PUTIN’S FANCY CLUSTERFUCK

Aquarian Weekly
3/9/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
PUTIN’S FANCY CLUSTERFUCK
Stark-Naked Emperor Stumbles Into Infamy
 
 Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
                                       – Michael Gerard Tyson
 
 What the fuck is Vladimir Putin doing?

This is not rhetorical. I have no idea. And from all I have read, heard, and/or deciphered from this Russian invasion of Ukraine, no one – and there has been nothing viably coherent from the man himself – has a goddamn clue. We are a couple of weeks into this ill-conceived, terribly executed military mission, and despite becoming an international pariah and sinking his nation’s already anemic economy, this entire mess has done nothing but effectively lift the veil on whatever myth the Russian president has been concocting for decades: He is shrewd global manipulator.

Suddenly, the man looks spectacularly stupid and embarrassingly weak. Add in a sprinkle of pettiness, a dab of irrationality, and top it with pure idiocy. Certainly, our politicians, including our last president, who carried the tyrant’s water bucket for four years and just this week called him “a genius,” figured this guy was shrewd and cunning. Fox News spent the past few weeks ejaculating over his brilliance as a proud world leader with his finger on the international pulse, understanding the brutal nuances of world politick and acting with swift and measured precision. Wherein our old, clueless president is unmatched. Shit, say what you want about cranky Joe Biden, he has played this like a champ. So far, he has rallied the world to put the screws to Putin’s hubris move. If anything, it has revived his nearly flat-lined presidency.

It is an understatement to stress that now in the wake of this super-botch, everyone may have miscalculated Putin. That is except Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom Putin has turned into a rock star and the world’s superhero – another hidden prize of his grand blunder. Let’s face it, Zelensky’s defiance has turned this into a hack move made by a third-world chump, as if Saddam Hussein had come back as a bald, fat goon, whose only hope for anyone to pay attention to him is to bully the country next door. Putin has created a quagmire of human misery and destruction that has the distinct look of a man trying to open a tuna can with sledgehammer. Four days into this, even Donald Trump was faking love for NATO.

The confused torpor that was George W.  Bush suddenly looks like a mighty warlord compared to this stooge.

Vladimir Putin was supposed to be our worthy adversary, akin to Rommel vs. Patton instead of Mike Tyson vs. the town drunk. He appears to have no endgame beyond what he, I guess, claimed was defense against NATO’s influence too close to his border, but instead has created the worst possible scenario: An angry and motivated enemy at his border. Dead mothers clutching charred infants have a way of getting the locals riled. He thought no one would have the stomach to oppose him, and before the week was out, everyone did, even China, who acts like an ally but would just as soon move on as a solo act, and Saudi Arabia, who positions itself to absorb Putin’s fleeing oil customers.

Of course, any act of war is going to bring hardship. But most dictators worth a shit would have weighed this against what riches and real estate might be available once the carnage is done.

To wit: One can deduce the actions of Adolf Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland in five seconds. It was horrible, immoral, and world-shattering, but it made military, economic, and national defense sense for Germany. What does Russia get out of “owning” Ukraine? A money-pit headache. Moreover, Hitler’s burgeoning economy was built on a war machine that not only revived the nation’s solvency but had already done some nasty shit for months before this. It appears the lapdog generals in charge of this operation did not have what it takes to tell Putin his heretofore latent army sucks ass.

The Hitler comparison makes Putin uncomfortable? Okay, take Napoleon in the opening years of the nineteenth century. The French had been preparing for war for decades and possessed what turned out to be an unstoppable force to expand the parameters of his rule in Europe. Putin’s army has had a hard time even getting a foothold in the country across the fucking street. He could have gotten a Northern California biker gang to pull this off quicker. So, now he has exposed his military as wildly overrated and undermanned, and his generals as stupefied neophytes. If Stalin had this force, the Nazis would have glided into Moscow in 1944, Russian winter and all.

I don’t know who talked up the Russian invading army as potentially impressive, but Jesus Bicycling Christ, this whole thing is a stumble-bum fiasco manned by frightened nineteen year-olds with no over-arching plan to refuel vehicles, secure flanks or deal with street-to-street combat. The first week of the invasion will be studied by war historians as a primer on what not to do – overwhelming the botched United States Iraq invasion in the early aughts. In fact, I would say the confused torpor that was George W.  Bush suddenly looks like a mighty warlord compared to this stooge.

And so, predictably, desperate and exposed as a fraud, Putin “readies his nuclear capabilities”. Yawn. The oldest and laziest Cold War maneuver. This is what you do when you fail to learn your own nation’s military history, which would have clued Putin in that both Napoleon and Hitler were eventually defeated by fucking Russia! And mainly because they could not occupy nations that didn’t want to be occupied. Failing that, all he had to do was call up Dick Cheney. The former VP might have told him that the place you are wrecking will not likely be welcoming you as liberators.

But, of course, history is pretty much bloated with tales of once powerful nations taking over other nations who did not like that so much. Soon, there will be, for Russia, the exhausting task of fending off insurgencies and weeding out coups. This is far more difficult than poisoning journalists in London, jailing Pussy Riot, and fucking with other country’s elections. Those things gave him an air of invincibly that this invasion has summarily obliterated.

So far, just moving in has been a humiliating slog against civilians brandishing homemade weapons, further revealing half-assed Russian ground-war capabilities. It has alienated the only economic partners keeping Russia a viable nation, unleashed crippling international sanctions, and ceased a crucial oil pipeline partnership with Germany. Remember, Putin is pulling this horse-turd under the auspices of a global economy that his country relies on desperately. Hitler and Napoleon had no such troubles. They were self-contained nations built for war. No oil money. No Russia.

Invasion is the easy part. Occupation is where things get hairy.

Again, I state, this makes zero sense for Russia, and even less for Putin, who clearly has never given a flying mist-fart about Russia. He has a raging hard-on for the tattered myth of the Soviet Union, conveniently forgetting that what ultimately sunk it was stretching its lust for colonization, which is what also sunk every world power since the dawn of civilization.

Putin has made the ultimate mistake of the grifter, believing his own con.

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SADIE – 2006 – 2/22/22

Aquarian Weekly
3/2/22

Reality Check

James Campion

SADIE – 2006 – 2/22/22

My thoughts recover
The days that are over,
And I weep.
        – Paul Verlaine

And though she be but little, she is fierce.
               – William Shakespeare


It was a day I have dreaded for years. You can say, even mentally and emotionally prepared for. It came. And none of that mattered. When my wife and I took our sixteen year-old feline lady of the house, Sadie to die at the West Milford Animal Hospital, it took pieces of me I don’t believe I’ll get back. I have never decided that something so dear, so seminal in the ecosystem of my family needed to die. She suffered these past few weeks, but even until the last moment I wrestled with this and thought how can any human do this, never mind willfully hunt and kill an animal? Because they don’t name her and live with her and cuddle her and sing songs to her and watch her capture the essence of your daughter from the moment she slept in the crib with her, and then on the day she dies, Scarlet, now thirteen, tearily says, “She was my first friend?” Then you can kill them? Well, good luck to you and your soul. It took everything in me not to grab her little, barely breathing body and run for cover. Let her die at home, naturally. But that is selfish and stupid and very human. She did not deserve another long night of pain. She deserved peace. She gave that to us for sixteen years. We had to give it back, in the most horrible of circumstances.

Sadie was, as I wrote when her brother, Salinger died six years ago, a “two-for-one deal that my wife, of course, talked me into – little black cats jammed into a box together, licking each other and snuggling and biting and fighting and being a classic duo.” They were our Little Pishers, who breathed new life into things around The Clemens Estate after the untimely and mysterious death of The Gueem. We were unsure even then that Sadie would make it through that first year, making so many days to an animal hospital up in Newton, that when Scarlet was born, in a “people hospital” up there, I got to know that run so well, it was a snap.    

Sadie led the way.

This made more sense, as very soon, she and Scarlet would be inseparable. Nothing made my daughter laugh or gave her such joy. These last few years Sadie roomed with her. She had to. The invasion of the once feral cat, now a member of the family, Bukowski terrorized her, and she found refuge there. Every morning when I would wake a grumpy Scarlet for school, Sadie would be at attention meowing, doing her thing. I would implore her, “Wake up your baby sister already!” She would look at me as if I were mad; “You know who this is lying here, right?” I could almost hear her say. “She hates school and loves sleeping; good luck to ya.”

Sadie always found a way to communicate to us. I know I have waxed poetic in this column over the past twenty-five years about the passing of our cats (the aforementioned Gueem, Salinger, and our beloved Queen of Vernon, Mazzy), but none of them had the communicative inter-species talents of Sadie. The second you were in her space, if you approached her, or you did not get that she needed water or maybe a treat, or the desire to sit by her cherished fireplace (man she liked it warm – watching her turn her face to the sun in summer was a transcendent experience) she’d let you know it. There was very little guessing with Sadie, there was within her, as Ernst Hemingway once mused in his cats, an “absolute emotional honesty.” Papa should know. He owned dozens of them.

Sadie was our constancy, our north star.

A key aspect of having a cat for sixteen years (a record around here) is that there is a pure lineage to it. For instance, Scarlet did not know a world without her, and just this morning my wife said,” When I lost Gueem, I had Mazzy, and when I lost her, I had Sadie, I feel like I don’t have any comfort now.” Of course, I argued for the boys, but Mo, our gray cat of thirteen years and the new guy, Bukowski do not make themselves available – they are in and out and all around, disappearing to do God know what. Unless food is in the offing, other than that, it’s freewheeling. Sadie was our constancy, our north star. When we went away, she would have that look that let you know you were leaving her and the home, and when we returned, she had that pissed countenance, like, “How dare you?” But she would be here waiting. Patiently. To be Sadie.

I was doing what I call “cat math” with my extended family this past weekend in Syracuse. And I have come to some harsh conclusions about how many of these felines I have left in me. If I get a kitten this year – and you can bet your ass it will be a black male that I have been waiting for since Salinger ditched me – and if the little bugger lives as long as Sadie, I’m looking at seventy-fucking-six. And if I’m still writing this column then you can drive me to the vet and let me go quietly. There won’t be any goddamn eulogy for him.

Okay, it’s getting late, and I have to end this. But I don’t want to. I want to keep writing about Sadie. Makes me feel less sad. It is, as my managing editor wrote me this morning, cathartic for writers to deal with grief. I’m reminded of what Charles Bukowski wrote about his cat, how “it walks with a surprising dignity” and think of how elegant Sadie was until the end, trying to be Sadie, as her body failed her. She never wavered from being her.

But I guess I’ll leave you guys now and keep writing and talking and celebrating the sixteen special years we had this magnificent creature.

And while I do that, hug your pet.

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“LEGITIMATE POLITICAL DISCOURSE” WEEK

Aquarian Weekly
2/16/22

Reality Check

James Campion

“LEGITIMATE POLITICAL DISCOURSE” WEEK
How We Got Here & Where We’re Going

For about a week at the beginning of February 2022, the Republican Party pulled back from the brink of insurrection.

Flirting with this concept since the domestic terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, a majority of the party in both houses of congress and throughout the country, in the media and in the halls of state governance, have either dismissed or supported the horrors of that day, which resulted in seven deaths, 769 criminal charges, and over 70 convictions thus far. This includes the former president of the United States, who perpetuated this lunacy by telling the great unwashed that the election was stolen, inviting them to Washington D.C., promising via twitter to “Be there, will be wild!” and then once they got there armed and riled up by crazy talk, encouraging them to “March to the Capitol and fight for your country.” This ridiculousness is ongoing, as he announced at a recent rally in Arizona that he will pardon the convicted if re-elected. But until three words were part of a Republican National Committee resolution last week, all of this was partisan rhetoric, political grandstanding, and genuflecting to the 70-percent of Republican voters who continue to believe this nonsense.

It was then the RNC censored two GOP senators on the bipartisan January 6 Committee, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger. This too could have been seen as mere politico shenanigans, until the 168 members referred to their supposed insubordination to the party for “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

That, apparently, was the game changer.

Legitimate Political Discourse.

Those three words could well go down in history as the moment things began to shift in the Republican party. That day, actual “ordinary citizens” who are not white supremacists brandishing weapons, demanding the heads of the Speaker of the House and the Vice President, while smashing windows, breaking-and-entering into a federal building, and beating police with Trump flags, stood up and said, “That’s enough.” Even Republicans who heretofore watched in silence as its party was being hijacked by the insanely seditious goofiness that passes for “the opposition” started to backtrack. This was ultimately the Right dismissing its fringe, as the Left did with distancing itself from the “Defund the Police” movement in 2020. This last-ditch effort kept the Republican Party from being an enemy of the state because that is what that statement underlines. Supporting terrorism of any kind is a bad look, even for fun and argument, especially when representing the entire party’s stance.

When Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde, five months from the insurrection, noted that it looked like “a normal tourist visit” most people were horrified, but Clyde is just one idiot, and although there are plenty of those in congress, when the RNC, essentially representing the whole of the GOP, frames a violent mob trying to overthrow a national election as Legitimate Political Discourse in a signed resolution, it ropes in every Republican.

For a few weird days, it looked like one of America’s two major political parties was exiting the framework of the U.S. Constitution. That is fairly big news, for it is equivalent to either party supporting al Qaeda. It wasn’t long before at least a few GOP voices put the brakes on this as quickly as you can Osama bin Laden.

Supporting terrorism of any kind is a bad look, even for fun and argument

Legitimate Political Discourse was announced on Friday, February 4, by Tuesday, February 8 (to be honest a tad too long to address the rhetorical rejection of the rule of law and American sovereignty, but he got there) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced it. While he did finally agree that water is wet by calling the events an insurrection, which is what it was, he tamped that down with procedural blather. “The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC,” McConnell said in his damage-control press conference. He conveniently forgot to mention that the Republican Party was sanctioning the murder of police and the attempted harm of members of the U.S. Congress. But it was a start.

This was followed by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin praising “my Republican colleagues who have been willing to speak the truth in the last few days,” while also castigating his party by admitting that for months now “the vast majority of my Republican colleagues remained silent while the party leaders declared Jan. 6 legitimate.” Maine Senator Susan Collins echoed this by calling the entire RNC resolution “absurd” and that “every moment that is spent re-litigating a lost election or defending those who have been convicted of criminal behavior moves us further away from the goal of victory this fall.”

It is important to recall when all three of these senators, all of whom publicly blamed Trump for his role in the riot from day-one – McConnel said he was “practically and morally responsible” – had a chance to vote to impeach him when he still held office and did not.

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who announced this hot mess, also began running for cover, claiming the phrase Legitimate Political Discourse was not in the original draft of the resolution. This was quickly backed up by the man who wrote it, some cheap political MAGA hack, David Bossie. For his part, the former president called McDaniel to congratulate her for the resolution and for bravely reframing the horrors of January 6 as patriotic protest against government aggression.

Swap the name Donald Trump for Jefferson Davis and you get the picture.

For his part, House Minority Leader Mike McCarthy, a very silly man, has tried to play this as close to the vest as possible. He knows he may be on the brink of becoming the next House Speaker if things go the way of first mid-term elections for unpopular presidents, and Joe Biden certainly is one (41-percent approval at the time of this writing), so he has cover. McConnell is not so fortunate. With most of the potential Republican candidates laying in wait to run this November being a rogue’s gallery of knuckle-dragging psychos, it will be tight, and even some indicators are pointing toward the Democrats hanging onto the Senate.

Let that read that political expediency is now at the forefront of the party – not that it wasn’t at any point – but Legitimate Political Discourse has set the bar. Let’s see if the party nominates the man responsible to run for president again.

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THE VONNEGUT CATHARSIS & THE PAIN OF WAR

Aquarian Weekly
2/9/22
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion
 
 
THE VONNEGUT CATHARSIS & THE PAIN OF WAR
In Praise of The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five and a Discussion with its Author, Tom Roston 
 
 
The most difficult highwire act for a writer is taking a well-worn and beloved subject and weaving something new and insightful into it. Author Tom Roston has accomplished this with his new book The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five by getting behind the celebrated novel’s humor, pathos, and charming storytelling that would make the 1969 anti-war, science fiction mind-bender a Twentieth-Century literary classic. For the first time, we meet the many faces and moods of its author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who for many, including yours truly, has marked the time of our intellectual and cultural awakening. The best compliment I can offer Mr. Roston is that I have learned why I loved Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade from the moment I cracked it open at fifteen and why it keeps speaking to me more than four decades hence.

At the height of the Vietnam War, Slaughterhouse-Five arrived as a mighty yawp from the bow of the counterculture, written by a wise-cracking forty-six year-old curmudgeon who had survived one of the most horrifying fire-bombings of World War II as a prisoner of war in 1945. After the devastation of the cultured German town of Dresden, Vonnegut pained to create something of worth from its ashes. And for Roston, and those who adore the book, Slaughterhouse-Five reverberates with mental and emotional trauma, an artistic endeavor to quell its author’s demons, while struggling to fit madness into a logical construct (spoiler alert: Vonnegut never finds any logic in war – “poo-tee-weet” – because it doesn’t exist).

This is where Roston began his journey, oddly spurned on by the whims of weird rumor.

“I knew I wanted to confront PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in the book because that just seemed like a clear prism through which Slaugherhouse-Five is understood,” Roston shared with me. “But I just didn’t know how I was going to approach it. And then, as you read in the first chapter, what really got me going was when I got wind of this cooky, implausible story that Vonnegut may have committed a war crime.” Roston playfully dubs Vonnegut, Nazi Slayer!, the central figure in a dubious yarn of the young writer and fellow POW searching out their former Nazi guard to enact vengeance upon him. Roston concludes this never happened, but… “It got me energized, and then I started thinking, ‘Why is this relevant?’ And, to me, it was very relevant because it helped address what I felt, and what I feel people feel in general: they’re excited by war, because they don’t understand war. That, to me, is what Slaughterhouse Five is about – trying to explain what war feels like, which is terrible. But a person like me, who has never experienced it, can never really understand that.”

Thus, Roston fills the pages of The Writer’s Crusade with the voices of those who have experienced war (from Vietnam through Iraq and Afghanistan), and moreover, wrote about it in essays, articles, and books, and in one case used painting as an outlet to face living with it. But at the same time, while providing a useful history of how the medical community and the U.S. Army dealt with the soldier’s mental traumas over the years, Roston is careful not to succumb to lazy syllogism. He warns that it is not even certain Vonnegut suffered from PTSD, something the author denied throughout his life, despite bouts of depression, alcoholism, and an inability to connect with people, specifically his family. This is the avatar Vonnegut creates in Billy Pilgrim, a POW, who experiences the same Dresden trauma and the ensuing life of listless inertia, where he becomes “unstuck in time.”

If you’re fully delusional, and you think you’re talking to a porn star or to God, and it makes you happy, perhaps that’s okay, by you.

“I discovered Billy Pilgrim to already be insecure and kind of a little bit messed up from the start,” says Roston. “When he first enters the war, he’s wandering around, letting himself get shot at – he’s lost in it, ridding him of his humanity. War will do that to anyone, and I think that’s what he’s doing.”

And so, one is led to ask, and Roston does so in his book: Is Vonnegut using his protagonist, Pilgrim to work out a delusional construct – being “unstuck in time” and traveling to the planet Tralfamadore to live with a porn star in an id bubble of “happiness” to deal with his trauma. Or are these fantastical things really happening to him? Vonnegut provides clues that these events are indeed figments of Pilgrim’s imagination and merely a coping mechanism, which in turn, gets Roston and readers of Slaughterhouse Five to surmise that its author is using the novel for the same ends.

“No, I don’t think it’s actually happening to Billy Pilgrim, but then that leads us to the ultimate question; does it even matter?” asks Roston, who reasons that if you’re fully delusional, and you think you’re talking to a porn star or to God, and it makes you happy, perhaps that’s okay, by you. “It’s the only bit of happiness poor Billy seems to get,” he concludes.

Roston also deconstructs Vonnegut’s aim to create in Billy Pilgrim a character not unlike Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where there are no ups and downs in his storyline. He is not only living in a fantasy, but also impassive, removed from humanity. “If you drew an emotional line throughout the play, Hamlet just goes straight across. I think if you look at Billy Pilgrim, it’s the exact same thing, it’s just straight across. I mean, in Pilgrim’s mind, maybe things are getting better, but I think Vonnegut’s point was to write a story with a character whose life never gets better.”

Ironically, it was the success of Slaughterhouse-Five that would make Vonnegut’s life better. He was now a famous and wealthy author, and yet, Roston found this to perhaps be the most interesting part of the author’s catharsis. “Before the success of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut was always trying to merely pay the bills, until he wasn’t, and then once he wasn’t, I don’t know if he was that happy writing, because he wasn’t writing good stuff anymore. So, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I think he may have been the happiest when was working on his masterpiece from 1968 to 1969. Maybe he was feeling everything that he had hoped for an artist to feel, because he knew he had it. I would love to think that. His letters suggest that’s not the case, but his focus during this period created something lasting and great.”

What Roston does not want us to forget, and I could not agree more, is that Slaughterhouse -Five, like Vonnegut’s entire canon, is damn entertaining stuff. It is funny, thought-provoking satire, social commentary with the kind of wit and page-turning drama that made it a best-seller and continues to dazzle readers today. Despite using his work to find light at the end of the tunnel, the author found a relatable voice. I know I related to it as a teenager and still do, as the book has grown along with me into my years as a working writer. I cannot say that about all the books that jazzed me as a kid. And I thank Tom Roston for reminding me of this.

“Almost everyone who I talked to read it in their teens, and they read it the first time as just being a fun, goofy, crazy book,” concludes Roston. “They didn’t read it as being a book about trauma or a book about war or anything, it was just this wild ride.”

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THE RUSSIA THING… AGAIN

Aquarian Weekly
2/2/22
 
Reality Check
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever.  

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SO… I GOT COVID

Aquarian Weekly
1/19/22
 
Reality Check
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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REGARDING THE TIK TOK 12/17 NATIONAL SCHOOL THREATS

Aquarian Weekly
12/22/21
 
Reality Check
 

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

Spoiler Alert: We sent our kid in. Packing.
   

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

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

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

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

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

– Palestinians and Israelis.

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

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

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

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

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

And by it, I mean, reality.

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THE SWEET & SOUR MUSIC OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON

Aquarian Weekly
12/15/21
 
Reality Check
 

James Campion

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

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

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

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

We begin way back with the music of Fitzgerald…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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