Aquarian Weekly

Reality Check

James Campion

And A Pathetic Attempt To Wake Up Feckless Democrats

Anyone who has read this space for the past quarter century knows I am a man without a party. Reality Check has been the Freethinker Corner of political and social discourse and will remain so. But over that time, I was also a citizen of these United States and a voter. And unlike many who claim to be Independent but always vote for one party, I have actually voted for members of both. That stops today. The man who voted for George W. Bush, called former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani the most effective politician of my times, and wrote glowingly about my dear friend Rob Astorino, while also openly providing funds for his first successful run for Westchester County Executive is now forced to become a deep-throated opposition to the Republican Party. Its legitimacy ends here and it must be stamped out like a deadly pox.

This, of course, does not mean I will become a Democrat. As, again, stated here for decades of writing this wretched weekly diatribe, I will remain staunchly Independent. But in order to stem the tide of this political cancer on democracy known as the Grand Old Party, I must make it my business (given the system we endure) to expunge its barely breathing remnants from my home state of New Jersey and I guess just hope that the country never again completely falls into its hands as it did during the dark days of Donald Trump.

But this will not merely be a column to bash Republicanism. No one knows what that is, no one has ever known. Today, Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of modern conservatism, would be considered a liberal. Can you imagine his work with the Soviet Union today? It would be called appeasement. Can you imagine his work to restructure immigration? It would be called anti-American. Can you even fathom what his work to save Social Security with the Democrats would be deemed? Traitorous.

Nope, this will also be about the useless and weak Democratic Party that failed to protect the rights of women for decades, assuming Republicans would play by unspoken third-rail rules. They let fascist/zealot judges be jammed into positions to politically undermine the Constitution, and even allowed the type of bottom-feeders into national office that would produce the Patriot Act and normalize torture. Where was Barack Obama for eight fucking years after that miserable shit? Where was the press when the Republicans refused to vote on his Supreme Court nominee and then ramrod another within weeks of the 2020 election to overturn Roe v Wade? They all failed us and continue to fail us.

Joe Biden has got to stop speaking. Just put this dumbfounded empty suit out to pasture. He did his job in getting the racist/misogynist fence-sitters in the Rust Belt to vote against Trump in 2020. Thank you, now move on. Because since then it’s been a bust. He must cease talking about Executive Orders and Health Crisis. He needs to get out of the way and allow some mean-ass dogfighter to kill the filibuster and add four goddamn normal judges to overturn this political coup. Democrats yelling about voting never helps. Republicans clearly don’t care about voting. They are putting a stop to that atavistic crap in half the states in the Union. Elections don’t matter when Republicans are involved, so it shouldn’t for those opposing them. It is political warfare being fought by radicals versus high school level debate nerds.  

The Republican Party… legitimacy ends here and it must be stamped out like a deadly pox.

Who can accept the Republican party’s support/excuse/dismissing of the horrors of the January 6 insurrection by the terrorist Trump and his cronies who decided election results don’t matter and monarchy is a thing? Not this guy. If polls are to be believed, and this is a thorny issue, his party will doubtless put him back on the ballot for 2024, unless he goes to jail or decides he doesn’t need the aggravation. The Justice Department is useless. The Democrats keep talking. And a terrorist will represent one of the two major parties.

But the main take here is that the Republican Party is a dead issue now as a real alternative to voting, if you insist trying this antiquated exercise to stop the crazies. I am sure a vote of no-confidence in Europe was enough to expunge the Nazis or the reprimanding of the South figured out the slave issue. And if you think this is Campion’s usual hyperbole, I offer January 6, 2021. 

Well, fuck that. And fuck Republicans.

Look, you might want to live in a democratic construct that strips the rights of women to control what goes on inside their bodies and leave us with ten year-old rape victims having to be ushered across state lines for an abortion or wise-asses (and I shall always support wise-asses) who use the special commuter lane for at least two passengers because they’re pregnant (a good one). Fetuses should be allowed social security numbers and pregnant women can claim them as dependents. The Woke Pro-Lifers want you to change your birthday to the day your father shot a load in mommy.

And this is not only thanks to the Republican Party’s decades-long war on women finally won, but asleep-at-the-wheel Democrats for thinking they were merely an opposition party and not a fascist insurgence.

Let’s finish up this proclamation with fascism, specifically the January 6 “issue.” It is painfully clear that both parties fall short in describing what it was: Domestic Terrorism. Semantics are important. There are many who described 9/11 as freedom fighting and other as an “inside job.” I’m looking at you Q-Heads. But at least Democrats and some Republicans are concerned about this. The rest are trying to take down the United States. Shit, I expect pundits and goobers in the private sector to run that rancid dung up the flagpole, but members of two of the main parties? (and in the most minority-led way, because there are way fewer Republicans than Democrat and sane Independents out there, just see five of the last six national elections popular vote tally).

So, stop sending me campaign junk, Republicans, and if you are a friend and hope to run as one, go somewhere else for a voice.

Roe v. Wade + January 6 = Done.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
Man, This Is Stupid – Horrible and Un-American – But Really, Really Stupid
No woman in crisis should ever be a potential criminal in a democratic republic. 
– jc, Debate Team, Freehold Township HS, NJ, 1978
If the striking down of Roe v Wade by this politically addled joke of a Supreme Court (because legality had zero to do with a ruling that reads from its briefs as if it were written by hacks that received their law licenses by drawing a bunny on the back of a matchbook) wasn’t so horribly pathetic, then it would be hilarious. Not sure where to even begin – but it won’t be as I have written before about women’s rights or how it blithely tramples on habeas corpus and three amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Nope. I would like to ask three key questions at this juncture. No, wait, four. Four questions about this “ruling” aka “Republican puppetry.”

First one to get out of the way, because it is the easiest: Can you name another Supreme Court ruling that has so summarily and arbitrarily (or any which way) expunged a fundamental human right to sovereignty? You can’t. Move on.

Second one is also fairly easy, although it may be fraught with subjective analysis: What level of psychotic fascism does Justice Clarence Thomas practice; titanic or atomic? Because this crazy fucker wasn’t satisfied with just completely obliterating a right, he wants to attack every case that uses right to privacy in due process and the equal protection legal standards set by Roe ― specifically citing cases that legalized contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. That is some weird medieval shit. If Thomas was a Middle Eastern country, we would have bombed him by five o’clock on the Friday this “ruling” aka “Donald Trump’s gift that keeps on giving” came down.

Now onto to the more confusing queries.

Has anyone bothered to provide a concrete, immutable answer (key in legal arguments and court decisions) on what pregnancy is? How can you tell if a pregnancy is terminated if there is no agreed upon legal and binding definition of pregnancy? Because I still don’t know, and you don’t know, and all the justices that said Roe v Wade was “settled law” so they can get lifetime appointments to do Mitch McConnell’s bidding don’t know. This entire thing is a smoke-screen magic trick. Are we sure a pregnancy is a fertilized egg? And when does it exactly become that… legally? I understand the science, but a quote in the decision of a 1964 obscenity case decided by the Supreme Court, specifically Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it” might not pass muster for someone who is about to have the federal government of a purported free country decide whether they should bring to term a mass of tissue that might kill them. 

You think the courts are clogged now with meaningless shit? Oh, wait.

Doesn’t the government have enough things to fuck up?

And this brings us to the final and most important question that will take down the fabric of what is left of this fragile republic: How are municipalities supposed to uphold abortion as a crime? To be blunt: How exactly do you police this? Already, there are southern states (of course, these people are still upset the real nation took away its slaves and burned their silly little cities to the ground) that want to put in laws to restrict travel for women escaping bondage to real states that do not want control over the innards of its citizenry. So, then, travel between states to obtain an abortion is now illegal? Also, are we trying these women as murderers? So, let’s say you eat a bad taco or guzzle a shit-ton of vodka with a side order of crystal meth, because, you know, you’re really not mommy material; and your fetus flushes out of your privates, is this a case to be investigated by law enforcement? We’re using taxpayer money, nearly two-thirds of which are Pro Choice, to prosecute teenagers who’ve been raped by their uncle?   

I am reminded of a brilliant scene in Woody Allen’s 1971 classic film Bananas that best explains what the Court aka “underqualified, unelected masters of 51-percent of the populace” has unleashed. A deranged dictator declares it a law that all citizens must change their underwear daily. He finishes this babble by qualifying that all underwear from then on will be worn on the outside, so we can check.

Not sure we should be okay with our tax dollars and law enforcement resources not spending every waking moment protecting us from crazy people with guns shooting actual children so they can monitor the pregnancy of millions of women. This is what the government is dealing with now. Doesn’t the government have enough things to fuck up? You want them fucking up our daughters now? 

This is why just striking down the basic constitutional rights for citizens to have control over their bodies was a bad move. You must govern these draconian laws and police these bodies for nine long months and decide if a miscarriage is actually a miscarriage or if it’s manslaughter or maybe first-degree murder? And what to do with the abortion pill – not available to women in 1973 when Roe was passed? Does this “ruling” aka “systemic misogyny” give the right to states to go after manufacturers who make the pill? And can users get it through the mail anymore? Should the Post Office now be involved, and the DEA and the FBI and Homeland Security? States (mostly in the south, because we mistakenly left too many of these towns still standing after the Civil War) are asking neighbors to keep an eye out on women seeking abortions through means beyond Planned Parenthood or a clinic. But, again, who polices this in an official manner? The crazy religious lady next door is now in charge of your body? And who is paying for all these new restrictions and making sure they’re adhered to? And if not murder, what will be the penalty for abortion, which is now murder in twenty states with more coming? 

Remember how organized crime flourished during prohibition? I see dollar signs in a black market for morning-after pills. Don’t worry, some clever Mexican cartel is already on it.

My favorite thing so-called Pro- Life advocates, aka “religious fanatics”, argue is that they are supporting women and that “women are not criminals but victims.” That was as big a lie as “settled law.” A woman today in Mississippi, (a slave state again we foolishly did not completely obliterate in 1865), takes an abortion pill, which now thanks to this Supreme Court aka “feckless tool of the fascism” is criminal activity: Does she go to prison? And if not, then what was the point of taking Roe down?

There is no point – not legal, not moral, not rational, not constitutional. Which is why it was stupid. Horrible and Un-American, but very, very stupid.

Good luck with all that.

We here in New Jersey respect all of our citizens, not just ones with penises or who practice ancient rituals. We’re good here. Women retain their rights in one of the states that won the original war against slavery. And don’t fret, we’re working on expunging the Republican Party entirely from the state. Send them down south where they belong. The rest of this godforsaken country can spend its tax money and police force rounding up teenaged moms filled with the neighborhood drug addict’s sperm.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
I feel obligated to acknowledge the eightieth birthday of James Paul McCartney the day after I am writing this – June 18, 2022. Beyond the fact that I have noted certain milestones for many of popular music’s giants here over the years and for a while became the de facto eulogist for too many more, there has been a weird connection I’ve had with Sir Paul for the past three years. Not the least of which having conceived a book project around his greatest song (in my humble opinion) “Hey Jude” titled Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of “Hey Jude,” which was released just a few weeks ago, mere days before

One of the things I learned hanging in the shadow of Paul McCartney these past years, is the importance of staying alive. For the longest time, especially after the death of his songwriting partner, the iconic and sainted John Lennon in 1980, McCartney’s significance in this little four-piece rock and roll combo he founded, the Beatles (have you heard of this?) was greatly and woefully diminished. Living was a bad career move for Macca. At first. Now it turns out having several lives after you’ve peaked at 26 years-old is a good thing. And an argument can be made that now that Paul has managed to make eighty and has completed his tour triumphantly in front of eighty-thousand or so fans in a massive stadium here in N.J. last evening, it was a tremendous career move. Not to mention a good personal one, because, you know, otherwise…   

Makes sense that Paul McCartney is still with us. I mean, what sixteen year-old boy – music-obsessed, sex fiend, ego loon – takes the time to write “When I’m Sixty-Four?” Then, instead of forgetting he ever did such a thing put it on an album (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – have you heard of this?) that came out eight years later when he was just twenty-four. The man had a plan. And it has gone way past sixty-four. If my math is correct, sixteen years past. The age he was when…

“No one else is remotely in this stratosphere.”

Okay, so Paul has lived and has made a lot of music. And as I write in my book, people seem to like this music. Some stats for these songs that Paul’s come up with – composed with and without some notable collaborators like the aforementioned Lennon (wowza) and Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and Kanye West to name a few – include thirty-two that have gone to #1 in the United States and/or in the United Kingdom. A staggering 129 of his songs have charted in the United Kingdom, ninety-one reaching the Top 10. He is the Guinness Book of World Records’ Most Successful Songwriter of All Time. “No one else.” I wrote, “is remotely in this stratosphere.”

Paul McCartney might be the most prolific and influential songwriter of popular music ever. He is Gershwin and Porter and Ellington and Berlin and all those other guys and then some. Paul, as I discovered also in my research, is song. He has been song, and he will forever be song. I think it is possible if you look up the word “song” in Webster’s it might have Paul’s smiling face next to it. There is no daylight between a hummable tune and James Paul McCartney.

Oh, I also found out during this book journey that apparently the Campion men over a century-plus were fellow Liverpudlians who married a lot of Irish women from across the water. This is thanx to my Little Brother, PJ, who is now the family archaist. Before this, I was merely another of these Irish/Italian types from the Bronx by way of a large boat of people. Turns out there was a large boat or two or three, there was just a Liverpudlian Campion on it. 

I was already here in 1964 when the Beatles arrived via an airplane and changed the planet forever. There are pop stars and icons and then there is the inexplicable sonic boom of the Beatles, who were four scrums from that British port town that no one gave a flying fart about until they invaded every cover of everything. People coming from nowhere to dominate is the stuff of legend. And for some weird reason Paul, this old soul with his songs about retirement written before he could shave, rode it like he knew it all along. And this is the same boyish charm that pervades today. You see his glee when he performs and gets those cheers. He loves those cheers. His little dance when he stands up from the piano after serenading us with “Maybe I’m Amazed” or “Let It Be” or the next masterpiece is pure unadulterated joy. Saw him for the second time in my nearly sixty years on the planet a few weeks ago in Syracuse, NY, where my wife is from and her amazing family that is my family and where I signed my books that afternoon with his visage on the cover, and all those the years between 1964 and 1968 and 1978 and 1989 (when I first saw him at MSG) and the rest melt away into one big Macca moment.

A musician friend of mine back in the mid-eighties once mused that it is strange that anyone can do an impression of almost any rock star from the 1950s onward, except McCarney. Paul doesn’t have a distinct sound (unless you listen to Badfinger or early Billy Joel or any boy band that has existed after the Beatles) but I kind of know what he meant. He meant that Paul could be a vocalist for any time and any occasion His songs demand that his voice run the gamut. It isn’t an affect he is doing; it is Paul being song, again and again, and, blessedly, again.

So, all those year ago, and the years in between and the ones to come, are right there for Paul, who is a time machine, an indelible mark on our sense memories in sound. He brings us there, time and again, with a melody for the ages. Because he has aged. 

So, fuck dying and leaving a good-looking corpse and all the bullshit about burning out and fading away. 

James Paul McCartney is eighty. 

Long may he be song.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at 50
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children… boogie
It is difficult to express how important David Bowie’s fifth album was in the annals of popular music without understanding its connection to the genre, purpose, and essence of what rock and roll meant (in 1972) to its third generation. Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was, is, and will always be the soundtrack of iconography from Elvis Presley to Lady Ga Ga, because it is, as an artistic statement, a timeless examination of Western culture as ephemeral claptrap in the wake of youth-ego distortion. But it is, at its core, a reinvention of the form, while simultaneously playing up its most vital foundations, its humor, its majesty, its sexuality, and, most of all, embracing the solidarity of youth alienation. The symbol of Bowie as androgynous Starman waiting in the sky in his glamor queen, macho baller, furious rebel fragility, begs the question; does the death of the prepubescent spirit inevitably lead to drab immortality?

Oh, and it rocks. Hard.

This is not a review of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust to understand its musical brilliance, realized by his musical sherpa and rough-edged doppelganger, Mick Ronson, the din progeny of Hendrix, or even its image-driven keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe manipulation. It is not going to regurgitate the obvious career move Bowie achieved by taking a slight, if not preternaturally gifted, pop singer-songwriter from the British dance-hall tradition and quite strategically turning him into a Glam Bitch God capable of giving voice and breath and infinity to The Teenager, in all its confused, angry, hormone-crazed isolation. This is about The Teenager. This is about the all the nobody people, and all the somebody people queer, shut-in, frightened, picked-on, disdained youth for which Ziggy-as-avatar stands for – beyond his singular place in campy well hung and snow-white tan rock-star satire with his screwed-up eyes and screwed down hairdo. Beyond the 1970s decadent, drug-addled chic doom that would come to define the art form for which Bowie had finally come of age in and will lead him until his dying breath with each new character driven statement, there is The Teenager. This the audience and the muse of Ziggy, the character, reflected in every note and lyric in Ziggy Stardust, as an album, as a movement, as a very real and lasting license to celebrate individuality as if divine mass.  

Think about all of the strange things circulating round 

It is not fair to say that Ziggy Stardust is the first youth statement as mass prayer – new words / soul love – but it is the most effective. In a very real way, Bowie’s pursuit of a conceptual rock piece does not make it unique for early 1970s rock, or certainly British rock. If anything, this is the time and place for grand statements –the birth of prog rock and the overindulgent statements in fog machines and costumes. But there is no arguing with Ziggy being the statement for The Teenager. Owning a rock star as personal badge of identification begins, and in many ways, ends with Ziggy. This is why Bowie killed him off after a year of parading his make-up-addled, emaciated carcass around the world in grand spectacle. Ziggy Stardust, who told us not to blow it ‘cause it’s all worthwhile, cannot live on Sugar Mountain or a darkened street corner as an aging font of bland maturity. He is the alien. Alienated. No metaphor there. Forever young, naïve, defiant. He is infinite woman/man/trans in two, three, four dimensions. An empty vessel to fill with fears and lusts, noise and spat from the freak out, far out ether on your hazy cosmic jive radio.

In this way, there is no timeframe for Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, because it never existed and never will. Not really. It is a fuck-around tits-and-confetti moonage daydream, a wisp, a sideways glance made by too much grope and hallucination and tint color and space boots and screaming guitars and moody piano and the pound-pound-pound of the drums. Tribes come calling. The femme fatales emerged from shadows / To watch this creature fair / Boys stood upon their chairs / To make their point of view / I smiled sadly for a love I could not obey. And they will forever be young with their snot noses and high cheekbones and eye-shadow and colored fingernails and black lights revealing bemused smirks. Thus, they cannot be defeated or homogenized or god-forbid labeled or cornered or allowed to fade away. So… don’t lean on me, man, you can’t afford the ticket.

Inevitably they all burned out. Long before Johnny Rotten. Long before the rock and roll suicide. Get out while you can. This is what the music tells you. And it is not death. It is rebirth. It is refiguring. It is the epiphany of self-realization, the discovery of brutal truths. Bowie speaks of becoming in the whole of Ziggy, because that is the plight and blessing of The Teenager. The flayed bastard knowing that not knowing counts for something. Anything. And he made it so there was no lonely but the chosen lonely. This is what rock and roll was/is to anyone left who dares hear it. But it never mattered anyway. David Bowie sang at the end, Just turn on with me and you’re not alone over and over like a mad mantra. He needed you to hear that. Because it was true. And truth is the same as making it all up when it doesn’t matter. You make your own myths, Ziggy says. That is why he came for a little while. Five Years? And fifty years later he is still saying it…

You’re not alone.

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check

James Campion
I have been clear here for decades that I am not an economy writer. I have no fucking idea what drives national or global economics. Except for a very small group of humans I know (I’m looking at you, my bro-in-law, Thomas), this is the default for most of us. Especially in a hardcore capitalist construct, the most important thing that effects our ability to stay alive – food, home, utilities, stuff – is one big mystery. One thing that is not a mystery, and should be understood by the voting public, is how the economy affects politicians in power. Sure, it is only part of the story of political success, but when something as dramatic as the current state of national and global inflation is right now, it becomes the whole story.

On a national level, the Democrats hold power in Washington D.C. Many of these members of the U.S. Congress and the Senate, particularly our president, who has been around for 200 years and in politics for a cool century of so, should realize that with these outrageous prices on household items and especially gas, because, ya know, we go to war over gas prices around here, that the stank of all this is on them. The nuances of a recovery from the disasters of 2020, solid job reports, and a robust economic recovery in the technical is meaningless. The mere fact that things are just as bad in almost every industrialized nation on planet earth right now matters little. 

Again, we don’t know how any of this really works. 

To wit: Both strictly private-sector based economic theory and government-manipulated economic theories have both been debunked over the centuries. Many, many times. To disastrous results. Yet even people we pay to figure this shit out have zero idea what the hell just happened. Did I hear that several members of the Fed and economic advisors to our government admit they did not see this coming? Shit, the Wall Street Journal, the running Bible on capitalism just ran an op-ed that they are shocked. 

But one thing we absolutely know right now is that something has gone awry. No one should be paying over eleven dollars for a jar of marinara sauce. And it would seem for Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his party’s chances of staying in power, high prices and confusion on how it gets there means big trouble.

None of this matters as much as the pocketbook. Never did. Never will.

Forget the fact that the whole Biden presidency has been mostly a bust. His approval ratings are in the tank. He cannot get anything through a legislature he owns, and he appears to be out of it most of the time. I am glad he beat the last guy, who is a psycho lunatic anti-Democratic weirdo TV asshole. But at some point, we must come to grips that even though we needed the white old guy to convince the winy, racist, backwards states to boot that bleating thug, he has sucked ass at this. And, again, I am not necessarily putting the complete blame for the largest inflation numbers in four decades on the president, but this is how things work. And Joe knows this. If he doesn’t, then we have larger issues with this president that will have to be dealt with in another more agonizing column.

Look, first-term mid-terms are ugly anyway. But this is shaping up to be a slaughterhouse in November. And no one should be surprised by this. Granted, there are massive issues on the table right now that could ameliorate the carnage – starting with thrice-daily mass shootings and the striking down of Roe v Wade, which will put 51-percent of the electorate in bodily servitude to the federal government. But if eggs and gas and stuff are still ridiculously expensive, then you can be assured that people – even women – will bag freedom and the life and limb of grade-school kids to change the narrative.

And, of course, since we know nothing about the economy, it will likely not change. Republicans, who should absolutely run on how crazy this inflation has been now for nearly a year, routinely tell us it is the private sector that decides these things not the government. But, as they run to be in said government, they will chuck this concept to lay the blame at the feet of the party in power instead. And again, I agree whole heartedly with this tactic. It is just disingenuous. But who cares about that shit? No one knows what that word means. Especially in D.C. 

All is fair in a love and war. The basic premise of the 2022 mid-terms right now lies in the generic ballot polls. Republicans currently lead this by 2.2 percent. Considering that polling has been rather generous to Democrats over the past six election cycles, this ain’t a good sign for them. Biden, for instance, had a soldi ten-point advantage over Donald J. Trump in 2020, and only won by three percent. If anything, Biden, should have been wondering what the fuck happened that November. In a normal year, a 2.2 percent lead for Democrats would be a dire warning sign for them. This number, combined with Biden’s dismal 40-percent approval rating, is a recipe for ass-whup.

Seeing how I am writing this in the first full week of June, there is only five months for this economy to be something that won’t crush the party in power. That won’t happen. Roe v Wade is going bye-bye, and that might shift the balance of power in states where voters want to protect it. The number as of this morning for pro-choice is 68-percent of Americans. That counts for something. Sure. And if this summer is going to get bloodier – at least schools are out in a few weeks, so there will be less children to gun down – the gun issue will certainly hurt Republicans. But, again, none of this matters as much as the pocketbook. Never did. Never will. The American Revolution. The Civil War. Civil Rights. All of this was about money. 

That much we do know.      

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Aquarian Weekly
Reality Check
James Campion
Running Out of Shit To Write About This… So, You Get This
I have a book coming out on the day this hits the cybersphere. Sorry, but I’m privileged to plug it here. Shit, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and my managing editor, Debra Kate Schafer is the coolest and she recently conducted an interview with me for the book and supports my work, and hell, it’s titled, Take a Sad Song – The Emotional Currency of Hey Jude. Of course, I would hope everyone gets it and reads it and enjoys it, And I am damn proud to include the voices of so many talented and smart people in it. But mostly the book’s release reminds me daily of how down and confused and scared we all were in 2020 during the quarantine when I wrote it. It was my pandemic project. And while I discovered much about song, the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the times, and everything in between – what always comes back to me from the experts and artists who lent their insights to it, is that while it seems easy to have empathy and care about our fellow humans on the surface, it really isn’t. It is hard. Very hard. Personal interest. Personal sovereignty. Personal ambitions will overwhelm any desire for the greater good. 

This is why we tend to eliminate people who espouse empathy as a general philosophy of life – Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, ya know.

Na Na Na… Na Na Na Na… Na Na Na Na… Hey Jude.

Okay, so enough of that nonsense. But it’s not nonsense. No. Because if it was then I wouldn’t AGAIN feel the need – against all the instinct in my bones – to comment on the Texas school shooting this week or to continue to wonder what our fascination is with guns, violence, racism, personal angst, vengeance, grievance, victimhood and everything in between. Humans, I mean. Not Americans per se. I have been quite clear here from the very first column I wrote for this paper, that America is the great human experiment. We are given a unique opportunity in the annals of civilization to lift ourselves up, but we rarely if ever do. 

I think it seems obvious to write that no one wants grammar school children to be massacred. Maybe the odd person with similar aspirations as the young man who decided to kill his grandmother, post if on Facebook, and minutes later – as blithely as one might mention taking a pop down to the market for a gallon of milk – proclaim that he planned to murder kids in a school, and then enact it. But beyond these damaged beings, there cannot be enough people that think this is okay.

Then I see this the very moment I sat down to write this on the CNN web site – “The shooting is the latest entry in the long history of gun violence in the United States. Before Tuesday, there had been at least 39 shootings in K-12 schools, colleges and universities in 2022, resulting in at least 10 deaths and 51 injuries.


It is very difficult to balance that we are not kill-crazies in a country where kill-crazy has become almost a daily occurrence, like rain and farting.

There have been 39 school shootings in 2022? The year is only half over. Thirty-nine. The last time I wrote something like this, probably last year, and the year before that, and the one where I just wrote “blah blah blah” for a thousand words, some people argued that maybe the stats were off or that some could not be considered “school shootings” because they happened in the parking lot or the guy’s gun didn’t fire or something. But, I mean, 39?? In six months?

So, it is very difficult to balance that we are not kill-crazies in a country where kill-crazy has become almost a daily occurrence, like rain and farting. 

I have no idea why guns are so important to people. I do not own one. But this also doesn’t mean they are not – for whatever reason the gun people have for owning, shooting, collecting them – legit for it. That’s on them. I love Tom Waits. And not just the brilliant songs. His singing too. People think that’s weird. So, I don’t care if people dig guns, and I have never been anti-gun or went nuts for sensible gun laws. I think, like drugs, the guns are not necessarily the problem, people are the problem. And people will get guns like they get drugs. And for the record, people will get abortions. Lots of abortions after that becomes illegal. But, then again, we do have traffic lights and seatbelts. So, we always factor people being shitty into our laws.

I don’t know. I guess this is all to say that I have less to say about this latest horror show in Texas, other than perhaps one should be expected to be shot at in Texas. They have more guns per-capita than any state. It’s in their state crest. They thump their chests about cowboys and guns all the time. To say the least, Texas is gun centric. And the only reason to have a gun is to kill a mammal. It’s a kill machine. There is no other use for guns. Unlike Tom Waits, who has many elements – you can dance to some of his stuff, enjoy gin with it, even annoy your friends. But a gun is less for picking your teeth or cutting your grass or hitting a baseball. It’s a kill machine for fast and effective killing. That’s it. So, if you live in a state that celebrates this and part of its very communal identity is a kill machine, and if you send your kids to school there, maybe you should expect the odd shooting? Just sayin’. If you think about it, it’s a miracle there isn’t more of these shootings there. Maybe there will be more. Maybe today.

I guess what still irks me is that we accept this pretty much as normal. And that is a weird comment on us. Weirder than Tom Waits’ voice or my plugging my book about a song that shines with comfort and unity to then pivot and write about how we apparently dig children dying in schools when deep-down I cannot fathom this. But what other conclusion can one come to?

We have always been the kill capitol of the planet. This is what defines us. Not Judeo-Christian morals or constitutionality or rights or exceptionalism. Killing. Our national anthem is about killing. There’s lots and lots of killing. Sanctioned and not. Crazies with guns and knives and bombs. Crazies bashing their way into the Capitol or burning down a Wendy’s to protest violence. Cops are crazy. People killing. Kill. Kill. Kill.

Got nothing particularly smarmy or pithy to add to this. It’s just what’s on my mind the morning I pound this out on the old keyboard device. Killing. This is our main export to the world. We, I guess, like it, love it, embrace it. It’s part of us. The great human experiment. My thoughts have not changed on this, and I doubt they ever will. The evidence is way too strong to support my findings.

Not sure we can take this sad song and make it anything

Or maybe we can.


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Paul Simon: The Life– Robert Hilburn (2018)

Robert Hilburn, respected music journalist from the L.A. Times for thirty-five years takes
on the life of the legendary Paul Simon, whose mercurial musical journey spans nearly
six decades in Paul Simon: The Life. Although at times the writing is as dry as a Bob
Woodward political exposé, the author provides new perspective on the life and times of
Simon by including the singer-songwriter’s commentary as late as 2017. And so, this is a
biography with a little memoir thrown in, which makes it unique. However, what makes
it a must read for fans of Simon and music history in general is it includes pages and
pages of how this genius of songcraft plies his trade. I need to point this out again,
because it is a glaring rarity in rock/pop bios; Hilburn writes, using copious Simon
quotes, how one of the great American songwriters of any generation does it. What a
concept! But don’t sleep on it, because this should be a template for every one of these
books going forward.

One of the elements of the book that really struck me is throughout an
uncompromising artistic career from chucking Simon & Garfunkel at the absolute height
of their earning and artistic powers, to working with eclectic musicians from all over the
globe across genres (Graceland – South African and Rhythm of the Saints – Brazilian),
and tackling film scores (One Trick Pony) and an ill-fated Broadway play (The
), Simon, and thus Hilburn, are obsessed with winning awards, as each year’s
Grammy nominations arrive with Simon obsessively, almost to the point of shifting his
moods and future inspirations for a spate, tuning in. The bevy of awards that would come
Simon’s way meant so much to him it borders on the edge of creepy and self-serving, but
it also shows how in-tune the performer was with the shifting tides of music for sixty
years. Unlike many of his contempories, even Bob Dylan, who had a comeback in the
early aughts, Simon would return again and again as a seminal voice in the pop world.

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Life on Two Legs: Setting the Record Straight on Queen, The Beatles, Elton and Bowie
and the Ultimate Rock Studio, Trident – Norman J. Sheffield (2013)

There is a very convincing argument to made, and Norman Sheffield certainly makes it in
his page-turning Life on Two Legs, that his studio’s influence on the 1970s era of rock in
the UK and beyond has no peer. The founder and proprietor of the legendary Trident
Studios, tucked in a little alleyway in the Soho District of London, was the epicenter of
the rock/pop world, effectively launching the glam movement with the birth of Marc
Bolan and his T Rex, David Bowie, and Elton John, three massive British artists that
would dominate the charts and pop culture for years to come. And this is not even to
mention, which Sheffield does in great and gory detail, Trident’s discovering,
developing, and managing of Queen, a monster rock/pop outfit that would be an
international hit-making and touring phenomenon.

If Sheffield did nothing but discuss the history of Trident’s groundbreaking studio
period (the first of its kind in the UK to embrace what was going on in the U.S. in turning
the studio into a place of comfort to create like New York City’s Record Plant or L.A.’s
Sunset Sound) this would be required reading. But add Trident’s advent into 8-Track and
then 16-track recording, seducing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and a host of other epic
acts, and what you have the living evolution of rock and roll in its second generation.

Sheffield also duly covers he and his colleagues, some of them the most important
producers/engineers of the period, Ken Scott and Roy Thomas Baker, to name just two,
expanding the brand to film, video production, tour scheduling and more. Trident was the
most groundbreaking enterprise in pop music and Queen’s massive success underlines

But, alas, Sheffield also describes the terrible business side of his creative venture, not
the least of which “the Queenies,” as he affectionately calls them, as their naiveté, greed,
and overall dumbness that led to a terrible split. More than half the book is dedicated to
this stirring saga and for good reason. It is, like most of Trident’s triumphs and tragedies,
a cautionary tale. One that needed to be told by the man who made it and lived it.

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Why Patti Smith Matters – Caryn Rose (2022)

Author Caryn Rose begins her framing of the import of Patti Smith with a note about this
not being a biography, but indeed, it very much is, but with the added tone and
perspective the subject deserves. Part of a series from University of Texas Press Music
books that include similar treatises on Marianne Faithful, Solange, Karen
Carpenter among others, Why Patti Smith Matters is fast-paced ride through the artistic
journey of one of the most influential artists of the mid-to-late 1970s New York punk

Rose is a fan, and more than that, she eloquently depicts the pertinence of Smith’s
appearance on her debut album, the iconic Horses black-and-white photograph of Smith
leering apathetically, and her intense Saturday Night Live appearance in the autumn of
1976, one that also blew yours truly away. Much of the background material has been
covered by Smith herself in Just Kids (which I reviewed here in 2010, and her follow-up
M Train in 2015), but it was Rose’s concentration on the time period Smith and her then
husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 married and decamped in a suburb of Detroit in
the 1980s that was special for me. We read how much it flummoxed the author as a fan
that Smith retreated from the public eye and essentially her art, but also how much the
author’s feminism and professional hindsight sees it as an afront to the (woman) artist’s
right to have a life outside of celebrity, something Patti Smith always claimed was not the
aim of her career, and how she might have been even more prolific because of it.

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U2’s The Joshua Tree – Planting Roots in Mythic America – Bradley Morgan (2021)

Arguably the most political of books about arguably the most political of bands, U2’s The
Joshua Tree – Planting Roots in Mythic America
dissects the aim and purpose, history
and influence of the legendary Irish band’s finest album and this reviewer’s selection in
his Top 5 of All-Time. Author Bradley Morgan is on a personal and political journey of
his own, which he covers with zero ambiguity in the book’s epilogue, something clearly
expressed in each of the ensuing chapters that break down each of the Joshua Tree’s
eleven brilliant tracks. This is a fan’s perspective, mixed with research and the voices of
those who have waxed poetic about its themes for decades, shedding light on one of the
most powerful statements ever presented by a rock band.

There is plenty to love here if you grew up, as I did, with U2 – a band that mattered
most for wearing the political and spiritual on its collective sleeve from day-one. But
Morgan goes to places deeper than perhaps even U2 perceived back in 1987 and came to
learn as they toured the record, specifically in America, as captured in the 1988 film,
Rattle and Hum. To wit: Morgan spends much of the book following U2’s 2017 tribute
concert tour for the thirtieth anniversary of the album and juxtaposing its messages of
America mythos and promise versus its hypocrisy – framed in the chaotic months of the
Donald Trump presidency and the critiques proffered by the band originally n the mid-
eighties of Ronald Reagan’s America and Margaret Thatcher in the UK.

As a fellow author of framing a rock album in its times and its effect on us all, I can
confidently state that Morgan succeeds in providing further meaning to U2’s finest work,
filling much of the book with furious sincerity to the music that moved him, hoping to
move the reader as dramatically.

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