooth. Then reflect on a subsequent verb, “would”, which immediately lands on the table when someone says “could”. Mueller expounded by saying the special counsel was “guided by principles of fairness.” Only “fairness” kept Mueller from shouting from the rooftops that a criminal is running the free world. He would have if he could have charged the president with something, but that is up to…Congress.

Mueller rode off into the sunset hoping aloud that Congress would not make him repeat all this again in a media-crazed atmosphere of self-aggrandized political piss-fighting, but really that ain’t up to him. And he did take one last dig on Trump’s F.B.I. attacks by stating in conclusion they were a “professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner” with “the highest integrity.”

“And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election,” said Mueller, putting his foot on the neck of witch hunt/hoax. “And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

That includes Congress, the president and the attorney general, assuming they are part of the “every American” thing, which I will conceded for the purposes of this speech; a speech that had all the elements of great theater and an even greater theatrical libretto.

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Rob Thomas: Out of the Pocket

Aquarian Weekly

Feature

5/22/19

James Campion

Hair-tussled and all comfy in faded jeans and a loose-fitting gray waffle shirt, Rob Thomas sits with his dog Sammy perched on his lap and intently bobs his head as a playback of the first single off his upcoming album, Chip Tooth Smile, “One Less Day (Dying Young)” fills his downstairs home studio. The vocal, a recognizable baritone accented in his always reliable surge of emotion, comes at you crisp, clear, relentless: “I’m not afraid of getting older/I’m one less day from dying young.” When the pulsing momentum of the track resolves in a heavy Celtic-styled accent, the 46-year-old singer-songwriter sits for a moment and exhales, “You know, they say you only live once… well, you die once, but you live every day.” Then, without hesitation, he concludes, “I wanted to write something that expressed that I like being older, which means I get another day.”

On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of his first amazingly successful solo project—working with Carlos Santana to write and perform what Billboard magazine recently calculated is the second-highest charting song ever, “Smooth”—and twenty-three years removed from the smash hit debut of Matchbox Twenty’s Yourself or Someone Like You, “One Less Day (Dying Young)” frames a life in and out of the spotlight. He sings with a measure of enviable unrepentance, “All my life I have been wandering/Burning up my candle like my time just won’t end/And I’ll keep burning ‘til there’s nothing left.”

Looking off in the distance, he smiles for a moment and then looks my way. He honestly wants to know what I think.

Thomas had contacted me in early November of 2018 to invite me up to his Bedford, New York home and down into his musical lair, complete with old stage guitars perched on stands or hanging majestically beside inspiring paintings, photographs of his favorite authors, and military-era ones of his dad, so he could play me these tracks. Back then he was deep into working out the songs and very excited about the prospect of the record. I had spent some time with him on tour with Matchbox Twenty two summers before when he was conjuring up the ideas for new music, and I felt when he called this was his way of completing the journey. In a way, I would be his finish line. It wasn’t until a few months of back-and-forth between us and more recording and mixing that I met him at his doorstep in early February, immediately noticing a bounce to his gate and a broad grin creasing his face. He knew what he had was good and he could not wait to share it.

As much as Chip Tooth Smile is Thomas coming to grips with his present and what he’s accomplished—a meteoric rise to fame during an incredibly creative past quarter-century; composing and performing four #1 singles with Matchbox Twenty and one as a solo artist—much of the record unerringly reveals from where the man who has sold 80 million records and played for millions more across the world has come. More pointedly, the album is a self-portrait and a celebration, if not a deep introspection of a journey to discovery. In the funky blues croon of “I Love It,” he defiantly sings for all he’s worth; “Won’t be getting played out/Never gonna fade out/I’ll just keep on nailing you with fire ‘til you flame out.” In other words, for Thomas, a voracious reader and adoring disciple of literature, it is very much a “rage against the dying of the light” statement while simultaneously coming to grips with its glare. And it is a glare he has known long before he became one of the most recognizable voices in rock history.

“When I was young, maybe fifteen or so, I thought. ‘I’m going to do this forever and I’m going to be really big’,” Thomas says, recalling his origins. “In my first bands, playing covers and shitty originals over tons of gigs that we traveled to in vans and trailers, I had enough suspension of disbelief to the actual possibility of this—I could visualize where I would go, and what I would be.”

Reflective of all this is the album’s title, which refers to a busted front tooth his wife of nearly twenty years, Marisol Maldonado, refused to let him fix for years because, for her, it was indicative of his personality. The dead-end kid with holes in his pockets and stars in his eyes. And it is that very personality—the core of the man and the artist—where Chip Tooth Smile is realized. It is in songs like “We Were Beautiful,” the seventh track on the album and the titular first song on the second side (for all you vinyl freaks, of which Thomas counts himself). It is a simple but chilling underscore to the memories of youth crystalized in a photo, produced by hit-maven, Benny Blanco. Before he plays it, Thomas explains, “We were so beautiful when we were young, and not just aesthetically… we had all this promise.”

Chip Tooth Smile is Thomas’s fourth solo effort, and perhaps it is his most, well, solo. Using only his exceptional alacrity for musical structure, melody, and innate pop sensibilities, with adroit assistance from musical co-conspirator, Butch Walker, the album is at the very least his most singular testimonial, both musically and lyrically. “I had full demos—drums, bass, and guitar—for some of these songs, but Butch didn’t want that to get in the way of how he sees a song,” explains Thomas. “I sent him just me with the guitar playing, then Butch would arrange and play everything, except for a few drum tracks. I was thinking of using the talented people from my earlier solo records like Mike Campbell, Wendy Melvoin, and Abe Laboriel Jr., but it came down to Butch and me deciding, ‘Okay, here’s the song. Where do you want to go?’”

The moment the music begins to pour from the speakers above a computer nestled behind a recording console, I’m led to where the duo would venture and end up; back to the decade of the songwriter’s youth—its sounds, its effects, its instruments, its aura. “An eighties theme runs throughout this record,” Thomas chuckles, knowingly. “It’s in the DNA of the recording.”

Listening to the unabashed tribute to his heroes, from R.E.M. to INXS to George Michael, and echoing the MTV-infused modernity of Human League and the Eurythmics, Thomas and Walker create a time-warp soundscape on the expertly realized “I Love It,” which more than harkens to mid-eighties Robert Palmer or the vocal and drum effects culled from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” One could say it shamelessly slathers it on, but with an impish nod and a wink. Both men made concerted efforts to use authentic and, in many ways, completely antiquated instruments and sounds. On the achingly honest portrayal of coming to grips with racism, “Early in the Morning,” and the Tom Petty colored “Tomorrow Will Only Break Your Heart,” there is no question there is a thematic aural thread here.

Yet none of it devolves into mere homage. Thomas utilizes these muses as subtext to deeper themes. Although the veil is completely lifted on the engagingly fun “Timeless” which Thomas says is “a song about eighties songs, about listening to eighties music, sounding like an eighties song, but also made up entirely of eighties songs titles.” It is the meta equivalent of Ouroboros (the snake that eats itself) and as much fun for the listener to pick out each song reference as it apparently was for the composer and his bride. “I sat down here in the studio and my wife was texting me and feeding me our favorite eighties albums and songs,” he says, excitedly. “I had a list of like forty or fifty of them and I was just picking out the lines and titles that worked.”

The dozen tracks Thomas chose for the release from the nearly-thirty considered (he showed me his secret file called “The Stockyard” where the fallen tunes would remain) were whittled down from a mind-bending sixty. Most of them were composed over the past three years while he was touring solo and with Matchbox Twenty—locations as vast as hotel rooms, backstage corners, and somewhere on a bus rolling across America. All the while, Thomas, who’s prolific musical output has captured Songwriter of the Year awards from both Billboard magazine and BMI, was exploring a time long before he was writing songs with Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger, performing for sold-out arenas, singing at the White House, appearing on magazine covers, and collecting Grammys. These are rummaged snapshots from the energy, promise, and insecurities of his youth.

“You know, they say you only live once… well, you die once, but you live every day.”

“We were a radio family,” Thomas remembers. “The radio was always on, so eighties and late seventies radio that my mom and I listened to would become my foundation.” I casually cite his acute sense of the pop idiom for his most celebrated work and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know that it is very much a combination of natural evolution mixed with calculation. “I see myself as a radio kid who has always written radio music. I used to get busted on for that, but what I write is just music for the masses, because—come on, man—I am the masses.”

For those who have followed his career, Chip Tooth Smile is very much awash in Rob Thomas leitmotifs; songs of becoming a father (“Man to Hold the Water”), painful breakups (“It’s Only Love”), and a uniquely charming number entitled “Funny” that takes a steely look inside his deep and lasting love for Marisol in which he describes within as “Every trip and stumble and fall that has gotten me to this point/Making me stronger for the moment we’re experiencing right now… and life is funny that way.” Thomas strips bare how the past few years of Marisol’s very public health issues has affected him in the heart wrenching “Can’t Help Me Now,” something he’s shared from her perspective in previous songs but never from his own. “She’s the one I would turn to when things got tough,” he tells me in a quiet moment after its last note fades. “But when I’m the one caring for her during her difficult health issues, whom can I turn to then?” One can envision the Songwriting Hall of Fame honoree contemplating the weight of this soulful rendering as he was hunched over the piano, leaning in to read the lyrics of the chorus in which he sings, “You’re the one that talks me down/Even you can’t help me now.

But she did indeed help put a ribbon on Chip Tooth Smile. The album’s final salvo, “Breathe Out” almost didn’t make the record until Marisol intervened. Thomas was not sure the song fit with the whole “middle-aged artist rediscovers his past in sound and fury.” But it sure does. The final stanza, a mantra for Thomas’s journey as a young man, coping with his mother’s cancer and alcoholism, his sleeping in cars, and fighting to keep his dreams and music alive underscores the entire project as catharsis; “When the world is making promises that it can’t keep/You alone your only friend/Breathe out/Breathe in/Breathe out again”—the principal aspect of breathing out first, thus sighing, letting the burdens of the inner-conflict escape before finally breathing in again to allow life to renew hope is starkly brilliant, if not a subconscious piece of advice to take on each and every day. But mostly, it is a damn fine song and would be missed if it remained in The Stockyard.

“I don’t want to die with my best songs in my pocket,” Thomas tells me, agreeing that this gem making the cut was the right call (nice job, Marisol). “If I get a chance to put songs out there for people to hear them, then I’ll take it.”

Later at dinner, still waiting for my thoughts on the record, a man about to dive headlong into months of promotion, TV appearances, and a summer tour casually sips wine, unwinding before the deluge. Part of the day was spent discussing the edits to a video for “One Less Day (Dying Young)” in which he was directly involved. We bat around much of what I’ve written above, and I was quite frankly pleased to tell him I think Chip Tooth Smile is an ambitious triumph in sonic tribalism and personal confession; what all good solo albums from solid songwriters should be. But what I mostly take away from the music is how much it means to Rob Thomas, for whom persona and fame sometimes precedes it. It was back in the nineteen-eighties when a kid with big dreams believed only in the music and hoped for all the rest. And it is the music, it appears from this project, that endures. “I hear songs that haven’t been written yet,” he tells me before we part. “So much of my writing has always been just sitting down or driving down the road and humming a melody to myself and then trying to figure out what it is, and realizing it’s nothing, so it must be me!”

And so, Rob Thomas, on the eve of his fourth solo album, filled with stories and grooves aplenty, proving his youthful musical muse is still very much inside him, has made his case. He only had to wait for everyone else to hear it. These infectious and insightful songs are now finally out of his pocket.

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